"Monk", "A Slice of Pizza", and "Do What You Love" by Laura Stamps

MONK


“None of you are called to cure the broken people in your life,” the monk teaches. “You’re called to care.” Kayla is sitting cross-legged on a meditation pillow like everyone else in the auditorium. She’s out in the desert this week, staying at a Buddhist Center to attend a retreat. Five days of Dhamma classes, sitting meditations, walking meditations, and private sessions with counselors. Today is the third day of the retreat. “If you’re emotionally exhausted it’s because you’re trying to cure broken people,” the monk continues. “Caring often brings more healing to someone than any attempt to cure.” A few minutes later the bell rings to end the class, and everyone moves outside for a walking meditation. Attending this retreat was the best gift Kayla could have given herself. Her job as a social worker has been heartbreaking this year. So many sad people and situations. It’s been difficult to remain hopeful. During the walking meditation she can’t stop thinking about the monk and how he said she’s called to care, not cure. The bell rings to begin the next class, and everyone heads back to the auditorium. But not Kayla. Not this time. Instead she hurries down the path to her room, packs her suitcase, and leaves. As soon as she arrives in the city she parks in front of a large building and rushes inside before she can change her mind. A volunteer guides her from one room to the next to help her find what she’s looking for. “This one,” Kayla says, pointing to a small pen. The Humane Society volunteer opens the door and hands the Chihuahua to Kayla. “I need a dog that will care about me while I care for others,” Kayla says, smiling when the tiny dog nuzzles her neck. “He’s a sweet soul,” the volunteer replies. “What will you name him?” The little Chihuahua rests his head on Kayla’s shoulder. “Monk,” Kayla says. “His name is Monk.”



A SLICE OF PIZZA


This is the best vegan pizza Evelyn has ever eaten. It’s over an inch thick, layered with vegetables, vegan sausage, and vegan cheese on a puffy rice crust. Unable to finish it, she saves a slice for a homeless man she saw in the park. But when she leaves the restaurant she can’t find him. All she sees is an elderly man dressed in shabby clothes walking toward her on the sidewalk. “Can I ask you something?” Evelyn says to the man. “Are you homeless?” He snorts in response. “Of course not!” he exclaims. “Do I look homeless?” Evelyn offers the pizza box. “Then you wouldn’t want this slice of pizza I saved for a homeless person,” she says. He snatches the box from her hands. “I didn’t say that,” he says. Sitting on a low wall next to the sidewalk, he balances the box on his lap. “It’s vegan,” she warns. He opens the lid. “I don’t care,” he says. “Pizza is pizza.” While he eats, they talk about his grown children, his wife who recently passed away, the marketing conference Evelyn is attending in this city, and her online boyfriend who can never seem to meet her offline. “You’re a nice lady,” the man says when he finishes the pizza. “You deserve to be treated well.” Walking to her hotel, Evelyn feels her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. It’s an email. He’s back. And right on schedule, just like her girlfriends predicted. Now she knows why her boyfriend acts so moody and erratic. He’ll treat her like a queen for a few weeks. Then pick a fight and disappear. A month later he’ll reappear as if nothing happened. Thank goodness for girlfriends who know about internet predators and men who catfish women online. She deletes his email and blocks him. Thank goodness for girlfriends who treat her well. Thank. Goodness.



DO WHAT YOU LOVE


This is one of those mornings when the sun streams through the bedroom window, toasty and warm, and all I want to do is roll over and bury my face in the pillow. To pretend I didn’t hear my alarm clock. To forget that it’s time to get up and go to work at the accounting firm where I’m a partner. If I were an electrician, for example, I could stay in bed and sleep. Why? Because it’s Sunday, and electricians don’t work on Sunday. But I’m an accountant, and it’s tax season. And you know what that means: I have no life. Not this time of year. On the other hand, if I were an electrician I wouldn’t work in a nice, air-conditioned accounting office all day. And I’d miss that. I would. Instead I might be like the electrician who tackled my punch list when we built our house years ago. One afternoon I heard laughter coming from the second floor. I walked upstairs to find the bathroom door open, and the electrician on a stepladder, replacing the fan in the ceiling. My energetic kitten dangled from his shoe. Pumping his leg up and down, the electrician couldn’t stop laughing, as he gently swung the kitten back and forth in the air like a pendulum, his shoestring clenched between her teeth. Obviously, this electrician loved his job. But I’m not an electrician with a crazy kitten dangling from my shoe. I’m an accountant, and the thought of working with electricity terrifies me. I’d much rather work with numbers in a nice, air-conditioned office. After all, we should do what we love, right? Okay then. Good to have that settled. Now I can get up and go to work.




Laura Stamps loves to play with words and create experimental forms for her fiction. Author of several novels and short story collections, including IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDE: CAT MANIA (Alien Buddha Press). Muses Prize. Pulitzer Prize nomination. 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Mom of 5 cats. Twitter: @LauraStamps16. www.laurastampsfiction.blogspot.com