A Short Story by David W. Landrum
When Sossity Chandler came to sing for children at local hospitals,
she often saw her old friend Pamela Revard. Pamela was a nurse. Sossity had known her in high school and remembered her for the way she always misinterpreted, or misunderstood,
song lyrics. Once the two of were sitting in Sweetland’s, a candy shop
on Plainfield Avenue.
Sossity had bought a bag of juju balls. Pamela purchased jellybeans. Sossity held two of the red, serrated candies in front of her eyes.
“Juju eyeballs,” she said, “just like in ‘Come
Together’ by the Beatles. Remember?”
She sang, “He got juju eyeballs, he’s one holy roller.”
She popped one in her mouth and slid the other to Pamela.
“Is that what that means?” she asked.
“What did you think it meant?”
“I thought it was ‘Jew-Jew eyeballs.’ I thought he was making fun of Jews.”
The idea that John Lennon would have an anti-Semitic reference in
one of his hit songs struck Sossity as an amusing mistake based on an outrageous assumption.
She watched as Pamela ate the juju ball.
Another time, Sossity had finished singing “Happiness Is a
Warm Gun.” They were at her house, Sossity working on songs for a concert
at a coffee bar the next day.
“What was that one line you say they sang?” Pamela asked. “‘Down to the’—what was it after that?”
“Down to the bits,” Sossity answered. She strummed her guitar and sang:
I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down
Down to the bits that I left uptown . .
“Right. The lyrics
are printed on the inside of the album—my Dad has the old LP.”
“I thought it was ‘Down to the bitch that I left uptown.’”
She had always remembered these two instances of Pamela’s
ability to get words all wrong. Her ineptitude at understanding lyrics amazed
Sossity, but she would reflect how her tin ear grew out of her general outlook on life.
Pamela Revard was a cynic.
Her variety of cynicism was not the typical flippant kind so popular in contemporary culture. Pamela projected a relentless, grinding nihilism that Sossity had always found both annoying and disturbing. Her cynicism conveyed an assessment of life that said everything was absurd, good
did not exist, hypocrites governed in every sphere, and everything claiming moral or ethical value amounted to a false hope
that only naive, gullible people believed. In Pamela’s view, all ethics
were a sham. She maintained, like Nietzsche, that claims of truth were in fact
plays to gain power. The world was a jungle, she often remarked, and she was
merely one dog intent on eating the others dogs before they effectively devoured her.
Pamela and Sossity were on the track team and spent a lot of time
training together, during and after school. Their junior year they dated brothers,
had several classes together, saw a lot of each other and so, despite Sossity’s chagrin at Pamela’s incessant
cynical pronouncements, they became friends.
Sossity went on to become a successful pop singer (after six years
on the road looking for her big break). Pamela became a nurse.
Through the years, they saw each other from time to time. In all
that time Pamela’s attitude never changed.
They got together for dinner and drinks when Sossity returned to
live in her old home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. When they were a little drunk, Pamela let go with one of her cynicisms: “I read something really funny the other day. It was
so good I memorized it. A woman knows all about her children. She knows about
dentist appointments, soccer games, romances, best friends, location of friend’s houses, favorite foods, secret fears,
and hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the
This stung Sossity. Her husband, David, did not fit Pamela’s description. He had cherished and nurtured their two children, and the children looked to him for
encouragement, comfort and solace, perhaps more than they did her. Even when
he betrayed her with his unfaithfulness and precipitated their divorce, she still could not deny her children’s emotional
dependence on him.
After the divorce, she avoided Pamela, thinking she could not endure the remarks she would probably make about David. When they did finally see each other, enough time had passed that Pamela’s remarks
seemed mild. And she surprised Sossity by mentioning that she had developed an
interest in the writing of Wendell Berry.
“Ever read him?” she asked.
“I read a little of his poetry in high school.”
“I’m into his philosophy big-time,” she said, her eyes bright with adulation. She launched into a long—and completely non-cynical—description of Berry’s ideas: localism, the need to
be attached to the land, concepts of community, hospitality and covenant, marriage as an analogy for social ethics.
“Wow,” Sossity said when her friend had finished talking. “I’ve
never seen you so enthused, Pammy.”
“With all the crap going down these days it’s nice to find someone who’s really on to something good,”
Besides being an ardent reader of Berry, she had
bought shares in a farm up around Algoma. She tried to buy locally and belonged
to an organization that promoted localism.
“You ought to come with me to the Farmer’s Market,” she said.
“Get a little taste of Grand Rapids localism
at its best.”
“I’d love to, but people mob me when I go out in public. As
crowded as the Farmer’s market gets, I’m afraid someone might get trampled.”
“Maybe you can come with me to my co-op farm sometime. Chad Sterling
“Chad Sterling,” she laughed. “The guy who thought he was God’s gift to women?”
“He went for a Ph.D.,” she defended, “and came back to teach here in town.”
“What’s the Ph.D. in?”
“Philosophy. That’s how he got on to Berry. I saw him at Hop Cat one noon; we got
to talking. He’s born again now.”
She mentioned an evangelical college in town where he taught.
“I’ll believe that when the Devil comes to me and says Chad’s
not on his team anymore.”
“That’s not fair to say, Sos. He really has changed. You won’t believe how he’s changed.
Anyway, he told me about his farm and about Wendell Berry. I got one of
Berry’s books out the library and pretty soon I’d
read almost everything he’s written.”
“I have one question. If Chad teaches where you said he teaches, what was he doing at Hop Cat?”
Hop Cat, a restaurant/bar on Ionia Street,
specialized in exotic beers. The school where Chad taught had a non-drinking rule.
“He was getting a burger,” she defended. “They have
really good food there. He wasn’t drinking.”
Sossity smiled and held up her hands.
“Okay, okay, don’t go ballistic. I was only joking.”
“Anyway,” Pamela continued, “I support his farm. He
and some other people have a discussion group on Wednesday. We talk about Berry and localism. You
ought to come sometime.”
Sossity had a tour lined up that started in two weeks. Before she left, however, she bought three titles by Berry
and read them flying to concert venues and during dead hours waiting in hotel rooms.
When she returned, she mentioned her reading to Pamela, who lit
up and wanted to know what she thought of the author she had come to venerate.
“I like a lot of what she says. I like what he says about the value of belonging to a certain place.
That’s why I decided to live in Grand Rapids instead on in L.A.
or New York or Nashville. On the other hand, I think he’s a little strident at times.”
“Strident?” she echoed, her face hard with disapproval. “How is he strident?”
“He’s calls people he doesn’t approve of plunderers,
exploiters, destroyers. He talks about health and disease—but in his viewpoint,
health means his outlook on life and disease means the viewpoint of anyone who disagrees with him.”
“That’s not true,” Pamela said, her face almost
“I think it is. He
excludes anyone who disagrees with him. He doesn’t try to understand their
views or answer their objections; he just calls them names and writes them off.”
“You won’t think that when you read more of him.”
Sossity read more and did not change her mind. Berry, in fact, seemed to grow more judgmental
the older he got. She found the rhetoric in his recent books more volatile than
what he had written in earlier decades.
Once she did go to the farm with Pamela.
They drove to the co-op, some twenty miles north of Grand Rapids. Sossity enjoyed watching the picturesque
rural landscapes go by. Pamela played one of her CDs, sang along, and got the
lyrics wrong, as always.
“Pammy,” Sossity told her, “that’s Cloud
shadows passing by, not ‘Cloud shadows crashing by.’”
“I thought it was a song about thunderstorms.”
“No. That one
is almost as bad as when you thought ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was ‘Strawberry Beatles Florescent’
and thought that song by Dobie Grey I perform as an oldie every now and then said, ‘Give me the Beach Boys and free
my soul.’ You need to listen to things a little more closely.”
“Maybe I do.”
They pulled into a farm tucked away on a quiet rural road. Sossity saw a small house, a barn, and gardens all around the house. Beyond that lay a large field that looked fallow. A tractor
and two trucks sat on a circular gravel driveway. A dog lying in front of the
barn wagged its tail. Chickens pecked further back on the property.
They climbed out of the car.
In a moment, Sossity saw Chad Sterling walking up to greet them.
He had changed a lot since high school. Mainly he had put on weight—a lot of weight, she noted. His
face was ruddy, cheeks full, chin double. He had developed a large paunch, made
more noticeable by the overalls he wore. He smiled and waved. In high school, Sossity recalled, he had a reputation as a seducer.
She had not particularly liked him and never dated him. Pamela had and
was probably among of his many conquests.
A few feet behind him, smiling and waving, Sossity saw Luanne Carvella.
“He married Luanne?” she asked quickly, before Chad got there.
“You didn’t tell me that.”
She shrugged. Pamela
and Luanne had been rivals and enemies in school. Sossity noticed two children,
boys five or six, hurrying along beside Luanne.
Chad greeted them
gregariously. He gave Luanne a quick embrace and clasped Sossity’s hand. He heaped lavish praise on her, congratulating her on her success as a singer.
“When you played at school dances and in coffee bars around
town, I used to listen and think, She’ll make it big—I know she’ll make it big. Now look at you! I’m really happy, for you, Sos.”
She smiled. Chad was charming. He
had always been charming—too charming. She disliked and mistrusted him for this very reason.
By that time Luann had come up to them. Unlike her husband, she had not put on weight. Sossity thought
she looked prettier than she had looked in high school. Blonde, open-faced, friendly, her blue eyes large and striking, she
greeted both Sossity and Pamela with kisses and introduced her two children. Sossity
remembered she had been a Latter Day Saint and wondered if she had converted upon marrying Chad—if he really was a born-again
Christian now (she thought Pamela might be as inept at knowing religions as she was a understanding song lyrics).
They went into the house.
Luanne served them coffee and drank some herself. Sossity noticed a bulletin
for Ada Bible, a megachurch on the other side of Grand Rapids, taped up on their refrigerator door—a standard evangelical
practice—along with pictures of missionaries and drawings by her two sons.
A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house
and hopes and dreams.
Over coffee and carrot cake, they talked. Luanne served the coffee and drank some herself. Sossity remembered
how, in high school, she would not touch caffeine and always drank Sprite and herb tea.
Obviously she had forsaken, or at least modified, her old Mormon faith. Luanne
and Chad expressed their amazed happiness
that Sossity Chandler, their old classmate, had become a pop celebrity and that they heard her songs on the radio, as movie
themes, and on television.
“I remember when you used to play at the open mics the school would host,” Luanne said. “Once I requested
‘Sweet Baby James’ and was amazed you knew it.”
“I remember. You were the only person that night who tipped
“A dollar! I
wished I’d had more to throw in your case.”
“Shows how musicians get screwed by everyone,” Pamela
Chad explained how
the farm operated. People bought shares and then got a portion of the produce. He had forty shareholders. Shareholders
helped with planting, weeding, and harvest. In summer, he made weekly deliveries
of produce and free-range eggs.
“I’ll have to buy a share next year,” Sossity
“Would a superstar like you get out and grub in the dirt?”
Paula asked, smirking.
“Of course I would.
My Mom always had a garden and I loved to work in it. It would be a nice
diversion from my usual life.”
Chad took them on
a walking tour. The farm was not large.
He took them through the barn, the extensive garden with its rows of squash, beans, tomatoes, kale, and peppers, through
a stand of sweet corn beyond which stood three apple trees. Sossity climbed one
and found three decent apples (he did not spray them and many had spots and wormholes).
Heading back to the house, they chomped the apples, talked, and laughed. After
spending more time in the kitchen, Sossity and Pamela headed back to Grand Rapids.
“So what do you think?”
“It’s great. I
see what you mean. I can see why you’re so into it.”
“You’ll have to come when we have a gathering. We help
plant, weed, harvest, and then we eat together. It’s community—something
we don’t have much of these days.” She paused then said, “Isn’t Chad awesome?”
maybe in what he’s doing running a farm—but I bet he’s put on a hundred pounds. Remember how trim he used to be?”
“That’ shouldn’t matter. Who cares how he looks?”
“He should. It’s
not healthy to be that big.”
Paul made a disapproving noise.
They switched the subject of their conversation. Pamela mentioned a rally
and fund-raiser for the Local Always organization. Would she be interested in
“Sure I would, as long as it doesn’t conflict with something
else. Let me know the date. I’ll
check my performance schedule.”
She saw less of Pamela
the next few months. In fact, she hardly saw her at all. Nothing conflicted with the date for the Local Always rally, and she agreed to do a fund-raiser/benefit
concert for them. The organizers were elated.
When Sossity finalized things, she mentioned to the president of the organization that Pamela Revard had first asked
her to play.
“I know. I’ve
been trying to call her but she’s always gone. Never home. I guess she spends a lot of time up at Chad Sterling’s farm.
She’s practically lives up there.” He smiled. Sossity thought she detected a slight leer in his expression.
She attempted to call Pamela but always got her answering machine. She never returned Sossity’s requests for her to call. Finally, when she visited a local hospital to sing for a child in Make a Wish, she ran into Pamela in the
Her friend was tanned, her hair bleached with the sun. She had on green scrubs and looked tired.
“Pamela. Finally! How are you?”
“You look a little worn out.”
“I’m working a lot—I got an afternoon shift as
a surgical nurse—3 to 11—not the greatest hour, but it frees me up to be on the farm a lot. Now that it’s fall, there’s a lot to do.”
“I can imagine. Why
don’t we get together for lunch? My treat.”
“I don’t know.
I’m really busy.”
“Busy? You look
like you’re about to drop from exhaustion.” Sossity moved closer
to her. “Pammy, I’ve know you long enough to know how obsessive you
can be. I think you’re overdoing the farm thing. Maybe you need to back off from it a little.”
needs a lot of help. He teaches too, you know.”
Sossity insisted on a lunch date.
Three days later Pamela did not show up at the Cambridge House on Monroe
Street. Sossity called her.
“Where the hell are you?”
“I’m home. I
was just getting ready to call you. I can’t make lunch. I’ve got to go to the farm.”
“Pammy, are you screwing Chad?”
A long pause came.
“I need to go,” Pamela said.
“I’ll drive out to Algoma and drag your ass back here. We need to talk. Or maybe I should call
Chad and ask him about it—or Luanne.”
“Sos, don’t. Please.”
“Then you get over here, damn it. I mean it, Pam. I’ll call him. Be here in fifteen minutes.”
Pamela showed up. Sossity
pointed to a chair. Her friend sat down, folded her arms and crossed her legs. Sossity leaned toward her so she would not have to speak loudly.
“It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. I remember Luann saying she worked and had her kids in daycare. And
I remember Chad saying he had all his
classes on Tuesday and Thursday so he could have the rest of the week free to work on the farm. And you’re on an afternoon shift so you have most of the day free.
Easy to go out behind the barn with a set-up like that.”
“This is none of your business.”
“I’m making it my business. I’m concerned.”
“About you, mostly.”
“I don’t need you to take care of me.”
“Besides that,” Sossity went, ignoring her comment,
“I’m concerned about Chad.
I always thought he was an asshole, but he seems to have settled down and found his niche.
If you break up his marriage, a lot of people will be hurt: her, him,
those two adorable boys they have; if it comes out that he’s having an affair he’ll lose his job at that born-again
college where he teaches—which means he’ll lose the farm because he doesn’t make enough off it yet to support
himself. And let’s come back to you.”
She paused. Pamela
maintained her hostile look and posture.
“I can tell just by looking at you that things are not right. You look like you’ve lost weight—and, unlike Chad, you don’t have any weight to lose. And you look like you’re about
to collapse from exhaustion. What is it, Pam?”
She looked down, sighed, and then looked up.
“He wants to break it off—for all the reasons you gave.”
“That would be better for everyone.”
“Not for me.”
“You disagree,” she repeated in a mocking tone. “Hell, you’ve been married. I’ve
never been married. And, yes, I know things didn’t work out for you and
David, but at least you had someone; you have kids. I’m your age, heading rapidly toward forty, and I don’t have anyone—not even a boyfriend. After high school I never did—just guys who wanted to screw me and dump me. Why was that, Miss Know-It-All-Superstar? You
seem to have all the goddamned answers.”
“I don’t have all the answers, but I can answer that
one. No guy wants a bitter, cynical woman. For Christ’s sake—who
in the hell would want to marry someone like that? You think any guy envisions
living with a woman who doesn’t believe anybody is sincere, any love is true, and who spends all her time sneering and
making sarcastic remarks?”
Pamela sat silent a long moment.
Sossity thought her words had gone home, but the ugly look returned to her friend’s face.
“So that’s what you think of me? Of course I’d expect
that from you—you’re prettier than me and now you’ve got everything in the world going for you.”
“Prettier than you?
Hell’s bells, Pam. You’re ten times better looking than I
am. You beat me out twice for Prom Queen, damn it. Don’t you remember that?”
“And if I didn’t go around sneering all the time maybe
guys would like me, hmmm?”
“You said it.”
She stood up.
“Fuck you,” she hissed, and left.
The break-up did occur. A
mutual friend to whom Chad had confided informed Sossity about how Pamela
relentlessly pursued Chad until he caved
in. After an affair that lasted four months he ended it, saying he had violated
the principles of his religion and betrayed his wife. Pamela threatened to tell
Luann and the school where Chad taught. Later she relented, kept quiet, and stopped going to the farm. Sossity saw her at the benefit concert. She stumbled backstage
and spoke as if she were drunk or stoned.
“Sos, thanks for doing this,” she said, speech slurred Her eyes were dull and she looked weary and exhausted.
“Sure thing, baby.”
Sossity took her aside. “Are we still friends? I’m sorry for how I acted at the Cambridge. I was way too harsh with you.”
“You were exactly right,” Pamela replied.
“Can we get together and talk soon?”
“We can. I’ve
got to go. I need to see someone.”
The next day Pamela Revard landed in the emergency room from a drug
Sossity went to see her when she was out of danger. She looked wasted,
her face thin, her mouth sagging, eyes hollow and weary from fear, pain, and exhaustion. She tried to smile. The muscles in her face were not working right.
God you’re all right.”
“I’ll pull through, I guess. Thanks for coming.” Her eyes filled up with tears. “I’m sorry, Sossity. What
I said to you at the Cambridge”—
not important now.”
“It is. The reason
I acted the way I did that day was because what you said hit home. I didn’t
want to admit it.”
“We can talk about that later.” She pulled a chair up beside Pamela’s bed. She kissed
her friend’s forehead.
“I’m just thankful you’re doing okay.”
“I’m doing okay. How are you doing?”
got Cheryl and Brett for the next three months.”
“Must be nice. They’re
“You’ll have to come over and see them.”
Pamela looked up at the ceiling as if to collect her thoughts. She turned her haggard eyes to Sossity.
“I died,” she said. “My heart stopped twice.”
“They pulled you through.”
“Yes, but I’m screwed.
They’ll fire me at Saint Mary’s—can’t have nurses who overdose on crack.”
“Maybe you can come and work for me. I need a nurse to administer our health care plan and take care of medical scheduling for my employees.”
“Normally I’d say no—out of the fact that I’ve
been such a jerk to you. But I’ll be out on the street without a job.”
She paused again and looked thoughtful. “You know, Sos, the reason I got
so caught up in that whole farm thing, the philosophy thing too, was because I thought I’d finally found something that
I could not be cynical about—something I saw as a kind of sanctuary, I guess.
I really believed in it. I really thought it was something I could value.
I went after Chad because I wanted to
be with him and share in all of that.”
“There are other things you can value,” Sossity answered.
She did not reply. Sossity
looked out the window. November snowflakes, small and sparse, floated through
the sky. She would have Pamela over for Thanksgiving. She would help her get back on her feet.
The snow swirled in the wind as they continued to talk.