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"Off Limits" by Louie Clay

Lost in a rural part of the state, I recently discovered a small town


almost no one seems to have heard of, called Nurture. Quite by accident I
spent two days there, as perhaps their first overnight visitor in more than 50
years.
Nurture nestles near a county road--"off limits" most would say if they
even knew about it.
Nurture protects itself against easy access. Nurture does not even
advertise. My host told me that a native named William Gofer once tried to
start a Nurture Chamber of Commerce. "The other two hundred of us
residents," my host said, "just smiled when Bill asked us to join. No one did."
Frustrated, Gofer moved away and established a used car dealership in
a more progressive town. "We each brought him a sprig of fern to take to
root there, but his next door neighbor said Bill just threw away the 200
snippets even before he left."
Inspectors for outside agencies do not like to inspect Nurture. They
have to commute daily, since Nurture provides no hotels or motels. Nurture's
citizens seem kind enough, they say, but their independence galls. Nurture's
people bend almost any regulation so that they can do things their own way.
Take schools, for instance. Parents worked out a simple formula to give
class credit for time spent reading and writing out of school, alone or with
the family and neighborhood groups. "Apprentice Credit" they called it.
"Apprentice to what?" the examiner up from the Capitol asked. "Apprentice
to being whole persons," Nurture's P.T.A. explained.
Nurture has no little league, no football, no basketball, no baseball, no
tennis. Instead, Nurture maintains a large park with many open spaces.
Children invent their games and learn games which their parents and
grandparents invented. Their games seem dull to me: no one wins or loses.
Everyone merely enjoys.
Nurture has no radio station, no TV station. No one in town even owns
a radio, TV or record player. Every family has its own set of instruments.
Each block has at least three different ensembles. Sometimes others listen,
but the musicians don't thrive on an audience, any more than the local
athletes do. They wonder why you bothered to come. They think you should
make your own music, invent your own games.
People in Nurture even look different. A bit drab. They don't wear
special costumes, and they do use electricity and other modern
conveniences, like cars and tractors; but they use their equipment for a long
time. Their clothes look, how shall I say, "sturdy."
When my car broke down, my host, the local mechanic, had not seen
inside a model to come out within the last ten years. He repaired it for free
and gave me room and board for two days "in exchange of your letting me
learn about these things. I might as well, cause one day someone in Nurture
will buy one of these, maybe from Gofer's Used Car Lot down in Capitol."
Nurture's people do not isolate themselves as much as you'd think.
Everyone in the town takes a 3-month trip once every three years, as far
away as Europe, Asia, or South and Central America. "That's why we have
taxes and a mayor and a city commission," my host explained.
"I would never have guessed you have that much sophistication!" I
said. "I mean, people here don't look like fashionable world-travelers."
"We're not," he said.
"But you said you spent a summer in Guilin, China, another on the
Pueblo reservation in Taos, New Mexico, another with a family in Greenland,
all within the last ten years!"
"Yes, but not in `fashionable' travel. I lived in those places. I worked as
a mechanic in each. We don't value `fashion' as many people define it. We
set our own fashions. As for mechanical things, we like to stick with products
that work and to repair them when they break down. We try not to waste. We
conserve our resources so that we can fund spiritual and mental adventures,
like travel and books. The biggest and best warehouse in our town is the
public library. Every citizen has a lounge chair there, and a private desk.
Nurture cares most about talent and skill, not about garments or status.
Nurture respects individuality."
"What happens in Nurture when someone really different comes
along? When someone tests your generosity? When someone doesn't
conform?" I asked. I distrusted his calm, self-assurance.
"No one `comes along' to Nurture from outside, except when one of us
goes outside to marry. Then the person becomes one of us and is free to be
as the person wants to be."
"But suppose one of your own children doesn't conform. Wants to play
baseball, for instance?" I knew I would expose him this time.
"Some kids taught my son to play baseball in Greenland. They said he
ought to know an American game. When he returned, he taught it to some
friends. They did not stick with it though, nor did he. Apparently baseball
works best when it has an audience."
"How do you handle a misfit, for example, someone who radically
differs from everyone else?"
"Handle them? We try not to `handle' anybody, but instead urge
everyone to fulfill herself or himself as thoroughly as possible. That's why we
take two days out of each month to reassess our talents and how we use
them."
I moved in for the kill. "What would you do if your daughter were a
lesbian?"
"Strange you should ask. She is. That concerned my wife and me at
first....."
"Aha! This place forces its narrow point of view just as much as the
rest of the world you seem to oppose!"
"....concerned my wife and me at first, because we did not know any
other lesbians that Mary might meet in Nurture. But Bud Smith, the principal
at our school, happens to be gay, and introduced Mary to other lesbians.
Mary has several lesbian friends now but says that she won't commit herself
to any one person until she has become a veterinarian. `Besides,' she told
my wife and me when she visited from the University last weekend, `It will
take a special person to live with me in Nurture, so badly have people
elsewhere staked out their values.'"
Don't look for Nurture on your map. As I said in the beginning, if they
even knew about it, most people would keep Nurture "off limits."

Louie Crew Clay, 79, an Alabama native, is an emeritus professor at Rutgers.


He lives in East Orange, NJ, with Ernest Clay, his husband for 41 years.

As of today, Clay has written 2,634 published manuscripts. The most recent
is Letters from Samaria: The Prose and Poetry of Louie Crew Clay, with a
foreword by Phyllis Tickle and an afterword by Bishop Mary Glasspool. NYC.
Church Publishers, Inc., 2015.

In addition to his PhD, Clay has received honorary doctorates from three
Episcopal Seminaries. He has been a fellow at the Ragdale Foundation and at
the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louie_Crew. The University of Michigan


collects Clay's papers. Reach him by email at louie.clay@comcast.net
"Joshua" by Don Herald

Are you an angel?

Me? Yes, I guess you could say that.

But youre not sure if youre an angel?

Oh yeah, Im sure all right. Just not sure if Im a full angel or not.

Are you telling me that angels have choices about being full or less than full
angels?

Well, not really. Its a bit complicated. Im almost an angel but I have one
more assignment I have to complete before David decides Im good to go as
a full angel.

But youre sitting up there in the corner opposite the window where all the
other angels whove come to visit always sat. So I just assumed you were the
real deal when it comes to angels.

Well its a great place for us angels to sit. Up high, in the corner away from
the window. Most people dont ever think about looking up at the ceiling in a
room like this. After all, theyre focused totally on you and what you need.

Wait, lets back up a bit. So youre not a full angel yet? David hasnt given
you the final stamp of approval? You dress just like the other angels thatve
dropped by. Casual clothes right out of the J Crew catalogue. You all have
excellent manners and social skills. And you can make yourself appear and
disappear easily just like the other ones. By the way, it must be very cool to
do that. Become invisible whenever you want to, I mean.

Going invisible avoids some potentially very embarrassing situations with


others who are not special like you. Being here and all, you really get what us
angels are all about.

You know, before I came here, I always thought angels had wings. You know,
like Gabriel and Michael - the holy Archangels in the stained glass windows at
church. But so far, none of the angels Ive met here have wings. Just arms
like the rest of us. So whats the deal with the wings?

Oh, David phased them out. He can do that. One day he just decides no
more wings and all of us lose them. If I recall my celestial history class, every
angel lost their wings in about Quantum 17.
Quantum 17?

Oh, sorry. We measure our time in Quantums. 17 was when David took over
from Gabriel. Davids all about being modern. Hes always reminding us that
we must appeal to the everyday modern man in a form he or she can
understand. Having a set of lovely wings folded up on my back just wouldnt
cut it. Can you imagine the fuss in social media if someone took a picture of
me with those wing tops sticking out my collar?

Do you mind if I ask your name?

Yeah, no problem considering why Im here today. In your world, my name is


Joshua.

Joshua. A good name. It suits you. Sort of biblical but also has a lovely ring to
it. Joshua. Nice. It rolls off my tongue easily.

Yeah, the more time I spend in your world, the more I like my name too. In
my other world, Im just a number. Well not a number exactly like you
understand numbers. Just a series of identifying marks and sounds.

Joshua! Wait! Youve started to shimmer. Like youre sitting up in that corner
then youre not. Whats going on? Its not time yet, is it?

Yes, my friend, Im afraid it is.

But youre an angel. You can change time and space in whatever ways you
want. Right? You could do that for me, right?

Sorry. Only when Im a full angel. Here today, think of me as an apprentice


angel. Learning the ropes of being a bit celestial and magically wonderful all
at the same time. David asked me to bring you our final gift. Youre my
chosen one. A special person. I have this gift for you. Once you have
accepted my gift, David will declare me a full angel. And then you and I will
talk again. But in a different time and different space. But first

Wait. I cant feel your hand in mine. Dont leave me, Joshua. Take me with
you.

You are with me.

A warm glow sparkles then fades slowly.

Darkness.
A faint whisper of wings, like a dove racing overhead.

Then it too is gone.

Don Herald writes short fiction about interesting or inspiring everyday


situations and characters that tweak his curiosity and ignite his imagination.
Dons earlier careers as a social worker, organizational consultant and
educator clearly shape his unique interpretations of the life events he
records in his stories. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.
"Her Name is Galatea" by Philip Kobylarz

He was your basic paranoid type. A painter. In this vein, a realist. Portraits of
locals was his thing. And objects. His one really good effort was a study of a
bed sheet. A white bed sheet. It looked like it was actually tossed within the
frame. People would go up and touch it, much to his consternation.
He did landscapes too. Always something tranquil. A farmhouse, a stream,
a plot of green land. He wasn't painting regularly since he hooked up with
the Gallery because Rex worked him to death. Rex antagonized him like
living hell for reasons nobody knows. Probably it was because Raymond was
so damn tall, nearly seven feet, and Rex was only five foot eight. Reason
enough.
Raymond didn't have much quotidian luck. He hated getting up in the
morning, came into work late, stayed until seven or eight at night, ate, slept,
visited the bathroom for lengthy intervals of time at the Gallery, sort of made
his job into his second home. Indeed the Gallery was a cooperative, a funny
title that is destined to never work in such a manner, but Rex and Nora were
living in the back of the place, so it was really their home away from home,
too. In the meantime they were renovating a trailer they were fixing up out in
the hills. They didn't need a son and Raymond was around all the time.
He didn't smoke, listened to all kinds of music, usually hard rock,
constantly lunched on self-made ham sandwiches, with a jar of pickles, and
worked at a leisurely pace.
He hailed from somewhere in Michigan. Never said much about his youth.
Would talk about too many things when he pinned you down in conversation.
He'd go on about his journals, his weird and perverse attempts at poetry, or
what he called his own type of new literature. He would sketch little
caricatures all about the Gallery, mostly near the wall where the phone was.
A note about the phone: it was once white. Underneath it years of grime from
iron dust and grease and ketchup smears and mouthfuls of smoke, was its
original shell, now cracked, but miraculously keeping its guts of electricity
functioning.
Raymond did the faces of everyone at work. None too well, either. Never
himself, and no one knows why. His favorite writer was Lewis Carroll.
Sometimes he brought in his books, loaned from the library, and books on
photography most usually dedicated to the subject of the nude. The man was
starved for affection even though he had a girlfriend.
She was a big woman of Swedish-Irish decent who sometimes
moonlighted for the Gallery as a book-keeper, and who always was in
between lousy, low-pay jobs. Her name was Anne. She was a clean freak,
thus her visits to the Gallery were far and in between.
When she did show up, she was quite nice to everyone . Big smiles and
ample gossip. She talked of the goings-on of the small town she lived in.
These stories involved infidelity, drunkenness, tragedy, heartbreak, and
resolution. And she regularly tried to pawn off her stock of natural, health
conscious, green cleaning supplies. She was sort of a rep for a local
company, toting in these expensive products of hippies gone bourgeois, to
sell to the business at cut rate prices. Out of pity Nora bought a few and kept
them under the sink of the bathroom, so no one would ever discover such a
transaction of folly.
Once, the happy couple of Raymond and Anne decided to have a dinner
party to show off the new house they had just rented. Three bedrooms, a
porch, a cellar, big kitchen, right in the midst of the town (678 population) for
only two hundred and fifty dollars a month. The reason why humans continue
to populate the midwest region made obvious.
The carpets of the first floor level had been just cleaned. The orange lawn
of the main room was brilliant; the sea green of the hall was luxurious.
Raymond's paintings hung on every available inch of wall space. Anne put
out bowls of pretzels and nuts as appetizers. There was a bouquet of prairie
wildflowers adorning a coffee table varnished, by the smell of it, a day hence.
Three of the nine people invited came. A tumultuous downpour broke half
an hour before the get-together. When the first guest came in, Pablo, Anne
almost fainted at the wet footprints he left in the carpet, but she composed
herself while fixing her hair in the tiny half-bathroom off of the kitchen.
Mikey came in next, toting dope smoking paraphernalia, and started to
light up at his presumed seat at the dinner table. Much to the chagrin of
Anne, Raymond joined him, and within minutes, the house smelled of a
skunk farm. Dana arrived shortly after and remarked that the place smelled
as sweet as a highway ditch in the height of summer.
Anne asked everyone to sit down, put on an lp of Nina Simone, and
brought out from the oven the main dish: roasted pheasant. Raymond
popped open the bottle of California rouge. Mikey was especially hungry so
asked to be passed the cold corn salad.
When Raymond sat down, his knees jolted the table, which spilled the
bottle of wine all over it, then, as he was getting up to make amends for the
mess, hit his head on the overhung light fixture which rained down a flurry of
dried up insects, mostly moths and gnats.
Anne turned red. Then she began to cry.
The rain outside was coming down in sheets. Dana didn't mind the spice
of dried bugs on her portion of the pheasant and began eating it, after
scraping them off with her knife, joking about the mysterious, but very good
indeed, flavoring. Anne bolted up out of her chair and ran upstairs to the
sound of a slamming door.
Party that had begun was over. The three of them finished the food,
opened up another bottle of wine, this time white, and a six pack appeared
from the cellar. A steady drip of water had begun to squeeze its way through
the crack on the ceiling in the kitchen so Raymond promptly put the empty
mashed potato pan underneath. Nora, Mikey, and Raymond went to sit on
the porch since they were getting wet indoors anyway, turned up the volume
of the record player, and set their sights on smoking the rest of the dope
until only its dust and a few seeds remained.
Dana and Mikey apologized for the stream of events, the lack of others,
etcetera, but Raymond shrugged it off, rationalizing that Anne could miss a
few meals for the better. They called for her to come down; she said she
would in a minute.
Mikey, on a whim of flighty intoxication, told Raymond that his pictures
were awful pretty the still lives of medicinal plants, the rural land forms, the
sheet, and the portraits of locals, but wondered out loud why there weren't
any nudes.
Raymond eased himself back into his iron rocking chair and attempted
thought. He said, well, that, is was a case of, well, never meeting a model
(meaning a woman) with a body of a model (meaning perfect) who would get
to know me well enough to feel comfortable enough to disrobe in front of me.
While he said this he was looking at Dana's heels, exposed by her clogs.
He said his dream was to find just such a perfect female, classic body-
caring mind- intelligent and loving, not to have as a lover, but as a friend, a
partner in the artistic process, as he put it, and he would capture her
essence in a, singular, nude study, that he would never show to the public,
but just keep in his studio, his own personal Galatea, as a reminder of what?:
time, death, the joy of the physical. For all the parties Raymond went to, and
all the bars, and all the art shows and vernissages, it was impossible for him
to find, this apriori woman concealed in so many different bodies layered in
so many layers of confusing clothes.

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