welcome to volume 91 (February 2011) of
down in the dirt
Janet K., Editor
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)
http://scars.tv - click on down in the dirt
what is veganism?
Note that in the print edition of cc&d magazine, all artwork within the pages of the book appear in black and white.
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It’s Good to Have You Back
Seventeen years ago, when my literary magazine cc&d had been running for a year, we ran a supplement section inside an issue called “Down in the Dirt.” There were only a few poets in the interior section of cc&d, but I liked the title of the supplement section, even though as time wore on cc&d received more and more good writings in submissions that in the next year we had to start releasing issues every two weeks instead of monthly.
We didn’t have a chance to highlight writers in future supplements of Down in the Dirt within cc&d, but when cc&d expanded in 2000 with a new domain name and a reformatting, we bounced around the idea of turning that cc&d supplement “Down in the Dirt” into its own magazine. I thought it was a good idea, but didn’t know if I’d have the chance to edit another literary magazine. So I let Alexandria take on the job as the editor, and I gave her details for the Down in the Dirt acceptance and rejection letters, the guidelines and a space at http://scars.tv, but also the templates for issue design and access to the Scars Publications image library for Down in the Dirt magazine covers. Also, since cc&d has published annual collection books of writing through Scars Publications since 1995, Down in the Dirt got the chance to also collect writings into regular books as well.
Since I run the writings list web site maintenance at http://scars.tv, I have seen all of the writing that have been published through Down in the Dirt over the years. And since my photos are in the Scars Publications image library, it has been nice seeing the images Alexandria has used for covers of Down in the Dirt over the years. (I think of both magazines for potential covers now whenever I go anywhere and take pictures, and it’s cool to see some of these images later appearing as magazine covers.)
Now, I don’t know if Alexandria didn’t want to deal with poetry versus prose sections in issues of Down in the Dirt (though I do think it’s kind of cool to see poetry intermingling with short stories throughout the issues), but when she told me recently that she couldn’t be the editor of Down in the Dirt any longer, I. .. well, I wasn’t sure what to think. I couldn’t let the magazine just end (since I have technically been the literal publisher of Down in the Dirt since before it was its own magazine). I have designed the collection books with material from Down in the Dirt all these years, so I wanted to take the time to get issues together as well.
And Alexandria, thank you for the time to put into working as the editor for Down in the Dirt, but I have had a little time now as editor of cc&d’s spin-off magazine, and I have to say that I like it here, with a different layout format and the plethora of short stories bound together. I don’t know if I’ll start adding a small contribution to every issue of Down in the Dirt (the way I do with cc&d, since I have for now stopped writing the Boss Lady’s Editorials in issues), but I like having her under my reigns again. It’s kind of like losing something that was yours for years, then finally having it back. It’s a nice feeling.
I’m doing everything in my power to keep Down in the Dirt similarly formatted and styled to the way it has run since its beginnings with Alexandria, so hopefully all you regular readers out there won’t notice a real change in the look and feel of Down in the Dirt magazine. I mean, if something was running so smoothly, why change something that good?
Down in the Dirt magazine
Obama, simpering, whimpering
Obama, simpering, whimpering!
All that brilliance wept away!
That early success that still might
deem him great!
Shaking off his midterm defeat, he
could still come back like Clinton.
“He’s no Bill Clinton”/ still
if Barrack would wipe his
tears or bottle them up for Boehner when
his tears of joy run out & he’s
weeping in the gutter in 20l2 having
accomplished nothing to
give the nation back to the corporation &
their Republican henchmen/ of course,
what of the first successful torrorist
attack since 9/11 changing all the
rules?/ what of another Katrina &
another inadequate Republican response?/
what of drug violence, expanding from
Juarez to Boise & Wheaton IL?/ what
of global warming lifting the sea to
inundate California & Florida?/ what
of the imminent earthquake with
San Francisco & L.A. crumbling into
the sea?/ what’s Barack to do then?/ be
FDR or George W?/ what’s
to do then?/ better to
obsess about Goldbuggy
throwing me away or
Katie abandoning me or
pretty Jenny inviting me to
New Mexico/ 6 of
a pleasure or half dozen
million disasters, & then
thank Beelzebub, we’re
Kelly’s Birthday Party
After the big swim & dinner out at Gaby’s &
a couple good movies & playing with Threelegs the
cat, my weekend highlight at Goldbuggy’s is
Kelly’s birthday party for an 8-yr-old Mexican
boy, whose smile took over her apartment as his
happy father looked on & she cuddled the child.
After the long walk along the beach &
picking blueberries by the tracks & seeing a
giant red sun fall into the sea, my highlight is
Kelly’s birthday party for an 8-yr-old Mexican
boy, whose smile took over her apartment as his
happy father looked on & she cuddled the child.
After the hours at Getty with Picasso & Kandinsky &
Mahler on Santa Monica Pier & street musicians on
the pier & a ride on the ferris wheel, the highlight is
Kelly’s birthday party for an 8-yr-old Mexican
boy, whose smile took over her apartment as his
happy father looked on & she cuddled the child ...
when i returned from the bathroom
i caught a glimpse of my picture
on the tiny screen of her iphone
what chance have I against
The Curse on the Tomb
I’m Richard Hedrin. I’m on my second trip to Egypt. It might be my last trip anywhere.
As I sit here on this plane with you, I pray that I can find a certain tomb and do what is necessary to save my life.
If you’ll listen, I’ll explain my bizarre situation.
Harry Wetherton will probably be remembered for the enigmatic circumstances surrounding his death, rather than for his unspectacular life. He was a History professor at a high school where I taught Algebra. At faculty meetings, he suggested that he take his students on a field trip to Egypt. This request was always denied.
One day, he approached me in the school’s parking lot.
“Hey there, Richard,” he greeted me.
“Hi, Harry,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I want to ask you for a favor. I’m sure you’ve heard me beg the faculty to let me take my class to Egypt.”
“Indeed I have.”
“The buggers constantly say no to it, damn them.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Soon we’ll be on vacation for three months. You and I could visit Egypt.”
I had never wanted to travel to that country. What else is over there but sand, the blazing sun, and pyramids?
“Well? Would you like to go with me?” His tone was pleading.
“I don’t know; I had plans to relax during my break.”
He frowned morosely. Obviously, a visit to Egypt was his ultimate ambition.
“It won’t be much fun going there alone,” he said.
I gave in. “All right; I’ll accompany you.”
He beamed. “Splendid! We’ll take a plane there. We’ll have a great time!”
* * *
When we got there, the country seemed as I had pictured it: austere, boring, and lifeless. Cairo is not exactly an exciting land.
Wetherton was thrilled, though. His face lit up as soon as our plane touched ground.
First we saw the Cairo Museum. He was as ecstatic as a kid on the last day of school.
“The Egyptians had a skill for architecture,” the tour guide said. “They put intricate care into the making of their pyramids. Dedication was as crucial as craft to them.”
It was high praise for people who worshipped pagan gods and supported slavery.
Next we looked at some Egyptian pottery.
“Don’t you admire the look of these vases?” Wetherton asked.
“They’re beautiful.” I looked at my watch. We had been there for only a few minutes, but it seemed much longer.
We were then told how the Egyptians cooked their food. This gave me an idea on how to spare myself from more boredom.
“I’m getting hungry,” I said. “I have some sandwiches in my knapsack; why don’t we stroll outdoors and have lunch?”
“Don’t you want to see more of the museum?”
“We can see it later.” And later I’ll claim to have a headache, I told myself.
“My stomach is grumbling,” Wetherton admitted. “We can go out there and eat.”
We went outside and walked to a secluded area near a cave.
“What do you say we go inside this cave?” he said. “The heat is murder out here.”
“What about bats? I’ve heard they can get into your hair.”
“They won’t bother us. Come on.”
We entered the cave. I had to agree it was cooler in there.
“Just think,” Wetherton said, “a few centuries ago, men lived in places like this. There were no appliances, yet they survived!”
I could tell that he wanted to go farther into the cave. Sure enough, his next statement confirmed it.
“I’d really like to explore this passageway.”
I sighed. “I guess we might as well.”
We advanced into the cave. The passageway opened up into a den, and what we saw in there amazed us.
“Look, Harry!” I said.
“Good grief, it’s a mummy’s tomb!” he cried.
“If I weren’t seeing this with my own eyes, I’d never believe it.”
We walked toward the coffin with fascination.
“It must be several centuries old, yet it looks brand-new,” Wetherton whispered.
“What are these animals?” I asked, pointing to drawings on the lid.
“They’re images of the Egyptian gods, Anubis and Isis.”
“Should we open it?”
“No!” Wetherton said, horrified.
“Do you see the words here?”
“Yes. What do they mean?”
“I don’t know. I can’t read Egyptian. But I suspect that they’re a curse forbidding the tomb to be opened. Many explorers have done so in the past and have died young.”
“It couldn’t have been a curse that killed them! The supernatural doesn’t exist, Harry.”
“Then what caused them to die so early? I don’t want to take any risks.”
He was genuinely scared; he truly believed in the “curse.”
“Okay, we won’t open it,” I said. “But can’t I take a picture of it?”
“Go ahead. There’s no curse on photographing a tomb.”
I took a picture of it. Then we checked into a hotel and caught a nap. I woke up later, but Harry didn’t. He was dead.
* * *
The local coroner said he’d suffered a fatal heart attack. I thought it odd that he should have a coronary in the prime of life. Something was wrong here.
Back home, I consulted his physician, Dr. Perry Gettmann. According to him, Wetherton and his family had no history of heart trouble, which made his death mysterious.
But stranger things have been known to happen, and I would have dropped the matter if it hadn’t been for one thing.
The curse had promised early death to anyone who opened the tomb. But Wetherton had not opened it! What made him die so suddenly?
I visited Steven Holtz, a historian in my hometown, to try and get an answer.
Showing him the photograph of the tomb, I related our experience.
“That explains it!” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“The words on the lid explain what the buried pharaoh wanted.”
“And what was that?”
“He wanted someone to open his tomb so he could enjoy the afterlife on Earth.”
I was still confused. “Why did Wetherton die? That’s what I can’t understand.”
“Don’t you see, Richard? The curse is not meant for someone who opens the tomb, but for someone who doesn’t open it.”
* * *
That’s my story. Now you know why I must find that tomb. If I don’t open it, I’ll be a goner. What killed Wetherton will kill me.
Did you just feel the plane swooping down? I did. And I swear I can see the ground getting closer.
I think I know what’s happening.
Gibson reached for his holstered 38 caliber and held it in the air.|
part one of the story
When he heard the hammer click, Jeff looked up and saw the Sheriff point the two-inch barrel at his forehead.
“I could do that, Jeff,” Gibson said. “Stand here and pull this trigger and no one would think the worse of me. Better yet, no one would miss your sorry ass in the least. We’d bury you in a grave and all go home for supper. Jeff Dunn would disappear and the world would be a much better place.”
Jeff glanced between the barrel and Gibson’s eyes. He heard the noise of highway traffic, noticed the blue light of the motel sign reflecting on a nearby tree. Anticipating death, he closed his eyes and waited for him to pull the trigger. “Go on, shoot me if you want. It would be a sight better than living with what I know.”
Gibson sighed. “And what do you know, Jeff? Tell me, please.”
Jeff’s words rolled out like a flash flood. “I already told you. I left a dead girl up there, but I swear to you, she was alive when I fell asleep. I know I shoulda brought help and seen she got a decent burial. I shoulda told someone and taken whatever I got coming. She deserved better, Sheriff, and I ain’t never gonna be able to forget it, but killing me ain’t gonna bring her back. Lord, if it would, I’d take that gun and pull the trigger myself. That’s what I know.”
Jeff collapsed backwards, legs and arms extended in the shape of a cross. His fingers dug into the dirt.
Gibson lowered the gun, then released the hammer and put the weapon back in his holster. He realized the truth in Jeff’s words, realized Ashley was gone and wouldn’t come back. Killing Jeff wouldn’t change that. One innocent person’s death couldn’t be avenged by another.
He shook his head. “Better go home now, Jeff. It’s not safe to lie in the road like this.” Turning in a slow half- circle, he muttered, “Goddamn it all to hell,” marched back to his car, and drove away.
Jeff remained prostrate for a moment. “Sonofabitch,” he groaned as he stared up at the stars.
He wondered if God was really up there – observant, patient, carrying out justice – or if he was just a bystander to the world’s suffering and wickedness? And the agony Jeff felt. Was this just a taste of his final fate – a slow, deliberate slide in the dirt downhill toward a pit of darkness? He hadn’t put much stock in the idea of hell and damnation. Now he was on the fence.
Jeff rolled over and forced himself to stand. He managed to find his feet and brush off considerable dust from his shirt and pants. His body was weary from drink, danger, and confession. Even though it was early evening, he folded his chair, leaned it just so against his trailer, and went straight to bed.
August 4, 1980, 7:07 P.M.
Monday evening, end of shift and Moose was off for the next two days. He decided to grab a night with Ashley at his cabin near Du Pont Springs. He called and arranged to pick her up near the County Courthouse in downtown Sevierville. Around seven he told her.
She sat in a small café across the street. He pulled his black Chevy pickup into the lot and waited for her to come out. When Ashley jumped into the cab, she threw her arms around Moose and kissed him hard.
Cradling her tenderly, he said, “Nice to see you too, darling. Now, buckle up.”
Moose drove his truck onto Chapman Highway and headed east toward the Knox County line. He tuned the radio to WIVK and listened to country music. At the moment, Kenny Rogers was singing “She Believes in Me.” Ashley sang along on the chorus and smiled at him.
Goddamn that smile, he thought. Warm enough to melt butter.
By the time they reached the turnoff for Cusick Road, Moose and Ashley were chatting amiably about the day’s events.
She had a tiff with her mom over borrowing clothes.
He had pulled over a young man this morning for speeding and discovered a stash of weed in the car. Moose laughed as he described how the kid looked when he rolled down the window and grass smoke billowed out.
“Whooo - ee,” Moose chuckled. “All that smoke. I was high myself by the time I cuffed him.”
It was completely dark when they pulled next to the cabin. They both thought the same thing: run through the front door, hit the bed, make love. When they finished, Moose propped his head against the oak headrest and lit a cigarette. Ashley curled in his armpit.
“Are we in love?”
Moose was caught off guard. He laid his cigarette in an ashtray on the night stand and paused a moment before saying, “Well, now, I guess that depends on how you define love.”
Ashley raised up. “You know what I mean, like two people that want to be together – forever.”
“Oh. You mean the marrying kind of love?”
“Yeah, courting, wedding bells, that sort of thing.”
“Hmm, I don’t think so. We’re more into the fun kind of love where we have a good time but don’t stomp on each other’s toes, if you know what I mean. I been married. After a while, it ain’t no fun and you just get mad and make each other miserable.”
He reached over and pulled her up until her body covered his belly and her head rested comfortably on his chest. “You and me, we got our lives and we got each other. There’s a time and place for everything, like now –” He rubbed her back gently then moved his hands up to smooth her hair. “This is what we got. This is the good love.”
“Oh,” she said and grew quiet.
Moose reached for his cigarette and watched her wheels turn. He realized she was this close to figuring him out. He wondered if it was time to start untangling himself. Moose had a certain thrill meter in his head by which he judged all his relationships. Ashley’s questions made his needle waver. Talk of love and marriage always made him uneasy.
Ashley rolled off, sat on the side of the bed, and lit her own cigarette.
Even in the dark, Moose could make out her form. He was in a quandary, whether to flee or grab her tight. <>IMy God, he thought, She is beautiful.
Ashley took a deep puff. Her eyes wandered over the laced curtains covering the window. She knew Moose was telling the truth. She even admired his honesty. Still –
He touched her back. “You okay, darling?”
Ashley laid down her cigarette and rolled next to him. “I’m fine, you big lug. How frisky are you tonight?” She put her small hand between his thighs.
Moose ran a large hand across her breasts. “I’m hungry as a bear.”
As she climbed on him and slid down to his thighs, she felt him growing – solid, warm – and ached to have this moment last, their bodies linked together like vines. She looked at him and rubbed her finger on his cheek. “Don’t you ever forget me, huh?”
He wrapped both hands around her back. “Not in this lifetime.”
Ashley started awake, as if something in her dreams had frightened her. It was early morning. She had no idea of the time, only that night was carefully positioned between yesterday and tomorrow. It bothered her, the fact she couldn’t tell the difference. The past, the future, all seemed the same. Or perhaps she did know and just couldn’t face it; the possibility that, just like June and Moose, this was where she’d remain – stuck in a cycle of food, work, sleep, sex. Nothing more.
Ashley quietly slipped from bed and threw on a nightgown. She grabbed her cigarettes, tiptoed out of the cabin, and sat on an old wooden bench. The moon had yet to set over the mountains. That moon, so much like her life – a light that appeared, disappeared, and sometimes left the sky empty for long periods.
Ashley lit a cigarette and thought about love, how it seemed impossible to keep. Ashley and Moose, an item for the moment. So were Moose and June and probably Moose and a dozen other women. And now, at this moment, with the fickle moon in sight, the thought of losing Moose darkened her thoughts. She felt her life plunging like a stone into a river. Sooner or later she would hit bottom. And then what? Then – nothing.
She shivered and watched her smoke drift up toward the moon.
August 30, 2008, 11:04 A.M.
In the narthex of Atchley’s Funeral Home, June sat and watched the crowd mill around. Rita greeted visitors at the entrance. June’s two brothers, Earl and Robert, chatted and smoked outside. Aunt Edna sat prayerfully in the chapel. One reporter from The Mountain Press scribbled notes.
For June, it seemed odd to think that in that casket over there the remains of her only daughter were stored, a daughter who had disappeared, returned for a moment, and now was being buried. Was it better for Ashley to stay missing or come back as dead remains in a box? At least with the former, June had always kept a sliver of hope. Maybe Ashley had just been unhappy living in a small trailer with her nag of a mother. Maybe she had simply decided to slip away and find a better life. Now on the turn of a dime, the truth pounded at her. Death. Destruction of hope. The cold reality of a daughter, gone for decades and now, even with her rediscovery, still gone. Finding her remains was no comfort. Dead was dead.
Moose appeared at the door dressed in his best uniform. June saw him and hurried over. As they embraced, she grabbed him and cried. Moose waited and did his best to comfort her, even as folks around the room stole glances.
His arrival was a signal for everyone to gather in the chapel. The pastor of the Good Light Baptist Church reminded June it was time to start. He escorted her down the aisle to the front pew. When everyone was gathered, the service began.
Jeff had dried out the last couple of days and cleaned himself up. Feeling compelled to at least be close to the funeral, he was now seated in his car outside the mortuary.
Jeff was not a religious man. He rarely attended church and wasn’t sure if he even believed in God. Yet, at this moment something beyond himself spoke about forgiveness. Maybe it was some good spirit of the mountain who watched over poor folks, even those who stumbled and did terrible things. Maybe it was Ashley from the other side. Whatever it was, Jeff sensed it, welcomed it.
Despite the midmorning heat, it was her presence, the possibility of their souls being reunited, that made him sit patiently. As he watched the funeral home, he imagined, when the service was finished, that she would fly out of the chapel and wrap her wings around his body.
“It’s okay,” she would whisper. “Don’t you worry any more.”
The picture he drew in his mind made him smile.
After the memorial service, a small group of family and friends traveled to the cemetery. June had picked a nice spot for Ashley, with a view of the surrounding mountains. Typical for this time of year, the large grey cumulus clouds ballooned overhead and gathered for their daily afternoon downpour.
Moose stood close to June as the casket was lowered. Rita held June’s arm as support. When the pastor finished the final words of commitment, everyone broke into a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” After the last words were sung, the finality hit June and she began to weep. While the crowd dispersed for the wake at Keith and Rita’s house, Moose put his arm around June and helped her to the limo.
Jeff arrived at the gravesite long after everyone had gone. When he was sure no one would see him, he approached the casket. The men with shovels and backhoe had gone on to another site. Jeff finally had his private moment.
He felt Ashley’s spirit surround him. He knew, at this moment, his wrong had been cleansed. It only remained for him to trace his steps back to the place where it all began. He felt strongly he should have stayed with her. Perhaps if he had remained awake, they could have stretched out in the cave and caressed each other as they both fell asleep.
Jeff believed that Ashley had returned for that reason – to offer him what she had already experienced. He was more than ready to be embraced by her love. As he teetered on the edge of her grave, Jeff realized how tired he was, how the darkness of the cave appealed to him. Already, he could feel peace approaching. He knew she was waiting for him. He knew he was ready to join her. All he had to do was return to Ashley’s View.
August 17, 1980, 12:38 A.M.
June was tired, bone tired. For some reason, during her shift, the customers had been extra bitchy and Mr. McQuark had constantly been on her about one thing or the other. Never an easy man to get along with, tonight he seemed even less agreeable. She breathed a sigh of relief when she clocked out and pointed her Pinto towards home.
She hated her job. Her days spun from customer to customer as she tried to keep a herd of blue collar jerkoffs with pot bellies, bad hairdos, and rude children happy. Same ol’ same ol’ and hardly a dollar to show for it when the bills were paid. June hoped better for Ashley; ached, in fact, to release her from this tourist trap hell.
A few miles down Highway 441, she started to unwind. Her mind turned to Moose. She half-hoped he would be there at the house. Even if he did seem a bit distracted these days, at least he was nice to her. That’s more than she could say of most men. And some sex was better than none. June still had needs that Moose seemed more than willing to fulfill. She knew he had other horses on the side. Still, she felt lucky to be in his stable. Maybe tonight he would give her some comfort and release.
Her heart skipped a beat when she turned on Dogwood Lane and saw his squad car parked outside the trailer. Maybe he’d heard her silent pleas. Maybe he would be waiting with a beer and a smile. Despite all the shit she had taken tonight, her outlook brightened.
June parked her car just down the street. She wanted to surprise him. If he was waiting for her in bed, she would slip in, take him in her arms, and let him use those big hands for good purposes.
June took off her shoes and tiptoed to the door. Pulling gently down on the silver handle, she eased it open and peeked inside. So far, so good. The kitchen was empty. The scenario she imagined was taking place just as she hoped. She closed the door and hoped it wouldn’t squeak. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other, she inched toward her bedroom.
There was a rustle of some sort from Ashley’s room. It meant her daughter was home. Moose and June would have to be quiet. Not that Ashley hadn’t guessed why she and Moose spent all those nights together. Still –
Pausing at her bedroom door, she took a moment to unzip her skirt, throw off her blouse, and loosen her bra. She wanted to be ready for the moment.
Easing the door open, she slipped into the bed and murmured playfully, “Is Mr. Moosey ready for his woman?”
As her hands hit the covers, she felt – nothing – except blankets sheets, and pillows. No one hiding under the covers. For a moment, she was puzzled and hurt. His car was outside. This was a small trailer. She backpedaled and sat on the bed. Where the hell could he be?
Then a thought hit her. A slow, terrible thought that seeped in and spread like poison from a snake bite. She crossed her arms and rubbed her shoulders. It was humid and stuffy in her bedroom, but her body chilled as if she was locked in a refrigerator. The cold spread to her breasts, thighs, and legs.
Rising from the bed, she opened her door and reached down for her blouse and slip. Her joints ached as she pulled them on. Standing in the hall for a moment, she listened for any sounds that might confirm her suspicions.
Zeroing in on Ashley’s bedroom door, she wrapped her fingers around the doorknob, twisted slowly, and flipped on the lights. A sudden rustle of sheets confirmed the worst. She caught her breath. “Moose? Ashley?”
Moose turned his head and twisted like a fish on a hook. Wrapping a blanket around his waist, he came to rest in a sitting position on Ashley’s bedside.
Ashley, lying on her back, stared at June before pulling the sheet over her head and screaming, “Mother!”
The overhead light scalded June’s eyes. Her voice cracked and her breath came in shallow bursts. “Moose, you want to explain yourself?”
Moose hung his head. “Well, now, Juney, I guess what you see kinda speaks for itself, now don’t it?”
June took two steps back, braced against a wall, and slid to the floor. With her knees bent, she started to cry.
“You bastard. My daughter, in my own house, no less. Not ten feet from where we –” She shook her head and covered her eyes. “You big dumb asshole. Could you get any lower? I swear –”
Moose reached for his clothes and began to dress. He pulled on his uniform pants, then stood and buttoned his shirt. Finally, he gathered up his shoes and walked out the bedroom door. As he stepped in the hall, he reached down to touch June’s shoulder.
June jerked away and hissed, “Don’t you dare.”
Moose glanced at Ashley, still buried under her sheet. “Well, darling, guess this is it for you and me.” He could hear the faint sound of weeping.
Ashley’s voice wavered as she called out, “Guess so.”
June stood and drew her small frame as close as she could get to Moose’s face. With all the fury she could muster, she reared back and slapped him. “Fuck off and get out!”
Once or twice in his life, Moose had laid out a woman for something like this. Not tonight. He knew a man shouldn’t screw around with his girlfriend’s daughter. But, goddamn it, this was Ashley. She just had a way with him. Now he was caught like a rabbit in a trap. Nothing to do but suck up his outrage and move on. He turned, shoes in hand, and hurried out the front door.
June heard his squad car drive away. In her mind, the crunch of wheels on gravel was the sound of love disappearing. All these years she had hoped. Now nothing remained except a treacherous daughter and her own empty bedroom. She stood up and braced herself on Ashley’s doorway. “How long ya’ll been at this?”
June waited for some time, not really wanting a reply. She guessed enough to understand. “You can’t do this to people, Ashley. You play around like this, you always lose. You hurt the ones you love, you lose double.”
She wanted to say more, so much more – pile on the guilt, make her daughter cringe in horror - but her pain blocked out the words. All she felt at this point was dragged-down weariness.
Pushing slowly back from the door frame, June stumbled down the hallway, veered into her bedroom, and shut the door.
Ashley rolled out of bed. The light was killing her eyes. She slapped at the switch and plunged back into darkness. Her mother’s sobs were breaking her heart. The sudden loss of Moose was crushing her mind. She slammed the door and fell back in bed. For the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to be completely alone.
August 30, 2008, 11:22 P.M.
Moose sat in his office staring at the big brass placard on his desk – the one proclaiming him Sheriff of Sevier County. He had worked hard to get here. Logged a lot of hours, rubbed a lot of palms, bent a rule or two to gain favor. All part of the job.
Funny how the funeral this afternoon had made all this seem trivial. He wondered if something valuable had been stripped from his life. He had always held a small strand of hope that Ashley would someday return a happy woman, grown up with a husband and kids; that she would let bygones be bygones.
Moose was a strong man, but knowing Ashley was dead had cracked his heart. He had spent the last thirty years coaxing June’s forgiveness and thirty years waiting for Ashley to come home. Now he knew. She was gone and he would remain in permanent exile.
Ralph Owenby, one of his Assistant Deputies, came in and sat down. Moose had brought him in as a young Sheriffs’ Cadet and they had remained good friends ever since. Ralph was surprised to see Moose in his office.
“Well, sir, it’s been a while since we’ve spotted you on graveyard.”
Moose looked up and smiled. “Yup. Always was my favorite shift. Guess you and me, we was always night owls.”
“Saw some crazy shit, even for this little one-horse town.”
“That we did.”
Ralph leaned forward. “You okay, Moose? We’s friends you know. I got a break coming. We can talk if you want.”
Moose shook his head. “Not much to say after today.”
“I’m real sorry about Ashley.”
“Anymore news on Jeff?”
Moose stirred at the mention of his name. “Goddamn strange, if you ask me. He knows she died, but says he doesn’t know how. Sounds fishy, but hell if I can make heads or tails of it. Nothing forensic that says murder. Some obvious use of drugs and alcohol. I don’t know. Maybe the bastard’s telling the truth. Maybe it was all just a fucking accident. Still, I’d really like to nail his ass for this.”
Ralph folded his arms. “You think he done it?”
“I think he done something. What that might be, I don’t know . . . yet.” He swung halfway around in his chair. “Anyway, it’s been thirty years, she’s in the grave. Whatever I prove won’t bring her back. That’s the hard part, you know. Goddamn it all, she’s really dead.”
Ralph kept his peace. He knew from experience there wasn’t much to say when someone came to grips with death. He’d delivered more than his share of bad news to parents and families. Not a damn thing he could do to cushion the blow.
“Well, Moose, I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah, thanks Ralph.”
Ralph rose from his chair. “Well, I gotta go. Busy night tonight.”
“Go knock some heads for me, would you?” Moose pushed back in his chair and smiled. “Really, I kinda miss it sometimes.”
“Come on out some night. I’ll let you make a bust, just like the old days.”
“I might just do that.”
Ralph paused at the doorway, then disappeared down the hall.
Moose sat and stared at that eyesore of a placard. It had cost him nearly three hundred bucks out of his own pocket. At the time, Moose thought it was worth every penny. Now, it just sat on his desk and mocked him.
August 27, 1980, 3:11 A.M.
Ashley waited for Jeff at the top of the hill.
When he finally sat down, he reached out and brushed his palm against her arm. “You are truly a mountain goat.”
“You’re sweet,” she said and wrapped her arm around his.
Against the bright moonlight, Jeff noticed sadness in her face. “Still Christmas?”
“Yep, right through those trees, my own little universe, where it’s always Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July.”
Jeff followed her sight line. “Which trees?”
She pointed to the left. “See those two crossing over each other?”
He stared at where her finger pointed. Then he noticed two pine trees twisted across each other forming the shape of an A-frame gate. “God, those things are spooky.”
“No. Not spooky at all. I call them my gazebo. Ga - ze - bo. You probably never heard that word, have you?”
Jeff shook his head. “Naw, you’re right, I haven’t. Sounds fancy though.”
“It’s not fancy. Just part of the magic. Walk right through to another world. You never know what might surprise you.”
With that she stood up and disappeared between the two trees.
“Okay,” Jeff said. “First Christmas, now magic.”
She poked her head back into view. “Now you see me –” She laughed as her head vanished. “Now you don’t.”
He worked up his courage, approached the trees, and pushed his way through. Ashley stood on a ledge about twenty feet in front of him and held out her arms. “Welcome to my world.”
Jeff turned in a complete circle, awestruck. The moon threw light across a valley spread thick with forest. The ledge fell sharply for at least fifty feet. Behind him, the cold, black eye of a cave.
Ashley stepped into the cave and emerged with a bedroll, a small plastic bag, and a fresh bottle of whiskey. “See? I got blankets, booze, grass, just the thing for a warm summer night.”
Jeff was impressed. “You store all this up here?”
“I told you. This here’s my hideout. I’ve got enough in that cave to party for a week.”
Ashley spread out the bedroll a safe distance from the ledge. She took a few minutes to break open the whiskey and roll a couple of joints. “Ready,” she proclaimed.
Jeff and Ashley sat and surveyed the valley. She fired up a joint and handed it to Jeff, then lit the other and inhaled deeply. Grabbing the whiskey, she took a swig and passed it on.
Jeff turned his head upright, put the bottle to his lips, and drank deeply. “You come here often?”
“Whenever I can. Years ago, my dad used to bring me hunting here. Says his family’s known about this spot forever. Guess they used to hide moonshine up here, something like that. Now, I just come up by myself. I like to sit here and think, specially at night.”
They each smoked their joints and kept quiet. The sound of the wind was hypnotic. Jeff finally broke the silence. “Well, now that we’re here, what’s to think about?”
Ashley smiled and laughed. “Ha! You don’t know the half of it.”
“I don’t know any of it, or anything about you.”
She drew another puff and gazed up at the moon. “Well, in a nutshell, my life’s in the toilet. I got no job, no car, no idea what to do with my life. What I do have is an ex-boyfriend who fucked both me and my mother. And if that weren’t bad enough, my so-called bitch of a mother knows I fucked her boyfriend and is downright ready to kick me out. And I’m just sitting here wondering if that’s it. Ashley, fuck buddy, trailer trash. Kinda depressing if you ask me.”
Jeff laid his arms across his knees and flicked ash from his joint. “So, what you gonna do?”
She stared down at the forest. “Well, I might like to go back to school, but I ain’t got much money. Anyway, I got no idea what to do once I get there.”
“Make mobiles, maybe?”
“Well, there’s an idea. I’ll check into that, thank you.” She took another long puff. “What about you?”
“Me? Hell, not much to tell. I’m a cook at KFC. My parents split when I was four. Been here all my life. My grandma raised me, but right now, I live with my uncle in Pigeon Forge. He lets me stay in his basement, long as I pay him rent. Outside a that, pretty much party and work, work and party. But I guess you know that anyway. You seen me and Rosie. Story of my life there. Really, I got no idea what else to do. Sometimes I work on my car. Bout it I guess.”
“Sounds like you and me got lots in common.”
Jeff grabbed the bottle and took an extra long swig. When he finished, he placed it carefully on the rock and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “You think?”
She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped them with her arms. “We’re both bored, both stuck here, both got no idea what to do about it. My mother would call that the horns of a dilemma, whatever that means.”
Jeff nodded. “Seems so.”
Ashley leaned into his shoulder. “Guess that’s it for botha us, huh?”
“Yup. I do agree, that about wraps it up.”
“Would be nice to have some money, do something different. I hate the thought of growing up like my mom.”
“Well, what you gonna do about it?” Jeff threw his butt over the edge and laid down on his back. “Some folks just get lucky. Mosta us round here never get out. Just stuck in the wheel, I say. Nowhere to jump off.”
Ashley finished her joint, crushed it, and took his hand. “Well, least we know who we are, where we belong . . . and there’s always tonight.”
“Christmas, you say?”
She removed her top. In the moonlight, the outline of her breasts were luminescent. “Christmas . . . and magic,” she whispered.
“Well, now, I like the sound of that.”
Jeff pulled her over and moved his hands slowly down her smooth back. He had never had such a delicate flower nestled in his hands. As he struggled with his clothes, she patiently helped. He pushed against her on the blanket and heard her breathing as it slowed down, sped up, and returned to him with soft sounds of pleasure. For the next hour, witnessed by the surrounding landscape, they were lovers.
Jeff slept soundly on the bedroll. Ashley was awake, laying on her back, watching the sky turn blue. She glanced at him and gently touched his face, sure that his exhaustion would leave him in this state for several hours. Ashley picked up her clothes and walked to the cave. She turned and gazed back, as if taking a last glance at her secret home.
Inside the cave, she unrolled a second bedroll, smoothed it out, and methodically took time to fold her clothes. She sat cross-legged, facing the cave entrance, closing her eyes in meditation. The cool darkness was a comfort.
From the pocket of her windbreaker, she removed a bottle of Valium stolen from her mother’s medicine cabinet and placed it next to her bare thigh. The bottle appeared white and shiny in the half-light. Ashley opened it, removed the pills, and laid them out one by one in front of her. Another bottle of whiskey was on her left.
For the next half hour, she popped one pill after another and followed it with drink. When she finished the pills and most of the whiskey, Ashley laid all her paraphernalia in a single row against the cave wall and stretched out on the bedroll.
The daylight was creeping through the cave entrance. She felt warmth and peace, as if the end was far more pleasant than she thought possible. “Night, y’all,” she said in a sleepy voice, and within minutes, she was gone.
September 24, 2008, 7:04 A.M.
Moose woke up early and slid quietly out of bed so as not to disturb Desiree, his girlfriend for the last six months. She slept on her side with her back turned toward him. He could just make out her slight breathing motion.
Desiree Skyler was 35, a stunning combination of tall, blond, blue-eyed, and well connected via her rich family in Knoxville. She had moved to Sevierville as a new partner in a medical practice that specialized in cardiology. She and Moose had met at a Valentine’s Day party last February sponsored by one of his major political backers. Moose liked them pretty. Desiree liked them powerful. It was a perfect match.
Moose put on his bathrobe and stepped out the front door of his 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Sevierville’s upscale neighborhood of Steeple Chase. He retrieved The Mountain Press off his doorstep. As expected, the paper had this headline sprawled across the front page: Sheriff Decides to Step Down.
Back inside, he walked to the kitchen to start his normal pot of coffee. Throwing open the curtains covering the French doors to the patio, he took a moment to stretch and watch the morning light spread over the surrounding hills. There was a touch of fall in the air.
Moose lit a cigarette at the kitchen table and sat down to read his personal story. Browsing down the page, he occasionally huffed, shook his head, and murmured. He’d learned to live with the press even though they often played loose with the facts. It was a daily paper. They had to write something.
In this case, the story was half- truth, half- fiction. The printed quotes were okay. The speculation about why he resigned was laughable. “Really, they don’t know shit,” he said.
He reached the bottom and found another reporter in a sidebar trying to make a connection between him and Jeff Dunn. There was a mention of the Hendricks investigation and Jeff’s mysterious disappearance: no sign of him at his trailer, absent from work, not seen at Ricky’s for at least a week. The reporter wondered. Was Moose somehow involved?
“Probably skipped town for Mexico,” Moose said as he rose to get his coffee. Pouring a full cup, he retreated back to the table and once again picked up the paper.
Desiree walked out of the bedroom and approached Moose. She stood only in a thin cotton shirt and panties. With an arm around his shoulder, she said, “Big news, huh?”
He held up the headline for her to read. “Yes, ma’am. Front page.”
“Nice,” she said as she checked on the coffee, though, in the back of her mind, she was a little put off that he hadn’t mentioned this to her. She poured a cup, sat at the table opposite Moose, and tried to casually inquire. “So, why did you resign?”
“Thirty-five years, darling. Time to do something different.”
Desiree took a slow sip of coffee. “Well. Hope you find something interesting.”
Moose stopped what he was doing and stared at her. “What, ain’t I enough?”
Desiree shrugged, put down her cup, and headed for the bathroom.
Moose was perplexed. He couldn’t get Ashley out of his head and every woman he had dated or slept with since had been compared to that standard. Nor could he forget June sitting on the porch, or Jeff Dunn sprawled in the dirt. Moose knew that some of their suffering was rightfully his.
Desiree, now in robe and slippers, returned to her half-warm cup of coffee. She sat down and looked at Moose, curious about what he was thinking.
Moose leaned back in his chair. “Off to work?”
“As usual, another busy day.”
Moose stood up and crushed his cigarette. “Well, darling, don’t wait up for me, I’ll be home late tonight.”
He walked to the bathroom, glanced at her as she picked up the paper, and closed the door.
A cheap plastic Adirondack chair
Kids play with oversize styrofoam ducks
In an indoor pool in the summer.
Decades ago friends down the street
Let us use their pool in the winter
A short walk through cold and snow, and then
We would open a heavy five foot zipper
And step into a steamy zone
Hit by the smells of chlorine and tropical plants.
Some days we would watch the snow fall
Around the opaque plastic bubble, one day
We found one neighbor naked, with secretary.
After the divorce, and then the oil embargoes,
Of course the bubble was inflated less often,
Eventually sold and carted off completely.
That familiar smell of chlorine hit me
Walking into this indoor community pool,
Laughter, as families play together, echoes around
And so, will this joyful place, decades
Hence be regarded as another relic
Of an age of self-centered over abundances,
When water was free, and children stayed indoors,
Waterfalls came from giant mushroom caps,
Otter runs were made from plastic,
When these children are my age,
Will they look back upon a lost paradise
Or curse their parent’s trips to vanity fair?
Mark and Lauren sat at a table at L’Espalier waiting for their entree. Lauren, Mark’s yoga instructor, wasn’t very chatty. She rarely made small talk. Mark liked that.
After a few moments of silence, Mark asked her what she did besides teach yoga. “My real love is art, “ she said. I paint, but my passion is writing—poetry and fiction.”
She said she’d started writing when she was nine, after her mother died.
“Sorry about your mother,” said Mark. “Did your father remarry?”
“Yes, unfortunately,” she said. “I didn’t get along with my stepmother. I ran away and lived with my grandmother. I owe her a lot. So...I’m really blabbering, aren’t I?”
“Oh, not at all. I’m interested,” said Mark. “Go on.”
Lauren, totally immersed in the conversation, looked straight at Mark, not distracted by the commotion of patrons and servers. “Well, to round out the story, I put myself through U. Mass, Boston, English lit major, and I’ve been writing and waitressing ever since. I started teaching yoga three years ago.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Mark, “How old are you?”
“I don’t mind. I’m 30. I can’t believe I’m that old. How old are you?”
“I’m 50,” Mark said. Lauren nodded.
When their entrees came, Lauren savored every bite of her salmon, as if it were a flavor she had never tasted before.
Mark, chowing down his lamb shank, was a little nervous. He had given Lauren a short story he’d written. She had critiqued it, and agreed to read it again. The revised manuscript sat on the table to Lauren’s right. She picked it up.
“It’s better,” she said, “but the ending is too melodramatic. Why not end it here?” She drew a line on the third page from the end. “I’ve marked passages that don’t ring true. I hope you keep working on it.”
They had met at the restaurant at her request, so Mark was surprised when she asked him to take her home.
He parked the car in front of her house. “Would you like to come in?” She asked.
“Sure,” he said.
She unlocked the door and they stepped into an entryway with ocean blue walls and burnt orange ceramic tile. A wrought iron chandelier bathed the area in pale yellow light. Mark looked around as Lauren stepped into the living room.
“This is my roommate Joe’s condo. He decorated,” said Lauren.
The living room’s color scheme was green. It ended in floor to ceiling windows with a panoramic view of Boston Harbor. “Wow, that’s quite a view,” said Mark. He wondered how a part time yoga instructor and waitress afforded to live there. She must sleep with her roommate, he thought.
“Yeah, I love it,” she said. “Sit wherever you like.” She laughed. “I sound like a waitress. Can I get you a cognac?”
“Yes, thank you,” he said, as he sat on the black leather couch.
Lauren walked over to a wet bar in the corner and poured drinks in brandy snifters. She handed Mark his and sat next to him, tucking her leg underneath. She took her cell phone out of her skirt pocket. “Excuse me. I need to listen to a voice mail message. Grandma calls every night before she goes to bed, so I know she’s okay. She’s 86 now, and she’s in good health for her age, but you never know.” She listened for a moment and then closed her cell phone.
“Is everything all right?” Asked Mark.
“Oh, yeah. She’s fine.” Lauren glanced over at a closed door next to a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase. Her blue eyes, darker in the dim light, darted around the room, as if she was waiting for something to happen. She smiled and looked straight at Mark. Her left eye twitched, and she scooted a little closer. Their knees touched. She rested her hand on his knee. Her scooped neck blouse revealed cleavage, as she leaned forward and pulled her leg out from under her. Her long natural blond hair fell across the right side of her face. Mark smiled back at her and put his hand on top of hers. He touched her cheek and hesitated. She smiled. He kissed her. She pushed her tongue between his lips, but a moment later pulled back.
“Mark, I feel I have to show you something. You’re too nice a guy to deceive, and I’m attracted to you—I’ve always been attracted to older men—but I don’t want you to think I’m somebody I’m not. She got up and led him toward the closed door. She opened it, grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her. At the back of the small room stood an antique, glass top table—a pile of white powder in the center. Mark’s eyes widened, but he didn’t make a sound.
“Joe and I have a little business here. I don’t have to tell you what that is, do I?” She asked.
“No,” he said softly. “I assume it’s cocaine.”
She asked the question Mark wanted to ask. “Why do I sell cocaine? Well, my grandmother has no means of support, and she gave up ten years of her life for me. I want to go to graduate school. I want to be a writer; that means everything to me. Teaching yoga and waitressing part time don’t cut it.’
Mark was stunned. He stood staring at the cocaine, then turned to Lauren, not knowing what to say. Though he had never known one, he pictured a drug dealer as a shadowy, greasy man with his own pitiful drug addiction, not a beautiful, creative young woman with everything going for her.
“Let’s go back to the living room Mark, she said, turning toward the door. “...Oh, unless you want some coke.”
“No, thanks,” he said.
Mark sat down next to Lauren and took a sip of Cognac. “Just so you know, I don’t use the stuff,” she said. “It’s strictly a business.” They looked at each other.
“Well, I don’t know what to say. I’m not really judging you, but I have to admit I am shocked.”
“I understand, and I’ll understand if you want to leave.” She looked down at her lap.
Mark looked at her. Damn, she’s beautiful, and smart, he thought. She seems to like me. Except for this one not so little problem, I’d love to pursue a relationship. “I have to say, Lauren, I’m not comfortable here, but I like you. I’d like to get to know you better. Why don’t we hang out at my place in the future?”
“I like you too, Mark. We could do that.”
“How about Tuesday after my yoga lesson? We could take a walk along the Charles, and then I’ll cook dinner for you,” he said.
“That sounds wonderful Mark. I’m so glad you understand.”
“I don’t know if I do understand,” said Mark, “but I don’t judge you. I have no right to criticize the way you run your life. God knows I’ve made some bad decisions running mine.”
“Okay, it’s settled. I’ll see you Tuesday,” Lauren said.
Dating a drug dealer is out of my comfort zone, Mark thought, as he drove home. But, as long as she doesn’t use drugs, and they stay away from the place where she sells them, there doesn’t seem to be any harm. Lauren’s really talented, he thought. She could help me; and besides, she’s hot. He felt ready to escape the solitude that engulfed him since he had moved to Cambridge.
He hadn’t dated much since his marriage disintegrated three years before. The hedge fund he had started when he left his high-pressure job at Merrill Lynch in New York was successful immediately, and the hours were less. But he didn’t just sit around or play golf. He took classes in creative writing and started writing fiction.
Mark was happy and relaxed, as they cleared the table Tuesday night. “Come over to the couch, and we’ll finish the wine,” said Mark.
He pulled Lauren to him and kissed her. Eventually, he caressed her breast over her yoga top. “Sorry to interrupt the lovely, romantic ambiance,” he said. “I really want to undress you, but I don’t have a clue how to get this yoga outfit off.”
Lauren laughed and kissed him. “How about if we go in the bedroom? I’ll undress you first, and then I’ll show you how to get a yoga outfit off.”
After they made love, Lauren pulled up the covers and sighed. “Now I know why I like older men,” she said. “That was awesome.”
“You were terrific too. Thank you.” He meant it.
Lauren stayed the night. It became a regular thing after his yoga lessons. One night they wrote and read aloud to each other. That became a regular thing too. Soon she was coming over Sunday afternoons. They took a long walk along Massachusetts Avenue past Harvard Square. One Sunday they cooked seared yellow fin tuna, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, despite Lauren’s claim that she didn’t know how to cook. Another Sunday afternoon, they jogged to the river and back. She asked if he minded her running on ahead. “Not at all,” he said. He was pleased he was almost able to keep up with her. He felt younger, more alive.
He fell in love. In bed, after they disengaged, he told her so. She looked away and then back at him. “I’m flattered, but I don’t fall in love that quickly, probably because I’ve been burned too many times. The last man I loved was sleeping with my uncle. People aren’t always what they seem.”
One Saturday night Mark awoke to the sound of the tune on his cell phone. As he staggered to the dresser and picked it up, the clock said 3:32 AM. The screen on the cell phone flashed “RESTRICTED.” Better answer it—in case, he thought.
“Mark, this is Lauren. I need your help.” Her voice cracked. “I’m in jail. Please come and bail me out. They arrested Joe too, or I woulda called him. It’s his fault, the asshole. It’s awful here. They strip-searched me, and everything. I feel like I’m in a bad movie. Only this is real. Please help me.”
Mark called a bail bondsman and arranged to meet him at the jail. Three hours later he drove Lauren to his apartment. He made coffee. Lauren slumped on the couch.
“I can’t believe this happened,” she said. “We were so careful, and then Joe blew it. We always said we would only sell to people we knew. Joe broke that rule, only once as far as I know, and that was it. The woman with the buyer was a cop.”
“I’m really sorry,” said Mark.
“I don’t know what to do now. How can I keep supporting my grandmother?” How can I pay for graduate school?” She sobbed. Mark sat down next to her on the couch and hugged her until she stopped.
“You can get student loans to pay for graduate school. You can live with me rent free and teach yoga to pay for your other expenses. As for your grandmother, Lauren, it’s not your responsibility to support her. You shouldn’t throw away your life selling drugs to do it. She wouldn’t want you to. I bet she doesn’t know you’re selling drugs to support her, does she?
“No, of course not.”
Lauren began to sob again. When she stopped, she stood up and walked to the kitchen and back. “Mark, this isn’t the first time. I was convicted three years ago for possession and got probation. I also have a prostitution conviction. I used to be an escort for wealthy, older men. I’m screwed.”
Mark couldn’t think of anything to say. He stared at the wall. After Lauren went home, he walked down to the Charles River Esplanade, where he and Lauren had jogged. She was trouble, he thought. But he enjoyed being with her so much. He had never had such deep conversations with anyone. He had never felt so vibrant, so eager for the next day. Anyway, he couldn’t abandon her now.
Except for Lauren’s meetings and phone conversations with her attorney, their lives went on normally. She was just as passionate about her writing and his, and it was contagious. They didn’t talk about the future. One day Lauren bounded in the door, smiling. “The prosecutor’s going to accept a plea to possession. My attorney says they’re worried about the entrapment defense.”
“That is good news,” said Mark.
“Yeah, the bad news is that because of my prior, I’ll still go to prison, probably for a year. With good behavior, that means about eight months.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” said Mark, hugging her, “but it could be worse.” He could feel her tears on his cheek.
“I know. I know,” she said.
When Mark visited her in prison the first time, as their time to talk had almost expired, she said, “Mark, the only thing that keeps me going in here is dreaming about getting out and going back to you. Every night before I go to sleep I picture us in bed together in the condo. I love you.”
“I love you too, Lauren,” he said.
Driving home Mark felt tense. He knew he had to make a decision about Lauren, and in fairness to her, soon. He needed the peace of a decision too. He felt whole and alive with her. But...it wasn’t just the cocaine. She sold her body too. What else would she do to get what she wanted? She didn’t learn from previous crimes. Why should he assume that she had from this? He couldn’t live with such risk and turmoil. Was she trouble, or was she just flawed, like everybody else? How flawed is too flawed?
The next time he visited her he pulled up the chair and waited for her to walk through the cream colored door on the other side of the partition. The guard stood next to the chair she would sit in and stared through him. When she saw Mark, she smiled with her whole face, wrinkling her temples. He didn’t smile. He knew it would look fake.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said. “...Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s best if we deal with what I have to say right away. I fell in love with you Lauren, but when I did, I fell in love with somebody I didn’t know. You have many wonderful qualities, and you’ve been very good to me. I’ll always love you for that. But I can’t deal with what you do that isn’t so wonderful. I can’t handle it. So... I’m saying good-bye now. I won’t be seeing you anymore. I...I’m sorry.” Tears filled Mark’s eyes. Lauren’s lower lip quivered. “Take care of yourself,” he said, and turned around and walked away.
I don’t want to do this assignment. Is Ms. Tallahart crazy? I hate school anyway and to make us do this is nuts.
“What’s the matter Peter?” Ms. Tallahart asked, walking by his desk. “You look upset or puzzled. I can’t figure out which.”
Peter folded his arms. “Well, maybe you should take a quiz. Does Peter look upset or does Peter look puzzled?”
The whole class erupted in laughter.
“Peter, to the office now!” Ms. Tallahart squinted as she glared at me though cat’s eye glasses.
Peter just rolled his eyes. He was almost thirteen, but felt like a high schooler since he often hung around older kids around the neighborhood. These kids in his class were beneath him since he was held back a year earlier in his life.
“Sandy,” Ms. Tallahart called to another student. “You will escort him and make sure he gets there. I don’t want to catch him smoking in the parking lot again.”
“Okay,” said Sandy, a little blonde girl with pigtails. “I’ll sure see that he gets there.”
Peter wasn’t afraid of Principal Hartman. He will explain to him about this stupid assignment.
“Are you okay Peter?” Sandy asked as they strolled in the hall toward the office.
Peter shrugged, walking with his hands in his pockets. “I’m okay.” He wasn’t going to tell her anything. She was teacher’s pet and he didn’t trust her.
“Well, I like getting out of class for a few minutes,” Sandy told him. “Don’t tell anyone, but I enjoy a cigarette once in a while.”
“Really?” he asked, surprised.
“Sure,” she said with a smile. “I get them from my dad when he’s not looking.”
Wait a minute, Peter thought. He wasn’t falling for this. Sandy’s been known to trap other kids into getting them in trouble. She gets brownie points for that and that’s how she gets to do these special little jobs.
“I don’t believe you,” Peter said. “Let’s just get to Principal Hartman.” How much more of this do I have to take? I want her away from me, even if I have to scare her.
She took a different approach. “I really like your hair slicked back like that. You look tough which is pretty cool.”
He ignored her attempt at a compliment. Most kids were scared of Peter. They were intimidated from him and wouldn’t even make eye contact with him. It was rumored around school that he was a bad ass who hung around on a street corner after school, and would eventually become a gang member who carried a switchblade around town.
“Can I ask why you don’t want to complete the assignment? It’s pretty easy.”
“No, I will tell Mr. Hartman why,” Peter said. She was prying and really getting on his nerves.
When they got to the office, Peter was led into Principal Hartman’s office right away.
“Well, hello there Peter,” he greeted, looking up from his newspaper. “What brings you in this time?”
“Nothing,” Peter answered, plopping down into a chair.
“Well, it has to be something.” He continued to read his paper.
“Ms. Tallahart wants us to do a home assignment and I don’t want to.”
He looked at Peter from over his glasses. “Well now Peter, a lot of kids hate doing assignments but you know we all have to do them to get our grades.”
“No!” Peter raised his voice. “I said it was a home assignment!”
“Now calm down Peter.” Principal Hartman dropped the newspaper on his desk. “What did she assign?”
“We have to interview our parents!” he said, still excited.
“Well, now what is wrong with that? You don’t like talking do you Peter? You seem like a shy kid.”
“No way, I’m not shy!” he said louder.
“Now didn’t I tell you to calm down?”
Peter took a deep breath as he looked down at the newspaper and saw the headline. “I don’t wanna interview them.”
“But why not?”
“My parents don’t talk to me about anything.” he said.
“Well, all you have to do is ask them.”
“No, they will NOT talk to me!”
“Well, would it help if I called them?”
Peter shrugged. “It may work if you talk to my mother. Just please don’t make her mad.”
“But why Peter? Why would I make her mad?”
Peter shook his head. “It’s nothing. She just flies off the handle easy.”
“Well, I’ll do that and we’ll see how your assignment goes. I can tell Ms. Tallahart to give you an extension if the assignment takes longer than the required deadline.”
Peter nodded reluctantly. It was better than being sent home from school and having Sandy escort him there. When he would cut school on his own, he spent time around town at the park or with other kids who cut.
He will probably just make up his own interview, he thought. He could make it sound legitimate by just putting in his own information on his parents. He wouldn’t tell the truth though. He was sure that Principal Hartman was reading the article in the newspaper about the serial killer around town. They were closing in on his dad, he could feel it.
“Do it!” I screamed to a sky of rolling dark clouds, more ominous than I had ever seen in a New England sky before. In my whole life I had never seen a twister, not in person, but I had seen them plenty on the Discovery Channel. The way the sky looked as the funnel cloud began to form, how the darkness swallowed the light and then rained hell down upon the earth. One enormous tube of wind and hell with a hungry mouth for anything in its path. If preachers really believed in God’s wrath I imagined that this was what it looked like. The stretches of blue, clear skies were rapidly being eaten by this grey matter that looked like anything but clouds.
“Come on you sonofabitch! I’m right here. COME ON!” I wasn’t even aware that I was running until my legs burned with exhaustion. What I was doing was chasing the storm, sprinting across the open field toward the darkest part of the cloud formation above my head. It began to hail. Ping pong sized hail that struck me like a barrage of bullets. One such sized ball of hail struck me just above the eyebrow and as I moved I felt the warmth of blood drooling down into my eye and blurring my vision. “Is that all you have? Huh? C’mon! You can’t kill me with balls of ice, you fool.”
I wiped the blood from my eye but it was still difficult to see. The wind was picking up with great force and pushed at my body like a man three times my size trying to hold me back, but my will was greater than the elements. All I wanted was to die, for whatever I had done in my life to piss off the Gods, or God –, whichever may be the case. It was their hand I wanted to feel extinguish my life. This was not a suicide attempt or act of insanity. I had nothing left. Everything had been taken from me without so much as an excuse as to why. No note, no real, rational sit down to explain, not even a goddamn email or text message. So, ya, I wanted it to be a higher power that extinguished my life. Took back what I had never asked for, dammit. I deserved that much didn’t I?
My foot caught a hole in the field and I tumbled end over end scratching the hell out of my shins on the dead wheat and scattering of twigs blown over to the field from the forest. I rolled, ass over end, but recovered and was quickly back on my feet chasing the storm as the first bellow of thunder echoed like the bass of a drum in the dwindling light. But where was the lightning? Where was the wrath of God that I had read about in the Bible and was preached about by the collared servants of God? The sky was beginning to swirl, rotating, and I believed even without knowing what to really look for, that a tornado would touch down. I could only pray that I was beneath it when it reached out to grasp the earth and tear it away to the heavens.
More thunder, a flash of light, but I did not see an actual bolt of electricity. This mind fuck was getting on my nerves. I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to chase down this storm to the ends of the earth. It didn’t matter to me anymore that my legs were screaming in agony and my bad knee buckled with almost every step I took. When she left that was hard enough, but the envelope that was placed in my hand this morning from the Sheriff had been the final straw. There just wasn’t enough strength in me to go on. I had fought for too long, faced too many battles and though I had won them all, each took a piece of my mind with every victory. I was just too tired to step back on the battle field and fight another battle in a losing war. The toll...it’s just too much –
It had to end today, a reward for the suffering. For whatever sin that I had committed, surely it wasn’t worth this much punishment.
On the far side of the field stood a large tree all by itself, at least a hundred yards away from the forest, perched on top of a small knoll. It looked dead, decaying, but hanging on at the end of the top most branches were tiny green leaves. The old thing still had a little life left in it. I wasn’t even aware that I was running toward the tree when suddenly I was no more than twenty feet away. The sky cracked and a blistering gnarled white-blue bolt of lightning burned through the air and struck the tree, splitting one of the largest branches in fiery half.
“Please – ”
The wind grasped the branch and swung it towards me as I continued to run forward.
“ – end it,” I whispered and closed my eyes. There was a deafening cry of screeching wind and then something struck me hard in the stomach. My body was propelled backwards and I came to land in the muddy field, out of breath and desperately trying to inhale. Only when I opened my eyes did I see the heavy branch lying across my chest and stomach, pressing me into the ground.
I hadn’t believed her when she said that it was over. Not really. How could I when all the signs pointed to something that could never be over. Thirteen months ago she had come home and told me that we needed to talk, and from the sadness in her eyes I knew what ‘talk’ meant. It was over. She wanted out of our five year marriage and no amount of pleading, promises of change, or praying would change her mind. And yet, in that time, the eight months that it took our home to sell and for her to find her own place, we shared the same bed every night. Her arms wrapped around me, her body pressed firmly to my own, and I believed, no, I let myself believe, that there was a chance that all she really needed was space.
How wrong I was.
There were no ‘good-byes’ said when she left. But the moment that she walked out that door, I was no more than an after thought while she was never out of my mind. Some nights – the worst – after twelve or thirteen beers and two packs of cigarettes I would walk to front door where my keys hung on the keychain and lift them off. Wobbling drunk I would march to my truck, open the door, and plant my ass in the seat. The cold metal key would slide perfectly into the ignition and the instrument panel lights would illuminate my dark unshaved face and pallid dreary red eyes. All I had to do was turn over the ignition. My trembling fingers clasped around the key wanting to make that clockwise turn and that was when I thought to myself What the hell are you doing? What the fuck are you doing? And I knew that I couldn’t. Because if I got in the truck and I drove to her apartment a cycle would start. Stalking? Maybe some would call it that, and maybe that was what it would become? But the real reason that I never got behind the wheel and drove the seventeen miles to her apartment was because she was happy now.
Because I was no longer in her life.
“Why?” I asked her as we had sat at the dining room table, me trying my best not to cry though I could feel the tears welling at the corner of my eyes. Her tears were flowing more freely (I even got up to get her a handful of paper towels to blow her nose and wipe her tears) as she looked into my eyes and said, “I’m not happy.”
I’m not happy she told me. All I had ever wanted was her happiness and once upon a time, like every fairy tale begins, she was the beautiful princess filled with life and passion and...happiness. I had taken that away from her.
When I was alone and could let go, I finally did cry. Amid the smell of oil and gas fumes in the garage, with the door closed, I unleashed my rage on the punching bag that hung in the corner. I hit that damn thing until my knuckles bled and then I hit it and continued to hit it, as if seeing each blood stain on the fabric of the bag was a little of my pain freeing itself from my body. All the while thinking of every mistake I had ever made in our marriage. It was almost comical that if someone had asked me a day before what I had done wrong in my marriage I may have only been able to come up with a handful of things, maybe not even enough to count on my fingers, but as I struck the heavy bag and it swayed around on the chain stained with my blood, I could remember every mistake I had ever made in vivid quality. In my mind the mistakes, the moments that I had taken her for granted, the stupid fights, and tiny idiosyncrasies that got under my skin, all played like a movie reel in my mind. Layers and layers of mistakes that pressed down on me and began to smother me, as though a person were holding a plastic bag over my head to suffocate me. What a terrible fool I had been.
What a terrible fool.
“It will get better with time.” My friend Shellie had told me over the phone while I drank and piled the beers in rows atop the coffee table in the cloudy, smoke stenched living room. I was determined not to let the depression take me back to the dark place. Borderline Personality Disorder is what the doctors had diagnosed me with and that had led to the cutting. My arms, chest, and thighs, even a good sized scar down the left side of my cheek tattooed my body. I was sure the cutting was another reason, along with the many others, for her departure from my life. My dear sweet Eve.
I failed you.
I failed you.
“I’m sorry.” The words escaped my lips in no more than an audible whisper or maybe my lips were only moving and the words were being spoken in my mind. There was so much pain. Too much to live.
Rain showered on me and I blinked repeatedly as I struggled to open my eyes. At least the hail had stopped, but the storm had yet to pass. Had I missed the tornado? Did it even happen? I hoped it had not. I wanted to stand in all its glorious power as it raced toward me and enveloped me in its deadly spiral. To feel the last second of life as the air was ripped from my lungs. My prayers answered by the gods. While I proudly thrust my middle finger to the heavens.
Instead there I lay on the ground with a damn tree branch the width of a telephone poll across my chest with one of its offspring branches buried in my thigh. How deep I couldn’t be sure and didn’t really care. As my eyes surveyed my body I knew that I was not long for this world and an unconscious smile stretched my face.
My fingers dug into the wet ground and began to pull. I started to drag myself from beneath the mighty tree branch and felt my skin open as the smaller branch tore through my flesh and opened a long line down my leg. It was brutally painful and exhilarating at the same time and it reminded me of...cutting.
Oh God, no.
A promise had been made, even though she was gone. I had promised to never cut again. The promise was made to try and convince her to stay, the motive had been selfish but it was still true and I swore to never cut again for the rest of my life regardless of her choices in the end.
It’s all coming to a final conclusion.
The curtain is falling on the final act.
She would never know what I felt in these final moments. That a tree branch eviscerating my leg felt like the edge of razor against my skin as I drew lines across my body in bloody rows. But I would know. And there was that promise that I made.
The effort to sit up made the world flutter in and out of darkness. I could feel myself wanting to pass out and fall back in heap against the muddy ground. Somehow I was able to stay conscious. What I had thought was the whole telephone poll tree branch pinning me down was actually only the piece that was imbedded in my leg. I tried to lift the branch, to force it out of my leg and again the world fluttered in and out. There wasn’t enough strength in my body to pull the tree branch out. I searched around for some type of lever, maybe another thick branch that I could use as a fulcrum to get the wood out of me. There was nothing. Then I spied a rock, just heavy enough to maybe hack away at the wood until the branch broke free. My fingers reached out and grasped the slippery object. I brought it up with both hands and began furiously chopping at the wood, splinters spraying around me, some striking me in the eye dulling my vision as my eyes closed to try and clean out the foreign object. I continued to strike at the branch until I heard a crack and wrenched my leg free. Blood spurted in an arc that struck my face and painted me crimson. I must have looked like a monster.
I began to crawl. To where, I had no idea. I could no longer see if I was at the center of the storm and at this point, as I slowly dragged my ruined legs across the field and bled out, it didn’t matter. Time was not on my side.
Soon I would find peace, and she would be free from my mind. Free from me and be able to live her life with the happiness that she deserved. There was a life insurance policy, that I took out a few weeks after she had left, when I was certain that I may accidently drink myself to death or take too many of the pills the therapist had prescribed to help with the night-terrors and the anxiety. There was never an intent to kill myself of course, that would have made the life insurance policy null and void, but accidental overdose? Well people could understand that. Even the suits at the insurance company. These things happened. As for the policy, I took out just enough to make it not look suspicious, $325,000, enough to pay off the credit card debt, the vehicles, and enough for her to live a better life that didn’t involve living paycheck to paycheck. Fools that pulled insurance scams always took out too much, millions. That was just dumb. Anyone that watched any of the plethora of crime dramas on television could figure out that that was just idiotic.
When my fingers reached out to grasp at the ground they splashed and closed around a handful of water. Dragging my body forward I found myself gazing into a pond, at my own reflection. I had imagined that I might have looked like a monster, my reflection mirrored exactly what I had thought. My face was bruised from the hail and scattered scratches and deep gorges of wounds that dripped with blood only solidified what I had imagined.
I wasn’t aware that I was laughing and crying at the same time, hysterical really, until I could see it with my own eyes and then I could hear it. The laughter ebbed away until crystal tears paved down my cheeks through the desert of blood painted on my face.
“Oh God, what have I done?” She would know. That much I was certain of. Eve would know what I had done even if the police ruled it an ‘accidental death’; my sweet Eve would know the truth.
Why do you care?
I heard a voice. Where was it coming from? I searched the field and saw that I was alone. Far away, no larger than a Matchbox Car, was my truck perched on the top of the hill. Delusions were common when one was dying weren’t they? That was what this was, a delusion.
“No, no,” I found myself saying to the emptiness of the field, “She knows I come here. Eve, knows how I like to watch the storms. She will think I just got caught in one. She won’t think...” She wouldn’t think I killed myself. She wouldn’t. Right?
I’m sure you are right Gabrial...
“Stop it!” I screamed. Just stop it, please, I thought. I was peering at my reflection when it began to change and all my features vanished to reveal the image of a woman in the pond with black hair and grey skin. Her hair was swept over her face but her mouth I could see and it was moving, talking...to me.
Come with me...
“What are you?” I asked.
Come with me...it isn’t death that you seek, only release and –
I looked at the image and could see more than just a face. Just beneath the glass still water and the circular wake of the falling rain was a woman. She was treading water beneath the surface, wearing a white gown that flowed around her like wings. Her nipples were perk, dark circles beneath her dress that stood out, beckoning to me. I imagined – it had to be in my mind, it just had to be – that I could smell her arousal as she treaded beneath the surface, her hands folding between her legs, pressing the material of her dress between her thighs.
Come with me...
“No, no, I don’t want revenge.”
Ahh, but you do. I can smell it. Her hands pressed over her body until they grasped her breasts and then clawed back down her abdomen, her tattered dress floating around her.
“This isn’t about revenge,” I told the woman beneath the surface.
“I just wanted,” I stumbled over my words. It disgusted me that I was crying. In the time since Eve left I had hid my emotions from my friends and family, never breaking down, never letting them see me cry. Even when I held the summons for the divorce in my hand, I didn’t weep.
What? she said. What is it that you want?
“To be loved.”
Her hand pressed against the surface of the water as though she were behind a pane of glass. For a moment I only studied that hand. If only I could see her eyes. What was she promising me?
Love, she said, reading my thoughts. Love, Gabrial.
For so long I had been empty. So alone. All I had wanted was for Eve to give me another chance, to see that I could be the man that she had loved so long ago. I had survived the battle with my mind and come out stronger and with her I would never let it win again, would never succumb to the dark place. As I looked down into the darkness of the pond and the woman that treaded beneath its glassy surface, I was able to comprehend what it was that I truly wanted. She was right, I didn’t want death. Only to be loved. But not her love, not any other woman’s love, I wanted Eve’s love.
The woman in the water floated toward the surface and as her hair washed away from her face I saw Eve. For a second I almost believed that it was her, trapped beneath the watery surface, and my hand darted forward. I was an inch away from grasping her hand to pull her out of the water, when I saw those cold dead eyes. The woman in the water may have looked like Eve but she was anything but.
I can be, Gabrial.
I can be anything that you desire.
Come with me...
She – it – looked just as Eve did. And if Eve wouldn’t have me –
The water was cold as ice as the tips of my fingers touched it, and then sank beneath its depth to reach out for the woman below. Her smile held a sense of warmth and foreboding as her hand reached for mine, and there was something unsettling about her eyes, not just their appearance but what was behind them. As her fingers laced with mine there was a startling pain in my chest and my mouth opened unable to inhale. My muscles had atrophied and I was being pulled into the water, first up to my elbow and then my entire body was being dragged beneath the surface.
Below, in the depth of the dark pool of the pond, the woman who wore the guise of Eve wrapped her legs around me and placed her lips to mine. It wasn’t a kiss of passion, but I could feel her excitement as her nipples pressed against my body and she rubbed herself against my crotch. She broke the embrace and smiled at me as she treaded away deeper into the depths of the pond, into an eternal darkness below the water.
“Wait,” I cried, not comprehending that I could speak beneath the water, that I wasn’t drowning in this pool of murk.
“Where are you?” I treaded back and fourth, unknowing if I was up or down. It was so dark.
“You said you wouldn’t leave me.” Where had she gone? I had done as she asked, as she had pleaded. I had gone into the water with her, and she had told me that she would be anything that I wanted. There was only one thing I wanted, the one thing that I could never have above the surface and now that too had abandoned me.
“Gabrial?” The voice was so clear now. I could hear the direction it was coming from and turned my head to meet it.
I was looking up from beneath the surface of the water at myself. Unharmed in the same pair of jeans, black tee shirt, and leather jacket that I had been wearing when I fell into the pond. When I looked down at my own body my clothes were still around me, floating around my skin.
What? What’s –
The other me. The one above the surface in the field with the storm raging around him and rain running in lines over his face, was kneeling down and looking at me. Those eyes, so familiar, not because they were my own, but because they weren’t. They may have been the same color but behind them was an emptiness as though there were no...soul.
Oh Jesus –
“Afraid not,” it spoke in my voice. “But I’ll still answer all your prayers, pal.”
What are you talking about?
“Revenge, justice, whatever you want to call it.” The thing that wore my skin smirked. “I’m free now and I can’t thank you enough. Now those that scorned us will have to suffer as we have suffered. Mmmm, can you smell it? A brand new day.”
No! I cried and swam toward the surface only to hit it like a wall. My fists began to pound against it, trying to crack the barrier between myself and world above the pond. Let me out. Let me out. LET ME OUT!
“Can’t do that, pal,” it said, and its appearance began to change. The beard and unkempt hair that I had ignored since being Eve left me, faded away to a cleanly shaven person with styled hair that didn’t seem effected by the elements. “I’m doing this for you, doing what you couldn’t and others like us, the forgotten, the scorned, the ones that were left behind by those that we loved.”
Eve, I didn’t say it but the image of her flashed in my mind.
“Don’t worry, pal, I’ll start with her.” I hadn’t spoken her name. How did it know? How could it hear my thoughts?
No! Leave her alone. That isn’t what I wanted. Don’t hurt her.
The other me stood up and placed its hands in the pockets of its jeans. It pulled out the set of keys to my truck and a pack of cigarettes. He, it, me, tossed the smokes into the pond and I watched as they drifted beneath the surface and reached out to grasp them, the only tangible thing I could feel in this void of murk and darkness. There was a splash and the lighter floated down next.
“Those things’ll kill ya,” it said in my voice. “Well, I should get going, got a play-date to keep.” It was looking at my watch, the one that was still on my left wrist and on its.
“See ya around, pal. I’ll give Eve your love.” The last words I heard as the thing that wore my body walked towards my truck at the far side of the field behind a wooden fence.
Eve...I thought as I sank deeper beneath the surface of the pond with only the cigarettes and lighter as a companion. I crumpled the pack of smokes as I sank deeper into the abyss.
Frank De Canio
I’ve taken my mother to the airport.
God only knows how. I don’t own a car,
and if I did, I wouldn’t know how
to drive it. Anyway, I’m there, reading
The New York Times. She tells me I’m tired.
Of course I’m tired. 7 am is not a good hour
for night birds to begin a journey.
The scene metamorphoses.
Wrapped in a cocoon, I’m
lying in a hospital ward with a bevy
of nurses cradling babies in their arms,
as if they’d charm them out of Eden.
It doesn’t matter. The road back is blocked
by white-frocked seraphim brandishing
hypodermic needles. The babies are being processed
like slabs of meat for the world’s consumption.
They do this with the kindly air
of ministrants for the dispossessed. Soon
the children will be suckled at the breast
of lesser angels, on the first leg
of their fruitless journey. It’s the last
succor they’ll get before plummeting to earth,
where there’ll be no survivors.
I’m feeling sorry for them
as I pull myself
out of the sweating wreckage
of night’s suffocating sleep,
bracing for catastrophe.
Previously Published in Stray Branch Spring 2010
brief Frank De Canio bio
“I was born & bred in New Jersey, work in New York. I love music of all kinds, from Bach to Dory Previn, Amy Beach to Amy Winehouse, World Music, Latin, opera. Shakespeare is my consolation, writing my hobby. I like Dylan Thomas, Keats, Wallace Stevens, Frost , Ginsburg, and Sylvia Plath as poets.”
Uncle Herman broke Johnny’s
back with a two-by-four
for not finishing the chores
fast enough. Johnny was always
so quiet and gentle.
If Aunt Alice ever spoke out-
of-turn, or was late with supper;
he would beat her and snatch
fists full of hair from her head.
Sometimes when he beat her,
she would run away; then, he’d
beg, and she’d go back. In 1963,
she came to visit Grandma
and bought me a quarter pack
of Black Cats. I could always
see her scalp.
His face was prune pit-picked
and covered in twenty-year
old blackheads; long past ripe.
He farmed lush, fertile acres
of Kansas wheatland, but their
shack had wood floors. Each
field sprouted oil jacks; pumping
day and night, but that miser
counted every penny.
At reunions, he’d follow me out
to the porch swing and roll
cigarettes while telling
me stories. Each story ended
with the words: “why gum”.
All I could think about was
The Long Walk
One day a man decides
to take the long way home
around the world.
Arriving several decades late for dinner.
his wife demands to know where he’s been.
He explains he had been a lovely night
and needed to break in his new shoes
so he decided to walk home.
But he walked so far
he had to buy another pair
and break them in
and so on and so on
till it became somewhat
of a Homeric journey.
His wife tells him his dinner
is in the oven,
but it isn’t very good after twenty years.
They go upstairs and make love,
which isn’t very good either.
Her once young,
firm body has grown
worn and loose as an old shoe.
It’s like making love
to a baseball mitt.
Later, he awakens to the moon
streaming its chatoyant light
across the room and his wife’s
pale, haggard face,
sunken in sleep.
In the closet he discovers
a pair of shoes, never worn,
still in their box.
He sits on the side of the bed
and slips them on,
wriggling his toes around for fit,
takes a few cautious steps,
decides to go for a walk...
“No one would guess,” Pearl said, in front of red light, holding down the brake while poised to wreck havoc on society at large. “That we’re just a group of suburban teenagers.”
Except that they weren’t. Or they weren’t anymore. Three of them were college graduates and the one who was yet to start college was eliciting sighs all over their shared hometown. People were sure they’d misjudged Viola’s potential when she was a high school honors students.
Viola still had the same amount of potential, Nerissa was sure, she just refused to put it to use under any name besides “V_Slayer”. “V_Slayer” was listed prominently on the Top Ten list of every arcade game in every movie theater within a reasonable distance. Nerissa was sometimes jealous of Viola, whose parents just let her be and never saw her wasted potential. Nerissa always reminded herself that she shouldn’t be. While she was poised to set the world on fire, Viola had nothing besides the two-dimensional women she studied on her television screen.
“This will help her,” Pearl said to Rose and Viola after she announced her plan. “Help her a lot.”
Nerissa wasn’t sure if she agreed. Their plan involved crime, new territory for Nerissa. Nerissa preferred complex plans and theirs was simple: break into a suburban home belonging to strangers and stay as long as they could, living off the things they found in the house. They’d leave only when they were forced to leave. Pearl predicted the family would give up on their house and leave them. And then they’d show them- the world- by creating an insular, self-sustained community within a prestigious seemingly sterile suburb.
Pearl had selected the house because the owners left their key on the doorstep in a gaudy plastic contraption that was supposed to look like a rock but obviously wasn’t. To Pearl, the fake rock was permission to squat. Nerissa wasn’t sure from the get-go if she agreed.
Pearl didn’t show them the house beforehand. She just picked them up, like they were headed to the movies as they had done so many times before. Nerissa felt safe in the familiar backseat of Pearl’s car even when the scenery was completely unfamiliar. The gravity of the situation started to sink in when Pearl pulled into the driveway of a seemingly random house. Driveways were private. Anyone could walk up to a doorstep, as Pearl had done already, but you had to have permission to park in even a vacant driveway.
Nerissa didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She’d already agreed and wanted to be the type of woman who kept her word. She followed her three friends into the house and watched as Pearl pulled the key out of the fake rock and opened the door. Once inside, Viola left the three other girls to watch television. The remaining three discussed the neighborhood in the living room and then split up to survey the house.
Nerissa was the first to find Viola. She’d found a television in the master bedroom and fell into her default position on the bed: on her stomach with her hands cupped in her chin, eyes fixed obediently on the television screen.
“We’re trying to get away from this shit,” Nerissa said. “You’re just going back to it.”
Then Pearl walked in.
“She’s just watching television,” Nerissa said. “Just like those yuppies we’re trying to punish.”
“It’s different,” Pearl said. “The yuppies spend lots of time working then come home to watch television to see what they’ve gotta buy to keep up. Viola’s watching more television than they ever do and she can’t buy anything advertised because she refuses to leave. It’s a powerful statement.”
“We should set ground rules for while we’re here.”
“We shouldn’t. We all know how we want to live on some level but we’ve never had this type of freedom. We should all stay silent so we can each figure it out on our own.”
“Then why are we together?”
“So that we have support.”
Viola’s two friends walked out of the master bedroom together, discussing their plan and ignoring Viola. Viola was hoping for a break from their lack of acknowledgement. For the past three summers, they had left Viola. They never seemed to notice that she never contributed a word to their discussions. They also assumed she knew nothing about college and therefore nothing she had to say was of any real consequence.
Viola did know things. Outside of television shows and video games.
She knew the layouts of the websites of each of her friend’s colleges. She spent the most time on each site reading the list of majors and minors. Some looked dry but others intrigued her. She sometimes wanted to ask them questions about their respective colleges, but she never did. If she asked, they might think she actually wanted to go. She didn’t.
Viola knew, of course, that a college degree was vital in the process of making something out of herself. Her anxiety was what held her back. Her parents couldn’t pay for all of it. She’d have to take out a loan and after graduation, she’d have to get a job to pay them back. A job she’d probably hate.
So Viola hid behind screens, hoping that things would sort themselves out.
Rose, Pearl and Nerissa barricaded all the doors and windows, using a set of chairs they found in the basement.
“I bet they call the police,” Rose said. “The instant they get back.”
“Saturday’s shopping day,” Nerissa said. “They’ll come home mid-afternoon with more bags than they can carry full of shit they don’t need. They’ll call the police frantically because they need somewhere to unload.”
“That’s law enforcement at work,” Pearl said. “I bet there’s a woman nearby getting beaten and their priority is helping a family unload after a day at the mall.”
“They’ll think that men broke in,” Rose said. “Only men break in.”
“We’re women who think like men. No fixed gender. We’re getting so much power.”
Nerissa silently disagreed. Women broke in. They were female squatters and nothing more. They had no power.
Pearl lit a cigarette in the living room.
“You shouldn’t do that period,” Rose said. “But it’s worse because
this is a stranger’s house.”
“We’re not here to impress.”
Pearl went on smoking.
Nerissa tried to remember when she’d realized that Pearl smoked.
Sometime in high school, after Pearl learned she could experiment, provided she was under Rose’s supervision. After she graduated, Pearl got timid proving that she needed them, all three of them, for the slightest change. No one else seemed to pick up on that.
“Really,” Rose said. “It’s seven minutes off your life.”
“Not necessarily. My mom’s been smoking for thirty years. She’s fine.”
Nerissa rolled her eyes. Their arguments never went anywhere.
Neither girl noticed her discomfort.
“So, Rose,” Nerissa said. “You agreed to this so she’d stop smoking?”
Rose looked annoyed. And Rose almost never looked annoyed.
“I’m doing this to create a better world,” Rose said softly.
“A better world where people smoke,” Rose said.
“Shut up both of you,” Pearl commanded.
Nerissa felt her lips seal tight. Nerissa promised herself she’d break free of Pearl’s power when she got accepted to graduate school. Education implied superiority and Pearl had no money for or inclination towards grad school. But they were back to their old games.
“Sooner or later,” Pearl said. “My cigarettes will run out. Until then, I’ll satisfy the cravings.”
“Maybe these people smoke,” Rose suggested.
“They don’t. I checked. Everywhere.”
Nerissa rolled her eyes again and hoped they’d fail soon.
The police came around four. The first officer simply knocked at the door.
They ignored him.
For a brief time, there was silence.
Nerissa was disappointed.
Death of a Spy
Michael de Mare
I was working on a military-funded project in the computer science department at Clarkson University. The pay wasn᾿t great but I was in it for the PhD I would get when I finished my thesis. People said that there are only two seasons there, winter and the Fourth of July, but last year it snowed on the Fourth of July. It was almost the end of the spring semester when I got an unexpected phone call from the FBI.
“Hello, this is Special Agent Smith with the FBI. Do you know Kevin Jones?” It was a woman᾿s voice.
“Yeah, we worked together in Russia. Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“Yeah, he found trouble. He᾿s dead. Someone hit him on the head with a baseball bat.”
“It happened in Santa Clara, California. He was in the parking lot of a nightclub and someone ambushed him. We don᾿t know who. Have you got any ideas?”
“Not yet, but I will soon. I have to finish up the semester here and then I will meet you in Santa Clara,” I said.
“Did you do anything I should know about in Russia?”
“We stole some pretty big secrets. Beyond that, just the usual.”
“Whatever the usual is for spooks.”
I knocked on the door of my adviser᾿s office. “Yes?” she said.
“I won᾿t be needing the summer funding. I got an internship out in California,” I said.
“I see. Who is this internship with?”
“It᾿s military stuff. I can᾿t really talk about it.”
“Okay. I think that you would finish your degree faster if you stayed here this summer, but that is up to you.”
I couldn᾿t leave for a couple of weeks, so I started looking into who the suspects were. One was a militia group he had been attending. They were called the Santa Clara County Liberty Brigade. This was the second incarnation of the group. The original group was in prison for attempted murder of a cop using the same trick. The other was a hacker gang that he was giving some technical advice to. As far as we knew, he was on good terms with both.
I booked a flight from the nearest airport, Syracuse, to San Jose for the day after the spring semester ended. I would have to change planes three times, but that is par for the course when flying out of a provincial airport like Syracuse.
I had loose ends at the university to tie up, starting with my status report for the semester. It was due on Friday and had to be approved by my adviser. I thought about what I had accomplished that semester. I had written a research paper that was rejected by a prestigious conference, given some talks at the university, and worked on my thesis. It seemed like a good semester. I wrote it up in latex and sent it to my adviser for approval.
Around mid afternoon, I walked home to my apartment in downtown Potsdam. My roommate, a Chinese electrical engineering student we called Bruce, was already home.
“I am going away for the summer,” I said in Chinese. “I will be back in the fall.”
“What about the rent?”
“I will pay my half of the rent, don᾿t worry.” The monthly rent for the apartment was $600. It wouldn᾿t be hard to cover my half.
“Okay. Let me know when you are leaving.”
“End of the semester. You᾿ll see me go.”
During the time remaining before my trip, I acquainted myself with the transcripts of Kevin᾿s meetings with the militia group and the hacker gang.
Agent Smith met me at the airport. “Thank you for taking over Kevin᾿s undercover assignments. That is the only way to crack this case.”
“Kevin and I were tight. Russia is a tough place.” I said.
“We have a car for you to use. Who do you want to check out first?”
“The militiaheads. Where do I find them?” I said.
“The leader goes to a shooting range by highway 101 every afternoon at 5:45.”
“That is where I will start.” I said.
“Good choice. The leader, Pat Duncy, was inside at the bar when it happened. The rest of the group have alibis that check out, too. Still, it seems too coincidental.”
I rented a 9mm at the shooting range. Carrying a gun can be too hard to explain. I was shooting at a silhouette target and getting some pretty good groupings when the militia leader, Pat, started shooting at the target next to mine. Pat was about twenty-five with short hair and a square jaw. There was nothing about his appearance that would suggest that he would say the crazy things that I read in the transcripts.
“Nice shooting,” he said.
“Thanks. I want to be ready when the shit hits the fan,” I said.
“I know what you are talking about.”
“When Obama cancels the election, it is all going to hell,” I said.
“I know what you᾿re saying,” he replied.
“They will probably round all of us dissidents up and put us in secret FEMA camps,” I said. Conspiracy theories are easy for someone who lived in Russia as everyone there is a conspiracy theorist. It had to do with the tightly controlled press and the Russian culture.
“You live around here?” he asked.
“I᾿m new in town. As near as I can tell, this whole valley is full of com-libs.”
“Why don᾿t you come to our group. We are getting ready to resist federal tyranny.”
“Sounds interesting. Where do I go? When?” I was in.
“Be careful. The government killed one of our members and they are trying to pin it on us.”
“The government, huh? Why would they do that?”
“Kevin knew stuff. He wouldn᾿t tell it to us, but we knew that he knew stuff. Be careful.”
I arrived at Pat᾿s apartment on time for the eight o᾿clock meeting. When I got there, he answered the door with a 9mm handgun on his belt. I went in and there were a dozen people sitting on chairs and the couch.
“Attention everybody! We have a new member,” Pat announced. “This is John Shmee. I met him on the shooting range yesterday.”
I waved to everybody. Then Pat passed out an attendance sheet. When it came around to me, I put in the requested information which was name and email address, and I signed it.
“Okay, let᾿s get started,” Pat said. “Does the committee investigating Kevin᾿s murder have anything to report?”
A man with grizzled hair down to the small of his back stood up. “We found out that he was hanging out with computer hackers before he died. So maybe it was the NSA trying to cover up their ECHELON project. ECHELON intercepts all the Internet traffic and analyzes it.”
“Okay, keep studying it guys. Whoever did it was definitely trying to set us up. Right down to the way they staged it just like the old group hit that cop. Does anyone else have any ideas or information?”
There was a long silence. “Okay, we will move on. There is a law in California that allows people to carry handguns as long as they are not concealed. We call that open carry. I propose that we all carry our handguns openly to protest the concealed carry laws.”
There was a lot of nodding of heads and murmur of assent. I nodded my head too, as my head swam with all the crazy things that they said.
Pat pulled out a sheaf of papers. “Here is some interesting stuff that I got in an email from another group. I will read you the highlights. ιThe FSB obtained a secret document showing plans to round up American dissidents—-᾿”. That was all I heard as the letters FSB filled my head with thoughts. The FSB was the successor to the KGB: feared secret police in Russia and dangerous spies in the rest of the world. Obviously they were feeding conspiracy theories to the militia movement. This was an important piece of intelligence. I was sure that the analysts who would be listening to the recording that I was making would consider it a big deal, even if Agent Smith, who was listening live in the parking lot, didn᾿t.
After the meeting, I asked Pat where I might find a karaoke bar.
“The Acapulco, I hang out there Saturday nights,” he said.
“Maybe I will see you there, then.” I replied.
I went to the club early Saturday night because I wanted to see what would happen when he walked in with that gun hanging off of his belt. I was disappointed, though, as everybody figured he was a cop, or it wasn᾿t a real gun, or that it was just someone else᾿s problem and ignored it.
At eight o᾿clock the karaoke started. The MC passed out song books and scraps of paper and instructed us on how to sign up to sing a song. I signed up for Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon and turned my slip in.
A waitress came to take my order. “I᾿ll have an iced tea,” I said.
“A Long Island iced tea?” she asked.
“No, just an iced tea.” I said.
“You know that there is a two-drink minimum on Saturday nights.”
“Uh, what type of beer do you have?”
She ran down her list of beers and I ordered a local brew called Anchor Steam. She took orders from the other people at the table and moved on.
I figured that having a couple of beers in my system would make me feel better attempting to sing, as well. When my beer arrived, I paid cash for it and sipped on it. I noticed that a lot of people were drinking margaritas and other mixed drinks.
People started singing. Some of them were pretty good, others were painful to listen to. Some of the songs I hadn᾿t heard in ten or twenty years. After a while Pat was called up to sing My Way. I watched as he gave an emotional performance in the spotlight with that gun hanging off of his belt.
Then the MC called me up. I stood there stupidly holding the microphone, blinded by the spotlight, and the MC told me to look at the monitor for the lyrics. The music started and the lyrics started appearing. I sang the best I could, which is not well, but Warren Zevon isn᾿t exactly Frank Sinatra either. After I finished I got a round of applause, so I guessed that I did it right and took my seat.
Around eleven o᾿clock I decided that I had had enough. I got up and headed out the door. As I walked to the parking lot, I suddenly heard Pat yell, “JOHN!” Then there was a gunshot and behind me someone groaned and there was a thud. I turned around and Pat was on the stairs to the porch with his gun in his hand. Right behind me there was a man on the ground clutching a baseball bat. Pat came running to me and I said, “You saved my life.”
The sirens started almost right away, as Agent Smith came running from the parking lot. She felt for a pulse on the body᾿s neck and said, “I think he᾿s dead.” She pulled a passport out of the hip pocket and opened it up. “Friend of yours?” she asked handing me the passport.
It was a Russian passport. I opened it and examined it carefully. “I don᾿t know him, but he looks like a KGB thug.” I said.
As four police cars and an ambulance pulled into the parking lot she said, “I would start checking my tea for polonium if I were you.”
A Second Marriage
Mike Berger, Ph.D.
Living in a dying world; everything is gray.
Washing on the line is speckled with ash.
Soot clings to the floors impervious to the
broom. Oatmeal in the morning is black,
and milk and sugar are gray.
Giant smokestacks belch billows of black.
It never stops. Moving away would be the
answer, but my husband has a second
marriage to the steel plant. That black
smoke can’t be good for anyone especially
the kids. It is ugly stuff.
Reconciled to the fact that my husband
will die young like the rest of the steel
workers, I cry myself to sleep. There is no
bright light on the horizon. The company
thugs beat the hell out of the guys who were
trying to form a union. I wish I could crawl
into bed, curl up in a ball and pulled the
covers over my head.
Details on Mike Berger, Ph.D.
I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and was a practicing psychotherapist for 30 years. I am now fully retired. I have authored two books of short stories. I have published in numerous professional journals. I have freelanced for more than 20 years. My humor pieces Clyde and Goliath , Good Grief Columbus, and If Noah Built the Ark Today have won awards. I am now writing poetry full-time. I have many pursuits which include sculpting, painting, gardening and baking bread. My forcaccia is to die for.
EDUCATION: MFA; Ph.D. in Clinical and in Research psychology, Utah State University.
WORK HISTORY: Weber County Mental Health 1961 -- 1991. Senior therapist on the youth team. Specialized in attention deficit disorder in children. Certified in biofeedback. Conducted psychological research.
Private practice specializing in bio feedback for attention deficit disorder in children.
PUBLISHING HISTORY: Author of two books of short stories. Three humor pieces have won awards. Writing poetry for two years. Work has or will appear in forty-five journals. These include AIM, Still Crazy, First Edition, Stray Branch, and Mid West Quarterly, Evergreen and Krax. Published two chapbooks, Raw and Lighten Up published by CC&D Press. Winner of several poetry contests.
HOBBIES and INTERESTS: Active scouter for 47 years. Currently a zone commissioner and an 11-year-old scout leader. I paint and sculpt. Some of my sculpture has won prizes in local fairs. Writing for the last 25 years. I have published two books of short stories plus numerous articles. Deep interest in science. My science library is extensive. I am particularly enamored with cosmology. I also read a lot in the area of human consciousness. I garden and have a lovely Japanese garden in my backyard. I baked bread and my focaccia is to die for. I sing a little bass in the church choir, but age is taking a toll on my voice.
OTHER INFORMATION: I spend my time writing and sculpting. Married and have been for 48 years. Seven children and fifteen grand children. Of course they are all bright, articulate and good-looking.
Maxie Rodner loved the moose head that hung on the back wall of his bar. Where it had come from, he had no idea. It had been there when he’d first purchased Bottum’s Up Café four years ago. All he knew was that he enjoyed sitting and staring up at it – as though he had been the one who’d gone up into the wild north and bagged the beast. It never really mattered to him how the thing had got there in the first place.
For the third straight year, Rodner hosted the local Fourth of July road race – a grueling five-miler that started and finished in the parking lot of his café. All the local runners crammed the field because Maxie Rodner not only put together a crack race, he also threw one hell of a bash afterward. Beer and hot dogs and partying into the night always followed the post-race formalities. When it came to having a good time, Maxie was the best!
Standing now on the small stage directly under his prized moose head, he looked comically out of place passing out awards to the joyous runners who had just finished the annual five. Maxie had never been an athlete himself, but he admired those who possessed the Spartan discipline to whip themselves into shape.
When it came to his own fitness he was good for a short dash to the bar where he settled into the one exercise he knew best ... twisting caps off of cold beers.
“Ain’t no losers in this crowd!” Rodner crowed as he tossed up a wad of running caps, gaudy neckties and plastic kazoos as fair game for anyone who felt like scrambling after them. With a wave he stepped down from the stage and sidled on over to the bar. Perched on one of the stools, his short, plump body looked far more at home there than it had amongst the lean runners. Maxie signaled the bartender to bring him another tequila sunrise then leaned comfortably onto the bar and stared at the snarl of revelers gathered round the band stage.
Damn he envied them! Flat stomachs, nice firm muscle ... and every one of them bubbling with the energy of a friggin’ teenager, even the ones old enough to be on Social Security. Guess you gotta pay to look like that, he thought, patting his middle-aged belly. He took another sip of his tequila and closed his eyes for a second, trying to picture himself lean and taut, running freely out in some open field. A gust of laughter from the stage brought him back to reality.
A sensuous young thing all of twenty years old had embraced the massive snout of the huge moose head, then kissed it firmly with mock passion. Watching the skimpily clad girl, Maxie felt his loins stir. Kiss me like that anytime sweetheart, he thought. Mhh!
A tall fellow in a racing cap staggered over and wrapped a long, thin arm around the girl, then reached up and slipped one of Rodner’s giveaway caps atop the moose’s head between its broad, flat antlers. “Let’s dress ol’ Boris up!” someone chortled, draping a long, polka-dot tie over the moose’s snout.
“Boris,” Rodner half-chuckled, smiling crookedly and shaking his head. Who in the hell ever came up with such a screwball name for that moose? He was used to people getting a little goony over the head now and then, but so long as they didn’t damage it he didn’t really care. After all, the thing was dead.
Another rocky celebrant stumbled over and stuffed one of the plastic kazoos in the moose’s nose, then stood back to admire his work, giggling gleefully. “Crazy bastards,” Rodner laughed then drained his glass and signaled the bartender for another. He’d had plenty already and that last one hit him just hard enough to let him know he was best to stay right on his stool for a while. He blinked several times then looked up at the stage again. His eyes met the piercing dark orbs of the moose.
In all the time he had sat gazing up at the enormous head, Maxie had never given much notice to its baleful stare. He squinted his eyes and shook his head. Kevin the bartender pushed a tall tequila sunrise in front of him and Maxie eyed the drink suspiciously before glancing back up at the moose. The huge, dark eyes met the man’s again. Maxie nudged his drink away. Damn thing couldn’t be staring back at him?
The party roared on around him. The stage, barely fifteen-feet away, was crammed with people dancing and drinking. Maxie saw only the moose. The coal black eyes peered out mournfully from the majestic face decorated obscenely with the necktie and racing cap and the kazoo poking out from one nostril.
“Is this necessary?” the bestial head seemed to say. “Is it not enough that I am dead?”
Rodner tried to blink but could not. He licked his lips and, with one hand wiped at the sweat drizzling over his brow. He stared in cold awe at the enormous furry head that virtually eclipsed the back wall of the stage. The eyes of the beast stared back. Maxie did not look away. He fell into the ashy depths of the creature’s primal gaze.
Rodner raced across the frozen plain. The chill air whipped into his face as he sped freely and tirelessly over the snowy turf, the muscles in his legs strong and loose. His body fairly rippled with coiled fury. His large hooves punched through the ice hard snow, echoing loudly in the Canadian air as all four legs carried him in great bounds over the vast waste. His huge trunk-like head shook side-to-side, the massive antlers — jagged and flat — creaking like the timbers of a great ship as they swayed this way and that. Snorting with pleasure, Rodner reveled in the unleashed majesty of his run across the primordial tundra. A long, whining howl disrupted his bliss.
Forever the natural enemy of moose and elk and the rest of the deer brethren, the wolves were feared by all. Cunning and fierce, the fanged hunters roamed the snowy waste in great packs, seeking victims among the weak and the sick.
The large bull moose, though confident in his ability to outdistance the nearby pack (or outfight them if need be), felt the innate fear their dreary howl invoked in his kind. He snorted angrily, rankled by this disturbance of his haven and resentful of the silent fears that nipped away at him; he was incapable of comprehending that such fears were implanted in him long before he had first walked the Earth.
Rodner increased his gait, the huge dark eyes on either side of his head scouring the surrounding meadows and hillocks for telltale signs of the interlopers. Before long a cluster of specks appeared on the east horizon, increasing rapidly in size and shape. Rodner grunted and veered west, knowing already that the distance was too great for the wolves to overtake him. In great bounds he easily widened the gap. Despite the danger the speed and intensity of the chase filled his bestial senses with a euphoria that was both frightening and exhilarating. The pack fell farther back until fading into the specks he had first seen.
Ahead now was a grove of trees, a forest he had often romped looming on the rim of the plain. Rodner galloped on until finally he bounded into the thick of the woods, mindless of the peril that had stalked him earlier. He loved the scent of the pleasant evergreens and he enjoyed the chance to gallop along the narrow paths, ducking now and then under low-hanging branches and veering side-to-side with the many twists in the winding trails. The sound of his own hooves clacking over the hard turf gave him an added delight and his senses filled with the mysterious bliss that always overwhelmed him on such runs.
A sharp crack sounding like a large branch breaking off a tree rang out from somewhere. Rodner found it disquieting. Not in the way the distant wolf’s howl had checked him earlier, for that sound was common to the wild. This noise was alien. It held a queer sort of menace. The sound came again and this time fear gripped the moose. The noise was out of place in this domain. It contained an evil he had never before sensed. Rodner quickened his gait, wanting to depart from the woods which had grown abruptly hostile. Another loud crack and a fire exploded in his right flank!
Two more bounds and his right leg faltered pathetically under the searing pain that came from nowhere. Now there came another noise – sounds he recognized as those made by the two-legged creatures he had sometimes seen trekking the plains.
The odd creatures had never bothered Rodner, for they did nothing more than point and shout excitedly whenever he happened to wander into view. But the sounds they made now were harsh and unpleasantly triumphant. It frightened him.
Stifling the harsh pain in his right flank, Rodner urged his hind leg to perform as he struggled into a forced gallop. The voices of the yelping creatures fell farther back as he half-dragged his rear leg in a panicky flight. Finally he broke out of the forest and, still dragging his bleeding hindquarter, staggered out onto the frozen turf, dizzy and exhausted ... but safe.
A mournful howl in the distance broke his respite.
Rodner reeled painfully, his senses in disarray. To return to the forest would deliver him into the waiting grasp of an evil he had never faced; but to go limping out onto the plain and face the cunning wolves ...
Yet, the wolves he understood. The Evil in the Forest, linked in some way to the odd two-legged creatures, was unclean. He wanted to be away from it.
Rodner veered out toward the center of the plain, the crippled rear leg now a useless piece dragged along by the other three. Within moments the first specks appeared on the horizon. Drawing closer they took on shapes and Rodner felt a surge of terror the presence of wolves had never before invoked in him. In the depth of his primal mind the bull moose sensed a grim truth: he had joined the ranks of those defective beings nature had marked for execution. Now, Nature’s Chosen came to perform the task for which they were superbly groomed.
The first leaped in at him, tearing instinctively at the wounded flank. The moose wheeled and tried lashing out with one of his front hooves, but the wolf dodged easily.
Blurry eyed and fatigued, Rodner lacked the blinding speed and agility that would normally have left the wolf with a fractured skull. Another came hurtling in and caught the great bull just under the left foreleg. Rodner bellowed and tried to gore the wolf, but again was too slow. No sooner than he had turned, then another darted in and slashed at his underbelly.
Finally the entire hungry pack of ten was upon him, zipping in and out, some feigning attacks while others sailed in for a quick slash then darted back out of harm’s way before the weakened bull could counter. Before long they maneuvered him into deeper snow which rose halfway up his legs and further hampered his movements. He bellowed in rage at having been trapped so easily, his enfeebled efforts a parody of the mastery with which he had dominated such predators in the past..
A loud crack split the air! The same he had heard in the woods. The same that had sounded when the terrible pain had exploded in his flank. Another loud crack and the pack vanished.
Both hindquarters resting awkwardly in the bloodstained snow, the gasping moose peered out through clouded vision at the approaching men. He recognized their upright shapes and for a moment felt they might have driven the pack off to help him. Then he heard the same obscene noise he had heard in the woods – the triumphant yelping that had filled the air shortly after the pain had entered his rear leg.
Rodner tried vainly to rise but could not. He snorted a weak challenge at the advancing hunters, but his ailing body would not comply with his urgent commands to rise and do battle. The men yelled and several shots rang out! Rodner felt something hot and heavy enter his chest and all went black.
He ran through a world of utter darkness. It was peaceful and quiet. Though he saw nothing and could not feel his own body, the ethereal nature of his being was one of ... comfort. And then the tranquil world of darkness was gone.
Lights flared everywhere and he peered silently at a scene unlike any his eyes had ever beheld. Swarms of the two-legged creatures were everywhere, staggering and swaying about – some sitting, others standing – all making coarse, vulgar noises. Rodner saw them through a cold haze, their voices coming from some distant void ... He knew not where he was, nor if he were alive or dead. But he could neither shut his eyes nor gallop away. Something held him stock still. He felt empty and impotent. What had become of the peaceful dark he had known so briefly?
Banished into a horrid limbo where he held vigil over the treacherous creatures who had destroyed him, the spirit of the proud young bull fell into a mire of despair. Respite came only when the queer world was deserted and he stared sullenly into a dreary night. It went on: the lights ... the crowds ... the noise ... and the worst of times when the creatures even mocked him. Would it ever end ...?
“Max ... Hey ... Maxie! C’mon!”
Rodner sat bolt upright. He blinked. “Wha — ?”
“Hey man, you gonna stare at that head all night?”
Maxie Rodner blinked his eyes again and shook his head. He was facing Kevin his young bartender. The blonde youth smiled and shook his head back at his employer.
“What’s going on with you, Maxie?” said Kevin. “You been staring at ol’ Boris for damn near a half-hour now. You ain’t even touched that last drink I gave you.”
Maxie reached up and felt his face, then ran his hand over the top of his head, feeling the thinning brown hair. He looked down at his chubby form still resting on the stool. He tried to speak but made only a few incoherent sounds.
Kevin eyed him, puzzled. “Hey, uh, tell you what boss ... Why don’t you call it a night and let me finish up with all these clowns? You ain’t looking too good.”
Rodner nodded. He breathed a long sigh. “Yeah ... sure.” He cleared his eyes with his fingers. Kevin nodded to him then turned again to his duties.
“Uh ... Kev,” Rodner said suddenly. Kevin turned back to him. “Look ... tomorrow we’re gonna take down that head,” Rodner said, gesturing up at the wall without looking at it. “It ain’t right. Y’know? I mean the thing don’t really belong up there ...”
Kevin nodded at Rodner strangely then smiled, giving his boss another puzzled look.
“Sure Maxie. Whatever you say.” He paused. “But, uh, what do we do with it?”
Rodner drew a breath then finally gazed back up at the moose head, meeting its eyes only briefly, then turned back to face Kevin. “Bury it, man. It’s dead.”
A Clean White Shirt
R. M. Kozan
From the moment I woke up behind my dumpster, I knew it was going to be a good day. It had rained during the night but the gentle volume of that wetting and the angle of the building protected my nocturnal redoubt behind the Loraas bin. Now the streets were damp but not wet, just fresh. The dust which normally would be clinging to me by mid-morning was hereby settled on command of the rain. Plans to cake me in grit had been scuttled for today only. Now the Sun was coming out and everyone looked happier than usual. The bird song surrounding me knew no complaint.
Last night had been a late one. An illegal after-hours punk club known as Below Grade operates half a drunken stagger down the alley from my boudoir. From about midnight until four in the gloaming, young people exit the inauspicious back alley entrance, laughing and discarding the stubs of their joints, casually seeding the ground with the financial instruments. It’s not really my thing but I understand an opportunity when I see it so every night, except Sunday and Mondays when the club does not seem to operate, I prospect the gravel and lumpen concrete, sifting through bottle caps and tobacco butts for the elusive ‘Oro Del Noche’, as my friend Speedy calls it. On a good night I can accumulate twenty or more secondhand spliffs in the dented chocolatier tin that acts as the strongbox for my savings.
There is no shortage of people near the Mission who will give me a nip from their liquid reserves for the chance to fish through my stinky ash collection, as I sometimes refer to it when the comic in me overwhelms the tragic.
Today is such a day. Today the weather cooperates, and the smell of good luck seems to hang over the whole city. As witless as this sounds, the promise so vaguely demonstrated soon produced tangible results. As I pause behind Marks and Spencer’s to jiggle my chocolatier tin and estimate my assets, a load of goodies are being egressed. Among the usual packing materials and unusable, broken plastic hangers, I catch a glimpse of something white and pure. As soon as the wardens of fashion retreat to their air conditioned dens, I move in to investigate.
My eyesight and intuition did not fail me. They have discarded a strikingly brilliant white shirt. It lies near the top of the pile of refuse, a classy collared model, beckoning me. It is new, but someone has half removed it from the plastic wrapping and managed to spill coffee along one edge. I pull it free of the wrapping. The tag says the shirt is made of 100% silk, hails from Bangladesh and is named Solitude. I nod my head in approval. Solitude speaks to me. The coffee stain is on the back, only a few inches long and very low. Everything else appears workable: all the buttons are intact and there is no sign of seam rippage. I move quickly. I remove my stained and distressed plaid shirt. Its days are passed and I looked far too pedestrian in it anyway. The new shirt feels soft and clean as I slip it on. I tuck it into my jeans and the coffee stain disappears. I am a new man.
When I reach the Mission, MJ is standing outside. Although the clock tower across the street indicates it is not yet eight in the morning, she appears angry. She is a participant in a special program which provides maintenance for alcoholics; if she agrees not to binge drink, she is fed one ounce of alcohol each hour of the day by the secular Samaritan bartenders of the street as I call them. She is angry because she was caught with a smell of booze on her breath that did not match the rations of the Samaritans. Now she is cut off. MJ is prone to screaming fits, but the sight of my white shirt seems to calm her. I feel refreshed, born anew almost. I tell her she will only have to wait a day and take some care her breath is clear of alcohol fumes before she again approaches the Samaritans. They will take her back. It is their nature.
She looks like she is going to bawl for a second but then she laughs and agrees with me. She must have had a sizable portion last night because she does not shout as she tends to do when angry in the morning. Her humour is good. It can’t all be my new shirt remodeling her optimism but it has some effect certainly. She actually says ‘Nice shirt’ before she trundles off towards Market Street for a little early panhandling.
Mario is also there and he buys a clump from my tin for a dollar seventy five. His friend Spaghetti is arguing with two crackhead teens who are new to the Mission. Spaghetti has somehow managed to hoard several ounces of rum in a bottle from last night. He is skinny, so skinny I think he can fit into places other people dare not go. Perhaps that is where he hides his overnight supplies. He is a unique and mostly agreeable guy, not prone to fighting, but now these two newbies are hassling him.
It was two against two when Mario joined the discussion and the teens were not backing down, thinking their youth and health tilted the numbers to their advantage. I step up and say in a firm voice “You’re going to have to leave the Mission area if you continue to raise your voices”.
They don’t know me from Adam, but they also don’t know who works at the Mission. With the authority of my pristine white shirt confronting them, and the adjustment of the fight calculation from two on two to three on two, they are convinced to abandon their aggression. They move down the street, not saying anything but looking back at us angrily over their shoulders occasionally as they slowly recede. They want to look tough but they are not.
I conjure the notion that some more clients may be congregating in the park. I unconsciously touch the replenished chocolatier tin in my front pants pocket. It is full and I am needed elsewhere.
The sidewalk is more crowded now. A gorgeous young woman dressed in a very short skirt has pulled a cellphone from her purse and started to babble into it. A small package of tissues now lies on the ground behind her, accidentally jettisoned when she extracted her cell phone. I scoop up the worthless package and present it to her. I think I called her “Ma’am”.
She rewards me with a brilliant smile. She does not cringe. She does not avert her face. She looks into my eyes with gratitude. She says thank you and something about my kindness. I smile and continue to smile long after she has turned and strode away on her journey. She did not know I was homeless. She thought I was one of the hurrying mass, someone with a well paying job and loved ones to shuttle between.
I watch her move away. Her body is powerful like a cheetah, coiled yet flowing and potentially explosive, a liquid dynamite. I would like to masturbate.
Now it is almost nine. I am slightly late for the park. As I turn the corner and pass the front of Mark’s and Spencer I see my shirt in the window. It is on sale. The tag indicates it has been marked down seventy percent. Some people don’t know when they’ve got it good.
The Death of Rita
When I was younger I spent my days asleep and my nights surrounded by other ne’er-do-wells at the local Denny’s. We came in every night, each with the singular order of coffee. At first it had cost seventy-nine cents but as the penny dropped and the market grew it became one-fifteen for a cup of java. We paid two dollars a piece no matter what.
We were young, late teens and a few in the early twenties. We didn’t understand about economy or business. All we knew was when the price of a cup raised we were suddenly the bad guys. To us, they were the bad guys. The managers and wait staff. We never saw the owner, ever, so our aggression at the hike was directed towards the nearest person in uniform. Debby, Donna, Mable, Edna and Rita. The names on the aprons that poured our black brew. We didn’t mean harm or disrespect but as matters were, we still left the customary two dollars. Few of us had jobs and those that did didn’t make enough to splurge. Times were tough all around. The waitresses found us more and more cumbersome as the weeks, months and subsequent years passed.
We were horrible to any of the substitute waitresses. Ones not from our pack. We treated them like teachers, each in our post school haze believing that all adults had sworn some oath decrying that they’d help and serve the young. We were the young. Don’t blame us for this. My generation and those that followed grew up under the assumption that grown-ups served the teens. It was our time and the world knew it.
It didn’t help that we were situated in the richest and most affluent section of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. We were the rich of the prosperous, at least our parents were, assuring us that we’d never wait tables, live on tips or face hunger. These things had also been promised.
As the current narrator I feel no shame in admitting this. I once had these illusions. I’m sure I have others that have yet to show themselves to me in their entirety. As is, I feel only abstract sorrow and loss as I tell this tale. Please follow with me without curse or judgment upon my character. I was a child then and in some ways even now as I bring all this back to the surface.
I was in my nineteenth year. My follower, stooge, sidekick was in his eighteenth. We both knew that our elders were stupid, without mind. Anyone with a mind would obviously not end up a waitress. My sidekick’s name was Andrew Johns but his chosen name was Tine, Chinay, as pronunciation has it. It is Gaelic for fire.
Tine and I were a daily fixture at Denny’s. Others came and went but the two of us had staked our claim years before. Confident that no one else would amass as much time at the restaurant we consumed coffee by the gallon seldom ever buying actual food. We always left our two dollars a piece.
Fill our coffee, take our order, make us feel important and all for two dollars grossing in an eighty-five cent tip. We were young. This is no excuse, despite what you think. He who assumes the mantle of authority, any authority, denounces any further cries of innocence. Even if it’s just the arbitrary customer is always right authority.
Rita was our most frequent and hardest working waitress. They called themselves servers. I’ve lied about many an occupation to feel a little better about myself. I’ve been a customer service rep instead of a cashier. I’d been a quality care specialist rather than a debt collector. I hold it against no one if they do the same. Rita was our favorite and Dizzy our second. Being that neither of them ever let our cups go dry.
When the night was deep and the darkness outside as black as pitch can be, we’d often engage our server in conversation. Dizzy had no children and had been married three times. When this story takes place she had just left her third husband for an inmate at Huntsville state prison. True, the two had never met in person but she believed there was something there. Esoteric as it may be I read her tarot cards for her whenever she asked. They said unanimously that this inmate, whose name I forget, was her destiny. Her raison d’être du jour. I never argued with the cards. In my experience then and up to this day, they are more telling than my personal intuition will ever be.
Dizzy didn’t ask for tips and seldom charged us for our coffee. That is with Tine and myself on those nights where we read her cards. It had made me feel good to make her happy, even though doom loomed always on the horizon. I consoled myself by saying ‘You told her all that you could. Her choices are hers and hers alone. By giving a heads up you’ve done all that you could.’ With such being decided I felt free to sip my free coffee and eat my free fries. I’d traded a service. The art of the gypsy is a long and storied tradition.
The night of this story Dizzy had been our waitress. Tine and I had shown up at our usual late night, darkened sky time. We’d ordered our coffees. Tine took one and a half creamer but I drank black. What struck us most was that it was in fact Dizzy as our server and not Rita.
Rita was the bull. She served whichever tables she liked five nights a week. The nights Dizzy was there she got the overflow as the younger, though thirty-six year old, server. Dizzy never seemed to question her placement or argue. Later on in life I too learned the pecking order that exists in any paid position of servitude.
“Where’s Rita?” Tine had asked noticing the break in the pattern. The night was Tuesday and we were accustomed to Rita’s hand filling our empty mugs.
“You didn’t hear?” Dizzy said sitting down next to me pressing her hip to mine. They always chose my seat to occupy. Tine had a good hundred pounds on me and took up the entire booth to himself. I felt Dizzy’s warmth next to me. I knew that behind her shirt there rested two bra’d breasts and behind her navy blue pants there sat a haired, blonde or brown pinkness. I was young and didn’t look at physical beauty. Her presence aroused me. In my later years I’d understand this as a mere biological happenstance but at the time I only knew the close proximity to a woman, any woman, struck a spur in my loins.
“What?” I asked hoping deep in the back of my mind that the older Dizzy would somehow recognize my burning desire and take me back into the manager’s camera-less office to do something about it.
“Rita died last night.”
“What?” Tine said in good form neglecting any sign of emotion.
“What?” I repeated firmer but at the same time feeling the suffocating weight of desire giving way to a fear. The fear of change that eventually strips everyone of his or her youth.
“Last night she had a heart attack.”
“She worked last night.” I said remembering my full coffee cup and the dry but humorous sarcasm that accompanied each of Rita’s nights. She had been full of life and sass the night before. How could she have succumbed to something as trivial as death?
“I know. Late last night I wasn’t working. Were y’all here?” The ‘y’all’ reminded me of her poor upbringing and circumstances. As a youth I never saw it as anything more than accessibility. Poor chicks knew how to put out.
“We left around two.” Tine put in. I wasn’t concentrating on the conversation. Something about the word ‘died’ had sent me into recoil. Now I had resigned to staring at her breasts. It was cold and I could see two tents of nipple sprouting under the light blue work shirt. I knew pink existed behind and no matter the wear and tear I longed to at least feel the texture.
“Well around four, about an hour before shift change Rita fell down.”
“Fell down?” Tine repeated.
“Yeah. When she got up she was out of it.”
“Did the fall hurt her?” I asked in a voice that almost rang of a British accent, a habit I had into my early twenties thinking it made me sound more intellectual. For Dizzy’s benefit I wanted to seem compassionate.
Dizzy turned to me to respond and I felt all the blood leave my skull as her deep blue eyes met my black ones. Her skin was white, not snow white, just clear with varicose veins jumping out from every angle. I felt a deeper passion towards her in this moment. Here was the archetypal female. Age in the thirties, skin without health, beaten down by life but still pink and nubile in the right places. I could appreciate such a work of art. The convicts couldn’t. I could admittedly only offer one night at the most. Being that my age precluded me from any long term commitment. But I assured with my eyes that that one night would yield more passion, acceptance and pleasure than she had ever before seen.
“She just got lightheaded and fell on the tile. I wasn’t here either. But afterwards she got this real big pain in her chest.” Dizzy said looking me in the eye. Eye contact has never been my strong suit. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable. I believed the eyes to be the mirrors of the soul and I feared if anyone ever looked into my soul that they’d forever abhor me for my devious thoughts.
“Jesus.” I said looking away from Dizzy, for the first time considering Rita’s struggle.
“Yeah, she said her chest hurt and she needed to go to hospital but Dave wouldn’t let her go.
“What?” I asked in the closest I come to a yell. Dave was the assistant manager and the bane of all our friends. His job, as we saw it, was to protect the older customers from our vulgarity, jokes and appearance which seemed to strike fear and loathing in anyone over forty. We hated him as much as he hated us. This was one of the reasons the waitresses loved us. We would go off on their boss if given enough stimuli.
“Yeah, she couldn’t even stand. So Chuck finally said he’d take her to the hospital.”
“Chuck?” Tine asked in amazement. Chuck was in his late thirties, or forties or fifties it was all old to me. We, that being my crew and myself, never spoke to him. The elders of us would smile from time to time as he was also a regular. But he kept to himself and we kept to our own age bracket. The thought of Chuck being the only one to help Rita astounded us. We knew him as the old guy who worked at Wal-Mart night stocking. A grown-up loser who, judging by his station in life, was without intelligence, cunning or virtue. The thought that he might possess some character scared us. Character was all we relied on to separate us from the masses.
“He took her to the hospital and waited but they said she had a heart attack and died on the table.” Dizzy said and her pinkened blue eyes, surrounded by the violet-black hue of sleeplessness began to tear. Tine and I, as a rule, never cried nor did we show any emotion in the least bit. It was why we were better than them.
“They should sue Denny’s and Dave.” Tine said with a nod. He understood the situation. Sue the bad guy, get some money and everything would be okay.
“I’ll miss her.” I said into Dizzy’s eyes. She hadn’t broken her gaze from me since our eyes met. Hidden in my words was a deeper meaning. One that suggested we both knew pain and that somehow, our coupling would alleviate it. These words I could and would never speak but I hid them behind my returned stare.
“I will too.” Dizzy said breaking gaze to look down at the table.
She and Rita had been best friends. We all knew that. On their shared days off they’d hit the bars together. We, as the young, were subjected to their tales of debasement and debauchery whenever they came back.
“To Rita.” Tine lifted his cup and I too obligatorily. We drank, him from the brown creamed cup and I from my own blackened addiction. This was all we had. We were without any real money or the experience to help Dizzy emotionally.
“You know when services will be held?” I asked thinking of the sight of twenty or thirty black clad youths gathering at the wake of an old woman. No matter what they thought they’d know she had meant something to someone. I was sure that death offered no other reward than a gigantic gathering of mourning.
“Her family is having her body shipped back to Michigan.”
“Her son?” I asked recalling everything Rita had ever told me. She had no husband, no daughters, only a son whose picture she carried in her wallet even though he never called.
Her son didn’t love her. At least not enough to take care of her or listen to her day to day sorrows. We did, the loyalists of Denny’s. We were our own family comprised of the regulars, the wait staff and even Dave in his own little way. Now one of us was gone and things would never be the same.
“I have to see if those guys want anything.” Dizzy said wiping her face and standing to present the respectable image for a table of yuppie drunks who the night had swept in.
“You know what we have to do.” Tine asked me in his stable monotone. For that I still have undying respect. No matter what Tine kept his composure. He followed all of the rules that I merely professed.
“Go to the forest.” I said with my own heartless grin. The forest was our holy place. We would mourn there alone amongst the trees. The bark never tells secrets and even in our ignorant youth we knew this.
We each downed our remaining coffee with a gulp and got up to leave. When Tine wasn’t looking I felt the spot where Dizzy had been sitting. It was warm. Somewhere deep inside our feelings were mutual. Something beyond logic and beyond reason attracted us to one another. It would turn out to be an attraction outside of reality. She would get transferred and I’d leave Denny’s for my own hermitage.
Tine, to this day, still shows up every night for his obligatory cup of coffee, now at one seventy-nine. He still leaves only two dollars.
Something had changed when Rita died and the three of us had all taken it differently. Dizzy and I had left but Tine, resigned to his apathetic ambivalence, had stayed.
Someday Dizzy will die. A heart attack at some other Denny’s or I-hop while serving her last cup of coffee. Tine will probably die drinking his. I, well mortality has never played a big part in my life, but I assume my death will come someday while I am alone without anyone to gossip, gab or feel the need to compose for. I like it this way. Knowing that when or if my time ever comes that I’ll ruin no one’s night but my own.
Loosing For Love
Judy leaned over and carefully stepped into the black swimsuit, Plus Size 28. Grabbing the swimsuit on each side with an iron grip she started working it up her body. Once she eased it over her butt, half the battle was over. With a little more effort, she stretched the suit up over her stomach and got her breasts into the cups.
“I probably lost five pounds just getting this suit on,” Judy sighed.
Gazing at her lumpy body in the dressing room mirror, Judy cringed. “Oh no, I look like a beached whale.” She couldn’t help but feel a wave of self-pity.
The store clerk knocked on the door, “Everything OK in there?”
“Oh, just fine. I’ll be right out.” Wiping a tear off her face, Judy quickly changed back into her own clothes, relieved to feel comfortable again in her oversized sweatshirt and black stretch pants.
Judy decided to go ahead and buy the black swimsuit. It had the best chance to make her look. She was determined to go to the beach this year on vacation.
At work the next day, Judy complained to her friend Sara, “These pounds stick like super glue.”
“If I don’t loose weight now, when am I?” asked Judy. “I have tried diets and nothing works. I am just too scared to have any kind of surgery. I don’t know what else to do.”
“If you are serious about this I know a hypnotist that helped my mom loose 50 pounds in only 3 months,” said Sara.
“How much would something like that cost?” asked Judy.
“It’s two hundred dollars a session, but it’s only once a week,” answered Sara.
“Oh gosh, I can’t afford that!”
“Well maybe you could go once and see if you like it, just to get you started,” suggested Sara. “I’ll get you Dr. Kroger’s number.”
Josh strolled by saying, “Hey girls, how’s things?”
Josh was a truly nice guy and good looking too. With caramel eyes and a lazy grin, Josh was well liked by everyone. Judy had a huge crush on him and fantasized that if she could loose enough weight he would ask her out.
As soon as Josh was out of sight, Judy grabbed Sara’s arm, “Give me Dr. Kroger’s number. This is what credit cards were made for.”
Judy’s first visit with Dr. Kroger went well. She slipped easily into a hypnotic trance under the spell of Dr. Kroger’s soothing voice. She felt herself relax completely and even though she had skipped breakfast and lunch, she didn’t feel any hunger pains. She just felt sleepy and peaceful.
Inside Judy’s purse, her digital recorder registered every precious word of Dr. Kroger’s.
Judy continued her sessions of hypnosis alone at home, using the recording of Dr. Kroger’s session. Each time she went into a trance she felt so good afterwards. She was relaxed and in control of her eating habits. Judy lost 10 pounds the first week with no effort at all.
Judy decided to take her two weeks of vacation right away and use it to slim down before summer. She told everyone at work she was going away to visit her aunt in Maine so she wouldn’t be interrupted in her mission. She wanted her weight loss to be a surprise to everyone. Judy imagined the look on Josh’s face when he saw her slimmer body. She visualized him asking her out to the movies and how she would say yes, softly and sweetly.
Two weeks of vacation passed and when Judy did not return to work, her boss alerted authorities. The police found her dead in her apartment, peacefully lying on the sofa. No signs of violence were apparent. It was as if she had drifted off to sleep and never woken up, said the Detective Lopez. The detective found a digital recorder on the end table but when he turned it on, nothing happened.
“Bag this and get this to the lab. Let’s see what’s on it,” said Detective Lopez.
Several days later, Detective Lopez was surprised to get the lab report. The recorder contained only a weight loss hypnosis session that was stopped halfway through. The battery on the recorder was dead. He surmised that Judy had used the recorder to hypnotize herself but when the battery wore out, Judy had not received the command to wake up. She had laid in a trance on the couch and starved to death.
Detective Lopez murmured to himself, “This is one weight loss gimmick that cost way too much.”
Judy’s funeral had a huge turnout. Friends, family and coworkers cried as they said their good-byes. Bouquets of flowers surrounded the coffin with color and scent. Judy looked beautiful and everyone remarked how slim she looked.
Spying Josh, Sara wandered over to him. “Judy liked you Josh,” said Sara. “You were always kind to her and she appreciated that.”
“You know something?” said Josh. “I always had a thing for Judy. I’m crazy about big girls. She was a whole lot of woman, but just too shy to talk to me. I wish I had known her better.”
Down the Road
I saw her
on a Saturday morning
The IT class was full
but she talked and
found the right words
Next Saturday morning
she asked me
about a class assignment
And before we knew it
about our biotech jobs
and our children
Homework and E-mails
Phone calls and lunches
We played tennis
but had lots of fun
She had great legs
in the park
hand in hand
I could not break
of many years
there was something there
that I did not know about
It was our children talking
of guilt and change
I tried to forget her
I sent her E-mails
But nothing came back
to go back
the way it was
But the mirror
Only our children
kept us going
But they had
their own paths and problems
Work and money
Money and work
down the road
Bela Feketekuty Bio Information
I am a computer software developer. I use my creative mind to write poems, short stories and create new computer software. I graduated from George Washington University (Night School) with a MS. Writer’s Bloc (Texas A&M University-Kingsville) published my poem, “Work and Money” in their Autumn 2008 issue.
There is a new bitch in town. Her last straw of patience took a hitchhike to hell; her smile shadows the burden of others. She takes delight in writing hate letters to orphans, in doing her laundry in the church’s holy water and sliding “Burning Calories for Dummies” under the girl dance team’s locker room. She silently judges the world that burned her, the friends that exiled her, the people that criticized her, and the future that laughs at her. The town can bring out their torches and pitchforks; she will stand strong by Boo Radley, wear the scarlet letter and flirt with Daisy Miller. Goodbye sweetness, bitterness tastes better with a tequila shot of redemption. Wanting nothing more than to make judgmental observations, she sits back while they all assault her dignity, choke her efforts and gut her brain like it was a dead fish. The mind inside her is alive, intoxicated with lying salvation and deceitful truth. Sanctuary hides behind the corrupted helping hand. She looks up at the sky. The rainbow between the clouds blushes in a shameful frame and infuses into an abysmal red. The monstrous rainbow slashes the heavens dragging each cloud off their high throne down through the nine gates that always stay open, but only a one way movement. Her right hand grips the pharmaceutical pen, the one she stole from the nursing home; she writes, The ways we suffer and the suffering we give are seldom weighed on the same scale. The ammunition is loaded in her wrist. Watching the people make a spider web of blame to catch her in so they can liquefy her unwelcomed habits, she rolls her eyes, pulling the trigger and watching the bullets punch the page. She may not write in their favor, but they will listen to every preached and pained word she writes. If there is a battle of change versus acceptance, watch out, this bitch ain’t going anywhere.
Natalie Nigro is an English major at Concordia University St. Paul.
“You know you don’t love her.” That sultry accusing voice slid through the bathroom tiles and echoed off both the sink and my brain.
Click, click, click, click- that skank’s stilettos vibrated through the floor and hummed on my feet. I could just see her as she made her way to his desk, leaning with both hands on the edge as to expose her Victoria’s Secret created cleavage and giving him that pretend sour, “oh how I hate you,” look I had come to expect as a greeting.
“You know you don’t. I know you like your girls knowable, uh knowledgeable, but come on, she’s not even that pretty. You need a woman that can really handle a man, show him a thing or two.”
Her wicked little British accent set my teeth on edge and like always reminded me to Google that town she said she came from to make sure it was legitimate place on Earth and not just a state of delusion. But, what a shameless attempt, honestly shameless. Brad had been so honest, admitting to my suspicions right away. She was nothing more than a desperate legal assistant, convinced that the best way for her to move up would be through seducing the lawyers. Poor Brad, he would have to crush this little viper’s enormous ego. I was going to enjoy this.
“And I suppose you think that should be you.” His voice, once my temple of safety, shattered my confidence like a good slash to the wrists.
“I think you already know how good I am at handling men, you didn’t seem to think my skills were inadequate at the company party.” WHORE!
Realization sunk deep into my chest like a bottle of Draino right down my throat; skipping lunch suddenly became the best move I had made all day. Wounded, I slid down the wall to my knees and pressed my forehead onto the cold tile, feeling its grooves press my skin into shapes it never should try to be. All the words of comfort, denial and explanation he had fed me flashed through my thoughts like a strobe light, every flash carving deeper into my heart.
The sound of his voice brought me back to the consciousness, my eyes stayed closed but my ears were unwilling to stop listening.
“Well I don’t know... your demonstration was so short, with such little factual data I’m afraid I can’t make a commitment... unless that is, you have more examples your willing to bring to the table.”
“Maybe not to the table, but I can give you one great example, right here, on this desk.”
The click of the lock and rummaging turned into the only audible sounds. I could feel my heart, every beat it made, every thump, every rush of blood through my temples creating a searing pain. A dry heave broke my stupor and convinced me I had heard enough, forever. Grasping the sink I hoisted myself to my feet once again and stared at my reflection in the mirror. Five minutes and my world had turned around.
It had been such a beautiful day, so beautiful. I had parked on the street, fed the meter a dollar in quarters simply for fifteen minutes. It was one thirty when I left the car, right when I knew he would be taking his lunch- perfect timing, perfect day. I locked the car and walked up the stairs to the firm, pausing once to admire the sweet smelling flowers planted outside, basking in the spring sunlight. It was right here, right on these steps where we had met one year, seven months, four days and eight hours ago; I was walking by, he was walking out, I dropped my bag and he picked it up for me, it every girls dream, an instant connection...pity. I suppose it was only fitting that it would end here as well.
Up the stairs I entered the firm and was immediately greeted by the secretary, Cindy, a sweet elderly lady with a passion for pink clothes. Today she wore a pink paisley headband with a matching and equally fabulous pink belt. After a few civilities and a mutual agreement that the weather outside was indeed beautiful, we decided that she would not phone Brad to tell him I was here, I was going to surprise him. And so I made my little strut down the hallway to his office with the small green cursive writing on the door: Bradley J. Miller. Outside his door I held up my hand to knock, but paused. Directly across the hall were the restrooms, I slowly lowered my hand and decided to make some final primps.
And now, five minutes later, here I was, in the same damn bathroom, broken. My reflection fascinated me in its hypocrisy. The new dress I had put on to surprise him at work, my hair I had taken forty five minutes to curl to perfection, my carefully applied makeup, all still intact except for one streak from my eye down my cheek: all these things stared back at me, like an alien, how could I look like this when inside I had been mutilated?
Wiping the smear from my cheek I reached into my purse and grabbed a scrap piece of paper. How theatrical it could be for me to wait just a few minutes and then go barging in, guns blazing. But no, in the end that is one picture that I would never be able to erase, never forget, and so I would write instead. Insult after vicious insult ran through my mind but after some consideration I decided on the following.
Sorry I missed you today,
Maybe I can make it up to you tonight,
Perhaps I can teach you something...
Can’t wait, Love, Marissa
Oh I would teach him something alright. Hell knows no rage like a woman scorned, and let me tell you, hell couldn’t keep a bitch like me down. Once I was done I again searched through my purse, this time locating a pack of gum. Taking one piece out, I quickly chewed it and stuck it to the back of the note, what a gorgeous addition this would be to both his door and reputation. As I headed towards the bathroom door I felt a curious turn in my emotions. Oh I was still burning with anger, but I also couldn’t help but feel an excitement run through my veins. The thrill of a good fight, of smashing his flat screen and of course the thrill of being independent once again.
“Yes, hello Cindy, please hold all my calls and appointments, Louise and I are on the verge of a breakthrough for the Thurson case... Yes, yes, it’s very exciting, yes I’m sure, no no, no buts, nope, gotta go, bye.”
Kristi Loobeek short bio (11/03/10)
Kristi Loobeek is a second year student at Concordia University St. Paul enrolled in a creative writing course planning to major in communications and minor in writing and environmental science. She has been published into the Danse Macabre Journal.
Justene searched the bus for her best friend Abby. She saw Abby waving to her, and quickly slid into the seat as the bus jerked forward.
“You like my nails?” Abby asked, showcasing them to Justene. They were painted a dark shade of blue, but sparkled. They matched her blue, star-shaped earrings and blue socks. Justene’s Mom wouldn’t let her pierce her ears or paint her nails until next year, when she would be in sixth grade. Abby painted her nails a different color every week. Sometimes on the weekends Justene would help Abby paint her nails.
“Do you think Bobby will like them?” Abby asked. Of course he will, Justene thought, all the boys had crushes on Abby, even the ones who came to school with manure on their boots and unwashed hair.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, Bobby told me that his favorite color was blue last Friday in the tires.” Justene’s face flushed as she looked out the frosted window. The tires were a bunch of old tractor tires stacked up behind the recreation building. Some of the girls in sixth grade said the boys sometimes went pee in the tires when they didn’t want to go back inside during recess. Justene had also heard from Sarah that Abby had kissed Bobby in the tires. She thought about Bobby peeing in the tires and her cheeks warmed again.
“Abby...” Abby looked at Justene and a small smile appeared on her face. Justene leaned in and cupped her hand over Abby’s ear, her bottom lip brushing against the blue earring as she whispered, “did you kiss Bobby in the tires?” Justene could feel Abby giggling they were sitting so close. Abby quickly cupped her own hand over Justene’s ear.
“Yeah, me and Bobby are dating.” Abby flicked one of her long bangs back, just like her mother. Justene wished she could be more like Abby–more grown up, that’s what all the boys liked, and it seemed like so much fun, putting on nail polish and makeup, matching clothes and earrings. The bus pulled up to school and girls walked to their homeroom.
Their homeroom was bustling as Mrs. Zimmer was sick and Principal Reed was going to substitute for the first half of the day.
“Please, please, everyone get situated and get in your seats.” Abby looked at Justene and they both giggled. Some of the sixth grade girls had said Principal Reed would give girls quarters to rub his shoulders. When he walked down the hallways, the coins would jingle in his pocket. Abby flung off her boots and went to show Bobby her nails in stocking feet. Justene couldn’t slip her boot off and sat down to pry it off. As she rolled up her jeans to get the boot off, Principal Reed walked over. Justene pulled the boot off.
“I like a girl with hairy legs.” Principal Reed said as he gently touched Justene’s shin. Justene quickly covered her leg and quietly sat down in her seat. She looked at Abby who sat a few desks in front of her. Justene knew that under those blue socks, Abby had smooth skin. Rubbing her foot over her leg, Justene felt warm and ashamed. She stayed on the swings for recess, and let Abby talk about Bobby the whole ride home. When she finally got to her house, Justene ran inside and locked herself in her parents’ bathroom. She ran the bathtub and took out her mother’s razor and cream. Justene began shaving her legs, small droplets of blood swirling in the bathwater.
Andrew Olson Bio
Andrew J. Olson is an MFA candidate in fiction at Minnesota State University, Moorhead.
The Thrill of the Hunt
While sitting she looks recognizably different. She smiles in my direction and makes a moment out of eye contact. She looks like an Allison but I can tell her name is Catelynn; Catelynn with a “C” and not with a “K,” guarantee it. The way she blinks gives it away. Every time her eyes close for that brief moment for condensation to gloss them, she is in full control. The timing from when the top lid reaches the bottom lid is choreographed perfectly to the pace of her breathing.
She makes another moment, this time with an obvious curiosity as she adjusts the volume on her iTunes to a more inviting level of noise. They say that the kill is never greater than the thrill of the hunt. This is the third opportunity in the past week I’ve had the chance to recognize beauty out loud.
A.J. Longabaugh bio (2010)
A.J. Longabaugh is a theatre arts and creative writing student at Concordia University St. Paul, MN. He will be featured in the upcoming January 2011 issue of the Red River Review.
I’ll kill you tonight.
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, CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES and DOWN IN THE DIRT (SCARS PUBLICATIONS), 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 Freuds 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 /www.amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. Recently, 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 /www.amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. A 7-volume short story collection was published by World Audience, Inc. in June 2007 and can also be purchased online at the above-mentioned sites.
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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