PARABLE OF PORTMANTEAU

By John Thomas Tuft

And the StoryGuide told them a story saying, One day there was a man traveling with all that he owned in a large, simple suitcase. And it came to pass that he needed a ride and summoned an Uber vehicle. And when the car arrived and he had settled himself and his case into the seat, the attractive driver, a descendant of slaves, asked him, “Where are you from?” He replied, “A far away place right next door.” As she drove, she began to tell him many things. And he listened. And gently asked questions. And listened some more.

“I’m separated, living back with my parents.” He looked at her sad eyes. “What happened?” She threw up her hands. “I was looking at his phone and found pictures of another woman. Naked.” She hit the steering wheel with a fist. “And he kicked me out. He said they were (air quotes)’just friends’ and I had no business looking at his phone.” And the man sighed and asked, “How long have you and this man-child been married?” She gave a wry smile, “Four months. And we have four children by other people.” The man sighed, deeply this time, and reached into the case and drew out a packet of seeds. And handed it to her. “Here,” he commanded, “plant these seeds and when they bear fruit, take it to him and eat of it, both of you.” She took the seeds. “What is it?” He opened the door to leave. “Gracery. That’s all. Just gracery.

Another day this man summoned a Lyft ride. And it came to pass that when the car arrived he put his case with all that he owned, and himself, into the vehicle. The driver, a man with a south of the border accent, being of about the same age as the rider invited him to sit up front. And sweet music played, guitars, no words. The driver asked the man, “Where are you from?” He replied, “A far away place right next door.” And the man told the driver that he really liked the music. The driver beamed. “Most ask me to turn it off, but not you. You even tell me that you like it.”

And they rode on, wrapped in the melodies. “I play guitar myself,” the driver said. As they were stopped at a light, he took his hands off the wheel and demonstrated some chords. Then he pushed a button to move the music to another track. Achingly beautiful music filled the space. “This is so romantic,” he exclaimed. “Yeah,” said the rider. “It makes me want to dance. With a beautiful woman. All night, under the stars.” A sad smile came over the driver. “So many memories,” he said with much wistfulness. “Somebody special?” asked the rider, not unkindly. The driver nodded. “It was such a beautiful night…” his voice broke. The longing and the aguish waltzed in the air. The man gently touched the driver on the shoulder. The driver reached across and grasped the rider’s hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.  “Thank you.” The rider whispered back, “Da nada.” And reached into the large case and took out an ancient love poem, written on parchment. “What’s this?” asked the driver. “Gracery,” the man said through tears. “That’s all. Just gracery, nothing more.”

On a third day this man summoned a ride. And it came to pass when the car arrived he put his case with all that he owned into the back and climbed in. It was only then that he noticed the small weiner dog on the front seat. “Oh, you’ve got your pup with you!” he proclaimed with genuine pleasure. The driver, a woman of indeterminate age turned to speak. “Where are you from?” He replied, “A far away place right next door.” At that moment, the dog rose up and poked his long nose between the seats and sought attention. The man stroked the dog’s head, scratched his chin for him. The dog licked his hand. “Oh,” said the woman, “you’re the first rider he’s ever done that to.”

As they rode on she continued. “He was my husband’s service dog. I couldn’t part with him after my husband died.” “Tell me about him,” said the rider, “please.” And she did. “He was the love of my life. Twenty-five years together. The cancer gave him seizures and Humphrey, here, could sense when one was coming on.” She took a deep breath. “He sensed my bladder cancer, too. I’ve been alone for four years.” The man asked, “How old are you? Would he want you to stay alone?” She turned to him. “He took care of everything. I gave up my work as an optician and now I drive this.” They arrived at the man’s destination. “How old do you think I am?” He replied, “Let me see your eyes.” She took off her sunglasses and faced him. And he looked into her eyes, into weary aloneness. And as the dog begged for more of his attention, he opened his case and took out an exotic flower. “What’s this for?” she challenged. “For you. It’s gracery,” said the man. “Just gracery. That’s all.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.