Meet Frank - complete chapter...
Steph grabbed the fresh pot of coffee and the plate of cinnamon spice cake from the counter and started for her corner table. She glanced out the window and saw a beat-up, old pickup truck idling alongside the curb out front, mottled spots of rust covering much of the vehicle’s lower half. The driver was behind the wheel, looking down at his smartphone. Setting her treats down on the table, she moved her bag from the chair to the floor and looked out the front window again as she sat down, marveling at how much it looked like her grandparents’ farm truck, sans the broken, wooden broom sticking out of the wall of the truck bed. She chuckled to herself as she loaded up her fork with crumbly goodness, remembering the times she rode in the back of that old farm truck as a child, going with her grandparents to check on the crops, and using her broken broom to sweep weeds, dirt clogs, grain, and corn out of the bed. Now, it sat in a tired pile on her grandparents’ farm, hidden behind the trees lining the long, gravel driveway; oats and grass having gone to seed in the hollow of the curled back bumper.
She was saved from the throes of bittersweet nostalgia when she heard voices up near the front of the coffee shop. There was an older gentleman wearing blue jeans, a plaid button-up, and a weathered, white cowboy hat. He was speaking with Tom and Steph saw Tom gesture her way. The man in the hat looked over his shoulder at her, then looked back at Tom and nodded.
Steph took a deep breath and mentally prepared herself for her next appointment. As the man approached her table, she waved at him.
“Hi, I’m Steph. Are you here to give confession?” she asked, smiling at the man and holding out her hand for a handshake.
The man took his hat off and held it to his chest. “Well, hello there, Miss Stephanie. I am, indeed. The name’s Frank,” he said, shaking her hand. Steph was surprised by the deepness of his voice. He set his hat down on the table and settled into the chair opposite her.
Steph set her hands on the table and laced her fingers together alongside the half-eaten plate of cake temporarily pushed to the side. “So, Frank, what brings you to my dark, little corner of secrets today?”
“Well, Miss, I’m sorry to say it, but I’m a downright detestable pile of chicken shit, I am.”
Steph’s smile disappeared and she stared at her new guest in surprise. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and cleared her throat, “Ehm, eh – ”
Frank must have seen she was taken off guard and jumped in to try to clear things up, “Well, let me just clarify – it’s not just me, it’s really everyone in my town. The whole town’s just filled with chicken shits.”
Steph continued to stare at him for another moment before she was able to think of something to say. She shook her head and held up a hand, “Wait, so… the people in your town, or just, like, the whole town in general?”
“Today, I’m talkin’ about the people,” Frank vigorously nodded, “but about the town? Well, from my point of view, it’s been going down the shitter for quite some time. I haven’t considered it a decent sort of place since I was a youngin’. I’m sure there’s still some decent sorts out there somewhere – decent people, decent towns – but really, the whole world’s just become one big shit-show.”
Steph studied Frank’s face as he spoke and she could see he had a lot weighing on his mind, and a lot to say about it. She held up her hand again to slow him down, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but maybe I should state my disclaimer first and we’ll just go from there. Is that alright?”
Frank looked at her as if he was just noticing her for the first time, and he seemed a little startled. “Yeah, that’d be a good idea. Go ahead, Miss,” he agreed, his gruff, gravelly voice vibrating in the space between them. His hands were also on the table, and Steph saw how calloused and dirt-stained they were. It made her think of her grandparents and their farm again.
“Alright,” Steph nodded, sitting up straighter, “I’m a law-abiding citizen who would rather not hear about anything illegal done by you or anyone you know because I don’t want to be put into the position of knowing something that should be reported.”
The frown that had been etched on Frank’s face since he walked in finally broke, and he gave her a small, amused smile, “You’ve said that bit a time or two, haven’t you?”
“Is it that obvious?” Steph laughed. “I suppose I should work on placing a few pauses in there rather than blurting it all out in one breath, huh?”
“Ah, you’re fine – just teasin’ you, is all,” Frank assured Steph. “Alright, you ready to get this show on the road?” he asked.
“Go for it,” she laughed, folding her hands on the table again and re-focusing her attention on him.
Frank cleared his throat and then began his confession, “You’ve heard of this medical marijuana thing, right?”
Steph was, once again, surprised. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting from this older farmer-type, but for some reason, she didn’t think it would be anything like this. “Yeah, sure I have.”
“Well, you don’t even need the word ‘medical’ in front of it, really. It’s just there to make everyone feel happy and for insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make money off of it. It’s just ridiculous…” he trailed off, looking down and shaking his head in apparent frustration, or maybe disappointment.
“What’s ridiculous about it?” Steph asked. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”
Frank looked back up at her with a confused look, then seemed to remember what he’d been talking about. He sat up in his chair and said, “Look, contrary to how the government-propagated newscasts want us to think – the crap they shove in our heads – I know how marijuana works. I’ve seen it work on many occasions, and it’s just plain stupid to keep it from people who want to use it. It’s also plain stupid the government classifies it as illegal; throwing people into prison for it and letting pharmaceutical companies and states make money off it… Just ridiculous!” he repeated, slamming his fist on the table in anger.
“Ah, okay,” Steph answered, relieved she could at least tell where he stood on the matter, now, even if she still wasn’t sure where he was going with this. “I see what you’re saying.”
“Do you? Do you get what I mean? Or are you unfamiliar with the advantages of marijuana?”
“I’m not personally familiar, but I’ve read a lot about it online and I have a friend who’s a nurse out in Colorado. She’s told me quite a bit about it, too,” she offered up.
He nodded at her, then started off again, “Our society has been so conditioned to not stand up for what’s right… to blindly be led around with rings in our noses and agree to whatever we’re told for our so-called own good. It just makes me sick!”
Frank looked back down at the table, shaking his head, so Steph tried to get him back on track again, “Well, if I may ask, why do you say you and your whole town are all a bunch of chicken shits? Those are some pretty harsh words – what have you all done to deserve that?”
Frank paused and Steph was worried he might’ve forgotten what he was saying, again. After only another moment, though, Frank started to explain, “I’m talkin’ about all people, including myself, who don’t bother to stand up for our own beliefs and knowledge… and our understanding of certain issues. People who look the other way to avoid any type of negativity, God forbid it should come their way! People who use the phrase, ‘not my monkey, not my circus,’ although they’ve either already benefited from that specific circus, or know they would benefit from it. People who take help from others, but when those other people need them in return, they’re nowhere to be found. And you know what the sad part about all this is, Miss Stephanie? I’m one of those people, and I’m absolutely disgusted with myself for it.”
Looking at Frank from across the table, Steph let out a big sigh, “I take it there was someone who helped you in your time of need and you let them down when they needed you?”
“Well, yes and no,” Frank said, leaning into the table and inhaling deeply.
Steph saw he was about to go into detail and gently interrupted him, “Frank, just a moment. I’m not trying to be funny or anything, but you should know, I’m not a therapist of any kind. I’m just lending an ear in case anyone wants to get something off their chest.”
Frank mustered a faint smile, “Oh, I know… and thank you for that, Miss Stephanie.”
She smiled warmly at him and in a reassuring voice, asked, “So, how about you tell me about this person who helped you? Who are they to you? How did they help?”
“Actually, let me back up. It all started for me way before I ever made her acquaintance,” Frank said, leaning back in his chair and resting his folded hands on his stomach. “Back in the early sixties, I remember visiting my grandparents – they didn’t live too far from us, y’know – and I’d help my grandma tend to the garden on their front porch. It was this big, wooden planter that had all sorts of different things growing out of it – different kinds of cacti, some vines of some sort, a single, enormous sunflower, and then a handful of marijuana plants. My grandma wasn’t necessarily trying to hide them, but they were tricky to find because all the plants were just packed in there so tightly – just leaves, everywhere. I loved learning about all of them, and my grandma was overjoyed to tell me all about them – the names, the origins, how to care for them, what they could be used for, all that stuff. When she got to those marijuana plants, she called them ‘Grandpa’s Medicine.’ I never asked about what that meant, mostly because it never occurred to me that it’d be called anything else. Maybe that was really the name of the plant, what did I care? I was just a kid. I wasn’t gonna ask questions like that.”
“Was your grandpa pretty sick, then?”
“No, well not back then, at least… I mean, nothing like cancer or anything, but it helped with his rheumatoid arthritis. He had it really bad in his feet to start out with - he could barely walk with a cane, and he was in pain all the time. Eventually, it got in his hands, too. Couldn’t use his dang blessed hands. Could you imagine?”
“That would make me mad, definitely,” Steph said thoughtfully, glancing down at her own hands. Looking back up at Frank, she added, “That must have been so painful… Did he have to smoke pot all the time, then?”
Frank let out an unexpected chuckle. He shook his head and explained, “No, actually Grandma always made him double chocolate chip cookies. I always thought he had a voracious sweet tooth, which he did, but I also knew the rule of the house was no smokin’ inside, too. Both my parents smoked when I was young, and because of Grandma’s rule, if you were gonna light up, you had to be outside, no matter what. Bad weather? No excuse to smoke inside. Nighttime? Doesn’t matter. If you wanted to smoke, you’d better have made sure you were outside or you were going to end up on Grandma’s shit list, for sure!”
“That’s a good rule,” Steph smiled. “I bet your grandparents’ house smelled amazing, what with the constant baking going on and no one smoking inside.”
“Yeah, it did,” Frank smiled, looking out the window at a car passing by. “Probably the best smellin’ place in the whole world.”
“So, you first learned about marijuana through your grandparents?”
“No – well, not really. The only thing I knew at the time is that it was called ‘Grandpa’s Medicine,’ and Grandpa ate a lot of cookies. Of course, only he could have those cookies so, Grandma would make me my own cookies – regular chocolate chip,” Frank explained, smiling fondly at the memory. “I never could figure out why someone would want a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips. It would just be a chocolatey-chocolate cookie then, and the chocolate chips wouldn’t stand out, which is really the whole point of the chocolate chip cookie.”
“So, you’re not a fan of double chocolate chip cookies, then?” Steph asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Frank didn’t take the bait. “Oh, no,” Frank looked at her with all seriousness. “The chocolate chips have to stand out if you’re gonna have any kind of chocolate chip cookie. If you’re going to mess with a classic cookie like the Chocolate Chip, you’ll need to call your cookie something else!”
Steph was a little taken aback, but kept smiling, “Sounds like you’re a real cookie connoisseur.”
At this, Frank finally smiled again. “I will admit, I may have inherited my grandpa’s fondness for cookies. There’s no finer baked good, in my opinion.”
“Regular cookies? Or special cookies?” Steph asked.
“Regular cookies,” Frank assured her.
She laughed, “Alright then. Well, when did you realize what ‘Grandpa’s Medicine’ was really called?”
“When I got blamed for taking some! Can you believe that?”
“Well, I was about ten or eleven, I guess… I was working in the garden, tending to the plants during one of my visits. Grandma trusted me to take care of them on my own sometimes, once I got to be about that age. While I was working on the porch, my oldest brother came in and practically busted down the door doing so. It was an enclosed porch, and when he came in, the door smacked me backward and I caught myself on the wall. If I hadn’t, I would’ve crushed Grandma’s only sunflower plant. I was lucky, ‘cause if I’d hurt that flower, Grandma would’ve hurt me. She loved sunflowers, and she’d take the seeds and salt ‘n bake them for Grandpa. I tell you, Grandpa was a lucky man to have my grandma. She made the best food, and she saved the best of the best for him. Lucky old dog…” Frank trailed off, a faraway smile on his face.
Steph waited a moment but he didn’t say anything else. “Your brother, was he the one who took ‘Grandpa’s Medicine?’”
“Yeah, later when he was caught, he actually admitted he would sneak into the porch quite often and run off with a few leaves and buds. He was able to get away with it for so long because he’d rearrange the leaves of surrounding plants to hide where he’d snapped a bit off. That day, though, I was there, so after he knocked me over with the door, he yelled a few cuss words at me then immediately left. The little devil, he was always sneakin’ and stealin’ – I don’t know how my parents put up with him for so long.”
“But they thought you’d stolen some, so did he end up coming back later or something?”
“That would be correct, Miss Stephanie. Sometime after I was done, the rascal snuck back in there and made off with the goods,” Frank said, chuckling at the thought.
“How did your grandparents figure out something wasn’t right? I thought you said he was pretty good at covering his tracks.”
“Well, it’s a bit complicated, and it really all comes down to coincidence. That day, I had just happened to have tried something different with the plants. Rather than allow the creepers to spread all over the whole planter and crowd the other plants, I separated everything carefully, using string and sticks to hold the plants in their own little spaces. Now everything had room to grow, especially all the poor little cacti who were always being run over by the creepers. I was so proud of it, I let my grandma know what I’d done right after I left the porch.”
“So, everyone had to keep their leaves to themselves then?” Steph joked, imagining a bunch of plants being told to behave themselves. It made her smile.
Frank must have been thinking along the same lines, because he chuckled and said, “Yeah, much like how all of us boys had to keep our hands to ourselves when we went anywhere in the car.”
“I think that’s something every family with kids has to endure,” Steph laughed. “I’m sure plants are much easier.”
“That, they are, Miss Stephanie. So, the next day, my parents came into my room and started asking me all sorts of questions about Grandma’s plants, and I answered all of their questions. Seeing that they weren’t getting anywhere with me, my dad laid it out on the line and asked me if I took any parts of any of her plants?”
“And I was shocked and upset!”
“Because they were accusing you?”
“No, no. I was used to being accused for things I didn’t do – I grew up with brothers. No, I was upset because I took a lot of pride in the work I did on that garden. I’d never do anything to hurt those plants in any way. I knew the only person who should be taking anything from the garden was Grandma.”
“How’d they figure out what happened, then?”
“Well, the next day after school, and after my parents asked me if I’d taken anything, my mom and I walked over to Grandma’s house and we all sat down for a talk.”
“I bet that was pretty stressful, getting interrogated like that.”
“Well, sure. My mom had never shown any interest in my amateur botany hobby, even though I’m sure I chatted her ear off about it a thousand times, so the fact she was showing interest all of a sudden was confusing to me. Plus, my mom and my grandma could both be extremely intimidating people when they wanted to be. I still didn’t know exactly what was going on, and the fact they were treating me like I was guilty of something was makin’ me scared I was about to get a belt to the backside for I don’t know what!”
“Yeah, I think that’s called ‘putting the fear of Mom in you.’ Or at least, that’s what my mom called it. So, if they were asking you about that day, what did you say about seeing your older brother in the porch?”
“Hmm…” Frank rubbed the hint of stubble on his chin as he thought about it. “Ah, alright, well, I told them all about the normal care routine I did for the plants, same thing Grandma does for the plants, just like she taught me. I told them again about how I’d tidied things up though, too, so all the plants were in their own spaces, not pushin’ on other plants’ space and whatnot.”
“Had your grandma forgotten you’d told her about that?”
“Yeah, she did, actually. She admitted she’d forgotten about me telling her and she’d even forgotten that the tidying had been done at all. She’d only been in the porch once since I’d been in there working, and that was when she discovered that someone had taken a part of one of the marijuana plants. She was so focused on that, she forgot about all the hard work I’d done.” He pursed his lips at this and shook his head sorrowfully, “Not only did they think it was me that did it, but I also didn’t get so much as a ‘thank you’ for the work I did. And after I told her, she was so busy thinkin’ about who might’ve gone in there and messed up my work, then, that she still didn’t remember to say ‘thank you!’ To her credit, though, that’s probably the only time she was ever anything less than perfect. We learnt all of our manners from that woman, I tell you. My oldest brother didn’t learn jack, that’s why he was such a beast growin’ up, but even he got there, too, eventually. My grandma could teach manners to a pig, I swear she could!” Frank started hooting in laughter, his eyes tearing up and his grizzled cheeks turning a patchy red.
Steph couldn’t help but laugh, too – not so much at his joke, but at his reaction to it. He was such a character! He reminded her an awful lot of her grandpa, except Frank was much quicker to show his emotions. Her grandpa was a stoic man who would’ve never laughed to the point of tears in public. After their laughter died down, she told herself she needed to get him back on track – “So, what about your brother, then?”
Frank’s eyes widened and he nodded, “Oh yeah, sure, sure… So, like I was sayin’, I told her all about the work I did, and how my brother interrupted me when he burst in there like a demon outta hell. I remembered he’d looked upset when he saw me, and that he’d started cussin’ me out and yellin’ and hollerin’. I told them how he just ran outta there then, and I didn’t see him the rest of the day.”
“Did they figure it out then?”
“I think that’s when they finally started puttin’ the pieces together, but Grandma still asked me why I hadn’t said nothin’.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because I didn’t think anything of it! It was just another ordinary day, doing a little gardening, getting picked on by my brother, gettin’ shouted at and called names. If it wasn’t that brother, it was one of the others. I was the youngest of four boys – they were always picking on me, that’s just how it was.”
“So, what happened next?”
“Well, that night at dinner, all of the facts were laid out over a pot roast at the dining room table. Ma and Grandma just got it all out there, and my brother might’ve been a devious character, but he sure didn’t have no poker face! As soon as they started, he started givin’ me the ugly looks – chilled me to the bone! Eventually, he knew he’d been got and fessed up. Earned himself a trip out to the shed after dinner, rather than have any dessert.”
“That was also the night when my parents gave me a lesson in horticulture Grandma’d forgotten to teach me all those years back when I first started helping her.”
“Wait, so back up. You said he’d stolen from the garden tons of times, right? How did no one ever catch him before?”
“Well, see, it’s ‘cause I separated the plants that day,” Frank explained. “Ben always tried to cover his tracks by using the leaves of other plants to block sight of where he’d ripped off a leaf or something. The creepers, especially, since they were all over the damn place and leafy as all heck. Well, since I’d separated everything into its own little space, Ben had made the mistake of pulling a creeper over to cover up his dirty work, and it was the first thing Grandma noticed when she came in to get ‘Grandpa’s Medicine.’ Stuck out like a sore thumb in a field of green thumbs!” Frank laughed at his joke, but was able to keep it together and continue, “Well, she saw something wasn’t right, since the leaves were all mucked up, not carefully arranged so they wouldn’t break – they were carefully arranged even when the creepers were all around them – so she put the vine back where I’d put the rest and examined the marijuana plant. Saw right away someone had broken parts of the plant off. Plain as the nose on my face…”
“Ah, okay. Your brother didn’t notice you’d done some rearranging, so he did what he’d always done in the past, not knowing it’d draw even more attention to his handiwork then if he hadn’t tried to cover it up at all.”
“Exactly,” Frank said, pounding his fist on the table in triumph.
Steph grinned, sharing in his long-past victory, “So tell me, then – how long were you on your brother’s shit list for?”
“A long, long time. But he also didn’t want another trip out to the shed, so he minded his manners and let me be, more or less.”
“So that’s the story of how you found out what marijuana was, hmm?” she laughed.
“Yup! And don’t forget Miss Stephanie, I was cultivating the marijuana, probably as far back as the beginning of elementary school,” Frank added, winking cheekily.
“Yeah, these days, you probably would’ve ended up in juvie for that, even if you hadn’t known what you were growing. Your grandparents probably would’ve gone to jail, too.”
“Yep, times have definitely changed, and not always for the better.”
“So, did you keep gardening after that whole ordeal?”
“Oh, sure. Not much changed, except now I knew how serious it’d be if any more of ‘Grandpa’s Medicine’ went missing. Also, I definitely found a whole new level of respect for those plants now that I knew they were helping Grandpa with his pain. Even though they’d always called it ‘Grandpa’s Medicine,’ for some reason, I never gave much thought to how or why it was medicine for Grandpa. Once I knew, I was in awe of them, and even more proud of myself for helping with the garden. I was just a kid, but I was helping grow what my grandpa needed to live a good life, without any pain. It’s a big thing to know you’re helping someone, especially when you’re just a kid and your brothers keep telling you you aren’t worth a pile of pig shit.” The farmer shook his head at the memory but didn’t seem too upset by it.
Steph wasn’t sure what to say to that. Instead, she asked, “Did you ever try pot, yourself, then?”
“Well, sure! When I was in college – hasn’t everyone?”
Steph sheepishly raised her hand and confessed, “I never did.”
“Yeah, it’s true,” she said, giving a weak smile. “I’ve never had the time or the money, and I certainly wouldn’t trust anyone enough to use the drugs they gave me, not with the stories you hear nowadays about all sorts of drugs being laced with all sorts of crap. So, I work a lot and pay my bills, and I avoid the stuff that would cause me to miss work and not be able to pay my bills.”
“That’s a smart move, Miss Stephanie. Really the only way to do it is to grow your own,” Frank told her, scratching thoughtfully at his chin again.
Steph gave him a stern look, “Is that what you do?”
“Me? Oh! Oh no. No, no, no,” Frank scrambled to clarify, “I don’t partake in such activities anymore. Come to think of it, I haven’t in a very long time… about forty years or so, now.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t want to be finding out about anything illegal – you’ve heard the disclaimer,” Steph said with a careful smile. “I have enough things going on right now, what with potty-training my new puppy and all. I don’t need to deal with knowing about any illegal stuff.”
Frank put up his hands in surrender, shaking his head as he reassured her, “Nope, nothing illegal here – cross my heart, hope to die.”
Steph felt relieved. Her face muscles relaxed and her smile became genuine. Frank grinned at her and winked. She laughed at his antics but quickly stopped as she remembered something. “Say, you never told me why you think your whole town’s a bunch of chicken… poop. What was the story behind that?”
“Oh, well… about that,” Frank growled, his brow scrunched down in consternation. “Over my years of experiences, I have seen and read up on the incredible healing properties of marijuana and its oils. You have to remember, pot wasn’t always illegal. Back when my grandparents were growing up, cannabis was found in many commonly prescribed medicines. Was as common as chicken noodle soup when you were feeling ill. Hell, it was in nearly every bathroom cabinet in the United States in some form or another because doctors prescribed it back then, or you could just grow it in your own garden.”
Steph nodded, “Kind of like cocaine in the late eighteen-hundreds, and novocaine and soda-pop in the early nineteen-hundreds?”
“Exactly. Not illegal, but a helpful part of people’s lives… Well, maybe not the soda or the cocaine, but definitely the novocaine for pulling teeth after people drank all them sodas!” Frank laughed out loud at this and smiled wide, theatrically pointing at his own pearly whites. He seemed to catch the concerned look on Steph’s face, however and quieted down. He cleared his throat a bit, “So anyway, around twelve years ago, our neighbors pieced off a portion of their farm and had their son, his wife, and their kids move onto the land, build a house and start helping with the farm work.”
“The son moves in and starts helping out his parents, being they were getting up there in age and he was settling down after moving back from Colorado with his growing family. Well, his bride had just gone and had brain surgery of some kind and afterward, had to learn how to walk and talk and do damn close to everything all over again!”
“What happened to her?”
“Well, as she describes it, her brain basically ‘blew up.’ From what she’s mentioned here and there over the years, she had a lot of stress and PTSD issues, and something went very, very wrong. She came just shy of having an aneurysm.”
“Oh, my. It sounds like she was lucky she survived.”
“No kidding! And I’ll tell ya, if she hadn’t, the world would’ve suffered a great loss.”
“I take it she’s a pretty awesome person?”
“And then some! She’s an incredible person – kind, compassionate, giving… There’s a reason God kept her around. She’s got her family, she’s always there for them, but I think she’s got an even bigger purpose. Those brain issues she had were just the beginning. She’s a real force to be reckoned with. Larger than life! She’s going to do a lot of good in this world before she goes, I know it.”
“It sounds like you think pretty highly of her.”
“Yep, I sure do, and I’ll tell you why…” Frank said, leaning his weight onto one elbow on the table, his hand in a fist, his pointing finger gesturing downward as he spoke. “Because she knows the truth and has a spine to stand up for what she believes in and knows to be true, no matter what other people say or think. People’ll spread rumors about her, give her the cold shoulder, insult her right to her face – but she doesn’t back down. No matter what anyone does to her, she stays fearless, compassionate, and kind. She’s a helluva woman, and her kids and husband are lucky to have her!”
“She sounds incredible,” Steph admitted, totally absorbed in his description of this woman.
“She is, and that’s why the rest of us ‘round here – well, in my town – are piles of chicken shit. She’s helped damn near everyone in that town one way or another, but none of us were there when she was the one who needed help.” The farmer’s face was colored over in guilt, his eyes downcast.
Steph squinted at him, wondering how this fitted into the timeline. “When she needed help? Like, when she had her surgery, you mean?”
“No,” Frank said, looking back up at Steph. “No, she’s never asked for anything from anyone ever before, or at least not that I know of… Recently, though, she got into some trouble with the law regarding marijuana and when she asked the community for character reference letters for her court hearing, no one stepped up.”
“She was selling marijuana?”
“No,” Frank shook his head. “No, it’s not like that at all, and it’s nowhere near as straightforward as that, either. See, our mayor’s got a long history of hatin’ her guts – ever since she showed up in town. It’s not ‘cause of anything she did, it’s just who she is. She’s an independent woman who knows her own mind and doesn’t let anyone step on her. The mayor’s one of ‘em guys who thinks women should just shut up and look pretty. So of course, they’re gonna get on about as well as oil and water. And since good ol’ mister mayor pulls the strings at the cop shop, and has zero ethical quandaries about abusin’ his power, they were all just itchin’ for a chance to issue an arrest warrant for her.”
“So, what happened?” Steph asked, feeling apprehensive.
“Well, she gets all caught up in this legal shit-show, so she turns to her community of over a decade to ask for character reference letters. Some of the people are folks she’s advised on the benefits of cannabis, and the rest are people who know what she’s about but just never got a chance to have that conversation. She never made it a secret she was all for legalization of marijuana, ya know. All the people she knows in this town, in this region, everyone – and the only people who wrote letters were a handful of out-of-state friends and two local women, a mother and daughter.”
Steph stared at her guest in shock. She was about to comment on this but stopped. She was still missing something here. “Alright, hold on a sec. Your friend was arrested because of… what, again?
“She had some family issues going on in Colorado, and long story short, the family issues turned into legal issues, and the legal issues followed her back here – the mayor just capitalized on that opportunity,” he explained, increasing Steph’s understanding of the situation only marginally.
She frowned at him, “Were the issues cannabis-related?”
“No,” Frank said matter-of-factly, shaking his head.
“So, let me get this straight… There was a warrant out for her arrest from something that happened in Colorado, and she got arrested here?”
“Exactly. So, she was here when they decided down in Colorado to bring her in. The cops here were contacted and told to arrest her. They used it as their chance to add their own charges.”
“What was the local fuzz charging her with?”
“They said they had reasonable suspicion to search her house for marijuana.”
“But they didn’t actually have a warrant for that, right? That’s not why they were able to go there to arrest her?”
“Right,” Frank nodded. “The mayor wanted her gone, so when he heard about the warrant from Colorado, it was like that son-of-a-bitch’s Christmas morning. He had the cops tack on the bit about suspicion of possession and they ran with it. The mayor wanted her gone.”
“Because she’s a strong woman?”
“Because she’s a strong woman, and she doesn’t kowtow to him. He saw her as a gadfly, trying to instigate change. He didn’t want anything to change – he’s got a pretty cushy thing going for him, playing lord and master of our little town. He felt threatened by her, plain and simple. She challenged the status quo that he was benefitting from. So, he used his power to go after her.” The older man spoke calmly and plainly as if the things he was saying weren’t bombshell revelations.
Steph stared at him again. After a moment, she remembered herself. She worked her tongue around, trying to find the spit to start talking again. “I, uh… I’m not a lawyer or anything, but doesn’t that sound kind of fishy? Tacking details onto a warrant after the judge out in Colorado already signed it? Can they even do that? And that’s not to mention the personal vendetta motivating those charges…”
“Mm-hmm, now you see what I’m talking about…”
“Where do you live, again?”
“A couple of towns over, down the highway,” Frank said.
“So, in this county, right?”
“Yep,” he nodded.
“I have to say, moving out of this area is sounding better and better every day. Seems like I can’t stop finding out new and awful stuff about these parts…” Steph frowned.
“You movin’?” Frank asked.
“Mmm, maybe. I was recently presented with the opportunity…”
“Well, I tell ya’, if you don’t have any ties around here already,” Frank began hesitantly, then stopped himself. “I just… If I were you, I wouldn’t start putting roots down here, if you know what I mean.”
Steph nodded. She had to admit to herself; it wasn’t bad advice. “So, why wouldn’t anyone else step up and help this woman?”
“Well, that’s where the chicken shit part comes in,” Frank shook his head. “Everyone was good with getting free eggs from her chickens and free produce from her garden… Everyone was happy going to her for info and advice on cannabis… Everyone was good with being her friend outside of the public’s eye if they needed food or help or something… But as soon as she needed them – just for something as simple as a written note sayin’ she’s a decent sort of person – everyone disappeared. No one had the guts to write a letter, sign their name, and give it to the County Court on her behalf, and unfortunately, that includes me. See? Chicken shit.”
Steph looked at Frank for a moment, then frowned. “You said she liked to help people. What did she do for you?”
“First off, she’s a great neighbor – her whole family is. Every time the wife and I would head out of town for vacation or take a trip to visit our kids and their families, her kids would come over and feed our animals and she’d come out and check on the house, make sure the mail was brought in, and all that. For as much as she’s done over the years, I couldn’t even be bothered to write a letter talking about all she’s done for us.”
Just based on what she’d heard from him so far, Steph was glad Frank was feeling guilty about this. It didn’t make any sense that he hadn’t written a letter. “If I might ask, why didn’t you write a letter?”
Frank brought his dirt-stained hand down over his mouth and sat there for a moment. Finally, he brought his hand away and started to explain, “Everyone knows the mayor doesn’t like her, and the mayor’s made it very clear – very obvious, I should say, that anyone who fraternizes with her and her family is liable to get on his bad side, too. No one wanted their names associated with hers because they were afraid of retaliation by the powers that be. The city cops, the county cops – they’re all eatin’ outta his hand. It’s not a secret. If you associate with her, it doesn’t take much for someone to find some sort of skeleton in your closet and go after you with it. Even if you’re not hiding skeletons anywhere, it’s a small town. All someone has to do is make some shit up about you and by the end of the day, everyone’s heard about it and believes it like it’s the Holy Gospel. Plain and simple, everyone was lookin’ out for their own asses.”
“… No offense, but that’s pretty pathetic.”
“Of course, it’s pathetic. It doesn’t matter what excuses we all had, I know we should’ve been there for her. Do you know, she even helped care for my momma for a whole year? It was Ma’s last year living on her own, not in a nursing home. She got along with my momma so well. You obviously didn’t know my ma so, you wouldn’t understand why that’s so impressive, but when my momma was getting up there in years, she got to be a real pain in the foot. No one got along with my momma ‘cept TK, I swear,” Frank chuckled, a sad smile on his face.
Frank’s eyes got big and he looked up at Steph in surprise, “Did I just say TK?”
“Yeah, is that the woman you’ve been talking about?”
“Uh… Ah, shit. I was trying to keep this all anonymous – guess I fudged that up, huh?”
Steph waved off his worries, “I kinda had a feeling I knew who you were talking about. I think I’ve met her before. Wasn’t she a big part of the local Farmer’s Markets around this area?”
“Oh, very much so,” Frank nodded, looking relieved.
“Does she still do those?”
“No, not anymore. The Farmer’s Markets are a whole other mess.”
“No, the Markets are all messed up because none of the farmers are willin’ to stop shittin’ all over each other, stabbing each other in the back an’ trying to sabotage one another.”
Steph stared at the farmer, not sure what to say. Small town-life was looking less and less idyllic, and she found herself thinking about Hope’s job offer.
She must’ve been sitting still for too long, staring at Frank in shock, because he laughed out loud and said, “Blows your mind, dunnit? How horrible people can be to each other?”
Steph nodded, a cold, uncomfortable feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. She sighed and rubbed at her forehead. Frank seemed like a nice, old guy, but she was looking forward to this confession being over. “Alright,” Steph began, “So, okay… Your mayor went after this woman because he didn’t like her, and she was arrested and charged with possession?”
Frank nodded along while Steph spoke.
“And, you and a bunch of other people are – ”
“Yellow,” Frank interjected, still nodding.
“Ok, yellow… for not helping her when she needed it… because you all feared you’d have to face the mayor’s wrath, too.”
“And she’s been a good neighbor to everyone, and even helped take care of your mom,” Steph finished.
“Yep, you’ve got it.”
“That’s, uh… That’s quite a confession,” Steph said, sitting up straight. “Have you apologized to her and her family, yet?”
“I’m too chicken shit to do that, too,” Frank shook his head, his face flushed. “Both the wife and I are… Well… We’re embarrassed we weren’t better friends to her, especially when she needed it the most.”
Steph could feel her eyebrows drawing together as she listened. “Yeah, you’re probably right to be embarrassed, but you’ll feel even worse about it if you never try to fix this. It wouldn’t hurt to try to explain yourself – just give her the same explanation you gave me.”
“Well, maybe. I don’t know,” Frank exhaled, leaning back in his chair.
“That’s what I’d do,” Steph nodded, leaning to the side to pick up her bag. “Hopefully everything will work out, or at the very least, she’ll understand… Or at the bare minimum, she’ll know your reason for not being there in her time of need. Also, and obviously, you shouldn’t call on her and her family anymore. That would be terribly rude.”
Frank was nodding, but he stopped when he saw her put her bag on her arm, “You’ve gotta get going?”
“Well,” Steph blinked at him, confused, “yeah. I thought your confession was done.”
Frank’s shoulders slumped. “Nah, there’s more.”
“How’re you doin’ on time today?”
She looked at her phone, then set her bag back down on the floor. “I’ve got plenty of time, actually. Take as much time as you need,” Steph smiled. “Well, at least up until eight – that’s when the shop closes.”
“Alright, thank you very much, Miss Stephanie. I won’t take too long – I’m waiting on a phone call, myself. Should be getting it soon, so I’ll just keep going ‘til then?” Frank asked. Steph nodded, and his face relaxed. He took his cell phone off his belt clip and set it on the table.
“You’ve got a lot on your mind, huh?” Steph settled back in her chair, waiting to see what else he had to say.
“More than you can imagine,” Frank answered. He, too, settled back in his chair, and he threw one leg up over the other, his right ankle resting on his left knee. “So, TK gets dragged through the county’s court system, and they tell her she can’t self-treat her medical issues anymore but instead has to get a prescription for medical marijuana through a doctor.”
Steph groaned at this, “That sounds like a bunch of bullshit, honestly. What’d she do then? How’d she take it?”
Frank smirked and shook his head. “Well, now TK’s had to go through several doctor appointments with several different doctors, running all over the place, getting the runaround, playing Mother, May I with these doctors – and I’ll tell ya, some of ‘em get it, and some of ‘em just keep trying to push pills at her, and she’s already tried all those things.” He shook his head in disgust, “I’ll tell ya somethin’ else, too. That medical marijuana they’re selling to the patients who’re lucky enough to get that far – well, it’s not good. Not good, at all. Apparently, the state growers haven’t been harvesting the stuff the right way, and they’ve been taking too long to harvest it, so by the time it gets to the dispensary, it’s more mold than marijuana. This medical marijuana’s makin’ people sick! Stuff that’s supposed to be making people better is making them worse ‘cause the state just doesn’t know what the hell they’re doin’, and of course, that don’t matter. They don’t care. They’re not gonna let anyone grow their own when they could be growing cheap shit and selling it to them for outrageous sums. It all comes back to money. Greed. And if you think about it – I mean, really think about it – the government’s been playin’ us the whole time!” Frank was red in the face, and his hands were in fists, shaking on the table. He sounded like he was preaching at a Baptist Revival. “They took marijuana away because they were enforcing their made-up, arbitrary, Puritan values on us, but even more so, they knew marijuana was too useful to let it stick around. They had to get rid of it so Big Pharma could keep growin’ like a tick fulla blood! Now they see the people are demanding it back, so they’re makin’ a big show about these medical marijuana programs, but they’re just poisoning people and over-chargin’ em while they’re at it. How’re they expectin’ folk to live like this? I swear… And then, since it’s still illegal at the federal level, all these employers are gettin’ to discriminate against medical marijuana patients. And don’t even get me started on the states where it’s still illegal ‘cross the board – all them families separated ‘cause havin’ pot on you can put y’in jail, sometimes for years… but for most, they get life in prison! Shit, it just makes me so furious. And the media won’t cover none a’this, so most people’d never know what was goin’ on unless it became an issue for them personally, or someone told ‘em. It’s a silent persecution, it is. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! God bless the TKs of the world, and may He grant me the courage to stand with ‘em. Can’t believe I didn’t have her back… Still can’t believe it…”
As if someone had suddenly let the wind out of his sails, Frank fell silent and Steph saw his hands relax on the table. His face slowly returned to normal, and he brought a hand down over his eyes and mouth, inhaling sharply and exhaling deeply. His eyes refocused on Steph and he gave a weak smile, “Well, that’s a rage that’s been bubblin’ in me for some time, now…”
Steph gave him a reassuring smile and nod. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she just waited, giving him the floor.
“You know, she’d been self-treatin’ for almost a decade and was doing really well, and it wasn’t hurting anybody. It’s just ridiculous that she’s having to go through all this. She was just trying to take care of her health. How can the government tell you what you can and can’t do with your own body? Honest to goodness… She wasn’t hurtin’ anyone… I just don’t get it…”
“Yeah. I’d, uh… I’d have to say I agree. I guess I’ve never… had to think about it before? Sounds like that makes me pretty lucky. But yeah,” Steph nodded, “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?”
The old farmer just kept shaking his head, staring at the tabletop between them. He took a deep breath and looked back up at Steph, “Do you know how cannabis works with the body? Do you know why the body needs cannabis?”
She shook her head, “No, I don’t know how it works. Didn’t know the body needed it, either.”
“My grandson – he’s in seventh grade, now. Last year, his class went on a field trip to a nearby cancer research center…” he trailed off, then started to laugh to himself. The sound was harsh and cynical. “Lord! Miss Stephanie, do you realize we’ve been researching cancer in America since the early seventies? Nearly half a century and nothing to show for it?”
“I thought they’d only been researching cancer a decade or two at the most,” she answered skeptically.
“Nope. No, it’s been around a long time…” Frank corrected Steph. “‘Bout forty-three years now, I believe.”
Steph leaned forward, resting her arms on the table, “Well then, yeah! You’d think they would’ve found a cure by now, after forty-three years. And what with all the money people donate… I’ve heard of people who’ve left a part of their estate to cancer research. Where’s all this money and time going?”
Frank smiled sadly at Steph from across the table, “Yes, you’ve gotta wonder… Unfortunately, there’s never going to be a cure. Or at least, not in the US, and not approved by the FDA.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Money, Miss. Money for everyone who profits off cancer continuing.”
“The government?” Steph guessed.
Frank shook his head. “Not just them,” he said. He started ticking off groups with his fingers as he spoke, “It’s the hospitals, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors, the hospital administration, the pharmacies, the shareholders, the companies that make the chemo and radiation machines, the nonprofits that fundraise for cancer and give themselves outrageous paychecks… There’s a legion of people who make money off cancer bein’ treated but going uncured.” He balled his hands up into fists again, then seemed to realize he was getting carried away. He flattened his hands on the table and let out his breath. More quietly, now, he said, “There will never be a cure for cancer in America because cancer is a money-maker for a lot of people. And what’s the one thing America loves best? Money.”
Steph was staring at him, her mouth hanging open slightly. It was an awful thought, but she had to admit it kind of rang true. She realized she was still staring and looked away, chewing on her lip as she mulled it over.
Frank took the opportunity to keep going. “A few years ago, I was out at TK’s farm – we were buying some eggs and produce from her, and I was petting one of her dogs when I noticed it had a lump along its neck, right under its left ear. We weren’t sure if it was a bug or a spider bite, or maybe somethin’ more… I had a feeling, though, that I was going to be giving them some bad news, soon.”
“I’m the vet in town, and I told them to bring Cat by so I could examine her lump – run some tests and such, try to give them a verdict on what it was.”
Steph squinted at him, confused. “Their cat had a lump, too?”
“No, their dog had a lump.”
“But you said ‘cat,’ didn’t you?”
“Oh… TK’s kids named the dog ‘Cat’ and the cat ‘Dog,’” he explained.
Steph couldn’t help but break out in a grin. “Ohhh. Okay, I gotcha.”
Frank chuckled. “Anyway, they brought in Cat, and sure enough, the lump turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma. I gave them their options, told them what to expect, so on an’ so forth.”
“Did they have you remove it?”
“Nope! TK thanked me for my time, put Cat back in the car, and drove home,” Frank answered.
“So… nothing? How’s Cat now? Is she still alive?”
“Yup! Cancer free, as a matter of fact.” Frank practically giggled – his deep, gravelly voice made the giggle come out like a rumble of thunder. Steph couldn’t help but think of Santa Claus.
“So, you misdiagnosed her?”
“Oh! Oh, heavens no, Miss Stephanie! I’m not that bad of a veterinarian!” Frank scolded Steph, wagging a finger at her. “No, actually a couple days later, I stopped over at their farm to inseminate some of their cows, and TK showed me how she was putting cannabis oil on the sarcoma, and it was shrinking in size.”
“The oil was getting rid of the cancer?”
Frank crossed his arms against his chest and gave a slow, theatrical nod. “Mm-hmm. Cat was cancer-free within ten days. Ten. Days. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes!”
Steph’s eyes went wide, “Seriously?”
Frank nodded once again, “Seriously. I was thinking surgery, but all it took was a little ol’ bottle of cannabis oil. It was a revelation for me. Changed my whole damn life, it did.”
“And the cancer never came back? Cat’s still alive?”
“Oh yes, Cat’s still alive. Alive and chasing squirrels all o’er kingdom come – healthy as a horse!”
Steph felt like her brain was broken. She squinted at him and shook her head, “Well then, pardon the language, but why in the fuck is marijuana not being used to treat cancer? Why can’t people grow it in their gardens at home and use it at their own discretion?
“Money. It’s all about the money.”
“But if there’s a cure – ”
“America likes money more than it likes a cure. Think of all the money that would disappear from the economy if people could cure their own cancer? Marijuana could be used to treat depression, chronic pain – a whole bunch of other stuff, but the government’ll never let that happen. It’s true – it’s not a miracle drug. It doesn’t work for everything and I’m sure there’s some kinds of cancer out there that are resistant to it or whatever, but it’s a start. It’s something. That’s more than them cancer research nonprofits can say. But, remember, money.”
“But, but… people would be more productive! Healthcare would cost less, people would be out sick from work less – the economy would bounce back,” Steph sputtered.
“There’s an old saying, ‘Why fix what ain’t broke?’”
“But it is broken!”
“Not to the people who make a shit ton o’ money off of it,” Frank shrugged. “Did you know, when people are diagnosed with cancer, the hospital basically just takes over their life? They’re pinballed from one specialist to another, and even if those specialists don’t do anything, or repeat tests that’ve already been done, or they just walk into the room and right back out, the patient’s sent a bill for each one of ‘em bloodsuckers! They’ll charge ya upwards of five hundred dollars just to look at your x-ray for ten seconds and say, ‘Yup, that’s cancer, alright!’ They already knew! There wasn’t no point in it, they’re just tryin’ to suck you dry. What they’ll charge you for cancer treatments would blow your goddamn mind. People go bankrupt – bankrupt – gettin’ surgery and radiation and chemo,” Frank half-shouted. He sucked in air and kept going, “And when you’re on that cocktail of chemicals, it wipes out your whole damn immune system. Anything, even the common cold, and you’re laid out flat like a grass prairie. You’ll be miserable, you’ll have one helluva bill on your hands, you’ll struggle through financial hell, and then you’ll die anyway.”
“Or you could just self-treat with marijuana and sidestep all of that,” Steph suggested.
“I don’t know if it would all go away, and of course, we all die anyway. But it sure would be nice to skip the shit in between!”
“How do you know so much about all of this? You know, the doctors and the bills and stuff…”
“Well, at my age, your friends starting dying, one by one. One day they’re here, and the next week at church, they aren’t…” Frank sighed, then gave a small, sad smile. “I heard a good one down at the hardware store yesterday: ‘You start out life having your ass wiped for you and you end life having your ass wiped for you, and in the middle, you chase the almighty dollar.’”
Steph sat for a moment, thinking it through. “Well… That’s cheerful,” she said sarcastically. “Accurate, though.”
She sat there and looked at him, studying his profile as he looked out the window. She then remembered he’d started a story he never finished. “What was that you were saying about your grandson going on a field trip?”
“Huh?” Frank wrinkled his forehead. “Oh, yeah… Well, Brad went to this cancer institute last year. See, he’s a smart kid. Between the cancer institute and some of the stuff he’d been hearing from TK’s kids – they’re friends, ya know – he decided he wanted to study up on it. Got on the internet – remember when kids had to go to libraries to study? Good grief…”
“Oh sure, I remember. What’d your grandson learn about cancer?”
“Ah! Yeah, it’s really interesting. Your body naturally produces these things called cannabinoids and the body uses them to treat itself for everything from chronic pain to diabetes. We all have something called an Endocannabinoid System and the cannabinoids open this endocannabinoid system like a lock and key and well, it's a lot of science that might take a degree to truly understand but either way, we can't make enough on our own to make a huge impact, though so, that’s why the marijuana’s so important. Unfortunately, Nixon outlawed it, then Clinton came along and made it a ‘Schedule One Controlled Substance.’ Privatized prisons started making money hand o’er fist, and America lost all hope of ever bein’ able to successfully self-medicate without going outside the law.”
“I get what you were saying about it all coming back to money, but it just blows my mind that a government would forego curing cancer – cancer – just to keep making money. They’d still make money, they’d find another way to.”
Frank nodded and kept going, “Well, I tell ya, I looked into this more, myself after Brad told me all this. Between what I’ve seen online and in person, with my grandpa and TK’s dog, I gotta admit I’m a believer in the benefits of marijuana, too. But again, it’s not just the government that wants to keep marijuana out of the hands of the people. The pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies, the hospitals, all them greedy bastards’re gearin’ to keep you sick and keep takin’ your money. They’ll never let go of that money-maker. It’s made so many people filthy rich, it makes me sick just thinking about it,” Frank said, pausing to breathe. “Do you realize, since we started researching cancer, AIDS was discovered and somewhat controlled, and the Zika virus was contained? Nearly a hundred years ago, we’d more or less taken care of polio, smallpox, measles, TB, you name it! But we couldn’t possibly find a cure for cancer with all our modern, high-tech medical advancements, with forty plus years, legions of researchers, and billions of dollars? Phhhshhh. I call ‘horse shit.’”
Pause, deep breath. Steph watched him as he spoke, ruminating over the questions he was raising. Why haven’t we cured cancer yet? She refocused on what Frank was saying, “… and don’t even get me started on the privatized prison system. When you’ve got a system that profits off locking people up, they’re gonna find any excuse they can to lock people up. Then they put them to work and pay them a couple cents an hour? It’s modern-day slavery. Oh Lordy, don’t get me started.”
Steph could see he was trying to cool himself down. She took the opportunity to cut in. “Hey Frank, I had a question for you, before your confession’s over. You mentioned TK helped your mom. Did she ever give her marijuana for the pain before she died?”
Frank grinned. Just as he was about to answer, however, his phone started buzzing. He looked down at it and shook his head. “Looks like there’s an animal who needs me. Thank you so much for your time, Miss Stephanie.” He stood up, clipped his phone on his belt, placed his hat on his head, and smiled down at her.
Steph grabbed her bag off the floor again and stood up, rising to meet him at eye-level. “Did TK give your mom anything to quell the pain?”
“Truthfully, I don’t know. If she helped my momma with her pain so she could enjoy her last days outside a nursing home – really her last days alive – well, then… so be it. I would owe her a heartfelt thanks.” He winked at Steph as he turned for the door. “I know I never smelled anything when I’d stop in to visit my momma, but… maybe they’d wait ‘til I left to break out the milk and cookies.”