Life in a California Province

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Frank Sutherland's love for Maria Hernandez leads the two into an unfortunate and unnecessary brush with the KKK...

Submitted: February 21, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 21, 2017





Life in a California Province


(A Tribute to You).

(A Tribute to All of Us).


Frank Sutherland sat at his desk.

“Dear Jay,

Have I got really big news for you! Incredible news!” He paused. “Last night I put my arm around Maria Hernandez! Maria Hernandez put her head on my shoulder! DO YOU KNOW WHO MARIA HERNANDEZ IS? Do you KNOW who Maria Hernandez IS? I kid you not. Maria Hernandez is the most flawlessly, unbelievably beautiful woman I have ever seen! And this isn't, “Well, everybody's got a right to their own opinion.” This woman can snap her fingers and make you cry. Joanne Smith, Erika Bishop and Susan Key, I will always remember you but Maria Hernandez has come to take over! In fact, I reserve the right to wonder in the back of my mind if she might not be the fourth person of the Trinity. She is that beautiful. And she is nice, too. She treats people well, she chooses her words carefully, she is intelligent. And she is not a demanding snob. I've sometimes wondered if being an Hispanic minority in this country did not keep her on the straight and narrow.


“Maria Hernandez graduated cum Laud from a University in Washington State. Her work brought her to California and I met her one Sunday as she was walking out the door of my church. Imagine my shock when I saw this tidal wave of attractiveness coming toward me. I said to myself, “I thought the Rapture was coming from above.” Well, I've always known my limitations so all I said to her was a quick “Hi” and I ducked. Several weeks went by and one day I was sitting on the sofa in the the foyer and I looked up and there she was, sitting on the sofa and looking at me like she wanted to say something. And we started talking and we just hit it off. I really enjoyed talking to her. I got her number, but I really didn't think I could aspire to going on a date with her...I just wanted to be with her. I really liked her. But I thought, “If I could just sit at her feet and paint her toenails, that would be proof enough that God loves me.”


“That's the thing about Maria Hernandez. I knew even before the sofa thing that there are certain things that you don't say to her. She's Hispanic, and she takes being Hispanic very seriously. I think they all do. Once, as a joke, I said, “Hey, Mexican girl!” I'll never do it again. She didn't throw her arms around or get stuffy or pout, but she is expert at making you feel ignored if she wants to, and I think she gets that from all the guys who annoy her. If by any chance we travel to Omaha, can I parade her in front of you and Joanne? If so, one thing: don't touch her. You are in the presence of greatness.

When Maria talks, I stand up straight and listen. When she clicks her heels, I obey. When she snaps her fingers, I throw myself at her feet and beg, implore for forgiveness for all my shortcomings and failings. Then, I look up fearfully into her eyes...and see the gentle softening of her expression and I see the forgiveness in her eyes - Another day of life.


You know something about Maria? She's a Democrat. I was a little freaked out about that at first, I mean, I didn't expect it. But I guess Hispanics tend to be that way. The Democrats promise relief from poverty by means of a sharing of the wealth, and Republicans always talk about the trickle down theory. Even though I consider myself a conservative Republican, hearing Maria talk about her family in Texas and what life was like, I have to wonder, “Who wants to wait for a trickle? You better hope it gets there before its time to buy food.” And that's the thing: Maria and I are different. I'm sure that, if life turns out well, Maria and I will always have our differences. But I never want to change her. I would feel guilty if I changed her. I want her to true to herself and be the person she was always meant to be. Our differences are what make her beautiful. I respect her and I want to keep it that way.


And that's what I think is wrong with our country right now, and possibly the whole world. We don't realize that the reason we have differences between us is because we are incomplete people. Rather than opposing each other, we should complement each other, at least with respect, and work together to solve the problems that face us. Arrogance appeals to a person's ego, but as I have grown older and learned from good people, I have learned the value of being kind, and not just for someone else, but I've experienced a joy that I didn't before. I just feel more intelligent. Do you think I want to risk my relationship with Maria over a political argument? No. And its because I love her. And isn't that what we are supposed to do? When Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets, he didn't even say “Convert your neighbor.” He said “Love your neighbor.” There's always the wag that will say, “If you love them, you'll try to convert them.” I follow the logic but I don't think so. The great irony of Christianity is that it works best when its agenda free.


My pastor, Mike Minter, told us one Sunday that the day before he had...oh, I can't remember what it was, 40, 50, or 60 people over at his house, neighbors, just because he loved people. How many Pastors can say that? How many of ANY of us can say that? But Mike is one of the most honest people, one of the most likable people I have ever met. He's 72 years old now, and you would never know it the way he can make you laugh and enthrall you with his thought provoking sermons, but the reality is that he won't be here forever. Thinking about it, I haven't felt this way since...I really don't want to deal with it. Another thing about Mike: he said to the entire congregation one time something that was disarmingly honest: “You'll never get 40 hours out of me but I love people and I like to help them.”


Well, enough of me. How about them Huskers? What have you heard? I heard about that punter that got killed in the car accident. I can't believe it. You know, if you look around sometimes if it's not one thing it's another. I feel bad for the whole family. I really think life is a bust sometimes.


Maria and I are going to church together this Sunday. The only thing: most people when they go to church go to worship God. When I go to church I go to worship Maria Hernandez. And something else: these days when there is a thunderstorm and there is all kinds of chaos reigning in the sky, I stay inside, with good reason...(you have to think about it.)


Well, Jay and Joanne, don't forget about me here in California...I always like hearing from you guys.


All my best,




Maria Hernandez entertained her boyfriend by dancing around in her living room and pretending that she was a music sensation. Whenever Maria and Frank got together they talked with the utmost transparency and tenderness about each other, themselves and their relationship, although Frank was careful not to draw attention to “the future.” It might scare her. Sitting on her loveseat Frank observed once, “So many guys, when they like a girl, think that getting the girl is about strategy. They read books of the How to Get What You Want Now variety. They say things like, “Sit this way! It turns girls on! Look at her left cheek! Eat with your mouth open!” But I don't really think strategy is it. It's about respect. It's about caring for the girl and looking out for her best. Its about knowing that, if she looks past you, depending, I suppose, on your ability, its time to back off and maybe move out. Women have tremendous power but they don't know it. I knew this guy once who went on a date with a voluptuous babe, (although she didn't compare to you). He always had a little bit of a tendency to talk about himself too much and draw attention to himself by making inane comments. So he goes on this date with her and I notice that he comes home kind of early. So I asked him how it went. And he hangs his head a little bit and looks at me and says with a sad eye, “I forgot to eat with my mouth open!” There was always a great deal of laughter when Maria and Frank got together, and both settled into the joy of two people getting to be very comfortable with each other.


The little boy sat with his math homework in front of him and waited. The teacher approached him and said, “I don't understand why you got this all wrong. You're going to have to do your homework all over again.” The little boy looked up at him and said, “I was comfortable with it. I thought I had it right.” The little fellow failed to recognize the distinction between being comfortable and being careless, a mistake you never, ever want to make.


Frank and his friends, including Maria, sat on the warehouse floor and talked. Frank was talking about his upbringing in Omaha, Nebraska. “You know I'm an evangelical. But I grew up in a Catholic home. My parents went to Catholic church. My mother was Irish Catholic through and through. Then there were the O'Hanlans' down the street. For years my mom and Donna O'Hanlan were great friends. They were Catholic. Then there was my dad's medical partner, Richard Kinsella who later became one of Omaha's most prominent physicians. They were Catholic. Then there was the Engles family across the street. Frank Engles was one of my favorite friends. I really liked playing football in his front yard. I still remember him standing on his porch telling me that we had to shake hands because his mother said we might never see each other again just before my mom and I moved to Paris. His mother's command of the future was regrettable. And they were Catholic. I grew up thinking that Omaha was a Catholic town. I have thought many times that I don't always see eye-to-eye with everybody I know, but I have to tell you what I really think of Catholics: they are sharp as a whip. And they are some of the most enjoyable people you will ever know. Religious differences are very talked about, but as an evangelical, it isn't my business to speculate about who makes it across the river and who doesn't. But I can tell you one thing: when I think that some of these people are gone, that there has been a gaping hole left in my life because I will never see them again, I hate death. And there are a lot of people out there. Sometimes I just want to be an evangelist, get out there and grab the whole world for God!”

Maria put a sympathetic hand on his knee.

“One more thing, and on a lighter note. Maria and I have talked about this. Once on the Internet I saw this scam where some guy was promising guys that he could guarantee that they would succeed in seducing women if they would just follow his instructions. One of his steps was, when she's talking to you, look at her lower lip. And she wouldn't be able to resist. Well, when a guy is talking to a girl, and he is looking at her lower lip, you can tell, you can just tell. And I thought, what if this thing is a scam to get guys to make fools out of themselves by telling on themselves?” The whole group burst into laughter, every one of them rolled around and flattened on the floor, unable to stop their cynical laughter.


You shouldn't roll on the floor like that. You can get sick.


At that moment the door opened and an ugly man came in. He paid attention to everyone accept Maria. As he talked, everyone sensed an unlikability about him, but no one really knew who he was. Frank studied his face as the man talked roughly and made ethnic slurs. There were demands, but no one said that they would not comply. Frank, unknown to his friends, had an uncle that worked for the FBI and over the years insights had been shared. The man turned his back to leave. As he closed the door behind him, perhaps the only thing he had ever done in his life to take responsibility for himself, Frank knew who he was. He was Mo Ron Stoop, Grand Marshall of the Ku Klux Klan.


Frank said, “You guys, we've got to get out of here. Quietly. I'll tell you why later. Let's not make a big commotion. Just scatter and go home.”


Frank knew how arrogance could make people brave, how it could affect their judgment, how it could make people think they could get away with it. He had thought the ugly man was rude to Maria, and he wondered in the back of his mind about her safety. When he woke up two mornings later he had an uneasy feeling about the wad of paper that was tucked underneath his front door handle. When he unrolled it, the handwriting looked like the handwriting of someone who was scared of an education beyond the second grade. It said, “We don't date Mexicans!” Now he felt positively sick inside and knew that he had to run to Maria's house to check on her safety. He couldn't go in his underwear and he hated every moment of delay occasioned by the need for social acceptability. When he ran out the door he ran. He turned the corner, glad to be arriving at her house, but he could not have been prepared for what he was about to see. There were police cars everywhere. Her house was cordoned off with police tape. He stopped, stunned.


A deputy sheriff was walking toward Frank, and as he passed him he mumbled, “Something happened in the night.” Frank said, “I've got to know!” The deputy sheriff said to him, “Don't go. They won't let you in. The property is under police investigation. I can tell you that there was a murder.” Frank knew from talking to his uncle how serious this was. Between fighting back tears and trying to muster up courage to go on, Frank said to himself, “If I really love Maria I won't interfere with her quest for justice.”


It was beginning to be a long day. Frank went to the warehouse where he had last seen Maria and his friend Fernando Mata was already there. Fernando was a Salvadoran transplant, fluent in English and always ready for a laugh. But Frank was not laughing. Frank took him by the arm and said, “She's gone! I've lost her forever! I can't believe it!” By this time he was sobbing uncontrollably, convulsively and Fernando thought how ugly it was to see this depth of suffering in his friend. He tried to console his friend, but he could not be consoled. Maria had been the fourth person of the trinity. She was the woman who could snap her fingers and make you cry. She was the woman to whom he went for forgiveness for all his faults and shortcomings. It was from her forgiveness that he derived another day of life. And now she was gone. There was no consoling this man.


Frank sobbed uncontrollably, prostrate on the warehouse floor. He flipped himself over on his back. He was yelling now. “Why do these things have to happen?” he said between gasps for air. “Where's the respect? Hispanic lives matter! Black lives matter!” Then he cried out a long, sobbing “WHY??”


A full three days passed with the two of them still sitting in the warehouse, trying to get over the shock of what had happened, with no consolation leading into the fourth day. As the day moved on, Frank was no better. He managed to talk, however, and he and Fernando sat next to each other. Frank hung his head and looked sideways at Fernando.


“I'll never forget how beautiful she was. She could have been a News Anchor.” He paused, wiped his tears away and said, “Did you know she was a dedicated Christian?” He began to trail off again with the distractibility of a man who was tired, very, very tired. “I have some times thought that when we die and stand before God we will be very aware of our sins. And I'll stand up and say, “I'm sorry, Lord, I think there's been a mistake. Maria Hernandez has never done anything wrong in her life!” He burst into uncontrollable sobbing again as he thought about the bereft life ahead of him, and the horrible end that had been forced on Maria. Even though the police investigation was still ongoing, the funeral was set for today. Fernando put his hand on his shoulder. “I don't want to remember her that way, “ Frank said. Fernando said, “Come on. Let's go.”


The two men arrived at the funeral home, and Frank sat in the back of the chapel. He did not look at the casket, but Fernando thought it would be good for Frank to go forward, to look at his beloved angel one last time. Frank moved slowly, very slowly, almost unwillingly. For the second time in this horrible episode he was not prepared for what he saw: The woman lying in the casket was black. Maybe sixty years old. Frank recognized the deputy sheriff that he had seen a few days ago. He asked about the woman.


“Yes, that's the woman we found in that house. Clarissa...oh, I don't remember her last name. I'm not part of the investigation. But that is definitely the woman.”


Frank looked at Fernando, but in the end he knew that as long as they still had to endure those stupid little men dancing around in their sheets with their flashlights, they were not out of the woods. And Maria was still unaccounted for. You don't take much hope away from a situation like that.


Frank did not want to go home. He wanted to be where he had last been with Maria, to be near the place where he had seen her laugh about the scam, where she had put a sympathetic hand on his knee, where he and friends had celebrated life. He crawled into a corner of the room where they had been and went to sleep. It couldn't have been needed more.


Four hours passed and the manager in charge of the warehouse was getting ready to close. A woman entered the room with keys in her hand, saw Frank sleeping and immediately walked over to him. She nudged him awake as someone who had something she wanted to say. He barely opened his eyes, but he came to and found himself looking into the astonishing face of Maria Hernandez.


Frank noted his own lack of joy at seeing her. He was happy. Very happy. But he had been numbed by disappointment, crushed by the barrenness of never seeing her again, of living a life bereft of the woman he had loved like nothing else in life. It was like talking to your girlfriend after she had broken up with you; you were glad that she knew you were still alive, but you didn't have much hope that you would ever be happy again. He touched her shoulder to make sure she was really alive. It was her. This is really incredible, Frank thought.


Frank sat up and said, “Maria, where have you been?”



“I've been at the marriage feast of DaLam. I never thought people could have such a good time.

There was singing and dancing and all kinds of backslapping and carrying on. No tables were knocked over, however. His friends are very civilized. I think he and his bride will be very happy together. Then when I returned to the area I came straight here. I figured you'd be here.”


Frank wondered about the wedding. He wondered about his relationship with Maria. He had never had any reason to doubt her, but she went to a wedding and he wasn't her guest. She hadn't even told him about it. Now he was beginning to listen to her even more carefully than usual, listening for any hints about what the future might hold. He loved Maria, and wanted to stay together with her, but he didn't want to be the relationship that she offered up to God. If she was coming to the conclusion that he wasn't what she was looking for, he wanted her highest good. If she wanted out, he would let her go, even if it meant going through the rest of his life as an open wound.


“Maria, why didn't you tell me about this?”


“Frank...Lammy is very protective of me. I think he worries about me. Even on his wedding day he gave me this big hug and told me that he was crazy about me. He hugged me so tight and for so long that when it was over I was glad to be alive. He told me that he wished he could have me as his daughter and take me out for ice cream and wrap his arms around me and tell me how much he loves me. In his previous marriage he did not have any children, so I think he's kind of adopted me as his own. Lammy will always be one of my favorite people, but I just didn’t want him to know that I had a serious boyfriend.”


That was the second time in just a matter of minutes that Frank felt a huge relief. He touched Maria's shoulder again. There's nothing like a new perspective to change the way you feel about living.


The manager of the warehouse came into the room and beckoned them home. Frank and Maria left and in Maria's house a month later Frank sat next to her on the loveseat and held her hands in his and paused, hesitated and looked into her eyes as someone who wanted to be very, very cautious. He spoke, hesitatingly at first, and said, “Maria, I'll never forget what it was like to lose you.” He spoke carefully and said what absolutely had to said, like water that could not be held back. “Would I... be ask you what your thoughts are about the future of our relationship?”


Maria had a sweet smile, a smile so gentle and so kind that it could save a soul. She was getting ready to answer him, to tell what she really thought. He liked that. Frank liked being saved.


“I think we should get married. I've thought that for a long time.” In the conversation that followed they easily agreed on plans for a house, and Maria expressed her desire: “And I think our home should be graced with three little visitors.”


At home that night Frank thought about the woman of his dreams. He picked up the letter he had sent to his friend in Nebraska and read, “Maria Hernandez is the most flawlessly, unbelievably beautiful woman I have ever seen! And this isn't, “Well, everybody's got a right to their own opinion.” This woman can snap her fingers and make you cry. In fact, I reserve the right to wonder in the back of my mind if she might not be the fourth person of the Trinity. She is that beautiful. And she is nice, too. She treats people well, she chooses her words carefully, she is intelligent. And she is not a demanding snob.” Frank thought about the enthusiasm with which he had written that letter. How it was just a beginning point. He had dreamed about Maria Hernandez. Now she was in love. With him. He thought about the possibilities: “It's alright, it's alright...” he said to himself, calming down. “Treat her like a lady... Take her out...make her feel special...respect your differences...RESPECT YOUR DIFFERENCES!”


A week later a knock came at Maria's door. It was detective George Sharpe, who asked to come in and talk to the two lovebirds and tell them everything they needed to know about the investigation of Clarissa Stuart's death. All of the investigating that needed to be done inside the house had been completed long ago; no arrests had been made, but they had a suspect and an arrest was imminent. George spoke politely and reassuringly to them but he did emphasize that it was a Klan murder. Maria wanted to know how Clarissa's body got into her house, and why.

“This is what we think happened, “ he said. “Clarissa Stuart was 62 years old. Her daughter told us that she suffered from Alzheimer's disease and that the family relied on the daughter to take care of her. One night Clarissa managed to wander away without the daughter knowing it, and as her health would have it, she lost her way. Apparently our suspect saw her just up the hill over there, and we don't know why, but he decided to kill her. By the time he had decided on what to do and how, she was already close to your house, just over the fence here. He delivered multiple blows to the head and she died instantly. At that moment a high school football game was getting out and he panicked. We think he decided to dump her in your house so he broke the window of the back door and unlocked it.”

She turned to Frank. “Remember that I showed you that?” Frank wanted to know what could be done to ensure Maria's safety. Detective Sharpe said that once the arrest was made the great likelihood was that she would be out of danger.


Frank and Maria were engaged, but not in the sense of having a ring. That would come later. Both looked to make preparations for the wedding, and often they sat on the loveseat in Maria's house and talked about the things in life that mattered. Certainly, the bride-to-be looked forward to choosing rings with her guy, but Frank's arm around her shoulders was ring enough for her.


The idyllic wedding preparations, however, were interrupted by a rumor. There was some

talk among the movers and the shakers around town that a Klan rally was on the way. Frank's uncle confirmed as much. The FBI would be present, although incognito. The uncle told Frank not to go anywhere near the place where it was rumored to be planned, not to let Maria be seen. So Frank agreed to watch the ruckus from a distance, with Maria.


On that night the Klan showed up in force, spewing out hatred, violence and threats, terrorists in sheets. The man holding a burning cross tripped over a tree stump, swore and, though he recovered his place in the world, felt embarrassed. Well. Maybe nobody saw it. The provincials moved around in a circle, waved their torches around and otherwise spoiled the landscape. And, a special treat. The Grand Marshall was getting ready to speak to the careful onlookers. A speech! What fun! A speech was a highly unusual move for a Klan rally, since they have nothing to say. The Provincial – in - Chief began to speak from behind his sheet. Somebody in the crowd said, “I can't hear you!” There was a snickering among the people. Frank said to his girlfriend, “I haven't felt this affronted since I saw that movie about the mob!” The Grand Marshall continued: Blacks were this and that. Hispanics were this and that. Catholics were this and that, too. Frank thought that the Klansman talked and acted like his grampa just before he died. The Grand Marshall said that the Klan's view of America would prevail, since God was on their side and they were a Christian organization.


Frank took two steps forward and shouted between gritted teeth, “Oh you are! Then listen to the Old Testament Prophet Amos: 'Prepare to meet thy God!'” The Klansman continued speaking, advancing his ideas of white supremacy. Frank shouted, “Eat a plunger!”

Go on. Live a little.

Just before the end of his speech the Klansman outlined his plan for voting rules that would silence the black vote. Silencing the black vote was necessary because “animals shouldn't have the vote...they are filthy, ignorant, unfit to have a voice.”


Frank listened, incredulous. Maria knew that what happened to blacks could happen to Hispanics. It could happen to evangelicals. Maybe Catholics.

Frank cupped his hand to one side of his mouth: “Mr. Ku Klux Klan, your wife can walk at any time. Love is a democracy! And in the end you can't silence anybody!”

The Grand Marshall was through speaking, thankfully, and his retreat freed the onlookers from their obligation. The Klansman looked around, satisfied that he had convinced the crowd to rid America of the Black problem, the Hispanic problem and the Catholics. The Fuhrer had spoken.

The following day the Grand Marshall was at home sitting in a small room on a very private stool. He thought about his “triumph” the night before. But triumph was not coming to him now—there was just so much!-- and he wondered privately why some things in life were so hard, but the answer eluded him. It must be the Blacks' fault. They were the ruin of America. However, Black America continued to produce a great many of the country's best athletes and cultural icons. Simone Biles left the 2016 Olympics as perhaps the greatest gymnast ever. We won't talk about that. Then maybe it was the Hispanics' fault. But Hispanics carried themselves with a great deal of dignity and had built two hugely entertaining and informative television networks in Univision and Telemundo. And Frank always enjoyed hanging with Maria's friends because together they found so much to laugh about. And, (drum roll, please!) at the Olympics Laurie Hernandez won a gold and silver medal and won the cutie pie contest. Well, then. Better blame the Catholics. But Catholics had a history of building much needed hospitals and loading the medical profession with bright people. And what would grampa do without someone to take care of him? If the Grand Marshall had all the answers, if his arrogance and white supremacy provided the solution to America's problems, then why didn't he see what was happening all around him?


Outside his house a SWAT team was positioning itself on the grass and everywhere. There must have been 40 law enforcement officers getting ready to storm the house and arrest the man they held responsible for Clarissa Stuart's death. First in the house was Frank Robinson, a tall, muscular African American gentleman of no mean ability for intimidation; the wayward around town knew him and did what they could to avoid being arrested by him. The officers checked everywhere in the house but could not find the white supremacist anywhere. Robinson found him; the Grand Marshall met his eyes but he was still uncomfortable and not ready to go anywhere. Robinson angrily held his stare and with an angry, precise movement put the viewfinder of his assault weapon against his eye and aimed at the bigot. “This is really embarrassing,” he growled.


Yes it was.


The trial of Grand Marshall Mo Ron Stoop took place immediately. He was charged with the First degree murder of Clarissa Stuart and the news outlets around town and throughout all of California made it front page, lead story news. The prosecution was able to produce the murder weapon, a dense steel bar, and it could prove that the murder weapon had Stoop's DNA all over it, as did the body of Clarissa Stuart and the interior door handle where the Klansman had broken into Maria's house to dump the body and then let himself out. The Grand Marshall would not testify because the Defense Attorney considered it too risky, yes sir. There was more evidence in the form of Stoop's vocal pronouncements against Blacks, Hispanics and Catholics—Clarissa Stuart was two of those, and her children were born to a Mexican immigrant, an excellent husband and conscientious worker who had supported a large family before succumbing to cancer. Still, with all the evidence that continued to mount throughout the trial, the jury took three days to deliberate. The wait was agonizing for the family and friends of Clarissa Stuart, as well as Frank and Maria, the police involved in the case, and the news outlets which openly wondered why a verdict was taking so long; they also continued to editorialize about other news, something about a Stanford rapist. When the verdict did come, it was appropriate, although, fortunately, not predictable.


Frank was talking to Maria in his kitchen as she cooked dinner for the two of them. He could not get over the social injustices in the world, the cruelty, Man's inhumanity to Man. He said, as he ate,

“You can live your life one of two ways. You can have passion in your head and be egotistical, or you can have passion in the chest and enjoy life.”


Stir up the tornado within.


Still, Frank could not understand how a jury could take three days to deliberate in the murder trial of a Klansman being tried for the the murder of a Black Catholic woman with his DNA all over the murder weapon, all over the victim and on the door handle inside the house where he had dumped the body. He did not munch his food but instead turned to Maria and said sardonically, “I guess that's what happens when you have criminal trial juries staffed by the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Andy approached Frank's residence and sat on the railing at the bottom of the steps leading up to his house. His hair was a mess and the jeans he had worn to work were ripped around the knees. Frank waited for Andy at the top of the stairs, but Andy seemed exhausted. He told his friend, “A new girl started work in the office today. Unbelievably beautiful. I was sitting in my cubicle, just peering around the side, trying to watch her incognito. I saw her smile. Then she flipped her hair behind her shoulder. And I'm thinking, 'What will she do next?'” Andy sat on the railing appearing dazed, eyes slightly out of focus. “Something ought to be done about the violence that women do to men!”


The two men entered the kitchen and talked to each other about the role that Black America had in garnering medals for their country in the Olympics. The conversation then turned to Hispanic athletes. Andy said,


“You know, that Laurie Hernandez is really something. She won a Gold Medal in the Team Competition and a Silver Medal on the Balance Beam. If it were up to me I'd give her a Gold Medal for her smile, and another Gold Medal for those big, brown eyes of hers. And then I'd give her an All-Around Gold Medal because she's cute.”


The two men briefly held each others stare, then broke into a playful weeping and lamenting, and embraced each other, consoling one another.


As the gymnast did her routine, he searched for her. Every agonizing second he watched her as she jumped, pranced and flipped. He looked intently at her face. That smile...maybe that was just the way she was. Her parents support, the apparently uncomplicated personality. He continued to watch her, looking for an answer. She jumped, flipped and wowed the crowd. She did not wink, however – maybe you don't wink on the balance beam, but she could. At the end... an excellent score and the Silver Medal. Then he did another kind of search. And the sixteen year-old loved God: he had won the Gold Medal.


Frank broke into crazy laughter all of a sudden. “Did you hear what that guy said on the news the other day? That Reginald Wilson guy that the Klan was harassing at his house when they had their rally? The reporter expressed surprise to learn that the Klan had actually stayed around until 3AM that night. So Reginald Wilson leans into the microphone and says, “That's the problem with having people over—some people just don't know when it's time to leave.” The kitchen exploded, but it wasn't the oven.

“Maria and I were just talking before you got here about the cruelty that people perpetrate on each other. I can't understand it. Why are people shooting cops? What happened to Freddy Gray? The list goes on and on. Then there's Clarissa Stuart and that bunch. We're crazy. And it's not just the Klan. We're all crazy. Every last one of us. Push the right button and we all explode. No exceptions. It comes out in every aspect of life. We don't respect each other, but we need to even if there is some risk involved. We have problems that none of us has a perfect answer for because we are incomplete people. We are incomplete people! Isn't that why people get married? We need each other.”


Andy, who by now had been appraised of the entire night's conversation, looked at his friend with a pensive look on his face and said: “And the ACLU?”


Frank paced a few steps and turned on his heels, lips pursed together. He paused for a moment before he said anything.


“I'd answer the phone.”


Finally the day came for Frank and Maria to unite their lives in marriage. Their involvement in the klan murder of Clarissa Stuart as well as their affable personalities had made them well known to the community and they had made it clear to Reginald Wilson and anyone else that they were welcome to come to the ceremony. The minister officiating the ceremony was Bruce Corriell, a friend of Frank's family who had known his brother in Illinois. Bruce was a devout man, and one who was passionately aware of the social issues of the day. Frank and Maria had talked to him extensively before the ceremony came and all had agreed that the memory of the Clarissa Stuarts of the world would not be forgotten. But, a security company was hired to present at the wedding because the night before there had been a multiple stabbing in the church parking lot. Bruce stood at the top of a step that let him be seen over the dashing couple by an overflow crowd. He began his remarks saying,


“We are gathered here today...” and so on, but what he really said to the couple and to the awed crowd was, “We live in a very troubled time in our country. Everywhere you turn there is reason to wonder what the future holds. But as I stand here today there is one thought I cannot escape: in all of God's creation there is nothing more beautiful than a woman in love.” Somebody in the back heard a clap and the forest caught fire and suddenly people were on their feet clapping and stomping, and cheering wildly for their team, a different kind of rally. Maria could be seen on the alter, rib cage bouncing up and down as she laughed at the attention they were getting. She looked over at Frank, who was more reserved, and whispered, “You always take things in stride.”


“I don't think so.”


The minister continued. “In the midst of our very troubled world, in the middle of all the tension that is tearing people apart and taking lives on our very street corners, two people are uniting their hearts and lives. Frank Sutherland and Maria Hernandez have come today to tell us, to tell all of us, that they love each other... that they love each other... and that they will spend the rest of their lives together.” Bruce continued, then asked for a presentation of the rings. After he had finished his remarks, he explained to the onlookers the significance of the rings, “particularly as seen by Frank and Maria.”


“The first observation to be made about the ring is that it is round. The roundness of the ring gives it a never-ending continuum, symbolic of eternal love and the permanence of marriage. Obviously, if two people are going to live together harmoniously for their entire lives many things have to come together: respect, forgiveness, patience, communication, quality time, attentiveness, the ingredients go on and on and I know that Frank and Maria have their own list. But the circular shape of the ring is also significant for what it does not signify: the runaround. When two people pledge their lives to each other they owe it to themselves as well as to each other to be forthcoming in their dealings with resources, each other and where they were last night. Integrity is a must for a marriage to survive happily.” The minister continued with the ring symbolism and then turned his attention to the broader issue of the day: violence. He said, “Last night we had a major stabbing in our parking lot. The presumed guilty were taken into custody, but to me it was very representative of what has been happening in our country. There is no respect for life, no compassion for the needy, no respect for the badge.


“The world has been a mess for as long as anyone can remember. It happened just after the misrepresentation of the Word of God in Genesis Chapter 3. Then there was a fleeting reference to a virgin birth, and somebody was coming, that Somebody being what someone in the parking lot last night referred to as “flesh on a stick.” We have been given the ultimate opportunity to be straightened out, to be forgiven, to love and to be loved, and we live our lives as though it doesn't matter.” He paused, and in his mind prayed for a moment, then said: “God have mercy on us.


Six months into their new life, Frank and Maria sat in the den while a few friends wandered around the house and Frank read parts of a letter he was sending to his buddy Jay. Frank read, “I have no doubt that this woman will snap her fingers many times and make me cry. No doubt, she really could be the fourth person of the trinity. But if I put Maria on a pedestal it's because it helps me focus when I pray.” Someone in the next room said, “You're going to get zapped.” Frank paused for a moment. Then he said to anyone who would listen, “There was this girl who sat across from me in one of my classes my senior year in high school. Her name was Laurie. I'll never forget Laurie for a lot of reasons. One was that I had never had a crush on any girl like I did Laurie. Not anyone. Not my mother, not the babysitter, not the girl who passed out the cookies in kindergarten. Nobody could approach the way she had me against the ropes. And the really bad thing was I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. I know I made her miserable. I got indirect negative feedback from the teacher twice. That's pretty bad. But what I really remember about Laurie was how polite to me she was through this whole thing which lasted the entire school year. If our eyes met and I shook my head and rolled my eyes, she put a ridiculous smile on her face and shook her head and rolled her eyes. I remember once she sat in a chair next to mine while we talked about something and I just couldn't get over her courtesy, the respect she had, and I never did get the feeling that I had to watch my back whenever she was around.” He then continued his letter to Jay: “Don't worry about that fight that Joanne won. The world is full of unequal relationships, and, in any case, help is always nearby...just say, Sorry, and wrap your arms around her and tell her how much you love her.”


Frank never expected it but Sorry was a word he, too, would be using. Saturday had been a day for the war chronicles; not that they actually fought very much, but he was feeling the pressure of just being Frank while he had to explain himself to a wife who was just being Maria. He had not called the day before to let Maria know he would be late for dinner. In fact, two and a half hours late. Now it was Sunday and they were at church. Frank was down at the altar approaching Pastor Mike Minter with an envelope in his hand when he suddenly remembered the trouble with Maria. He left his gift – and Mike Minter – at the alter and went after Maria, to reconcile with her.


She was just beginning to show signs that, maybe, just maybe, a little visitor was on the way. And her sensitivity to Frank's casual attitude toward the little details of a relationship was profound. He apologized again for the carelessness that had taken him on Friday and asked for forgiveness. She nodded with her head but with her lips she said, “That's alright; whenever I get lonely or feel neglected I'll just send myself an email that says, 'Someone is thinking of you.'” Frank moved to respond, but the

darting of a little boy across the floor took both him and his wife by storm. Frank knew his parents and he knew that this little boy had trouble in math class, so he thought he would ask him how he was doing in school. Rather than answer, the little boy tugged on Frank's jacket and said, “Is the Ku Klux Klan really a Christian organization?” Frank fought back a smile and got down to the ground, looking at the fellow eye to eye and spoke reassuringly, “No, the Klan is not a Christian organization. If they were they would be asking for money.” It was a pivotal moment.

“Something has really come over my husband,” Maria smiled.

There is no woman anywhere that doesn't deserve a great deal of respect, and the woman who in Frank's mind was arguably the fourth person of the trinity was by far and away top of the list. He was fascinated by watching the news, since he and Maria had lived so close to it, and he bought a rather large TV so they could watch from the loveseat, which was the center of their existence.


Through the magic of literary device, East Coast television could be seen in California. Frank left Maria in the loveseat and walked up close to the big screen. NBCNewsChanel 4. The news would be on from 11 AM to 12. The anchor was talking about an explosion in a Maryland apartment complex that left at least seven people dead, some of them Hispanics. Frank noted that the anchor's last name was Hernandez, too. He turned to look at Maria.


The loveseat was empty.


He noted, with some perplexity, that Maria had disappeared without saying a word. He turned to look again at the woman on the screen. He thought about how the news anchor, stunningly beautiful, vivacious and intelligent, reminded him of Maria in every way.


Perhaps they were the same person.


Maria would be home at 12:00 O’clock.


A tribute to you, (a tribute to all of us), though a small thing, was both pleasure and some torture for the writer. He thought about the woman on the screen, a created woman, whose willingness to comply with her beliefs and use her talents for the God she loved, had inspired a wounded animal to use his again, or at least try. Maybe that is what was missing. Frank thought about all that had happened in his life: Meeting Maria Hernandez in church; learning that love could actually make him compatible with a Democrat; learning the value of taking respect and love of neighbor further than he had before; losing Maria; four horrible days in the warehouse; the tease of hope that had turned in him when he realized that Maria was not in the casket; learning the truth about Clarissa Stuart; Maria's acceptance of his marriage proposal; cross burning and other forms of worship; the investigation and trial of a Klansman; the most important day of his life.


Frank's relationship with Maria, and the God they loved together, filled him with love for the present, and the need to turn his back on it at the same time; the need for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. He turned to look again at the woman on the screen, and thought about the possibilities.




Vladimir O' Lopez





© Copyright 2018 Vladimir O'Lopez. All rights reserved.

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