Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

‘Eddie J No More’

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Here’s another piece of fiction from the folder in the file cabinet. This one was written in November 1990 in Columbia, Missouri, so as you read it, put yourself in the early 1990s. I likely got some things wrong about the music business, but so it goes when you’re writing to please yourself. Anyway, I hope you like “Eddie J No More.”

My guitar needs a new E string. I found that out last night. When the urge to play a few tunes hit me and I opened the case, I saw that the string – the high one – was loose and curled up like a nylon snake, right at the top of the neck. In my mind, I could hear the sound it made when it broke, kind of an idiot “ping” followed by the whispery sound of the long portion of the string curling up toward the neck, seeking its old circular shape just like water seeks lower ground.

I never heard it when it happened. No reason I should have. I keep the guitar case in a spare room between the box filled with my old music notebooks and the box that holds my old records. I suppose I hadn’t touched the guitar for, oh, three months. Maybe not that long, but it’s been a while since I had the urge to play.

But I wanted to last night. And when I saw the broken string, all I could do was look across the spare room to where my old Stratocaster sits. All its strings were intact, and all I needed to do was plug that baby into the amplifier of the sound system in the living room. A little bit of tuning and one quick flick across the strings for orientation, and I’d jump back on the rails and make that fucker howl!

But no. I haven’t played the Stratocaster for a long, long while. I haven’t wanted to howl since, well, since maybe ’85 or ’86. All I wanted last night . . . well, it’s kind of like something I saw Bruce Springsteen do in a solo acoustic show a few years ago.

When Bruce is out with the E Street Band and they get to “Born To Run,” it’s all guitars and drums roaring and the saxophone wailing as the road goes by and the lonely rider and Wendy aim their motorcycle toward whatever tomorrow will bring them because they know it has to be better or at least no worse than what they have right now and the roar of the imagined cycle gets mixed in with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounds and thunders with a noisy momentum that carries the E Street Band and its Boss and the crowd toward some wonderful place, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when Bruce did some solo gigs a few years ago, toward the end of the night, he’d play it slow, just him and an acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and almost sad, and the crowd was quiet and just about ready to go home. And it was right to do it like that: We have what we have, even if it isn’t everything we dreamed of finding out there. And none of us were running anymore.

And that’s what I wanted to do last night, play the music that comes after the running is over, the quiet stuff that can fill the air when you are where you are and you’re not looking for the next turn. I just wanted to strum my acoustic and maybe hum along a little, then maybe sing out and let my voice carry the weight of the song. I haven’t wanted to make the fuckers howl for years. I don’t think I could anymore. And I don’t think I want to, even if I could.

But my E string was broken and curled up, so I closed the guitar case and found something else to do last night. I read a book. And the Stratocaster stayed in the spare room.

You know, it’s funny that I think of Bruce and the way he changed “Born To Run” on that tour when I think about last night. From what my manager always told me, I was supposed to be where Bruce is, be what Bruce is.

I should introduce myself, I suppose. My name is Eddie Jopp. Never heard of me, right? Or if you did, you’ve pretty much forgotten me. Fair enough. I never really believed you’d remember. Maybe if I had, maybe if I’d believed, then I’d be more than a faint whisper in your memory. My manager believed, or at least that what he said. What he really believed, I think, was that anything or anyone can be packaged and sold, and I know he believed in ten percent. Anyway, I’m Eddie Jopp, also known as Eddie J for a while. No period after the “J,” please. Eddie J was the name.

When I say I keep my old records in a box in the spare room, I’m not talking about my high school copy of Saturday Night Fever or my copy of The Wall. I’ve got those – and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Supertramp and all the others – in the living room. No, the records in the spare room are my records: A Free Man In Greenland, Take The Wheel, my favorite Let The Spring . . . and a few others. Those are my records, the ones that Mick Pelzer produced in Kansas City at the start and then in L.A., the ones that were supposed to be on the list of everyone’s essential sounds of the ’80s. Eddie J on guitar, Eddie J on keyboard, Eddie J on vocals, and then it was Eddie J on the remainder racks and eventually Eddie J on the all-time favorite show, “Whatever the fuck happened to . . . ?”

It’s a good question, really. “Whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J?” I’m not sure I know, and I lived it. Oh, I haven’t forgotten it or lost it in some chemically induced paranoid haze. No, I stayed straight, most of the time anyway, but you can figure out how it is when you’re on tour and you’re only twenty-four. And I never got rid of the people who were there at the start only to find out I needed them later. No, the guys who started with me were there when it ended: Parker Stram on drums, Bobby Lippner on bass, Stu Kelsey on rhythm guitar, Jana Hall and Linda Camino on back-up vocals. They were on the first track we laid down in K.C. (“The Baker’s Dozen,” I think), and the last one in L.A. (“Inside Slide”). That’s when it ended, even though we didn’t know that for a while. But they were there.

So whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J? Life, I guess. The way it’s supposed to. Just because I’m not what I was expected to be doesn’t mean I’m not what I’m supposed to be.

It’s funny. I remember, back in the summer of ’81 when it looked like everything in front of us was gold or platinum, we were all sitting in a huge suite in downtown Milwaukee. We’d played a show at the arena there the night before, and we had two days before we had to be in St. Paul, so we were taking a day off. A show must have been canceled somewhere, I guess, but I don’t remember.

Anyway, Cal Mellon, my manager – our manager, really, because Parker, Bobby, Stu, Jana and Linda were just as much a part of Eddie J as I was; I just gave it my name – Cal was talking about what he saw. He was waving a bottle of Heineken in the air, proclaiming that he saw Eddie J as the latest in the line of what he called “authentic American voices.” He had Elvis, and Buddy, and Bob, and then Bruce, of course. And at the end of the line (for the moment, anyway, because someone always tacks another car onto the Mystery Train, right?) came me. Or us. Eddie J, anyway.

Like I said, it’s funny. It’s the modern nobility, kind of the twentieth century version of white rock ’n’ roll knights: Here’s Elvis of Tupelo with “Love Me Tender,” ‘Jailhouse Rock” and so many more. Here’s Buddy of Lubbock with “Rave On” and “Peggy Sue” and the dreams of would’ve been. Here’s Bob of Hibbing with – oh, shit, which ones? The first time I saw him was in Wichita, and he sang for ninety minutes, and an hour’s worth of stuff he didn’t sing would have made the fucking best greatest hits package anyone would want to hear. But just to keep the monologue moving, let’s say “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.” And here’s Bruce of Asbury Park with (same problem here, but what the fuck) “Born To Run” and “The River.”

And then, says Cal, comes Eddie of Olathe with . . . with what? Oh, maybe “Sailor Serenade” and “Let The Real Game Roll.” Never heard of them? Fair enough. Not a lot of people did. Well, more than I figured would on those days back in high school when I started writing songs, but not nearly as many as Cal – and the rest of us, too – had plans for. Never heard of Olathe, either? That’s cool, too. It’s in Kansas, for those who don’t recognize it. But I imagine there are lots of folks who wouldn’t know much about Tupelo or Lubbock or Hibbing or Asbury Park without those other guys being able to connect to some kind of magic that Eddie J never found.

And that’s okay. Even as Cal was waving his beer bottle in the air and declaiming his vision, I didn’t buy it. It was kind of like one of those old intelligence tests. You know, the ones that ask “Which one is different?” Well, when it’s Elvis and Buddy and Bob and Bruce and Eddie, I didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. Neither, as it turned out, did the people who buy the tunes. And after they figured it out, the folks at Kappa Delta records got the word pretty fast. And by 1985, Eddie J was gone.

Oh, I’m still around, and I’m doing okay. And most of the rest of the gang is okay, too. Bobby’s gone. He had a heart attack on the tennis court a few years ago. But Parker and Stu are still in L.A. doing session work. Jana married a guy who worked at the studio in K.C. where we first recorded, and I hear she’s got a kid now and sings jingles in the studio. Linda went back east and got a job as a deejay, and she’s part of the top morning team in Annapolis, I think.

Me? Oh, I’m going to school here in Wichita. I’ve got a teaching degree in mind. Yeah, I’m lots older than most of the others in my classes, and nobody recognizes me. At least if they do, they’ve never said anything. That’s not surprising – they all listen to CDs and none of my stuff ever got there. They don’t even look in the remaindered record racks, which is the only place you’re going to find Eddie J these days.

And Cal? Well, there’s always someone new to promote, someone else to put into that line of voices. He’s got a kid on the road now, a guy named Custer Barnes. The kid’s good – I’ve heard a few of his tracks – and maybe he’ll make Cal’s dreams come real. I couldn’t do it for Cal, but my dreams became real.

Hey, they really did. All I wanted was a chance to play, to get my stuff down on tape and onto vinyl. Now, I suppose that sounds like the kind of noble bullshit that you hear all the faded stars spout, those that survive, anyway. But it’s not. I got what I wanted. I played my music, and for a while, a lot of people listened. My dreams weren’t Cal’s though. He wants more than that, And like I said, he believes in ten percent. But he’s an okay guy anyway.

He called the other day. Wanted to know if I would come out to L.A. and put some stuff on tape with Parker and Stu, see what came out of the headphones. Well, I’ve got some new things – I may not play a lot, but I’ve never really stopped writing – but it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I said so. He said he was sure it would go, and that he’d already booked the studio time. Had he called Parker and Stu? Not yet, he said.

Something wrong with Custer Barnes? “No,” he said, “I just want to get your stuff out where it belongs, with the listeners.” I thought for a minute, Shit, maybe he was right. Maybe it’s worth another shot. But then I figured that if the listeners really wanted to hear me, I wouldn’t need my old agent to tell me so.

I asked him what date he had the studio time reserved. He told me, and I said, “Sorry, I’ve got a mid-term that day.”

Aced the fucker, too. And tomorrow after class, I’m going to get a new E string. Hell, maybe I’ll get a whole new set of strings. Or I could sell the Strat and get a new electric . . . No, a new set of strings for the acoustic will do just fine. Let the words carry the weight as far as I want it to go.

GPE
November 15, 1990
Columbia, Missouri

The Peddler Of Dreams

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Something reminded me the other day of this bit of fiction. I’m not entirely sure when I wrote it, but it was sometime during the mid-1980s, probably in 1984 in Columbia, Missouri.

In the dim light of early morning, he came down the cobblestoned street, half shuffling, half dancing. His hair, like silver feathers, peeked out from under a hat that had been new many towns ago. He rubbed the knuckles of his right hand on the right breast of his tan jacket, where the nap of the fabric was only a memory, then breathed on the hand as if for warmth and stuck it into his trouser pocket. His left hand swayed in the air, holding tight against the breeze to the eight balloons tethered on strings.

As he came down the empty street, the balloons danced with him, bouncing in the air. They were as blue as a kitten’s eyes.

He made little noise as he passed. Only the slight whisper of his soft shoes on the cobbles and a faint melody hummed under his breath gave note of his passing in the small alley where working folk lived. Their daily labors were some hours ahead, and few had started to prepare. Of those, only one saw the man with the balloons.

She was Ritva, and she had lived alone for years, less by choice than by circumstance. Her morning tea was ready, and she sipped it standing by the single window in her second-floor rooms, watching the shadows retreat before the day in the little canyon of the alley. She sipped, then grimaced. Her tea was unsweetened; sugar was a luxury although she would have denied herself sweetness even if she could have afforded it. There was something noble for Ritva in the bitterness of the tea.

She sipped again. Her tongue curled, seeking refuge from the tartness, as always. Then she saw the balloons. They jumped and twisted on their strings as they capered past her window. She leaned closer to the glass and peered downward to see whose fist held the strings. A simpleton, no doubt, for who but a fool would prance through the alley with balloons?

She savored the bite of the last swallow of tea, found her cloak and walked carefully down the narrow stairs to the street. The fool with the balloons was heading out of sight around the small curve to her left. She turned right, toward the counting house and work, but then turned in pursuit of the fool; someone had to tell him not to bother hard-working folk who needed their rest.

She rounded the slight curve in the alley and came nearly face-to-face with him. He smiled as if he’d been waiting for her. “Hoy, Ritva! You must have stern business this morning to be off so fast with so grim a look. Who draws your wrath today?”

“It is you,” she said, then paused, less certain. “How is it you know my name, as I do not know yours?” She dismissed the question with a sharp wave of her hand. “What business have you in the alley, bothering sleeping folk? Are you foolish or simply idle?”

He laughed, his head thrown back, the sounds of his amusement coming from deep within his chest. The sun, peering through a gap between buildings, caught his upturned face under the brim of his squashed hat and made it glow like embers not quite gone. He shook his head when his laughter was done. “So many questions and so little time for answers,” he said. “I bother no folk in their beds, nor am I foolish. I sell my wares and bring what all folk need.”

“Balloons? We all need balloons?” Ritva’s scorn was as bitter as her tea.

“Nay, not just balloons, but dreams. I am a peddler of dreams, and all folk here and in all the other cities and villages in this world need dreams. We all need a moment in the day to wonder, to hope, to pretend. We need to counter the fear, the anger, and the sorrow that wait at work, at home, and in between. We need to hear the sun sing its golden aria, to know that the mountains we climb in our minds are real and that our failures are not so important.”

He paused and looked directly into her eyes, his own eyes as blue as the balloons that swayed in the slight morning breeze.

“We need our dreams,” he said. “They chase the nightmares from our sleep and hold us steadfast in our waking hours. Gloom falls in the face of their gentle advance. Come, Ritva, choose a dream!”

“I need no dreams,” she said. “And I need no balloons. I have work.” She moved to go back down the alley. He bowed and waved her on with his right arm. The balloons bobbed on their strings as he bowed.

“I charge no coin,” he said. “If the balloons be only balloons, you lose naught. Come, the figures at the counting house can wait. Buy from me a dream!”

Ritva hesitated. “You must leave the alley,” she said. “I shall have a balloon, but you must go elsewhere.”

“You would deny your neighbors the dreams they need, just as you deny your own need for dreams?” He waited for no answer but reached to his left hand and selected a balloon. He brought it down to her, held it near her chin and popped it with the thrust of a fingernail.

“Hai! You did that intentional!” Ritva glared at him for an instant, then gasped. She looked at the peddler of dreams, but he was already fading from sight.

She stood atop a tall hill, taller than any near the village, and the grass under her feet was greener than springtime and softer than the velvet worn by kings. The air was sweet like ripe fruit and just a bit cold. She was waiting for someone.

How did she know that? Ritva shivered, made anxious by this place where she had found herself. Where was the idle fool with his balloons? She brought her hand to her mouth in fear and stopped in wonder. The skin of her face was smooth, the wrinkles she’d long ago accepted with little grace now gone. She looked at her hand and saw the hand of a young woman. And she was waiting for someone.

She turned into the wind. The wind was real. It blew her hair back, flattened the fabric of her dress against her body, shaping the cloth to a figure that was never Ritva’s, even when she was young. It was like a dream. No, she thought and closed her eyes, and the young hand went again to the smooth face in astonishment. It was not like a dream. It truly was a dream. She’d bought it from the peddler of dreams.

She opened her eyes and looked down the hill. A young man with brown hair and a thick beard, strong and ruddy, was rushing up the hillside toward her. Still a little fearful, she waited for him, and he took her into his arms as he reached the summit. “I’m home,” he said, his hazel eyes looking at her as if to compare reality with memory. “We can be married now.” Then he leaned over and kissed her. Ritva, who had never been embraced, kissed back. It tasted like cinnamon, she thought, though she’d never tasted the spice. Somehow, she knew.

The kiss ended and Ritva opened her eyes. She was in the alley again, and the peddler of dreams stood beside her, watching her closely. “That was the dream of a young woman from Hardin Province,” he said. “Her young man went away to war and never returned, and she dreams of what would have been.”

Ritva gathered her thoughts, like weapons, to deal with the intrusion of fancy. She was no young girl in need of kisses from a lost lover. She was a woman, an old woman, and she had work at hand. Still, she delayed. The dream had been pleasant, maybe something more than pleasant, even if it was not real.

“If I can pay you” she said slowly, her eyes on his, “may I have another?” She frowned, for that was not what she had intended to say.

He smiled and then shook his head. “No, Ritva. One is all you may have. More than that, well . . .” He paused, evidently thinking, and then nodded. “Have you ever had airwine?” She shook her head. “No? You must someday, and you will learn that the first sip of airwine is the best ever, that moment when the racing bubbles fly out of the glass as you sip, when some of them streak into your nose to tickle it with tiny feathers as the sweetness of the nectar slides across your tongue.”

He sighed and shook his head again. “After that, as fine as airwine is, it’s never quite so fine. And so it is with the dreams I sell. The first time is all there can be, for it can never be so fine again.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue balloon. “Now you may pay me,” he said. “I will take your dream in return for the dream of the girl in Hardin. Here,” he said, placing the balloon in her hand, “give me your dream.”

“I have none,” Ritva said. “Even so, I am an old woman. Who would want my dream?”

“You have dreams, Ritva, even if you do not care to remember them. Like any young woman, you once sat in the moonlight on Midsummer, wearing a crown of silverflowers, and thought about the man you hoped to meet. Your sleep brings you dreams.”

She shook her head quickly, sharply. He chuckled.

“Yes, your sleep brings you dreams although you, like many, refuse to receive them. There are dreams hidden inside you, Ritva. You might dream of the first taste of an apple in the autumn or the laughter of young children. We all have dreams, but it sometimes takes the dream of another to bring forth our own.” He looked at her with a soft smile. “I know these things. I am a peddler of dreams.”

Wordlessly, she brought the balloon to her mouth and filled it with her breath until it shone from the light of the day reaching through its thin blue shell. He tied it on a string, and it rose into the air, lifted by Ritva’s dream. He turned away as if to leave. She stood silently, and he looked back at her.

“Come, Ritva,” he said, “go to your work. You have had another’s dream, but your life is still your own to lead, and your duties are your own to fulfill.” He stepped closer and placed his hand gently on her cheek. “Go. Live your life and remember the dream.”

He began to hum a strange tune and then his shuffling dance took him away down the alley. It was full morning. The alley’s dark corners were gone, and windows were opening. She turned toward the counting house.

Horses ran free in her sleep that night. She awoke from the dream, her own dream, and in her mind, she could see him: On the road between Ritva’s village and the next, blue balloons glimmering in the moonlight, the peddler of dreams danced a little faster.

‘Sanctuary’

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

(This is a different type of post. Rummaging through my files the other day, I found a piece of fiction I wrote while living in Columbia, Missouri, in 1991. I’ve never done anything with it, so I’ve revised it just a bit to offer it here. It’s called “Sanctuary.” I hope you like it.)

The road circled a hill, turning abruptly, and Aaron barely prevented the car from heading down a rough slope into a wooded valley. He wasn’t driving fast, but he has no idea where he was, and it was difficult to see through the mist of tears.

Halfway into the turn, the car emerged from a tunnel of leafy oak and ash into a clearing below the hill.

On the top of the hill stood a church.

Sanctuary.

The word whispered itself from the back row of his brain, sending a ripple through him of something not entirely comforting. Sanctuary? Aaron braked and looked up at the church. It was old and long unused, white paint graying and flaking from too many Iowa seasons. The small bell tower was leaning to the northeast. Was that right? He glanced up and checked the position of the sun behind the clouds, then looked at his watch, calculating directions from shadows. Yes, northeast.

Sanctuary, whispered the voice.

He hesitated, then drove until he found a place to park about a hundred yards away, down another decline and out of sight of the church. He locked the car before walking back along the road and then up the hill.

The doors, as weathered and aching as the rest of the building, were ajar, frozen in place by time. Aaron squeezed through. Dim light came through the paneless windows but illuminated little: A few pews and some litter, the stump of a lectern and a bench.

Weary and disappointed – and aware of the folly of disappointment – he sat at the end of a pew, as far as possible from the empty place where the altar had once stood. Vision blurred again, and his head dropped. If this was sanctuary, it was odd indeed. But sanctuary was what he needed, a retreat from the last four days. Yesterday, Wednesday, had been the worst, waking alone in the house and being left alone by well-meaning friends and relatives. The day before was the funeral. Before that, Monday, he’d welcomed with embraces and tears those same friends and relatives who had now faded out of sight. And Sunday. The day it started . . . or ended. The morning he’d waked to find Linda lying still beside him. The doctor thought it might have been a stroke, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was gone.

Four horrible days. And today, the fifth, was the worst. He had found sorrow enough being in the house with the comfort of others. It was unbearable alone. So he’d fled the house and Keokuk, losing himself in the roads through the hills. And he was still alone. He put his face in his hands and wept, then turned to the right, resting against the end of the pew. In time, the tears stopped, and Aaron slept.

He woke slowly, confused, to a muted chorus of voices. “And also with you,” they said. Without moving, he opened his eyes and saw clear glass in the window. He stared at it for a moment, then raised his head and sat up.

The church was full. Pews that hadn’t been there when he came in were filled with men, women and children. Their clothes were wrong, old-fashioned. He glanced to his left. A man in a high-collared brown suit looked at a gold watch through round wire spectacles, then stroked his trimmed mustache and put the watch back in his vest pocket. Aaron turned to the front. A plain altar stood below a wooden cross high on the wall. A man in a black frock coat – the minister, Aaron thought – sat down on the bench by the lectern. As Aaron watched, the minister looked toward the first pew and nodded briefly. “Rachel,” he said.

A young woman rose from the pew and went to the center aisle, followed by a boy carrying what looked like a dulcimer, who sat in a chair to the side. Aaron stared at the young woman as she took her place. She was wearing a plain blue dress that reached to her ankles, gathered somehow at the waist and flaring out from there to the floor. She had light brown hair pulled together loosely at the nape of her neck. It framed her face and flowed down her back.

Her face was extraordinary. Not pretty, Aaron thought as he she looked at the gathered congregation, but truly beautiful, with a serenity that was so vivid that the only word he could think of was “ethereal.” She smiled, and Aaron saw something familiar in the smile, but the simple wonder of seeing it kept him from even trying to identify what it was he recognized. Then she spoke.

“Reverend Westphal has asked me to close the service with a hymn,” she said simply. “We have heard this week of the great battle at Gettysburg, and I know we all fear for our young men who have gone to war to preserve the Union. I hope this song will bring comfort as we wait.”

The boy played a series of simple chords, and Rachel began to sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

As she started the second verse, the congregation joined her tentatively, first one voice and then another.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace that fear relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

When the third verse started, all in the church but Aaron were singing, and the simple melody and gentle words became a moving and increasingly louder statement of faith and hope that penetrated his despair. He joined them.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
’Tis grace has brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.

As the final verse started, the rest of the congregation fell silent, leaving Aaron’s and Rachel’s voices to carry the song. He almost stopped as well, but as the first syllable left his lips, Rachel looked directly at him, smiling around the words as she sang, encouraging him to continue.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright, shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

The dulcimer repeated the chords of the song after the fourth verse, and Aaron closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them, Rachel was smiling gently at him, and Aaron felt something flow between them that he could not name, something that made the two of them somehow inseparable yet still separate. The dulcimer completed the chords, and Rachel sang alone:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

Aaron stared at her as she moved back to her place in the first pew. Reverend Westphal stood. “Go with God,” he said, and the congregation began to move from the pews, Aaron with them. The man next to him turned and extended his hand.

“It was good to have you worship with us, Aaron,” he said. “We hope to see you here again.”

Aaron shook the man’s hand numbly, hardly noticing that the man knew his name. His eyes were on Rachel, who was now in a small knot of people in the aisle. Those in Aaron’s pew, including the man who had spoken to him, slowly made their ways into the aisle, and when Aaron got there, he found himself standing next to Rachel.

She looked at him gravely. She wore like a cloak the aura of serenity that Aaron had noticed just moments before. “God rest you,” she said quietly. “We will sing again.” Then she turned and slipped through a gap in the crowd of people near the door. Aaron watched as she left the church.

He woke in the car, cramped and dazed. A pale pink line on the horizon below the hills promised daybreak. He moved his head to relieve his aching neck, then looked at his watch. It was 5:20. How long had he been sleeping? He stretched, and then he remembered the church and the congregation. He remembered Rachel.

Aaron threw the door open and ran up the road and then to the top of the small hill. The church was as he had first seen it. Its windows had no glass. The doors were weathered and slightly ajar. He went inside, and even in the vague light of early morning, he could see it was nearly empty. He walked to where Rachel had stood as she sang. The floor was warped, long unwalked.

It must have been a dream, Aaron thought. I must have fallen asleep in the church, then walked back to the car half-sleeping. He walked out of the church and watched the sun light the low clouds. It was a dream, he was certain. He walked down the hill and was halfway to the car when he stopped.

Maybe it was all a dream. Not just the church on this country road, but Linda as well. Maybe he’d dreamed or imagined it all. It was possible, he thought. And the more he thought, the more possible, the more likely, the more certain it became. Linda was home, waiting for him, wondering where he’d been all this time, worrying about him.

He ran to the car, started it and drove down the winding road, knowing that he’d find a road that would lead him to another and eventually to one he’d recognize. And he would go home to Linda.

An hour later, he parked the car in his driveway and hurried into the house. “Linda?” He walked through the kitchen into the hallway. “Linda?” She must be in the living room. “Linda?”

He stopped in the doorway of the empty living room. Cards of condolence and sympathy lay on the table near the front door, in front of a framed portrait of Linda. An arrangement of wilting flowers stood next to the portrait.

Aaron exhaled heavily as he stepped to the couch and sat, staring at the tableau on the table. Again he wept.

Late that afternoon, he drove once more into the hills, parked the car, then took his wallet out of his pocket and left it on the seat next to the keys. He turned and walked up the curving road. As he came to the small hill, he could hear Rachel’s voice coming from the church:

I once was lost, but now am found . . .

The voice in his head whispered: Sanctuary.

Aaron walked quickly up the hill and went to join the congregation.