Loudoun Local: History and Preservation in the Time of COVID-19

“Too often, discussions about preserving and investing in critical places is deemed non-essential or a nice thing to do in good times. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that places are even more important in challenging times.” –Nicholas Redding

I came across this article a few weeks ago, and it got me thinking – what does historic preservation look like right now?  And does it even matter in such a frightening and uncertain time?

I live in a historic village, built around a gristmill that dates back to 1807 and still functions today.

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Sometimes, President James Monroe, who called this little village home in his later years, even comes to visit.

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I’ve lived here since 2016, when my husband and I decided to do the crazy thing we’d been talking about for the last five or so years and buy a 200-year-old house.  We have never regretted that decision, and I doubt we ever will.  We live in a home with a story, where generations of families have lived before us, where people watched soldiers pass by on their way to a major cavalry battle and where we find evidence every day of just how much has changed in our little corner of the globe.  Our house is part of America’s history, and we have the honor of serving as guardians of that history.

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You don’t just live in a building this old.  You experience it.  And that applies to historic preservation, generally.  It’s all about the experience, because there’s nothing quite like firsthand knowledge to help you appreciate exactly what you’re protecting.  So, how do we approach historic preservation in this historic moment?  And more specifically, how should we approach it where I live in Loudoun County?

Presence, engagement, and experiencing history online.

Take a look at some of our most well-preserved historic sites in America, and you’ll see people.  Lots of people, physically present – walking on the battlefields of Bull Run and Gettysburg, watching reenactments at Williamsburg and Jamestown, exploring the homes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, and Frederick Douglass (one of my favorites, that one).  It is interesting, memorable, and valuable to immerse yourself in history.

But what do you do when you can’t?

In Loudoun, we’ve gone virtual.  Loudoun’s Heritage Farm Museum has created a collection of online resources, their “Virtual Museum.”  They’ve also become a pickup location for the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, which itself has gone digital.  The Mosby Heritage Area Association, a non-profit devoted to preservation through education, has created extensive online programming and hosts almost nightly events on their Facebook page (my favorite is “History on Tap,” and you should check it out).  And Oatlands Historic House and Gardens has started a blog, “Oatlands Originals,” to share a virtual collection from their archives, and has begun hosting a video series for tours of the property, including the idyllic gardens and grounds managed by Mark Schroeter, a respected horticulturalist with extensive experience maintaining and curating historic gardens.

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So many of our museums and non-profits in Loudoun have worked hard over the last several weeks to move their programming online, and to offer tours and education virtually.  It’s not the same, sure, but it’s what we can do, right now.

Funding in the middle of a pandemic.

At the best of times, preservationists often have to fight tooth and nail for the funding they need.  Unfortunately, desperate times often see that funding diminished, reallocated, or revoked altogether.  Just recently, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel funding for the Loudoun Museum, a move made more devastating by the fact that they’d previously approved that funding.

I’m not going to argue politics here.  We are living through extraordinary times, and difficult decisions are being made at all levels of both civilian life and government.  That being said, many museums, historic sites, and non-profits that promote preservation survive on donations from their communities.  These are scary and turbulent times, though, and if you can’t offer financial support, you can still spread the word and be vocal about what you love.  Word of mouth will never NOT be powerful.

Preservation requires passion.

And your voice is a resource, just like your dollar.  Preserving historic sites often feels more like a battle than a project.  No matter the issue – funding, recognition, apathy – preservation is tiring and sometimes thankless work.

In my village, we worked for the better part of three years to preserve several of our historic structures when our own elected representatives moved to demolish them.  It took a petition with over 5,000 signatures, hours of phone calls and knocking on doors and answering questions and making statements at public hearings before we were finally heard.  But we were, and the historic fabric of our village should hopefully remain intact for future generations of Loudouners to explore and experience.

Now, not even a year later, there’s a brand new issue, and a brand new petition, as the community works to protect a battlefield and the rural viewshed of a historically significant church and cemetery.

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Loudoun’s elected representatives continue to look for quick and easy ways to solve problems, even if they directly conflict with public sentiment, and even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic that stifles public input and engagement.  And no matter how this one ends, in another year, there will be another fight, and another after that.

The sad and difficult truth is that in a world always looking out for the next big thing, on the hunt for instant gratification, the long and labor-intense process of preserving historic structures and protecting historic areas is, for many, not a priority.

It takes energy and passion to make an impact in a world that too often just doesn’t care, and Loudoun County sits squarely in ground zero between the vital need for historic preservation and the rising tide of new suburbia.

Connecting through history and preservation.

Click on almost any piece of journalism about Loudoun County, and you’ll read about the stark divide between its suburban, technology-infused east and its rural, farm-economy west.  Here’s one, for reference, aptly titled “A Tale of Two Counties.”  It’s such a classic divide in America, and here in Loudoun, one of the richest counties in the country where eastern residents regularly enjoy winery weekends and polo matches in the west, it would be funny if it weren’t so damaging.

A few years ago, the Chair of the Board of Supervisors caused a minor kerfuffle when she remarked that she regularly hears people say “idiotic things” about the county’s rural west.  She apologized, but the wound she prodded was open long before her election, and it has never really closed.

In the early 2000s, a group proposed secession of Loudoun’s rural west, and that sentiment lingers today, newly invigored by discussions around an updated comprehensive plan.  Residents in the east complain when schools close for snow-covered dirt roads in the west, and in the west, long-time property owners worry about encroaching new development.  And just today, a group of three supervisors sent a letter to Virginia governor Ralph Northam requesting that, unlike the rest of Loudoun County, the rural west be allowed to begin Phase 1 of reopening after a month-long stay at home order.  Residents are divided on this, too, with many in support of loosening restrictions, and others concerned about the potential impacts of reopening too quickly.

In this climate of divided politics, opposing values, and different priorities, it’s hard to imagine anything might bring us together here in Loudoun, but we share a rich heritage and a unique history.  They belong to all of us.  Loudoun’s story is America’s story, from battlefields and farmhouses to office buildings and suburbs.  When we invest our time, our energy, and our resources in preserving our historic spaces for future Loudoun residents, we reconfirm our connection to this shared experience.  When we agree that historic places matter and deserve to be protected, we recommit to moving forward together.  Perhaps now, more than any other time in recent memory, Loudoun County needs its preservationists.

“We remember the tremendous power that physical, authentic places hold in our lives. Places provide the setting to embrace our desire to connect and engage. We must remember that feeling as we rebuild.” –Nicholas Redding

Little Things

Today I will dust the china.

It is the smallest

something

I can do when I am powerless.

I have said goodbye this year to:

Family

Friends

Routine and Work

and Feeling Safe.

I have said enough of goodbye this year to fill a book with just the word,

over, and over, and page after page.

I am tired of goodbye.

So today I will dust the china, because I can,

because there is at least a little power in little things.

And perhaps, tomorrow, I will weed the garden.

China

The Green Man

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Leland Foley always worked at night, when the little village was sleeping.  In the forest behind the small collection of farmhouses and cottages, no larger than thirty households, he’d found his latest project.  Among the dark thickets, surrounded by black branches stretched against silver-blue light, seated high and relaxed on his bright yellow excavator, he’d hack and push and dig and turn, and by morning, would survey his work with a proud grin and a cigar.

The night before the village’s annual Arbor Day festival, Leland worked.  It had rained all week, and the ground beneath his machine was soft and pliable.  The narrow river that wound through the length of the woods flowed high.  A chorus of owls and crickets and foxes sang and cried, and Leland was glad the motor of the excavator drowned out the cacophony.  Leland liked quiet in the woods, because it meant he could focus on the sound of making money.  Every crack of every limb, each thud of a fallen tree onto damp earth, sounded, in his mind, like the ping of a penny dropped into a piggy bank.

He’d had a piggy bank, when he was a boy.  It had been a gift from his father, who, as Leland had torn open cheerful red wrapping paper and clawed into a cardboard box to get at his birthday present, had imparted the wisdom by which Leland lived his life: “Bullshit walks,” his father had said, and placed a firm hand on his shoulder, “and money talks.  Remember that, son.”

Leland had since grown up, grown nearly old, and had given the same gift and advice to his own young son when the boy had turned eight.  Only he’d added, “Money means you can leave a mark, kiddo.”  The boy had looked at him dully, attention already moved on to the next brightly-wrapped package, some kind of toy, probably.  “You haven’t done anything with your life if you don’t leave a mark.”  His wife, her hands crossed at the waist of her pink silk house robe, had glared at him across their heavy oak breakfast table, but had said nothing.

In the morning, Leland and his family would join in the Arbor Day festivities and plant a tree in the village square.  His wife had insisted.  “At least try to make them like you,” she’d nagged, and argued that everything would be easier if he was on good terms with the villagers.  He did not look forward to the festival, but he would participate, if only for the photo opportunity.  He had several acres to clear before then, and so he kept at work, lulled into an easy rhythm by the beeping of the excavator, thinking of nothing in particular.

At around 5:00, with only an acre or so left to go and the first gray light of morning on the horizon, Leland took a break.  He climbed down and stretched his gangly arms and his thin legs.  He walked around the work site and surveyed his progress, his tired eyes sweeping over the flattened landscape, visualizing what would come next.  He’d already created a few nature trails, had made plans for a gazebo, a pond, and a tennis court, and would soon start clearing lots for large, luxury homes.  Maybe twelve, he thought, or a few more.  People would pay a lot to live in close-knit, characterful villages these days, and if no one else would take advantage of this free and empty space, then he certainly would.

He’d leave it to others, of course, to do the building, and he’d pay them well, with the profit from selling the timber.  But the clearing, the earth-moving, that he liked to do himself, the product of his own labor.  When this project was done, the village would be remade from a sleepy, old world hamlet into a new, modern, luxury community, one that he’d envisioned and created.  He’d build a town for the twenty-first century, a legacy he’d leave behind for everyone to see.  The villagers didn’t like it, had let him know and had complained to the local zoning board, but they would come around.  And if they didn’t, Leland didn’t much care.

He walked forward a few steps, loosening his stiff knees, feeling the give of the newly turned earth beneath his heavy work boots, and saw an orange flicker in the close distance.  It took a moment for him to process, but he realized he was looking at a campfire.  And a campfire meant a trespasser.  As quietly as he could, he made his way back to his SUV, a walk made longer knowing he wasn’t alone on his land, and grabbed the baseball bat he kept for self-defense.  And just in case, he tucked his gun into his belt.

He snaked, quick and silent, towards the campfire, and saw a young man, probably not more than twenty, reclining against a tall ash tree, his head cocked back and cradled in his hands, his long legs stretched in front of him.  He looked to be sleeping, but Leland approached him with caution.  In the firelight, it was hard to make out details, but Leland thought he saw a shock of red hair, a crooked nose, and, a few feet away, stashed against a boulder, a blue backpack.  He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, the young man opened his eyes and smiled.

“Well, hello, sir,” he said, cheerfully.  “What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I own them” Leland answered, flat and sharp, “and you’re trespassing.”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that.”  The young man reached into his pocket and produced a tattered map.  “I never could read these things,” he said.

“The highway’s a few miles east,” Leland told him.  “You should move on, or I’ll have to call the police.”

“Sure,” the young man said.  “Only you never answered my question.”

“Excuse me?”

“What are you doing out here in the woods?”  The young man stared at Leland with wide, curious eyes.

“I’m working” Leland barked.  “And these woods belong to me.”  He added, for good measure and to make himself clear, “So you’d better move on.  Now.”

“Well, that’s silly,” the young man said.  “The wood’s are no place for working.”  He paused, thought for a moment, trained his eyes on the campfire. “Not for regular folks, anyway.”

“Yeah, well, regular folks have to work to make money,” Leland replied.  “And you’re in my way.”

“I think you’ll find you’re in mine,” the young man said, quietly, and if Leland thought he perceived a shift in the young man’s demeanor, a sudden coldness in his speech, he couldn’t be certain.  The young man looked up and added, with a bit more volume, “If the highway’s east, then I’d have to go through you to get to it.”

Leland had no answer to that, and said only, “I thought you were bad with directions.”

The young man leaned forward, began to shovel dirt onto the fire with his hands, and said, “I’m bad with maps, but I’m good with directions.”  He stood and stamped on the smothered embers a few times, and then stepped away.  He grabbed his backpack, hefted it onto his shoulder.  “And I’m good with the woods.  Seems like you are, too, in your own way.  Or bad, depending on how you look at it.”

Leland said nothing.

“Let me tell you a secret before I go,” the young man said, and stepped in close.  He leaned over Leland’s shoulder, his lips close to Leland’s ear.  “You’re standing in a fairy ring.”

Leland looked down, and found that he stood in the middle of a small circle of mushrooms.

“And the moon’s full,” the young man added.

Leland looked up.  Ten minutes ago, there’d been only clouds, but now, he could see the full moon, bright and looming in the lightening morning sky.  And wrong.

The woods and moon 3

The full moon wasn’t for another two weeks.  Leland was nearly certain.  He’d seen the information only this morning, when he looked at the weather.

“You should make a wish,” the young man whispered, and then laughed, loud and hardy.  He stepped past Leland, close enough that his threadbare backpack brushed Leland’s arm, and began to trudge through the underbrush, whistling as he walked.

Leland watched him go, didn’t dare move until he was out of site.  He went over their conversation in his head.  And he thought, in spite of himself and for the briefest moment, of a wish.  A wish to leave a legacy in these woods, to remake them.  A wish to make a mark.

Leland’s feet began to tingle.  He looked down again at the tiny, snow white mushrooms all around him, surrounding him on all sides, no higher than his toes.  He began to feel stiff all over, and realized he couldn’t move his knees, then his elbows, and then his neck.  Somewhere in the forest, he heard a fox scream.  Or perhaps it was the high-pitched yowl of his own voice, just before his lips sealed shut.  In his last moments, he thought of houses.  Neat rows of cream siding on a flat, sodded landscape missing its carpet of deep green forest.

And then he didn’t of think anything at all.

********************

In a little forest outside of a tiny village, near a serpentine slip of a river, stands a broad, dark-limbed tree that village children call “The Bad Man.”  It is an ominous thing, all black knots and rough, prickled bark, with leaves like human hands.  When the wind blows through its spindly branches, the villagers say it screams. The children insist that it holds the spirit of a greedy man who disappeared a long time ago, and they play a game to see who’s brave enough to touch it.  The adults don’t say so, but they grow up believing it, and they avoid that part of the forest.  The tree stands on its own, covered in a thick layer of black moss and poison vines, set apart from the ashes and sycamores around it.  At its base rests a ring of white mushrooms.  And high on its trunk, sticking out like a cancerous knot through the moss and vines, is an angry, twisted face.  The villagers say it’s been there for a hundred years, maybe more, like a blight that will never heal.

Share Your Shakespeare

“Shakespeare – the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.” –Laurence Olivier

Books

I got my first book of Shakespeare’s plays in middle school.  I won’t pretend that I could actually read them, but they waited for me.  The best stories do that.  And Shakespeare told the best stories.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to play Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I’d like to think I did well.  Whether I did or not, I enjoyed just being able to take part in a little piece of Shakespeare’s world.

Hermia

Yeah, that’s me, in high school, trying to claw out Helena’s eyes.  I’m not sure why the guy behind me is wearing an M&M shirt.  High school’s a strange time.

In college, I decided to study literature, and read a paper at a Shakespeare conference at the Virginia Military Institute.  My paper…did not win, but again, I felt fortunate to just be involved.

I still read Shakespeare.  Pretty frequently, in fact.  I’m not going to wax poetic about Shakespeare’s influence on…well, everything…because I don’t know that I could cover it all in one blog post.  I think the most wonderful thing about Shakespeare’s body of work is just how interdisciplinary and universal it is – there’s something for the readers, the psychologists, the sociologists, the historians, the philosophers, and, of course, the actors.  There’s even a little something for the conspiracy theorists.  There’s a reason Shakespeare is still with us, hundreds of years after his death and several evolutions of our language later.  Very few writers observe and capture so well all of the best and the worst of humanity.

And so, today, on the day that we celebrate the birthday of the Bard, and in the spirit of the theatre, revelry, and bringing literature to life – and embracing our own flawed humanity – here’s my Shakespeare:

I probably should have warned you that I’m no actor.  But, come on, everyone recites Shakespeare when they drink wine, right? RIGHT?!  Anyway, you don’t have to be a great actor to enjoy Shakespeare.  He gave all of us plenty to love, whether we experience it on the stage or on the page.

And there’s something comforting about knowing that long after I’m gone, and hopefully this video is, too, Shakespeare will still be here.

Beautiful Things

April is both kind and cruel

That’s often the way with beautiful things

A warm sun that cradles and an icy breeze that cuts

Soft petals that delight and sharp thorns that draw blood

Honey lips that hide a poison tongue

It is only privilege that allows us to see one without the other

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This One’s for John

My heart hurts today.

When I try to think of something to say about the passing of John Prine, I’m honestly lost for words.  Which is funny, because he certainly never was.  I don’t think we can overstate the importance of his music to the story of American songwriting.  I don’t think there will ever be another one quite like him.  I don’t think the world will ever be the same, now that he’s not in it.

If music comes to us when we need it most, then I’ve needed John Prine my whole life.  His songs have stayed with me since I first heard them, when I was too young to really understand them.  Now I’m in my thirties, and I still listen to them, sing them, think about them, every single day.

And when my dad and I play, we always play some Prine.

So, this one’s for John.  Thank you for everything.  I hope you’re exactly where you wanted to be.

Something Borrowed

The war raged and ravaged and tore at the outside world for a year before the draft.  The whole country watched grainy news footage of dusty, decimated cityscapes and bleeding, wide-eyed children waiting for treatment in makeshift hospitals.  It all felt very far away, before the draft.  After, no one could run far or fast enough.  The draft would catch up with you eventually, if you were a healthy young man without connections.

Nick Keene had been running his whole life, and he was an expert.  He’d started the day his mama killed his daddy in their kitchen.  In the high heat of a Deep South summer, Nick had watched the whole thing, had seen his mother plant a knife deep in his father’s potbelly, had seen his father drop, bleed, and close his eyes a final time.

“Nicky,” his mama had implored him, wringing her bloody hands around a ratty dishtowel. “Nicky baby, you gotta say you did it.”  She stepped over his daddy’s body, not even cold.  She put those stained, raw hands on his shoulders.  “You tell’em you did it.  Ain’t nobody gonna put a baby on death row.  You love me, don’tchu baby?”

He did, in the deep, whole, unconditional way that only children can love, but he ran.  He ran and ran until he reached the next state, and then he kept going.  He missed his parents, his life, his home, but he never looked back.  He was twelve years old, and he’d been running ever since.

********************

Nick Keene became Nick Keys, shirking the weight of a family name and a desperate guilt he couldn’t bear to carry.  A string of low-paying jobs took him all across the country, but hard luck followed him everywhere.  He fell out with a girl in Omaha after she lost their baby, crashed a car working as a chauffeur in Los Angeles, lost all his money teaming up with a card counter at the tables in Atlantic City, broke a toe on the docks in New Orleans.  Whether it was something big or something tiny, Nick couldn’t catch a break.

Things had started to change in Kentucky.  At twenty-one, Nick made his money playing music with another runaway.  Tommy Flint was the best guitarist Nick had ever seen, and he often wondered why Tommy had never been discovered, especially considering that Tommy’s ex-partner, Rocky Rush, had.  Rocky’s music topped charts all over the world.  Nick was jealous, and knew Tommy must feel the same, but together, he and Tommy had styled themselves Flint and Key, and they were pretty good.

Two guitars

They hitchhiked when they had to, and took night buses when they could.  They’d stay a little while in a town and then move on.  Nick didn’t know what Tommy was running from, and Tommy didn’t ask about Nick’s past, and between the two of them, they had enough suffering and fear and bad luck to write ten albums worth of songs.  Good songs, songs that made money and got people talking.  Nick figured it was only a matter of time before the right person heard the right one, and they’d be set up for the rest of their lives.

On the night Nick got his draft notice, they sat across from each other in an almost empty diner after a bar gig, splitting a Hot Brown and cold pie over steaming cups of dark black coffee.

“What’ll you do?” Tommy asked.

“Shit,” Nick replied, and took another bite of pie.  “Shit,” he said again.  The white lights overhead suddenly felt too bright, and Nick rubbed his eyes with the calloused fingers of one hand while he considered.  “I have to go see my mama,” he finally said.

“I didn’t know you had one,” Tommy retorted, in a mild attempt to lighten Nick’s mood and the terrible enormity of the situation.  They both knew the draft was a death sentence.

“I didn’t come from nothing,” Nick said, and put three dollars down on the table.  “Everybody has a mother.”  He got up from the vinyl booth, heaved his guitar case over his shoulder, and walked out, leaving Tommy behind him.

“Now, wait,” he heard Tommy plead, shocked and distressed in a way that warmed his frightened heart.  “Don’t go off alone.”

Nick just kept walking.  He heard the door jingle as it closed behind him.  He’d never been good at goodbyes.

********************

It took three weeks to make his way home.  When he got there, robbed of his guitar at a bus station in Tennessee and sick from hunger, Nick found his mother in the graveyard, six stones down from a tall magnolia tree.  He found his father, too, not far away, but he lingered by his mother’s plot, scooping the creeping weeds away with the toe of his scuffed brown boot.  He leaned over and ran his fingers along the carved letters of her name, Judith Keene.  She’d only been gone for a month.  He’d only just missed her.  She’d never tried to find him, and he’d never come back to her, not in nine years.  He’d never even written her a letter.

Nick walked from the cemetery to the house where he grew up.  He stood on the sidewalk, just out of the glow of the one leaning streetlight, and stared at the final ruin of his childhood.  The bungalow sat empty and dark, covered in an impenetrable curtain of thick kudzu.

“You’re Nick Keene,” someone said from behind him.

Nick turned, but didn’t step into the light.  “What do you know about Nick Keene?” he asked.

A woman took a step towards him, coming into the halo of bright yellow light, and smiled.  She was a knockout.  Bright auburn hair, ivory pale skin, dressed in a dark blue cocktail dress.

“I know you’re him,” she answered, “and I know you’re hungry.  Come on with me and we’ll get you a sandwich and something to drink.”

She turned and started walking, and Nick followed.  He was hungry, and she was offering.

“Who are you?”  He caught up with her, looked at her delicate profile, and realized she couldn’t be much older than he was.

“I was a friend of Judy’s” she said.

“You knew my mother?”  Nick couldn’t recall that his mother ever had close friends, or any friends at all.

“I did her a favor once.”

“What kind of favor?”

The woman didn’t answer.  Nick wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

“Where are we going?” he asked instead.

“My place,” the woman answered.  “Everything else is closed.”

“Why’re you helping me?”

“Well,” the woman stopped, “the way I see it, you have no past, not anymore.  And if you’re back here, that probably means you don’t have much of a future, either.”  She looked him right in the eyes, and held his gaze.  “You get drafted?”

Nick looked down at the pavement.  “Yeah,” he answered.  “I wanted to see my mama one last time.  I wanted to make things right.”

“Then the least I can do is feed you,” the woman said, and started moving again.

Nick followed, and lost track of time in the humid night air.  He thought they might have gone about a mile, into what was left of downtown with half of its boys away at war, when she walked around the corner of the bank and unlocked a side door.

“Here we are,” she said.

He followed her up a set of narrow stairs and into a large apartment.

“How long’s this been here?”  Nick looked around him, at the expensive furniture and the tall windows.  “I don’t remember this being here when I was a kid.”

“Sit down,” the woman said, and motioned to a leather armchair in the corner.  “I’ll only be a minute.”  She walked towards what Nick assumed was the kitchen, and turned the radio on before stepping out of site.

Rocky Rush’s caramel voice flooded the space around him.  Nick wondered what his life would be like, if he’d been discovered like Rocky, flown off to Hollywood or New York to record music and become famous and live secure and safe for the rest of his life.  All it would have taken was one moment, one right moment in front of the right person.

“Lucky bastard,” Nick grunted.

The woman came back with a plate of club sandwiches and a rocks glass full of something brown and syrupy. “That’s what you want, then,” she said, “to be up on stage, to be a star.”

Nick considered.  He took a bite of food, and a swig of what turned out to be good whiskey.  His throat felt warm.  “I want enough money to live in a place for more than a few weeks.  I want a job that won’t end when the project’s done.”  His voice started to quiver.  “I don’t want to go and fight and die in a country I don’t care about.”

“Your mama didn’t want to die, either,” the woman said.  “She told me so herself.  Said she’d do anything to stay free and alive.  She missed you, though, towards the end.”

Nick realized he’d finished the whiskey.  The woman took it and poured him another, standing over him after handing him the glass, swaying lightly to the rhythm of Rocky’s minor key love song.

“Do you play music?”

“I did,” Nick said.  He told her about Tommy, and their time together and their songs.  “But somebody swiped my guitar outside of Memphis,” he finished.

“That’s too bad,” the woman said.  “Luck’s a funny thing, isn’t it?”  She sat down beside him, nestled herself right against his shoulder.  “I bet you’re every bit as good as Rocky Rush.  I bet he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Nick said.  He’d finished the second glass by now, and felt himself getting tired.  He felt tired all the way to his bones.  He leaned his head back.  The woman snuggled in closer.  He could feel the silk of her hair against the skin of his neck.  “Lucky son of a bitch.”  Nick closed his eyes and sighed.

“You want it, don’t you?  Just a little bit of his luck.”

Nick didn’t reply.

“To be a star?”

“I do,” Nick said quietly.

“I thought so,” the woman said, and kissed him lightly on the lips just as he drifted off to sleep.

********************

Nick woke up alone, with a painful hangover and a heavy ball of dread and fear in the pit of his stomach, and no memory of how he’d come to be in the empty attic above the bank.  He remembered, though, that he was going to war, and that his mother was dead.  He had no past, and his future was a pine box six feet under the cold ground.  He stood up and made his way down the stairs and into the bright sunlight, each step taking him closer and closer to what he knew would be the end.

The closest military induction center was four towns over.  Nick walked in and gave his name at a small desk in the front.

“Keene?”

“Nicholas Keene,” Nick replied, and gave his birth date as he presented his draft notice.

The lanky soldier behind the desk looked through every piece of paper in sight, and then said, “Hang on just a minute, a’right?”

Nick waited.  The soldier came back empty-handed, and told him there must have been a mistake, and that he was free to go.

Nick figured the mistake was on their side, that it would catch up with him eventually, but he went, and he used what little money he had left for a bus ticket that would take him as far away as he could go.  On the bus, he sat down beside a paunchy older man in a khaki suit.

“Hey, I know you,” the man said.  “You’re Nick Keys, aren’t you?”

“Who’s asking?”

The man reached into his pocket and presented Nick with a crisp white business card.  “I caught your act in Louisville a couple of months ago,” he said.

“I know your name,” Nick said.  He couldn’t believe it.  “You’re with Columbia.”

“Sure am.  Just down here to see some family, and then I’m heading back up to New York.”

“Oh,” Nick said.  He waited, hoped, the man would say more.

“You here alone?” the man asked.  “Where’s your partner?  You two were dynamite together.”

“He’s still in Kentucky,” Nick answered.  “I’m on my own,” he added.

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” the man said.  “Are you interested in being a solo act?”

********************

Rocky Rush died in the war a year later. That he had even been drafted surprised his many fans and broke the hearts of thousands of teenage girls.  The shock of his death started a movement among young people all over the country to hold the government accountable for allowing so many young men to die in a conflict many of them didn’t even understand.

Nick played his first sold out show the night he heard the news.  He wrote a song about Rocky, once he was back in his dressing room and three beers deep.  It hit number one, and stayed there long enough to break a record.  Nick Keys, the runaway with no home and no family, was a star.

********************

Tommy Flint sat at the bar of a dive outside of Cincinnati, hunched over in his threadbare coat with one hand resting on his tattered black guitar case.  He downed a shot of the strongest thing the bartender had on offer, and hummed the chorus of Nick’s latest hit.  He laughed, low and bitter.

“That lucky son of a bitch,” he said.

“Who?” a delicate female voice answered back.

“Nick Keys,” Tommy answered, with a little less enunciation than he’d like.  “He was my partner,” he finished, and held up his empty glass for a refill.

“Oh?”

Tommy lifted his head and turned to see a striking young woman with auburn hair and ivory skin, wearing a blue cocktail dress.

“I met him once,” she said.  “I did him a favor.”

“He was a good guy,” Tommy slurred.  “Better than all of’m.”

“I’m sure you’re a good guy, too,” the woman said.  “And I’m sure you’re just as talented as he is.  He probably just ended up in the right place at the right time.”

“Mmhmm,” Tommy replied.

“Luck’s funny that way, isn’t it?”

She held up her hand to signal the bartender, and ordered a champagne cocktail.  “This round’s on me,” she told Tommy.  “Is that what you want, then?  To be on stage?  To be a star?”

Tommy downed another shot.

“Just a little bit of his luck,” the woman purred.

“I do,” Tommy answered.

The woman leaned over and kissed his cheek.  “I thought so,” she told him.

Anybody else in need of a good book or several?

It’s been a rough and stressful few weeks, hasn’t it?  I was planning to write a post about the best spots to hike in and around Loudoun County, and I might do that in the next few months; but, with the CDC recommending some serious social distancing measures and with many people opting to stay away from public places and, you know, inside, I thought a reading list might be more appropriate and helpful.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably feeling like you’ll need a lot of books to get through this.

Bookshelves

*The lovely chaos that is bookshelves in my home.

So, I’ve listed below several books that I’ve enjoyed over the last year or so.  They’re not in any particular order, but I’ve categorized them loosely, and if they’re part of a series, I’ve generally listed the first book and added an asterisk.  I’ve linked their Goodreads or Amazon pages and quoted summaries, as well.  I hope you find something here that you’ll enjoy, and I wish you happy reading, good health, and abundant toilet paper in the weeks to come!

Adult Fiction

The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James

“The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.”

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

“It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.”

The Invited, by Jennifer McMahon

“In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.”

The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

“Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.”

Bellewether, by Susanna Kearsley

“Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.”

*Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox, by Forthright

“A letter from a long-lost aunt names Tsumiko heiress to an ancestral estate and its accompanying fortune. Only the legacy comes with an aloof heirloom: an inhuman butler. Argent has served the Hajime family for centuries, and Tsumiko must renew the generational bond or he’ll die. Argent hates her for the hold she has over him, but he craves her soul almost as much as he craves his freedom.”

The Widow’s House, by Carol Goodman

“This chilling novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages blends the gothic allure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and the crazed undertones of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the twisty, contemporary edge of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife—a harrowing tale of psychological suspense set in New York’s Hudson Valley.”

Short Story Collections

Burning Bright, by Ron Rash

“In these stories, Rash brings to light a previously unexplored territory, hidden in plain sight—first a landscape, and then the dark yet lyrical heart and the alluringly melancholy soul of his characters and their home.”

Shatterday, by Harlan Ellison

“…legendary author Harlan Ellison dissects the primal fears and inherent frailties common to all people and gives voice to the thoughts and feelings human beings bury deep within their souls. Unflinching and unapologetic, Ellison depicts men and women in all their ugliness and beauty, and humanity in all its fury and glory.”

Half Wild: Stories, by Robin MacArthur

“Spanning nearly forty years, the stories in Robin MacArthur’s formidable debut give voice to the hopes, dreams, hungers, and fears of a diverse cast of Vermonters—adolescent girls, aging hippies, hardscrabble farmers, disconnected women, and solitary men. Straddling the border between civilization and the wild, they all struggle to make sense of their loneliness and longings in the stark and often isolating enclaves they call home—golden fields and white-veiled woods, dilapidated farmhouses and makeshift trailers, icy rivers and still lakes that rouse the imagination, tether the heart, and inhabit the soul.”

Poetry Collections

Our Numbered Days, by Neil Hilborn

“In 2013, Neil Hilborn’s performance of his poem ‘OCD’ went viral. To date, it has been watched over 10 million times. Our Numbered Days is Neil’s debut full-length poetry collection, containing 45 of Neil’s poems including ‘OCD’, ‘Joey’, ‘Future Tense’, ‘Liminality’, ‘Moving Day’, and many, many never-before-seen poems.” 

The People Look Like Flowers at Last, by Charles Bukowski

The People Look like Flowers at Last is the last of five collections of never-before published poetry from the late great Dirty Old Man, Charles Bukowski.”

New American Best Friend, by Olivia Gatwood

“Gatwood’s poems deftly deconstruct traditional stereotypes. The focus shifts from childhood to adulthood, gender to sexuality, violence to joy. And always and inexorably, the book moves toward celebration, culminating in a series of odes: odes to the body, to tough women, to embracing your own journey in all its failures and triumphs.”

Young Adult Fiction

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.”

 *Red Winter, by Annette Marie

“Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.”

Highfire, by Eoin Colfer

“From the New York Times bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series comes a hilarious and high-octane adult novel about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who lives an isolated life in the bayous of Louisiana—and the raucous adventures that ensue when he crosses paths with a fifteen-year-old troublemaker on the run from a crooked sheriff.”

*City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab

“Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one. When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly.”

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow

“In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.”

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

“What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…”

Manga and Graphic Novels

*Noragami, by Adachitoka

“Yato is a homeless god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshippers! So to achieve his ambitious goals, he’s set up a service to help those in need (for a small fee), hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky, so Yato accepts all kinds of jobs, from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies at school.”

*The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

“New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.”

*Yona of the Dawn, by Mizuho Kusanagi

“Princess Yona lives an ideal life as the only princess of her kingdom. Doted on by her father, the king, and protected by her faithful guard Hak, she cherishes the time spent with the man she loves, Soo-won. But everything changes on her 16th birthday when she witnesses her father’s murder! Yona reels from the shock of witnessing a loved one’s murder and having to fight for her life. With Hak’s help, she flees the palace and struggles to survive while evading her enemy’s forces. But where will this displaced princess go when all the paths before her are uncertain?”

Memoirs, Academia, and Non-Fiction

The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writing, Ideas, and Influence, by Colin Duriez

“A unique account of one of history’s most intriguing literary groups, which will find itself on the reading list of every serious Tolkien, Lewis, or Inkling fan. The Inklings were an influential group, along the lines of the Lake Poets or the Bloomsbury Group. Acclaimed author Colin Duriez explores their lives, their writings, their ideas, and, crucially, the influence they had on each other.”

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie

“When his mother passed away at the age of 78, Sherman Alexie responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is this stunning memoir. Featuring 78 poems, 78 essays and intimate family photographs, Alexie shares raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine–growing up dirt-poor on an Indian reservation, one of four children raised by alcoholic parents. Throughout, a portrait emerges of his mother as a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated woman.”

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, by Neil Gaiman

“Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.”

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, by Keith Habersberger, Zach Kornfeld, Eugene Lee Yang, and Ned Fulmer

“To be our best selves, we must become secure in our insecurities. In The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, The Try Guys – Keith, Ned, Zach, and Eugene – reveal their philosophy of trying: how to fully embrace fear, foolishness, and embarrassment in an effort to understand how we all get paralyzed by a fear of failure. They’ll share how four shy, nerdy kids have dealt with their most poignant life struggles by attacking them head-on and reveal their – ahem – sure-fail strategies for achieving success.”

Educated, by Tara Westover

“Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.”

Snow Moon

It had been an in-between sort of winter – too warm for snow, and too cold for much of anything else.  Days and days of frigid rains and half-lit skies had passed in a steely, gloomy blur, giving way to more of the same.  All of that would change tonight.

From her cubicle window, Julia watched a robin perch on a ledge of the neighboring office building, and wondered if the little thing knew what was coming.  Her farmer grandparents had taught her that nature always knows, and is prepared, and she wondered why humans so often counted themselves as separate animals.  No one at work seemed prepared today.  Forecasters anticipated the storm’s arrival by 7:00, and now, at 4:45, the office was still abuzz with talk of this meeting and that presentation.  She just wanted to get out the door, onto the road home before the inevitable, interminable traffic jam, and only two emails and a check-in with her manager stood in her way.

Twenty more minutes, she thought, tops.  Just twenty more minutes, and then she’d be on her way to pajamas and hot chocolate and BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, her snow-day traditions from high school onward, and tomorrow, she’d take a walk and make a snow angel.  She wanted hers to be the first footprints.  That had been her favorite thing, when she was young and living on a farm way out in the country with her parents and her grandparents.  She always wanted hers to be the first set of footprints on a fresh fallen snow.  It proved that she, and not anyone else, loved the snow best.  And that had been so important, when she was ten.

Snow Day Footprints

Maybe she’d even build a snowman, she thought.  She hadn’t built a snowman since college.  “Let’s get crazy,” Julia mumbled to herself.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh,” Julia said.  She should have known nothing is ever just to yourself when you work in a cubicle farm.  “Sorry,” she told Sarah-from-the-next-cube.  “I was talking to myself.”

She watched as Sarah nodded and went back to her work.  Julia hated working in an office environment like this.  There was never privacy, but you had all the anonymity you never wanted.  Everything was tinged in somber shades of off-gray – the desks, the carpet, the overhead lights – and people seldom smiled.  Not even the company’s monthly “happy hour” was truly happy.  It was just a tired-out group of not really friends pretending they weren’t networking to get ahead, trying not to appear as drunk as they were.  Artifice and gameplay dressed up in business casual, that’s all it was.

But this job paid the bills, and the bills fed her, kept her in books and clothes, and allowed her the little luxury of a trip here and there when she needed to get away.  She was planning to visit England in the summer, to see Bath.  She’d always dreamed of going to England, and the salary from this job made it possible.  You had to work to live, and work wasn’t always fun, she told herself, over and over.  Her life was just like everyone else’s, she reasoned.  And then she wondered when she had decided to be okay with that, and resolved to start looking for something new, just as soon as she got back from her summer trip.  Maybe she would even move back to the country and take up work on the farm with her parents.  It would be nice to be with her family again.

Two emails and a useless but thankfully brief meeting with her boss later, Julia had packed her messenger bag with her laptop, power cord, mouse, and notes on her priority assignments, and was standing in the elevator, waiting for it to make its slow, creaky way from floor eleven to the lower deck of the parking garage.  She sighed and leaned her head against the wall.

“You look tired,” said an amiable, masculine voice from the other corner.

“I am,” Julia answered.  She hadn’t realized anyone else was in the elevator with her, but that wasn’t surprising.  Her mind had been running on one track since this morning – get home before the snow, enjoy the snow, daydream about snow – and now, at the end of the day, there just wasn’t any room for anything else.  “But I’m really excited for the snow,” she added.

“So, you’re one of the people who likes snow?”

Julia straightened up and turned, and saw that her companion wore a smoky-colored gray suit and light blue tie, and a pocket square.  A pocket square, of all things.  She thought she’d seen him before, was fairly certain of it, but you could never tell.  He looked familiar, but so did every other Caucasian male sporting a dad-bod wrapped up in a suit and tie in the entire building.  Dark hair, brown eyes, and not very memorable at all.  But he looked friendly enough, casual and relaxed, his hands in his pockets.

“I am,” she answered.  “What about you?”

“I love snow,” he said, “and I like this time of year.”

“Really?”

“I do.  I like the feeling of starting fresh.”  He smiled.  Julia noticed his straight, white teeth.

“Most people feel that way about January.”  Julia smiled back.  It felt like the right thing to do.  She hated office banter.

“Sure,” he answered, “but I like February better.  You know it comes from an old Latin word?  Februa, to cleanse.”

Julia hadn’t known that, and said so.

“The Romans had this festival, the Februalia.”

Julia hmmed and nodded.

“And I really do love the snow.  The best snows are always in February.”

Julia nodded again, and hummed a noncommittal “Mmhmm.”

“I’m boring you.”

“No!”  He was, and she would have loved a quiet ride, but she certainly didn’t want him to know that.  “Not at all.  I love snow, too.  When I was little –”

Before she could say more, the elevator lurched to a stop.  Floor two.  Julia felt stuck in a nightmare.  Bad enough being trapped in the elevator.  Worse being trapped in the elevator with an almost complete stranger right before a snowstorm.  They could be in here for hours.

“I don’t think it will be long,” the man said.

Well, that was strange, Julia thought.  “I hope not,” she replied.

“When you were little…”

“What?”

“You were talking about the snow, when you were little.”  The man raised a hand from his pocket, prompting her to continue.

Julia had lost the thread of the conversation when the elevator stopped.  “Um, yeah, when I was little.”  She struggled to collect the thought.  The man waited.  “When I was little, I used to stay up all night waiting for snow.  I wanted to be the first one outside.  I wanted to make the first footprints.”

“I get that,” the man said.

“I just thought snow was the most magical thing.  I still do, actually.  Work is boring, you know?  It’s like life just gets in the way of the things we should be enjoying.”

“Yeah,” the man replied.

“I think if I could just live in a snow day forever, I’d be okay with that.”

“Really?”  The man raised an eyebrow.

“Of course!”  Julia found she couldn’t really stop herself from adding, “everything slows down when it snows.  People actually take the time to be happy.  It’s like they can’t do that on a normal day.  Because there’s too much to do.”  Julia paused for a moment, to take a breath.  “Snow means you have to stop.  You just have to stop and appreciate the moment for once, and I love that moment.”

The man smiled again, and Julia realized it wasn’t an unpleasant smile.  “I think everyone has a moment they’d like to live in forever,” she said, “and that’s just mine.”

“I can see that,” the man said.

“Well, what’s yours?”  Julia asked.

The man opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, the elevator jerked into motion.  “Well,” he said, “that wasn’t so bad.”

“No,” Julia said, and asked again, “so, what’s your moment?”

The doors pinged open on level two of the garage, and the man stepped out.  “I’m made of moments,” he said.  He winked as the door closed.

That had certainly ended abruptly, Julia thought as she went down one more level, and then walked to her silver sedan.  5:31 – earlier than she’d left in days, and plenty of time to beat the storm home, if she took a few neighborhood roads and shortcuts.

********************

It snowed for a solid fourteen hours, give or take.  Julia spent the time looking out the window, curled up in her favorite overstuffed armchair.  She caught up on some reading, drank hot chocolate, and watched some of her favorite BBC miniseries.  She stayed up all night.  When the snow stopped, she put on her winter coat and galoshes and walked for an hour or so, enjoying the crunch of the crisp white powder under her feet, and the fresh, icy smell of a winter finally come.  Hers were the first footprints.  She made a snow angel, and she built a snowman, and when the sun went down on the glistening landscape, she sat on her front porch steps and stared at the full moon, high and bright and silver against a dark blue satin sky.  Yes, she thought, I could live in this moment forever.

********************

A desk in the corner in the corner of a nondescript office building sat empty.  A manager approached Human Resources, asking to hire for a position, and curious as to why it had never been discussed before.  The work went on as it always had, as if Julia had never existed at all.

The man in the gray suit had moved on, too.  A new office building, a new elevator.  He found himself alone with a young man, on the tenth day of March at 5:16 in the afternoon.  The young man looked on the verge of tears, his eyes glassy and rimmed with red, and his hands trembling as they tried to grasp the handle of a black canvas laptop bag.

“Rough day?” the man in the gray suit asked.

The young man dropped his laptop bag to his feet.  It landed with a thud on the floor of the elevator.  “Yeah, people suck.  But it’s just a job.”  He took a deep, shaky breath and said again, “It’s just a job.”

“Sounds like it’s not the right job,” the man in the gray suit replied.

“Yeah, really,” the young man snorted.

“I always thought I’d be doing something more interesting,” the man in the gray suit said.  “I’ve never liked working in an office, but it sure is convenient.”

“I hate it,” the young man said.  He ran his fingers through his hair and added, “I’d rather be hiking.”

“I love hiking,” the man in the gray suit said.  “What’s your favorite trail?  I’ve heard there are lots of good ones around here.”  The man in the gray suit did not hike.

“Oh, man, when I was a kid, there was this trail out west that we used to go to every year and –”

The elevator jerked to a stop between the fourth and fifth floors.  The man in the gray suit smiled.  “And?”

********************

Winter turned to spring, and then to summer and fall, and then winter again, and again many times.  Julia’s face grew fine, spidery lines, and her hair turned coarse and ashen.  Hers were still the first footprints.  And as the world outside moved on, one season after another, year after year, she sat on her front porch steps and stared at the full moon over the diamond-bright snow.  Yes, she thought, I could live in this moment forever.

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