Experiment #241

The Miracle Man Part 1

Even before it came into view, she could hear it tinkling in the distance. Little bits of metal rubbing against each other like a wind chime on steroids.

Next came the plodding clip-clops of the old cart horse. That old horse would have lost to a snail in a race, but he could trudge on through the worst blizzard or cross the deepest river. Steady as he goes.

Then came the creak of the wheels singing like the soprano section of St. Luke’s Oratory filling in the gaps while the driver bellowed out an old spiritual in a smooth baritone.

“‘Zekiel saw de wheel of time” he sang then hummed the next line, then sang, “Ev’ry spoke was human kind” then hummed some more, “Way up yonder on de mountain top” and “My Lord an’ de chariot stop”

Next thing she knew the old tinker’s cart turned the corner and ambled its way into life passing the parked cars and SUVs like a turtle passes a sleeping rabbit. The cart had once been painted in bright hues, but the paint had faded and cracked decades ago. On the side you could still make out the stylized letters of a by-gone era: “The Miracle Man”.

The driver had withered and cracked with the paint. He wore a sparse straw hat on his head and threadbare, denim overalls on top of a red shirt.

The old cart horse plodded on till they came in sight of a particular cul-de-sac. The cart horse stopped and the driver shaded his eyes to watch. A young man, with a straw hat and threadbare overalls, walked up to a little girl who’d watched the cart amble up the street. Her mouth was still open and her hand was still frozen over a pink daisy she’d been drawing, when the young man spoke.  “You know the Carlsons?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I’m Betty Carlson.”

“Well, Betty, is your pappy at home?” the young man asked. “I’d like to speak wid him.”

“Who’re you?”

“Just tell him Highbrook is a cheat and a scoundrel, and he shouldn’t have nothing to do with him no more.”

“Ok…” the girl said, keeping a leery eye on the young man as she went into the house.

When Mr. Carlson came out to see who was asking about Mr. Highbrook, the young man, the horse, the cart, and the driver were nowhere to be found.

Experiment #242

The Miracle Man Part 2

Cindy shoved the truck into reverse and floored it backward into the house. Her tail lights entered the living room at just the place where Janice had been standing only a few moments earlier.

Janice later told the story to her therapist this way, “Well, I just wouldn’t be sitting here now if not for cheese balls.

“Virgil’s bowl was empty so I went to the kitchen to refill it. Then that maniac drove Virgil’s antique truck right through the wall! I hate to think what could have happened if I hadn’t seen his bowl was empty. I could have been hurt, maimed, or put in a coma!

“So I’m right thankful for cheese balls. Miracles wrapped in cheese powder, they are. I bet that maniac wishes she had some cheese balls.”

The therapist offered Janice a cheese ball from a large bowl on the coffee table. Janice smiled, took the bowl onto her lap, began idly munching, and moved on to the next subject. And that was the way with Janice, she’d avoid standing near exterior walls, but a few cheese balls and she was right as rain.

Cindy on the other hand, could not solve her problems with a few cheese balls. Unfortunately, though, she also couldn’t solve them by backing a truck through the wall of a house either, though it did improve her mood.

Cindy had been in a terrible car accident (before the one involving the house). The other driver had been late for a meeting, and believed normal driving laws should be suspended until such time as he was no longer late. Unfortunately, no one else got this memorandum, least of all Cindy. She had been attempting part three of a ten-point plan, recommended by a therapist on TV, to salvage her marriage. She had gotten off work early to surprise her husband with a night out at his favorite restaurant.

As Cindy turned left, the other driver disregarded the red light and smashed his Mercedes into the side of her two-week-old Nissan, totaling both cars in the process. The man walked away without a scratch. Cindy, however, had a helicopter ride to the hospital where they ushered her into the ICU. The doctors there pronounced her condition “touch and go.” She stayed “touch and go” for a few days until she settled into a coma.

Her husband, Virgil, mourned her for three weeks before finally asking the doctors to pull the plug. An old doctor resembling the cart driver and wearing a red shirt under his threadbare lab coat showed up to turn the respirator off. As the respirator stopped working, though, Cindy miraculously returned from her silent sojourn.

Virgil had mixed emotions about this miracle, however, as he had begun shacking up with Janice, his boss’s secretary. Sympathy and comfort had instigated the relationship, but the lonely man quickly turned things in another direction. Janice, for her part, equally quickly progressed from a shoulder to cry on to live-in-girlfriend; all while Cindy breathed through a machine.

Cindy’s full recovery, though miraculous, stretched on for eight long months. It would have been half that long if Virgil had not come in with papers for Cindy to sign two weeks into it. Virgil had found a loophole in his state’s insurance law that removed liability for her medical bills if their marriage had been dissolved by the day of discharge. He pushed her to sign the paperwork, and she, a recovering bundle of nerves and tears, signed away her marriage and any chance for financial security. With just one sister, a plane ride away—who was far too busy to visit more than once in eight months—she was on her own.

Experiment #243

The Miracle Man Part 3

After Cindy left the hospital and settled herself in a new apartment, Virgil came over with a check.

“I know things between us have not gone well this past year,” he said. “But I hope this will help.”

“You want to give me a check?” Cindy asked.

“That’s right,” Virgil said. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”

At his insistence, Cindy took the check, but decided not to cash it until she spoke with a lawyer.

A few weeks later she happened to run into Janice at the supermarket with a shopping cart. Cindy had been looking at the canned meat display and had not seen anyone in front of her, until Janice shrieked with pain. No amount of apologizing or explanations would solve the issue. Janice walked with a limp the rest of the day and two weeks later when she visited the doctor.

Cindy, in an attempt to move on with her life, baked some cookies and brought them to Virgil’s house as a farewell. Janice, however, answered the door in a shirt two sizes too small and would not accept cookies from Cindy, making thinly veiled comments about the quality of Cindy’s baking and the potential of arsenic as an ingredient. Janice would not take the cookies nor would she call Virgil. Finally Cindy turned away and went back towards her car. “I’m surprised he stayed with you as long as he did…” Janice said to herself loudly. “Woman who hates cheese balls…”

This comment barely made sense as an insult, but for Cindy it was the straw that broke the front wall. She jumped into Virgil’s favorite truck, an antique Ford that he kept in the driveway, and, still having a key, turned the ignition and rammed it as hard into the house as reverse gear would allow.

Cindy had never intended to kill Janice though she would have been okay with some maiming. She gave her whole sad story to the judge, but somehow through her tears and sniffles and the judge’s unshakable belief in the justice system, her story lost believability. The facts before her were indisputable. Whatever led up to them was irrelevant to the judge. He did set modest penalties. She would have to pay for both the house and the truck. They’d garnish her wages until she paid it off. For whatever reason, though, he forced Virgil to pay his own attorney’s fees.

In this surreal state, coming out of the courthouse Cindy heard, or thought she heard, a tinkling on the wind. She put it aside, walked to her car, and drove to her apartment.

The next morning Janice called with an estimate of the repairs. Apparently she and Virgil were taking the opportunity to build a window seat and alcove where the truck had struck. “You know, a little bit of redemption,” Janice had said. It would cost a “little” more—on the order of 50% more than Cindy’s contractor’s estimate—but since the amount was within the judge’s limits on repairs, Janice “anticipated” Cindy would not have a problem paying for it. Plus Janice had gotten “a really good deal” from her brother.

Cindy sighed. That had been her and Virgil’s project. They’d planned to put in a window seat once money wasn’t so tight. They had even started saving. Cindy hung up the phone and sighed again. The air tinkled once more, this time louder, like little bits of metal rubbing together.

Cindy looked out the window at the wind chime on her neighbor’s balcony. She picked up her purse, reached in and pulled out Virgil’s check. “Well, it’s not much, but it’s something,” she said.

Experiment #244

The Miracle Man Part 4

Soon they landed back in court. Virgil had lost a very lucrative business deal due to some the client’s daughter. Now his business was in trouble and he tried to reclaim his two thousand dollars and to prevent Cindy from using a shared savings account (one set up by them for the window seat and alcove installation) to pay for the repairs. Virgil lost this case, but it did not matter much to Cindy. The check and the account together still wouldn’t cover the initial window cost, let alone the window seat/alcove addition and now she had more attorney’s fees on top of it.

Cindy’s workplace had luckily hired a temp while she was out, so her job awaited her when she left the hospital, but long hours sitting at a desk were hard on her back. Her manager tried to accommodate her with an ergonomic chair, which helped, but not enough. Finally, despite her manager’s objections, she quit.

Debts began to pile up. Past due and over due notices appeared in her mailbox.

She had gone to a religious school as a child and some of the lessons still surfaced in her mind: things about loving your neighbor and keeping the Sabbath day holy. But these lessons had long parted ways from her life, and the words ceased to have meaning for her. Till she came across a muddy flier that attached itself to her shoe on her way home one night.

She had nothing to lose, so she went to the church soup kitchen down the street from her apartment.

She’d done her hair and makeup, worn a dress, so she didn’t fit the profile of someone in need. They did not turn her away, but the disapproving stares of several of the older ladies made her want to vomit. She left without eating.

How would not working on Sundays help her now? How would picking up a beaten man on the side of the road help her now? She had been beaten and left for dead, and just like the story, the clergy, the people who were supposed to help, just passed on by.

A steady clip, clop, clip, clop sounded in the distance.

Cindy got up from her kitchen table, went into the living room and turned off the TV. A Western had begun to play in her absence.

That night Cindy went the one place she swore she’d never go again.

“Been a long time,” the bartender said.

“You remember me?” Cindy asked.

“I remember your tips,” he said with a smile.

Cindy blushed, unsure whether she heard him correctly.

“It’s not every day a lady gets sloshed the way you used to, cleans up for a couple of years and comes back,” he continued. “Most are only gone a month, some just a day, if they make it to a year I almost never see them again.” He smiled. “Except at the grocery store.” He let that sit a minute then added, “You’re also quite pretty.”

“Thanks,” Cindy said. She smoothed her hair and sat a little straighter on the stool.

The bartender picked up a glass to wipe and looked out into the smoky atmosphere.

“You sure you want to be here?” he asked after a long pause.

Cindy stayed quiet for a long moment before sliding a twenty across the bar, her last twenty. “My usual please.”

“Rum and Coke, hold the Coke?”

Cindy nodded and waved off her change when he brought her drink. It was the last bill she had, but his comment and her pride stopped her.

Above the blaring music she heard an odd, high-pitched noise, when she asked the bartender he apologized. “It’s the squeak of one of the belts on the air conditioner, doesn’t last long,” he said.

“That’s alright,” she said. “It sounds kind of like a choir. Like the one at St. Luke’s when I was a girl.”

“That it does,” the bartender said. “That it does.”

After the bartender moved on to other customers, she just stared at her drink. While someone was around she could make light of her circumstance, but when alone she struggled to hold back the tears.

She never drank any of her Rum “and Coke” that night. She sat and looked at it for three hours straight, unable to take the first sip, but unable to leave.

Just before closing, she picked it up and put the glass to her lips. She paused there for a long moment, then put the glass back down on the table without a sip. She looked at the glass, at the alcohol still settling in it and the ice cubes slowly diluting it, spreading its potency and making her wish she could pound it down now like she used to. Let that alcohol rip and burn her throat all the way down till it stoked a fire in her belly and filled her up so full that it pushed her life, her worries, her stress, her fears out through her finger tips. To let her feel for just one moment what it’s like to be free, to be held in her Virgil’s arms, to know that he loved her, cared for her and would never again balk before death-did-them-part. But she sat there till closing, heart burning, throat unirritated, an eviction notice peeking out of her purse.

Experiment #245

The Miracle Man Part 5

“You doing anything?”

Cindy looked up. The bartender stared at her, smiling.

“You wanna catch a late, late dinner?” The bartender asked.

Cindy looked over her shoulder to see who he was talking to.

“You,” he said, looking right at her.

Cindy looked at him bewildered. “Why?” she asked.

The bartender grew self-conscious. “Can’t a guy ask a pretty girl out anymore?”

“That’d be a miracle,” she said.

“Well,” he said, “call me Jesus Christ.”

“You’re far from the Messiah,” she said, but she smiled.

“Maybe I can still save you,” he said.

“A miracle,” she said to herself, the word still resounding in her head. She laughed. “This-this,” she waved her hands over herself, “this is a miracle.” She laughed again, and then she started to cry.

The man called “Jesus” left without her and the cycle continued.

She wandered through the night. When the sun rose she found herself in a park. For nearly three hours she sat on a bench and stared at a pebble, willing herself not to feel, not to hurt, not to dream. Finally she stood stiff-legged and walked toward a small clearing where a crowd had gathered around a juggler. With a pang of guilt, or something like it, she realized it was Sunday.

Across the way a young man with a guitar sang out an old spiritual, “‘Zekiel saw de wheel of time.” Then he hummed the next line, then sang, “Ev’ry spoke was human kind” then hummed some more, “Way up yonder on de mountain top” and “My Lord an’ de chariot stop.” Cindy walked past the juggler and filtered into the crowd watching the man. He belted out in a smooth baritone, “‘Zekiel saw de wheel, way in de middle of de air, de big wheel run by faith, Little wheel run by de grace of God, wheel in a wheel, way in de middle of de air.”

On the other side of the park wall, out of view, an old tinker’s cart ambled its way down the street till he came to a place where he could watch the crowd gathered around the guitarist.

While Cindy listened to the guitarist, an old woman, as withered and cracked as the driver, hobbled up to her. Without warning the old woman grabbed Cindy’s face and kissed her full on the lips. The old woman let go; then before surprise could turn into anything else the woman wrapped Cindy in an embrace that burned away fear, outrage, and pain. Cindy closed her eyes and allowed the hug to wash over her.

When Cindy opened her eyes the old woman was gone. And there, amidst strangers in a public place, with all her problems pressing in, she found peace, a wheel spinning within a wheel, her heart swirling in grace. And suddenly those lessons from her childhood came back through the hug and the rhythms of the guitar player. They comforted her like a man left for dead, being picked up by a man others called unclean and healed and paid for and loved. She had no hope, nowhere to go, no plan for the future, but she felt forgiven and she felt free.

It was a miracle.

The driver smiled. And that old cart horse just plodded on, steady as he goes.