by Donna L. McKereghan

(An attempt at translating an ethical principle into the language of fictional genre)
published in Legends 1999 (May 13,1999)


"An eye for an eye," is a Hebrew idiom. It does not mean to render harm for harm. It means that if your negligence causes harm to someone, then you are responsible to compensate that person financially for any loss this causes.

M.K.Gandhi commented that, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind...For myself, I've always found that we're all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God...I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess." (Gandhi, RCA/Columbia Pictures, 1982).

This story is an attempt to exemplify the ramifications of which Gandhi spoke and my own observation that when we misinterpret the Biblical phrase "an eye for an eye," we use it selfishly, as if it meant "an I for an I." When we do this, it is not justice we seek; it is revenge. Our lack of forgiveness and our condemnation of other persons, as well as our condemnation and inability to forgive ourselves, results in painful injustice to others, to ourselves and to innocent victims of our selfish quest for vengeance.

We have more than adequate time to change. We have the ever-present now. We can choose to change our attitudes and the actions that flow from them, now, or we can make the same, sometimes irreversible, mistakes, again. Which will we choose?

ow are we going to make the mortgage payment?" Monica cried.

"Gimme a break, Monica," snapped Gary "I haven't even had my first cup of coffee. My eyes are barely open. Will you at least let me wake up before you start in on me?"

Gary showered, considered which suit to wear for his advertising presentation this morning, got dressed, meticulously adjusted his tie and looked himself over in the full length mirror. "Perfect," he thought to himself, "not too ostentatious, yet moderately dignified." He wanted the client for today's advertising presentation to see him as successful and confident - not too stuffy, yet not too casual. He carefully selected all his clothes, depending on the effect he desired in each client.

His only regret this morning was that, since it was Saturday, he had to work at all. He would have enjoyed spending a few more hours sleeping and snuggling with the beautiful, warm woman whom he'd made his wife, eleven years earlier. But, he realized that career opportunities didn't always present themselves at convenient times. This one was a huge account. If he could land this one, then Monica could stay home and they could start the \family they had planned.

He imagined the pride of hearing, "Oh, he looks just like his Daddy." or "She looks just like her Mommy." The thought brought a pleasant smile to his face. "Maybe that's what's wrong with us," Gary considered, "We're both just impatient to have a family of our own. Well, our problems are going to be over today, when I land this account." Striding into the kitchen, he saw Monica fixing coffee and stopped. She looked up at Gary and glared. "Fix your own cup of coffee. This one's mine."

"Women", Gary reflected, silently, "they bring on their own problems and then blame everyone else for them. Good thing for her that I love this one." He quickly considered the best approach to take with Monica this morning. Walking up slowly towards her, he put his head down like a sheepish little boy and looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

"I love you, Sweetheart," he said tenderly, and, though it was calculated, he meant it. His arms encircled her waist "I'll ask the boss for a payroll advance to cover the mortgage payment today. After the presentation I have prepared for this morning, he'll be too impressed to say 'no.' Don't worry about it, Hon."

Recently, Gary and Monica had talked about divorce, but fortunately, they realized, as few couples do, that they loved each other, deeply. That wasn't what was at the base of their problems, it was something else. It wasn't even irritation over financial difficulties. That had developed only recently, like symptoms of an illness rather than the disease, itself. It was something else. They had both agreed it was something else...but what?

They were both proud of the lovely home they'd purchased five years ago. And, with Monica and Gary both working, it had hardly been a strain on their budget. Gary had advanced so rapidly in his career as an advertising consultant, that they were nearing the time, as they'd planned, when Monica could put her career "on hold" and they could begin their family. Nursing supervisors would always be in demand. Only over the past two months had they experienced any financial strain. Monica's leave of absence from work and long trip to attend her father's funeral and help her mother set affairs in order had been, primarily, responsible for it.

Their finances would recover quickly and they both knew it. In fact, the question of how to make the mortgage payment was not a desperate one. They had several options - temporarily reducing their stock portfolio, taking a short-term loan that would be quickly repaid now that Monica was back to work, and other possibilities, as well. It was just that Monica hadn't been able to get Gary to decide on one of them and do it. No, it wasn't financial difficulties... but, what?

At 9 a.m. sharp, Gary stepped out his front door and headed for his new red Z 28 IROC Camero. "God, I look good in that car," he smiled. "Looks that's what it's all about out here...creating impressions on you dress, what you drive, who you know. The whole world's one big advertising enterprise. If you look successful, then you'll be success..."

"Yo! Gary!" It was Karl, Gary's next door neighbor.

Gary hoped he'd caught the sneer that he felt coming over his face, before it had actually shown. "In his boxer shorts?" thought Gary. "Look at him - hairy legs sticking out from some piece of clothing that looks more like underwear than shorts, those $3.98 thongs flapping him across the yard and one of his teenager tee shirts that says...what does this one say?"

He couldn't resist the urge to get closer to the fence so he could read it. It had a huge, half-featherless vulture, shot full of holes, still standing but drooping down the front towards Karl's gut. The encircling caption read, "Life's a bitch and then you die."

"Hey buddy, me and Sheri are plannin' to throw a few slabs of steak on the ol' barbecue tonight, around six," Karl continued. "Now, I happen to know she hasn't thought about the dessert part of the whole affair yet, 'cause she's been on me lately about these couple of extra pounds. But...if you and Monica just happened to bring dessert..."

"You know, Karl, your wife's right. Those extra pounds wear on your heart. If you want to live very long..." .

Karl cut him off. "Okay, so bring carrot sticks and celery. What d'ya say? Can the two of you join us? Where ya' goin' in that monkey suit on a Saturday?"

"To work," Gary replied, dryly. "I don't get to just sit on my tail in front of a computer for 40 hours a week, like you newspaper writers do. Some of us have to work for a living." .

"Like I don't work? Did you forget to pay the newspaper boy or did you just overlook the articles I wrote on city government last week?" Karl countered, beginning to feel defensive. "So I get mine finished in 40 hours. Some people are just a little slower, I guess," Karl teased with a grin.

Gary was in no mood to be teased. "Not as slow as you think, Karl," he retorted. "If you think you're going to buy my friendship with a couple of cheap steaks and use my influence in advertising to climb your career ladder at the newspaper, think again."

Gary spun around and marched towards his Z 28. "That'll be the day," he muttered, but loud enough that Karl overheard. "I wouldn't be caught dead in front of some vulture-chested neighbor's cheap Weber barbecue." He slid his lean body into the driver's seat, slammed the door, revved the engine and shot out of the driveway.

Karl stood speechless, watching as if it were a movie. The last scene he saw, before turning around was a "close-up" of Gary's license plate, "GARY I." "Thank God," thought Karl, "only one!" As he turned and walked towards his house, his surprise turned to anger.

Karl stepped through his front door and caught the smell of fresh strawberry pancakes. Standing in the kitchen doorway, he watched Sheri for a couple of minutes, from the back. When she turned around, pancake balanced on the turner, to carry it to the table, she started. The steaming pancake fell to the floor. Karl grinned.

"That's your pancake on the floor," Sheri said, twisting her lips into a little bundle, tipping her head and squinting her eyes.

An observer might have thought she was angry. Karl knew better. The woman fit him like a comfortable housecoat - warm, secure and reassuring."

Then, it appears you owe me something for my pancake, since you have so carelessly dropped it on the floor," he quipped, crossing the kitchen and gathering her in his arms. "Now, look at these," he said, tracing his finger around her puckered lips. "These ought to pay the debt." .

Sheri started to smile "Mama was right after all. You can't live with them and you can't live without them. Men!"

Karl gave her a big kiss and held her in his arms. "Oh, Sheri, you know you couldn't live without me."

"Oh yes I could, Karl...but I wouldn't want to" she teased, as she stood on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss on the nose. "Now get the hell off the pancake pedestal you're standing on, Mr. Perfect."

As she cleaned up the mess, she put another pancake on the griddle. She turned to Karl and asked, "Did you invite Monica and her husband to come over for barbecue tonight, like I asked you?"

Instantly, Karl's face darkened. "Oh sure, I invited the creep. He insulted me, jumped in his new hot-rod and left."

"What? C'mon, Karl, there was something more to it than that. You were just supposed to invite them for dinner. What else did you say?"

"I swear, I'm done trying to 'make neighbors' with that pompous idiot," Karl replied, slicing his hand through the air with a gesture of finality.

Sheri thought to ask more, but seeing Karl's angered face, she decided that this wasn't the time. Balancing a fresh pancake on the turner, she slipped it off onto Karl's plate and rapidly scanned her thoughts for a different topic of conversation.

"I've got to finish a couple of print outs this morning. What do you have planned?" she asked.

"I'm gonna replace those two broken boards in the back fence. Then, maybe we won't have to feed someone's dog breakfast out of our garbage cans every Tuesday morning before the truck comes," said Karl. "But, I've got to run over to the lumber yard, first. You wanna ride along?"

"Oh, I'd love to," Sheri teased, in melodramatic voice, "but I have nothing appropriate to wear to equal m'Lord's morning attire."

Karl's face clouded over, again. "Lay off, Sheri. What does it matter what I wear to fix the fence, for cryin' out loud?"

For the second time that morning, Karl's response surprised Sheri. He was known and well liked for his easy sense of humor and non-defensive attitude. She wondered what was up. "Whoa, Karl, I was kidding, Honey. What's the matter?"

Karl realized he was taking his anger and frustration over his encounter with Gary, out on the wrong person. "Nothing. I'm sorry," he apologized. "It's just that I only got to eat two of these pancakes, instead of three. My fault, I know. Sometimes I just can't keep my eyes off you. I'd do anything for you, even balance myself on the face of a pancake," he teased, as he broke into a wide, easy grin.

"Then how 'bout a couple of sets of tennis this afternoon, after we both get our work done?" Sheri returned. Maybe the exercise would help alleviate whatever tension was standing between them, this morning.

"Sounds good to me, if you're up to losing a couple sets," Karl countered, with the usual twinkle in his eyes.

He pushed himself away from the table, checked his back pocket for his wallet, leaned over and kissed Sheri. "I'm going to take the Bronco," he said.

"Just don't let it throw you off," joked Sheri, as he walked out the back door.

Gary was only ten minutes down the freeway when the right front tire of his car blew out. He was so busy trying to get the car under control and pulled off to the side of the road, that he hadn't seen the metal light pole, firmly embedded in a concrete base, on the shoulder ahead of him. His car had slowed considerably, before impact. But, as the front of the car hit it squarely, Gary, who had never picked up the habit of wearing a seat belt, slammed headfirst into the steering wheel and windshield. The impact not stalled the engine and sent the car recoiling several feet back from the concrete base of the pole, along the shoulder. Gary's head rebounded and shot straight back, wedging in place against the headrest. Typical of freeway traffic, no one stopped. To drivers coming up from behind, it looked like nothing more than a car that had been intentionally pulled off the side of the freeway and parked. Anyone who saw Gary's head could have easily assumed that he was just resting while waiting for help.

As Karl headed up the freeway towards the lumberyard, he spotted Gary's red Z 28. He started to slow and turned on his right turn signal, to pull over. He wasn't sure it was Gary's car, until he got close enough to read the rear license plate - "GARY I." Seeing the plate brought the memory of Gary's verbal abuse this morning tumbling back into his thoughts. He switched off his turn signal.

"Well, Mr. 'GARY I,' as I remember it, you don't want my friendship. You understand people so damn well. Hope you understand cars, too, 'ol buddy."

As he passed Gary's car, he could see Gary resting his head against the headrest. He looked defeated. "Don't think you're gonna be climbing any career ladders sitting in your stalled car 'GARY - I" he thought as he grinned, honked and sped up, again.

Later in the afternoon, after a couple of sets of tennis, a shower, and barbecue steak dinner, Karl and Sheri relaxed in the living room, watching the evening news. The footage switched to a scene on the freeway. Beside a red Z 28 Camero, paramedics were loading a stretcher with a body bag on it into an ambulance. Sheri's eyes widened, squinted, and widened again, trying to take in the details of the car. "My God," she thought, "it looks like Gary and Monica's."

Karl sat, in shock, as the reporter told how the State Patrol had come upon the car at 3 p.m., stopped to check it, and found the dead man's body, inside.

"As nearly as we can tell," said the officer, "it appears that the vehicle blew a tire. It ran into the concrete base of the light post, stalling the engine and propelling the car backwards along the shoulder of the freeway. No one reported the accident. The driver apparently sustained serious head and internal injuries from the impact. It looks as though he simply sat unconscious in the car and, over a several hour period, bled to death."

Karl didn't hear the remainder of the report. Sheri, still trying to see some detail to reassure her that it hadn't been Gary's car, listened until the report ended, "We're not releasing a name, at this time, pending notification of the family." She started to ask, "Karl, you don't think that could have been..." but, her voice trailed off as she looked from the TV to Karl's face. His eyes were open wide, as if in fear. He began to open his mouth, but slowly closed it again. He looked confused and stunned.

The nausea hit Sheri in a crushing, enveloping wave. Obviously, Karl had seen some detail of the car in the report that answered her question. "Oh God Karl, was that Gary's car?" She paused, waiting for the answer that Karl gave only by the look on his face. "Oh God, no!" She walked across the room and pulled aside one of the drapes, hoping to see Gary and Monica's new red Camero, safely parked in the driveway, next door. Instead, she saw a driveway full of strange cars.

When she turned around, Karl was out of his chair, pacing the living room. "Oh, Sweet Jesus, I...How could I have...Why didn't I...?"

Sheri had known, that morning, that more must have been said between Karl and Gary than Karl had told her. She thought she knew what Karl must be thinking and feeling now.

"C'mon, Karl, these things happen between people. Sometimes, they just happen at the worst times. Having an argument with the guy isn't what killed him. It's not your fault that he died!"

Karl looked at Sheri with a strange look of pain and panic. "I..." The memory of Gary's car, on the freeway, and of turning off his own turn signal, flashed through his mind. "I...I..."

"I didn't think he even cared that much for the guy," she puzzled to herself. "Gary wasn't a good neighbor, even when we tried to be." It occurred to her that Karl must be thinking of what it would be like for her, if he suddenly died. She started towards him to hold and reassure him, but he turned and wandered down the hall. "Karl?" she questioned, struggling to understand his reaction. But, Karl didn't hear her.

As he entered the study, Karl remembered seeing Gary in the car with his head back. He remembered thinking that Gary was stranded and upset and that he deserved to be both...deserved to be. Karl slid his top desk drawer open and looked down at his loaded .32. "I...I..."


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