“Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time is a fleeting thing. It can kill the spirit, dull the mind, or help the heart to sing. I can no longer speak about yesterday, or see what tomorrow will bring. All I know for sure, is that one closed door, which could be hiding everything.” JSM
“Well, well, Jeremy. I see you’ve decided to return. What took so long?”
“I had things to do.”
“That’s what they all say. That’s what they all say. Everyone is so, so busy.” Joseph used his one free hand and raised the table back on all fours. “You want some pie?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Of course you are. Hunger is what brings you here. Hunger is what brings everyone here.”
“I said I’m not hungry. I want some answers, not food.”
“Answers you seek. Some you may find. Depends on how far you dig into the mind.”
“Listen, Joe,” I crossed my arms high on the chest. “I don’t want Jessica’s food. I don’t want your cryptic rhymes and messages and dance routines around my questions. Just shoot me straight, OK? Can you do that one simple thing for me? I don’t ask for a lot.”
The old man smiled. “First help me clean up a little, then we’ll see if we can find some answers to your questions. Can you give me a hand?”
I picked up large broken lobster shells from the carpet and placed them on a cracked plate along with other crumbs, silverware and debris. The walls of the refuge felt cramped and closed in this time. Less of a wide open area, and more congested. I’ve always had bouts of claustrophobia in my youth and tried my best to ignore the uncomfortable sensations.
Jessica exited the kitchen. The scowl I was accustomed to was smeared across her face and she continued to avoid my eyes. Instead of her silver wheeled cart, she dragged a vacuum cleaner out the door, and the power cord bounced and slid across the floor behind her like a dead orange snake.
She plugged it into the wall, flipped the switch and it was silent. No high whirring hum. No pieces sucking up into the machine. Only Mrs. Everett moving the floor cleaner across the carpet in quick strokes. When she completed the chore, she dragged the vacuum away and returned to the kitchen.
Joe was back to sitting at the table. “Are you going to join me? Or just stand there all day looking like someone killed your dog.”
I found a chair at the head of the long table, placed it across from him and sat down hard. Shelby curled into a ball at my feet. I refused to speak. I wanted something from him, but I couldn’t formulate what that something was. Instead of talking, I sat quiet, my hands folded on the surface of the table.
Joe slid the pie between us and it’s smell watered my mouth. He grabbed a long knife and cut into it’s steaming center, “What most people don’t understand, Jeremy, is without an absolute perfect balance, and the right timing, an apple pie fails across the board in all categories. The crust has to be perfect. The apples cooked to perfection. What happens if the apples are under cooked?”
“The texture’s off. There’s nothing worse than crunchy apples in a baked pie.”
“That’s my thought as well. Though, some are happy with that outcome, and content to eat it anyway. They don’t care about the texture or the flavor. The thickness of the crust or the perfect sweetness. They don’t care if it falls apart or crumbles into pieces on their plate, or it doesn’t maintain its shape. They ignore the warm liquid center oozing and dripping from the middle or the noticeable imperfections. Others however, take their time when making a pie. Over the course of time, trials by fire, struggles and failures, they continue to strive to make it as perfect as possible. Something they can take pride in. The Missus takes great pride in her ability to make it perfect. Look at this beauty.”
I had to admit. The pie was indeed perfect. The crust was designed with weaving lattice work across the top. The filling was solid and smelled delightful. As though Mrs. Everett belonged on her own cooking show.
Joseph continued as he placed a slice on a small plate, “The difference between those who strive to be perfect, and those who don’t, is time and commitment. It takes time to blend, mix, roll, and place a perfect crust. It takes time to cook the ingredients, test the flavors and find the balance. It takes time to slice and dice the apples. It takes time in the oven to bake to perfection. Jessica would say the key to a perfect apple pie, is patience, consistency and time. Time is always the determining factor.”
I leaned over the table and pointed to the old man, “And just what in the hell, does any of this nonsense, have to do with me?”
“Excuse me? I don’t want to bake a pie. I don’t even care about making pies.”
“I understand that.”
“So why even bring it up?”
“Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy. You have the inability to see the bigger picture. I use a pie as a example. Stop being so literal.”
“I can’t help it. When you’ve been through what I’ve been through…”
Joseph rose from the table and my heart skipped a beat. I sucked in a breath and held it as his voice rose loud enough to shake the windows. “NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME! THIS IS MY WORLD! MY REALM AND YOU ARE A GUEST HERE, AND DON’T EVER FORGET THAT! FROM THIS POINT FORWARD YOU MUST LOOK BEYOND THE LITERAL. DROP THIS WALL OF BLATANT INTENTIONAL IGNORANCE AND OPEN YOUR EYES! I AM NOT YOUR ENEMY! I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!
Leaning back in my chair, a smug smile grew across my lips, “So you’re going to teach me how to make an apple pie. If that be the case, I’ll just show myself out. Thanks, Joe, but no thanks.”
“Wait.” He replied raising his hand as I grabbed Shelby’s leash and made my way to the door. “You can’t leave yet.”
I glanced back to him over my shoulder. “Why is that? It’s apparent I’m not going to get the help I need here. I have to seek it elsewhere.”
“No. You can’t leave. Not until you understand.”
As I reached for the double doors, a magical force bolted them shut and a long wooden timber dropped down from the ceiling to cover the exit. I reached for the handle and tugged with all my strength. I was trapped inside the refuge.
“Sit down!” He commanded.
I returned to my chair.
“I know you don’t want to cook pies and I understand your need to leave. But what it is you don’t understand, is what I’m trying to show you. This pie… is you, and your life.”
I laughed. A belly clutching chuckle that poured tears down my face.
“You may laugh for the moment, but you won’t in a minute.”
I wiped my eyes, “Try me.”
“You lack something.”
I was my turn to be stern, “Now you listen to me, Joseph. I’m lacking in a lot of things and I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a big boy and can own up to my ineptitude. Have you ever felt safe and secure in life, only to have it ripped away from you against your will? Have you ever built up something from scratch, only to have it torn down and obliterated into powder? Have you ever had your foundations shaken so violently, you can’t distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy? When you hit that point, you let me know, then we can talk.”
Joe stuck his fork into the warm dessert and placed a chunk into his mouth. He chewed with his mouth open and mocked me. Crumbs trickled from his lips. “Oh, boo hoo. Jeremy’s been though some crap. Jeremy’s reality was shifted. Jeremy feels lost and hopeless. Join the club, buddy boy. Everyone feels that at one point or another. You think you’re the first to feel betrayed by the world? What makes you so special? Why is your pain greater than that of anyone else? What you do with this crumbling life and those broken foundations is what makes all the difference. You’re still upright and breathing, right? That is your foundation. You are alive.”
“I suppose. But it’s all stagnant, suffocating and abysmal. Life doesn’t make sense. If we’re discussing apple pies, then it’s safe to say, my ingredients are off balance.”
“Ah… now you see it. The ingredients are off balance. In fact, my guess is you haven’t even been shopping for the ingredients yet. You currently lack the components to bake a good apple pie. Or even something edible.”
I paused my rant and relaxed into the seat cushion.
Joseph continued. “You have a foundation from which to rebuild, but it’s made of dirt. You have walls for protection, but they’re thin and lacking strength. You have a roof overhead but it’s leaking and full of holes. You struggle, because you choose to struggle. If you’re unhappy with the situation at hand, you must change it. Only you can take care of you. Before making the perfect pie, you must first have the perfect crust. The foundation from which the rest of the pie is constructed upon. You need to find that balance you seek.”
“I seek what I can’t find.”
“But you must continue to seek it out. Don’t give up. Don’t stop looking. See the forest for the trees. Seek out opportunities among madness. Stop looking for perfection right now. Perfection is never perfect. Seek out ideal instead. What defines ideal for you?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s the first question to answer. Start small. Look for something else. Stop seeking that which can’t be found.”
“I don’t even know where to start.”
“Start at the beginning. It’s time to go shopping. You have a pie to make.”
When my eyes ripped open from the vivid dream, I threw my blankets off my sweating skin and lurched from the bed. My breathing choppy and erratic. My face was red, my hands shook and when I splashed water in my face and looked into the mirror in the bathroom, I had to stop and stare.
Seek ideal. Stop seeking perfection. Perfection is a pipe dream.
All of this is happening for a reason.
Time to go back to the basics.
It was time to continue the hunt. The hunt for the invisible. The hunt for something, which was trying it’s best to hide from me.
I enjoy puzzles. I like games of all kinds. The one thing I despise, however, is mind games. I was locked into a mind game and the only player was myself. And the clock continued to tick away.
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