Lance Nalley

The Long Trail of Dreams

© Lance Nalley, 2008 Disclaimer: All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to anybody living or dead is purely coincidental.

Chapter 1
Sherman Baylor dreamed he was a boy again. He rode on the old tractor next to his father as the stalks of alfalfa fell behind the swather. He smelled the fresh mowed hay and diesel smoke just like he had when he was a child. The white moths flitted toward the sky as their perches fell under the vibrating blades, and Sherman watched with child-like wonder, as the tractor’s engine and the whirring of the blades sealed him in an envelope of sound. But he could hear voices. He should not be able to hear the voices over the noise, but he heard them nonetheless. They began to drown out the sounds and the smells of the hay field. They reached through the haze of his dream and pulled him toward them. He opened his eyes to see the sun shining through the high window above. He was not sure where he was or why he was there. Sherman lay for a moment, adjusting to the light in the room and making his mind focus on defining his surroundings. He looked around the room and recognized nothing. He pulled himself up on one elbow and looked down at the floor and saw a pair of shoes. They were familiar. He had seen them before. Suddenly, he realized where he was. He was in his own bedroom. He looked around again and realized his intimate knowledge of every inch of the place, and the fear that had begun to creep into his mind in his momentary confusion was instantly extinguished. He was in his home where he had lived since building it nearly 60 years earlier. No place was more comfortable to him. It was a part of him and had contained his life ever since he finished trimming the windows and tiling the kitchen floor. The confusion he felt must have been the result of the vivid dream he was having. He remembered when he had lived the moment in his dream just like it was yesterday. He had lived it many, many times over a period of many years. He had

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spent countless hours riding on the old tractor next to his father, as he farmed the land and tended the groves. His attention was brought back to the voices that had invaded his dream. They emanated from the street in front of his old house. He got up stiffly from the giant four-poster bed and walked to the window on the other side of the room and peered out. A big U-haul truck was parked in front with a brand new pickup pulled up behind it. A man and woman were standing on the sidewalk discussing something, but he could not understand what they were saying. The woman looked to be in her late 20s or early 30s. It was a warm spring day in Southern California and she was dressed for it. She wore shorts and a sleeveless white blouse. She was attractive with sandy blond, shoulder-length hair and a curvaceous but trim body, and she sported a tan that suggested she spent a lot of time outdoors. The man with her was about the same age. It was apparent that they were a couple. He was dressed in the same warm weather attire as she and exhibited a need to plan every move that was to be made in accomplishing the task that was obviously at hand. He directed her into a parking space in front of the garage after which he gave her a key and directed her to the door of the house, then proceeded to move the U-haul truck into position in front of the house. Lately, Sherman Baylor had become accustomed to such goings on in the vicinity of his home. There had been a lot of activity here in the last few years. It hadn’t always been so, however. The land all around his home had not so long ago been populated with citrus orchards and alfalfa fields. His grandfather had acquired this section of land 100 years ago or so, and the family had lived on and farmed it from that time on, until about five years ago when Sherman sold most of it to a developer. Sherman had never planned on selling the land or living anywhere but here, but it had come down to either selling it or losing

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it to the county tax collector. When Sherman was a child the farm was a few miles from town, and the town was hardly more than a wide spot in the road. The town of Moreno, California had consisted of a post office, a small grocery store, and a café. A few small houses clung to the county road that was the main street of town. No-one would have ever expected it to become what it was today. Back then the only thing the land was good for was farming, but as other communities began to spring up all around the little town and the nearby city of Riverside began spreading up through the valley it became apparent that times were changing. Farmers all over southern California began selling off their land. The value of the land for development was such that a man who had worked hard all his life to make a living could suddenly be wealthy and retire in good fashion. And the tax structure made it difficult to continue farming, even though some did not desire to abandon their way of life. Many of the farmers in the area had sons and daughters who wanted to take over the family farm. They had gone off to college in San Luis Obispo, or Santa Barbara and earned degrees in dairy science or ag science and returned home to apply their new found knowledge to the old family farm. They came back with high hopes of improving productivity and product quality. They brought back with them the ideas that sprung from the knowledge and research of the 20th century. They knew about growing hybrids and how to use modern equipment and techniques for growing. And they were eager to turn their newfound knowledge into real crops. But Riverside County California was quickly becoming too populated and the land too valuable for farming. The tax structure, which taxed at the highest best use of the land, was prohibitive for the purpose of farming. The highest best use was now commercial strip malls and housing tracts. The increased revenue for the county

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when farmland was converted to commercial and residential was enticing. And farming could not produce revenue like development could, so the land was progressively converted from crops to pavement, concrete, and stucco. Developers were building as fast as they could acquire the land and getting rich in the process. A lot of people were getting rich, including farmers. Dry land farm property was the first to go under the bulldozers. This land was only productive in the winter, during the short rainy season. The winters were mild, so oat and barley hay could be grown taking advantage of the rain. The rest of the year the dry dusty fields grew only mustard and tumbleweeds. The irrigated land was the next to go, and then the citrus trees began disappearing from the low hillsides. In their place appeared red-topped houses as far as the eye could see, with curvilinear black streets running through the cookie cutter neighborhoods. Little square patches of green fescue adorned each front yard, which was identical to the ones next to it. Streets became wider, highways became more congested, and the old houses on the old streets became more valuable than anyone would ever have imagined. The people moved in from everywhere. Some sold their homes in LA and Orange County for several times more than what they had paid for them just a few years earlier, and moved to Moreno Valley and surrounding communities. They bought new modern homes for a quarter of what they sold their old ones for. With them, they brought their suburban expectations and attitudes. The feel, the culture of the area was invaded and conquered in a matter of a few short years. What used to be a rural area, where men in dirty boots, jeans and straw hats talked over coffee at the café before going out to tend the fields or the cattle, became a place of morning rush hour traffic, billboard signs, and drive-thru coffee huts. There were still islands of rural life left, but they became fewer

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and farther between every month. It seemed like every day huge earth-moving machines were being moved into another field that once grew potatoes. The machines ran back and forth and the land changed shape. The dust rose to the sky, the men drove in and out, the giant beasts ate and excreted the land, and then it was farm nomore. It was irreparably and dramatically changed. Orchards came down, the dust flew, and houses grew in their place. Strangers who had no roots in the land came and took over the valley. They changed the sky, the water, and the air. Noise of traffic and booming sub-woofers replaced the song of the field lark and the hum of irrigation wells. The summers got hotter, the air got browner, and graffiti took over the newly-painted walls. The mountains were rarely seen. They were still there, but the air was too thick to penetrate in the summer time. Sherman was the youngest of four children born to Mr and Mrs Gerald Baylor 80 years earlier. There had been two other sons and a daughter. They were all gone now. They had all lived to a ripe old age, but Sherman had outlived them all. The three brothers had worked the farm for many years, but none of the children of the Baylor brothers had been interested in continuing the family tradition. They had moved on to LA or elsewhere to pursue loftier careers and easier living. None of them had even noticed when Sherman sold the land. Sherman’s daughter was not interested either. She now lived in Seattle with her attorney husband. She had a good life and didn’t need the money. Sherman had sold all but five acres of the 640-acre farm. He kept the small portion of land with the house and the barn where he had spent most of his life. It had been a fight to keep what little he had, because no one was happy about having a five-acre lot with a 60year-old house smack dab in the middle of a modern housing development. But Sherman vowed to die in his house one way or

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another, and the county stood to gain substantially by the development, so they and the developer relented and worked out a deal with him. He’d built his house himself back when he was young and strong. He and Evelyn, his late wife, were engaged to be married when Sherman was 25, and they had picked out this spot the day after he proposed. At the time it was in a grove of California Pepper trees surrounded by grapefruit orchards and backed up by hills covered with manzanita and greasewood. Many of the Pepper trees still stood, but the orchards were all gone now. The house was yellow with white trim. It had been the same color since the first time he painted it. It was a two-story house that people now called ranch style. A covered porch ran the full width of the front of the house, and it was adorned with four cylindrical columns on top of a half wall, which supported the roof of the porch. Sherman bought the columns at the lumberyard in Riverside; this was one of the few things he had not crafted himself. The house had a steep roof with two dormers on the front, just above the porch roof. A natural rock chimney rose above the peek of the roof on the south gable end of the house. He had built the fireplace and chimney himself after hauling the rock from a river bottom near Palm Springs. Sherman drove every nail and cut every board that went into the building of the house. It had taken him two years to do it, and he had worked on it nearly every day. He knew he could not marry Evelyn until he had a home to bring her to. Until then he lived with his parents where he had always lived. He worked every day with his father on the ranch until all that needed done was done, then he worked on his house. He didn’t mind working every day. There was nothing else he would rather do. One man building a house by himself is a tough

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job, but it was one he thoroughly enjoyed. He would sit and look at his work until he had figured out how he would go about it, and then he did it. Sometimes his plans took a lot of thinking, but he always managed to figure out a way to get done what needed done. He used jigs and clamps, or ropes and pulleys. It took longer that way, but he was not one to ask for help, nor did he want it. Doing things on his own was a challenge, which he enjoyed. Most of the time Evelyn would visit him in the evening, when the weather was nice, with a basket of fried chicken or sandwiches. They talked of married life and plans they had for the yard and garden. As the house came together he gave her tours of the unfinished rooms. She oohed and awed at his innovations. She thought he was very smart and knew he would make a good husband and father. Evelyn was 19 and full of life. She had never been anywhere outside southern California, but she had read about anyplace one could read about. She had seen the pictures of Paris France, and London England. She had read about the coast cities of the United States and the beautiful places below the Mason Dixon Line. She was an intelligent and well-read woman, and she managed to appear much wiser than her years while still maintaining the enthusiasm of youth. She was eager to explore life but was content to explore it from afar, because she loved her home and never wanted to be far from it. Evelyn was a petite woman but had enough energy to make up for what she lacked in stature. She was not an extraordinary beauty but was attractive nonetheless. She had dirty blond hair and a trim, attractive figure. The color of her eyes was not extraordinary either. They were blue but not so that anyone would notice and remember them. What did shine through her eyes was her intelligence, kindness and love of life. Her eyes were a window to the life within her, and she was brimming with it.

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She loved to grow things, especially things that bloomed. She never balked at putting her bare hands in the earth. She was not afraid of dirt. It was something she loved to do. She loved the feeling of being a part of the Earth and making it beautiful with the flowers she grew. In Sherman’s private memories, he recalled that her enthusiasm was also present in their love life. She was modest but uninhibited. She was raised a Christian, but never thought of sex as sinful, not with her husband. She loved him well and he always knew it. Sherman walked to the kitchen of the old house as he had every morning for the last 60 years and boiled water for coffee. He had a new coffee machine sitting on the counter that his daughter had sent him for Christmas last year, but he preferred the old way. He knew how it worked. He trusted it. It would not fail him. The new fangled coffee maker sat next to the microwave oven, which he also never used. He measured coffee from a can and poured it into the strainer of an old tin coffee pot, put the top over the strainer, and placed the strainer on top of the pot. The water was boiling, so he picked up the pan with the potholder and poured it into the top of the pot. He placed the pot on the stovetop and turned the flame down low. When the coffee was finished he poured a cup and carried it out to the swing on the front porch. Sherman Baylor was not tall. He was average height, but he was strongly built. He was still strong for a man of 80 years of age. He didn’t have much hair left and what was left was gray. He had worn a mustache all his life and still did. As a matter of fact, very little about him had changed in the last forty years, apart from the loss of hair. His skin was a little wrinkled, and his walk a little slower, but he appeared much younger than his age. He had never spent much time at the doctor’s office and was still in good health, considering, and had no trouble managing his affairs on his own. He knew he was

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getting a little forgetful, but he expected this was normal for a man his age. Sherman was a quiet man. He didn’t enjoy conversation just for the sake of talking, and he didn’t mind being alone much of the time; solitude was soothing to him. He did enjoy watching life. He didn’t need to participate, but he needed to see it. He needed to know that life continued on around him even after all the loss he had experienced. He thought most people wanted to think that the world would stop turning without them, but not Sherman. He knew his life was slowing and winding to a close now, and though he was not eager for his life to come to an end the idea that it must end some day didn’t seemed to bother him so much as long as he had the knowledge that life would continue without him. It comforted him to see the young people rushing to and fro, making things happen, and raising their children. He was sure no-one would understand this so he never told anyone. He just sat on his porch watching life go on, day after day. He may have enjoyed more seeing the ground squirrels running here and there in the field like they used to, or watching the red tailed hawks fly over head hunting for their next meal, but that was not reality and he could not change things. Not at his age. If he had been younger he might have taken the money he got when he sold out and moved to Idaho or Montana where life was more like it used to be here. But he was too old, and he was too attached to this old house and the memories in it. Besides, he wouldn’t want to go all alone. If Evelyn were still with him he might consider it, but he could not go without her. He could look around and see the farm as it was before the houses were built if he tried. His memory of the place as it had been for the majority of his life was clear. He knew every row in the orchards and every gully in the fields. He knew where the best place to hunt for

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quail or rabbits was. He knew the cold spots in the orchards that needed smudge pots more often in the winter, and he knew where the soil was too thin to plant a potato crop. The couple next door was moving furniture into the house now. Another new pickup pulled up in front of the house and a man got out. He ran to help the other man with a dresser. They carried it into the house while the woman pulled smaller items out of the truck and arranged them on the lawn in the front yard. She was apparently placing things in some sort of order, the purpose for which was not immediately apparent. She then dug a towel out of a box and a can of some kind of cleaner and began spraying it on the things on the lawn and wiping them off. Sherman thought that was just like a woman: when faced with the task of moving everything she owns, her first concern is that it is clean and shiny. The men, meanwhile, carried items past her into the house as fast as they could move. The new house next door to Sherman’s looked just like all the others to him. It had a stucco finish, a red tile roof, and two-car garage. A maple sapling stood about six feet tall in the middle of the new sod lawn. This house had a pool in the back, though. Many of them did, but not all. Each house was separated from the others by tall, dog-eared redwood fences. Sherman’s house stuck out like a lion in a pigpen in this neighborhood, but most people didn’t seem to mind. As a matter of fact, Sherman talked to many admirers of his house as they walked by in the evenings. He still kept the house up nicely, keeping the paint looking nice and the camellias in the front yard watered and pruned. He might as well, he had nothing else to do. Sherman suddenly realized he was hungry and looked at his watch. It was nearly noon. As he was about to get up to go into the kitchen for lunch, the young woman from next door walked into his

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front yard and headed up the front walkway. She waved as she approached. “Hello neighbor,” she said. “Good morning,” he replied. “My husband and I are moving in next door, and I couldn’t help but notice this beautiful old house of yours. Then I saw you sitting here and thought I would come over and introduce myself. My name is Jennifer.” “It is nice to meet you, young lady. My name is Sherman, Sherman Baylor.” “My husband is not quite as social as I am; his name is Jason. I’m sure he will come over and say hello to you when he gets a chance. I was wondering if you might be able to tell me what day the garbage collector comes around.” “You know, I believe the truck comes on Wednesdays. And it gets here bright and early, too, so you better put it out the night before unless you are an early riser.” “You don’t suppose the dogs will get into it will they?” “I don’t think so. At least I haven’t seen them get into the cans lately.” “Okay, wonderful. I will put it out tonight.” “Oh, is it Tuesday already? Time flies.” “Do you live here all alone, Mr Baylor?” “Please call me Sherman, and yes I do. No-one left here but me.” “Oh my, I would get lonely living all alone. Are you alright here by yourself?” “Sure I am. I’ve lived right here in this house for... well, near all my life.” “Well, Sherman, if you ever need any help with anything you give me a call, and I’ll be happy to help you. I’ll give you my phone number when I get it installed.”

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“Thank you; I’m not sure what I would need help with, but I will certainly keep you in mind.” “It was nice meeting you, Sherman. I’m sure I’ll talk with you again later. Have a nice day. The weather is nice for sitting on the porch, isn’t it?” “Yes, thank you. Talk to you later.” Jennifer walked back to her new home and Sherman looked at his watch. He was surprised to see that it was nearly noon. As he got up to go into the kitchen for lunch a little Japanese car drove by with sub-woofers thumping a beat to an intelligible rhyme. It rattled the windows on Sherman’s house and he turned around as he was about to open the screen door and glared at the vibrating car with foul language emanating from it. “Stupid fucking assholes. That shit should be illegal! If I were younger that little punk would turn that shit off, I guarantee it,” he growled to no-one. He turned and went in the house and suddenly couldn’t remember why he was going in, so he turned around went back out and sat down on the porch swing.

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Chapter 2
These days Sherman sometimes walked with a cane. Not because he needed to but because he preferred to. He did get a little unsteady sometimes and the cane helped him with that, but mostly he just liked the cane. It made him feel more secure. He wasn’t really afraid for his safety, but there was always the chance he may need to defend himself. He had been attacked by dogs a couple of times when he was younger. He had found that kicking at them was not a very good defense. They were much too fast and could easily avoid a kick, but he was sure he could get a dog with his cane if the need arose. Today he took his cane with him on his almost daily trip to the grocery store. He carried it out the back door through the screened in sleeping porch and out to the old barn where he kept his pickup. He had bought the pickup new in 1967. It was a Chevy 3/4 ton with a 350 V8 engine and a 4 speed transmission. It ran as good as it had the day he bought it. He never let anyone touch the engine but himself. He changed the oil, spark plugs, and filters religiously just as the manual suggested. He used to rebuild engines in every machine that needed it when he was farming, and that included his pickup. He had rebuilt the engine in it twice. As a matter of fact, nearly every part on the truck had been replaced at one time or another, some more than once and he was the man who had changed them all. He had always kept the truck in the barn with the tractors, but now it sat alone in the big old barn. He hooked his cane over the side view mirror and raised the hood, opened the radiator cap, and checked the water. He couldn’t see any water so he stuck his finger down into the filler neck. He felt water down about an inch. That was good; he didn’t want it too full. He pulled the dipstick and found the oil level just a hair below the full line, right where it had been since the last time he changed the

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oil. Good, the engine was not using any oil. He lowered the hood, got inside and started the engine. It came to life before it had even made a full turn. He backed the truck out of the barn and turned onto the newly paved street. He used to have to drive to Riverside to find a grocery store. Now there were several within a few minutes drive. He was in no hurry and would have driven to the old Welty’s Market in old downtown Riverside but he hated the traffic. Even on the side roads it was congested these days. He hadn’t been to Welty’s in so long he didn’t even know if it was still there. It probably wasn’t. Most of the old businesses were gone now, replaced by chain stores. Sherman missed the old places because he knew everyone in them. He knew the owners, the cashiers, and the box boys when he used to go to Welty’s. He knew no-one when he went to the big stores these days. He missed the old days, but he liked the new grocery stores. There was nothing he couldn’t find there. He drove down the street toward the grocery store, ran the stop sign at the intersection and continued on his way. Sherman learned to drive in a model-A Ford on the dirt roads hauling essentials around the farm. He drove for many years without a license; he hadn’t needed one back then. He had been driving tractors of all kinds most of his life and could operate any farm equipment available in his day. But the traffic in his hometown these days was not something he dealt with well, and he really had no desire to learn to deal with it. He picked his way cautiously through the busy streets as impatient drivers whizzed past him like a swarm of bees through a wind tunnel. Sherman could never quite catch up with the flow of traffic, so merging and exiting were difficult feats. He would have avoided the streets completely if it had been possible, but it wasn’t, so he ventured cautiously out into this foreign world which now

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occupied his home. The new Safeway was only a few miles from Sherman’s home, but it seemed harder to reach than the beach at Normandy. Somehow he always ended up in the wrong lane and had to merge right so as to turn into the parking lot. But the traffic moved so quickly and was so voluminous that moving into the right lane was an impossibility. He usually had to resort to coming to a full stop, blocking traffic, until some kind Samaritan allowed him passage, or there appeared a brief break in the stream of cars. But most drivers behind him were not feeling kindly toward him as he sat nervously in the center lane of the city’s main thoroughfare. Horns blared and curses flew as the cars behind him entered the lanes on either side to circumvent the disruption he created in his old truck. This place was foreign to Sherman. The booming stereos, the traffic noise, the rush of people fighting for space in the road, in line, or competing for anything and everything imaginable was something he had never seen here or anyplace else. Los Angeles had not even been this chaotic the last time he had been there. Of course, that had been many, many years ago, but LA had been a big city even back then. Somehow Sherman found his way through the mass of rushing people to the grocery store. He should make fewer trips, buying enough to last a week or even a month each time he visited the store. He had been told this over and over again by his daughter and anyone else looking to make the old man’s life easier. But this was his habit and it was not one he wished to break. He liked fresh vegetables and dairy so he would have to make the trip to town frequently anyway. Besides, he was an impulsive man and most times didn’t know what he wanted to eat on any given day until mid morning. And he had nothing else to occupy his time, so he went to the grocery store whenever the mood struck him, which many times meant everyday.

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He picked up the items he needed, flirted with the cute young girl at the checkout stand, and got back in his truck for the trip home. He slowly made his way through the parking lot between the cars flying in and out of the street. He managed to get back into the flow of traffic and headed toward home. As he was stopped at a red light a little green sports car with shiny chrome wheels pulled up next to him with its stereo booming. The thump of the bass rattled Sherman’s teeth; it also made the fur dice hanging from the sports car rear view mirror jump up and down. This confounded and infuriated the old man. He could not imagine how young people justified invading the homes and vehicles of other people with sound waves that caused his body to feel as though it had been assaulted. Surely this public nuisance was illegal! How could it not be? Shining a light in the windows of people’s homes as you drive down the street is illegal; this was at least as invasive if not more so! The light turned green and traffic began to move forward. The little green car raced ahead and attempted to squeeze into the lane in front of Sherman’s truck but there wasn’t quite enough room. Sherman sped up slightly leaving a little less room, and as the traffic gained momentum Sherman quickened his pace up a little more. The young man in the green car was becoming visibly angry, racing his engine and weaving back and forth in the lane, but Sherman would not relent. At the next light the green sports car moved into the right turn lane and sped around the corner without stopping. The little engine screamed its protest and it thumped away down the street rattling windows and annoying other unfortunate victims without a thought to common courtesy. It was Saturday. Jennifer Roland didn’t work on weekends, so she sat by the pool drinking an iced tea and reading a book. She didn’t

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like romance novels. She did not need to live vicariously through the fictitious characters in those stories. Her life was interesting enough. She liked to read things that made her think and understand things she hadn’t before. Today she was reading a novel by Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea. She had read this little book before, in a college lit. class. But then it had been a requirement. She had read it in a flash in order to get it done and fulfill the requirements of the class. Now she read it at a leisurely pace, enjoying the story of the determined old fisherman. She heard Mr Baylor start his truck in the barn next to her fence and drive out onto the street. She was curious about him. She was concerned, too. He seemed capable but living alone was not good for the soul, she thought. She felt the urge to make sure he was properly cared for and not neglecting himself. She knew old people tended to neglect things sometimes. She knew this because she had taken care of her parents until her father died a couple of years ago. Jennifer Roland’s parents were married for 50 years. Her mother got sick first and died at age 68. It had been hard for Jennifer to deal with having to become the caretaker for her mother. All her life Jennifer’s mother had told her what to do. Her mother, Margaret Collins, never allowed Jennifer to make the rules even after she became an adult. So when Mrs Collins got sick and needed her daughter’s help, it was not an easy transition. At first Jennifer did as her mother told her to do just as she always had, but eventually it became obvious that Mrs Collins did not know what was best for her and Jennifer had to force herself to take charge. Her mother became angry and indignant, but Jennifer did what she needed to do. Mrs Collins died an angry woman who refused to willingly accept the help of her daughter or thank her for her sacrifice. She took it halfheartedly and made her resentment plain to all. Jennifer was hurt by this. She loved her mother and was not

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happy to have to force her to do anything. The memory of the last few months with her mother was an unhappy one. She would have preferred to remember her mother differently, but what is done is done. Jennifer’s father was more amiable, but he was deeply depressed after his wife’s death. He never overcame that depression. Mr Collins had never lived alone and had never cooked a meal in his life. He lived in his mother’s house until he got married, then he lived with his wife. The only time he was away from both his mother and his wife was when he was in the army in World War II. And he was not a cook then either, he was a tank mechanic. After the war he came back home and began working as a diesel truck mechanic for a living. He made a decent living for the family. He worked six days a week, sometimes long hours, but he was home every night. And when he got home his dinner was on the table for him. Mr Collins smoked until his first heart attack at age 60. The doctor told him if he didn’t quit smoking he was going to die in short order, so he quit. He had bypass surgery, but a good portion of his heart had been damaged by then and he had to slow down some. He continued to work but by the time he was old enough to retire he was nearly incapable of doing his job. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 65. The doctor told him it would eventually kill him, but with some luck and some lifestyle changes he could live indefinitely. But, after his wife died he lost the will to take care of himself and sank into depression and bad health. Mr Collins qualified for help from the county and they paid for someone to come into his house everyday and help him out. His helper, Trina, also did his shopping and laundry. But Trina started bringing her husband to work with her and when she cooked for Mr Collins she also cooked for herself and her husband, using the groceries purchased by Mr Collins. It started out being only an

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occasional meal but later became an everyday occurrence. Then the husband began borrowing tools and not returning them. When the checkbook disappeared for a week, Mr Collins finally called Jennifer and told her what was going on. She immediately fired Trina and moved in with Dad to take care of him. Mr Collins didn’t resist his daughter’s help but he just didn’t care to live any longer. His life was over. He was lonely, depressed and sick, and he knew he would never get better. Six months after Jennifer moved in with her father, he went to bed and died in his sleep. She was glad it was a peaceful death and that he died at home instead of in a hospital. She had watched him suffer for so long it was a bit of a relief when it was finally over. Jennifer Roland put down her book and took a sip of her tea. She looked over at the big old yellow house. She thought it was a stately house. And Mr Baylor fit it perfectly. He had the appearance of a dignified man. He struck her as the strong quiet type and must have been quite handsome when he was a younger man. He had the build of a man who had worked hard all his life. He didn’t quite have a body builder’s physique but a strong build nonetheless. She didn’t know much about her neighbor but it seemed strange that he would live in such a house in the middle of a modern housing development. There must be story behind that. She walked over and peeked through the gap between the boards on the fence, but couldn’t really see anything, so she looked around for something to stand on, found a bucket and turned it over. She stepped up and peeked over the fence. The back yard was as neat as the front. The grass was neatly mowed and the rose bushes were well kept. A vegetable garden with neat straight rows of tomatoes, okra, and corn occupied most of the yard. There was no indication that anything was out of order there. Just then Sherman drove into the driveway and up to the barn

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door. He saw his neighbor peeking over the fence but pretended not to. He knew women are sometimes nosey; it was nothing to be concerned about. He found this woman strangely attractive, though. This was slightly disconcerting because he had not been attracted to a woman since his wife died, and Jennifer was much too young. She was certainly an attractive woman, no doubt about that, but he saw attractive women all the time. It wasn’t that he didn’t notice them. He wasn’t dead yet, after all, and he was still a man, but the days of constant arousal that he had endured when he was younger were over, and good riddance to them. They had been pure torture. This woman, though, had some quality that seemed familiar and warm. She reminded him of someone. Maybe it was his daughter, she was about the same age. But, no, there was an erotic quality to this warm feeling and that was certainly not part of how he felt about his daughter. Suddenly it dawned on him: She reminded him of Evelyn. It wasn’t so much how she looked but her mannerisms. She did have similar colored hair, and her physical features were also similar, though she was taller than Eve had been. It was a look, the way her personality showed through her eyes, though, that seemed familiar. It was the kind, intelligent air about her; yes, that must be it. He hoped he wasn’t losing his mind. Some strange things had been happening to him lately and he didn’t really trust himself. He found that he smelled things that weren’t there and sometimes didn’t recognize objects he had owned all his life. He knew he was old, but this worried him a little. He hoped this familiar feeling wasn’t another instance of his mind playing tricks on him. But this arousal in him was something he hadn’t experienced for a long time. It wasn’t an arousal like he had experienced when he was 20, he didn’t think that was possible anymore. He wasn’t even sure it was sexual, though there was that component. He was just very intrigued.

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He carried his grocery bag into the house and set it on the counter, then went up the stairs to the second floor where his children’s rooms were. They hadn’t changed much since they left them. Evelyn had cleaned and straightened them up and then left them as they were. He went to the window in the north side of the house where he could see the Roland’s back yard. Jennifer was still back there, sitting by the pool, reading her book. He couldn’t see her very well, but he could see well enough to tell that she was wearing a bikini and looked good in it. He felt a little naughty spying on her as he was, but he was an old man, he knew he could get away with nearly anything, but he really wanted to get a better look. His eyes were not quite as good as they used to be and he needed some help. He looked around, then remembered his son had had a telescope way back what seemed a hundred years ago. He crossed the hall and looked in the closet in the other bedroom. Sure enough, it was still there. He took it into the other bedroom and set it up on its tripod. He pointed it in the direction of Jennifer sitting by the pool next door. He looked through the glass and moved it around until he found her in the lens. She definitely was wearing a bikini, and yes she did look good in it. It seems that most people assume that men, when they get old, lose the desire to look at women. Sherman enjoyed looking at an attractive young woman just as much now as he had when he was a teenager. He learned to control his urges as he grew older, but her never lost them. He lost some energy as he became middle-aged, and even more as he became elderly, but he certainly never lost his appreciation of feminine beauty. Several years earlier, when he was about 70 years old, he had been sitting in the Moreno Café when a young woman walked in to pick up an order. The eyes of every man at the counter were on her as she swayed in the door and across the

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room to the cashier. She was a young country girl about 20 years old. She wore a pair of Wrangler jeans so tight they could have been painted on, and the crop top she wore clung tightly to her breasts. It was apparent that she knew she was attractive and didn’t mind showing it off, otherwise she would have made some effort to hide the attributes she must have known drove the boys nuts. As the girl left the café, a young man next to him at the counter said, “When does that stop driving you crazy?” Sherman was sure the young man had expected him to reply with something like, “It stopped bothering me some years back”. But his response had been, “I don’t know”. The young man looked at him with a puzzled expression and said, “You’re too old to drool over young girls like that, aren’t you?” Sherman replied, “Yep, but I still want to”. He was not drooling over Jennifer, but he liked what he saw and he was suddenly very glad she had moved in next door. He had no misconceptions about his lack of attractiveness to such a woman as Jennifer, nor would he have pursued anything with her or any other woman at this point in his life. She was much too young and all the women his own age were too old. Besides, dealing with women was hard work and he was sure he didn’t have the energy for it anymore. All he wanted to do was look. Being a married man for the majority of his life had taught him to be satisfied with just looking. He had never cheated on his wife and wouldn’t have even if given the chance. He knew how much his fidelity meant to Evelyn. It would have broken her heart if he had betrayed her and nothing was worth that. But Evelyn was gone now and he was alone, so he was spying on the girl next door. If anyone saw him they would call him a dirty old man, but he knew that all old men are dirty old men, some just hide it better than others. Of course, he came from a generation where the subject of sex was not discussed in mixed company, and when men

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talked about it among themselves it was obvious that they weren’t discussing it realistically. Men are purposely vague when the subject of sex is discussed, and it is a masculine imperative that certain things be exaggerated. Men have a need to pump themselves up and to appear to be more than they really are. They have to convince other men that they are macho, a real manly man. It’s a ritual of sorts: maybe a mating ritual. Men compete with other men to prove who is the most virile and powerful. But as they get older they don’t feel the need to prove themselves like they do when they’re younger. They know more about themselves and are confident in their masculinity. There is nothing to prove. Sherman didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, certainly not to himself. He had no one to be loyal to either. He didn’t want to marry again; he didn’t even really want to have sex again. But it had been a long time since he had been excited by a woman. He continued to watch Jennifer next to the pool. She put her book down, got up and walked to the pool. The bikini was a thong and Sherman saw more of her than he had ever seen of any woman other than his wife. He could not bring himself to look away though he knew he should. She had a spectacular rear end. He didn’t have much to compare it to, though. The only nude women he had ever seen were in magazines. They were exquisite, of course, but they were models. They were not real women like the ones you see in your neighbor’s back yard. But from the little experience he had he thought her butt was very nice. He watched as she dove into the deep end of the pool and swam to the other end, rearranging her top as she got out. “Oh my God, you are beautiful,” he said out loud. “You are just as beautiful as you were 30 years ago.” Suddenly, Sherman realized he was thinking of Evelyn, not Jennifer. Not only was he thinking of her, he was talking to her. He

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was talking to her as if she were there. He realized he had, for a split second, forgotten who it was in the pool below him. For a fraction of a second he had believed it was his dead wife. Maybe he had dreamed it. Maybe he had become so involved in his fantasy that he had lost track of reality. Or was he losing his mind? It scared him to realize he had not been in touch with reality for that short time, but the short while he was in that other world he was happy. He had been a little younger, and he had been in love again. It certainly was not a bad feeling. If loosing his mind meant he would go back to that place for good it couldn’t be too bad.

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Chapter 3
50 years earlier the riparian arroyos between the brown hills ran pale green with California Bay Trees and Western Sycamore to the big green valley below. The sand in the gullies gave no hint of the water below in summer, but the roots of the trees found the hidden elixir of life in the desert. The greasewood and Manzanita covered foothills teemed with life beneath the dull gray foliage. Cottontails and jackrabbits scurried back and forth between moist and dry earth. Floppy topped quail trotted with tiny chicks in tow along trails of dust as lizards darted noisily through the dry leaves. The rock strewn hills concealed small herds of deer and multitudes of snakes. Red rattlers buzzed at the sound of falling feet, and squirrels whistled their warning in the cool morning air. Sherman carried his rifle, walking as quietly as his booted feet could muster, through the scrub brush. He looked across the gully ahead to a rocky point that would give a panoramic view of the brown and green striped valley below. He worked his way slowly through the snagging limbs and crackling underbrush until he was at the base of the rocky pinnacle. He pulled himself up the side and onto the top of the monolith and ingested the view below. To his right he could see his home, and between the house and the base of the tall hill on which he stood, parallel, strolling rows of dark green citrus trees ran away toward the black pavement of the county road that ran through the middle of the valley. On the other side of the black top rose a field of green with pulsing rain bird sprinklers, spaced along aluminum pipelines, raining on the next cutting. The scene was much as it had been for dozens, possibly hundreds of years prior. The sectioned patches of green surrounded by dry rocky hills were dotted sparsely with large wooden houses. The houses were all similar in shape and all served the same function.

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They sat adjacent to bare earth lots populated with farming implements and tractors, and pole barns stacked full of fading bales of hay. These centers of human activity in the midst of growing crops and orchards served as staging centers for the maintenance and operation of the business of agriculture and the life’s blood of the population. Families served together in this occupation of the fostering of life for the benefit of higher life. Fathers rose early to tend to animals and plants. Mothers rose early to tend to children and fathers. Fathers toiled in the earth and mothers in the home to make a place and a future for the children who toiled in their schools. The land had always been here. It had risen and fell under the weight of itself and the erosion of the sky. The mountains rose with the thrust of the earth’s bowels in some previous millennia unseen by human eye and the valleys ran into the sea with the rains of the millennia since. The cool Ice Age air retreated to the cap, leaving arid and rocky land behind, seemingly abandoned by its creator and deemed worthless to many since. Fire was an inherent element of this hot, dry scheme. It cleansed and nourished the soil, recycling the nutrients and the plants. The Mediterranean scrub brush growing there also thrived on the fire. The burning of the old and tired wood brought back the greenery, which nourished the fauna and cleansed the air. To the first white men here, the place must have appeared to be a wasteland. But after wells tapped into the water table beneath and pumps pulled it to the surface, the rich sandy loam began to bloom. Though the surface of the valley felt very little precipitation, the water table below was fed by mountain runoff, so the soil was fruitful and came to support the few who had the heart to work it and endure its heat and wind. Those few settled, putting down deep roots and growing crops, livestock, and families. The men in their boots and jeans tromped
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through the dust to bring the water to the crops and the crops to the livestock. They built homes, churches, roads, and schools. They built lives, families, and tradition in the arid land. Sherman Baylor could see the home of his father, and his father’s father to his right, a few hundred feet from his own home. He could see other farms and other homes farther out, the owners of all were known to him. He had known them all his life. Some were cousins, others fellow churchgoers, but all were colleagues. They all could be called on for help at any time, and they all knew he could be called upon as well. They were partners in the husbandry of the land. The coyote he was tracking showed from behind some scrub about 300 yards away. It was no longer carrying the chicken it had stolen from his yard, so it was not carrying it back to a litter of pups. He watched it trot casually along the dry creek bed kicking up little tufts of dust as it went. The coyotes tormented him and his livestock endlessly. They surrounded his house at night yipping, howling, and fighting among themselves. The ruckus kept Sherman from sleeping and caused his dog to fret nervously. This morning, just as the sun crested the horizon, Sherman looked out the window to see two of the annoying brutes tormenting his dog. They took turns nipping at his rump and as the dog turned to attack his tormenter the other one would bite him from behind. The dog was fighting a losing battle, but the real purpose of this skirmish had nothing to do with the dog. As Sherman watched his dog being harassed, he noticed movement from the corner of his eye. He turned and looked in the direction of his chicken coop just in time to see yet another coyote grab a chicken and escape in the opposite direction. This had apparently been a well-planned assault with the intent of scoring a meal. This is when Sherman grabbed his rifle and started out after the coyote. Running out his front door, Sherman could see the coyote running full tilt through the alfalfa field toward the hill country
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where it could hide. Sherman fired up his old Willy Jeep and drove toward the hills to a point where he estimated the coyote would end up, based on his direction and speed. Sherman had now positioned himself in such a way that he had a good view of the area the coyote would likely cross on its trek back to the hill country which was his home base. Now he could see the animal coming toward him. Sherman had guessed correctly, and he would be in perfect position to shoot the coyote if it continued in the direction it was traveling. The sun was now well over the horizon, but the air was still cool from the previous night. This was Sherman’s favorite time of day, especially in the summer. It would be hot later on, and that could not be helped, but right now the cool air felt good. He soaked it up, relishing every moment. The coyote continued on its path toward the big rock outcropping where Sherman sat. Sherman got down on his stomach and laid the barrel of the rifle across his arm. He peered through the iron sights, lining them up with the shoulder of the coyote. He followed with the sight, waiting for the animal to get close enough for the Winchester 30-30 to reach him. When the coyote was in range Sherman whistled a sharp quick note and the animal stopped and raised its head. Just then Sherman pulled the trigger. The gun jumped in his hand and he heard the slap of bullet against flesh. The coyote crumpled without even a kick. Sherman climbed down from the boulder and picked his way through the brush to the spot where the coyote had fallen. He found it and looked it over. It was a big male, apparently in good health. The fur was good, and it appeared to be well nourished. Coyotes were vermin in Sherman’s opinion. They were scavengers and poachers. They inhabited the hills in huge numbers venturing down into the valley at night to steal and torment. Sherman had probably shot dozens of them in his lifetime, but their numbers never seemed to diminish. Everyone he knew shot them every
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chance they got, but they seemed to reproduce faster the more they were threatened. But Sherman had been after this particular coyote for some time. It had been the leader of the pack that frequented Sherman’s yard and chicken coop. Sherman had come to recognize it, not so much by any particular markings but by its attitude and mannerisms. This coyote was cocky, devious, and sometimes even ghost-like. Sherman had tried to track it down before with no luck. One time he had even had the coyote in his sights and fired at it, but when the dust cleared the coyote was gone and there was no sign that it had ever been there. Sherman had begun to think the animal was an illusion; it appeared and disappeared by undetectable means, but now he knew it was real. The coyote was flesh and blood just like himself. The bloody carcass at his feet confirmed that. Sherman dragged the body of the animal to his jeep and threw it in the back. Here was his trophy. After all the time he had spent cursing this animal and imagining its demise he had finally killed it. But somehow the event was anticlimactic. He had expected to feel a rush of pride and joy at the accomplishment of defeating his fourlegged enemy, but it hadn’t happened. All he got for his effort was a bloody mass of fur. He drove back to the house and showed the body of the coyote to his dog. The dog showed no interest. Sherman thought the dog might get some satisfaction out of seeing his tormenter’s dead body, but he had been mistaken. So Sherman took the coyote back to the hills and dumped its body at the base of a rock outcropping. The wind blew and the rain fell on the carcass of the coyote. The hair fell out and the flesh was eaten by the animals and insects of the land. The years wore on and the dried hide fell away and bones bleached white in the sun.

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Chapter 4
Sherman spent a lot of time sitting on his front porch in the swing. His 80 years of memories kept his mind occupied when the activity in the neighborhood was unable to garner his attention. There were some memories he liked to recall more than others and some he tried to avoid. Many of the good memories, however, inevitably led to recalling bad ones. Everyone he loved had died, so thinking about them usually served to remind him that they were no longer with him. He didn’t ordinarily think of himself as lonely. In his old age he had begun to value peace and solitude more than he had when he was young. He was content with himself most of the time. He was no longer driven by ambition or worried with the problems of making a secure home for himself and his family. He had lived beyond that part of his life. He had everything he needed and he knew he would never lack for anything now that he had the money from the sale of the farm. That money sat in the bank and was his to do with as he pleased, but he never touched it. He didn’t need to. He had no mortgage payment or credit card bills. His social security check was more than enough each month to buy what little he needed. Occasionally, he dipped into that account to pay his property taxes, but other than that it just sat in the savings account. The man at the bank had tried to talk him into investing the money, but there was no need for that, he had more than he would ever use as it was. He was most comfortable in his porch swing during the day watching the world at work, and in his bed at night sleeping and dreaming of times gone by and things yet unknown. It was going to be a hot one today. He knew it when he came out on the porch this morning at 6:30 to see that the thermometer read

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80˚ already. It would get to well over 100 degrees today at that rate, but that was normal for July. It would be even hotter in August and September. Those months were miserably hot in the valley. Many years ago, Sherman owned a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains near a little mountain town called Big Bear. The cabin served as a refuge from the Southern California summer heat for the Baylor family. It sat on the east shore of Big Bear Lake and Sherman would carry the canoe down and slip it into the lake early in the morning. The quiet, cool of the lake in the morning calmed his nerves and gave him a feeling that all was good with the world. Life seemed grand and beautiful on the lake in the canoe on a cool summer morning. The trips to the cabin and the quiet time on the lake restored him after the months of toiling in the heat of the valley. But Sherman sold the cabin after Evelyn died. There weren’t many people around the little mountain town back when Sherman and his family summered there. Most who were there were just like him: Locals escaping the heat of the valley. He hadn’t been to the lake in years, and he was sure it was probably just like the rest of the country now: Crowded with yuppies from LA buying up little trinkets like they were gold, and racing around in their new cars tailgating the old folks that lived there. Not that they had any place they needed to be, but just because hurrying had become a habit. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry these days. The crowds of cars hurried to be the first at the next stop light, and the people hurried to get in yet another line to wait, but Sherman was in no hurry. There was no reason to hurry through life. No, Sherman would rather stay right there in his home and avoid all the rush. Besides, he had air-conditioning in the old house now, he didn’t need to go anywhere to get away form the heat but to his rocking chair. “Hello, Mr Baylor,” Sherman heard through his daydream. It was Jennifer. He felt a little pang of guilt but immediately

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realized she could not know he had been spying on her. He found himself vaguely surprised to see her fully clothed and the memory of how she looked when he had spied on her was suddenly very vivid. “Hello, young lady. Where are you off to on such a hot day?” “Oh, I was going to Wal-Mart and wondered if you might like for me to pick something up for you while I’m there.” “Well that is a very kind offer, but I’m really not in need of anything.” “Are you sure, because I’d be more than happy to do it. Or maybe you’d like to go with me.” The idea of accompanying this beautiful young woman anywhere was certainly not unattractive. But Sherman would not allow himself to give in to that pleasure. “You are awful sweet to make such a generous offer, and if I were a hundred years younger wild horses couldn’t stop me from following you anywhere you wanted to lead, but I’m too old to be out and about in this heat. Besides, if people saw us out on the town together they might start to talk.” Jennifer was mildly amused and a little smirk crept onto her face. It wasn’t the first time an old man had flirted with her this way, and it never failed to amuse her. “Okay,” she said. “But if you ever need anything you just let me know. I would be happy to help you out if I can.” “Well, I surely appreciate that, and if you ever take a notion to have a boring conversation with an old man why don’t you come on over and we’ll have a glass of sweet tea.” “I’d love to, and I may just do that when I get back from the store. See you later.” Sherman had embarrassed himself with his noticeable flirting, but he knew it meant nothing to Jennifer. Young women like her are accustomed to old men flirting with them. They think it is harmless,

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and it generally is. But if she knew how much he enjoyed it she might not think it so harmless. It had been his habit for many years to go down to the old café in Moreno every morning and flirt with the waitress while he ate breakfast. But the café wasn’t there anymore. It closed down when the owner sold out and moved to Texas to live near his son. Sherman and several of the local farmers gathered every morning at the café to drink coffee and talk of tractors, guns, and women. The old men stayed for hours while the younger men came, had their breakfast and went on to work. Sherman had started attending the gatherings as one of the young men and had done so long enough to become one of the old men, staying and drinking coffee sometimes until noon. The years seemed to have skipped by, outrunning him and the others on its way to infinity. When the old café closed up, he and some of the old timers began gathering at one of the new restaurants in town, but slowly all but a few quit coming. Some of them died, others just never showed up again. Sherman never heard what happened to some of them. The new place was too big and impersonal for many of the old timers. It wasn’t a place intended for strangers to meet or for old buddies to hang out. It was a place for couples to go and have a meal and leave. Anyone who stayed too long was an annoyance. It just wasn’t the same. So he was one of the old men who stopped going in for coffee. He just stayed home and had his coffee on his porch, watching the flow of life through the suburban streets of his new neighborhood. Sherman thought he might like Jennifer. She certainly seemed nice enough, and he wouldn’t mind having a little conversation with a pretty young lady occasionally. He hoped she would come visit with him some time. Sherman looked at his watch. It was nearly noon; where had the

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morning gone? He looked at the big round thermometer on the wall next to the window and saw that it was about 95˚. He decided he better put the water on his tomatoes before they wilted. He walked down the three steps to the sidewalk and around to the backyard, took the end of the hose and pulled it to the garden, and placed the end of it in the row of tomatoes. He turned around and walked past the faucet without turning it on, up the back steps, through the screened-in sleeping porch and into the kitchen. Sherman made a turkey sandwich on rye and poured a glass of tea from the pitcher in the refrigerator and went to the table. He ate his lunch, washed the plate, dried it and put it back in the cupboard. He went to the living room, turned on the air-conditioner and sat down in the rocking chair for a nap. Jennifer put on her dark sunglasses as she came out into the parking lot at Wal-Mart. The sun was glaring painfully off the cars in the lot. She carried a couple of bags to her car and got inside. It was unbearably hot in the car. She left the door open, started the engine and turned the air-conditioner on high. After a couple of minutes it began to cool and she closed the door. What a mad house that was, she thought. It was always a challenge to make her way through the hordes of shoppers in that store. She dreaded going there but sometimes did anyway because she knew she could find whatever she wanted at the best price. She needed a few things to stock her new house and Wal-Mart was undoubtedly the best place to get them. She had to fight her way past the pedestrians and other cars through the parking lot to the street. Traffic was nothing new to her. She and her husband, Jason, had moved to Moreno Valley from San Bernardino. They had lived in an old neighborhood where the street crime and noise had driven them out to the suburbs. They

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constantly fought with their neighbors over loud music and kids causing trouble in every way imaginable. When a fight broke out in the street in front of their house and a man had been stabbed they decided it was time to go. Jason worked for San Bernardino County Public Works Department on the road crew. It was a decent job with pretty good benefits. He had been there for eight years and was earning a pretty good salary, so when Jennifer graduated from college a year ago and got a job as a preschool teacher they had enough income to upgrade to a better home. Jason’s commute wasn’t too bad. If traffic was light he could make it to work in half an hour. Jennifer had secured a position within just a few minutes drive from their new home, so this was the obvious place to buy. Jennifer was 30 years old when she graduated from UC Riverside. She had been going to college part-time since she was 19, while she worked part-time jobs. It had been difficult, but now it seemed it was all worth it. She did have some student loans to pay off, but she thought they would be able to handle everything with Jason’s and her salaries together. They were not rich by any measure, but they were doing okay. Though they had had their problems, Jennifer loved Jason very much. He was a little thick-skulled sometimes and had a quick temper but she thought he had a good heart. He was a typical guy. He liked his beer and football, and didn’t read anything but the sports page. She paid the bills and did the taxes while he fixed the sinks and did any other manly tasks around the house that needed doing. Jennifer was a native Californian, but Jason was a transplant. He had moved to California from Arizona when he was in his early 20s. They had met while both were taking a course at the Community College in San Bernardino. He didn’t do very well in his courses

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there so he quit after the first semester. Jennifer found that she loved learning and did well in school, so she continued on until she finally earned a BA in liberal arts. She knew Jason was never going to be rich or famous when she married him but didn’t mind. She didn’t need either of those things. All she needed was to be happy and relatively secure. Jennifer thought she would like to get to know her new neighbor better. She was still curious about how he ended up living in that old house in the middle of a housing tract. And she thought he might be an interesting character. She had been toying with the idea of writing a book but had not found a subject she wanted to write about yet. Maybe Sherman Baylor was that subject. Looking at him as he sat on the front porch of that big old house gave an impression of a life which had witnessed some dramatic changes and historic events. She wanted to pick his brain and explore his mind to see what she might find. Besides, he looked like he needed some company. She suddenly had a thought as she passed a Marie Calendar’s Restaurant. She changed lanes and turned the corner into the parking lot. She went in the restaurant and came back out with a lemon meringue pie. It took her nearly 10 minutes to get back out of the parking lot and squeeze back into traffic. Sherman woke up and looked at his watch. It was two o’clock. He got up and made his way to the garden in the backyard to check the water. “Damn, what in blazes happened here? These ’maters are dry as a popcorn fart.” He checked the faucet. “I’da swore I turned that on.” He turned the faucet on and went around to the front of the house. “Hello, neighbor,” he heard from his front porch above him. He looked up to see Jennifer standing at his front door with a box

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in her hand. “What are you doing out in this heat, Mr Baylor?” “Oh, it ain’t that hot. I was about to put on a sweater. I used to work all day splittin’ firewood in weather hotter’n this when I was a young buck.” “Well, I was wondering if you might want to have a piece of lemon meringue pie with me?” “My lord, how did you know that was my favorite?” “Just a good guess, I suppose. Besides, it’s my favorite, too, and you know what they say: Great minds think alike.” “I’d love to have some pie, come on inside where it’s cool.” He opened the door and directed her to the kitchen. She placed the pie on the old oak table as he retrieved two saucers, forks and a knife to cut the pie. He laid them on the table and pulled a glass pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator. Then he reached up and got two old crystal glasses from the top shelf of an antique china hutch against the wall. “So, what makes a pretty girl like you want to bring pie to an old man in the middle of the day?” “Just being neighborly, I guess. Besides I wanted to get a look at this great old house of yours.” “Well, if looking at the house is what ya want I’ll give you a tour after we finish the pie.” “I’m just nosey I guess, ’cause I’ve been wondering how you came to live in this old house in the middle of all this new development.” “I’ve always been here, it’s all this other stuff that’s out of place. I was born right here and have lived here ever since. I used to own all the land that Buena Vista Estates is built on; my father owned it before me, and my grandfather before him. The lot your house is built on used to be planted in grapefruit and the land across the street was alfalfa.”

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“So, you sold the land and kept the house.” “Yes, ma’am. I wasn’t about to give up my home. It’s a part of me just like my hand is.” “It must have been difficult to give up the land that had been in your family all that time. Do you miss it?” “Of course, I miss it, but it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t hold on to it, and there was no-one to leave it to.” “You have no family?” “I have a daughter, and some nieces and nephews, but none of them are interested in this old place.” “It must have been a hard thing to watch people tear down your childhood home and build all this stuff in its place.” “Well, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had to endure, but it surely wasn’t pleasant. I think the thing I hated most was watching as they pushed over the old Eucalyptus tree that stood next to my parent’s old house. Tearing down the house was hard, too, but it didn’t take long. A couple of swipes with the bucket of that giant excavator and it was over. But it took them a week with two D8 bulldozers to push that old tree over. It must have been 200 years old. I know it was here when my grandfather bought the place. They kept diggin’ around it and pushin’ on it but it wouldn’t come down. They finally built a big ramp up one side of it and dug a big hole on the other side and pushed it over. It was a sad moment when that tree finally gave up the ghost. I was rootin’ for it the whole time. It put up a hell of a fight, though. “Over there where the park is now my brothers and me used to go rabbit hunting in a gully that ran nearly the length of the place. We used to dump our garbage in that gully. They worked on haulin’ all that old trash off for a couple weeks. Some of those people were looking through that junk like it was a buried treasure. There was a bunch of old soda bottles that some of those fellas treated like fine

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china. It was funny to me, all that stuff was just trash to us, but I guess one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, like the old saying goes. “You ready for that tour now?” Sherman asked. “You bet,” Jennifer replied. He led her through the house, starting with the living room. Nearly all the furniture was antique. Except for the kitchen and bathrooms, the floors were hardwood that looked nearly as good as it had the day Sherman finished varnishing it. All the rooms had high ceilings and big windows with the old sliding wooden sash windows. The only thing modern other than the kitchen gadgets was the television, and it was probably 20 years old. An old radio sat on the fireplace mantle playing quietly. The walls of the living room and hallway were covered in dozens of family photos. Most of them were black and white, but there were some that were obviously newer. Sherman noticed Jennifer looking closely at a picture of a young woman. “That’s my daughter, Katherine. She lives in Seattle.” “She is very pretty,” she replied politely. “Who is this beautiful lady next to you in this one?” “That is my wife, Evelyn. She died 10 years ago of breast cancer.” “Oh, I’m sorry. That must have been a bad time for you.” “Yes, it was, and I still miss her. You remind me a little of her.” “Really, do you think I look like her.” “A little, but it’s your eyes that really remind me of her. Her eyes were the windows to her soul, and she had a beautiful soul. Your eyes look like hers did.” “Wow, that’s very nice of you. I’m not sure I can live up to it, though.” Sherman continued with the tour of the house. He showed her his bedroom, the den, and the bathroom with the old pull chain

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flush. Jennifer was impressed by the cleanliness of the house. It was as neat and clean on the inside as it was on the outside. They continued on to the upstairs bedrooms. Jennifer noticed that one of the rooms appeared to be that of a young man, but was hesitant to ask about it. It was really none of her business, and if Sherman wanted to tell her about it she was sure he would. In the other room, Sherman had not bothered to put the telescope away after peeking at Jennifer in her bikini. He had every intention of using it again as soon as the opportunity arose. Jennifer saw that it was pointing in the direction of her backyard, but she pretended not to notice. They went back down the stairs and Sherman directed Jennifer out the back door to the vegetable garden. He picked a few tomatoes and gave them to her in a small paper bag that he retrieved from the kitchen. Then he glanced at his watch and saw that it was 4:30, nearly time for supper. “Would you like to stay for supper?” he asked. “I’ve got a ham that is really too big for me to eat by myself ” “That is a tempting offer, but I better get home. Jason will be back soon. But thanks for the tomatoes.” “You better take the rest of that pie with you.” “No, you keep it. Maybe I’ll come over and have some with you again tomorrow or the next day.” “That would be fine,” Sherman said, and he watched her as she walked away, feeling very lucky to have made such a beautiful new friend.

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Chapter 5
Sherman had loved being a father and a husband even more than he loved working the land. His wife was his reason for living, and his children were the reason he worked hard every day. He kissed Evelyn each morning, hugged his little girl, and rumpled his son’s hair before going out to tend to the needs of the farm. And each night as he arrived back at the house he repeated his tokens of affection after his shower and before sitting down to the dinner table. He worked hard every day tending to the orchards, irrigating, repairing machinery, or the myriad other tasks that are inherent in the practice of bringing life from the earth. He seldom ventured further from his home than the café in Moreno where he ate lunch most days and had coffee most mornings. He had no desire to go far. He was content and happy in his home, with his occupation, and his family. He had a good life and he knew it. He never wondered what it would be like to live in some far off place or have a different life. He knew there were other places that were more beautiful, where the weather was better, where people didn’t work so hard but he was not interested. He never wanted to go anywhere or live anywhere but right where he was. He was comfortable in his home and the excitement of seeing other lands and other people never tempted him. All the excitement he needed was right here in his land, in his house. Watching the citrus trees bloom, smelling the fresh cut alfalfa, and hearing the Field Larks singing in the morning was all he needed. One evening, well after the sun sank below the top of the hill behind his house, Sherman pulled his pickup into the dirt driveway behind the house. As the door on the rusty old truck squeaked open, Gerald, Sherman’s 8 year old son, ran to him excited to relay a discovery he had made that day.

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“Dad, guess what I found today!” “I’m too tired to guess, you’re just gonna have to tell me.” “This.” Little Gerald pulled a small skull from behind his back triumphantly and shoved it in his father’s face. “Whoa, where in tarnation did you find that?” “Out by the big flat-topped rock with the holes in the top.” “Out by that big black grind stone rock by the West fence?” “Yeah; what’d ya think it’s from, Dad”? “I know exactly what its from, boy. It’s from a coyote I shot years ago. He was a big mean one. Used to steal my chickens and mess with the dog.” “Can I keep it?” “Sure ya can, but I don’t think your mom will want it in the house. Let’s hang it on the barn. Whatta ya think?” “Okay.” They went to the barn, drove a nail into the wall facing the back of the house and hung the skull on it. As they finished, Evelyn called them to dinner. The old coyote skull still hung on the nail on the barn wall behind Sherman’s house. Most of the teeth had fallen out of it and the bone was deteriorating and chipping away. It still hung there staring out at the place where it had once run free, stealing chickens for a living. It would stay there until that barn was torn down some day after Sherman died and the house was pushed over to make room for more tract homes. The boy, Gerald, grew up quickly and when the Vietnam War was in the height of its rage he joined the service. Sherman was not delighted by his son’s decision to go away from home and fight a war that seemed unnecessary, but he understood how the boy felt. Sherman had felt the same way the day the Japanese bombed Pearl

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Harbor during World War II. He was angered along with every other American at the attack on his homeland and felt it was his patriotic duty to help defend his country. On December 9th, 1941 Sherman joined the Army. But because of his experience with heavy equipment, he was assigned to an engineering unit rather than the infantry. This had been the one and only occasion he ever left home for any length of time. He spent the next three years traveling all over Southern Europe, building airstrips for the Allied Forces. He was never in combat, but he was usually close enough to it to see the results. He was essentially an observer of the war for three years. He had been wounded while in Europe, but it was the result of a freak accident, not because he was being shot at. The Army tried to award him a Purple Heart, but he refused it. He was not worthy of it, in his estimation. He had not been charging a hill with hot lead raining down on him. He had not risked his life to save a buddy. He had just been doing his job when an errant mortar landed near him, throwing him against the machine he was standing next to. Sherman had seen enough of the sacrifice other men had made to know that his own paled in comparison. He had seen the death and dismemberment, the bravery and the fear. He had seen the men who walked through hell with bullets whistling through the air around them. He had not made that kind of sacrifice. He had not faced the enemy and pushed forward. He had not knowingly held his ground as he faced death. The Purple Heart belonged to those men: the ones who came back from the field missing an arm or leg, the ones who gave a part of themselves, literally, to stop the advance of fascism and genocide. They deserved the glory. He had watched the war from the sidelines as the casualties mounted and the destruction continued. He had seen the bombed out villages and towns, and the destroyed lives. The people poured

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out of the crumbled homes and shops as the Americans advanced. He and his American comrades were saviors to some of the local people, but none of them felt like saviors. They had come late. They were the only people who could stop Hitler, and they fought and died to do so, but they came late. Many died, many lives were destroyed before they got there to help. But the people praised them and thanked them for helping them escape the terror and death. Even the surrendering German soldiers Sherman saw seemed happy that their part of the war was over. Only they were not jubilant like the others, they just seemed relieved and tired. They were relieved to be forced to relinquish their weapons and glad to able to just rest. Sherman never talked about being in the war except to tell stories of going to dance halls and beer joints with his Army buddies in France. He laughed at the memory of the drunken antics and the fistfights that resulted. He talked of the French women who worked the places where American soldiers gathered but never of the horrors of the war. Gerald did not know the horror of war. He had yet to realize it. But Sherman knew nothing would change his mind, so he didn’t even try. He just hugged him as he left and hoped for the best. For the first few months they received a letter every week or two, and Gerald’s mood seemed to be good. He spoke of boredom and lousy weather more than anything else. But eventually the letters stopped coming on such a regular basis and the tone changed. Sherman knew what was happening. He knew his son was learning what he had learned years ago in Europe. He knew Gerald was seeing things that would never let his mind rest again. The images would be ever present for the rest of his life. Then the letters stopped. After a few months of worrying, Sherman and Evelyn received official notice that their son was

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counted as missing in action. His fate was never discovered. In some ways the loss of their son in this way was worse than knowing he was dead, but Evelyn never gave up hope that Gerald was somewhere alive. In this way, she was spared the grief of mourning the death of her son. She died believing he was living happily with some kind Vietnamese woman in a hut in the jungle. She could not bring herself to consider that he was gone and this fantasy made her happy, so she chose to believe it. Sherman knew he was gone. He had known it for many years but he never contradicted Evelyn, nor did he even hint that he disagreed with her fantasy. He loved her too much to introduce any notion that might deny her happiness. But he knew what he knew, and he grieved silently. Sherman was proud of his son for his sacrifice, but he would not have made the choice to sacrifice his son for Vietnam.

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Chapter 6
Jennifer got home from work every day at around 3:00 in the afternoon. She immediately changed and went out to the pool. It was her time to relax before Jason got home from work at 5:30. She did the same thing every day. She took a glass of tea and a book out to the pool and for 2 hours lay in the sun reading. Sherman knew she was out there and battled the urge to spy on her. He was a little afraid to approach the telescope again after the last experience, but the temptation was very strong. Finally, three days after she brought him the lemon meringue pie he couldn’t resist any longer. He crept up the stairs and sidled up to the telescope. She was there, of course, and he timidly brought his eye to the lens. He peered through nervously and soon confirmed in his mind that she was as beautiful as ever. Sherman had heard people say that youth was wasted on the young and he was not sure exactly what that meant to other people, but he was convinced that young women were wasted on young men. Young men are too often ignorant and self-centered. They take their youth for granted. They don’t realize what they are neglecting; that this time in life, when love is free and unfettered by the memory of heartache and deceit, will not last indefinitely. Young men assume that they will always be vigorous and attractive, that women will always feel the same way about love and sex, and by the time they realize their mistake it is too late to remedy it. Sherman knew Jason was taking Jennifer’s affection for granted. He was obviously not spending enough time with her. If he were, she would not be coming over talking to an old man so much. She had been back over to Sherman’s house twice since bringing the pie over. It seemed Jason had something to do every evening. He played on a

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softball team, he bowled in a bowling league, and he just hung around drinking beer with his buddies some of the time. Apparently, Jennifer was getting a little lonely. Damn she looked good. If he were 40 years younger he’d... Awe, he wouldn’t do anything and he knew it. He liked to think he would, but he knew better. Besides, if he were 40 years younger Evelyn would still be here and he wouldn’t even look twice at Jennifer. For a man, the sight of a beautiful woman is more than just aesthetic pleasure. She is the embodiment of everything worth longing for. She is art and music, taste and feel, wrapped up in lust and greed. And when he is in love with her, she can reach into his soul stirring his longing while at the same time igniting his primal need to protect her and keep her pure. She is his weakness, and with this weakness she controls his power. The weak minded, self-centered man blames women for his inability to control his own urges. The sight of her drives him to do what his conscience tells him is evil and he hasn’t the self-control to stop his desire from betraying his better judgment. But the narcissist cannot blame himself, so he blames her. He displaces his guilt by making her responsible for his weakness. Sherman, though, was not a weak man. Neither was he a selfcentered man. He knew the truth about strength. He knew that true strength is the ability to control one’s self, not others. He knew that to blame others for one’s own faults was truly the ultimate weakness. He knew he could look and lust, he could desire a woman without giving in to his desire. And he was grateful for this ability because observing feminine beauty without giving into it gave him much pleasure. It made his life much more enjoyable. There is a beast inside every man. This beast hungers for flesh. It is present in every man, not just evil men, not just womanizing men,

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but also in good men. It is present in good husbands and good fathers. But in good men there is a force stronger than the beast. It is the goodness in him, the love of peace of mind, the knowledge of the difference between good and evil that restrains the beast in him. Good men value the love of a woman, of their mothers, of their wives. They respect the humanity of the feminine sex. They understand the value of peace and security. Sherman never articulated these ideas, but he understood them nonetheless. They were part of the fabric of his being. He knew the beast was there, and he knew he could control it. When a man is young, controlling the beast takes all of his strength, but with age comes the reward of maintaining the appreciation of feminine beauty without the torture of ubiquitous longing. The pleasure is still present without the pain. Jennifer turned over onto her stomach and untied her bikini top to avoid a tan line on her back. From Sherman’s vantage point she appeared to be totally naked. The thong bikini bottom covered virtually nothing, and now her top half was nude as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen such a beautiful sight. He zoomed the telescope in on her body and examined the color and texture of her skin and the curves of her puerile womanhood. Sherman watched as Jennifer’s wet skin basted in the sun and he could feel an old familiar feeling engulfing him. He could feel the blood pumping through his head and the excitement taking over his body. His mind wandered, engulfed in the excitement he had not experienced for many years. His eyes were still seeing Jennifer next to the pool next door but his mind was elsewhere. He had traveled back in time to his wedding night and the first time he had made love to Evelyn. He could remember her smooth young body like it was yesterday. It was the first time for both of them, and he had lost

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any semblance of control he thought he had over his body. There was movement in his groin that had so recently been just a memory. He touched himself and suddenly recalled the reason for the passion of youth and the drive for climax. Then, before he knew it was going to happen, he reached orgasm. His knees weakened afterward, and he slowly sunk to the floor. When Sherman woke up it was dark outside. He was lying on the floor with a strange feeling in his head and had no recollection of the last few hours. He remembered watching Jennifer through the telescope and then, as he blinked and stared at the ceiling, he remembered what had resulted. He didn’t remember laying down here and going to sleep, but he must have, though, because if he had fallen he would be hurting somewhere, and he wasn’t. He must have just lain down and went to sleep, and that seemed like a strange thing to do. It was dark, but the moonlight was shining brightly through the window. He got to his feet and made his way down the stairs into the living room. It was peaceful outside as he peered out the front door and he felt refreshed after his nap. He went to the kitchen, found the bottle of whiskey that he kept in the cupboard and poured a drink. He carried it out to the front porch and sat down on the bottom step, so he could look up at the stars and the moon. He sat sipping the drink, staring at the starry sky, and enjoying the cool night air. He felt good; better than he had felt in a long time. Exactly why, he did not know. He had obviously had a good long nap on the floor, which should have left him with some aches and pains, but he had none. Maybe it was because he had gotten to make contact with his youth for a short time. Maybe his moment of indiscretion had given a tiny piece of his youth back to him. It didn’t really matter, he was just glad to have it however it came to be.

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He finished his drink and went in to get another. He came back out, sat on the step and stared up into the starry sky again. It was pretty clear for a summer night in Moreno Valley. Not as clear as it had been 50 years ago, but not bad. The sky was clearer in the winter, on cool crisp nights when the snow on the mountain peaks glowed from the moonlight. It had been a long time since he had just sat outside and stared at the sky. It was something he enjoyed; he didn’t know why he didn’t do it more often. He finished his second drink and was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol. He went back in and got another. What the hell, he had nothing to do tomorrow. When he was younger he drank more often. He slowed down a bit as he got older because the older he got the more it hurt the next morning. But he knew his limit and the third one was it. He sipped it as he soaked up the cool night air and wondered at the immense sky. He thought of something he had read some time back. The light from a star may take billions of years to reach the Earth, so by the time a man on Earth sees the star it may not exist anymore. Looking into the night sky was actually a look into the past. No time machine needed, no special glasses, just look into the sky and see the past. If he could travel to the stars maybe he could travel into the past. Maybe he could go back and love Evelyn even more than he had. Maybe he could stop Gerald from going to Vietnam. Maybe he could ride on that tractor with his father again. So much wonder, so much hope, but it was not reality, it was just the effect of alcohol and the night air on an old brain. While he was at it he might as well look into the future. The future would be much shorter for him than the past. He could not live more than a few more years. How much life did he have left, he wondered? He was 80 years old, after all, and could not live forever. His father had lived to be nearly 90, so he could possibly live another

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10 years. He just wanted to live as long as he was comfortable and content. Sherman didn’t know if there was an afterlife. He hoped so, but he thought it not likely. If there was why would people instinctively hold on so tightly to the life here? Why would they fight with every fiber in their being to remain in this life if, like the Bible says, there is a better life waiting for us when this one is done? It didn’t matter either way to him. If there was an afterlife he would find out when he got there, if not he wouldn’t be around to care about it. He wasn’t sure whether or not he was afraid to die. He couldn’t really find a reason to be afraid of death. Most of the people he had known and loved in his life had died. If he were to join them, wherever they might be, that could not be all bad. He had been afraid of death when he was younger. When he was in the war the idea of dying was frightening to him, not so much for fear of what he might face after death but because of what he would leave behind. His home, his family and his future had been back home waiting for him. He didn’t want to die in that foreign land and never return to the people and the place he loved. Now things were different. All of the things he loved were gone. His wife, his parents, and now his home, were no longer here for him. He no longer fit here. He was antiquated, outdated. The world had moved on and left him behind. It had changed and he hadn’t, he couldn’t. This was not the same world he had grown up in and lived most of his life in. The values he knew, the ideals he shaped his life by were no longer prevalent in this land, in the culture of the place. Maybe it was time for him to go. Maybe he no longer belonged here. As he got up to go back into the house for the last time that night, Jason’s pickup drove into the driveway next door. Sherman looked at his watch; it was 1:00 am.

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Sherman went to sleep and dreamed of the time when his home was still the family farm. He walked through the grapefruit orchard. He was looking for something, but he did not know what. He walked down the rows of trees, peering between them in search of the unknown object. Then suddenly he found what he was looking for. It was Evelyn sitting in an old wooden chair in the middle of the orchard. He ran to her and turned the chair towards him. It was not Evelyn’s face, though, it was Jennifer’s, but to his dreaming mind it was still his wife. He kissed her sweet red lips and pulled her up out of the chair to him. He could feel her young breasts pressing against his body as she raised her arms to his face. Then she was gone and he was awake staring at his bedroom ceiling. He was slightly uncomfortable with this dream and his increasing obsession with Jennifer. He knew this was dangerous. He had become obsessed before, when he was a young man. He knew what it could do to him. He could not allow this thing to overwhelm him. It wasn’t like he was 30 years old any more. He was 80. He could not allow himself to become obsessed with a woman of Jennifer’s age. It would be foolish and only cause him pain. What made people think that men lost the ability to lust after women when they got old? He had been guilty of the same erroneous conclusion himself when he was young. But the thoughts running around in his head now were the same thoughts that had ran around in his head when he was 20. He still found the same women attractive now that he found attractive when he was 20 and still fantasized about the same things. He knew people didn’t think he should have these feelings but he did nonetheless and had all his life. Maybe some men did lose that part of themselves when they got old, but certainly not all of them. Every man he had ever known had maintained the same lust for feminine flesh he had had when he was

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a young man. Most thought it improper and would never admit it to anyone, but any honest old man would admit that the lack of desire was not what held him back from pursuing beautiful young women. He had resigned himself to the fact that he would never have sex again after Evelyn died, but it was not a resignation he relished. He had loved his wife dearly and would never dream of betraying her if she were still here. Just lying next to her each night as he slept would be enough to satisfy him if it could be so, but without her here to console him he longed for intimacy. The idea that his life may soon be over and he would most likely die all alone made him very sad and lonely. But he had learned to live with longing in the ten years since Evelyn died. He had resigned himself to living with it.

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Chapter 7
Time marches on: the cliché embodies a concept that, even after millions of years of evolution and the advent of modern science, we humans still fail to grasp. When we are young the movement of time seems benign, even promising. It oozes along with excruciating sluggishness. We wish for the time to pass more quickly so we can reach an age where freedom or privilege is awarded. We long for the day when we will be old enough to ride a two-wheeled bike. Then the years drag on while we plead with the gods of time to rush us forward to our 16th birthday when we can attain that all-important goal of becoming a licensed driver. Then 18, when we will be an adult and no longer bound by the constraints of minority. Then 21, when we are not only legally emancipated but crowned with the ultimate tribute of adulthood: the ability to legally purchase and consume alcohol. Only after we reach that horizon do we begin to understand the gift we have so eagerly relinquished, for at the culmination of childhood the view ahead can be treacherous. We are now old enough to fight and die in war or stand by in protest while others die in spite of our cries. We are old enough to love and grieve, to lose and fail. Whatever our life amounts to is now our own. We can no longer look up to the adults and blame them or place our fate in their hands. It is ours to move ahead or fall behind. It is ours to keep our promises or tell our own lies. Then when we have made our mistakes and learned our lessons the game is nearly over. When our age has crept upon us like darkness upon an evening sky, suddenly we are old and time has vanished from under our feet. Oh, for the creeping oozing slowness of youth. We would relish the dragging boredom of a summer afternoon, or the excruciating anticipation of Christmas day if we

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could just bring back the time. How can this be? How can time change its velocity in midstream? It feels so very recent the time when we were young. It seemed so very remote the idea of being old. Now it is upon us and it still feels unreal. We look in the mirror and witness our aging, but our minds are still 15. We still love the things we loved when we were young. We still need the needs and want the wants. We still long for affection and recognition. We are still human. Time marches on, though, and leaves us behind as it has our forefathers. Great men have lived and achieved great things. Love has flourished and emotions attained pinnacles of magnificence among those now gone. Ambition and pride, sacrifice and virtue prospered before us. Humans toiled to achieve freedom and equality; they gave of themselves to build the foundation for our arrival and the advent of our rises or falls. Some of them we know, some of them we don’t, nonetheless they are all gone, as we will be to future generations of humanity. We are passing through. Our lives, all-important to us, are but mere specks in the great cosmic scheme. How can such a contrast be true? How can I reconcile myself to the unimportance and fleeting nature of my existence? How can I learn to live with the knowledge that my world will end and could end at anytime and not cause a blip in the fabric of time? I could live a thousand years and be the king of all that I see and still my passing is of no significant consequence in the big picture of time and space. But we must deal with this reality; we must accept our mortality or what little of it we possess is of no worth. We must live our lives and love our soulmates in spite of understanding their insignificance. We must look through dying eyes and see a world of promise and joy, of love and contentment lest the moment of our opulence be wasted by fear of our demise.

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What more have we got? What more can we do? We must endure the hard times in anticipation of the good times, and relish the good times with the knowledge that they cannot last. Life is short and it is less than perfect but it is all we have. The knowledge of our mortality is the price of being aware of our existence. The beasts of the earth do not mourn their impending demise because they are not cognizant of it. They live moment to moment in the grip of instinct, enjoying sunshine and hating rain. We humans are blessed with the knowledge of ourselves. We look to our future with hope and back at our past with nostalgia. We relish our good memories and make plans for the life ahead. Without this knowledge we would be no better than the beasts, but the blessing of sentience is a double-edged sword. For some the fear of death is not the enemy. For them living is more difficult than giving in to their own destruction. But for others, the rest of us, every second of life is precious. Smelling the flowers and feeling the breeze is reward enough for continuing to live on in spite of our humanity.

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Chapter 8
Sherman spied on Jennifer a couple more times through the telescope upstairs before his conscience got the better of him, and he put the instrument back in the bedroom closet. He knew he wasn’t hurting anyone by looking, but he had come to like Jennifer and did not want to risk offending her should she somehow discover his voyeurism. He had also discovered that he could see her in her house from his vantage point if certain window shades were not drawn, and this he knew was an invasion of her privacy and an unbearable temptation for him. He had to either stop altogether or cross a line he did not feel good about crossing. After he came very close to having an accident on one of his grocery store trips, he finally decided to take advantage of the continued offer from Jennifer to tag along with her. She was helpful and patient, and he enjoyed her company. She seemed to enjoy his as well, though he was sure she felt as if she was performing a charity rather than spending time with a friend. It became their custom to have tea and pie in the kitchen after their grocery shopping trips. “Tell me about Evelyn, Sherman, would you?” Jennifer asked one afternoon. “What would you like to know?” “Well, you know, what kind of person was she? What kinds of things did she like?” “She was a beautiful woman, but not just outwardly. She had a way about her that made people love to be around her. I guess you would say she was an optimist. She saw the good in others. Not that she didn’t see the bad as well, she just chose to concentrate on the good. She liked to read and cook. She was a wonderful wife and mother.”

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“You must miss her.” “Without a doubt. It has been a long time though. I have gotten used to being without her. And watching her suffer was much worse than being without her. I was grateful when her pain was over. She was my life up until the day she left me.” “Aren’t you lonely here in this big house by yourself?” “Well, I suppose you might say I am, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and I can’t think of anyone I would want to live here with me. I guess I’m too old and set in my ways to put up with anyone new. All my family is gone.” “Sherman, I don’t like to think of you being lonely. You’re too nice a man to be without someone to keep you company. I want you to know that I am available for you anytime. If you need anything you call me. Whatever you do don’t sit over here being lonely, if you need some company all you need to do is call.” “Thank you, sweetheart. I surely appreciate that. I guess I do consider you a friend, and I’m glad you moved in over there. I promise I’ll call if I need something. By the way, do you need some more tomatoes? I’ve got jillions of um.” Summer turned to fall, which is barely noticeable in Moreno Valley. It is still hot and dry all the way through to November. Sherman always used to plant his dry land oats around Thanksgiving because that was the time when the rain was likely to start and with it the cooler weather. The rain settled the dust and cleared the air. The dry brown hills turned a pale green and the mountaintops began to whiten with snow. The respite from the heat was welcomed by all and the rain revived the plants and the dry creek beds from their summer hibernation. Sherman watched all this from his front porch swing. He had watched it occur time after time and still it invigorated him. He slept

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well on the cool winter nights. The cold mornings were less enjoyable, but tolerable because Sherman knew the coldest mornings usually turned out to be the warmest afternoons in the high desert. A cold morning meant the sun would shine and by noon it might be 85˚. This was the time when living here was most pleasant. It was the time of year when the “Snow Birds” flocked to the warm Southern California deserts. Old people from up north in Montana, Idaho and other cold states came south for the winter. They congregated in mobile home parks and senior apartments. RVs clogged the streets and no-one was safe from the frustration of being behind an ancient, giant automobile being driven 10 miles an hour under the speed limit by someone with a gray head who was barely tall enough to see over the dashboard and probably couldn’t see the speed limit sign or that the traffic light ahead was green, not red. Sherman had become increasingly more uncomfortable with driving in the mobs of cars that now crowded the roads of his hometown. He was glad Jennifer had offered to take him grocery shopping and it had become routine for him to go with her instead of driving himself. They sometimes had dinner together at his house when Jason was not home for one reason or another, which seemed to be a more frequent occurrence. Sherman was beginning to think Jennifer actually did enjoy his company. Jennifer had confided in Sherman her concern that Jason was spending a lot more time away from home lately. He was seemingly distant and preoccupied when he was home. She told him she was becoming very concerned that there might be a problem, but Jason refused to acknowledge anything of the sort. Sherman thought it none of his business and knew the dangers of becoming involved in marital matters. He listened to Jennifer’s concerns and had his own suspicions, but kept them to himself. He only suggested that she try harder to talk with him about it.

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One night Sherman woke in a sweat. His heart was racing as he jumped to a sitting position in his bed. He was dreaming about Evelyn again. Her ghost had come back to visit him and at first it was a very happy dream. They had held each other, and he had told her how much he loved and missed her, but then she said she had to go back. He had begged her to stay, but she could not. He had fallen to his knees and cried for her not to leave him, but she had slipped away as he experienced the most profound grief since the day she died. He was relieved to awake and find that it was a dream, but the feeling stuck with him for some time. It felt almost as though he had lost her all over again. It was still dark out, but he could not go back to sleep, so he got up and walked to the living room and looked at the mantle clock. Just then it struck 2.00am. He walked to the kitchen, retrieved the water glass he always kept on the back of the sink, and turned on the faucet. He let it run for a second, then filled the glass. He turned off the faucet with one hand as he lifted the glass to his mouth with the other, and as he tilted his head back to down the cool glass of water he heard the unmistakable sound of Jennifer screaming next door. He stopped and listened with the glass poised at his mouth. Jennifer was yelling in an angry tone, but Sherman could not understand what was being said. Sherman made his way quickly up stairs to the bedroom overlooking the Roland home and pulled the curtains to the side. It was foggy out, but he could see through the big window in the back of Jennifer’s house, as the light was on inside. At first he could see nothing but shadows. He could hear yelling and arguing. Then Sherman saw Jason move into his view through the window. Jennifer followed him yelling in his face. Jason stood in front of her hanging his head, not saying a word. Then Jennifer slapped him in the face,

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and his composure changed in an instant. His head came up and his arms went out. He raised his arms and shoved Jennifer backwards with both hands, then took a step toward her and shoved her again, moving them both out of his sight, but he could hear Jason’s voice clearly. “You fucking bitch! What makes you think you can hit me like that? You fucking cunt!” Sherman nearly panicked. He suddenly wanted more than anything to be the strong intimidating man he was at 40, then Jason would pay dearly for what Sherman had just witnessed. He was no longer 40 years old, but he could not stand by and allow this to happen. He should have called police, he knew, but it would take them too long to get there. Besides, he was angry. He hated men who hit women. Sherman made his way back down the stairs as quickly as he could. He was old but he was still spry, and his old body was still in better shape than many men half his age. He stopped at the front door and grabbed his cane from the can by the coat rack and moved quickly through the door and out to the street. The night air was cold and wet with fog. He walked quickly down the sidewalk to the driveway and up the walkway to the door. He listened at the door, but heard nothing. He checked the doorknob and found it unlocked, turned it, and opened the door far enough to see into the house. He saw no-one, so he moved inside. He heard rustling noises from the bedroom and moved quickly toward it. When he came to the door of the room he could see Jason. His back was toward the door, and he had one of Jennifer’s hands in his left hand. She was pinned against the wall with his right hand on her throat as his right elbow held her arm to the wall. Jennifer was silent, struggling against the hands holding her, and her face was going blue. Sherman ran silently up behind Jason, raised

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his cane over his head and brought it down hard to the side of Jason’s neck. Jason yelled in pain, let go of Jennifer and started to turn toward Sherman, but before he could get turned far enough to see his attacker, Sherman swung his cane again with all his strength and hit Jason, this time in the face with the heavy handle. Jason went down, but he was still conscious and very angry. He cursed and held his head trying to get up. Jennifer had slumped to the floor in a sitting position against the wall and was coughing and gasping for breath. Jason got halfway to his feet and began to turn toward Sherman again, but Sherman raised his cane once more high over his head and brought it down hard across the top of Jason’s right shoulder. Sherman heard Jason’s collarbone snap and Jason screamed as his right arm went limp. Jason fell to the floor writhing and now crying instead of cursing. Jennifer finally looked up and realized what had just happened. She stood weakly as Sherman grabbed her hand. He led her to the front door and quickly back to his home without either of them saying a word. All the lights were still off in the big yellow house, and Sherman had managed to stay behind Jason and out of his line of sight during the entire fight. There was no way he would guess that it had been his 80 year old neighbor and would certainly not come there looking for Jennifer. “Are you alright?” Sherman asked after they were both inside the safety of his old house. “Oh God, I don’t know,” she rasped. “I think he really hurt my throat.” “What was that all about? Should I call the police?” “No, wait. I think he’ll leave. He just told me he’s been seeing some other woman and wanted to go live with her. I’m sorry. I lost it. I just couldn’t believe he would do that to me. I think he will just pack a bag and go. Don’t call the police. It’ll just be a scene, and I

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don’t want to deal with that right now. Maybe I’ll report it in the morning.” “Alright, alright... ah, you just watch to see if he leaves.” Sherman left Jennifer at the window and went to the nightstand beside his bed, opened the top drawer, and removed a loaded revolver from a pistol case. He checked it and returned to the living room where Jennifer was sitting on the floor peeking through the curtains of the big picture window. She turned as Sherman reentered the room and saw the gun in his hand. “You’re not going to shoot him?” she asked, seemingly shocked by the sight of the gun in Sherman’s hand. “Only if I have to. If he comes over here and tries to get in the house I most definitely will shoot him.” “He won’t do that. I’m sure he won’t do that. I’m sure he’ll just leave. Please, put that away.” Sherman stuck the gun in the back of his pants and then checked the dead bolt on the front door. It was locked, so he joined Jennifer at the curtain. Jason came out the front door with a suitcase in his left hand. His right arm was in a sling made of a bath towel. The right side of his face was swollen, and his head was still bleeding. Jason looked and saw that Jennifer’s car was still parked in its spot. He walked to the sidewalk and looked both directions down the street. Seeing no-one he got in his pickup and drove past Sherman’s house and on down the street as the pair watched him cautiously from the corner of the window. “Are you alright?” Sherman asked. “I don’t know, I guess so. I can’t believe he did that.” Jennifer wiped a tear from the end of her nose with the back of her hand. “I think he would have killed me if you hadn’t saved me. My God, thank you, you saved my life.” Jennifer shook her head as more tears ran down her cheeks. “How could he do that? I thought he loved me.

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I really don’t understand.” “I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t know him as well as you thought,” Sherman replied. With the danger gone and the adrenaline wearing off, sadness began to take its place, and Jennifer wept openly. “Why don’t you stay here with me tonight?” Sherman placed a hand on her shoulder. “You can use my daughter’s room upstairs.” “Thankyou so much. I think I will. I’m really grateful to you, Sherman.” She looked up at him and smiled. The look on her face made his heart ache, and he wished he could hold her and kiss the tears from her face. Instead, he said, ”Don’t think twice about it, young lady, it was my pleasure.” Sherman showed Jennifer upstairs and made sure she had everything she needed, then went downstairs, put his revolver back in its place, and went back to his bed. He was still imagining what she looked like lying all alone in the bed directly over his head, when he finally drifted back to sleep a couple hours later. The next day was a Saturday, so Sherman and Jennifer both slept late. Sherman, who was usually up with the sun, didn’t get up until nearly 8 o’clock, but he was up before Jennifer. He made coffee as he always did, only he made twice as much. He went to the front porch and looked at the thermometer, it was 56˚, and the fog from the night before had nearly cleared completely. It would be a nice sunny, warm day. He went back in and poured himself a cup of coffee and returned to the porch after putting on a sweater. He took his usual place on the porch swing. His brain told him he shouldn’t but he felt guilty about his feelings toward Jennifer. He was sure Jennifer would be repulsed by the thought of any sexual interest of his, no matter how much she liked him, and that type of rejection would be devastating to him.

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Besides, he was a gentleman and an advance by him to a woman her age would not be proper, even if she weren’t married. So there would be no act taken by him, and he couldn’t allow her to find out about his feelings to her. He would just have to keep them to himself. If he weren’t so lonely, if she wasn’t so young and beautiful maybe he would not be fighting with himself this way. If he were stronger, if she would just go away, maybe he would feel better. If Evelyn hadn’t died and left him here alone maybe he would not be in love with Jennifer. Jennifer woke about 8.30. She awakened slowly not recalling the events of the previous night for a brief moment. A mild pain in her throat reminded her of the ordeal of the night before and the reality of her situation descended upon her suddenly. She still had no idea what she should do about anything. She got up and walked to the window and looked down on her house and backyard. She thought about the horror she had experienced the night before. At first she thought Jason would let go at any second, she was certain he would not seriously hurt her. But as she became more and more desperate and he continued to constrict her airway she began to realize she may die, and near the end she was convinced of it. She knew now she did not want to spend another moment with Jason. Not only was she now afraid of him, but it was apparent that he valued her love very little, if at all. Even if he had not ran off to sleep with another woman he was no longer going to be in her life. There was no excuse for what he had done, and she would never accept an apology from him. She would file for divorce; it was the only thing she could do. The house would have to be sold and any equity split between the two of them. There wouldn’t be much if any since they had only owned the house for a short time. His pickup was his, her car was hers, and

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there really wasn’t anything else. She resolved to talk with a lawyer that week. She looked at the house and the pool she loved. She would miss them. She had thought she and Jason would be happy there. Jennifer had never had any idea that this kind of thing would happen between them. He had always had a quick temper but had never directed any physical threat towards her. His feelings for her must have changed drastically for this to happen. She was heartbroken, but right now her anger and fear overshadowed her heartache. She would deal with that later. Now she had to deal with what she had to do to get her life back in order. Jennifer found a woman’s robe hanging on the bedroom door, put it on and went downstairs. The coffee smelled delicious. Sherman heard her coming down the stairs and came in the door as she was reaching the living room. He got her a cup of coffee and brought it to her at the kitchen table. “You can stay here as long as you need to, sweetheart. I’m sure you don’t want to go stay over there by yourself,” said Sherman. “I wouldn’t mind having your company for as long as you want to stay.”

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Chapter 9
Jennifer filed for divorce and put the house up for sale. Neither she nor Jason could afford to keep it on their own. Jason moved in with his girlfriend, an office worker with the county. The house would sell quickly in the current market, but they wouldn’t realize much money from it. They would each probably get a few thousand dollars, enough for Jennifer to get settled in a place of her own. Sherman liked having Jennifer in the house. She was nice to look at and was generally a nice person. She brightened his life some, so he asked her to move in with him permanently. “You can have the whole upstairs. I never go up there anyhow. I wouldn’t expect you to pay me anything, but if you feel some obligation you could pitch in for something or other whenever you take a notion.” “Are you sure, Sherman? I know you kinda like things a certain way, and I wouldn’t want to be an irritation to you.” “You’re not an irritation; I like having you here.” So Jennifer moved in upstairs. She wouldn’t have been able to afford much on her salary if she had been forced to rent, so she thought herself fortunate to have become friends with Sherman. She liked him and she felt he needed companionship. She was glad to be the one to provide it for him. They were quite comfortable living together. They both tended to keep to themselves. They weren’t big conversationalists and that was convenient. Had it been the case that one liked to talk and the other didn’t, the arrangement would have been uncomfortable. Had not each of them respected the space of the other there would have been a problem, but each left the other to their habits and comforts in their level of the big house.

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Jennifer was careful to ask Sherman whenever she wanted to change anything in her part of the house, and Sherman was more than willing to accommodate her. She set up his daughter’s room with her own furniture and decorated it to suit her, storing the old furniture in the room across the hall. There was an extra room upstairs that had been a sewing room at one time. It became Jennifer’s living room, and she had a bathroom to herself as well. Sherman had another phone line installed for Jennifer’s room so she would have her own phone. She liked her new living arrangement so much she decided she might want to make it permanent and tried to talk Sherman into letting her pay rent for her space, but he would not hear of it. They had coffee together every morning. Sherman was always the first one up in the morning and had the coffee made by the time Jennifer came down. Sometimes they had breakfast together, sometimes Jennifer didn’t have time and Sherman ate alone. They almost always had dinner together. Sherman had become a pretty good cook, in his own estimation, since having to fend for himself for the last 10 years, but Jennifer was a pretty decent cook herself. They took turns. Whoever felt like it made dinner, and they ate well. Jennifer would have been happy to do all the grocery shopping for the house, but shopping was the only reason Sherman had to get out, so he nearly always went with her. Winter turned to spring, the rain stopped and the heat returned. The hills turned browner with every rainless day and the smog and dust dirtied the air once more. Sherman planted his garden and Jennifer’s house sold. Sherman’s affection for Jennifer grew. She was just as sweet as he had suspected she would be. She loved flowers and began to grow them around the house. She was the most kind and considerate woman he had ever known other than Evelyn. She was intelligent
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and inquisitive, and she was young and beautiful. She was everything Evelyn had been 50 years earlier. Sherman, on the other hand, was not what he had been 50 years earlier. He was an old man. He was slightly hard of hearing from riding around on loud tractors all his life. His memory was none too good either. His eyesight was not what it once was, and he wasn’t quite as steady on his feet. There are some advantages to being an old man, though. You can say whatever you want and no-one pays any attention. You can be as grouchy as you please and no-one assumes you need medication. You can forget how old you are, or tell obviously horrendous lies and no-one gives it a second thought. And no-one perceives an old man as a threat in any situation whether it be in a confrontation or in the sexual sense. Sherman had proven that he was still a threat physically, when he beat the hell out of Jason. Of course, had it been a fair fight Sherman would have been in serious jeopardy, but he had shown that he was certainly not to be dismissed altogether. But the other was undeniable. He was not a threat, sexually. He was just an old man with a crush. Proper etiquette would not even allow him to voice his feelings or even let slip a look that may give away his secret. It would be shameful and undoubtedly result in embarrassment and the loss of his friendship with the object of his affection. The idea of an old man having romantic feelings for a young woman is distasteful and having sexual desires was repulsive. Or so Sherman thought. So he policed himself. He stole looks only when he was certain she would not catch him. He paid special notice to his facial expressions when she was near so as not to betray his longings. He limited any touching to a seemingly friendly touch on the forearm or shoulder. It would have been easier for him if she did not live with him, but he would never wish her gone. Seeing her, having meals with her, smelling her sweet feminine aroma, and fantasizing about
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her was more than enough to make life worth living now. It was more than he would have ever dreamed he would have at this stage in his life. He no longer lived just to feel the breeze or smell the flowers. He lived to see Jennifer coming down the stairs in her nightgown, to see the curves of her young body showing through the thin cloth, and to hear her voice in the morning calling his name when his eggs were ready. He knew now he was in love with her, but he also knew she would not, could not return his affection. He was much too old. He would die an old man and she would still be a young woman.

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Chapter 10
Jennifer looked down from the bedroom window onto her old house. The new people were moving in. That part of her life was over. Her divorce was final and the house was gone. It was sad to think she had wasted so many years of her life on that dream to have it end as it had. She realized it had really never meant anything. She could see the people setting their furniture in the living room through the big window in the back. That was where it had all started. Right in that spot was where she had slapped Jason and he had exploded at her. She could see it clearly from where she stood. She wondered if Sherman had seen what happened that night while standing here. She remembered seeing a telescope standing in this very spot the day he gave her a tour of the house. He must have been watching them, or her. She went down the stairs to find Sherman in his usual spot on the front porch. She poured a cup of coffee and went out to join him. It was already warm out and would be a hot day, as usual. She sat next to him on the porch swing. “Jen, I’ve been thinking about something I would like to talk to you about,” Sherman said. “Sounds serious,” she replied. “Well, it is somewhat.” “Okay, go ahead. I can take it whatever it is.” “Oh, it’s nothing bad, as a matter of fact I think you will think it’s a good thing. You know, I don’t really have any family left except my daughter and she never comes around. And I’ve been thinking I might want to put you in my will.” “Oh my God, Sherman. Are you sure that’s a good idea? Don’t you think your daughter would be mad about that?” “She might be, but it’s my will, and I can do what I want. You’ve

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been here for me and she hasn’t. Besides, she doesn’t need anything and taking care of things after I’m gone would probably just be a bother to her.” “You know I don’t want anything from you, Sherman. I’m happy you think so highly of me, though. If that’s what you want then go for it. I’ll do whatever you want.” “All I want you to do is stay here with me until I die and make sure I get a decent burial, and you can have everything I own if you want it. You can sell anything you don’t want, but I would like it if you kept the house. It is important to me, and I would like to think that it will stay here with you living in it after I’m gone. I realize you may not want to live here forever, but... well, it doesn’t really matter, I won’t be here to see it anyway. But you know how I feel.” “I hate to talk about you dying, but I love this house. I’m touched that you would want to leave it to me, but I don’t know why you would want to do that.” “Well, you deserve it and I want you to have it.” Sherman watched as Jennifer drove away to work, then he went back into the house and washed and put away his coffee cup. He made his way up the stairs to Jennifer’s bedroom. The door was open and he looked in at her bed. It was neatly made and the room seemed lonely. It smelled like a woman, flowery and sweet. He walked around the room slowly not touching anything just looking at the things there. There were pictures of her parents on the dresser. A couple of paintings by local artists hung on the walls. Jewelry and make-up occupied a vanity with a small stool in front of it. The bed was decorated with ruffled pillowcases and a flowered bedspread. Sherman left the room as he had found it and went down to his old pickup truck. He checked the oil and water and drove into the city to talk with his lawyer.

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Chapter 11
Jennifer came home from work in a jovial mood. She virtually skipped up the sidewalk and took the stairs two at a time. Sherman noticed her good mood, but he always noticed her mood whatever it was and a good mood was not unusual for Jennifer. But she seemed more upbeat than normal. When she came back down half an hour later Sherman announced that he was planning to roast a chicken for dinner. “Oh Sherman, that sounds great but I won’t be here for dinner tonight.” “Really, how’s that.” “I have a date!” “Well, that is exciting. Who is he?” “He’s a teacher at the elementary school. I have known him for a long time but we were both married. Now, we’re both divorced.” “Good, I’m sure you’ll have fun.” Sherman watched an old John Wayne movie that night and went to bed at 10 o’clock. He woke up when Jennifer came in at 11. She tiptoed up the stairs to her bedroom, but Sherman heard every sound she made as she got ready for bed in the room above him. Sherman awoke the next morning to Jennifer calling him. “Sherman, are you okay?” she asked with concern in her voice. She was standing in the doorway of his bedroom in her nightgown. He felt groggy and it took him several seconds to orient himself and realize that he had slept much later than usual. Jennifer had become concerned when she came down at 8.30 and he was still not up. He was always on the porch with a cup of coffee by the time she came down. “Yeah, I’m alright. I’ll be out in a minute.”

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Jennifer closed the door and Sherman lay back down and stared at the ceiling. He was tired. He didn’t feel sick but he wasn’t feeling himself. He got up slowly and got dressed and went out to make coffee, but Jennifer had already done it and was sitting at the kitchen table. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asked. “Yeah, I’m just a little tired. I stayed up a little too late last night I guess.” “You weren’t waiting for me were you?” “Oh no, you’re a big girl. You don’t need me waiting up for you. I was just watching an old movie. How was your date?” “It was good. I think we are going out again tonight. He wants to go see a new movie at the theater.” “Oh, I’m glad. I’m sure you’ll have a good time.” That night, as Jennifer was out on her date, Sherman slept and dreamed. In his dream he moved silently up the stairs to the second floor and virtually floated across the floor to the door of her bedroom. The door opened as if of its own will, and Sherman moved close to the bed and looked down at her sleeping. She was covered only with a sheet that outlined her body perfectly. The outline of her hip curved down into a smooth waist and back up to her bare shoulder with the grace of a delicate flower. Her breasts moved slightly with her breathing, and her lips parted slightly. He stared at her in utter bliss. He could stand there forever, never leaving, never eating, never breathing. Heaven could be no better than this. He reached down and touched her smooth shoulder and her blue eyes fluttered open. A look of pleasant recognition radiated through her sleepy face as a smile formed on her lips. She reached out and touched his arm and rolled over invitingly. She pulled him down to her and he kissed her as he slid his hand down her back. She pulled

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her body up to meet his as she embraced him with both arms and coaxed him lower into her bed. A sense that he must turn and look behind him overcame him, and he stood and turned to find Evelyn standing in the doorway. Instinctively, he went to her and embraced her. The image of Jennifer disappeared but the feeling was not gone, it was merely transformed, and his desire for Jennifer became his love for Evelyn. She pulled him from the room and downstairs to his bedroom and their bed. She enveloped him in her arms and he was content and at peace. He was home, in love with his wife.

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Chapter 12
Some claim no man is an island, but in his mortality he is alone, an island in the sea of time. He is alone in his mortality. No-one joins him there. He is the only one to whom his own survival is supreme. He shares his life with others, he loves with others, but he exists only with himself. He passes through life striving for recognition, for perpetuation, for meaning. But his meaning is only truly paramount to him. One moment leads to the next as his life flows toward conclusion. The Earth makes its daily turn. The Moon makes its trek around its Earth. The Earth makes its journey around its mother Sun. A mindless, faceless star explodes into space and changes time. A herd moves across the plain. A pack drives into the wind. The face of the planet changes, the air, the clouds, the Earth moves into another realm. A man leaves a book, an image, a heartache, but soon not even that remains. The tides of the sea move the sand of the beach, and the shore’s alignment is altered. The mindless, spiritless wind moves the earth from here to there. The meaningless rain and purposeless water rages through canyons and builds the earth and tears it down. The salty oceans and the mindless mountains move among the teeming hordes and change the face of time. But the gifts of a man, his spirit, his wit, his being, pass unnoticed by time and earth, by space and life. In his mind alone, his existence is supreme. To him there is no earth, no wind, no mountains without himself. In this realm there is no existence outside himself. If he cannot see it, feel it, taste it, how can it exist? How can it move without his feet? How can it love without his heart? How can life live if he does not live? Must there not be some realm beyond this that he sees? Must he

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not continue to exist for all of this to live on? Where is he in this? People die. They all die. The great and the mighty as well as the small and the stupid. They are here. They exist with their talents and their faults. They give to or take from those around them. Their lives are felt; their minds are seen, and they live among us, then they are gone. There is nothing of them left. A broken arrow, a scattering of bone. Stories of love and work, of hate and sleep. But all things continue without them. Without a god, without a heaven, does a man have purpose? Without external attributions can a man have meaning? He moves through life building a house, a family, a soul, a spirit. He conquers his fears and cultivates his talents. He learns, becomes wise. His mind grows while his body dies. The culture of humanity, the spirit of our species evolves from this man. He runs within us and moves us on. His words are in our minds, and his skills within our hands. Our libraries are filled with his wisdom and our kitchens with his warmth. Our existence depends on his. We are here because he was here. We live because he once lived. The human species moves across the planet bending every leaf, infecting every land. It creeps into every crevice and inhabits every peak. We move upon it like fungus and consume it like a locust. I, all-important to my own existence, take my part and make my way. I build my home, I love my wife, I educate my children. Another cell is formed. I read a book, I cross the sea, I tell a story. The mass is fed. I create, I scheme, I build. The animal lives on. The body of humanity is nourished. A man is a cell within an organ, within a body, within a mass. He is an infinitesimal part of the unknown. He facilitates the growth of a body unseen by him with his urge to survive and his unyielding desire for his own existence. His death, though it is the end for him,
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is the beginning for others. It is the shedding of skin, the voiding of waste. Without him the body continues to exist, but without him it would not have become what it is. After him it is more than it had been, and more than he had been. Man has evolved beyond his purpose. He was never meant to be sentient, to understand his existence and his imminent destruction. The flora and fauna of the Earth know nothing of their existence and do not anticipate their death; they merely live. They eat and sleep, content with momentary comfort, but man understands his finite life span. He sees his impending death looming ahead, descending on him. He scurries to gather his belongings, he rushes to make his mark, he cries for his chance. Throughout his meager existence he looks forward with dread. He wishes for more time, for more life, while the life he has speeds by him. God. God must be the answer. A god and a heaven satiate the craving of the man. His life will continue on after his death. God will make it so. God will rescue him from his mortality. God will relieve him from his fear. God is the answer. But, then, God has created him along with his fear. God has given him the understanding of his mortality. God has made him with a body that decays with age, gives him pain, causes him urges he cannot fulfill. God has made him who he is with all his faults. God has imposed his faults upon him. God has created his faults. God has imposed upon him his grief and suffering. God created within him his imperfection and vulnerability and sentenced him to a life of peril. God has thrust him into harm’s way with no defense, with no weapons but his own luck. Can that same God be his deliverer? Man is sentenced to an existence without real meaning to anyone but himself. Without him the world, the universe, moves on. Without him the cosmos soars through the darkness with grace and beauty. It is the summation of all things known. It is the wonder of
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all who perceive it. It contains its own meaning. It reels and rocks through the blackness without question of its own existence. It does not question, it does not reason. It does not think or feel, but it lives on. It spins beyond us and gathers space we cannot see. Without the mind of humanity the cosmos continues to exist, but when the mind of a man dies, so goes the wonder and beauty of his universe. The wonder and beauty are a creation of the human mind. It cannot exist without it. Without the human mind the universe is merely rocks and space spinning into infinity without wonder.

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Chapter 13
Sherman knew something was wrong, and he was sure he knew what it was. He had seen it before. His mother had been in her mid seventies when she started having lapses in orientation. She hadn’t known what was happening to her, or if she had she didn’t tell anyone. As a matter of fact, she denied any problem vehemently. But everyone knew she was losing it. Sometimes she just got a lost look in her eyes, like she was trying to remember something but couldn’t. When Sherman woke up this morning he again had no idea where he was for a few seconds. This had happened a few times lately. The strange out of place feelings had always gone away after a few seconds, but this morning, as he was getting dressed, he looked at his watch sitting on his dresser and had no recollection of ever owning it. He inspected it thoroughly and wondered whom it could possibly belong to. He was positive he had never seen it before. He took the watch and went through the house looking for Jennifer to ask if she knew whom it belonged to, but when he found her he was surprised to find that she did not look like the person he was looking for. After a moment of confusion, Sherman’s mind suddenly snapped back to reality and when he looked down at the watch in his hand he realized it was his. And as the reality of the experience began to seep into his consciousness he realized as he was wandering through his house calling Jennifer’s name, he had been looking for Evelyn. Fear began to creep into his being and a realization that his life may soon be essentially over wrapped its coldness around him. He instantly understood why his mother had continued to deny any problems at all until the very end. Because the thing he began to fear most was the idea of anyone realizing that he was now losing his mind. They might try to put him away, to take him from his beloved home. This he feared more than death. He would not go. They could

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kill him but he would not go. Sherman knew what was coming. He had watched his mother’s disease progress from seemingly insignificant memory lapses to complete mental dysfunction. In the beginning, Mrs Baylor had experienced very little if any anxiety over her problem. She thought it was just old age robbing her of her good memory, but as it progressed from memory loss to more obvious signs of dementia it became more stressful for her. She must have realized what was happening and became afraid for her sanity. Later, as the disease progressed, she got to a point where she was no longer afraid. Eventually, her mental function was such that she no longer realized she was losing her mind and just accepted the unfamiliarity of things around her. She was like a happy little child in a new world making discoveries around every corner. She had no idea she was making the same discoveries over and over, day after day, even hour after hour. She didn’t remember who the people around her were, but she liked them. They treated her kindly. She was no longer afraid. Not every victim of dementia settles into a happy stage. Some plateau into a state of confusion, others become angry and combative. Mrs Baylor had been one of the lucky ones, and Sherman knew it. He hoped if he lived long enough to lose his mind completely he would settle in that state of mind as well, but he knew no-one could predict whether he would or not. Sherman contemplated his fate calmly. He was afraid, no doubt, but he was not one to panic. He thought about going to the doctor with his problem, but he knew there was no cure. It would be a waste of time and time was something he did not want to waste. It was Friday, the second week in August. The Sun shone early on the south-facing wall of the yellow house. The hot, dry summer air moved not a breath as the dusty mustard weeds reached toward the

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sky with their yellow blooms. Jennifer sang with the radio as she watched herself brush her hair in the bathroom mirror. In the reflection she noticed someone passing by the open door. She stopped singing and moved to the door and peered through the opening. Sherman was standing on the upstairs landing dressed in only his briefs and a T-shirt. If was apparent that something was wrong with him. He looked confused and sick. His arms hung limp at his sides, and his face hung in an expression of non-expression. He suddenly looked very, very old, and very tired. Jennifer called to him and he turned toward her voice, but there was no recognition in his eyes. They just looked empty. The usually brilliant glow of life was no longer there. They were hollow and without feeling. “Sherman, are you okay?” Sherman did not answer. He just looked at Jennifer as if he had not understood what she had just said. “Sherman, what are you doing? Are you sick?” Jennifer was becoming alarmed. Sherman continued to stare at her vacantly. Maybe he had had a stroke, she thought. She needed to get help if he could not talk to her. “Sherman, are you okay?” she repeated. By this time she was next to him and she reached out to touch his arm. He watched her hand reach out and fall upon his arm but never said a word. “Sherman, I think you need to go back to bed. I think you are sick. Come on, let’s go back to your room.” Jennifer gently steered him around and down the stairs to his room. He never said a word or gave any hint of resistance, he merely moved as she directed him. When they entered his room he went to his bed and sat down on it. Then he laid down on it. Jennifer left the room to get the phone.

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Within his mind Sherman wandered through the house looking, for what he was not sure. He called into the liquid air. He looked through the foggy glass. Where was it? Where to go next? Where to look? Why was she not answering? He ambled from one room to the next calling. His voice would not work. He called but no sound left his mouth. His body moved through the house, but his feet did not move. He seemed to glide, but it did not seem abnormal to do so. There was no fear in him, only bewilderment. His search was his life: the room-to-room search. Looking and calling, looking but not finding. What he was looking for was not clear but knowledge of the identity of the object of his search did not seem urgent. Deep inside, in the darkest part of his mind, he knew what he was looking for. It was comfortably hidden from his immediate recall, but he knew it was there, he knew he would know it when he found it. It was on the tip of his tongue like a name he knew well but could not recall. But it didn’t matter that he could not recall, because he knew that the object of his search was also searching for him and someday, sometime they would find each other. “Evelyn, Eve, are you here? Are you here? Eve, I cannot see you. Come to me, come to me, I cannot find you.” Sherman cried as he glided from room to room. He saw her move past the door. He saw her climb the stairs. His heart screamed for her to stop. His mind cried for her to find him, he called to her to warn her of her error. She was moving away from him though he knew she was looking to find him. He followed but she kept moving away. He caught a glimpse of her as she moved around the corner. “Eve, Eve, I am here, behind you. I am following behind you. Turn around, come to me!” But she could not hear him; she could not turn toward him. She was on a course she could not divert from. She was stuck on the trail

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of her own destiny. His followed, but she was far ahead. As he moved toward her she got farther away. He cried to her, he fell to his knees and cried her name, “Eve, Eve, do not leave me. Do not leave me to die alone”. Suddenly, pain in his arm jolted him. He was turned against his will away from the sight of Evelyn moving away from him. He was pulled back through the house at blurring speed. The stair railing skidded by in silent reverse, and the wooden floor moved from under his feet. He saw the pictures on the wall of the hallway flash past him. His children spun around his head, the backward flowing stream of his life carried him to his youth. He was yanked through the door and into the sky above the old yellow house. He saw the grapefruit groves as they had once been. He saw the alfalfa fields green again. Suddenly, she was there; Evelyn was there. She was 20 years old again. She was more beautiful than he remembered. She glowed with life and love. She exuded affection for him and brought him to her breast. Peace, wonderful soothing peace filled his soul and calmed his mind. He no longer sought her, he no longer longed for her. He had found her. He was with her. He was now a part of her and she a part of him. Jennifer held his hand until the ambulance arrived. She knew he was gone, but she could not let go. She suddenly realized she had come to love the old man. He had been kind to her. He had helped her when she needed help the most. She would miss him very much. But he had not died alone. She had been there for him. The sadness she felt at losing him was tempered with that realization. Had she not come to live with him, had she not been rescued by him he would be here alone. It may have been some time before someone realized the old man in the old yellow house had not been seen for a

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while. He may have lain in his bed for days, even weeks, before someone found him there. He had loved her, she thought. He had tried to hide it, but Jennifer knew men well enough. She knew he had loved her. She knew he stole glances when he thought she was not looking. She knew he had watched her in the backyard at her pool before moving into the old house. But he never betrayed her trust. He never so much as looked at her with obvious desire in his eyes. He had done everything in his power to conceal his affection for her. She hoped she had not taken advantage of that affection. She hoped she had made the end of his life happier if nothing else.

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Chapter 14
The saplings in the little patches of fescue in the neighborhood grew taller and their trunks grew thicker, while Jennifer married and bore a child in the old yellow house. But change is inevitable and it eventually came about in a move from the old yellow house to a new neighborhood in a new city, where children could grow up without graffiti and random shootings. The weathered old skull of the coyote still hung on the barn wall staring without eyes, backward in time, at the land it once roamed, until a dusty gloved hand reached up and picked it from the nail it hung by. “Where’d ya find that, Chuck?” a man in jeans and a hard hat asked. “It was hangin’ on the wall of the old barn,” another man in jeans and a hard hat answered. He held the sun-bleached white skull in his hand and looked at it inquisitively. “What do ya think it’s from?” the first man asked. “Oh, it’s definitely from a coyote,” the second man replied. “They used to be everywhere around here, back before all these houses moved in. There are still a few out in the hills. They come down at night and kill people’s house cats if they don’t keep um in.” “That a fact?” replied the first man. “I think my kid would like to have it. He collects old crap like this. Keeps it in a box under his bed. His mother won’t go near it. I think that’s why he likes it so much.” Dennis tossed the weathered old skull into the cab of his pickup truck and climbed onto a bulldozer as the other construction worker pushed the button that brought life to the engine of the dump truck

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he was sitting in. The bulldozer moved forward and crushed a wall and the roof crashed down as the old yellow house collapsed in on itself. In a few hours the house, the barn, and any sign that there had been a hundred years of family on the spot was pushed into a ragged pile of wood, concrete, and dirt.

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