Saturday, January 2, 2016

THE MAN IN THE GPS

by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines

Jessie was in love with the man in his GPS.
The name of his love interest, according to the manual, was Bob. 
At first, it had been a little joke, something he would share with the gang at a dinner party after a couple of glasses of wine to make them laugh.
“Bob’s voice is already mine,” he said. “Now I want his body.”
“Looking for a new hood ornament, are we, Jessie?” his friend Gabriel teased.
Everyone laughed. It was that silly. At first.

This curious love affair all began when Jessie bought a car with a built-in, state-of-the-art GPS. There had been twelve available voices in the GPS software from which to choose. Listening to the phrase, “Proceed to turn left in 500 feet,” he sampled them all. Even the women.
Bob was the clear winner. Sure, some of the voices were deeper, or sexier, or more dramatic (and Jessie was not adverse to a little drama). Bob’s voice, though, beat out the others because of its sweet, mellow tone, and because Bob sounded, well, normal. And steady. At his age, Jessie was growing to appreciate normal and steady.
In his youth, he had been different. He had only gone out with bad boys—the tattooed and pierced tight-leather-pants types who rode motorcycles without helmets, and who had at least a couple of DUIs on their record, if not something far worse.
As he entered middle-age, however, he began to lean more towards normal and steady men. He’d gotten tired of padding into the kitchen of this or that bad boy after sex, hungry for a snack, peering into the refrigerator, and finding only beer and nothing else but traces of mold on the grubby shelves. This was a problem for Jessie, who was both fastidious and an after-sex snacker. Normal and steady men, he learned, usually had more things in their refrigerator than beer. Like sandwich ingredients. Including mayonnaise.
Jessie fancied himself as a songwriter, and a song he’d written called Rainbows, Roses and Rocket Ships had actually been picked up by a band with a small following. (More about that later). Meanwhile, his day job, which paid the bills, was in pharmaceutical sales. In the early years his job had entailed a lot of travel.
He had spent many lonely nights on the road with Bob as his only companion. Thus the crush. Bob consistently told Jessie exactly where he needed to go to find his way, but he was never overly bossy about it; rather, he engaged in gentle verbal nudging. Yes, he did sound slightly robotic, but that could be overlooked, for he was inevitably right.
Occasionally Jessie would veer away from Bob’s directions, rebelliously believing that he knew better. Whenever he strayed from his route, Bob would not scold. He would simply say in the sweetest possible way, “Recalculating. Recalculating.” His patience seemed infinite.
Jessie grew not just to rely on, but to adore the sound of Bob’s voice, which made him feel less alone. After many dark nights on the road, Jessie came to the realization that Bob’s patient, common-sense style was exactly what he needed in his life. Route by route, highway by highway, Bob began to evolve into Jessie’s dream man and soon dominated all of his fantasies.
“His words cut stream through the sleepy lonely sleepy darkness of my journeys, providing a beacon of guidance,” Jessie wrote in his tell-all journal. (He was pleased at the sentence, which he thought that he might possibly be able to turn into a song.) “Oh, how I yearn to meet the owner of this voice,” he continued. “I so need someone like Bob in my life to ground me. I am the roving bee, and he, the blossom of the rooted tree whom I must pollinate whose nectar I must taste.”

When the engine in his car finally died, he went excitedly to the dealership to road-test new vehicles, dragging his friend Gabriel with him. To the latter’s dismay, Jessie wound up spending more time on the showroom floor experimenting with the GPS systems of the new cars than actually test-driving them.
“Honey, would you please hurry up?” said Gabriel impatiently. “I forgot my phone at home, the coffee is dreadful, and they have no readable magazines in the waiting room whatsoever. I mean, who wants to read Automotive Digest?”
What Gabriel did not know—for his friend had of course kept the growing seriousness of his infatuation a secret—was that Jessie was looking for Bob. His quest turned out to be in vain. None of the new GPS systems in the showroom cars included Bob’s voice. Distressed, he failed to buy a car that day.
When he got home, feeling desperate, Jessie did an extensive internet search to see if he could find a way to hack Bob’s voice into one of the newer GPS systems. No luck. He also wasted a great deal of time online trying to see if he could track down the names of the actors whose voices had been used in his old GPS. His attachment to Bob had become that serious, and, although he knew on some level that he was behaving like a crazed stalker, he persisted. To his regret, he came up empty-handed on all counts, and lost an entire afternoon to boot.
Jessie made a rash decision. He decided to rebuild the engine in his old car rather than give up his relationship with Bob.
“Love is quite an extraordinary word to define my feelings,” he wrote in his journal that night, “but it is the only accurate summary. I AM IN LOVE WITH BOB. Yes, love. There. I’ve said it! The little blossom of my love has burst into a ripe ready fruit. I’m not interested in any other men, even though I am fully aware that this love of mine will be forever unrequited. So alas. My dreams about Bob will simply have to go into purgatory refrigeration  a meat locker  cold storage.”
Jessie regretted crossing out “My dreams about Bob will simply have to go into a meat locker,” for he could not help but note that there was a certain naughty scrumptiousness to that play on words. Cold storage, however, sounded more mournful.

A few weeks later, the miracle happened. He and Gabriel went out to dinner. Jessie ordered a kale salad and Gabriel selected a pasta dish.
“You have been alone far too long, sweetheart. You need to find someone,” said Gabriel. “‘The worst kind of man is much better than no man at all.’ That’s by Judy Garland.”
“Judy Garland said that?” asked Jessie.
“No. She sang it.”
Jessie retorted irritably, “Then it’s not by Judy Garland. That’s like saying Night and Day is by Lady Gaga. Night and Day is by Cole Porter. We songwriters are completely overlooked today, doomed to obscurity.”
This was a sore point for Jessie, since, as was stated earlier, he thought of himself as a professional songwriter, and would tell that to people when they asked what he did, instead of admitting that he was a pharmaceutical sales manager. And it was sort of true. He was no Cole Porter, but to date, he had paid a total of $125 in taxes on his earnings from Rainbows, Roses and Rocket Ships.
He continued. “It’s like saying The Sound of Music is by Julie Andrews instead of Rogers and Ham….”
His spiel was interrupted as the bored waiter set their meals down in front of them.
“Excuse me,” said Gabriel to the waiter. “This pasta is supposed to be gluten-free. Are you absolutely sure it’s gluten-free?”
The waiter perked up at this question. “It’s made out of rice, so in that sense, yes, it’s gluten-free," he replied enthusiastically. "However, it’s cooked in the same water as the regular pasta, so I cannot guarantee that it is gluten-trace free.”
As the animated discussion between the two men continued, Jessie, still glum about the anonymous fate of songwriters, allowed his attention to wander. And then it happened. A familiar sound bubbled up through the gluten chatter. The sound was unmistakable.
It was—yes, indisputably—the voice of Bob himself!

Jessie whirled to see where the voice was coming from. There sat the love of his life with his back to Jessie. He was only two tables away, conversing with an elderly man and woman who, as it turned out later, were his parents. Bob was pointing out to them the dishes on the menu that might not agree with their digestive systems. He had the kind of voice that carried.
From the back, Bob was not handsome in the least. Even with only a half-view, his appearance would have been disappointing to anyone less infatuated than Jessie. Jessie, however, (for the first time in his life, I might add), truly didn’t care. Bob had thin ginger-colored hair fanning out from what would soon become a major bald spot, and he was wearing a brown corduroy sports jacket that must have been fifteen years old. He appeared to be shorter than average, with rounded shoulders. He was shaped somewhat like an egg.
But his voice! His voice more than compensated for the rest of his failings.
“This has sour cream and butter in it,” Bob was saying to his mother, tapping a spot she had been perusing on the menu.
His tones were mellifluous. If there was an ever-so-slightly cranky edge to his words, it didn’t matter to Jessie.
“They’ll trigger your lactose intolerance, Mother, to say nothing of the damage all that cholesterol will do. You know how high cholesterol runs in our family.”
When he advised his mother to order the kale salad instead, Jessie  felt a surge of warmth shoot out from his heart and bolt across the two tables. It seemed as if Bob could sense that, because he suddenly swiveled almost completely around in his chair and fixed his eyes curiously on Jessie. Jessie believed that this was because of the magnetic attraction between them.
“My heart has reeled him in like the pull of the moon on the ocean tides,” he mused. The thought aroused him slightly.
Bob’s glance, however, was not due to animal magnetism. It was far less exciting than that. His parents had noticed how earnestly Jessie was watching their table, and he had only turned to see what they were looking at. The intensity of his stare was due to the fact that he was extremely nearsighted and had left his glasses in the car.
Bob, it turned out, had a reasonably genial face with a high forehead, balanced by a slightly weak chin sprinkled with the trimmed graying hairs of an even weaker goatee. He was older than Jessie. None of his features were outstanding enough to make him attractive, but on the other hand, none of his features were outstanding enough to make him unattractive. That didn’t matter in the least to Jessie, as has been noted.
The eyes of the two men locked.
To his delight—being the self-aware romantic that he was—Jessie began to tremble from the adrenalin surging through him.
Life gave me this magnificent opportunity and I had to seize it immediately, or it would have been whisked away as quickly as a waiter grabs someone’s unfinished meal,” he wrote later.
“Hey, Gabriel, watch my plate,” he said to his dinner partner, putting down his napkin and pushing his chair back. “There’s someone I need to talk to,”
Gabriel, who was poking at the rice pasta with his fork, frowning about the possibility of gluten contamination, grunted assent without looking up.
Jessie rose. Straightening his jacket, he walked over to Bob’s table.
“Sorry to intrude,” he said with a gleaming smile, which, as many had told him, was his best feature. “But you look exactly like the brother of a friend of mine. Your name isn’t Jim, by any chance?”
“No,” said Bob in that magnificent voice. “My name isn’t Jim.”
(“Just hearing him speak, I could have creamed my jeans right then and there,” Jessie later confided in Gabriel.)
“Oh, I do apologize,” said Jessie.
“No problem,” replied Bob.
Jessie didn’t move.
Finally Bob stuck out his hand. “My name is Bob,” he said cordially.
Jessie, who was both astounded and pleased that the GPS company had used his lover’s actual name, ardently clasped the cool limp hand that Bob had proffered with both of his hands, wanting to savor the moment forever. Bob gave him a puzzled look, and then withdrew his hand, gesturing toward his parents.
“These are my folks,” he said in his calm, familiar voice.
The older couple grinned good-naturedly up at Jessie. Jessie half expected Bob to add, “Proceed to turn left in 500 feet.”
What Bob actually said was, “And this is our entire family.”
“Well, except for Lilith,” his mother chimed in.
“Oh yes,” said Bob, brightening. “Except for Lilith. My pug.” He smiled.
Jessie, desperate to prolong the introduction, improvised quickly.
“You have a pug? Did I hear you just say that you have a pug?” he asked.
Bob nodded happily. “Yes. Yes, I do. Her name is Lilith.”
“But that’s amazing,” lied Jessie. “I have a pug!”
“You do? What’s its name?”
 “His name? It’s…ah…Pugsley. I love pugs!”
And that was all it took. The men jovially made a date for the dogs and their owners to meet at the dog park, and exchanged phone numbers. Jessie was ecstatic.
“I am surfing on a riptide of rapture,” he thought, making a mental note to write that in his journal at home later that night.
After he returned to his table, occasionally turning to share an across-the-room grin with Bob and his parents, Jessie described the meeting to Gabriel.
“The vibe between Bob and me is so powerful! It’s kismet!”
“Don’t mean to make that strong, erect vibe of yours go flaccid, kissy-met or no kissy,” replied Gabriel, “but honey, that man is so not gay.”
“Nope. You’re wrong. My gaydar is excellent. Bob is definitely a friend of Dorothy,” replied Jessie. “By the way, you don’t have any idea where I could get my hands on a pug, do you?”

It turned out that Jessie was incorrect. Bob was not a friend of Dorothy (e.g., gay). At least, not yet.
It cost Jessie a whopping $200 to rent Pugsley for four hours. He didn’t mind paying the price. The two men, along with Lilith and Pugsley, had a pleasant date at the dog park. They compared notes about their dogs (actually, Bob made salient comments and Jessie nodded knowingly), laughed at their antics (actually, Bob laughed at their antics and Jessie smiled agreeably), and brushed arms more than once (actually, Jessie brushed arms and Bob did not pull away). When their dog date finally came to an end, Jessie was pleased to see that Bob seemed a little crestfallen. He suggested, with studied casualness, that they should meet for dinner later that week. Bob eagerly agreed.
The two had another date, and a few delicious telephone conversations, and then another date, and then another, and then when Jessie, trying to sound sad, showed up on Bob’s doorstep announcing that Pugsley had been run over, Bob attempted to console him with a hug. And finally, triumphantly, Jessie seduced Bob.
A wonderful romance ensued.
Bob was, or at least had been, straight, but because he was neither a particularly noticeable nor an assertive man, the only people he’d dated before meeting Jessie were a small handful of women who, for whatever odd reason, had selected him and chased him down—and there hadn’t even been that many of those. As a matter of fact, there had only been two. Neither of them had chased Bob as hard or relentlessly as Jessie chased him. It had been a completely unnecessary expenditure of energy on Jessie’s part to do that. Bob was both lonely and horny. Switching preferences was not a big deal. He was, as they say, easy.

In the beginning, their relationship was quite passionate, at least in Jessie’s mind. This was because, as is true in so many cases of new love, Jessie projected upon the blank slate of Bob (whom he called Bobby, until even Jessie himself realized how ridiculously wrong that was) the man he believed and wanted him to be. He saw him only through the distorted filter of his own fantasies.
Bob, being unimaginative and drab, did not protest. Even to being called Bobby. For his part, he was thrilled simply to be able to have sex with someone.
“Verbal flourishes are my forte,” wrote Jessie in his journal. “Bob’s forte is his stunning practicality.” (Only someone with Jesse’s romantic imagination could categorize practicality as stunning.)  
Thus believing, each for his reason, that they were deeply in love, the two got married.

After the whirlwind of a courtship and marriage like theirs, disillusionment was inevitable. In his state of ecstasy, Jessie happily overlooked what should have been a major red flag: they did not go on a honeymoon. This was because Bob stubbornly refused to leave Lilith either at a kennel or with his parents.
“As soon as he said no to the honeymoon, I should have scrunched up my eager heart and thrown it into the hamper with the dirty underwear,” wrote Jessie in his journal—but much later. For the time being, he remained in denial.
Their life together did not get better. It never does. In no time at all, Jessie was the recipient of three major letdowns. The first letdown was disappointing. The second was repulsive. The third was shocking.
When Bob had completed his GPS gig, he had moved to the world of commercials, where he was in modest demand as a voice-over actor. Therein lies the first disappointment. A week after their wedding, when they should still have been on their honeymoon, cuddling in hammocks and drinking pastel-colored tropical drinks named after movie stars with the ubiquitous paper umbrellas in them, Bob was called to audition for a part. He landed it, and he was very proud of the job. It paid well, too.
Bob became the voice of a tampon in a feminine hygiene commercial.
“It’s quite strange, and not at all right,” Jessie confided in Gabriel.
“But you still love him, don’t you?” replied his friend.
“I fell in love with the man in my GPS. I did not fall in love with a tampon!” cried Jessie. “I mean, my new husband is practicing his lines at home, imagining himself inside some woman’s vagina, for goodness’ sake! And not even having fun there! It hurts me.”
Later he wrote in his journal, “It feels as if my heart got her first period.” He scratched that out, and wrote instead, “It feels as if my heart has entered menopause.” (At the time he wrote this, he had not yet consigned his heart to the dirty underwear hamper.)

The commercial was only the first of the letdowns—the disappointing one. The repulsive letdown had to do with Bob’s pug, Lilith. Bob adored Lilith. Jessie was beginning to suspect (and it was, sadly, true) that his new husband cared more for the dog than for him, but, manning up, he did his best to be a good fur-dad to Lilith. He tried to like her. It turned out to be an impossible task. The aptly named Lilith had horrible breath, together with an oozing bulging eye that was always infected, and whenever he attempted to pet her, she would snap at him. Worse, Bob insisted that Lilith share their marriage bed.
  “Whenever we have sex,” shuddered Jessie as he confided in Gabriel, “she’s right alongside of us. She stares at me in judgment the whole time with that runny eye.”

Still, Jessie continued believing in their romance…until the third letdown, the shocking one. It too occurred soon after their marriage.
The couple went for their first visit to see Bob’s aging parents, who lived in a nearby suburb where they had resided for the past 55 years. Bob, who refused to take Jessie’s car and insisted instead upon driving them there in his practical gray hatchback, had grown up in that house. Bob did not have a GPS in his vehicle. He didn’t believe in them. He thought that they were not accurate.
And he took the wrong exit off the freeway. Despite Jessie’s pleading, Bob persisted in driving down the wrong road at 35 miles an hour for a good five miles without stopping to ask for directions or checking the map on his phone before admitting, in a peevish way, that he may have made a mistake. It was, of course, a classically cliché male stunt, but beyond that, it revealed something unthinkable to Jessie, and here it is: Bob possessed a dreadful sense of direction. The luscious voice that had so calmly navigated Jessie back and forth across the country over a period of not just months, but years, could hardly discern between left and right, much less east and west. This was when Jessie finally threw his now-menopausal heart into the hamper with the dirty undies.

As the weeks continued, he became more and more disillusioned. The two men were, as it turned out, very different people. Jessie, in his yearnings for a normal, steady man, realized that he had manifested exactly what he’d wished for. He was married to a normal, steady (in other words, dull) man who lived a normal, steady (in other words, dull) life. And one who was completely without a sense of direction.
“Our romance has fizzled like an alka-seltzer dropped into a grimy water glass by someone with a bad hangover,” wrote Jessie dejectedly in his journal. The sentence pleased him. He pencilled in a little star next to it for future consideration as a song lyric.
Bob, of course, didn’t even seem to notice or care that the relationship was souring, for Bob was a man of habit. As long as he could keep his schedule and do the same things at the same time, with no adventures or drama intruding upon his boxed-in life (beyond the accidents that Lilith was prone to have on the carpet), Bob felt content. 
During their courtship, Jessie had found those little routines enchanting. Early on, he had described them to Gabriel with great affection and high humor.
“My darling absolutely must have his toast and a hard-boiled egg every morning,” he cooed, fluttering his hands merrily. “He’s so cute! It needs to be a five-minute egg. Not three. Not four. Five minutes precisely. It’s so much fun! I just love our getting-to-know-you time!” 
The day after the visit to Bob’s parents, in an attempt to heal their first little rift, disappointed but still blinding himself to the reality of what was, Jessie got up early to make a surprise treat for his husband: eggs Benedict, one of his specialties. The hollandaise sauce turned out perfectly, the English muffins were imported, and the Canadian bacon was superb: pink, thick, and tender. Jessie watched with eager anticipation as his husband entered the kitchen and headed for the refrigerator
“Don’t you fuss. I made you breakfast today,” he cried joyously. “Sit!”
 Bob sat suspiciously at his usual place, tucking a napkin under his chin. He stared down at the mound of gourmet food on the plate in front of him, transfixed, and then prodded it with his fork, revealing the bacon base. Finally he spoke.
“What exactly are you trying to do?” he demanded unpleasantly. Bob was patient and dull, but that didn’t mean that he never got grumpy. His voice rose in a high-pitched whine that sounded quite unlike that of the man in the GPS. “Are you trying to poison me with cholesterol, Jessie? For the life insurance? Maybe you meant well, but this is…is…disgusting.”
He pushed the plate away. Lilith, who had plopped herself down at Bob’s feet, looked up at Jessie and growled.
Jessie, who had been imagining exclamations of gratitude, smiles of appreciation, and possibly even morning sex as a reward for his efforts, promptly picked up the plate and dumped Bob’s eggs into the kitchen garbage. Meanwhile, Bob rose from his seat and silently proceeded to boil his egg and toast his toast in the usual way, without saying another word about Jessie’s love offering.
Enchantment and irritation are actually neighbors. There is not such a big line dividing them as people think. As he dumped the gorgeous, untouched eggs Benedict into the trash, Jessie crossed that line. Taking the dishes to the sink, his back to the kitchen table, he heard Bob’s knife grating against the toast as he spread margarine on it—the same way Bob had spread margarine on his toast yesterday, and the same way he would spread margarine on his toast tomorrow—and the scratchy sound suddenly seemed disproportionately amplified, scraping its way into every nerve in Jessie’s body. Bob then took a big swallow of coffee with a prolonged and loud gulping noise. Bob was not a quiet swallower. Jessie clenched his fists and repressed a desire to shriek aloud. Instead, he turned the water on and began washing the dishes, trying to drown out the sound of his husband slowly chip-chip-chipping away at the shell of his hard-boiled egg in the same deliberate, maddening process that he followed every morning.
“I simply cannot stand endure being around him at breakfast any more,” Jessie later wrote in his journal. “He is flaking off my happiness, piece by piece, the same way he flakes peels chisels the shell from those dreadful five-minute eggs of his.”

It may surprise the reader, but like that of many incompatible couples, their marriage survived and, in its own peculiar way, endured—this despite Bob’s insistence upon putting up on the lawn that Christmas, and every Christmas to follow, a tacky seven-foot cutout of Santa Claus smoking a cigar that his grandfather had made, or despite the ghastly way that he would cut his toenails (which we won’t get into), or despite the continued loud gulping.
That the marriage remained intact was due entirely to Jessie, for Bob, like most people with seriously annoying habits, never guessed that anything was the least bit wrong. In fact, the more lackluster and routine their lives became, the more comfortable Bob felt.
It was all up to Jessie, and he made the difficult decision to stay with his husband. For one thing, Jessie was aging and knew it. He had stopped going to the gym long ago, he was growing increasingly soft and paunchy, his beauty had left him a few years before, and the thought of being out there, starting all over again, flirting and facing rejection, was not a glamorous one. The idea was exhausting. It was easier to stay put.
The slow, downhill course of their relationship also got a little rise when one day, while Bob was out on his tampon gig, bad-breathed, gooey-eyed, and ill-tempered Lilith quite mysteriously died. No one could understand why, because she hadn’t been sick. It took a great deal of effort for Jessie to talk Bob out of having the vet perform an autopsy.
To the degree that he ever showed any emotion at all beyond a certain crankiness, Bob was sad for a while, but even that proved to be a boon, for during the grieving period, Jessie was able to act a little more touchy-feely towards his husband. Jessie was a romantic, as we have already stated, and he loved being demonstrative. Before Lilith’s demise, Bob would get grumbly when Jessie “gushed,” as he called it. (Gabriel cynically claimed that by allowing Jessie’s affections, Bob was just replacing the vacancy left by the pug.)
Another factor contributing to their continued togetherness was Bob’s life insurance policy, in which Jessie was named as beneficiary. The feminine hygiene people had wound up making a total of six very cute and trendy commercials, and Bob had the recurring role of the voice of the tampon in each of them. He became somewhat famous for this, and cleaned up money-wise. His financial advisor had suggested that he take out the huge life insurance policy as an investment.
“As long as he keeps you as the beneficiary, you might as well stay with him,” said Gabriel. “Face it, he is older than you are, honey. Who knows when he might kick the bucket?”
“That’s so crass of you! Although I must say, apart from making an occasional fuss about how high his cholesterol is, Bob really has lost all interest in staying in shape,” Jessie mused, conveniently managing to ignore his own failings in that regard.
That night he wrote in his journal, “Gabriel’s right. I cannot withdraw from divorce abandon my spouse.”

 At the times when their marriage grew so lackluster that he couldn’t stand it any longer, Jessie would leave the house and take a long ride in his aging vehicle. By himself. As soon as he had driven a safe distance from their home, he would choose some random destination and program it into his old GPS.
“I’m here. Talk to me, Bobby boy,” he would beg. “Guide me. Shepherd me.”
Once again, just like old times, Bob’s normal, steady voice, sans the whine, would begin speaking, unfailingly helping him to find his way. Jessie loved those rides. Before many miles had passed, he would become mesmerized, for the voice in the GPS would reignite the deep mystery and passion that had started this whole business in the first place.
 Whenever he got home from one of those rides, his spirits revived and his love rekindled, he and Bob would have sex. Afterwards, they would go to the refrigerator and Jessie would make them  sandwiches. With mayonnaise. He always made sure to give Bob’s sandwich an extra generous dollop of mayonnaise.




© M.E. Raines, 2015
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BEAR AND THE GURU


by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES


Bear drew angels. That was her thing. The angels were always nude, with huge triangular patches of dark pubic hair. She attracted a fair bit of attention to herself by claiming that she channeled these pictures of angels. She was sketching one now, seated in the front row of the audience where the Guru was soon going to be giving another of his inspirational seminars.
“I don’t know how it works,” she would say, looking heavenward and shrugging her shoulders with false modesty when someone complimented her on her angel drawings. “I just hold the pencil and spirit, like, moves through me.”
She had given spirit a helping hand by working hard at learning how to draw wings. At first, she traced them over and over from a chart of various types of wings that she’d printed out from Wikipedia, and eventually she advanced to copying them freehand. Her practice paid off. Even though the ones she drew on her angels weren’t often in perspective, they mostly looked like actual wings. This became her strong suit, so all the angels she drew had enormous wings, twice as big as those possessed by any Renaissance angel.
In other respects, her channeled angels, whether blonde, brunette, or redheaded, looked remarkably alike. They all had oversized wideset eyes, itty-bitty noses, plump pouty lips, skinny necks, perfectly circular breasts with prominent nipples, and masses of long curly hair on their heads, as well as other places, which has already been mentioned. And, of course, those gigantic wings.
Once she had been inspired to draw Jesus. Her Jesus was not nude, nor did he have wings, but otherwise he looked just like the angels she drew. Even his lips. It is the nearest Jesus has ever come to looking like a Barbie Doll.
The year before she had renamed herself Bear. Her birth name was Jennifer-Jane Czelusniak. When people asked how she got the name Bear, she would tell them with a faraway look in her eyes that it was because once, when she was in a sweat lodge, the vision of a bear holding a rainbow had come to her.
In all honesty, she had never been in a sweat lodge. Instead, she had arrived at the new name of Bear after spending an afternoon lying on her bed doodling half a dozen potential names over and over:  Rainbow Moon, Rainbow Star, Rainbow Spirit, Rainbow Heart, Shakiva, and Bear . It was a hot day, and even though she wasn’t technically in a sweat lodge, she truly had been sweating. She had also doodled a rainbow, and had tried, but failed, to doodle a bear. Close enough.
Despite this artistic failure, Bear came out the winner because B had always been one of her favorite letters, a letter that she could write in cursive with a beautiful flourish.  She renamed herself immediately, thrilled to discard the name Jennifer-Jane, for the letter J had always been hard for her to write. Her Js looked clumsy. Her third-grade teacher had even kept her indoors during recess once, insisting that she write the letter J twenty-five times on a piece of paper until she got it right. She hated J. She loved B. So Bear she became.

In the audience that day, Jillian, who had no trouble writing the letter J, took a seat next to Bear. They were directly under the podium where the Guru would soon be standing. Bear reeked of patchouli, and a powerful wave of it slammed into Jillian. Jillian gagged slightly, and a spontaneous gasp of revulsion escaped her.
Bear, who was focused on her drawing pad, thought that Jillian’s gasp was an adoring response to the angel she was busy sketching.
“I channel them,” she said, glancing sideways at Jillian with a proud smile.
“Ah,” replied Jillian, holding her hand up to her chin and extending her index and middle fingers thoughtfully. In truth, she was trying to cover her nose so as not to have to breathe in all that patchouli.
Bear, turning back to her sketch book, paused to stomp viciously on a little bug that had been crawling innocently near her foot, and then resumed her drawing. Jillian winced.
Jillian was a tender and wistful, albeit awkward, woman. She was not a bug squisher. This was her first seminar with the Guru, and her chunky appearance was in startling contrast to that of the other attendees, who were for the most part a Yoga-sleek, organic-smoothie-drinking, essential-oil-smeared, and hip-looking crowd. Jillian was aware of the fact that she didn’t belong. That morning, she’d done her best to make a few alterations in hopes of blending in. One of them was going after her mousy straight hair with a curling iron. To her chagrin, despite repeated attacks, it had adamantly refused to curl.
“My head looks like a pile of pick-up sticks,” she had complained in a text to her mother. “It looks like uncooked spaghetti.”
“Yes, but on the bright side, at least it’s whole wheat spaghetti,” her mother had texted back cheerfully, attempting a little humor. Jillian’s hair, you see, was quite brown. Whole-wheat brown.

Pushing her glasses back up onto the bridge of her squat nose, something she did often, Jillian glanced covertly and a bit enviously at the lush, long, brunette curls of Bear. She felt grateful that at least her spaghettiesh bangs were covering up the unfortunate patch of acne on her forehead that had chosen to appear only the night before. Except for her stubby bespectacled nose, her exceedingly straight hair, and the heretofore unmentioned misfortune of being somewhat big-bottomed, Jillian mostly just looked beige. Nondescript. Chunky, but nondescript.
Her soul was far from nondescript, however. Jillian was actually a pretty evolved person. She had such reverence for life in all of its forms, for example, that, as stated earlier, she would never have stepped on that bug in the seminar room. She even refused to kill the ants who persisted in marching into her kitchen. Instead of squashing them, her solution to the ant problem was to go into meditation, call upon the Deva of the ants, and plead her case.
“Jillian, a person can’t reason with an ant,” her mother would sigh.
Jillian would protest that her one-sided conversations with the insect world were working…that, along with sealing everything an ant could conceivably want to eat inside an impenetrable plastic bag.
Jillian had recently experienced a brief but ecstatic encounter, one that she fervently yearned to share with another kindred soul in the hopes, if truth be told, of receiving a little admiration, since her mother really didn’t get that side of her. The euphoric moment had happened during a particularly powerful meditation. The Universe had suddenly opened up to Jillian, and a bright spiritual figure had given her the momentary revelation that We Are All One with Everything.
This was why she was now sitting in the audience waiting for the Guru to appear. She’d never seen him in person before. She had signed up for the event with excitement after watching a few YouTubes of the Guru, where he promised to share the Universal Secrets of Existence with any who were willing to pay the somewhat steep price of admission for his seminars. Jillian wanted access to those secrets. Even more, however, she dreamt that the Guru might notice the advanced state of her soul, for, during his talks, he was known for doing a bit where he would step off the stage, scan the auras of his audience members, and point out those who were truly evolved. This was her big chance to be seen, finally, for who she really was.
In this quest, unlike Bear, Jillian actually had attended a sweat lodge not long ago. A revered Native American elder named Bold Feather conducted the sweat lodge, which was Jillian’s first.

There were about forty people in attendance. For comfort, they had been asked to wear their swimsuits, and as they lined up outdoors, preparing to crowd into the heated space on hands and knees, Jillian tried without a lot of success to suck in her tummy. Once inside, the participants sat elbow to elbow, thigh to thigh, in the small enclosure. It was awfully dark, especially in the corner where she sat, and it was unpleasant. She had never been so hot in her life, and she felt claustrophobic. But, she reasoned, at least in the darkness she didn’t have to hold in her stomach any more.

Bold Feather poured a ladle of water on some super-heated rocks, which made the heat even more acute. Then he stated that each person should now express out loud what they were grateful for. One at a time those in the circle began to share. The hot humid air in the sweat lodge filled with mystery.
After the first six or seven people spoke, Bold Feather raised his hand, bringing the sharing to an intense pause. Everyone waited expectantly in the dim light.
“What’s going on?” Jillian whispered to the woman sitting next to her.
“Bold Feather does this whenever he sees that someone has a special soul,” her neighbor whispered back. “He gives those people new names.”
The man in question had said, “I’m grateful for Mother Earth and all she gives to us, despite the terrible things we do to her.”
Lowering his hand, the elder proclaimed in a solemn and stentorian voice, “Your name is now Worried Elk.”
Jillian listened in awe as the sharing continued. Even though she had no trouble writing Js, she desperately wanted to be one of those to receive a sacred name. Her turn was coming up soon. Four of the thirty-one people who had spoken thus far had been deemed important enough to be renamed by Bold Feather. It had taken nearly all of those thirty-one preceding her for Jillian to figure out what she wanted to say that she was grateful for. Her thinking was a little fuzzy because of the heat. 

A woman two spaces away said that she was grateful for her job. Bold Feather raised his hand and ceremoniously renamed her, giving her a native name that meant She Who Fetches Corn.
Jillian’s pulse began to race. When her turn finally came, she said in a quavering voice that came out strangely high-pitched, “I am grateful for my mother.”
She waited eagerly, wondering what name Bold Feather would assign to her. In addition to it being dark, her glasses had steamed up in the heat, so she couldn’t tell whether or not he was raising his hand. It was quite a let-down when, after a bit of silence, the woman next to Jillian launched into a description of what she was grateful for, and so on to the end of the line. Apparently Jillian’s spirituality had not been all that evident to Bold Feather.
It would have been ironic, and a real problem for this author, if he had renamed her Bear, but that, of course, did not happen. When Jillian related the story to her mother, complaining about how hot the sweat lodge had been and how large she believed her rear end had looked in the swimsuit, her mother remarked, “Well, cheer up. He could have named you Big Ass Runs Out of Tent.”
Jillian’s mother didn’t understand spirituality, but she could be pretty funny sometimes.
Back to the Guru. After that major sweat-lodge setback, Jillian yearned even more for spiritual validation. Now pinning her dream for recognition on the Guru, she began to think that he might, yes, be the one and only man on the planet with the ability to see past her exterior—to see her for who she truly was. He claimed to be able to read auras, after all, and she was pretty sure that her aura was a good one. A psychic had told her this not so long ago.
When Jillian had asked skeptically why Bold Feather hadn’t noticed the excellence of her aura, the psychic revealed that he had been suffering from indigestion on the night of the sweat lodge, or he would have been more in tune with her. Jillian felt a little grumpy at the thought that his indigestion hadn’t prevented him from being in tune with Worried Elk and She Who Fetches Corn, but she got over it.
Her hopes high, as she sat in the audience Jillian began to entertain an even bigger fantasy. She imagined that, after seeing her aura, the Guru, (upon whom she had a secret crush), would invite her to become a close friend, or—daring thought!—even more, since they had so much in common. He had stated, after all, that he was one of the most spiritual men currently alive, and he repeated this frequently in his YouTube interviews. He had also often remarked that we are each part of the same whole, which was nearly identical to the message she had received. Of all people, he would surely be able to notice her heightened state of enlightenment, and once he became aware of her, he couldn’t help but want to delve into her spirit. Or other parts of her.
Brightening at the thought, Jillian turned to Bear. “Have you ever had any spiritual experiences?” she said.
Jillian asked not because she was curious, but because she wanted to share the encounter she’d had. It was worth enduring the patchouli.
“Oh yeah,” shrugged Bear vaguely, glancing up briefly from her drawing pad. “Like, I guess so. They basically used to make me go to church all the time when I was little. You know how it is.”
Bear picked at something stuck between her teeth with a manicured fingernail. Her teeth were long, proportionate, and exceedingly white.
Jillian stared at those teeth for a moment, mesmerized, and then said, “No, I don’t mean church…although I guess it could happen in a church. No, what I mean is did you ever have any spiritual experiences? Like me? Because, you see, I had this amazing thing happen to me not long ago.”
Now that she had managed to turn the conversation over to herself, she became more animated.
“There was a tunnel, and then a huge flash, kind of like lightening,” Jillian said, adding in a confidential tone of voice, “I’ve never told a single soul until now.” Bear didn’t seem to be swept away by that revelation, but Jillian persisted anyhow. “It was almost exactly like one of those near-death experiences you read about, except that I didn’t die, of course. What happened was that I met this incredible being made of bright light. I’m pretty sure it was an angel. And the angel told me…,” she halted in a moment of suspense before continuing, “…that we are all one.”
Bear, who was not interested in any angels but her own, yawned abruptly. Inside Bear’s open mouth, on her tongue, behind those perfect teeth, Jillian saw a wad of orange chewing gum. Before Jillian could resume the conversation, a reverent hush fell over the room. The Guru had arrived.
The Guru was loaded with charisma. It clung to him like a cloud, and it overpowered everyone around him, much like Bear’s patchouli. Along with this charisma, the Guru possessed an air of benevolent superiority—an air that he had deliberately cultivated over the years while standing in front of the bathroom mirror. (It was a long-standing joke in his family that Charles, which was his real name, always took a long time in the bathroom.) He helped that air by dressing in beautifully pressed cotton caftans that hung over wide pants, his garments always pink, and by parting his long, scraggly brown hair in the middle. Like Jesus.

The Guru seldom showed any emotion. Some of his detractors nastily claimed that his expressionless face was the result of Botox injections. In fact, they were correct. The Guru was aging, and the wrinkles on his face concerned him. He had long preached that one could stop the onslaught of age by proper positive thinking. While he believed this implicitly, he himself was far too busy to spend the focused time that would be required to change the structure of his cellular tissue. Botox injections, he reasoned, were simply a temporary measure until he had more room in his schedule.
On those rare occasions when the Guru smiled, it stretched across his face like the radiator grill and headlights of a 1963 Chevy Impala. With the brights on. This smile was something he had perfected (also practicing in the bathroom mirror) after he noticed its effect on girls. When he flashed it at his devotees, they wound up blinded like so many deer, stupefied and ready for the kill.
Onstage, the Guru cleared his throat and began his talk. After a self-adulating introductory half hour or so, he moved onto the topic that Jillian had been waiting for.
“Auras,” the Guru began.
He paused for dramatic effect. Jillian shifted excitedly in her seat. On that largish bottom of hers. It was all she could do to prevent herself from giggling out loud in anticipation. She felt that her soul was finally on the brink of being recognized.
At this point, the Guru interjected a little commercial, stating that anyone who wanted to find out more about auras should buy his books and subscribe to his podcast series. He added that the Universal Secrets of Existence would be revealed to those who purchased the entire series. (On YouTube he had suggested that one needed to attend his seminars to learn said secrets, of course, but nobody in the audience protested.)
 “Mandy, would you please raise your hand so people can see where to sign up?” he said.
Heads turned obediently to the table in the back of the room that was stacked with the Guru’s products. Mandy, a pretty but weary-looking woman sitting behind the table, listlessly raised her hand without looking up from her cell phone.
“Now,” he continued, “for those of us who are able to see auras, it is easy to discern if someone is on an elevated spiritual path, for there are inevitably ripples of light surrounding them.”
He stepped away from the podium and began to survey the audience.
Jillian assumed her most earnest expression. Sitting up straighter, she tried to clear her mind of any random thoughts that might be cluttering her energy field, and she did her best to raise her vibrational frequency. She wanted to be certain that the Guru would notice the ripples of light that were surely surrounding her…she, who had been addressed by an actual angel! He turned in her direction, and suddenly, in a magnetic blaze of teeth, he smiled. Jillian caught her breath.
The Guru’s smile was not, alas, for her, but she did not realize this. The person who’d caught his eye was, of course, Bear. Bear had been sketching with her head down while he spoke, and that had intrigued him. He was accustomed to having the females at his seminars stare at him with enraptured gazes. The way that Jillian was. Bear was also wearing very skimpy shorts.
“There are Beings of Light dwelling among us on this very day,” he continued, moving down the stairs and into the audience toward Jillian. She still didn’t know his real objective, and her heart began pounding. She thought that she would faint. Reaching up, she adjusted her bangs to make sure that none of the acne was showing. Still smiling, the Guru floated closer and closer…and then he passed right by her, pausing in front of Bear, his pink-draped backside only a few inches from Jillian’s disappointed face.
It looked to the crowd as if he was scanning Bear’s aura. Privately, however, the Guru was trying to determine whether or not she was wearing any underwear beneath her extremely short shorts. He concluded that she was not.
With slow deliberation, he picked the drawing pad off Bear’s lap, brushing her thigh in the process and noticing how smooth her skin was. Then he squinted briefly at the angel she had been sketching. She stopped chewing her gum and, with her mouth open, looked up at him with big turquoise eyes. He liked her teeth. They reminded him of his own.

“What is your name, my dear?” he asked.
“Bear,” she said.
“And you draw angels?”
“I channel them,” replied Bear, batting her eyelashes modestly. “Spirit like, you know, just moves through me.”
“How fitting for a Being of Light,” he exclaimed. “We are so greatly honored by your presence here.”
He took her hand, pulled her to her feet, and, placing his hands on her shoulders, gently turned her around to face the larger audience.
“Ladies and gentlemen, can you not see what I spoke of—the brilliant Light in this Blessed One’s aura? I’ve seldom seen a light so radiant from someone attending my seminars.”
Heads nodded. Jillian wondered how anyone could see anybody else’s aura through the glare of the overhead fluorescent lights in the hotel conference room, and, in a moment of naughty cynicism, thought maybe the radiance he was seeing was a reflection of the orange chewing gum. Still, she wasn’t ready yet to give up. She tried even harder than before to squeeze out a few ripples of Light that he would notice. It didn’t work. The Guru, so close that she could touch his pink garments, was again scanning the audience and continued to look right through her.
He now moved back towards an attractive and abundantly busty blonde woman who sat on the aisle. Clasping her hands in his, he had her rise from her seat. Jillian had overhead this woman speaking in the hallway. She was a would-be real estate agent with a grating, nasal voice, but plenty of cleavage, who had come to the seminar in hopes of improving her prosperity consciousness.
“Do you see these creatures of Light?” the Guru queried the remaining flock, gesturing at the two standing women. “You don’t even need to read auras to be aware of the open hearts, deep emotion, and passionate spirituality these two possess.”
Mandy, at the back table, gave a little smirk that nobody particularly saw. Meanwhile, Jillian  wondered plaintively what she needed to look like to show the Guru that she, too, had an open heart, was deeply emotional, and passionately spiritual. Breast implants and contact lenses would have helped a lot, but this did not occur to her. The glasses slid down her nose again, and, slumping in her chair, she let them stay there. After a few more hours Jillian left the seminar, temporarily dejected.
“Everybody is One with Everything except for me,” she thought gloomily.
Earlier, when the Guru had brushed up against the blonde would-be real estate agent with the awful voice and the presumably enlightened soul, she’d pulled away a little. Plus, it was obvious that she was wearing underwear. Bear hadn’t pulled away, though, and so, within less than a month, the Guru arranged for her to move in with him. After he dumped Mandy.
It took a lot of nagging on Bear’s part, but finally, reluctantly, he added a few overpriced prints of her angel drawings to the products stacked on his back table, replacing the mandala prints that had been designed by Mandy. The Guru, it seemed, had a preference for artsy women. When Bear begged and pleaded to illustrate the cover of his next book, however, he tactfully but adamantly declined. She became sulky, and their relationship started to go downhill pretty quickly at that point.
Soon after their argument, a young man named Jade Heart approached the back table at one of the Guru’s seminars. Bear was there, sitting at her now-relegated post, swiping credit cards and taking in the cash for the Guru’s books and recordings. Jade Heart, clutching a large drawing pad in one hand, began to thumb with the other through her angel prints, which, in truth, had never sold all that well. He scrutinized them more carefully than anyone ever had, and he even appeared to like them.
“They’re mine,” she said finally. “I channel them.”
“Wow. Is that a fact?” he asked, genuinely impressed. He leaned on the table to get closer. They began to talk, and as they chatted, it turned out that he too channeled drawings.
“Here, look at this,” he said, coming around the table to stand at her side, and opening his sketch pad to show Bear his work.
His pictures were remarkably similar to hers, except that they featured tall, youngish, well-muscled men. With ridiculously big eyes. Most of them had swords. Just as Bear was best at drawing wings, Jade Heart was best at drawing swords.
He showed her one of his pictures, explaining that it depicted a man wrestling with his dragon. The dragon sprang out from between the man’s legs and rose up at an angle. Surrounding the base of the dragon was a huge thatch of dark pubic hair. Bear stared at Jade Heart, then back at the drawing, and then at Jade Heart again. She was smitten. That they were soul mates destined for one another was obvious even to those who could not see auras.
She promptly left the Guru, who himself promptly looked up the blonde would-be real estate agent. Bear and Jade Heart were soon inseparable. After a number of lengthy discussions, they thought at first that they would call themselves The Jade Bear. Bear still could not handle writing Js in cursive, however, so they eventually settled on The Bear Heart. She found to her delight that she really liked writing the letter H.
The two started a successful series of workshops called “How to Channel Drawings.” Jillian, who finally did get contact lenses and breast implants, along with a nose job, attended one of these workshops, where her ripples of Light continued to go unnoticed.


© 2015, M. E. Raines
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