Man in False Light

Bright, white light shone behind the golden haired, blue eyed, middle aged man who stood before five hundred plus people. They had waited in line for hours to hear him speak.

Most of his words were about himself, his accomplishments. He spoke as if he had sacrificed to arrive at his position in life. He spoke as if he had done it all by himself, as if he had been born with nothing. As if his ingenuity, cunning, and work ethic had taken him from that nothing to a state of material wealth he flaunted with every breath.

But he occasionally spoke of the people in front of him: told them they had been forgotten by others, but never by him.

They looked on at him in awe. They imagined they could do what he had done – not at his level, but within the confines of what they perceived would be success. They believed this man spoke to them because he cared for them. He had climbed the mountain and now, out of a true love for the people of his country, would open the doors of opportunity to them all.

He spoke loudly. Angry at times, kidding at others. He spoke of disasters only he could quell, crimes only he could prevent. Of people who considered him the enemy of all that is good and right in this world, and of why those people, in turn, were the true enemies to be feared and targeted by everyone supportive of his cause.

When he finished for the night, he thought of how handsome and strong he surely looked to the crowd.

They returned to their homes and ate late dinners, content to have been included.

No Sweat

The high sun's heat hit the pavement then floated slowly upward, stagnating in the still air, not even the slightest hint of a breeze.

Garret and Joseph walked across Girard Avenue.

"Joe," Garret said, shocked, "how are you not sweating? I'm drenched."

Joseph, thoughts adrift, hadn't realized it. He looked at Garret and saw drops dripping down his friend's face, a soaked shirt, hair glistening where it met his hat. He felt his own armpits and forehead, dry as a bone.

"You're right, maybe I'm dehydrated. Nothing to sweat out." His mind returned to its previous, typical fodder: potential weekend plans, the week's upcoming televised sports, whether he'd see Annabeth later that evening.

Garret shook his head, puzzled.

Three days passed with an average daily temperature of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Joseph drank more water than usual. He walked to work like always. Dry. He jogged from York and Frankford to Third and Fairmount. Dry. He played pick up three on three basketball at midday for two straight hours and the other players said he must be an alien, born on Mercury or Venus so Earth could only be cool. Joseph's attitude toward his lack of sweat morphed from curious to concerned to paranoid. He longed to taste a salty drop as it fell across his lips, wanted so badly to remove wet socks, feel his feet sigh with relief. He went home after the basketball game and didn't need to shower, just crawled into bed, afraid.

He was half asleep when the evening news came on.

'Good news for Philadelphians as the weather should finally break tomorrow, temperatures will drop from the record breaking levels we've all suffered through for the last week….'

Joseph wondered what doctors might think of his sudden inability to sweat, pictured himself as a carnival side show character in a booth with a portable sauna. 'Step right up and adjust the dial to a hundred and ten, one twenty, one thirty and look! No sweat.'

He changed channels to a special on global warming, imagined himself a scientist instead of a bartender. Listening to experts on climate change, he considered their ongoing argument with doubters who dismissed their ideas and reports, usually because of religious faith or, Joseph thought, a profound feeling of smallness.

He fell into a fitful sleep. He dreamt of riding a camel, alone in the desert, surrounded by open space and cacti bright under a giant yellow sun. He didn't sweat but he didn't care. The camel joined him in laughter when he jumped off its hump and made snow angels in the sand. He'd accomplished something unknown.

He awoke in the middle of the night wondering what he'd done, what made him happy in his sleep. A new yearning replaced his passivity, a feeling of incompleteness he knew he'd have to resolve in life. A few minutes passed before he realized he lay in a sodden bed, his hair damp and his brow beaded with sweat, even as the cool night air blew in through an open window.

Chess Match

Jimmy hadn't played chess since he'd taken up poker, but when the boss at his new day job challenged him to a match, he felt compelled to accept. They met at a table top board in a park in South Philly on a Saturday afternoon.

The boss came out aggressive, marching his white pawns two spaces at a time straight at Jimmy's black ones, creating a gap in front of his power pieces. Jimmy moved a couple of black pawns one space forward setting up a zig zag sort of a front, opening up a lane for his bishop and one for his queen. After his boss continued to push pawns at him, the first piece Jimmy brought off the back line was a knight.

Jimmy knew why the boss really asked him to play that day: to see what Jimmy was made of, see if he was someone who could be pushed up the company ladder. Though Jimmy wasn't sure what he wanted out of the job, he enjoyed just about any game of skill, and he didn't mind an opportunity to see what made the boss tick, get a read on him.

Once his pawns were positioned to halt the boss's, Jimmy attacked the board's gaps with a bishop and both knights. Boss went into defensive mode and started talking about work. "Ever think about management, Jimmy?"

Jimmy nodded. "Sure boss, I've given it some thought."

The boss launched an offensive with his queen, and now Jimmy had to play defense. He shifted a knight and moved his other bishop and slid his rook along the back line. A counter attack presented itself and Jimmy saw an opportunity that would lead to check mate. When he looked into his boss's eyes, though, he saw something that made him hesitate, like the match somehow meant a lot more to the older man than Jimmy assumed it would. Normally Jimmy would never back off when he sensed an opportunity, certainly not at the poker table where his hard earned money was always on the line, but here in the park as the trees shook with a slight breeze, he decided he didn't care whether he won or lost.

"Check mate," the boss announced twenty three moves later, smiling broadly. "Thought for sure you had me a while back."

Jimmy shrugged. "Win some, lose some."