Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 

Smile

 

 

Paula was sitting at a picnic table sharing gossip with LeVonne Finn when she spotted her son on the ground bawling. The boy was beneath the swing he had been on and was in danger of getting hit by one of LeVonne’s kids, who continued swinging away on either side of Chesterfield, Paula’s son. Paula jumped to her feet and ran over. Chesterfield was half-in and half-out of a puddle of leftover rainwater that had gathered in the rutted ground below the swing, the boy’s arms flailing while tears ran down his red face. Paula, in a nice spring dress, grabbed Chesterfield by the arm and dragged him out of the goop and away from the swing set. The boy was accident-prone, an unending script of bruises and scabs, his clothes forever dirty and stained. Paula let go of her son and stepped back, the boy’s brand new trousers mud-soaked. Paula placed a hand on her hip and said: “Ah, jeez.”

 

When the crying stopped the boy went back to being what he always was¾running around, putting his hands on everything, and staring at dogs that people brought to the park to pee on the trees.

 

A few days went by and Paula began to wonder if her son’s head was more atilt than usual. Also, there was the boy’s smile, which now seemed to be crooked. In addition, Chesterfield was spending more time in front of the full-length mirror in Paula’s bedroom, the boy cocking his head this way and that while scrunching his face up like a monster.

 

Paula turned to Frank, her live-in boyfriend, and said, “Do you think there’s something wrong with him?”

 

Frank looked at her and emitted a wry chuckle.

 

“No, I mean something-new wrong with him?” Paula said.

 

Frank took a moment, seemingly to think this over. After this he drawled, “Well, it’s hard to tell the quality of falling snow when you’re in the middle of a blizzard.”

 

The following week, at a clinic that wasn’t cheap because Paula didn’t have health insurance, and neither did Frank for that matter, a heavy-set doctor in a starched white lab coat told Paula that a nerve had gotten pinched and that the left side of her son’s face was paralyzed. Five more minutes of discussion yielded a cause. They pinned it on the fall from the swing.

 

Options were limited, a chiropractor or acupuncture. Either or both meant money. On top of that, neither could guarantee a cure.

 

“Well, hell,” said Frank, “he can walk, he can talk, he can see, and he can certainly eat. What’s to fix?”

 

“Yeah,” concurred Paula, “and he isn’t even crying.”

 

And so, Chesterfield Alonzo Kave entered elementary school with a face that was pulled and pushed whenever he smiled or laughed, left side of his countenance flaccid, right all bunched up. Oddly, it was the right that looked a mess but was normal. The paralysis affected his eyes from the bottom, one eye round, the other squinting, mismatched sockets on a twisted portrait. His peers never let him forget it.

 

In high school he leveled off at five-eight, extremities short, features blunt. He never grew another inch. Body hair smothered his flesh. He looked ancient. Everyone called him Chester.

 

Self-conscious and hibernating from people and social activity he learned to get along like so many other misfits, quiet in class, turning in homework on time, and passing from grade to grade with Cs. Industrial Arts was his declared major. As for cavorting around a dance floor or cheering in the stands at football games he was absent, and he maintained that same status at his senior prom.

 

The day after he graduated from senior high he headed out of town in a used VW wagon that looked like a shrunken station wagon, model extinct, but engine recently rebuilt. He bought the vehicle with money he’d saved working at a fast-food establishment the last two years of his glorious high school days. He dubbed that job “real education,” and as he motored out of Tulsa on a sunny morning at the beginning of June with a plastic bottle of Dr. Pepper wedged between his thighs, he understood that hard work paid off.

 

With Highway 51 racing under his car, and with Sand Springs dissolving in the rearview mirror, the recent memory of his mother giving him a hesitant peck on the cheek and saying, “Give us a call,” while Frank handed him a twenty-dollar bill and voiced, “Good luck,” teased up a giggle from inside Chester’s skull. He toasted that memory with a healthy pull from his bottle of Dr. Pepper and reached over and turned on the radio. The news was on. He switched the radio off. No cassette, no CD. He began thinking and what crossed his mind was that he would miss nothing except for maybe his dog, Buffer, and his sometimes-friend, Stewart Steel. Of Buffer, a feisty beagle, there were two snapshots tucked into Chester’s billfold, Buffer and Chester ear to ear, the dog in Chester’s arms.

 

Regarding Stewart Steel, who was often referred to as SS, a moniker awarded him in early youth for devising schemes and apparatus that pulled, poked, and sliced at reptiles and insects, there were mixed feelings. With the onset of high school Stewart shifted from torturing lizards and spiders to a computer screen. This coming of age not only ushered in advanced technology but also brought a good dose of zit to Stewart’s drawn cheeks and skinny neck.

 

Chester and Stewart found a common denominator in obscurity and in that there was friendship, the two of them huddling on a bench at lunch time with sack lunches—peanut butter and jelly, bologna and mayonnaise, tuna on whole wheat. They shared conversation and cuisine.

 

Stewart and Chester took many of the same classes and hung in the same social tier, which was minus athletics, women, and academic performance. If Chester’s “education” was obtained in a fast-food outlet, Stewart’s was procured with the aid of a keyboard and a flat-screen monitor, computer and printer alongside. As it turned out, these two pedagogies, fast food and computers, were not unrelated, for it was in Stewart’s bedroom one luminous afternoon that Stewart introduced Chester to the wonders of the information highway, a dazzling avenue that eventually led Chester into the academy of fried foods and soft drinks.

 

“Now,” said Stewart, while seated before an awakening monitor, “would you take a look at this.” Images, blotting the screen like pieces of a puzzle trying to find homes, materialized into living color and living shapes.

 

“Ain’t that nice?” Stewart said.

 

“Uh, huh,” Chester replied.

 

“Let’s take the free tour,” Stewart suggested, and clicked the mouse. The images on the screen changed, and then changed again after another click. Click, click, click—more images.

 

Chester, peering over Stewart’s shoulder, brought a hairy hand up, fingers grazing his lips.

 

“Is this on every day?” Chester asked.

 

“You bet, partner. Every day, twenty-four hours a day.”

 

“Where do these gals live?”

 

The mouse and the curser stopped. Stewart turned and said, “They live right here on this screen.”

 

Chester shifted his weight. “Yeah, I know. But I mean, where do they really live? You know, like where do they do this stuff?”

 

“They do it anywhere,” Stewart said. “Technology these days, they can do it anywhere. Heck, they might be doing it next door to where you live.”

 

“Oh, no,” said Chester. “I know who’s next door to where I live, and I know they ain’t doing this. For starters, they don’t got bodies like this.”

 

Stewart’s small eyes went over Chester’s face as if probing a novelty. Stewart turned and moved the mouse and clicked. “New York, California—who cares?”

 

Chester nodded.

 

“Watch this,” Stewart said, and clicked the mouse, moving images, audio included.

 

“If they made it any more real,” Stewart commented, “you’d be picking hair out of your teeth.”

 

Chester carried these sights and sounds with him for a couple of days like trailers reeling through his mind in Technicolor, erections constant, possibilities rampant. It was a larger world than he had imagined.

 

Three days after Stewart’s I.T. demonstration Chester found himself in a public library attempting to chart that world on the pages of an atlas of the United States—New York to the east, California to the west, Oklahoma roughly midway between the two. But of course he already knew this. It was more that he had to put it in front of his eyes to make it real, and in this he began to calculate miles, routes, and driving time. He also began to investigate what might be of interest along the way, thus he concluded that his direction was west, for it was on those roads that his imagination soared.

 

Chester raised his head and sat back and looked out at the room, muffled voices at a counter, a few people in aisles, an old man reading a newspaper, a clique of young people doing what seemed to be homework. Okies, Chester mused, have a history of moving west when things get tough in Oklahoma, and where do they wind up—California, the Golden State. Chester pushed his chair back and stood up and walked over to the counter and waited until the clerk was free.

 

“Where can I find Grapes of Wrath?” Chester asked.

 

“In the fiction section right over there,” the clerk said, and pointed. “It’s alphabetical by author. Look for Steinbeck.”

 

“Thank you.” And so began a new chapter in Chester’s life, for up until then there had only been television.

 

Chester had to recheck the novel after two weeks because it was a thick story that taxed his reading abilities. But, he was able to follow the story, and that was the one bit of luck he needed, characters and their struggles coming alive in Chester’s head. He reflected—desperate and poor, and wanting to change things in their lives, wanting to live, wanting to work and earn money and use it to build home and family, a whole generation of dustbowl Okies on the road and seeking a better life—a bunch of outcasts looked upon as stupid and ignorant.

 

Chester knew that he wasn’t choking down dust nor was the bank repossessing his farm, but the outcast mold fit. Chester could identify with that. And so, for the first time in his life he felt an urgency to change things.

 

After Grapes of Wrath he checked out a book about California and discovered a land onto itself, geography of every description. He kept reading, he kept checking out books, and after a while it hit him: In a couple of years he’d be eighteen and out of school and he’d need money to realize a vague plan that had begun to incubate. Given his age and job skills, which translated into minimum wage, Chester had better start doing something about the money issue soon, for it would take a lot of saving to put together any sort of bankroll—two years minimum. Taking inventory of job possibilities Chester knew that his choices were few, but wasn’t that somehow similar to the characters he had found in the Steinbeck novel?

 

He got a haircut, shaved, and put on clean clothes. He went looking for work and found it within bicycling distance of home, and on that same day he began the rudiments of a journal, as if to boost his morale, as if to begin a story of his own.

 

As Jim Thorpe’s house rolled by on his left and with Stillwater and Oklahoma State University up ahead, Chester reached over and tried the radio again. This time he got music, his automobile and Highway 51 zipping across the state like a bullet until they both reached 270, which led Chester into the Oklahoma panhandle.

 

Chester’s route was designed around a promise to himself, which was to avoid expressways and freeways the best he could. He wanted to see the country without blowing a rod, for his German-made machine was a four-cylinder product leftover from a previous era, good on gas mileage, but lagging uphill. He figured he’d better not push it. And besides, he wasn’t in a hurry.

 

Coming up on Fort Supply he stopped at a roadside park and changed into a tank top and sat down at a table and ate lunch—bologna and lettuce and mayonnaise on wheat bread. In Guymon he got gas. At Boise City he switched to 325, a lesser road that was marked scenic on his map.

 

That night he camped at Black Mesa State Park, pork and beans heated in a saucepan, sleeping bag thrown out on top of a plastic tarp. It didn’t look like rain, no use setting up the pup tent. In his journal he noted: Black Mesa, highest point in Oklahoma, 4,973 feet, northwest corner of the state.

 

Early the next morning he crossed into New Mexico and went south on 406 and crossed the North Canadian River and entered the Kiowa National Grasslands. South of Seneca he pulled over and turned the engine of his car off and got out and walked into the brush to take a piss. After he was through peeing he started back toward his car but then stopped, silence and never-ending grass surrounding him. He stood as if stalled, and after a few suspended moments he pronounced this endeavor¾journey.

 

***

 

Not a sandy beach decorated with bikinis and musclemen, but a craggy inlet cut from a bluff where sea life fluttered in tide pools—that’s where she was. Short and trim, clipped red hair clinging to her skull like a yarmulke, a navy blue sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, she was bent over, examining rock cavities with a camera, sky gray, chance of rain tangible. She was in Chester’s proposed path north.

 

Chester stopped and stood, eyes going everywhere, but indeed she was alone, her concentration buried in pools of water. Chester’s mind was suddenly wild, for before her appearance there had only been Chester, and the sea and the sky and the cries of gulls, a Sunday, with Chester trudging over familiar ground haunted mostly by himself and an occasional fisherman.

 

Chester began tearing at choices, for if she had been with someone else, then Chester could have walked by her and whomever she was with. He could have waved to a couple of people and left them to themselves, for numbers above one meant relationship, thus defining outside and inside. A stranger walking by would remain outside. But one, meaning only her, forced choices because to walk by without a word might be construed as rude or weird, and weird might mean anything from recluse to dangerous. Striking up conversation was the correct thing to do. That would allow her to understand that he wasn’t a threat and that her presence on this lone stretch of northern California coast on a cool November day wasn’t an invitation for weirdness. Conversation, though, wasn’t Chester’s forte.

 

Another choice was to turn around and go back from where he had come, which was around a rocky point. A thought glancing through Chester’s mind said: I wish I could call her on a cell phone and ask her what she wants me to do.

 

Chester started walking, one booted foot in front of the other, pebbles beneath his shoes squishing and producing noise. She raised her head and looked. He started to smile but thought better of it. She kept her eyes on him as he walked. He brought a hand up and waved in a small way. She nodded. He could see her face better now. It was a small face and it was littered with freckles. He stopped walking well before her space.

 

“Hello,” he said.

 

Again she nodded.

 

“Photographing the tide pools?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Well, I’m just taking a walk,” Chester said. “It might rain, but it’s not too cold and there’s no wind.”

 

What was this? Voice graveled and tentative, communication an explanation to state his purpose for being where he was, and what was that if not him thinking of her and what she might be thinking or feeling?

 

“I got coffee in a thermos,” she said. “Two thermoses. Two cups. Would you care for a cup of coffee?”

 

He couldn’t help it. He smiled. “Sure. If you don’t mind.”

 

She went to where there was a green pack on a rock, Chester coming to that rock as well, action and words dictating response. She poured coffee.

 

“It’s got cream and sugar in it,” she said.

 

“That’s fine.”

 

They stood with steam rising from their cups and their eyes on each other, gulls floating in a frank sky.

 

She tilted her head and said, “Could you smile again?”

 

He looked at her.

 

“I just want to see you smile. I want to see something,” she said. She smiled and Chester smiled back.

 

“Hold it,” she said. “Just like that. Hold it.” And he did and she went one way with the angle of her view and then another.

 

“That’s the way you smile, isn’t it?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

She took a sip of coffee and he took a sip of coffee, her blue eyes on his face, a hesitant grin twisting his features.

 

“My name’s Sally,” she said. “Sally Doyle, Irish all through it.”

 

“I’m Chester.”

 

“There’s more to it than Chester, isn’t there?”

 

“Chesterfield Alonzo Kave.”

 

“Chesterfield Alonzo Kave,” she recited, pronouncing it like he had, Kave like in cave.

 

“Ethnic background?” she asked.

 

“Just about everything,” Chester said. “I suppose you might say¾Oklahoma.”

 

***

 

Loneliness like a deep seep. It was with him as he crossed the country—campgrounds, gas stations, convenience stores, firewood, tent, rain, wind, cafes, sunburn, laundromats, ice-cold streams. America was on vacation—New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California—economy booming, Clinton in the White House, Chester in a VW wagon with Dr. Pepper riding shotgun. He had a pass for the National Parks and it served him well, but it was the solitude of out-of-the-way places that intrigued him, as if in loneliness he could not only see the land but feel it.

 

***

 

On a dirt road coming out of Pleasant View, its direction Hovenweep National Monument, southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, where the ancient Puebloans had lived, Chester stood, looking down at a healthy growth of jimsonweed that was next to his boot.

 

“Wick, wick, wick, wick.” Chester’s view rose, a northern flicker in flight, salmon-colored linings about the wings and tail, red mustache, the ground-feeding woodpecker a foot long and Chester with this in his retinas as the bird circled and as Chester turned, sky in pastels, land barren, no evidence of humans save a red-dirt track slashing the Colorado Plateau like a scar. A vast horizon lay in the distance without a ripple, scrub vegetation in incidence upon the land, white jimson a poisonous bloom at Chester’s feet, while on Chester’s sunburnt cheeks tears drizzled, red dust and saline, eddies through parched silt. The bird continued to circle. “Wick, wick, wick, wick.” Chester turning and turning and turning, emotions continuing. He just couldn’t help it.

 

And then from that red-dirt road there came the rumble of a combustion engine, disturbance nothing more than a pinprick, but it was enough to cause the flicker to cock its stubbed head and then to straighten its course, which led it into a mauve sky, “wick, wick, wick,” a departing salute that resonated in Chester’s head as he turned to face the vehicle.

 

***

 

In Moab he purchased books that helped him identify and name flora, fauna and geography, but he bought no T-shirts nor any other doodads that laid claim to place as if it were an accomplishment to have passed through its environs. His was a private excursion that he noted in a journal, and of those jottings he was now able to add terms. In this way he understood that others had seen what he was seeing and had thought enough about it to label and classify it. Thus he felt part of some group whose shared interest defined its members, yet Chester’s only link to that confederacy was the vicarious handling of information lifted from the pages of Audubon publications, person-to-person bonding nil except where he looked upon a crowd gathered at a location marked for viewing such as a turnout. But this experience would turn on him, for the group he witnessed was in sunglasses and shorts and T-shirts, cameras clicking, mom and pop and the kids with agenda, while college-aged voyeurs drank from plastic bottles of purified water, flesh bared to the elements in celebration of masculine and feminine showmanship with Chester at its periphery like a behemoth, present but not admitted.

 

His was acute isolation midst the group, yet acute reward from the land where only Chester mingled. He took hikes, a field book his companion, unusual camping spots his bonanza. Over his shoulder he was on the lookout for flashfloods, poisonous arachnids, mountain lions, and vipers. He saw only rattlesnakes.

 

His journal entries introduced new vocabulary while taking on a description of magic. Desolate landscape brimmed with life that persisted in the harshest of climes. This life was in sync with its surroundings as if knowledgeable of those surroundings and their workings, and it was as varied and detailed as imagination itself. Neither science fiction nor mysticism could touch it, for it was endless, its only mystery discovery, of which no body of knowledge would ever exhaust.

 

As Chester’s journal thickened he found himself going deeper and deeper into his own workings, which had to do with feeling and thought, both of which were not divorced from the land he traversed. The land was softening him, and he knew it. Rain fell from vapor and wetted the ground and brought forth growth. Water drained into lowlands where streams ran and animals drank, everything connected yet dwelling in and of itself. He could describe it, but he couldn’t name its source nor its reason for existence. But it was before his eyes and it ignited emotions from some vague place within him that had been buried in maneuvers of defense.

 

In late September he crossed into California via the Sierra Nevada.

 

***

 

She had been searching for subject and she found it, but not in rock crevices.

 

“I don’t want the monster,” she told him. “I want the person.”

 

Her lithe body moved around him, a clicking apparatus in hand. Click, click, click. Chester was an image. She had been photographing him for months and now she was doing it again.

 

“Relax,” she said, and came up to his side and stroked the back of his neck with her free hand and leaned and kissed him and ran her fingers down his torso, nails red. She backed up and clicked and advanced the film and clicked again, both he and she without clothing.

 

“Yeah, just like that,” she said. “Good. Good. Move your right leg to the side.” Click.

 

“Now stand.” Click.

 

“Smile.” Click.

 

She put her handheld camera down on the floor and picked up a remote for the tripod camera.

 

“Sit,” she told him, and he sat. She looked through the viewfinder and focused and clicked, film advancing automatically.

 

“OK,” she said, while walking up to him.

 

He smiled and she positioned herself atop his hairy thighs, her legs on either side of his hips, her back to the camera. She scooted forward and wrapped her legs around in back of him while her arms went under his armpits. She positioned her head to the side and twisted her head to look at the side of his neck, her head thrown back a bit with her profile squared.

 

“Look at the camera,” she whispered, and he did and she clicked the remote and the shutter on the camera opened and closed and the film advanced.

 

“This time grin,” she said, and he did and there were mechanical noises.

 

“Now smile.”

 

Her pink flesh was against his black-haired body, the top of his head with black curl, the top of her hers with orange, the two of them holding poses like caricatures in a rite, which was how she had explained it to him while viewing Tibetan tankas at a museum in San Francisco some months previous.

 

“They are consorting,” she had said, and defined the verb: “harmonize, join, unite.”

 

But Chester wasn’t sure he understood this like she did, and when he brought it up she said that it didn’t matter because his body understood. But with his body he only knew that it was with sensation and erection and secretion and that its parts fit hers. He also understood that after consecutive bouts of erection and fluids, with her wild and him buzzing, he could sometimes back away in his mind and watch. This kind of viewing, though, didn’t divorce him from personal experience. Instead, he became something else and so did Sally, the two of them operating outside of themselves yet in sync with each other.

 

Sally said, “Your body knows. Your mind cannot understand this. Your body knows it from some deep place, which is where the magic of this world springs. It is what governs phenomena.”

 

Chester couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe Sally, couldn’t believe him with her, couldn’t believe he had found what he had fantasized. He also couldn’t believe these conversations, yet he sensed they were necessary.

 

Oddly, the whole thing with Sally had happened after he had given up on its possibility. Five years in the Golden State, reality of work and money having set in like mortar, he stumbles into her world on a cloudy November day while out for a walk.

 

“Why?” he asked.

 

“We don’t know why,” said Sally, “but its naming is coincidence. We are a part of it, but we cannot understand it.”

 

***

 

At a convenience store on the north shore of Lake Tahoe he bought a postcard with a picture of a bear and addressed it to his mother. He wrote: “California¾I made it! Love, Chester.” He went to drop the card in a mailbox but then stopped. Somehow it seemed bad luck. He tore the card up and deposited the pieces in a trashcan.

 

He went northwest on Highway 89 and after camping in Lassen National Park, he followed Highway 44 into Redding and then took Highway 299 to Douglas City, where he switched to 3. After that it was Highway 36, which led him to the coast. At Cape Mendocino he looked out at the Pacific Ocean and he could hardly believe his eyes.

 

The next day he drove south, but it was hard to avoid the freeway until he reached Leggett, where he picked up Highway 1, which stuck to the coast like lichen, route dotted with state parks, many with campsites, which Chester took advantage of. 

 

In the Jenner-Bodega Bay area he began looking for work and accommodation. There was little of either. He continued his search inland.

 

Balmy October days, sky brilliant, he found himself in a Catch-22. Landlords wouldn’t rent to him because he was unemployed, businesses wouldn’t accept his applications unless he had a residence. Finally something gave. A landlord with an aging motel turned apartment building took first and last, plus deposit, and handed him the key to number 5, kitchen facilities jury-rigged into the unit, a hotplate and a small refrigerator. Chester could use the office phone on his applications as a message phone. The room reeked of mildew.

 

He went on an application binge hitting every possibility except those that had to do with food. He didn’t want to make a career out of fries and burgers. He figured he’d leave that in Oklahoma along with the rest of it.

 

He got lucky. Within two weeks he was working as a shipping and receiving clerk in a warehouse that shipped books to customers who did their ordering on the Internet. The company was on the brink of expansion, Chester arriving just before things broke loose. By Thanksgiving he was working sixty hours a week and that held steady through the holidays. For someone like Chester, who was willing to work anytime and any day, there was overtime and advancement. His body filled out. He moved into a real apartment. He got a library card. He took solitary walks along the seashore on days off.

 

***

 

The last shots had Chester’s twisted face over Sally’s shoulder as she bucked and clawed.

 

They toweled off and went to the kitchen, where Sally brewed coffee, Sally’s house, Chester spending all his free time there, Sally urging him to give up his apartment and move in.

 

“It’s funny,” Sally said, “because everyone’s getting their bodies stitched with ink and metal because they’re trying to be different, and here you are, already that way and not messed up because of it.”

 

Chester sipped his coffee and looked at her and said, “It’s not fun being different.”

 

Sally was a legal secretary who worked for a small law firm in Petaluma that handled labor union cases involving worker benefits. Before Petaluma she had resided in Mountain View with a husband who was an attorney. In the wake of divorce she abandoned Silicon Valley and went north and reclaimed her maiden name. A product of Daly City and attending Cal, she knew the Bay Area and its lexicon, but she had grown skeptical of that lifestyle for reasons she would only discover after living alone, a painful process of solitude that showed her that she was trying to be like everyone else. She didn’t want to be that way. She didn’t want to see herself trying to aspire to something that she didn’t really want to be. She subjected Chester to this history so that he would understand her, and she expected the same from him—history and more. But Chester had never heard anything like this, and to reciprocate in a similar manner hurled him into unfamiliar terrain.

 

“Aren’t you having fun?” Sally said.

 

Chester let a mild grin tangle his face. “I have never had more fun than this,” he said.

 

“OK,” responded Sally. “You’re a freak, and you’re having fun. Freak doesn’t negate fun.”

 

They were at the kitchen counter and they were still without clothes, warm inside the house, drizzly outside, a garden and trees the view from the kitchen window, neighbors distant, the coastal foothills.

 

“Just because we have history,” Sally said, “that doesn’t mean we have to continue it. It only explains how we got here.”

 

“I dreamed about this,” Chester said. “Way back in Oklahoma it was fantasy. But now that it’s here, I fear losing it.”

 

“That’s right,” said Sally. “That’s the twist¾the karmic twist. We want, and then when we get what we want, we fear losing it. We keep spinning in this. Tied to the past, even though it’s painful. And fearing the future, for what we might lose.”

 

Chester sipped his coffee.

 

“People looking at me, people whispering, people nudging their neighbor, people giggling. I’ll carry it forever,” Chester said.

 

“But you don’t have to.”

 

“I don’t, huh.”

 

“No, you don’t.”

 

“But it’s me.”

 

Sally smiled. “It’s finished, Alonzo. Past, childhood¾it’s over. It’s not now. It’s only you because you think it’s you.”

 

Chester shifted his weight.

 

“Smile,” Sally said. “Let it go and smile.”

 

 

 

Michael Onofrey is from Los Angeles. He now lives in Japan. This is his second appearance in The Green Hills Literary Lantern. His stories have also appeared in Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, and Two Hawks Quarterly, as well as in other literary journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada, and Japan. He is currently working on a novel.