By John Thomas Tuft

When Joshua Slaw married Frieda Caramel the struggle for equal rights for women in the 1960s was gaining deserved momentum and they proudly joined their surnames together as a show of solidarity and a surfeit of simple love. Eventually they bought a nice home along Route 220 between Greensboro, NC and Martinsville, VA. They raised their two boys, Simon and Jacque, amidst the rolling green hills dotted with truck and tobacco farms, textile mills and furniture factories that claimed the small towns nestled in the privacy and, at times, privations of a world that changed, through no fault of their own, where it made and grew such things. Decisionmakers at the top of large companies and national governments chased cheaper labor and easier profits, no prisoners taken, and Joshua, Freida, Simon and Jacque were caught in the backwash, as were so many folks.

Now, Simon turned out to be a tough son of a gun, a Supreme Realist and Businessman. Jacque, on the other hand, aspired to live in the Way of Faith and Nurture. Well, Joshua and Frieda were of the age, in the time of the Great Virus, that they were sacrificed on the altar of those paragons of politics, fear and greed. When their will was read, it was discovered that both sons inherited the house along Route 220. Their parents expressed the belief that the brothers Caramel-Slaw could share it or find those that could benefit from its safety and comfort. Now, it also turns out, that both men were in love with a local woman of inestimable beauty, one Miss Sybil Fremont. Miss Sybil’s father owned the largest car dealership in four counties and was president of the biggest church. Oh, and he was quite the drinker and philanderer, which is as good of a place as any to make my apologies to Fedor Dostoyevsky.

Their love for the same woman drove quite a wedge between the brothers Caramel-Slaw, so much so that they could no longer stand to be in the same room with one another. So, they divided the house in half and went their separate ways. They had two separate front doors, two separate kitchens, two separate front porches with awnings, and a wall built right through the middle to keep the other out, or in, depending on which side you were on. Simon worked his way up to being head salesman at Miss Sybil Fremont father’s car dealership and Jacque became head pastor at the church where Miss Sybil Fremont’s father was president. Both men wooed and courted Miss Sybil, but in the time of the Great Virus people were not buying cars nor going to church. Each of them sat in their half of the house pining for Miss Sybil, plotting and planning ways to persuade Miss Sybil Fremont’s father to influence her decision.

Late one night, there was a knock at Simon’s door. When he opened the door, Simon saw Miss Sybil standing there, holding the hand of a frightened young woman who appeared to be of Cherokee descent. “Simon,” she said with a toss of her hair. “This is one of my father’s many daughters. She has no home and her life is in danger. Can you take her in?” Simon was skeptical. “One of many? Why doesn’t he take care of her?” Sybil stepped inside. “My father is away getting financing for his new meat packing plant. She needs food and shelter.” Simon scratched his head. “Will your father reward me? I don’t have any spare masks. And besides, I can’t get sick. Your father has promised to make me CEO of the new plant and our future will be brighter, Miss Sybil. There must be somebody else.” And Miss Sybil and the girl from the Cherokee tribe departed into the night.

Another night, late, there was a knock at Jacque’s door. When he opened the door, wearing his mask of course, Jacque saw Miss Sybil standing there holding the hand of a strong, somber Mexican young man. “Jacque,” she said with a coy smile. “This is one of my father’s many sons. He has no home and his family is being held in detention. But my father needs him to work in his new meat packing plant so that the food supply chain is continued and the economy doesn’t crash.” Jacque scratched his head. “One of many? That doesn’t sound good, Miss Sybil. What would people think if they knew?” Miss Sybil stepped inside. “Jacque, my father needs to keep his business going. People are depending on it.” Jacque shifted his feet. “Will your father build a new wing for the church? He could stay in there. I’ve got to go make some zoom calls to my members so they will welcome us, Miss Sybil.”  And Miss Sybil and the man from Mexico departed into the night.

Still later, at night of course, the brothers Caramel-Slaw were in their separated home and a great rush of roaring engines and screaming sirens enveloped the house. The brothers Caramel-Slaw threw open their separate doors. Prison buses and transport ambulances from nursing homes circled the building. Miss Sybil Fremont’s father watched from his limo, wearing a mask that said Make Humanity Humble Again. When the sun rose, the house was gone. All that remained was a door, set in the wall the brothers Caramel-Slaw had built. With an ancient lock. If you want the key, you’ll have to find the lovely Miss Sybil Fremont…

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.