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DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12



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SHELDON A. MILLER, a physician, practicing in Ventura County, California, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Online. His work has appeared in The Gene Perret Round Table Magazine for stand-up comics.


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A Measure of Distance

SHELDON A. MILLER

Harry Finley piloted his '73 Thunderbird down Tennessee's Interstate 40. His father Isaiah, a wiry eighty-eight year old, sat alongside tethered to a urinary catheter bag.

"More meat on our windshield than on our bones - let's eat! She'll wait. No need to hurry," Isaiah said.

"We've got a lot farther to go tonight. I'm getting married on time. It's still two-thousand miles from here," replied Harry.

"The bag's full..."

Harry glanced at the bag straddling his father's legs. "Jeesh, you drink so much."

"Can't help it, I'm still alive."

"Dad, it's okay." He changed lanes, pulling around an old chicken truck, sour odors and cackling sounds seeping into the car. "There's a town coming up in ten miles. Can you wait?"

"Think so." Isaiah winked. "Just giving an early warning."

"I miss Louise," said Harry.

"Just puppy love. Give it a year, you'll beg for a sabbatical."

"Don't think so."

"How'd ya meet? A secret?"

"Sort of. But I'll tell you."

"About time!"

"When I first saw her..." Harry cleared his throat. "She was hiding in daisies just behind my fence in the Miller's yard."

"I don't remember any Millers next door. When you were a kid, it was Pauline."

"No, Dad. Last year at my house in Ventura - I was sixty-five. She's younger."

"A child in the bushes? What are you? Michael Jackson?"

"She's sixty-two."

"You met her in the bushes."

"Do we have to talk this way?"

"You're my son. I'm your father. Nuff said." He swirled his bag and sniffed for a leak. "What was she doing?"

"Stealing my dog," said Harry, his face flushing.

"Your dog, Patches? That's a romance?"

"Well..."

"You have a loose brain!"

"I'm fine, Dad."

"But - "

"Can I tell you the whole story?"

"Go ahead. Young people! The depression built saner heads."

"I THOUGHT I saw her behind the fence."

"Behind daisies."

"But, I thought I was mistaken so I ignored it."

"Ignore a woman in the bushes? I wouldn't." Isaiah chuckled.

The car swerved to avoid a crumple of cardboard. The urine swayed in the bag like an ocean tide.

"Why did she want to steal Patches? Was she hungry?" Isaiah said.

"That's part of the story."

Isaiah's eyes widened. "She eats dogs?"

"She read in the paper about a homeless man eating neighborhood pets - mostly dogs and cats."

"Anything else?"

"Oh, maybe a stray guinea pig or two - you know, the real ‘other' white meat."

"I didn't mean that."

"Louise was just lonely. Husband died five years before and her children had moved away."

"Like you and Bernard? Couldn't you stay in Boston, close to me?"

"Programmers were being hired on the West Coast in those days..."

"You're retired now. Come home. Bernie moved back."

"I love California, especially Ventura. I'm happy there."

"When Ma passed away, you came home."

"Yes, for a while, but I was depressed. Jenny also had died a few weeks before." Tears beaded Harry's eyelids. "I was alone for the first time in thirty years."

"Son... Sorry, but why do you want to marry Louise?"

"I love her. We were meant to be."

"Do you kidnap dogs?"

"In a reverse way."

"Huh?" said Isaiah, his face even more wrinkled up than usual.

Harry slowed the car. "Let's take a break. There's a diner on the left at the next exit."

"I got to dump this bag," said Isaiah, handling the tubing.

Harry started to laugh. "It's not just the liquid in the bag - you're full of crap, too. You need an EPA permit just to cross state lines."

"Now boy, just because I want you to come back to Boston," grinned the old man.

"You know I love you. If I didn't, I wouldn't have come to drive you to the wedding."

"Appreciate it. I'm saying only what a father would say."

"I know."

They pulled into the diner's gravel lot. The diner was a rotting one story wooden building with a shake roof.

They went in. Ordered burgers. Dumped bodily wastes in a pleasant surrounding, then sat for a few moments...

"We should go," said Harry.

"You never told me why Louise stole dogs."

"It's involved."

"But you started to tell me just twenty minutes ago."

"We've traveled a distance since then."

"In what way?"

"You're my father."

"Oh? So you forgot before?"

"Oh... I'll tell you."

"Do it, kid."

Harry spoke slowly. "Louise had this idea she could kidnap pets and then return them."

"Is there good reward money in that?"

"Always the businessman - "

"Fifty years."

"She did it to meet people. She was lonely... Thought she'd meet new friends, maybe a husband."

"Clever," said Isaiah. "But why you?"

"Was...uh...just lucky."

"You hesitated. Why?"

"I was doing something similar - I was letting Patches get lost so he'd be returned."

"But Louise was in your bush daisies..."

"Yes."

"That doesn't make sense."

"She was checking me out - I might be someone she'd want to meet."

"But how did you finally get together?"

"She took Patches out of the yard and later called the phone number on his tag."

"Really?"

"She insisted on bringing him to my house and then noticed my refrigerator."

"So? Was she hungry?"

"No."

"Well?"

"She noticed the pictures on the refrigerator."

"Yeah. I still have pics of you, Bernie, and Sylvia there."

"No, it's not the same."

"Huh?"

"They were all pictures of people who had returned Patches to me."

"Why would Louise wonder?"

"She was doing the same thing on her refrigerator. She even had a camera in her hand ready to take my picture with Patches."

"You two WERE meant for each other... You're weird, pathetic kids."

"I don't see it that way," said Harry.

Isaiah's voice was softer now. "Neither do I." His eyes moistened. "I know what loneliness is."

Harry hugged his father, sitting in a chair, catheter bag underneath. "Dad, there's less distance between us than we think."

* * * *

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