Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP, JAMES GARNER


by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines


© 2014, M. E. Raines


The death today of James Garner is a loss to our world, but definitely a boon to the world of spirit if you believe in an afterlife. Many people feel as though a good friend has died.

I was a Professional Background Actor (e.g., an Extra) on a TV show called "First Monday" with him where he played a conservative Supreme Court Justice. It was a stellar cast, but it only lasted one season, I believe. Garner, like Martin Sheen, was that very rare actor who didn't give a fig whether you were a producer or the janitor pushing a broom. In fact, both of them might prefer you a bit if you were the broom pusher.

The very first time I saw him, we were all seated on benches on the courtroom set, waiting excitedly for him to appear. The filming hadn't started yet. He made his entrance and swept down the aisles in his black robes, looking pompous and serious. Everyone was a little in awe. As he brushed past us, he said in a booming voice, "Please now open your hymnals to page 342."

When the director is giving instructions about the next scene on a TV show, everyone on the entire set, including cast and crew, is expected to be hushed and alert, and they are. TV is extremely disciplined in this matter; if you don't pay attention, you get axed. Jim is the only actor I ever saw who could get away with breaking that rule. As the director talked, he would be laughing and wiggling in his seat, joking boisterously throughout like a 13-year-old class clown. The exact moment, however, that they shouted, "Action," his face would instantly age, his demeanor would stiffen, and in a flash, he would be fully in character. It bowled me over. I have never, ever seen an actor who could shift into his part that easily and flawlessly.

James Garner and I never conversed, other than him offering me a grin and a "Hi, how are you," as I passed by when he was sitting outside one day taking a break. (I was only on two episodes.) His smile was warm and genuine. I felt as though the sun had broken through the clouds.

Some of the other justices in the cast included Joe Mantegna, Charles Durning, and Liz Torres. At that time, my ex-husband and Joe Mantegna were doppel-gangers. Every time Joe Mantegna walked past me, I had to suppress an overwhelming desire either to yell at him or to hug him.

Friday, May 16, 2014

THE WEIGHT A WOMAN MUST BEAR


by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

Kiddos, I am going to reveal a truth now. Pay attention.

There are certain places—places that all of us know well—where the morals of the most honest, truth-telling, honorable, scrupulous, spiritual, decent, conscientious women on the planet are routinely shredded. That's right: destroyed. In an instant, we are turned from angels into lying scoundrels of the lowest order. This ugly, degrading transformation of nice women into sinners routinely happens in less than 30 seconds. I'm not kidding. It's real, and it infects nearly all females in our society.

Where is this hell that undermines our integrity so swiftly, so viciously, and so thoroughly?

The place is called the Department of Motor Vehicles. It happens when we are required to fill out the line on the form for our driver's licenses that asks, "How much do you weigh?"

In one fell swoop, the sweetest woman you know will instantly turn into an outrageous liar, and probably a criminal as well, because we are not supposed to lie to the government. I do not know a single one of my sex who would ever write down what her actual weight would be if you were to place her on a scale at that exact moment she is standing in line at the DMV.

She might rationalize to make herself feel better. "Normally I'd weigh less because I wouldn't be wearing shoes. Or earrings. Or lipstick," or "It's the wrong time of day (or month)," or "I'm going to start juicing this week. Really, I am!" Regardless of her rationalizations, whatever she puts down on the form will, I guarantee, be a lie.

Every time I am in an airport and TSA is scrutinizing my driver's license to make sure that I am who I say that I am, I fully expect them to pull out their revolvers, drop me to the floor, and put me in cuffs, screaming, "You couldn't possibly be Mary Elizabeth Raines. This license says that Mary Elizabeth Raines weighs 135 pounds!"

Either that, or I wait for the agent to begin howling with uncontrollable laughter as he cries out, "You're saying you weigh how much?!?"



Women have a strange and uncomfortable relationship with the scale, and this relationship brings me to an important lesson I want to teach. It involves shopping for swimsuits. First, a disclaimer. To those of you who understand that the value and self-esteem of a woman should not and does not hinge on appearance: yes. You are absolutely correct. And lest you worry, my self-esteem is fine. Regardless, the following story is completely true and I hold firmly to the lesson learned.

I learned this lesson when I was 19. It came about because I went shopping for bikinis with the most gorgeous girl in the music conservatory where I went to college. I’ll call her Julie. Not only did she have long, tawny blonde hair, even longer tawny legs, and huge turqoise blue eyes; she was, as they used to say, stacked.

 Alas, as a grown-up, and one who has also grown, I do not know how bikinis are sold nowadays, but I imagine tops and bottoms are sold separately. Back in my day, however, bikinis were sold as one set; the top and bottom were the same size and shared a hanger. Most women just aren't built that proportionately, so it was common for girls to sneak-switch the tops on the hangers when the store saleswomen weren't looking. They would, say, put a size 10 top with a size 12 bottom.

To my embarrassment, Julie began doing just that. She peeked over her shoulder to make sure that the saleswoman wasn't watching, and then slyly switched the top of the bikini she wanted with one of another size. But here's the thing: I discovered that she was replacing her bikini top with one that was two sizes larger!

We went into separate dressing rooms to try on our bikinis. The mirror stood outside the dressing rooms, so we had to come out into the main room of the store if wanted to see what we looked like in our swimwear. Both of us emerged in our bikinis at the same time. MASSIVE MISTAKE!



Julie stood happily in front of the mirror, wiggling her hips and making some sexy dance moves, as she exclaimed about how much she loved her bikini. Me? I huddled in a dark corner and prayed to the gods that this ordeal would pass quickly. I will not write at length about the horror and humiliation of staring aghast in the mirror, desperately trying to suck in my thighs, whilst standing next to a girl half a foot taller than me who looked like a combination surfer-movie-babe/enhanced supermodel.

It didn't make me look good, is what I am saying.

The fact that she was so pretty really wasn't Julie's fault. She was very nice, as well as good looking, and all the boys in school had massive crushes on her. Even the blind boy in our class was in love with her. I did not love her, however, as we stood in front of the mirror.

The lesson I learned is one I am happy to pass on to all younger women who do not yet know the ways of the world and who need to enhance their self-esteem. It is this. Never, never, never shop for a bikini with someone far more gorgeous than you could ever dream of being! Pretty girls make fine friends, of course, but not when you’re bikini shopping. No, this is the time to boost your friendships with all the women who are chubbier and homelier than you. They might wind up hating you, but you will feel wonderful about yourself.

I am painfully aware of the truth, of course, which is that Julie already knew that lesson, which was why she invited the likes of me to go bikini shopping along with her on that fateful day.


(c) 2014, Mary Elizabeth Raines

Please do not copy or excerpt any part of the articles on this blog. Do, however, feel free to link to anything you like!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

MY DE-LUGE-ION



The 2014 Olympics has been going on this week in Sochi, Russia. If you were an Olympic athlete, which winter sport would you choose? I like to ponder this.

Being a speed skater could be rewarding on some levels. I imagine speed skaters get to eat a lot. I like to eat! If people ever questioned the size of my thighs, I could just shrug and say I'm in training.

It has also occurred to me that if I met an attractive 60-something male ice dancer who was straight and happened to be single, I could conceivably make my sport ice dancing. If he were hot enough, I guess I wouldn’t mind having him hold me over his head while I did the splits. Not that I'm shallow and superficial, but heck, if he looked really good, I might even work at stifling my groans as I heaved myself up out of the recliner to go to ice-dance rehearsal. 

Okay, let's be real here. Dreaming about being an ice dancer is pretty fanciful of me. I haven't done the splits in over 25 years, and no man has ever been interested in lifting me, much less lifting me over his head. The nearest I came to that was when my ex-husband attempted to carry me down three carpeted steps at our wedding as his friends cheered him on. To this day, he still complains about the discs in his spine. 

Overall, I think that I am best suited for the luge. The luge is a kind of sled that requires participants to lie down on their backs. Hey, I'll go for lying down on my back any day.

I'm actually very talented when it comes to reclining and not moving for looong stretches of time. Might as well do it on a luge as on a couch, and win the gold.



When we boil it all down, the perfect Olympic venue for me would be the Two-Man Luge. If you are not familiar with this sport, one man lies down on his back on top of another man who is on the luge—a buff, well-muscled man wearing lycra spandex, I might add—and down they go.

There are a few issues with the sport, though. The main one is that it uses two men, rather than a man and a woman. Having it be two guys is, to me, the waste of a perfectly good man. Depending on your leanings, of course.

I don’t see why they couldn’t open this sport up to being a couples event, like ice dancing. If that ever happens, count me in! Even though lying on top might not be my favorite position, that’s the one I’d choose, because it is the guy on the bottom who steers. The top person just lies there and doesn’t do anything…except send signals to the other guy about how to drive! I imagine that I, along with many other women, could do that quite expertly—I mean, sheesh! Telling a man how you want him to drive while you are the passenger? I'm not admitting this to the whole world, you understand, but it's possible that I may have had some life experience doing that.

There is one small qualification. I will participate in Couples Luge only if the guys continue to wear tight lycra spandex. When they begin dressing like the snowboarders, I'm out.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE SWEATER-CAT-VOMIT SITUATION


by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES
© 2013 by Laughing Cherub



Laura was very clean. And more than a tad compulsive. How clean was she? She was so clean that when she sat down to a meal, she couldn’t wait to finish eating so that she could scrub the dishes and put them away. Dirty dishes made her anxious.

While a certain kind of crabbiness often accompanies that type of personality, Laura was truly trying her best not to be a negative person. She used to watch a famous TV talk-show host named Oprah, whom she admired. One day she heard Oprah say that we should bless every problem we encounter because something positive can arise from it, no matter how bad it seems. Laura decided that maybe this would be a good philosophy for her to adopt.

Sadly, she’d scarcely had a chance to practice her new philosophy when it all flew out the window. What happened was that Larry, her cat, threw up yet again. Larry threw up a lot. This time he tossed his cookies on her favorite sweater. Worse, he did it when she was in the middle of a meal that, as usual, she’d been hoping to finish quickly so that she could get her dishes done.

You have to give Laura credit here. She tried. She really did. She reluctantly left her dinner (and the dirty dishes that contained it), stood over the regurgitated mess and, with as much sincerity as she could muster, said, “I bless you.” She said that to the cat vomit. Meanwhile, Larry meandered over to a spot of sunshine on the floor and nonchalently began to groom himself. Laura turned to Larry. “I bless you, Larry,” she said.

Then she waited for a couple of minutes to see what would unfold. Nothing happened. The blessings weren’t working one bit, and the neglected dirty dishes on the table kept creeping into her mind. Laura found herself getting grumpier and grumpier. Finally she surrendered to what was turning into a very sour mood indeed. Her brow darkened, and rather than salvage her soiled sweater by cleaning it, she stomped over to the trash and angrily flung it away. After that, she hurried to wash her dishes.

“I don’t care what Oprah or anybody else says. Nothing good could possibly ever come out of Larry’s upchuck,” she grumbled.

Laura couldn’t have been more wrong.

Centuries later on Planet Earth, when far too many species, including cats, had sadly become extinct due to humankind’s foolishness, a robot that was probing through the rubble of an ancient garbage dump stumbled across a remnant of Laura’s sweater. The robot identified a tiny bit of unfamiliar DNA on the piece of sweater and grew excited—well, as excited as a robot is capable of becoming. The DNA was, of course, Larry’s. From the vomit.

Eventually a living cat was cloned from this retrieved DNA, and then another, and yet another, and then the clones were tweaked and genetically modified, and within no time at all, the planet was once again crawling with cats. Every single cat in this world of the future shared a common ancestor: Larry.

Had Laura not been so cranky that day, she would have washed the sweater instead of tossing it out, for, as has been pointed out, she was quite good at cleaning things. But if she had done that, Larry’s DNA would never have been found and cats would have remained extinct. Thus, as it turns out, Laura’s incorrect conclusion that the sweater-cat-vomit situation had no positive side possessed an extremely positive side indeed: cats were once again restored to Planet Earth!

There was only one small problem with the new cat population. Despite the genetic tweaks that had been made to them, every single one of the thousands upon thousands of Larry’s descendents possessed a singular and mystifying characteristic. They all threw up. A lot. Which meant, naturally, that Earth could rest assured that there would be numerous repositories of cat DNA for a very long time to come.

The end

The Sweater-Cat-Vomit Situation and its illustration are copyrighted. Please do not copy, record or excerpt, except for a short review. Feel free, however, to link to this blog.

While we're on the subject of cats: recent webcams attached to cats by credible researchers like National Geographic show that outdoor cats kill far more birds and mammals than we had guessed. The majority of these kills are never seen by the owners. Songbirds are being destroyed by the billions: the equivalent of the population of China is massacred each year by cats. We love cats too, but please either keep your cat indoors or in a confined outdoor area, or attach a good bell (not a cheap one) that actually rings to the cat's collar when letting him or her outdoors. Thanks!

If you enjoyed reading this story, you might like another whimsical tale by Mary Elizabeth Raines, "Transitions, Trees, and Cottage Cheese," on Amazon's Kindle. 
Mary Elizabeth Raines is also the author of a serious novel, "UNA," several one-act plays, and a book of nonfiction called "The Laughing Cherub Guide to Past-life Regression: A Handbook for Real People." Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 14, 2013

SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST: WHAT WOULD JESUS THINK?


So today I went to a fabulous jazz concert. 
Granted, the small audience (no more than 45 people) was mostly over 70. 
Granted, they acted super-white, sitting rigidly upright without the least bit of head bobbing or shoulder swaying, and that even included the two black guys in the audience. 
Despite this setting, the trio put their hearts and souls into the music, and man, were they world-class performers!

Now, it is humanly impossible for me to sit still when there is good music, especially jazz, so I am sitting in the back row, swaying back and forth and bobbing my head like crazy, grooving to the music! (Do people still say “grooving”? Is that allowed?)

The songs this trio played penetrated right to my core. Hey, how can you go wrong when you have three straight guys who obviously love show tunes?! (Because jazz is mostly show tunes, you know.)

The pianist was enormous! Usually smaller pianists make up for it by playing with exceptional skill, but this particular pianist was both huge and skilled. At the other end of the stage was a cutie-pie drummer who kept up a pounding mounting rhythm.

Rounding out the trio was my favorite, the bass player. He seemed nondescript at first…until he hunched over his bass fiddle, embracing it, his eyes closed in the passion of the moment. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be that bass, and I must say I began to breathe a little more quickly as I watched him move over it with his strong, supple fingers that knew exactly where to go--teasing here, lingering down deep there. He even pulled out his bow for long penetrating strokes in perfect driving rhythm when they played that great jazz standard, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.

Here’s the catch. This concert was held in a small church. Directly above my scrumptious bass player hung a life-sized Jesus. On the cross. He looked really sad. Still, his crucified arms had the index and middle fingers extended, and if one squinted their eyes just so, it almost looked as though Jesus was snapping his fingers along to the music. I wondered what he would say if he could talk. Probably, “Hey, the music’s cool. Now, would someone please take me down from here?”

They served coffee and chocolates at intermission, which was fine, but I felt a little weird listening to such hot, heavy music on a hard wooden church bench. I thought that it would be nicer and more fitting to have some wine. Wondering how that could come about, I began to fantacize that they would start serving communion. It being a church and all. Yes, the glasses would be very small, but it was an Episcopal church, so at least they might conceivably give us real wine instead of the Welch’s grape juice you’d get in a Methodist church.

We didn’t receive communion, though.

Back to the song, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most: I was looking at Jesus when they played it, and wondered if that the tune was a little rude to play right under his nose. Considering, you know, that they put him up on the cross in spring. Or…perhaps it was weirdly appropriate. I wonder what Jesus would think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

MY BRUSH WITH SEXUAL DEVIANCE


by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines 


As a minister’s daughter who grew up in the 1950s well before the information age, my upbringing was utterly, absurdly Victorian. I do not regard this as a bad thing. Due to my parents’ intense shame, rather than receive misinformation about things sexual, I received no information.
It was a great way to be raised! My ridiculous innocence added a glimmer of embarrassment, excitement and magnification to the tiniest foray into the world of sexuality.
I feel sorry for today’s children, raised in an era where little girls are relentlessly sexualized, where commercials shriek joyously about feminine dryness during intimacy, and where rock stars and sports heroes routinely grab their crotches. While these kids might be fully informed, an unquestioned coarseness and crudity has clouded for them the delicious, delicate mysteries which used to accompany all things even faintly sexual.
This includes underwear. 

In the early 1970s, the place to shop in Boston was the outlet of a large department store called Filene’s Basement. Filene’s stood in the heart of Boston’s then-disreputable downtown district. Even though the neighborhood was scary, the store’s immense basement labyrinth contained bargains galore, and it was generally mobbed.
I was in my early 20s, and I had a much older boyfriend named Mickey. Although by this time I regarded myself as quite sophisticated, I really wasn’t. Not many of us were. There was no internet. I didn’t have a television, I didn’t have a phone, and I didn’t have a car. 
One day Mickey told me that he needed some new boxer shorts. He didn’t have time to go shopping. I merrily offered to purchase his shorts for him. This made me feel very grown-up and important, as well as more than a tad naughty.
I decided that I would go to Filene’s basement to get Mickey’s undergarments. I dressed up for the occasion. I had never even bought socks for a man before, much less shorts, so the adventure promised to be a heady one. 
     
I was, of course, already familiar with the women’s lingerie section in Filene’s Basement. This popular cavernous area where we ladies bought our undies hosted multiple low tables embracing mounds of lacy, lovely underthings at rock-bottom prices. (This was in the days before stores got the idea of putting such wares onto hangers.)
In addition to the crowds of women who shopped there, the lingerie department always seems to attract a handful of seedy psychopathic males who tried, but failed, to blend into the throngs. You could always spot one or two of these lurking, drooling characters hanging around the bins of women’s underwear—blatantly sick voyeurs who got their kicks looking at the heaps of pink panties and padded brassieres, and who surreptitiously fondled the silky lingerie when they thought no one was looking.           
These whackos were usually a nuisance, but on this day they didn’t matter, for I was on my way to buy shorts for Mickey. Full of importance at my errand, I bypassed the women’s lingerie bins and, for the very first time in my life, entered the portal leading to the Men’s Underwear Department.
Upon my arrival, I gasped. It was huge! One had to descend several steps to reach the sunken room. Arranged on countless tables and low displays shimmered row after endless row of jockey shorts, handkerchiefs, undershirts, socks—waves in a vast Underwear Sea. The merchandise in this section of Filene’s basement had doubtlessly been organized to remove any potential hiding spots for shoplifters, for every shopper was completely visible.
It wasn’t necessary on this day. The enormous basement room was completely devoid of shoppers, except for me. The only other visible human beings were five bored underwear salesmen who stood at various posts at the tops of the steps leading down into the rectangular room. They all wore suits and ties. They had nothing to do.
At my entrance, a few of these salesmen immediately descended and swarmed around me with urgency, asking if I required any assistance. There was a certain lonely desperation in their voices.
Still taking in the vastness of the room, I replied in the standard format, “No, thank you. I’m just looking.”
Rebuked, the gents backed away with disappointment, retreating to their corners, where they stood with their arms folded across their chests like security guards.
I moved to an aisle containing shorts and briefs, and I began to paw through the packages in an attempt to find the size and style of underwear Mickey had requested. 
After a few moments, though, I began to feel those prickles one gets when one is being watched. Glancing around the room, I realized that the salesmen were all, without exception, staring at me, registering my every gesture, observing every nuance of my eyeballs. There wasn’t anything else for them to do. I tried not to notice their stares, but my cheeks grew hot. It wasn’t long before my face turned a very pronounced and noticeable shade of red.
My newfound maturity began to melt away as I became increasingly, horrifically self-conscious.
“I wonder if I look like I’m some kind of men’s underwear pervert?” 
I tried to laugh off the thought, but I couldn’t. My panic mounted.
Oh gosh, what if they think I’m getting my jollies looking at jockey shorts, like those horrible, bulging-eyed maniacs who stalk the women’s lingerie department?”
In an attempt to reassure myself that this couldn't possibly be true, I glanced covertly around the spacious room again—a room that seemed to be growing surrealistically larger by the minute—to check out the expressions on the salesmen’s faces. They were grim-faced. Not a good sign.
I grinned broadly at them to break the ice. None of them smiled back. As a matter of fact, they began frowning at me with what seemed to be disapproval as though I had done something seriously wrong, even taboo, by smiling.
“Oh, my God! I knew it. They’ve got me pegged as a WEIRDO! I’ll bet they think I just came in here to fondle the underwear!”
My pulse began to race as my embarrassment somersaulted into a full-fledged panic attack. It really did. (I was prone to panic attacks in those days.) Sizes and fabrics became a blur as I felt their eyes burning into me in condemnation. Swiftly losing my ability to concentrate, I began flipping more frantically through the briefs in an attempt to compose myself. The faster I flipped, the more distracted I became. The more distracted I became, the faster I flipped.       
I was saved by a voice of reason that momentarily took control.
“Get a grip on yourself,” it said. “You are blowing this situation completely out of proportion. You have to calm down. Move away.”
Hoping to disguise my anxiety and determined to overcome this—yes—ridiculous panic, I left the aisle of boxer shorts and briefs, and sauntered as casually as I could over to an innocuous sale display. Pretending to take interest in this display, I began to take deep, slow breaths and to gather my courage. (Note: this wasn't the first time I had diverted attention in this way. It was a standard part of my repertoire. See Virginity, Alcohol, Murder and Me.
Doing my utmost to appear calm and to look as unlike a whack job as possible, I picked up several of the sale items and pretended I was scrutinizing them carefully, all the while giving myself a pep talk.
“Listen, nobody thinks you’re a sick pervert,” I said to myself, while the salesmen continued to stare at my every move. Why should you care? Anyway, you’re not in the briefs aisle any longer, so you’ve moved out of the danger zone.  Stay here just a while longer, divert their attention, calm down, and then, when you’re a little more relaxed, you can go back to the underwear and find some shorts for Mickey.”
While thus reassuring myself, I furrowed my brows and made believe I was interested in the decoy merchandise, tugging, stretching, examining and stroking the fabric—even holding the items from the display close to my face in absentminded, nearsighted scrutiny. It felt like hours were passing as I stood there. I continued the masquerade until, finally, sanity and resolve began to seep back into my brain. Feeling better, I grinned broadly in relief.
“I’m good, now!” I thought. “ I can go back and look for Mickey’s underwear. How silly of me to imagine that these guys think I’m some kind of sexual deviant!”
With a wide smile and a loud, audible giggle, I returned the items back to their rack, my eyes once again able to focus—and discovered, to my horror, that I had just spent the last five minutes tenderly fondling jockstraps.
Mickey never did get his underwear.  
***

© 2012, M.E. Raines; copying or recording in any form in whole or in part is prohibited by law. Please, however, feel free to link to this story.

If you enjoyed this post by Mary Elizabeth Raines, you might also enjoy her whimsical short story Transitions, Trees, and Cottage Cheese, available for Kindle or download on Amazon.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WHAT WAS WRONG WITH HER SISTER

National Public Radio recently advertised a three-minute fiction contest judged by Luis Alberto Urrea. We writers were invited to create a 600-word short story that was supposed to begin with this opening sentence: “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door.”

In response, I wrote the below piece, not realizing that the deadline for entries had passed. Oops. Even though it didn’t make the contest, I thought you might enjoy reading the story that resulted. It's SHORT!

WHAT WAS WRONG WITH HER SISTER
by Mary Elizabeth Raines
© Laughing Cherub Publications, May 2012

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door. What she’d read was terribly disturbing.

“I’ve got to tell Carol what’s wrong with her,” she murmured as she exited the library. “Carol might not understand, but still, she has a right to know.”

The task weighed heavily on her shoulders. People milling around outside gave her a wide berth, as if they could sense the seriousness of the situation.

Most others would have used a computer to find out what a particular set of symptoms indicated. Mary, however, had a mistrust of technology. Computers especially made her feel vulnerable. Some computers, she’d heard, had cameras that could be remotely controlled. In a weird way, Mary sympathized with the crazy guys on street corners who made hats of tinfoil and discarded TV antennas to protect themselves from space rays. She didn't like computers.

Fortunately, everything she needed to find out was contained in books…even the surprising and painful knowledge of what was wrong with her sister.

Carol’s place was not far from the library. Mary could walk there to deliver the news.

As she entered her sister’s neighborhood, she thought of how good it was that Al had taken out life insurance. The funds from the policy had allowed her sister to rent an apartment and gave her the means to survive.

Al had been her friend long before he met Carol. In their younger days she and Al used to go out drinking together. He'd never known when to quit--until he fell in love with her sister. Then Al joined AA and sobered up, determined to become a good husband.

“I lost my buddy,” Mary used to say, “but I gained the coolest brother-in-law on the planet!”

One night, sadly, he fell off the wagon, drunkenly crashed his car, and died. The tragic news had hit Carol hard. She'd never been the same after that. The sisters had briefly tried living together, but the situation had grown impossible, with Carol becoming increasingly disturbed and irate. 

From what she’d just learned in the library, Mary now understood that her sister was very sick. Her problems stemmed from much more than Al's death.

Near Carol’s place, she saw a brown scarf hanging on an iron fence. Her sister lived in an upscale neighborhood. The muffler was pretty and well woven. She touched it, and it felt soft, like silk.

Mary decided to rescue it. Today she needed every boost she could get. She wrapped the muffler around her neck. It felt warm and looked classy, and it added a little spring to her step, emboldening her for the difficult quest that lay ahead.

Mary shuffled uncomfortably as she rang the bell to Carol’s apartment, worried about this new blow she was going to have to deliver. She wondered whether or not her sister would actually be able to comprehend the information she was about to share.

“It doesn’t matter,” she mumbled. “She has a right to know.”

When Carol opened the door and saw her sister standing there, her face reddened. “Mary, it’s you!” Carol cried. “Where have you been?”

Mary got right to the point. “I know what’s wrong with you, Carol,” she stated. “I looked it up. You have contracted Mad Cow disease. It’s hopeless. There is no cure.”

“Why in God’s name are you wearing a muffler when it’s 85 degrees out?” pleaded Carol.

Mary didn’t reply. Her mission complete, she went back to the street where her shopping cart was waiting. A little pee streamed down her leg as she lumbered away.

 ***