(This is a silly little story I wrote to try and talk about gender roles and feminism. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t believe that Neanderthals talked or lived like this. Please don’t use this to judge my understanding of anthropology because I have none.)

         Brack, the oldest of our tribe, sat on a rock, staring at me for a moment following his lecture. I stood somberly in front of him. He had said his piece to me, but still managed to retain a sour expression on his face.
         “Go!” he cried out suddenly, slamming his club on the ground. “Go now, Melky, go do what you’re supposed to do!” He stood, turned, and stomped back to his cave.
         What I was “supposed” to do was go find a woman I wanted to be my wife, club her on the head, and drag her to my cave, that being the marital tradition going back as long as anyone could remember. I slowly walked over to the tribe’s common area and came upon Fligger and Bum, friends of mine, who were locked in a game of Rock, Leaf, Spear.
         “Hey, guys.” I said as I approached. Fligger grunted, and Bum let out a “HA!” as his leaf had just defeated Fligger’s rock.
         “Hi, Melky,” Fligger mumbled.
         “I just had a special meeting with Brack and he told me to go club a woman,” I said, “but I just don’t want to do it that way. Do you guys have a strong opinion about this? It doesn’t seem right to me.”
         Fligger turned, grabbed hold of my animal skin, lifted it, and peered under, scrutinizing my male assembly. “Hmm,” he said as I knocked his hand away, “You look like a man, but you talk like you’re not.”
         “C’mon, you know what I mean!” I shot back defensively.
         “I don’t know what your problem is,” Bum interjected, “Just go club a woman and get on with your life.” He resumed the game with Fligger.
         I continued on to my cave. What was wrong with me? That wasn’t the only part about my life that just seemed different. Yes, I was a decent hunter, somewhat athletic, manly by most standards, but when it came time to do the, say, the cooking, I was interested in how the women prepared what we had just killed. Secretly, during hunts, I’d be looking for certain spices that I knew would blend well with the meal of the evening. I would surreptitiously pluck them and put them into my satchel for later.
         I also enjoyed, and was skilled at painting. Not the kind that keeps records of our history that our historians do in the communal cave. I use painting to express myself and the walls of my cave were covered with this. I was currently working on a surreal piece that would eventually become a water buffalo locked in a dance with a saber tooth tiger. In the background, off to the left, is a man standing, leaning on his spear, and near him a berry bush. I am trying to send a message that the man must choose between the meat and the berries. He is enamored at the dance and is in a philosophical quandary, knowing that if one of these two dancing animals became dinner, the dance will have to be cut short. He’s way off in the distance because I have a hard time painting hands.
         My cave is different as well. It isn’t the usual bachelor’s cave like Fligger’s or Bum’s. Mine is always kept in immaculate shape, neat and tidy. I’ve created some wonderful pieces of furniture that accommodate any guests that come by. I’ve got an excellent set of wooden dishes and spoons that I carved myself. And the aroma is always exquisite. I use a combination of lavender and eucalyptus leaves that I boil, and then I pour the liquid into a container that I place in the corner of my cave. Lovely! You walk into Fligger’s cave and you may as well be walking into the side of a cliff.
         Our tribe moving to Neander’s Valley ten years ago has largely been a disappointment for me. We moved, I assumed, to be a tribe that would take ideas to a much higher lever, to live in a more civilized manner, but we seem to have stagnated. Even as I pondered these thoughts I glanced outside and saw that Fligger and Bum were now having a contest of seeing who could hit their head with a rock harder than the other. Bum won, but lay there unconsciously on the ground. Fligger was glassy-eyed.
         There is, indeed, a woman that I would like to have as my wife. Sure, other men would consider Lently a good candidate for them as well: Strong, wonderful cook, excellent birthing hips. But I like her for different reasons. Over the past two years we’ve had many delightful conversations covering a wide range of subjects. She has compelling thoughts and dreams and ideas, and many fall in line with mine. We’ve conversed and struggled together over tribal customs, gender roles, power issues, so many things. We’ve laughed at the silliness that accompanies the stiffness of our current council. We genuinely love being together. Clubbing her on the head seemed to me to be, well, caveman-ish. I decided that I’d just ask her and what will be will be.
         Three days later, after the evening meal, Lently and I went on one of our many walks. After about two hours of sublime dialogue, I decided to take my chance.
         “Lently,” I meekly started, “I believe that you and I are destined to be together. We are alike in so many ways and I am delighted when I am with you. And, I believe, you are delighted when you are with me as well. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
         Lently closed her eyes, turned around, and didn’t speak for an entire minute, which seemed like an hour. Finally she opened her eyes and looked over her shoulder at me.
         “Well?” she said.
         “Well, what?” I replied.
         “Aren’t you going to club me and take me back to your cave?”
         “I wanted to treat you differently and appeal to your mind.”
         She paused for a moment. “I don’t know if I like that or not,” she said, turning around to face me, “It feels like you would rather have me as a cavemate instead of a wife.”
         “No, no! That’s not the case at all! I just don’t want to hurt you!”
         “Being hurt is part of the tradition, part of who we’ve always been as creatures,” she replied.
         “I know, but it is so violent and so degrading at the same time. Plus, many women have been killed because of an over-zealous man banging the life out of his bride to be.”
         “But isn’t that the chance we take for love?”
         I was frustrated. I thought I knew every part of Lently, but she clearly could not let go of this violent tradition. Why was this? In conversations we had challenged so many of the other conventions of our tribe, what was the sticking point on this cruel ritual?
         Her voice softened. “Melky, everyone in the tribe knows that we are to be together. Why do you think none of the other men have clubbed me these past two years? Why do you think Brack forced you to come and see him? Did he not specifically give you the instruction to club a woman?” I nodded. “He was talking of me. I would love to be your wife, so let’s just do what we need to do.”
         I must have totally missed this. Everyone knew about our love for each other? Fligger and Bum never teased me about this? I was discouraged. I didn’t want to go through with this custom, but I was now realizing that it might actually have to be.
         “Wait here,” I finally said in resignation.
         I didn’t own a club, only a spear for hunting, and I wasn’t going to spear her. I walked over to Bum’s cave.
         “Are you home, Bum?” I yelled into his cave.
         “Yeah, c’mon in,” he sloppily said, obviously not recovered from his “game” he’d had with Fligger days earlier. I stepped in and immediately had to check my gag reflex at the door.
         “Oh no, Bum! You shouldn’t let the tribe use your cave as the trash dump!”
         “Shut up! What do you want?”
         “Can I borrow your club?”
         “Sure. It’s over there to your right. Clean it off when you’re done!”
         I walked over and saw it on the ground next to the rotting leg of a water buffalo. Why he wanted me to clean it off, I had no idea. I actually planned on cleaning it BEFORE I used it.
         “Thanks,” I said as I walked outside into the fresh air. A mound of Woolly Mammoth dung would have emitted a better aroma than that cave did. “I’ll bring it back soon.”
         After scrubbing the club with water, I walked back to where I’d left Lently and found her studying a flower.
         “Would you mind facing me?” I asked.
         “Melky, you know that’s not how it’s done.”
         “This is a compromise. I’d like for you to face me and look me in the eye. We will slowly change things about this dreadful tradition together.”
         She turned to me. “Alright, I will, because I think you might be right. I don’t know why I’m stubborn about this. The whole institution of clubbing is disgusting, but for some reason, when it comes to me, I feel that I’m compelled to be traditional. But I shouldn’t be. I think it’s more difficult because I know that all my ancestors have had this tradition and that maybe I must do it to honor them.”
         “Lently, you’re so very far above this,” I responded, “at any rate, here goes.”
         We stood there, eye to eye. I reared back the club. But, instead of conking it hard onto her skull, I slowly brought it up and around, and gently touched the side of it onto the top of her head and let it rest lightly.
         “Is that good enough for you?” I asked.
         “Yes,” she said, and smiled. “But, I’m going to have to pretend to be unconscious while you drag me back to your cave.”
         I sighed. “Oh well. Baby steps, I suppose.”



Anna’s Testimony

Sunday night church at Grand Valley Church of the Nazarene in Orwell, Ohio was always a bit on the slow side for me. It was the first part of 1979, I was sixteen and the only person available to play the piano for the singing of the very traditional hymns of that time…or rather a time that was thirty years earlier but we all made do. A rousing rendition of “Holiness Unto the Lord,” A reflective “Fill Me Now,” and then, lo and behold, we sang a chorus, “Something Beautiful” which I believe was written by the Gaithers.

There were only about twenty-five of us in the small sanctuary and we were seated on one side with the lights over us as the only ones lit, the other side shrouded in darkness. I had finished my portion and took my place in a pew about two-thirds of the way back by myself. There was no one else near my age there at the time. In fact, I think the person next youngest to me was my mother, who was seated several pews up from me off to the left. My dad began his teaching time standing on the floor in front of all of us, blackboard next to him, which was the Powerpoint of 1979. I settled in.

Anna McGrath was one pew up from me, off to the left, next to the center aisle. Anna was about seventy-five or so, but seemed to have the energy of a teenager. She’d seen plenty in her long life and her face had the character to show for it. She was one of those older people in an old church that a young guy like me appreciated. She never judged, she was always kind, she was always supportive. In fact, we had a lot of those people in that church. Not bad for a small, midwest, Nazarene bunch. I liked these people a lot and they seemed to like me, in spite of myself. Anna was single at the time. She had a couple of older guys who rented rooms from her and I think they all used to be Amish. Looking back one might see this as remotely scandalous, but at the time it seemed normal. She eventually married one of the guys. I think a sitcom could be written about it…maybe later.

Dad was probably talking about holiness or something to do with the Holy Spirit, but as far as I was concerned he could have been talking about welfare reform or the benefits of crop rotation because my attention span was, and is, that of a caffeinated gnat. My mind was wandering around the earth. Dad’s voice lulled me into an attention-deficited haze. White noise sharing the white noise. Or maybe blue noise. Why do they use a color to describe noise? We don’t ever say white taste, do we? What about the other senses? I suppose colors are used for sight for sure. Touch? Smell? Taste? Feel?

“How did you feel today, sir?”

“I felt orange today, thank you.”

I suppose you could feel blue…

Then it happened. The dream of every church-going teenager in the world at a time like this. I sensed movement to my left. Anna was getting ready to stand up…but when she did…

To date, that is the loudest fart I have ever heard in church. It was like a tuba reared back and fired. An english horn snapped off its lowest note and held it for two solid seconds. A semi truck just activated its jake breaks at the edge of a steep hill. I could have sworn it caused my pant legs to move. In itself it was a statement, stated boldly, with conviction. “Hello!” or “Be right back!” or “I’m getting coffee!” or “Save my pew!” It really could have been anything, I suppose.

Yes, Anna stood, let fly her masterpiece, and turned to walk down the center aisle, I’m assuming for a visit to the ladies room. But the gift continued for me. Each step she took introduced burst after burst, like a model A Ford rumbling down a dirt road: fvrt, fvrt, fvrt, etc.

I then became afraid. I was a teenager who just experienced the gold standard of funny and I was not able to laugh. I sat completely still. Impossibly still for a guy with attention issues. Time passed. Nothing. Not a peep from anyone. I glanced at my mother. I could see the side of her face and the back of her head. Nothing from her. Thank God because if that dam burst I’d have been a goner for sure. We all just sat there like the people at Pompeii who were covered by Vesuvius denial. Twenty minutes later the service ended, we fellowshipped with the Nazarene glow on our faces, and we went home, me leaving before everyone else. When mom and dad finally walked through the door of our house, I was on the sofa and the first thing I asked them was, “Did you guys hear Anna fart?”

I thought mom was going to have a stroke. She had to sit down because if she didn’t she would have crumpled to the floor she was laughing so hard. It was that type of laughter like when an infant REALLY cries: there’s a short burst, followed by a silent, wide open mouth, eyes closed, face reddening, vein working its way down the forehead. It was five minutes before she could speak.

I never thanked Anna. I really should have because she gifted me with a memory that made me remember church can actually be fun. Through her I was able to see that God made us as humans who have human tendencies, and sometimes those tendencies leak into areas where they aren’t usually found. Maybe it would be like sitting on the toilet in a crowded public restroom, and to suddenly bursting into song: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord, God Almighty! Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee!” Maybe if I did that it would be a thanks to Anna.

I really would have liked to have given her a compliment. Kind of difficult to do, however. Society seems to frown on it. I really wanted to yell out, “Nice rip, Anna!” which would have been a huge compliment coming from a guy my age to a person her age.
People used to stand in church during testimony time and tell what God has been doing in their lives. In youth camp it was usually on a Thursday and people would say something like, “I would just like to stand and say I love the Lord and want to go all the way with Him.” Maybe that was what she was saying. Her statement, her testimony, which erupted from her involuntarily was, perhaps, “I would just like to stand and say…I’m human, and God loves me.”

Thanks, Anna!

The Kickball Game: April 30, 1975

    The tan dirt at my feet spread out into the diamond that was the infield. There was a springlike smell in the Ohio air, with a slight dampness left over from yesterday’s shower. The grass in the outfield was the fresh green of newness, having overcome the struggle of several months worth of snow covering it for so long, trying to kill it I always suspected. It would have been quite peaceful had there not been the shrill screams from dozens of eleven-year-old kids on the kickball field where I was standing. I was one of them, but I wasn’t screaming. I was “at bat” as it were.
    Two down, bottom of, well, whatever inning it was that signaled the end of recess. We were down by one run, which was impressive, and had people on second and third. I stood behind the plate assessing the situation. Eric Plemons was on the mound gripping the red, rubber ball glaring at me with a knowing smirk on his face. I could hear what he was thinking: “You little squirt! If you even get a foot on the ball I’ll pick it up and knock you over before you get half way to first, you scrawny wimp!!!”
    Eric’s right. I was one of the smallest kids in our class and the danger of me getting the ball over the heads of an infielder were minuscule at best. My guess is that he would throw a spinner, left to right, that had a little bounce but not enough to draw the “unfair bouncer!!!” cries from my teammates. And, if I kicked it to him I’d be out before I had time to realize my foot actually made contact. Other options?
    Third base: Richard Webb. Strong arm. Slightly clumsy, but if he did manage to outwit his diminished attention span long enough to catch anything I dribbled into his direction, I’d end up with a ball being placed into the side of my face, most likely resulting in decapitation. My parents would be concerned.
    Shortstop: Alfred Mason. Biggest kid in the class. A brute that I believe one day would eat his young if he found a girl dumb enough to give him offspring. Whenever I’ve been near him I’m sure I smelled sulphur. No, not to him. He’d knock me into next Tuesday.
    Second base: Tim Blaise. One time I made the mistake of trying to block a shot of his in gym class and ended up visiting the nurse. He’s inching in towards me right now, glaring, grinning, drooling a bit. I think he is the entire offensive line of our school football team. I know he’s offensive to me and a lot of people. He’s definitely out.
    First base: Wayne McKnight. I’m not sure I even want to be safe at first because I’d have to share space with this knuckle-dragger. Neighborhood bully. Word on McKnight is that he was the tallest kid in his class in the first grade because he was eight. No, if McKnight got the ball he would meet me with it on the first base line and pound me into the ground like a stake using the ball as his hammer.
    My options were not looking promising. Wait. Turn around...yes! These boneheads decided to use Deanna Criswell as their catcher thinking that this would be the place where she could do the least amount of damage! Deanna was one of these girls who really didn’t have a lot going for her, at least in my world. She never wore the right clothes, she said weird things in class. I remember in the second grade she peed her pants one time at lunch. Things were looking up.
    I stepped back about five feet behind the plate and waited. Eric began his motion and let the ball fly. Just what I thought, a left to right bouncer. I sprinted toward the plate and swung my foot back to show that I was planning on slamming this puppy into the tetherball courts a hundred and fifty yards away. Right as the ball crossed the plate I stopped my foot and let the ball just glance off the side of it. I took off like the devil himself was after me, glancing back to see the saga that was unfolding. Deanna stumbled forward to try to retrieve my bunt. Eric, who had backed up after throwing his pitch, skidded to a halt and started to run forward yelling at Deanna, “Don’t touch it, you moron! Let it go out of bounds!”
    Deanna was confused, which I counted on, and picked up the ball, still lost in the moment. She came to her senses about the time I was getting ready to place my foot on  first base and flung it weakly toward my direction. But her aim was way off and it went skipping off to her right into the line of kids waiting for their turn to kick. They moved aside, of course, not wanting to interfere with this. My friend, Jimmy Isaac, was on third and made his way across the plate tying the game. Eric was furious and bolted toward the ball which had come to a rest against the foul fence. Paul Pearson had been on second and the moment he saw what was happening shot toward third and kept right on going. By the time Eric reached the ball, he turned around just in time to see me sliding into second and Paul crossing home giving us the lead. And then the bell rang ending recess.
    Our team was jumping up and down, screaming, laughing! We won! We beat them, this group of five bullies who always teamed up against anyone and who always won! And I was the one who orchestrated the game-winning play using my brains to overcome the brute strength that those numbskulls possessed! So simple, so easy!
    As we gathered together congratulating each other I looked around just in time to see Eric and Alfred towering over Deanna showering insults all over her. Before turning to go back to the classroom I could see that she started to cry.

(To be clear, this didn’t actually happen. I know you’re not supposed to explain a story, that you’re supposed to let the reader draw whatever they see from it. However, Deanna represents every person I have hurt because I “used” their perceived weakness for my own gain, sometimes done by making fun of them. I still remember hurting a guy named Lars Peterson in the 5th grade because I made fun of his teeth. The irony here is that in describing the infielders I used names of guys who used to pick on me. It’s a cycle I suppose. So, this is my clumsy way of acknowledging what I’ve done and to say I’m sorry.)

Benny the Welder

     Benny could lay a bead like no one else. Known throughout northeastern Indiana as the go-to welder for the past twenty years, his career was set. He loved his work, everything about it, the feel of the tools, the sound of electrical popping, the smell, taking pieces of metal that were completely separate and joining them with a bond that was actually stronger than the two individual pieces were. But that was the trick, wasn’t it? Poor welders struggle with that but not Benny. Yes, Benny could lay a bead like no one else.
     This is really what made the accident the most difficult part for him. It wasn’t the searing pain when the small explosion happened, or that he lost half of his left arm. He lost his career, his love. He didn’t have friends or a wife. No kids. He had welding, and no one was going to hire a one-armed welder.
     While lying in his hospital bed he looked down at the gauze-covered stump at the elbow of his left arm knowing that his career was over and pondered his next move. He had an old 16 gauge shotgun at home but would need to run to the store for ammo, which he didn’t want to do because it would involve seeing and talking to people. He could take an overdose with the pain meds that he was sure the doctor would give him upon release and that would end things on a less violent note. It really couldn’t be too difficult he supposed.
     He slowly rose up from his bed and shuffled through the small restroom door. While washing his, well, hand he did something he’d only done once or twice in the last twenty years...he looked at his face in the mirror. The birthmark was still there. The same birthmark that haunted him all throughout his youth, that made him quit high school his sophomore year in spite of the fact that he was at the top of his class. The birthmark that made him find welding because he could spend his entire career behind the huge welding mask that covered his face. Of course it was still there. It would always be there until he was finally able to end his sad life and be cremated. Only then would it become the physical reality of the ashes that his life already was.
     He looked intently at his birthmark. It was a deep maroon color and covered most of his right cheek. To Benny, the most troublesome part of this hideous thing was that it was shaped roughly like the outline of what could be considered the rear end of a human, which “earned” him the nickname Benny Butt-face starting in elementary school. The cruel creativity of children always amazed him. The boys he knew throughout his youth could take anything at all, good, bad, whatever, and turn it into a banal, reeking pile of waste. So as he got older he just avoided people as much as he could.
     “No more of that,” he thought to himself resolutely, “This will be gone as soon as I get out of here, along with the rest of my miserable life.” 
     In a way, he was relieved that he would no longer have to bear the burden of living like this. He didn’t really believe in God so there would be no more of what he’d always known waiting for him in the afterlife. He was taken to church by his mother early on, but received the same treatment there that he had in school. His death will affect no one and probably wouldn’t even trigger an obituary in The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne’s newspaper.
     There was a knock on his open door and a nurse entered carrying a tray of food. “Mr. Nelson, time for lunch.”
     He looked away from her and said nothing as she placed the hospital food on the table next to him. “How are you feeling today, Mr. Nelson?” she asked in her best hospital voice.
     He remained quiet, but she waited.
     “Are you in pain? I can get you some more medication if you’d like.”
     He turned, “When do I get out of here?” he asked through gritted teeth. He looked right at her just to see where her eyes specifically would look. Yes, her gaze landed directly onto his right cheek, just like everybody else.
     “Uh, I believe the doctor is planning on releasing you tomorrow as long as there is no infection, but I’ll check for you.” With that she turned away and quickly shuffled out the door, Benny’s eyes pushing her along. He glared at the empty doorway for several minutes before looking back toward the wall in front of him and escaped back into his thoughts.
     Over an hour passed, his uneaten food still resting on the table. His eyelids slowly closed and he gave way to the weariness of spending two sleepless nights in the hospital.
     “Why are you in the hops-pital?”
     Startled a bit, his eyes shot open and looked over toward the sound of the words, and he saw a small girl standing just inside his doorway wearing a dirt-covered softball uniform. He kept his face straight ahead out of habit so that the person he was seeing wouldn’t be able to view the right side of his face. The girl looked to be about six, had auburn hair that was fashioned into two pigtails on either side, and freckles. She stood there casually with her right leg crossed over her left, head tilted slightly, and her left hand was fiddling with one of her pigtails.
     “Where are your parents?” Benny asked, trying not to sound annoyed, but he clearly did not want a conversation with this girl.
     “I don’t have a daddy, but my mommy is visiting my grandma next door. Grandma has ammonia I think,” the little girl replied, “They talk about grownup things and that’s boring. Why do you have to be here?”
     Benny’s eyes moved away from the girl and back to the wall in front of him. He slowly raised the gauzed stump of his left arm to show this little intruder and, he hoped, scare her a bit so that she would get out of his doorway. No such luck.
     “Your arm is gone! Why?” she asked.
     Benny sighed, his gaze remaining on the wall. “Welding accident.”
     “What is welding?”
     “It’s a construction procedure where’’s, this thing just blew up and my arm came off. That’s all.”
     “Did it hurt?”
     “I suppose so.”
     “Is it still hurting?”
     Benny had to get rid of this pest. “Not really,” he replied. As he said this he turned his face to look straight at her. This usually did the trick. Once people saw the hideous birthmark they would run for their lives.
     “You have a heart drawn on your face!” exclaimed the little girl.
     What? A heart? No, that wasn’t it! What was this girl talking about? It was a butt! Wait, he knew his own birthmark. It was seared into his mind even more than it was to his face. He visualized it: starting in a point near his right ear, broadening out to the right and left of the point, then coming back around down near his mouth to form...he jumped up out of his bed, barely remembering to pull the hospital gown together behind him so as not to give this little girl an unexpected sight on her visit to the hospital. He quickly walked into the restroom and looked into the mirror. His birthmark was an upside-down heart, plain and simple. He had never seen it, no one had seen it.  It was a heart, a heart. Why had he never seen it like this? He remembered countless times crying as a little boy telling his mom what the other kids called him and did to him, all the while his mom hugging him and telling him not to listen to them. Everyone he ever knew saw his birthmark one way. No one saw it differently. No one...until right now. He walked back toward his bed, past the girl, and slid under the sheet, astounded.
     “Are you OK?” asked the little girl.
     “I...I never...” Benny stopped.
     “My name is Hazel. What’s yours?”
     “Uh, Benny.”
     Hazel walked over to his bed and stuck out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Benny.”
     Benny reached across and shook her small hand. He looked into her eyes. “You see a heart, Hazel?”
     “Of course I see a heart, because that’s what it is! It’s obvious, you know!”
     Obvious? First of all, how old was this girl using a word like obvious? Secondly, no it wasn’t. No one had seen it.
     “No, no,” he muttered, “it isn’t obvious to me. It never has been.”
     “Maybe because you’re just looking at it in the mirror,” Hazel replied. “I sometimes don’t see things the right way when I’m looking in a mirror you know. My mommy tells me I am Hazel the Magnificent and I have to believe her because she wouldn’t lie to me, but I can’t tell that I’m magnificent when I look in the mirror.”
     Benny just stared at her for a moment. Hazel looked back, her face was alive and animated, full of childhood innocence and curiosity.
     She suddenly asked, “How will you tie your shoes since your arm is missing a hand?” She seemed to have moved on to another topic as if talking about his birthmark was a conversation about the weather or the price of milk at the grocery store.
     Benny looked at his stump. “I hadn’t planned on...” He stopped, realizing that passing along plans of his suicide probably wasn’t the kind of thing this little one needed to ponder at this point in her life. “I don’t know yet.”
     “Will you show me how to do it when you learn?” Hazel asked.
     “I don’t know how I can do that because I get out of the hospital tomorrow and I won’t see you again.”
     “I’ll have my mommy get your phone number and I’ll call you and see how you are doing.”
     “Um, I really don’t think that...” Benny stopped because Hazel had turned and run out of the door, presumably to find her mother. Things were not going as planned just as this past week had not gone as planned. Strange. When he was Hazel’s age there was no one around who saw him as she did. He has been haunted his entire life by the garish birthmark and what everyone saw and called him. How did she see these things? Children are honest and tell you what they are thinking many times, and many times we don’t want to necessarily hear what they have to say. But now it was all different. In the course of a scant few seconds his life had taken a turn. Now what would he do?
     He heard Hazel’s voice and a second set of footsteps. “Benny is in here. I want you to see the heart he wears on his cheek,” he heard her say, and they entered his doorway.
     Hazel’s mom wore a waitress’s outfit from Bob’s Big Boy, shared Hazel’s auburn hair and freckles, and seemed somewhat frazzled.
     “Sir, I am so sorry about this!” she said frantically, “Hazel has no filters and is the most curious human being I’ve ever known! We are so sorry to have bothered you!”
     Benny’s initial reaction was to turn his head in order to hide his birthmark, but he knew that this was frivolous. So, he just looked her straight in the eyes. Her gaze met his and never wavered, never looked toward his cheek. Hazel spoke and they both looked at her.
     “Isn’t it beautiful? Benny has a love cheek!”
     “Yes, honey, it is, but Hazel, we need to let Benny rest right now,” her mother said.
     Benny looked back at her. “There’s no problem, ma’am. It was nice to meet Hazel. You’re daughter is...a magnificent person,” he said.
     Hazel smiled and looked at her mother and loudly whispered, “I told him you say that to me all the time.”
     “My name is Claire,” she said holding out her hand. Benny extended his. “Hazel tells me that you are going to teach her how to tie her shoes with one hand.”
     “Yeah, well I didn’t really agree to that, but I suppose I can show her if I ever learn myself,” replied Benny, fumbling for some paper and the pencil that was on the table beside his bed. He scribbled his number and handed it to her. “Hazel can call me if she wants. I can’t guarantee I will pick up, but have her leave a message.”
     “We’ll do that for sure, Benny. It was nice to meet you, but we really need to get this little cherub home and cleaned up. She’s attending a friend’s birthday party later this afternoon.” She stuck out her hand once again, “Thank you for being nice to Hazel.”
     “Not a problem. Nice to meet you both.”
     Claire took Hazel’s hand and they started to leave. When they reached to doorway, Hazel stopped, turned and ran back to the bed. She leaned over the stump of Benny’s left arm, taking care not to harm it. Her face was a foot away from his. She reached out her tiny left hand and gently placed it on Benny’s right cheek. She looked him in the eyes and giggled a bit. “I just touched your heart!” she exclaimed.
     “Yes, yes you did,” Benny replied.
     Hazel then ran back to her mother, grabbed her hand and they headed out the door. “Bye, Benny!” she cried over her shoulder as they entered the hallway.