I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and my stories have been published in such journals as Gravel, the Hawaii Review, the Steel Toe Review, and Welter.
“A good thief must be as smart as he is quick. He cannot rely only on his speed or he’ll be caught nearly every time. He must figure out in his brain pan the right time to make his move.”
Abruptly, for an instant, Cliff Rader turned his head and spit out a long stream of tobacco juice.
“Now, are there any questions?”
There were none so he slapped his hands together and motioned for the ball players to queue up along the first base line to practice base stealing. He didn’t always remember their names so he addressed them as “squires,” a moniker often used by Barney Simmons, the first year manager of the London Lancers baseball team.
“Remember now, squires, keep your eyes on the pitcher,” Rader reminded the players as he walked over to third base where he would give the sign to steal. “Always look at his shoulders to find out what his intentions are. If his shoulder is turned to you, he’s probably going to throw over to the bag so this would not be a good time to attempt to steal.”
The first runner he flashed the steal sign to was picked off by the pitcher by a good foot and a half but the next two runners managed to execute their steals. Then one after another was picked off or thrown out, often because they shuffled their feet when they started their steal. He was not discouraged, though, because he knew the game of baseball was as strange to these young men as nearly everything in London was to him.
“Run as if your hair’s on fire!” he shouted across the diamond at one lumbering runner. “As if you really are a thief running from the police!”
This was only his second week in London so he was still trying to teach the rudimentary skills of base stealing to the English players. He had little doubt most of them had the innate speed to steal bases but they lacked the technique and judgment and he knew a savvy pitcher would easily pick them off one by one. Sliding, in particular, was a skill that was difficult for them to execute. A few went in head first, despite his warning of the increased risk of injury, but most slid as if they had slipped on a wet spot and lost their balance and sprawled across the bases.
“Do not slide on your side,” he said repeatedly as he taught them the conventional hook slide, “but on your rear end with your hands in the air so you catch the outside of the bag with your bent left leg.”
He had the players practice sliding in the grass so they could see the stains on their pants. If they were on the side of their legs, it meant they were not sliding correctly. And, at first, nearly all the stains were on the sides but gradually they disappeared as he stressed the importance of executing a proper hook slide.
“You steal second base you can be as much of a hero of a game as someone who hits a home run,” he told them. “Not only do you eliminate the easy double play but you can score on almost any ball hit out of the infield. Believe me, squires, a good thief is a very valuable person to have on a baseball team.”
Cliff Rader was an outstanding high school baseball player, earned second team All State honors his senior year, and was offered a partial scholarship to play for a community college outside Baltimore. He had even a higher batting average there than he did in high school and signed a contract with the Orioles organization soon after his team was eliminated from the playoffs that year. He was assigned to their Single A club in Frederick where he hit just a shade under three hundred. The next season, after playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, he moved up another classification and by the middle of the season was playing on the Triple A club in Norfolk where he met Barney Simmons who was the hitting instructor for the ball club. Once a top prospect in the organization, Simmons spent only a season and a half on the Orioles roster then had to retire before he was twenty-four because of a chronically sore left shoulder that prevented him from getting the bat around quickly enough to get decent wood on the ball.
“I wasn’t even around long enough to be considered a has-been,” he said more than once to him in a caustic tone.
Rader, who had trouble hitting breaking balls thrown at the Triple A level, spent a lot of time with Simmons trying to improve his swing, and, as a result, they became quite close with Simmons serving as something of a mentor to him in professional baseball. They often went out for beers after a game, just the two of them, talking as much about their families as they did about baseball, and even after Rader was called up to the parent club he stayed in contact with Simmons whom he thought of as the older brother he never had. Not only did he seek his advice about hitting but about all sorts of matters that had nothing to do with baseball. One matter he didn’t discuss with him, though, was gambling because he knew how opposed he was to ball players gambling away their hard earned money. He believed it made about as much sense as tossing a paycheck into an incinerator and sternly cautioned him against it the first time he heard him and some others in the clubhouse boast about all the money they had won the previous night at the dog track.
“Long, long ago a relative of mine, who gambled away all he had a couple of times in his life, offered me some very sound advice,” he relayed to Rader, “which is that the only sure advantage in gambling is not to play at all.”
“Not everyone who gambles loses everything.”
“No, not everyone, but a fair share do and I don’t want to see you be one of them.”
“I just do it for fun, Barney. It’s something that relaxes me.”
“There are a hell of a lot better ways to relax than throwing away your money but that’s up to you, kid. You’re old enough to make up your own mind.”
Not surprisingly, Rader continued to have trouble hitting breaking balls after he joined the Orioles but he was kept on the roster because of his defensive skills in the outfield and, even more, because of his blazing speed on the base paths. Often he was inserted in games to steal a base, which more often than not he was able to do, and sometimes late in games he was put in to steal home. That, by far, was the most difficult base of all to steal and seldom was he successful. The first time he tried he was so nervous his heart was in his throat because the manager called for a “suicide squeeze” so that he had to start running to the plate as soon as the pitcher began to throw the pitch. The run he scored won the game and he was so elated that afterward he rolled dice for a couple of hours in the clubhouse with some of the attendants. He lost nearly $400 but he didn’t mind because that night he was the star of the game.
He was making so much money as a big league ball player that $400 seemed little more than pocket change and regularly he won and lost a lot more than that at the track. Big Ollie, an uncle of his, trained greyhounds and often as a youngster he accompanied him to the track to watch his dogs race. Always his uncle gave him a handful of quarters to bet on the races, and though he lost more often than he won, the thrill of having a stake in the outcome of the races was enormous. And because he craved that rush of excitement so much he continued to bet on dogs and horses and all kinds of other competitions. He never regarded himself as someone with a gambling problem because he believed he was always in control of his decisions and could stop whenever he wished.
He never really made any serious money until he got to the big leagues so it was then that he started making some pretty hefty bets on everything from bicycle races to beauty pageants. About the only competition he didn’t wager on was baseball, mindful of the strict prohibition against betting on games established by the commissioner after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Indeed, the Draconian Rule 21 was posted in every clubhouse in the league.
“You break that rule you’re out of the game pretty much for good,” Simmons reminded him just before he left for Baltimore.
By the end of his second season with the Orioles his betting had got way out of hand, with his losses amounting to thousands of dollars some weekends. And when he failed to cover some of them he received threats of physical injury from some of the people he owed money so he was compelled to borrow money from friends and family members and other players. Always he was confident with a few good bets he could turn things around but he never won enough to dig himself out of debt. Then, as the losses soared and he could no longer find anyone to borrow from, he started to write bad checks to satisfy his creditors.
The following season, in the middle of spring training, he was arrested by Florida police officers as he stepped out of the batting cage and subsequently, after a bench trial, was convicted and fined $1,000 and sentenced to thirty-six months in prison. Immediately, upon his conviction, he was given his unconditional release by the Orioles, which didn’t really surprise him since he had clearly embarrassed the organization. Still, after he served his sentence, which was reduced to eighteen months for good behavior, he expected other clubs to offer him a contract, since there was never any suggestion that he bet on baseball games, but he didn’t hear from a single team. Not even from a minor league club not affiliated with a big league team. He was incredulous, thought for sure some team could use his services as a base runner at least. He was one of the fastest players in the American League, able to steal a base as well as anyone he believed.
“You let too many people down,” his agent told him the morning he called to terminate their association. “You stole their trust almost as easily you use to steal second base and now they don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. As far as they’re concerned, you’re history … ancient history.”
Three players crouched in front of Rader, their vintage Spalding gloves looking as worn as their jerseys, waiting for him to hit another ground ball. Behind them, in the outfield, other players were catching fly balls hit by Simmons. Then, abruptly, Rader chopped a soft grounder between the two Bedford brothers and, at once, Colin stepped in front of his older brother, Simon, and caught it in the web of his glove. Quickly he threw it back and Rader hit it toward the team’s first baseman, Jibrail Salaam, who fielded it easily and tossed it back and Rader hit it right back to him with a huge grin.
Ever since he learned to play pepper in Little League, he had enjoyed the traditional baseball drill because it sharpened his reflexes both as a hitter and a fielder. Never much of a practice player, this was one drill he genuinely enjoyed and for several minutes before a game would go back and forth at it with teammates, sometimes even using two balls at once, so that one had to stay alert if he didn’t want to get hit by one of the balls. He was so fond of the drill that he even taught some of the inmates he got to know in prison how to play it, which they initially did with rocks until a guard found them a couple of bald softballs.
“If my reflexes were half as sharp as they are now,” one inmate told him after a week of playing pepper, “I might never have been arrested.”
Still smiling, as he slapped the ball back between the Bedfords, he realized how good it was to be playing baseball again, even in cold, damp, dreary England. He almost wanted to cry in jubilation he felt so good after being out of the game for nearly four years. And, even though he hated to admit it, he had pretty much figured he was out of baseball for good until Simmons called a couple of months ago to ask if he would be interested in becoming a coach with the London Lancers. He was stunned, not only by the offer but to hear from his old friend after more than a year.
“And who are the London Lancers, Barney?”
“A professional baseball team, God willing.”
He then explained that he had been hired by the Director of Major League Baseball in Europe to manage one of six teams in the United Kingdom in an effort to promote interest in the game in other countries. Besides the United Kingdom, leagues were sponsored in the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany. The caliber of play, he admitted, was pretty modest, not much better than what would be found on a mediocre high school team, but claimed the enthusiasm of the players was outstanding.
Rader was skeptical about the project. “Do you really expect to find talent in countries that don’t know anything about the game, Barney?”
“Well, there’s always that hope of finding a diamond in the rough,” he answered, “but, between you and me, I think it’s mainly a marketing ploy to sell some merchandise overseas.”
“Yeah, that makes some sense, I guess.”
“So, my friend, are you interested or not in joining me in this undertaking?” he pressed him after they reminisced a few minutes about their time together in the Orioles organization. “It’s an opportunity to get yourself back in the game even if it’s about the lowest level imaginable.”
“I suppose beggars can’t be choosers, can they?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Of course I’d like to help you out,” he said excitedly. “The only time I ever get to touch a bat and a ball nowadays is when I’m trying to sell one of them at the sporting goods store where I’ve worked since I got out of the graybar hotel.”
“Maybe I’m out of line for mentioning this, Cliff, but I feel I need to warn you that there are bookies everywhere in London, known as “turf accountants,” who’ll take bets on just about anything. And if you cross them they make sure you never do it again.”
“You don’t have to worry about me placing any bets,” he assured him. “I learned my lesson the hard way and haven’t bet so much as a quarter since I got out.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“I may be as poor as a church mouse but I’m not in debt to anyone.”
As a ball player, whenever Rader visited a city for the first time, he always made an effort to walk around a little in order to get to know the place better. So, a couple of mornings after he arrived in London, he rode a double-decker bus from the bed and breakfast where he was staying to Piccadilly Circus, a bustling area in the heart of the city. For a moment, after he got off the bus, he paused against a lamppost and looked all around, still not quite believing he was in another country thousands and thousands of miles from home. Then, after pulling down the brim of an old Orioles cap, he strolled past the Eros statue where several young people who appeared as out of place as he did sat, strumming guitars and sharing cigarettes.
Heading north, he was amazed by all the people on the sidewalk, suspected if he paused to tie a shoelace he would be trampled by them they were in such a rush. They spoke almost as rapidly as they walked, too, often in languages he didn’t understand. Men in bowler hats hurried by, women in high boots and long, flowing skirts. Up ahead, striding toward him, was a constable who had on the distinctive black conical custodian helmet that Rader associated with all the old Sherlock Holmes films he used to watch as a youngster on rainy Saturday afternoons. Uncontrollably he smiled to himself as he walked past the stern young policeman.
“Elementary,” he said in silence as he started up Regent Street. “It’s all elementary, my dear Watson.”
As he passed one elegant store after another, sometimes pausing in front of their elaborate display windows, all he could think of were his days in the Show when he earned plenty of money so that he could afford to shop at such places. Not now, though, not for quite a while. And certainly he would not be earning any big paychecks coaching for some semi-professional team in London but he hoped that if he did a good enough job he might get hired by a big league club again.
Minutes later, after leaving Regent Street, he spotted a betting shop in the middle of the block and slowly approached it, knowing that before he was arrested he would have rushed to enter the place. He knew what he promised Simmons before he arrived in England, knew he should walk on by, but before he realized it he was inside the crowded little shop. Bettors, known as “punters” in England, were lined up in front of the cashier to place their bets while those who already had stood in front of the enormous television screen in the corner. On it horses were being led to the starting gate at some track in Ireland that was ankle-deep in mud. Rader was tempted to watch the race but was afraid, if he did, he might be inclined to stay a while and maybe place a bet on the next race. So, almost as quickly as he entered the shop, he left, thoroughly pleased with himself that he had resisted the temptation.
“You win anything, governor?” a scrawny man in a flat tweed cap asked as he stepped by Rader to enter the shop.
“No, not today,” he answered, “but I didn’t lose, either.”
The man grinned. “Well, guv, I guess you’re still walking on the sunny side of the street then, aren’t you?”
He nodded, still heading north, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his baseball jacket. A light mist began to fall but he didn’t mind and continued on, eager to explore as much of the city as he could this morning. At moments, he felt right at home, recognizing familiar sights and scents, but most of the time he felt as if he were not only in another country but in another time.
All of a sudden, as he approached a busy crosswalk, he heard a woman scream and wheeled around and saw her pointing at a man racing across the street.
“That man’s a thief!” she shouted furiously. “He took my purse!”
At once, Rader took off after him, dodging past an ice cream vendor. He bumped into one person after another but didn’t stop, not for an instant, and charged ahead, as if he were trying to steal a base. His legs felt strong, his arms too, and gradually he was gaining on the thief when the guy suddenly tossed the purse in the street and jumped aboard a bus. Breathing heavily, Rader picked up the purse and took it back to the frantic woman, feeling as pleased with himself as he had in a long time.
A few nights later, still exploring the strange city, Rader walked along part of the Embankment then crossed Waterloo Bridge and headed toward Leicester Square where his landlady told him there were plenty of inexpensive places to get a bite to eat. He moved slowly, his legs still not adjusted to the change in time zones. Back in Baltimore he would be sound asleep now, he knew, probably for a couple of hours already.
Nearly every other step he took a deep breath, trying to shake off the sluggishness he felt in his legs. “You’ve got on concrete galoshes,” he remembered a coach telling him once after he got thrown out trying to steal third base. Smiling, he definitely felt as if he were wearing such footwear tonight as he trudged down a narrow stone paved street.
It rained earlier that afternoon so puddles were everywhere, bright as medallions in the moonlight. Carefully he stepped around them, not wanting to get his new walking shoes wet. He had almost reached the end of the street when a yellow cat suddenly appeared, her back arched, and hissed at him and immediately he stamped his foot but she didn’t budge an inch.
You know where you belong all right, he thought, not sure if he did, and stepped past her and headed down another narrow street.
Soon he saw the bright lights of the Square and was relieved he was going in the right direction. He thought he was but wasn’t entirely certain because he had been lost a couple of times already in the week he had been in the city. Just the other morning he boarded a bus that he thought would take him back to his bed sitting room when he suddenly started to have doubts and had to ask several other passengers before he found one who assured him he was on the right bus.
“You got something for me, mate?” a ragged figure in the doorway of a pub asked as Rader approached the establishment.
“You’re not from here I bet, are you?”
“Nope,” he repeated, snickering. “You sound like Gary Cooper. You from the States? Is that where you’re from, Mr. Cooper?”
Rader did not answer him but continued on, lengthening his stride a little.
“Hey, lads,” the guy muttered to some others in the pub, “this bloke from the States won’t talk to me. Thinks he’s too goddamn good to talk to the likes of me.”
Jerk, he thought to himself, as he walked past the pub.
All of a sudden something, probably a rock, maybe an ashtray, struck him in the back of the neck. He was tempted to turn around to see who threw it but, instead, kept walking, not wanting to get in a confrontation his first week in London. Something else then grazed his left shoulder then the back of his neck again.
“Son of a bitch!”
At once, despite how sluggish he felt, he started to run and splashed through one puddle after another. His arms churning, he raced past an overturned bench, past someone else in a doorway, past heaps and heaps of garbage. He was sure whoever threw those things at him was far back, if he even came after him, but he didn’t look around and ran as hard as he could until he got to Leicester Square which was as crowded as a supermarket. Not having any idea where to go, he ducked into a dingy pub and ordered a pint and sat down at a table that allowed him a clear view of all who entered the place.
Still breathing heavily, he was absolutely exhausted and sat with his legs sticking straight out from his chair. His shirt was so soaked with sweat it stuck to his back. He had put on at least fifteen pounds since his playing days but he still was pretty fast in short spurts. He was not surprised even though he hadn’t run that hard since he was a ball player. One thing he could always do was run fast. As a kid, he was faster than anyone, and all through his baseball career he was the fastest one on the team.
Grinning, he recalled the times during intervals between races at the dog track when his uncle entertained the crowd by having him race after the mechanical rabbit that the dogs pursued. He never got close to the damn thing, which made the crowd roar with laughter, but he was sure no one else his age could have got any closer than he did.
Jibrail slashed a slider over the head of the first baseman, who made a futile attempt to get his glove on it, and as the ball rolled into the corner of right field the runner on second base rounded third and headed home. The right fielder made a strong throw to the plate, which forced the runner to slide. His hands up, he hooked his left leg as he was taught and, just barely, avoided being tagged out. It was the first run the Lancers had scored in the game. Immediately the entire team erupted from the dugout and huddled around the runner, including Rader who was especially pleased by his near perfect execution of a hook slide.
“You couldn’t have done it any better, squire,” he shouted, slapping the youngster on the shoulders. “Goddamn outstanding!”
“I had a good teacher.”
Rader laughed, as ecstatic as if he were the one who scored.
Not surprisingly, that turned out to be the only run the Lancers scored in the practice game that Simmons had arranged with some of the staff of the American embassy in London. Except for a couple of athletic young Foreign Service officers, most of the American players were Marines who served as guards at the embassy. The Lancers, however, furnished the pitchers for the American team and they exceeded even their own expectations, shutting out their English teammates for six and a half innings. All in all, Simmons was pleased with the effort of the team, particularly Jibrail who got three hits, two of which were for extra bases.
“You keep hitting like you did today you might never want to pick up a cricket bat again,” Simmons chided him afterward at the Bow and Arrow, a noisy little pub down the street from the park where they played the game on a makeshift diamond.
“Oh, I could never do that, Barney,” he gasped, after taking a sip of beer. “I grew up playing cricket. It’s something I could never give up even if I turn out to be a much better baseball player.”
“Hell, if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t baseball derive from cricket?” Rader inquired, snapping a pretzel in half.
“That’s what I’ve heard.”
“I was under the impression baseball originated in the States,” Simmons remarked. “Invented by that soldier Abner Doubleday.”
“I heard that, too, but I learned later at the sporting goods store where I worked before I came over here that it was actually something the founder of the Spalding Company conjured up without any real evidence.”
Simmons frowned. “You’re telling me that America’s pastime isn’t even American?”
“I’ll be damned.”
“People in this country have been playing games with round objects and wooden sticks since the Middle Ages,” a bearded patron seated across from them remarked after listening to their discussion. “Cricket is no more original than your game of baseball. Both of them are based on much more primitive games.”
“I’ll be damned,” Simmons muttered again. “I guess you really can learn something new every day, after all.”
Jibrail smiled. “I learn something new about baseball every time I play it.”
“Well, regardless of where it got started, I’m damn glad someone came up with the idea because, in my humble opinion, it’s the best game ever invented.”
Rader raised his pint glass. “I’ll drink to that, Barney.”
“Hell’s fire, Cliff, you’ll drink to anything so long as someone else is picking up the bill.”
Grinning, he took a long swallow of the warm beer, realizing at that moment that he had definitely made the right decision to come over to England to help his old friend shape this motley collection of ball players into a viable team. The Lancers might not beat too many high school teams in the States but they were gradually beginning to develop the determination and cohesiveness that any team must have to succeed. And if he was confident of anything, he was confident of that, he thought to himself, as he glanced around the crowded pub at some of the players.
One afternoon, after batting practice, Jibrail invited Rader to visit Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood, which he informed him was regarded as the home of the sport. The American was a little reluctant, though, not really knowing anything about the game, but Jibrail was adamant it was a place he should see while he was in England.
“I won’t have any idea what’s going on, Jibrail.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured him. “There won’t be a match going on there today.”
“That way you can walk around and get a good look at the old place and, maybe, soak up some of its tradition.”
He was not too enthused about going there but didn’t want to appear rude to Jibrail who was one of the more consistent hitters on the Lancers. So far, in the three regular season games they had played, he led the team in runs batted in and had the third best batting average among those in the starting lineup.
“What do you say? Do you want to go?”
Forcing a smile, he replied, “Sure, why not?”
Jibrail drove a rusted old English Rover, which crept through traffic on four nearly bald tires, and made so much racket Rader would not have been surprised if they were pulled over and cited for violating some ordinance against excessive noise. Everywhere, it seemed, people turned to look at the relic of a car as if it were full of clowns at the head of a parade. Soon after passing the St. John’s Wood tube station they arrived at Lord’s and Jibrail found a place to park across the street from the main entrance.
Eagerly he led Rader onto the hollow ground, pointing out first the Pavilion, which was constructed during the Victorian Era, then Old Father Time, a weathervane atop a stand on the southeast side of the field. He scarcely took a breath he was so busy describing one feature of the place after another. He was excited as a kid at the seaside, Rader thought, as he followed him through what he claimed was the oldest sports museum in the world. He provided so much information about the cricket ground that Rader had trouble processing much of what he said except when he noted that the playing field was sloped so that the northwest side was more than eight feet higher than the southeast side.
“That must be pretty hairy.”
Jibrail squinted in confusion. “What do you mean by hairy?”
“Sorry,” he said, smiling. “I mean, it must make it difficult for players to field the ball cleanly.”
“Oh, yes, it can be very hairy, as you say.”
“Have you had much trouble fielding balls here?”
He shook his head. “I’ve never played at Lord’s.”
“You haven’t?” he said, surprised.
“Oh, no, only the best cricketers get to play here and I’m definitely not of that caliber.”
“Not at all.”
“I’d just assumed you had since you know so much about this place.”
“Anyone who loves cricket knows about Lord’s. As I said, it’s the home of the sport … the holy shrine, if that’s not too profane to say.”
Rader, swatting away a fly, grinned.
“We should go to a match together, Cliff, and then I can help you better understand the game.”
“Yeah, I’d certainly need some help, squire, because for the life of me I can’t really make much sense of it I’m afraid.”
“You will if you take the time.”
“I don’t know. It seems like a real jigsaw to me.”
Jibrail, chuckling, then offered to buy him a pint and led him next door to the Lord’s Tavern Bar and Brasserie where they sat at a small round table against the wall. Almost at once, a comely waitress with almond-shaped eyes appeared to take their order. She nodded at Rader then, narrowing her eyes, glared at Jibrail.
“Not you again.”
Jibrail, grinning, winked at Rader.
“You’re here so often I’m surprised you don’t just pitch a tent outside the door.”
“I haven’t been here for a couple of weeks.”
“It seems more like a couple of days.”
“Well, maybe it has been but who’s counting other than you?”
She looked at Rader who was taken back a little by the curious exchange. “I suppose you’re as crazy about cricket as Jibrail?”
Before he could reply, Jibrail interjected, saying, “Raghda, this is Cliff Rader---an American who is one of the coaches on the baseball team I’ve been playing on this summer.”
Smiling, she extended her small hand and Rader shook it.
“Raghda, until now, has always been my favorite cousin but I’m not so sure anymore.”
“I just can’t understand how grown men can care so much about hitting a ball with a stick whether it’s cricket or baseball.”
“That’s because you don’t appreciate some of the finer things in life, cousin.”
Playfully she stuck out her tongue then left to place their order at the bar.
“I love my cousin probably more than anyone but she can be very exasperating at times,” he laughed, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling. “She’s not one who ever keeps her opinion to herself.”
“She’s very pretty.”
“She is and, believe me, she knows it.”
Of course, he thought, as he watched her at the bar, one long leg cocked behind the other, talking with another waitress.
“She’s absolutely right, you know,” he admitted. “I do come here quite a lot. It’s one of the places I bring people like yourself who are new to London. But I also come because I like to keep an eye on my cousin who is sometimes too generous for her own damn good.”
“You’re kind of her big brother, are you?”
He nodded, twisting a lock of his thick black hair. “You could say that, sure. We grew up together near Marble Arch, lived practically around the corner from one another, and I’ve always been very fond of her. But now about the only time I see her is when I come here because she has her own set of friends. I’ve tried to get her to come and see one of our games but, so far, without success. She always seems to have something else planned when I ask her.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Maybe, if you asked her, she’d come,” he suggested.
“I suspect the game of baseball would be as foreign to her as cricket is to me.”
“I know but she’s more likely to accept an invitation from a stranger, especially an American, than she is from me, her own flesh and blood. She likes to make a good impression on people she doesn’t know, which is why she earns so much money in tips working in a pub.”
“All right. I’ll ask her.”
“You watch, Cliff, she’ll say yes to you.”
And so she did, agreeing to attend their next game, even though she didn’t seem anymore enthused about the prospect than Rader would have been to be going to a cricket match.
Back and forth, back and forth, Rader paced inside the third base coaching box, urgently clapping his hands to keep the rally going. “Bear down, squire!” he shouted at Simon Cummings after he took a called strike on the inside part of the plate.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning. The Lancers were one run behind the Liverpool Pilots with Graham Eaton in scoring position on second base. So far, they had played the Pilots twice and lost both times by a single run.
Quickly he looked over at Eaton and held up two fingers, reminding him there were two outs, then looked back at Cummings who had just stepped back into the batter’s box.
“Bear down now … bear down.”
The next pitch was outside but, for whatever reason, Cummings swung at it and dribbled the ball back to the pitcher who easily fielded it and threw him out at first base.
“Not again,” Rader muttered under his breath as he walked back to the dugout. “Goddamn it, not again.”
“That hurt,” Simmons snorted when Rader got back to the dugout. “That was a game we should’ve won. We out hit them, we out pitched them, we---“
“But we didn’t out score them.”
“Obviously,” he fumed, “but otherwise we damn well out played the bastards.”
“Eaton probably would have scored if Jibrail was at bat instead of Cummings. He’s definitely our best clutch hitter.”
Simmons nodded in agreement. “He’s missed two games now, correct?”
“And at least four practices.”
“About that, yeah.”
Angrily he crushed a paper cup in his left hand and threw it across the bench. “He should’ve got over what’s ever got him under the weather by now.”
“I’d have thought so but the other night when I spoke with him on the phone he said he still wasn’t feeling any better.”
“Has he seen a doctor about whatever it is that’s bothering him?”
“I suppose but I don’t really know.”
“Well, damn it all, he should see a doctor and get well because we need his bat in the lineup or we might never win another game.”
Rader spoke with Jibrail three times since he missed the last two games and each time he was very evasive when Rader asked when he thought he would be able to rejoin the team. He almost seemed to cut him off when he pressed him for a specific time. Rader wasn’t sure if he didn’t have any idea, or if he had no intention of coming back, but didn’t want to tell him and hurt his feelings. Maybe his job as a meter reader was taking too much of a physical toll on him or maybe he had been invited to play on some cricket team. So one afternoon, rather than call him again, he decided to pay him a visit at his flat near Edgware Road so he could see for himself how he was getting along.
“My, this is a surprise,” Jibrail said when he opened the door and saw Rader in the hallway.
“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and see if there was anything you needed.”
“No, not really, Cliff.”
“So how are you making out?”
“Not so well, I’m afraid.”
“You look all right. A little tired, maybe, but otherwise you look fine.”
Shrugging a shoulder, he stepped back and invited him inside the flat which reeked of the strong cigarettes that he often saw Jibrail roll by hand in the clubhouse before games. “All I’ve got is some tea. Would you like a cup?”
“Sure, that’d be fine.”
“All right,” he mumbled as he turned to go to the kitchen. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Rader nodded and, after removing some magazines, sat down in a canvas slingback chair by the window. It was clear, as he looked around the cluttered living room, that it also had become Jibrail’s bedroom because of the pillow and blankets that were on the couch. He noticed some waded up sweat socks on the floor along with a pair of shorts and an “Arsenal Rules” jersey. Also on the floor was a sweat-stained Gunn & Moore Maestro cricket bat.
“I hope this isn’t too strong,” he said as he handed him a mug of Twinings Earl Grey tea. “I know how you Yanks think people over here drink tea as strong as motor oil.”
Quickly he breathed over the tea then took a tiny sip. “No, it’s fine.”
He smiled thinly, moved aside the pillow, and sat down on the couch. “I don’t suppose I have to ask why you’re here. As a matter of fact, I’ve sort of been expecting you or Barney to come by one of these days.”
“Can you blame us? We’re concerned about you.”
He nodded, stirring a finger in his tea.
“Well, son, everyone on the team is concerned about how you’re doing. You’re one of our best hitters, and if we’re going to win any games, we need you back playing for us. So we’re all eager for you to start feeling better.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me physically, Cliff.”
“There isn’t?” he said, surprised.
“No, nothing more than the usual aches and pains any ball player gets during a season.”
“So what’s the problem then?” he demanded, leaning forward on the edge of his chair. “Why have you stopped coming to games?”
“I guess I’ve lost the desire to play.”
“Bullshit! No one else on the team cares as much about playing baseball as you did, Jibrail. No one! It was more than a game to you, I could tell, it was something you were as passionate about as you are about cricket.”
He stared into his mug for a long moment in silence. “My cousin, Raghda, is missing.”
Again, the American was startled. “What do you mean she’s missing?”
“She’s not at work, she’s not at her flat. She’s gone.”
“Have you looked for her?”
He shook his head, without looking at him.
“Why the hell not?”
“I suppose because I don’t want to find her.”
“You’re not making any sense, son. What do you mean you don’t want to find her? You told me yourself you are as close to her as a brother.”
“I don’t believe I ever mentioned it to you but for the past couple of months now she’s been going out with this Australian guy she worked with at Lord’s.”
“Has he also disappeared?”
“No, he’s still working there.”
“But you think he might have something to do with her disappearance?”
“What does that mean, for God’s sake?” he snapped, clearly frustrated by Jibrail’s vague responses to his questions.
After swallowing some more tea, Jibrail said, “A few weeks ago, just after she disappeared, I learned from someone else she works with that she’s pregnant.”
“So you think she went somewhere to have an abortion?”
“No, not at all. She’d never dream of doing something as terrible as that.”
“So what does that have to do with her going away?”
“There are some people in our family who didn’t always approve of the way she conducted herself at times,” he continued, stirring a finger again in his tea. “They certainly didn’t think it was proper for a young single woman to be working in a pub and they would’ve been quite upset if they knew she was involved with someone who was not one of our people. And, without question, they would have been outraged if they found out she was going to have a child by this person.”
“So you figure she’s hiding out from these relatives until she has the child?”
His eyes suddenly narrowed and welled with tears.
“What is it, Jibrail?”
“I’m afraid she’s dead.”
“I’m afraid they killed her.”
“Now what, in God’s name, makes you say that?” he asked, stunned by the remark.
“Honor is something that is very important in my family,” he stammered. “So important that some might even feel obliged to take the life of those who have blackened the reputation of our family.”
“You’re really telling me your cousin might have been killed because she’s going to have a child with someone who’s not of her faith?”
He nodded. “A woman’s reputation is like a crystal bowl, an uncle of mine told me when I was a young boy, and once it’s broken it cannot be repaired.”
“Pardon me, son, but that’s ridiculous. That sounds like something that might’ve happened back in the Middle Ages, not here in modern day London.”
“Maybe so, Cliff, but it’s happened before in my family.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“If a person loses her honor, she brings shame not only on herself but on her whole family and must be put to death otherwise her family will be forever tainted by what she did.”
“I don’t know what to say, Jibrail. I’ve just never heard of such a thing happening in this day and age.”
Jibrail clamped his massive hands on the edge of the couch as if to spring up but he didn’t budge a muscle.
“I don’t know why but I think you’re mistaken,” Rader said haltingly. “I think your cousin has only gone away for a while, perhaps out of embarrassment because of her pregnancy, but she’ll be back. I just have a hunch and, as you know, in baseball my hunches are more often right than wrong.”
“Oh, God, I hope you’re right, Cliff.”
“So do I, son.”
Another rancid pigeon swooped past Rader as he made his way to Trafalgar Square where, he expected, it would be as crowded as ever with people eager to feed the birds there with bread crumbs. He smiled, remembering the first time he visited the Square when some woman from Copenhagen offered him a handful of birdseed and in a matter of seconds he was surrounded by pigeons. Jibrail was with him then and, laughing, said, “You look like a Christmas tree covered in ornaments.”
Only a few weeks after that he went to see him at his flat and that turned out to be the last time he saw the young man. Still, game after game, he half expected him to show up, with his bat and glove, but he never did, and though he was tempted to pay him another visit he didn’t want to disturb him because he knew how much he must be grieving since the discovery of his cousin’s body behind the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. So a couple of times a week he made it down to Trafalgar Square in the hope he might come across him since he knew that along with Lord’s it was a place he often took people who were visiting London for the first time. He wouldn’t say anything to him about Raghda, having said all he could think of saying in the brief condolence card he sent as soon as he heard she was dead, but would just talk some baseball and let him know how much he was missed from the team.
The season was more than half over but still he came down to the Square. So far, he had not seen him but one afternoon he did spot a young woman who looked enough like Raghda to have been her twin. He was so startled by the likeness that he stared at her for several minutes until he was sure she was not Raghda’s sister. Still, the sight of this woman brought to mind the one time Raghda came to watch her cousin play for the Lancers. She really had no idea what was going on but she was as excited as anyone in the stands when jibrail successfully stole home for the winning run. The smile on her face was as bright as the baseball diamond, he remembered thinking to himself as he watched her jump up and down like a schoolgirl.
“Excuse me, sir, but could you tell me how to get to Piccadilly Circus?” a slight woman in a straw hat asked Rader who, as usual, was resting against one of the enormous lions in the center of the Square.
“Sure thing,” he said and quickly pointed her in the correct direction.
“You’re an American?”
“Oh, I thought you were from here.”
He shook his head then, as if suddenly realizing he didn’t really belong here, said, “And I can’t wait to get back home.”
I took to writing stories about a little over a year ago for something to do while recovering from a broken foot. I've had about thirty published here and there. They have appeared in Romance Magazine, Heater, The Flash Fiction Press, The Fable Online, Frontier Tales, Clever Magazine, The Zodiac Review, Fear of Monkeys, Abbreviate Journal, and The Texas Writer's Journal Quarterly. (I think that's all of them.)
The Worst of Times
It was the best of times.....ah to be young and in love.
It was the worst of places to be young and in love, inside the besieged Alamo.
Bobby and Trinidad sat hand in hand, side by side, so close that you couldn’t have slid a sheet of paper between them, on the cannon along the wall of the Alamo’s crumbling falling down chapel and looked eastward. Both knew no one was coming but nevertheless they couldn’t help themselves. They numbly stared in the distance hoping a cloud of dust would suddenly appear foretelling them that Fannin or Houston and their army was riding to their relief. Even Colonel Travis held out no hope and yesterday told them so. Told them that they alone stood as the picket guard on the Texas frontier, that no one was coming to their aid.
“Hear that? Fiddle music. The Tennessee boys are getting their fiddles tuned up. Hear ‘em? They’re going to do some fiddling and where there’s fiddling, there’s dancing. Come on Trini let’s go see what’s going on. Take our minds off all this for a little while.
Hand in hand they jumped off the cannon and scurried down the earth mound and out into the open. They skidded to a stop and listened. Santa Ana was continually, day and night, firing artillery rounds into the Alamo. They hardly did any damage and no one as yet had been hit but you still had to be careful. It was just that the loud noise kept you up all night and left your nerves continually on edge.
Nothing. No cannon fire sound. Together they made their mad dash to the barracks where the music was coming from. A crowd was already there anxiously milling about.
Then some toothless whiskered old coot started clapping and pumping his knee up and down and shouted out, “Let’s get this wing ding a-going!”
The fiddlers took their cue and struck up the fiddles playing all the popular negro songs, Old Zip Coon and Jump Jim Crow being the favorites. Soon the floor was packed and Bobby and Trinidad jumped in “cutting the wing” with the rest of them and having the proverbial yee-haw high old time.
There was only a handful of women there at the Alamo and all the women of the Alamo were of Mexican descent except for Mrs. Dickinson. She wasn’t at the dance though. She was off nursing her newborn daughter but all the Mexican ladies were present and accounted for.
All the men of the Alamo were white men except for about a dozen local Mexicans that had cast their lot with the Anglos.
All of the men wanted to dance with Trinidad. She was so beautiful, hazel eyes, wavy flowing long black hair, the figure of a Greek goddess. One of the fellows cut in on Bobby soon after the first dance started and he knew he’d be lucky to get another dance with her that night.
And all the women wanted Bobby for a dance partner. This handsome young man with the bright blue eyes, chiseled features, trim body and thick head of black hair. Why he was Adonis. Even Mrs. Esparza dared dance with him in spite of the scowling looks she got from her husband. And she even let her thirteen year old daughter dance with him. But then Bobby really got lucky. He got to dance with Gertrudis, Jim Bowie’s spinster sister in law, who was as old and ugly as Trinidad was young and beautiful.
And Trinidad danced with them all, the Norteamericanos, the local Mexicans, the men from various places in Europe with their funny accents. She even danced with ten year old Enrique Esparza. She knew the boy had a crush on her as did many of the men there. Everyone got a turn before the music stopped so that the fiddlers and singer could catch their breath. They were out of tunes anyway as they had played Zip Coon and Jim Crow to death as well as all the waltzes and reels of the day.
One of the Mexican men then uncased his guitar and began to play a Mexican dance song. Soon everyone was back on the floor dancing. The do-si-do hoedown morphed into a heel stomping Mexican fandango.
And Trinidad, oh she was something else. She was in her height and glory dancing to her music. All eyes were upon her as her feet stomped the ground, her arms above her head waving in the air with fingers snapping, flipping and raising the hem of her colorful skirt, tossing her head back and forth, her hair bouncing from side to side, the center of attention.
Oh it was a strange and peculiar sight that night. These white men dancing with these brown women to this negro and Mexican music.
But when the fandango was over nothing had changed. Bobby and Trinidad could see it in each others forlorn eyes. Nothing changed and nothing will change. They still were doomed inside these walls.
They dragged themselves back to ‘their room.’ There was a room that was understood by the men to be ‘their room’ when the door was closed. Otherwise it belonged to all as long as the door remained open. Men would even go in there to sleep on the floor but never close the door and never use the bed therein. It was “their bed.” Now they were spent from the dancing and their nerves shot. Sleep, it would be a welcome relief, let them escape for a while anyway.
“Bobby I’m going to speak to Colonel Travis tomorrow about us leaving here.”
“Don’t Trini. I already told you not to.”
“I’m going to. I don’t care what you say.”
They laid down in bed, their backs to each other. Not another word was spoken.
Next day they kept their distance from each other. Toward dusk Trinidad went to make her request of Colonel Travis.
Colonel Travis knew what she wanted, she wanted permission for her and Bobby to leave. He knew what it was to be in love once. He knew what it was to be divorced and to be in love again as he was now. But most of all he knew if he granted them her request, their lives would be spared.
The command over these men, and now women too he realized, had finally worn him down. He knew now that he was the giver of life and death. He knew it the other day when he made his speech and drew the line. The speech to which he and all the others had chosen death, death and honor that is, over life. Now he was being asked to spare the lives of these two. He couldn’t refuse them. Why just this morning hadn’t he saved the life of a young boy of sixteen when he sent him out as a messenger with one final plea for help. He knew no help would come but he knew that the lad was smart enough to get through the Mexican lines and make it. He had saved his life by letting him go. He would do the same again now. These two would make it now under the cover of evening’s darkness. She didn’t even have to make her request. “Vaya con Dios,” he said.
Trinidad’s spirit rejuvenated immediately. She ran to Bobby shouting. “We can go Bobby. We can leave. Colonel Travis said it's alright.”
Bobby stood there, she pulling his arm. “Come on. We can get through. You speak Spanish well enough and can pass for Mexican. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Can’t do it Trini. Can’t leave.”
“What?” she screamed.
“Can’t go. I gave my word. I crossed the line. The men are counting on me to keep my word. I have to stay.”
“Bobby! One man more or less will make no difference here. We can get through, get married, start a family just like we planned.”
“Makes a difference to me Trini.”
The tears now streaked down both their faces.
“Bobby they will kill you, all of you.”
“I can’t stay Bobby. They will kill you but once. Me they will kill a thousand times before they kill me.”
“I know. Leave Trini. You’re a beautiful young woman. You will have no trouble finding a husband. They’ll be waiting in line for you. Go! Get married, have children and grandchildren. Go!”
She stomped her right foot and with clenched fists ran out into the night never looking back. Trinidad made it through the Mexican lines and to a new life. She got married, had children, became matronly as the bloom went off the rose, and had many many grandchildren. She never spoke of Bobby nor of the Alamo again and if someone would ever ask her, “Weren’t you at the Alamo?” she would give them a curt “No!’ in such a manner that the individual would immediately kill the subject. For you see to her, those were the worst of times.
"Nidhi lives near the sea in Gujarat with her husband. She did her schooling from American International School, Kabul, before moving on to Delhi for BA English Honors as well as Cost & Work Accountancy. She has a few published novels and miscellanies on Indian cinema and Sikh Holy Scriptures. Her short work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Fiction Magazines, Flash Fiction Press, Asvamegha, etc.”
The Carrot is Mightier than the Sword
A great rustling swept over the treeless tracts as droves of furry hares, kestrel-eyed and keen, lanky-legged and tough, fanned out to munch on sedge and dwarf shrub. They rested and foraged in turns, leaping and lolloping across the heather and the bent, as the cold wind, bemoaning the winter just departed, passed with a sigh over the yellowing grasses and fire thorns crouching low. Some, in spring frenzy chased one another, sparring with their paws. Leverets, with long ears and black markings, rubbed their eyes; sleeking their furs with well-licked paws, they raced the sun with eyes cocked to the sky, where peewits, with their slow wings squeaking, and golden plovers, with reedy whistles piping, circled.
By the pool with grey reeds at its rim, King Carrotta, warm as an oven loaf in his brilliant white coat, surveyed the soggy realm with satisfaction; twirling his whiskers, he drew a straw to suck from a pitcher plant. As he hummed, and slurped in tandem with the concerts of nature, another sound, that didn’t quite agree with the general sunshine, rang in: the slow weeps of a creature, proud, ashamed of his pain.
King Carrotta, with many a winter past him, knew well to mind his own business; the craft of surviving in the bitter, wild white was a tricky one. So he chucked the straw and bounded away in large merry leaps, and found spike rush to whiten his teeth upon. But the cries, like misty wreaths fluttering, wheeling about over the moss and heath, followed him, and he could no longer shut his ears to them. Unhappily he tossed over his shoulder a juicy blue-black bearberry, and contrary to his good sense, bounded across the bog to see what ailed this poor soul.
There, near a frozen tarn, at the mouth of the barren cavern, lay a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, writhing and worrying, grieving and growling, raging and raving, howling and heating, and turning and twisting, around and around, with endless rebound. He could barely spit fire, and smoke wisped out his damp nostrils. He had an arrow ripped through his wing, which he beat weakly. Drenched in tears of shame, but not of his own making, his eyes, big, black, fearful, and staggering, implored for help.
“Whatever happened to you, silly bird,” asked the King, staying a safe distance behind an alder brush – just in case. “Who are you?”
“Doesn’t anyone even know? I am Terex – the fire breather – arch of the alpine forest!” Scooping air into his lungs, he exhaled with force – a tiny cloud of vapor popped out of his face, lingering briefly in the bracing cold, before vanishing. The arch firebomber hung his head in shame.
“What in blazes!” Carrotta scurried a little closer. “What brings you so far up north?”
“I used to feast upon veggie Sauropods that mow the earth like cows. Not long ago, some crazy Nenets, not content with hunting Caribous, shot me down with an arrow when I was only minding my own business – flying low, hugging the treetops, looking for some warm, succulent meat to dig my teeth into. Why, I wasn’t even firing up when these looting, lust-dieted, lowlifes shot me down just for sport – for I have armor on my back, club on my tail, fire in my entrails and dung in my horns – what use are these in any hearth? I flew as far and away as I could, my wing bleeding, till I could no more, and crawled into this hollow to die.”
“Why the howling, the tossing and turning then, mate? Spring doesn’t last here forever – you’re disturbing the peace. Do what you have to, and keep it low, okay?” The King crouched on his powerful hind legs and made to spring off.
“Hey, wait…err…umm…I could do with a little…” mumbled Terex, his dark face blanched with pain and blood loss, all of his six monstrous eyes downcast in humiliation.
“Oh, so the mighty Tyrannosaurus needs help from a humble bonnybunny then?”
“Must you… really speak aloud…” the dinosaur darted glances left and right.
“Right-ho then – keep tight.” The Bonnybunny hopped close to the mauled wing, and hummed and hawed. “ Nothing the sharp cogs of a drove will not set right. Wait here for me,” said he, and leaped across the marsh to marshal his marshals.
Soon, a vast oinking and honking advanced over the mellowing permafrost, and in no time the Bigwigs, the Cottontails, the Flopsies, and the Pookas had chewed through the hardwood shaft and elk sinew of the arrow, and pulled it out.
Dr. Jack Quack, the local on-call GP, boiled some carrots in a geyser and rubbed the mashed taproot on the wound. “You’ll be good to go in no time,” he said, stepping back to admire his handiwork.
“What’s that,” the monster wailed, all his six eyebrows shooting up, when the does brought before him a sumptuous spread of liverworts, carrots, lichens, and caribou mosses. “ Where is the meat?”
“Eat your veggies; it’s low fat and won’t clog your arteries,” the doctor firmly declared. “The carrots might even help you see in the dark.”
“Only wabbits eat carrots,” the proud predator moaned.
“Watching too much television, has our sickly boy been? It’s not your Bugs Bunny show Mr. Raptor – eat ‘em.”
And so the raptor soon recovered; a dark flush once again suffused his handsome fiendish looks, and he was able to flap his wings without wincing. When he could take short flights over the bog and take his pickings from the Caribou and Musk Ox, the lapins knew it was time to let the visitor head back to his forests down south. The brief spring was already waning and the coldhearted dusk was beginning to close in like a slow trap of ice.
So one morning, by the long creek, on mist-blurred grass, Carrotta shook his visitor’s claw, and bid him adieu. “Can’t say I’m sorry to see you go, though – you know, with bunnies – they get a little hot under the collar with all those blazes and flames. They got better tricks to keep the old gal hot. “ He winked as the raptor flapped his mighty wings, and soared away in a wake of soot and ash.
As early as the next winter, on a dark frozen night, Terex was back in the rabbit kingdom. This time, he had company – more winged, taloned, horned and fire spitting beasts following him – each more desperate than the other. Word skids fast on the frozen swampland, and the hares were on the ready with a reception.
“What brings you back?” King Carrotta slammed a parsnip-tipped spear against his iron breastplate, and signaled the uninvited guests, creatures that left a bloody and blazing brume in their wake, to halt at the gates of his realm.
“A massive rock has hit the earth. Almost the entire population of our non-avians has been wiped out. I liked what I saw here the last time. We come in peace, brother –– to take over new territories and advance our race. We were friends once; remember me – you hosted me last spring as well?” Terex flapped his wings, large as the sails of a galleon, and hovered over the king and his assembled guard, his nostrils seething and smoking.
“You come in peace, yet you slash and burn our lands?”
“That’s what fire breathing dinosaurs do, brother – breathe fire.”
“Well, it doesn’t suit us. It thaws the permafrost, and burns the food on the table, not to mention the greenhouse gases that discharge because of all the warming. I ask that you spend the night here, and return to your Taiga in the morning. When you were sick, we took you in, and now that you’ve returned to your previous fiery splendor, we don’t want your dark blood-gouts of flame and phlegm scaring the kits.”
“I mean no harm to the cupcakes – see, we don’t eat no wabbits. Who wants to be coughing up fur for days afterwards?”
“We are no cupcakes or bunnies to you Mister Terminator – we are Hares.” Carrotta drew up to his full fuzzy height and raised his lance aloft.
“So, are you going to stop us with a handful of pink carrots and doll faces,” asked a smirking dragon minion. Sweeping his spiked tail, he sent the hare’s entire front line scrambling into disarray.
Worthy King Carrotta, having proved himself in many a battle with marauding weasels, ripping white foxes and squawking harlequin ducks, on seeing his battle formation in a state of near-rout at the very first feint enemy maneuver, turned to his soldiers, and lifting his big voice, shouted, “Hooold! Rrready for battle!”
On cue, his guard brought up its banners, and sounded the giant bugle. In a flash, as the dinosaurs blinked, an army of hundred thousand assembled in battle formation on the vast fields of tufted saxifrages and foliose lichens. The front lines were made of several 32-hare-deep phalanxes that locked their shields together and thrust their spears; behind them, were yeoman archers and stalwart redcoats at the ready; on the flanks, infantrybucks, with shakos raised on muskets; lastly, chariots of toboggans pulled by grays and piloted by martial lemmings brought up the fighting rear.
Well-armed with both bucklers and steel, the gathered army felled the affront of the air, as a growing tempest vexed the skies. “Dex Aie,” “Out out;” war cries pierced the air; impatient steeds of war stamped their angry hooves on the trembling land; and such a blasting and noise with their horns and drums, and flapping of pennons and screeching of Saracens, and stomping of hobnailed boots they made that it seemed all the great devils of hell had descended there.
“Forward!” commanded their leader, and the army began to march in step, slowly gathering pace, and momentum. “Halt!” the King shouted, as his frontlines advanced within thrust and parry range of the enemy. The lines turned a quarter right, and muskets were brought to the ready.
The ardor of the monsters seemed to abate a bit; the sounds weighed heavily on their spirits, and they became chary of being put furiously to the slaughter. A knave and a cad quivering in the rear did make a lame attempt at spitting a flame, but such an accurate volley of carrot-tipped arrows descended that it seemed thunderbolts were falling from the heavens.
Clutching a bleeding eye, seeing his rank and file descending into disorderly rout already, Terex, the arch talon of the woods, made a wise decision to stay alive for battle on another day. “O mighty King,” he said, “ you’re taking this a tad too seriously. We are inclined to accept your generous offer of staying the night, and returning peaceful and vacant possession of your lands at the first break of light. Peace, brother!” Spreading his giant armor-plated flanks, he slowly took a step back.
“Return then, beyond frozen lakes yonder, and do not bother to say goodbye in the morn,” King Carrotta raised a paw, and pointed their way out. The visitors flapped their leathery wings, and meekly retreated to lick their wounds, and count their losses.
In the hare’s camp the elders gathered in council, some heady with victory of the day, some drunk on carrot wine, most waiting for a sign from their meditating King to disperse to their warm forms and waiting does – for spring was waning, spent, and the desire rousing, unspent.
“Hark ye all,” spoke the monarch at long last, after much reflection. “I don’t expect the raptors leaving us so easily in peace. Master Hedwit, the wise owl, brings word that the Pangaea is indeed breaking up, and a massive rock has crashed into our world, snuffing out entire species. These are dark times indeed, when we must keep the faith. Let us do our bit to preserve this biome, home to our ancestors, and legacy to our children. We must rally the white bear and the gray fox – even the flapping swamp geese, and the hardline hawk to save this planet, and if…”
“What if, if,” asked of him Roger R. Rector, head priest and chief savant.
“If only man was on our side – rapacious, ravenous, ruthless, ruinous man. Or if he became the enemy of our enemy, the battle would be easily won.”
“Look around you sire, we are a million strong, and growing; what devil may not we easily vanquish,” asked General March.
“True – our strength in numbers – but as the first beams of sunlight glance across the fenlands, he will return, in greater numbers, better organized. Today we took him by surprise, tomorrow, we need another trick up our sleeve,” said the wily Hare Monarch.
“What do you suggest we do,” asked his general.
“I want you to take four divisions of our finest infantry, battle scarred and war worthy, and steal the carrots from man’s farms.”
“Carrots, me lord? Only bugs bunnies eat them on television,” reminded the sage.
“It’s not for eating, O wise one. We have enough food – for now. When the village finds its carrots plucked, vamoosed from its fields, barren, like the pleasures the rake seeks, it will fetch its hounds, and after us. At that moment, I expect to be joined in battle with the raptors unrepentant, and once man arrives on the bent, his badgers and fleabags on the scent, his kettledrums and whistles in a torment, and his temper and thrill on ascent, we shall beat a hasty, well organized retreat, and let one felon deal with another, to their heart’s malcontent.”
“A wonderful idea, me Regent!”
“To the village then, my Braves; hasten, before the night’s dark veil lifts on our fortunes and intent.”
On the morrow, as Carrotta had predicted, the Godzillas returned, perched on the willow, ready to heap burning coals upon their heads. His armies too, out in full heraldry and badges, shouldering muskets and pikes, had assembled ready for the sparring. Pavisiers and cross-bowers oiled their wares and cracked their knuckles, and gunners winched down catapult beams, carrying bushels loaded with carrots, slate, and magma. The cavalry commanders, wearing orange surcoats and blue helmets with coronets, their mounts in caparisons decorated with the national vegetable, the carrot, hoisted the colors. The Tribunes, ever and anon, blew their olifants to summon retribution; and solemn the misery pipes wailed. The hares took defenses behind a long line of iron ties joining blocks of stones together, and once the paeans had been sung, the frontlines began to march unwaveringly into combat. The monsters hissed and seethed, and battle was joined.
Flying arrows carpeted the sky; the silver sun blacked out completely; mounts leaped and scurried, and flames in the winds of death shivered incessantly. The armies marched, the fires blazed; the armies fell, the lusters died. Again the glows returned, the lands burned, and down the red-hot valleys the armies marching went. Embers blinked and lives crumbled in hell’s furnaces; bodies shone and dusked in fitful glows; red tongues darted and snaked in the smoky air, fields and hills lay black – one could taste the burning grass. Next season’s bud was roasted, her larvae toasted, the lichen cooked brown, soot on its stem, writhing half-dead.
In the pandemonium the leftmost flank began to sound their bugle, and Carrotta knew, the enemy of his enemy had arrived. Upon his order to the guards, a trusty messenger streaked through the battle order, barking his king’s command to the captains and commanders. The rearguard turned about, hoisted its colors, and began to march in orderly retreat. Slowly, the flanks opened up, letting hollering man and feisty dog into the heart of battle, till only the frontlines in contact remained to face certain death.
Along with them, many a man, taken aback with the violence and mayhem, perished, but not before many a enemy had been shot to the blazing ground. Valiant Carrotta, himself wounded badly, made away with most of his army, while the monsters, lost most of theirs.
The men would return, he knew, with many more, for retribution, and that would be the end of the invaders. Many lives had to be lost, but land would be restored to its pristine glory.
In the Hare’s camp the war council, joined by the bear, the gray, the goose, the owl, and the weasel, and many more, had gathered again, huddled in dialogue. The silent King lay in agony, his end near.
“What is to be done next, King dear,” asked General March.
“You did well today, my general. I leave a proud man.” He beckoned the general with a painful paw, bandaged in moss and carrot mash. The general walked over to his bed, and held his hand to his wrenching heart; tears welled up in every eye.
“I leave this kingdom in your able charge, General March; lead our brethren, every living soul that walks the earth, or swims in its waters, or flies in its skies, every blade of grass and leaf and fruit that sustains life, unto everlasting peace; this I command, nay implore you, will be your holy grail, the reason for you to prevail.”
“No, my king, come morning, and you will be upon your paws, proud and doughty, showing us the way,” the General cried.
“Promise me this,” the King clasped his General’s hand, and implored him with dimming eyes, ” promise me now!”
“ I promise, my Lord.”
The curtains of the royal tent flapped and a messenger stepped in. “Hail the king! My Lord, a most unlikely visitor has appeared at the gates – we have him detained at the tower. He asks your audience.”
“And who might this intruder be – an informant…a spy…a laggard…an envoy – who dares to vex when we are in council,” asked the head priest.
“It is he – T-T-Terex – in p-person!” the messenger bowed.
“It’s a trick!”
“A double-dealing treachery!” The assembly roared. “Dispatch him at the gates – finish the lying villain.”
“Wait,” the King rasped. “Take me to him.” he waved aside the protests and howls and bade his guards to carry his palanquin to the tower.
Terex, his feet chained to a turret, sat crestfallen on the ground, his shoulders hunched, his wide plume spiritless and flagged.
“How do you want me to treat you,” asked Carrotta.
“The way one king treats another,” said Terex.
“Free him at once,” Carrotta commanded. “What is it – what trickery assails your manner now,” he asked when the raptor had risen on his feet.
“ I know I’m not worthy of your trust, mighty Hare, but like you, I was only saving my kind. Alas, that strange insertion of man and his wily ways into the fracas did us in. As I look back, I see friend and foe, family and fellowship, perished. I repent mocking you – what valor, what sacrifice, what discipline your ranks showed today – I salute you and this land. I am at a crossroads, my troops have no more stomach for battle, I know man will return tomorrow and annihilate us with his devices – tell me, O king, what must I do,” he wailed, his giant frame wracked with sobs.
“Return to your forest, raptor, save the last living of your kind. Shrink, sprout wings, change into a bird, or something, adapt, learn patience, and you will be fine.”
The raptor nodded, he knew change was upon them and they had to learn. “Hail! Take care, good friend,” he said, and fluttered away.
“What should we do now, my lord,” asked General March.
“Return to the old ways. What man or hound could ever catch a fast hare,” he winked. “Man has a short memory – he will never have any dearth of hunt and sport as long as this land lives. Till then, good runnings, my friend.”
His general nodded in agreement, and gazed up at the skies, the freezing stars had begun to twinkle again, as the smoke and haze of battle started to clear. It was quite some time before he realized his king’s hand had gone cold, and lifeless in his grasp.
William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem."
You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
“Did you hear me?”
Andy blinked and stared at his doctor. “Yes.”
“Medical science isn’t always precise in these matters. It could be more than six months, seven, eight, maybe even a year. Everybody reacts differently to treatment so there’s no way of knowing right at the moment how long you have. But it would be wise for you to start planning, to get your affairs in order.”
Andy looked off to one side. There was a ringing in his ears and he felt lightheaded. Was he going to faint? He didn’t know what else to say even though he thought he should have a million questions. His eyes focused on a chart hanging on the wall. It showed a human skeleton with arrows connecting body parts to boxes with small writing. He saw the word tibia and wondered what it meant.
He turned back to find Dr. Greyson staring at him with a raised eyebrow. “I’m sorry. I seem to be a little distracted.”
“That’s understandable.” The doctor leaned forward and picked up a piece of paper. “I’ve made an appointment for you to see Dr. Brant. He’s an oncologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, a specialist in cancer.” He placed the paper on the far side of his desk in front of Andy. “You’re slotted in for tomorrow at 1:30pm. I’ve already spoken with him and made him aware of the particulars of your case. He’ll be able to give you further information about the treatment options and work out a plan to get you started as soon as possible.”
Andy stared at the piece of paper. He could feel his heart beating in his chest.
“Do you have any questions?”
He studied the time 1:30pm written in blue ink. He could have lunch at work then go to the hospital.
Should he go to work? Should he call in sick? What should he do?
“Andy? If you don’t have any questions, I must get ready for my next patient.”
He looked up from the piece of paper. The doctor was giving him a questioning look. “Sorry.”
The doctor nodded. “You’re in good hands. Dr. Brant is one of the best and I’m pleased I could get you in right away. He’ll work out a plan with you. He’ll take care of everything, don’t you worry.” The doctor stood up.
“Thanks.” Andy picked up the paper.
The doctor put out his hand. “Everything’s going to work out just fine.”
He stared at the hand and stood up. He tentatively put his own out. The doctor shook it. “Good luck.” The doctor came around his desk, put his hand on Andy’s shoulder and led him to the door. “If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call the office.”
Andy shuffled down the hall to the waiting room. He stood in the middle of the room looking at the appointment notice. Everything’s going to work out just fine. The ringing in his ears had diminished and his heart longer beat as hard. He glanced around. Several people sat in chairs reading, napping, or staring off into space. Each waited for their appointment. Each waited for their diagnosis. Would it be a temporary condition? Would it be permanent? Or would it be the announcement of the end? One could say the end is a permanent condition.
He walked out of the medical centre and blinked in the sunshine. He tucked the paper under his arm and fished around in his pocket for his clip-on sunglasses. Holding his prescription glasses in one hand, he fiddled with the clip until it was properly anchored on the frames. After putting his glasses back on, he looked around and found he no longer had to squint. He folded the paper and tucked it in the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
A woman crossed the parking lot holding the hand of a little boy. He stared at them. Why was such a young boy coming to a hospital? What terrible diagnosis awaited him? Would his life be snuffed out too early by some bizarre twist of fate? Logically, everyone went sooner or later with the expectation of later rather than sooner. But statistically, somebody had to be sooner. This boy or me, the law of averages dictates it.
Andy walked to the street, looked both ways and crossed to the other side. He entered a parkette and sat on an empty bench. The sun felt good on his face. He lounged back, spread both arms out on the back of the bench, and gazed over all that was around him. It was a nice day and all seemed right with the world. There was the background noise of cars, people, and life in the big city. A bird chirped. A squirrel scampered between two trees. He enjoyed the moment but also recognised how surreal the moment was in light of his news. Our time on the planet is finite. However, we never think that our time is going to be up. His time was up. His time had come to an end. He had to say good-bye and leave for the next part of his journey. Was there a next part to his journey?
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He looked at the display and saw the name of his wife. “Hello?”
“How was your appointment?”
“Do you think you could stop at the store and get lettuce? I suddenly realised I don’t have anything to make a salad. Unless you want to skip it.”
“What’s on the menu?” He stared at a bird hopping around the branch of a tree.
“I’m doing my chicken cacciatore. I’ve got garlic bread.”
He watched the bird fly off. Next year, he wouldn’t be around to see it fly away. He could see it now. What would it be like when he could no longer see it? Would he know?
“Sorry, I got distracted by something.”
“If you want a salad, pick up some lettuce. Otherwise, I’ve got enough with the bread. What time will you be home?”
“The usual. Before six, I imagine. If there are no hold-ups on the subway.”
“Okay. See you later.”
He pressed on the End Call button and stared at the device. After he was gone, the company phone would go back to the company. No, the phone would go back before he was gone. He would get sick. He would get weak. He would no longer be able to work and would stop going to the office. The company would have to find a replacement. Probably, they should start now. It usually took one to two months for a recruiting agency to find appropriate candidates then the company had to go through the process of interviewing each of them to find out who was the best match.
A teenage boy rolled through the parkette on a skateboard, pushing off several times to keep his momentum up. Andy had tried a skateboard once. While it wasn’t difficult, he found he didn’t completely have the knack of maintaining his balance. Several times, he had to stop and put his foot down to avoid falling over. Would he ever try it again? Probably not.
He reached to his inside pocket and took out the appointment slip. One thirty tomorrow, the start of his new adventure. Six months. He only had six months left. What could he do in six months? What should he do? Clean up his affairs? Go on a trip? Try a skateboard again for the last time? Then again, was he going to end up so busy with treatment, he wouldn’t have time for anything else? Would his life turn into an endless routine of chemotherapy, visits to doctors, and tests filled with poking and prodding? Don’t they say –whoever they are- that everyone gets cancer if they live long enough?
He looked at his watch. Eleven thirty. He should get back to the office. Should he tell anyone? Should he wait until after his appointment tomorrow? What should he say? I have six months to live. I’m going to die in six months. In six months, I will no longer be here. You should start looking for a replacement.
What should he say to his wife? I’m not coming home for dinner tonight. In fact, I won’t be home for dinner again. Did that seem dramatic? Did that seem heartless? I hope you’ll find somebody else. Was he getting ahead of himself? He wasn’t dead yet.
He tucked his appointment slip back in his pocket and stood up. Back to the salt mines. He headed toward the subway.
There was a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk in front of the station. Should he or shouldn’t he? Hadn’t somebody made the claim there were carcinogens in processed meat? He chuckled. Wasn’t there an absurdity in raising such an issue? Maybe this meant he could eat anything he wanted, even something carcinogenic, because it no longer mattered. You can’t get cancer twice.
Screw it. He stopped and ordered a dog. He fished around in his pocket and found a five-dollar bill. “Keep the change.” It’s not like these guys are making a killing selling out on the streets. As he watched the vendor take a sausage from the top rack of the grill and put in on the lower rack over the flame, he remembered the family barbecue years ago when his mother announced her own cancer. The doctor had given her six months and she was dead six months later almost to the day. Now, it was his turn. Would he have the same grace? Would he accept his fate without complaint and would he be thankful for what he had had in life?
He took the hot dog and bun wrapped in a napkin then added his usual condiments. He bit into the dog and jumped out of the way, as ketchup and relish spilled out onto the sidewalk. Holding the hot dog in one hand, he pulled several napkins from a dispenser and dabbed his mouth. He moved to the other side of the sidewalk and stood with his back to a building.
His mother had grace. Did she die with grace? He always thought the last three weeks of her life were unnecessary. If she had been a dog, the vet would have put her down. The pain constantly increased in those final weeks. Twenty-four by seven, there was the unrelenting agony of cancer destroying every part of her body. She was taking morphine, but did that really stop the pain?
Andy sighed and thought back to his sports injury. A few years ago, he had nearly torn his rotator cuff while damaging the disc of his C6 vertebrae. He took painkillers for five months straight and wondered, during this time, if his condition was going to be permanent. Fortunately, his body healed itself, however it was a valuable lesson about drugs and chronic pain. Drugs dull the pain, but they don’t make it go away. It’s always there in the background, tugging at your sleeve, reminding you that hell is just around the corner. He compared pain medication to an umbrella in a torrential downpour. You’re keeping your head dry but you’re still getting soaked.
He finished the hot dog. He used the napkins to wipe his mouth and clean off his fingers. After dumping everything into a public trash receptacle, he took another two napkins to wipe his fingers a second time and stuffed them in a jacket pocket.
He pictured the last three weeks of his mother’s life, curled up on a bed set up on the main floor of her house, too weak to use the stairs. She moved little and hardly talked. She lay there constantly shivering, from what he now understood to be unceasing pain. Your every waking moment is taken up with pain. You can’t think straight. You can’t do anything. Your entire consciousness is pounded by the unwavering agony of your body unable to deal with what’s happening to it. That wasn’t living. That was hell on Earth. There was no longer any quality of life. She was alive, but in name only.
Andy shook as he remembered the image of his mother wasted away to a mere eighty pounds. He wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemies. What was he going to do?
As he entered the subway station, he fumbled in his pocket to find a token. He put the coin in the turnstile and stepped through. People were coming and going everywhere and he had to wind his way through the crowd to get to his platform.
What was he going to do? He thought his mother had a terrible death. What could he do to avoid such a fate? Assisted suicide was illegal. He didn’t own a gun. Could he get one? But that supposedly was very messy and ugly for whoever would eventually find the body. Poison? Overdose on drugs? Slit his wrists with a knife? He shuddered and blurted, “Eew,” out loud. He looked around to see if anybody had heard him.
People stood by waiting. A monitor hanging from the ceiling showed two minutes to the next train. Some played with their cell phones, a few read books, and others looked at the advertising billboards. Did any of them know the time of their own death? We all knew it was inevitable, but who knew with any precision?
What was he going to do? He moved to the edge of the platform and looked down at the tracks. Occasionally trains were delayed and even though the anonymous voice announcing scheduling changes gave nonspecific innocuous reasons, one could assume that from time to time, somebody, in an act of desperation, made the ultimate choice. Was it painful? Was it instantaneous? What was the exact cause of death? Crushed? Decapitated? Blood loss? Blood loss made it sound as if the person was conscious for a period of time and died aware of their death. If you’re decapitated, do you go on thinking for a few a seconds or does all brain activity cease immediately?
Andy could hear a growing roar in the tunnel. He felt the wind pick up. Bits of paper swirled over the tracks. He looked left then looked right, taking in the length of the platform. Nobody else was standing as close as he was. He looked down. It would be so easy.
He looked left and saw the front of the train speeding to the mouth of the tunnel. One step. Just one step. A horn screamed and the train burst into the station. He stepped back. The train raced by in a blur of lighted windows full of people. The crowd surged forward positioning themselves by the doors. A bell sounded and the cars opened spilling their contents out onto the platform as the mass of new riders pushed forward to get on.
Andy boarded the train and grabbed an overhead strap. A bell sounded. A disembodied voice on the platform boomed out, “Mind the gap.” The doors slid shut. The train lurched as it sped to its next stop.
He looked down the length of the train. There were hundreds of people heading to their destinations, carrying on with their daily lives. What did he know that they didn’t know? Six months. Just six months. Tomorrow, he’d start figuring out what to do, what to do for the last time.
Jacob M. Lambert has published with Flame Tree Publishing, Third Flatiron, and Midnight Echo Magazine. He lives in Montgomery, Alabama, where he teaches English composition and is an assistant editor for THAT Literary Review. When not writing, he enjoys time with his wife, Stephanie, and daughter, Annabelle.
The Naturally Selected
With a trembling, sweaty hand, Maynard Keaton locked the deadbolt, checked the doorknob, and halfway through returning the keys to his pocket, felt every muscle in his body seize as three loud bursts exploded in the distance—like the stuttering backfire of an old truck.
“What was that, Daddy?”
Maynard glanced at his daughter’s upward-slanted blue eyes, noticing the way they shimmered in the yellow hue of the porch light. Then he switched gears—focusing instead on his wife’s uneasy frown. She looked beautiful, even with that expression, but the thick stream of muddy black mascara rolling down her cheeks only accentuated her inner gloom: as if the face she now wore was only a façade for the battered, broken, and bleeding one behind it.
After a moment, Lizzy Keaton nodded. “They’re just fireworks, sweetie.”
“That’s right, only fireworks,” Maynard said. “And I’m sure there’ll be more before the night’s over. So just ignore them.”
“But I don’t see them anywhere.”
Lizzy, noticing the irritation on Maynard’s waxen face, interrupted: “They’re the ones that don’t shoot in the air, Destiny. That’s why.”
“Oh,” she replied, bobbing her head back and forth, dancing to inaudible music.
Again, Maynard let his eyes wander back toward Destiny. Watching her twirling around in the front yard, with the bottom of her dress puffed out like an umbrella, brought a fluttering sensation to his heart and sweat to his already drenched brow. Her lips curled into a warped smile, and her tiny ears and nose seemed to pull downward simultaneously with the gesture. And he thought: Why can’t she just float away?
“Do you really think that’s necessary--now?” Lizzy lowered her gaze. She’d been staring above, and when Maynard caught her in the act, he offered a chiding furrowing of the brows.
“Locking the door. Why’d you do it?”
Shrugging and pouting his lips, Maynard sighed. “I don’t know—to feel normal, I guess.”
In the background, echoing off the Californian, cookie-cutter streets was another round of fireworks, this time coming in five quick bursts. Maynard didn’t startle, however. And when Destiny leaped into the air, clapping her hands—celebrating (as one would do when they hear fireworks)—Lizzy’s attention reverted to her former position: the night sky.
Lilacs burdened the air, along with the humid summer heat, as Maynard joined her. “How much longer do you think? Fifty, sixty minutes?”
“If that,” she replied.
“Well, let’s find higher ground, so we can get a better view.”
Dropping her arms to her sides, where they remained hanging, Destiny frowned. “But I’m tired, Daddy. You said I could go to bed when—”
“And you will, sweetie. Okay?”
She smiled, and in that expression—in that moment—while the wind tossed her hair behind like unraveling golden threads, Maynard felt rage build in his chest, spread to his face, reddening his features, and finally squeeze at the back of his eyes. He reached into both pockets, feeling the smooth surface of paper in his right—and the cold steel in his left. The touch of the former only made his anger stronger. However, the latter somehow brought his thoughts back into perspective. But it also triggered two words, ones he’d been trying to forget over the last two weeks: genetic risk.
Now walking down the concrete path leading to the street, Maynard remembered the words of Doctor Patel—the family’s long-term physician—spoken with his soft Indian accent. I’m afraid she is a liability to the mission, Mr. Keaton. She poses a genetic risk and, for that matter, is incapable of performing the needed tasks. I’m deeply sorry, but I cannot issue her a pass. That final statement still shook him. And it had taken all of his strength, both mental and physical, not to grab one of the syringes in the tiny room’s cabinet, tear off its translucent rubber cap, and take out the man’s eyes.
“Are we almost there, Dad?” Destiny asked, holding her mother’s hand, swinging their arms forward, back, forward, and back—until Lizzy pointed to a steel pole canted to the right, with the words Watchman Street written on a rectangular green sign.
Maynard nodded to Lizzy, then said, “Almost—just a little further.”
But I cannot issue her a pass.
For the second time, he stared above, but the sight bothered him too much, hurt too much, for an extended view: the surreal quality of it enough to both draw him back—and, at the same time, oppress his wonder. He fingered the smooth paper in his pocket, hoping it would offer some sense of understanding, something resembling a real answer, but nothing came. The right, however, presented another solution. And even that solution, though capable of halting the nervous electric jolts pulsating in his brain like webbed lightning, bore him little comfort.
Somewhere off to the left, breaking his concentration—and forcing his teeth together, making an audible click: fireworks, their loud, staccato din upsetting the former semi-calm of the bustling trees, chirping crickets, and listless swaying of the grass. A pungent scent of sulfur suddenly wafted in the warm breeze, stinging Lizzy and Destiny’s nostrils.
“Where do you want us to—?”
“Over there,” he pointed in the direction of a dilapidated picnic table the color of rusted spaghetti sauce. “You two have a seat on the top, and wait for me there.”
They took a step forward, then Lizzy turned back. “Are you sure, hun?”
“Yes, and you need to wipe your face, before she starts asking why you’re crying. I’m surprised she hasn’t already.”
Tilting her head to the left, mouth half-open, as if wanting to contest Maynard’s last statement, Lizzy closed her eyes—only to moments later open them again with more tears. “Are you going to tell me when?”
“Do you want me to?” Maynard asked. “I can if you want.”
“Well, maybe it’s not a good idea: I’d rather not know,” she said, then looked off to the right at Destiny, who had already taken a seat on top of the old park table.
“Okay, my love—no problem.”
Maynard watched Lizzy approach the table, then join Destiny. There he stood—listening to their conversation, tears now spilling down his bearded face. While the wind beat against his left side, threatening to topple his shuddering frame, he removed the papers—which really resembled passports—from his right pocket. He held them close to his face because of the night’s opaque darkness, and mentally recited the words stamped to their fronts: C4 Registration. Authorized for Docking. Genetically Sound—Mr. Maynard & Mrs. Elizabeth Keaton. At the very top of this, written in bold letters: WELCOME TO NEW EARTH SERVICES: A FUTURE WITHOUT PLAGUE.
“And without us,” he whispered—letting the papers fall from his hands and scatter into the night, where they skipped across the grass in blissful nonchalance.
Once he stood behind Lizzy and Destiny, Maynard sniffled, snot backing up his sinuses. “Do you think anyone will remember us?”
She shrugged. “Maybe not us, but they will Destiny. I hope they never forget her face.”
“Who could? She is beautiful.”
Several moments passed in silence, then Lizzy said, “I love you.”
He reached into his left pocket. And as he did, for the last time, Maynard Keaton let his eyes drift above, where he watched—also for the final time—an enormous ship carrying the desirable portion of Earth’s population into space. The immensity of the craft eclipsed the moon, but only for a moment. Once it passed out of sight, zipping off into the infinite, Maynard could see the equally colossal asteroid—the size of both Texas and New Mexico—descending slowly toward them. Of course, it wasn’t moving slowly, he told himself. It only appeared that way: God’s final magic trick before undoing his creation—if there was, Maynard realized, someone actually out there that cruel and insane waving a proverbial magic wand.
“I love you too--both of you,” he said, raising the cold steel barrel—then, aiming it at the ship, he released two more fireworks into the warm summer night. After, while he continued gazing above, feeling Lizzy’s glistening eyes watching him, Maynard smiled.
She is beautiful. I can’t destroy that.
And with that smile, he released the third.
Nicholas Dolern holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. He writes fiction, short and long. When not writing, he can be found enjoying a good movie or an even better book.
It’s Monday, so I’m going to have to be at my best. Even half my best is pretty damn good, but this is the night Joyce comes in.
I have the place in its usual order: bare wood tables scattered around the room, a few old photos hanging on the brick walls, the small polished bar wrapping its way around me as I look out at everything. Cozy. I keep it small so I can take care of the whole thing—just me out front, Old Steve back in the kitchen, and the kid for extra help on the weekends. Most people you can’t trust. So it’s just the three of us.
Joyce has been coming in for a couple of months now. The first time it was with friends, after work. Business types—severe up-dos and dark dress suits lounging at the table in the corner. I snapped my head up when they first came in, said hello, ladies. I could’ve had any of them, all of them. When Joyce stared at me with her sharp green eyes, I wanted her most of all.
I could tell she was the type I had to play it cool with, so I didn’t go after her right away. I made some conversation, threw some signals, saw she noticed, waited for her to return another night. She did, alone.
“Evening,” I said, puffing out my chest the slightest bit when she walked in the door. She came straight to me.
“What’ll it be?”
I gave her the drink, looked her straight in the eyes, said I’d been hoping she’d be back. I zoned out the murmur around me—it had to be just the two of us. I asked her about her day. She said it was fine. When the conversation got going, I leaned both elbows on the bar and flexed to make my biceps bulge in front of her.
She looked at them, then at my face, her own face expressionless. A woman like that is too smart to fawn. That’s why I like them—a challenge. Closing her lips, she ran her tongue across her teeth, sizing me up.
“You seem sure of yourself,” she said.
“I’m sure I’d do anything to make you happy,” I said. Bob a few seats down let out a little snort. He’s always doing that. Bad sinuses.
Joyce let some air out of her own nose, and one corner of her mouth twitched upward.
“And how many women do you make happy?”
Wouldn’t you like to know, I thought. “Only the smart ones.”
She glanced over toward Bob. I saw her raise and lower her head, considering something.
“That I doubt,” she said, glancing her eyes up and down my body. “But if you do what I say I’ll let you try to prove it.”
“Name the place.”
“Give me your address.”
I did. And she came back the next week. Told me to take her home again.
* * *
It’s early, but this guy walks in, looks around, takes a seat at a table on the side. I’m ready—the whole reason I have this place is because of my gift. It’s not just for getting laid. Don’t think I can read minds or any of that shit—I’m just good with people. I know them. I get them. I can make them work for me. Like Joyce.
The guy squirms through a group of regulars standing by the door, scans the room, finds a table. He unfolds a newspaper he’s carrying and places it in front of him as he sits down. I size him up in an instant: side table, wants to stay out of sight; newspaper, something to make him look busy; jeans, coming from home, wants to blend in; no eye contact, timid and uncertain. Never seen him before. He doesn’t look at Bob sitting at the bar. Everyone knows Bob. This guy’s not from around here.
He doesn’t even look at me. Not like the one the other week, the guy checking me out when he thought I wasn’t looking. Made some great tips that night. Joyce saw the show I put on for the homo, asked me what I was up to. I told her I always did whatever had to be done. She said she still had to see about that.
But this guy’s just quiet and alone. I’ll be the best friend.
I walk over, turn around the chair across from him, and straddle it, leaning on the back. “Fucking awesome night, isn’t it?” I say. You might think that the quiet ones would get scared off by something like that. But it’s not true. It makes them feel part of the gang.
He gives the deer in the headlights look at first, but sure enough, he starts to relax after I smile at him. “Yeah, I guess it is,” he says.
There are only four other people in the place, so I can’t play it like I’m sacrificing other customers for him. It has to be like I’ve got all the time in the world and I’ll give it to you. So I reach out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
He probably never had a waiter shake his hand before. “You too,” he says. “I’m Jim.”
Jim the Loser. I can tell. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to his newspaper, so I chat with him. He’s grateful to have someone to talk to. He’s new in town, just got transferred for work, whatever it is he does. He was looking to get out for a bit, he says, find some place in the neighborhood. It’s me he found. “I think you’re the only one open on Mondays around here,” he says.
I smile. “I’m here to serve.” I hear Bob let out a snort.
Jim orders a beer and a burger. Business stays slow, so we keep chatting. It’s not like I have anything better to do. And sure enough, when he’s done, it’s a big tip. I know I’ll be seeing him again. I’ve got him in my grasp. And what’s the harm? I get a customer; he thinks he has a friend. It’s a service, I say.
He’s still hanging around looking lonely when Joyce walks in.
Every time is like the first time she walked in that door. She’s dressed in that tight black skirt that drives me crazy, hair starting to unravel out of its bun. It looks like she just came from work, spending all day arguing with some CEO or CFO. But I know better—it’s for me. All for me. I practically bone up on the spot.
Before I even realize it, I’m grabbing the vodka off the shelf. She walks in a straight line right to me at the bar. If there were more people here, they’d be parting for her like the goddamn Red Sea. I grin at her like I do at everyone else, like she’s just one of the crowd. That just turns her on more.
“Evening,” I say.
“Evening,” she says back.
“What’ll it be?” I let her think she has control, as if she would say anything other than what I know is coming next.
She orders her usual. I mix the drink and add a little extra vodka. I know she likes it strong. It’ll be worth wasting the alcohol. She takes it and sips one sip, puts it down, stares right at me with those green eyes.
“Good?” I say. I know it is.
“Good.” She smiles with her lips, but her eyes stay sharp and cool.
She stays silent for a few minutes while I go refill Bob’s glass. Jim the Loser tries to chat again, and I let him, for a little bit. Can’t let Joyce think she dominates my time. I see her out of the corner of my eye, glancing at me with him. I let her catch me looking back, and after I know she’s caught it, I look away like I’m bashful. She can get me to do anything, even act like a pansy. I circle my way back to her side of the bar a few minutes later.
“So, how’s life?” I ask, throwing her my half-smile.
“The usual,” she says.
“I like the usual.”
Our usual, she means. I could say me too, but I don’t. Keeps her wanting more. I hold eye contact and accidentally touch her hand as I pass the pretzels over. She doesn’t move her hand away. She doesn’t move to touch mine, either.
She only ever drinks the one drink. That’s all she needs. When she asks for her tab, I hand her the receipt. She hands me the credit card. I swipe it and hand it back. I don’t look at what she writes until after she leaves. There, as always: the extra-large tip and the words “your place” written at the bottom in her precise block letters.
* * *
She’s there waiting for me after closing time. I don’t know what she does between her leaving and my closing. I want to think she stays there waiting for me. Sometimes I’m late, just to see if she sticks around. She does.
I unlock the door and we walk down the hall to the bedroom. One time I made the mistake of trying to hang my arm around her shoulders. She slapped it away. Now I wait for her to make the first move. She does. Cold hand under my belt before I can turn the lights on, before we can even get in the room.
I let her warm her hands on my skin before she undoes my belt buckle and drags me by the waistband toward the bed.
* * *
When I wake up, Joyce isn’t there. She’s in the bathroom. I hear the water running.
I scratch my chest. It’s itchy where the hair wants to grow back in. The last one liked it rugged, but that first time with Joyce she kind of narrowed her eyes after she took my shirt off. I bought a new razor and shaved the next week. I was right—it made her go nuts.
The water squeaks off. It’ll be a while, though. She’s still getting ready. For me. So I just lie there and wait. The cool morning breeze is coming in the half-open window, so I leave the blanket draped over me. I think about the day ahead. It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays are busier. Wednesdays, busier than that. I always feel ready for the rest of the week after Joyce. It must be like practice.
She comes out of the bathroom, business clothes back on, hair done up in the tight bun, no hairs out of place any more. She looks right at me as she walks over to get her purse from where it had been tossed on the floor.
“Morning.” I smile.
“Good morning,” she says.
I stand up and wince a little. She likes it rough. Likes it on top. My wrists still hurt from the rope. That was new last night, but she liked it. When she likes it, I like it.
I stretch to show off my smooth chest, hoping it might start something more, but it doesn’t. So instead I stand up and start toward her. She turns her back and starts checking for something in her black leather purse.
“Who was that other guy last night?” she says.
“What other guy?”
“The new one. The one at the bar. Not Bob.”
“Just some loser I convinced I was his new best friend.”
She turns around. Her head is tilted, but I can’t read her face. “You do try to seduce everyone, don’t you?”
I grin. I want to tell her my secret, that the customer thinks they’re in charge when they’re not. But she can’t know that.
She sees my grin and adjusts her bra. I reach, and she lets me trace its edges under her blouse.
“But I’m special,” she says.
“You are.” I can’t believe I let her hear that.
She murmurs in my ear. “You’d do anything.”
“Anything.” Anything to get what I want, I mean.
She pushes me away, gives my crotch a quick brush, and turns back to her purse. I reach again and she doesn’t respond. I put my hands on her shoulders and she’s stone.
I have to take a leak, so I walk into the bathroom. Between spurts of piss I notice Joyce’s makeup is on the shelf above the sink. I leave it there. I had never left it there for any of the others, but now I figure it just makes things easier.
Before she goes, I decide to throw her one kind moment. Something to let her think everything’s not cold, to keep her coming back. I lean in close and give her a kiss. Just a light one, on the lips, but lingering a little longer than normal.
“Have a good day, Joy,” I say.
“I’ve told you before,” she says. “Joyce. Not Joy.”
* * *
Monday night. Joyce night. I’m at my best again.
Jim the Loser is back. It’s the third time he’s been in. Must be some vacation, sitting alone at a bar half the nights he’s here. It’d be like him to vacation by himself. Or maybe he just moved to town. I can’t remember—I’m waiting for Joyce.
The door opens. I reach for the vodka. She walks in, black skirt on, fixed gait heading my way.
And there’s some guy walking behind her.
I catch myself holding my breath, hoping that the guy was just coming in at the same moment, coincidence, happens to people all the time.
But he sits at the bar next to her. He’s all tall, stubbled, and square-jawed too, almost enough to make me look bad.
I wonder why I’m caring about this, but then I figure it out: this guy’s on my territory. So I’m not going to let him change my act. I’m still the best. I look at Joyce. She’s taunting me, flaunting him in front of me. I’ll have to play this right.
“Evening,” I say.
“Evening,” she says back.
“What’ll it be?”
I turn toward my right, to the guy, casual as can be. “And you?”
Joyce sucks in a quick bit of air through her nose. I bet she thinks I don’t notice.
I go to get the drinks, and Bob stares at me with this little smirk on his face. He knows I’m up to something. When I come back, I wait until they’re both taking sips. Then I lay it on them: “So, how long have you two been together?” I ask.
My question doesn’t seem to faze her. She finishes a long sip and puts down her drink square in the center of the cocktail napkin. “Not long,” she says, looking straight at me. The guy stays quiet. The loser in the background is trying to get my attention, but I ignore him. I see his pathetic doe eyes in my peripheral vision, but then he slumps his shoulders, looks away, and opens up his newspaper.
It’s not long until they finish the first round, and I ask Joyce if she wants something else, though of course I know she doesn’t.
“Whiskey sour,” she says.
I almost break my act. I think I flinch a little bit, but it can’t be noticeable. I stretch my neck around anyway, as if it were just a cramp.
“Not sticking with the usual?” I say.
“I like the usual,” she says, “but sometimes I want a bit more.”
I grasp for something to say to that.
“Me too,” I come up with. Don’t want her thinking she’s the only one I’m fucking, after all, if she’s got someone else one the side. She gets this half-smile on her face, must be happy at the independence I’m giving her. She’s nothing if not independent.
The loser has had enough and is up at the bar, asking for his refill. I give it to him. I see Joyce whispering in the guy’s ear while I’m busy. I can’t tell what they’re talking about. I shouldn’t care what they’re talking about. I don’t care. He gets up and heads for the restroom. I turn back to Joyce as the loser takes his drink and slinks back to his corner.
“What do you think?” she asks.
“Seems like a nice guy.” I grin.
“So you’re okay with him?”
“I’m sure he’s good. When you can’t get me.”
“You’re saying you’re busy tonight?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You do want it tonight.”
She let out a quick noiseless laugh. “I can’t believe how cool you’re acting. Most guys I know would be furious.”
“I’m not most guys,” I say. “You do what you want to do.”
I knew that would get her. Independence again. And for playing up to it, I’ll get my reward.
He’s back from the restroom, but she’s already asked for the tab. She takes the receipt before he can even offer, hides it with her left hand as she writes on it with her right.
I collect the slip, but I can’t make myself wait for them to leave to look at it. I see “your place” written there like always. I smile. Winner. I throw the guy a smug look as they leave. He winks back. I laugh to myself—he has no clue.
I go to try and schmooze the loser again, but he’s already gone. I didn’t even see him leave. No matter—there will be others. He’s not Joyce.
* * *
She’s there waiting for me after closing time. I still don’t know what she does between leaving and closing. I still want to think she stays there waiting for me. I’m not as sure anymore that she does.
As I get closer I see she’s not the only one there. I stop walking. She’s with the guy—he’s holding her around the waist. I’m sure my mouth has dropped open. I almost run away. This woman has tortured me enough for one night—she would deserve to get stood up. But then she sees me and I have to keep going.
“This is Brian,” she says as I approach.
I nod hello.
Brian looks from me to her and back again. “So are we doing this?”
Joyce looks at me and suddenly I get it.
That’s new. Jesus.
But she’s still looking at me and I can’t look away.
He’s into her. I’m into her too. Maybe it could work. I wouldn’t do this for just any woman. Then I start to think of all sorts of ways of humiliating this guy. In front of Joyce. That would be hot. I’d come out of it on top.
I act like I’m not sure for a second, then I nod a slow nod. We head toward the door. Inside. Down the hall.
He’s kissing her neck, I’ve got her mouth. Her hands go under my belt, and I try to ignore his. He doesn’t know where to put them, so he gets it wrong. I slide my ass away but he puts them back. She puts her hands on top of his and my pants slide to the floor. His follow suit.
I catch a glimpse. I thought she didn’t like hairy dudes.
* * *
They’re both gone by the time I wake up. Gone gone. No water, no noise at all. I call out a weak hello. No answer.
I scratch my smooth chest and feel naked even though I’m under the covers. I grab my boxers off the floor and slide them on under the blanket before I get up and head to the bathroom.
Even the makeup is gone. Guess she had her fun. Guess I made her happy. I hope.
I shake it off and go about my business. In the shower I scrub myself extra hard. She liked watching. I pound the side of the shower. My wrists sting from the impact and the soap. The rope had been tight.
I take all the sheets and blankets off the bed and put them in the washer. While the machine is humming, I sink down into the recliner in the living room and turn on the TV. Nothing on. I leave it on any old channel. The washer’s done. Then the drier does its job. Then I put it all back on the bed and sink into the recliner again.
I start dozing off and shift in my seat. My shirt moves up. I jump at the feeling of stubble against my lower back. It’s the wool blanket I keep on the recliner. I breathe and settle back in. I start to doze off again.
The look in her eyes got me though the first part. While she watched.
Then I had to watch. Then she left.
Before I realize it, it’s afternoon. I should be at the bar. Old Steve calls in a panic. “Where are you?” he says.
I tell him they’ll manage without me tonight. The kid can wait tables. They can close the kitchen if they have to and just serve drinks. I don’t care. I own the fucking place. I can take a night off if I want to.
I go to bed and pull the covers over my face.
* * *
It’s Tuesday night. I’ve been closing Mondays for a few weeks now. I told Old Steve as soon as I got back—I told everyone so there’d be no mistake why. It’s the best night for me to take off. Need to rest up for the week ahead. A guy needs a night off.
So she won. So what. Everyone loses once in a while. I’ll get back into the game. It won’t take long.
Jim the Loser walks in again. I can’t believe he’s back after the way I had treated him. The schmuck. But I feel sorry for the guy. Obviously he doesn’t have any other place to go. I smile and invite him to the bar. He comes up, folds his newspaper and puts it away. We chat a bit. He thinks he has a friend again. Maybe he does. It wouldn’t kill me to be nice—actually nice.
We talk about weather, sports, ordinary stuff. He tells me he’s been feeling down lately, and I say I’m sorry to hear that. I mean it, too. When I ask why, he says just lonely. Having a hard time getting used to a new place.
I glance down and rub a spot on the bar that’s not dirty. “I feel like I’ve not always been very welcoming,” I say. “Sorry about that.”
He opens his mouth for a second, then smiles, relaxes. Admits he almost stopped coming here, but he says things have felt different the past week or so.
“What things?” I say.
“I don’t know. Just better.”
I feel something change, something unexpected. Like air rushing back in me, propping me up.
He had been almost out of my grasp, but I reeled him back in.
He orders another beer, stays for a while. I make it on the house. Starts talking to Bob about the game on the screen. When he leaves he says thanks, he’ll see me again soon. Gives me a fucking clap on the shoulder. Leaves me a huge tip.
Maybe I’ve got my game back.
I feel myself stand up a little straighter. More customers come in, I reward them with a smile. They order a round and I amaze them by carrying all the drinks in one go, not spilling a drop. I swing by another table, bust up my buddies there with a joke. I try not to miss the loser now that he’s gone.
But then some woman walks in. I don’t remember seeing her before. She’s a knock-out: blond, a little timid in the way she looks around the room before deciding where to sit. I grin at her, think about what I should do.
She’s an easy target. Nothing like Joyce.
But I feel a little bad for her, alone like that. Vulnerable. I think about backing off. I think about going for it, doing it right this time. There’s more than one way to win.
Bob sees the way I’m looking at the woman. “Another one?” he says.
“This one’s different.”
None of them will be like Joyce again.
I walk over to the woman, slap a hand on the bar, stare her in the eyes. I feel the old power bubble up in me again, but I speak soft. That’s what she needs.
“Evening,” I say.
“Evening,” she says.
“What’ll it be?” I flex my bicep, nice and slow.
She steels herself and stares back at me.
Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
THE BOYS OF SAINT REGINA’S
They all sat there like ancient turtles, heads slowly turning back and forth. The Monsignor had called a meeting. Twilight was the best time to catch the old boys.
“Mrs. Hunnicutt,” he had asked earlier in his Irish brogue. “Might you stay a few minutes extra to serve the refreshments?”
As he knew she would, she made a face.
“I’ve got my own family to feed,” she said, looking him in the eye. “I’ve got the chicken and dumplings in the slow-cooker and don’t want them burning before I get home.”
Should he beg?
“Aw, Mrs. Hunnicutt, never there was a better woman, so very kind to the lot of us. Give us a few minutes of your precious time and then you’ll be on your way.”
The thirteen of them gathered in this conference room in what he thought of as their retirement colony – “retirement” being the worst word in the English language.
They sat around a huge oak table, with the blue and white linen tablecloth Mrs. Hunnicutt had flapped across, as part of her evening’s forced labor, sitting, all of them, as if they were on the board of directors of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Now there’s a man, thought the Monsignor, who had no respect for the word “retirement,” unlike the slaggards sitting here.
He envisioned, back in County Cork, Ireland, helping his mum in the garden. As one of ten children, he was glad for the attention, even if it meant removing sticky slugs. “Paddy,” said his mum, “they’re only snails without their shells and they won’t harm you, lad” – so, wearing garden gloves, he removed them with alacrity and made his mother proud.
Now plump Mrs. Hunnicutt hurried into the room and noisily plopped a tray of refreshments at the head of the table. Quite the martyr.
All eyes turned to Pastor Morales, who looked up at her with thanks.
“I’ll be going now,” she said with a nod of her head. She was a good woman, even if she was a Lutheran, icon-deniers all of them.
“Thank you Mrs. H. You have a good supper now,” said the Monsignor, imagining biting into a soft and fluffy dumpling.
Pastor Morales was as moved by the refreshment tray as if he’d seen the blasted Shroud of Turin in person.
“Chocolate-covered doughnuts,” cried Morales like a hot dog vendor at the Philly’s game. “Who wants one?”
Seven hands shot up.
“Look, I’m just gonna come around with the tray. First come, first serve.”
He got up from the table and precariously balanced the silver tea tray in his hands.
“Darn!” he cried. Some of the hot peppermint tea splashed onto his bare hands. He put down the tray and blew on them.
Quite a platter had Mrs. Hunnicutt prepared for her charges. Chocolate-covered doughnuts; croissants stuffed with – of all things – cheese and spinach; three Dixie cups of vanilla ice cream; and two Starbucks lattes which were unknown at the retirement colony, yet were quickly snatched up by the eager pensioners.
The gavel struck the oak table three times.
“Purpose of the meeting,” said the Monsignor in his resonant bass voice, “is to decide who will visit Pope Francis when he comes to Philadelphia this fall.”
A murmer hummed across the table, then rose like the sound of cicadas in the summer time.
“What?” said Father Joseph, some chocolate crumbs spilling from his mouth onto the table. “The Holy Father is coming to Philadelphia?”
The Monsignor explained that for the past three years, ever since he had moved into St. Regina’s, he had posted a notice on the bulletin board by the dining room that every one was supposed to read. He had typed it himself, he said, on yellow paper, so no one would miss it.
“Oh, for Pete’s sakes,” he said. “Don’t excoriate yourselves, just read the darn thing next time.” He looked down the table. “Can you remember that, boys?” he asked.
Not everyone, he explained, could attend the arrival of the Holy Father. There were a limited number of tickets available and only six people could fit into the black Lincoln Continental that a wealthy Catholic woman, with nice cleavage, had donated to them. Cleavage, thought the Monsignor, once held quite the appeal, but, at seventy-six, his thoughts turned elsewhere. Like, “How are my chances of arriving at the Pearly Gates instead of the other place, so well stated in Dante’s Inferno, which lay on his bed side table, next to The Practice of the Presence of the Lord by the obsequious Brother Lawrence.
Mrs. Hunnicutt had responded to his request to make sure that the three communal bathroom contained “rag rugs” one by the toilet and the other by the bathtub. She had nodded as he reminded her that sliding on the shiny slippery tile might lead to a dreaded fall – the hips and pelvis, were at their ages, as fragile as good china.
He cleared his throat.
“I, of course, as your Monsignor will be going to see The Pontiff, and we want to select the other lucky fellows who will accompany me in our air-conditioned car.”
“Big shot,” grumbled Father Joseph loud enough for everyone to hear.
The Monsignor ignored the comment, silently thanking the Lord for giving him patience to deal with these overgrown adolescents.
Men of the cloth. If only the congregants could see them now.
The agonized Christ on the cross was lit up by the odd sunbeam flashing through the blinds from across the room.
“A show of hands, please, if you’re interested in going,” he said.
Every single hand shot up as if he had asked “Who wants a martini with three olives?”
All hands, that is, but one.
Pastor Luke was asleep in his chair, slumped over the table.
The Monsignor, who considered himself a man of compassion, walked over to Luke. He looked down at his fellow pastor and envied his full head of shining white hair, though the inside of his ears were so hairy they could attract bees.
“Interested?” he said out loud to Luke.
Luke failed to move.
He repeated himself.
“I said, Are you interested, Pastor Luke, in seeing our new Pope Francis?”
Luke jumped. He was actually dreaming, as the Monsignor spoke to him, dreaming that he was being attacked by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, in his shiny black cassock, a scene right from the movies they watched every Sunday night.
His cry was formidable. A cry of lamentation. The Monsignor had told no one but he had worried about Luke. Was he sliding into dementia? Alzheimer’s? He rarely came out of his room. Movies, yes. Meals, yes. But that was about it. The Monsignor felt he was giving up on life.
“We were talking, sir,” said the Monsignor, “about attending the Philadelphia arrival of his Holiness Pope Francis and I think that due to your fine service to the parish of St. John the Divine, you should meet our Holy Father.”
Luke steepled his hands and looked up at Monsignor Monaghan.
“Whatever you say, boss,” he said.
Some answer, thought the Monsignor. Well, that made two out of five who would witness the arrival of the new pontiff.
Lively debate followed. Was that the right word for it? Perhaps a lively “stink” would be a better word. The Monsignor remained tough and decided who would parade downtown, for reasons known only to himself. And good reasons, he knew them to be. He was a confident man. A soul searcher, a Jesuit himself like the pope. Who had once held the fate of Catholic schools in three counties – Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia - in the palm of his hand. Playing God, he knew. Which schools would live and which would merge or topple like big oak trees to the ground.
And now, here he was, Patrick Monaghan, living the hated life of Riley. He needed work before his brain shrunk into the size of a walnut.
“Morales,” he said, looking down the table at a man in a blue-checkered shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, “as the only Hispanic, as is the Pope, you shall accompany us.”
Without pausing, he looked at Father McPherson, whom he silently called Father McFatso, telling him, “You’ll be rewarded for your contributions to the American Catholic Magazine, by riding with us, with the proviso that you write about our trip.”
“Aye-aye, sir!” said McPherson in his faint Scottish accent that had undoubtedly lulled many a parishioner to sleep in the uncomfortable wooden pews of his church. The Monsignor had made the difficult decision to shut down The Holy Redeemer, with its beautiful white cross of the Lord Jesus beckoning motorists to come in and be saved.
Boarded up now, it had a for sale sign by the Jewish realty firm of Albert Greenberg. Double was the shame for closing The Redeemer since they did groundbreaking work settling Haitians, victims of earthquakes and cholera.
Where, for Christ’s sakes, had all the Catholics gone and what could be done to bring more of them into the fold, wondered the Monsignor.
Retirement was no excuse. He began making plans in his head. Finishing the last of the astoundingly delicious vanilla latte, he banged the gavel three times on the table.
“I’m proud of you all,” he said. “Have a good night’s sleep, may the Lord bless you and keep you safe, and I’ll see you manana.”
Like mama had taught him back in Cork County – he rolled the Celtic word “Contae Chorcaí” across his tongue like a holy wafer – and kneeled at the side of his bed for “vespers,” as they had called it.
“Lord God and Jesus, please show me the way to bring more lambs into the fold.” His bony knees began to hurt – he had changed into his baby blue pajamas – but like Brother Lawrence, he winced with pain, but would not stop his prayers. “Show me the way.”
When he awoke in the morning, an idea was swirling like a hummingbird inside his bald head.
Plans were made. Mrs. Hunnicutt was on board. The table was set with food and snacks that would appeal to young Catholic Boy Scouts from the wealthy parish of Saint Alphonse in Huntingdon Valley.
The Scouts arrived in full regalia: khaki-colored shirts tied with a yellow ribbon, matching khaki pants, button-down breast pockets and a variety of emblems sewn onto the shirt as if they were soldiers in the army.
After saying grace, the Monsignor stood up and made his speech. He shot a loving glance at these Catholic youth, but he was a man of many moods, and he remembered movies of Hitler’s Youth Movement, the idyllic expressions on the young men’s faces, and of course how could he forget the lunacy of priests of all nations preying on the innocence of children.
He stood up, all six-feet two inches of him, and asked “Do you know the meaning of proselytize?”
He paused a moment. “It’s a good Scrabble word. the “P” is worth four points, the “Y” another four and the “Z” he paused.
“Ten points, sir!” said a freckle-faced youngster.
“Right on!” said the Monsignor.
A week later, the “P” word came to life. The Monsignor sat in the audience of three morning television programs as the boys from St. Alphonse took the stage for all of five minutes, wearing their Sunday finery as they were interviewed by the local affiliates of CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS.
Every single young man – and there were nine of them onstage – shone like a bead in the rosary.
“I’d just like to say,” said a young fellow name of Danny on CNN, “that I’ve decided to become a priest. I’d always envisioned it, but my talk with Pastor Luke Sanders sort of sealed my decision.”
The Monsignor, sitting next to wide-eyed Luke in the audience, touched his elbow to Luke’s.
“You’re the bomb!” he told him, using the young Scouts’ language.
Helmi Ben Meriem is a researcher of Somali literature at the University of Sousse, Tunisia, where he is finishing his PhD dissertation under the direction of American fiction writer and professor of Anglophone studies, Edward Sklepowich. Mr. Ben Meriem focuses in his creative writings on marginalized segments of the Arab and/or Muslim world such as women, homosexuals, atheists, and religious minorities among others. Mr. Ben Meriem has an unpublished novel entitled "Good Night Letters: An Epistolary Novel" and is currently working on a new novel by the title "Helmi's Corner".
Simone and the Purple Blanket
Waiting for my wife to return from work. Wrapped in my purple blanket next to the French door, gazing at the open blue sky. All I can hear is the sounds of cars passing by, men chattering in the café downstairs and of course cats meowing. This neighborhood has many cats in it because it is situated between two hotels. Outside of the hotels, dumpsters are filled with leftovers especially fish and meat.
Hearing cats going mad in the street, fighting and making all noises. I remembered my cat Simone. She died a year ago. My wife and I lost her to cancer. I reached to the bookcase near me and took the photo album dedicated to Simone. It contains all photos we took of her.
In the first page, I saw her vaccination book, which only contains seven vaccination stickers. She died young, very young. I can still remember the day I took Simone to the vet, when she fell sick. The vet told me that Simone was dying and that she could do nothing to save her. That was one of the worst moments of my life. Maybe even the second worst day. The first is the day she died. That day when life changed in my small family: a family of a couple and two cats. I am sterile. My wife accepted this. Love conquers everything. Her family wanted her to divorce me, but she refused. “I love Mohammed. I cannot leave him,” she told her family.
As I was leafing through the album, I reached the two pages where my favorite photos of her. The first is of her sleeping in her bed wrapped in a green towel. The second is when she was eating ice cream. She used to love ice cream so much. Vanilla ice cream. Simone is an all-white cat, which may explain why she only loves vanilla ice cream. The third photo is the last one taken of her: sleeping on my left side under the purple blanket.
The purple blanket. The purple blanket has witnessed many beautiful memories of Simone and us—especially me. The purple blanket kept us warm and cozy in that awful winter. The winter that saw Simone’s death.
Simone came to our home in early 2000. My wife and I had been married for two years. One day, we were watching a Tunisian soap opera, in which a woman wrote in her will that all of her money should go to her cats when she dies. My wife Nejla, whose head was in my lap, looked in my eyes, smiled and said: “Should we adopt a cat?”
Her suggestion took me by surprise. She thought that I did not hear her. She said it again. I looked into Nejla’s face. Her face that brings peace into my life.
“A cat! Are you sure?”
“Yes. Let us bring a kitty to our house. Make it a home for a kitty.”
“That would be a great idea. But where can we find a kitty? Most cats on the streets are grown-up cats. . .”
“We can go to a vet and see if there is a kitty. Let us adopt. Come on, Mohammed!”
I put my right hand on her left cheek. Then put my index finger on her lips and said: “Say no more my love.”
No words can describe the smile that took over her face. She reached for the back of my neck and pulled me down for one of the warmest and passionate kisses.
“I love you, Mohammed.”
“I love you, Nejla.”
The next day, on our way from the faculty where we both teach, we stopped in front of a building, in which we were told there was a vet office.
Inside, we found a woman with her dog. She was holding her dog tightly and talking gently and affectionately to him or maybe her. We sat at the left corner and waited for our turn. Later, we told the vet about our desire to adopt a cat. She told us that she had one all-white cat. Nejla’s eyes were burning in happiness. The vet said that we could adopt the cat if we want. We went to the room at the back where the pets are kept.
Simone, or who the cat that we would eventually call Simone, was curled up in one corner away from other kittens. So white like pure snow on a mountain in the Alps. The vet took her in her hands and put her in Nejla’s hands. I could not help myself and kissed Simone’s nose.
“So cute. She is our daughter now.” I told both Nejla and the vet.
“My God. I will give her the best life we can afford. She will bring happiness into our life.” Nejla was so excited and thrilled.
We signed some papers and took Simone to our home. It was not till later that night that we decided on her name.
Nejla and I were in our bedroom reading each a different book with the cat between us. Nejla was reading Rita Monaldi’s Imprimatur, a novel in Italian; she was going to teach it next month. I was reading for the third time Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. From time to time, we would be looking at the cat and smile at each other.
“What should we call her?”
“Maybe Loulou.” I told her.
“That’s too cheesy, Mohammed.”
“Maybe Rita then.”
“Rita. Why not Simone? After all, we live in a Francophone country.”
“Simone. Simone. Simone. Sounds great,” then I looked at the cat and said “, what do you think? Do you like it? Do you want to be called Simone?”
And that was the night when Simone became Simone. Simone became our daughter, our only child. She became the center of our life and home. We bought all that she needs: a cat litter, a cat carrier, and all kinds of food—dry and wet. But it is vanilla ice cream that Simone enjoys most. Summer and winter. Seven blissful years we had all of us together: Simone, Nejla and me.
June 2007. That month brought chaos into our life. Simone felt sick. We took her to the vet, who told us that Simone had cancer. Our temple of happiness fell to the ground. The next three months were the worst days that Nejla and I had lived through.
Simone’s health was deteriorating and she was losing weight rapidly. She could never control her bowl movement or walk. She kept to her bed in the saloon. We made her a palace of pillows and drapes. We moved her litter box to the saloon by the eastern French door. Simone had her ice cream bowl in front of her bed, a bowl shaped like a fish where she eats her pouches and a glass bowl with fresh water.
November 2007. I was sitting in the smaller sofa in the saloon with Simone curled by my feet. I was working on my first novel in English that tells the story of Simone. Unexpectedly, Simone stood on her four paws and looked out of the window. Her tail was up. I thought she was going to get some food. Suddenly, my feet felt warm, really warm. Then they felt wet as if someone poured water on my feet. From behind me, I heard Nejla shouting to me:
“Mohammed, I think Simone is peeing on you.”
Nejla burst in laughter. Then rushed to me to get Simone off the sofa.
“No, no. Leave her to finish. Let us not disturb her.”
After finishing peeing, Simone walked towards my face and licked my hands. Such a lovely cat. Nejla brought some baby whips and cleaned Simone. Then we took the purple blanket, which was partly soaked in pee, to the bathroom. I washed my feet thoroughly and came back to the saloon where Simone was waiting for us and looking towards the saloon door.
Incidents like that happened again several times. Each time, our love for Simone grew bigger and bigger.
Simone died near the end of 2007. We built her a grave in the common garden in our apartment building. Her grave was decorated by a portrait—printed on six medium-sized tiles—of two birds carrying a basket filled with flowers.
Simone died young. And her presence is still felt in very corner of the flat.
I pushed away the purple blanket, stood up and walked to the master bedroom. I stepped into the balcony. From here, I can see Simone’s grave surrounded by flowers.
Simone, my daughter. You will never be forgotten. That I promise you. Mwaah. I blew her kisses like I always do.
C.H. Brown is a speculative fiction writer with mixed genera in horror, thriller, and science fiction. An avid reader since childhood, Brown grew to have a knack for the dark side of literature. Accomplishments include placing in the Eyes of Diversity Contest and several short story publications with Wordhaus, Inner Sins Magazine, Anthology Builder, and more. Brown is currently working as an at-home writer developing a novel along with a number of shorts. You can follow C.H. Brown on Twitter at @writerchbrown for more information.
The Guardian of the Stories
He strolled through the labyrinth of books stacked from floor to ceiling, tracing his paper-thin fingers fondly along the row of creased bindings of stories read countless times over. Removing the smoking pipe from his lips, he inhaled a deep breath of aged pages encasing stories that had been loved by the hands of many, marked by fingerprinted corners, scribbled notes, and forgotten slips of makeshift page markers.
The books came to him, The Guardian of the Stories, knowing that here they were protected until he would send them on; not just to any knock at the door, rather he carefully guided each to its fate. He better than anyone knew what isle to send adventurous feet, in whose hands to place a magical world, and which pair of wondering eyes to divulge a great mystery, all through the pages of a book. It was no easy task, but a duty he treasured nonetheless.
Impervious to time and distance, the stories contained a kind of magic that, if an open mind allowed, made special things happen. The Readers came, trusting him to take them where they wanted to go whether it be transported through time, carried across oceans, or exploring far away galaxies.
Startled by the rap against the planked mahogany door, he fumbled his pipe, spilling ash into his equally gray beard. The whiskers beneath his nose twitched as he brushed away the ash, gracelessly bumping through the books to welcome The Reader. The knock echoed again, calling out not only to him, but to some long awaited story hiding in an unknown nook.
The door swung open at last, meeting the old man with a cold gust of snow flurries. Looking ahead, he thought The Reader must have given up until he spotted him, the pale boy swallowed in his tattered coat, cap, and gloves, gazing up in an awe which, as The Guardian had come to find with age, only a select number of children seemed to still have.
“Come in,” he said, ushering the boy into the heated room, the flames of the fireplace crackling as they lapped at the stone which surrounded them.
The door closed and, relaxing his small shoulders underneath the oversized coat, he turned; standing face to face, The Guardian and The Reader examined the other. A spark of excitement flickered behind the old man’s eyes as they held each other’s gaze, the boy returning a similar childlike enthusiasm in his own. It had been some time since a Reader had come, especially one so special as this impressionable child, and The Guardian was ready to guide him.
“Thank you, Sir,” the boy said, barely audible to The Guardian’s elderly ears as he mumbled through chattering teeth.
“You’re quite welcome Mister-” The Guardian paused, “May I have your name?”
“Welcome, Tommy, what can I do for you on this wintry evening?”
Tommy tore from his gaze seeming to notice the mountains of books for the first time, his cracked lips falling open for a fleeting moment revealing what he loved most in the world. The Guardian smiled encouragingly convincing Tommy to continue.
“I’m searching for a story.”
The Guardian gave a serious nod as if he had not expected this request. He knelt closer to the child’s height, bones creaking like a rusty hinge, and said, “And what kind of story are you searching for?”
Tommy pursed his lips, the wheels and knobs turning in his head as he searched for the right words. “A magic one,” he said simply, “for a special occasion. Today is my birthday.” As if to prove it to be true, he stuck his gloved fingers in the coat pocket revealing a handful of coins. “This is for you, to pay for the book.” He held out the small fistful of money politely.
Shaking his head towards the offering, The Guardian rose to his usual height. “Don’t worry about that just now. The question is not of money but of story.” As Tommy returned the coins he reached in his own pocket, digging out the box of matches to relight his pipe. “How old are you today, Tommy?”
He struck the match and lit his pipe, talking between puffs of smoke, “An entire decade. Happy birthday.” He inhaled the crisp earthly smelling leaves as they stood side by side, smoke pouring from the pipe like wildfire, The Guardian lost deep in thought as Tommy waited.
He withdrew the pipe, an answer coming to him at last. “This way.”
The Guardian walked the winding path to a destination only he knew, leading Tommy through the labyrinth of stories for his first time. Unlike Tommy, he knew each book that had come and gone; he had turned every page, one by one as the years went by, making his own crease in the binding, loving them dearly until each story moved on to its next home.
Tommy saw it even before they came to a stop, signaling his excitement with a hushed gasp as the boy peeked around his shoulder. The brown binding wrapped the collection of pages like the trunk of a sturdy tree, particles of dust glistening against the leather binding. He gave Tommy another encouraging smile and, knowing that the only words that needed to be said now rest within the story’s pages, The Guardian disappeared behind another row of books leaving Tommy to his birthday gift.
When darkness settled on the blanket of snow outside, he found Tommy still with the book. The gloves and hat were cast to the floor with Tommy sitting beside them, adventure swimming in his eyes as he clutched his tiny fingers around the edges. Waking from the story in a daze, his far away stare fell on The Guardian as he spoke.
“Someone is waiting for you.”
Tommy scrambled to his feet quickly collecting his belongings, keeping the book tucked underneath his arm all the while. This time Tommy led them from the labyrinth by memory, without a moment’s hesitation until they returned to the door.
“Thank you, Sir.”
“You’re welcome,” The Guardian said, twisting his beard in thought as he studied the sight, the boy and the book, a perfect match, feeling satisfied. “Enjoy.”
“I’ll come back,” Tommy promised, “when I’m ready for another story.”
“You will,” The Guardian said, certain he would indeed be back more than once.
He placed his hand on the brass doorknob ready to leave, but turned back suddenly.
“I almost forgot,” he said, releasing the half turned brass knob to dig in his pocket for the coins.
The Guardian lifted a hand signaling him to stop. “You keep that. I’ll see you when you’re ready for another story.”
Tommy, stunned by his kindness, could only nod. He walked out into the night, the coins jangling with each step as he plunged through inches of powdered snow. The guardian closed the door behind him and walked to the fireplace, sinking into the armchair with ease. He reached underneath the chair’s feet, searching for the crystal ball, and placed it in its stand on the end table. Looking deep into its fortune, he smiled watching the crystal’s vision of Tommy once more.
Tommy, with all features of boyhood left behind, was a hardworking man devoted to his duty. He slid the skeleton key into the brass knob which he had turned so many times before, but only now would no one be there to welcome him. He closed the door behind him, alone in the labyrinth of stories. Countless books had come and gone over the years, most of which he read in his spare time when he wasn’t learning the trade, but he still found this place as magical as that first day. Tears welled behind his eyes as he remembered the old man, not the way he looked in the casket but as he knew him here; The Guardian, puffing his smoldering pipe with his crooked nose buried deep in the pages of these books where, in Tommy’s mind, he would always remain.
An unexpected knock rapped against the planked mahogany, waking Tommy from his thoughts. Tommy twisted the brass knob, wearing a welcoming smile.
Flurries danced around his head as if begging Tommy to stay. He was tempted to return to the comforting scent of crisp pages and smoldering pipe, but his mother glared from the car continuing to beep the horn. Crawling into the back seat, he shut the door as she put the car in gear. He craned his neck to see out the rear window as they drove, watching the book keeper’s shop grow smaller and smaller behind them but, even after it was long from view, he was there. Imagination running wild, Tommy was still dreaming the book keeper was a sorcerer, The Guardian of the Stories, making magic in his castle and sharing the endless labyrinth of books to those who came searching.
Keith Burkholder has been published in Creative Juices, Sol-Magazine, Trellis Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Poetry Quarterly, and New Delta Review. He has a bachelor's degree in statistics with a minor in mathematics from SUNY at Buffalo (UB).
Imagine Flying in the Sky on a Skateboard
Dirk had a dream recently about flying in the sky on his skateboard. This was purely a dream that was full of imagination. The dream felt really good to him. There was nothing that made him feel bad or upset about it. However, the amount of traveling he did while on the skateboard was amazing.
His skateboard is his world. He loves to ride it any chance that he gets. His parents get on his case about it, but he just ignores them. The skateboard has true meaning to Dirk. This is because he feels free when he rides his skateboard at the local alley for such riders.
This alley has a world skateboarders only dream of. It is not in an actual alley, but is
called this because is it venue that fits the skateboarder at heart. The alley for the
skateboarders has all kinds of areas for them to have fun at. The obstacles here allow them to
skate with as much difficulty as they want to. The alley is fun for anyone who likes to
skateboard. The obstacles are easy to expert. Many of the skateboarders love the expert areas
Dirk is now at the alley. He feels that he can skateboard all day long. He likes to be a
skateboarder and the thrill of riding one is amazing to his every need. Dirk will now skateboard at the expert area. He really wants to be tested today to display his total talents.
Dirk was dropped off here at the alley by his parents. He is alone and wants to have
fun skateboarding. There are new tricks that he has learned. He wants to practice them here at the alley and this would make him feel great inside.
Dirk is now riding his skateboard. The obstacles are tough to get around but he is
doing a great job at doing this. Dirk feels free as a bird right now. He wants to get
skateboarding today for as long as he can. He just loves to feel the skateboard under his feet.
Dirk continues to skateboard at a quick pace. He loves going around the obstacles in
this part of skateboarding alley way. Skateboarding takes a lot of practice to get great at it. Dirk knows this well and loves to skateboard as often as possible.
Dirk has skateboarded since he was five years old. He knows how to skateboard well
and feels great when he does it.
Dirk has a few friends, but he enjoys their company when they are together. He feels a
connection with his skateboard like nothing else that he knows. Dirk has done a great job
skateboarding. He feels even freer by doing this now. He is happy by what he has
Will he ever fly in the air using his skateboard? The dream he had before has stayed
with him and wonders again about this concept.
Dirk wonders as he skateboards if he could ever fly on it. He would love to be in the air
and just flying to new places around the Earth. Planet Earth is a great place. Dirk feels the more he can skateboard this idea he has about flying may come true.
Dirk is tired of skateboarding. He decides to take a break and sit alone an area here
where he can rest. He feels great now. The exercise he received from skateboarding makes him feel great. He then daydreams to himself.
Dirk is sitting alone at a break area here at the skateboarding alley. He dreams of
being able to fly around the world on his skateboard. He wonders if something like this can be
real to him. He is wide awake, but the dream feels great to him inside and out. Dirk feels that
he can skateboard in the sky. He would love to travel this way to see people all around the
The world is really a vast place. He believes that he can meet all kinds of people and
this would make him feel pretty content inside. Skateboarding is the life of many young
teenagers and children. It can be fun if one knows how to ride a skateboard. It took Dirk a while to ride a skateboard properly. However, over time he became good at it and he now loves to skateboard whenever he can.
Dreams can happen to people. However, there are times when such dreams will never
develop for a person. Dirk is a realist about such dreams. However, it would be really great for
him to be able to travel around the world on a flying skateboard. Flying skateboards have never been made. If they were, Dirk would definitely look into buying one. However, traveling around the world on a skateboard is appealing to Dirk. He can dream what he wants to for something like this to occur in a fictional sense. Dirk decides to go back and skateboard. He is well rested now and is eager to ride his skateboard some more.
It is still a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining brightly and it is seventy-five
degrees outside. This is perfect weather to skateboard in. Dirk keeps skateboarding now. He is really enjoying his time alone skateboarding and just enjoying the weather. The weather will
continue to be sunny for the rest of the day. This makes Dirk feel great and he wants to
skateboard until dusk.
Skateboarding is really an art for those who do it. There are so many moves one can
perform on a skateboard. Skateboarding can be fun if one knows how to do it. Or it can be
painful if a person has no idea how to ride a skateboard. Dirk’s time has passed while
skateboarding today. He will go home now and just dream to himself about flying in space with his skateboard.
Dirk is both a dreamer and a realist. He wants to believe that he can fly with his
skateboard, but then again realistically this would never happen to him. Dreaming is a great
outlet for anyone. Dreams can come true, and at other times they really don’t.
Dirk wonders if any of these dreams he will have will come true. This is something that
he thinks about from time to time.
Dirk has been dreaming a lot lately. He has been dreaming about skateboarding in
different ways than he normally does. Travelling in time or even through space would be great to him. However, the fictional world is great in a dream, but in his real life this may never happen to him.
As Dirk continues on in life, I wish him well. He may or may not be able to travel in
space or around the planet Earth on his skateboard. He is young in age and can do what he
really wants to. For dreams can come true and believing in hope at any age is a proper thing to do and to accomplish as well.