|One's Happy. One's Unshakably Morose.|
Deep in the woods near Glencoe, hugging herself against the Pennsylvania chill, Unshakably Morose Flo was relieved to find Knee-Brace Kenny, not so much for his company, but for his knowledge of the location of this year's Christmas party. "I don't know why I bother with this nonsense," she groused as they walked. "I won't know anyone there but you and Laura Delite - and Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick, of course."
"Barb said you'd say that," Kenny laughed. "That's why she sent me out here to make sure you don't change your mind and keep walking clear to Pittsburgh or some such. Also, I'm supposed to remind you that by the time you're halfway through a cup of Laura's famous hobo eggnog, you'll be best friends with every last merry-maker present."
"When has that ever happened?" she groaned. "Alcohol only amplifies my misery, and makes me want to drag everyone else down with me. Remember last year?"
"Listen you," Kenny barked with a stomp of his ratty boot in the snow, "I'm on a goodwill mission, here. If I show up without you, Barb will literally stab me."
"I'm not sure that qualifies as goodwill."
"Be that as it may, you're coming with me. Barb's hobo Christmas party jamboree and hootenanny is the event of the year in these parts. Plus, she has a new man friend she wants you to meet..."
It probably goes without saying that Flo had not always been unshakably morose - or any other kind of morose - but see if that stops me. Flo had not always been unshakably morose - or any other kind of morose. Half of her life ago, when she was thirteen and still called Florence, she had been a well-adjusted girl with a normal life in the suburbs of Chicago. She went to school and to church, played with her friends, respected her elders, and loved America.
That was 1921. In the span of that year, her existence lurched from girlhood to hobo-hood. First, someone convinced her father that when the Chicago River ran green on St. Patrick's Day it was because the city had replaced the water with colored beer. He dove into the cold water, started drinking great gulps of the stuff, and managed to drown. Florence's father was a bit of dullard. Then, a few months later on a trip to the beach, her mother went for a swim in Lake Michigan and disappeared beneath the waves. Her body was never found, save for a foot that washed up near Waukegan. As so often happened with the 700 Hoboes, orphanages and boarding schools didn't agree with young Florence, and she joined the wanderers and vagrants of the hobo nation. And she was morose. Unshakably so.
She stopped in the snowy woods of south-central Pennsylvania and glared at Knee-Brace Kenny with equal parts sadness and anger. "A new what?"
"Man friend," Kenny said.
"She wants me to..."
"Meet," he said matter-of-factly. "Come on. It's Christmas Eve. Goodwill! Festiveness! Whatnot!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she growled. "But I ask you again - do none of you people remember last year? Wasn't there a man friend for me to meet last year, as well?"
"And did it go well?"
"It did not."
"I'll say it didn't. Barb ended up stabbing the guy."
Kenny laughed. "This guy's really nice. He's been here all day, helping us get ready. Happiest man I've met since before the depression started."
"Ugh. What's his name? What's his story? What's wrong with him?"
"They call him Happy Horace Noosemaker, and nothing's wrong with him. He's a nice man."
"Noosemaker? As in, nooses? For the hanging of people by the neck? Until dead? Well, that's just swell," Flo sighed.
"No, no. He just makes nooses. I think it's the only knot he knows how to tie, so he makes them all the time. I'm pretty sure his belt is just an oversize noose."
"And why is he Happy Horace? What is there to be happy about, anyway?"
"I don't know what to tell you, Flo. The guy's just happy. He's been through all the same noise the rest of us have - death and poverty and dirt and violence and hunger and cold and hardship - the whole nine yards, but he says his soul is happy, so there you go."
Flo shook her head. "Fine. I'll try to keep an open mind. Say - how'd his folks die?"
"Who said his folks died? Why do you always ask that? Maybe they're alive and well, and living in Topeka," Kenny offered.
"They're not, are they?"
Kenny coughed. "Well, no. Horace's old man worked for Henry Ford, and he was killed on the assembly line one day when a bear got into the plant."
"Marvelous. And his mother?"
"I think his mother is in a nursing home in Detroit, actually. He mentioned going to see her for New Year's."
Kenny paused and studied his shoes for a moment. No, not really. Look - we're here. Be nice. It's Christmas."
Fifteen minutes later, after two cups of Laura Delite's famous hobo eggnog, Unshakably Morose Flo was introduced to Happy Horace Noosemaker.
It did not go well.
The preceding Christmas drivel was prompted ("Goodwill") by friends old and new at Our Write Side, in their weekly feature Two Word Tuesday.