Biblical Apples

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Chapter 28: Luke 17:24

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.

The photographs were placed next to each other in an attempt to gather the readers’ attention and make a statement regarding the passage of time in Sylvan. Both in black and white, they were taken of the same cityscape 25 years apart. The caption read, “Sylvan, then and now; can you tell which is which?” The first one was cropped to edit out a few cars that would have given the answer away, and the second one was taken during a weekend sunrise in 1975 while the city slept.

The headline read, “The Corruption of Mayberry: Promises Prey on Sylvan’s Past”. The story began, “The photos attest to how man-made structures do well against the ravages of time, but if concrete and brick could talk, the photo on the right might chronicle the footsteps, echo the conversations, and detail the comings and goings of thousands of people over the past quarter century, a time during which small-town life was celebrated by the young, who eventually grew old and failed to take notice of the decay of their town which was occurring at a pace than conspired with the crinkling of their eyes and the graying at their temples.”

Phil Snider had access to many of the city’s elders who helped Mike paint a picture of Sylvan’s past, “... when the Sunoco had pumps and people stationed to give you a fill up, when the Church of Christ would let out as many as two hundred people, some of whom made a regular point of a Sunday breakfast at Cunningham’s, when the Jewel marquee advertised the latest Hollywood feature, and Steve’s Malt Shoppe had the red and silver jukebox, the checkerboard linoleum tiles and spinning stools that one would never have guessed existed when looking at the parking lot it had become. These were the people who lived in that first photograph on the left, when their world was simpler, and black and white were appropriate hues. These also were the people who saw the promise of youth in Carter Flynn and gave him the key to the city’s hope.”

This was the first of a series of three articles appearing both in the Sylvan-Northwood Times and the View from the Hill, Hillview’s student paper. The second article was entitled “The Seduction of Hillview”, and provided an elaborate overview of the college life gone awry. It illustrated that Carter Flynn was a predator, finding young people’s weaknesses and exploiting them. It inadvertently opened the discussions to creating a tighter reign over student housing and campus activities, or in Dr. Brown’s accomplished view, “The power of the pen has opened the door to change, and that is the goal of every journalist.”

It was Mike’s series finale, “Scandal in our Midst: The Human Toll”, which created a buzz beyond Oakville County and caught the attention of the Associated Press, which in late February, re-printed all three stories in the series across outlets throughout the Midwest. It told the individual stories of Carter Flynn’s seductive powers, outlining the rise and fall of a college basketball player, the recruitment of coeds to profit from the power of their youth and beauty, the devastating physical and emotional impact of tainted recreational drugs, and the seduction of those of weak minds and self concepts. Protecting identities, Mike told the stories of James Waters, Frank Spinelli, Carol Frazier, and himself, for this was the most personal among these stories and the catharsis to partially free him from the bondage of self-loathing.

“Word, you’re almost a fucking celebrity around here,” John said as the group sat in Mike’s and Kurt’s room and chatted on Friday. “You sure you guys don’t want to smoke to celebrate?”

Andy, Kurt, and Mike declined, and without company, John reluctantly continued his abstinence. “Seriously, Word, I’ve read all three articles, and they’ve been some of the best writing you’ve ever done.”

“Eggs, thanks for the compliment, but they’ve been the only good writing I’ve ever done. Everything else was for our little audience and frankly, meaningless.”

“Word, I don’t know where February has gone, but we’ve got March tomorrow. We haven’t done a show in a while, probably because we’ve all been depressed, but would you guys be up for a Sunday show, maybe just do it with some beers and pizza? I’ve got a lot I want to get off of my chest and bounce off of you guys. My head’s never been clearer, and I’m not giving up the fight.”

This was a comment that hit home for Mike. Part of him wanted to thumb his nose at Donna for saying that he never would amount to anything. He had become quite the celebrity in Dr. Brown’s class with younger students, in particular, seeking his advice and generally gushing over him. In less than the span of a college school year, he found himself going from being an aimless college party animal to someone who had something worthwhile to say and offer. He was an accidental success, but in so becoming, he clearly felt that he had made a deal with the sixth floor devil and lost the only thing in his life that mattered, the love of Donna.

During his month of research to piece together his series, Mike had a mid-February encounter with Donna that was of his making. Valentine’s Day always had been a silly celebration in his estimation with greeting card companies and candy stores reaping the benefits. Then again, he never had a Valentine. He never had a girl who squeezed his hand and held him close. He never had a girl who gave to him the most intimate and personal gift of all, her naked and open body. He never had a girl who told him, “I love you.” He never had a void in his life and a hole in his heart until Donna had arrived and departed. He couldn’t let the devil win.

Mike knocked on her door and saw her peeking through the peephole. She opened the door and he thought, She could’ve just pretended to not be there, so there’s some hope, hopefully, please, God.

The visual he provided included the largest of the Sad Sam stuffed dog offerings, a heart-shaped case of chocolate varieties, a bouquet of flowers from the nearby grocery store that John’s borrowed car made possible, and a look of desperation on his face.

On this late afternoon, she took in the visual for a few speechless moments and said, “Excuse me,” then closed her door on his face. Mike exhaled and rather than gather the gifts, he left them outside her door. When he returned from an early dinner, he saw that the gifts no longer were there. He went to the trash disposal area of the floor to ascertain that she simply hadn’t thrown them away. She must have taken them into the room, he thought.

“Hey, Mike,” Kurt greeted his entry. He then pointed at Mike’s bed and said, “Donna came by and told me to tell you to put these on the shelf with your Christmas presents. Not sure what she meant.”

The remnants of the big snow storm and a few pretenders now were interspersed little mounds on yellowed grass on the first day of March. The temperatures teased at spring, hovering in the low 50’s, and the skies had grown purple. Some early birds had returned from their Southern haunts looking for morsels from nature, handouts, or anything or anyone to suggest that spring was nearing and that it was time to celebrate.

On a Saturday afternoon, Mike decided to go for a walk to the Hillview Center and purchase another pack of Merits. With his denim jacket sleeves as his support, he fired up a cigarette and assumed his perch along the bridge, the first time in several months that the weather would permit this indulgence. He allowed his eyes to go out-of-focus, and nothing on the blurry horizon convinced him to do otherwise, but a voice behind him interrupted this moment.

“Hey, let me bum a square off you.” Mike turned around to see Little John McCann smiling at him and squinting against a sliver of sun that found a crevice. “Got a chance to do some reading recently, and I now see why they call you Wordman. That was some excellent writing, Bro’.”

“Thanks, Little John, but what brings you back on campus? You working another undercover gig?”

“Nah, Bro’, I’ve been doing a little follow-up and some damage control. I’ve got some people around here that I’ve got some hope for, but I really can’t get into details.”

“Then, I know better than to ask.” He lit Little John's cigarette.

A steady light rain began which forced both of them to shake hands and go their separate ways. A stiff breeze also emerged, and it seemed like the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees in the last few minutes. Whether it was a lion or a lamb, March was an unpredictable animal, and Mike sought shelter from whatever it had in store.

“To Frankie,” John toasted with his roommates on Sunday night with a shot glass of Cuervo held high. Everyone downed theirs and made the requisite faces that seemed to say why do this if that’s how it makes you feel?

“You ever notice how everyone involved knows what they’re doing in a funeral, and how nobody fucks up?” Mike opened the floor for discussion. “How much practice people put in to not fuck up a wedding, and you’ve got some of the same shit going on at a funeral?”

“How’s that, Word?” Andy asked as he popped the top on his beer.

“Think about it, guys. At a funeral, you’ve got pall bearers; at a wedding you’ve got the wedding party. They’re all there to pay respects to one person, depending which side they’re on, so there are ushers involved with both. Shit gets carried, a ring, the back of the bride’s gown, a cross, a coffin, and a bride across the threshold.” Mike saw the audience nodding heads. “You got fucking limos everywhere making processions and going to follow-up ceremonies. You got shit being thrown, rice, garter belts, bouquets,” he paused for a moment to wipe his eyes, “and you got dirt, fucking dirt.” He looked individually at his roommates and said, “Why do you practice for one and not the other?”

“Because the dead guy doesn’t care if you fuck up,” Kurt offered. “The bride and groom want everything to go perfect, almost as if its a reflection of how their life will be together.”

“Yeah, John raised his index finger, "but suppose you drop the coffin, and the body flops out?” “Couldn’t something going wrong at a funeral be taken as how things will be in the afterlife?” He looked at his friends. “You brought it up, Word. What do you think?”

The reflexive down-turned mouth that precedes tears did battle with the resistance of a forced smile, giving Mike the look of someone who had just bit into a lemon. He clasped his hands and looked at the fabric work of the shag rug, wondering about the lifespan of its lush existence. Looking up at his audience from the same position, his eyebrows rose and gave way to the accordion lines of his forehead. His hands moved into position over each knee as he righted himself, exhaled, and said, “They plan for weddings.”

Kurt held the bottle of Cuervo up, and they took turns getting their shot glasses filled.

“Look at us,” Mike said. “We’re trading one crutch for another. We’ve got to get fucked up one way or the other to enjoy ourselves or to face reality with some kind of buzz on.”

“I don’t see it that way, Word,” John said. “If I didn’t get to know you when you were straight, we wouldn’t be getting high or drinking together now. I think of drugs, pot particularly, probably the same way our parents have viewed smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. They’re social amenities. You don’t indulge with just anyone, only those people you’ve allowed into your social circle.”

“Wow. Wee Wow!” Andy did his foghorn for the first time since the big snow storm. “That’s a great spin, Eggs!” He followed his editorial comment with a massive belch brought on by a big swig of his Miller Lite. “Nose, where are you with this topic?”

“I’m inclined to agree with Eggs,” Kurt smoothed out the hair over the holes in his beard. “It really is just a social-type thing. I mean I’ve never gotten high more times in my life than I have in the past seven months. It’s been fun, but maybe what happened with Frankie was supposed to serve as some kind of wake-up call.”

“Speaking of wake-up calls,” Mike said, “Eggs, I appreciate the invite and the company, but you indicated that you had some things to get off your chest, so what’s up?”

“For the past month, I’ve been going to church every Sunday. Obviously, I’m not with Mary, but I get to see her there, in a place where she looks happy. I guess what I’m saying is that she has a refuge, somewhere she can go and something she can do to keep her mind off things. The court used to be that place for me, but even shooting around still is painful, so I’ve got nothing.” John looked at Mike, Kurt, and Andy individually. “Do you guys think Frankie killed himself?”

The question came like a no-look pass and hit each of them squarely in the face. It hovered like a last-second shot to determine the game, spinning in the air, bringing silence. They let the clock run out, and saving it for another time, John found a distraction.

“Holy shit, look outside!” A hard rain was falling, accompanied by magnificent lightning flashes and the closely-following booming bass of thunder. “Man that shit is coming down!”

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