WHAT IT’S WORTH

By John Thomas Tuft

Lorraine delivers newspapers, a dying art, in the little town of Necessity, PA. She is fond of saying, “You do realize, I presume, that billions of people get through life without the Bible?” Then she will fix you with that most startling gaze as she continues, “Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, billions and billions of people who didn’t and don’t ‘know Jesus’ and could care less.” Finishing with that fetching smile, “So, tell me again, what it’s worth.” She points a finger into your chest. “Tell me, show me, one night that did not know how long it was supposed to last. One day when the sun lost its way getting across the sky,” she says with a laugh. Then, slowly, “When your hands hurt from healing, when you can weep and call it singing…” her voice catches, before she continues in a hoarse whisper, “then, and only then, can you talk to me about believin’. Because I don’t know what it’s worth.”

She sits down on the curb. “I keep an old coffee can behind my bed. Every night I throw my change into it; nickels and dimes, quarters maybe, if I don’t need ‘em.” She is short of stature, lovely dark, curly hair, and that smile, below eyes that see right through to the back of your dreams before you ever know  they are there. Idle hands, you know, so as she sits her hands fly as they fold papers into neat bundles. Some of the route she does with her old Nissan mini pick up, driving the back roads of the rural county before the sun comes up, feeling her way on familiar lanes with one headlight burned out. Lorraine is nothing if not energetic, and enterprising, maybe mid-thirties, maybe mid-fifties. Time is not always kind. “And what is all this business about souls? I’m not impressed with souls. You live your life. Love and joy shine through, or it don’t. Folks remember you for that. Or they don’t. You can be losing, and still living. For what it’s worth.”

She looks off in the distance, starts to hum a tune. “After my mother passed, I had to close up her house. Couldn’t afford it, what with property taxes and upkeep, and whatnot. I sold her piano so I could get my truck. I went in the last night and played it one more time. There by myself, alone in the dark, I played my mother’s piano.” Lorraine looks down, scuffs the ground with the toe of her shoe. “One last time. Pictured her sitting there beside me, playing the top while I played melody.” She looks up, her eyes sad. “That coffee can holds my gettin’ out money. She told me to always have gettin’ out money because she never could.” Lorraine sighs and this strong creature with the delicate features seems to collapse a bit in on herself. “She never got out. Daddy would come after me and Momma would get between us and take the hits.” She slams a folded paper against the sidewalk. “I went back the next night after the piano was gone and I burned the house down. I didn’t want it, not for what it’s worth.”

She stands up and brushes off her jeans. “Even the darkness has arms,” she says, wrapping herself in a hug. “If you make everything in your life into a chore, then your life becomes a trade instead of an open trail. You’re making a living instead of always being ready for the next gettin’ out. You can get as lost in the light as you can the dark, or does that not fit into religion?” She shrugs, puts the papers into the little truck. “Momma always said, ‘learn to live in your blessings, not your disasters,’” Lorraine says when she turns back around and holds out a copy of the newspaper. “Think about the people it took to get you this. Loggers, truck drivers, paper mill workers, who stop into cafes and truck stops with people cooking and serving food other people grow. Then onto the news office where people gather news talking to other people, edit the stories, run the printing press with ink made by somebody else, then go eat in some little restaurant or to the grocery store with its own cycle of people, then into the hands of little old me!” She pulls back the paper. “It’s yours for a kiss. Give me a kiss. That’s what it’s worth.”

And that is when you know. That you can have all this, the world at your feet, for a kiss. Or, as Lorraine says as she climbs in to start her deliveries, “When was the last time God gave you a kiss?” She rolls down the windows on both sides of the cab. “And let me know when that fancy little phone of yours reaches out and lays a hand on yours to say, ‘Ya done good. With everything you had to go through, ya done good.’ Now that’s it. For what it’s worth.” And she is gone, through the streets of Necessity, doing what the Lorraines of this world are wont to do. May your hands hurt from healing, and when you can weep and call it singing… For what it’s worth.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.