The Iron Writer
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The Last Love Song of Amber & Geoffrey
It’s not what you think.
You want it to be clean cut, right versus wrong. You want to pick a side and you want the winner to be you. But there are no winners here. The labels we too easily conform to have no bearing here. You can say, “He’s too conservative, she’s totally liberal” all you want, but the value – the truth – is weightier than any one stereotype.
They didn’t mean for it to happen. You should know that first.
Carried away by the current of adventure, they defied society’s expectations and chose love over loyalty, freedom over responsibility. You can’t fault them for that, for choosing to believe some things were more important than a party line. And when it spun out, the repercussions far exceeded their ability to manage.
Her bleeding heart and his measured restraint clashed for the first time. Where she crossed the line, he held back for fear of erasing it entirely. And what line did she cross, exactly? The line of good propriety? Of reasonableness? When one moves from hope to heartache in the course of a dark winter’s day, how should we expect her to react?
The labels they bear still – her blood and his brain – gave way to the label we all bear. Human. When she stepped over, he stepped back, abandoning her to face the consequences alone. While it was her hand, it was his absence, complicit in thought if not in deed.
You should also know there is more than one victim. The man left maimed and scarred stares into our very souls, a mirror image of the pain we could inflict at any moment. He will forever bear his own label. Some wounds simply never heal, no matter how much we wish to wash them away. But we must also face the loss of innocence, of idealism. We must face the victimization of thought, of freedom and of choice.
Today, when you view the images, when you hear the testimony of love gone bad, I want you to see more than scars. I want you to listen to their hearts, to see beyond her actions and his absence. I don’t want you to judge their motives or their beliefs. Only the Almighty Judge is responsible for that. Instead, I want you to open your minds to the idea that love is worth sacrificing for.
Did she gouge out the man’s eyes, write on his flesh? Yes. Yes, she did.
But I want you to see the image of this man and remember he’s nothing but a mascot made of stone.
I want you to read the graffiti and believe what it says.
I want you to look into the faces of your peers, to understand the choices they made that day: her passion, his restraint. Remember that she is your friend, your president; he is a mathlete, our brother.
“I love you, Geoffrey! Forever!” she wrote on Paul Bunyan that dark day.
Now, today, you have a choice. Forgive Amber. Reject impeachment. Save your school. Save your souls… and GO BIG BLUE!
What We Tell Ourselves
His fingers felt for the telegram in one coat pocket, the semi-automatic pistol in the other. He smelled the Marlboros, the aftershave. The weight of the Army coat pressed into his shoulders.
It hid a lot of sins.
He had shaved his head that morning, #3 blade.
Eager Republicans and Democrats, waved their pamphlets at him as he passed their makeshift booths.
“Political parties are self-serving products of this mixed up world; judges of all, rulers of none.” He could hear his father say.
He slipped right through them, then through the automatic doors. Cool air and the smell of baking bread bathed him.
The voices reminded him to stay calm.
It was only yesterday, the pale-faced chaplain came calling in his dress uniform.
The dog yapped, wagged its tail. Mama held her hands to her ears, fell to the floor.
The chaplain prayed and handed him the telegram.
He’d tried to stop his dad. He had already done three tours. Each time, he tried to stop him from leaving again.
The voices screamed at him to stay calm.
He’d wanted to be just like him. Couldn’t wait to be a soldier. “Plenty of time to make your own mark on the world”, his mama had always said.
In another part of the store, under the fluorescent lights of the employee restroom, the Store Manager stood, smoothed his company-policy haircut, tucked his white, short-sleeved button-down shirt and straightened his name tag. He stared at his reflection, at his father’s eyes, his skin was faded and grey, like a Polaroid left too long in the sun. He sucked in his little belly and turned sideways. “Some rock star you turned out to be”, he said to himself. “Supposed to be a summer job and it turned out to be your whole life.” He shook his head at his reflection.
He thought of his guitar, stuck in the hall closet behind the vacuum. ”Maybe one day, I will play again… still plenty of time,” he said.
Drying his hands on a paper towel and tossing it in the receptacle, the Manager opened the heavy bathroom door and caught sight of the new stock boy yelling at some kid. The hulking, jacketed boy stood silent in response. Waiting.
“Now…” The voices cried out.
The Manager ran toward them.
As he neared, the Manager saw the boy’s eyes; red and bloodshot. Sadness and determination wore this young man, whose jacket held a gun. He caught his breath.
In a cartoon of slowed motion, bullets pierced the sadness, the unaware.
Strewn cans and untouched stacks of macaroni boxes, spilled strawberries, and bread mashed into a footprint, lay waiting for the stock boy.
Red wine puddled.
The Manager stared up at the tiled ceiling, unable to blink. A cardboard arrow sign, marked “Checkout,” blew round and round in the air conditioning, making itself into a pinwheel.
The gunman strode away. Grief, his only companion.
A Talk with Our Uncle
Paul Arden Lidberg
No one was quite sure how it happened, but they certainly never forgot it once it did.
Things had been getting progressively worse for years. Both parties – the Democrats and the Republicans – had passed power back and forth and yet it never got better. The ideologues on each side – liberal progressives on the left and right-wing conservatives on the right – had wasted millions of hours of TV time spouting both doctrine and vitriol, to little effect other than to line their own pockets. The citizens and taxpayers were complicit in the fight.
The people of the country no longer believed in them, and no longer thought of America as that “shining city on a hill,” a light of Liberty to shine the way for the world. The torch of Freedom had gone out, and no one had any idea how to relight it.
It was once again the Fourth of July, a time once celebrated as the start of independence, Freedom and Liberty. A yearly reminder of the promise made to the country, and the citizen’s obligation to keep that promise. No one was celebrating. No special notice was made. It was just another dark and dreary day like so many, lacking any redeeming qualities.
The sky lit up across the country at 8PM Central Time. At the same time, every TV screen, phone screen and monitor lit up as well with the same scene. People everywhere saw a large face appear that was startling, but familiar. Uncle Sam was looking down on the country, and he was not happy.
“Greetings, people of the United States” came the voice. “I am your Uncle Sam, and I stand here as Judge of your actions.
“I have to say, I am not pleased by what I see. This great country, forged in Freedom and Liberty, is a pale shadow of its true promise. You have failed to uphold your part of the bargain.
“Thousands of men and women, thinking more about others than themselves, gave everything of themselves to create this place, a beacon of Liberty throughout the world. Many of those gave the ultimate sacrifice. We are forever in their debt.
“How have you repaid them? With increasingly corrupt elected leaders, ones you voted for because they promised you something for nothing. With generations of children who look to television as their parents and are unable to think for themselves. You should be ashamed.
“If you want your country to mean something, if you want to leave something for your children – the true victims here – that is truly worth keeping, you need to do something about it.
“Take control of your destiny. Get rid of the corruption. Reestablish the promise of this country. Take pride in America.
“The world is watching. Take today, and reestablish your Independence on this Fourth of July.
“God Bless The United States of America.” And then he faded from sight.
Pundits tried to spin it. Politicians tried to say it wasn’t themselves he’d been talking about.
Incumbents lost 98% of their seats in the next election. Someone had been paying attention to their Uncle Sam.
“Daaaadddyy! Daaddy! Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Breathless Rea burst through the screen door, allowing it to slam behind her, echoing the sounds of summer.
“Rea! The baby is napping! Shhh!”
“But Daddy!” a slightly quieter yet ever as persistent Rea implored, “Come quick. It’s Nathan. That stupid rooster got him, again”
“Watch your language,” Daddy admonished, guiltily. “Let’s go see.”
In the yard, Eliza busily tended to Nathan, who was whimpering and trying to ignore the blood drawn by the spur of the evil rooster. Daddy had known this day was coming. That rooster had finally gone too far. The blood dripping down Nathan’s shirt was enough to convict the creature.
“Off with it’s head, Daddy!” Rea declared. “He’s mean and hurts us.”
As Daddy stood there, weighing his options, soft spoken Eliza tapped Daddy’s arm.
“But, Daddy. Does he have to die? I know he’s mean, but does he have to die?”
“Eliza, he will hurt someone again. What can we do to protect all you kids?”
“Can’t we give him away, Daddy? Then he can’t hurt us.”
“Rea, what do you think of that?”
“Daddy, I don’t want him to hurt someone else. If we give him away, he will still probably hurt people at his new farm. Giving him away protects us, but it puts other people in danger. Eliza,” she added, turning toward her little sister, “wouldn’t you feel pretty bad if we gave him away and somebody else got hurt?”
“Yeah,” the blonde head bobbed, “But maybe if they didn’t have kids…”
“He spurred Daddy last week,” Rea persisted.
“Nathan, what do you think?”
Nathan looked up at Daddy, eyes swollen with tears trying not too fall, trusting Daddy to make the fair and impartial decision, “Daddy. It hurts really bad. If it had been one of the little kids… I don’t know, Daddy. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. I tried to stay far away while putting out their food. But he just ran up and attacked me. I just don’t want him to hurt anyone else.”
Daddy looked at Eliza, “Anything else you want to say?”
“Yes, Daddy. Maybe if there weren’t kids around. Maybe then he’d settle down. Maybe it’s our fault for being so noisy all the time. Maybe if he was on a quiet farm with just an old man and woman, maybe he’d be nice.”
“Rea? Anything to add?”
“Daddy, he spurred you. We know he’d spur other grown ups. And we kids hardly ever play near the chickens anymore since he got so mean.”
Daddy surveyed the scene. On his left stood his tender hearted, Eliza unwilling to see the mean creature suffer. On his right stood the resolute, justice seeking Rea, loath to see another sibling hurt. On the ground in front of him whimpered the victim, the sweet child attacked while simply feeding the flock. And he alone had to make the decision.