There are still gnats buzzing all around me. How very annoying. -_-*
I’m afraid my ancient ones are about to die. They look old. Worn out. They already act dead, pushing all the chores to ensure living takes place onto me. Cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, laundry. But they won’t just give me the deed to put the house in my name, of course. That’d be too easy. I don’t know what they’re afraid of… me kicking them out? I was just going to add myself to the deed, not move it into my own name as sole owner.
If they are afraid of me kicking them out, it’s because they mistreated me. All my youth, they forced me to eat whatever they ate, claiming my little brother (“Punkins”) was the picky eater. Well, thank you, ancient ones, for poisoning me. You began this vicious cycle of self-hatred via food and it perpetuated until I died. My murder began when I was eight years of age. I’m not the only child they murdered. My other brother (“shithead”) and my sister (“bitch”) were poisoned, as well. Their poison was in their mind. Their spirit. Their bitterness reached top notch, sadly, and they turned on themselves, trying to bite their own tails off.
The peanut gallery in my head — all the people not me but acting as if they are me, including God — try to force me to misbehave toward them. And, sometimes, I do. I trust God’s judgment more and more each day even though all the other voices try to imitate Him and lead me astray. The Loki, as I call them. Human beans who are in my head, feeding me bad advice.
Ben and Nick are the worst two. Psychopaths. I’m working on getting the two of them to fall in love with each other. Meanwhile, they try to pervert my core values left and right. I often wonder how to put my core values into words, then I remember Ultima already did it. (Thank you, Lord British! I cannot thank you enough. These formed my moral compass when I was a wee lass.)
They keep trying to justify treating my ancient parents like garbage. God wants to give them tough love: they’re dying of eating crapola and then they go buy $30 of Jello/pudding cups for the man who is nearly dead to eat, so he doesn’t even have to get up off the couch. Then they bought a two liter of root beer because the man is “allergic” to water. I asked her if there was any more poison we should buy him today and reminded her he’s going to die. So is she, honestly, because she keeps eating what he eats like a garbage disposal.
I suppose he thinks it is romantic, sharing his food with his wife. It would be if it wasn’t the epitome of why they’re dying decades early. It would be if he gave her a fork to eat alongside him instead of eating his share first, then handing her whatever is leftover. She’s become Hawk, Captain of the Order of Scraps Disposal. I wish I found her as endearing.
So these assholes who care about nothing aside from themselves keep trying to get me to mistreat them, as if this close to their deathbed is the time to be an asshole. In fact, one of them threatened my mother with assault a week ago. I put the kabosh on that shit. Nobody needs violence. Besides, my father might remember he has three loaded guns and use one, and then what? Then the game is over. There is no more life to live.
They use the mistreatment of my youth to try to justify this behavior. “They hurt you, why don’t you hurt them?” I don’t hurt them because I made a decision when I was just fourteen years old: I don’t have to be like my parents. I don’t have to pay their negative vibrations forward. I can actively decide to change that vibration into something positive. I can change my world, if not the world.
I decided the cycle of abuse would stop with me. I thought it through. The likelihood of my own parents being raped and abused and all manner of terrible thing by their parents or even grandparents is pretty high. Society gets kinder and kinder these days because children are learning more about psychology and stopping the cycle, I think. The ones in my generation who ended the cycle of pain for themselves are heavily advocating for the innocent youth of today.
With help, the tides are turning. But are they turning fast enough? I may never know.
Regardless, I said something that impressed God to shut those idiots up while they were nagging me to be a bitch to my parents. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was quite smartly and I was impressed, so I’ll try to at least recap it now:
She woke up to an unfamiliar noise. Groggily, she lifted the covers and scooted out of bed, leaving behind a warm spot where she’d been asleep moments before. Suddenly, the kitchen light was on, but she was not the one to turn it on.
That was odd. She lived alone. Was there a ghost in the house? A person? She pulled on a robe over her pajamas and went on a quest to find out what was going on, shuffling in some flip flops to the threshold of the kitchen. She wasn’t completely surprised to find a gun pointed at her as she stood in the doorway.
“How serendipitous,” she thought to herself, followed by, “It must be a good day to die.” The burglar stood their ground, a ski mask over their face. She figured it was a man due to how angular they appeared. Out loud, she said, “Oh, hello. I wasn’t expecting any guests. Where are my manners? Would you like some coffee? I can put a pot on to brew. Or, if you prefer tea, I can fire up the kettle.”
The burglar eyed the crazy woman, realizing she wasn’t afraid to die. That put a damper on the point of waving the gun at her, so that disappeared. “Thanks for putting that away, I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt,” she told him. “So, welcome to my humble abode. Please, excuse the mess. I’ve been hurting too much lately to get the cleaning up to my normal standard. Are you hungry? I think I have some Jello in the fridge and I could whip up some fresh cookies.”
A tear rolled down the man’s cheek. What on Earth was wrong with this woman? Not only was she unafraid, but she was treating him like a guest who just happened to drop by. In fact, she was treating him better than his wife did on the regular. “Why aren’t you calling the police?” he asked, finally giving himself permission to join this surreal experience.
“Why should I do that? The police tend to kill people. I know it’s mostly just a misunderstanding, but nobody’s gotten hurt and you seem like a perfectly reasonable soul. I bet you’re just hungry with two little ones at home, maybe a dog and a wife, too. Police don’t heal your heart, which is where your pain really resides, anyway, but I can try if you don’t mind. Why don’t you go ahead and sit down and take a load off? It’ll take me about thirty minutes to whip something up. I’ll make extra so you can take it home with you.” She was shuffling around the kitchen the whole time, relaxed as can be, intent on starting a batch of cookies. She peeked into her fridge. “Oh, I forgot… are you allergic to nuts? I’m gluten-free and I tend to use nut flour and I know nuts are often a very serious allergen.”
The burglar nodded when she looked at him. She frowned and replaced the almond flour in the cabinet, glad she hadn’t started combining them in the bowl yet. “Alright, no cookies. I’ll make you donut waffles instead. Are you allergic to sesame or tahini?” She smiled broadly when he shook his head.
Well, this was turning into the wildest night of his life, he thought. The white woman he meant to rob was fixing him a decadent breakfast. He watched her use just four ingredients, which she didn’t even measure out. It was like she made this recipe so many times, she could eyeball the measurements. Oat flour, cassava flour, water, tahini, and (after time for absorption) avocado oil. He wondered whether or not he should take the ski mask off. She might have called the police before she showed up in the kitchen, maybe. He hadn’t heard anything, though.
“So how is cat burgling as a profession? Do you feel an extra affinity with all things feline?” she asked him nonchalantly as she stirred the concoction in her bowl. He barely suppressed a grin. As if things couldn’t get any stranger, she began an even more surreal dialog. “I love cats. I also love Catwoman, which is a strange thing these days. She’s all but forgotten.” He found himself nodding along.
What was he doing, breaking into this woman’s house? She would have just admitted him if he’d knocked, that much was clear. And fed him, too, by the looks of things. She took a stack of papers off her kitchen table and set them on the floor, making room for her two waffle irons. She plugged them both in to let them heat up as her batter soaked up the water in order to achieve maximum moistness. If she didn’t give the oats time to hydrate, the waffles would be a bit gritty. She ground her own oat flour and it was never as fine as the stuff from the store.
“What’s your favorite comic book character? Steel?” she said, glancing at him. He blinked a few times and then gave her an appreciative look, nodding. He didn’t really want to talk since it’d be more likely he could be identified in the future by the sound of his voice. No police yet… and it’d been ten minutes already. As if she thought the same exact thing, she turned away from him. He was not quite on edge, but he was alert, waiting for her to do anything threatening to his life. Instead, he was given a cup of coffee, black. She set some soy milk on the table and a small jar of something that wasn’t quite sugar but looked similar to it. She brought a second mug to the table for herself and doctored her coffee with both.
“This is monkfruit and erythritol, which tastes a lot like sugar but feels a lot like diet sweetener on the mouth,” she explained, in case he wanted to have something other than black coffee. He decided to play it safe and leave it black. She was already fussing with getting her batter into the waffle irons. He noticed one was round and the other was… heart-shaped.
He couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t stay silent. “Why’s one of ’em heart-shaped?” He didn’t really want to ask but the curiousity was killing him.
“Long story short, I thought I lost everything I owned at one point and in January I bought myself a new waffle iron. I found this one, which was heart-shaped, and I love that shape so I bought it, tickled pink by the idea that I’d some day eat some heart-shaped waffles. Ironically, this is the first time it’s ever been used. I hope it makes a good waffle… I suppose we’ll know shortly.” She stood up, suddenly remembering there would need to be a plate. And, while she was at it, she brought a box of Zip Lock bags to the table, a knife, a fork, and some imitation syrup.
“I hope you’ll forgive the fact that I have sugar free imitation syrup… I don’t eat sugar anymore, not since I got cancer, and I don’t buy maple syrup anymore because it hurts the trees,” she said as she sat down again. He could feel the desire to cry build and build, bringing a sparkle to his eye. She didn’t seem to notice, thankfully.
“So… I know this is probably awkward for both of us,” she began, “But maybe God sent you this way for some sort of service I can provide you, some sort of help I can give you. Oh, I almost forgot… did you leave the door or window open that you let yourself in with? I have cats and I don’t want them to get outside.” She started to get up again but he put a hand up and shook his head to keep her where she was. He’d shut the door behind him to avoid nosy neighbors getting wise.
“Oh, I’m glad. You’d let all the air out, too. Costs a fortune to air condition this beast,” she said. He started to shake his head, suppressing a chuckle. Definitely a night to remember for the rest of all time, he thought.
“I know why you don’t want to talk and I understand,” she said suddenly, kind of disarming him in mid-thought. “But why don’t we change the narrative a bit to make this the kind of story I want to retell in the future to a good friend, perhaps over coffee with some donut waffles.” She looked pointedly at his coffee, then the waffle irons. It would take a while before the waffles were ready, it was about five minutes per batch. She’d timed it while she was on her own so she could know if she had enough time to run to the restroom or not or do a simple chore in between, anything to keep her busy and productive. That and get back to her computer to program for work in a timely manner.
“So I think what I’d like to tell you first is that… strangers are just friends waiting to happen,” she declared before sipping her caramel-colored coffee. “And tonight I’ve made a friend I’m going to call Steel. I think this friend is trying to save the day for his family and the times are difficult these days and in order to pay forward the kindness the universe has shown me, I ought to help my friend in any way I can.”
Now he was going to cry, dammit. This was too crazy. And there were still no police involved. He thought enough time had passed that it was obvious it was going to be just himself and this crazy white woman, so he relaxed a little.
“And in my crazy retelling of reality, Steel has two babies at home and a young wife and everyone is hungry. So I should send him home with as much food as I can. And maybe, also, Steel does not have a reliable income right now. The construction business isn’t booming in this pandemic and ends aren’t meeting, and I know just as well as most people this situation sucks ass and drives one to doing things that one knows isn’t quite right, but neither is it wrong enough to stop one altogether.” He blushed under that ski mask, relieved she couldn’t see it as she admonished him gently. She paused and he almost thought she expected him to say something, but she spoke again.
“As Everlast sings in I Get By, he is not above breaking the law to put food in his little girl’s belly. I can respect that. I’d like to propose an alternative, however,” she said, pausing as she retrieved the waffles from the irons, placing them on the plate she had. She lowered the lids to the irons to let them pre-heat back up to temperature for the next batch.
She placed the fork and a butter knife on the same plate. Slowly, she pushed the whole thing over to her guest, Steel. “I’d play you the song if you’d appreciate it, but I bet you’ll remember to look it up later even if I don’t. Plus, I don’t want to get my cell phone out for it. I have a feeling that would disrupt our moment we’re having here. So, anyway, my proposal: why don’t I just help you? Let’s skip the part where you take something of mine that really has no intrinsic value at the end of the day and instead…” she paused, walking out of the room for a moment into the hallway, taking something from a drawer and walking back. “I’ll just help you of my own free will because I can see the pain and sorrow that surrounds you just by looking at you.” He saw a checkbook in her hands. This time, he did cry. He put his head in his hands and bawled like a baby.
She wrote down the date, put $100.00 as the check’s value, wrote out the amount, signed it, and pushed it next to the plate of waffles. He was still losing his mind over her generosity as she poured more batter into the pre-heated waffle irons.
She saw he’d drank half his coffee, so she retrieved the pot and poured more for both of them. She had some tears in her eyes herself. She knew this man would never resort to this if he had a choice. Nobody would. Nobody chooses the kind of life he had to be leading. The real crooks ran corporations, if you asked her, robbing the employees of a decent living wage and automating their jobs away left and right. It was her job to produce such automation, which led her to a crossroads in her career, actually.
She asked very softly, almost a murmur, “May I touch your arm, son?” He nodded, his tears passing. She placed one hand on his arm. He sat straight up suddenly. “Was she an angel?” he wondered. Whatever was happening, he felt the most wonderful warmth spreading through his heart. Nay, his very soul. Something she was doing was making him feel like a million bucks. He gaped at her, wondering why she would be so kind to a complete stranger… let alone one who had pointed a gun at her initially in her own home, trying to rip her off.
“God tells me a great many things, Steel,” she said. The use of his favorite superhero’s name was making him more and more vulnerable. He was starting to imagine himself being Steel, a rather upright citizen. A construction worker of amazing strength and integrity. She lowered herself slowly into a crouch next to him, another strategic psychological tactic to put him at ease.
Because he was now looking at her levelly or maybe even slightly down at her, they were now equals in his brain. Because she was going out of her way to make him feel like an equal, it did some funny things to his thinking, making him hope again.
“He tells me that you’re really a great person and the times are very hard for you. Let me help you, if only just once. Kayla and Shayla are precious, your twin girls, and you are blessed with love all around you. Don’t forget those who allow you to lean on them when the times are tough. Although it hurts to ask for help, do not be afraid to ask for aid. Many people are finding a calling in helping others in this pandemic. More and more souls are turning to being charitable to be of assistance to those who are suffering the most, hit the hardest. I am fortunate to have job security and more than enough to eat, so allow me to share my bounty with you.”
Steel was staring at the woman, utterly convinced he was perceiving an angel and he was asleep. He’d dreamt coming into a stranger’s house in the middle of the night to plunder everything it was worth. He was no longer a cat burglar, but a guest, receiving divine guidance from God himself. He was an atheist, and yet he was sure of it that this was an intervention. How could this stranger know his daughters’ names? How on Earth would anyone whose house was broken into, how would they turn it around and help the person who invaded their home and made it unsafe? It had to be a dream. Tears were coming from his eyes again, but he didn’t sob as he leaked saltwater this time.
“I have known hard times. I grew up below the poverty line as a kid. I’ve been fortunate to avoid returning to it,” the woman told him, her hand still on his arm. Her reiki filled him with renewed hope, vitality, and, most of all, a sense of goodwill. He had no idea that she was healing him just then, realigning the bio-electrical storm in his body to work as optimally as it could. It wouldn’t last forever since the issue was something in his food that his body didn’t appreciate, but it was neither here nor there since it looked like Steel could only get a hold of scraps anyway.
“Thank you. For letting me help you instead of ending my life. Thank you for reconsidering what you’re doing this evening. I know what I’m giving you probably isn’t fully enough for what you need, but perhaps it’s a stepping stone. The one thing we’ve been robbed of, when we’re in a position like this, is our dignity.” She was looking him in the eyes just then, each sentence hitting home just as well as any bullet could. Impactful, in a word.
“There’s a food bank about a mile away from here. They have a no-questions-asked buffet table two or three times a week. I have a card with their address on it, it’s on the refrigerator if you want it. It also has some details of which days of the week they’re open to the public. They make sandwiches, soups, salads, and all the rest to give away to anyone who might be in need. There’s an electric program to alleviate your electric bill needs called LIHEAP. That won’t put gas in your car or a roof over your head, but it should help put food in your belly and hope in your heart.” She was still looking into his eyes as she spoke. It made him feel truly seen. A few moments later, she began to rise stiffly.
“Sorry, I’d love to keep squatting next to you, but I’m afraid I’m not quite able-bodied anymore, thanks to a few car accidents and too much sitting at a desk to do my work,” she said apologetically as she returned to her chair. His healing was complete, so there was no reason to continue to be close to him. He found himself nodding. Just what has this woman gone through? He could easily take the check she gave him and her stuff, he mused, but something in what she’d said made him decide that was no longer an option this evening.
“If you’ll come back during daylight hours, I’ll pay you to mow my lawn and I have about six dozen handyman jobs around the house. If you’re handy, that is. I need help and good help is so hard to find, you know?” She sipped her coffee. Again, he was nodding. What the hell was wrong with him? He could be mowing lawns for cash, just as she suggested.
“I’ll even pretend we never met before, if you like,” she offered. He found himself shaking his head and decided to just take the ski mask off. She smiled at him suddenly and he felt frozen, like a deer in headlights. “So we meet at last, neighbor,” she said, recognizing the man from next door. He cried some more, ashamed of the low he had stooped to. She kept smiling at him. “I’m really pleased to meet you, even if the circumstances are completely crap to begin with. I overheard your wife calling to your twins, I must admit…”
He laughed then, shaking his head. This was the craziest (and stupidest) evening of his life. His neighbor just saved his entire family from famine. She was still smiling. She’d dropped groceries on their door step several months in a row, just when the going got seriously tough. And now was hardly any different as she put the last batch of waffles onto the plate before him. “I’ve got plenty more where this comes from, okay? Donut waffles cost something like $3.50 a batch, which makes a dozen. It’s like… 30 cents a waffle. Compare that to $5.50 and $6.50 in the store for a mere six waffles, or 92 cents to about $1.05 a waffle. For me alone, it costs me about $30.00 a month for as many waffles as I can stand. That’s a lot of waffles, might I add… about one hundred, or three waffles a day. The syrup is about $3.50 a bottle and lasts me all month. Not ideal for nutrition, but when the times are tough… the times are tough.”
She stood up again, going to her refrigerator. She started picking things off her shelves and setting them on the table in front of him. “I’m really sorry if there’s nut residue on any of this,” she said. His eyebrows shot up, remembering she’d asked that at least half an hour ago. He couldn’t believe she remembered. “I hope it’s not so bad that you break out in a terrible case of hives over it, but I discovered something peculiar when I found myself allergic to everything I ate a year ago… you can put aloe vera on hives to make them less itchy feeling.”
She moved to her pantry and started to pull things down off the shelves, including premium gluten-free noodles from the upscale supermarket. She was literally gifting him a fortune in food just now, he realized, just as she had previously when he and his family had fallen on hard times.
“God’s glad you’ve changed your heart, by the way. The road you were embarking on was going to be long and dangerous to yourself. It probably would have hurt your family, removing you from your kids during some of their most crucial years of development.” He had no idea what to say at all. Not one clue. He was still an atheist.
“He’d like to talk to you himself, if you don’t mind?” she asked him mildly, putting the spoils of her pantry and refrigerator into plastic bags that came from the grocery store.
“I don’t… but how?” he said, finally.
“Through me, of course, silly,” she said. She straightened up over the bounty of bags and the freshly made (and bagged) waffles.
Her voice dropped low to a register she hadn’t used the whole time she’d been monologuing to him. “Jerome Joseph Walker, I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you for making it this far without crossing the line from decency to indecency. I’m so proud of you for making do with what you’ve got. I’m so proud of you trying to hold yourself to the highest standard you can think of. And I’m especially proud of you for rethinking temptation to resume the high road. There is a bounty coming for you very soon. You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, but you will see the door of opportunity open. That door is for you to walk through and only you. It is my gift to you for sparing my daughter’s life this evening. We do hope you’ll come back to assist her with the handyman jobs, but rest assured that if you do not, it’s not going to count against you. You work extremely hard, or perhaps more accurately, diligently. There is nothing more I could ask of you, except perhaps going home so that she may go back to sleep.”
Something about the way she spoke to him just then touched him in ways he couldn’t easily fathom. He wasn’t quite an atheist anymore, it would seem. Before he could say a word, God continued through Crystal. “I know you never believed in me. It didn’t stop me believing in you. I don’t require worship. The Holy Bible exists to tell you how to do what is right and highlight what is wrong. It’s not your fault it’s translated incorrectly and therefore impossible to take seriously, now is it?”
“No, I suppose not,” Jerome offered in reply. “How can I thank you?” he asked suddenly.
Crystal smiled at her neighbor. “You already did and don’t know it yet,” was her enigmatic reply. “Shall I help you home before your wife figures out you’re missing? It’d be terrible to stress her out over your disappearance, you know? How’s she feeling these days, anyway?”
“I… yes, please. Thank you, Crystal,” Jerome told her. He knew her name because she’d written a note with her first delivery of food that cold November day. She’d left home made gluten-free bread in the snow outside their apartment door, seemingly at random, with a signed note. “My wife’s doing better now, thank you. The medical bills are just too much, though, so it’s hard to feed the kids.”
Crystal’s eyes teared up as she nodded. “Why don’t you come back with the whole family in, say, about a week? I’ll heal her like I healed you, too, when I touched your arm.” Jerome just stared at her for a long moment. “Oh, right. I’ll give you my card as well as the food bank’s card,” she offered. She went back to the hallway and returned with a few of her new business cards. She also took the food bank’s card off the refrigerator. “I’ll tell you what you can do to repay me: give these business cards to anyone who needs the light put back in their life. I’m terribly shy most of the time and quite the home body, so I’m not really succeeding at spreading the word. You’ve been healed just now yourself, so you can tell them what it’s like first hand. I’ll have to charge somewhere along the way for my services, though it’s a shame because I know not everyone can afford a reiki healing. If you’d let everyone you refer know that I’ll use a sliding scale based on their ability to pay, I’d be grateful. I’ll discuss that part with each individual. God knows what can be afforded.”
She was smiling again as she picked up the handles to a few bags she’d put together for Steel and his family. This time, it was infectious enough that he also smiled. She’d given him a concrete (and easy) way to repay her for her kindness, which he was grateful for.
They walked back to his apartment in the middle of the summer early morning in silence. It must have been about four in the morning, she thought, as she gently lowered the grocery bags to the ground outside his apartment door. “I’ll leave you to it, Steel. One week. I want to see your wife, Delilah. And if you find yourself needing a little more cash, remember I have tons of handy work around this old decrepit house I call home. I don’t even care if I have to pay you to watch the YouTube videos to do the work, either. I can employ you while the times are tough and maybe even beyond, though I think construction probably pays better.” She winked at him. He wasn’t a construction worker, but he was very relieved she saw the goodness in him instead of giving in to what the situation looked like on the surface. He would be back, she knew, to pick up those odd jobs, to feel like he earned the extra cash (and to earn some more to pay the tab on the hospital bills.) She was looking forward to it.
“I hope the kids enjoy the waffles,” she said to him. He was feeling unsteady now. It was not a dream, was it? It felt like a dream, but the handles of the grocery bags dug into his palms. The night air was slightly humid. The sounds of the birds coming to life in pre-dawn were meeting his ears. The door knob felt incredibly real in his hands. He found himself nodding dumbly and then she was gone, flip flop shuffling back to her own front door.
He stared at her departure for a good two minutes, watching her enter her house like a true gentleman, making sure she hadn’t inadvertently locked herself out somehow. Satisfied, he trucked all the groceries up to the kitchen and began to put them away, trying not to wake his family… and, ultimately, failing. Delilah found him in the kitchen, shoving food into the pantry with tears streaming down his cheeks.
Delilah watched Jerome for a good ten seconds before she could formulate speech. “Jerome… where did all this come from? Are there even any stores open right now? And are you alright? Why are you crying, hon?” He sat down, having put away all the perishables. He pulled out the bag of waffles that the neighbor woman made for them and offered one to his wife.
She was crying a little as she took the waffles, wondering how groceries appeared in the middle of the night. Since the pandemic started, all the stores were now closed over night for extra cleaning. The worst came to mind, of course, but then she saw the bags were from Wegmans. Her neighbor often dropped things off in Wegmans bags. “Did Crystal bring over some things again? I never catch her leaving them on the door step… she never knocks or rings the bell,” she said as she sat down, accepting the waffle.
“Something like that… I’m beginning to think I believe in God, Delilah,” Jerome admitted. She looked at him, nibbling at the still-warm waffle. She wasn’t sure what to make of his statement, but she’d thought the same thing already since the woman had already given them $200.00 in groceries during their hardest times so far. “You’re not going to believe what just happened… and I hope you’ll forgive me for jeopardizing our family. I’ve been set straight now, so you don’t have to worry about that part.”
Delilah stared at him, as if stupefied. Suddenly she asked him, “Have you tried these yet? It tastes wonderful. Kind of like a donut. It’s delicious and just what I was craving, too.”
He smiled at his wife and then remembered the song Crystal had mentioned. He pulled it up on his phone to play it quietly for the two of them to set the tone for his crazy story.