Short Fiction–Told in a Young Voice

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Emily Rose, That’s How it Goes…

By Patricia L. Herlevi

Emily Rose, that’s how it goes…the seasons come and the flowers grow…
Emily Rose and I lived on the same street. While she wore the prim blue, red, and white plaid uniform of the Saint Theresa’s Catholic School for Girls, I wore ragged bellbottoms with fuzzy peace signs plastered over the holes.  And I wore peasant blouses.

Emily’s mother, Clare, named after the Italian saint of Assisi, grew prize roses in their small garden.  In contrast, my mother, Rainbow, a carryover hippie from the Summer of Love, grew sprouts and tomatoes among weeds. It’s hard to say why someone like Emily noticed me, a scraggly tomboy, but perhaps she took me on as a project for salvation.

I recall one particular hot spring day that occurred towards the end of the school year, late May. The teachers at the public school where I attended allowed the students to wear shorts and T-shirts. Emily wasn’t so fortunate, and she sweltered in her long sleeve white button shirt and her wool skirt, not to mention those thick cotton tights.

Like a good martyr, she didn’t complain as sweat dripped down her forehead while we walked to our separate schools. That was the day I asked her about Jesus. My mother had told me about another Mary, Magdalene, and how the Catholics wouldn’t accept her as the bride of Christ. I wanted to put the theory to the test.

“Say, Emily, I heard that Christ was married. Blood rushed to Emily’s face and she grimaced. “Christ wasn’t married! That’s impossible! Who told you that?”

“My mother told me.”

“Really, what does your mother know? She’s not a Christian and neither are you.”

I stared down at the hearts I painted on my white canvas tennis shoes. “My mother is into Jesus. She took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar and…”

Emily scoffed. “My mother wouldn’t be caught dead…” She crossed herself, “I mean that my mother would never take me to see such blasphemy.”

I saw the conversation heading into dangerous territory, so I changed the subject.

“Your mother’s roses are looking quite splendid.”

I copped an English accent for fun, but my humor which I learned from watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” every weekend with my parents, was lost on poor Emily. She’d probably find a quiet corner at her school so she could perform some kind of penance for listening to blasphemy about Jesus. I entertained myself with thoughts of the various types of punishment she would endure after I dropped her off at her proper school.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored Emily and secretly desired to be more like her. I needed discipline in my carefree life. I needed structure which my parents wouldn’t provide since they believed in the freedom of every child to choose for her or himself. I was twelve-going-on-thirteen and just learning about the magical world of womanhood. As my “moon time” approached, my mother took me to sweat lodges run by pseudo Native Americans, well, really just hippies with long braids who said they studied with this or that elder.

While my mother didn’t believe that I needed structure, she did believe that I needed ritual in my life and some way to mark my rite of passage into womanhood. I wasn’t exactly delicate, but I felt squeamish and embarrassed sitting through sex education with my parents, especially when they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.

I wondered what Emily would have thought of those lectures. How did the Catholic girls learn about making love when they didn’t allow Jesus such a privilege?  Instead, they stuck him up on some throne in heaven where he just sat there passing judgment on us. And Mary, the Mother of Jesus never shed her virginity. How was that possible?

Personally, I found the Jesus in the musicals and movies super cool. I adored him in the way that other kids my age adored rock stars. Not that I hung posters of the crucified Jesus on my bedroom walls.

Still, Emily might have done that. I saw him as a flower child, you know, the power to the people, peace, love, and doves. I liked singing along with the songs from the musicals, “Jesus Christ, Super Star, who in the world do you think you are?” Who in the world did I think I was?

As the months wore on, Emily and I bonded in friendship. She put up with Rainbow and her scraggly garden; tofu burgers, and granola with yogurt that passed as snacks at my house. She put up with my parents fondling each other in front of us prim children. She put up with my Beatles and Elton John records and even learned to sing the words to “Yellow Brick Road”.

In fact, Emily possessed an amazingly lovely voice. That girl could sing both harmony and melody. How I envied her with her golden long hair, her rosy skin, and knowledge of her faith. If she had envied me, I never knew of it.

Her mother taught me Franciscan prayers and about Francis of Assisi and his transformation from wealthy playboy to a holy saint. I found that hard to imagine in the 1970s, even when young men dropped out of society in order to pursue a simpler lifestyle. I thought they were just lazy and avoiding adulthood.

“My dear, Francis was in his early twenties, when he found his Lord Jesus and he gave up his savage lifestyle to pursue an illuminated path.”

“What does illuminated path mean?”

Clare shook her head gently and her blonde curls jingled in the sunlight. “Illumination means light so his path was lit and he could find his way to our Lord Jesus Christ.” She crossed herself and then glanced lovingly in my eyes. “I’ll pray for your soul.”

One day a year later, Emily and I sang along to some Joni Mitchell records and I decided to get out my guitar. I had been taking lessons and wrote my first song. I decided to sing it for Emily. I sang in an alto voice which Rainbow compared to Carol King. I thought Emily would just laugh at me, but instead, she began singing harmony in soprano.

After that day, she and I wrote songs with double meaning. I sang about secular subjects like boys and she sang about her love for Christ and the Virgin Mary. We both turned fourteen during the summer of 1976, when Claremont, the small town where we resided decided to throw a hippie festival-bicentennial celebration, sort of a Canterbury fair slash barbecue slash show your patriotic red, white and blue.

We auditioned as a duet to perform on a youth stage. For whatever reason, perhaps to protect herself from sinning, Emily wore her school uniform. I wore a purple flowing skirt that my mother bought me for my rite of passage along with a gypsy white blouse and Navajo turquoise jewelry. I had grown my dark brown hair long and that day I wore it in braids.

I still envied Emily’s gold tresses and she even looked cool in her short uniform skirt and white short- sleeved blouse. She had grown looser since she had met me. As we were climbing up onto the stage, a young man, new to the neighborhood, sporting longish hair and a smile that could knock one dead, grabbed a seat in the front row.

The lone wolf watched us get set up on the stage. I felt so overwhelmed by his presence that I could barely tune my guitar. Emily acted super cool.  Although I learned later she was fighting off a sexual attraction to our new foxy neighbor. She really could pull off that cold as steel attitude when deep down, she endured the flames of desire or damnation, a matter of perspective.

After we finished performing our set of six flowing songs, the new neighbor swaggered up to the stage to introduce himself.

“Hey, I’m Jimmy as in Hendrix and Page.”

Emily blushed, “Who are they?”

Jimmy laughed. “Rock stars, man.”

“We’re only into folk music.”

“Speak for yourself, my dear.”

We ended up attending a small barbecue with Jimmy. He scarfed down five drumsticks and oily potato salad. Emily gingerly ate some fruit salad and picked at a hamburger someone brought to her. Ever since she entered her Franciscan phase, she detested meat. I too, stayed clear of any animal products having been brought up by two vegetarians who lectured me at every meal about the cruelty of raising animals for slaughter.

Jimmy grinned at us condescendingly.  “What? Don’t tell me, you two are vegetarians?”

“I’m afraid so.”

He scoffed, “That’s cool. I mean, a lot of rock singers have gone veggie these days. They say it’s healthier and good for the earth. But for me, I like meat and lots of it.”

It turned out that Jimmy came from farm stock and his grandfather didn’t grow potatoes as he liked to put it. Jimmy wore his hair long and listened to a lot of the same music as me, but deep down he was a good old country boy bent on one thing, getting laid before his sixteenth birthday. And we were two prized innocence just rearing to be sacrificed to a sex god or so I thought.

We hung out with Jimmy when he’d allow it. Although Emily and I were still best friends, a competitive spirit developed between us. We tried our best to hide our feelings for Jimmy and we pretended we only wanted friendship with him while fire stirred in the fruit of our wombs.

Another August rolled around and I invited Jimmy to my fifteenth birthday celebration. Emily and I sang a few of our newest songs plus our favorite at that time, “Age of Aquarius.” Rainbow and my papa, Mountain Mark acted pleased with the songs, but Jimmy seemed to be stewing over something. His eyes darted around our living room and other times, he seemed to be drinking in some deep reality or maybe he sought a lair in which to snag us.

Later that evening, after my parents had left for a night out on the town with their hippie friends, Jimmy and I hit the sacrificial wine.  He brought a bottle that he swiped from his parents to celebrate another of my rituals into womanhood, in which Rainbow had grown quite fond.

At first, Emily acted prudishly and refused to take a sip of the wine. She seemed sullen while Jimmy and I took huge gulps of the wine always thanking the Lord. This also did not go down well with Emily who despite appearances, (she was wearing her hair down and sporting a short mini skirt), took to religion like a sockeye salmon to the mighty Pacific Ocean. We took the Lord’s name in vain, mi culpa, excuse me, I have sinned.

“Come on, Emily, lighten up. It’s just a little wine.”

She scowled at me. “And you’re drunk and don’t even know it. You’re disgraceful!”

Jimmy scoffed, “How old are you anyway? Do you always need to turn to Mother Superior for advice or are you allowed to have a good time?”

I looked around the room. “I’ve news for you, Em, there’s no mother superior in this room. But we have this delicious bottle of wine.” I stare fondly at Jimmy, “And he might not be a Lord, but don’t you think that he’s foxy?”

Emily bolted from the room, furious at us. I took the opportunity of being alone with Jimmy. I had never been kissed and my body felt like a vestal fire just exchanging glances with him. I let my hair out of their braids and pulled my gypsy blouse down baring my shoulders.

He leaned forward and kissed me with his full mouth and tongue. My body ascended into bliss. Next thing I knew Jimmy was on top caressing every part of me and his wine breath delighted me further.

Emily was aghast when she returned to the room seeing her friends undressing each other. She crossed herself a few times and gulped down wine. She pulled out a flamenco record and placed it on the turntable then she started dancing seductively to everyone’s surprise. She shot smoldering glances at Jimmy and resembled a toreador captivating a bull’s attention. She swung her hips and licked her lips in anticipation of being deflowered.

Jimmy rolled off of me and approached Emily who he swooped in his arms and carried her to a bedroom in the back of the house, my room. I felt that my anger would destroy me, but I survived. However, my friendship with Emily died that day and would never be revived.

I shouted after them, “How disgraceful, a virgin sacrifice! Surely you’ll be sullied!”

I slumped on the floor nursing the remainder of the wine while tears slipped down my face silently. Some birthday, I thought. I swore that I could hear the lovers upstairs panting, but it was probably just our old German shepherd, Ben sleeping on the couch. I heard Emily yelp out in pain, but her cries only mirrored my own suffering as my two friends betrayed me.

A few months later, a nosy neighbor mentioned to my mother that Emily was sent to a convent for the Poor Clares at her own request. She had contracted a venereal disease from Jimmy and took that as a sign from God that she needed to repent for her sins. So just like that, she disappeared from my life and I went from a duet to a solo act.

And I guess I should’ve been thankful that Jimmy had done the deed with Emily instead of me, but I felt mortified. I wondered if kids dropped out of society to avoid such pain, but I stayed the course.  I did what was expected of me like the dutiful Catholic girl I wasn’t. Emily Rose and I, Anne Jacobs, had officially exchanged places.

Jimmy dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco where he joined an acid rock band. I didn’t care. I felt too numb to care.  I concentrated on writing songs, I took dance classes, and I got to know Saint Francis of Assisi who forgave me for my transgressions. Eventually, I graduated from high school and attended a music conservatory.

After I graduated, I joined up with a new writing partner, Marty Reingold. Then he and I signed our first record deal under the moniker, Emily Rose. I hadn’t forgotten Emily and I didn’t want to. Our first single was called, “Emily Rose–That’s how it goes.” It climbed the charts and even the mailman hummed it.

These days, I wonder if Emily ever heard my song. Do the Poor Clares listen to folk music? Did Emily remember me when she traveled around the country advocating sex education and woman empowerment classes in the Catholic schools? Did she ever sing our old tunes in private when no one but God and The Virgin was watching her?

She might not remember me or care, but I’ve searched endlessly for information regarding her vocation on the Internet. I learned that she became the Head Abbess at a convent in Spokane, Washington, that she lectured about family planning around the world and that she finally accepted Mary Magdalene as the Bride of Christ. I’m certainly not aware if I had anything to do with her conversion.

A long time ago, we sat on my lawn watching the sunset and pondering the existence of God. Emily turned to me with the sun shining like gold lanterns in her metallic blue eyes.

“Why do you think Jesus married a prostitute?”

I grabbed Emily’s arm gently. “But don’t you see that she wasn’t a prostitute?”

Emily picked a daisy that was growing on the grass and she smiled with enchantment.

“Father Paul and the sisters tell us that Magdalene was a loose woman and that she wept because of her sins. That’s why Jesus took pity on her, but he would’ve never married such a woman or any woman.”

“Why not? What’s so wrong with Jesus getting married?”

“He was serving God!”

“So you’re saying that married people can’t serve God?”

“They’d be too obsessed with one another to put God first.”

I laughed. “So then, your parents are too obsessed with themselves to serve God?”

I asked this question because both her parents were overly devoted to the church to the point where they didn’t even know the other existed any longer.”

“My parents aren’t a good example.”

“Really?”

“They’re the exception to the rule.”

“And my parents who adore each other would turn Jesus off?”

“No, because I think that Jesus would forgive them.”

“For what, spreading love in the world or having a family and enjoying Mother Earth?”

Emily didn’t respond to my question. She glanced at me with a knowing look and then counted down the last few seconds before the sun sunk below the horizon.

Years later through her own painful experiences, she learned that religion isn’t cut and dry. She tossed out dogma and grew into a real person who saw the world through an earthy gaze. She saw and felt the pain of young woman caught up in hormonal dramas. She felt the injustices done to the young woman in the name of religion and fought to bring peace to their lives. And so, tirelessly for thirty years, Emily forged ahead on this mission.

I also had a purpose to further women in the music industry. I bring love and joy to others’ lives through my songs. I say to Emily, “That’s how it went and that’s how it goes.” We gave more to life than it could ever return to us, but that’s okay, that has to be okay…I feel Emily nodding in silence as she ponders the marriage between the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. If only the rest of the world would catch on…

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Excerpt from Enter 5-D

I wrote Enter 5-D as an urban fantasy but it also fits into commercial and general fiction.

cropped-dscn3701.jpgChapter Five

Across Seattle, Eurydice scrambled down the cobblestone alleyway to the mouth of the Oracle grotto. When she reached the theater entrance, she stood under the marquee and waited for the jay to appear. Soon she heard a fluttering of wings in the background and then the bird landed in front of her on his perch.

“Oh, it’s you. Where have you been keeping yourself these days?”

Eurydice pushed back her hair from her face and wiped perspiration from her forehead. “You know well where I’ve been because you’re the one who revealed my future to me. Remember you said that I would make a sacrifice but not to worry?”

“I said that?”

Eurydice nodded.

“Oh, yes, you’re the one who sang in the opera house. I heard the news. What a shame that the great opera house will be empty these days. What was the governor thinking?”

“That’s a good question for you to answer.”

“So now, you’re out of work and your life has fallen completely apart, am I correct?”

Eurydice nodded.

“For a singer, you’re a woman with little words.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Let’s talk about your dreams. There’s a man in your dreams who wants to help you. But if you keep ignoring him then he’s not much help, is he?”

“I’m not ignoring him. He comes and goes.”

“This is the way of Orpheus.”

“Who’s Orpheus?”

The jay lit from his perch and flew in three circles and then landed back on the perch pushing back the crown on his head with his foot. “My dear, Orpheus is the son of a muse and probably was the greatest musician Seattle ever had.”

“What do you mean by ever had?”

“He’s no longer with us.”

“He died? This man that’s supposed to help me is dead?”

“Not exactly–he ascended to another dimension.”

Eurydice found a wood and iron bench and plopped down on it. “You’ll have to explain that one. Talking to you is exhausting. Don’t you believe in linear communication?”

The jay shook his head. “Talk to Persephone and Demeter about the dimensions. Or you could find your answers underground.”

Just as the jay delivered his last word, he vaporized leaving Eurydice gasping with astonishment and exasperation. Her mind seemed more confused now as it did before consulting with the crazy jay.

Meanwhile, Demeter and Persephone rifled through Eurydice drawers and papers on her desk looking for a suicide note or some kind of sign.

Demeter grimaced. “Why is my intuition failing me now?”

Persephone pushed aside clothing that had piled up on Eurydice’s couch and she took a seat. She rubbed her temples and placed her hand on her heart and then she closed her eyes.

“She’s not dead. And in fact, she’s on her way home so we had better clean up this mess or we’ll have explaining to do.”

Demeter picked up the empty bottle of pills resting on the counter and she read the label. She pointed at the bottle.

“My mind is also playing tricks on me. This is allergy medicine and Eurydice probably was rifling through her purse looking for any remaining pills. Looking at the date on the bottle, she would have run out by now.”

Persephone sighed with relief. “We had better clean this mess. How are we going to explain our actions to Eurydice?”

Just as she mentioned Eurydice name, the women heard the key turning in the door and then Eurydice entered her cottage. She gawked when she saw her friends standing in a pile of her clothing and papers scattered on the wood floors she had polished earlier.
Demeter began picking up the papers and placing them in a neat pile on the kitchen table while Persephone folded the clothes on the couch. Demeter chuckled with embarrassment.

“We have some explaining to do.

Eurydice nodded, chuckling. “Go on…”

We caught wind of Pluto’s latest law and rushed to your cottage to warn you. We noticed the empty bottle of pills next to your purse on the floor and we jumped to conclusions.”

“You thought I overdosed on allergy pills and then disappeared?”

The women nodded in unison.

Eurydice cleared papers from the floor and couch, and then she sat on the couch next to Persephone.

“Wow, am I coming off as desperate?”

Persephone caressed Eurydice’s shoulder. “It’s not so much that, but we read of other musicians committing suicide thanks to Pluto’s new laws.”

“And you thought that I would take my own life?”

Demeter grabbed a wicker chair and sat across from the other women. She nodded. “I guess we were thinking that if we were in your shoes, we would probably consider such an act.”

Eurydice chuckled. “I can see it now dramatic diva takes her life to avenge Pluto’s draconian laws. The newspaper would love that.”

Demeter picked up a stray piece of paper and read the contents. She realized it was the deed for the cottage. She picked up another paper announcing the final mortgage payment.

“Eurydice, you didn’t tell us that you had only one payment left on your mortgage.”

Eurydice shrugged. “What’s to celebrate now? According to Pluto’s new law, which I did read about in the newspaper today, I have three months to vacate my home.”

Demeter sighed. “This is unfair. What did musicians do that caused Pluto to bring out his iron fist?”

“We took attention away from him and you know better than anyone else that the man is a megalomaniac.”

**

Meanwhile, on his way to the Underground, Marcus got a sense that someone was tailing him, but when he looked behind and around himself, the streets appeared empty except for a stray kid passing by on a bicycle.

In any case, he picked up his pace and headed to the main entrance to what was formerly known as Pioneer Square and now went by the name Styx Center. From the corner of his eye, he saw a whirl of something feminine. Next thing he knew Pandora strode towards him–her jade eyes sparkling with curiosity. When she caught up with Marcus she grabbed his left wrist.

She teased Marcus, “Where do you think you’re going Mister Plutocrat?”

Marcus feigned ignorance even though he stood only ten feet away from the entrance to Hades. “I was exploring this area of town. Do you know where this door leads?”

Pandora smirked. “I know where you’ve been. Olav is a good friend of mine and I’ve done some work for him. Woodworkers and locksmiths are like pardon the cliché, peas in a pod.”

Marcus blushed and he struggled to find his voice now caught in his throat. Pandora looked him up and down until her probing eyes landed on his face.

“What are you going to do if Pluto catches up with you? And you do know about his prison on San Juan Island, right?”

“At least there’s no death penalty.”

“That’s the point because from what I’ve heard, the prisoners pray for death as they languish in that surreal place.”

“I know what I’m doing. It’s true that my colleagues suspect something’s wrong with me, but I’ve managed to allude them.”

“Really–and you’ve alluded Pluto’s hidden cameras too?”

“What hidden cameras?”

“You think Pluto doesn’t keep his eyes on his employees? If I were you I would censor your phone calls by using code words and take a different route each time you venture to the Underground and that sort of thing. You need to be sneakier than Pluto or he’ll catch you.”

Marcus shuddered and hesitated. Then his hand reached for the handle of the door. He glanced at Pandora over his shoulder as she stood a few feet away with her arms crossed defiantly across her ample bosom.

“Good luck, Marcus.”

Marcus swung the door open and squeezed inside the damp entrance before changing his mind. As he descended the stairs, his feet sunk into the moss. He pulled out a flashlight. When he turned it on, he noticed a camera swiveling above his head.

“Oh, darn! Look, you’re on Pluto’s Candid Camera.”=

Moments later, he heard the door open behind him and two pairs of booted feet land heavily on the stairs and flashlights arcing towards him. The next thing he knew, someone had grabbed both of his hands and placed them in handcuffs.

“So Marcus, how’s the weather in the Underground?”

The two men dragged Marcus up the stairs and out into the sparkling sunlight.

**

Meanwhile, Pandora strode on Fifth Avenue towards the old Public Market. Moments later, she negotiated the cobblestone alleyway in her wedged sandals. She approached the grotto and waited for the jay to appear. It seemed like the eternity until the bird arrived so Pandora took a seat on the wood and iron bench in the meantime.

Suddenly, Pandora heard a fluttering of wings coming from behind her. The Oracle flew above her head and landed on his perch. With one foot, he fluffed his crown.

Pandora smirked. “So, you finally showed up.”

The jay ruffled his feathers and began preening them. Pandora waited for the bird to speak but instead sat through the bird’s morning grooming routine. Finally, the bird’s shiny eyes gazed at Pandora’s face.

“Ah Pandora, what can I do for you?”

“I’ve been waiting so long I’ve almost forgotten my questions for you.”

“Even if you had forgotten, don’t you think I would know?”

 

Podcast from Super-Nature Heroes

signs-of-the-time-027Perhaps, I sound high and mighty when I mention that I include bigger themes of humanity and the journey of the planet in my comic novels. Hah! Yet, I wanted my writing career to dovetail with my metaphysical practice. Also, my current trip is to produce podcasts of my short fiction and chapters from my unpublished novels.

I’m doing this because it is a fun way to waste precious time. And because I feel frustrated that agents ignore my work in favor of dark thrillers and all those romances. Well, that stuff sells, I understand. But I am going to quote that song, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love” and comedy–lots of it.

And I would like to think that the Holy Saints possess a sense of humor. I envision them laughing at their foibles in my heartfelt urban fantasy. A girl’s gotta do, what a girl has gotta do.

Short Fiction–Maiden of Mount Vernon

fscn2779I don’t normally write dark stories. However, I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington during a dark time. The protagonist of this story first caught my attention while I was riding a local bus to the top of the hill. The bus passed a Mexican restaurant tucked into a pink Victorian house. I imagined that the top part of the house was rented out to a timid woman who required a giant push to get her moving in the right direction.

Maiden of Mount Vernon

(The Story of Marianne Bradley)

By Patricia L. Herlevi

How could I have known that a man with musician’s hands and indigo eyes would pose a danger to the children? How could I have known that he held tight onto a secret for many years until one damp April day when the river overflowed its banks, this man overflowed his?

I’m boasted as a local hero by community leaders and children. But what am I really but a timid woman named Marianne Bradley who hid behind an Apple computer? I dreamed about a career as an elementary school teacher. I even graduated with a BA degree in teaching, only to flub up the audition. However, my shyness coupled with unruly sixth- graders, got the best of me. With that combination working against me, I panicked and ran out of the classroom breaking a heel and my heart in the process.

So I hid away in my apartment, located above a Mexican café on Mount Vernon’s hilltop, where the smell of frying chilies, and beans prevented my heart from freezing. Thankfully the Mexican matriarch who ran the place brought food to my doorstep every evening. Though she didn’t speak English, her eyes conveyed comfort to me, similar to Mother Mary or Mary of Fatima at the grotto down the street.

After earning a certificate in multimedia design through an online program, I landed a job at an private elementary school a few blocks from my home. While I didn’t teach children, I heard their laughter passing through the halls, the slam of their locker doors, and their pounding feet as they ran to their classrooms during the late bell. They intrigued me.

I interview teachers and award-winning students for the school’s newsletter which I also designed. I watched the children play at recess through the window near my desk. One girl in particular, blonde, ten years old, Sarah Anne caught my attention. I admired the way she lead the other children, and showed them who was boss. My desire was to teach precocious children at a private school. But at that time, I didn’t have the gumption to handle them.

Getting back to my main story, Sarah played cello in the school’s fourth grade orchestra. Watching her small frame haul that instrument around the school and waiting in the rain for the bus, increased worry lines on my face. This kid possessed determination that I envied. But did her parents feel anxious about their daughter’s early physical development? I would if I had a daughter like that.

That winter we experienced a snowstorm that paralyzed most of the community. With the snow piling up rapidly, the children were let go early. But some of them hung out in the playground and sledded down a nearby hill that had been closed off to traffic. Working against a newsletter deadline, I huddled under my shawl in the quiet office.

That’s when I noticed a man, clean cut, and dressed in athletic wear. I guessed that he was in his early twenties. He seemed harmless at the time as he stood on the peripheries of the playground watching the children through the chain link fence. From what I knew, he could have been the father of a first grader, but I doubted that. Most likely he was a college at the nearby community college checking out the neighborhood. But I doubted that too. Call it women’s intuition.

I watched as he inched his way into the playground and made snowballs with the boys. A few moments later, I saw him chatting with the girls, but they shied away from him, perhaps out of instinct or good parenting.

Feeling somewhat tense by the man’s appearance, I cracked the window and eavesdropped on the conversation the man had with the boys.

“Hey…Looks like you’re enjoying the snow.”

Two boys nodded but remained speechless and in awe of the athletic man. “Where I came from it snowed all winter long. We waded in snow up to here.” The man pointed at one of his taut muscular thighs.

The boys edged closer to the man. One of the boys, pale, blonde and painfully thin with large penetrating blue eyes responded. “Where are you from?”

The man squinted his eyes as he stared at the whitened horizon. “I’m from far away.”

“Are you from China?”

The other boy, a Hispanic sporting curly black hair that sprouted out from beneath his red wool hat, and large brown eyes, rolled his eyes scoffed at the blonde boy. “Does he look like he’s from China?”

The blonde shrugged, “No, but my mom tells me that China is far away.”

More boys gathered around the man who had taken on a Pied Piper persona. My heart beat furiously as I watched this man charm the kids.

The man continued getting to know the boys. “See the thing is, I’m not from Mount Vernon, and I recently moved to Skagit. I’m new here and I need some friends to show me around.”

The Hispanic boy chipped in, “I’m not from Mount Vernon either or Burlington.” He rolled the “r” in Burlington with Mexican pride. “My family came here from Mexico so I’m from far away too. But we didn’t see any snow.”

Meanwhile, I had learned enough from eavesdropping. I slammed the window shut capturing the attention of the man who took that as a hint and swaggered away from the playground.

I don’t know where he came from since I’d not seen him around the community prior to his appearance at the schoolyard. I thought I’d never see him again after that snow day. But he became a regular hanging out across the street from the playground where he lounged on a bench pretending to read a book.

I pointed the man out to the principal. “Aren’t you concerned about that man pestering the children?”

The principal shrugged his thick shoulders. “He’s harmless and is probably reliving his schooldays through the children.”

Yeah, right.

As time went on, the man took more risks. He waited for children to leave the playground after school and he befriended some of the boys by showing them his I-Pad and fancy cell phone which showed movies on a tiny screen. He might have well been selling lollipops to five-year-olds. A smooth operator, he reeled in the boys first, finding out where they lived by walking them home, finding out which kids went to an empty house. Then he began taking pictures of the boys, which we didn’t discover until months later.

Meanwhile Sarah’s family moved closer to the school so she stopped taking the bus but still hauled that cello a few blocks. She took an interest in the man and eventually, he coaxed her into playing her adult-size cello for him on the playground. Tension grew around me and I kept my eye on this man as he infiltrated his way into the children’s lives.

One day after I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer, I stood outside the principal’s door trembling like a child. “Excuse me Mr. Duvall, but have you noticed that man is still hanging around the school and he follows children home. Why doesn’t this concern you?”

The principal looked up from the document he was reading and fixed his tired gray eyes on me. “I’ve brought it up at PTA meetings. I’m wondering Marianne, why any of this concerns you. Don’t you have a deadline coming up?”

The following April as I surfed the web, I found a questionable site hosted by a Manny Lobe.  When I downloaded the man’s picture, I nearly fainted. As I browsed his site, my face and hands perspired and my eyes glanced at photographs of little boys that I knew personally. While I saw nothing risqué about any of the photographs, the parents of these children would have gone livid knowing that their child’s privacy had been violated. As I searched further on the site, I learned that it was a type of brokerage focused on children—ours.

However, when that Monday rolled around shyness paralyzed me. I knew that I needed to report the site to the principal. But I couldn’t manage to get out of bed. I thought the principal would just dismiss me once again. My throat burned and my lung filled with grief. I stayed home on that following Tuesday and Wednesday too. I feared that they would tie me in with the young man’s crime or that I would be accused of not speaking up earlier.

But by Thursday I had to go into to work or lose my job. I trembled for most of the day, felt terrified when the principal glanced at me dressed in my usual gray or when teachers failed to notice me at all. I overheard Sarah Anne talking to her classmates in the restroom. “Manny’s so cool. He asked me to play my cello for him.”

The other girls smiled in admiration, but I wanted to shake the child by the shoulders. Doesn’t anyone teach these children how to protect themselves?

I knew that I needed to act, but my feet turned to clay. But on my break, I visited Lobe’s site again and noticed the photographs of girls. I didn’t recognize any of them. Making rounds of the schools, one page featured pre-teens girls dressed in skimpy cheerleading outfits—I cringed.

Pacing my small office, I resolved myself to show the principal the website, but I hadn’t seen him around that day. I approached the secretary. “Do you know if Mr. Duvall will be checking into the office?”

The secretary looked away from her sandwich and focused her hazel eyes on me. “Mr. Duvall is attending an education conference for two days. Is there something I can help you with?”

As she said this her eyes bored holes through me.  I stammered, “No, it can wait.”

After the secretary left for the day, I glanced out the rain-spattered window and saw Sarah Anne lugging her cello towards a red VW Bug. Then I saw the driver of the car. I high tailed it out of the office, tossed off my three-inch heels, soaking my feet in a stream that had formed from a torrential downpour. I dashed towards the car and reached it just as Sarah Anne dripping wet, climbed into the passenger’s seat. Her cello got caught in the door and I grabbed and pulled at it.

“Sarah Anne, get out of the car!”

Stunned she tried to obey me, but Manny coaxed her and pulled on her down jacket. I shouted at people passing by on the street, “Call 9-11!” I yanked on Sarah’s arm causing the confused child to wince. Finally, she tumbled onto the ground.  Her cello did a few somersaults onto the sidewalk.

Manny sped off with the open passenger door flapping like a bird’s broken wing. I pulled out my cell phone and called the police, since no one standing around gawking bothered to make the call. When I inquired, one man muttered, “The Skagit overflowed her banks. Where are you going to find a law officer under these conditions?”

Eventually, the sheriff tracked down Lobe’s operation in a trailer on an abandoned lot near Concrete. They found stashes of water-damaged children’s pictures throughout the trailer, video equipment, a laptop, and a digital camera. But we never fully learned Manny’s story of how a twenty-one-year-old star athlete from Vermont became a broker for pedophiles or ended up in our community where his secret destroyed him. What was he thinking?

And me, I’m a local hero who currently teaches sixth grade. The children gaze at me with star-crossed eyes and compare me to Joan of Arc—the Maiden of Mount Vernon they call me. But I still buckle at the knees and worry about the future of these kids.

 

**

All Rights Reserved by Patricia Herlevi, 2011

Photograph by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved