© Janis G. Wick March, 2019


Too physically ill to do anything else, I listened to a man with a lovely deep voice read the words of a manuscript centuries old and I listened to these words and to this voice as if they were God himself, and yet thoughts assailed me, even the thought that I must share some of this manuscript right HERE, but I kept listening and I heard and I kept listening and I heard and, it must have been at least two hours later, I awoke from a deep slumber to the sound of the cat scratching his post! Ahahahahahaha

Having lost the ability to read after giving up cigarettes eight years ago and by now also chronically ill from a mysterious and confounding illness, I have found a wonderful and primary source when seeking knowledge, that is YouTube. On a recent night, I was lying somewhat uncomfortably in bed listening to a three-hour lecture given by the great Alan Watts, the man credited for bringing Eastern religion to the West in the 60’s and 70’s who became a very popular “philosophical entertainer,” a label he coined himself. Anyway, deep into this lecture he is describing nature as a grand sort of network of interdependent nodes, and he seemed to be arriving at how man and woman fit into this grand scheme. At this point, my cat jumped up on the desk and began knocking papers off of it. This is my cat’s way of indicating that he wants to eat. He can meow with the best of them, but he prefers this method because he knows that it really irritates me and that I will immediately get up. But feeding my cat is no matter of putting out a little food and lying down again, job done. Oh no. It is an entire ritual which involves trying a little of this and my starting Alan Watts up again and lying down for, oh maybe five minutes, after which my cat returns to knock more papers off at which point I stop the video and get up once again and go to his bowl and realize that he hasn’t eaten a bite and then I try something of that and I go back to the bedroom and start up Alan Watts again and he’s getting into some really good stuff but, in no time, my cat reappears and knocks more paper off the desk and so I get up again and try a little of this and that and put down his bowl again and this time I watch to see if he eats and he does and then I really watch and I suddenly realize that it is not what I put in the bowl; it is rather that I put something into the bowl, each time. I listen to Alan Watts late into the night and my cat joins me at the foot of my bed and we conclude that Alan Watts was brilliant and quite a visionary and full of amusement, mostly at himself, and also, at least to me and my cat, quite crazy in some respects. But what do I know? I’m just beginning to know my cat and we’ve lived in intimate relationship for over five years.

A subsequent evening, I was lying in bed again, listening to the fascinating Gabor Maté, physician and writer, who for many years was physician to addicts, the HIV-infected and the mentally ill on Vancouver’s version of “skid row.” This work subsequently led to a best-selling book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, a book in which Dr. Maté lays the cause of addiction at the feet of childhood trauma. He is quick to point out that that trauma may, yes, be from parenting that had the worst of intentions—sexual abuse, physical abuse—but it could also come from parenting that had the best of intentions but was woefully misguided by the very unfortunate popular parenting thoughts of the 21st Century such as “time out,” thoughts for which there is simply no good scientific evidence and some evidence, at least, that it is deeply harmful. Anyway, I was listening to Dr. Maté suggest that when we feel “uncomfortable” feelings as adults such as anger or sadness or just irritation that we stop for a moment and ask ourselves, “Who is this who is having this feeling?” and often that question will plunge us straight back to childhood and we will discern that the feeling or thought we are having towards a current situation or person has absolutely nothing to do with that situation or person but rather everything to do with a moment or time of childhood. And he argues, at least, but the argument is very convincing, that he believes this because he has experienced such moments himself and among his patients, he a Canadian Jew whose family was gassed or incinerated in concentration camps, who had to flee when a small boy with his parents from Hungary as Soviet tanks rolled in in the 50’s. He whose mother arrived in Canada as many refugees do with children, unable to speak the language, and with, understandable but considerable anxiety. And he begins to make so much sense to me. I have my own story and had a nearly lifelong addiction, cigarettes. So I’m listening intently and I’m fascinated by all this and by how he ties his story and the stories of his patients to the science. But, just then, my cat sits down on the computer keyboard and, in this way, manages to stop the video to which I am listening. And I get up and put anything in the bowl and return to the bed and listen again. By now I am irritated, and, as usual, my cat sits down on the keyboard yet again and stops the tape, and by the third time I’m up I am totally exasperated and close to anger and I put down my cat’s bowl and say to him, “Now this is your last chance. Eat it or else.” I have no idea what the “else” is, but I lie back down in bed and try to listen, but I can’t. I just can’t. And finally I ask myself, “Who is this who is so very annoyed?!” And immediately a child pops into my mind, me at about eight years of age. The memory is very clear. The entire family, mom and dad and four daughters, are piled into a spectacular 1956 Buick Super and we are on a road trip from just south of San Francisco headed straight across the Continental United States on Route 66 to Langley Field, Virginia and parts beyond, which will take us to Washington, D.C., New York, New England, Quebec, a dairy farm in Michigan, Lincoln’s home in Illinois and all the other possible “educational” stops along the way and back again. But at this one moment in time, we are stopped beside a white-washed adobe house of a Pueblo Native American family. (We rarely stopped at the ubiquitous roadside stands where Native art and crafts were sold for pennies, that would now sell for thousands; no, we drove straight into the reservations and my father would ask if he could take photographs and we girls would get out of the car and would apparently disarm the astonished and, yes, guarded Native people but the Native people were invariably kind to us.) Anyway, on this particular occasion, I didn’t want to get out of the car. I had no interest in the adobe house or the family. I had no interest because I was stoned. I was in a deep pleasant stupor of indifference and rest induced by the wonderful drug known as Dramamine and I didn’t want to be disturbed. If you think I’m exaggerating the effect of Dramamine on a child’s brain, think again. We took quite a number of extravagant road trips, including one from south of San Francisco to Mexico City and that was around 1960, and anyway, I was stoned on all of them. Much later, when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley in the 60’s, at a time when street and prescription drugs “of choice” were ubiquitous and cheap and their use was actually encouraged or rather celebrated, and memorialized in art, music, style, architecture, spirituality and so on, at that time I was petrified of drugs. By that time in my life, I was deeply depressed, and that’s another story for another time, but I had a strongly held belief that arose from a deep intuition that it was “all or nothing” for me. Either I soldier on with my studies, and my activism, or I “drop out” completely and become an addict on the streets, not because I wanted to get “high” or expand my mind but because, by then, I simply wanted to escape. I chose to soldier on. Not only did I not inhale, a joint, as we called it then, never even touched my lips. I now believe that I was able to make that choice only by God’s grace, a God I didn’t believe in at that time. And I confess to a lifelong pleasure in the time of post-surgery either local or general when one is provided those lovely pain-killing drugs, a brief time for me, but a time when I go straight back to childhood in the back seat of that Buick Super riding the highways and byways of the North American continent stoned out of my mind. Once, in adulthood, I suddenly, without"t any thought or memory, asked my mother, “I didn’t get carsick. Why did you give me Dramamine?” She laughed and laughed and said, “I know you didn’t, but it sure kept you kids quiet.” (I believe this gives new meaning to the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper.”) Anyway, this is a very long way of saying that, when I recognized “who” was irritated to the point of anger at my cat, I got up out of bed and went into the kitchen and said to my cat, “I’m so sorry. You interrupted me and wanted me to move, you interrupted my brain when it was doing something very pleasurable and didn’t want to move. Listen, from now on, feel free to interrupt me at any time if you need me or just want me. Okay?”

P.S. I have a whole lot to say about my parents, but that is for another time and another place. For now, I’ll just say that, when I think back to those trips, where my father was often combining business with pleasure and which my parents considered “educational” above all else, I am astounded at the amount of sheer courage and some kind of incredible faith, though my parents were both atheists, that it would take for two parents to stick their four young daughters in a car and drive across the Continental United States for educational purposes. Are you kidding me???!!!! Who in their right mind would do that???!!!! I’m not a parent, but I’m asking parents out there. Seriously. Would you? Wow.

My cat is black with a tuft of white on his chest. I rescued him from a shelter where he had languished for months, as so often happens with black cats due to the silly superstition. I named him Nelson Mandela. Some of you may find that offensive. I mean no offense. I had a deep regard for and respect for Nelson Mandela. I have a deep regard for and respect for animals, in the wild and in the home. I am not saying that animals and human beings are the same. My Nelson, though, does know right from wrong. It is wrong to pick him up. It is very, very wrong to pick him up and put him in the cat carrier. Nelson is not a pacifist. He fights back. Although, I have to say that, once in the cat carrier, he appears to be quite content and rides along in the car without complaint and, if we are headed to the vet, which we probably are, once before the vet, he is the epitome of a gentleman and puts up with every indignity and intrusion without complaint, so much so, that the vet frequently exclaims, “This cat is so docile!” and the vet exclaims this while I’m actually holding Nelson with hands that are clearly bloodied. However, ninety-nine percent of the time, everything is very, very right as far as Nelson is concerned. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Nelson is a total Zen cat. Since I am lying in bed most of the time, he is content to lie at the foot of the bed with an occasional walk up on to my chest to stretch out, expect and get a petting, and just purr away. He is an indoor cat only, but he enjoys a visit to the garage on occasion to sniff out the vents in the garage door. He finds this quite entertaining and, once in a while, he will suddenly race from the garage through the house to the sliding glass door in the living room and back again trying to see what I do not know. And, on rare occasion, a great howling will break out, and Nelson lunges at the sliding glass door and I actually encourage him, “You get him, Nelson!” I have to stop right here and say that I confess to being a member of a Facebook group entitled “Black Cat Appreciation Group,” which is exactly that. In that group, we black cat owners post photos of our cats and ask for advice about behaviors and so on, but here’s the thing, almost all the black cat owners in this group refer to their cats as their “fur babies.” Now that offends me, on behalf of all cats and all human babies. Note the definitions of baby as a noun according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:



ba·​by | \ ˈbā-bē \

plural babies

Definition of baby

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a(1): an extremely young child especially : INFANT

(2): an extremely young animal

b: the youngest of a group He is the baby of the family.

2a: one that is like a baby (as in behavior) When it comes to getting shots, I'm a real baby.

b: something that is one's special responsibility, achievement, or interest The project was his baby.


a: GIRL, WOMAN —often used in address

b: BOY, MAN —often used in address Hey baby, nice car!

4: PERSON, THING is one tough baby

Now, notice that in only one of these definitions is an animal even mentioned and in that definition the animal in question is “an extremely young animal.” We might say, “an elephant baby,” but it is much more likely that we will call it a “baby elephant,” thus using “baby” as an adjective, not a noun. I am trying to argue here that using the term “fur baby” for a cat is a complete misnomer. Yes, pet ownership comes with responsibility, considerable patience, and love that is beyond description, and it comes with a deep respect for an animal as an animal. You simply don’t punish it for what it is meant to do as an animal, especially a cat, for example. However, and this is a big however, pet ownership in no way compares with giving birth to and parenting a human baby into a child and into adulthood and seemingly forever. Human parenting comes with enormous responsibility, enormous patience and a love that simply defies description or appropriate adjective; the now popular “unconditional” doesn’t cover it. And I’m not speaking as a parent. I haven’t been one. But I know how I feel around a baby and I’ve seen dozens of parents care for two-year-olds in the midst of crisis and I’ve seen dozens of parents deal with teen-agers or not deal with teen-agers and somehow both the parents and the teen-agers survived and many of them not only survived but thrived. And oh the loss of a child. I won’t even go there. But listen pet owners, and I am one, I know for sure that the loss of a pet is hell but a new pet eventually comes a long sooner or later and you fall in love all over again and, though you certainly never forget the pet or pets you’ve lost and you continue to grieve for each one again and again throughout life, you really are somehow made whole again with the love of another animal. Not so with parents, or so I know from the many I’ve listened to. Just a pet peeve of mine. No offense meant. Simply put, an animal is no more a “fur baby” than a human baby is “a very young animal covered with hair.” And I’m probably stating the obvious to those who are both parents and pet owners.

Having said all that, I definitely do think that animals have feelings, even the apparently ever aloof cat. I have rarely doubted this in all my years of pet ownership and, in fact, watching animals in the wild, admittedly from the lens of a television set. While I think it is very dangerous to anthropomorphize animals, I am nevertheless aware of the acute sensitivities of animals. Since I have known Nelson, there has been only one occasion when I doubted his deep affection for me, for want of better words. That was when I had been hospitalized and was essentially forced to go straight from the hospital to a “skilled nursing facility.” And let me just give an aside here. “Skilled nursing facility”: Doesn’t that sound reassuring and somehow comforting? I think it is the word, “skilled,” like you would say a “skilled” surgeon, i.e. way better than average, someone with considerable expertise, and so on. “Skilled nursing facility,” in any case, is a very odd and generous phrase to use for the establishment I ended up in known as Webster House, a medieval hellish institution, run by, I believe, the Episcopal Church, and shame on them! I won’t go into the full horrors of literally being imprisoned there. I will just say that, to my eternal gratitude, my youngest sister managed to get Nelson safely housed at a friend of hers and she reported to me that Nelson was quite “happy” there. This hurt my feelings. “Whoever feeds him …” I thought. I missed him terribly and his absence just added to my misery and one day I was missing him so terribly and was so miserable in general that I took the only protest action available to me and that was to pull the covers over my head and refuse to come out. Under the covers, I sobbed, for me and for Nelson, and I understood then that Nelson without a doubt wasn’t the least bit happy. I spent an entire day like that, under the covers, sobbing, only coming up for food and meds.

In the end, I got out and, a few days later, Nelson was returned to me, and my understanding was confirmed. Nelson raced from one end of my tiny condo to the other in absolute joy. And my sister confessed that he had been miserable. Her friend finally resorted to a pheromone diffuser to calm him down, at least a bit. Don’t get me wrong, though. I am deeply, deeply grateful to my sister and to her friend for caring for Nelson so kindly as they did.

Nelson displays his most profound feelings in what I can only describe as a state of pure bliss. For an animal, their belly is the most vulnerable part of them. When Nelson is in his state of bliss, he curls over onto his back, his belly fully exposed, legs sticking out, in a position of complete rest and surrender. He does this on my bed, right before me, and he does it often.

One day, as I’m lying in bed, I say, “Dear Lord,” and I say it to the ceiling because, I think, we Christians think God is “up there” somehow, or at least I do in my weakest moments 😊 so I say, “Dear Lord, I am unbearably lonely.” It’s not a prayer. It’s a statement. Just then, Nelson jumps on my chest, stretches out and starts to purr. The Lord seems to say, I rest my case.

The next day I am lying in bed and I say to the ceiling, “Dear Lord, I am so lonely I don’t feel quite real, I mean, how do I know if I’m real? I haven’t spoken to a soul in days and, Lord, I haven’t been touched really in probably over a decade. And I’m really quite, well, quite, oh I don’t know, I’m really—oh---oh—oh wait--this feeling—this feeling--And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding—wow—this is better than drugs—sorry—oh thank you—thank you for this, Lord—and hey listen, Lord, I really don’t think I’m going to be a mystic by any stretch and quite frankly I don’t think I’m ever going to be in the NOW either; in fact, I’m pretty sick of the NOW right now, and I’m also pretty fed up with being “mindful,” too, especially since the people who tell all of us in the Western world about mindfulness most often and most prolifically seem themselves to be ever so mindful of one thing in particular, their bank accounts, and I’ll keep the past, thank you. It shaped me and it is a big part of who I am. And the present, however challenging, continues to be, well, interesting; I simply never stop learning, and it has its difficult times and You know just how difficult but it has its joys, too. As for the future, I leave that entirely up to You, Lord. I’m 72-years-old and I’ve survived breast cancer, so far, and I was a two-pack a day smoker for years and years and I imagine that will get me at some point, and I’ve seen a lot of people and children go before me, so if I die in the night tonight, I’ll die happy. I’ve had a heck of a run at it and I thank You for that! And if I’m granted more days, Lord, I’ll just keep alert to see what needs learning, and maybe even loving. 😊 So thank you, Lord, and if you’ll just permit me these chats with You and a listen to Elvis sing “How Great Thou Art: once in awhile, I’ll be fine.” At this point in my little speech, Nelson jumps up on my chest, stretches out, and begins to purr, and I shut up and Nelson and I enjoy the Peace.

11 pm: me and Nelson. I get up to refill my diet coke (oh don’t even start!) and I’m walking from the bedroom through the living room to the kitchen and Nelson is batting at my ankles all the way and actually jumping on me, trying to stop me, and I’m laughing at him, but I keep going, until I get to the kitchen. I put my glass down and turn to look at him. “You just want to play, don’t you?” I ask him. “You just desperately want to play.” He listens, alertly. I take a step closer to him and crouch down. In a whisper I say, “So you want to play?” He’s got it! I stamp my feet. He’s off. In a sprint he crosses the living room and hides under an end table. He’s in full view, of course. I go after him. He’s off again. This time into the bedroom and bath. I’m after him. Well, this goes on for a few good runs, until Nelson gets bored and goes into the garage and contents himself with checking the garage door vents for new smells wafting in. Mind you, I can barely walk with a cane … Mind you, Nelson doesn’t play with toys. He has no interest. But give him the end of a belt from a robe worn by a human or, better yet, the ankles of that human, and he’s on.

"A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere." ~ Groucho Marx

Nelson in his bliss ...

*Chat Noir Art Deco Poster for sale at

Updated: Mar 13, 2019


© 2018 by Janis Wick

Accepted for publication by Surreal Magazine

It was Christmas Eve at the Palo Verde Shopping Mall, and the display windows beckoned with still-life scenes of elegantly dressed couples and children surrounded by extravagant toys. But Sarah could not find a place to park. Curbs, sidewalks and handicapped spaces were all full. Even plots of shrubbery had been mowed down by Mercedes sedans and shiny black Range Rovers. Cars moved through the asphalt lot in fits and starts, threading their way up one aisle and down another. Sarah crept along in her brand new baby blue BMW, an early gift from her husband. The sleek green Jaguar following her edged up close to the rear bumper of her brand new car.

Sarah had planned to visit the stationery store that turned its upstairs loft into a wonderland of green, gold, silver and red ornaments each year. She had been going to that same store for more than three decades, first as a child led by her mother, then as a mother herself with her two sons in tow. Now her sons were home watching football on TV with their father. But Sarah didn't mind going alone.

She turned on the BMW's Blaupunkt radio, and a children's chorus sang out, O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant . . . Her heart fluttered. Christmas, she thought. She sang along, Above thy deep and dreamless . . . On "sleep," she jammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a tomato red Porsche Carrera. The Jaguar slid to a screeching halt less than a foot behind her. Horns began to beep and blare.

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . .

The Porsche Carrera began to move again. Sarah followed. She passed by display windows that lit up fine china and beaded silk dresses. The windows seemed to hold the promise of a safe elegant present and an ever brighter future. Sarah wanted to park and move into the realm of promise, but all remaining plots of vacant earth, asphalt and concrete were guarded by traffic cops in khaki who stood impassively as angry drivers shouted obscenities at them.

The hopes and fears of all the years . . .

Sarah began to panic. Her brand new baby blue car felt like a trap, or maybe a prison. But suddenly she saw a neighbor, Lydia Hamilton, staggering across the parking lot weighed down by shopping bags. Sarah frantically honked her horn. Lydia looked up, smiled, and staggered over.

"My dear!" she exclaimed. "You don't look well."

Sarah wanted to burst into tears and weep on Lydia's shoulder.

"Oh, I'm fine," was all she said. "I just can't find a parking space."

"It's murder," Lydia exclaimed. "Just murder!"

Sarah's hands began to tremble on the steering wheel. Her mouth quivered.

"I tell you what," Lydia said, "you just follow me and park in my space."

The chorus of sweet voices sang another song, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing, O come let us adore him; O come let us adore him . . . Sarah's eyes filled. She was being silly, she knew it, but she was happy. Up ahead, Lydia set her shopping bags down beside a lemon yellow Mercedes 560SL sedan.

When Sarah had succeeded in inching her way forward to the sedan, she stopped but the Jaguar didn't. Sarah felt a sickening jolt as the sleek green nose of the Jaguar, carried forward by the inexorable momentum of a 4.2 liter engine, crashed through the trunk of her car and buried itself in the baby blue leather of the back seat. Meanwhile, the snub nose of her own BMW sank neatly and deeply into the rear end of the tomato red Porsche Carrera. Sarah's pocketbook flew to the floor and landed upside down. Stunned, Sarah sat and stared at two securely wrapped tampons that lay unharmed on the baby blue rubber mat.

When she had collected herself a bit and realized that she was shaken but not hurt, Sarah got out of her car prepared to direct her anger and indignation at the driver behind her. But the owner of the Jaguar, a fastidiously coiffed matron whose hairdo sat slightly askew on her head, had been rear-ended herself, as had the person behind her. Attempts were made to sort out exactly who had hit whom first, but the accidents appeared to have had no beginning and no end. There were shoppers standing by their cars arguing and fuming three aisles over on either side.

Sarah lost track of the arguments. She was too busy staring at her car, a $40,000 objet d'art of Bavarian engineering, which had taken the hit every bit as well as a Ford Pinto might have. The prophylactic rubber bumpers were now inlaid in the auto body itself. Traffic cops arrived and began yelling at shoppers to get back in their cars and move on. Shoppers yelled back. The traffic cops became nervous and belligerent. Sarah saw a young officer accost two perfectly reasonable, well-dressed middle-aged men, who were in the process of exchanging information about insurance carriers. The cop ripped the men's notepads right out of their hands and ordered them, as if at gun point, into their smashed German-made automobiles.

Sarah scurried into her car and tried to start the engine.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

The radio remained in perfect working order. So, to Sarah's amazement, did the engine.

The Porsche Carrera slipped from the grasp of the BMW's front-end as smoothly as a bag of giblets from a Christmas turkey, and the sudden massive union of metal, rubber and chrome dissolved into a vehicular snake. Soon the bells will start, And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing, Rosemary Clooney sang.

Sarah followed the line of dented bumpers and crushed front-ends. Her only desire now was to go home—to a warm fire, a hot bath, a nice glass of wine, and to her husband and sons. There would be no more trying to park, no more endless switchbacks on level ground. The shopping mall had lost its allure. Sarah couldn't remember what her husband and sons looked like.

At the exit the tomato red Porsche Carrera made a U-turn. He's going back in? Sarah wondered. She was amazed that anyone, under the circumstances, would make such a choice.

A traffic cop awaited Sarah. She could see herself in his sunglasses. Her hair was awry and her make-up smudged.

"You'll have to turn back," the traffic cop said.

"What?" Sarah asked. She strained to see through the mirrors into the man's eyes.

"I said, you'll have to turn back in."

"No!" Sarah gasped. "No, I want to leave."

"You can't leave," the cop said.

"Of course I can leave," Sarah said. "I mean, why not?"

"Here's a little something to make your stay more pleasant." The cop held out a thick roll of bills he had just pulled out of a metal box beside his feet. "Ten thousand dollars," he said and smiled.

"But," Sarah said, thinking ten thousand dollars? "But I think I'll just go home."

"Get this straight, lady," the cop said, resting his hand on the butt of a pistol strapped to his hip. "You can't go home. Nobody goes home. You gotta turn back in."

Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .

A famous tenor voice sang Sarah's favorite carol. She turned back in. Her speed ranged from two miles per hour, to five, to a dead stop. Her neck felt stiff, her shoulders ached, her throat was raw with thirst. As the sun set, the sky lit up in pinks and golds. Christmas lights glittered in the dusk. The tenor's voice filled the cool air inside Sarah's battered car.

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices . . .

And then it happened. Sarah found a parking space. She parked automatically, without even thinking about it.

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angels voices.

Oh night divine, Oh night . . .

As Sarah walked steadily towards the windows that beckoned but no longer tantalized, shoppers passed her, boxes piled so high in their arms that Sarah could not see their faces. Lydia, dragging a new load of shopping bags, lurched towards her.

"How much have you spent?" Lydia called out gaily.

"Nothing yet," Sarah said.

"Nothing?!" Lydia screeched. "Nothing? You better get going. They'll give you another ten thousand next time around."

In the shopping mall proper, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shoppers elbowing each other and hurtling past and over each other. At the entrance to Neiman-Marcus, a huge wedge of people sardined themselves through double glass doors. Sarah let herself be sucked into the wedge and thrust through the doors, which shattered behind her and left a dozen shoppers cut and bloody. Inside, Sarah watched mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and uncles and aunts, armed with coat hangers and display umbrellas, fight each other off for silk ties, gold earrings, and alligator handbags. A woman in Italian high-heeled pumps and a silk dress made a swan dive into the center of the jewelry counter to get her hands on a string of baroque pearls. A child in designer overalls sat and cried beneath a department store mannequin that had been denuded. The mannequin smiled pleasantly.

Sarah was hungry and thirsty. She went into the gourmet food shop and flipped the lid off an imported raspberry soda, unscrewed the top of a mushroom garlic pasta sauce, sat down on the floor and began to eat and drink. The in-house sound system blared overhead:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed . . .

Thin strong fingers grabbed Sarah's wrist. She tried to wrench free.

"Ma'am, let's have no more of that," said a young man dressed in an immaculate gray suit and pink shirt.

"What's wrong?" Sarah asked, and then added, "Leave me alone."

"You haven't paid for what you are consuming," the young man said politely.

"Here," Sarah said, thrusting the roll of bills at him. "Is that enough?"

He smiled. "More than enough, ma'am. I'll just take a hundred." He pulled off a single bill.

"No, take it all," Sarah said.

"I'm sorry. I can't do that. It's against the rules."

"But I don't want it."

"But it's your responsibility," the young man said very gently.

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.

When the man had left, Sarah shop-lifted a two-ounce jar of beluga caviar, a bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild and a box of individually-wrapped salted wafers. Armed with provisions, she headed for Woolworth.

In the dime store, the crowds of shoppers were dense and agitated. Sarah concentrated her efforts on the "dollar" tables in which nobody else seemed particularly interested. As other eager but dazed shoppers carried crates of Kodak 35 mm film and Scott paper towels (marked down twenty-nine cents) to the cash register, Sarah quietly pilfered a large canvas handbag in which she placed tiny yellow stick-on pads, a miniature tool set, a plastic tomato slicer, a pair of knit baby booties, a tin box of bandages, a framed photograph of Joe Montana, a set of four bright red plastic soup bowls and glasses to match, a cloth Christmas corsage made with ribbons and plastic pine cones covered with painted snow, a 99¢ knife with a wood-grained formica handle and a bottle of hand lotion with no name-brand recognition.

A soothing silky voice crooned from a speaker in the ceiling:

Toyland, Toyland,

Little girl and boy land . . .

"Hand it over, now."

A large beefy man in a polo shirt and jeans grabbed Sarah's arm and squeezed.

"No!" Sarah said.

The man squeezed harder. Sarah handed over her canvas bag. At the cash register a young woman with nine purple fingernails and one gold one rang up the total: $37.92.

"Pay up," the dick said.

"No," Sarah said.

"No?" the dick said. "Why not? You got the dough."

"Arrest me," Sarah said. Her husband would bail her out. That would be the end to it.

"Fine by me," the dick said, "but it's a capital offense."

"I'd get the death penalty for shop-lifting at dollar days?" Sarah gasped.

"No, not for shop-lifting. For refusing to pay once you get caught." The dick shrugged. "It's kinda un-American, lady."

Childhood's joyland,

Mystic, merry Toyland!

Once you pass its borders,

You can ne'er return again.

Sarah paid her bill. Outside Woolworth, she slumped against a wall and sat down. It was dark and cold. Her legs ached. Her stomach was cramping. If she were at home, she would be fixing dinner, but she couldn't remember what her kitchen looked like. Would a tomato slicer come in handy there or not? she wondered. She pinned the plastic pine cone Christmas corsage to her blazer and applied the nameless hand lotion. Then she sat back and listened to Elvis sing with husky longing while she swilled Château Mouton-Rothschild from a brown paper bag:

I'll have a blue Christmas without you.

I'll be so blue just thinking about you.

A young man dressed in janitor's coveralls walked by, keys jangling in his hand. His dark brown face was scarred by a jagged tear that ran from his left temple to the base of his chin.

"Are you leaving?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, señora," the young man said.

"Will they let you out?"

"Sí, claro, of course," the young man said. "I just work here."

Sarah's heart leapt with hope.

"Will you take me with you?"

"No," the young man said. "I'm sorry, but that is not permitted."

"In the trunk of your car," Sarah said, staggering to her feet. "You could take me out in your trunk."

The young man shook his head. "I'm sorry, but they check trunks."

"I'll pay you," Sarah begged. "I've got ten thousand dollars. Right here." She thrust the bills at the young man.

"I'm sorry, señora," the young man said again. "I don't need money. I've already paid. Perhaps you didn't notice." He walked away, the keys still jangling in his hand.

Sarah sank down against the wall. Elvis caressed the night and the longing.

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree

Won't be the same, dear, if you're not here with me.

Sarah wondered if it were possible to spend $9,862.08 on ornaments and strands of tinsel. She got up immediately and headed towards the stationery store.

The first level had been stripped of nearly everything except accountants' ledgers and guest books for weddings. There were only a few shoppers. A fit, handsome man sat in the middle of an aisle mumbling "but I am a neurosurgeon" while he methodically ate chocolate-covered cherry candies, wrappers and all. The elegant matron who owned the squashed Jaguar browsed through a rack of Halloween masks. She chose a Michael Jackson likeness, covered her head with it, left cash at the abandoned register and walked out of the store.

At the foot of the steps to the loft, Lydia Hamilton, surrounded by a dozen shopping bags, lay unconscious, or perhaps dead. She clutched to her chest an out-dated calendar which featured photographs of award-winning pies. As Sarah ascended the stairs, she wondered if rigor mortis had set it.

The loft was untouched. The room sparkled with glass, foil and gold. Sarah saw tiny wooden Santa Clauses, angels made from cornhusks, strands of multicolored tinsel, globes covered with rhinestones and fake pearls and silver braid, hand-painted eggs with intricate baroque designs, and small clay nativity scenes from Mexico. So much to choose from, Sarah thought, so much one could buy.

She didn't have the energy, or perhaps the inclination, to select which items she preferred so she began to take one of each and then two of each and ten or more of each. She made a huge pile on the floor, a mound of stationery store ornamental artifacts. When she believed that she was done, she surveyed the mound, which sparkled and glittered in the fluorescent light, and she was satisfied.

She crawled carefully into the middle of it and covered herself with ornaments. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," she murmured. Then she listened to a single, clear contralto voice that sang out through the random static of the stationery store's antiquated speaker:

I'll be home for Christmas;

You can plan on me.

The mushroom garlic sauce and the wine had given Sarah indigestion. She burped loudly and violently. A bright red globe, decorated with green braid and silver sequins, rolled off her abdomen and smashed onto the floor. Sarah burped again more gently and sighed. Then she rested.

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love-light gleams.

I'll be home for Christmas,

If only in my dreams.

Updated: Dec 12, 2018

You Woman

© by Janis G. Wick

You woman who nourishes the earth with her blood

You woman whose heart breaks like a glass bell

You woman whose mind raves like a cracked mirror

You woman who shatters like crystal sugar

You woman who is sweet as a lush plum

You woman who is bitter as an unripe fig

You woman who might leaven bread

You woman who might make a law

You woman

I give you My blood

Like a sweetmeat

Like a river of love

Like a tear of anguish

Like a balm of glory

I give you My body

Like a rock upon which you may lean

Like a pillow in which you may seek comfort

Like an embrace in which you may surrender

You woman

I wish to give these things to you.

You who have suffered will know My suffering.

You who have wept will weep for Me.

You who have suckled will feel the empty breast.

You who have felt pain will feel the nails driven in.

You who have thirsted will taste My thirst.

You who have sweat will sweat for me.

You woman

To you I wish to give My body and my blood.

Of you I wish to become.

Bring Me to life, giver of life.

You woman, bring Me to life.

Take of My body, My blood, My tears, My sweat, My thirst, My pain. Take Me.

Ah woman, I live.

Google Photo, YahooFinance.Com; The Antennae Galaxies Image “Once normal, sedate spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, the Antennae Galaxies have spent the past few hundred million years sparring with one another. This clash is so violent that stars have been ripped from their host galaxies to form a streaming arc between the two. In wide-field images of the pair the reason for their name becomes clear — far-flung stars and streamers of gas stretch out into space, creating long tidal tails reminiscent of antennae.”  ESA/Hubble & NASA.  

© 2018  Janis G. , Wick

Google Photo, YahooFinance.Com; The Antennae Galaxies Image “Once normal, sedate spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, the Antennae Galaxies have spent the past few hundred million years sparring with one another. This clash is so violent that stars have been ripped from their host galaxies to form a streaming arc between the two. In wide-field images of the pair the reason for their name becomes clear — far-flung stars and streamers of gas stretch out into space, creating long tidal tails reminiscent of antennae.”  ESA/Hubble & NASA.  

© 2018  Janis G. , Wick

Janis at the Corner of Silicon Valley and the  Antennae Galaxies

 Janis Wick is a failed atheist, an Episcopalian, a retired activist, a writer, an alleged mystic, and a breast cancer survivor. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Google Photo, YahooFinance.Com; The Antennae Galaxies Image “Once normal, sedate spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, the Antennae Galaxies have spent the past few hundred million years sparring with one another. This clash is so violent that stars have been ripped from their host galaxies to form a streaming arc between the two. In wide-field images of the pair the reason for their name becomes clear — far-flung stars and streamers of gas stretch out into space, creating long tidal tails reminiscent of antennae.”  ESA/Hubble & NASA.  

© 2018  Janis G. , Wick