Undivided Lines is a collection of stories about wisdom, love, adventure, and redemption, featuring a diverse range of characters who brave challenging and life-altering experiences. From a tenacious senator defending the legacy of his work, to a Native American youth fighting for survival in his homeland, to a new mother traveling the galaxy to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance, these stories entertain, amaze, and enlighten.
From Undivided Lines:
“The first sign of the decay of nations is when they begin to have common gods. When gods begin to be common gods, the gods die as well as the faith in them, together with the people themselves. The more powerful a nation, the more individual its god.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons
The senator’s crisp white sleeves made a whisking sound as he punched, jab, jab, right cross, left hook, left uppercut, jab… He kept his chin in and head down, weaving lightly back and forth. The standing mirror in front of him quaked gently after every punch, faintly blurring his reflection, as he threw his fists harder, faster, exacting a fierce combination of head and body blows until the whole room began shaking, then he slowed, dropped his hands to his sides, stood there and watched himself breathing.
“You don’t get into my line of work unless you care about people and want to make a difference in the world. I look back at who I was thirty, forty years ago, and it amazes me how much I didn’t know. It astounds me. You could fill a library floor-to-ceiling with volumes of books about the staggering depths of my ignorance. The knowledge I’ve gained since then has changed my opinion about some things, but honestly, the reasons for me staying in this fight are the same as when I started. My heart’s the same, it’s about heart.”
The boy glanced up at the creases branching out of the corner of his dad’s eye. “Brandon said his grandpa had a heart attack a while ago, and he died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. May Brandon’s grandpa rest in peace. Steven, I’m talking about your figurative heart, like your spirit. When heart attacks happen it’s your physical heart, here…” He pressed his hand against the boy’s chest. “That’s what pumps your blood. I’m talking about the heart you feel with, the heart that makes you strong.”
“Where is that one at?”
“Same place, I suppose. Only it’s invisible.”
“Invisible?” The boy’s eyes opened wide as he smiled.
“Never mind. The point I was trying to make is whatever you decide to do with your life, you’d better make doggone sure you’re doing it for more than a paycheck. You can farm money trees for all I care, but if you haven’t got a bigger goal than making money, you might as well set those trees on fire.”
“Burn money trees?”
“You bet, burn ‘em up.”
“Wouldn’t that be a waste—”
“No, it wouldn’t be a waste.” He looked at his son’s blank expression. “Yes, it would be a waste, but only because of what you could accomplish with all that money, the businesses you could start, people you could feed, and bless, and help out of all kinds of trouble. The money itself isn’t the thing, is what I’m saying.”
“The money isn’t the thing,” the boy echoed.
“Isn’t the thing,” he said again, more softly.
The pavilion they were in had a green pyramid-shaped roof made of hard plastic that started to click right then with the impact of heavy raindrops. Click-click, click, click-click-click, click, click-click, click…
The senator cast an irritated glance upward. “Did they design this thing to be obnoxious in the rain?”
The pavilion was built on a bridge spanning a small lake in a park near their home, and the fish started jumping once the rain began, launching out over the rippling surface and splashing down, or merely churning the lake with a whip of their tails and descending.
“Whoa! Did you see that?” the boy asked, his eyes lit like high beams.
“Must have been a five-pounder,” he answered.
Steven jumped up and walked over to the railing, then, feeling the cold rain, leapt back under the roof of the pavilion. “It’s cold.”
“It’ll stop soon. You see those clouds over there, the gap over those trees? The wind is driving ‘em this way. We may see sunny skies before lunchtime.”
Sitting down again, he turned and asked, “What’s for lunch, you think?”
“Chips,” the man smiled. “Salsa. P, b, and j. Doubt mom’s gonna fix anything today. She might, though. Never know.”
The rain slowed to a light drizzle.
The man cleared his throat. “Steven, I want to tell you something, and this may have been what I was trying to say earlier. You’re too young now to understand it, perhaps, but I’m not getting any younger myself, so here goes. Grown-ups, we do the best we can. We start out as little kids just like you, everything’s new and interesting, the world’s a great big adventure. We go to school and get jobs, start families, and hopefully put our time and effort into something useful. The problem is, most of the time, the simple goal of building something, building a career, a life, can be the most difficult task in the world. And people can hate you for it, even when you’re just trying to help.”
“That’s right. Now life is complicated, son, and the world, it’s a chaotic place. Chaotic, you know, crazy. For everything that goes right and smooth and the way it’s supposed to go, there’s about fourteen hundred things that go wrong along with it. I’m not saying I’ve been a perfect man, far from it. But I have tried, every step of the way, to steer clear of trouble, both for myself and your mother, for you, Helen, Jenny, and Allen, and most importantly for the American people. My job is tough, Steve, tougher than you know. You’ve got to fight and do the best you can to help the highest number of people you can, and half the time you’re killing yourself just to steer clear of the next catastrophe. Catastrophe, like a disaster, like an earthquake or something. Anyway, that’s what I tried to do, day in, day out, for thirty some-odd years.” He smiled. “So don’t let them tell you different.”
The boy glanced up at him, half-smiled, and gazed out over the water.
“You hungry? Let’s go get that p, b, and j.”
As they crossed the bridge onto the path that curved up toward the front of the park, it started raining again, harder than before. The senator hopped a few times and started running, smiling back at the boy, and letting Steven run on ahead.