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John Longbottom

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Zen

“My office called while I was out. They said the FBI had been there asking about me.” Lynn now had Charlie’s full attention. “My boss, the senior partner in the firm, told them I was on vacation, and they didn’t know where I was. Which is true. The FBI loves to play hide and seek with words, always trying to trap you into saying something they can hang onto and use against you. My boss knows all these tricks and patiently waits for them to get to the point. They got to the point alright. It turns out I am connected to those murders at the motel.”

“What?” Said Charlie giving Lynn his complete attention. His mind had been wandering off during Lynn’s story.

“It’s not me personally, it’s because of my work. One of the victims at the Sunset Inn shooting was connected to a big case we had just finished. Remember I told you we just won a huge case? That’s why I’m so tired and that’s why I’m here.”

Charlie nodded.

Lynn continued, “I won’t go into details, but the case was about this young kid who’d been badly abused. Well, one of the shooting victims was this kid’s uncle who we suspected was one of the abusers. He was a nasty piece of work and now it looks like he got his just deserts.”

Charlie interrupted her, “But why are you involved? Wasn’t it the firm’s case, not your personal business?”

Lynn sighed. “I deposed the guy and let’s just say it didn’t go well. I let him get to me and I lost it a bit. This guy was a scumbag. He disgusted me and I let it show. He threatened me and instead of letting it go I got right back in his face. This all came out in court because his defense brought it up, and that’s probably how the FBI knows about it. My boss claimed attorney/client privilege, so it didn’t come from him.” Lynn stopped talking and leaned back in her chair.

Charlie looked at her, his heart aching for her. She looked so tired, hurt and vulnerable. “It’s only a coincidence that you happened to be at the motel the night before the shooting, right?”

Lynn nodded and continued, “Yeah, but our friend Special Agent Schultz won’t see it that way. Even if he does, he’s gonna come back at me. I embarrassed him in front of the sheriff. Wanna bet he’ll be back tomorrow with reinforcements, probably a female agent? Dammit.” She said and giggled.

Charlie looked at her and said, “I can see I’m being a bad influence on you.”

“Oh, you ain’t heard the half of it yet. You should hear me when I really get going. I may be young, pretty and female but my mouth is old, loud and dirty.” There was more than a little pride in her voice as she said this.

“I don’t think I want to hear that,” said Charlie. “Why don’t you go and sit on the porch while I clean up the dishes? No arguments, please.”

At first Lynn thought she was being dismissed and “sent to her room” like a bad-tempered pre-teen and was half expecting to be told to wash her mouth out with soap. Then she realized that she was yet again misinterpreting Charlie’s words and actions. This man did not appear to have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. He said what he thought and that was it. What may have sounded like a dismissal was in reality a suggestion, Charlie’s short-hand version of, “Why don’t you go and relax out on the front porch while I take care of the dishes?”

Having sorted out her missed cues and mentally thanking the universe for keeping her mouth shut, Lynn followed Charlie’s suggestion and went out on the porch.

There is a magical time of day, before the spirits are awakened to begin their nightly play, or so the old folks liked to say. It nestles in the gloaming, that short space when day fades into night which some now call twilight. Here hovers a sliver of time, a moment, when everything becomes silent and still, as if nature herself were quietly meditating. The breeze is calm, no animals stir and flowers scent the evening air. Like the green light at sunset out on the Caribbean Sea, many people miss it because of the busy lives they lead. Fortune smiles, they say, on those who can sit for a moment and absorb its magic spell, yet few will believe them when they rise up with wonder in their eyes to tell of what they had seen. 

Lynn sat on the front porch steps and was immediately entranced by the vision before her eyes. Never before had she experienced anything like this; it was as if all her senses had become super aware – the colors, the smells, the lack of sounds and above all the almost mystical light, subtly changing from second to second. Years ago she had dabbled in a few drugs but none of them could come close to matching the sheer glory of this sensory delight. Lynn was mesmerized, as if a magician had hypnotized her, her body relaxed, her heart rate dropped and her breathing became deeper and slower, time lost all meaning.

Charlie, meanwhile, was having his own Zen moment in the kitchen, where he had finished his kitchen chores efficiently, quietly and quickly. These actions, performed by rote, helped Charlie settle and clear his mind. Although he had heard of the word “Zen”, Charlie knew nothing about the philosophy and had no idea that, in many respects, his actions were very Zen-like. He poured himself a shot and went outside to see Wilbur curled up on the couch and Lynn staring off into space on the steps.

Charlie gently made his presence known and Lynn turned her head slowly towards him. There was a weird little smile on her face and an almost glazed look to her eyes. He hoped she hadn’t been smoking dope, or worse, but he couldn’t smell anything.

Lynn stood up and said wistfully, “It’s so peaceful here,” then sat next to Wilbur who had become one with the couch.

“Dammit Wilbur,” said Charlie, “You’re getting mighty pushy.” He offered Lynn a cigarette, lit it and one for himself. As soon as Wilbur smelled the smoke he got up off the couch and lay down by the door. “Ha,” said Charlie, and sat down next to Lynn on the old couch. They were both silent for a while, savoring their smokes as Charlie sipped his drink.

“Peaceful? Wait ‘til the tree frogs start up followed by the whippoorwills,” said Charlie.

“Is that what they are? I woke up last night and wondered what the hell was going on. It sounded like a jungle out there.”

Charlie smiled and said, “You’ll get used to it.”

They finished their cigarettes in silence. The nicotine seemed to yank Lynn back into the present because she leaned forward with a groan and, rubbing her face with her hands said, “Me and my stupid ideas. Why did I ever come here? The crap just follows me everywhere.”

Charlie was surprised to hear Lynn feeling sorry for herself. Self-pity was not something he would have expected from her. She seemed so confident and in control. More layers, he thought. He waited until she had leaned back on the couch and spoke.

“I’m not a very religious man. I believe in God; I say my prayers and I go to church. I don’t go around quoting the scriptures or forcing my beliefs on other people. I keep my beliefs to myself. When you’ve been a farmer as long as I have, you get to learn how nature works. You get to see how everything happens for a reason. I do my best to help mother nature but what happens with the crops out there in the fields, is mostly beyond my control. There is a plan. I’m not privy to it but there is a plan and plans can change but it’s out of my hands. People, we humans, are a part of nature too, much more so than many people would like to believe. We are part of the big plan as well. 

“I believe everything happens for a reason. There is a reason why you came here. I don’t believe it was an accident. There is a reason for you and there is a reason for me. Don’t ask me what the reason is. I don’t know. I’ve learned not to waste any time trying to figure out the reasons, I just let it flow. It’s all part of the great puzzle of life. 

“Phew, that’s more than I’ve said in a long, long time. I’m plum worn out and I’m going to bed. ‘Night Lynn, ‘night Wilbur.”

Lynn stayed on the couch trying to balance out the simplistic beauty of the nightfall and the complexity of her daily existence as, down by the river, the tree frogs belted out their nightly songs.

© John Longbottom 2021


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