My name is Chris Mancinelli, I'm a student at PLHS located in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. I first started writing at a young age and it's been a passion of mine ever since. It all started back when I was young. My Dad (Enis) used to tell me these amazing stories, of kings and queens and adventures. From that point on I knew what I wanted to do; to write.
Fantasy Island: The Final Frontier
It was many years ago on this day exactly that Fantasy Island was disclosed to the public. Some people thought it was funny while others were disgusted. This officially cannot stand alone, and that is not okay. Woosh!
We have come to see the hero, Rypo. His actions changed and saved the lives of many. Rypo is now living happy in the great city of San Francisco, the liberal spawning grounds of America. Polito first found true love online. He was exploring various love websites, he eventually came across the one for him. While dabbling on the old web he found his now favorite site, “Grinder”. Numerous men contacted Polito for a quick time, like the man “TheItalianMeatStick”. But he was there for one thing and one thing only; true love. Eventually he got a private message from a man by the username “LargeNinCharge69”. “Hey WhiteAndTight0315, what’s up? I haven’t had the nerve to talk to you, but I was wondering if you would like to go out on a date? We can literally do anything, anywhere and anytime. I really, really want to meet you.”
Poltio started to blush, he explored the man’s profile and found himself at a loss of words. Every category Rypo explored he became instantaneously attracted to. Height 6’11, activities, protesting and body building, and most important shoe size, size 17. He gandered at the profile for hours before finally responding, “Sure, I would love to!”
The two made plans for a nice dinner at the notoriously same sex night club, “Rage”. Polito arrives in style, his overalls higher than the three finger rule and his beard entirely shaved. His Old Spice cologne had the fragrance of fruity pebbles and his hair was slicked back with Liquid Steel hair gel. Polito sat and sat and sat, the date started at approximately 8pm. It was now 9pm and the man was nowhere to be found. The Captain of the Liberal Team’s stomaching was in a twist, butterflies began to build up as if they were in an observatory. Sweat trickled down his hairline, his armpits began to stink. The short overalls began to ride up his back, leaving him with an uncomfortable wedgie. Tears and snot became to drip from his face, leaving a pool on the table. Nervousness overcame the former Track Star, his numbed fingers looked very appetizing. Blood protruded minutes later, he strutted to the door and then that’s when the mystery man arrived.
Bumping into the Ryan, “Ryan? Sorry I’m late I got my addresses messed up and accidently went to Boxers. I know my excuse is cheesy but it’s the truth and nothing but the truth.”
Ryan now shocked with this man’s handsomeness did not even care that he was two hours late. “Oh Ben, Ben Doverman its okay. I completely understand, the Liberal Zone of the United States has many clubs, I won't hold that against you.”
Conversation emitted and the two spent hours together, it was truly love at first sight. They even made plans for another date, to attend a rally together. In the same sex community, a rally together basically is marriage.
Rypo and Big Ben attended a “Not my President” rally. The man’s salt and pepper hair took him away, he really could not see how truly handsome Ben was. The light shined on his Nick Hennessy sized muscles and his giant sized shoes, lead Polito to marry this man within two months. One can only assume the reason to why Ryan became a police officer, many believe it is due to the numerous amount of handcuffs in his bedroom. Love is love and Ryan became Mr. Savage. The two live in Upper East Side San Francisco. It’s more of an upscale community, bars and shrines of female actresses like Rosie O'Donnell litter the streets. Ry has finally found happiness after all these years, he truly made out the best. He finally found his fantasy.
Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who lives in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA.
Love at Last Dance
Traffic inches along the 101 Freeway at rush hour South of San Francisco on a Friday evening except for the luxury buses racing up the carpool lane. I can make out the images inside the buses through the tinted windows of young tech employees returning from work to homes throughout the Bay area. The luxury busses are provided by the tech companies at no cost to their prized employees who recline in comfort and enjoy wifi. The young employees are healthy, successful, and optimistic about the future but I know something they don’t know because you learn it with maturity. Nobody prepares us for sickness, old age and death.
I grew up in the area just south of San Francisco now called “Silicon Valley” in the sixties and seventies. I’ve watched the farms, independent businesses and affordable homes replaced by steel and glass headquarters of tech companies. This area was once populated with regular folk representing a variety of races, income levels and age groups which made the Bay area a beautiful microcosm of America. Today, it’s sadly divided between the successful and those living in their shadow. The blue collar middle class lifestyle I enjoyed as a youngster is gone. I couldn’t afford to purchase the house I grew up in and still call home. It's difficult to live where everybody seems younger, smarter, and more affluent than yourself.
Traffic has started to move again and I’m buoyed by the fact that it’s the second Friday of the month which means it’s the “Beauties and Beaus Ball” which I never miss. The dance starts at eight but I arrive at 6:30 to help Mrs. Pike set up the ballroom for the evening. Maybe tonight will be the night I find love? My last passenger of the day is Harriett Lim whose stories about her jet set life in 1960’s Hong Kong are fascinating and make the trips to and from her doctor’s appointments read like an Ian Fleming novel. Harriet owned a successful night club in Hong Kong called “The Harem Club” which was frequented by actors, singers, models, artists, filmmakers, stewardesses, and the “cool” from throughout the world. Her lavish penthouse atop a downtown skyscraper with a commanding view of the harbor was not only her home but served as a salon for her intriguing guests. Harriett hosted many a secret lover including well known celebrities whose names I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Harriet was born to a wealthy family in China who owned a great deal of property on the mainland. Harriett was a trailblazer. She was wealthy, single, and a shrewd businesswoman with many influential contacts throughout the world. At the time of the Cultural Revolution in China, Harriet’s family property was confiscated, her family members killed or imprisoned, and her family fortune wiped out. Harriett’s political contacts informed her that Chinese spies were on their way to Hong Kong to kidnap her back to China to stand trial. Harriet was forced to flee Hong Kong and sold the nightclub at a discount price and the money was used to bribe immigration officials and obtain a visa to the United States. Harriet arrived in the United States virtually penniless and quickly made her way to San Francisco where she found work in the kitchens of Chinese restaurants. Harriett viewed San Francisco as a sister city to Hong Kong and saw it becoming a destination for the world’s elite. She knew that being bounded by water, San Francisco land would escalate in value and she was determined to profit. Harriett obtained a real estate sales license and began selling homes to Chinese immigrants. Within a few years, Harriett was one of the most successful real estate agents in San Francisco. In addition to earning sales commissions which she used to purchase rental properties, Harriett formed investment syndicates and began purchasing high profile real estate throughout San Francisco. Today, Harriett is one of the wealthiest women in San Francisco with a vast real estate empire. Harriett has a quick wit and a wry sense of humor. Harriett’s stories always end with the same note of optimism which goes “you can have whatever you want in life if you persevere. Success the second time is always sweeter”! Harriett is 99 years old. We have an ongoing bet whether she will reach 100. I hope I lose.
I’m Roland Lokout and I drive a van equipped with a wheel chair lift for the “Happy Home” hospice facility. Happy Home consists of two wings. One wing is reserved for the wealthy. They dine and live as if staying in a Five Star hotel. The other wing is reserved for those subsisting on Medicare and social security benefits. That wing isn’t so “happy”. The duality of the “Happy Home” residents is a metaphor for the Bay area today.
I didn’t seek this profession. It sought me. I visited my dying father at the not so “happy” wing and drove him to and from his medical appointments. My gentleness with dad and friendliness to the other patients caught the eye of the Happy Home management who asked me to drive the wheelchair van. I’m good at my work and have befriended many wonderful patients and their families over the years. Despite earning a BA in history from a local state college, I’ve never been ambitious and driving for the “Happy Home” is my first job. I filed my first tax return at age 50! I was an only child and born to a couple who didn’t expect a baby in their forties. My father was a machinist and punched a clock at an aerospace factory. My mom was a housewife who told me that I “ruined” her life. She was also fond of telling me that I was “stupid”, “unattractive”, and would never “amount to anything in life”. Mom was bipolar and unprepared for motherhood. She was fortunate to have married my loving, doting father who tolerated her psychosis. Before dying, my father told me mom unsuccessfully attempted to give me away as a baby. I don’t blame my father for not interceding in her abusive behavior because he loved mom and was ill-equipped to deal with mom’s abusive behavior save institutionalizing her which he would never do. Mom destroyed my self esteem by the time I reached junior high school and throughout my life I feared failure. It was easier never to apply myself so it took me ten years to finish college and I never sought employment. Dad felt guilty about mom’s abuse and although he attempted to motivate me to find work, he allowed me to live at home unemployed with an allowance until the day he died. Mom died before my father and I don’t miss her. I live in our family home and it's filled with my parent’s possessions which I cannot bring myself to discard. Our home is mortgage free and I pay the upkeep and my living expenses with my job at the Happy Home.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s quotation, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” has never been true for me. My last name is apropos because I feel that I’ve been “locked out” of love and romance. I’ve always been socially awkward and never had a girlfriend. My first and only date in high school was with a foreign exchange student who reluctantly agreed to attend “grad night” with me. She ditched me and I was left alone for the remainder of “grad night” watching my classmates dance and celebrate. I never received therapy for mom’s abuse so I’ve sought the love of my mother from women. Love is fleeting for me like a warm Santa Ana breeze kicking up, warming me for a moment, and then disappearing.
I’m fortunate to work in the “happy” wing and have had favorite patients to care for over the years. May was an elderly former English professor whose hands were crippled by arthritis and her eyesight was failing. May never married and didn’t have visitors. At the end of my shift, I would enjoy meeting May in the library. She was always seated in her favorite reclining chair near the fireplace. Because of May’s failing eyesight, I always approached her slowly and whispered, “May, it’s Roland”. May would smile and reach for my hand. The staff provided May with a pot of Earl Grey tea, a fine china tea cup, and saucer. She would motion towards the tea cup and I would carefully raise the cup to her mouth for her to sip. I’d read passages from Chaucer, Keats, Byron, Browning, and Bronte to her late into the evening until she fell asleep. One evening after my shift, I entered the library and didn’t find May. I inquired as to her whereabouts and was told by a nurse that she was in bed. I knew from past experience with the elderly that such a change in routine meant death was near. I quietly entered her room and softly announced my presence. May was in bed lying in a reclining position. She looked tired and was ashen grey. May smiled and motioned towards a novel by Jane Austen atop her night stand. The novel had a specific page and passage marked. May asked me to read the passage. “To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love." Just as I finished, May struggled to sit up in bed placing her frail arms around my neck and whispered, “Remember these words, Roland”. May’s embrace failed and I gently laid her to rest on the bed. She was gone.
I often stare through the rear view mirror into the back of the van where Claire sat in her wheelchair. She was only in her forties, emaciated, and dying from cancer. Claire was beautiful. Her long black hair was kept combed and immaculate by the caregivers. Claire was a successful concert pianist, never married, and travelled the world giving recitals and recording her performances. She had the look of the most popular girl in class and was likely the head cheerleader, class president, and prom queen. Claire liked me for who I am on the inside, not the outside. I will never forget Claire. I loved her.
I look away from the rear view mirror and memories of Claire just in time to slam the brakes as the traffic stops at the red light ahead of me. The wheelchair slams into the front of the van jolting me back to the reality of my lonely and loveless life. The light turns green and a few turns later, I arrive at the “Beauties and Beaus Ball”. The ball is held at the city recreation center gymnasium. It’s 6:30 pm and I arrive in time to help Mrs. Pike prepare the gym for the ball. I enter the men’s bathroom to tidy up. I’m amazed that I still fit into my high school tux after all these years. I gently comb what hair I have left into place and spit polish my shoes. I spray myself with the bottle of my father’s “Hai Karate” cologne. I leave the men’s room and enter the gymnasium which serves as a basketball court but will be our ballroom tonight. Mrs. Pike is the organizer of the ball and its promoter for the past twenty years. She is an octogenarian and a tough as nails, no nonsense retired San Francisco Police matron. Mrs. Pike was married to a sailor who deserted her and I suspect the ball is a way to stay connected to the days of her youth and romance. Mrs. Pike has a warm spot for me and allows me to assist her with the setup and breakdown of the ball in return for waiving the $20 admission fee for men. Women attend for free. Mrs. Pike also permits me to greet the women as they arrive and escort them to their cars at the end of the evening so that I have an opportunity to ask them out on a date. Although I’ve chided her to stop smoking, Mrs. Pike is a chain smoker and a cigarette dangles from the corner of her mouth as she tells me to mix the punch, hang the streamers, dust off the vinyl records, and prepare the PA sound system consisting of a record player and microphone. When she dims the lights of the gym, Mrs. Pike will switch on an inexpensive home disco lighting system which creates ambience to the gym. The makeshift ballroom is strangely out of place within this Silicon Valley Mecca of technology and privilege. I’ve completed the setup and it's eight o’clock. The first to arrive are the men. They are mostly regulars consisting of software engineers who are high on intellectual achievement but lacking in social skills. They are the “heart and soul” of Silicon Valley and rewarded handsomely by their employers. The regulars also include pensioners and a few elderly gentlemen who haven’t lost their dance moves. By 8:15, the women begin to arrive. Although there are a few regulars consisting of retired age women who come to kick up their heels and dance for the sake of dancing, the young beautiful women are Asian and Eastern European immigrants who are dressed to impress. They all look like princesses. Although they barely speak English, they know how to ask “what you do for a living”? Mrs. Pike tells me they come to meet successful men they can marry and obtain citizenship. Mrs. Pike dims the lights and the dance begins. As usual, she scratches the vinyl LP as she drops the stylus down upon the “Blue Danube Waltz”. The men and women pair up on the center of the “dance floor”. It’s always a competition amongst the men to find a beautiful dance partner but the women are selective. They’ve developed the ability to ferret out the successful by appearance alone. As usual, I find myself sitting on the sidelines with the retirees and the elderly guys. We talk about sports in between music changes and are approached to dance by the older women. We can’t decline their invitations and these women are patient and enjoy showing us how to dance. Half way through the evening, I’ll work up the nerve and ask a beautiful young woman to dance. It’s wonderful to hold one close and feel her breath on my cheek and smell her perfume. It isn’t long before they ask in broken English what I do for a living. When I tell them I’m a driver for a hospice, I’m dropped like a hot potato. Word spreads amongst the women and my chances are forever doomed for the night.
At 11:30 pm, Mrs. Pike slowly raises the lights and announces, “thank you beauties and beaus, we look forward to seeing you next month. Tell all your friends about us.” Before breaking down the ball with Mrs. Pike, I’m charged with escorting women to their cars through the dark parking lot. I’ve had professional business cards made up specifically to hand to these women in hopes of arranging a date. My card reads “Roland Lokout, Palliative Care Specialist” and includes my phone number. I’ve walked several women to their cars this evening, handed them my card, and return to help Mrs. Pike close down the gym. We lock the doors to the gym by midnight. Mrs. Pike thanks me and says, “Roland, honey, I hope tonight was your night. See you next month”. As Mrs. Pike drives away her headlights illuminate my business cards strewn throughout the parking lot. I retrieve each of them and hope they will bring me better luck next month.
I met Claire several months ago. Word spread throughout the “happy” wing that a beautiful world renowned pianist had been admitted who was terminally ill with cancer. It wasn’t long before Claire showed up on my schedule of doctor’s appointments for the day. I knocked and a mild voice asked me to enter her private room. Claire was laying in a hospital bed which had been raised permitting her to watch TV, read, or look out the window. I noticed the morphine drip which had been placed into her arm and knew her condition was serious and death was imminent. I introduced myself by saying hello Claire, I’m Roland. You have a doctor’s appointment this morning and it’s my pleasure to be your driver. I’ll wait in the doctor’s lobby until the doctor is finished and bring you back. Claire waived me off without saying a word. Medical appointments are at the discretion of the patients. Claire was introverted and didn’t want to leave the hospice. It’s normal. I politely excused myself and read a note in her chart which read “DNA per Attorney Conservator”. I’ve seen this notation before and came to learn that “DNA” signifies “do not resuscitate” and conservatorship suggests Claire isn’t capable of managing her affairs. I didn’t see a list of visitors and the attorney was a partner in a prestigious San Francisco firm. Claire was financially well heeled. It saddened me that she was alone and dying.
Weeks passed and Claire didn’t want to be removed from her room. I always asked if I could bring her anything and was curtly told to leave her alone. Claire was becoming weaker and the circles around her eyes darkening. She wasn’t eating. I knew Claire’s time was growing short. She enjoyed binge watching episodes of network celebrity dance programs. One evening after my shift, I visited Claire and asked if I could bring her anything and was told “Get out of here and let me die alone and lonely”. I shot back saying it doesn’t have to be this way Claire! Claire became enraged saying, “You don’t know me. You don’t what it’s like to be a poor girl from Oakland wearing hand me downs and teased by the other kids. You don’t know what it’s like to struggle to follow your dream of mastering the piano while practicing on an out of tune YWCA piano! Now that I built a beautiful life for myself, it’s stolen from me”! I shouted back do you know what it’s like to never have known love? To be rebuffed by women including my own mother? I was the awkward kid my classmates enjoyed teasing. It took me ten years to earn my history degree from an undistinguished state college. I didn’t want this job but it’s the best I can do. The highlight of my life is attending a monthly ball held on a basketball court and I can’t even get a pretty girl to dance with me. There are times I would trade places with you and everybody else in the place that is dying until I meet somebody like May and Harriet who teach me life is worth living to its fullest. All we have is time so make the most of it. I never had the courage to stand up for myself and vent much less to a beautiful woman and it felt good! Claire gave me a blank stare. I was sorry to hear that she also had a tough upbringing and felt bad about confronting her. I turned and headed for the door and Claire spoke up. “You like to Dance, Roland”? Yes, Claire, I do. “Tell me more about the ball, Roland”. She motioned for me to sit in the chair beside her bed. She was intrigued how such an unglamorous ball could exist within the center of Silicon Valley and wanted to know every detail.
In the following weeks, Claire invited me to watch the dance programs with her and I noticed how she marveled at the dancer’s ability to move effortlessly around the dance floor. It warmed my heart when Claire grinned or managed a subdued laugh as one of the amateur dancers couldn’t keep time or step with their professional partner. I brought her lattes and ice cream which she struggled to consume but it made her happy. Claire had a tough childhood. Her father deserted her alcoholic mother and they subsisted on welfare. Claire's mother hosted many a late night visitor for grocery money. Claire and I shared an unpleasant relationship with our mothers which created a bond between us. Claire spoke fondly of the many world capitals she visited and played for adoring audiences accompanied by world renowned orchestras. Claire was also able to meet many a statesman who visited her backstage after the performances. I'm sure she had her pick of suitors but she was in love with the piano. It was ironic that fate brought a world traveler and a guy who never left home together. It was during these evenings that I knew I was falling in love with Claire. I also noticed that she was pressing the self dosing button with increased frequency on her morphine drip.
The second Friday of the month arrived and time for the ball. I didn’t want to attend because I’d rather be with Claire but I had an obligation to Mrs. Pike so I couldn’t cancel. I arrived at 6:30 and helped Mrs. Pike set up. I immediately retreated to the sidelines for the evening. Mrs. Pike noticed that I was withdrawn and approached me asking, “What’s the matter with you Roland?” I told her I had fallen in love with a beautiful dying concert pianist who enjoys dancing but is confined to her hospital bed. Mrs. Pike suggested that I invite Claire to the next dance. It was a terrific idea but I knew we were running out of time before Claire passed. Mrs. Pike asked me to point out a girl about the same size as Claire. I selected a young beauty just about the same height and Mrs. Pike said, “Roland, honey, let me take care of the rest. I can’t wait to meet Claire. See you next month.”
It took me a few days to work up the nerve to ask Claire to the ball. Claire was weak and I couldn’t see how we could get her out of bed and onto the dance floor. The sparkle in Claire’s eyes was dimming and I knew from experience she didn’t have long so I asked her if she would like to attend the ball with me. Claire struggled to comprehend the invitation asking herself is it conceivable that a man would be inviting a dying woman to a dance? Claire pointed to the IV within her arm and the bed shrugging her shoulders about the futility of the invitation. I suggested to Claire that it would be my honor to take her in the wheelchair and we could attend even if only to watch. Mrs. Pike was one “smart cookie” because Claire’s wardrobe consisted only of hospital gowns to which I replied Mrs. Pike has a gift for you. I retrieved a box with a ribbon and bow and helped Claire open it. Claire beamed like a kid on Christmas. Inside, Claire saw a beautiful Satin ball dress and a makeup kit including my favorite perfume. It also included a handwritten invitation from Mrs. Pike saying, “Please be our special guest at next month’s Beauties and Beaus Ball”. Claire was flabbergasted and a tear ran down her face. Mrs. Pike had given me the night off so that I could arrive and depart with the other guests.
The next several weeks were the slowest I ever recall. I knew there would be no warnings when Claire’s time came but I was able to witness a dying woman muster every remaining ounce of life and strength in her body to stay alive. I’ve seen the same phenomenon in comatose dying patients who often wait for the last relative to arrive bedside before letting go. Claire was determined to make it to the ball!
The second Friday of the month arrived and a bevy of nurses attended to Claire’s bath, wardrobe, makeup and hair. As I entered her room, I witnessed the most beautiful woman I ever met sitting erect in her wheelchair. Claire was beaming. I pinned the corsage on her gown and I wheeled Claire down the hall and into the lobby. The morphine bag swung back and forth from the hanger attached to the wheelchair. The nurses and staff each commented on how beautiful she was. As I wheeled Claire to the van, it felt like Prom night for both of us and the journey to the ball was short.
Mrs. Pike greeted us like VIP’s saying “Claire, you are beautiful. Welcome. I’m so happy you and Roland could join us”. She directed us to a center court position where Claire could view the ball and where she had placed a chair for me to sit alongside Claire. One of my retired “bench warmer” buddies brought us punch and cookies and tactfully departed. The lights dimmed, and Mrs. Pike selected one of the most romantic Strauss waltzes, “The Voices of Spring”. She didn’t drop the stylus this time. The gym looked like a Vienna ballroom tonight because I was with Claire. The women were beautiful and the dancing was extraordinary tonight. Claire was transfixed and I noticed her keeping time with one of her feet. Claire reached for my hand and didn’t let go throughout the evening. I knew that Claire and I wouldn’t have another opportunity like this again and uncharacteristic of a man with low esteem, I leaned in to Claire and asked may I have this opportunity to dance, my lady? Claire paused, a big smile filled her face, and she struggled to stand. I caught her before she fell back into the chair and held her tightly around her skinny waist. As we moved towards the dance floor, the IV tube anchored Claire to the wheelchair. With one graceful move, Claire reached for the IV line and removed it from her arm. I placed my arms around Claire’s tiny waist and carried her to the center of the dance floor. She was light and felt like a bag of bones. Her body was limp but she held her arms tightly around my neck with every remaining ounce of strength she had left in her body. It was necessary for me to carry Claire in an upright position as she was too weak to stand but we danced and I could feel her breath against my neck and her heart pounding with excitement. Her perfume was the familiar scent that I had raved about to Mrs. Pike on many an evening. We were oblivious to the stares from the other dancers who gracefully made room for us to dance. On more than one occasion, I caught a teary eyed glance from a beautiful dancer. Claire hummed the bars of the waltz and whispered romantic sounding words in French and German to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know their meaning. I could feel the meaning. We never left the dance floor and as the ball room emptied late into the night, Claire and I were alone dancing in the center of the ballroom. Mrs. Pike dimmed the lights and spun the disco light ball which shot colors of the rainbow throughout the room. Claire was electrified and we were alone sharing a magic moment. It was after midnight and Mrs. Pike made a motion to me that it was time to leave for the evening. As I rolled Claire from the ball, Mrs. Pike leaned in and kissed Claire on the cheek saying “it was my pleasure to meet you my dear. You and Roland were the beauty and beau of the ball. Goodnight”. Mrs. Pike turned to me and her “hard as nails” veneer was replaced with tears as she said, “Goodnight, Mr. Lokout. You are a true gentleman”.
We returned to the hospice which was quiet as the nurses were on their rounds. I wheeled Claire into her room and carefully lifted her into her bed. She held my hand with a weak grip and stared into my eyes. Her grip became stronger; she closed her eyes, and puckered her lips. I leaned into to kiss her gently. Our hearts raced and our lips quivered. I experienced a life time of dating in our innocent kiss. As we separated, I gently laid Claire back into the hospital bed. I reached for Claire’s blanket and she motioned for me to lie beside her. I straddled the edge of the hospital bed and gently positioned myself next to Claire and placed my arm around her. We drifted into a deep sleep. I was awakened by nurses outside in the hall making their morning rounds and knew it was time to rise. I reached over to kiss Claire on the cheek and found her still. Her eyes were open and a trail of tears had dried upon her face. She was smiling and gone forever.
It’s been a year since I lost Claire and each and every month I find myself back at the ball armed with my cache of business cards. Mrs. Pike has been nudging me to try online dating and has recommended dances throughout the Bay area where I may have better luck. Since knowing Claire, my self esteem has improved and I may follow Mrs. Pike’s advice. Harriett recently passed having made it to 100! The front page newspaper article reported that her real estate empire was placed into a trust and the rental income used to help the homeless and immigrants. I’ll always remember Harriet and May’s advice knowing it will bring me love one day. Alfred Lord Tennyson and Jane Austen were right!
Mitchell Waldman's fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including, among others,TKairos Literary Magazine, Corvus Review, Literally Stories, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, Alfie Dog Fiction, The Houston Literary Review, Wind Magazine, Poetpourri, Connotation Press, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Battered Suitcase, Fiction on the Web, and eFiction Magazine. His work has has also appeared in the anthologies Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust (Northwestern University Press, 1998), Messages from the Universe (iUniverse, 2002), America Remembered (Virgogray Press, 2010), and Green (MLM, 2010). He is also the author of the novel A Face in the Moon, and the short story collection, Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart (Wind Publications, 2011), and has served as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. For more information, see his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead. com.
The crowd's reaction to his speeches enthralled and excited him, reinforced his conviction that he was not the only one who felt this way, that those who had caused the troubles of the Reich would have to pay. He would come away from the adoring throng's reaction feeling invigorated, reenergized.
But there was another side to him that no one knew. This was back in his early days, when he was just starting out.
The quiet times with Eva in the garden, weeding, and planting and watching things grow. He treasured these times.
Yes, there were two Adolfs, he felt, but this was the one the world would never know.
It was on one such day, after a day of exhausting speeches before his followers, that he and Eva spent a relaxing day in the dirt and sun behind their little bungalow. This was the calm Adolf, the Adolf that loved nature, the growing, the harvesting of new, better vegetables, and flowers. He would think to himself (ever-thinking) maybe you could mix this tomato with that tomato and come up with a far superior tomato. He didn't know, would have to learn more about the process involved, but he sure he could grow a heartier, healthier German tomato. (But maybe it was a matter of getting rid of the weaker tomato species and encouraging the heartier types, who knew?) Well, he might not really have thought that, but it was worth a shot, just for a laugh or two. (Do you say tomae-to or do you say . . . never mind, really. I'm off the track here a bit.)
No, really, back then with Eva by his side he was weeding in the hot sun in the small garden behind his small house, getting rid of the devil weeds to keep the good plants growing. On his knees, pulling the handkerchief (given to him by his father, Alois—he didn't know why he kept it—it meant nothing to him). Sometimes Eva would be singing merrily next to him, Adelweiss, he loved that particular song for some reason, something from his homeland, bringing him out a stein of beer or some iced tea, something to quench his thirst. And he would dig dig in the dirt, dig dig down to the roots to extract the guilty devil, extinguish from the earth, and then carefully dig holes for his new small flowering plants, removing the new green life from its pot, refilling the hole with the rich, black dirt, patting the dirt firmly around in almost a motherly (well, fatherly, at least) way and watering it with the small green watering can (a gift from Himmler on his last birthday) with the white shadowy image of a beer maiden, pitcher in her hand, on its side.
After a day's work he would clean up, stand back and view his and Eva's accomplishments of the afternoon, his arm resting across Eva's strong back, feeling peaceful, satisfied.
It was on one such occasion, after an end to the afternoon's work, that Adolf, shovel in his right, free hand, saw a small brown rabbit hopping toward the garden, close to his hearty crop of nearly ready to pick carrots. The sun was going down and the shadows were growing long.
"Halt!" he shouted, and the rabbit did, it froze and bunched its little body, twitching in fear, its large button eye staring at him. With one quick movement Adolf tossed the shovel at the little animal and hit it dead on. Then, he scoffed, marched quickly to the prone animal, still breathing laboriously, picked it up and held it out toward the sky and, with the sun in the background, snapped its small neck like the cracking of a peanut, then tossed the body away, behind the good plant life, to keep this vermin from sullying his verdant garden.
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
Cupid and Fox Trot Music
“Roses are red, violets are blue....” Julia was sing-songing a rhyme.
“Ugly, Valentine, I love you.” Elaina finished the sentence.
“Weirdo.” Julia looked at her best friend.
“Not as weird as my linty skirt.” Elaina was sitting on Julia’s bed. “I’ve never-ever seen chenille bedspreads anyplace but your house. Why’ve you got these old things around?”
“Spread was my grandma’s. Mom just likes looking at the stuff she saw when she was growing up. I just don’t sit on my bed unless I’m in jeans and a white shirt. You’re going to look like an angora cat played with your navy-blue preppy skirt. Don’t know how you’ll get the stuff off, either.” Julia began to laugh.
“Those dresser things look like Charlotte the spider wove them.” Elaina pointed to hand-tatted scarves covering the white dresser’s top.
“Same thing except those were made by my great-grandma.” Julia didn’t like them, but chenille or tatted scarves were not important enough to have a battle with her mom. “Look, let’s decide about Valentine’s Day. It’s just got to be different, and fun. Didn’t you think of anything?”
“Yeah. Mistletoe, ‘cept it’s the wrong season.” Elaina got off the bed and tried to pick each piece of lint from her skirt. “Oh, great. My skirt looks like feather pillows attacked me. Hey, maybe we could have a pillow-fight party.”
“Maybe an old party!” Julia walked around her room.
“Invite old people?”
“No. Have a party like my grandma must’ve had. It’ll be so silly, it’ll be fun.” Julia was enthusiastic, moved to her bed and sat right on the pillow. “Old -fashioned games. Didn’t you ever hear about them? Spin the Bottle. Post Office. Stuff like that.”
“A kissing-games party! Isn’t that what Spin the Bottle is, and the Post Office thing? Sounds so stupid it’d be different. Know anything about those games? Think that information is Online? Dear Google: what’s Post Office. Answer: building that sells stamps. How can you ask people to such a party.” Elaina remarked. “We’d need jeans covering our belly buttons ‘cause I don’t think your grandma was Brittany Spears.”
“Right. We’ll need to look 1940's. Were jeans invented then? I’ll ask. Meanwhile, let’s start making Valentines’ invitations and inside mention ‘dress code’, like our school dances.” Julia laughed. “No spaghetti straps, micro-mini skirts or you must leave the dance. Principal ousted me until my mother brought me a ‘proper’ skirt and a sweater to cover my arms. So a dress-code party is ‘cool’.”
“I’ve a computer print program that does invitations. Party at your house?” Elaina was mentally producing them.
“Well, Spin the Bottle, the way Grandma told me, is you have an empty bottle, and I guess it’ll have to be glass because plastic wasn’t around during her day. We sit in a circle on the floor with guys, and take turns spinning the bottle like a spinner on a game board. Wherever it stops with the bottle’s neck pointing to a person, you have kiss that person. If a girl spins, and it stops on a girl, she needs to spin ‘till it stops on a guy, and vice versa. Then the person who was kissed, spins for next turn. Grandma said that these were her first kisses, and most of the boys kisses to girls were their very first.”
“Did they French Kiss?”
“I don’t think they knew what that was. Remember, this was their first tries at kissing, and no TV showed choices. They puckered up and kissed. We have to do the same. Okay?” Julia was getting into the concept for this party.
“So what’s Post Office?” Elaina was fascinated that Julia actually talked with her grandma about such stuff.
“Post Office was pretend letters exchanged for kisses. And not in front of everyone in the circle. We can give everyone Valentines’ cards, and they’ll address each to someone they’ve wanted to kiss, deliver the card, and go into a closet and kiss. Maybe this was a passionate kiss since it wasn’t seen by everyone. I can ask Grandma.”
“How about adding Halloween apple-bobbing ? That’s old-fashioned, too. We can decorate the apple barrel like a Cupid with Cupid’s arrow pasted on. One person bobs for an apple and when it’s in her mouth she has to pass it to the mouth of the guy she likes. If it drops out of his mouth because he can’t hold it to pass it back to her, he has to be blindfolded, spun, and walk to someone and kiss them. Even if it’s another guy.” Elaina forgot her linty skirt, and continued devising games and new ways to play them.
Julia said, “I’ll check with Grandma about the clothes they wore and see if we can manage that. And find out if only hot chocolate and cookies were served; they probably didn’t have pizza in those days. With no TV, or cell phones, or microwaves, it must have been hard to organize a party, and not have something to watch if everyone got bored.”
“A 2006 party like 1940 ought to be a real trip. Want to consider a 15th century one since that’s when the first Valentine’s card was made?” Elaina giggled. “I learned that, once, online reading about how the Day started. And you know I love odd things to remember.”
“Just remember to get the invitations made up so we can mail them. I’ll let my Mom know we’re having a party here. She and Dad can go to a movie or something, or just go upstairs and watch TV. Since it’s a 1940's party, she doesn’t have a thing to worry about. Oh, we’ll need some non-rock music, the big-band stuff. Audio department at school might loan us some old music.” Julia raised herself from the pillow she’d been sitting on, and quipped, “See? No lint.”
“You’re also in jeans. See no lint. Speak no lint. Hear no lint. Want to help me remove mine?”
published 2-2006 in “Characters” magazine (small publication now out of business) ©2006 Davis Pub. [I own the rights]
NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
Me and Bart Become Businessmen
School dragged on but spring vacation was coming, so there would be a break soon. Too early for baseball, too late for football; the time of year me and Bart struggled finding fun things to do. I’d been sitting on my front porch racking my brain for a good idea. Me and Bart could both use new baseball gloves. I had mine picked out from the Montgomery Ward catalog. It was a nice glove, but it cost money; money I didn’t have.
“Hey! I have a great idea to make money,” Bart shouted while crossing the street.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You know Girl Scouts sell cookies door to door? Everyone buys them. We can do that too.”
“But we’re not Girl Scouts. And we don’t have any cookies.”
“Not cookies. Garden seeds. We’ll sell them door to door, just like the Girl Scouts sell cookies. There’s an ad for them in the back of my Aquaman comic book. It’s a sure thing—it says so in the ad. We buy a seed assortment, sell them, and keep the profit. We can go door-to-door after school and on Saturdays.”
“Okay, but what are garden seeds?”
“You know, cucumbers and tomatoes and stuff. The ad says there are twelve packages of eight different garden vegetables and four bonus ones thrown in. They’re free. One hundred packages and we sell them for twice what we paid for them. That’s all profit.”
“How do we get the seeds?”
“All I have to do is get my mom to buy the seeds and we pay her back when the sales start rolling in.”
“Will your mom do that?”
“Yeah, sure. All I have to say is it will give me something to do other than mope around the house and get in her way.”
“This’ll be great! We’re going into business!” I said.
The seeds arrived at Bart’s house the last day of school before vacation and we were all set to sell on Saturday morning. We split the seed assortment in half, each loaded half of them into our bicycle basket, and headed out.
“I’ll take one side of the road and you take the other side,” Bart said.
After a couple of houses, I realized I wasn’t good at selling seeds. I was sorta scared at the first house and was glad no one was home. At the second house, I started mumbling and stammering and they shut the door before I finished. The third house had really old people who said they didn’t garden. I was relieved.
Bart was still on his first house. I thought he must be worse than me, but when we met in the middle of the street, he was grinning.
“Sold four packages of seeds to the first house. And one of them was the bonus package, so that’s all profit. How’d you do?”
“I’m not good at this. I went to three houses and didn’t sell anything,” I said. “This businessmen stuff is hard. Maybe we should go together, like a team. Teamwork is good.”
“Try some more and then we’ll see.”
Three more houses came and went quickly. I didn’t go to the last house because the old man in the house was really creepy and we never trick-or-treat there anyway. We met in the middle of the street again.
“Four more sales,” Bart said. “You?”
“Nothin’. Exactly what I thought I would sell.” I couldn’t look Bart in the eye.
“You’re right, teamwork is good; we should work together. People would buy more if they saw there were two businessmen rather than one,” Bart said.
What a relief. I carried the box of seeds to the houses, opened the box, and held them up while Bart did all the talking. I picked up a cucumber seed packet and Bart talked about how good they would be for their supper.
“And lettuce,” Bart continued, “would be harvested in forty days, it says so on the packet. It goes with cucumbers…”
And the sales poured in. We sold every day during the school vacation week. We were down to five seed packages Saturday. We were going to sell out and pay back Bart’s mom; we’d be in the money then. So we took off on our bikes to the area that Bart thought would have the most sales because they gave the best Halloween candy.
BLAM! The front tire of my bike blew out. This was trouble.
“Bart, my mom isn’t going to like this. Tires cost money.”
“Yeah, but we have money.”
“But we don’t know how to fix a flat tire.”
“I’ll bet Mr. Green does. His house is on the next block. He has every tool there is on earth in his garage. He doesn’t even park his car in it in the winter because it’s a workshop,” Bart said.
“Geeze, everyone calls him Mr. Mean because he yells at kids for riding bikes across his lawn. He’s pretty scary.”
“Nah, my bike chain fell off last month and he fixed it for me. He’s okay.”
“If you say so.”
“There, he’s in his workshop right now. We’ll push our bikes up his driveway and he’ll fix it, You’ll see. Just stay off his grass. He mows it almost every day and like to look at it.”
Bart shouted “Hi Mr. Green,” as we walked our bikes up his driveway.
“Mornin’, boys. What have you busted today?”
“Nothin’ yet. But his bike has a flat tire. Can you help us fix it?” Bart asked
Mr. Green took the wheel off the bicycle and had the tire off the rim in a flash. He studied the tire and pulled a nail out of it. “Need a new inner tube, boys. You can get them at the hardware store. Tell them you need a twenty-six by two-inch inner tube. Buy one, bring it back, and I’ll put it on for you.”
Bart pedaled while I sat on his handlebars.
“Gee, he’s okay, just like you said,” I told Bart when we were out of earshot.
“Told ya. He just doesn’t like his grass driven on by bicycles.”
The inner tube took a big chunk of our profit, but Bart said it was a cost of doing business. It didn’t take long to get back to Mr. Green’s workshop. The bike was good as new in no time. Problem was there wasn’t enough money for baseball gloves.
“What are you boys doing out and about anyway?” Mr. Green asked.
“We’re businessmen. Selling garden seeds,” Bart answered proudly. “We got seeds from an ad in a comic book and have 5 packages left to sell.”
“The last few are always hard to sell. What are they?” Mr. Green asked.
“Zucchini. Some people like it, but it isn’t a big seller,” I answered.
“You know, I can never get enough zucchini. I’ll buy them from you.”
He did and we were sold out and it was still before noon. The rest of the day was still ahead of us.
“That was my first sale,” I told Bart. “You did all the rest.”
“Nah, we’re a team and teamwork sold all the seeds. How about a celebration?”
“We don’t have enough to buy new baseball gloves, so how about a Coke and plate of French fries at the Town Diner?” I asked.
“Just what I was thinking.”
We each had a Coke and a plate of fries and they were delicious. Between that and the inner tube, most of our profits were gone. No new baseball glove so me and Bart would have to get another season out of our old ones. But, still, it was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.
Me and Bart Help the Neighbors
Bart pedaled his bike up my driveway in a mad dash so I knew something was going on.
“I got us a job!” You know old Mrs. Dunnigan who died and no one’s been living in her house? I was riding my bike by her house and saw someone. He stopped me in the road and said he was her son Ron and asked if I wanted a job. He’ll pay us.”
“When do we start?”
“Now. Let’s go.”
I didn’t have to be told twice. “Which one is he?” I asked.
“Mom calls her son and daughter oil and water. Which one is he?”
“That’s right, but I don’t know which is which,” Bart said.
We biked up to the house and Ron was in the open door waiting for us.
“Hi boys. I need you to take all the old junk out of the house and put it into piles on the lawn before the dumpster arrives. Think you can you do that without killing yourselves?”
“Sure can!” Bart answered.
We followed Ron through the house. He pointed at table lamps, books, old clothes, chairs and stuff. As he pointed to things, he said “dump, dump, dump,” and once in a while, “keep.” Pretty much all the books were going and lots of little statues. “Stupid Hummels” Ron called them. Funny-looking chairs and couches were “dump” too.
“Boys, I’ll be outside supervising. Start hauling,” Ron said as he walked out the house.
“He doesn’t even want to know our names,” I said. “He seems mean and disrespectful. What do you think?”
Bart ignored me and asked, “Ever see so many books?”
“Only in a library. Old Mrs. Dunnigan must have been really smart.”
“More carrying and less talking!” shouted Ron from outside.
We looked at each other and quickly started carrying books out of the house, across the porch, down the steps, and made tall piles of them on the front lawn. We had lots of piles. Some of the books were so dusty I sneezed. I’d never seen books with leather on the outside. They looked special to me.
Ron didn’t carry anything out of the house. He sat on a chair in the front lawn frowning. He watched us carry boxes out and sometimes pointed to make a pile on one side or the other of the sidewalk. Sometimes he grunted “Keep.”
Once we were back into the house, I whispered to Bart, “Did you see that? He opened a can of beer. It’s still morning.”
“Yeah, I saw. Just keep carrying stuff. The less he carries, the more we do and the more we get paid.”
We started a new pile with the next load. We heard a screeching “RON!” and turned around immediately.
“It’s Mrs. Oliver from across the street and she’s mad.” I said.
“Ronald Dunnigan, what do you think you are doing? You can’t do that with Hilda’s books! Stop that!”
“My house, my books now.”
“You stop right now. I’m calling your sister.”
“Keep bringing the books out here, boys. Time’s a wasting,” Ron called out between sips of beer.
Mrs. Oliver stomped out of the yard, across the street, and into her house.
“She was stomping so hard there was dust trail behind her. This isn’t going to end well,” I said to Bart.
“Maybe not, but the man said carry books and he’s paying us.”
“Did he say how much he is paying us?” I asked once we were inside.
Bart didn’t answer right away; he was bending over loading more books into a box.
“Well, I haven’t exactly worked that out yet,” Bart finally answered.
“We should be careful with the Stupid Hummels, they look breaky and expensive. Just in case. You know, with the sister being called and all.”
“Maybe you’re right. There are still books to move anyway,” Bart answered.
We moved more boxes of books and a couple of padded chairs with skinny legs onto the front lawn. We carefully put the Stupid Hummels in a couple of boxes we found in the house.
“Chop, chop, boys. You needn’t be so careful with those,” Ron said as we walked out with one box each. “They’ve been junk to me my whole life and still are.”
“Just trying to do a good job,” Bart said.
Bart always knew the right words to say.
Before we could put the boxes down, a red car skidded to a stop in the driveway. A tall lady got out and immediately started yelling.
“Ron! What are you doing with mother’s books? She loved them.”
“My books now.”
“No, our books. Stop it.”
We bent down and gently set the boxes on the lawn and the lady turned white.
“Mother’s Hummels! You’re not respecting her things. How could you? She treasured those. How could you?”
She picked up a figurine from the box, cradled it in her hands, and was lost in thought. It was precious to her. Ron not respecting it hurt her.
Then the finger wagging and angry words started. Not knowing what to do, we backed up the steps and into the house. The yelling was getting louder and louder as we watched through a window. Then Mrs. Oliver showed up. Standing, legs apart, hands on her hips, and shaking her head. Looked like the school principal when there was trouble.
“I told you this wasn’t going to end well,” I said.
“Grab the side of this chair, we need to get out there and listen. Who knows how this will end,” Bart said.
“Okay, but we can hear just fine from here—they are really yelling.”
Bart picked up his side of the chair so I had no choice but to help him carry the chair outside
We set the chair down in the lawn and listened to the ruckus.
“Boys, you stop right now,” the lady said.
“But he’s paying us,” Bart pointed at Ron.
“Not anymore.” She opened her pocketbook and pulled out bills and handed them to Bart. “This should be enough for both of you nice young boys. Go home. You don’t need to be here for this.”
“Hey, those kids work for me, not for you.”
“Not anymore,” Bart said. He pocketed the bills and smiled at me.
“I called the police. They should be here anytime,” Mrs. Oliver said.
On that, me and Bart got on our bikes and pedaled off. We heard shouts of “nosy neighbor” and “bossy sister.”
“Glad I don’t have a sister,” I told Bart.
Once we got home, I asked “What do you think the cops will do?”
“I dunno, but I’m not telling my mom about it.”
“Me neither,” I said. “Oh yeah, how much did the lady pay us?” Bart spread the bills across his hands and then divided them up. “WOW,” was all I could say.
“Maybe we should quit school and work for the lady,” Bart said. “This calls for a fries and Coke celebration.”
With all the cash, I didn’t hesitate. “Nope, there is enough for me to take me and my mom for fries and a Coke. My treat. She’ll like that. I want her to know how nice she is.”
All in all, it was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.
Geoffrey Craig’s fiction, poetry and drama have appeared in numerous literary journals, including the New Plains Review, Calliope, Foliate Oak, Spring – the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, The MacGuffin, The Louisville Review and River Poets Journal. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.
In January 2016, Prolific Press published his novel, Scudder’s Gorge. Previously, Wilderness House Literary Review had serialized both his verse novel, The Brave Maiden, and his novella, Snow.
Four of his full-length plays (one co-authored) and ten of his one-acts have been produced. He has directed productions of eight of his plays.
Geoffrey has a BA (Colgate), an MBA (Harvard) and an MA in history (Santa Clara). He served in the Peace Corps in Peru and had a successful career in banking before turning to writing.
(1877 – 1945)
August 6, 1945
Etsuko Hayato had not slept well. Sirens sounded throughout the night, and he tossed and turned on his thin futon. It was still dark when he sighed and carefully folded the cotton mattress, placing it in a lacquered chest. He re-read the war stories in yesterday’s newspaper.
When his wife died, Etsuko moved in with his older son and daughter-in-law, both of whom worked in munitions plants in the city. Etsuko’s second son was in the navy, and his wife also lived with Etsuko’s older son who was at sea early in the war but was now at the nearby Kure Naval Base. It was a comfort to Etsuko to live with his family, even if the wooden house was rather small. It did have a vegetable garden and shrine in the back. Etsuko spent a lot of time in the garden.
He had three grandchildren, two boys and a girl. One grandson had been killed at Okinawa. The last letter from his other grandson was dated three months earlier. It said nothing about his situation, except that he had been promoted to captain. His granddaughter, a schoolteacher, had been evacuated from Hiroshima, along with her pupils, to a rural temple.
Etsuko knew he was fortunate to have both sons alive, and to be living with one while seeing the other several times a month. His daughters-in-law were pearls. He grieved for his grandson, but other families had suffered more. His friend, Mitsuo, had lost all three of his sons.
Hiroshima had not been hit hard by the allies, despite its military facilities. Fortunately, its government hadn’t demolished the houses in his neighborhood to create a fire lane. Etsuko murmured a prayer of gratitude as he knelt on a tatami while his daughter-in-law served him a cup of tea and a small bowl of rice topped with pickled vegetables. At seven, the radio broadcast an air raid alert. Everyone froze - utensils in mid-air. They all rushed from the house and searched the clear sky. Would this be the day when terror and destruction rained down on Hiroshima? They started for the shelter, but no huge B29s droned overhead. Instead, a lone plane – clearly not a bomber – circled the city.
They waited outside the shelter, talking to neighbors, still anxiously scanning the skies. At seven-thirty, his son, Jotaro, decided that the danger was past. He and his wife took a tram to work. Etsuko’s other daughter-in-law returned to clean up the breakfast dishes before going downtown to her job in a government office.
After inviting the neighbors to come over that evening for a glass of precious sake, Etsuko took a walk. He did not have to report to his fire warden’s station until ten. Perhaps he would find some fruit in a shop. With the disappearance of so many commodities, their diet had become bland and meager. He walked through narrow lanes crowded with small houses. After his restless night, it felt good to use his legs. The morning sun was warm on his face.
Having lost one grandson, he wondered, as he did frequently, if the rest of his family would survive the war. He revered the Emperor, and initially supported the war as vital to Japan’s interests, but the loss of lives, the physical destruction, and the rending of the fabric of Japanese society had been overwhelming. Etsuko sadly concluded that the time for surrender might have arrived.
Japan’s sun would rise from the ashes and shine more brightly than ever, but it was far too dangerous to utter such thoughts. He prayed, instead, that the Emperor, the living God, would seek an honorable peace. Otherwise, they must fight on. Japan must never abandon the ‘Divine One’ who ruled over the sacred homeland.
He saw a few yellow flowers growing in a scrap of yard, and smiled. He wished he could identify the flowers. He had worked as a mid-level manager in one of the big zaibatsu for forty-four years. Now that he was retired, he would devote some time to studying nature. His wife, Shizue, had worked miracles with flower arrangements.
He stopped briefly at a small temple with curved, red beams protruding over the lane. He prayed in memory of Shizue, and for the safety of his family. It would be a clear, hot day. Through an open window, he heard the radio blare another air raid warning. He glanced at his watch; it was just past eight. There was no sign of bombers, but perhaps he should go home. He started down the lane and, noticing the drone of an airplane, quickened his pace. He hurried past an empty school with a small patch of sweet potatoes growing in the yard.
The engines sounded louder. He stopped and looked up. He saw one large plane followed by two smaller ones. They were almost overhead. He was panting. His heart and lungs were not what they used to be. He saw a white parachute fall from the large plane; he watched it drift slowly downward. How curious; it must not be a bomb.
For an instant, he saw a blinding flash and heard an earth-shattering explosion. The world went black, and Etsuko Hayato’s dust mingled with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
September 7, 1799
It was not the first time she had seen him. The first time was two weeks earlier on a pristine June day in 1799 when she went berry picking with her sister, Carrie. They set out early, each swinging a wooden bucket with a deerskin strap. Having learned to shoot at an early age, Philomena carried a musket slung across her back to protect them from the few remaining bears and wolves.
The sun was just climbing over the ridge. It was still cool. A mantle of fog straddled the ridgeline, and mist rose from the fields. Passing the log cabins of the settlement, they saw smoke from stone chimneys thickening the air. They breathed deeply the tantalizing odor of roasting venison and rabbit. Anxious to be on their way, they hurried through their breakfast of cold corn mush and milk. Their mother laughed and said they could do their chores when they returned.
The first of the settlers had arrived in sparsely settled, Northern Vermont four years ago. Since then, they had experienced good relations with the handful of Abenaki Indians that lived at the northern end of the valley. Thickly forested hills climbed above the Abenaki village, gradually at first, and then angling up sharply to reach a cascade that crashed through a steep gorge into a clear, icy pool.
The settlers located their cluster of cabins in a bend on the east bank of the river that flowed down from the gorge and bisected the valley. Six miles southeast of the Abenaki wigwams, the settlement was in the center of the valley. While most of their homes huddled together like cattle in a storm, several recent settlers built log houses along a muddy, rutted road that extended north and south from the settlement.
The settlers arrived in the valley with several cows and six sheep. They planned to start a flock and use the wool for clothes, blankets, and eventual sale to the towns of northern Massachusetts. Four oxen had laboriously pulled two wagons over the rocky hills and through the lush, green valleys. Crammed into the wood-slated wagons were a variety of tools and farm implements – hammers, saws, axes, hoes, two ploughs – and two pairs of baby pigs, a dozen chickens, and chests of clothes and household goods. The pigs squealed and the chickens cawed as the wagons bumped over the rough terrain. Tied to one wagon, Lucas Scudder’s young Holstein bull let out an occasional bellow as if in protest against the loss of Massachusetts’ comforts.
Cornfields now spread out on both sides of the river. Young apple trees grew in a communal orchard to the east of the village. Each cabin had a vegetable plot in the back and chickens scratching in front.
Lucas Scudder and Dexter Forshay had guided the first ten families north through the Connecticut River Valley. Skirting the Green Mountains, they passed Brattleboro, Windsor, and Norwich to settle on a land grant issued almost ten years earlier by the then independent Republic of Vermont. The site, south of Craftsbury, was in a hilly area crisscrossed by ridges, valleys, and frothing streams. Through the summers of stinging flies, the winters of razor-like cold, and the monotonous fare of the first years, Lucas had rallied the settlers. Determined to succeed, he dissuaded several families from retreating to Massachusetts. Though stiff-necked and Puritanical, he let no family go hungry, sharing his game with less skilled hunters.
Lucas had grown tired of working for his father and oldest brother in Northfield. To his way of thinking, Massachusetts had grown crowded and could not give him scope for his vision of a thriving settlement carved out of the wilderness. He saw himself as a builder, a creator on a grand scale. He expected that the town would eventually be named after him.
Almost as soon as they had built their homes, the settlers erected a crude log building to serve as a church. Lucas, Dexter, and Owen Harding served as elders and, in the absence of a parson, took turns reading scripture and preaching at meetings. After a year, they constructed a gristmill by the river, and a year later, a primitive sawmill to trim the logs they cut for their homes. New families arrived every year, and now there were over twenty.
The settlers lived much like the Abenaki who, early on, had come to trade. While most Abenaki spoke passable French, a few also knew a little English. Relations were peaceful, and one of the settlers, Israel Smythe, whose wife had died from a rattlesnake bite the second summer, had married an Abenaki woman. They had a baby boy and were expecting another child in a few months. The settler’s two older children were delighted with their baby brother, and ran to play with him as soon as they finished their chores.
The first rays of the sun felt good on the backs of Philomena and Carrie. It would warm up shortly, and the mosquitoes and black flies would come out, causing them to brush at their faces constantly, unless a breeze sprang up to carry off the pests. They wore long dresses of drab brown, a bit the worse for wear, and white aprons. They had on stout shoes to navigate the stony meadows and low-lying marshes. Their white caps, with a flounce along the edge, would protect them from the sun and deter the less determined insects.
The sky was a washed-out blue and paler along the ridges. After leaving the settlement, they heard only birdcalls and the sound of their own tramping feet. They crossed the log bridge that led to the western bank of the river. The best berry patches on the eastern side had already been scoured. Looking downstream, they noticed Josiah Royce urinating in the river. Neither girl blushed; it was a common sight. They could have skirted the cornfields and passed through meadows strewn with purple clover and yellow dandelions, but they loved the queer feeling of walking between the rows of thin-stalked plants—their world narrowed to curving leaves and the shimmering sky.
Before entering the cornfield, Philomena glanced north, towards the gorge. She had only been there a couple of times. Last summer, on an exceptionally hot Sunday afternoon, two adults had treated a group of youngsters to an expedition to the pool below the cascade. The boys had stripped to their trousers and jumped in, screaming with delighted shock as they hit the frigid water. The younger girls had swum in their under garments. At seventeen, Philomena had refused to do more than sit on the mossy bank and dangle her bare feet and ankles in the foam-flecked pool.
A dry summer, the adults judged the current flowing through the pool slow enough for the children to swim. Normally, they went to a crook in the river a mile below the settlement. Even at that quiet spot, a boy almost drowned when he ventured near the center of the flow. An older lad cut diagonally downstream, blocked the flailing boy, and pulled him out of the swift current.
Talking intently, Philomena and Carrie hurried along the rows of corn – sidestepping the numerous stumps that dotted the field like flotsam from a shipwreck. They were exhilarated by the bright morning, their solitary excursion, and the rare treat of having chores postponed. Later, Philomena would churn the butter and Carrie would finish her spinning. Philomena loved and confided in her sister. She knew that Seth Lawrence was in love with her. He always contrived to be around her after meeting; and last Sunday, he had been staring at her when she glanced up during a hymn. Her mother had tugged at her sleeve and nodded brusquely at the hymnbook. His attentions thrilled but also bothered her.
Are you going to marry him?” asked Carrie, trying to be serious but unable to contain a giggle.
“I don’t want to get married at eighteen.”
“Abby Brewster was eighteen, and Cousin Samantha back in Northfield was seventeen.”
“I’m not Abby Brewster – eyeing every boy in the village until she finally hooked beetlebrowed Ezra Royce.”
Carrie laughed – low and mischievously.
“Pretty soon they’ll call you a spinster.”
“I don’t care what those stringy women with clacking tongues call me. There’s lots I want to do before I get married and have a passel of children.”
“What’s there to do around here except chores and church? Oh, I forgot – corn husking and the harvest dance. Splendid.”
“Who said around here, ninny? I want to see someplace other than this valley. Maybe I’ll go visit Grandpa. I bet there’s lots to do in Northfield.”
“Do you like it here?”
Philomena gave no answer as they left the cornfields and crossed into a sloping meadow. She was troubled by Carrie’s question. She was expected to marry, raise children, share the farm work with her husband, and take care of her parents when they grew older. That was supposed to constitute a good life, but something was missing. She felt at odds with herself.
“Answer me,” said Carrie. “Do you like living here?”
“I do; but then again, I don’t. I want something to happen that’s different, that’s exciting. Seth Lawrence is not exciting.”
“You’re being ... eighteen.”
“Sixteen is the fountain of wisdom? Or maybe God touched you?”
“No, but he will you,” shouted Carrie.
She jumped on her sister’s back, riding around and pummeling her as if she were an unruly horse. Philomena shrieked and, pulling her sister’s skirt, fell to the ground – rolling over on top of her. They wrestled for a few minutes, laughing excitedly, and then stopped, breathing heavily.
“What if Papa saw us?” asked Philomena. “He would consider our behavior quite undignified.”
“He would not. We’re farm girls, not city women. He’d think it funny.”
“I don’t know. He’s so stern.”
“You have to make him laugh,” said Carrie.
They continued across the meadow and reached a wooded area replete with raspberry and blackberry bushes. They began filling their buckets. A reddish purple stained their fingertips. Philomena leaned her head back, opened wide, and dropped two blackberries the size of acorns into her full-lipped mouth. They swiped at hovering, whining mosquitoes and picked intently. Dew sparkled from webs in the grass and soaked their shoes. Small birds twittered and hopped about in the thickets bordering the meadow. The sun began to heat their bent backs. When she stood up to stretch and adjust the musket, Philomena felt a bead of sweat trickle down her spine. She liked the sensation.
“What do you think it would be like to be married?” she asked.
Carrie stared at Philomena as if she had just stepped naked from a bath.
“I mean to lie with a man.” Philomena waited a second and then turned back to the bush,
“You’re too young to think about it.”
“I think about it a lot. I can hear Mother and Father even though they try to be very quiet. It must be exciting – and pleasurable.”
“It must be,” said Philomena, “with the right man at the right time.” She idly plucked a berry and ate it. “Have you ever ... you know ... touched...?”
Carrie looked at her bucket and then boldly at her sister. “Yes. Have you?”
Absorbed again in stripping the heavy clusters of ripe berries, they fell silent. A few minutes later, Philomena picked an immense raspberry and held it up for Carrie to see.
“Open the door,” she laughed and placed it carefully on Carrie’s waiting tongue.
“It will never do to eat all the best ones,” admonished Carrie, who nevertheless could not suppress a grin.
“We’ve just eaten a few, and we’ll keep it a secret. Surely, that’s not much of a sin.”
They moved along the edge of the woods. After an hour, their buckets were threequarters full. Their arms and backs were sore. Philomena suddenly felt uneasy; the back of her neck tingled. She looked into the forest. The maple leaves were a satiny green. Broad sunbeams struck the thick pine trunks. Nothing moved except a grey squirrel dashing from one tree to the next. She shrugged. Then she saw him standing in the shadows, almost invisible and perfectly still. He was watching them, no expression on his lean face. He was tall and looked a few years older. He had glossy, black hair tied behind his head. He wore a buckskin shirt, trousers, and carried a bow. In his other hand, he held a large rabbit.
Philomena exclaimed, “Oh!”
Carrie looked up, “What is it?” Looking in the direction her sister was facing, she saw the Abenaki. Neither girl spoke for a few seconds, and then Carrie smiled and said, “Good morning.”
The young man replied awkwardly, “Good morning.” He turned and strode into the forest.
“Mama,” shouted Carrie as she burst into the cabin carrying a full bucket of berries, “we saw an Abenaki in the woods. He was carrying a rabbit he had shot with his bow.” She put the bucket on table. “He was handsome.”
“What’s that about an Abenaki?” asked Lucas as he ducked into the cabin. He had been clearing a new field to plant with wheat in the spring – the first wheat in the settlement. His hands were blackened from burning and digging out a large stump; his face was streaked with grime. Caleb and Samuel followed him.
Martha glanced quickly at her husband. “Philomena and Carrie saw an Abenaki when they went berry picking.”
Lucas looked queerly at his daughters.
“They have been friendly these past four years, but they can be treacherous. They’ve been known to make off with captives. In future, stay close.”
Mark Fabiano's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic Monthly, The Saturday Evening Review, Best New Writing, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, The Long Story and others. His fiction has won Runner-Up in The Great American Fiction Contest, an Editor's Choice Award in Best New Writing 2017, an Honrable Mention in the American Literary Review, and an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in Fiction. He has an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from George Mason University, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sri Lanka -the setting for other stories, and his novel. He has taught creative writing, literature, and other courses at various colleges for over 11 years. You can read more at his website: markfabiano.com
Her cell buzzed on the marble countertop in Sam’s kitchen as he loaded his dishwasher. Instinctively, he reached for it, pressed its green answer button, and placed it between his ear and his hunched-up shoulder. Before he managed a greeting, he heard a man’s voice on the other end talking as if directly to the phone’s owner, Delia, his lover.
“Delia? Can you hear me?”
Sam pulled the phone away from his ear as if it were a wasp ready to sting, and looked at the caller ID that displayed Delia’s husband’s name “Hudson” in green LCD lettering.
“Delia. What’s that a dishwasher? Where the hell are you?”
Still intoxicated from the combined fog of afternoon rum, pot, and illicit sex that he had just shared with Delia, he slowly recognized his error. It was wrong to answer this phone. He hung up the cell. The tiny beep lost to the churning of the Hobart, the latest edition to the kitchen of this one bedroom DuPont Circle apartment—inherited when his mother passed.
Sam put the phone back on the counter, and tried to arrange it the way he’d found it. Pointing towards the maple cabinets or away? Perpendicular or parallel to the squares or grooves on the marble counter top.
Then, it buzzed again. And again. She needed to know. After all, her husband would question her. Maybe this meant something. His answering it accidently. Maybe it was time for them to come clean. She’d never go for that. Sam tried running through his head, what sounds like a dishwasher at an art gallery?
He decided to bring it to her. She lay on the bed, propped up, drinking from a can of soda and reading a magazine, wearing only one of his “I’m With Her” t-shirts in stark rebellion to her husband’s politics. And here she was, reveling in her sleeping with the enemy. Without looking away from her reading, she murmured with satisfaction, and then slid bare legs under the black sheets.
She turned her body towards him. “What’s up?”
“Your husband. He just called.”
“Nice. What did he want?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“You mean you didn’t tell him how much fun it was to fuck his wife silly?”
He jumped onto the bed and she rolled into his arms, crumpling magazine pages. He held the cell out.
“Actually, he called like three times I think. See?”
She kissed him, drunk from their session. To play along with his game, she looked up at the cell. Then her eyes widened as she took the phone and sat up. “Oh shit. You answered it?”
“Sam. What the fuck?”
“Listen. I was just doing the dishes. It buzzed. I wasn’t thinking…”
“What the hell did you do?”
“Nothing. I mean I answered it.”
“Oh, my god, Sam.”
“He just said your name. And…”
“And what? Sam!”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t really hear but something about the dishwasher. I was running the dishwasher.”
“Then I just hung up.”
She stood up on the bed; hand on hip, the other holding the phone, looking down at him. Her slender body, tall and towering just below the swirling ceiling fan above her.
“So, let me get this straight. Your lover’s phone rings and you answer it. Then you hear her husband on the other end. Then you hang up on him.”
“What was I supposed to say, ‘hey there Hudson, how’s it going? How about those ‘skins? Delia? Yes, she is right here. We were just fucking.’”
She waved him off. “Doesn’t what we have mean anything to you? I thought we agreed.”
“Look baby, I didn’t say anything. He doesn’t know.”
“Right. He doesn’t know. But now he’s wondering why there was no wifey on the other end but there was a blissful domestic humming in the background. And look. Two, three…. six! He called back six times and I didn’t answer.”
“I know. It’s bad. I mean. I was trying to think about what sounds like a dishwasher at the National Gallery.” An idea popped into his mind. “Maybe you could say it was performance art.”
“Yeah. You know like something from the 60s.”
She rolled her eyes. “Like?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t around then. But when I was at UVA, there was this female artist who sat on a metal folding chair at a card table with a notebook and a clock. Every time someone asked her what she was doing she wrote down the time.”
“What the hell for?”
“I’m not sure. I think she was trying to determine some kind of pattern, intervals, you know between one person and the next.” Maybe a meditation on how people think about time or interact with it, he wanted to say. It would be interesting to find that artist and ask her. See what became of her project. “And so, you could say it was performance art.”
“You’re such a commie. I suppose that big march for women was performance art. I mean it seemed like they had a hundred different causes?”
“Stop it.” He snapped back. His mother had been the first female attorney at her firm, the first female to graduate with honors from her law school. Her fervent activism had made its way into Sam’s DNA so that he recoiled physically whenever they talked politics. He continued, “It was completely cohesive. All of those causes, voting, health, choice, environment, economic, family, diversity, are all women’s rights.”
“O.K. Easy there Bernie! I get it.” She held out her hands palms down like she was patting down on an invisible tabletop. “But what exactly would this performance art that sounds like a dishwasher look like?”
“I don’t know.” He looked around the room, fishing for ideas, trying to buy some time. He wished he could go back and not answer it. But maybe there was a reason he did. Fate intervened. The same way it did when they met at the Library of Congress where as a docent he gave tours, assisted scholars, and sometimes read aloud to small groups. She had been lulling about the stacks looking for fiction outside his small office in that well-to-do, bored housewife sort of way. She’d looked up and asked him where she might find Updike. But when he led her to a book of his essays, she’d frowned. Like she was now. Had he just ruined their whole affair? She was younger. She could find other lovers. Maybe she already had? He felt awkward about his nakedness, his slender, pale body. He looked at the pile of their clothes and thought of doing laundry. “Maybe it was a washing machine, and like this artist invites patrons to bring clothes in for him to wash there in the gallery.”
“Well, why would this artist have a washing machine, Sam?”
“Well, maybe he adds colors to them, or makes something from them, or gives them away to poor kids.”
He watched her shake her head. “And what if Hudson wonders why there’s no review in the Post?”
“Well, then. Maybe you were near a closed part of the gallery where they were waxing the floor.”
“Yeah right, Sam.”
“Well it’s not like he heard a man's voice say “Hello.”
“Damn you. Damn you.”
He took just a deep breath.
“We’ve got to think of something.” She plopped the phone down on the mattress and crossed the bedroom on her way to the bathroom. She turned towards him at the doorway and said, “Think! Will you?”
Yeah right, he thought. She disappeared down the hall and he heard the bathroom door close. His heart felt heavy and dark despite all the booze and pot. Or maybe because of it. Maybe it was the sex. Illicit sex was a turn on for both of them. And here he was, 49, never married. No significant relationships. Thinking maybe she was his soul mate. Light from the street cast a pale glow on the high walls. A large rectangular patch of wall, brighter than its surrounding wall, revealed where his mother had hung the painting of the country home in Leesburg. He’d taken it down and put it in storage along with most of her artifacts. He’d felt that if he kept any of her things in his bedroom, it would be like she was watching him. Like an angel or some invisible judge, implacable and critical. And judge she would-that instead of starting a fine family like his brother ,who’d also become a lawyer, he was working at a library and having an affair with a married woman- and a Republican too! He heard a buzz and felt a small vibration on the surface of the bed. Looking down he noticed a text message from her husband “Where are you?”
Sam picked it up, tempted to text back “I am with my lover,” But he dared not. Still some confrontation waited for them. Left to her taking action, they would never move forward. Noticing the tiny icons for network, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi at the top row, he had an idea. He quickly went into settings and turned on “sharing” in the GPS. He put the phone down just as she entered.
“Well, any ideas?” She returned to her side of the bed.
He took a deep breath. Here goes he thought, trying to bolster himself. But he wouldn’t tell her about the GPS. “We could, you know, just tell the truth.” There. It was out. What he’d wanted to do ever since their affair had graduated from an occasional motel room near Fairfax, to seeing each other three times a week here. If that wasn’t love, what was?
“You are incredible! I mean, I can’t believe it. You are such a…”
“Great lover? You can’t help but be in love?”
“Look Sam. What we have is great. Let’s just stay in the moment.”
“I love making love with you. And you are so smart, about books and all.” She shrugs and says “but what would we do besides…” she moves her hand in gesture across the bed “this?”
“I am sure we could find things to do, Delia.”
“Like?” She grinned even as she relaxed in that way which told him she was content even if he wasn’t. But then she continued before he could answer which was great because he didn’t have an answer. “I’m into kundalini yoga, and you call it a cult. I’m into selling real estate and you are into books. I ski and do Barre Method and you got to counseling.”
“So?” He didn’t want to go there. Not in the middle of another disagreement about where they were headed. In fact, his counselor had challenged him to list the reasons for having this affair, for believing Delia and he could be more permanent. To date, he’d only listed items about her smart attitude, her looks, her style. But he knew this was as superficial as he’d thought her to be. Yet he wanted her, them to be together so badly. He felt it in his bones, he’d said to his counselor.
“We are very different you and I, right down to ow we think even about art. For example,” she held up the empty diet soda can. “What does this logo mean to you?”
He acted wary. After all, she’d worked in fashion. He felt like it was a test that if he failed, would mean the end of what they had. Not to mention what he hoped they could yet have together. And besides, how could a stupid ad compare with serious art. If indeed performance art was meant to be serious, fine art. He wished he knew more about that genre. But he could only dimly recall an example from his art history class. Something about Dadaism. Besides, the whole purpose of performance art was to challenge the norm. Not conform to it. But he didn’t want to correct her. You couldn’t confront Delia-she didn’t like being contradicted in her beliefs. He studied the design. A silver can with a circle in the center where the top half was red and the bottom half was blue. A wavy, white line separated the halves across the center. It could be anything he thought. “Well it looks like a setting sun, over an ocean.”
“That’s nice, but think about what action is being performed.”
He didn’t care. He didn’t want to play. He hated advertising, marketing, commercialism. And at once before answering he saw her point and that realization held his breath in check. Of course, she was right. But he wouldn’t admit it to her. Her little demonstration, this act of hers, was just that. Something out of a bad soap opera. “It’s just pop. Red white and blue. Go USA. Whatever.”
“No. It’s more than that. It’s a tennis ball getting hit by the racket at just that point when it twangs! And that matches the fizzy zing of the taste, right?”
He shrugged a little less than he would have if he’d been right. He held the truth of her point, they were very different in how they saw the world. But then, he let it play a little more. “Well, so what? We’re different. That’s a good thing.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t. Just adding a little perspective. Right?”
He threw up his arms. “I get it. I’m fun but I am just fun! No need to think about any future.”
They turned away from one another. Her phone buzzed several times, like large question marks, signifying their own confusion. She didn’t bother to pick it up. He imagined Hudson’s Porsche pulling up beside his building below. Frantically searching for the possible location of her signal. Honing in closer
She spoke first. “Look Sam. Remember when I talked about trust. Its just that for me trust means money. I have to know you have something.”
His stomach tightened and he shook his head in a daze. Inside he felt as if he hardly knew this woman. How could he ever fall in love with a woman so ironically bereft of feminist principles? But had he?
“I know Hudson’s not all that. But at the end of the day I know he will take care of us. And you just don’t have…”
“I make more money than you do.”
“But what do you have to show for it? I can’t live in this tiny place.”
His ears rang. His gut roiled with frustration and anger. What am I thinking here? I’m not thinking. That’s the trouble. He sat up and began sorting through the clothes on the floor, and separating them. A pile for hers and a neat folded pile for his. He could only blame himself. He’d let himself fall in love. It was supposed to stay fun. Light. “In the moment” to coin her favorite phrase.
He heard her sigh and felt her eyes at his back. “Look, we’ve talked about that, Sam. It doesn’t make any sense to tell him now.”
Was Hudson out there, driving smaller and closer circumambulations, trying to get within the few yards to better locate her? Will I put up a fight?, thought Sam. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. The kids. The ones you and Hudson send off to camp for the full summer. That’s ok. You want to spare their feelings, I know.”
“And what the hell does it matter. I know you don’t really love me. Delia. You don’t. You say so when we make love, but you don’t care. Hell, for all I know you probably have other lovers too!”
“Men are such babies. Listen to yourself.” She reached towards him from her kneeling position on the bed, but he jerked away. Then she threw her arms up in the air, “I will think of something. I can say I stopped off at Heather’s. And she went on and on about her divorce again while she was doing the dishes and the signal dropped.”
Was that the building door buzzer ringing? He was finished making the piles. He was wondering if he had been harsh not to fold her clothes too. He started thinking maybe he should, when he felt her hand on his shoulder.
“Come back to me. Let’s have another drink and relax.”
“And your husband?”
“Look, I’m turning the phone off. See?”
“But what will you tell him. Will you? Ever?”
“Now’s not the time for that, lover.” She pulled him back down onto the bed, and climbing on top, lowered her face close to his, her blond mane covering their faces, like they were in a tent of her hair, and no one else could see. But he could see. And now he hoped the footsteps he heard coming down the hall towards them would neither interrupt them nor change anything.
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).
The Radio Show
The couple, in the middle of coupling and half-covered by the sheets, froze.
Paul looked down at Bethany with a raised eyebrow. “That’s my wife, isn’t it?”
She turned her head and looked at the figure standing in the door. She looked back at him and nodded.
Paul sighed and rolled his eyes. “Oh, God.” He disengaged himself and lay down beside her, then rolled onto his back. He looked at his wife. “Listen, sweetie ... I—”
“Sweetie? Sweetie? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Mary strode up to the bed and stared at her friend. “Bethany, how could you?”
“It just happened ...” Bethany glanced at Mary then lowered her gaze.
“It just happened?” Mary’s cheeks reddened as her voice cracked. “Did Paul trip and fall, and by some odd stroke of luck his penis ended up in your vagina?”
She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her cellphone. She fiddled with the interface and pointed it at the bed. The device made a noise mimicking the sound of a camera shutter as the flash lit up the area.
“What are you doing?” Paul asked. His voice crackled with annoyance.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” She seized the edge of the sheets and swept them down, leaving the couple exposed. She snapped another picture, the flash lighting up the two of them lying side by side, nude.
Bethany cried out and attempted to cover herself with her hands.
Startled, Paul exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing?” He glared at his wife while reaching down to pull the sheets back up over Bethany and himself.
Mary stopped looking at the phone and regarded her husband. “What am I doing? Paul, you’re having sex with another woman in our bed. Our bed. Shouldn’t the question be directed to you? What the hell are you doing? What the hell were you thinking?” She put her phone back in her coat pocket.
Paul looked puzzled. “Why are you here?” he asked. “Is there a problem? Did you have an accident?”
Mary smirked. “No accident, Paul. No problem at all other than your own stupidity. You yourself told me to come home, so I did.” She walked out of the bedroom. Bethany sobbed as Paul stared after his wife.
Paul glanced at the clock. “You’d better get going. You never know if there will be a traffic jam or not.”
Mary drank the last of her coffee and stood up. She paused, looking at the dishes left on the table.
Paul smiled. “I’ll take care of everything. You get out of here.” He stood up and cleared the table, piling their plates beside the sink.
She opened her briefcase and checked her materials. “This is a slog in the evening, but only two more courses and I get my MBA. All right! Better position, more money. This is so going to be worth it.”
She kissed her husband. He put his arm around her waist and kissed her back, deeply. Then he smiled and said, “Go get ’em, tiger.”
“I won’t be home until eleven.”
“I’ll be here.”
It took ten minutes to get on the parkway, then Mary had twenty-five minutes to her exit to the university. In the middle lane, she set the car on cruise control. After daydreaming for a few minutes she switched on the radio and tuned in to a local radio station. The dinner-hour show discussed the issues of the day through interviews with various experts. She adjusted the volume.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. In just a moment we’ll be talking with Dr. Clive Martin, professor of economics at Hopewell University, about how the financial crisis in Europe affects our own situation and how the cost of consumer goods will rise as a result over the next year. But first, let’s turn our attention to the next possible winner of our weekly jackpot.”
Mary perked up. The radio station ran a contest in which listeners filled out a form online, and the station chose one entrant at random to phone at home and ask a skill-testing question. Mary had started listening to the show regularly because of her commute, so she had entered herself and Paul in the contest. The jackpot was only a couple hundred bucks, but it was better than a kick in the pants, as her father used to say.
“So let’s see ... who’s going to be a lucky participant tonight?” There was a drum roll followed by the crash of a cymbal. “Paul and Mary Douglas of Depew!” Mary cried out and turned up the volume.
“Let’s give these folks a call and see if they can answer tonight’s question.” Mary could hear the ringing of a phone, and imagined her husband running to answer. There was an audible click of a receiver being picked up.
“Hello?” Mary gripped the steering wheel tightly. It was the voice of a woman. Had the station dialed the wrong number?
“I’d like to speak to Mary Douglas,” the announcer said.
“Ah, she’s not here.”
There was the distinct sound of the phone being fumbled. Although not as loud as the woman’s, a man’s voice could now be heard. Paul’s voice. “Bethany, come back to bed.” There was more fumbling, then somebody hung up the phone.
The announcer chuckled. “Well, it would seem that our caller has a much more pressing engagement to consider. In fact, our couple may have already hit the jackpot. Let’s take a commercial break, and when we return, we’ll talk with Professor Martin of Hopewell University.”
Mary gazed at the road. What the heck? Did that just happen? This couldn’t be true. Bethany? Her Bethany? Her neighborhood friend who lived two doors down?
Mary drove on, mulling over her options. When she saw the sign indicating the next exit, she made up her mind. She would go home and see what was going on in her absence. It was time for Paul to answer a skill-testing question.
Edward Daniel Hunt has a B.S. from the University of New Haven and a M.S. from Lesley University . Encouraged to write by college professors he attempted to do so throughout his twenties and thirties. Widowed young with children to raise his writing got sidetracked.
He is back to writing with an urgency that wasn't present before. Much of his early work and social life was spent in the bars and restaurants he writes about.
Ten years ago…
Ricky felt like he was crawling out of his skin. He was bouncing off his seat, impatient and ready to make this thing happen. He kept pulling his Smith and Wesson out of his pocket and aiming it out the window at passing cars. He had ingested Meth and Adderall and his head was in fast
forward, ready to explode. The utility van was moving slowly down the street and was almost to the hospital. His brother Larry was driving and seemed to be calm and focused. His brother was ok with simple tasks but couldn’t handle anything too complicated. His brother was calm because he wasn’t capable of thinking about what came next. He needed to concentrate on his driving.
Ricky had a song playing over and over in his head. A speeded up version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals. What do they call that? A head worm? No, no, an ear worm. It was an old sixties song. Something about not being understood and that he wasn’t any different than everybody else. The song spoke to him, tomorrow he would share it with Marcy. She’d get it. He looked over at his cousin Tommy. Tommy was also calm in spite of what was about to happen. Tommy never showed any emotion unless he got angry and lost control, which was often.
“Not this parking lot, the physician’s lot in back near the ER. “ This was the first time Tommy had spoken in fifteen minutes. Ricky resented Tommy telling his brother what to do. It was Ricky’s plan. His idea. He was running things.
Larry had found the parking lot but didn’t know what to do. The parking lot had a gate and you needed an ID card to get it to open.
“Just go around and over the curb. “ Ricky said this loudly wanting to take back control. Larry managed to do this with a scraping of the undercarriage. At three am, there were only a few cars remaining in the parking lot. “Ok, Ok. “ Ricky was pointing. “Park next to that BMW, yeah right there, no, no, on the left side. Good.” The song seemed to be playing louder in Ricky’s head. Like the song said he didn’t mean to do bad things, sometimes things just happened. It wasn’t that unusual, everyone has problems.
Dr. Eric Jameson was running on empty. He had just gotten to sleep when he got the call from the hospital to come in and assist a colleague with surgery related to a multi car accident. He wasn’t on call tonight but he responded without complaint. There were children involved and he was beginning to build a reputation that this was his forte. Surgery had gone long and had been complicated. Tired and distracted, he didn’t even notice the dark colored utility van parked next to him in the nearly empty physician’s parking lot. If he did, he would of thought it looked out of place. It happened fast. He had just unlocked the car door. He heard the sliding door of the van open and he was grabbed from behind by at least two sets of arms and something was shoved over his head. His attaché was yanked from his hand.
Shit! Tommy knew it was a mistake the minute the sliding door closed. His cousin Ricky, still high and hyper, was screaming at the guy after throwing him down on the van’s floor. “Stay down, Stay down, or you’re gonna get hurt!! I’ll blow your fucking head off! Since the guy wasn’t moving, Tommy didn’t see the need to be screaming and adding to the confusion. Larry floored it, with screeching tires, out of the parking lot.
“Hey, Asshole, slow down! You don’t have to effin’ announce we just did something stupid and you can take off your mask!” Larry didn’t say anything but Ricky spoke up. “This isn’t stupid, it’s going down just the way I planned!”
Planned! Tommy was about to respond but Larry had slowed down so he let it go. He took off his own Spiderman mask. Ricky had got the rubber masks at the Party Store and Tommy thought they were pretty dumb. Ricky was wearing a superman mask and Larry and Bozo the Clown. Tommy had a headache and was coming down from a combination of pills and alcohol. Even high, he didn’t think it was much of a plan. Up until now most of their crap was penny ante; break-ins and ripping off drug dealers. Kidnapping a doctor had to be a big deal. When he said as much to Ricky earlier, that this was probably a federal offense, Ricky dismissed it like he didn’t know what he was talking about. We’re not going across state lines, he said, like that made the difference. Larry had nodded in agreement as usual, always taking his brother’s lead. It was no secret that Larry was close to being retarded. He was huge and incredibly strong but he was afraid of Ricky and Tommy. They both had reputations of being crazy and unpredictable. Ricky was a little crazy and was always ready to prove it. Tommy wasn’t really crazy, he just had a bad temper. At twenty two, Ricky was three years older than Tommy and Larry, and thought he was the informal leader of the guys they hung out with. Tommy was the only one whoever challenged him but for the most part they left each other alone. Tommy didn’t have any interest in being in charge but he didn’t want to put up with any bullshit either. Ricky tolerated Tommy but just barely. Tommy was family and pretty much fearless.
Ricky had come up with the idea last night. They were all wasted and Tommy agreed to grab some Doc out of the hospital’s parking lot. The plan was to get him to sign some scripts and go fill them at the all night pharmacy in Dedham. Then they could dump the doc somewhere tied up, where he’d be found the next day. Ricky said they should all be carrying to scare the doc and just in case.
Ricky had his Smith and Wesson he had got off a drug dealer they had robbed a few months ago. Tommy had a Glock he had bought on the street last year with a homemade silencer made out of a flashlight. He had fired the gun a couple of times in the woods near Blue Hill and it seemed to work alright. Not completely silent but pretty quiet. Larry, clueless as usual, showed up with a twelve gauge shot gun he had bought at Walmart’s, declaring, “We may need something a little heavier if we get into trouble.” Ricky had just started laughing while Tommy just said “Fuck” which led Larry to believe he had made the right choice.
Ricky had tied the doc’s arms behind him and was still screaming at him. The doc kept pleading, “Let me go, please let me go, I won’t tell anyone!” Ricky responded by hitting and kicking him.
Tommy was sweating profusely and his head was pounding thinking about all the things that could go wrong. They were almost back to the house off Washington Street where they decided they would take him.
It was an abandoned house behind two burned out three-deckers on Washington Street. The house backed up to the railroad tracks and there were some vacant industrial buildings on the other side. For Jamaica Plain it was about as isolated as it gets.
Lori woke up to her mother’s angry voice screaming at her father. He must have just gotten home. Her mother‘s voice was getting louder. “You spent your whole fragging’ paycheck, didn’t you asshole and I can smell her on you!”
Lori couldn’t make out her father’s response, it wasn’t very loud and his words were slurred. “I’m a bitch? I’ll show you who’s a bitch. If you were even half a man that‘d be something! You never had any balls, just like my father, a worthless drunk!” Her mother was loud and clear.
Lori tried covering her ears but it didn’t make a difference. She knew what was coming next. Her mother would start breaking and throwing things at her father, pushing him until she got a response. He would take so much and then start whacking her mother back. Her mother seemed to get off on it. More than once she had done it in public or picked a fight with some other guy and dragged her father into it. Lori could feel herself tense as something crashed against the wall and her father’s voice got louder and angrier. Lori had learned the hard way to stay out of it. Either or both wouldn’t hesitate to drag her into it when they were like this. It wouldn’t be the first time she had ended up with a black eye or a bloody nose. Her father was always sorry the next day but her mother would never admit to doing anything wrong.
Lori dressed quickly just wanting to get away before it escalated. She headed down the back stairs, quietly closing the door behind her. It was the middle of the night and she hadn’t really given any thought to where she was going. Her aunt lived nearby and would let her stay there but her aunt would be very upset and it could possibly trigger one of her panic attacks. She loved her aunt and didn’t want to put her through it. With no better options she decided to head over to the all night diner near the T Station. She might even run into someone she knew or her boyfriend Tommy or some of their crowd.
She loved Tommy but sometimes was a little scared of him. At first she felt safe with him. People would leave her alone because of her status as his girlfriend. She was well aware of his temper but so far it was never really directed towards her. He could be a little rough at times, grabbing her arm to get her attention or pulling on her when he wanted to get going but that was it. He loved her and could be extremely sweet at times too. That was a side of him that only she got to see.
She had only gone three blocks when a dark colored, windowless van approached slowly from the other direction. She was immediately nervous. She tried to make herself inconspicuous by crouching next to a parked car. As the van went by she a got a look at the driver’s face. It was Larry. Relieved, she waved and started to call out but the van was already past her and headed down the street. She stared after it wondering what Larry was doing driving a van. She wished she had got his attention. He would know where Tommy would be. As she was watching, the van turned into a driveway between two boarded up, burnt out apartment buildings. She remembered Tommy saying something about partying in one of those houses a while back.
They had just gotten into the house and down into the cellar when Ricky shoved the Doc towards an old sofa with ripped cushions and unidentifiable stains. “Sit down, sit the fuck down!” With his hands tied and his head covered the doc sort of stumbled into the sofa and ended up leaning sideways, half on and half off. “Look in his bag.”
Tommy was already rifling through the bag and he really didn’t need to be told what to do. “No pain pills, these look like some sort of antibiotics. Here’s his pad.” Tommy held up the script pad and Ricky grabbed it.
“Good, good, ok, now you are going to do some writing!” Ricky had brought a pen with him which surprised Tommy. They all had their masks on again, which were hot and uncomfortable. Larry kept bitching that it itched.
“I’m going to untie your hands and take the bag off your head, but you get any ideas, your brains will be spread out all over the room.” Ricky shoved the pen and pad in his hands. “We want oxies, any pain killers, but only good stuff. If you look up I’m going to blow your fucking head off!”
The doc started writing but he was shaking so bad it looked like scribbling. The doc kept repeating, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it.” Ricky kept pushing the gun into his head and screaming at him to shut up. Larry was bitching about being itchy. Tommy’s headache was getting worse, he wished they’d all shut up.
“Put that fucking thing back on!!” Ricky started screaming at Larry who had taken off his mask and was scratching his neck. All eyes were on Larry, including the doc’s who looked up at the sound of Ricky’s voice.
“Shit, shit, see what you’ve done, you dumb asshole! Now you know what we gotta do? You shithead, he’s seen you!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Larry was just about crying, he could see that his brother was just about to lose it. The doc started screaming. “I didn’t see anything, I didn’t see anything!!”
“Shut up, shut up!!!” Tommy added to the chaos. Things were spiraling out of control and about to get worse. If it got any louder in here, somebody was going to hear them. Instinctively Tommy reacted. He walked over, put the Glock to the doc’s head and pulled the trigger.
Both Ricky and Larry shut up and looked at him. Tommy was looking down at the damage he just did. Tommy was trying to think, to get it back under control.
“Larry, get that carpet over there, we’ll wrap him in that” Larry could always take direction and began moving towards the carpet. A choking sound from the stairs made them all turn and look. Lori was standing there with an expression of horror and fear, and something else on her face. She was shaking and whimpering, making sounds like some small animal in pain.
Ricky was the first to react. “Jesus, this is just what we fucking need! We’re screwed! Your fucking girlfriend! Did you tell her about this?
Tommy was about to lose it again and it showed on his face.” I didn’t tell anyone nothing so shut the fuck up, I’ll deal with it! She won’t tell anyone. Help Larry get rid of the body, make sure the van is clean when you dump it, don’t screw this up!”
Ricky started to say something but thought better of it looking at Tommy. He started helping Larry. The Animal’s song had started playing in his head again.
Tommy’s anger and panic had been replaced with something else, an overwhelming sadness. He knew that killing the doc was bad but he felt worse about Lori. Looking at Lori he knew it would never be the same. He put his arms around her and awkwardly tried to comfort her. Over and over he kept repeating, “it’ll be alright, Lori, it’ll be alright. We had to do it, we had to do it.”
Mary Marie [Lori Doyle]
“Marie, pick up!” After more than three years of being Mary Marie, she still wasn’t used to it and she wondered what her aunt would think. Mary Marie Bennett had been her cousin whose short, miserable life had ended at the age of four. Lori had been two when she died and she had no real memories of her cousin. She felt she did from her aunt constantly showing her baby pictures and repeating the same sad stories about poor Mary Marie’s suffering. She had been born with some sort of heart defect that required multiple surgeries. Her Aunt Emily had never been the same. Her father had said his sister was always quiet and somewhat of an introvert but after losing her only child she had become a recluse. Some said her aunt was a little crazy. Lori didn’t care. She loved her soft spoken aunt who always was kind to her. Being at her aunt’s quiet, peaceful house was the complete opposite of the turmoil at home.
As she got older Lori went over and tried to help her aunt. She had found her dead cousin’s birth certificate and social security number mixed in with a lot of other papers in some dusty boxes in her aunt’s cobwebbed attic. She decided it was a sign, a chance for a different life. She often thought about her aunt. She liked to think that her aunt would be happy about her taking her cousin’s name, another chance for Mary Marie.
She had been working at the restaurant for a little more than three years and was beginning to think she might also have a chance, a chance for a normal life and a chance for her daughter. Marie liked waitressing. She could make more money waitressing than anything else she could do. She worked hard and was a good waitress. Being bright and attractive with a sense of humor didn’t hurt either. She had thought about going to college right after high school and had taken a few courses at Bunker Hill Community College but that abruptly ended after marrying Tommy at the age of eighteen. Tommy thought school was a waste of time. Back then, she still loved him or thought she did even though he had begun to be abusive, slapping her as a way to end arguments. She was never a doormat and always tried to fight back but at five foot two she was never a match for his six feet four. He was always sorry the next day but she got tired of hearing it, it was her father all over again. After a while, whatever they had going was long gone. She eventually became pregnant and he was busted for the jewelry robbery and began serving time with the rest of his family members.
She wasn’t the same after she had the baby. She couldn’t change the past and she couldn’t forget what happened but the baby was now her number one priority. What she really wanted was for her daughter to be safe and loved and not to grow up the way she did.
Marie was really in a much better place. Her elderly landlord Aggie was more like a grandmother than a landlord. Aggie insisted on babysitting Jessica when Marie was at work and wouldn’t let Marie pay her. Aggie also encouraged her to get out more, to make friends and to start dating. Marie had taken some tentative steps in that direction. She had become friends with one of her coworkers, Susan, who was also a single mother. They would often schedule play dates and hang out at the beach together.
At her friend’s urging she had even joined the group of employees that went across the street after work to the Banana Boat for last call. The Banana Boat had a late night license and music and she was beginning to look forward to this weekly ritual. She was beginning to feel like she almost had a life.
Guys hit on her, both at work and when she went to the Banana Boat. No surprise. Marie was pretty, with curves without being curvy. There were always a few possibilities but she was being cautious. She still had nightmares of some of the senseless acts of violence she had witnessed. It had never been diagnosed as PTSD but she was pretty sure she had some form of it. She felt guilty for not going to the police or doing something. It wouldn’t have changed anything and most likely she’d be in trouble too. Tommy was always talking about taking care of the “loose ends.” If not by Tommy, then by someone in his family. As far as she knew, Tommy, his father, uncle and cousin were all still in prison but they still knew a lot of people and could still get to her. She had Jessica to think about now. She wasn’t about to do anything that put her daughter at risk. Almost four she was Marie’s greatest accomplishment, actually her only accomplishment.
“Marie, pick up.”
She hurried back to the kitchen with a tray full of dirty dishes. It was Saturday night and they were getting slammed. It didn’t help that the kitchen was struggling because of a cook calling out and one of the two remaining cooks being brand new. Danny, the experienced cook was busting his hump trying to keep up.
“Don’t get your panties in a knot. I’m here.” Marie said this smiling and Danny smiled back.
“I’m drowning here, are they still coming in? I don’t have any more room under the heat lamps.”
“Here, I’ll take mine and I can take Susan’s too. Where’s Bill?” the assistant manager usually jumped in to help.
“Stuck in the bar, they’re six deep.”
“”Just think how good that cold beer at the Banana Boat is going to taste.”
“Can we go now?”
Marie laughed at that on her way out of the kitchen. She liked Danny. He was kind of quiet but always friendly and easy to work with. He was single and from somewhere down south.
They finished closing in record time and a large group of them headed across the street. They needed two large tables to accommodate them. Marie was left wondering if it was by chance or by design that Danny ended up sitting beside her.
There wasn’t any live music tonight but there was a pretty good DJ playing a lot of popular music. Some of the waitresses got up to dance. A guy came across the room and asked Marie to dance but she said no. Danny seemed glad she said no and asked her: “Don’t you dance?”
Marie raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Not with strangers.”
Danny laughed and took her hand. “Come on, let’s dance.”
Joining the others on the dance floor, Marie was feeling good. It had been a very long time since she had danced with anyone. The song playing was a fast one, something by Kelly Clarkson called “Stronger” that she could identify with. Danny seemed to be into it too. The song ended and was immediately followed by something slow; the Meghan Trainor/John Legend duet “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” They stood there awkwardly for a moment until Marie smiled and said this is one of her favorite songs. Danny smiled back at her and they came together and began swaying to the music. Marie put her head on his shoulder and couldn’t help thinking that she couldn’t remember the last time she felt this good.
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Ernie’s Bar and Restaurant. Ernie was long dead but Billy, the current owner, was too cheap to change the sign. There wasn’t any restaurant either, the only food being served were pickled eggs from a gallon jar or stale packages of peanuts, chips, and candy from a temperamental vending machine. Just off Washington Street, near the Roxbury line, the place was a dive, with a 12 stool bar on the left, a few mismatched tables and chairs on the right, and a solitary pool table in back. A faded Patriots banner and a calendar with topless women hung behind the bar. Someone had disfigured the women with a black magic marker to add to the ambience. The only concession made in recent years was satellite radio playing in the background, always on the oldie stations or country.
Red Bryant nursed his second beer and contemplated if he was going to be able to get by this month on his social security and what he made at his part-time job on the overnight shift at the gas station in Roxbury. He hated the job but needed it. It was strictly self-serve and the attendant was locked up in a small booth with bulletproof glass. Customers slid their money through a metal drawer.
He stayed locked in the booth all night, pissing in a jar if he had to. He wasn’t supposed to have it, but he brought to work an old Citadel 45 he had bought on the street years ago. The guy he got it from said he got it in the Philippines. Red kept it in good working order. Having it made him feel safer. The neighborhood was always rough but now it was a war zone.
He was just scraping by. Most of the time he sat on the same bar stool, thinking of all the things that should have been different. Friends and jobs lost. Opportunities passed by and all the mistakes made.
In recent years he wasn’t drinking as much. Not really sure why, most likely because he was rid of his toxic ex-wife. He still thought about her constantly and his three grown kids. Mostly he thought about what a mess he had made of it. Dottie, his ex-wife was no big loss, she could give as well as she got. She had taken off for New Jersey with one of her boyfriends after getting jammed up over some missing money she took from another boyfriend.
When she left, she took their 28-year-old special needs son with her, mostly so she could keep collecting his disability check. They had been gone for a long time but Red still missed the boy. His older son was still around but wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
Most of all, he missed his daughter Lori. As the youngest, she was the most damaged by the shit storm he and Dottie created. She ended up with a loser who she eventually married and got pregnant by before he went off to prison. A few years ago, she divorced him. Then she just disappeared without a trace. No one seemed to know anything. He always thought it had to have something to do with her low life ex but he didn’t have any real proof. She had a baby girl that Red had never seen and probably never would. He couldn’t prove it but he had a sickening feeling that she was dead. Not much hurt him anymore, but thinking of her did. If he could ever be forgiven for the damage he did to his children he would willingly take whatever punishment he had coming. His daily life was already his penance.
“Red do you want another beer?” Billy had moved down to his end of the bar and had already started pouring him another draft before he answered. Everyone still called him Red though it had been a long time since his hair had been anything else but white. He still had hair that was something.
“Yeah, and give AJ one,” Red responded tilting his head to the man sitting three stools down. He didn’t expect a response from AJ and was surprised when AJ lifted his glass in a salute. AJ was a guy that most people avoided. He was huge, well over 400 pounds with scars on his face and hands from way too many barroom brawls to ever remember. He had done a stretch at Walpole for manslaughter. He rarely said anything or smiled which added to everyone else’s discomfort. It was rumored that he was connected but Red never believed that. He knew AJ was for hire and did some freelance work, but he was too unstable to be on anybody’s regular payroll. He turned and started watching the two guys playing pool, more as a distraction than from any real interest.
The front door opened bringing in the sounds and smells of the city and also one of the last people Red wanted to see. His chest tightened as he got to his feet, he knew this was trouble.
“Where the fuck is she, old man?” His ex-son-in-law looked older, maybe a little less crazy, but no smarter.
“Even if I had a clue, you’d be the last piece of shit I’d tell.” Red hid his surprise. Maybe she was alive. He started getting his hopes up.
“I’ve got no patience, you know me. You’re going to get hurt if you don’t give me something.”
“You also got no brains, numb nuts, if you think she would be confiding in me where she was going”
Tommy started moving forward, he was never much for discussion. There was a scrape of barstools and AJ was standing by Red’s side and the two pool players moved over still clutching their pool sticks.
Tommy hesitated, he wasn’t afraid but he wasn’t foolish. He knew AJ by reputation and the two clowns with pool sticks looked like they were going to jump in.
Tommy snorted. “Don’t think these assholes are going to save your sorry ass if I find out you know anything”. With that, he turned and walked out.
Red let his breath out slowly and turned to the bartender who still had one hand under the bar clutching his nightstick. ”Billy, give the boys a round.”
Tommy sat in his mother’s beat up Toyota Camry and slowly breathed in and out. Four years of being locked up was a long time and he was now realizing how little he knew about Lori’s life on the outside before she disappeared. He didn’t expect to get much from her old man but he was still angry about how it went down. He was running out of people who might know something. He had been out a week and he had nothing. Lori had rarely come to see him after the baby was born, and when she did, all she talked about was the baby. It got old. It had gotten a little tense the last time she had visited with him telling her things were going to be different when he got out. Well, it was different. She was gone.
Lori, it hurt to think about Lori. He kept thinking about the beginning when she was fifteen and he was eighteen, and how good it was and how good she looked. He loved her. He should never have started hitting her. Whatever they had really fell apart after that.
As he got older and started doing jobs with his father and uncle, it got even more complicated. His father ran things and didn’t trust anybody. Especially girlfriends. He married Lori partially to get his father off his back. Now with Lori’s disappearance his father was worried she was talking to someone. Could be the Feds or even somebody local. His father was becoming really paranoid and kept telling Tommy he needed to take care of it or he would. He didn’t know if it was just speculation or his father knew someone was talking and he had a real reason to suspect Lori.
Tommy didn’t know what to think. He didn’t even know how he felt about her. Was she talking to someone? He didn’t want to hurt her but all bets were off if she wouldn’t listen to him.
Tommy headed north. Someone had told him that his late cousin’s girlfriend was working in a massage parlor in Kittery, Maine. At one time Marcy and Lori had been pretty tight so maybe she knew something.
Crossing the bridge into Maine, he didn’t have any problem finding the place right below the bridge and on the water. The New England Athletic Club and Gentleman’s Retreat was behind an out of business restaurant and down some stairs. He took a couple of deep breaths. He didn’t want trouble, just some information. He wanted to talk to Marcy and get the hell out of there.
Walking in he was greeted by a fat guy with slicked back hair sitting behind a desk.
“How can I help you?”
The prices and services were listed on a sign on the wall. Tommy reached in his pocket and pulled out three twenties. “Just a 45 minute Swedish.”
“Sure, straight down the hall to the lounge. Pick out a girl and she’ll show you where everything is.”
Something buzzed and the door unlocked and Tommy made his way the down the hall. The lighting was minimal when he came into the lounge and mostly provided by a large screen television with the volume turned down low. Eight or nine “girls,” though he thought that was a stretch for a few of them that seemed to be in their forties, were sitting on armless sofas around the room. All were wearing skimpy negligees showing a lot of skin. One older guy was sipping what looked like orange juice and looking around nervously.
Two girls jumped up when he entered the room. “Can we get you a drink? Juice? Soda? Water?”
Jumping up the smaller of the pair’s boobs fell out of her negligee which was way too big for her to begin with. She smiled unfazed, tucking them both back in. Before he could answer, a door opened and another girl came into the room. It was Marcy. Surprise and fear showed on her face.
“You’ll do.” Before she could say anything he had her by the arm leading her back out the door she came in. The other girls immediately lost interest and went back and sat down.
The door closed behind them to the lounge. They were alone in a locker room, complete with showers, a hot tub and a steam room.
“Not bad. Better than I expected.”
“It really used to be a men’s club, went broke. What are you doing here Tommy?” She was afraid of what the answer might be. She hated Tommy but was smart enough to be afraid of him at the same time. She hated him for what he did to her boyfriend Ricky, Tommy’s cousin. Ricky had been dead almost six years from a drug overdose but she still blamed Tommy for Ricky getting so screwed up. When they were young, Ricky had always been the leader of the crowd they hung out with but as they got older it changed. Tommy just kind of took over.
Tommy was looking her over. Marcy was never what you’d call pretty but she had a body that made you forget her face.
‘Relax, Marcy. Just looking for information.”
She handed him a towel. “You need to change.”
Tommy smiled. “Sure, Marcy. You know I want my money’s worth.”
She wasn’t smiling but pointed to the lockers. He found one unlocked and began to get undressed. She stood there watching him.
“Good thing I’m not shy, Marcy.”
“Just hurry up, I don’t want to get in trouble.”
He followed her down another corridor and into the last room on the left. She closed the door behind them. “We need to keep our voices down. The walls are thin.” She was speaking barely above a whisper.
“Sure.” He dropped his towel and lay face down on the massage table. She hesitated and then reluctantly began rubbing him down.
“Where is she, Marcy?”
“Lori? Tommy, if I knew I’d tell you. Shit, I haven’t seen her in years. After you went away, she stayed away. Especially after she had the baby. I’d see her on the street once in a while but that was it. We’d make small talk, you know, the baby’s getting big, we need to get together. It never happened. Really.”
Tommy started to tense when she began talking but the more she talked the more he believed her. She knew better than to lie to him.
“That’s all you got?”
“The only thing I’ve heard since, and I heard it second hand, so take it for what it’s worth. JoJo’s cousin, you know the skinny one? She told JoJo that she ran into Lori in a club in Portland, in the Old Port. She was waiting tables. That was a few months after she left. I don’t know if it’s true or bullshit.”
“No, Oregon. Of course, Maine.”
Tommy’s look was enough to make most people wet their pants.
“Jesus, Tommy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be joking about this,”
Tommy grabbed her breast and squeezed hard. “Do you think that was funny? Do you think it’ll be funny if I find out you know something else?”
Looking at her, he could see she was about to lose it. She made some sort of choking sound. Tears were streaming down her face. He knew he needed to back off. He let go and took several deep breaths.
“Hey, if you aren’t holding out, you got nothing to worry about!”
She stared at his face for a long moment and finally stopped crying.
“Good.” Tommy smiled at her and she hesitantly smiled back. He pushed her head down into his crotch, “Now you can finish what you started.”
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
It had been more than five weeks since Red’s confrontation with his ex-son in law but it still bothered him. He had heard from several sources that Tommy was still around and still asking about Lori. Tommy was bad news, all the Doyles were bad news. For whatever the reason Tommy was looking for Lori; whether it was to get her back or to pay her back, it could only end badly for Lori.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Lori. It was stuck in his head that he had to do something. After all the times in the past that he had failed her, he wanted to at least warn her.
He had started asking around. Nobody had heard from her at the restaurant where she had used to work. He had called his oldest son but his son had just hung up. He had tracked down a few of her girlfriends but they didn’t have anything. Several more people told him that Tommy had been around asking.
Tommy knew more people that knew Lori and had a better chance of making them talk. Red decided to start following Tommy whenever he could. He borrowed an old black Impala from a friend and began tailing Tommy. Some days he lost him or couldn’t find him to start. Tommy didn’t go home every night. Red did the best he could hoping he’d be there when Lori needed him. Maybe if Tommy found out where she worked or lived, Red could get there first.
Mary Marie [Lori]
Somehow they had become a couple. Nothing had ever been said. Danny without asking began giving her rides home from work on the shifts they worked together. Then he started picking her up on the way to work saying it really wasn’t out of his way. He didn’t have an explanation when he started giving her rides on days when he wasn’t scheduled. The first day he just showed up and Marie grinned at him. He sheepishly smiled back. She started doing things for him too when she could; cooking him dinner and mending a rip in his jacket.
The clincher was how he treated Jessica, always including her when he asked Marie out to eat or to a movie. They had seen a lot of children’s movies and also gone to an amusement park in Saco. He was always patient with Jessica, answering all her questions and admiring her art work.
Marie told Danny more about Tommy than she had told anyone else since moving to Maine. She told him Tommy was in prison. She also told him she had witnessed things she shouldn’t have and left it at that. Danny could see how much it upset her just to talk about it. To his credit he didn’t make light of it or tell her not to worry. He’d hold her close and tried to comfort her the best he could. The first night they slept together had been awkward but still good. It had been a long time for her but it did make her feel safe having Danny lying next to her. The second time was better. He started by kissing her breasts and working his way down. She returned the favor. It wasn’t awkward after that.
Tommy was never one of those guys with a plan and he was losing the little patience he had. He was pretty sure Lori was working at a restaurant near the Maine Mall. A waitress at a club on the waterfront recognized Lori’s picture and told him she had worked with her at the restaurant. The waitress called her Marie and Tommy didn’t correct her. He had found the restaurant without much trouble and without much thought he had gone right in and asked a bartender if she was working. She wasn’t and he was disappointed but after thinking about it he thought it would be better if he followed her to someplace where they could talk or he could just grab her and go if need be.
Tommy didn’t want to hurt Lori. He was really hoping he could get her to come back with him without using force. He could then try to work out something with his father. That was about as much of a plan as he had come up with. After several days of watching the restaurant he had spotted Lori coming out of the restaurant one afternoon but she got into a car with another waitress. He followed at a safe distance but was disappointed when the other waitress followed Lori into a house. He waited around a while but the other waitress didn’t come out and Tommy really wanted to catch Lori alone.
Today he headed directly to the house. He didn’t notice the black Impala following him. Red had been tailing Tommy for eight or nine days and based on Tommy’s repeated visits to Maine, Red felt he must know something.
It was a little after nine when Tommy reached the house and went directly to the back door that he had seen Lori entering. He jimmied the lock in less than a minute and walked in, catching them completely by surprise. Jessica who had been eating cereal at a small table jumped up screaming and ran to her mother standing at the sink.
“Shut her up, Lori, or I will.” Tommy had crossed the room and grabbed Lori by the arm.
“Let me go, Tommy, now! You’re scaring her! What the hell are you doing here? You need to leave!” Lori was scared for her daughter and scared for herself, you could hear it in her voice.
“You’re coming with me, one way or the other, give me a hard time and it will only get worse!”
“It’s not happening, not back to that shit life and you shouldn’t want it for your daughter either!” Lori had pulled away from him and had wrapped her arms around Jessica who was shaking and crying. “Look what you’re doing to her!”
“You’ve got to come back and convince my father you’re not talking to the Feds or anyone else. It’s the only way to work it out.”
“Tommy, it’s been more than three years. If I was talking to someone, you’d know about it by now. Do you really think I’d risk it? Do that to Jessica?”
Listening to her, Tommy believed her but it didn’t matter, he had to take her back. He was getting more frustrated and angry. “Look, if that’s true you can come back and we’ll straighten it out. Now! Let’s go!”
“I’m not going with you, no matter what. Leave us alone!”
Tommy raised his fist to hit her but looking at her face he instead flipped the kitchen table over scattering and breaking dishes and Jessica’s doll that was sitting at the table. The doll’s head came off and Jessica cried out and ran to the doll. Crying she started rocking the headless doll back and forth.
“If you don’t come back, all bets are off. I can’t help you!”
A door opened at the top of the stairs and Aggie, her landlord, was standing there holding an old hunting rifle. She had it pointed at Tommy. “You’d better leave, I know how to use this. I’ve called 911 and the police are coming!”
Tommy looked at the old lady and then looked back at Lori and then let out a long breath. “It’s not over, Lori. You know it’s not.”
Tommy stormed out. He was in his car and taking off, not looking back.
Red watching didn’t know what to do. This could be where Lori lived. He started to get out of the car and stopped when he saw Lori come out of the house with a little girl, followed by an elderly woman holding a rifle. Red was overcome with relief. Lori and his granddaughter were still okay. He could hear sirens. He started the car and headed back to the highway following Tommy.
Back on 95 heading south Tommy was beside himself, angry and upset and sad, all at the same time. He should have just grabbed her and took off but it was complicated by Jessica and the old lady. He should have thought it through better. Now what. It was just a matter of time before his father found out. Then nobody would be able to protect Lori. He hoped she’d take off again.
He was driving way too fast and couldn’t concentrate. He needed to think this through. He pulled into a rest stop and parked away from most of the cars.
Red had trouble keeping Tommy in sight, Tommy was doing eighty or more most of the way. Red was speeding too and worried about getting stopped. He had his unregistered Citadel 45 in his lunchbox on the seat next to him. He was glad when Tommy finally slowed down and took the exit for the rest stop. Red was relieved and grateful that no harm had come to Lori and Jessica but he knew it was also just a matter of time. It had to end.
Tommy was just sitting in his car. Red parked two cars behind him. Red opened the lunch box and took out the Citadel 45. He got out and quickly walked up to Tommy’s car. The driver’s side window was down. Tommy looked up at the last moment but it was too late to stop the first bullet from entering his head. The second bullet was aimed in the general area of where his heart should be if he actually had one. Red walked back to his car and slowly drove off. He was surprised at how calm he felt. No regrets. Penance.
Following a degree entitled Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Acting Devised Performance and a year at East 15 Acting School, Victoria Palmer has excelled at having a vast multitude of random and not very well paid jobs. An excellent training for her role as mother to two intrepid, fearless and courageous boys. She regularly sacrifices the house work to hide and have a quiet scribble. Her favourite saying, which resounds throughout her tiny corner of England's Oxfordshire woodlands is, “I’ll be finished in a minute!”
“Elizabeth, can you tell me how you fell?” The question came to me as if from the top of a very long tunnel. I could hear the words echoing down but my brain struggled to connect them to any meaning. My whole body hurt.
“Elizabeth, are you still with me?” The voice echoed persistently like the whine of a mosquito, elusive but highly irritating.
“Ngh!” was all I could manage.
“Elizabeth, the ambulance is almost here. Can you tell me how you fell?”
I felt an irrational rush of anger. Always a fortifying emotion. It can rise above almost anything with enough strength and impetus. I had one pure, lucid moment. I saw the white, anxious face of a man with dark, neat hair and tired eyes. I blinked up at him. What did he want me to say? That I was pushed? That I had felt a hand between my shoulder blades, shove me head long down the escalator? Even in the grips of agony I have enough clarity to know that sounds mad. The airport was practically empty, I was the only one walking to the gate. How could I have been pushed? I looked at the expectant, bloodshot eyes. I can't think what he asked me.
“You look tired,” is all I could manage before the white, hot pain plunged me back under and I was alone again, battling the fire's of hell.
When I woke up, I had to blink several times to adjust to the bright light. The backs of my eyelids sandpapered my eyeballs. I wanted to cry out from the stabbing in my ribs but my lips remained firmly closed, tongue glued to the roof of my mouth, membranes dried out and sticking to each other. Something squeezed my hand.
“Hello, lovey. Awake are you?” It was a deep, husky sound, with coarse vowels and sloppy consonants but beautifully filled my barren senses. I clung to the hand on mine and my eyes hungrily searched for the voice. She was the opposite to me; short and stocky, her hair a brassy blond and mouth turned up in a perpetual smile. I blinked at her yearning deep in my breast for her to cradle me like a baby to her ample bosom.
“How's the pain?” I had forgotten for a few seconds, it returned with a vengeance, knocking the breath out of me. I let out a thin hiss. I tried to mouth, “it hurts” but my mouth was so dry the only sound I made was sticky clicks, from my tongue clinging to my teeth and gums.
She directed a straw to my mouth. I sucked gratefully and soon drained the beaker dry. I closed my eyes, my stomach pleasantly swilling with cool water, mouth and throat lubricated and soothed.
“I'll go and get you something for the pain.” She patted me on my shoulder. I leaned to kiss her hand but had just enough wherewithal to stop myself.
The muffled ring of a mobile phone sounded from somewhere near my left elbow. I twisted towards it, but jerked back as the pain shot up through my ribs. I lay there, propped against the pillow, breathing hard, trying to quell the pain but unable to stop my muscles clutching at it making it worse. The ringing stopped. Gradually I relaxed and the grinding ache became bearable.
It was visiting hours, there were people everywhere. Occasionally I felt a curious glance in my direction. I closed my eyes, the only privacy I could give myself.
An elderly man was lying in the next bed. I turned my head and opened my eyelids a crack to see. The blankets only covered his legs, he was wearing a dressing gown but he hadn't done it up and his pyjama top was undone most of the way. The sight of the white, sagging flesh was distasteful. A young man and woman sat beside him. No one spoke. He just lay there staring at the ceiling whilst the couple looked about the ward, their discomfort so palpable I could feel it.
When the nurse came back I asked if she could find my mobile phone for me. She rummaged gingerly through my bag. It was large, old and full of rubbish. I kept meaning to turn it out but never quite got around to it. I could feel the blood heating my cheeks when she pulled her hand out with a yelp, a sticky sweet stuck to one of her fingers.
“I'm sorry,” I mumbled, mortified. I avoided looking at her, fixing my gaze on the edge of the woman's bed across from me. She was older, sat up, her hair freshly brushed and make-up a little on the heavy side. A young girl sat beside her carefully applying nail polish to her toes. I wiggled mine in response. I never put polish on mine, I'm not sure I could even reach them any more.
“Here you are then.” She tossed my bag back into the cupboard and swung the door shut. She had lost the angelic glow from my first waking. Her skin was lumpy with a shine across her nose and hair like straw.
“Thank you,” my eyes fixed on the phone, waiting for her to go. She did, turning to the next bed and tucking in a loose sheet.
Two missed calls. I called my answer phone.
“Hello, Mrs Peterson. I'm Dorothy Waites. I run Mortan House where your sister is resident. I would appreciate it if you would call me at your earliest convenience."
My mind filled with spleen at the mention of my sister. I was flying to see her last night. She couldn't even be bothered to call and find out where I was. I glared at the phone. Margaret was ten years older than me. Our mother died when we were young, leaving us in the care of a distracted and dispassionate father. I looked to Margaret for love and affection but she was too busy living the high life, getting pregnant and being kicked out of the family home. She blamed me for not standing by her; I was nine. I blame her for being a slut and not staying home at night.
I left the mobile lying on the bedside table and tried to turn my thoughts away from my sister. I had already wasted too much of my life on her. I was injured and entitled to keep my focus to myself. It was a hard fought battle, not to give into the bitter thoughts; years of seeking her approval, desperately chasing her affection but always being let down.
“Good morning, Mrs Peterson. I'm Doctor Lambert.” He was a small, grey man, devoid of personality and bed-side manner. He dealt with me because he must. I was on his list and he must get me off it. My mind drifted in and out of the conversation. He was looking at me expectantly.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“Do you recall the fall?” There was that question again. I scrabbled around in my mind trying to make something up. He waited for an answer. I noticed the fingers of his right hand drumming against his leg.
“No, I'm sorry, it happened so fast. My bag was heavy, perhaps I over-balanced.” I shrugged helplessly. He scribbled some notes onto my chart. I didn't like that. It felt as if I had failed a test I didn't know I was taking.
“Someone will be here to take you up to x-ray shortly.” Before I could acknowledge this, he had slunk away.
A nurse followed hot on his heels with a thermometer. She didn't speak to me at all except to issue terse commands.
“Relax! Don't fidget! Give me your hand! Relax!” She added more notes to my chart. She mumbled something and stood there waiting for a reply. I had no idea what she had said and blinked at her like an owl, mute, wishing I could rotate my head around away from her.
The porter arrived to take me for my x-ray.
The morning passed in short bursts of activity, followed by long stretches of interminable boredom. It was not until they served me an inedible lunch, (cold mashed potato, anaemic baked beans and soggy pastry containing something brown) that I noticed my phone and recollected my sister. I picked it up and was about to dial when a woman started shouting for help.
The elderly man with the naked chest was lying in the bed. Skin, the same greyish white as the sheets, eyes glazed, fixed to the ceiling. The woman by his side was clutching her hands to her chest, sobbing uncontrollably. The phone fell from my hands forgotten. I lay there watching as the drama unfolded before me. Curtains were whipped closed and the woman was led away weeping. When things had calmed, a porter came and wheeled him away, sheet over his face and body.
I quaked inside, shuddering to be so near the cold hand of death. I fell down a flight of escalators with only a few broken ribs to show for it. They were keeping me in for observation, release for good behaviour the next day. It could have been much worse.
I peered through the window at the end of the room. The sun was dipping low in the sky, emitting a pale glow from behind a bank of white cloud. I contemplated taking a turn about the ward, but I was wearing a hospital gown and whilst I had little vanity, I'd enough to prevent me from revealing my backside to any who cared to see it. I remembered the call I needed to make.
I always hired a car and took Margaret out when I visited. A walk by the sea, lunch at the pub followed by a drive. Always the same idle chat for the first hour, silence for the next four, followed by a bitter exchange for the last half an hour. Stiff, tight-lipped farewells. She liked to go out. The message wouldn't be concern for me, she'd just be annoyed I wasn't there with the car.
I sighed and dutifully searched for the number. I tapped my fingers whilst it rang, trying to contain my growing agitation.
“Mrs Peterson, it's Dorothy Waites.” She had a brisk manner. I could imagine her sitting behind her polished mahogany desk, everything in its place, her clothes and hair neat and correct.
“I'm sorry, I haven't been...” She didn't give me the chance to explain my absence.
“I am sorry to inform you your sister passed away sometime last night.” Her tone was matter-of-fact, devoid of any warmth.
“Oh!” My mind ran dry and I opened and closed my mouth like a drowning fish, gulping on air.
“The doctor hasn't signed off on her. It's likely The Coroner's Office will be in touch with you, in the next day or two.” I mumbled something incoherent. “Please accept my condolences.” The line went dead before I could collect myself.
After a time, fragments of thoughts fell into my mind. Nothing solid, nothing I could make sense of. I just sat there, the bright strip lights blotting out the moon. Finally, one thought made it through the jumbled mass. I grasped it hungrily.
“So I was pushed down the escalator,” I muttered to myself. My first reaction was relief, I wasn't going mad. The second, the old bitch just couldn't leave quietly. She always had to have the last word.