By John Thomas Tuft
This one is for Vanna in Raleigh…
I steered my pickup down the sunset lit lanes of northwest Pennsylvania, near the fishing and camping spots of Pymatuning Lake. Minding my own business, listening to Tim McGraw and Lionel Richie sing Sail On, when suddenly there she was at the side of the road. Again. Terralessa, she of the auburn hair, huge brown eyes, Alabama accent, six inch platform shoes, and wearing a sleeveless, many colored sweater vest that hung to her ankles. Naturally I stopped. She pulled open the door. “Well, lookee what the cat drug in. If you ain’t a sight for sore eyes, Jack Goo!” As she settled in with her oversized thermos stainless steel coffee mug, I spotted a lone wild goose wheeling in for a landing among the fields of cut corn that the state grew for the migrating flocks. Then another, then ten, then a hundred, thousand, tens of thousands of wild geese filled the sky with a deafening chorus of abandon. Evening feeding time. And then, rest for weary travelers.
“You gotcha a new dog.” Jake, my Blue tick hound/Beagle combination of loveableness and bottomless stomach, snuggled up to her, gave a contented sigh. The other dogs watched jealously from the back seat. Terralessa gave me a slow wink. “Pull into that little church up ahead.” So I steered my pack into the parking lot of the little white church, past the “All Souls Church of the Forgotten” sign, around to the back door. “Don’t just sit there. Make yourself useful, Jack,” she commanded. I followed her and Jake through a door marked “The WellRock Brigade” into the basement that smelled musty and damp. She flipped on the lights and I was startled to see a group of people seated silently in a circle of chairs.
I was the one blinking in the sudden light. They stared back at me, impassively. “I’m going to start the coffee,” Terralessa announced as Jake followed her toward the standard church kitchen. “You’all go ahead and get started and introduce yourselves to Jack Goo. Say the Identity Prayer.” The strange group stood, raised their arms over their heads, palms together, tucked their chins to their chests and said in unison, “We chose to step across the Divide. Now we are sent to help the least of these.” And sat down.
“Twins! Introduce yourselves!” Terralessa’s voice came from behind the door. I took a seat as two girls in their teens stood. They had on party dresses, the old fashioned frilly kind, perfectly matched, as was everything about them. Down to the stringy blonde hair, blue eyes…and the ugly vertical scars on their outstretched wrists. No one judged. “Henry, you’re the newest. You go next,” Terralessa called back. A man in his late 50s, well dressed, pleasant face, shifted in his seat. “Okay,” he began, setting a bottle of pills and a fifth of whiskey on the floor between his feet. “I’m not sure how this works, but…” he paused, looked around. “Okay, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t take it. Everything was dark. Just dark…” Tears overwhelmed him. No one judged.
“Sarah, you were a jumper, right?!” Jake let out a little yelp. A small woman, mid 30s, short hair, rose and nodded. Before she could say anything there was a loud chime, like the announcement of an incoming text. Terralessa burst out the door, tossing commands as Jake struggled to keep up with his new friend. “Okay, everybody, we’ve got one. Let’s go. Jack, you close up here. Now, everybody. Now!” The lights went out. I was alone in the dark. Except I could feel Jake trembling as he leaned against my legs.
Sunrise found me in my truck, with the dogs, on the shore of Pymatuning Lake, listening to local news. A man and a small boy were in a boat, just off shore. “Officials at UPMC Hamot in Erie are baffled by the continuing mystery of the ‘death pose’, as some are calling it.” The announcer read. “A young boy who, unfortunately passed away during the night, was found in his bed with arms outstretched over his head, palms together, head bowed. It’s the same pose that was reported here last week, as the bodies of a homeless couple who were found near Mill Creek Mall…” I switched it off. And idly watched through the windshield as the father guided the boy onto the side of the boat, gently touched him on the back, in encouragement. They both smiled as the boy stretched out his arms, palms together, tucked his head to his chest, and with a shriek of delight, made his first dive into the waiting water.
The dogs alerted, watching mesmerized, as on the horizon a lone wild goose took flight. Then ten, then a hundred, then a thousand, ten thousand, maybe more. Rested and filled. Into the new day.
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.
*The Weight, Robbie Robertson