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A Miracle of Degree
part 4
by J.(Channing)Wells


* * * * * * * * * * *
The Journey of a Thousand Miles...
* * * * * * * * * * *

Century Park. Seven A.M. On a bench beneath the statue of, inexplicably, Prince Henry the Navigator. God knows why there's a statue of a famous Portugese naval patron sitting here in the middle of Century Park. There just is. The plaque was probably ripped off several years ago by vandals, or maybe I just never took the time to look for one. Doesn't really matter in the end. But if that doesn't, hard to say, at the end-all-be-all, what _does_.

"Ready?" Says Eppie, fiddling with the straps on a ludicrous-looking plastic concoction that you might possibly recognize as a motorcyclist's helmet for an equine skull only if you had been told to expect such a thing beforehand.

"Almost." I say, leaning back and breathing the warming Summer-tide air into my nostrils. My eyes are half-shut, I guess. It's just that kind of day.

This for a moment. Then, Eppie almost audibly glares at me.

"Well?" She says.

"Mm hm?" I say, lazily.

Another moment.

"What are we doing here?"

"Preparing." I say.

"For what?" Says Eppie. "I mean, we got everything all stowed." She begins economically running through a mental list. "Week's worth of clothes for each of us. Toothbrushing stuff. Blankets and bedrolls. Hidden money. Assorted pharmaceuticals for motion-sickness and stuff. My... ahm..." She coughs. "My _things._"

I raise my head and look at her. Eppie's the only child in the known universe who feels the need to flaunt her feminine protection.

"Eppie." I say. "We've got everything packed."

"How's the cycle?" She asks.

I peer over at my wondrous machine. It's a BMW Classic Series Nine, absolutely and utterly top-of-the-line, a thinking man's bike, liquid class on two wheels, a fuel-injected endorphin rush that purrs contentedly like a placated jungle cat even when pushed to the redline. Storm grey with heavy black highlights and all the amenities, including (for the hell of it) a fully trans-digital zero-dis sound system which I will refer to, for the sake of brevity, as "the radio," although so pedestrian a term hardly befits such a fine specimen of Japanese ingenuity. Eastern electronics and European motorworks melded together into a dedicated motorist's wet dream.

"Lookin' good." I say, lazily.

"Perhaps someone is forgetting his SAFETY HELMET." She unabashedly kicks me.

"Ow." I note.

"Hurts, doesn't it." She says.

"Kind of." I say, frowning at my soon-to-be traveling companion.

"Imagine that on your head, except like fifty billion times worse." She says.

"Mm hm." I say, nonplussed.

"HELMET LAWS!!!" She thunders.

"Disability exception." I say. "Can't find one that fits. Love that altered bone-structure thang."

"Funny how _I_ seem to be able to've."

I nod. "Yep. Funny."

Eppie stares. "I got two words for you, Mikey. _As_ and _Phalt._"

"You'd know about the first one pretty well, at least, wouldn'tcha."

Eppie narrows her eyes and gives her Life Saver a determined suck. "Ya know, Bixie, sooner or later you're gonna know about _both_ of 'em pretty damn well if you keep up with that attitude. Bucky-boy."

I take a moment and blink at her, inclining my head curiously and looking at Eppie, as though for the first time.

There's something familiar in the look. That look of head-shaking disappointment at my attitude...

Yes. Murph. For the first time, I can really see it. Despite the fact that SCABS has run Eppie's genetic code through the blender, there's some things that even the disease can't hide. There is no longer a question in my mind, if indeed there ever was.

"...What...?" Says Eppie, under the scrutiny. "Do I got lettuce in my teeth again?"

"No, no." I say, laughing slightly. "It's just... well..." I pause to collect myself. "You just... look... so much like your dad right now."

Eppie nods, silently. Then, "You two knew each other pretty well, din'tcha."

"_Knew_ each other?" I say. "Hell, Eppie, we were like this!" I attempt to demonstrate this by crossing my fingers and shaking them emphatically. It just ends up looking stupid.

"So how come you haven't seen him in so long?"

"People... just naturally drift apart, Ep. I wanted to be an actor, and if I _could_ have been a pro in dinky little rat's-ass Ithaca, Kansas, I prolly would've. But it's the coasts for us Thespians, kiddo. You know that."

"And you haven't called him."

I wring my hands a little bit. "He... doesn't own a phone. Anymore."

"And you haven't written him."

"Well... you know. First year out it was kind of tough all around, money-wise. There were just... better things to buy than postage stamps. And after that... well... correspondence inertia, I guess. Every letter would have to fully apologize for the length of time that it had been since last contact and so they kept getting put off, just making the apologies that'd be required more and more extensive, and... well... you know."

"And even though we're going to be _coming_ to _visit_ him, you still haven't written him."

"Eppie!" I say. "Quit it, okay? I have a very tricky relationship with Murph already, and it's only gonna be complicated by the fact that I'm carting back to him his only _daughter_ after twelve years of separation. Just let me handle this how I see fit, all right?"

There is a pause. Then, under her breath, "You never told any of this stuff to the Friedmann's."

"I told them I had a lead on your biological parents. You said you were interested, and I told them I _knew_ Murphy was interested."

"But you didn't tell them you didn't actually talk to him first."

"Eppie." I say, with a low growl on the period.

Eppie decides to cut out of the conversation at this point, and begins messing around with dad's old multi-functional Navy jackknife again to pass the time. I think she knows full well that, in lapsing into silence like so, she's making me feel like a heel for having brought it to this point at all. Manipulative little bitch.

I sigh. This isn't how I wanted this trip to start. But we might as well get some of the fights out of the way ASAP. Eppie and I are two individuals with personalities quite a bit too strong for our own collected goods. It's part and parcel of being an actor, sometimes.

I sit back and try to recapture the last dregs of the lazy, warm Summer morning. The first step of Zen. Begin with peace. Always with peace.

"I... ah..." Eppie hedges her way into my meditative calm. "You know that little plastic bit on your jack-knife?"

"The one I told you never to play with because you'd lose it and I couldn't possibly get a replacement because it was my father's and you can't possibly get replacement parts to have the same sentimental value as the originals?"


"You were playing with it."

"Yup." Says Eppie.

"You dropped it."

"Yup." Says Eppie, her hedging growing more profound.

"You dropped it where we can't possibly get it back."

"The sewer grate." She says, a grimace in her voice.

Begin with peace. Always with peace.

I breathe in. And breathe out.

"'S'okay. It's just plastic." I say. And with this determination, my eyes flicker open, and I stand, on the track of walking resolutely past the cement curb over to the motorcycle which will be the focus of my entire world for the days to come. Or rather, not. Not the focus. But the stepping-stone. Leading to countless thousands upon thousands of different foci, one after another.

Eppie follows me, strapping on her helmet. We mount, I start, and in a moment of poetic expression, I flick on the radio. Beyond the walls of the radio waves, the percussive opening thumps of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" make themselves known. Perfect. My doggy muzzle breaks into a broad grin.

"You know," comments Eppie, patting my back in rhythm to the addictive beat, "when they talk about dying and being laid to rest an' stuff in this song?"

"Mm hm?" I say, surveying the beginnings of the road before me. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single furlong of black, sun-warmed tar, and personally, I can think of no greater paradise right now.

"They're talking about not wearing your helmet." Says Safety-Ep.

Begin with peace.

Always with peace.

"Shaddup, kid." I say. And we begin.

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