Wind

The wind has always inspired me.

A gust can bring the spirits of the dead whispering into my ear.

A breeze reminds me of the past or a sort of mental nirvana where I have no care in the world.

A gale can generate fear in my heart and noise in my soul.

The windy day I stepped into the park wasn’t sunny. I hate sunny days. The light burns my eyes and stings my skin. I feel like the sun is trying to burn me out faster, igniting me, firing me up until I am nothing but ash and bone. Cloudy days cushion me like a dimmed light, cradle me in grayness where the sun doesn’t exist, but the lighting is better, softer, diffused.

The air was swirling through the trees on the bluff leading down to the Hudson River. Leaves followed its path, snaking in and out making the invisible visible. The October atmosphere carried the promise of a coming winter, and the mystery of the approaching Halloween.

I sat on a bench near the entrance, too tired to go down the slope to sit near the mall. The smell of leaves decaying perfumed the air with a loam where when I closed my eyes I saw fat pink earthworms wiggling through the soil creating a fertile base for next year’s seeds. Like the wind they circled in and out of the dirt, taking little bits of rotted trees in their wake.

“Mister? Are you okay?” A teenage girl was standing in front of me about five feet away.

I stretched my neck before answering her. “I’m okay, I guess.”

“You were moaning. I thought for a second that you were singing, but it sounded like you were in pain.”

I patted my leg. “Maybe I was a little. My hips really hurt sometimes.”

“You should tell me about it.” Her long, reddish brown hair had a glint to it as she swung it back over her shoulders.

That’s odd. It’s not sunny at all.

“Why should I tell you about my pains?”

“I’m a very good listener.” She sat on the next bench and turned towards me.

So I told her. I spoke about how I had arthritis and had just gone through a severe depression where I didn’t go outside of my apartment at all. The doctors at NYU said that I’m de-conditioned and it made rehabilitation much harder, even if I did get a hip replacement. I confessed that to her too.

She seems genuinely interested in my story. She asked about my depression, and I told her how alone I felt after the death of my partner. Leaning towards me, she beckoned with her hand. “Come one and sit next to me so I can hear you better.”

It was a struggle to stand up and limp with my cane over to the bench where she sat. I didn’t know why I was doing what she was asking me to do, but I did it anyway. Talking to anyone was hard, but a teenaged girl?  It was remarkably easy, quite unlike me. I felt like I was somehow changing. As I spoke I felt lighter and lighter.

The breeze picked up and chased brown and yellow leaves down the paved mall. The girl spoke and it sounded like the wind sprinkling itself through a wind chime. The gray day darkened, and she kept talking, lighter until it was just a whisper. Then it was dark, and the girl was gone.

I got up to walk back home. My back and hips weren’t tight and aching. I left my cane behind. Every step I took was easier and easier until I was floating up above the trees, above the clouds, and into the starry night. I reached out and the air felt like silky water running through my fingers. I looked far below and saw a little old man, sitting slumped on a park bench, blue lights flashing around him.

 

 

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She’s There

Last night, after the 10,000 Maniacs concert (thank you, Beth), I waited about 20 minutes on the bus at Sixth Avenue. After it pulled up and I boarded and sat in the last single seat on the side. A man wearing a black leather jacket and a black watch cap got on after me. He was grizzled, wearing sunglasses, and using a walker.
 
“Hey man.” His voice was loud and deep, his tongue twisting in and out between prominent, large teeth. Although he seemed a bit impaired, he was not incoherent.
 
“Hi.” I replied.
 
“I been lost all day down here. Glad to be on the bus home.”
 
“Lost? Are you sure you’re on the right bus?”
 
“Yeah. The five take me up to my apartment.”
 
“Well, as long as you’re sure. It’s no fun being lost.” Yeah. I know. I’m effing Pollyanna sometimes, but someone has to do it.
 
“I couldn’t find that employment place and I went from Battery Park all the way up to Canal.”
 
“The unemployment place? It was on Vandam, but I think part of that program was discontinued or shut down.”
 
“Vandam! That was it! I never even went past there!”
 
“Well, it wouldn’t have done you much good now anyway. It’s 11 at night. Good thing you’re going home.”
 
He held out his hand for me to shake. It was so dark, almost the darkest hand I had ever seen. His palm was warm, dry, and calloused. After we shook hands he launched into a very long story. He talked and talked. He told me about his family when he was a teenager. They seemed to be a physically violent family, but as he told his tale, it didn’t seem to be something that bothered him so much as he expected it.
 
He started working at the Beacon Theater many years ago preparing seat backs. He had been a security guard at the Naval Yard, and had ended up back at the Beacon where he ended his career. He launched into visceral detail about a terrible infection he had that had put him into intensive care, then a long hospital stay, then a rehab stint to help him become mobile again. His mother passed away (at 99, it seems, after climbing six flights of stairs) while he was out. Then he got even stranger.
 
To my surprise he told a ghost story. He heard his mother calling him while he was in his bed in rehab. By the time he got home, she had passed away, and though she was gone, she still slapped the back of his head as she liked to do in life.
 
“It’s nice to know my mama’s there.” His voice had gotten thick and soft.
 
“I’m so sorry for your loss. And I’m glad to know you’ve got some comfort. Hey, this is my stop.” The bus had traveled from Soho all the way up to the Upper West Side.
 
The man took off his sunglasses. He was crying. “Thank you for listening to me. I don’t know why I told you all of that, but I feel better.”
 
“Any time. Happy to lend an ear.” I smiled and waved at him. As the bus pulled away, I looked back at him through the window. A small woman who was not on the bus when I got off was slapping him on the back of the head.

Gullah Video

I am editing my Gullah trilogy, so I found this article to be quite interesting. It’s short, but it gives a brief explanation of how Gullah came to be, and a few phrases of the beautiful language. While you’re on my page, check out some of my past stories and essays. I am working on a new (belated) Halloween story which should be up in a few days.

How To Get Into A Bad Mood

I have been trying recently to let a lot of things go. Cut in front of me in line, I just sigh and go on with my life. If the bus is really late, no problem- I’ll just listen to a full concerto or the complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination on iTunes. You run out of food at a fast food place and I have to wait a few minutes, ok. I’ll write some on a story I’m thinking about.

But today tested my limits. I made an appointment to see the orthopedist for today at 11:45 two weeks ago. I schlepped all the way down to Union Square, a place I truly, truly hate. So many horrible, inconsiderate people swarming just everywhere. People with baby carriages using them as force shields. A billion students walking down the sidewalk in lines all the way across the sidewalks. Aggressive panhandlers. Crappy box stores and hipster joints. Just awful. I hobble with my cane feeling like a salmon swimming upstream.

I get to the doctor’s office, and the buzzer is weird. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure it out. Maybe I’m just slow, but there was nothing intuitive about that thing at all. The assistant finally buzzes me in and I get upstairs. Very chic. I tell her I’m there for my appointment with Dr. (Insert Doctor’s Name Here) and she tells me she called all of the appointments on Friday. The doctor had an emergency.

Well, okay, but I didn’t get a phone call. I had emailed them and we corresponded that way. I gave them my phone number and made the appointment through that. I can’t take the crowds during morning rush hour, and I told them that too. All nice and written down in email. But I didn’t point that out. If the doctor was out, the doctor was out. No point in hashing over something that couldn’t be changed. She apologized to me and made another appointment, even though I’m sort of in a weird constant pain. Then she told me her name, and I knew it was the woman who I had corresponded with. Still, what could being cross with her accomplish. At least I could walk over a block and catch another bus uptown and it would just be a transfer.

Lucky me, I catch the bus fast. But even though I was the first person at the stop, people bum-rushed the door, and I had to get in line behind some woman that decided to chat up the driver while digging her transit card out of something that looked to be a tea cozy for a 20 gallon cauldron, but was actually a beach tote she was using as a purse. I get on and there’s a slew of people, non-handicapped (not that I am permanently handicapped, just temporarily I hope). I need those seats. I can’t hobble to the back of the bus while it’s moving, which by that time it was. I look at a young man sitting in one of those seats and ask him to move. Politely. The bus driver had to tell him to get up. Really. How was he raised? By wolves? I’m beginning to lose my patience.

So I’m riding along, letting the tension of the moment go, and looking out of the window. Zombies were everywhere. People have stopped looking where they are going and have instead taken up screen-gazing. I want to shout “You’re in New York city, you dolts! Look around you or go back to wherever you came from.” Really. Even obvious tourists were nose-deep in their phones.

A little old man gets on the bus. He has a large rolling walker. I mean huge rolling walker. I’ve seen big walkers, but this one is the biggest I’ve ever seen. He pauses at the driver, and people moved got up from the front seats. But that was’t good enough for him. He screamed obscenities because his wide load walker is actually bumping the sides of the passageway to the seats. He made a big deal out of it and finally sat down. Again, I tried to mellow out, and stared out of the window. The walking dead stumbled around on the sidewalks and I let that roll off. I can’t stop people from wasting their lives constantly updating Instagram. It makes me sad more than mad.

The bus turns off of Sixth Avenue onto Central Park South then onto Broadway at Columbus Circle. We stop by the Trump Monstrosity (formerly known as the Paramount Building) and something goes wrong with the computer or something technical. The driver has to wait. Okay. I don’t sweat that. It’s a beautiful day, and I’m just happy to be in a seat instead of walking and having my hips burn. We finally depart, but the driver was ordered to take the bus out of service. He has to put up the “Next Bus Please” sign, which means he can drop off passengers but he’s not supposed to take in any more. Oh well.

The bus veers off onto Amsterdam and stops to let people off at 72nd Street. A woman who had been waiting for the bus with her little snowflake child marches up to the open door. She doesn’t even give the driver time to say “Please take the next bus. This one is being taken out of service.” Instead the woman starts screaming, “I pay $160 a month! I’m getting on this bus!” She keeps it up while the bus driver tries in vain to reason with her. She pushes her kid on in front of her, maintaining her shriek. She drops her Metrocard into the slot and marches to the back of the bus, still yelling about how important she is, and how crappy the MTA is, and what a jackass the driver is, and how much money she pays for a Metrocard a month and how she has a car and could drive places faster than the bus.

The driver tries to get her to be quiet, but she keeps it up. He sighs and drives on. One, two, three, four stops he stops and because the cow won’t stop bellowing, he takes on more passengers. He’s just doing his job and the witch won’t really let him.

Now all this time I’m listening to Cannibal Corpse. Loud. It’s a coping mechanism I have. Thrash metal or death metal where the singer sounds like he’s making Satanic burps into a microphone and the band plays a G chord as fast as they can usually drowns out the hoopla. Not today though. The woman came through loud and clear.

So after I have tried to let things go all day, after I regained my composure and patience again and again, I had enough of her.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I could barely control my mouth to form the words. I turned around to face the back where she and “Snowflake” were sitting. “CAN YOU SHUT UP? NO ONE CARES AND ALL YOU ARE DOING IS BEING FUCKING ANNOYING! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” My voice, which is usually quite high and edges on the effeminate came out of me like a testosterone-ladden pro-wrestler. It surprised me.

Maybe tomorrow I can have a stress-free day. I don’t have any appointments and I don’t have to go out into a loud, ruthless crowd that tries my very soul.

Sanctuary Of The Poisoned Mind

I feel I’ve given up connecting with the congregation. Every Sunday morning I slip a black robe over my head, and put a stole around my neck, satin and smooth, brightly colored according to the liturgical calendar. And every Sunday morning I go up to the pulpit and guide everyone like a director leads an orchestra. Everyone knows their parts but I set the pace. The Methodist service is like the menu at McDonald’s- the same everywhere. Much easier than the free form Baptists where the preacher shouts and the church swoons at will.

          I raise and lower my hands. Everyone stands. Everyone sits. We recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Responsive Reading from the back of the hymnal. No one really sings the songs; they just read along in time with the music in a monotone that barely makes a breeze.
          Above my head is a vaulted ceiling with large and ancient octagonal chandeliers swaying like ominous pendulums over the congregation. Their action is almost hypnotic, giant metronomes of narcolepsy . The yellow glow from them doesn’t really light the church. There are modern spotlights that illuminate the pulpit and supplies the pews of people adequate light to read. Still the giant chandeliers send a message of quiet beauty to the sniffing sinners adorned in their Sunday best, like the beauty of a hearse slowly creeping to the grave. But the light isn’t warm, just a cold and lifeless ochre, bright but sulfur like a welding arch.
          Each Sunday the pews are spotted with the dozers and overzealous. There are wives in dresses and hats just fine enough to make their neighbors jealous. There are husbands who would rather be playing golf, their bored faces a daydream reflection of greens, clubs, and drinks from flasks. Little old women clutch worn leather bound Bibles with tissue pages curled. Most of the little old men are absent, already gone to glory. The old ladies are living in fear that each breath could be their last. They are wasting their fear on the inevitable.
       But this particular Sunday when I raise my arms up then lower them, when I direct the sparse spattering of the devout but rote, something tells me that it’s really for nothing, that going through the motions is just that, no thought or belief behind it. This feeling has been growing inside me, the only thing growing in my soul in fact. No understanding of the mystical, no realization of the divine spreads to fill my being- just an echoing void.
          Now a void is necessarily hateful. Where there is no love, there is only hate. Emotions work like material things. A bottle is always filled with something. Once it is empty of its contents, it filled with air. In the vacuum of space, the bottle is filled to the lip with potential. But an emotion like love and with it the physics being metaphysical, hatred spills over to fill the void. It is not replaced by disinterest, sadness, or any other human emotion or state of being. Absence of love creates hate.
          And I hate my robotic congregation.
          The air conditioning is on, but I am sweating anyway. My revulsion for everyone in front of me feels solid, like it sits in my hand, a small brittle bird that I can crush if I wanted. Instead of being inspired by their plights, in place of being sorrowful for their human sinfulness, I feel rage, anger at them for remaining the same group of intransigent fools they were four years ago when I was assigned to this church.
          I open my mouth, suddenly filled, and my voice booms out. “I would die for you. That’s what Jesus said. By taking that cross, by not divinely intervening to ease his own mortal pain, He took his sins onto Himself.
          “But what have you given Him in exchange for your salvation? You come here each Sunday morning exactly the same as you came here last week, last month, last year. You tithe exactly what you’ve always tithed, dressed in your Sunday best, ready only to hear what you want to hear. Your faces and hearts are stone that only eons of time will erode.”
          They all gasp. That took them by surprise as if one of the giant swaying chandeliers had crashed down into their sparse ranks. The sour looks on their faces tells me that they don’t like what they’re hearing.
          “Now, who among you is ready to meet God? Which one of you has cleared your conscience?”
          I know the video cameras up in the balcony are capturing everything. I raise my arms and feel my physical body dissolve, my robe falling to the ground, empty, a black hull molted and left behind. I see the congregation below me. This is going to go viral.

The Restaurant

I’ve just gone through a bout of writer’s block trying to create a fairy tale. So I put it aside and asked my Vine and Facebook friends to give me three words for writing prompts. I told them that I would chose three and try to write a story using them. When I got the list, it was so juicy and challenging that I decided to use ALL their suggestions in one story. So from Vine I’d like to thank Jimusey, Marlinsmash, StrawberryCam,and Tracey Sarno. I’d like to thank Marius Weyland Riley, Karen Faris, Deanna Aronchick, Kerry Ottenson, and Mary Autumn Hale from Facebook. Thanks for putting up with my dry spell, and I hope you enjoy this story. It’s a little different from my “darker” fare. XO H. R. Christian

Charlie opened his eyes and looked at his hands. They were raw- pink and fragile. His nails were dirty, the ends ragged and crammed with dirt the color of a wood frog’s skin. He didn’t really know why they were like that. The thing inside his mouth felt more like the dry leather tongue of a shoe than the moist tongue a man would have. His black canvas sneakers were wet, an unpleasant swampy mush of water and foot filth mashed between his toes that he could only imagine was his socks. His pants were wet up to his knees, his legs sore like he had been on a march through the Burmese jungle with the Chindits. But that was impossible. It was 2017, not 1944. This was New York City, not a southeast Asian jungle. The last thing he remembered was being very sad and standing in the rain in a state of inebriation, then boarding 6 train and riding to 125th Street.  There was a fuzzy memory of waiting on the B15 bus to take him up Willis Avenue in The Bronx, then nothing. He couldn’t even remember why he had been sad. Alcohol truly made him forget.

The rooftops around him were flat and covered with huge piles of of large-grained gravel. He stood up carefully, the sharp edges of the rocks digging into his palms as he pushed himself up. His ancient iPod hung around his neck on a lanyard like a pair of birding binoculars. He looked at it and saw that it was drained of power. “Well, I can’t listen this until I find a power cord and an outlet.” His thoughts ran, concentrated on his music rather than his surroundings. The songs might have given him a distraction, an escape from the pounding confusion in his head while he scoured the roofs for any clue that would have told him where he was. As far as he saw, it was a just chaos of flat roofs with occasional buttes of buildings rising from the general level. It almost gave him the feeling that he was on the ground. He came to his feet and tottered over to the edge of the roof he was on, expecting to be no more than a story or two in the air. To his surprise he was perched on a virtual eagle’s nest, far higher up than he thought. The street below was a thin, gray thread, and the traffic noise no more than a slight ringing in his ears.

“We’re pretty high up, aren’t we?”

The voice came from Charlie’s left. He whipped around so fast he nearly lost his balance. There was a man sitting on a bare spot on the roof, leaning up against another building that was about four feet higher than the one he was on.

“What? How did I get here? I mean, I was waiting on the bus then I was here.”

“Sounds like you had a blackout. You’re a drinker, I can tell.” His cheeks, red as a ripe strawberry, quivered as his voice boomed out, echoing over the surrounding buildings.

“How?”

“Well, you’re as dirty as I am, number one. You look like you had a rough night. And I can smell you from here. Your breath is pretty strong. I’m guessing you drink bourbon?”

Charlie thought a moment. “I like it, sure. But I’m not a drunk. Just had a bad night is all, I think.”

“Sure, son. Just one bad night. It took you one night to wear down your clothes and get them filthy like that.” The man’s voice rose. “ Yep. You haven’t been a wino sleeping in the streets at all.”

“I wouldn’t consider myself a wino, mister.”

“Ah, but would everyone else think so?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve got an apartment. I live somewhere. I mean, I’ve got a place in Manhattan.”

“Are we in Manhattan?”

Charlie was stumped. He didn’t know exactly where they were. The cityscape around them was familiar, but at the same time unfamiliar. For all he knew they could be somewhere in Brooklyn. New York was a big city, and he hadn’t been everywhere in it. “I’m not sure, but we’re in the city somewhere. I just can’t place it.”

“You can’t place it because you don’t know where you are. You’ve never been here before so how certain are yo that we’re in New York. We could be in Newark, or even Philly.”

“I’d know if we were in Newark. I could see the Manhattan skyline from there.”

“Could you now? Well, it just so happens we’re in New York, but I’m not about to tell you where. This is very amusing to me.” The man laughed. “I’ve been in the same boat you’re in- stuck in a place, not knowing where you are or even how to get back to where you came from.”

“I’m not even sure I really want to be anywhere right now. My head feels wobbly and my stomach is upset. I think I need to get on the ground.”

“Good luck with finding your way down, then.”

“What do you mean? I got up here, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Then I can get back down.” Charlie turned and looked at the buildings around him. They were so packed together that he could only guess that he came up some stairs and though one of the many doors that opened out onto the roof. “All I have to do is find the unlocked door.”

“Did you notice that when you came through the door that it shut behind you? Lots of these doors open from the inside but are locked from the outside.” The man chuckled and pulled out a bagel from his jacket. “I’d be glad to share my breakfast with you. Are you hungry?”

It was then that Charlie realized he was hungry- very hungry. The bagel in the man’s hand looked huge, much bigger than a regular one. It seemed to be at least eight inches across. The cream cheese filling looked strange. “Yeah. I am. But what’s that in the middle?”

“We’re near loads of restaurants, brother. The better question is  what’s not in it?”

“What do you mean?”

“By loads of restaurants? What do I mean by loads of restaurants?”

“Yeah.”  Charlie peered over the edge of the roof. “There doesn’t look to be anything like a restaurant below us.”

“They’re not down there.”

“Well, where are these loads of restaurants then?”

“They’re up here.”

Charlie looked around. All he saw was roofs, chimneys, and fire escapes. There were a few sheds here and there, but over to the horizon there was no sign of a restaurant. “Still don’t see them.”

“Come over here and sit down. Eat, and then I’ll show you where they are.”

He sat next to the man who had a thick blanket covering the coarse rocks. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it kept the sharp points of the gravel from sticking them too hard. The bagel was dripping with butter. As he inspected it he saw specks of other things that looked like herbs, bacon, cream cheese, and vegetables. “There sure are a lot of things inside this. You were right. What’s not in it?”

“I told you. The people up here are really talented. There’s a place just over there.” The man pointed across the street at something that looked like a green house on the other roof. “They make the most exquisite artichoke pizza with goat cheese and a stuffed garlic crust.”

“I kind of like just plain pizza, you know with just tomato sauce and cheese.”

“Well, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.”

“I thought it was pizza.”

The man laughed, and when he did it was like music filled the overcast day. A light breeze ran across his hair, and fluffed out the great white beard billowing out from his chin. His eyes matched the gray blue of the sunless day, but more intense than the sky above. They were large and it was as if the man could see beyond the cloud cover into the brightness of the sun. He had a long, straight nose and a wide smile that showed a small gap between his two front teeth. His long fingers held on to a similar bagel as he took bite after bite. “Why don’t you eat your bagel, Charlie?”

“I am.” Charlie took a bite. He never tasted anything like it before in his life. The bread was dense, chewy but with an airy texture. The filling had so many complex flavors he couldn’t identify them all, but they delighted him. Then he thought a second. “How did you know my name is Charlie?”

“You said it last night when you got up here. You were, well, more than a little drunk. I’m not surprised you don’t remember much. Like I said, you look like a drinker. And drinkers black out.”

“So you’ve been up here all night?”

“I’ve been here for a long time.”

“You sleep up here?”

“I never go down. Never. There’s everything you would ever need up here.”

“You can’t be serious, man. You never go down? You sleep up here? So these restaurants, they just give you food?”

“Eat your breakfast and then I’ll show you around. You’ll see what I mean.” As he spoke, a cloud of banana yellow butterflies appeared on the horizon of the far away roofs, soared upwards to the sky, and disappeared, growing smaller and smaller in the distance.

They finished. Charlie never felt so satisfied with anything that he had ever eaten before. The man stood up and extended his hand to help him get to his feet. They walked over the gravel, which seemed to get easier and easier to Charlie. The rocks didn’t impede him as much as he thought they would, like he was actually floating over them. They went towards an old fashioned caged fire ladder.

The man worked the complex bolt and swung the door open. “Go ahead. Climb down.”

“I thought you said the restaurants were up here, like on the roof.”

“Don’t you see the other roofs? They aren’t all as high as this one. We’re just going down to explore some other places.”

“All the way down?”

“Oh never. Just down a level or two. You’ll see. Just climb down. You’ll know where to get off.”

“How?”

“Like I said, you’ll know.”

“Okay, but why should I trust you? I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Guilliam.”

“Like William with a ‘gu’ instead of a ‘w,’ right?”

“Exactly. Now go.”

Charlie descended the ladder. His feet were a little shaky. He kept looking down, and the tunnel of metal rods appeared endless. He couldn’t even see the street level below, like by getting inside the ladder’s cage it had elevated him to a dizzying height. His anxiety engulfed him, a manifestation of fear. “Guilliam, is it much farther? I’m kind of unsteady on this thing. How did I ever get up it last night?” He turned his head to see the older man above him.

“I never said you took this ladder to come up here. I just said we’d use it to go see some of the restaurants. You came through a regular door, not this fire escape. Don’t be  scared. There’s no way you can fall all the way down.”

Suddenly the ladder ended with a floor made by a basketweave of iron rods. There was a cage door like the one on the upper level. Unlike the one above, this one swung open easily. Charlie stepped out onto another roof area, this one covered with similar large-stoned gravel as the one above had. He held the door open for Guilliam who stepped out and waved his arm like a maitre d towards the rear of the roof.

“Go this way. I have some things to show you. Just walk over to that wall.”

Charlie made his way to the low wall that separated one building from another. On the other side was a gently sloping roof with the same gravel. But buried under the gravel was produce, and lots of it. There was a row of artichokes with everything but their green conical tops hidden by the bluish rock. A few feet away were rows of green and red apples peeking out in the same manner. Carrots with frilly tops lined up like orange pencils in a box. Arugula, spinach, and kale were bunched together, leafy football players in a huddle. Beyond the vegetables was a small building that connected with a few more buildings on the roof, creating a maze of small alleys. The other buildings had porches with all manner of fruit, vegetable and herbs buried in the stones. There were even wheels of cheese and crates of eggs, all strangely interred.

“What’s the deal with the groceries?”

“That’s what the restaurants use. They store their produce out in the air where God can see it.”

“What?”

“It’s an expression up here. It just means the air keeps the things fresher than sticking them away in some dark refrigerator or pantry. Come on. There’s the restaurant that I wanted to take you to.”

Charlie looked around. “I still don’t see a restaurant. I don’t see any restaurants.”

“There’s a lot of them. You’ve got to know where to look. Come on.” Guilliam climbed over the wall and walked gingerly down the roof to the small building. A rusty barbecue grill stood next a worn green painted door with a window in it. He knocked on one of the thick glass panels. It opened and a young woman with thick auburn hair and a small mouth poked out her head. She looked about thirty years old. A single oboe was playing a haunting tune inside the building, and the notes snaked through the opening in the door past her head and into Charlie’s ear.

“Guilliam! You’re here early today! And who is your new sidekick?”

The old man stepped aside and pointed. “Oh him? That’s Charlie. Hey Charlie! Let me introduce Josephine. Josephine, this is Charlie. He just got here last night.”

“Hi Charlie! Come on over. Any friend of Guilliam is a friend of mine!” She swung the green door all the way open and stepped out onto the roof. Her white dress crested like a wave in the light breeze, and her hair spread out like wings.

She looks like an angel. Charlie’s thoughts raced as he walked over to the porch. He extended his hand to her.

Her fingers went to his palm, and traced the lines. “Welcome to my little restaurant. Won’t you come in?”

“Um, I don’t have any money. Guilliam gave me a bagel this morning. I just don’t have anything.”

“Did I ask you for money? No, my dear. You don’t need any money for my restaurant. Just come on in, okay?”

Charlie let her lead him inside with Guilliam trailing behind them. He was amazed at how roomy it was. The light glowed from ample globes mounted on the ceiling, and the tables all had clusters of small votive candles. Each table had four chairs, four plates, and four goblets. On each plate was a small haystack of fried crispy noodles, his favorite food. Next to each plate was a pair of silver chopsticks. The oboe music faded into a melancholy but somehow upbeat guitar song that reminded Charlie of something, but he couldn’t place what it was.

“What’s this music?” He touched Josephine on the arm. It felt as warm as her fingers did.

“It’s called Thaumaturgy. By a group called The Orchids. I have the CD if you’d like to add it to your iPod.”

“It sounds like The Dream Academy. That’s a band from the 1980s.”

“I know. They did a song called Life In A Northern Town. I love that song.”

“I like them too. I really like this, but I don’t have any way of getting songs onto my iPod any more. I don’t have a computer or even wifi.”

“You don’t need it here. Hand me your iPod.”

“It needs to be recharged.”

“That won’t matter. I promise I won’t break it.”

He gave it to the woman and she slid her finger across the screen. She smiled slightly and handed it back. “Here you go. It’s all ready. You like music a lot, don’t you?”

Charlie stared at the iPod in his hand. It was fully charged and the song Thaumaturgy was showing on his music list. “How did you do that?”

“Let’s just say that the atmosphere up here is charged. Now, what would you like to eat?”

Guilliam spoke from the corner of the room where he had gone to look at a small shelf of books. “I’d like another bagel please. And my friend there would probably like to clean up. He doesn’t seem to be like me. I like being a little rough and dirty. It gives my soul grit, so to speak.”

“I’d like to wash my hands and face, if you don’t mind, miss. I was sort of indisposed last night, and, well, I think I’d like to feel a little cleaner than I am now.”

“You’re already clean, Charlie. And don’t call me ‘miss.’ You should call me Josephine.” Charlie stared at her again. Her smile was beatific. There was a scent about her of  spices. He breathed in deeply. “I like your perfume, Josephine.”

“I use cinnamon essential oil in my hair. It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Very.” He then realized he hadn’t been to wash his hands. He looked down at them, and they were clean, not raw and aching any more. His clothes that had been damp and dirty now looked freshly washed. He put his hand up to his face and felt his beard. It was dry, not greasy, and felt like down. “What happened?”

“You wanted to be clean.” She grinned at him. “So you got clean. You were unhappy last night. Are you unhappy now?”

“No. I’m very happy to be here.” He thought for a moment. “I can’t even remember why I was unhappy. I don’t remember being unhappy. I mean, when I first woke up this morning, I felt something, something awful. But now I don’t even know what it was.”

“That’s how it’s like up here, Charlie.” Guilliam stood next to him. “Everything on the roof, every restaurant, every ladder, every fire escape, you find happiness and peace. Isn’t it nice? It’s like our own nirvana up here.”

“Guilliam, of course it’s like a nirvana!” Josephine laughed. “Up here there’s no need to worry about what goes on at street level. Everything is timeless. Eventually everyone ends up here. Everyone is fed. Everyone is content. We aim to please here, and countless billions are served.”

“Wait. Billions? What are you talking about? Where am I?” Charlie felt puzzled, but not anxious. It was a happy sort of puzzled, though, and he had no desire to leave the restaurant to go back down to the street.

“I think you know where you are, Charlie. Just stay up here, and you never have to be sad again. You won’t even remember the feeling of sadness and depression any more.”

“You mean, well, I’m… I’m…”

Guilliam walked over to him. “Charlie, you are exactly where your journey took you. You don’t need the details of your life before here. And now you’re with the friends you were meant to have. Nothing else matters any more.” The old man put his arms around Charlie’s shoulders and gave him a long, warm hug.

Thanks everyone! It was a good first year for me and this blog! I hope your 2015 is as hopeful and good as I want mine to be!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.