George pedaled his three-wheeled low rider bicycle along the median. He weaved in and out of the emergency lane, picking up cans and bottles. He threw them into a large burlap seed sack he had strung across the handlebars.
It was a damp February day. Sodden clouds hung low over Green Mountain. Fog skirting the street stretched its gray fingers upward until you couldn’t tell where fog ended and clouds began.
He stopped next to a large drainage culvert to pick up a Dr. Pepper can. Winter rains fed the waterfall that blasted its way down the side of cliffs before emptying into a culvert and the bowels of the mountain.
His foot slipped into a muddy hole, and had George been an ordinary man, he would have cursed. But George was a simple kind of fellow. The kind of man-child who would stop stock-still in the middle of a street to admire a rainbow stretched across the sky. He rolled his pants leg before continuing on to retrieve the can.
At the edge of the runoff from the falls he heard it. At first he dismissed it as the wind in the bare branches, but as he listened, the whine repeated. This time there was no wind.
A brown and black puppy crawled toward George from the culvert. Its fur was plastered to its body. The animal shook from the cold. George scooped the chilled puppy into his arms, wrapping it inside his coat. George shuddered for a moment as the cold, wet body pressed against him. Chills rippled down his back. As he was about to leave, a second puppy, this one white and mottled, appeared from the same crag. He lifted him and snuggled him in his shirt, next to the first.
George pedaled down the mountain to the only shelter he knew. Turning right onto the lot, he parked his contraption next to a blue metal dumpster. He hiked his pants up, buttoned the puppies more tightly into his ill- fitting wool coat, and climbed inside.
George landed on a cardboard box, which was fortunate, because another four inches and he would have landed on an opened trash bag of rotted potatoes. He was long-used to the stench in the dumpster. It hardly bothered him at all now.
Once settled, he opened his coat and pulled the puppies onto his lap. Their eyes were rheumy, bellies distended.
George rubbed the puppies with what little dry material he had left on the inside of his coat. He named them Pip and Tuppence, for, he said, the brown and black was nothing but a pip-squeak, and the white mottled, not worth a tuppence. They curled up on George’s stomach and fell asleep.To people traveling Cecil Ashburn Drive, George was just part of the scenery they encountered every day driving to work, or to the grocery. His three-wheeled bicycle with the yellow trailer melded into the tall pines, cascading waterfalls, and rustic meadows. Often he could be seen standing beside the trike, bending low, and mouthing words to the two dogs in the little bike trailer.
George was a simple man, and as such had a simple faith. He saw the trees as God’s spires, stretching praise to the sky. Rocks were a craggy altar. Waterfalls, a baptismal.
He knew God as the Creator and to honor Him, he sang. People laughed at the foolish man, singing alongside the road. But George’s worship was purer than any lifted in the most polished pews of the great churches of the city. George’s song came from the deep wellspring of his heart. It was offered up without coercion and without hope of gain.
One afternoon, as the sun burned laser-red across the hills, George was on his usual route. He pedaled along singing in a broken tenor, loud and raucous, making up words as he went along. At a high point in the song he threw his arms wide, his body enveloped in worship. At that point the front wheel of his trike struck a pothole.
An eighteen-wheeler chose that same moment to switch lanes, weaving erratically into the median on the slick road. Brakes squealed, the screech of rubber on asphalt, a rumbling, grinding tearing of metal, then silence.
The driver of the eighteen-wheeler exited the cab, his face white, legs shaking.
In the median, a three-wheeled trike lay upside down, one wheel off, two spinning lopsidedly. The dogs lay in the ditch, whimpering and alone. A police officer later carried them home.
They never found George’s body. Some speculated he’d been thrown down the mountainside from the impact. The
ones who thought themselves spiritual said he’d been taken up, just like Enoch of the Old Testament.
Whichever was true, traffic soon returned to normal. The same cars traveled the same road every day to work and to shop. Bland lives failed to notice a bit of beauty was missing from their daily commute.
But Pip and Tuppence knew, for late in the evenings, when the wind sang through the branches of the pines they’d perk up their ears.
The officer’s wife would often put down her reading and ask her husband, “Did you hear that?”
“What?” he’d ask, channel surfing.
“It was nothing I guess. Sounded like the wind. Sounded like it said ‘Amen.’”
Pip, Tuppence and George, Suzy Parish 2013
Originally published in Splickety magazine.
For some reason I think of this story every fall, when the leaves start to change and the weather becomes contrary. I think of all the Georges out there. This year I think of my own George, my brother in his live-in men’s home in Maryland. He is holding down a job and very active in his church with my sister. His health is greatly improved. God does answer prayers and He sees all the Georges out there. God bless you today.
(I would like to credit the artist who created the following Meme. If you know the person’s identity please leave a comment with contact information.Thank you.)