The Minstrel

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The Wednesday that Jonathan planned to meet Al Greenwood passed with little fanfare. Jonathan was grateful for the quiet so he could collect his thoughts, detach himself from the chaos surrounding him. There were no phone calls from irate clients like Mark Timothy Haines Sr. Marv Cohen and company. No harassment from Joan Frawley, or anyone linked with the Thomases. They had taken all their fanfare elsewhere for the day. Jonathan couldn’t say he missed it.

Linda was going to pick up Raven after school, so she would be okay . He was glad that Raven could have a female figure to look up to in this crisis of losing another mother. She and Linda seemed to get along well, more like buddies than anything else, because Linda was anything but maternal. It didn’t make her a danger to children, though, and she sure as hell wasn’t getting drunk around his daughter. Where Jenny had been passionate, and Ashley domestic, Linda was driven and analytical. Though at this point, neither one of them were even close to thinking of renewing their law school flirtation. And as long as the law said he was married, Jonathan thought of himself that way too. He saw no reason to start an emotional entanglement when he still was wrapped in another.

Traffic was light heading north, and it was two-fifty when he pulled into the diner off of I-84 in Putnam county, ten minutes early for his meeting with Greenwood. It was located on a state highway that buzzed with the anonymity and busyness that its proximity to the interstate provided. Jonathan wondered why a recluse like Greenwood would choose such a place to meet, but realized the randomness might set the perfect tone for their encounter. No one stuck around long enough to be known or suspected of anything.

The black Chevy pickup that Greenwood had described as his was parked in front of the diner window facing the highway. Both adjacent parking spots were empty, and Jonathan eased his Honda into the right one. As he looked up at the restaurant window, he saw a man in a booth watching him park. When he got out of the car, the man raised a hand in salutation. Jonathan could make out the balding and bespectacled man with a cigar, and recognized the man as Greenwood. He looked just as Jonathan thought he’d look: a man with a watchful eye on the world, removed and amused by it all. Jonathan returned the salutation and took a deep breath, passing several truckers leaving the diner who headed back to their rigs in their own destiny of anonymity. Jonathan wondered what destiny awaited him inside.

The diner was mostly empty except for a few lone truckers sitting at the counter and several elderly couples in booths sitting together in silence watching steaming coffee like it was a tea reading telling them of their pasts. Greenwood was seated at the corner booth, still staring out the window as though he was looking for the next man he could point and recognize. He didn’t budge until Jonathan actually sat down in the booth with him,

you found the place all right,” Greenwood offered as greeting.

“It was pretty convenient, being off the highway.”

“I figured as much. Wouldn’t do either one of us any good if I sent you to a place that you couldn’t find. Al Greenwood,” he offered, putting down his coffee and extending his hand. The other still held the cigar.

“Jonathan Pfeifer,” Jon obliged as they shook hands.

“Nice to meet you, Jonathan.” Greenwood pointed at the cigar. “I apologize in advance for the vice. Gave up cigarettes a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t lick these,”

“That’s okay. I understand. My daughter’s mother had trouble stopping cigarettes.”

“They’re crazy to quit. Have you ever smoked?” Jon shook his head, as Greenwood took a long drag and exhaled. “Smart man. Do you want anything? Lunch? Coffee? I already ate at home. Bertha is the best housekeeper a man could have. I’ve had her since I lost Mary, my wife, two years ago. I never pass up one of her Southern cooking meals.”

Jonathan smiled. “I do most of the cooking in my house.” A smiling dark-haired china doll of a server who heeded Greenwood’s beckoning took Jonathan’s order of coffee and bagel. Though this would be the first thing he ate today, he felt too knotted to be hungry. He hoped that by saving Raul he wouldn’t be sacrificing Raven.

“I’m glad you decided to come,” Greenwood pronounced.

“Why would you think I wouldn’t?”

Greenwood lifted his shoulder in what appeared more to be stretching than a shrug. “I couldn’t judge how serious you were about Raul, or what you said about saving him. For all I know, you were just a mole from the INS, trying to get me to say something I shouldn’t on the phone, and this whole meeting was a ploy.”

“And now that you’ve met me, you think I’m the real deal.”

“I have no idea. Though now that I’ve met you face to face, I feel more secure. I’ve noticed no unmarked cars accompanying you. But even if you are trying to set me up, I have no concern. I will only talk to you about Raul. And Raul is legitimate, being a Puerto Rican national. Maybe you can try to get me on tax evasion for paying Raul in cash. But see, you have no proof that he even is my employee. As far as I am concerned, this conversation is about the safety of my good friend Raul.”

“I was intending the conversation to go along that vein,” Jonathan concurred.

“Then we have a good basis to start with.” The server appeared with Jonathan’s bagel and coffee and proceeded to refill Greenwood’s cup without asking. Jonathan was not sure if the implicit gesture was because he had been here waiting a long time or if he was well known here. Jonathan turned to the cacophony of servers titterring and felt the curiosity of his presence emanating from then, stealing glances at him but not Greenwood. He decided that his latter supposition was true, that Greenwood was a regular who had chosen the visibility in case he was being taken for a fall guy, and that he’d been mistaken on his earlier assumption that Greenwood sought anonymity. Despite his underhandedness and suspicion, Jonathan felt comfortable in Greenwood’s presence. The liking he developed over the phone with him wasn’t diminished the tenor of espionage.

“Something wrong?” Greenwood intoned.

“No. Not at all.” Jonathan turned back to face him. “I just deduced that you must be a regular here.”

“Clever fellow. You must have noticed my cheering crowd over there. They seem to be amused by the ways of an eccentric old man.”

Jonathan smiled. “So you don’t live that far from here.”

“Not so far. About twenty miles, which is nothing if you live in farm country. I come here once in awhile, to remember what city life is like.”

“And to get supplies?”

“I have different places where I go.” The pointed evasiveness indicated that Jonathan was far from truly winning Greenwood’s confidence. He nodded in concession to this implicit message. He thought he saw Greenwood smile, though to most, it would seem a grimace.

“So, you were saying that Raul is in trouble.” Greenwood said with a smile and furrowed brow, as though the statement was a riddle he was still trying to figure out.

Jonathian nodded, choosing not to address his incredulity he felt at Grreenwood’s ignorance. Instead, he procured several newspapers, all with headlines or articles on pages 2 or 3 how Raul the Minstrel was a wanted man. Greenwood read every article, shaking his head, a tired expression etching into his face. “This is why I don’t pay attention to the news. Everything they print is hogwash.”

“Raul has said nothing to you about this.”

“Not a bit. He definitely seems like he is unaware of any of this trash. I don’t know if that makes him sound guilty or innocent. I’ve met some people on the lam in my time. Usually, they are pretty quiet. But generally they don’t show up more than once or twice in the same place. Either way, they don’t want to call attention to themselves. But Raul has showed up at the depot every week for several months now. He acts like he doesn’t have a care in the world, singing songs, lighting up the place wherever he goes. Except when he talks about his daughter.”


“That’s her. He says that they were separated after a break-in, and that he hasn’t been able to find her. Is this article true? The one that says she is dead?” Greenwood indicated to one of the newspapers with his cigar. Jonathan nodded and explained the account that Carmen told him. Greenwood’s eyes twitched a couple of times as he listened, emotion belying his impassive stance. He said nothing for awhile after Jonathan finished.

“From what you say, they will stop at nothing to lynch this man.”

“He’s already been convicted by most in the court of opinion.”

Greenwood leveled his gaze. “But not by you.”


“Why not? From what it sounds like, he’s been spotted at all three murder scenes with this woman Cindy Hughes. The Bonnie and Clyde theory wouldn’t sound too farfetched to the outside eye. And wouldn’t that be you?”

Jonathan smiled. “Devil’s advocate, aren’t you?”

“More than that, my friend. What I say about you could be true. And I wouldn’t want to compromise the safety of my friend Raul.”

“His safety is all that I want to ensure.”

Greenwood cocked an eyebrow at Jonathan, who withstood the scrutiny by holding his gaze. After a short time, Greenwood nodded his head, as though Jonathan had passed some implicit test.

“So, you want to ensure his safety and freedom. A laudable goal indeed, but how do you propose to accomplish it? And why involve me?”

“Because you are only one of a few people whom Raul maintains regular contact with, and of that few, the only one with the means to protect him. Being that you are a farmer, and because of the employees you hire, I assume that you live in a fairly remote area. This would get Raul out of the limelight of the city, where he is infinitely more likely to get caught. There are regular calls to the media and law enforcement of people claiming to know his whereabouts, all so they can collect on a monetary award that the family of one of the victim offered, and their fifteen minutes of fame. Take Raul out of the center of things, and perhaps the media circus will dissipate. Then maybe law enforcement can get about the business of finding the real killer.”

Greenwood nodded. “You mentioned a monetary award. How much is it?”

Was this just more of the devil’s advocate ploy, or was Greenwood playing the naÏf for his own personal gain? This was dangerous ground. Jonathan believed Greenwood to be the real thing, but anything was possible.

“Jonathan my friend, I am just asking. Do you think a man such as myself who distrusts almost everyone would be interested in mainstream society’s ploys? But you don’t have to tell me if you think that I am lying to you.”

Jonathan hesitated. Greenwood wore a look of understanding. He was a man who seemed to live his life in suspicion, and obviously could see it in others. Jonathan allowed himself time before answering, letting the questions of doubt settle into the ashes before speaking. “The reward is up to a million dollars at this time.”

Greenwood let out a low whistle. “Talk about an incentive to greed. Which victim is this? The lawyer’s son?” Jonathan nodded, and Greenwood snorted. “This is insanity. This man has done nothing but good, but yet people are still trying to malign him. That’s why I stay in the country, away from people. People are nothing but a pain in the ass even when you try to mind your own business.”

Jonathan decided to question him on what he already knew, seeing how much he was willing to lie, or what his reaction to his own truth was. “You’ve always lived in the country?”

“No. I’m originally from Newburgh. Then I lived in Albany, then just outside of Pittsburgh. So I speak from experience when I talk about the nosy neighbor syndrome.”

“So you haven’t been in farming your whole life.”

“No. I was a steel worker for the greater part of my adult life. Then the industry gave me early retirement in the form of a massive layoff, so I decided to get out of the city and undertake my lifelong passion of working the land.”

“Considering the work you do, I am surprised you use your real name.”

“I do nothing to be ashamed of.”

“You sound fairly well-read and educated.”

Greenwood laughed. “Do you think that white-collar men such as yourself are the only ones who are college educated? I graduated from the University of Albany with a business degree. Met my Mary there, too. She was an English major who later taught high school. As far as reading, that is what I do in my spare time, rather than concern myself with the garbage that the news and TV put out.” He picked up one of the newspapers, and referred to an article near one of the Raul stories, which purported that a married movie star was engaged in a lesbian affair. “Like this. I am sixty-three years old. Do you think I want to waste any of the precious time I have left on earth reading such nonsense?” He shook his head. “Perhaps if you come for a visit, I can lend you some real literature. I assume that your being a law school graduate, you read occasionally? I prefer the classics myself. Steinbeck is a favorite of mine. And you?’

“I’m a bit of a Flannery O’Connor fan myself,” Jonathan smiled, relieved that Greenwood had passed his own test, and that somehow the invitation indicated he had passed Greenwood’s. The server came and refilled the cups without comment. She seemed the quietest of the gag of girls, and the most attentive. Greenwood had created a life of tranquil solitude for himself. Given his personal crisis with Ashley, Jonathan found it alluring.

After they had sipped their coffee, Greenwood leaned into the table, lowering his voice. “I have to say your theory of holding Raul incognito is sound, except for two things. One, Raul is a free man, one who seems oblivious to the danger about him. I venture that he will be inclined to break out of any confinement, no matter how benign it might be, to look for his family, unless the full predicament he is in is explained to him. Which brings me to point two. I do not have the psychiatric skills to effectively deal with what the truth would bring, either the truth of the manhunt, or of Raulita’s death. And I am more concerned of what that will mean for Raul than for myself. What do you propose to do?”

“I’ve thought about that. I wouldn’t want to traumatize Raul any more than he has been. But some of his cousins in the Bronx located me, which is how I found out about Raul in the first place. Maybe if you tell him that you’ve met someone who has information about his family, then he will stay.”

“Are these cousins Carlos and Carmen?”

“Yes. Does Raul remember them?”

“Yes, he does. His talking about them gave me a clue about his amnesia; at first he mentioned them vaguely, as though they were acquaintances he barely knew. Now he talks about them all the time, how he and Carlos used to pal around and how Carmen was such a bulwark for Lupe when their son died. And Raul is normally a very open person, so I didn’t talk the process to be about trouble opening up. It seemed very likely there was a memory problem. From when he was shot, I take it?”

“Probably. One of the shots was in the cortex.”

“He’s lucky to be alive.”

Jonathan nodded in concurrence as he drank in his coffee. His thoughts were on what it would be like if he went through what Raul had, and had Raven shot right in front of him. He wouldn’t even have to be shot himself to want to block something like that out.

Greenwood took a long puff of his cigar, his attention fixated on the table. “So the plan is, when I get Raul tomorrow, I try and hold him over by telling him someone who has information about his family is coming. Correct?”


“And you feel that letting Carmen and Carlos telling the truth about Raulita will be the best course of action?”

“They should at least be present. They know him better than we do.”

“Correction. At one time they knew him better than we do. Eighteen years of the nomadic life is bound to change a person considerably.”

“True. But they still have a better chance at it than either one of us.”

“And Carmen’s being a woman is bound to help. I have never possessed the softer touch of the female creature.”

Jonathan smiled, thinking that Carmen was anything but soft. But she knew Raul. And loved him. He also smiled to think of what it would mean for all of them to be together once again.

“So then, why don’t I call you tomorrow, and let you know if Raul stays. I must warn you, that I won’t prevent Raul from leaving if he wishes.

“Of course. Raul is not a prisoner.”

“At least not to us he is.”

Too many wanted him to be, Jonathan thought. That was the problem. It was like the world needed a scapegoat for its own pain. In this chapter, Raul was the one who got to go the guillotine.

“So we have a deal then. I get Raul to stay, and then you can come, meet him yourself and bring his relatives. We’ll take the situation from there.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

“Bring your daughter with you. It’s good for children to see how others live.”

“She has been exposed to a lot of cultures. She’s part Cherokee.”

“Ahh.” Greenwood squinted at him. “From his mother’s side.”

“Yes.” Jonathan smiled.

“You’re not together with her?”

“No, I’m not. I married someone else.”

Greenwood nodded . “It happens. You can bring your wife, too. Why not? Maybe we can arrange a gathering for Thanksgiving. It’s been awhile since I had a real one.”

A real one indeed. “That would be great.”

Soon after, they shook hands and parted ways. Jonathan walked out after blessing the server with an extravagant gift of five dollars and watched Greenwood’s pickup pull away. The sun was just starting to dip under horizon, a deep orange that reached out and licked the earth with its luminescence. He wondered what Linda and Raven were doing now, whether they were playing chess, or just sitting on the couch together reading. No matter what they were doing, Jonathan knew she was safe where she was, and felt a bitter pang of what he had lost with Ashley. The mention of Thanksgiving at the diner reminded him that this would be the first holiday alone for him. But there was only the future to look forward to, not the past. Perhaps today what he’d done here at the diner had invested into a better future, one step closer in the fight for peace. He hoped so, for his own sake. And for Raven’s. To him, the future was all about her.

He saw the farmer again. Always he smoked cigars. When he was very young, the minstrel must have smoked cigars, too. He had a vague memory of standing on a street corner with a couple of men, sharing times and smoking away. The minstrel remembered the laughter of one. There had been much pleasure in sharing laughter with him. The minstrel wished that he could remember him. It would even be better if he was with the minstrel now.

So much time had disappeared. He had too few memories for one so old. He could see the lines that crossed his face when he looked in the glass of the stores he passed by, and he knew that his was not a face of the young. But his mind did. This question only came to him when he saw himself. It was like the Lord was testing him that something was not quite right. And yet, though he asked the Lord to give him strength to learn what that disquiet was, he never could quite figure out where the long gaps were. Sometimes, that made him sad. Maybe, if he had them filled, he could figure out what happened to Lupe and Raulita. But then, maybe God was protecting him from a truth too hard for him to face. He knew that God would not lead him into pain unless he was ready for it. He prayed that he had not hurt anyone. If he had, he prayed for their safety. And for their forgiveness. He knew God would give him the strength to forgive anything, and he knew He would give anyone else the strength to forgive him. Even Raulita.

The farmer shook his hand warmly, greeting him in Spanish like he always did. He was a kindly older man. He looked like the Santa Claus that rode the sleighs in front of the stationary stores. He always made the minstrel feel merry. Like the way Christmas always used to be. Suddenly, he felt sad, wishing that Lupe and Raulita could be with him this Christmas. He thought he caught sadness in the farmer’s eyes as well.

Poncho watched them. Today, he acted strange. Usually, he was asleep, but today, he was awake and alert. The gringo, he was probably thinking of. But there was no gringo except for the farmer. Surely he was of no threat.

The farmer said nothing to him in the car as they rode to the farm. This also was unusual. The minstrel turned to speak to him, speaking in the general terms of casual talk, the weather, Bertha’s family. The farmer, he just smiled and kept to himself. Once, he turned to look at the minstrel. He thought he saw sadness in the farmer’s eyes again. A strange feeling came over him; a voice telling him to pray; this voice the one he listened to without question. He did pray, no matter what the prayer was or who it was for. No prayer went unanswered in the Kingdom of God; no prayer with a holy heart would bring evil. In his mind, he prayed to the Holy Spirit while the farmer remained in his silence.

Late afternoon sunshine rays seeped through the bare skeleton of trees by the time the farmer returned to the farm. The minstrel always relished the peaceful scene of the picturesque farm. He would like to live in a place like this with his family. The country always seemed bewildering to him. So quiet and removed from the noise he was accustomed to; all the people that swarmed about. Here, he felt like God Himself had been let go from a tight canister and burst into freedom. He smiled; the sight warming him as though he was standing right under their power.

There was dinner waiting for them. The minstrel could smell it even as they were still in the truck. Smoked meat and vegetables, he detected. Last week, roast beef with potatoes. The farmer’s maid prepared it for them from scratch. Like him, the farmer was alone, but like him this had not always been the case. There were pictures of a beautiful woman all over the place, from as young as when she wore a dress of white lace to a time when lines were crossed in the corner of her eyes, lines of wisdom that were the cover of a book not read. One time, she and the farmer sat facing each other in an embrace, laughing. Lupe and he laughed much in the early days. He wondered if he would have a chance to maybe laugh again with her, like the farmer almost had. The minstrel felt compassion for the loneliness of the farmer. He knew he was not alone. Jesus had granted him strength this far. Sometimes, he tried to tell the farmer this. He would just laugh, saying the God died the day his Mary went with him. Love, to him, that was the only hope he could have for this crazy world. And he had never found love again.

The minstrel spent some time sitting by the fire. The farmer came in, told him to start working tomorrow. Today, they started out too late. With the sun setting so early now, there wasn’t enough time to do things. He told the minstrel to sit by the fire, where he mesmerized for long minutes. One time, Peter sat by the fire, the night the Lord was betrayed. God let a sinner be warm by the fire even as He knew the sinner would fall, even as He knew his most precious son would die that night. When the minstrel thought of the Lord, he could only think of him as the giver of mercy, never as a judging being. Even when man did such harm, He still loved him, He still showed the way. God would give exactly what your heart’s desire was. One day, he would see his loved ones. God knew his prayer. He would answer it. The minstrel knew that.

The doorbell rang. At first, the minstrel paid little heed, knowing the maid would answer it, continuing to warm himself, but sat up when the doorbell rang a minute later. It was only then that he head the radio blaring loudly from the kitchen, so engrossed was he in thought. The music had a loud beat to it. The minstrel laughed to himself as he passed by to answer the door; it was so joyful to see someone so young. Age was inside one’s heart; it was the heart that knew that it would be young with God forever or if it would decay into eternal death. Age could not be told by lines on faces.

There was no peephole in the door. Back home they always used them. You never knew who was going to come to your door.

He opened anyway. Who came here was the farmer’s business. He wondered if it was another worker for tomorrow. The minstrel would be glad to have a companion.

A tall blonde man stood before him, holding the hand of a little girl. Somewhere, he had seen this man; he was not here to work. And the little girl, my Godit was a dream. She was a grown woman now.

“Senor Valesquez?” the man intoned.

The minstrel jumped at the name. He’d not been addressed that way in years, and just in the moment’s time he recalled what had been a known reality like it had been that way all the time. He smiled and nodded at the man, who at first seemed baffled by his reaction, then pleased. He held out his hand.

“My name is Jonathan Pfeifer. I’m a friend of Al Greenwood’s.”

“A pleasure to meet you both,” the minstrel said, shaking the hand of the girl as well as her father. She had a strong grip for one so young. He felt a warmth of admiration for her.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was supposed to come yesterday, but I was held up at work.”

“What do you do?” They walked together to the living room. The minstrel was pleased that the gringo visitor could speak Spanish. So many didn’t know the tongue that first settled here. It was a shame.

“I work for a lawyer.”

“So you are not one yourself?”

“No. I’m a paralegal, but I hope to be a lawyer soon.”

“You have a beautiful name. Beautiful bird. Much pride, a raven has. Much like you. You seem like a proud young woman. You must have been raised to have great courage.” The minstrel caught a brief smile on Jonathan’s face.

“My mother is a Cherokee,” Raven boasted fiercely, her back ramrod straight. “She lives on a reservation in Oklahoma.”

“Raul, I need to talk to you.” Jonathan Pfeifer said.

“All right.”

Jonathan Pfeifer stopped to tell Raven something in English before she scampered off to a nearby room displaying shelves and shelves of books, then sat down on the old-fashioned velveteen couch. The minstrel followed suit, sitting on the opposite side of the couch. There was a part that wanted to hope that perhaps that lawyer had found Lupe and Raulita, found them safe and sound. It would be good to know if his journey had ended. It would be good if he could just be with them again.

“Is it about Raulita? Have you found her?”

Jonathan Pfeifer’s eyes faded for just a second, then his expression diminished into a mild smiling expression. “We’re doing our best.”

“I miss her so much.

“We’ll keep you informed. In the meantime, can you stay here in case we get an answer? Mr. Greenwood has said it is all right.”

Joy flooded the minstrel. “That would be so wonderful. I don’t know how to thank you. But,” he thought with sudden despondence, “I have no way to pay you.”

“I have that taken care of,” Jonathan Pfeifer said with a smile.

“They are so wonderful. Lupe and I, we were like one spirit. She laughed, I would laugh. Her tears I cried. She suffered much for many years. We had a son who died. His name was Pablo. He looked like an angel from the moment I set my eyes on him, I knew his name came from above. He was with us for such a short time. Is it not amazing that someone who lived for only two months could bring so much that his gifts were greater than many souls who lived for many years?” The minstrel felt tears coming. Little Pablo, little angel waiting for him in heaventhe joy of it, one day to see him again. On that day, he would be blessed indeed.

Jonathan Pfeifer stood by him. His gaze was lowered, his hand on his chin in deep contemplation. Both men sat in silence, a silent bond of affection somehow molded between them, a bond not even quite broken by the arrival of Al Greenwood in his flannel shirt and cowboy-like workboots. He looked like a gaucho, the minstrel thought with amusement.

“Bertha the sweetie says dinner is ready,” he said. “Fried chicken with dumplings and fried okra. You can take the woman out of the South but you can’t take the South out of the woman. You all hungry?”

“Of course. I always eat a good meal, especially when Bertha cooks it,” the minstrel piped.

“We all need a good woman to take care of us,” Jonathan Pfeifer said.

“Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em,” Al Greenwood said with gruff humor. The three men laughed. “All humor aside. I would be lost without Bertha. When I lost Mary, I was a lost soul.” Greenwood said as they got to the dining room.

“He sure was, and don’t let him tell you otherwise,” Bertha said as she set plates of food on the table, Raven sitting like a queen admiring her court behind one of the places, the sheer size of the chair dwarfing her majesty but making it no less impressive. The minstrel watched her and smiled.

“Does Raven speak Spanish?” he asked her father.

Jonathan hesitated for a second before answering, “No.”

“You never learned English, Raul?” the farmer asked him, still in Spanish. Jonathan Pfeifer spoke to Raven in English.

Raul shrugged. “Let her be. The human spirit was not meant to be tamed. Jesus died so that it could soar higher than the angels. My daughter was much like her.”

“What was your daughter’s name, Raul?” Raven asked. Her Spanish was perfect. Raul barely noticed the startled glances around the room.

“Raulita. She was a beautiful little girl. Just like you.”

Raven sat straighter. “I’m not so little. I’m the tallest girl in my class.”

The minstrel bowed his head. “My most sincere apologies to the girl who is not so little.”

Raven was satisfied with the answer.

For the rest of the meal Raven was constantly the minstrel questions, and he was all the more joyous to answer them for her. Her beauty of spirit gave him joy. It gave him hope for his own sorrows.

After dinner, he sat by the fire with her and played folk songs on the guitar that the farmer owned. She delighted in his music. He could see it in her eyes. A thrill that he had not known for a long time soared through him. The greatest happiness was when he shared the love of his music and his God with someone else sharing that joy. This, and the love of his family, were the most valuable treasures of his life. He needed nothing else.

When Raven was ready for bed, she asked if the minstrel could read her a chapter of a story by an author named Judy Blume telling a story about a girl named Margaret. He saw he words of the story jump from English to Spanish before his very eyes, but he thought he almost could make out what the English words said. Jonathan watched from the door, and when the minstrel finished the chapter, Raven was put to bed with warm hugs and kisses. He left her with a kiss on her forehead, and soon afterwards her father came out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

“She doesn’t say prayers,” he told Jonathan.

Jonathan did not meet his eyes. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.” He stopped. “It’s not like I don’t believe in God. I just don’t believe in religion. That’s what most prayers seem to be; religion.”

The minstrel shook his head vehemently. “That is where most people go wrong. Prayer has nothing to do with religion. Prayer is talking to God. God loves nothing more than to hear our voices speaking to Him. It is His delight to know the creation He loved wants to talk to Him and spend time with Him.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Jonathan Pfeifer said.

“Too many people think God is a fierce judge that is ready to send us to hell on a moment’s notice, when all His Word says that He loved us so much that He gave His son to rescue us from pain.”

“But the Bible, I don’t know. It’s been translated so much though the years, and there are so many versions of it. I’ve never felt comfortable believing in something I couldn’t really prove.”

“All the great religions are based on an idea of faith. Science is about what we can see. Spirituality is about what we cannot. And what is wrong in loving people and a creator that loves you? It could only make you feel better about yourself.”

“This is true, I suppose. But I can’t get the idea of some guy saving me from my sins. I hate when people approach me with that, because they seem to say, if I don’t believe exactly like them, my true nature is really evil. I can’t accept that. It’s like an overblown sales pitch.”

“Nothing that truly comes from God is evil, and we were made in His image. All that God did was rescue us from the evil influence of this world, the death, the pain, and the misery of sin. What could be more loving than that?”

“I suppose you’re right,” Jonathan Pfeifer said with a smile. “Maybe if we all loved one another, the world wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Yes,” the minstrel replied. “I wish that was a reality.”

They were by the fire again. The farmer was snoring comfortably in a rocking chair, while Bertha was unsuccessfully trying to wake him up by trying to entice him with a plate full of piping brownies. The aroma was wonderful.

“Drat,” she said, “you know the mister is out when you can’t even get him awake to eat his favorite dessert. And I just baked them, too.” She sighed, then shoved the platter in front of them. “Well? Aren’t you boys going to eat them? Don’t tell me I went through all this hard work for nothing.”

The minstrel didn’t waste a second. Lupe, she used to bake all of the time. Since she died, couldn’t remember eating anything freshly baked anything out of the overran. Bertha made him smile, though he knew she didn’t know it. A beautiful woman. Just like his Lupe. One day, he would be with her again.

After devouring his half of the tin with Jonathan and the younger man departed for his own room, he drowsily lay near the dying embers of the fire, relishing the sensations of a cozy sleep falling over him. His last memory was of Bertha taking up the bin, bantering about what horses men could be, they ate so much.

The minstrel fell asleep with a smile upon his face.

Jonathan lay on the floor by his daughter’s bedside, listening to the peaceful sounds of her breathing. The house, with an occasional snore coming from distant corners around the house, was quiet. A flock of birds charged above the house, heading to the south to escape the cold. Jonathan marveled then, thinking this was close to the first time he’d heard the flight of birds in the dark. A strange occurrence, much like the rest of the day’s events.

The dinner’s happenings washed over him like a surreal impression as he wondered if he had really witnessed what he witnessed tonight, the strange conversation between two people who didn’t speak one another’s tongue, and yet out of nowhere spoke it fluently. He had no way of explaining it, and neither had Al Greenwood. It was, if he could say it, a miracle of sorts.

He remembered the first time he’d heard a language that was different from the one he grew up with. It was in Little Italy; there had been several angry men in dark suits yelling at each other with strange words. Jonathan felt a flash of fear, like he had heard bad words that little boys like him weren’t supposed to hear. His father had tugged at his hand to pull him away. Jonathan had gotten the feeling that the men were bad men, that those who didn’t speak like him were different, people to be avoided. But somehow, he couldn’t believe it, even then. He remembered playing on a swing in a park one time. He had probably been five or six then. A little girl came to the swing next to him. She was little, which meant she was probably four or so, and she had trouble getting any height on her swing. She saw how high Jonathan sailed, and began to cry. Jonathan felt bad for the little girl, so he immediately jumped off the swing in mid-air and came to her rescue, giving her one big push after another until she gleefully flew in the air. When she tired of the swing a few minutes later, they went and played on the slide, climbing up and sliding down until they fell on the ground, dizzy and laughing. It was then that the little girl’s mother came running up to her, sputtering words that Jonathan had never heard before, the little girl responding in kind. She started to walk away with her mother, but not before she turned around and smiled, waving goodbye to him.

There had been no language barrier then.

Though young, the brief experience had taught the child that he was how similar people could be. He wondered why then, why language was created to erect walls that between people that weren’t so different anyway. He was told that language was a symbol of unity for a country, and that the differences were there so each could be proud of his own territory. He was told to take pride in being American. Americans spoke English. But he thought of his little friend on the playground. She didn’t speak English, but she seemed as American as anyone else he knew. He had liked her a lot.

In Bible school, they studied the Old Testament. At one time, he was told that the world spoke one language, but the people had decided that they were as mighty as God, so to prove this they built a tower that reached the heavens. God punished the people by making them speak in languages that they couldn’t understand. He showed them who was boss. He was told that this was why God wanted separatism. Because man was arrogant, he was denied to have equality amongst his brothers. The moral was, some were more equal than others.

But not tonight. Something extraordinary had happened tonight, something that transcended what usually happened tonight.

Bertha said she was watching the Pentecost before her, when the apostles spoke in many tongues to the crowd. Each man had understood in his own language. The fire from the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost. Bertha said she saw tongues of fire upon Raul and his Raven.

Al said that she’d better check the flue.

Jonathan started drifting off to sleep, lulled into a state of consciousness that blocked out all things about him. He felt nothing but peace. It was wonderful.

He heard Raul’s voice. Talk to God. He wants to hear from you. He loves you. That was why He made you. He wants your friendship.

Jonathan rested in the peace for a moment longer, not sure what to do.

Please talk to him.

Jonathan started to think things that he was not aware of concentrating or generating from any particular place. I don’t know you, he was thinking, but if you’re there, if you are as loving as you say you are, I would like to know you. If you are as judgmental as I have heard, I will continue to not acknowledge you. If you are as you say you are, make your presence know now. Only then will I believe.

He thought as he slipped into sleep that a warm, gleaming glow engulfed him. For the second before slumber came, he experienced the gloomiest feeling that he had ever experienced.

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