welcome to volume 87 (October 2010) of
down in the dirt
Alexandira Rand, Editor
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)
http://scars.tv - click on down in the dirt
what is veganism?
Night and Darkness
The night is long;
Our lives are short.
Where can we go
To escape the dark?
We face the dark each night.
We face it
All the time.
As the pool climbs over my nose
As the pool of blood climbs over my nose, &
I’m tied to Satan’s throne unable to
free myself, I
pray to the good Lord to free me or
drown me fast, I
feel him spit on my bald spot as he
giggles prodigiously & pisses in
my ear/ I know he’s enjoying himself too
much to let me die/ he
sticks his foot up my ass & lets his
toes play in my feces/ I
pray to the good Lord & find him in the
chair next to me going through the
same nonsense/ it
makes me feel sorry for the Lord, but
He put the devil down here to
play his silly games; so He’s guilty of
the crap in which He wallows, &
when He swallows, it makes me laugh, even
as He vomits it back in my face, allowing
nature to be herself like the next
sweet mama/ I should tell Obama, but
he’s too busy watching the Gulf die &
can’t be bothered with a little
celestial murder/ I
could take this further, but
what’s the nonsense, so
Renee S. DeCamillis
The drive up South Mountain to Dobbins Ridge seemed longer than any of my previous visits, but the scenery appeared more breathtaking than I’d ever realized. I could make out images within the rock formations I had completely turned an oblivious eye to on all other occasions. Two in particular I’ll never forget. A blazing scarlet horse raised up on its hind legs was the first image to jump out at me. A little further up the mountain I spied what looked like a face with a beaming smile winking at Gabriel and me. Many more images within the rocks were popping, too many to recall. Waves of burnt orange, copper, and shades of blood and fire reds mesmerized my attention like an acid flashback. Everything that surrounded us was beyond surreal.
We pulled up to the pinnacle just before sunset. He edged the car up as close to the rim of the cliff as possible. He put it in park, not a word was yet spoken. Comfort and connection were shared in the silence. We drank in all the colors of the descending star of fire, in awe, as it slowly disappeared over the distant horizon. Splashed across the desert sky, like paints on an artist’s canvas, were brilliant hues of amethyst, plum, azure, scarlet and ginger.
Peering for what felt like an eternity, darkness began to creep in upon us. Gazing out over the glistening lights of Phoenix, as they mirrored the emerging diamond filled night sky, his approach was voracious. His lips pressed against my collar bone, and once the connection was attained, and well received by me, he moved slower with light tickling touches. A rustle of his sandy blond shoulder length hair and a kiss to his forehead let him know I wouldn’t push him away, but would only pull him closer. In his presence the fact that we were married, and not to each other, never crossed my mind. In that moment nothing else mattered, except Gabriel and me and what was about to transpire.
The progression to fondling had ensued. I whispered in his ear, “Let’s grab the blanket out of the back and find a more private spot outside with nature.”
“You read my mind,” he whispered back, sending chills up and down my entire body.
We found a spot behind massive rocks where there was a patch of soft, warm sand among Saguaro cacti and Palo Verde trees. He spread out the blanket, but not fast enough. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him to the ground, kissing him all over. I couldn’t wait to completely take him in. I felt like I had finally found what had been missing all along, the missing piece to my puzzled being, the absent half of myself.
I unbuttoned his shirt and then slipped mine off. He began to unbutton my shorts when I noticed his hands were trembling. It was not cold. It was the first of May.
“Is everything alright,” I asked, as I embraced his face in my hands and our harmonizing crystal blues found a prolonged connection.
His expression was that of a shy school boy. He glanced away for a moment before saying, “I just never thought you would ever...we would ever...I always wanted to, but...”
I pressed my finger against his insecure smile. A blue on blue stare continued, and then I pressed my lips against his.
We melted into one another. The motion of our bodies against one another’s, warm, gentle, fitting together like interlocking puzzle pieces, was more natural than anything I had ever experienced. Everything was perfect, more perfect than I had imagined. And I had imagined that very moment eventually happening. I imagined it often. More often than he was ever aware.
In my idealistic fantasy, we were both divorced, or at least separated, by the time our relationship moved to the next level. But we’re not perfect. Nobody is.
Gabriel had voiced his marital issues with me often. We had been each other’s sounding boards for a few months.
Gabriel had been suspecting his wife of cheating, but he had been unable to uncover the truth. They had a small child together, so none of what was happening in his life was easy for him to deal with. His wife, Samantha, had been neglecting him for her creative endeavors as an up and coming novelist. She also had not been spending much quality time with their son, Addison. She almost appeared annoyed at the fact that they had a child at all; it took time away from her writing. He never wanted his son to have to deal with his parent’s having a broken marriage. That’s never easy on a child. But it’s worse for a child to experience their parents staying together only for the sake of upholding the family unit, without love for one another as a couple. Tensions can always be sensed. Children are very intuitive and sensitive to their environment.
I, on the other hand, had a husband who adored me beyond my wildest dreams. He did everything for me, and always told me how beautiful and intelligent I was. That was new to me. My previous relationships were horrific beyond belief. When I realized Jason was completely different than all the rest, and would treat me like a queen, I jumped at the chance to marry him. Plus, it appeared, at the time, we had a lot in common. So why stray? It’s complicated, and maybe selfish. But he was not the man I thought he was when I married him. Don’t get me wrong, he still treated me like a queen, as always, but his character was skewed.
Jason and I first met at a mutual friend’s party ten years ago. We were both in our early twenties. My best friend, Jules, was with me. She was always scoping out musicians no matter where we went. This was the primo party to fulfill her agenda. There was live music, drinking and ganga smoking galore. It was a blast. A large portion of the party goers were musicians, as were Jason and I. The ones who weren’t musicians were avid music fans and companions of the musicians. Jack and his wife Tia were the hosts.
Jules was always a spunky little number. She always made the parties we attended more interesting than before we arrived. She also was the one who pushed me to introduce myself to Jason.
Jules had always been the exotic sex-goddess type, with long jet black hair, olive skin, abs as type as a drum and legs that went on for miles. She turned heads anywhere she went. Her long locks took attention away from her large nose and slightly pocked face. She loved to tease all the young guys who dared hit on her, or she would hit on the shy boys just to see them twitch and hear them stutter. That night she was in rare form. She was rollin’ and pheromones were practically oozing from her every pore. Ecstasy was never my drug of choice, but she ate it like candy.
Jack & Tia’s basement was set up and decorated like a music venue with a liquor stocked tiki-bar, beer taps, neon lights and all. Jack junior had made a personalized sign in wood-working class for his daddy’s birthday that year. It read ‘Jack’s Musik Denn’ and hung behind the bar just over the shelf of liquor bottles.
‘Jack’s Musik Denn’ had a stage set up on the far side facing the bar. It was complete with stage lighting, PA gear, monitors, mics, Marshall and Mesa guitar stacks, an Ampeg bass stack and even a complete drum kit with double bass drums, and of course, a cowbell and a gong. Every musician who had the pleasure of experiencing ‘Jack’s Musik Denn’ had a full on orgasm over Jack and Tia’s innovation. Jules had an orgasm over selling all that gear to them to get the den outfitted. Back then Jules worked sales at a local music supply store in Tempe. Her sales that summer landed her salesperson of the month, three months in a row. Now she’s the manager. The only thing any musician had to bring to ‘The Denn’ in order to join in the show was their own personal instrument, all except the drummer. Drummers have a bitch of an instrument to transport. That was why Jack and Tia made sure to have a kit already for any drummer who wanted to join in and rock some rhythms.
The cement floor was covered in royal purple and blood red shag carpeting, perfect for intoxicated naked romps. Jules was often a participant with some young up and coming musician. She was often thought of as an overzealous groupie type by those who did not understand her like I did. There was no shag around the bar due to my many Merlot spills. It blended well with the red but not so much with the purple. In that area were various tie-dyed throw rugs, randomly placed.
After the first round of musicians jumped on stage and played a set of some screeching tunes by The Who and Sabbath, Jules danced her tight little ass over to the drummer, Drew, as soon as he stepped down and grabbed a beer. I could see it in her eyes; she was on the prowl.
“Well, I can see you’re just as crazy as Keith Moon himself. Are you as crazy off stage as you are on?” She leaned back and rested an elbow on one of the big speakers to show off her tight, toned, tanned and exposed abs.
“I’d say yes, but maybe you’d like to find out for yourself.” He tipped his beer to her and took a swig.
“Seeing is believing, they say.” She twirled her finger in her silver belly chain, luring his eyes to her midriff.
He put his hand on her hip and pulled her closer to him. “Who are they, anyway? I say...”
He was not able to finish his sentence before she stuck her tongue down his throat. What a charmer.
All I could do was roll my eyes, laugh and wander off to find others to converse with. I was used to her always hooking up when she and I went to parties and concerts.
I noticed, as I strolled over to the bar for another drink, that Jack and Tia had done some more decorating since the last party they threw a couple months before. Retro velvet and satin-like 70’s style wall paper with a raised paisley motif adorned the two longest walls, in shades of black, gray and silver. It looked so soft I wanted to touch it, until I turned around and noticed others were one step ahead of me. Jules had Drew pinned up against the wall. They were rubbing all over the velvet wall paper, almost as much as they were against each other. Yeah, a little disturbing, I know. Even more disturbing due to her earlier ecstasy intake. I don’t think I need to elaborate; I’m sure you can just imagine.
Sitting at the bar with my second drink I couldn’t help laughing to myself about Jules and her brazen ways. I could always count on her to keep things interesting. Jack sat beside me with a drink and a smoke.
“Care for a toke?”
“Do you even have to ask, silly boy?” I took the joint and inhaled more laughter.
“Jules is in rare form tonight. Look at her go. Did she even know Drew before tonight?” He grabbed the joint from my outstretched hand.
“Rare? Come on. This is Jules you’re talking about.” I shot him a sidelong look and a smirk.
“Yeah, true. What was I thinking? Seriously, did they just meet?” He took another hit and handed it back.
“Of course. Is that any surprise?” I was taking another hit as Jack went on.
“It would be to his wife, Jill, who just called to tell Tia she is on her way.” Jack’s eyebrows were raised. He started laughing and coughing at the same time.
I could barely hold my hit in. I passed the herbal supplement and said, “Are you fucking kidding me? Cut it out, Jack. I just might piss myself.” I was coughing and laughing by this time.
“I’m glad you’re laughing, but I’m not joking.” He took a rip and laughed even more.
“Shit! I gotta go tell Jules, or there’s going to be a knock down drag out brawl up in here when his wife sees,” I turned to Jules and saw her and Drew practically dry humping against the velvet, “THAT!”
I pried Jules off from Drew, “I thought you might want to know that Jill is on her way.”
“What do I care? I don’t know a Jill.” Jules turned back to Drew, who pulled away.
“My wife?” He was wide-eyed and almost instantly started shaking.
“You’re married? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You never asked.”
“I shouldn’t have to ask.”
“Jules, I don’t think you gave him much of a chance once you jammed your tongue down his throat. But that doesn’t matter now. Just cut the shit before Jill...”
“Before Jill what?” I heard a female ask from behind us.
I did not turn around to see who was talking. I knew.
I jumped out of the way.
Jill popped Drew right in the mouth.
“What the fuck do you think...” Jill and Drew went on to fight, but took it quickly outside to respect Jack and Tia.
Jules and I did not stay close enough to hear what came next. We were afraid it might be another fist swinging.
We took a couple seats at a bar table beside the stage under some various rock, funk, and metal band flags. I pulled out a bowl, packed it and lit up. We stoked the bowl, laughed and stared at the glowing black light posters all around. We laughed so hard we couldn’t even talk about what just happened.
I was thankful that was not me walking in on my husband and another girl. Poor Jill.
We never did see Jill or Drew the rest of the night.
I should get back to telling you how Jason and I met. It is just too hard to pass up a chance to pass on a tale about Jules and one of her zany escapades.
So, all the musicians were having a free for all, taking turns playing tunes for the crowd. It was unbelievable, and very inspiring. After Jason jumped on stage and strapped on an acoustic guitar and harmonica to play and sing Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” he sat at the bar with a tall, frothy mug of Guinness. I not only took notice of him due to the fact that I loved Bob Dylan, but Jason was an eye catching gem of a young man. What girl could have resisted moving in on that fine specimen? Not me. I wanted to know him.
Jules took notice of him too. She jumped out of her chair when Jason stepped off stage, but I grabbed her arm and yanked her back into her seat. “This one is mine, honey. You just watch and learn,” I said while pulling my wavy bronze hair over the front of my shoulders.
“Yeah! Go for it. I want to see you hook up for a change. Plus, Dylan. Come on. It’s like he was playing for you.” She was practically pushing me out of my seat. “Make sure he’s not married,” she added with a chuckle as I wandered over to the bar.
“That was a freakin’ sweet ass performance. I absolutely love Dylan.” I planted my short-shorts covered ass in the bar stool next to Jason and slid it closer as I spoke.
“Hey, thanks a lot. Yeah, that one sure is a crowd pleaser. Do you play?” He wiped the beer froth off from his beginnings of a beard and looked straight into my eyes waiting for my response.
His eyes were such a dark brown they were almost black - kind of creepy but intriguing at the same time – like the Source of All Evil. Danger always had the tendency to turn me on, especially at that young age.
“Well, yeah, a little. I sing and play guitar, but I’m no professional. You, on the other hand, sound like you must be in a gigging band. Are you?” I held the gaze into his eyes.
“Wow, thanks. Another compliment. Yes, I am. I play in a band with D, Stash, and Brian the beat master; those three dudes over there on the couch doin’ shots of Jager.” He pointed to the far side of the basement where his band mates were sitting. They were bathed in the glow of black lights and disco ball reflections. Just behind their heads on the wall hung a flag with the infamous image of Jimi Hendrix with his Fender in flames.
When they noticed Jason pointing in their direction Stash, the one in the middle with the dirty blond dreads, held up the bottle of Jager. D and Brian held up their full shot glasses.
Jason held up his mug of Guinness and yelled, “Cheers.” They all downed their Jager, and Jason took a big haul off his beer.
Jason continued, “I think they may jump up and play a song or two with me before the night’s over; most likely something heavier. Well, that is if they’re not passed out or puking by then.” He tipped his mug and finished his beer. “But, yeah, we were gigging out around the greater Phoenix area, now we’re trying to find a studio to start recording our first cd in.” He ran his fingers through his long, dark, wavy hair. I hoped it was to get a closer look at me. The glide of his hand through his hair gave me a chance to see no wedding ring on his hand. Yes!
“Wow! Really? That’s pretty fuckin’ sweet. I have to tell ya’, today is your lucky day.” I grabbed his empty glass, leaned over the bar, and filled it from the Guinness tap. “I intern at one of the best studios in the Greater Phoenix area. Have you and your boys ever heard of Fat Cat Studio Oasis? It’s in the downtown Mesa Arts District.” I must have been beaming. I’ve never had much of a poker face.
“No shit! You work there? What a killer studio to intern at. They have the best engineers and producers in the Southwest. People come from all over the country to record there. I can’t fuckin’ believe this! Can you get us in?” By this time, his beaming face was definitely outshining mine.
I glanced at Jules out of the corner of my eye. She wasn’t where I had left her. She had somehow found her way over to the couch with Jason’s boys. She saw my glance and gave me wink and a secretive thumbs-up.
“Can I get you in? Sure as shit I can. Lou – ‘slick lick’ - Terroni, the owner and head producer, is my mentor. I’m really just basically his little bitch errand girl, but he is teaching me the ins and outs of the craft at the same time.”
I had said the magic words. I knew at that moment he was mine. I reached over the bar for the bottles of gin and ginger ale and poured myself another good stiff drink. I knew we’d be getting funky that night.
And we did.
We were married three years later.
In the early stage of our relationship Jason told me, as we sat at Dobbins Ridge watching the sunset, “Most of my inspiration for my song writing comes from my dreams. I like to write them all down in a dream journal, squeezing song lyrics out of their twisted story lines. I get some really creative shit that way.”
That was a notch on my ‘keeper list.’
I swam in his gaze and responded, “That’s so cool. I do the same thing. How weird is that?” I took it as one sign of compatibility.
The funny thing is, in the ten years we had been together, I never saw him write more than maybe one verse for one of his band’s songs. I never saw him regurgitate any dreams onto paper. I never even saw the dream journal he had raved about.
In the pre-marriage stage of our relationship we went to South Mountain at least once a week to just bathe in the beauty of the desert vista. It was like foreplay for me. It fed my desire for him to the point of wanting to devour him.
Once married, he never wanted to go back to ‘our spot’ to watch the sunset, or the city lights, or the cloud formations, or the waves of colors that consumed the towering rocks, or the rush of excitement it all brought on.
No more foreplay for me.
I’d often suggest, “Hey, Babe, let’s take a drive up South Mountain, I feel the sunset will be amazing tonight.” I’d wink, move in close to him, nuzzle his neck and nibble his ear.
He’d pull away and say, “I can see the sunset from our back yard just fine, and our bed is a hell of a lot more comfortable than sand and rocks.” He’d go to the fridge, grab a couple beers and pull up a lawn chair on the back deck. At least he’d pull up a chair for me too.
What a rush of excitement. So romantic.
I remember when Gabriel took over the studio, not too long after I had worked my way up to a position as assistant engineer. ‘Slick-lick’ Terroni had almost run the funds into the ground with his drugs, booze and schmoozing all the bands’ leftovers. The business was in a shambles, but Gabriel’s expertise, not only as a producer/engineer, but also his ingenious business tactics saved the studio and then some. Fat Cat Studio Oasis became an even bigger rave of the Southwest music scene than ever before.
After the first three months or so with Gabriel at the helm, he threw a big party for all his employees and the bands who he had worked with since taking over the business. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was actually about a year and a half ago. There were also some pretty big name indie record label execs and local music venue owners and managers there doing shots with us all. It was an excellent night to promote Jason’s band and rub elbows with a number of ‘fat cats’ in the music industry.
Samantha, Gabriel’s wife was there too. That was the first night she and I had ever met. She was very sweet and sociable, not to mention beautiful. Her hair was so black it almost had a shimmer of purple. It hung in long, loose ringlets over her shoulders. Her face was innocent and youthful, like a porcelain doll’s. She was a couple years younger than me, though I looked younger than her. I always regretted my baby face. Not anymore.
She was standing with a gentleman who appeared quite a few years older than both of us, but he was dressed like he was still a virile eighteen. His faded ripped up jeans hung half in and half out of his big black Doc Marten leather boots. His skinny chest was adorned with a Misfits concert t-shirt. Around his waist was a black leather belt with silver metal skull and cross-bone emblems all around it. Long salt and pepper dreads hung half way down his back. I could tell by the white knuckle grip he had on his tall, full glass of Jack and Coke that Jack was his pride and joy.
“You must be Gabriel’s better half.” I said, as I approached Gabriel’s wife with a bottle of Merlot and refilled her almost empty wine glass.
“That would be me,” she said, as she held out her glass to catch the scarlet waterfall. “You must be Sage, Gabe’s assistant. My name is Samantha.” She switched her wine glass to her left hand after it was full and reached out her right for an amiable introduction.
“Nice to finally meet you. Gabriel raves about you and your son, Addison, all the time.”
“He talks pretty highly of you as well. He says all the time how thankful he is to have an assistant who is as dedicated to the studio and as passionate about music as you are.” She smiled a big gleaming white smile, as she put her arm around the guy who was standing with her, and she said, “I’d like you to meet Chuck. He runs the sister music venue to the studio, The Oasis in Tempe, not far from ASU. Well, it’s the studio’s sister now that Gabriel has taken over.” She looked up at the six foot something punk rocker venue owner, welcoming him to chime in.
“Hey, hey, pretty lady.” His voice was a baritone rumble. He didn’t opt for the cordial shaking of hands like Samantha did. No, instead he put his arms around me and gave me a death squeeze. I think it was just an excuse to feel my perky, half revealed breasts against him. “It’s a pleasure to meet Gabe’s right hand gal. Hey, anytime you want to perform at the Oasis, just give me a jingle and you’re on. Any night, any time, just name it.”
He gave me a guy to guy shoulder slap of reassurance and support. I stumbled slightly and said, “Sweet, that’s great to know. Thanks so much. On that note, I’d love for you both to meet my husband.” I ushered Jason to my side, “This is Jason.” I turned to Jason once he had reached us and said, “This is Gabriel’s wife, Samantha, and Chuck. He owns and operates The Oasis over by ASU.”
They all exchanged hand shakes. Jason was lucky to not receive the squeeze of death from Chuck, though Samantha did move in for a hug following their hand shake. Squeeze of death it was not; it was more like a prolonged ‘Damn you’re fine’ type of hug.
I was used to women responding like that around Jason. It was hard to resist his charm and good looks. Nothing different than guys responding to me like Chuck did. A lot of our friends often joked about us being such an attractive couple that they wanted to watch us have sex. We were not into that. We always laughed off the remarks. It was all just harmless humor.
“So, you own the Oasis, huh? I’ve seen some really sick bands play there. That’s a really fuckin’ sweet place you got.” Jason tipped his head back pouring the last of his Jack and Coke down his throat.
“Jason doesn’t like to brag, but he plays lead guitar in a kick ass local band. You two may have heard of them, Dowry of Death. They haven’t had many recent shows, due to them working on getting their new tunes polished and ready to add to their set list.” I put my arm around Jason and hugged him in tight to my side. “I bet him and the boys would be more than willing to take you up on that offer of a show, Chuck. What do you say?” I tried to give Chuck the same powerful shoulder slap he gave me, though he didn’t stumble. I’m sure that was due to his six foot something body towering over my petite five foot two, hundred and five pound frame. Though he didn’t stumble, my gesture was powerful enough to spill his drink just a little.
His laugh bellowed through the studio and all its party guests turned to see what was so funny. “J, that’s a feisty one who have on your hands there. Yeah, fuckin’ right I’ll book your band! If you have this pretty little spitfire, who also happens to be my best friend and business partner’s best tech., vouching for your band, you can name your night and your band’s booked.” He stared Jason down waiting for him to name a night to play.
“Hey, thanks a lot, man. Let me get back to you about that, after this pretty little lady of mine and I go get refills on our drinks.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me into the lounge area. I already had the bottle of Merlot on the table beside where we were all talking. He was the only one who needed to go for a refill.
“I’m all set on the refill, Babe.” I took another sip of my half full glass of wine, as he reached into the fridge for the Coke to mix with more Jack. “Isn’t that excellent? A show at The Oasis. The boys are going to be pumped! You guys haven’t been able to book a show there yet. This is a killer break for the band.” I was literally jumping up and down like a giddy school girl, spilling a little of my wine down between my cleavage and on my black camisole.
He tore a couple paper towels off from the roll that was on top of the fridge and threw them at me. “Clean yourself up there, Yoko.” He grabbed the bottle of Jack, filled his glass to the very rim, and slammed the Jack bottle on the dark wooden coffee table.
“What the hell? Yoko? What’s that supposed to mean? I thought you’d be just as psyched as I am.” I wiped the wine off my shirt and chest. “Hey, can you pass me the club soda from the fridge?”
He passed the club soda and I dabbed it onto a fresh paper towel, giving my spill a better cleaning. I was glancing at Jason every chance I could, waiting for his reasoning for the Yoko comment.
“First of all, I don’t need you getting gigs for my band. That job is for the actual members of the band to worry about. Second, we don’t need a gig right now. We’re trying to get some song writing done to spice up our set list with fresh new tunes before we book our next gig. If you had asked me before blurting out to Chuck to book us, you would have known that.” He took a haul off his almost over flowing glass of Jack and Coke and plopped down on the black leather sofa.
There were only a couple of young local record store employees hanging in the far corner of the small lounge area where we were. They looked like they couldn’t believe they were even invited to such a shindig. I guess that’s why Jason felt comfortable laying into me with his harsh tone and arrogant attitude.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you felt that way. I was only trying to help. It’s been six months since your band’s last show, and you’ve never played The Oasis. It’s the best local music venue, and they only book the most well known local bands and even some national names play there now and then. It’s a great opportunity for you guys. I really think you should take advantage of this killer break.” I sat to the right of him on the sofa, and put my arm around him, rubbing his back with reassuring strokes.
“You’re not our manager, nor do we need a manager. I’ll be damned if I will start relying on my wife to book shows for us.” He took another gulp off his drink and slammed the mug onto the Rosewood coffee table. He was sitting with his elbows propped on his knees and started poking his chest with his thumb when he went on to say, “When we are ready, we will get a gig for our band at The Oasis, or where ever else we see fit. Please, just stop trying to help us ‘make it.’” He stood abruptly, causing my hand to drop to the sofa from his back. He grabbed his drink and walked back out into the performance room with the majority of the guests.
I had no idea where that had just come from. I was greatly perplexed at his response. I rose from the sofa a couple minutes after he walked out of the lounge. I downed the last of my glass of wine and refilled it with Jack and ice. I turned around from the fridge, and I had a clear view of the performance room through the huge glass window wall. Jason had found his way back to a sociable party mood by the looks of it. He was standing with Samantha, no Chuck, and was talking and laughing. I was thankful he didn’t bring his shit attitude I just witnessed out among Gabriel’s friends and business associates. At least Jason knew how to hold up appearances.
On the ride home from the party that night I was cranking Bob Dylan. I was singing along, belting out “Outlaw Blues” when Jason shut the stereo off. I just looked at him, irritated, wondering what the fuck?
“That fucking voice of his is just so damn annoying. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“What are you talking about? I thought you loved Dylan. You and the guys cover a few of his tunes.” I pulled out a joint I had left over from the party and lit up. I had a feeling I would need to lighten the mood.
“Of course we play some Dylan; the crowd loves him. It doesn’t mean I love him. It’s all about the audience response, the image, our following.” He took a rip off the jib and passed it back to me.
I took a big haul off that baby and said, “What the fuck? I guess ya’ learn something new everyday, and I just seem to be learning something new about you all the time. So where is this following you’re talking about?” I passed the joint.
“Fuck you! Just because we don’t play out every other night or land gigs at The Oasis doesn’t mean we don’t have a following.” He took another hit and passed it back. Then he switched cds and cranked Lamb of God.
I guess I said the wrong thing. That was the end of our conversation.
No sex for me that night, just uncomfortable silence as we tossed and turned in bed.
I always thought Jason was the one. Now, with glossed over eyes and an aching in my chest, I wondered, could I have been wrong?
I woke up the next morning feeling very groggy and alone, even though I awoke next to Jason.
That was the night I really knew I didn’t understand Jason anymore. He had always seemed like such a visionary, full of creative drive and ambition, all of which was a major determining factor for my decision to marry him. In the seven years we had been married his band hadn’t recorded a second cd, nor did they speak of any plans to. They still played out, but at most only a handful of times a year. Any time I ever tried to land them a show, he’d get pissed, turn it down and tell me to stop being a Yoko. I didn’t know what happened to the Jason I fell in love with. He was gone or at least distorted.
At least he never acted out of sorts around Gabriel and Samantha. The four of us would get together every now and then for drinks and dinner. Jason always put on the charm around them. I was thankful for that. Gabriel was my boss; I didn’t want him to think my husband was a total dick.
The last time we all met up for dinner and drinks at Maria’s Ristorante, Jason displayed his most charming conduct. He and Gabriel talked in depth about the tough recording process Gabriel had been going through with one of the well known local bands, who were notorious for their raunchy escapades and drug and alcohol addictions.
“Dude, next time they show up for a session you should stand outside the locked studio door with a breathalyzer test. Don’t unlock the door unless they all pass,” Jason said with a snigger.
Gabriel laughed and said, “Yeah, I definitely think it’s intervention time for those cats.”
I chimed in with, “Jason knows all about interventions. He could prep you for that uncomfortable experience.” I patted Jason on the shoulder with a teasing smile.
“Hey, that was not my drug problem. Don’t get the wrong idea. It was one of my boys.” He shot a look at Samantha with a hint of embarrassment.
“Sure it was. We all know you’re a crack-head musician,” Samantha said. She tossed a piece of bread at him laughing. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and pass me the salad, junkie.”
Jason’s laugh echoed through the restaurant. “Oh yeah, that’s me alright. You know me too well.” He gave her a sidelong glance and said, “Enough about drug addict musicians. Sam, how’s the novel coming?” He took a long haul off his Guinness, picked up her salad bowl and dished her out a serving.
“I’ve been putting in long hours trying to work through the final chapter revisions,” she said as she passed him more garlic bread. “It’s been frustrating, but it will be worth it when it’s finished. Thanks so much for asking.”
Jason held an intense stare, appearing engrossed in everything she had to say. They talked at length about her characters, the setting, the about-ness and the trouble she was having with tying in some of her choices for symbolism. They talked until their throats were dry and cracked.
Jason hadn’t read a novel or short story since he was in high school, but I was thankful he brought Samantha’s work into the conversation. She wasn’t as into music as the rest of us. I think the change of conversation topic was his way of avoiding music talk with Gabriel. God forbid he was talked to about recording another cd or Gabriel getting his band into The Oasis to play.
Besides Gabriel, Jules was the one I confided in about my concerns with my marriage.
Our phone conversation the other day was when I finally let it all out.
“I don’t think he’s in love with me anymore, Jules. I really don’t. He tells me he is, but, like Gabriel was saying...”
“What do you really want to tell me?”
“What do you mean? I just told you.”
“Just say it, Sage. It’s not a dirty word. Well, it is, but at least it’s not illegal. Just say it.”
“Divorce? Are you talking about me divorcing Jason?”
“Well, that too, but no, that’s not the word I was going for. Affair was the word I was referring to.”
“What? You think Jason’s having an affair?” I was frantic.
“No! Absolutely not! I think you’re having an affair with your boss and you haven’t told me about it yet, you naughty girl.”
“That’s crazy! I’m not having an affair with Gabriel,” I said with slight laughter behind my words.
“Then why the nervous laughter? Sage, spill it.” Jules always knew how to get down to the real nitty-gritty.
“Well, we have become a lot better friends over the past few months, and...”
“Don’t dance around it, just spill.” Jules was ruthless.
“There is no affair. I swear!”
“You could have fooled me. You talk about him all the time. You bring up your troubles with Jason, and in the same sentence comes Gabriel’s name. I’m not stupid, Sage.”
Jules always could see right through me. I spilled it all: my troubles with Jason, Gabriel’s troubles with Samantha, mine and Gabriel’s friendship growing closer, and my fantasies.
“Every girl has fantasies, Sage, but yours go just a bit further than harmless fantasies. You need to do something about all of this, and soon, before you explode.”
“But what? What am I supposed to do?”
“You’ll know; when the time is right, you’ll know. Logic and reason fly out the window when love gets involved. Just follow your instincts and your heart.”
The night sky above where Gabriel and I were lying appeared like a dark blanket sprinkled with glistening grains of sugar crystals. Sweetness surrounded us as we held each other. We were talking in almost whispering voices. When he spoke his warm breath on my moist skin made me quiver. I did not want that moment to ever end.
But we could hear cars in the distance driving up the mountain. Once the later evening hours set in, Dobbins Ridge was a popular teen hang out.
“Maybe we should get dressed and pack it up for tonight,” Gabriel suggested. “I don’t want us to get caught with our pants down, especially not by some drunk or stoned teens.” He laughed.
“As much as I don’t want to,” I said, “we probably should. I just wish...”
“Me too,” was all he needed to say.
A long, tight embrace and lips pressed together brought us to the desire for another romp. But the teenagers’ voices could now be heard beyond the rocks we were sheltered behind.
We stopped, looked at each other with heavy sighs and laughed.
“We really need to get dressed,” I said.
Gabriel carried the rolled up sandy, tribal print blanket under his left arm. He had his right arm around my shoulders. My arm was around his waist. We were walking along the stony path between the tall rocks which led back to the parking area. The voices of the partiers were getting louder and louder. We were just about to walk up over the last incline and around a huge boulder when we heard people talking and walking in our direction.
Just as we rounded the towering rock, up over the little sandy knoll, another couple, arm and arm, blanket in hand, came around from the other side. They were walking away from the backdrop of the city lights, their faces heavily shaded.
Gabriel whispered in my ear, “Looks like they have the same idea we had.”
We both began to laugh. We each squeezed in tighter to each other. The couple was almost about to pass us along the path when their faces were partially illuminated.
It was Samantha and Jason.
For a brief moment we all made eye contact. It was quickly averted. We said nothing. They said nothing.
The four of us kept walking.
A Love Sonnet
Callously cruel, you come back like cancer
Heartless and horrible, hanging hope on a hook
Uncaring, unfeeling, unless you’re horny
Mostly remembering me after midnight
Passively passionate, paralyzingly pretty
Do your other boys know about me?
I ignore you if I can
Dammit, don’t dare call again!
Impatient, ignoble, impossibly imperfect
Only you; Oxycodine of my heart
Though to tell the truth:
Underneath your granite façade
I know you love me
When you tell me you hate me
The Diary of Jane
Jane Bainter awoke in a motel bed with a pounding headache. She was confused and felt the sense of being lost. Such is a feeling that usually comes along with waking in an unfamiliar setting. But then again, she hadn’t had a familiar place to call home for over two years now.
She thought hard about where she was or how she’d gotten there, but could hardly remember a thing from the night before and looked around the room to answer the mystery.
She determined it was in a motel room, so she must have been with a customer last night. If she hadn’t spent the night with a customer, a back alley would have been her home that morning.
She wondered where he’d gone, but didn’t care. It was better that he was gone. She never wanted to see the guy the morning after.
She did, however, feel bad about passing-out after serving the guy. I suppose I wouldn’t have, had I been clean at the time. She wasn’t and as a matter of fact, rarely was.
Jane looked over at the clock beside the bed. It read 11:32 am. They usually want you out of places like this by noon. She figured it was time to leave; if she stayed in bed she’d probably fall asleep and get kicked out. That had happened to her enough times.
Jane leaned up in bed, feeling sore. He must have liked it rough, she thought. However, last night she couldn’t have known that he was going too hard. Her muscles were probably so numb that she couldn’t even have felt the man’s touch. That’s how it usually went.
She brought a hand up to her face and rubbed her pale, cavernous cheeks. She then ran four lanky fingers over her long forehead and through her thinning brown hair.
Jane crawled out from underneath the blue motel sheets. Stark naked, she first went to her ragged purse to make sure the customer hadn’t robbed her. She jumbled through the mess of dirty needles and partially-melted spoons before finding her wallet.
He hadn’t robbed her; $150 — her exact price for a night — resided in the pocket of her faded, gray wallet.
It was only then that she began to collect her clothes from around the room. She could tell, from how her clothes were strewn about, that he had been a wild one. She pulled a black leather jacket over her tube top, again feeling sore.
This guy must have really tried to get his $150 worth, she thought.
Once dressed, she slung the cracked strap of her purse — which held everything she owned or needed — over her bony shoulders. She left, closing the red motel door behind her, the room inside left soiled and untidy.
The sunlight was blinding at first. She rubbed her eyes thoroughly, then looked across the parking lot and down the balcony at the vacant motel room doors. It felt strange to be able to think and see so clearly. Her brain always seemed to be shut off and her vision usually clouded.
As she descended the stairs to the parking lot the cravings began, an inevitable effect of being sober. She ran her nails up along her arms, ridden with thick, blackened veins.
Once on the sidewalk she headed off towards the only place she ever needed to be. Although tired and weak, the long walk didn’t bother her much. When sober only one thing bothered her and that was being sober. Not a full minute had passed that morning in which she hadn’t dreamed of the effects of letting smack loose in her veins. The buzz, the bliss, the dreams and the general feeling. She thought of nothing else.
Finally, after walking for over an hour, the apartment building came within sight. As she approached the respectable housing complex, her thoughts briefly turned away from smack.
I wish I could live in a place like that. If only it wasn’t for the damn smack, I could easily get a good job and live in a place like this.
Words like quit, kick and clean passed through her mind, but she quickly forgot even the notion. Sometimes she thought about quitting, even tried a few times, but it never worked. By now, she tried to not even think about it. The realization that her life was based on dependence only depressed her and that was nothing she needed right now. She felt depressed enough, since opiates weren’t flowing through her system.
Jane took a step to the side as she neared the stairs to the building. She pulled a track phone from her purse and dialed Tony’s number.
Tony knew it was her immediately and the first words out of his mouth were, “You got my money or did it get lost in your veins?”
“Yeah, I got it. I’m right outside your building.”
“What, godamit, you stupid, junky, whore. How many fuckin times have I told you to keep your distance from my building?”
“Sorry, I forgot, I’m walking away right now,” she said, taking small, quick steps away from the building’s stairs.
“Like it matters now. My friends and neighbors have already seen you, a junky-whore, waiting for me outside my home.”
Jane continued to apologize even though she knew he probably wasn’t listening. Tony told her to meet him down the street outside a café called “Pierre’s.”
Jane waited near the café feeling awkward and out of place.
Tony didn’t arrive for fifteen minutes. His long black hair, which was usually well kept, was strewn about, as if he’d just waken from a long night with one his girls. He was wearing a tight white T-shirt that showed off his bulging biceps and thick chest. Rather than a nice pair of designer or dress pants, he wore blue jeans. He wasn’t even wearing his signature sunglasses. Jane thought his appearance seemed peculiar, since she was used to seeing him very well dressed.
Tony strutted down the street with the stride of an important man. Nearing Jane, he acted as though he didn’t know her.
“Come on,” he said quickly as he passed by. She followed him, trying to keep her distance. Tony immediately turned into an empty alley. Jane followed until he stopped, once out of sight from those on the street.
“Alright, listen bitch. I’m in a good mood right now, so I’m not going to dock any of your pay for that fuck up you made, but tonight,” he said slowly. “I’m expecting you to make it up to me.”
“Absolutely,” she said, her voice alluring. “I’m very sorry, I just forgot.” She hoped this would make Tony relax and forget about the whole thing.
“Yeah, well, with a junky bitch like you I’m not surprised. You’re probably high as fuck right now. Am I wrong?”
Fuck you, you goddamn hypocrite. You shoot up every day of your life. You’re not better than me just because you can support yourself by beating on and owning girls.
Jane handed Tony his fifty dollars. He snatched it from her, still looking mad as a rabid dog. Aggravated, Tony reminded her to find more work and threatened to dock her pay if she couldn’t. Jane promised she would, then said goodbye in a seductive voice that made her want to vomit.
Just as she turned her back on Tony, he grinned and said, “Enjoy the rush, bitch, you earned it.” Jane looked back, but Tony was already walking away. She didn’t mind, she was used to Tony. And there was only one thing she cared about right now anyway.
She began walking back toward her part of town. The walk seemed to last an eternity, but within thirty minutes, she had neared the apartment building of a man named “Eight Ball.” She dialed his number as she approached the building.
“What do ya want?” he asked once certain it was an old customer on the line.
“Black tar,” Jane nearly blurted out. “Half a gram.”
“I got some decent stuff. Come on up.”
Jane entered the apartment building. The building had a smell that reminded her of an old man’s house. The walls were stained with dirt and grime. Jane was surprised that Eight Ball couldn’t afford any better. But then again, she thought, he’s only been dealing for a few months. Before that he was just another junky.
Jane quickly ascended the steep staircase to the third floor. So close, she thought, I’m so close now. She knocked on the door of room 309 and waited until it cracked open. A large head that towered over her appeared through the crack in the doorway. She felt intimidated by his dark face coupled with a close-shaven scalp and wide neck.
“Is it clear,” he asked quietly.
Jane looked left and right down the hallway and nodded, glancing up at his thick, wolf eyes.
“Ok, half a gram will be a hundred.” Jane handed him the money. He quickly counted the bills, then disappeared from the crack in the doorway, slamming the door shut behind him. Within a few seconds, he reopened the door as far as the chain-lock would allow. He handed her a small bag of black tar. She immediately shoved it into the pocket of her coat.
“Enjoy,” he said just before closing and latching the door. She rushed through the halls and down the stairs.
Once outside, she turned down the empty alley behind Eight Ball’s building. She stopped upon reaching a part of the alley where she was certain people on the street couldn’t see her.
She set her ragged purse on the ground, produced the items she needed, and began the ritual. A slightly singed metal spoon, a dirty syringe, a butane lighter, and an 8 oz water bottle containing a mixture of lemon juice and water. Once everything she needed was out and in front of her, she removed a cracked leather belt from her denim skirt. She took the bag from the pocket of her black leather jacket, withdrew a small piece of the black tar, and placed it on the spoon. After carefully resealing the bag, she shoved what little was left back into her purse. She filled the syringe with some of the water-lemon juice mixture, added a small amount to the spoon, then squirted what was left out on the pavement.
The lighter clicked feebly. Needs more lighter fluid. On her fourth try, it ignited, sending a stream of blue flame into the bottom of the spoon. She watched with hungry eyes as the tar began to dissolve in the spoon. Seconds seemed to last forever. Finally, the last of it dissolved in the water and the liquid began to bubble in the spoon. She held the spoon as if it contained microscopic alien life (the memory of one time when she spilled the spoon’s contents still haunted her). After placing the tip of the needle into the spoon, she pulled the plunger back until the heavenly black liquid filled the syringe.
She didn’t even bother looking for a vein in her arms and instead searched her legs for a vein that wasn’t yet black and collapsing. After finding a healthy vein on the inside of her left thigh, she injected the needle to what seemed to be the right depth. She hardly noticed the pain as she pulled the plunger back until blood began to mix with the brown substance in the syringe. Bingo. The needle was left standing erect in her leg as she wrapped the belt tightly around her inner thigh.
She pushed on the plunger but the rush didn’t hit her in full force until after loosening the belt’s grip on her inner leg. She couldn’t help but lay back on the now-comforting pavement, not even bothering to remove the needle from her thigh. Everything began to grow dark, although she was certain she hadn’t fallen asleep. Just before the alley disappeared, it occurred to her that the black tar had worked its magic on her.
Suddenly, Jane seemed to be someplace else. She looked around and knew she’d seen this place before. It was the living room of Kevin Pozlowski’s house. His parents weren’t home that night, she could remember. At least fifty other people near her age were in the house. Most of them were packed in the kitchen or living room, drinking cans of cheap light beer, stumbling about and slurring their words.
She could remember the night perfectly. She was sitting on the couch next to a boy named Brad Perry. His short blond hair was the perfect match for those bright blue eyes. She couldn’t remember much else about the boy; both her memory and the dream seemed fuzzy and unclear.
She watched disappointed as he stood up and stumbled to the back door. She remembered that they had been making out for some time. They had stopped because he felt vomit working its way up. She wasn’t quite hammered, although she had a heavy buzz after maybe two beers that night.
She knew perfectly well what would happen next. She wandered outside to find Brad, but instead found a familiar face in a large girl with a purple nose-ring that somehow matched her long brown hair. It didn’t take Jane long to realize that she was her old friend Kim.
The images and feelings seemed so real, it truly felt as though she were reliving the experience.
Kim had just lit a blunt and after a long drag, passed it on to Jane. Jane watched Kim slowly exhale the smoke, and then took a light hit from it herself. She chose to stay in the circle for awhile, forgetting about Brad and everyone else at the party for a time. She took a longer puff and breathed in deeper when the blunt made its way back to her. Each of the three users around her gave suggestions.
“Inhale and hold the smoke down in your lungs for awhile.”
“Suck it down real deep.” (a brief chorus of laughter)
“Hold it in longer. You have to smoke this right if ya wanna feel anything.”
Jane watched herself and the others take hit after hit until the blunt had burned down to a tiny roach.
Someone promptly declared that they should “rip the second blunt.” The girl she didn’t recognize reached into her purse and produced a blunt, slightly shorter and thicker than your typical no. 2 pencil.
“Aw, two blunts and all that beer, I’m gonna be fucked. Goodbye planet Earth,” someone said, it may have even been herself, Jane couldn’t tell.
When asked if she wanted to smoke a second blunt, Jane heard herself reply, “Yeah.” She vaguely recalled the virgin pleasure THC had given her that night.
“Woa, someone’s just discovered their stoner side,” the only guy in the circle said.
Kim said she would have to pay five dollars to smoke anymore. “First smoke is on me, but the second one will cost you,” she said. It seemed fair at the time; after all, she was smoking weed that they had paid for. Jane watched as she handed Kim a five dollar bill, not caring about the money, only wanting to see what it felt like to have more THC in her system.
Jane returned to absolute darkness and felt a sensation much like flying or floating through space. Her eyes were closed yet she could almost feel the pavement beneath her back, so she couldn’t have been asleep, she knew.
Jane felt as though she were waking up in bed. She squint her eyes open to a crack and scanned the familiar room. People who she recognized sat strung out beside the bed while silently staring at the TV. Below the TV, the clock on the DVD player read 4:09 pm.
She closed her eyes again, but wasn’t allowed to fall back asleep. Someone was shaking her awake.
“Jane, wake up! What are you doing?” It was her old friend Pam. She spoke with a sense of urgency, although her voice sounded soft and distant.
Jane didn’t respond, but instead grunted and turned over on the couch which had the callous, jagged feel of concrete.
Pam rolled her over and shoved a black digital clock in her face.
“It’ll be four-twenty in less than ten minutes,” she said. “We gotta smoke at four-twenty on four-twenty.”
Jane dragged herself up off the couch. Once on her feet, she stumbled and nearly fell backwards. “Damn, I’m torn,” she exclaimed.
“You should be,” said a boy whose name she couldn’t remember. “This’ll be the fourth smoke of the day.” There was almost an air of accomplishment to his tone.
She watched herself follow Pam and the two boys she didn’t recognize out the back door and into her car for yet another blaze cruise. Just as she got in the car, she checked her cell phone to find three text messages from the name mommy in her phonebook. The last one read, Why won’t you respond still @ after school study session?
In a haze, Jane couldn’t see herself tapping the screen of her iPhone, but the message read, Yea eatin out with friends be home in a few hours, before sending it to mommy.
Someone else in the car was talking. It took Jane a moment to understand just what they were saying. “Four Twenty is the best day ever. Skipping school and just smokin’ all fuckin’ day long.”
“I know,” someone else said. Jane thought it was Pam, but wasn’t quite sure. “Why can’t we do this every day? Never work or go to school and just get torn all the time.”
At 4:17, Pam pulled a plastic green bong from her purse. A part of her recalled that this particular pipe held some significance to them back in those days. She knew that it had a name, but couldn’t remember what it was.
Shrek, was that it?
Pam reached in her pocket and carefully removed a bag loaded with several grams of fluffy hydroponic weed. Pam opened the bag, delicately broke up two small nuggets, both of which nearly white with THC crystals, and proceeded to pack the bowl. Jane sat eagerly, watching the clock and waiting.
Finally, the car’s digital clock turned over to 4:20. A light cheer went up around the car. Pam held the lighter to the bowl and placed her mouth at the end of the tube. Jane watched as the bong filled with so much smoke that it looked like it was filled with white stone. Pam opened the carb and the smoke vanished inside her. Jane felt a smile spread across her face as bong was passed on to her.
Wow, I can’t believe I used to get so excited over just weed, she thought.
Jane soon felt as though she were elsewhere. It was a different memory that came back to her now. She was in Kim’s old black Camaro. The car sat in a vacant parking lot in what she thought was the old Greenwood Park. Her friend Brian sat beside her, while a boy named Alan sat shotgun to Kim. Brian pulled out a baggie filled with perhaps a dozen white pills. He took three out and downed them with a half empty bottle of Mountain Dew. He pulled three more pills from the bag and handed them to Jane.
“Here, this is for smoking me up the last two days,” he said. Jane watched distantly as she accepted the pills and downed them with a half-empty bottle of warm Mountain Dew. Jane couldn’t feel the pills or the soda, but knew she’d taken them, partly because she could vaguely remember taking Vicodin that day.
A few minutes passed, although she knew nothing about time in her state. Brian and Jane relaxed in the back of the car waiting to feel the pill’s effects. Up front, Alan and Kim seemed mesmerized by something in a small plastic bag.
Jane could remember asking what it was.
“It’s coke. You ever done coke before?” Kim asked.
“No, I’ve done a lotta shit, but never coke,” Jane replied. Kim suggested that Jane and Brian give it a try. Brian liked the idea, but at the time, Jane didn’t feel as though she were ready for coke.
Still, Kim insisted. “Come on,” she said. “You’re the one who’s been bitchin that weed and pills aren’t doin it anymore.”
Kim had a point. After all, Jane could remember taking five tabs that day and still not feeling the high that she wanted.
Kim emptied the bag’s contents on a school folder. She spread it into six thin lines. Jane watched anxiously as Brian rolled a five dollar bill into a tight straw, slowly set it beside the nearest line and lowered his head until the straw was just inside his nose, and snorted. He pulled himself back after the first line and leaned down in his seat. Jane watched intently to how Brian reacted to the effects of the drug.
“What’s it like?” Jane heard herself ask.
“It makes you like really energized and concentrated,” Kim replied.
“Yeah,” Alan agreed. “And you feel like you’re invincible. You feel like you could take on the whole world.”
Jane then remembered a thought she had at the time; maybe it’ll give me confidence for that AP Bio test I’ve been studying for. Kim handed her a one dollar bill. Jane watched herself roll the dollar into a tight straw while Kim cut a few small lines with her high school I.D.
Jane again seemed to be lost in a deep blackness. It was then, lost in endless darkness, that her dream seemed to change shape. In a way she couldn’t describe or understand when sober, she felt her dream was taking a sudden dark turn.
When the blur of images took shape, Jane found herself walking along the sidewalk of a familiar street. She knew she wasn’t far from the community college which she had somehow been enrolled in for a year.
Her heart was pounding. She saw herself try to wipe coke residue away from her nose every few minutes, although she doubted that there was even anything there. Her nerves were shocked and jittery. She worried that everyone would look at her and see nothing but a tormented coke junky.
Jane approached a man who she recognized and exchanged a quick hello. Jane couldn’t remember the man, but referred to him by the name “Arnold.” Their greeting wasn’t purely business, giving her the sense that she’d once known this man on a more personal level.
“Anything I could get for ya?” he asked.
Jane was stunned with her response. “I don’t know. I feel like blow hasn’t been treating me right. It’s been making me paranoid and it’s fuckin up my nose.”
“So you’re just gonna up and quit like that?”
“No way, blow always gets me up for class and it helps me focus on studying. I just want something a little more mellow. For when I’m just chillen ya know.”
He scratched his chin, looked around for a second and asked, “You ever used heroin?” “Yeah, I’ve tried it twice.”
“You like it?”
“Hell yeah. Best high I’ve ever had.” She said, again reaching up to wipe her nose. “Way better than coke or anything else I’ve done.”
“It’s the fuckin bomb baby. I’m picking up an ounce later today. I’ll give you a call when I got it. Should be sometime this evening.”
“Thanks Arnold. I gotta run, I’ll see ya.” She began to turn away from him, but was again lost in between time and place.
Suddenly, she was back in her apartment. She watched hungrily as a yellow Bic lighter burned beneath a spoon as the heroin inside slowly dissolved. She felt as though it was the day she’d just seen, but couldn’t quite tell. So many times she had watched herself perform the same ritual, that it could have been any day she stayed in that apartment.
She opened her eyes later and the clock gave her the idea that it was an hour or two since the rush. She heard her father’s voice and remembered the moment from her life. Her father was speaking into the answering machine. She remembered the message because it was one of the last times she heard her father’s voice.
“Jane, I haven’t heard from you in weeks. If your mother was alive, she’d be worried sick and would probably blame it on the drugs. Don’t think that I think you’re sober just because we haven’t caught you with anything since you’ve left home. Anyway, just give me a call whenever you can. Please honey.”
Her father’s voice faded until it became inaudible as yet another dream vanished into darkness.
Jane opened her eyes. She was back in the alley, lying on her back, staring up at the sky. Her mind drifted back to all the experiences and memories she’d relived in her trip. She thought of that little girl who used to go to parties, smoke chronic with her friends, and spend the night with guys she was attracted to. She thought of that first semester at community college when she was able to pull about a 2.9.
Never in her whole life had she felt so low and depressed. She wanted to kill herself, but more than that, she wanted to go back to one of the first flashbacks. And tell that little girl to steer clear from words like blow and smack.
How much longer will I even live, she wondered. Another year, maybe two. No, probably longer. Probably much longer. I hope not. I can’t do this much longer.
She rolled over on the pavement. The guilt ceased as she became overwhelmed with an ecstasy as great as anything she’d ever known. Nothing could be better than this.
The pleasure was short-lived as the guilt quickly returned, her conscious overpowering physical pleasure.
Eventually, she decided she would need another hit to relax herself so she could let go of the pain and enjoy the high. She performed the ritual perfectly even though in her state, she could hardly feel the spoon and syringe in her hands. Must be from experience, she thought.
Only seconds after releasing the belt’s grip on her leg, she slid down on her back and fell asleep before even removing the needles from her thigh. It was a sleep that was heavier and deeper than any she’d ever known.
In her dream, she saw a bright white light and in a way difficult to describe, she felt young again — the way she felt before substances ruled her life. She felt perfectly at peace, even more than when on what she called, totally bomb smack.
Officer Black pinched the skin between his eyes and shook his head.
Sergeant Jones only glanced over at his partner and sighed. “Dumb rookie,” he uttered. Black was only a few weeks out of the academy and hadn’t dealt with anything above a traffic ticket or party bust yet. Jones could remember a time, years ago, when he too was bothered by common occurrences such as this one.
“It’s just another dead junkie, nothing to worry about Steve,” Jones said.
“From overdose right?” Black asked, his voice slightly choked.
“Of course, you can see the needle there, sticking out of her leg. Don’t worry about it; we see these all the time. Only people that’ll miss her are the john’s she’d suck-off for twenty bucks.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Black said. He turned and left the alley to meet the mortician, who was just arriving.
Black never forgot seeing the young woman’s body, but he soon learned to handle the dead, arrested and sick addicts in the same calm and uncaring manner as his partner. He soon forgot that they were people too.
the Age of Innocence
Ms. N. A’Yara Stein
A lie is interesting because of what it reveals
about the liar; it’s not a kind wisdom.
To win you must be willing to lose
this truth which lies on the bottom of the lie.
You used your best discretion; I used mine.
Grace is not always required
so long as one knows the basic steps.
I stand at Armageddon to do battle with my lord –
I like to atone for my sins, real or imagined.
Just say I’m old-fashioned and leave it at that.
You’re out collecting china with eyes full of lashes
so I wonder if you love me still the same
or if I’m merely the last and fading plaintive
memory in a long line of high strung ghosts.
An atheist, you believe we serve our baser selves:
What you can touch, you can touch.
Somewhere, you are out there in the snow.
Whiteness covers for a time your hairy sin.
Snow falls deep around in waist high drifts;
I lose sight of you, buried in this dear old heaven.
with thanks to Franz Baskett
Something’s broken in you gut
where you didn’t even know
there was anything to be broken.
The night sky, with its DNA of stars,
offers no solace.
In its sunken depths you have mastered
the syntax of heartache.
Identical scenarios have played out
all across the wide world
ever since Adam jilted Lilith for Eve.
With so much despair
it’s a wonder the earth
can continue spinning on its axis.
Sewing can be Dangerous
The subway train came to a spark-grinding stop all by itself, but the cold October day helped puff the steam up from the tracks below, temporarily blocking the neon letterforms scrawled all over the station signs.
Susan turned to her companion. “This is us, Mom,” she announced.
Dressed in various shades of black, the two women rose from their metal seats, quickly exited before the doors could close on them, and gingerly made their way down the rickety platform steps. Down at street level, they were overwhelmed by the view: hundreds of tombstones and mausoleums spread out before them on either side, and with the grey stones gradating up into a grey sky, it resembled more of an architectural painting than a backdrop to the oldest Jewish cemetery in New York City.
Mourning relatives huddled around the two newcomers, offering each one silent hugs and wet cheeks. Then, wending her way over to the family plot, Susan tried hard to avoid stepping on any hallowed ground as she passed row after row of Siegelmans, Strausses, Brodskys, Kandelbergs, and Steins.
But it was the array of headstones that impressed her the most; faded names butted up against trendy 1990 tombstones with faces phototransferred onto their slick, dark grey surfaces. Just imagine, she mused, how a heavy downpour would look, splashing against their faces and beating tears down all those shiny cheeks.
Oh, that’s Great Aunt Ada, she thought, her eyes taking in their family plot’s fanciest headstone. I remember hearing about her. And there’s little David, run over by a trolley car. How awful it must have been for her grandmother as a girl, to be told something so tragic about her own brother.
Closing her eyes, she could still hear her bubby’s voice in her head, imitating all the wailing that had occurred in the family parlor the night of the boy’s death. Even as her Uncle Jacob eulogized, her mind drifted still further, conjuring up emotions she herself had suppressed for months.
Focusing on the family tombstones after the service, she zeroed in on an unfamiliar name and stepped in closer to get a better look.
“Herein lies Sasha Rosoff.|
Born in Russia, 1895
Died New York City, 1911.
A short life in America—
Yet a long soul in Heaven.”
Susan’s interest was tweeked. Who was this mysterious Sasha Rosoff, and more importantly, what had happened to her after coming to the U.S.? She swiveled around 180 degrees to ask one of her older cousins, but thought better of it; later would be a better time for questions.
Later turned out to be at Uncle Jacob’s house in Queens, where the laughter, tears, and reminisces intermingled with tray after tray of Jewish delicacies. By evening, when a secondary wave of people arrived to extend their noisy condolences, the tiny white wood and plaster house with the black roof swelled and vibrated.
Finally, Susan couldn’t contain herself any longer. Coming up to a four-foot-tall, four-foot-wide silver-haired woman, she rested her arm around one of her favorite relative’s shoulders. “Cousin Yetta, I am dying to know something.....who is Sasha Rosoff?”
The twitch of surprise was palpable. “There are a few things we don’t talk about around here. But if you have to know, ask your Great Uncle Jacob. He might tell you.” Suddenly, her eyes aimed down at the cocktail napkin she was fingering.
Uncle Jacob’s duty as memorial host was to keep afloat just long enough to see the last guest leave. Sitting on the sofa with the lower section of his shirt half-opened and an unbuckled belt releasing his enormous belly, he was taking slow, deliberate breaths as Susan sat down beside him. Her fingers were the lightest of touches on his tired arm. “Uncle Jacob, are you all right?”
He smiled at her concern. “Susan, my sweet one. How are you? I didn’t even ask. How’s the job? Your mom told me you’re so upset.”
“I am, but that’s not what I want to ask you.” She paused. Then, “When we were all at the cemetery, I noticed a tombstone marked Sasha Rosoff. Who was she? Why did she die so young?”
Uncle Jacob’s unexpected tears surprised both of them. For all his bulk, his vulnerability made Susan instantly regret having brought it up.
“That poor girl never had a chance. So terrible to die that way...” His softened voice fluttered as his eyes rolled upward.
Susan leaned forward; the suspense was too much. “Please, Uncle Jacob, tell me what happened.”
He turned his eyes back to her. “What happened...? Ah.....well...”
* * * * * * *
Sasha couldn’t believe how miserable the boat trip had been coming across the Atlantic. People shoved up against each other as a buffer to the elements plus the constant noise of crying babies with their frantic mothers trying to calm them down, accompanied the inevitable vomit that made people slide sideways and gag.
Torrential rain and wind drove the ragged ship, lurching it back and forth over the fierce waves and scattering everyone to dark cubbyholes. Throughout, prayers provided the only strong haven, and for Sasha and her family, they prayed every chance they got that New York’s harbor would appear before their vessel broke into floating wood fragments in the angry sea. From the lower levels, third class shawled women, hatless men, and grimy-faced children kept gathering up on deck, straining to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, their Lady of Hope. ‘Anytime now, it’ll be there,’ they were assured by the crew, but all they kept seeing were more miles of a relentless ocean.
Below deck, gathered around the family’s makeshift table, Sasha’s father Moshe held court. “Ven ve come to New York, ve vill go to our cousins, the Brodskys on Hester Street. Ve will all act vit respect, and ve von’t give dem any trouble, vill ve? Is this understood Sasha?”
Sasha grit her teeth, her green eyes hard. Always being treated like a second-class citizen in Russia simply because she was a Jew was a cruel and mystifying enough punishment, but to be seen as a third-class citizen by her own father simply because she was a girl, was more than she could bear.
Moshe ignored her set jaw and beamed at his brown-haired son. “David, balibt, my beloved one, I know you vill behave vell, and ve vill find you goot job. This is land of opportunity, and you can do anything you vant. There von’t be Cossacks to shoot you down, or pogroms here. Dis is America.”
“Papa, Vat about me?” Sasha felt the familiar tightness inside her chest that made her heartbeats pound.
“Hush, girl! You vill do vat you are told! Ve vill look for something dat girls are meant to do. Now, hush! Scha!”
Sasha’s mother Raisa sighed and bowed her head. Twenty years of living with her husband had taught her not to argue; in the end, the price was always too high. But Sasha was young with a spirit still intact, and as the ship pressed forward, she made a silent vow to herself: she would someday live her life the way she wanted to.
By the time the boat entered the Upper New York Bay, people had scrambled over to the main deck railing, bobbing and positioning themselves to get a decent first glimpse of the famous statue. There she was; none of the photos or paintings had done her any justice. Up close, the sheer magnitude of her green-bronzed body with the one arm reaching up towards the cloudy sky holding a torch while her crowned head held a steady gaze towards America brought tears to the Rosoffs’ eyes. To Moshe, she represented a new respect he felt he had always deserved; to Raisa, if her husband got more respect, he might treat others better; to David, she came loaded with new, exciting adventures, and to Sasha, just being on American soil would automatically give her independence.
As the ship maneuvered into New York Harbor, the sudden horn blast accompanied by billowy plumes of smoke coming out of its huge black funnels made everyone jump, then immediately shriek with delight.
Their new lives were beginning.
But the high-paid jobs for Moshe and David never materialized, and after degrading medical examinations on Ellis Island consisting of harsh finger probes, sneers, and humiliating positions, they both considered themselves fortunate just to sweep garbage off the floors of a local saloon for a small pittance. Despite all Moshe’s predictions, the only family member who did get an immediate job was Sasha.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was in the Asch building, located on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in the lower east side of Manhattan. The owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck prided themselves on mass-producing new fashioned shirtwaists for American women, and in the process, had become rich men by hiring young Yiddish, German, and Italian seamstresses, desperate for work.
The Rosoffs were thrilled at her steady pay, but Sasha’s heart sank. She found out soon enough what working conditions there were actually like: sixteen hour days, six days-a-week, hunched over huge black iron industrial sewing machines in crowded, near airtight conditions that had her breaking out in streams of sweat on hot summer days, and teeth chattering shivers in the dead of winter.
Harris and Blanck were true believers of the new industrial age. It never occurred to them to offer decent factory conditions to their hard-working employees when they could just as easily squeeze the same amount of work out of these naîve immigrant girls. So for Sasha, each day was filled with crippling, repetitive motions that left her neck, back, and arms sore for days at a time. The fifteen minute allotment for lunch passed so quickly that some of the slower girls only had time to pull out their lunch boxes and take a couple of bites of food washed down by two or three swigs of liquid before the whistle blew, signaling them all back to work. There were no other breaks and no time to socialize.
Lint particles sifted steadily throughout, getting into every conceivable surface. Microscopic fibers clogged mechanisms and filled nostrils with a dust so fine, after two hours it became difficult to breathe. Oil soaked rags, used for greasing the mechanisms, radiated their own heat that could be slightly comforting in winter for those workers near the large bins where they were dumped, but toxic in spring and summer for everyone else.
America, Land of the Free. Such a joke, such a schpas, Sasha grumbled as she hobbled home one evening, later than usual. Entering their cramped, walk-up apartment, she appeared to be alone. Grateful for the stillness, she stretched out across their daybed/sofa, relishing a soundless room without the constant clatter of industrial sewing machines. She tried to relax her throbbing back by closing her eyes and pretending she was far away in another life, but within minutes, she could hear Jacob Brodsky coming up the hallway stairs from his after school job. Eyes still closed, she smiled in spite of her exhaustion.
Her little cousin Jacob was the only bright spot in her new life. He adored her and she him. Somehow, the two found a solace in each other’s company, and without him, Sasha knew she might not have the strength to continue. More shuffling on the vestibule steps announced her Uncle Samuel, tired but excited about all the tips he made that day waiting on tables.
The Brodskys were fortunate. They had all gotten jobs in the local Jewish delicatessen, preparing the food, waiting on tables, and dishwashing. They were delighted with their work and its decent pay, yet never forgot to commiserate with Moshe and his family on their lowly positions and grueling schedules. This is America, they would repeat on cue. Land of opportunity. Just wait and see...have a little patience....have a little geduld.
But as time went on and there were no changes, Moshe’s increasing bitterness found a solid home in attacking Sasha. “Girl, vere ist your money for veek?” he would lash out sometimes. “I told you, you give it to me right vay. Don’t even tink of keeping it for yourself! You vouldn’t know vat to do with it, anyvay. Except for sewing, you no good! Give it! Gebn!” Then he would shove his hand roughly out towards her, palm up, expecting total obedience.
Tonight, still lying on their couch and watching the Brodskys prepare dinner, Sasha could feel herself drifting off into a deeper sleep. That day, her shift had been particularly exhausting. Rainy spring days were foul in the factory; rancid, musk-like smells from people’s clothing permeated the air, and with little to no ventilation, the odor had become unbearable. Today at lunch break, she had nearly fainted from the stench, and when she had dared ask for a lunch extension, her answer came in the form of a broom handle, poking her in the ribs.
“Gebn, meidl! Give, girl!” Shaken awake, she saw her father looming over her, his heavy breathing wafting towards her in angry waves. Moshe’s day had been bad as well, culminating in his employer deliberately stomping across the area of floor where he had been carefully moping, tracking fresh mud in from the street; in an instant, all the months of swallowed pride surfaced and he snapped. Flinging his mop down, he stormed out, forgetting about bills and putting food on the table.
Out on the street, however, his anger soon morphed into silent desperation, and by the time he had reached their apartment, he was looking for the only satisfaction he could get: blaming Sasha .
“Can’t I keep a little money, Papa? At least let me do somethink else. I hurt all over. Ich schatn......” Her voice cracked.
That did it. Moshe lost all control. Cursing in Yiddish, he grabbed a wooden ruler and hit her shoulders and back repeatedly until her muscles numbed. She tried putting up her hands as protection, but he kept knocking them away with the ruler. Finally, with palms the color of raw meat and the popped up welts rubbing against the rough fabric of her dress, she cowered on the floor in the corner of their kitchen and sobbed. Jacob gently approached her, and kneeling down, started stroking her hair.
Just then, her Aunt Deborah entered. Her silence this past year as she watched her cousin’s behavior with his only daughter had been based on a let-each-family-deal-with-its-own-problems philosophy. But enough was enough. Genug is genug. She pushed her cousin up against the wall. “Shame on you! How dare you treat your daughter like that! Vitout her money, you vould be notink, do you hear me, Moshe Rosoff? Notink!!”.
Moshe slowly lowered his arm, dropping the ruler onto the floor beside him. Suddenly the apartment stilled, with only the tic...tic...tic of the wall clock clicking in time to Sasha’s soft whimpers.
A half hour later, dinner was placed on the cracked oak table as if nothing had happened and with Raisa home, Moshe talked fervently to everyone about how things would be looking up soon, his pink face flushed with a renewed energy. Seduced by his good mood, Deborah, Raisa, Jacob, and David listened attentively, while Sasha ate in silence.
* * * * * * *
Saturday, March 25, 1911 started out like so many other days. Sasha woke up in the dark, got dressed with cold, numb fingers, splashed water on her face from the porcelain pitcher and bowl set out on the kitchen table, gently kissed a sleeping Jacob, grabbed a piece of bread she had covered with jam, and let herself out the door. Feeling her way down the pitch black hallway, running her fingers over embossed plaster patterns, she almost stumbled on a nail peeking out of a floorboard just before getting to the front door. The gas light in the vestibule had been out for weeks, and their landlord had refused to fix it. She felt tired and depressed, but as bad as conditions were at Triangle Shirtwaist, nothing could compare with being around Moshe, so she took a deep breath and gratefully made her way through lower Manhattan to the sewing factory for a day of overtime and its slightly higher pay.
Outside the factory on the sidewalk, she caught up with many of the girls with whom she usually worked; three hundred Italian, German, and Yiddish girls, their thread-worn dresses hanging over muddied petticoats and eyes as dark-circled as hers. Trudging up the path, they were all met at the front entrance by Joe Zitto, one of the elevator operators.
“Okay girls, okay. Let’s get goin’. The rest of the building ain’t opened today, so I’m gonna take ya’s up to the 8th, 9th and 10th floors only. Don’t try to go anywheres else for lunch. The doors to the other floors are locked mostly. I guess Old Man Harris don’t want no burglars comin’ in. So, c’mon girls, let’s go.”
Bending over her assigned sewing machine was excruciating. Her entire body ached from the previous day’s abuse; still, she kept working until lunchtime. She was in no mood to socialize then—she had so little energy, and besides, she didn’t want to have to make small chit-chat, feeling the way she felt. But when she went off into a corner of the factory floor by herself, two of her closest co-workers, Gladie Moskovitz and Irma Delacina, ignored all signals and came over to sit beside her.
“What’sa matter wid you today, Sasha?” Irma peered at her friend as she bit down hard on a piece of Italian bread, the crust flipping out of her mouth and onto the floor.
“Yah, you look different. Is everytink all right at home?” Gladie knew a little more about Moshe than Irma did; the other day Sasha had let her in on just how bad things had become on Hester Street.
“I don’t vant to talk about it—sometink did happen, but I not say....” Sasha feared talking; once she started, her emotional dam might come unplugged and there would be no stopping her thoughts and feelings. Better to keep mute.
In what seemed like only five minutes, the whistle blew, followed by many deep sighs and groans. Irma threw an arm around Sasha’s shoulder on the way back to their sewing machines, and handing her a delicate-looking locket from around her own neck, told her, “Here, taka dis to wear. It’sa my good luck charm necklace. I got it in Italy. If you wear it, maybe you getta good luck from now on.” She leaned over and gave her friend a little kiss on the cheek.
Sasha, touched by Irma’s gesture, instinctively pulled off a little pinkie ring of her own; a small, silver Jewish star pattern with a pink stone in the center. Uncle Samuel had picked it up for her the week before at a local flea market, then sat her down, telling her, “Remember, Sadelah, you’re American now, but always, you are a Jewish girl. Never forget the Torah, my child.”
Irma’s mouth opened, minus two upper right teeth, as she placed the ring on her pinkie finger. Then the two girls gave each other a quick hug before returning to their stations.
The afternoon dragged on. Sasha found that by concentrating only on the rhythm of the sewing machines, she could block out her misery for a while; if she closed her eyes and listened intently, she could almost hear the tapping of a marching band: click, click, slam-slam-slam, whoosh..... whoosh, rattle—rattle went the machines. Soon, the whole factory pulsed.
By 4:45pm, the whistle blew as if by magic, signaling the end of the workday and going home to face another round of God only knew what with Moshe. Turning off her machine, Sasha stood up, took a deep breath, and steeled herself, trying to remember she did have some good people in her life, people like Irma and Gladie and of course, little Jacob.
Three steps out, she smelled smoke.
Girls on the opposite end of the floor next to the windows were beginning to scream in a chorus-like panic, and someone streaking past her shouted, “Fire! fire!” Still, she remained paralyzed, her arms and legs like lead, and her mouth filled with a bitter, chalky taste. Then the adrenaline hit her and she broke into a dead run.
Dark gray swirls of smoke were seeping in from under the doorway cracks while dozens of girls stampeded past the sewing room, heading towards the elevator shafts and stairwells and ending up crushed together against the in-going only doorways. Hysteria rendered each girl strong; no matter how hard she tried, Sasha couldn’t push her way through the flailing group of arms and legs, so she about-faced to explore other escape routes.
Outside on the street, a man walking by pointed upward and shouted, “Look at the smoke coming out from the Triangle building!”
“Yeah, it looks like it’s comin’ from the top floors! What’s that coming outa the windows? Looks like bolts of fabric! Old Man Blanck must really want to save his precious cloth!” a woman chimed in.
“Yeah.....Wait! Wait a minute!” the man continued. “That’s not bolts of fabric—they’re—they’re—oh, God in Heaven!”
The woman let out a blood curdling shriek.
As a large crowd gathered, all eyes gazed up towards the 9th and 10th floors in time to see several smoke-blackened girls in smoldering dresses hurling themselves towards the ground to join the six bodies already strewn across the sidewalk, limp, broken.
Engine Company 72 clanged around the corner and sparked to a halt, but the mounting piles of corpses made it impossible for the hose wagon to get close enough to be effective. Desperate firemen started handing out bucket after filled water bucket to the foreman, male tailors, and anyone available so they could run back into the building to douse out the flames. When all 27 buckets were emptied, it became all too painfully obvious; the fire was totally out of control.
A few soot-streaked firemen tried to stretch out a safety net to catch one girl’s fall, but before all four corners were taut enough, three more girls had jumped seconds behind her, the weight of all four ripping the net as they landed hard against the pavement. The stunned men grabbed a nearby horse blanket to try to cushion the fall of another girl, but she, too, flew down with such force, her charred body split the blanket in two, hitting the cement in a twisted heap.
Up on the tenth floor, more and more girls were desperately trying to scramble down the fire escapes. Gripping the iron ladders, adrenaline gave them the strength to ignore the steam hissing out between their fingers, until suddenly, yelping in pain, they let go and flailed like flying squirrels to the ground.
Inside the building was pandemonium. Clouds of black, billowy smoke blinded Sasha, making her eyes sting and her throat raw until she got down on her hands and knees and managed to crawl towards the elevator shaft, praying both Joe Zitto and Joe Gaspar might still be on duty. Sure enough, the elevator was working, but it kept stopping on the eighth floor below her. She could hear Joe Zitto frantically working the metal levers, shouting up to anyone within earshot, “I can only get to the eighth floor! The ninth and tenth floors are blocked off! Get to the eighth floor and I’ll take ya’s down.”
She managed to get to the eighth floor using one of the few stairwell exit doors not engulfed in flames, but once there, found too many crazed girls jammed together, calling out for the elevator. Joe Gaspar came up next, but could only squeeze in twelve to fifteen girls at a time. Between the two men, they made fifteen to twenty trips each, but with each trip, the girls’ clutches and cries weakened as their coughing from all the smoke and ashes overwhelmed everyone.
“Come on, Sasha, come wid me to da westa door. We can getta through there!” She recognized Irma Delacina by voice only; the girl covered in head-to-toe soot and sizzling clothes standing next to her had nothing to do with the kind, smiling girl she had hugged just hours before. She attempted to reach out and grab her, but Irma was already halfway across the hallway, heading toward a door that Sasha knew to be locked. She called out after her friend, but Irma either wasn’t listening or couldn’t hear over the din of howls.
Clanging around the corner from Great Jones Street, Engine Company 33 shuddered full stop in front of the burning building, drawing hurrahs from a crowd that naturally assumed any back-up would bring miracles. But their cheers soon turned into cries of horror when everyone realized the hoses could only reach the seventh floor, leaving the upper floors of the factory to burn.
Inside, finding herself at the back of the tenth floor, Sasha viewed her options. She could see three male cutters across the room running towards an open window, and decided to go with them. She didn’t get very far. Oxidation from the fire had turned the tenth floor into a time bomb, and as bolts of fabric imploded into popping flames, she was knocked off her feet and onto the floor.
Dazed, she tried to get up, then fell back, unconscious.
Two minutes later, a roar erupted from the huge crowd as they witnessed three male cutters forming a human chain from the roof of the factory to an adjacent building. Slowly, one at a time, several of the girls carefully inched across the backs of the men to safety, eliciting cheers and applause each time someone made it. But the strain on their hands and fingers were too much for the cutters; someone lost their grip, and all three men plummeted eighty feet to their death.
The sudden stillness overwhelmed the crowd already in mourning. In the thousands, they remained in shock until a man finally found his voice. “Look at the roof!”
All eyes pointed upward. There, over a hundred girls, in their cumbersome dresses and singed petticoats, were wriggling across a ladder held down by some New York University law students who had placed an escape route between the adjacent buildings.
By nightfall the fire had subsided, leaving glowing embers and assuring the fireman of an end in sight. But along with their relief came the dreaded job of scouting for more girls inside the building, and as the searchlights criss-crossed up towards the hollowed floors, an even more gruesome sight was revealed: scores of burned bodies, cradled by ropes, were being slowly lowered by firemen, then gently lined up on the cobblestones to be carted away for family identification.
Nearby, hysterical relatives had descended on the Mercer Street Police station, asking questions in broken English and praying that their loved ones had managed to survive. Italian families wedged up tight against German families, who had melded into Russian-Yiddish families, all waiting for any announcements.
Soon, an official shuffled into the room, his face impassive and mouth straight-lined. With his legs in riot stance, he stared at the families for several seconds before indicating a map on the south wall. All heads and torsos turned left towards it. Go to the Bellevue Morgue on 26th Street, he informed them. You can either identify your loved ones there, or obtain more information about any missing girl. Then he about-faced and marched out, as apathetic as he had come in.
Moshe, Samuel, and Raisa wasted no time. Before anyone else could leave the room, they had already begun their race over to the designated morgue. Once there, the thought of waiting in another endless line was out of the question for Raisa. She stormed across the waiting room to the main registry, leaned over the dull green institutional counter, demanding, “Ver ist da girls?” The inexperienced secretary flinched backwards then pointed a shaky finger towards the pier, a few yards away.
Approaching the area, the smell of burned flesh overtook them, and Raisa started to faint. Moshe quickly stepped up and tried to shake her out of it.
“Be brave, be brave for our little girl,” he muttered repeatedly.
All the years of repressed anger exploded in Raisa. “You....You.... You did dis to her!” she screamed. “She had nottink to say—you made her verk there! I never forgive you, never! Kein mol nit!!! She pounded his chest with her fists, leaving him clinging half-heartedly onto her arms.
She jerked herself free and charged through the warehouse to the identification room, ignoring all officials, yet ready for any confrontation. Entering the main room, she did a double-take: on the floor were dozens of bodies, burned beyond recognition. Walking up and down the rows, she scrutinized each cadaver, but it was no use; she couldn’t make out anything. Suddenly out of nowhere, she let out an agonized sob and collapsed. Samuel rushed over to support her, cradling her as if she were Sasha herself, and after a minute of rocking back and forth, he looked lulled himself, glazed, unable to speak. Then he focused on something and cried out.
“Vat, vat is it?” Moshe implored.
Samuel pointed to a charred body like all the others except for one slight detail: on the right hand was a little pinkie ring, a Jewish star ring with a tiny pink stone in its center.
“It’s the ring I bought for her,” Samuel moaned, his choked voice so thick it was difficult to understand.
Later that night, after Moshe and Samuel had put an exhausted Raisa to bed, Moshe turned to his relative. “Samuel, come sit vit me—ve need to talk.”
They tiptoed out into the front room and he began. “There was something dat bother me about Sasha’s body tonight. Sasha always haf frizzy hair, but dis girl haf wavy hair. Wos kut dat mean?”
“I don’t know, Moshe. But the ring, I know that ring. I’m sure it’s her. It’s our little girl..” He finally broke down, releasing all the pent-up emotions from an exceptionally long day.
* * * * * * *
“....It turned out to be one of the worst disasters in the history of modern industrialization, and because of it, a commission was set up to study better labor practices. Dozens of witnesses and family members testified, and when details of what happened came out, it was far more horrific than anyone could have imagined. A turbulent trial ensued, with the owners not being blamed and actually getting off scott free. But, we do end this program on a hopeful note. Conditions today in the work environment are probably better than they’ve ever been, partly due to the tragedy that happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911. This is Peter Manning, signing off for ‘Investigations On the Air’....”|
Susan stared at the TV a few seconds before switching it off. Suddenly, the blackened screen made her reflect on her own job and the recent memos she had seen, revealing disturbing trends she could no longer ignore. Her mother had warned her not to make waves; after all, being a buyer for a celebrity’s clothing firm was a hard job to come by. Count your blessings.
But that night, she didn’t sleep well. Fitful dreams, filled with fire, smoke, and a faceless girl desperately trying to slap out flames on her long skirt, startled her awake every few hours. By morning, exhausted, she had come to a major decision: she was going to read the testimonies and try to get inside her cousin’s world at the factory that day.
After letting Uncle Jacob in on her plan one night after dinner, Susan was surprised to see him disappear into the bedroom and return with Sasha’s diary. “I don’t know if this will be helpful, but I have always kept this. She meant so much to me.” Handing her the thin, worn, leather-bound volume, he kept looking down at the floor, blinking his eyes and biting his lip.
Sasha was certainly no Anne Frank, Susan mused as she skimmed through the book, but it was touching, none-the-less. Ambivalent about her own boss, she was drawn to this girl, obviously so trapped by her father and her situation. Throughout it all, Uncle Jacob appeared to be the girl’s one shining star, and that made Susan feel even closer to him. The other two names that kept cropping up were Irma Delacina and Gladie Moskovitz. Obviously she had considered them to be friends, or at the very least, comrades in misery, but other than that, there was nothing too eye opening about factory conditions, only that she ached all the time.
The next step was the New York Public Library. Microfisching through a mountain of testimonials, she skimmed through most of the commission’s report until something caught her eye. She clicked the machine on hold and started reading.
One of the testimonies given was by a Marco Delacina. He stated that he was quite distraught because they had never truly been able to identify their daughter, Irma; she was presumed to be one of the group of girls who had actually melted against a locked door. But the family had remained skeptical; where was her good luck locket that she always wore? It must have melted, officials had told them impatiently. It was not enough to lose one’s daughter, he further testified, but to have to endure being glossed over by public officials was an outrage. Besides the personal loss, the loss of income was devastating to their family. What were they to do now?
Susan’s dreams turned violent that night; ash-coated monsters lumbered after her as she tried to escape the blocked passageway. Clawing at the door, her fingers and nails were sticky with blood as she fingered a little locket around her neck.
At 4:23 am, she bolted upright in a sweat. Oh, my God —maybe they had switched jewelry!!
She kept remembering Moshe’s testimony during the hearings; the hair quality was different. Everyone assumed it was his Sasha but the hair was different....and what about the Delacinas never truly believing they had found their girl..... Maybe Sasha had never been found, not Irma!
Back to the library. She poured through dozens of articles, searching for anything that had to do with young teenage girls in New York. Nothing on Sasha, but there was an interesting article about the Delacina family doing very well financially several years after the tragedy. According to a certain interview, they kept receiving an anonymous donation each month, undoubtedly from the Sons of Italy, and it had changed their lives. Because of that, they had been able to move to Queens and were living the American middle-class dream.
Watching her night after night, the librarian couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer and finally approached the avid researcher. After hearing the story, she suggested, “Why does it have to be New York? After all, if the girl didn’t want to return to her family, why would she want to stay in New York all these years?”
Susan smiled. Of course. So she plunged in again, expanding her geographical area of interest. She focused on a 1922 article written from the “Pennsylvania News Terminal”: homeless, Russian Jewish girl makes good, setting up her own bridal sewing shop. People raving about her work, her moxy, etc. etc. Her name was Sarah Mijss. What an odd name. A fuzzy, antiquated photo of the seamstress displayed a rather plain girl with frizzy hair.
Susan jotted down the name, took some notes on the article, and hugged the librarian before going home for the night. Frazzled, all she wanted to do was to pour herself a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and tube out. She channel-surfed for a minute or two before deciding on “Rosemary’s Baby,” playing on one of the movie networks. She had seen it numerous times before, but for some reason that night, was in the mood for the bizarre. Snuggling up against her overstuffed Sacks Fifth Avenue pillows, she settled down. Two-thirds of the way into the movie, she started glancing at her pad of paper on the coffee table and ruminated, unable to stop her circling mind. Casually picking up the pad, she studied the notes, including the odd name. Mijss. Weird .....
Just then, one of the most crucial scenes in the movie came on when the leading character Rosemary, was told by the companion of a recently deceased friend that the answer to the problem lay in an anagram. Getting out her scrabble letters, she moved the pieces around and came up with the name of the satanic leader of a cult who happened to be living next door to her. With the music swelling ominously, it was one of the high points of the film.
Susan stared down at her pad again. Mijss. Mijss. M-I-J-S-S. Oh my god!
J stands for Jacob, I is for....? S is for Sasha, M is for Moshe, and S is for Samuel! I....I....I is for Irma? Yes, it would work!. It definitely could be her! Maybe she’s still alive and living in Pennsylvania!
The next Saturday, she purchased a railroad ticket to the little town in Pennsylvania and booked herself into a hotel for the weekend. Might as well make a mini-vacation out of all of this. I can sure use it, she thought, frowning.
After asking around about Sarah Mijss, it seemed everyone knew of her. Sure, Sarah, she’s the town character, ninety-five years old and still going strong.... She fell asleep easily that night in the hotel, preparing for the big day.
On Sunday, Susan’s shaky hand paused before knocking. I hope this isn’t too much for her. I mean, what if it is her? Will she have a heart attack and die? She took a deep breath before hammering the tarnished brass knocker down on the door. Nothing. She tried again. Soon, she could hear shuffling on the other side of the door. “Coming, coming,” echoed an old, yet surprisingly firm voice.
The door opened. “Hello, dear. May I help you?” the elderly woman stood waiting.
Susan was afraid to proceed. “Ah.....you don’t know me from ‘Adam’, Ms. Mijss, but I’m here to talk to you about something that happened a long time ago.” There was a lull while she checked for any reaction. There wasn’t any.
She continued. “May I come in? I don’t really want to say what I have to say out here.”
The woman locked her knees and drew herself up. “My dear, whatever you have to say to me, you can say it in the doorway.”
Here goes, Susan thought. “Have you ever heard of a little boy by the name of Jacob Brodsky?”
It was as if the woman had been slapped on both cheeks. Her eyes watered instantly and stumbling back, she caught herself on the doorknob before lowering her head and sinking to the ground.
Susan knelt down beside her. “I’m so sorry to do this to you. Are you all right?”
Sasha Rosoff turned to her, whispering, “Someone found me at last. I can’t believe it — after all these years...”
Later, over tea and homemade cookies, it all came out: the switched jewelry identities, the escape across the unfortunate cutters’ backs, the despair of losing her friend Irma, and the realization that she could start a whole new life without her dominating father.
Susan interrupted her. “But the Delacinas ended up doing okay. I guess they got an anonymous donation from some Italian organization. They moved to.....” Then she caught one edge of Sasha’s lips curling.
Her elderly cousin nodded slowly. “ After all, a life for a life, I always say. She saved mine, really, so the very least I could do was to save her family’s.”
Susan rounded the table to hug her mentor, and beneath the old woman’s frail shoulders, she could sense the toughness that had served her well all these years. Clinging onto each other, Sasha started to cry. “I suppose everything has come full circle,” she murmured.
Wiping away her own tears, Susan shook her head. “Not quite. There’s just one more thing I‘ve got to do to make things right, and I need you to be with me...”
* * * * * * *
Cameras flashed as Susan’s boss, the well-known actress-turned-clothing-guru, entered the room. Marching defiantly past Susan with her team of lawyers, she put on her most dazzling smile for the press. The steady flux of background noises in the hearing room buzzed like a swarm of National Geographic insects as the gavel came down hard on the judge’s podium.
Seconds before Susan got up to testify about unfair, dangerous labor practices in her boss’ overseas factories, she gave her couasin’s hand a nervous squeeze. Even up on the mahogany stand, the blood draining from her tight face, she needed to look over at her relative one more time for another infusion of courage.
The skin on the ninety-five-year-old was shriveled and her shoulders hunched over like the letter “C”, but Sasha’s eyes were as green and determined as ever, giving her cousin the power to continue. Susan’s voice trembled slightly as Sasha suddenly sat upright for the first time in many years.
I Did It And I Don’t Know How, art by Ernest Williamson
The First Day
“Damn!” Jim thought as the alarm jarred him awake. “I’d much rather wake up a few minutes before the alarm.” He swung his legs out of bed and got ready to face his 29th first day of school. Jim had taken the last few weeks of the summer off. After 28 years in academia – the only job he’s ever had as an adult – he had pretty much taken for granted being able to take that much time off in one fell swoop.
Over coffee, he mentally gathered himself for the day. He faced the usual first day of classes routine: get to the office, make sure the syllabus was photocopied, go over the students’ pictures from the campus intranet so he’d at least know a few of their names early on and wonder how many would be awake for his 10:00 class. It still amazed him how many students think that’s an early time to have class. Time to dust off the usual “If you get a job when 10:00 is an early start, let me know and I’ll send my resume along” line. He has a couple of sections of Introduction to Physics this time around, so he doesn’t know anyone in the class from previous courses.
Not quite being in the swing of things yet, Jim left home a few minutes later than usual. That being the case, he missed pretty much every traffic light getting to the main parking garage. Teaching at a moderate-sized private school, he had about a 10 minute trudge from the garage to his building. He gathered his mail, put his lunch in the department fridge, grabbed another cup of coffee and went to his office. He always allows himself plenty of time to get ready for the upcoming day.
He spent the requisite two minutes skimming his lecture notes to make sure he had everything straight for class, then reviewed the syllabus one last time. He grabbed the printout of his two sections worth of pictures. About 40 per section, so a bit of work to do to get their names and faces by the first midterm, he figured. As he scanned the pictures, he started to wonder who the problem children would be. He and his colleagues call them PITA’s, for Pains in the Ass. Most of his students are fine people, he knew, and even put in a reasonable effort, but the ones who drive him to drink are easier to remember.
He noticed that the backup quarterback is in the class. He remembered a few years ago having the starting tailback. One of the tailback’s biggest faults was that his IQ resembled his uniform number. A 4.40 time in the 40 makes up for a few points on the SAT, however. Sadly, his GPA more closely resembled a 1.40 and that was with pressure from above to pass him. The school needed him for the bowl game that year. Jim’s school went to a bowl game almost every year, but it was always a game that was on ESPN2 at an odd time, where the school lost money after revenue sharing with the conference and eating unsold tickets. What made it even worse was the tailback knew all this was going on and just didn’t give a shit about his academics anyway. Jim crossed his fingers that the backup quarterback would be less of a problem, but he wasn’t counting on anything.
He noted that an email had just hit his account. From a parent of one of his students. “Just great,” he grumbled. “I haven’t even met the kid yet and the parent is already telling me how the kid HAS to get an A in the course so he (as it turns out) can go to the right graduate school.” The kids with helicopter parents were no fun to deal with. They can’t decide what socks to wear without parental approval, but they still want the high grade and have the next 20 years of their lives planned. Most students’ planning consisted of how they were going to get laid Thursday night, but these kids went way too far the other way.
As he continued to look at the pictures, one name seemed to ring a bell. “Not a sibling of a former student,” Jim realized, “but his mother is an alum who’s the CEO of a mid-sized company.” That’s the perfect storm he knew. Mom’s an alum, a big donor, and a heavy hitter in industry. That means the kid probably took the short bus to school. Jim really didn’t look forward to grading the kid’s first midterm. Jim muttered, “That’s the thing about intro physics – it’s quantitative. There’s one correct answer. Mine. No one gives a shit how you feel when you’re crunching numbers.” Yeah, that’ll really help when the kid whines about his grade. “Could be worse,” Jim thought. “The kid could be the son of a board member.” Which brought Jim to the next name. “Oh no...”
“On to the next page of pix. That should be fun. At some point, I should just make like a French soldier and surrender,” Jim figured. Which is pretty much what happened when he saw the next name. It was the son of Jim’s colleague on the other side of the building. “Beth is a nice enough person,” Jim thought, but then realized that most children of faculty were at least 20 IQ points under their parents. Recessive genes? A slow-witted milkman? Jim couldn’t explain it. His last faculty member’s kid got a D- as a Christmas present. Dad wasn’t amused. Neither was Jim. The kid did very little all semester. Jim told him if he passed the final, he’d pass the course. He got a 69. Somehow, it seemed an appropriate number.
“What’s next on the hit parade?” Jim asked himself rhetorically. That took 3 names farther down the list. Just the smirk on the picture was enough for Jim. A kid that obviously thinks she’s going to take over the world before she hits 30. Probably inherently lazy and already rehearsing what she’s going to say when The National Science Foundation makes her the inevitable offer. It seemed to Jim that he had at least one of those a semester. The first midterm usually provokes a “WTF?” response.
Right after that prize-winner came George’s picture. “Wonderful. George the grade-grubber?” Jim asked himself. The grade-grubbers seldom asked for a higher grade because they felt their performances merited it. They just wanted a higher grade. They’ve always gotten them, so why not now? Jim thought of asking his dean for a big raise just because he felt like getting one. Then he pictured the dean’s reaction, going from incredulousness to sheer belly laughter.
He did a double-take at a picture on the next row. The woman was absolutely gorgeous. He wondered if she suffers from Pretty Girl Syndrome. Those are the ones who seem to get whatever they want just because they’re hot enough to melt lead. There’s an advantage of teaching a quantitative class – the numbers don’t care how beautiful you are. If your number doesn’t match mine, you’re wrong and now it’s just a matter of damage assessment. A lot of those students don’t deal with that well. At all.
“Somewhere in here is my Story Student,” Jim figured. There’s one in every class. Whenever there’s a deliverable, there’s an excuse why the lab report can’t be handed in on time or why the student just HAS to take the exam at a later time. Jim thought he had figured this out years ago. He always puts on his syllabi that no late assignments will be accepted and that if an exam is missed, the weight will go on the final. He once figured students actually read the syllabus, but now he knew better. “One of the things I least like to do – go over the syllabus on the first day of class,” he groused. He figured about 1 out of 10 students will pay attention. The other 9 will use it as a starting point for negotiation the day before an exam or assignment is due. “Aw shit – I forgot to put the line in about shutting cell phones off before class!” he exclaimed. He figured he’d make a big deal out of it 5 minutes into class, then see if anyone’s phone went off in the intervening hour and a quarter. Even money, it’ll happen. Even the few that do read the damned thing will come in and say “I know the syllabus says...”. To which Jim replies “The next word is ‘but’, isn’t it?” The Story Student will be surprised and say “Yes” and start to explain why their case is ever-so-special so he has to make an exception. It’s a one-sided and brief conversation after that point. For the few times a student misses a final – usually saying they didn’t write the date down correctly even if he wrote the fucking date on the fucking syllabus correctly – he gives a brutal make-up exam and word spreads pretty fast after that. He thought of those students as Skittle-shitting unicorns. They think they’re so precious.
“Who’s going to be the office hour drain?” Jim asked. He’s always good about keeping office hours and making students feel welcome, but there are always one or two students who figure if they live in his office during the semester, they’ll guarantee themselves a good grade via the suck-up factor. They’re pretty harmless, but if they don’t have any real questions, why come by? Especially when they’re sick. Within 2 days, Jim’ll get the same virus.
He noted the first midterm exam is just after Columbus Day. “Let’s see. Class is at 10:00. The exam will end at 11:15. The over/under on the first email asking for extra credit will be 11:10 that day,” Jim guesstimated. That’s always fun. Nothing like a student royally screwing up an exam and wanting to do extra (horseshit) work. We’re back to “The syllabus is a contract. It spells out how I determine your grade. I won’t give one student an opportunity that’s not available to the whole class.” Jim could do that spiel in his sleep. Actually, he probably has done that at some point.
“Who’s the class drunk/stoner going to be this semester?” He usually has a student who confuses a 0.40 blood alcohol level with a 4.0 GPA. What’s a decimal place between friends? Or the student who smokes joints faster than his dean smokes Marlboros. You could set their pants on fire and they still wouldn’t blink.
“Quarter of 10. Class is about 10 minutes across campus. Time to get off my ever-expanding tush and go,” Jim realized. Off he went. He made it across campus and up a flight of stairs to his classroom and walked in. And gasped. There was the tailback, not the backup quarterback. And the son of the scion of industry from about 10 years ago. And the idiot daughter of his colleague in the physics department from 4 years before that. And so forth. Jim’s heart started racing and he felt short of breath and started to get scared. The slow-witted and fleet-footed tailback said “Don’t worry – you’re not going to die. You already did. Your alarm clock didn’t go off. It was the heart monitor at County General. Welcome to Hell.”
Nevan entered the casino and scanned. He found a slot machine in the middle of a row, next to an older woman wearing an oxygen tank. He began to stuff the machine full of quarters.
In the casino’s security room, a guard pointed his finger to a display monitor. “Subject one has entered the premise,” the guard yelled behind him. Tab walked to the monitor.
“Bastard. Keep an eye on him.”
Nevan pulled the handle of the machine. Three red sevens lined up. The machine’s jackpot lights flashed.
“You’ve won!” a man behind him exclaimed. The man was wearing a Steelers cap, and was overweight with a grey beard.
“Must be my lucky day,” Nevan said. Quarters spewed from the machine and began to fall onto the floor. A crowd gathered around him.
“Ten thousand dollar jackpots don’t come every day in this place,” a woman muttered in the back.
Nevan wore a tweed suit and glasses. He sported leather loafers and an antique, gold watch. “Great,” Nevan said casually. He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with a cloth.
Tab worked his way through the crowd and shook Nevan’s hand. He smiled and faced the mass. “Congratulations, sir! If Sin City had enough gamblers like you, you’d put us out of business. I’d have to move to New York and sell hot dogs on the streets.”
Nevan looked up at the lights twirling on the machine. “I’ll gather that if you moved, you’d miss that.” The lights flashed red.
“Very right you are,” Tab said while smiling at the crowd. “A great city. Just have to watch out for the nasties. And fortunately with this sum the quarters are just for show. I have to take you around back to give you some paperwork to fill out before I give you your check. Right this way please.”
Nevan worked his way through the crowd, following Tab and three guards. “I didn’t realize The Aces Deus has such good hospitality,” Nevan said.
“We treat all our high rollers with the utmost courtesy,” Tab said. Nevan walked through a pair of oak doors next to a blackjack table and then followed Tab through some less appealing grey doors. Tab slipped on his brass knuckles. He was a tall, thin man in a sport suit. He had blond hair, with a chiseled face.
“What’s this?” Nevan asked calmly. He looked more inconvenienced than exclaimed. The room they entered was dimly lit with a single light bulb hanging from the center of its ceiling. The area smelled of piss and mirrors lined its sides. The guards pinned him to metal chair in the center of the room and began to duct tape him to it. The chair was bolted to the ground. When the taping was done, Tab socked him in the stomach with the knuckles. Nevan gasped but appeared relatively unperturbed. A drop of sweat now specked his glasses. A second blow to his face and Nevan carefully considered the corner of his mouth with tongue, and spit out a molar. “Might I ask, sir, if something is wrong?” Nevan asked sincerely.
“I think you know, cocksucker.” Tab’s face was red. “Seventeen casinos. Two weeks. Five hundred thousand dollars. And all slot machines. For the love of god, slot machines? I’d check your sleeves for some aces if you were rigging our blackjack tables, but slot machines? How did you rig them? Did you buy out our engineers at the factories; figure out something we don’t know? How? Why? Have you paid our employees somehow? What the fuck, Nevan?”
Nevan looked cross. “Are you accusing me, sir, of cheating?” A bit of blood dribbled down his chin. One of the security guards pulled a baton out of his pocket and smashed Nevan on the knee.
“Yes, Nevan, I am. The odds are about one in a billion. So unless you’re the luckiest guy on the planet, you’ve just fucked half the casino owners in Vegas.”
“I...don’t....know....what to say,” Nevan said. He stared at Tab blankly.
“We can’t prove you’re cheating,” Tab said, “we won’t kill you if you get out of town. Get lost. This city is for dumb, fat tourists. Not scam artists. Get the fuck out of here. We see you again, the last you see will be our shovels pouring sand down your throat on the road near the flying saucer factory where ET hangs out.”
Nevan landed in some sand in a back alley behind the casino. It was night and Nevan patted down his frizzed hair. He walked the strip and lights flashed around him. A transvestite prostitute walked near him and gave him a yellow smile. “Hello darlin,” she said, “you look lonely.”
“Fine, thank you,” Nevan said. He walked past her. In the distance, he could see his favorite sign. Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas, it said.
This techie has seen his share of those left behind and the grieving, the tears, the emptiness, even seen the climbers as we call them, the bereaved that clamber up on the gurneys, begging the dead back to life. A morgue does that to people, brings it all out.
Crazies, oh man, I have seen them come and go, some even work here, and some are laid out on the slabs, their days of making crazy behind them. Lives thrown away.
The guy that takes the all-time cake was a guy named Morton. Came in to ID the wife about a year ago. Porkpie hat pulled low, dark shades. A man of slight shoulders, he led a walking-dead woman named Gwen by the hand, her with the Morticia Addams hair and get up.
Peeling his shades off, eyes round, too round, Morton seemed high-wired. Cheap introductions, then a limp handshake, then he asked, “Why the clock?” Looking up at it.
Gwen looked, too, like she’d never seen one.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“It’s one, man. Think anybody here gives a shit what time it is?” He snorted a laugh, his eyes ping-ponging between the refrigerated doors, probably taking a stab at which door his expired wife was behind.
“Well, I give,” I said. “I get off at five.”
“Oh, for you, yeah. Okay.” Morton cackled on.
Gwen’s purple lips pulled into a tight smile, the same purple I had seen on drowned corpses.
I led them to the cabinets, him tugging her by the hand.
“You toe tag her?”
“Toe tag ... Cardboard thing you write the name on?” Morton asked.
“No, yeah, I know. Uh, we ... toe tags are plastic mostly ... uh, but we just put a wrist band.”
“No toe tag?”
“No.” What did he want, a souvenir?
“Huh.” Disappointment on his face.
I opened the stainless door and rolled the gurney out. Slow and easy. I looked to make sure they were both set for this. It’s not easy for the bereaved, looking at a loved one laid out, no formaldehyde coursing through veins to pump up the color. That happens later. In this unit, they’re pasty and sallow.
“The old body bag, huh?” Morton laid a hand on the pouch.
“Cold in here,” Gwen said, rubbing, then folding her arms across her chest.
“Afraid it has to be. Thirty-six degrees precisely. Sorry.”
“Keeps them fresh,” Morton explained to her. “Like the dairy section.”
“Something like that.” Here goes, I thought, and drew the zipper down, exposing the face.
Morton looked at her. Peaceful. Serene.
I knew he would, even before he kissed her, a long kiss, then he ran his fingers through her hair.
“Time for you to roll on, Kitten,” is what he said, “Just one little thing, my little Patty Cake.” He yanked the zipper lower, down to her waist and parted the plastic.
There would be nothing standard procedure about this identification. I mean, come on, who comes high to identify their dead wife and brings a date? At least he didn’t climb up on her, while Morticia Addam’s snapped a pic for the family album.
“What do you think?” Morton asked her.
God damn. She was checking out the wife’s breasts.
“May I?” she asked, stepping closer, reaching a hand out.
“Course you can, baby doll. They’re all paid for.”
She poked a finger at a breast like she were checking fruit at the mart, lightly, then her hand squeezed. “Cold,” she said.
“Uh huh, eh, uh, excuse me,” I said. “You really mustn’t–”
“Told you,” Morton winked at Gwen. “First rate or what?”
She nodded. “They’re good.”
“Good to go,” he cackled.
“So, uhn huh ...” I cleared my throat.
“So, what you think?” he asked her.
“Oh yeah, I’ll take them.”
He clapped his hands like he just sold a used Buick.
I wanted to flee. “Uh. Is this your wife, Mr. Morton, sir?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s Patty alright, uhn uhn.” Morton looked up at the clock. Only three minutes had gone by. “Thanks again, uh?”
“Yeah, Jeff. So, how long?”
“To pop them out.”
“They’re mine now,” Gwen said.
“They’re ...” I put my teeth over my lower lip to keep it from trembling, expecting some Funt descendant to pop out of another cabinet. Me, the victim of a Candid Camera hoax.
“Yeah, I hear implants can be harvested.”
“This is a morgue.” I looked up at the clock.
“Come on. You guys do stuff like that: kidneys, autopsies, shit like that. I mean, come on. What’s the big deal?”
“Hell, yes, I’m serious. Know what these babies set me back?”
I shook my head.
“Just finished paying for them.”
“I can’t help you. Wish I could.”
“Okay, so if not you, who do we talk to? Someone higher up?”
“Uh ... up ... yes.” A shrink. God, maybe. “Yes, up. See Mr. Breen, on the second floor. He’s the, uh, coroner’s assistant. Start with him.”
As soon as they left, I pushed a chair in front of the door and stared at the fire alarm on the wall. I wanted to pull it.
Five after one. I tried to phone Breen to warn him; the line was busy. Grabbing my lunch bag, I went out the back way. I couldn’t eat, just wanted to hide in my car awhile.
"“Come In, Please”, art by Christopher Woods
Christopher Woods Bio
Christopher Woods is a writer, photographer and teacher who lives in Houston and in Chappell Hill, Texas. His work appeared recently in LITCHFIELD REVIEW, GLASGOW REVIEW and NARRATIVE MAGAZINE. He shares a gallery with his wife Linda at MOONBIRD HILL ARTS - www.moonbirdhill.exposuremanager.com.
L. Burnette Clark
Martha Putnam’s screams escaped through the thin walls of the salt box shanty, bounced off the hollow trees and echoed against the floors of snow in the forest. Her bellows disintegrated into the darkness. The only souls that could hear Mrs. Putnam’s cries were Mr. Putnam and Midwife Francis.
Edward Putnam paced back and forth in front of the wood stove while he drank his homemade cider; a brew that had fermented sufficiently to calm his nerves. With his mug in one hand and the bible in the other, he nervously glanced at the borning room. He was thankful that he would not have to witness the bloody show. If God was willing, Mr. Putnam hoped to survive the effects of this natural occurrence which he and the Lord, of course, had participated in.
“I said Mrs. Putnam, ye are needful of pushing harder. Push as hard as ye can Ma’am. Push harder.” Midwife Francis repeated. “Ma’am, it seems they’re two coming out of ye.”
Mr. Putnam quickened his pace, hoping there were not two more mouths to feed. He could barely keep food on the table for himself and Martha. As he was praying to God to forgive his evil and fleeting wish, his thoughts were interrupted by the hysterics of Midwife Francis. She screamed, “He forgave their sins and did not destroy them. He remembered that they were only human. Lord have mercy upon the Putnams! Our father who art in heaven hallowed...”
Startled by Midwife Francis’s frantic exit, Putnam hastened into the borning room. “Martha, my God.” Mrs. Putnam, with her eyes shut, appeared ashen and frail. He feared that she had passed away. Instead, she sat upright in bed and began shrieking as she hid the newborns under the quilt. “Martha, let me see them,” Mr. Putnam demanded. “Let me see the babies now.” He tugged at the blanket. She tried to fight him, and continued to expel sharp yowls, but he ripped the covers away from her. To his horror, underneath the quilt, two monkey like creatures were punching and grasping at each other with their four tiny fists, as if they were fighting for their independence. It reminded him of the caterpillars that as a boy, he chopped in half with a stick. The dismembered insects wriggled as separate entities, their fluids leaving dark, gummy, blotches on the stones.
Repulsed at the sight and to ward the evil away, Mr. Putnam frantically recited the Lord’s Prayer. He dropped the bible and proceeded to grab one small leg from under the quilt, but the other leg slipped out of his hand. The beast crashed to the floor with a heavy thud, rolling on the wood like a ball, the two bloody heads connected to each other. Instantly, he grabbed the demon by the foot and swiftly moved toward the wood stove. The warm, sticky liquid that he had tracked through the house had made him sick to his gut.
Mrs. Putnam awoke from the dampness of the sheets and the odor of newly shed blood. She hollered for Mr. Putnam’s assistance but he did not respond. She removed her nightgown and with shaky limbs, she stepped out of the bed and hobbled toward the tub. Suddenly struck with realization, she shrieked “My baby. No don’t, please Edward. Let us call on Pastor Brown. He’ll save us from this devil. Please don’t hurt my baby.” “Oh Lord, forgive me for my evil mind, this is my fault,” she pleaded.
Mrs. Putnam fell back onto the bed and shook in a fit of rage and sorrow. Mr. Putnam ran to her, and with a heavy hand struck her in the face. She groaned and fell unconscious. It had to be done. He could not think clearly with her hysterical screams. He scuffled to the wood burner.
As he began to shove the creature into the stove, a tiny arm caught fire. The smell of burning flesh and the sound of shrieking made him wretch. He pulled the beast away from the wood stove and threw a pitcher of water over it, to stop the wailing.
He could no longer stand to see the monstrosity. He dropped it into a burlap bag, threw it into the pantry and slammed the door, as he heard its’ muffled sobs. Mrs. Putnams’ eyes fluttered as she stirred. She began to shiver and fall into a delirium while Mr. Putnam sat on the edge of the bed attempting to feed her soup, water and bread. She slipped in and out of consciousness, while he prayed by candlelight and begged for the Lord’s forgiveness. He dozed restlessly as the vision of two joined and pulpy heads flashed through his mind. He realized this was God’s punishment for his impure thoughts about Mrs. O’Brien and dreamt with guilty pleasure about her full, slightly parted lips as she prayed in church.
The snow had subsided and gray daylight began to creep through the window. Mr. Putnam hoped that his prayers were answered and the burlap bag would no longer hold the demonic presence. He treaded toward the pantry, avoiding the gooey pools of liquid on the floor, and tried not to recall the acrid odor from the previous night. Slowly he reached into the pantry and pulled the bag out. To his relief, the beast was not breathing but to his distress, the features remained the same.
He was certain that news of this event would spread quickly through the town by way of Midwife Francis. He knew that he must dispose of the thing as soon as possible. Mrs. Putnam and he would deny the Midwife’s accusations. After all, there were rumors among the townspeople that the midwife was on the list to be interrogated. The townspeople thought it quite odd that she had an unusual tic and an odd mark on her neck.
The Putnams would defend themselves and tell untruths if they were forced to. They would say that Midwife Francis had experienced a hysterical delirium, after the baby was still born. A simple sounding story would be relayed to the town counsel. Mr. Putnam would tell them, for his wife’s sake, the baby was buried immediately because of her weak character, after the still birth. She had asked of him to dispose of it, without delay.
Mr. Putnam hastily pulled on his snow boots, tromped into the woods with the burlap sack, his rifle, a lantern, and the bible. Once deep into the woods, he dug a hole in the snow, gathered kindling, and set fire to the icy grave. He hung the burlap bag from a branch, shot at it. He heard the pop of the gun reverberate through the woods. With discomfort he noticed pieces of flesh stuck to the tree. He quickly tossed the bag into the blazing fire. Finally, he opened the bible and prayed as loud and hard as his weary body was able. He wept, begged and pleaded for redemption.
Daylight began to fade, while he trudged back to the shanty. Exhausted, he wished this event was a nightmare, but it was not. When he approached the shanty he noticed that a note was nailed to his door. He grabbed the parchment:
We the townspeople, have the most urgent of matters to discuss with you. I and members of the town counsel will be paying a visit to you and Mrs. Putnam in the ‘morrow.
Until then, I wish you well,
He began to perspire and was uncertain about what to do, so he imbibed some cider, undressed and slipped into his bed wear. Mrs. Putnam was still in a delirium. He attempted to feed her, but decided it was useless. He then fell into a restless sleep and dreamed that God extended his finger from the sky and wagged it at him. “Mr. Putnam, you shall hear from Satan; he will visit you with his wiles, devices, tribulations and temptations.” Mr. Putnam continued to dream he was in a familiar spot deep in the woods; he heard only the echo of digging as clumps of snow and soil fell against his face. He tried to move but could not, while his gaze fixed upon the tree tops their barren, black, spiny branches contrasted ominously against the grey sky. Then darkness engulfed him, and his breathing became more stifled. When the last ray of light was shut out, his breathing stopped. He awoke to feel searing heat upon his face as he forcibly neared a fire. The flames licked his body, while somewhere in the background he heard the townspeople chanting.
Collard greens simmering low, cheap and fatty but deliciously rich side meat mixing its oil into the water and red pepper that bubbles around the tender leaves. Cornbread baking away, the smell of bacon and sugar wafting from the oven. A poor man’s plate of sliced Vidalia onions, backyard garden grown and vine ripened tomatoes, cucumbers that still wear their dark skins. One of those three for a dollar rounds of cheap margarine, sitting greasily in its crinkled and worn wrapping
Standing in the doorway looking at these things is a small girl. Her hair is the white blond seen on fashion models, her face is narrow and clever in the way that the faces on trapped animals are clever. She is sly and her face says so. Her weak blue eyes look at the stove, look at the plate sitting there on the table, at the fly busily washing its legs on a slice of tomato.
“Shoo fly,” she says but the fly does not shoo, it is as unconcerned with her as everyone else seems to be. “Go on, now, you shoo damn you.”
She looks over her shoulder furtively, if her folks hear her cussing she will get it for sure but there are no yells at her to come here right now coming from anywhere and she turns and stares back at the kitchen, at the fly, at the greens and the margarine.
The kitchen is a lousy affair, her mama says so all the time. She stands at the stove cooking or at the sink washing dishes and biting her cigarettes nearly in two between her lips and she says, “This here kitchen is one lousy affair. This whole place is lousy. Why I stay here I don’t know. It ain’t like I couldn’t find some better place to go. Look at me, I got looks still, not like those old hags from down the road, don’t you think so Punkin?” Then she twirls, her fine white hair spinning out from her narrow head and her blue black blotched arms held out wide for balance.
“Yes Mama,” Punkin always agrees and Mama will spit that tooth imprinted cigarette into the sink and shake her head if some blood comes out with it and ask, “How ‘bout my teeth Punkin? They still trying to bleed?”
Punkin looks close and always says no even when the blood is gritted into the gums like dirt into a fleshy neck fold. She sometimes wonders what hurts her mama’s teeth more, the punches or the cigarettes she holds but she doesn’t ask cause she’s a kid and kids don’t put their nose anywhere but a corner if they don’t want it cut off. She doesn’t want her nose cut off, she is afraid to death of that, of being maimed and sent out into the world ugly and scarred.
The greens stew on and on. She’s hungry, her belly rumbles and growls and she can smell the bottom of the bread blackening. She looks over her shoulder at the silent hallway again then creeps to the counter where they keep the big chunk of torn up towel they use to handle pots and pans. She is not supposed to fool around with those things but Mama won’t like her bread burning and neither will Red, her stepdaddy.
The oven is a blazing hell, it is powered by propane gas and she can see hungry flames licking up at her. She feels her fear in the back of her throat, it feels like the odd tickle she gets when she starts to catch a cold. Her hands shake as she pulls the ancient black skillet out of there, its heat baking her hands right through the worn thin towel. She almost drops the pan, a moan comes low and pained from her throat and some superhuman ability unlike one she has ever known kicks in. She spins to the side and the skillet does not fall from her hands, it goes trundling along the trajectory she sets for it and slides along the tiny iron triangle called a trivet that sits on the table a short distance from the vegetable plate.
Her breath hitches and catches. She is covered in sweat and her cheeks turn a brutal red as she struggles to catch her breath. Dots dance in front of her eyes as she glances back down along the jacklegged hallway to the door that leads to the room her mama and stepdaddy sleep in.
“They’re sleeping,” Punkin whispers and a shiver snakes up her spine. It s a funny little thing, that shiver, it makes her want to curl up but it also makes something inside her, something down deep in her belly, feel like it’s blooming. It’s scary but she likes it and that scares her even more.
She stands there, thinking hard and the strain it causes shows on her clever, clever face. Her forehead wrinkles and seams. Her mouth tucks itself inwards, sucks along her teeth and her cheeks hollow out and flatten. Her eyes narrow and droop. She looks like a crone who has been somehow caught in a child’s body. The fly lifts its head and gives her along buzz, it reminds her of the sound a dress her mama once wore and the sound it made when Red ripped it off of her.
She is dizzy and trying to think of what comes next. There is something...yes, the stove. She gets a chair and goes to it, at nine she is too short to reach the buttons that lurk behind pans but she can do it if she kneels on the chair and she does. She stares down into the pan filled with greens with a mild wonder. She is hungry, she wants to eat but something is missing.
“We ain’t never gon’ get to be like other folks!” That was her mama’s constant complaint. She wanted to move closer to town, move into what she called a real house instead of this rusted out trailer that perched so uneasily on the red clay hill that overlooked a long abandoned secondary road. She wanted to go shopping at the Piggly Wiggly instead of the discount grocery out past the old peach orchards. She said it wasn’t right, eating expired food all the time. A person could die doing that.
Red would listen to those complaints and then he would start yelling and soon enough they would both be yelling. Punkin never understood what it really all meant, she just knew her mama was not content. That was what Red said, she did not know how to be content. The words would become shouts, the shouts would become blows and she would crawl into some temporary shelter; the arm of the humped and sprung couch, under the coffee table or into the narrow closet where Mama kept her broom, until the battle ended with either one of them saying sorry while tending to the one who was bleeding or with them running down the hall for the bedroom.
She would be left alone to clean up the mess, to try to make things nice again cause she knew Mama wanted things to be nice, that was what she really wanted, she said so a thousand million times, she wanted things to just be nice.
The greens are a glistening lump of foliage in her chipped white bowl, they make her think of the trees and the way the leaves on them shine on a rainy night. She dishes them up until the pot liquor slops over the rim and then she sits down at the table and begins to dig in. She gets two bites in before she had to quit. Something is not right. She is not sure what but something isn’t.
She thinks, it ain’t nice... and her eyes fall on the plate of vegetables that are starting to go tacky and dry at the edges. She looks at the pan of golden brown bread and the cheap margarine and she thinks of how on television the whole family sits down to dinner at a table with plates already sitting neatly at each space and...
“A family dinner,” she says in her thin treble. In the stillness that sound is too loud, it startles the fly from his self satisfied stupor and he buzzes away down the hallway. She wants to call him back but can’t, she is afraid to talk too loudly.
She frowns at the table and wonders how a table is set. She sees the kids on TV do it all the time, it doesn’t look too hard. She gets up, goes to the cabinet and fetches plates and hauls them to the table. She put one in front of every chair so there are five. That does not seem right and she stands there, her lips moving as she counts to five over and over again silently.
Punkin looks up as the sound of a car crunching across gravel growls into the house. Red laid that gravel good, he is always on the run from the cops and if he has just a minutes warning he can be gone through the woods before they ever roll to a stop. The gravel has kept him out of jail for awhile now, he is still on the run. Punkin is not sure what that means, in her mind’s eye she sees Red lacing sneakers onto his pale thin feet, taking a deep breath and running into the woods as fast as he could run. She has seen him run a lot, but mostly he wore cowboy boots. She wasn’t sure if he ever wore sneakers but she wishes he would. Those boots hurt when he kicks her.
She hears him enter but she is busy setting the table, she is arranging cups next to each plate and bowls above them, ringing the silverware around the whole setting like some aluminum moon.
“Hey Punkin,” his voice quivers and she turns slowly, still counting that five silently,” Punkin, where is your mama at honey?”
“Sleepin’ huh? You...uh...you okay here?”
“We’re gon’ have a family dinner. A real one. I got five plates and bowls. I think that’s wrong. I ain’t never set a table before.”
He feels bad for her right then. She is stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with a drunk, drug using mama and an equally addicted stepdaddy who is always on the run. She gets picked on at school, he knows that because he has seen her walking across the playground hunched and quiet while kids laugh and jeer at her clothes, her hair, her shoes. She is a slow learner, a daydreamer and prone to lie.
“You know how to set a table?” she asks and her tongue is a triangle as it catches between her lips. That gesture makes her look unbearably innocent and somehow sexy, it repulses him and he turns away to block that sight out of his mind.
“I’m gonna go look for your mama,” he says and she doesn’t answer, she just hums a tuneless melody that whistles as it passes between the gaps where she is losing and growing teeth. The sound sends chills down his spine. He practically runs down the hallway to get away from the memory of her catty tongue.
He stops at the doorway, the holes are jagged and raw. Splinters bleed from the cheap pressed board of the door. He remembers the frantic phone call,” Help! Help! We’re in the bedroom, we locked the door but...” oh and then there was the booming belch of a shotgun and screaming, so much screaming...
He opens his eyes and put a trembling hand to the door, it swings open and he stands there, not wanting to see anymore.
The woman is on the floor, her face and head a mess of brain and jagged bits of bone. Her eye, there is only one left, stares up at him in terror. He wants to weep, to puke, to run away. The quiet is total and he feels his hands sweat, the dripping moisture under his arms. He can hear the steady and too loud, too alive beat of his heart. It is as if his heart is making itself louder to let the nonbeating hearts in the room know that that one is doing A-OK.
Lightning has struck in this room. It has struck and he can smell it, smell that fried armpit sweat, cracked asphalt stink. It furs his tongue and he is reminded of a poem he once read. Something about a hooker who wants to be brought back from a heroin sleep by Prince Charming, provided he has needles and a sack that is. He stands, trying to become a distant observer, to divorce himself from it all but he can’t. A fly has landed on the gooey runnel of blood splashed onto the makeup and cheap perfume bottles that lay in a careless heap on a broken and battle scarred dresser. The sight of the fly washing its fuzzy legs makes his flesh creep right off his bones.
Outside he can hear more cars pulling up, more cops he thinks wearily. And the ambulance. That makes him grin, a hard and razor wired grin, what the hell do they think they will be able to save here?
He goes over to Red. Skinny, ugly, beleaguered with a set of meth made teeth. In life he had been a runner, in death he had made it to the closet, he was sprawled half in, half out of it and Officer Roberts saw with some pity that the man’s face was coated with the silvery tracks of tears. Why the closet? Officer Roberts does not know, in life the bastard has always made for the woods. He stood there listening to cars crunching on gravel, understanding finally how Red had always known they were outside and seeing the way the window had been cut wide so he could make his great escape through it. Only someone had...had what? Blocked the window? Had Red, in some awful burst of fear run like a terrified child for the one place he thought he might be able to hide? The shotgun blast has gutted him and his mouth hangs agape and stupid. He wants to kick that stupid, useless mouth closed.
He examines the scene, hears the other cops coming in, the kid talking and he wonders how she got away. How she managed to escape, was she outside playing? Did she see the whole thing? He thinks of her clothes, of her face. He sees that tongue licking at her lip and the blood; the blood that is on her face, her hands, her clothes and he feels his breath fall into some unknown lower level of his chest.
He staggers out into the front end of the ragged and too small trailer, the smell of blood and violence hanging around him like a haze. He walks to where the kid sits at the table; the table with its off center, non conforming number of plates, its mismatched bowls and cups and wild array of silverware.
“Punkin,” he says in a thick and choked voice and she looks up at him. Someone has cut her a piece of the still steaming cornbread, out of pity, he suspects and he looks at it. A thick sponge of perfect golden bread. He can smell the burn on it, knows if he flipped it over the bottom would be the color of charcoal and the bottom crust could be peeled away like a second skin and tossed into the trash,”I need you to tell me what happened.”
“I set the table,” she says. Her sly eyes laugh and her pink tongue catches a shivery crumb as it falls onto her blood grimed bottom lip. There is blood on her teeth. “You wanna say Grace with me?”
He looks to the corner where the rookie is bagging and tagging the shotgun. Everyone in the room is deathly still, there is a sense of things so wrong here that nobody can even think of where to begin.
In the bedroom the fly finds a spot in Red’s hollow belly and begins to wash its feet. In the kitchen Punkin smiles, eats her cornbread and hums tunelessly. Officer Roberts looks at the table and thinks of his wife. Of the pretty, blue rimmed plates she sets their dinner table with and remembers that she was washing greens when he left. He sighs and reaches for a piece of bread.
“Y’all come eat,” Punkin says in her little girl voice, “Come on now. I got these greens and some cornbread. The bottom is burnt but it tastes fine with a bit of extra butter...” she breaks off and her eyes cloud and wander back to confused.
“Family dinner,” she says into the silence and Officer Roberts scoops up cheap margarine with his butter knife and smears it thickly against the bread. He takes a big bite and the girl laughs out loud in true pleasure, “I like family dinners,” she says to everyone and no one at all.
Officer Roberts says, “Yeah, me too.”
“Family dinner,” she croons and the night comes pressing in at the windows, promising relief from the heat, promising many things. Punkin says a belated Grace. The fly buzzes. Officer Roberts eats and the rookies do the work of cleaning up the crime scene.
Closer To Your Door
Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
When food becomes unbearable
and nothing you drink comforts you
death is that much closer to your door.
The people who care about you look
at you in serious ways while those
who don’t know you or wish you harm
don’t offer help or sympathy.
Lost in themselves, these other people
would not clothe you if you were naked and cold.
When you stop caring for that which sustains you
you come to nasty death’s attention.
Death’s malicious grin expands from ear to ear.
Death is despicable this way running to gossip
and devouring the weak, who have given up on life.
The Drone Continues
The drone camera stops, taking in the scene: a drone missile has destroyed yet another stone hut out in the middle of nowhere. Everything is debris; beyond that, there is nothing: a wasted land. A man covered in blood and scraps of clothing limps through the wreckage, searching among the scorched stones. Spotting something, he bends over. His hand reaches out. The camera zooms in. He holds a child’s leg, the foot still encased by a black, white-laced shoe. The camera zooms out. The man straightens, pulling the stump free. There’s the distant, pixilated suggestion of trailing muscles, veins and ligaments, but you’d never be sure. He stands motionless. A long time passes. Maybe he is thinking. His back is to the camera; his head is bowed. When he does finally turn, the camera zooms in again. There’s jubilance and a glimmer of a tear in his eye. He has not dropped the thing he holds. He delivers the line: “Thank you. We are free.” Cheers in the control room; sighs across a nation. Families resume dinners, children safe from harm. The drama is over, so the drone continues.
art by Ira Joel Haber
|“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”
Corrie Ten Boom
I love my mother; don’t get me wrong.
She used to wake me up early on Christmas morning with a soft kiss on the forehead. We’d go into the living room, but before I could unwrap a present I had to shake the snow globe. A pair of Santa’s helpers took turns pushing up and down on a teeter-totter. The glass always held small orbs on the surface; the reflections from the tree lights swimming like fish. She said doing it made these times easier to remember. When I got older I found it was true.
So yeah, I love my mother, but that was before the spill, before things got weird. Now everything’s different. It was just oil at first, but something came with it, hiding in the liquid gold.
Mom had just retired, sixty-three and a federal pension after serving decades as the county clerk. She was ready to take care of her garden, wake up late and take in some rays. Dad died when we were still young, but better then, when we could grow to live without him.
I remember the news reports when people started dying.
We had a year of bullshit from the petroleum companies (always petroleum, gas or oil sounded dirty) about plugging the leak. We watched billions of dollars that couldn’t be spent funnel into each failed solution. Every CNN anchor seemed pissed, but they didn’t live on the coast and probably had some of that upper class money invested in offshore drilling.
The whole time we watched P.E.T.A throw a shit fit for the animals. I felt bad for the dye job all the white ducks got, but as long as people were still dying of hunger and lack of healthcare my sympathies didn’t really stretch that far. I was more aligned with the spin off meaning of P.E.T.A.: People Eating Tasty Animals. Wasn’t that just life?
It got worse as time went on.
Hurricane season came and went carrying gallon after gallon from the Gulf of Mexico basin up onto the southern shore of the United States. Florida and Louisiana took the worst of it, seeing as they ruled the majority of the shoreline, but even Mississippi and Alabama got touched and Texas took a bit of a paintjob. Those crazy bastards loved their oil, though. I could just imagine all the ‘cowboys’ down there soaking it up with sponges, laughing and singing songs like the gold miners in ’49.
The fires were bad. The irony was the worst part, seeing they were right next to a huge body of water, but even that had a chance of catching, creating the feared lake of fire right here on earth. New Orleans was the worst. Even a Super Bowl trophy couldn’t rebuild a city twice in six years. Morale wasn’t a word in the Cajun vocabulary anymore.
Smoke billowed up the coast, creating a black screen between Cuba and us. At least if they wanted to finally pull the trigger on us they couldn’t really aim. It’s the only silver lining I’ve seen so far.
It all lasted for weeks, all the people fleeing like ants from a collapsing hill. The rest of us just watched while our south burned. It went on until the rains came, most of the remaining oil evaporating and diluting with each downpour.
But then it happened.
Something else started to come out of the leak. You couldn’t tell at first, not even with the ariel shots they kept showing over and over again. The next thing you knew fifty-thousand people were dead, then a hundred thousand, then half a million while the month rounded out. But it stayed there, in the Gulf area, rooted down and refusing to leave. It didn’t spread like a virus might. It was territorial.
All the scientists and intellectuals couldn’t figure out what it was, only that it was organic and wasn’t as simple as a disease. Disease’s only appeared intelligent, but following a hard-wired initiative wasn’t smart, it was just orders.
This was something else entirely.
The worst part was how it affected the economy. The human cost was high, but after the recession in the late 2000’s America was just starting to turn it all around, then this. Four states quarantined and one of the world’s most important water ways (the Mississippi) was useless. Half a million dead in thirty days, but countless more went unemployed, their homes and jobs gone, contaminated and decaying.
I lost my job when a bunch of Southerners moved up North. They took less pay and that was it. I wasn’t the only one undercut, but the fact we all suffered the same didn’t make my life any easier. I ended up broke, but a new business opportunity came along.
See a large part of the half million deaths involved people with a little red heart on their driver’s license. What this meant was organ donation, and lots of it. You may wonder how anyone considered using infected people’s organs, but after careful analysis the removed organs came back clean and ready to use.
It only took five trials to see the infected organs didn’t work. Whatever we found buried underneath the oil hid silently in the tissue and once in the recipients body it was devastating. All five of them died within days, but even this omen was too late. The other organs had been pushed into circulation and now they couldn’t tell what was infected and what wasn’t.
Human error they said, and a rush to make a difference. It seemed like all the problems we ended up with were human error.
Mom hated it. She sat on her porch when I came over, drinking green tea and bitching rather then doing the gardening she’d waited decades to have time for. ‘Even-Reagan-wouldn’t-have-let-this-happen’ was her stance, but I didn’t see how it was the President’s fault. He wasn’t around for the years before when everyone was pro-off-shore-drilling.
Honestly, though, I lost interest in politics after I heard Palin say, “drill baby, drill”. If you can’t figure out why, I don’t have much left to say.
“Ma, I’m broke,” I told her, my eyes on the wooden boards between my feet.
“What else is new?” She asked, sipping on her tea. She lit a cigarette and took a drag, letting the smoke come out in perfect rings. Even the old county clerk had a few tricks.
“Nothing,” I said. She had already lent me money, but what could I do when a displaced Southerner was taking every job?
“Well what are you going to do?” She asked with a bit of disdain. She was old, and still saw the world how it had been, not how it was. The “get-a-good-job” formula went out the window when there weren’t enough jobs to go around. The world I lived in and the one she grew up in were the same as apples and nuclear reactors.
A black van pulled up in front of her house, the windows tinted, the hubcaps black. It didn’t look out of place like it would have a few years back. These particular vans were popping up more and more; there was another one down the street in front of The Austin’s place.
My mom didn’t noticed; she was still too busy bitching.
“Well, I actually heard about a new government program for people in financial trouble.”
“Oh, you kids are all the same,” she said, looking out over her large front lawn. In her house the fridge was stocked, the cupboards full. I’d been living off three for a dollar Mac and Cheese for a year, convinced because of her that I was too good for food stamps. “Something goes wrong and someone else is supposed to bail you out.”
“Well my only other option is to move further up North to get a job, Ma. Either that or move to Canada,” I said shuttering at the thought.
“Maybe you should do that,” she said. “Gain some responsibility, learn to take care of yourself.”
I’d lived on my own since seventeen because Mom couldn’t afford a full-grown boy for long after Dad died. I never moved back and this was the only time I’d really gotten in the hole. It wasn’t even really my fault. What was I supposed to do, predict a bunch of big business guys would wreck the world and leave a peon like me job-less?
Actually, I guess I should have seen that as a possibility, but you can’t really plan with the end of the world in mind.
“You really want me to move away, Ma?” I asked.
Middle afternoon sun rested awkwardly between us. I wasn’t used to it. Cubicle life doesn’t provide a lot of two p.m. light in your diet, especially during the week. The manicured lawn stretched out in front of us, curbed by perfect edging and a beautiful stone divider where the grass ended and the front garden started.
“You have to do what you have to do,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I told her. I looked at my mother, her wrinkled face, her dyed black hair, the gray starting to show again at the hair line. I watched her breathe, chest rising and falling. I watched the sun soak her skin, the smoke blow out her nose, her fingers grip the mug in her hand.
The black van waited.
“Sorry, Ma,” I said, standing up and walking back to my car in the driveway.
“Sorry for what?” she asked, but I didn’t turn around. I got in the car, but didn’t start it.
The black van’s door slid open, five men in blue uniforms piling out. They didn’t wear masks or sunglasses, they didn’t need to hide. It wasn’t publicized, the things these men did, but it was public information, just like all the government grants no one applies for. They stormed the front lawn, vaulted up the porch steps and grabbed my mother.
She yelled at first, saying who she was like it mattered. These men didn’t care. She could have been Nancy Sinatra and they still would have scooped her up, kicking and screaming back to the van. Even if it was human error there was still a rush to make things better. Once your name was on the list it was done. My mother’s name was on the list. I should know since I put it there.
They lifted her up, the biggest guy throwing her over his shoulder. The other four formed a circle around him while he walked her to the van.
She caught my stare when they passed, her eyes wide, her mouth open screaming obscenities at the men just doing their jobs. She punched the guys back, but he kept walking until the van door was shut behind them.
My hands gripped the steering wheel, the knuckles white. I stopped watching and looked forward through the windshield. Days could have passed before one of the guys knocked on my passenger side window.
I leaned over and rolled it down, tears starting to build in my eyes. I couldn’t see his face, just the buttons on his shirt and the clipboard he was holding. He tapped on the paper with a pen, each one sounding like a nail driving into a coffin.
“Hey man,” I said, “I thought you guys were supposed to knock her out first. They said you’d do that so it wasn’t so rough.”
“Budgetary cuts. Besides longer we keep ‘em up the fresher the harvesting is.”
I leaned back in my seat with something trying to come up my throat.
“Alright,” he said. “According to this she’s got a good heart, both kidneys and you okay’d the brain for stem cell research?”
“Yeah,” I said, my mouth dry.
“Lungs are no good right?”
“Right,” I said, thinking about her sitting on the porch of our old ranch style house. That one was just three steps of cement, not like the wrap around we sat on earlier. She would sit there and watch the neighborhood kids and I rollerblade, puffing on her Salem Lights.
The guy leaned forward and dropped a plastic bag packed with money on my passenger seat.
“I know it’s not easy,” he said. “I had to have my pops picked up last week, but your mother’s going to save at least three lives and the material she’s submitting for research is invaluable. You’re doing your country a favor, remember that.”
“Ask not, right?”
“You got it,” he said. “Have a good day, man.”
He slapped the top of my car and walked back to the van. The one in front of The Austin house pulled down the street. We were all doing our part, I guess.
When I first met her, she looked as lovely as a baby after baptism. Only she had curves that’d cause God to pant and hair as yellow as what drooped off Aphrodite. A lot of men like blondes, but I really like blondes. Or at least, I did before she came to me. She kind of cured my obsession, yet I still look at yellow hair, and still fantasize about yellow hair around my region. I just don’t indulge my fantasies anymore.
What happened was I beckoned her into the tub. After I closed the health spa that had employed me, she and I sat like Adam and Eve, without anyone else on the planet. We had each other to ourselves. She could’ve had whatever she wanted—I wouldn’t have resisted, and truthfully, I didn’t. What man would resist? She sat in the hot tub eagerly, like a lot of women wouldn’t, I need not tell you. After thirty minutes of talk that I can’t remember, she nuzzled me like a baby to her father. Understand when I tell you that a lot of fathers won’t teach their babies what I taught her, or what she taught me. I didn’t resist—why should I? I fantasize about women like that; I always will.
Anyhow, her voluptuous breasts bobbed around my chest (I wonder if they liked what they touched), and her hands raked my hair, as messy and wet as it became. Her fiery nails itched my scalp, yet I still didn’t resist. Who would? Finally, she kissed me, and I kissed back, as sensuously as her voluptuous lips touched mine. Minutes passed that seemed like hours; before I knew her name, she pulled off my shorts, below the bubbly liquid, and her blonde hairdo spread evenly over the top. Her yellow hair curled wetly over my middle. I stood erectly, yet my knees would just bend—understand?
Maybe you won’t believe it yet she still bobbed her head like an animal that couldn’t control itself. My head tossed back, onto the rubber liner like a pillow just for me, and I yelled loudly with pleasure. Subconsciously, I held her head below the bubbly surf. I took her head and forced it to bob quicker, until finally, I yelled too loudly, and her rear, clad in a black bikini, curled. Her back arched like a playful kitten’s. It took a moment before her body went limp. With a lot of adrenaline, I couldn’t control my fluids anymore; I shot prematurely, like I never will again. I didn’t know what to do—what should I have done? Like a jackrabbit, I bounded for the shower and left her alone in the tub. What would you do?
Early the next day, the janitor found a rubbery torso with four disjointed limbs. How could I attend her funeral, after I read the local paper? I didn’t ask her last name; I found her picture in the Obituary. Sure, I cried—wouldn’t you? I bawled as loudly as I had yelled, with her below the water. I tell you what—I still sit in that tub, like I did the night she joined me; I tell you what—every time I do, I can’t feel the warmth. Somehow, I just can’t. Whatever her body did to me, her soul does the opposite. Whenever I sit in our tub, I feel chilly water throb my groin. Oddly, I enjoy myself, yet somehow, paralysis always hits me. Lying in our tub, my knees before me, I wonder if I truly needed her pleasure—I wonder a lot. How could I argue those painful urges? Any man would sell his soul for a body like hers. Mostly, though, if you want the truth, I wonder if that water will ever feel warm again—to me or to anyone. I wonder about that a lot. Personally, I doubt it will, if you want my opinion.
The Great American Poet
I was going to write
I was going to to tell the world-
I was on.....Fire
I was going to explode!
onto the urban spotlight
I was going to end every sentence
I was going to make a bang
on the literary world
the people were going to parade around
the people were going to clap
And it wasn’t even a holiday
but an ordinary Tuesday
And I wasn’t even out of bed
Dan didn’t come to school Wednesday,
the day he was to host
the morning show.
Instead the principal
came on TV— told us
what took place last night.
The students huddled around
his words: Dan Ehrlich hung himself.
Dan, seventeen, too young to buy a gun,
intelligent enough to knot the rope
perfectly, as if it was Salem, 1692.
He called his mother last, she found him
first – noteless, purple and limp.
She cut him, where he finally fell
and called 911, although they could do
nothing for him. His father
was soon informed,
and his brother returned
from college. At home,
they were bombarded with guests,
condolences, and questions
to answers they would never know. On Friday,
we gathered at Temple Emanu-El. We all hoped
someone would jump up and scream
“Just kidding! He’s still alive!” But no
one did such a thing, and instead,
we talked about his freckles, graduation in two
months, and his smile, because if we talked
about how we really felt, how vulnerable
and unaware, it would have been disrespectful
and offended some of those who came to pay
last respects to Dan.
By The Hippo’s Dollars
icy dull murder rises
as the minutes gather
the refuge of sleep dies
creep of regularity
of what music can you cling
it is no defense
from the caricature of chosen duty
balance those regrets
with the ripe burgeoning virile
images of potential
fed with every blather of sheen
gaping consumer mouthpiece
possessive trunkload of breaths
comfortable log of tooth
a smothering Warhol
invisible cyst murmuring
you are really free
gluttonous beast happy and fed
us clean cloth oxford
of no bother
it’s the face of faith
spurned by no answer
as a squirrel
only to forget where laid
About Patrick Longe
Patrick Longe has been writing poetry since 1987. His poems have appeared in Poetry Motel, Main Street Rag, The Metro Times (Detroit), Faultline and over thirty other publications. Previously a lifelong resident of Southeastern Michigan he moved to Florida in 2000 to be close to his young children. A Wayne State University journalism graduate he has worked in corporate communications for over twenty years. He is also an avid photojournalist.
I sit on the outskirts of a weird universe
where freaks embrace machines,
and avoid human intimacy.
I sit in my black leather armchair and
watch from the edge of weirdness.
I don’t belong in a universe that feeds
the brain and not the soul,
a world that worships
In this weird universe, the soul is
obsolete, an antiquated fiction.
An ancient word, a fantasy,
it is buried with other
words, holy words
that point to an
machines. In the deep snow of
weirdness, G-d is buried too.
Of course, humans still
attend a House of
swear on the
G-d Almighty. They swear.
And perhaps, they cling
to this antediluvian,
by force of habit, a kind
of lip service to the
And that’s okay. They
live in a weird
The freaks embrace
so they can’t look
and discover the
the soul, a
They can’t be close
to themselves and
they can’t be
But there’s hope for
them in this weird
In the future, like a
sci-fi tale in a
madness and chaos,
freaks will marry
will be free to
I suppose the human-
I mean, a
could always pull
the plug rather
In a weird universe,
it just might
Mel Waldman, Ph. D.
Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (CMPS). He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. After 9/11, he wrote 4 songs, including “Our Song,” which addresses the tragedy. His stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines including HAPPY, SWEET ANNIE PRESS, POETICA, CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES and DOWN IN THE DIRT (SCARS PUBLICATIONS), PBW, NEW THOUGHT JOURNAL, THE BROOKLYN LITERARY REVIEW, HARDBOILED, HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, and THE SAINT. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. Periodically, he has given poetry and prose readings and has appeared on national T.V. and cable T.V. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, American Mensa, Ltd., and the American Psychological Association. He is currently working on a mystery novel inspired by Freud’s case studies. Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, a mystery novel, was published by iUniverse in February 2006. It can be purchased at www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/, www.bn.com, at Amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. Some of his poems have appeared online in THE JERUSALEM POST. Dark Soul of the Millennium, a collection of plays and poetry, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2007. It can be purchased at www.worldaudience.org, www.bn.com, at Amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. A 7-volume short story collection was published by World Audience, Inc. in May 2007 and can also be purchased online at the above-mentioned sites. I AM A JEW, a book in which Dr. Waldman examines his Jewish identity through memoir, essays, short stories, poetry, and plays, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2008.
Hacking on the Net
Michael de Mare
Someone was hacking the computer networks. I had lunch with a system administrator and he happened to bring it up.
“We’ve been getting calls from other schools about attacks from our computers,” Tom said.
“Which schools?” I asked.
“MIT, mostly. Also Brown and CMU.”
“Are the attacks from a student’s machine which you can trace?”
“No, these are Unix to Unix attacks from our servers which have student accounts on them,” Tom said.
“Do you know who may be behind the attacks?”
“No idea. Hey, what happened to that girl that you used to be with, the redhead?”
“She doesn’t talk to me anymore since she started celebrating Drug Addiction Month year ‘round.”
“That’s too bad. You made a cute couple.”
Tom didn’t know about my past as a spy, so I didn’t tell him that I was going to investigate. But when I got back to the lab, I started rumors among the undergrads that I was a hacker. They would assume that I was the grand master wizard of hackers because I was a PhD candidate in computer science. It took a couple of weeks for the word to spread through the student body, but then one morning when I was alone in the lab someone rang the doorbell to be let onto the floor with the lab.
I sighed deeply, saved what I was doing, got up from my desk, and opened the door. He came in and said, “I am looking for John Shmee.”
“That’s me.” I replied.
“Oh good. My name is Jason Miller. I’m a sophomore in the computer science department.” Jason was of medium height with dirty blond hair and a scraggly beard and mustache. He would have benefited greatly from a shave and a haircut. He was scrawny, wearing blue jeans and a teeshirt with the name of a rock band on it. Like most hippies, he smelled.
“Nice to meet you Jason. What can I do for you?”
“I have some questions, uh, technical questions, and I heard that you might be able to help me.”
“Sure, come in the lab and we can talk,” I said.
We went into the lab and I sat down at my desk. He pulled a chair up and sat next to me.
“So, like, if someone changes the password on my Unix account, how can I get back in?” he asked.
“If you set up an ssh key you don’t need a password. Just add the public key to the authorized\_keys file in the .ssh directory and put the private key in the .ssh directory of the account you want to connect from.”
“Cool. Thanks. How do I get a key?” He was writing it down in a notebook.
“There is a program called ssh\_keygen. Look it up in the man pages.”
“Do you like music? I DJ at the radio station on Saturday nights. Maybe you can hang out and help me with more Unix stuff.”
“Sure, that sounds like fun. Where is the radio station?”
“It’s in the basement of The Pit—-I mean Hamlin. My show starts at eight o’clock,” he said.
“Maybe I’ll stop by. I’ve always wanted to see how DJing is done.”
At eight o’clock on Saturday night, I walked into the offices of the university radio station in the basement of the dorm known as The Pit. There were two DJ booths there, for two different radio stations, but they had glass walls so I was easily able to determine which one Jason was in. He was talking into a microphone in front of a big sound board, so I waited until the ON AIR light went out before going in.
“Hi Jason. I guess this is the DJ booth.”
“Yeah. Why don’t you go back in the record library and get me some music.”
“You mean, like actual records?”
“Leave the records alone and bring me some CDs.”
I went through the door into the record library and found tens of thousands of vinyl records. I walked past the stacks to a wall of CDs and started looking through them. They were alphabetized by band. There were two teletypes set up against a wall. One started clacking.
When I came back into the booth with some CDs, I asked Jason what the teletypes were for.
“Those are the news wires. Why don’t you get the news and rewrite it to read on the air.”
“Rewrite it? Why?” I asked.
“You will see when you read them. Bad grammar, abbreviations, instructions, all sorts of stuff. It has to be cleaned up before it can be read on the air.”
I went back to the teletype and ripped the paper off of it. I scanned the printout. It was mostly war news, but barely intelligible. I took a pad of paper and pencil that were conveniently near the teletype and rewrote the dispatch for reading on the air. I went back into the booth with my edited version of the news.
“Why don’t you read it when this song is over,” Jason suggested.
“I—-I—- sure, why not.”
“You need a show name. Never tell them your real name. Like I am Mad Dog Jason.”
“I will call myself The Mad Hacker.”
Soon the song was over and Jason introduced me, “Now The Mad Hacker will bring you the latest headlines.”
I read the news that I had copied off of the teletype. As I talked, Jason loaded a CD into a drive and programmed the song in. When I finished he hit the button and slid the lever for it up on the sound board while sliding my lever down.
“So, you are a mad hacker,” Jason said.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Well, I hack too. I have gotten access to accounts in computer science departments all over the northeast.”
I could have pinched him then, but I wanted more information. I also wanted to know who else was involved. “What do you do with them?”
“I collect documents.”
“Really? What for.”
“I’ll tell you later. In the meantime, I want you to meet my partner, Paul.”
“Okay. When will I meet him?”
“He will be stopping by tonight or maybe next week. I told him about you.”
So Jason was stealing documents off of computer scientists’ accounts. It sounded like espionage. In fact, there was a name for this sort of espionage, cyberespionage. As a rule, hackers are motivated by either a desire to explore the system, a desire to impress other hackers, or a desire to make money. Usually there isn’t much money to make breaking into academics accounts, so I would assume that he wanted to explore the system. Except, he was stealing scientific documents. Maybe he found a way to make money with them. I wasn’t going to pinch him and his friend until I found out what they were doing with the documents.
I went back into the record library to pick out another record when I saw some red hair go between the stacks. “Hello?” I said.
“Oh, it’s you,” the girl said.
“Listen, why don’t we talk?”
“Why? So you can turn me in to the police? I don’t think so.”
“Listen, I know that those Libertarians you have been hanging out with have been filling you with lies—-”
She stomped back into the other DJ booth clutching a handful of CDs. “Well that was awkward,” I muttered.
When I came out with a couple of CDs, there was another kid in the booth. “Seriously, you want to play more oldies?” Jason said looking at my CDs. “Anyway, meet Bob. We’ve been hacking the computers together.”
“Hi Bob. Nice to meet you. My name is John.”
Bob was short and overweight. His round face was topped by greasy hair. I found him repulsive. “Hi John. Jason told me about you. Do you want to join us?”
“What do you mean join you?” I asked.
“Help us. Hack.”
“Uh, sure.” I was still waiting to see who else was involved. It was a sure bet that Beavis and Butthead here weren’t stealing files for kicks.
“Good. We’ll have to introduce you to the boss.”
“Yeah, Nick. He pays us to do this.” Bob said.
“When do I meet the boss?”
“Here, next week.”
The next week, I got wired up for the meeting. This time was going to be the bust. I got to the radio station at eight. “Where is Nick?” I asked.
“He’ll be here soon,” Jason said.
We ran the radio station for about half an hour when Nick and Bob turned up. Nick was tallish with blond hair and a muscular build. “We’ll need time to talk, play this,” I said, putting American Pie by Don McClean on the turntable.
“Good idea. How long is it?”
He cued it and as the current song faded out, faded it in. “Okay,” he said, “Let’s talk business.”
“You are John?” Nick said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He had a slight accent which I identified as Russian.
“Nice to meet you Nicolai,” I said in Russian. “What are we supposed to do?”
“You speak Russian?” He was speaking in Russian now. “This is the deal. I will give you the name of scientists and pay you a thousand dollars for each scientist’s account you hack. I want all the files in their accounts, including email, paper drafts, anything.”
“A thousand dollars is not a lot of money,” I said. “Surely you can do better than that.”
“If you do a good job, maybe I will give you more. Drugs too. I can give you all the drugs that you need.”
“The drug addict is in the other booth,” I said.
I heard my ex-girlfriend yell, “What the—-” from the record library.
A voice in my earpiece said, “What are you guys saying? Did you make the deal?”
“Da—-I mean yes.” I said.
Alex said, “Is this a burn?”
Three FBI agents stormed out of the record library and three stormed in the door, “FBI, you are under arrest.” They bagged everybody and led them out in handcuffs, leaving me alone in the DJ booth. American Pie was just finishing up so I went on the air.
“Mad Dog Jason has been detained for the rest of the evening,” I announced. “Now we are going to play some songs that were popular when I was a kid.”
art by Ira Joel Haber
A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans dont consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.
This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.
so what is vegan action?
We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.
We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.
We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.
A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.
po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353
MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)
* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.
* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants
* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking
* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen
We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.
The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology
The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CRESTs three principal projects are to provide:
* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;
* on-line distance learning/training resources on CRESTs SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;
* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.
The CREST staff also does on the road presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.
For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson
firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 289-0061
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