Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Eye of the Beholder

"...O God, I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men..."

                                                        Luke 18.9

Bill Moses eases the Mercedes close to the long, curved, Belgian-stone path that leads to the Holingwoods'  front door.

"Will you come in for a nightcap?" asks Elsie Holingwood from the back seat as she unbuckles the seat belt.  Her husband John is already out of the car and holding open the door on her side.  "Yes, do come in for a bit," he says.

"It's late, Jane Moses says.  She glances sideways at her husband to catch some hint that he agrees.  Satisfied that they are of one mind, she hurries to add, "but  we'll take a rain check on it.  It was wonderful to be with both of you."

"It sure was," Bill says.  "And thank you for dinner.  Next time it's our treat, and you can do the driving."

Bill waits until the Holingwoods are inside their house and have flicked the porch light on and off two times in farewell before he slowly backs the Mercedes down the driveway and onto the street.  "Nice people," he says.

"And such dear friends," she says.  "Let's not allow that much time to lapse again between get-togethers.  Life's too short."

"And getting shorter.  Speaking of which, John's all-of-a-sudden showing his age, isn't he?  Tonight he really looked like an old man."

She nods.  "But you look good for your age, Bill, so maybe it's just the contrast.  And hasn't Elsie aged, too!"

"Well, there again, honey," he says, "it could be the contrast between you and her."

She snuggles against him as much as the seat belt permits, and sighs a happy sigh.  "We do okay, don't we Bill?"

"Yes, we do, honey.  If  I say so myself, we sure do!"

The Mercedes hums along.  At home, she knows, their house will be warm and welcoming.  A full moon shines above.  Life for us is still very good, she thinks.  

The germ of a question nags at her.  But how much longer will we stay youthful?  

She squelches the worrisome thought aborning.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Elsie Hollingwood, at her dresser, removes an earring from one earlobe and then one from the other.  "Did I look okay tonight, dear?"

John comes to stand behind her.  Their eyes meet in the mirror.  "More than okay, honey;  you looked lovely tonight,"  he says.  "By the way, was it just my imagination, or is Bill suddenly old?"

"Um," she says,  "and Jane too.  Oh, John, it's sad to see dear friends age so.  

Thank goodness we're still holding our own."

He nods.  "Some days I feel no more than fifty."

She hasn't yet pulled the draperies, and moonlight bathes the bedroom in amber light, enhancing their reflection in the mirror.  We're a youthful-looking couple, she thinks, and sighs with contentment.  Life is still very good.  But how long before we too start to show the ravages of time?  She refuses to worry about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 1998


She had vowed nevermore to let her morning walk take her on that street again, but now, lost in thought, before she even realized it, there she was, not more than five paces from the corner where his house stood.

Oh please, she thought, don't let him be sitting on the porch!  That filthy yellow couch!  If that couch is a reject from his living room, what must the inside of the house be like?  

She shuddered and in her mind, saw him again as he had looked the morning she had first become aware of him, when, even in the early light, she noticed his scowl and the grubby stubble of beard covering his chin.  A shot gun rested across his knees.


He had mumbled something she had been unable to hear over the music coming through the earphones attached to her pocket radio.  She had chosen to keep on walking.

"Take them goddam things off your ears and listen to me!" he shouted.  This time she heard his every word.

He bolted to his feet, holding the shot gun, its nozzle pointed downward.  Fear replaced  indignation, and she tried to run, but her feet seemed frozen to the pavement.  He followed the path from his porch to where she stood.  

Dawn was already blossoming into day, and in the brighter light, his red-rimmed eyes examined her face closely.  "You're not the one," he said at last in a quieter tone.  "I thought you was that smart-mouthed little shit that walks by here to the school bus stop, name-callin' me.  And those two stupid pimps she's with -- all three laughing and hooting at me.  'Ain't that right, Pop, ain't that right, old man,'  she keeps saying.  The little bitch!  But no, I see now you're not the one."

He must be crazy, she thought.  How could he take her for a school girl?  It was the earphones and a trick played by the first light of morning.

The voice that had deserted her returned, and shakily she said, "I'm a grown woman.  No way am I a young girl!"

He nodded.  "Yeah," he said.  "A mistake.  Didn't mean to scare ya."

He turned his steps back to the porch.  "Well, that means you live.  That other one, she dies!"

Her heart pounded, but at last her feet obeyed, and she ran.  

She wondered if she should tell someone in authority about this.  Suppose she read in the paper someday how he had shot a kid.  How would she feel?  Yes, she decided, I am my brother's keeper.  I MUST tell.   Later, at home, she phoned the police station and asked to speak to Chief Barrelli.

"Ah, he's nothing but an old kook," Barrelli said.  "Been living there for years. Keeps to himself.  He's probably harmless, but we'll look into it."


Not meaning to, but unable to help herself, she glanced up now in passing, to see if he still sat there.  To her surprise, she saw that the house was boarded up.  Yellow plastic do-not-enter strips barred the path to the porch.  An official-looking sign was on the front door:  THIS BUILDING HAS BEEN CONDEMNED.

As she pondered this, she noticed a young man across the street.  She switched off her pocket radio.  "Good morning!" she called.


"Excuse me, but do you know anything about this?"  She pointed to the house.  "It's condemned?"

The young man crossed over.  "Yes," he said.  "Poor old guy.  Some of the kids used to taunt him terribly.  Too bad.  He never really bothered anybody.  His lawn was always a mess, and the place a real eye sore, but he was a lonely, pathetic old thing, and we all just ignored it.  One day the cops came about some complaint or other.  He refused to let them in to talk to him, so they got a warrant.  I guess what they found inside was pretty grim.  The Health Department came and condemned the place."

"What happened to the man?"

"Apparently he wouldn't leave, so they came and carried him off.  There was a big ruckus, him kicking and screaming and shouting some pretty foul stuff.  I think he's over at Mayview now -- the funny farm."

- - - - - - - - - -

What I did, she thought, was no more than my duty. So why then did she feel like crying?