Chronicles of Loves Forewarned To Grace Caitlin McClure. Sincerely & Always. @&
“This book is fiction and many things have been changed in fact to try to make it a picture of a true time…”
Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast (Fragments)
“Writers are always selling somebody out…”
Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem
32: Coward She did it. She finally fucking did it. Mallory finally killed herself. What a cunt. She had said too many times that she would do it for her threat to be real. She had said it for the attention, the pity, and some semblance of care. “Teller, I want to fall asleep and never wake up.” There was no mention of dreams or tomorrow. Just letting go. That was nowhere near the divine calls and dirty pleasure of the minutes shared before. Fuck Mallory’s pillow talk. She told me so many times and in so many different ways—she wasn’t supposed to actually go through with it. Para-suicide, they call it in the textbooks: clinical, no real intent, just a death wish with too much self-importance. A girl crying wolf every time for the sake of the attention and the mayhem it causes among those who hear her cry. Mallory was a perfect case of para-suicide. And then she had to fuck up that perfection, taking a leap. What a cunt. What a coward. She escaped this world but left all of her shit behind for somebody else to clean up. Typical Mallory. No note. No goodbye. No tying of loose ends. In the end, her end, just one big knot was left. She knew she would leave everyone in a void, thus pushing everyone’s buttons for one last time. That was the ultimate fuck you to the family she misunderstood, the friends she didn’t want, and the savior she fucked and fended off—-me. I was supposed to save her, yet I never really had a chance as long as that depended on her. She couldn’t handle being saved. Especially not saved by me. What a coward. Things could have been different, if this was really the ending that was coming. Perhaps I could have helped her. Perhaps I could have made those late-night conversations count for something more. I could have been a better influence. I could have been more than a dealer of sedation, seduction, and ennui. Perhaps I could have made Mallory save herself, if she wouldn’t allow anyone else to do it. Perhaps I could have shown her how to feed herself that value for which she was so famished, and which she so ruthlessly defiled. Instead, she was lazy, and chose to sleep forever. She chose silence. That’s how the world works, I guess. The end is always dark. Sometimes it comes as a fade, and others as jarring cut—but it’s always black. Darkness. Nothingness. The abyss looks back at you, waiting for the time you fall, because that time always comes. Always. Mallory knew this. So she took a leap into the abyss. Typical Mallory—defiant, rebellious, choosing to choose her own ending rather than letting it unfold or daring to make any effort. She was too proud to risk failing if she attempted anything else, and she was even lazier about even trying. In the end, the abyss wins. Always. What a coward. Mallory lost. She lost on her own terms, but lost all the same. She had lost herself. She couldn’t be saved because she didn’t want to be saved. She wasn’t calling for help or attention. Hers wasn’t a threat, it was a promise, almost a preview, of what was to come. She was building up to a climax of nothing, circling her own abyss where she would drag everyone she could in order to be right about the world. Even dead and gone, Mallory couldn’t fathom being wrong. But she was wrong. Dead wrong, now dead and wrong. Wrong about herself, about others, and about life. She didn’t value anything, so how could she judge anything at all? She killed herself out of spite rather than to relieve her soul. She didn’t want to fall asleep to find relief. She just wanted to shut her eyes at what others enjoyed. What a coward. Mallory offed herself to shoot everyone down with her. The best revenge will be to do exactly what she hated because she couldn’t do it on her own free will—-to keep on living. The best revenge will be to live and forget. I knew Mallory would fuck everyone like this one day. And she finally picked a day. She picked a fucking Tuesday. There was no suicide note because there was nothing of note. Not for me, at least. Or for Val. We both knew Mallory better than she knew herself—-and she resented us for it. Val will agree: Mallory simply killed herself. That’s all. What a cunt.
33: HeroAngels return to Heaven Demons fall to Hell Go home, Mallory Heroes aren’t from Earth
Many wish to escape darkness You did it, Mallory Many fear the abyss You didn’t Mallory Many try, many fail You succeeded, Mallory
Angels return to Heaven Demons fall to Hell Go home, Mallory Heroes aren’t from Earth
Good night, Mallory Let stillness release you Sleep tight, Mallory Let peace embrace you Well fought, Mallory Don’t let victory betray you
Angels return to Heaven Demons fall to Hell Go home, Mallory Heroes aren’t from Earth
Teller won’t forget how you both used to be Val won’t forgive how you ran away I won’t forgo the chance to sing your hymn
Angels return to Heaven Demons fall to Hell Go home, Mallory Heroes aren’t from Earth
34: MythMallory is gone. So tragic. But good grief. Everybody will feel bad about it. Yet no one should. Mallory couldn’t help herself. No one could help her. No one was supposed to. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. Dead wrong. Teller will feel like shit. Good grief. I was afraid this would happen. Somehow I knew. Mallory was the type. Destructive. Vindictive. Bombastic. Gaslighting everyone even in her death. Such a myth that any of us could have made a difference. Delay, maybe. Push, definitely. No one’s at fault, really. But somehow, we all are. Good grief. The Sunday Brunch Club won’t even talk about this. That’s for sure. We had buried Mallory months before, anyway. She never existed. That’s the nicest thing we can do to her memory. Just forget. I wonder what Scott thinks. He never really met Mallory. But he knew of her. Mallory, the urban legend. Mallory, Teller’s mythical lady dragon to slay. Who would have thought that she complied with that myth, too? Knowing Scott, he sees this as some kind of triumph. Something worthy of a song or anthem. So damn Byronic. Good grief. Teller will be the silent victim. Unless I do something. We can’t let Mallory get away with it. I won’t let her ruin Teller. I never let her before. This is not the time to start. I know a thousand reasons why Teller should feel shitty about himself. Mallory isn’t one of them, dammit. Fuck Mallory. Good grief. She and I were friendly once, but never really friends. That would require trust. Empathy. Humanity. Mallory had none. Some will say she was troubled. That she didn’t mean to do it. A narcissistic sociopath didn’t need saving. She was the trouble. No one else will say that. Good grief. No more trips to the hospital. No more late night calls to Teller. No more distressing damsel hiding in fatalism. I must make sure Teller overcomes this. He must. I need him to. I couldn’t live with myself if Mallory’s ghost haunted him around. Teller doesn’t deserve that. And neither do I. No one does. No what others say, Mallory’s suicide is on her. Only her. No matter what Scott thinks, this isn’t beautiful or poetic. At the end of the day, even if no one says it, the world’s better without Mallory. At least Teller definitely is. Good grief.
35: Sweet SorrowThere’s no legend There’s no glory Unless romance brings pain The pain of love when it breaks The glory of love when it ends
A note on a napkin A napkin for tears Sweet sorrow of our love And I walk away
Our story must be sad like all epics of love Forever-afters belong to fairy tales But you don’t believe in princes and I distrusts happiness
A note on a napkin A napkin for tears Sweet sorrow of our love And I walk away
All good things must come to an end Love stories end with a wedding and a kiss So our story must end here and now For our legend to remain Like that fateful couple of Romeo and Juliet
A note on a napkin A napkin for tears Sweet sorrow of our love And I walk away
Be free, my love as you always were I’ll keep singing of our love for many will sing along Hoping they could be loved even after our love is dead
Take this napkin A note for your tears Sweet sorrow of our love And I walk away
36: Cut to the Chase 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes, and 4 seconds remaining. Tic, tic, tic. Boom. There went Val’s and Scott’s romance. Game over. And I stayed the hell out of it. I had been in the middle for long enough, so I didn’t need any shrapnel to hit me as the whole thing blew up during the party. During a wedding party, of all possible scenarios for their fallout. Matt’s and Gloria’s wedding. There had to be some sort of poetic irony in it. Too bad Scott and Val weren’t making a scene—-they were just running through their lines, like a theater dress rehearsal. For once I was more than glad that I wasn’t a spectator to their play, even if it was the grand finale. I was sure I knew it already, line by line, the whole act, just as they, the leads, knew it. I had forewarned both Scott and Val a long time ago. I knew the ending of their story, so it would’ve been painstakingly boring to sit through it. I was better off sitting at the bar, accompanied by my drink, my musings, and myself. The bar: natural habitat of both the accomplished and the frustrated writer. The next couple of single malts would determine whether I belonged to the former or to the latter. Paris’s Hemingway? Or Cuba’s Hemingway? “Drinking there with Hemingway’s ghost, love?” Suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. A kindred spirit had joined me in our natural habitat—-same writerly species, opposite chromosome, and same drink. “Love? Isn’t it too early to be throwing the L word around?” “I rather throw ‘love’ around than let it throw me.” She had to be a writer. Whisky, words, and wit don’t mix like that in any other cynical cocktail. “Cheers to that.” And then we raised and faux-clinked our glasses, keeping our distance and yet getting closer. “Are you here for the groom or the bride?” I had to make sure she wasn’t a hallucination, or worse, another mirage of mine. “I’m here for the booze. And the bride, I guess.” “Beautiful bride. Handsome groom. Nice wedding. But I agree, can’t beat the booze.” We both finished our drinks. Ten seconds and one disgruntled bartender later, we were sipping again. She had to be a writer. She had that voice. Chatter turned to conversation, digging deeper and deeper, one-liners becoming dialogue and clichés chiseled into Shakespearean quotes as fashion statements. What a roaring scene: writers talking over drinks at a fancy party. Fitzgerald would’ve been proud, while her dress would’ve made Jay Gatsby himself forget all about Daisy. She had to be a writer. No other species can at the same time appear so beautiful and feel so damned. Well, maybe actors can as well. Whatever. Two breeds of the same lying bastards, I guess. After plenty more pouring and pauses and parentheticals, I was buzzed enough and more than a little vexed to ask the lingering question. Yes. She was a writer. Nome de plume on the page and in life: Leia. “My phone number? No. I won’t give it to you. That would be too—-too plebeian.” The vocabulary. That word. Of course she was a writer. She grabbed the pen I had clipped on my lapel, uncapped it, and proceeded to scribble furiously on a dry napkin. “Is this your playing hard to get?” “As much as I love the chase, no.” She handed me the napkin, crisp and full of text, like an ancient scroll. “This is me seducing you.” It was her address. “Why use the phone when there’s mail? Something tells me that you’re much better in writing, anyway.” She definitely was a writer. It takes a writer to leave a writer at a loss for words. And just like that, she was gone. And just like that, I had inspiration again. And just like that, I had to write.
37: ExpiredIt’s not time. Not yet. Scott doesn’t mean to break up. He’s just rattled by the wedding. We all are. Matt and Gloria saying I do will do that to anyone. Scott and I shouldn’t break up. Not yet. He wrote it on a napkin and left. I can’t take that seriously. I shouldn’t. I won’t. I remember Scott’s first letter for me. Written in script on parchment paper. Like a note from the Renaissance. A specter from the past. I shouldn’t be mad at him for this. Not yet. Where’s Teller? He must know something about this. He always does. Or at least have an opinion. Advice, even. We need to talk about this. Eventually. Not yet. Scott, my worshipper. Saying goodbye to his goddess. On a napkin. There’s something wrong with all of this. I gave Scott a chance. I have the relationship a chance. I had never done that. It’s not time. Not yet. Scott has been good for me. For a while, anyway. He knows me well. Well enough. Why does he want a break? Is it the wedding? Is it M? Did I cause it somehow? I don’t want this. I want him with me. Still. Today’s not our expiration date. Not yet. I won’t let this be the end of my story with Scott. Not at Matt’s wedding. That’s something that M. would do. Hell no. What will Teller think? He had predicted this. Well, not this. That Scott wouldn’t last. That I would sabotage. In all honesty, Teller wasn’t wrong. Not entirely. If Scott and I have expired, that won’t be a bad thing. I won’t let it. But he’ll have to put it in a letter. Not a napkin. Stories must end as they started, right? If this has to end, at least I’ll be myself again. Only better. Just not yet.
38: P.S. Valerie, Selfishness is a very important trait of yours, and I will continue to encourage you to use it to the best of your advantage. I guess that a letter is a proper (if not poetic) ending for a wonderful chapter which started precisely with letters. And which also was somewhat ignited out of my curiosity, my gravitation, and meditations. Despite our uncomfortable silences, I shall not keep silent what must be said. Over the past couple of days, I’ve been mulling the subject of “us” trying to figure out what was wrong, or at least when/where the symptoms had appeared in an attempt to trace the problem. After much consideration, I realized that it was not a problem but problems—plural. Mainly, we fell into a rut, which was positive and had its own balance before: you would come up with whims that turned out to be enjoyable adventures for us both (oh, the road-trips), and/or I would come up with a plan upon which we could agree and enjoy (picnics, for instance) or I would have to push you a bit before you caved and enjoyed it in the end. There was equilibrium between your spontaneity and my discipline that worked. However, somewhere along the path, sometime not long ago, our energies (and timing) lost their sync: you would reject my plans more energetically than I would counter, and your whims would fail to fit our schedules. On my part, I realize that I wouldn’t push you as hard as before because I (still and always will) dread to trample your cherished liberty in the slightest, and thus get into your bad light. Like with bar of soap, I didn’t squeeze too hard, fearing you would slip away, not knowing that I was basically dropping the soap otherwise. Also, the crumbling of my plans paired with my already-existing uncertainty about my immediate future have made me redirect (as you know) much of my energies and efforts towards straightening that up—in my head, in my life, in real life. The support that you’ve given me through this has been great, but it all still relies upon me and my work. What I do or leave undone marks what I will or won’t achieve, and as much as I am very self-confident, it can still shake me up. I believe it nicked and dented several of our personal basics: you went to the last symphony and opera so that I wouldn’t miss them, not truly because you wanted to go; reading became increasingly upsetting for you; bike rides turned out to be frustrating events that got the best of me; I failed at surprising you with feasts of food, chocolate, and wine; even movies and TV declined as experiences to share. Put simply, the way things unfolded washed away my charm to overpower (to the lack of a better word) your refusals and to be a more positive influence for you. Apparently, despite my savior complex, I cannot play the hero all that well—and for that, I’m sorry. What I’m not sorry for is all the good things and enhancements we’ve prompted in each other even when looking into the darkest abyss. You’ll always be, as corny as it may sound, my first kiss and the one who taught me how to ride a bike. You’ve been a tremendous support and inspiration to many of my endeavors, and a terrific companion for my adventures and adaptation, giving me a view literally from a tree-top. For all of that, I am unspeakably grateful. I hope that whatever good influences and habits I might have prompted in you, you keep for your own sake, benefit, and just to make your life a little easier, rather than discard them. I know I’ll keep riding my bike (eventually) and drinking bubble tea from time to time, among other things that I know I don’t notice anymore. I know that we will share more experiences as good friends—specially if you continue to accept and request my help whenever you need it. Please don’t negate my serviceable nature as friend by keeping me out of the loop of your troubles that I’ve come to know so well. We don’t act as good friends in public—we are good friends regardless. We have always been good friends first and anything else afterwards. Having exceeded the page I intended, and with the sun breaking dawn, I’ll close with the last thing that remains to be said:
With the love sprung from knowing you deeply and being there, Scott.
39: Last Call“I can’t believe I fell for Scott.” “It was bound to happen eventually.” Dammit, Teller. Of course Teller knew. In a way, I knew. It was a matter of chance and damned statistics. Just like I knew we would end up talking about it like this. Scott was now my past. My future had no name. Not yet. “Do you think that was love? Me and Scott?” “I hope so.” Dammit. I hope so too. Not sure why. I guess I just felt something more. “Why do you say that?” “Because you were happy, even if just briefly.” There it is. The truth. Always making an appearance between us. Teller, my single malt partner. Teller, my oracle of truth. Dammit, Teller. I don’t know what comes next. But I know I’ll move forward. The future is fuzzy. And that’s exciting. I missed excitement. Teller had warned me about Scott. But he also pushed me to try. There was a cliff. I happened to fly. He knew I would. For a while, anyway. Back to my democratic self, I guess. Time to drive ahead. The Sunday Brunch Club will judge me for all of this. Fair. I judge their life decisions too. Whatever. I don’t care. My dad will be a little relieved. And extremely disappointed. I wonder if he’ll remain friends with Scott. They both need that. Many more suitors will come. They always do. Their names don’t matter, though. They’re extras. I’m the protagonist. Dammit. What’s wrong with me? At the end of the day, there’s only one certain future--this, like now. Teller and me. No matter what, I can always count on this.On us. Teller, my trusted confidant. Teller, my unconditional constant. Teller, the omniscient narrator of our life.
40: And at the End, a Beginning…I’m telling you I need you… Val didn’t say those words, but between us, verbalizing them was overkill. We were done with weddings, parties, romances, acquaintances, the world—at least for a while. And that was fine. It was warranted after the weeks we had lived through. We had Val’s apartment, gifts from Dionysus, and our silence. That was enough for us. When did Bonnie and Clyde know they had lost? “I can’t believe I fell for Scott.” “It was bound to happen eventually.” “Oh, so now I’m as predictable as one of your characters?” “Bound to happen out of sheer probability and your suitor statistics.” She smirked, recovering some of her spirits with the words. “You’re right. Scott was just a statistic. Pure math.” That smirk. “Do you think that was love? Me and Scott?” “I hope so.” She perked up with intrigue and rebellion. “Why do you say that?” Silence would not do between us with that question. It merited truth. “Because you were happy, even if just briefly.” We looked at each other, straight past the fog of the last few months and with the weight of our complicity. When did Fitz and Hem know they were history? “What do you think I’ll do next, then?” Val’s voice carried an undercurrent of mischief and sabotage. “I’m not playing that game with you.” Single malt did not wash away that lie. “But you are. You always are.” Curiosity and amusement forces another of her smirks. That smirk. “Well, I know you’ll find someone. It won’t last forever, but you two will last.” The prophecy seemed to have escaped my mouth on its own volition. When did Penelope and Odysseus realize the ending of their story? “How do you know?” “Because I know you. You didn’t even believe in love. Until Scott.” “I still don’t. You don’t either.” “We wouldn’t be here if that were true.” My words caught us both off guard. We looked at each other, lifting our spirits and raising a toast with our glasses, as always. Val smirked at me over her shoulder as we snuggled closer together against the uncertainties of the past and the future. That smirk. Silence, an eternal bond. We knew we had been warned: there would always be us.
Leslie Bloom is a recent graduate from CWU. Her work has appeared in the Manastash Literary Journal. She is a busy wife and mother working towards he Master's degree.
THE THINGS THE FAMILY NEEDS TO PACK
My children must always bring something with them when we leave the house. Seriously why can’t leaving home ever be easy? No, instead it is like a freak show with my five-year-olds. It never goes smoothly. Someone always seems to be crying. I inevitably have a billion sweaty hot flashes and need another shower, all before even getting in the car. Oh. I’m gonna lose my shit. Oh, but wait, we still have to pack…. First comes the slew of items, of which I swear are not all needed. Among these items are usually: Hot Wheels cars, a few Legos, Crayons, a Barbie doll, Zip-Fizz water, Annie's bunny crackers, fruit snacks, yogurt, string cheese, Luna bars, Blankie, and sometimes, the tablet. Together, these items can make a mess depending on what kind of a mood the kids are in. Evie, my daughter, a sweet girl, tall for being five, always makes sure we have wipes, which is for sure a necessary item. She hates being sticky. Cue scary horror music. One day when my daughter and I were headed out to do errands the following incident happened. For real, it did. “Mom, I need a wipe.” Evie said with an annoyed yet irritated tone. “Why?” “I got some of the chocolate all over me.” “Well, you are gonna have to wait a minute. I’m kinda trying to drive right now.” My patience level was beginning to reach its minimum level. “Wait. Where did you get chocolate?” “The snack bag.” She sang sweetly. Literally sang.
Oh no, this is not going to be good at all. I could feel the blood rushing up into my face. My kids are the masters of messes. “Mommy, I need a wipe. “Just a second.” “No. I need one now! It’s everywhere!” “What do you mean it is everywhere?” I turn my head slowly letting my eyes stumble upon the mess I knew I was about to witness. Oh! My! Gosh! How did you manage that? Did you miss your mouth completely?” “Uh. No. It just got all melty and stuff. Now I am all sticky.” “SOME? You’ve got be freakin kidding me right now!”
The back seat looked like a volcano of chocolate erupted. There were smears of brown covering her and her car seat. She had somehow managed to not only paint her face, but to decorate her hair with a coco-chocolatey paste. Chocolate = 1, Evie = 0. When I called my mom later that night to tell her about our car adventure with the chocolate she burst out laughing. I was still didn’t find any of it funny, until she reminded me of “the mustard experience” she had with my sister and I when we were little. “Don’t you remember when your sister got ahold of the full thing of mustard and sprayed it all over you both, the ceiling, the seats, and the windows. We were driving cross-country. You remember, right?” (My sister had grabbed mustard from the back of the car out of the lunch bag). “Oh man. I totally forgot about that!” “Yeah. Just all of a sudden I told your dad I had a craving for a turkey sandwich with mustard. When I turned around, there you two sat. Yellow from head to toe.” “You guys had to pull over and take us out of the car, right?” I asked now laughing. “Yes. And boy did you get upset. You thought we were going to leave you! You started screaming and crying. You were shaking like a leaf. I came running back to you and gave you a huge hug and explained that your dad and I just needed you guys out to try to and clean up the mess. It was a brand new bottle of mustard. So it took a bit.” Like one of those good belly laughs that makes tears come rolling down your face in streams. “Well, then I guess I shouldn’t be so mad.” By now I was laughing so hard I snorted and choked at the same time. “Nope. Shit happens.” I had forgotten that incident but I was glad my mom reminded me of it. I calmed down and tired to find the humor in Evie’s chocolate situation, but damn that shit just wasn’t funny at the time. I mean, Evie got that chocolate EVERYWHERE!. How does someone so small make such a huge mess? I ask this question a lot. I also ask the question as to why we must always make sure to bring the Lego guys. Thus my son, Evan, now comes into play. He is the boy, who listens very little, always gets upset when he thinks we have forgotten an item, and he brings a little too many items in his pockets; just to be safe he explains. One day we headed out of the house for a quick trip to the store, or so I thought. Instead my little man started having a meltdown about his Lego dude. “Where is my Lego Batman?” he shouted. “Wherever you left it.” I responded. “I don’t know where I left it.” His arms flapped in the air with frustration. “Well, it’s not my job to remember all your stuff. I told you to keep track of your toys.” “I’m just a little kid. I need help and you won’t help me!” By now his face was wrinkled up, his mouth gaping open, and his eyes wide like saucers. “Mom. Why won’t you help me find him?” “Why? Are you kidding me? Because Evan, I had like a billion things I was trying to do. I had to pack and carry all this stuff out to the car, feed and water the cats, lock up the house, make sure everything is unplugged, make sure the doors are shut in the back of the house, the TV is off, and get you and your sister loaded in the car. That’s why!” This is an ongoing fight that I truly hope will one day end as they get older, but according to my mom, it only gets worse. My dad says I have selective memory. He is probably right, because I don’t remember being such a pain to my parents when I was little. Me, who is usually flustered, tends to forget my water and meds in the house. As usual, I have to go back into the house and grab my crap. For the love of all that is holy! I seriously have to go back in the house? Well shit. There goes another two minutes of my life.
In addition to the kids’ items, there are jackets and changes of clothes. Not often do the kids stay clean. Remember the sticky mess incident? So wipes are a must at all times. I also have to keep extra shoes in the car. I’m lucky if they remember to put shoes on their feet – extras are kept in the car. Until recently, I kept my calm. Now I carry a stress ball! I will make it through this trip. I will make it through this trip. When we all travel together a whole new can of worms opens up. Each person has their things that must come with us and I am usually the one responsible for making sure they all end up in the car. Daddy, by necessity, must bring Mountain Dew and potato chips. Grandpa comes simple, with his cell phone, keys, and coffee. Grandma carries a lunch box cooler, extra water, and a hairbrush, as she is always prepared for the wind when it decides to mess up everyone’s hair. It was a “necessity”. Of course the brush is necessary. God forbid we don’t have the damn hairbrush. Can’t we ever just leave without having to re-enter someone’s house a billion times? The irritation is piling up on me and I may just burst. *** When I was a kid my parents kept things simple. They never really worried about bringing many things with us when we traveled. My mother would pack for us, making sure that we had one toy, a book, and our blankets. We did not have tablets or any other technological type things in the 80’s. Instead, we kept ourselves entertained by playing games in the car including, eye spy, the license plate game and slug bug. We took long naps to pass the time. When we would go on trips to say the beach, we would play with the things that nature provided. We would hunt on for shells, sticks, driftwood, and anything else cool that we could find to play with and use to build sand castles. (While my kids do some of those things there is still always one of them demanding a tablet or our cell phones. Attention spans are much less these days). When we would go camping, pack only the necessary items: tent, sleeping bags, pillows, a couple extra blankets, and again one toy and one book. There would be plenty to play with at the campground and water to go swimming in, my mom would tell us. There was no need to bring the “whole house” with us; we only had so much room. We never had to plan days ahead because we would only take what we absolutely had to. My dad always said that if we needed or forgot something there would be stores on the way.
It was an easy fix when we forgot something. No one had a panic attack and threw a hissy fit. He would also tell us that the more we packed; the more we would have to unpack. We hated the idea of having to unpack and clean up when we would get home. (My kids this doesn’t faze them). We used to go camping at Lake Cushman in the summers. There was a playground that all us kids would go running to and spend hours spinning in circles on this old, wood, rickety spinney thing (the name escapes me but it sure was fun). We would swim out to the logs that separated the docks from the open lake, and try and walk across them. Whoever could make it from one end to the other without falling in would get candy from the little store. I mean come on, who doesn’t like candy? At night we would sit around the campfire and roast marshmallows, I mean real ones. The ones packed full of sugary goodness. When it got really dark out we would go flash light fishing off the docks and try and catch the little suckers with our hands. The goal was to not get pushed off the dock and into the water by one of the parents. It’s what I know refer to as “real” fun. The simple life of camping. Where the only electronics were an old black and white TV in the cabin my aunt and uncle rented, where M.A.S.H would be playing; nothing that interested a bunch of kids. Life was simple. Did you get that last part? Life was simple. Or should I say it a third time to make sure it sticks? SIMPLE. LIFE. WAS SIMPLE! *** The packing these days is long and intense. Do I really have to get up this early? Yes, yes you do because you are mom and no one else is going to pack. Packing now means a few long days, as the process requires much planning, organizing, and stress ball squeezing. The kids and are chock-full of allergies creates packing insanity. You can do this. You can do this. The chant started. The list gets longer when the trip gets longer. The idea of what must be done before we can leave for our trip is enough to bring anyone to drink. And I mean drink a lot. I bet if I could drink I would be way more relaxed. My husband might even like me more. Yes, there are those occasions that I drive my husband crazy. My diet alone is enough for him to roll his eyes, let alone everything else. Almost all the work falls on me, the mom. Why am I the only one capable of doing all this work? I mean, heaven forbid someone else packs a damn sandwich, or a blanket, or anything for that matter. More internal thoughts shout around in my head. I have to pack at least two full coolers of multiple items to cover the varying needs of each person attending this “fun” time. The first one contains all things cold, with ice packs. This one gets packed last. The second cooler is a mixture, it has cold things but they don’t have to be refrigerated. At night, sometimes, I dream about what has to be in the coolers, why they are needed, where the things must go, and because of these dreams my sleep sucks. Don’t forget all the other stuff that must come in addition to the food. There are socks, shirts, underwear, pants, shorts, sweatshirts (let’s face it, this is Washington with ever changing weather), shoes, toothbrush, brush, hair bands, swimsuits, blankets, various toys, tablets, and oh hell, I am sure I am forgetting something. I better call grandma and tell her that we will be there soon, though I am sure she is running late like usual. Dad is probably outside pacing with irritation waiting for her to get ready. I mean seriously, what takes so long? *** Food packing back in the days of my childhood was easy. There was little to worry about and no one making a huge deal about what was in the bread, cheese, or crackers we ate. We could eat a potato chip without mom freaking out. No one had “allergies” and gluten, what the HELL was GLUTEN?? It was nothing we ever talked about. Oh, and ORGANIC? Food was food. Fruit was fruit and veggies were veggies. Processed was not a word I knew until my twenties. It was just not a thing back in the…80’s and 90’s. Wow that was a long time ago. For my dad, he would make sure we had bread, lunchmeat, chips, pickles, and lots of fruits and veggies. He would even pack Snickers bars for treats on the way down. Yep, we would eat good ole’ Snickers bars. Life was easier when food was easier. Packing time was only a couple hours and it was no big deal to get lunch on the road somewhere. *** Now food is something that we have to worry about. Because the diets are so restricted and eating out is like dodging a minefield for those with allergies, a cooler gets packed with, hard-boiled eggs, celery, apple slices, almond butter, protein bars, which were easy fixes for the low blood sugar. We also have to worry now about if the fruits and veggies are organic and non-GMO. Everything seems to have something in it that causes concern. There is no longer any stopping somewhere to grab a “quick bite,” which sucks because when everyone in the family gets moody from low blood sugar, we have to make sure we have extra snacks. So, yes now food packing sucks. Yep, I said it. It sucks…Well unless you are my dad and husband. They can still eat “normal,” whatever that is. With the packed cooler, the kid's toys, coats, shoes, water, wipes, there is little room left in the car for us. For one trip it takes over two hours to pack, when the whole family got together, only to head to the park, for an afternoon of fun. *** In a perfect world, there would be no need for all the toys, electronics, special foods, and allergies to worry about. In a perfect world, I would get to take simple vacations with my family that does not require days of planning and preparing. In a perfect world my kids would be NEAT and CLEAN all the time. In a perfect world, my mother would be on time for family functions, my sister in a good mood, and all the kids would get along. In a perfect world, we would have “normal” healthy food. There would be no need for things to be labeled “gluten-free,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” or “all-natural.” It would just be real food. In a perfect world, you would be able to send your kids to school with this “real” food and not have to be concerned that you will “poison” another child and send them into anaphylactic shock. You could send cupcakes to school for birthdays and everyone would smile. In a perfect world, kids would not ask for the most expensive toys ever made. They would be content with coloring books and crayons or maybe even just…gee I don’t know…regular Legos. Not all these fancy ones that cost an arm and a leg. In a perfect world, there would be much less talk of “I want. I want.” Life would be calm, quiet, slower paced, with normal food, normal affordable toys, simple, CLEAN, fun vacations, and I could eat whatever I wanted! Not what my doctor has instructed. This would be my perfect reality. This is what I dream of. This is NOT what will ever happen! Life will not be simple. Rant over.
Madison Cooper is a 24-year-old English major from Philadelphia, pursuing a career in creative writing. After working as a ghost writer for several years, she is now stepping out into the literary world under her own name. Cooper is projected to release her first novel, The Evolution of our Wings, this year, as well as a novella inspired by the short story Birds of a Feather. Cooper often gravitates toward science-fiction, and even more so toward post-apocalyptic settings. However, her work tends to blur the lines of genre. She views the wasteland as just a backdrop, one that strips life bare enough to give meaning to the unexplainable. `
Birds of a Feather
“You want some water, Sweetheart?” Feather said. “Don’t be shy. The rain overflowed the buckets last night.” She fidgeted with objects atop the only piece of furniture in the house-- a wooden dresser that looked like it survived a fire. She placed the sad, robed woman near the front, side by side with the black book she wasn't capable of reading -- the one that apparently contained stories of men parting seas, ocean deep floods, and entire settlements dying of disease. She then lined the back of the dresser with a corroded brush she hadn’t tried to pull through her thick matted locks in years; her rusting cleaver; a fractured black cup; and the little round statue of a plastic pumpkin wearing a broken smile, which always made her laugh. She couldn’t imagine those creatures ever existing, hopping around, causing chaos. Then, she started over, this time, placing the sad women in the back. She wiped her arm across her furry, sweat soaked eyebrows, but the heat instantly produced more. To escape the feeling of suffocation, she wore as little as possible, only a piece of cloth she double wrapped around her flat chest and tied in a knot, along with dark baggy shorts decorated in holes and stringy clusters of what used to be lace. “We need to find food, even if we only catch one of those scaly things.” Luke was so quiet today. “They’ll do you good. Mase said they don’t have much radiation, something about their cells.” Again, he said nothing, but it was okay. He was just tired. Feather clenched her tiny nose shut, before spinning around. The floor was nearly sliced in half, the wedge a breeding ground for smaller fractures. Most of them looked like widespread hands trying to escape the blackness. Roaches weaved through cracks in the stone, flies passed through sores in the walls, and growing veins of rust pulsed along every surface. Everything was the same as always, and now, Luke seemed another staple, lying on the stained mattress in the corner. She breathed through her mouth, trotting toward him and squatting before the mattress, supporting her weight on her toes. He looked bruised from somewhere deep within. She brushed his eyelids open. They were hazier yesterday, much hazier. They’d be back to normal in no time; back to that glistening sky blue; back to staring at her from across the room in desire. She swatted a fly off his face, then another and another. They wouldn’t leave him alone. She ran her hand through his golden hair, his scalp following her motions. His skin felt loose under her swaying fingers, like it was filled with liquid. She placed her hand on his chest. The slightest vibration of breath tickled her nerves. She could feel it; she knew she could. He was going to be okay. “I’m going to find something to eat.” She massaged his soft little earlobe the way he liked, but it felt as if it would turn to mush with the slightest rise in pressure, so she let go. She closed his gaping jaw. It fell back open as soon as she removed the force, more of that white foam spilling from the corner of his lips. He didn’t blink. She shifted her weight to her knees, her eyes darting to her fumbling hands. “Mase was talking about getting the group together and finally leaving this place. He says we’re going to have to start chasing the food if we want to see tomorrow.” He moved-- the slightest twitch. Feather’s body stiffened while her eyes ran wild, scanning him, a tingly feeling forming in her organs. Maybe it was his chest, or his arm. Why hadn’t she been watching? She waited for another. It didn’t come. Wind crashed through the holes in the roof. She stood, her body aching. At least the breeze felt nice. “I’m heading out, but you better make this up to me when you’re feeling good. I expect my food brought to me for five suns.” She laughed, feeling empty when it rang out. “You know I’m just messing. I’ll take care of you forever if I have to.” He didn’t respond. Feather grabbed the cleaver off the front of the dresser, scratching her sharp and dirty thumb nail under flakes of decaying metal. When she reached the door, she shoved the deadbolt to the side. Her breaths grew heavy, as if they were helping her summon the courage to open it. The top half of the door fell further away from its broken hinges the wider she pushed it open, making it difficult to close behind her. Luke always did this for her. She wiggled some of her toes back into the holes of her boots and marched forward, crunching the uneven ground into compression or powder. The burning sun was the only real beauty she knew, the sky an anomaly of color in her dimming world. Below it lay a land of waste. Every phase of decomposing concrete, splashed with garbage, formed her rugged, still world. Vast mountains of wreckage, and creators just as large, ran all the way to the orange splashed horizon. Both barely standing pre-war houses, and post-war shelters built from the rubble peppered the community. It was easy to tell the types of houses apart, although most of them shared a similar vacancy. Feather searched for life under cement blocks, in puddles, and in holes she dug with her callused, boney hands. A green scaly thing baked in the sun, but it must have felt her eyes on it and got away. They never filled Luke up anyway. She could do better. Sweat poured from her scorching skin, and her shadow had begun walking behind her when she finally spotted a small, grey rodent with an explosion of fluff wiggling from its butt and a of couple extra arms. She froze, watching it dig through the sandy earth with its little claws, probably trying to find food too. This one wasn’t going to get away. Luke loved the furry ones. Maybe she’d even get a smile out of him. She took her first step, placing her toes down first, most of them back out of their holes, but it was okay. It was easier to test the ground with bare skin. She added her weight, pound by pound on the burning stone, and started again with the other foot until she was close enough. She lunged through the air, swinging her cleaver above her head then slamming it into the rodent’s back in one motion. Blood spewed out when she dislodged the knife, dowsing its fur and staining the land. She didn’t wait for it to stop twitching before swiping it off the ground and making her way back. Glossy redness coated her hands and patterned her stomach with each step. When she reached her shelter, she resumed the firepit that last night’s rain put out. It took longer than usual to get it going. The wood was wet. She ripped away the creature’s fur then smacked it on the rusted grill propped over the small flame. After staring into the world for what felt like hours, she picked the meat up and dropped it on a scrap of metal, the heat thrashing her fingertips. She rushed inside and placed everything she needed around Luke’s mattress, the plate, a bucket of rainwater, and their cup, before rushing back to close the door. “That was a trip,” she muttered to Luke, sitting by his bed with bent knees. Her heart pounded into her ribs. “I hope you’re hungry.” It was just how he liked it, burned beyond recognition. “You have to get better soon, before Mase leaves. There’s nothing left out there, Luke.” She dug her finger in the rodent’s seared wound, peeled off a chunk of meat, and dropped it into Luke’s open jaw. It deflated the bubbles, sinking to his fleshy tongue. His expression remained blank. Feather dunked the cup in the bucket and poured the water in his mouth. It pooled in his jaw, the piece of meat floating like a leaf in a pond. She fingered it down his throat. He didn’t move. A painful warmth welled in her gut, but she looked away, at the statue and the pumpkin creature, not letting it grow. She jumped from a bang on the door, patterned in a familiar tune. “Mase,” she muttered. She scattered to her feet and answered, her arm trembling as she reached for the handle. Mase held it steady for her while she pushed it open. When they locked eyes, his thin, flaky lips curved into a smile, his beard quaking with his motions. The sun shone behind his head, displaying all the tangles in his frayed, dark hair. His hazel eyes were wide, so clear and filled with life, moving in the subtlest ways. Although he was still, his body exude energy. She found his chest. Under his tattered, red stripy shirt, there was a rhythm. He almost didn’t look real. “We haven’t seen ya in a while. I figured I should check up on you two.” He looked over her shoulder. Feather shook her head. “We’re fine, just fine.” She smiled, puffing up her tiny body to block his view. Something was different about him. She couldn’t see as many of his bones. It made his scruffy jaw looked less defined. “What about you?” she asked. “You look good. Have you been finding food? It’s been so dry.” He shook his head, lowering it, as if he just lost some of that sweet energy. “No. We’re moving soon, another reason I wanted to check up on you. Wanted to see if you ever talked to Luke about it.” “Yes, yes I did. He thinks it’s a good idea.” She scrunched up her face. “I just need to give him a little time.” He would be ready soon. She knew it. “Is everything alright?” “He’s just, you know, feeling a little under the weather, but he’s okay. How is everyone?” “Craig…” His eyes lowered along with his voice. “He passed.” Feather’s heart cramped. Craig was a big meaty man, so strong and determined. “How?” He looked at her funny. “Can I come in? I don’t like being out here too long.” No. She steadied her breaths. “Sure, sure.” Her body felt like it was draining, but she stepped aside and waved him in. Everything was going to be okay. This was good. Now Mase could tell her what was wrong, and give her advice on how to fix it. Then they could all laugh and be happy, as he told one of his long, trivial stories over water and rodent. Oh, she just loved when he used the pumpkin. Why didn’t she call him earlier? He pushed the door toward the hinges while closing it behind him. Before he could lock it, his face swirled, and he gagged until it sounded like he was going to puke. She watched his eyes search, watched them land on Luke. He ran, his limbs stiff. “Luke!” He bent over, covering his nose, a suppression in his new gags. Her breaths became heavier. It was okay. Mase would know exactly what to do. He always did. Mase straightened himself after a moment of staring. “Feather, I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me?” He shook his head and looked around. “Why is the body still here?” The warmth in her stomach returned. She tried to make it go away, but felt it simmering. No, no, no. She took deep breaths. “What do you mean the body? He’s fine. I’ve been helping him recover, washing him, feeding him, telling him stories, singing his favorite songs.” Mase once looked at her like he would’ve wanted her if she wasn’t taken. He always had a soft, hidden yearning in his eyes. Now, he looked her up and down like she was mad, his eyebrows scrunched so tightly they almost touched, and his mouth loose, but not loose like Luke’s. There was tension between his lips. “Feather, he’s fucking dead.” He spoke loud and slow. He wasn’t. She knew he was still in there, and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her otherwise. Her heart beat waves of anger into her veins, making her fists clench. “Luke would never leave me!” Her voice sounded like a growl. “He’s dead! Look at him!” He waved his hand toward Luke, but she didn’t follow it with her eyes. “He smells like he’s been dead for weeks. Feather, what are you doing? You could’ve at least put his flesh to use. Now he’s probably infested.” “What do you mean put his flesh to use?” It came together without trying. “Eat him? I would never! You’re sick!” She murdered the images in her head. He’s okay, he’s okay, he’s okay. “You at least need to get him out of this house.” He tilted his head, quieting his voice. “You’ve lost your mind, haven’t you?” “No. He still has a chance. He’ll come back.” She shook her hands as she spoke, her insides twisting. “Listen to me, Mase. He’ll come back. Please, just believe me. I know it. I know it in my heart, okay? He’s not gone yet. It’s not supposed to happen like this. He’ll pull through.” “Do you not know how life works? They don’t come back, Feather. Did Bella come back?” Something in her exploded. “Don’t you dare say her name!” Her voice felt like it had claws. She stomped forward, until she could see the wide, oily pores in his stupid face. Her body felt like an animal she couldn’t tame. She tried not to strike him. “Luke is the only one who got me through. He is the only reason I’m happy, even now. Just believe me, okay?” He trembled with what looked like a contained rage. “Look at him, and tell me he’s coming back,” he said, pointing to Luke. She couldn’t move. “He’s a fighter! He’ll come back!” “Look at him. He’s not coming back.” This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. Everything taunted her-- their plans and dreams, like how they knew they’d grow old with more kids than they could count. They found each other when they were young and alone, and it made everything right in the world. It was all supposed to mean something. She tried to calm down. How could she make him understand like she did? “Do you know who he’s named after?” she asked. “Enlighten me.” “Luke Skywalker.” “And you told me your mama named you after a bird feather ‘cause of your eyebrows. What’s your point?” She flailed her arms. “Before the war, men used to travel around the black sky in giant ships. There’s creatures out there, things we know nothing of. One of them tried to destroy earth. Luke Skywalker risked his life to save us. He saved the entire world.” “I don’t know who told you that snakeshit, but you got it all wrong. Skywalker saved his world, not ours.” A layer of tears blinded her, but she blinked it away. “You’re a liar! A fucking liar! My Luke’s mother told me she named him after the greatest soldier on earth because she knew he would change to the world. She knew he had kindness in his heart from the moment she held him, she knew he would be great, and I knew it too.” She jabbed her finger into his beating chest. “He’s coming back.” Her teeth felt like they were going to pop out from clenching her jaw so tight. Mase looked like he could have laughed. “And how the fuck do you think he’s going to do that?” She wasn’t crazy. It all made sense. “He already changed my world, and he’s not done. He’s not going to leave me! Not yet! I won’t let him!” She didn’t realize he thrusted her back until her feet were spilling atop one another, and she had to catch her balance. He bent over again, covering his nose tighter than the first time. “We need to get him out of here.” He grabbed Luke’s arm. She charged. “Don’t touch him!” Her shoulder sank in his stomach as he tripped over the bucket then slammed into the wall. Air puffed out of his lungs, mocking the sound of the wind. Water soaked the floor, but she didn’t care. She backed up, collecting herself onto her knees. “Get the fuck out,” she said, her voice dark and hoarse. He picked himself up and walked to the door, turning around while searching for the knob. “I care about you, Feather. If you don’t accept that Luke is dead, you will die. That is a promise. We’re not going to wait for you. Open those big eyes, or die in denial.” He left, slamming the door behind him, the thud lingering in waves of jagged echoes. But it was the silence following it that seemed loud. It didn’t last long. She roared, tears burning her eyes and soaking her face. A fire erupted in her core. Her attempts to calm herself with deep breaths only fed the flames. She collapsed, squeezing herself so it wouldn’t spread. It was too late. She felt it everywhere, in her blood, her muscles, her thighs, spreading to her toes, even in her head, which she smashed into the floor, over and over. Somehow, she picked herself up and crawled to Luke, her knees scraping stony hills and valleys. She slid next to him, limp and pathetic, and placed her arm over his chest, whimpering into his side. He didn’t radiate warmth like he used to. “Luke, I need you.” Her words felt like they were bruising her throat. They were thick and filled with pain. “I know you can hear me. I know you’re in there.” She squeezed him, his flesh squishing like jelly under her weight. She howled. “I miss you so much. I miss your smile, and your laugh. I miss when you held me too. Please, just hold me. Please. I’ll do anything.” She sobbed like no one could hear her. “I’ll never be that happy again.” He didn’t move. She sat up, resting her weight on her elbow, and closed his jaw to kiss his limp lips. She caressed his face. His skin melted onto her fingers, revealing strips of bloodless muscle and bone. She breathed through her nose for the first time since his chest fell flat. Her stomach hurled, and she dry heaved, but there was nothing in her stomach to get rid of. It was a sharp and sour, a rotten and sweet, morbid smell that could’ve put a hole in her lungs. She didn’t know how such a terrifying odor could ever come from such a beautiful person. It was the smell of... no. She wouldn’t think it. She didn’t have to let him go. So, she laid there, his counterfeit presence her only reason for living. It might have been hours, or days. The next time she found the strength to lift her pounding head, there were maggots swimming in the holes of his cheeks, eating his eyes, and bobbing in and out of his frothy mouth. His skin was red and blistered, oozing with slimy fluids. He looked like a monster. She jumped up and wiped herself off, maggots smearing across her hands. Luke was dead. He was dead, and she wished it was her. She scampered around, disoriented and aching, until she found the shovel resting in the corner. She walked outside, letting the door bend away from the hinges, the weight snapping the remaining ones until the hunk of metal was flat on the ground outside. Her cleaver had been left out since she killed the rodent the day before, or two days before, or whenever. The fire had long burned out. She drug Luke by his slimy, soft ankles, his skin sliding out of place. He was so heavy, limper than sleep could ever achieve. She stopped when he was lying under the setting sun. She charged the tip of the shovel into the dirt, stomping it before lifting it away and tossing what she collected beside her, over and over, until there was a pile up to her knees and a hole in the earth big enough for a body. The sun had abandoned her, and all that was left was darkness. She lowered to her knees at the edge of the hole, peering in. There were glimmers of white contrasting against the dark soil. Her body was almost too heavy to move, too empty to power, but she managed. She tried to keep her balance as she sunk her nails into the dirt and gripped bone. She brought it to her world, brushing it off. The skull fit snug inside her palm, and she remembered the way Bella’s soft fuzzy head felt, like she had never let it go. She could still feel the energy in the bone and soaked it up, the way dry land soaks up rain. Feelings of a foregone happiness swirled in her core like a blend of black and white. It was the last time they would ever be a family. She put the skull on Luke’s chest, and melted on top of him, letting the last of her tears fall out. And then, they were just objects, and she was alone. She lifted the skull. It was just a thing. She looked at Luke, touching the skin that loosely draped his bones. He was an item now, just as inanimate at the ground under his body. She placed the skull back in the earth. The permanent feeling of loneliness settled inside her like a black hole she could never pull her loved ones out of. She rolled Luke’s body into his grave. The first pile of dirt she scattered across his face was the hardest, but it got easier. By time the ground was whole again, she was numb. She threw the shovel and leaned against the house, not knowing what to do next, or where to go, or who to be. “I’m proud of you,” she heard a voice say. She looked up to find Mase standing under the black sky. There was no more anger, just something stale she didn’t bother dissecting. She put her head back down, bringing her knees to her chest. “I’m sorry.” She could hear him walking toward her, his crunches getting louder, until he was next to her, tailoring the earth to his bottom before leaning against the wall too. “You were right,” she said. There was a passion in her voice, but it wasn’t active. “I lost my mind.” “I know how it feels. It’s hard.” There was no combination of labels to describe what was going on inside her. “You were telling the truth about Skywalker too, weren’t you?” She finally looked up at him. “He didn’t save us, did he?” “Who knows? If you think he did, he did.” “It doesn’t matter what I think. Even if he did, we’d still be in this exact spot. War still won, and there was no one to save us. He can be someone else’s hero, ‘cause heroes don’t exist on earth.” “There’s heroes everywhere. The way I see it, there’s two types of people,” Mase began. She didn’t know if she was in the mood for one of his stupid observations. Then again, it was the only thing she was in the mood for. She rested her forehead on her knees. “There’s the people fighting for themselves, the ones who rape, murder, and steal your last bite of food, and then there’s the people fighting for each other, you know, the ones that’ll give their last bite of food to someone hungrier. When the new world starts, the ones fighting for each other will win. They always do.” She looked around. “There’s not going to be a new world. We’re going to die. Everything is going to die. We’re sitting on a graveyard. Luke’s mother, my mother, their mothers and fathers. We’re sitting on everyone who ever died.” She sighed. “Everything will turn to dust, just like them. Skywalker turned to dust, and his legacy is turning to dust, just like my Luke. The world will turn to dust, and then every star in the sky will turn to dust, and then there will be nothing left to save. There’s no point. There never was.” “There only is if you want there to be.” He put his hand on her chin, making her look back at him, so she could see the emotion in his eyes. They looked like little stars of his own. “There’s something inside all of us that can’t turn to dust. We’ve always known that. Life can never die, and if it does it’ll find a way to start again.” He let her go, but she still gaped up at him, hanging onto his words like they would pull her to shore. “Luke will never die, neither of them.” She loved him for saying that. She almost smiled. She imagined Luke, what used to power him, all his goodness, free without his maggot filled body somewhere. Yet, she couldn’t fathom what that would be like. Where was he? “How do you know?” she asked, her voice as small as a child’s. “We’ll never know anything. So, what do we got to go on? Feelings and instincts, two forces beyond our control, molded by something bigger than us-- mother nature, whatever that might be. My instincts tell me to care. My feelings tell me what to care about. That’s the only evidence of meaning I need.” “My feelings are telling me to jump in that hole with him.” “Bet your instincts aren’t.” He leaned his head back and gave a sort of sad chuckle. “Listen, there’s still a whole world out there.” All she saw was him, the only thing in her life that wasn’t an object. He had an energy powering him just like hers. He knew struggle, and pain, but more importantly he had hope. He was so animated it was as if his energy was reaching its hands out and icing her wounds. For a second, she didn’t feel so alone. Maybe he was right. Maybe she’d find purpose again, be part of the good that starts the new world. Maybe she was Luke Skywalker. “I do care about you, Feather, but I should just get this over with.” “What do you mean? You’re leaving?” She looked at Luke’s grave. As much as she didn’t want to desert it, she didn’t want to die there. It was hard, but she made herself say it. “I’m coming with you.” He sighed. “No, you’re gonna stay here, Feather. I’m sorry.” Her stomach dropped, her mood dampening again. “Why?” “You know, if it was winter I might’ve needed you to stay warm.” “What are you talking about? I have other uses, I’m sure.” His hand searched the ground beside him, a funny feeling forming in her gut. “I know you do.” He said, stopping and looking at her. “But right now I’m a hungry man.” She didn’t have time to process the meaning before he buried her cleaver into her throat.
Lawrence Dunning has been writing and selling fiction–novels and short stories–for more years than he cares to admit. So far, publication has amounted to three novels in the suspense/espionage/thriller category–two of which have been republished under the Authors Guild BackinPrint.com program–and some 35 short stories published in literary journals, many of which have been included in a new book of short stories titled Rondo and Fugue for Two Pianos. Along the way he has garnered various awards for his writing, among them three Colorado Authors’ League Top Hand awards for short stories and the listing of two of his stories in annual Best American Short Stories selections of the 100 best short stories published in the previous year. He has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
[The following are the diaries (redacted) of Nelson Courtney English III discovered by his daughter Sarah Vanderbilt English after his death by suicide on September 10, 1993.]
Monday, 8 July 1940--Interview with William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan this morning went extremely well, and am now officially an associate of the prestigious law firm of Donovan Leisure Newton & Lumbard. Offices are at 2 Wall Street, near the Stock Exchange--couldn't be better, especially for a fellow who just passed the New York Bar last month. "Wild Bill"--I had the gall to ask him point-blank--was the nickname hung on him in the Great War in 1917, when he served under Black Jack Pershing. "The year you were born," he laughed this morning--he'd obviously checked my vitae. Right off the bat he asked me what my politics were, and though it was none of his business I told him Republican. He said that was his, too, and that in his neck of the woods where he grew up in Buffalo everybody was Republican. I told him in my neck of the woods, too, but a different neck, mine of course being Main Line Philadelphia. He asked me if we'd had servants. I told him two maids. He said in his family the women tended to be maids, and that the men worked in factories and drank a lot. He obviously prides himself on his humble origins--I'll have to remember to key into that when the occasion arises in days to come. He graduated Columbia Law and said he drank a lot but held it better than most. I said I'd match my alcohol intake at Yale with his at Columbia any day. He laughed and said he thought we'd get along just fine--he shook my hand and called me Nelson, and I had to tell him that I preferred Courtney or actually Court, between friends. He said to call him Bill. He offered me a choice of bourbon or Scotch from his private office bar and I of course took Scotch. We toasted my acceptance into the firm. I have to feel that, at age 23, I am well on my way up the legal ladder of success, having gotten so well connected at the outset.
Wednesday, 18 September 1940--Work with Donovan going better than I could have expected--I seem to be a kind of protégé of his, which cannot be bad for my career. I've noted down several things he's told me over the last month or so--they seem to be his guiding principles and thus I should make them mine. For example: "Be somewhat reserved, with an agreeable manner, a sense of humor, and a pleasing speaking voice. No need to be a courtroom bully--you can get your way with a jury by being charming but forceful and absolutely fearless." And again: "Know the value of theater. Be soft-spoken and impeccably dressed. State your main point as a single, powerful, incontrovertible point, and repeat that point as often as necessary, until it becomes canon for the judge and jury." In fact, Bill dresses more handsomely than anyone I've ever known--he patronizes only the best tailors, shirtmakers, and cobblers both here and in Europe. He travels in the highest style and stays in only the best suites in the best hotels. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He told me the other day that this is the only way to live a decent life. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Sunday, 7 December 1941--The Japanese bombed the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, today. The country is at war--can Germany be far behind? I have no desire to volunteer for fighting--let others who lead miserable lives anyway take care of it. Perhaps, if inevitable, there will be a chance for a commission and some decent rank for me through Donovan's great influence. Roosevelt, pig-headed as ever, should have kept us out of it, but too late now, I fear.
Tuesday, 8 September 1942--Donovan asked me and several others from the firm to join him in the super-secret Office of Strategic Services, doing intelligence-gathering and spy work, apparently. Initial rank of First Lieutenant in the Army, with guaranteed promotion to Captain if the war lasts that long. Donovan told us he's mostly relying on his friends and associates among attorneys, bankers, industrialists, and conservative academics to staff the new organization. He feels lawyers, in particular, have a duty to contribute some of their time to public service. While I do not feel as strongly about this as he, I agreed to join the OSS as he asked, since the alternative might very well be conscription as an enlisted man.
Sunday, 11 October 1942--Reported to OSS headquarters in Washington at the old National Institute of Health building at 25th and E streets on 1 October, and was sent the next day for training at a special OSS school at the well-guarded Congressional Country Club outside DC. I will be here for at least another few weeks, perhaps longer. This spy business is more interesting than I thought, and most of the people going through training with me seem to be the same sort of chaps--most come from wealthy, conservative Republican, socially prominent families, and most attended Ivy League schools and belonged to the same clubs we all did (even ran into a couple of Bones men here). We've already been told to expect a certain amount of ostracism from the regular uniformed services--they apparently refer to the OSS as "Oh-So-Secret" or "Oh-So-Social." But Donovan has Roosevelt's ear, and wields more influence than almost any General (he holds the rank of Colonel). I foresee being extremely busy over the next months and may therefore not have the free time for regular or frequent notations in the diary, but will do my best.
Wednesday, 9 February 1944--London weather continues beastly but should be used to it by now, having been here almost a year. Did have a spot of luck last Friday, running into a fellow I knew slightly at Yale--James Angleton. He was more the literary type, edited a little poetry magazine that published Ezra Pound, among others. His English prof steered him into OSS--he'd been in London scarcely a fortnight when we ran into each other by accident. We're both Captains--he in X-2 (Counterespionage) while I of course am in Secret Intelligence (SI)--but our jobs at the moment are similar, namely, to work closely with British Secret Intelligence Services (SIS). We seemed to hit it off immediately, agreeing that we were happy doing what we're doing instead of being assigned to SO--the Special Operations boys who do all the dirty work of parachuting into occupied territories, contacting the Resistance leaders to help them carry out sabotage and assassination. Angleton was married not long ago but that seems not to bother him, since his wife is a very long distance away. In the way of OSS business I introduced him to a Brit named Kim Philby, who is head of the Soviet Section in our counterpart MI6. Well-bred, Cambridge, knows all the right people in England and all over, and besides, a delightful drinking companion. When we're not winning the war for good old Uncle Sam, drinking is in fact our major preoccupation. Living in this abominable climate, it is easy to see why so many Brits are rummies.
Sunday, 26 March 1944--Last night went to a party in Kensington Crescent with Jim Angleton and Philby and Angleton's Yale mentor. Met an incredible roster of literary and musical luminaries, including T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. French champagne, Norwegian caviar, Irish berries in cream. One would never think there was a war going on.
Thursday, 19 October 1944--J.A. (my good friend and compatriot Jim) off to the X-2 resource in Italy, which country he knows well from youthful residence in Milan where his father ran Italian branch of NCR. I shall miss him, miss our long lunches and dinners together eating and drinking the best that wartime Britain has to offer--poor at best. The night before his departure we had a last fling at our favorite watering hole near Hyde Park--the maitre d' obliged with blackout curtains until 4 a.m. J.A. very nearly missed his transport to the airfield later on. ******** ******** ******** Tuesday, 8 May 1945--So-called V-E Day (victory in Europe) as Germany surrenders. There is still the Japanese thing in the Pacific, but that seems to be winding down. Perhaps this frustrating and destructive war can finally be brought to a close with the forces of decency the victors. Allied compromises with Russia, however, remain a problem.
Wednesday, 15 August 1945–After we destroyed two large cities–Hiroshima and Nagasaki–with some new weapon called an atomic bomb, Japan has surrendered and World War II ends. So far there are only rumblings about a timetable for mustering out the U.S. forces, but I am eager to return to the practice of law. Donovan has indicated to his former associates that we will all have jobs when we return to civilian life; I, however, have my own grand plans for the eventual formation of my own legal firm. This war has taken three years out of my productive life, though I've met several fellows in the OSS who will perhaps prove invaluable to me later in a business way.
Saturday, 29 September 1945--Most of us, the scattered troops of the OSS, have been returning to Washington DC for the past month or so. A week ago President Truman abolished the Office of Strategic Services effective 1 October. Bill Donovan called a meeting this evening of all OSS employees at the Riverside Skating Rink, one of the OSS's DC properties, primarily to announce his resignation but also to thank us all for the work we've done toward ending the war. The crowd was subdued--there were more than a few tears shed, and sadness at the end of camaraderie was the theme of most of the speeches. Donovan's was the most impressive, leading us to believe that he would continue to fight for a national policy based upon accurate foreign information. He very much wants a peacetime national intelligence service, and I believe that before long we shall indeed see such an organization.
Sunday, 25 November 1945--These are crazy, jubilant days in Washington since the war's end. I am to be mustered out of Army next month, in time for Christmas (I hope). Last night at a wild Georgetown party I met a beautiful girl named Adele Bourchier, who oddly enough had been working for the OSS-connected Office of War Information (OWI) in New York. Not only is she pretty, but her father is the wealthy heir of a French arms manufacturing family who emigrated to New Haven after WW I and founded the hugely successful American branch of the French bank Credit Lyonnaise. He also, as it happens, married into the Vanderbilt family--Adele's mother. She is 23, five years younger than I, which is just about perfect. She kisses well and, when drunk, pets to a point, but is adamant about not going further before marriage. At least no jocko has been there before me. All in all, a girl worth pursuing.
Tuesday, 25 December 1945--Gave Adele a $3000 emerald necklace for Christmas which we both took to be a sort of engagement present, though the actual words were not spoken. At any rate I can afford it, thanks to my association once again with Bill Donovan's law firm.
Sunday, 16 June 1946--Adele and I married yesterday, 2 p.m., in a small but elaborate ceremony at her parents' summer place in West Yarmouth on Cape Cod. Both sets of parents (mine did not attend, the bastards, but at least gave us the first year's rent on our upper East Side apartment as a wedding gift) seem pleased that we have each married well. Drank too much champagne, could not consummate the vows sexually when we reached our hotel here in Bermuda, but finally did this morning. True to her word, Adele was a virgin--the sheets were a mess and had to be replaced posthaste. I am now desperate to go out for a drink but Adele seems to want to do it again.
Monday, 28 July 1947--Over the weekend Pres. Truman signed into law the National Security Act which creates the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the logical successor to the OSS. However, in true Democratic fashion he messed it up, mandating that the Director of Central Intelligence would work closely with Truman's National Security Council--in other words, hog-tying the CIA for purely political reasons. Donovan is livid over this--Truman, of course, no friend of his.
Wednesday, 16 November 1949--As Adele now 4½ months pregnant, I've contracted to purchase an 8-room cooperative apartment on Fifth Avenue near 63rd--an excellent address--and have promised the movers a bonus to get us in before Thanksgiving, a week from tomorrow. But as they are all union, they take their sweet Jesus time about it.
Friday, 24 March 1950--Adele huge with child, and per her expressed wishes, no sex since mid-January. I despise this situation. She is ugly to look at and her temperament has changed to coincide. I now fully understand those married men who do not wish to sire children. One piece of luck--Adele's friends assure her that carrying the fetus high almost certainly means a boy. It had better!
Sunday, 2 April 1950--Sarah Vanderbilt English born last night. All appendages intact. Adele in labor 24 hours--understand this is a long time but Jesus! Being in a ward full of screaming women not my cup of tea. The hospital paging system (the number I gave them as my office actually the Plaza bar) misfired so that I was 2 hours after the baby was born getting back to Adele's room. She was furious--maybe she had a right to be, or maybe she just smelled Scotch on my breath. I shall not soon forget the look of cold hatred in her weepy eyes.
Sunday, 30 September 1951--Tomorrow starts my new life as a full partner in my own legal firm, Wiley Rouse & English. Had a big party here last night to celebrate. Donovan and many of my former associates in attendance. Donovan a sweet man--wished me well, and over the past few months even helped me set things up. If he's miffed about my pulling all the Vanderbilt business out of his firm into mine, I can't help it--he knows about Adele's connection to the family. In my position I like to think he would have done the same.
Thursday, 14 May 1953--Nelson Courtney English IV born yesterday. Small, they say--slightly less than 5 lbs. Never cried, and the doctors said something wrong with his lungs. Poor little sonofabitch died this afternoon. Adele inconsolable–I think she somehow blames me. Stupid bitch. ******** ******** ******** Monday, 7 February 1955--Life goes pleasantly along. Adele has her charities and other pursuits, the French nanny sees to Sarah, and I--taking Bill Donovan's prescription for the good life to heart--make as much money as I can while I can, invest what I must, and spend the rest as I see fit. In fact, I lack for nothing, with the possible exception of a large suburban mansion suitable to my place in business and society where we could entertain decently. I'm working on this, having put out feelers with a Connecticut real estate agent recommended by Adele's father (her mother passed away last year--so far this has not interfered with my legal representation of certain lucrative Vanderbilt interests). In the meanwhile, luckily, for business reasons I continue to travel a great deal out of the city and even outside the country. I find German women particularly appealing, especially those who have a bent for sadomasochistic sex. There is nothing like having anal intercourse with a woman after whipping her buttocks raw and slowly licking the blood from her flesh. If Adele ever knew--finito.
Friday, 29 April 1955--Bought a 20-room house in Greenwich, Connecticut and have started inquiries about joining the right local clubs. Adele loves it and has begun interviewing for a cook and a chauffeur. The local zoning ordinances absolutely prohibit any Negroes or Jews or other foreigners from buying property anywhere within the town limits, such a relief from living in Manhattan where even in a decent building you're liable to run into scum in the elevators.
Thursday, 14 February 1957--Phone call today from Masterson, one of associates at Donovan's law firm--Donovan had a stroke and is at Mayo Clinic. No word yet on the prognosis.
Saturday, 16 February 1957--Masterson reached me at home this morning--doctors at Mayo say Donovan has inoperable arteriosclerotic atrophy of the brain. I called up there and they finally put him on--he knew who I was and said how much he appreciated the call, and that they'd be starting physical therapy shortly. I consider Bill one of my best friends and told him so--also, that 74 wasn't old enough for him to be scaring us all this way. He said to get ready for some serious golf in a month or two, but I expect he's being overly optimistic.
Tuesday, 16 April 1957--Call from Bill Donovan in Washington--he lives in a suite of rooms at Walter Reed Hospital, which President Eisenhower ordered for him because Bill worked so hard to get Eisenhower elected in 1952 and again in 1956. Bill wants me to fly down there tomorrow for a meeting with him and Allen Dulles, whom Eisenhower appointed CIA Director in 1953. He didn't say, but I think they have something in mind for me. In any case, I of course told him I would come.
Thursday, 18 April 1957--Interesting meeting yesterday with Donovan and Dulles at CIA headquarters in Foggy Bottom. Bill in a wheelchair with a full-time nurse, but otherwise managing. Dulles wants me to come on board as CIA Assistant General Counsel when the position opens up in summer of 1958. For public consumption they'd set me up as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, and would even give me an office at Justice. I was intrigued, of course--asked them to give me a week to think about it, since I do have a thriving law practice and a family to consider. Bill told me that's exactly the position he was in in 1941 when Roosevelt asked him to form an intelligence unit, and it worked out fine for him. Besides, he assured me the “Assistant” part of my CIA title would only be temporary until the aging General Counsel retires in a couple of months. I've not yet mentioned this offer to Adele.
Friday, 19 April 1957--Sleepless night mulling over the ramifications of the CIA offer, but decided to take it. Told Adele this morning (Justice, not CIA--I'll decide later about that) and then held a meeting with Wiley and Rouse, my two partners (also using the Justice class=WordSection2>lie with them). We hammered out an agreement that I'll be on open-ended retainer of $10,000 per month from the firm until such time as I decide either to make CIA a career (unlikely at best) or return to full-time partnership. Not much they could do, in any case, since I control 50 percent interest and they split the other 50. Then called Donovan in Washington and told him I would accept, and to pass on to Allen Dulles how much I was looking forward to working with him.
Friday, 18 July 1958--Signed papers today to lease the Greenwich house, with proviso that right of occupancy reverts to me upon 60-day notice.
Monday, 11 August 1958--Moved into new house in Georgetown section of Washington, a 2 1/2-story red brick Colonial on Dent Place, not more than a couple of blocks from where Donovan lived during the war. Adele likes it, Sarah as usual noncommittal, but she’s already been accepted at National Cathedral School where she’ll meet other children of the better people here in Washington. Yesterday I finally told Adele it was CIA, not the Justice Department--she seemed to take it well, but I thought I detected a look that said, "What else have you been lying to me about?"
Tuesday, 2 September 1958--First day at the CIA--Dulles introduced me personally to several department heads and showed me to my office in one of the wooden buildings thrown up after the war near the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool. I was told this was to be only temporary, for a month or so, until the General Counsel staff is moved to the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the CIA. This, too, will be temporary--Dulles is spearheading the drive to complete a huge new CIA headquarters building in the Virginia woods near Langley by early 1962.
Monday, 20 October 1958--New Foggy Bottom office not much better than previous, but had a nice first-day surprise--ran into Jim Angleton from OSS London days in the hallway completely by accident. He's been with CIA from the beginning, as chief of the Counterintelligence Staff. He insisted on taking me to lunch at a place he frequents, a decidedly low-rung French joint in Georgetown called La Grenouille–frog-- appropriate on several levels, with waiters on roller skates. We ate and drank (J. prodigiously--three martinis and two bourbons, plus wine) for nearly four hours, and when I casually inquired whether anyone at headquarters ever objected he said no, they trusted him to do his work whenever he did it--drunk or not, I thought. But it was pleasant, and we intend to continue the custom regularly from now on. ******** ******** ******** Wednesday, 14 January 1959--Two weeks after Bill Donovan's 76th birthday, and he is dying. As a final gesture from the Agency, Dulles arranged for a portrait of "Wild Bill" to be placed on the lobby wall at CIA headquarters and asked me to escort Bill to the unveiling, which I did this morning. It was a sad occasion but maybe not so sad--as I pulled the cord and the covering dropped away, he smiled for what his nurse said was the first time in many months. Whether he knew what was happening or not is perhaps immaterial.
Sunday, 8 February 1959--Bill Donovan passed away today, God rest his Catholic soul. My only thought at the moment: I do not want to die that way, a piece at a time, my brain shriveling slowly to dust over a period of years. Far better to choose the time and class=WordSection3>place, to fit bullet to chamber, muzzle to temple, finger to trigger, and evaporate.
Tuesday, 14 July 1959--Adele took Sarah and decamped for her family place up on the Cape at West Yarmouth. I'm glad they're there and I'm not--the place is a shambles, no order, no sophistication within a thousand miles. Sarah will probably wear that tiny two-piece bathing suit and have every boy along the shore panting to put his hands on her--I don't know why Adele allows it. Only 9 years old, but already she has firm little breasts. Sometimes I think...[illegible]
Friday, 17 July 1959--Here by myself in the house I can get as drunk as I please, which I fucking well am, with no one to say me nay. [illegible] early start--J. and I took early lunch at Rive Gauche, consumed so much alcohol and expensive food we decided not to return to office. Angleton has a dry sense of humor that shows itself at odd moments--at lunch, acting like the spy he is (or isn't) he whipped out a black-and-white photograph from inside his suit jacket and laid it on my plate. I wasn't sure what I was looking at--he explained it was J. Edgar Hoover engaging in oral sex with his assistant, Clyde Tolson. Not that this is any big secret in the halls, but to have the actual photograph! Only Angleton. It occurs to me that I would not like to have my friend J. for an enemy--his entirely illegal U.S. files could probably destroy a raft of well-known Americans.
Thursday, 17 March 1960--J. called me into his inner office and played a tape for me that one of his staff "black bag" boys obtained, God knows how. It was Senator John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe going at it in a hotel room in Los Angeles, sometime during the past year. J. says it's one of 5 or 6 similar that he has. Nobody would give a fuck except that Kennedy is running for President. I like his father Joe and have done business with him in New York, but the son seems like a patented do-gooder who might, given the chance, turn on his own kind. I asked J. what he planned to do with the tapes--he said nothing now.
Wednesday, 12 October 1960--Two days ago J. asked me to see what I could do about contacting some mob killers to take out Fidel Castro. I remembered some dealings I'd had with a possible go-between, Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent who sold out to become Howard Hughes's security chief. More than once he'd implied he had gold-plated contacts on both sides of the law. I phoned, we chatted, I flew out to Vegas yesterday. I stressed that his pitch was to be that this was a straight business deal. He said what else?--are you in something besides the legal profession I don't know about? I think I smiled at him. He made some calls from his private office while I listened in--Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, some other Mafia capos. I mentioned a figure J. and I had agreed on, Maheu mentioned another figure J. and I had also agreed the CIA black fund could absorb. I left with Maheu's assurance that it was a binding contract, with of course no paper.
Wednesday, 9 November 1960--John F. Kennedy elected President last night. Party here at house to celebrate what we knew would be Nixon's election became angry, drunken melee after late returns in--broken glasses, vases, furniture. Adele threatens never again but she's the one who likes giving parties. I think she needs them as excuse to drink. I don't.
Tuesday, 25 April 1961--Bay of Pigs invasion a farce--Kennedy rightly taking heat for not providing air cover, etc. Rumors in Agency halls that Kennedy will shortly replace Dulles as DCI, probably with John McCone--Dulles will be scapegoat. J. and I agree that this will be bad for Agency morale--Dulles one of the original OSS boys. Kennedy seems to hate the CIA and may wage personal vendetta against us.
Saturday, 1 July 1961--Early Fourth of July party tonight at Ben and Toni Bradlee's Georgetown house, up the street from ours. J. and wife Cicely also there, as well as Robert Kennedy--whom everyone calls Bobby--sans wife, looking much less like the U.S. Attorney General than like a young man on the prowl for a piece of ass for the night.
Monday, 13 November 1961--McCone bright enough as administrator but he's no Allen Dulles. After Bay of Pigs the President has stated repeatedly in public that there's no effort to dislodge Castro's Communist government in Cuba--but of course various CIA departments have been working on such a plan for some time. Finally, in order to cover our asses, McCone along with J. and I went to call on Bobby Kennedy at his office on the 5th floor of the Justice Dept. Without much pushing, Bobby agreed to secretly endorse our Operation Mongoose to overthrow Castro's Cuba. None of us from the Agency seemed to feel the need to point out this inconsistency between the Kennedy brothers.
Thursday, 11 January 1962--Finally moved into new General Counsel suite of offices on 2nd floor of new Langley CIA headquarters building. J.'s offices in corner of same floor--I walked over to see his set-up. His secretary a tough red-haired woman who guards banks of black files in outer office. Inside, J. has his own files--no other access, he assures me, not even McCone. He has windows but keeps them heavily draped so room is dark, except for small desk light and the glow from his ever-present cigarette. Every surface in room piled high with papers and folders, but what appears to be random chaos is not. We agreed to try the Langley cafeteria for lunch, and did. Separate lunchrooms for covert and noncovert employees, which makes sense. J. entitled to use covert but did not, in deference to me. Food awful.
Monday, 5 March 1962--J. pointed out today that he, I, and John Kennedy are all virtually the same age, all born 1917. But differences are, of course, enormous--for one thing, he's many times wealthier than J. or I can ever hope to be and in addition is an immoral, conceited prick.
Monday, 7 May 1962--Lunch with J. at Key Bridge Marriott. J. furious (as I am) about increasing U.S.-Soviet détente, all JFK's doing--J. says détente is a sham, a Soviet tactic for waging cold war. Kennedy surely leading U.S. down the garden path with his civil rights initiatives and his appeasement of every foreign interest. We agree he must be stopped. But how? Also, J. has tapes of many of JFK's sex meetings with Judith Campbell Exner, who is Mafia don Sam Giancana's mistress and who apparently knows all about the deal I set up October 1960 with Maheu to have Mafia eliminate Castro. So far they haven't, but Exner's knowledge is extremely dangerous to the CIA and the country. J. suggests I set up a second meeting with Bobby Kennedy to feel out his reaction, without going through McCone. Bobby continues to hound Giancana even though, because of Exner, this could ruin his brother the President. J. and I have a fantasy that if the JFK-Mafia link gets out to the public he may be impeached. Wonderful! (Except, of course, that the CIA would go down the toilet with him.)
Friday, 11 May 1962--Meeting with Bobby K. went extremely well--two attorneys discussing business. Bobby controlled but obviously furious that JFK knew but did not inform him about CIA contracts with Roselli and Giancana to assassinate Castro. Bobby said to leave Exner to him--I wonder if he plans to have her killed? ******** ******** ******** Friday, 7 September 1962--JFK continues to disturb J. and me with his prodigious appetite for women. (J. has many tapes from planted bugs in private houses and apartments and even the White House, including phone lines.) Marilyn Monroe death last month called suicide, but since she was sexually involved with both Bobby and Jack K. it is anyone's guess. Good riddance, for my money--she was a psychotic nymphomaniac whose only positive attribute was big tits. A much more serious problem is Mary Meyer, Ben Bradlee's sister-in-law, whom JFK has been banging since the first of the year. She and her friend, drug freak Timothy Leary, seem to want to corrupt the world's leaders with illegal drugs to make them more peaceful. J. slightly connected to her through her ex-husband Cord Meyer, a former senior Agency official. J. bugged her Georgetown art studio, got tapes (J. played them for me) of her and JFK smoking marijuana and taking the hallucinogenic drug LSD during heavy sex. At lunch today at La Grenouille, J. and I discussed the enormous implications for the security of the country if the President could conceivably be too crazed from drugs to push the panic button in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. Leaking this information to the liberal press would do no good--they would simply cover it up, as they invariably do and have in the past.
Monday, 15 October 1962--Entire CIA and all U.S. military units on extreme red alert. Yesterday one of our U-2 reconnaissance planes on Cuban overflight took 14 photos of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles deployed only 90 miles off our coast. Nuclear war a distinct threat, depending on actions next 24 hours of our deranged President. ******** ******** ********
Saturday, 27 October 1962--Missile crisis ended for now, but apparently only because JFK promised Khrushchev he would never invade Cuba. At Langley today met with J. in his office to discuss what to do--without doubt Kennedy is destroying country, and apparently plans to destroy CIA though will probably wait until reelection in 1964. I suggested that JFK must be replaced as soon as possible and before expiration of this term in office--meaning either that a palace revolution must be arranged or his death otherwise ensured--and J. agreed without hesitation, stating that Lyndon Johnson is much more a hard-liner on Soviets. Discussions along these lines must continue.
Sunday, 23 December 1962--Adele and I to pre-Xmas dinner at J.'s house in Alexandria. After dinner J. privately took me to his study for Cognac and a brief recapitulation of our many talks these past 2 months, to ensure we were still on the same wavelength. J.'s eyes were intense, almost glowing--"You realize, Court," he said, "that we've come too far now to back down--the only logical course of action for us is to arrange his assassination within the coming year." And as I remember I nodded and said Yes, I know--and that was that. We shook hands solemnly, as befits a momentous occasion such as this, and touched our brandy snifters in salute to this revolutionary concept. In keeping with his slightly melodramatic view of the spy world, J. on the spot gave our impending operation the code name BIG BOY.
Wednesday, 30 January 1963--Word received at Langley that Kim Philby has defected to Moscow from Beirut. J. visibly agitated, almost ill with disbelief that our Brit MI6 friend from London OSS days has gone bad. Most Agency people, including me, have been suspicious for years.
Thursday, 14 February 1963--J.'s internal dirty-tricks chief found a candidate from Texas for the shooter, a fellow named Lee Oswald. We purposely avoided my Mafia connections owing to the possibility of trace-backs to the Agency. If this Oswald checks out, we intend to send him out of Texas, but deep South, for training.
Monday, 11 March 1963--New Orleans chosen for training of Oswald, as J. implicitly trusts an Agency rep down there named Burton LaSalle. I've stayed away from the technicalities, but J. and his man Jaramillo say Oswald will use his own rifle, an Italian army surplus 6.5 millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano carbine fitted with a 4-power scope. Our technical lab people say it wouldn't be their weapon of choice for an Executive Action but that it has "kill power"--muzzle velocity of over 2000 feet per second, meaning the bullet will penetrate 2 feet of pine. J. and I decided Oswald's comfort with the weapon and his familiarity and previous practice with it in Texas count for a lot.
Tuesday, 19 March 1963--J.'s paranoia is an infectious disease and I seem to have caught it--part of the reason I continue to note damaging material here in my diary, to protect myself against the possibility that J. and his own massive and totally secret files might someday be used against me. Not a likely prospect, I think. But though I keep these volumes locked away and don't intend for them to be shown to anyone, my personal legal counsel Eldridge Hayes has been given certain instructions in case of my death in an untimely or otherwise suspicious or unnatural manner.
Thursday, 25 April 1963--Oswald has moved to New Orleans for training.
Friday, 17 May 1963--J. assured me Oswald will definitely be linked after the fact with the pending assassination. When I asked why, he played back a taped conversation between LaSalle and Oswald shortly after his arrival in N.O.--LaSalle (after being shown the scoped Italian carbine): How did you acquire this weapon, Lee? Oswald: I bought it by mail order in Texas. LaSalle: Can it be traced to you? Oswald: No, I'm not stupid, I used an alias. LaSalle: What alias? Oswald: A. Hidell. LaSalle: What address? Oswald: A post office box number in Dallas. LaSalle: Yours? Oswald: Of course--but they can't trace it to me because the name's wrong. LaSalle (after Oswald has left room): I just stared at him, Jim. The guy's an idiot--I hope you know what you're doing. J. had Jaramillo get on the horn to LaSalle and reassure him Oswald will work out fine--after all, we want him to be blamed ultimately--it's been set up that way.
Monday, 24 June 1963--J. on secure phone asked me to set up blind foreign bank accounts for Oswald and a contract pilot named David Ferrie, who will fly a rented plane with bogus paperwork out of New Orleans to wherever it's needed, no doubt on short notice. J. in contact with Secret Service for updates on JFK's fall travel plans.
Friday, 26 July 1963--Lunch with J. at Rive Gauche. Oswald training is on schedule. J. asked odd question--was I still enthusiastic about BIG BOY? I told him definitely--particularly in light of Kennedy's announcement the other day that the U.S. and Britain have signed a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union. This is obvious appeasement and betrayal of the cause of freedom--the man is a traitor and therefore legally and morally deserves to die.
Sunday, 13 October 1963--Drinking too much, in anticipation of the upcoming event. Hands shaking like palsied old-timer's. Advance word received 3 days ago that Kennedy visits Dallas for 23 November fund-raiser--also advance description of parade route obtained through phony offer of CIA intelligence assistance. J. and I agree well-known Dallas bigotry [illegible] perfect for our purposes. LaSalle accompanied Oswald on a (reward!) trip to Mexico and encouraged him to visit Cuban Embassy and ask suspicious questions--J. and I pleased that Oswald is setting himself up. Ferrie flies mid-November to small secluded air strip in Grand Prairie, near Dallas, and disappears for a week. We now have D-day--23 November. My God, what worldwide turmoil we have set in motion! Can this be happening?
Thursday, 24 October 1963--Oswald has obtained employment in building directly on JFK parade route. Since we can take no chances, a French-Canadian professional has been hired to kill Oswald as he leaves building--and there is the pilot Ferrie as backup. I think open murder of Oswald will point fingers of suspicion of conspiracy in all directions, but J. says we have no choice.
Sunday, 17 November 1963--Everything in place, nothing new--Adele wonders why I've been moody, withdrawn, and generally drunk the past month--no idea of the tension, just waiting for [illegible]...what if it should all fall apart at last minute? I will NOT go to prison!
Thursday, 21 November 1963--J. and I talked briefly--time for BIG BOY tomorrow set for approximately 12:30--we have decided to leave early for lunch at La Grenouille, where we can wait for TV announcement.
Friday, 22 November 1963--It's done! Jesus Christ Almighty--we did it! As we predicted, major media frenzy underway, nothing but Kennedy death everywhere tonight, Adele weeping, etc., though she detested Kennedy nearly as much as I. BIG BOY, however, botched in significant ways. At La Grenouille, first announcement came on schedule, restaurant in uproar, but as the minutes ticked on J. and I anxiously awaited announcement that Oswald had been killed. J. called to phone--his man Jaramillo reporting from Langley that our French-Canadian insurance missed his opportunity when after hearing Oswald's rifle shots the crowd swarmed up a nearby grassy knoll, preventing his stopping Oswald. J. told Jaramillo to see what if anything could be done and to keep in close contact. When he returned to our table at about 1:10 the announcement was just coming on that President Kennedy had died in Parkland Hospital emergency room at 1:00. Texas Governor Connally also wounded but this of no importance to us--J. and I quietly touched glasses, still hardly believing it. J. said he had no remorse, no feeling, really, except that we had done a good and worthwhile thing for our country. For the whole civilized world, I said, agreeing. We stayed listening to reports until about 2 p.m., then returned to work at Langley where seven floors of hell had broken loose. Later J. called me to his office--with incredible stupidity, Oswald had stopped off on his way to the Texas Theater rendezvous with Ferrie to kill a policeman named Tippit, God knows why. Dallas cops swarmed the theater minutes after Oswald arrived and arrested him on the spot--not for anything having to do with Kennedy but only the Tippit thing--and Ferrie sat there in a dark corner watching helplessly as they hauled Oswald away. We were still in J.'s office when our building public address system boomed out the announcement from Dallas that Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository, was being charged with the assassination of President Kennedy. J. buzzed Jaramillo on the intercom and ordered him in his official capacity to pull out all the Central Registry records the Agency had on Oswald, since that's what the DCI would expect J. to do. We badly need damage control in Dallas, I told J., and he agreed, suggesting someone with contacts inside the Dallas police department would be our best shot to take care of Oswald before he talked. I took a break, found the first pay phone in McLean and called Maheu, my previous go-between with Johnny Roselli and other mobsters. Without going into detail I explained that Oswald was a menace to the security of the country and that he had to be eliminated quickly. Maheu is to call me at home tomorrow with a name--we'll all be working through the weekend at Langley.
Saturday, 23 November 1963--Dead tired, and even with a dozen straight Scotches since I got home about 9 p.m. I can't [illegible]...Maheu called minutes ago--the name is Jack Ruby, small-time hood, oddly patriotic, with good police contacts...[illegible]...Ferrie the fairy called J. from Dallas--they've still got Oswald in the police department building and a Fed in on the questioning says he still hasn't opened up. Sooner or later they have to move the little fucker--hope this Ruby's a good shot.
Sunday, 24 November 1963--At Langley this a.m. when word came that Jack Ruby shot Oswald in front of the goddamned television cameras, surrounded by cops as they were moving Oswald to the county jail. I phoned J.'s office--he said he watched it on TV and couldn't believe his eyes. Then we watched together as Oswald pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital at 1:07 p.m. Ruby of course in jail--he's a raving idiot, claimed he did it in sympathy for Kennedy's wife and family. J. says what I'm thinking--that we'll have to get back with the Mafia boys and subtly but firmly let Ruby know if he ever talks about being hired, various mob types in jail with him will take him apart piece by piece.
Wednesday, 27 November 1963--Jack Ruby indicted by Dallas grand jury.
Friday, 29 November 1963--President Johnson today announced his plans for a 7-member commission to investigate the Kennedy assassination, to be headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. It seems certain Johnson wants to reassure the country that Oswald was the sole deranged killer--we will have to be very careful until the commission's findings are announced and the public furor settles down.
Monday, 16 December 1963--J. called today to tell me his man Jaramillo has been accepted as the CIA liaison to the Warren Commission. With our former DCI Allen Dulles already a member of the commission, we and all Agency employees feel somewhat protected from potentially embarrassing scrutiny of our files and methods. J. is confident there are no leads to us in any case--he claims he's made subtle changes to the CIA Central Registry and has destroyed all his own pertinent notes and files, but I'm not so certain. His entire career has been one of deviousness, and in any case I've not told him about my own diary. As a lawyer, I'm used to documenting everything--even if just for myself.
Wednesday, 12 February 1964–Big flap at Langley and Justice, with CIA and FBI as usual at each other’s throats. A Soviet KGB Lt. Colonel named Yuri Nosenko has apparently defected to U.S., specifically through our Geneva residency. FBI thinks he’s genuine, McCone and others here, including J., think he’s a plant. They’ve asked me if they can use my Georgetown house as a temporary safe house for initial debriefing and of course I agreed. Nosenko claims he was in charge of vetting Oswald when he was in Russia (I hadn’t known about Oswald’s little trip but am sure J. did). Nosenko a short, ugly man. Says the KGB decided against trying to recruit Oswald because he was “too mentally unstable” for intelligence work. J. dug at Nosenko like a rabid terrier but couldn’t get him to change his story. At one point this evening when we took a break I saw Sarah sitting at the top of the stairs, watching and listening. I ran up and grabbed her arm and pushed her back to her bedroom, telling her that if she ever so much as breathed a word about what was happening downstairs she would be hauled off to prison where they would do terrible things to hurt her, and that she’d never see me or her mother again. She was shaking and crying so hard I slapped her to keep her quiet. Back downstairs J. looked at me and I shook my head to signal that everything was okay. ******** ******** ********
Saturday, 14 March 1964--Ruby's trial jury has returned a verdict of guilty and the judge handed down a death sentence. Ruby's attorney Melvin Belli, who wouldn't let Ruby testify, will appeal.
Tuesday, 2 June 1964--This morning, along with DCI John McCone and DDP Richard Helms, I was called to testify before the Warren Commission about the CIA's prior knowledge of or connection with Lee Harvey Oswald--which of course we denied. J. Lee Rankin, General Counsel to the Commission, was a persistent bastard, asking me directly whether the Agency has ever had any reason to think there was an assassination conspiracy, foreign or domestic. I trust I completely dispelled any such notion.
Sunday, 7 June 1964--Jaramillo reported to J. that Earl Warren and Gerald Ford interviewed Jack Ruby today in the Dallas County Jail, and that Ruby claimed his life was in danger and wanted them to bring him to Washington to testify but Warren refused. Many people, particularly in Texas, apparently consider Ruby a hero. J. and I have done nothing further to bring Mafia threats down on Ruby, but J. insists we keep that option open in case Ruby begins to publicly cry conspiracy.
Monday, 28 September 1964--The final report of the Warren Commission was released to the public this morning, and my office received one of the first copies off the press. After quickly Xeroxing a copy for J., he and I have been separately studying the document ever since. Although there are reportedly some 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits that will be made public within a month or two, I've found nothing disturbing in the report itself, its main conclusion being that Oswald alone committed the Kennedy assassination. A few moments ago, deep into my second reading of the document and my fifth or sixth Scotch since dinner, J. called on the telephone and simply said "Home free."
Friday, 26 February 1965--Pres. Johnson fired McCone as DCI and replaced him with Admiral Wm. Raborn--the word is he's only a temporary caretaker. J.--always more knowledgeable about Langley politics than I--believes Richard Helms is waiting in the wings. I asked J. why not him, but he'd rather stay the powerful force in the shadows. I need to think about my place here, and whether in fact I oughtn't to resign.
Sunday, 26 September 1965--This past week it was all but announced that Helms will take over after beginning of next year, and that he'll want his own people in key positions, including in the General Counsel's office. At lunch I told J. I was ready to resign. He asked me to stay a while, but he knows that every day I remain at Langley I'm losing a small fortune from my Manhattan law firm. I didn't tell him that I've already contacted the management company in Greenwich to give the lessors immediate notice I want my house back within 60 days, or that Adele has already made preliminary arrangements for Sarah's private school back in Connecticut. Adele will miss the Washington social scene, but it will give her something to talk about for years among her Greenwich matron cronies. ******** ******** ******** Sunday, 12 December 1965--House a shambles--movers here all week. CIA farewell party Friday at Langley, followed by final debriefing although drunk on my ass. In fact, drinking [illegible] all fucking weekend, and even moreso last night at J.'s house in Alexandria--went thru many bottles--Scotch, wine, Cognac--the women were disgusted with us--and we with them--but this end of an era, by God! J. and I tied together for all eternity by unimag. things--tho by now speculation about the JFK assass. has pretty well died down. At 4 this a.m. invited J. to come to New York or Greenwich but he won't--may be just as well--he belongs here, in [illegible] bowels of Langley--fucking Kennedy's gone! we congratulated ourselves--Adele not speaking to me today, fuck Adele.
Wednesday, 5 October 1966--J. called today from Langley on his secure phone line--Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Ruby's conviction and ordered a new trial--word on the street is that he may go free after a short prison term for murder without malice. We don't need a Jack Ruby roaming around the country stirring up trouble--J. and I discussed the possibility of arranging an accident. Will it never end?
Tuesday, 3 January 1967--Jack Ruby died this morning in Parkland Hospital (same death place as Kennedy and Oswald, oddly enough) of a massive pulmonary embolism--fortunately J. and I did not have to act. We spoke briefly today--at J.'s suggestion I've installed a scrambler line in both my home and office. The list grows shorter--only major players left now are Ferrie and LaSalle in New Orleans. LaSalle, being CIA, is probably okay (J. says the same about Jaramillo but I worry about both, having seen more than one CIA agent sing for his supper). Ferrie still a problem--an egotistical homo, eminently blackmailable.
Wednesday, 22 February 1967--A nude David Ferrie found dead in his apartment today, surrounded by empty pill bottles, by New Orleans police--will definitely be ruled a suicide. J. had previously informed me that New Orleans DA Jim Garrison was opening up his own ridiculous JFK assassination investigation, and Ferrie would have been one of the first people called to testify. We subsequently convinced N.O. mob boss Carlos Marcello it would be a good thing for everyone if they offered Ferrie a chance for suicide rather than having Marcello's boys torture him to death. Obviously Ferrie agreed.
Monday, 2 October 1967--Thurgood Marshall sworn in today as first nigger U.S. Supreme Court Justice--this looks like the end of U.S. jurisprudence, now that the jungle bunnies have their own Justice.
Monday, 29 January 1968--Just returned from a week of non-stop eating, drinking, and fucking beautiful whores in France--Lyon and Paris--ostensibly for semi-annual board meeting of Credit Lyonnaise after having been elected to the board through influence of both sides of Adele's family (Bourchier and Vanderbilt). Could have taken Adele, of course, but convinced her it would all be dull business meetings 24 hours a day--she probably didn't believe me but so what? Seem to have picked up an oozing penis, however--must call Dr. Wellsley tomorrow. ******** ******** ******** Thursday, 4 April 1968--Martin Luther King Jr.--shooting off his mouth as usual--shot and killed today in Memphis. No big deal, as I see it--somebody just got tired of it, as we all were.
Wednesday, 5 June 1968--Sitting here in my study with the TV on, holding today's New York Times front page in one hand and a large Scotch-rocks in the other, savoring both. The huge 3-line 8-column headline reads: "Kennedy Shot and Gravely Wounded After Winning California Primary; Suspect Seized in Los Angeles Hotel." The story goes on as follows: "Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot and critically wounded by an unidentified gunman early this morning just after he made his victory speech in the California primary election. Moments after the shots were fired, the New York Senator lay on the cement floor of a kitchen corridor outside the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel while crowds of screaming and wailing supporters crowded around him. On his arrival at Good Samaritan Hospital a spokesman described Senator Kennedy's condition as breathing but not apparently conscious. He had been shot twice in the head. The suspected assailant, a short, dark-haired youth wearing blue denims, was immediately seized by a group of Kennedy supporters, including the huge Negro professional football player Roosevelt Grier. They pinned his arms to a stainless steel counter, the gun still in his hand." Quite a day--actually, it's now the wee hours of Thursday a.m.--Adele long ago went to bed, and am thinking about doing the same, but there's a news flash just now on the television that Senator Robert F. Kennedy died in the hospital without regaining consciousness at 1:44 a.m.--Full circle!
Friday, 26 July 1968--Thank God I'm rich! Wrote a personal check today for $100,000 to Greenwich Christ Episcopal Church--and through the name of Wiley Rouse & English, another check for $750,000 toward the campaign of R. Nixon. Impossible to imagine H. Humphrey and certainly not Clean Gene McCarthy as President.
Monday, 4 November 1968--Back from my first post-employment CIA Halloween (spook) party, this year in Brussels--good to spend time with J. again, tho he refused, as I knew he would, to join me in the sexual pleasures provided for attendees. Hard to believe that anyone so morally upright and unbending could be so intellectually devious.
Friday, 20 December 1968--Actually Saturday by now, of course, and has been for a long time, tho no sleep and still sucking on my own personal bottle of Dom Perignon left over from the debutante ball at the Waldorf, where my darling little Sarah "came out," as they say. Daddies traditionally do the first waltz, before turning them over to their escorts of the evening--in this case, Randy Talmadge, a nice enough young man--except I wonder if he's been getting into her, if he was going to spill his spunk after the dance into her 18-year-old pussy--not that I think for a minute she's still a virgin, private school girls these days have all given it away by the time they're 16--must admit she looked beautiful in her low-cut gown, her lovely large breasts fairly bursting out all over the place--got an enormous hard-on dancing close with her but when she noticed she pulled away and scowled at me--haven't enjoyed [illegible] Adele in a long time. ******** ******** ******** Wednesday, 29 January 1969--J. called today to ask me to fly down to DC for a memorial service for Allen Dulles at Georgetown Presbyterian Church. J. has been designated to carry Allen's ashes afterward. We both agree he was the last real tiger we've had as DCI, tho J. seems to have found a new and powerful patron in Richard Helms.
Saturday, 15 November 1969--Headlines today that 250,000 peaceniks are marching on Washington in the largest anti-Vietnam War demonstration so far. I think Nixon ought to get off his duff and order the whole uncivilized little country carpet-bombed to oblivion.
Friday, 9 April 1971--In her Junior year (unheard of) Sarah picked for Phi Beta Kappa at Vassar--of course I told her I was proud, but that doesn't excuse her leftist intellectual leanings--and certainly not what I gather has been her involvement in heavy sex and drugs. Adele tries to excuse it by saying everyone Sarah's age is doing it, but that cannot be true--decent girls don't shoot up or whatever and then invite some Bard College all-male dormitory to spend a weekend in her bedroom.
Saturday, 17 June 1972--Sarah married this afternoon in our back garden--thought I might have to drag her outside by her hair. She is willful and stubborn--I suspect that bodes no good for me in the future. Adele cried more than I thought was necessary--all women do, at weddings. In any case I like Sarah's husband Randy well enough, though he's not at all ambitious. I imagine about now he is pounding away inside her tender flesh, getting what all men finally agree to marry for--regular pussy. I hope she enjoys it more than Adele seems to these days.
Friday, 29 September 1972--Call from J. today, asking me to fly down to DC and spend some time there. He admitted what I suspected--that the CIA was involved in the June 17 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex. Congress is making noises, and J. says they need my legal help to keep Nixon afloat, since I still have good political contacts all over DC and I know where most of the bodies are buried (joke!). Of course I will go--I always lend a hand.
Friday, 20 April 1973--Sarah claims to be at loose ends. To keep her off the streets (literally, no doubt) I've agreed after much pleading on her part to use my influence--hell, I'm on the board--to get her some kind of piddling job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe she could help set up some of the displays and write blurbs for the curators--anything to get her off my back.
Monday, 5 November 1973--Just back from my 15th annual CIA Halloween party, this time in Tangier. For the first time I smoked kif, with a dark-skinned little whore who couldn't have been more than 15--but after she'd sucked my penis dry I still wanted my usual Scotch. J. not in attendance--he's been having his own political problems in the Agency, tho that seems impossible, given his long tenure. After Helms perjured himself before Congress about the Watergate thing, new DCI William Colby came down hard on J. for some of his little secret and largely illegal domestic spying schemes. I've warned J. before that no one is indispensable--his time may be short. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Sunday, 9 June 1974--Took Randy down to the Palm Beach house to fish, sail, drink, and fuck with two lovely young ladies who seemed to live on the beach and hardly ever wore clothes--if anything, they drank more than we did. Mine had to work hard to help me get it up--is it old age, or all the years of alcohol? Or, God forbid, can I only do it now with 15-year-old Arab girls? Adele would say it's God taking his revenge, but Adele doesn't know about this or anything.
Friday, 9 August 1974--Nixon resigned today, poor bastard--they would have driven him crazy if he hadn't. [illegible] a good man in many ways, tho too liberal for my taste--I called J. in Washington to remind him what can happen to incriminating tapes left lying around, but he assured me there's nothing "lying around." For our sakes, I hope so.
Saturday, 21 December 1974--Colby fired my good friend J. yesterday--of course they let him resign. He knew it was coming and so did I--he refused an official Agency farewell party, but I flew down there and with a few other close friends we had a magnificent lunch at Rive Gauche that went on into dinnertime and the wee hours. J. got entirely drunk, so that he couldn't stand unaided--tho bleary-eyed myself, I drove us in his car to his house in Alexandria where I spent the night in a spare bed. I believe at some point he cried, tho I would not have thought it possible. He loved intelligence work more than anyone else I've ever known, and was demonstrably better at it than most. I suspect he will manage to keep his hand in, in some clandestine way--they've already asked him to edit the newsletter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He told me a dozen times or so last night that he plans to do nothing but fish, grow orchids, and make jewelry in his basement workshop--and stop drinking, tho I doubt it. If it hasn't killed him before this, what difference does it make now?
Wednesday, 6 August 1975--A friend of Adele's--whose husband I do a great deal of business with--was in the city shopping the other day and happened to see a disgustingly nude portrait of Sarah in a prominent SoHo gallery. She recognized Sarah immediately, and the damned thing was even titled "Portrait of Sarah with Tits and Cunt." I am furious, as is Adele--how dare that little slut hold us up to such ridicule by our friends and business associates? I told Randy about it, and after he'd gone down there to see for himself I understand there was a terrible argument during which he threatened divorce and even knocked her around a little. I don't blame him--she's really out of control.
Monday, 27 October 1975--Sarah finally back from God knows where in the eastern Mediterranean--I suppose Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt. She and Randy went to Greece (theoretically only the Grecian Isles) a month ago, but then she got bitchy and told Randy she was staying longer in order to visit the most debauched Third World countries and learn to smoke opium, among other things, and that she didn't want him around--she had plenty of her own credit cards. So poor Randy came home alone. Adele cried, and yesterday I threatened Sarah with cutting her out of my will--not a new idea--if she doesn't shape up and live a decent life. ******** ******** ******** Thursday, 22 April 1976--J. and I talked on phone about fact that a U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations has been formed to reinvestigate the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Some testimony has already been given--notably by Johnny Roselli, who knows far too much for our comfort. Later I contacted Maheu again to see what he can do with the mob as far as shutting Roselli up so he cannot implicate the Mafia at some future date.
Saturday, 24 July 1976--Police found Roselli's mutilated body floating in an oil drum in Biscayne Bay south of Miami--ugly, but effective.
Sunday, 15 May 1977--Sarah told us last night she wants to divorce Randy, but Adele and I agreed we don't need the scandal and forced S. to promise us she would give up the pill and try for a kid.
Tuesday, 9 August 1977--Reggie Phipps died of a massive heart attack last night. Reggie and wife Cornelia perhaps our closest Greenwich friends--cocktails many evenings, weekend barbecues in the garden, even travel together over a period of many years--but I feel nothing about his death except that it makes it easier for Cornelia and me to continue our affair. Adele caught us kissing in our garden 8 or 9 years ago but it blew over, mostly because Adele is a prig and would hate for anyone to know I was unfaithful, and Cornelia and I have been circumspect ever since--easy enough because of our social position. I suspect after a short interval of phony mourning I'll divorce Adele and Cornelia and I will marry--she has money of her own now, and she not only likes to fuck but she allows me to indulge myself in several odd sexual things I've learned here and there over the years, which Adele never would. Cornelia is as brainless as Adele but that is no drawback--she'll content herself with taking care of the social things and won't even mind when I go off on my own pursuits, sexual or otherwise.
Friday, 14 April 1978--Cornelia and I settled now--the change in my lifestyle from one wife to the other remarkably insignificant. Our decision for a small civil wedding in town was best--I knew my ungrateful child would not attend, and hers are scattered elsewhere. Adele being a [illegible] bitch about moving out of the Greenwich house but tough shit--I paid for it, and she has plenty of her own Vanderbilt money in several trusts. Whoever said women are only good for one thing and not very good at that said a mouthful.
Friday, 28 July 1978--Flew down to Washington yesterday for lunch with J. at the Army-Navy Club--discussed fact that the House Select Committee on Assassinations has opened public hearings--we agreed that with Roselli out of the way we have little to worry about, since any testimony is likely to be either a rehash of the Warren Commission or else moot because of witness deaths or fading memories after 15 years. In any case, J. said G. Robert Blakey, the Committee's Chief Counsel and Staff Director, is in the bag, believing the CIA can do no wrong.
Saturday, 30 December 1978--House Select Committee on Assassinations now recessed. J. called to tell me a report they issued states that conspiracies are likely in both JFK and MLK Jr. cases but that no hard evidence is available that would warrant additional prosecutions. Once again--home free!
Thursday, 8 March 1979--Sarah's divorce from Randy final--I couldn't care less what she does with her life now--but if she thinks she's going to live off my money she'd better think again. Spoiled bitch!
Saturday, 24 March 1979--Went with Cornelia to Randy's wedding this afternoon--at the reception at the Club (which I funded) I told him Peggy seemed like a nice, simple woman, probably much easier to control than Sarah ever was, and we agreed there's no reason he and I can't continue our little extracurricular trips to Palm Beach or wherever.
Sunday, 18 May 1980--Sarah seems to have found some kind of job in a publishing house, after being asked to resign from the Metropolitan Museum. She yelled at me on the phone, claimed I insisted they fire her--actually it was more a suggestion that the board chose to adopt.
Wednesday, 5 November 1980--Yesterday Ronald Reagan received a huge victory in the Presidential election--took along with him a large number of new Republican Congressional members. This is a new era for those of us who hold the power and the personal wealth to see that things are run properly in this country--the commie liberals be damned!
Monday, 30 March 1981--President Reagan was shot in the chest by some little jerk named John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton--after I heard about it I called J. at his house in Alexandria and couldn't resist saying Fucking amateur! J. sounded somewhat more paranoid than usual--said not to call him like that again on his home phone, it was too dangerous. I wonder if he suspects a tap, after all this time?
Thursday, 3 June 1982--I fly to Washington tomorrow for a strategy meeting with J. and his factotum Tony Jaramillo--the three of us and God knows who else from the Agency have been subpoenaed to testify Monday before Congressman Lucas Hopper's House Committee on Government Operations investigating illegal domestic CIA operations, specifically, J.'s mail-opening program and his authorization of surveillance against suspected leftist U.S. citizens--both of which I condoned.
Wednesday, 9 June 1982--Fucking righteous media bastards! The New York Times this morning reported on Hopper's committee hearings on Monday--an all-day nightmare of being hounded by Hopper in what seemed a kind of personal vendetta against me, though I've never met the SOB before. And then when they questioned that spic bastard Jaramillo he swore that although J. had run both operations, his good friend Courtney English, the CIA General Counsel, had assured J. that no one would ever question the legality of what he was doing and that, even if they did, the CIA and the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney General's office had a long-standing agreement that the CIA's legal staff itself could determine when or if to involve the AG if CIA employees violated the law. Of course that made Hopper come down on me and I had to swear that I knew nothing of these illegal activities, that I'd been essentially out of the loop. Hopper asked me if the part about the AG-CIA agreement was true and I admitted it was--he said that was a terrible thing for the American people and he would personally try to overturn the Executive Order that allowed it, but of course that was mostly grandstanding for his tiny little Wyoming constituency.
Sunday, 7 November 1982--Wonderful to find out what a complete slut your daughter is. According to her mother, Sarah's apparently been sleeping around, forgetting to take the pill, and now at the tender age of 32 she's gotten herself knocked up and doesn't even know which sonofabitch it was. She's picked up a lot of feminist bullshit from her Greenwich Village friends and says she wants to have the kid anyway...imagine! Whatever happened to [illegible]...and I'll drink to that.
Thursday, 12 May 1983--Adele called from St. Vincent's in Manhattan, where Sarah just had a baby she's calling Allison English. I can't stand the idea of anyone thinking of this little bastard as a true English family member, though since Sarah took my name back after her divorce I suppose there's nothing else to call it--Baby X, maybe. In any case, I want nothing to do with it, even if Adele does.
Tuesday, 10 April 1984--After DCI William Casey acknowledged that the CIA mined Nicaraguan harbors, the Senate passed a resolution condemning U.S. participation. In my day and J.'s day the Agency never would have admitted anything like that--bunch of fucking pansies now-- ******** ******** ******** Sunday, 9 June 1985--Rockwell board meeting last week at the Beach and Tennis Club out in La Jolla--big party final night, not too bad-looking woman took me up to her room in the hotel and worked on me 2 or 3 hours--hand job, blow job, even massaged my prostate with a vibrator--but I never could get it up--got to call the doc tomorrow, get those testosterone shots increased, something--Jesus, I'm not that old, am I?
Tuesday, 21 April 1987--Sick of hearing about that egotistical little piss-ant Lt. Col. Ollie North--if he'd known what he was doing there wouldn't be these House and Senate Iran-Contra hearings. Intelligence these days is a goddamn joke.
Tuesday, 12 May 1987--J. died yesterday morning in Washington--I got a call about noon, and of course am flying down for the funeral Friday. There was a sizable article in the New York Times this morning, all about his powerful role as Chief of Counterintelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency for more than 25 years and how some liked him and some didn't, but that in any case he knew about virtually every CIA operation conducted during those years. He died of lung cancer, of course--he smoked more than anyone I've ever known. Only 69 years old, same as me--probably the best friend I ever had, maybe the only one.
Friday, 15 May 1987--Memorial service for J. this morning at Rock Springs Church in Arlington--saw a few of the old Agency people we both knew but not many--Jaramillo was there, and we nodded in passing but I had no desire to speak to him. I couldn't help feeling an era had ended, tho in fact it had ended a long time ago. I hope to Christ J. finally destroyed any incriminating tapes and documents--I have no way to find out, of course, since I've never been close to the family, even when I lived in Washington and saw or spoke to J. nearly every day. While somebody was up there saying some kind words about him, I kept thinking that probably no one knew him even a tenth as well as I did. I also felt a certain relief at there being one less person alive who knows the details that could still ruin me. I was going to stay around Washington a few days, visit some of the old haunts, but I didn't have the stomach for it--anyway, where the Rive Gauche used to be in Georgetown is now a Banana Republic, hard to get drunk there--Fuck this sentimentality! In fact, fuck everything...
Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA.
OUR STOPOVER IN SANTA FE
We arrived at Pisa International airport to find our charter jet waiting. Our favorite pilots Rick and Jeff were there to greet us. Each had logged thousands of hours as former military pilots. “Good morning, nice to see you again Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo”, the pilot, Rick remarked. The Co-Pilot, Jeff, chimed in, “We’re expecting excellent flying conditions back to the States. We’ll see that your luggage is loaded and notify you of take off shortly.” Rebecca ascended the stairway into the cabin. I knew the porters were both miffed but impressed by the amount of Louis Vuitton luggage we packed for the trip. I tipped them generously and made my way up the stairwell into the cabin. We spent two weeks on a Tuscan winery I was considering purchasing. Rebecca spent her days visiting the region while I was learning the winery business. Our jet was a G650 which has a cruising speed of over 600 mph and a range of over 8000 miles permitting non-stop travel to virtually any point on the globe. It seats 8 people and we can stretch out. The jet began to taxi down the runway and Jeff came on the speaker, “Please buckle up and prepare for takeoff.” I fastened my seatbelt and settled into the plush leather reclining chair. As the jet quickly banked upward above the clouds and leveled off, I poured myself a cognac from the well stocked liquor cabinet within arm’s reach. The “Remy Louis XIII” cognac went down smoothly and complemented the John Coltrane classic, “Love Supreme” I selected to play gently throughout the cabin. Rebecca asked me to pour her a chardonnay. As I handed it to her, I was struck by her beauty. Rebecca is an Ashkenazi Jew. Her long blond curly hair, angular face, and captivating green eyes made me fall in love with her in high school. I don’t know why she married me. I was a tall, lanky, Italian American kid with a Brooklyn accent and thick mane of black hair I kept combed back with too much hair gel. I wasn’t athletic, scholarly, or artistic but she was drawn to me. The buzz from the cognac made me melancholy and I pondered how two kids from an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn could end up so successful. Our lives included a beautiful home on the ocean in Palm Beach and first class adventures throughout the world. We sold our clothing business and had too much time on our hands. Despite our plenty, our lives lacked purpose causing the spark in our marriage to flicker over the years although we remained faithful. We enjoyed our comfortable lives but Rebecca was restless and needed more than travel. I prayed it didn’t include divorce. Rebecca couldn’t have a baby so she focused all of her maternal energy into running our clothing business. Rebecca had a gift for drawing and an eye for women’s fashion. She was always doodling blouses, skirts, hats, shoes, and handbags. In high school, she was wearing the fashions she designed which become all the rage on campus and throughout other schools within Brooklyn. Because Rebecca started designing as a teenager, she intimately knew the fashion tastes of teenage girls and designed for their fashion consciousness. Rebecca knew she was onto something and asked me to join her in producing a teenage girl's clothing line. I trusted her instincts and agreed. We schlepped up and down the East Coast with Rebecca’s samples soliciting every retailer, clothing manufacturer, and department store chain to no avail. Our first sale was to a tough Jewish clothing manufacturer named “Sol Rubin” who owned a retail store chain called “Candies” catering to teenage girls. The “Rivka” line consisting of blouses, jeans, shorts, pants, and shirts was an immediate success and grew quickly and carried by every major retailer across the United States with a growing following in Europe. Years later, I stood on the podium of the NYSE hand in hand with Rebecca as our company; “Rivka Corporation” went public. Ten years later when the stock split, we sold the business, retired, and began to travel the world. My trip down “memory lane” was interrupted by the co-pilot who came back from the cockpit and informed us, “There’s a hurricane forming off the coast of Florida. It could result in evacuations. You might want to stay clear, folks.” Rebecca looked up from an issue of “Conde Nast” magazine with Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Ghost Ranch” on the cover, and replied, “Let’s go to Santa Fe and Taos, Frankie. We can spend a few days and let the storm pass. I’d like to see why it’s called the “Land of Enchantment”. I took a sip of cognac, nodded, and the co-pilot confirmed, “Excellent decision, we’ll set course for Albuquerque.” It would be a snap decision we would never forget. Rebecca read about the historic “La Flora Hotel” built in 1922 in Santa Fe. She reached for the satellite phone adjacent to her leather seat and dialed the hotel to make reservations. It was late evening in New Mexico and Rebecca was told by the desk clerk on duty that it was the popular “Fiesta de Santa Fe” weekend, and the only accommodations he could offer was a standard room with double beds. Rebecca placed her hand over the receiver and said, “All they have is a standard room with double beds.” She could see the disapproving look on my face and said, “Remember all those “fleabag motels” we stayed in when we started the business? How bad can it be? We’ll make it an adventure, Frankie”. I nodded “yes”. Rebecca booked the room and said we were arriving by private charter jet and would require transportation to the hotel. She was told the hotel van would pick us up at extra cost. She agreed. I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed of my father remarking about our success, “Only in America could this happen, Frankie. Give something back.” I was awoken by the wheels touching down on the runway in Albuquerque. Jeff and Rick taxied the jet to the private jet hangar. They greeted us at the bottom of the stairwell and thanked us for our business. As was my custom, I tipped them generously. The baggage handlers began unloading the baggage and the terminal supervisor approached saying, “Welcome to Albuquerque, Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo”. He reached for his phone, dialed, and said “The Di Carlo’s are ready for pick up. Meet us at the plane”. Within seconds, a black limousine followed by the La Flora Hotel van approached. The driver of the van directed the baggage handlers to load the luggage into the van. The passenger of the van was a chic, thirty something gentlemen, who approached saying, “Welcome to New Mexico Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. I’m Bernard and the General Manager of the La Flora Hotel. I’ve taken the liberty of providing you with limousine service to the hotel. May I accompany you?” Rebecca and I were impressed by the service as we were expecting a simple van to pick us up. Bernard climbed into the front seat of the limousine and waved for the van to follow behind us. He spoke with a French accent saying, “Please permit me to apologize for the confusion last night when you booked your reservation. I’ve taken the liberty to arrange for you to stay in the “El Presidente” suite of our hotel. Is this your first visit?” Rebecca replied, “Yes, Bernard. So, what’s going on in Santa Fe with the Fiesta?” Bernard answered, “You're very fortunate to pick this time of year to visit. Santa Fe is celebrating the “Fiesta de Santa Fe”. Rebecca asked, “I detect a French accent, is that correct?” Bernard replied, “Oui Madame.” We learned that Bernard was a philosophy student at the Sorbonne and developed an interest in eastern religion. He had met the Dalai Lama and “Amma”, a Hindu spiritual leader, guru, and regarded as a saint by her followers. Bernard described waiting eight hours for the opportunity to spend sixty seconds with Amma which had a profound effect upon him. He felt her “reach deep into his soul and offer guidance on his path through life”. Rebecca asked, “Why did you settle in Santa Fe? Is it really the “Land of Enchantment?” Bernard smiled and replied, “Every day is different in Santa Fe. You never know what to expect. For instance, I feel something is “in the air” this weekend but I can’t put my finger on it.” When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by a team of bellmen and introduced to the concierge, Elena. Bernard and Elena escorted us to our suite. We entered a beautiful apartment size, southwestern inspired suite with plush western style leather furnishings and a luxurious four poster bed. A basket of fruit, cheese, and wines had been placed within the suite. Bernard excused himself saying, “It has been my pleasure meeting you Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. I’ve written my cell number on the back of my card should you require my attention.” Elena remained and inquired about reservations at restaurants, tours, or anything else we required. Rebecca replied, “We’d like to see Taos. Would you make that arrangement?” Elena replied, “Yes, Ma’am. I recommend that you complete the tour tomorrow which begins early and is completed in time for dinner in Santa Fe. I have a wonderful tour guide.” Rebecca replied, “Book it”. Rebecca asked about the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum to which Elena agreed to arrange a private docent tour. Elena had taken the liberty to make a short list of favorite Santa Fe eateries which she handed Rebecca saying, “I highly recommend each of these establishments for breakfast, lunch, or dinner as they will provide you with a wonderful introduction to the Santa Fe cuisine. No reservations will be required. Just tell the hostesses, “Elena” sent you.” Elena and Bernard were some of the best hoteliers we’ve encountered throughout the world. We thanked her with a generous gratuity which she respectfully declined. Our bags arrived and we began our first day in Santa Fe. It was late afternoon and we decided to head out of the hotel into Santa Fe and get our bearings. We walked a short block down San Francisco Street into “Santa Fe Plaza” which was set up like a carnival. The weather was beautiful and a variety of culinary smells filled the air. A live band was playing and an assortment of food vendors sold everything from giant turkey legs to deep fried Twinkies. The Plaza was full of middle aged and senior tourists but also full of cops. Rebecca found a healthy food vendor and we bought a light dinner. I asked the vendor why the show of force from the police department? The young lady behind the counter replied, “Every year there is a counter demonstration from the Native Americans who protest the Festival de Santa Fe. Don’t worry, the protest is always peaceful.” Just across the street from the park was a historic adobe building named “Palace of the Governors”. It ran the length of the entire block. The sidewalk was covered with a wood and adobe awning which provided shade for the Native Americans who sat tightly packed together with their “backs against the wall”. Their hand crafted jewelry and artwork was displayed in front of them atop blankets. Many of the vendors were elderly. I got the impression many had been selling their wares for decades to Caucasian tourists who towered above them and senselessly haggled over price. Rebecca and I slowly walked down the line of vendors stopping in front of an elderly Native American man, likely in his eighties, sitting upright and his legs crossed. He was dignified and the deep lines on his face depicted a difficult life. His long silver hair was neatly braided. Rebecca was intrigued by his bracelets which were silver and adorned with Turquoise. Unlike the other gawking tourists towering over the vendors, Rebecca knelt in front of the elderly man, looked him in the eye, smiled, and asked, “May, I ask what is your Tribal affiliation?” The man smiled and proudly proclaimed, “Navajo, Miss”. Before reaching for any of the jewelry, Rebecca asked, “May I try this bracelet on?” The man nodded affirmatively. Rebecca placed the beautiful silver and turquoise bracelet on her wrist. It overshadowed the Bulgari bracelet Rebecca was wearing. I saw that “look” in Rebecca’s eye that she had to have it and she reached into her wallet to purchase it asking, “How much is the bracelet?” The man looked up at Rebecca and said, “I’m sorry you are without child. Please accept the bracelet as a gift from my tribe to yours.” The man’s statement floored us and all we could say was, “Thank you”. It would have been an insult to insist on paying. As we walked around Santa Fe, Rebecca was flabbergasted. “How did he know I couldn’t have a baby?” “It’s remarkable”, I replied, “It was no accident he mentioned “gift from my “tribe” to yours”, honey. He knew you were Jewish.” Rebecca held my hand and I caught her admiring her beautiful bracelet as we walked. We stumbled upon the Georgia O'Keeffe museum which was closing in an hour and approached the ticket counter mentioning, “Elena sent us”. Within seconds, a mature female docent appeared and welcomed us, “Good afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. Welcome to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. We’re so happy to have you join us. Although the museum is closing in one hour, we’re happy to take you through the Museum after closing time.” She handed us each a catalogue and a formal invitation to meet with the Director which was a polite way of soliciting for the Museum. She was extremely knowledgeable and we were able to finish the tour in ninety minutes. We were feeling jetlagged and Rebecca suggested, “Let’s head back to the hotel and have a cocktail. We have to get up early for our tour in the morning.” As we entered the hotel lobby, Elena intercepted us and asked, “How was your first afternoon in Santa Fe, Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo?” Rebecca replied, “Join us for a drink, and I’ll tell you all about it.” Elena walked us to the intimate bar located off the main lobby and we sat in a private comfortable booth. We ordered “Double Margaritas” and Elena ordered a Diet Coke. Within minutes the drinks arrived along with fresh guacamole and warm tortilla chips. Elena told the waiter, “Compliments of the house”. Rebecca told Elena, “The most interesting thing happened. We stopped to look at jewelry where the Native American artisans are assembled and an elderly vendor gave this beautiful bracelet to me as a gift.” Rebecca held out her arm with the bracelet for Elena to inspect. Elena was a beautiful thirty-something Native American woman wearing a wedding ring. Elena was impressed with the turquoise and intricate work of the silver saying, “This is a very fine piece, Mrs. Di Carlo.” Rebecca replied, “He just gave it to me. No charge!” Elena asked, “What did the man look like?” Rebecca replied, “He appeared to be in his eighties and didn’t speak a word except to say “Please accept a gift from my tribe to yours” and somehow he knew we were childless!” Elena replied, “Turquoise means “open communication” and “clarity of thought.” These elders are very perceptive and the quality of this gift tells me he respected you. I’m Navajo and know turquoise has the ability to identify the “way forward.” It is a good color to use when you are “stuck in a rut” and don't know which way to move.” Rebecca took a long sip from the double Margarita and her hand was trembling. Elena gently held her hand saying, “Don’t over think it Mrs. Di Carlo. You’re in New Mexico and it’s no accident people call it “The Land of Enchantment”. I’ve confirmed your tour for seven am tomorrow with your tour guide who will meet you in the lobby. Goodnight.” We returned to our suite and retired for the evening. Our tour guide met us in the lobby promptly at seven in the morning and introduced himself as “Jackson”. He appeared to be Native American, over six feet tall, twenty something, wearing faded jeans, western style shirt, cowboy hat, and a pair of worn-out cowboy boots. His black long hair was unbraided and hung low on his back. He looked more like a ranch hand than a tour guide until we got a glimpse of his large silver belt buckle with an inscription reading: “They came with a Bible and their religion, stole our land, crushed our spirit…and now tell us we should be thankful to the “Lord” for being saved. Chief Pontiac (1769)”. Rebecca and I knew we were in for an interesting tour. Jackson had parked his Jeep Wrangler in front of the hotel. The doors were inscribed, “Authentic Tours”. Jackson was a gentleman and opened the passenger door for Rebecca saying, “I believe Mrs. Di Carlo will find the front seat more comfortable” to which I agreed and climbed in back. The Jeep was toasty warm. Jackson commented, “At any time, please let me know and I will adjust the temperature. I suggest you each take two Dramamine if you’re prone to car sickness. Some of the tour will be off road and bumpy.” Jackson reached around to a picnic basket in the seat next to me and removed the top revealing an assortment of bottled water, French pastries from a gourmet bakery we had passed in town the night before, and a bottle of wine from the very vineyard in Tuscany I was considering purchasing! I showed it to Rebecca and she gave me that look, “Don’t say anything, Frankie” to which I complied. Jackson fired up the Jeep and I heard Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue” playing on the sound system. Jackson immediately reached to turn off the music and both Rebecca and I said, “We’re jazz lovers. Please leave it on.” Jackson was an interesting man and we were eager to learn more about him. It would be a three hour tour to Taos and it wasn’t long before we were high in the Desert Mountains far from the City. During the tour, Jackson made several turns directly into the desert without the benefit of even a dirt road to take us to a mesa with views seldom seen by anybody but locals. It was a bumpy ride but well worth the magnificent vistas he showed us. The wind blew and kicked up the fragrance of the chaparral. In addition to his intimate knowledge of these hidden vistas, Jackson demonstrated a deep understanding of the archaeology and geology of the area. Back on the highway, we stopped for a bathroom break. I asked Jackson why he chose “Authentic Tours” as his business name. Jackson replied, “So much of our history has been, excuse the expression, “white washed” and it’s my obligation to provide tourists the opportunity to hear the opposing historical viewpoints.” Rebecca replied, “Do the “opposing viewpoints” include what we saw in the square last night?” Jackson replied, “You’re referring to the “Fiesta de Santa Fe?” Rebecca replied, “Yes. The square was festive but loaded with cops. In the distance, we could see Native American protesters kept at bay by barricades.” Jackson answered, “The Fiesta is a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the 1692 “reconquest” of New Mexico by General Don Diego de Vargas. The Spanish were expelled from the city by Pueblo people in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The King of Spain appointed de Vargas to lead the exiled colonists in their reoccupation of Santa Fe by surrounding the city with cannons and threatening the Pueblo Indians residing inside with death. He re-entered the city on September 14, 1692. The “white washing” of this “reconquest” called it peaceful when in fact the Pueblo people gallantly put up a struggle but were slaughtered by Conquistadors in the very square you visited. The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce has been staging the Fiesta for decades. Native people find a Fiesta celebrating mass slaughter a disgrace.” We were impressed by Jackson’s passionate, telling of the “reconquest”. Rebecca asked, “What’s your background, Jackson?” Jackson was self effacing but said, “I received a Bachelors and Masters in American history with a minor in archaeology and geology from UNM. I’ve applied to the doctoral program and my goal is to write my thesis on the “authentic” history of this region. We’re burning sunlight folks, let’s continue the tour.” We made several more off-road stops to take in magnificent vistas, crossed the Santa Fe River Gorge Bridge, stopped to see the “Earthship” community, and entered downtown Taos. Jackson parked the Jeep and said, “This is downtown Taos. There are plenty of shops and places to eat. Let’s meet back at this spot in ninety minutes.” I asked Jackson to join us for lunch but he declined having to complete “an errand”. It was hot and we found a Brasserie restaurant with air-conditioning. Just before entering, we saw a “twenty something” young man wearing dark sunglasses with a manual typewriter placed atop a packing crate. His home-made sign read, “Poems Written”. There was no fee but he had a tip jar. I was impressed with the young man’s chutzpah to set up shop in the hot sun and write poetry for tip money. Rebecca complained of being hot and said she would get us a table. I approached the young poet and he looked up from his manual typewriter. I said, “I haven’t seen a manual typewriter in decades. Where do you buy the ribbons?” He couldn’t look me directly in the eye which led me to believe he was blind and said, “I buy them online, sir.” I thought this would be a lovely opportunity to present Rebecca with a love poem and asked, “We’re tourists and made an unexpected stopover in Santa Fe. Would you thank my wife Rebecca for selecting this journey? We’re having lunch inside the restaurant. I’ll see you when we finish. I placed twenty dollars in your tip jar.” The poet replied, “Thank you, sir. It will be ready when you finish lunch. I recommend the Trout Almandine” I returned to join Rebecca who was savoring a tall glass of ice water. “The poet recommended the “Trout Almandine”, baby”. Rebecca replied, “Sounds good to me”. During lunch, I glanced at the poet and saw him pause, reflect, type, and repeat the process again and again. He was giving a great deal of thought to the poem. We heard a car horn and knew it was Jackson waiting. We paid the check and I returned to retrieve the poem. The poet handed me a sealed envelope addressed to “Unexpected Visitors”. I opened the envelope including beautiful stationary which read, “Be mindful of what you witness during your stay and remember the lessons taught. Thank you for stopping by and there is no charge for the poem.” The twenty dollar bill was included. I handed it to Rebecca who simply shrugged her shoulders. We met Jackson back at the Jeep. He had refilled the cooler with ice and had the air-conditioning set to “high”. Jackson said, “We’re at the halfway point of the tour, Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. Some folks like to see the gravesite of Dennis Hopper and I have some other scenic vistas to show you. It’s your choice.” Rebecca replied, “Is it possible to show us how the Pueblo people live?” Jackson replied, “I can take you to the “Taos Pueblo” which is about ten minutes from here.” He set the Jeep in motion for the short trip to the Pueblo. We drove into the Pueblo which was located on the outskirts of Taos. We entered on a dusty dirt road and stopped.
Jackson admonished us, “Please understand that these are the homes of actual residents. You’ll notice some operate as gift stores or markets and you’re welcome to enter those. In the center of the Pueblo, you’ll find the “San Geronimo Catholic Church” which has a tour starting every half hour. If you hurry, you’ll make the next tour. I’ll meet you back here.” Rebecca and I hurried to the Church and made it in time for the tour which was beginning. It was led by a Pueblo young woman who took us inside the old beautiful church. She introduced herself has “Meda” and proudly remarked she had received a scholarship to attend UNM the following year. As she led us through the Pueblo, Rebecca and I were struck by the hot, dusty conditions. The only source of water was a raging stream running through the center of the Pueblo. The pueblos were made of adobe, straw, and were in constant need of upkeep according to Meda. Each had a propane tank for heat and cooking but we assumed the bathrooms were on septic tanks. We followed Meda into several homes and we were amazed at how cool and naturally insulated they were with thick adobe walls. Meda invited us to complete the tour at our own pace. We heard Jackson’s horn sound and quickly ducked into a souvenir shop before joining him. It was a narrow but deep store full of souvenirs but nothing caught our fancy. We made it to the rear of the shop and mistakenly pulled open a curtain thinking it was another part of the shop. The curtain closed behind us and we interrupted a sitting group of elderly men smoking pipes. The room was filled with an acrid smoke and our eyes watered. The men smiled and we politely excused ourselves. As we made our way to the Jeep, we each felt nauseous. Rebecca found a discrete spot and vomited. My head was throbbing. When we reached the Jeep, Jackson remarked, “You both look “green around the gills”. He opened our doors and reached for the cooler and dampened two clothes with cold ice water and placed them on our foreheads. He handed us each a cold bottle of water and told us to sip water. Rebecca muttered, “What’s happening to me. I feel like I’m on a bad trip.” I replied, “Me too!” Jackson asked, “Did you inhale any smoke fumes which reminded you of pot?” Rebecca replied, “Yes, but it was a different aroma when we walked into the room.” Jackson asked, “Room?” Rebecca replied, “Yeah, there were several elderly men sitting on the floor smoking pipes”. Jackson smiled saying, “You both got a whiff of Peyote. It will wear off shortly. Keep the cool towels on your foreheads and drink plenty of water. We’re about an hour and a half away from Santa Fe and the remainder of the tour is the quickest route back which takes us through the “Santa Fe National Forest”. If you need to vomit, let me know and I’ll pull over. On a positive note, I think you’ll see the forest in “Technicolor”. Jackson drove slowly up into the mountains. At some point, Rebecca and I asked him to stop and we were able to vomit which made us feel better. We made several stops along the highway through the forest and he was correct. The effects of the Peyote made the trees and the valleys all the more spectacular. The last thing I remembered was seeing Rebecca fall into a deep sleep and I last remembered seeing a Bald Eagle soaring across the treetops before dozing off. I dreamed about being an ordinary Brooklyn kid and heard my father say, “Give something back.” We were awoken by a gentle nudge and soft remark, “We’re back in Santa Fe, Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. You both dozed off and I didn’t want to wake you. This concludes our tour. We’re parked in front of the “Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral”. It’s quite beautiful. I can drop you here or take you to the hotel.” The nap had rejuvenated both of us although my mind was still a little hazy. I asked Rebecca, “How do you feel, baby?” and she replied, “My stomach is fine but still have “cobwebs” in my head. I’d like to see the Church, Frankie, ok?’ We thanked Jackson for the wonderful tour and I tipped him two hundred dollars for which he was grateful, remarking, “You’re terrific people. Not all of my tourists are curious about the Native Americans and their history. Thank you. I hope to see you again.” Rebecca held my hand as she was unsteady climbing the stairs. She wanted to view the interior of the Cathedral but I preferred to take in the fresh air and walk the grounds. We agreed to meet at the church entrance in fifteen minutes and find a restaurant for dinner. I came upon the statute of “Saint Francis of Assisi” who was the patron saint of the diocese. The second statue I came upon was very intriguing. It was a statue of a beautiful woman named, “Saint Kateri” who was the first North American Indian to be beatified. She was an Algonquian-Mohawk woman of New York State. At an early age, she converted to Christianity. Kateri was beautiful with long flowing black hair, wrapped in a white robe, and wearing turquoise earrings. As I walked around her statute, it was if her eyes followed me. Her face and smile invited me in close as if to speak to me, and to my astonishment, she shed a tear. I reached for her face, wiped the tear away, and another tear flowed. I looked around and nobody was to be found. I desperately looked for somebody to confirm what I was witnessing. I ran to the door of the church to summon the priest but was intercepted by Rebecca exiting the church. I exclaimed, “Come with me, the Saint is crying!” Rebecca looked at the statute, held my hand, and said, “If you saw tears, I believe you darling. I think it’s time for us to unwind from this long trip over a quiet dinner.”
We walked hand in hand towards the square and found “The Shack” which had been recommended to us by Elena. It was packed but when we told the hostess “Elena” sent us, the hostess remarked, “It looks like you had a long day. Prefer something quiet outdoors?” Rebecca and I nodded in agreement. We were seated in the shady patio. In the distance, we could hear the Fiesta still going strong. Our Margarita’s arrived quickly. Rebecca reached for her Margarita with both hands trembling and took a long, slow sip. In the background, we could hear the noise of the Festival being drowned out by Native American protest chants, “Don’t white wash history!” A cadre of horse drawn police officers galloped by the restaurant. Rebecca whispered, “Can’t you hear that?” I replied, “Yeah, it’s the protestors shouting their message.”
Rebecca asked again, “Can’t you hear the Native American war chants? Can’t you hear the soldiers shouting back in Spanish?” Rebecca bolted from the table out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk. She shouts, “Frankie, the streets are emptied and the stores are shuttered. Look toward the end of the street.” I left a bill to cover the drinks and joined my wife on the sidewalk which was filled with tourists and the Festival was still going strong. Rebecca held my arm, pointed, and said, “The Conquistadores are marching up the square.” Rebecca turned around and looked down the square pointing and shouting, “The Native Americans are dressed in war paint and ready for battle.” The hostess came out and asked if all was “ok” and I said, “My wife had a long day and too much to drink but thank you for caring. I need to take her back to the hotel to rest.” Rebecca crouched and screamed, “The Native Americans are firing arrows which are just bouncing off the armor of the Conquistadores. The Conquistadores have their swords drawn and they're galloping towards the Native Americans. Men, women, and children are being slaughtered. It’s a bloodbath!” I knew Rebecca was having another Peyote “trip” but all I could do was to hold her and attempt to calm her. A motorcycle cop stopped and asked, “Is everything all right, sir? May I call a paramedic”? I replied, “Everything is under control, Officer.” He tried to console Rebecca and said, “Ma’am. It’s just a peaceful protest.” Rebecca screamed, “The Conquistadores are slaughtering the Native Americans. It’s horrible. Do something, please”. The cop replied whispering to me, “Too much booze and sun. The protesters like to get the tourists riled up. We should get her back to your hotel to sleep it off.” I said, “We’re just across the street at the La Flora Hotel, Officer. Thank you”. The officer replied, “Let me help you carry her across the street into the lobby”. Rebecca screamed, “The blood is flowing down the gutter into the sewer!” She fell into unconsciousness.
We entered the lobby of the hotel and were immediately met by Elena commanding us, “Please carry Mrs. Di Carlo into my private office.” The cop and I laid her on the sofa. I thanked the Cop who replied, “Just in the line of duty, Sir.” Elena returned with cold, moist towels and placed them behind Rebecca’s neck and on her forehead. Bernard entered the office saying, “I’m so sorry for this misfortune, Mr. Di Carlo, may I call the Paramedics or the hotel doctor?” Rebecca awoke, and Elena was helping her sip ice water from a straw. I said, “We visited a pueblo in Taos today and got a whiff of Peyote. We’ve been nauseous and our heads spinning all day”. Bernard looked at Elena and smiled saying, “It’s not uncommon, Mr. Di Carlo. It will wear off but its effect is exacerbated by alcohol. I tried it a couple of times and it can carry a real kick”. I replied, “Yeah, she had a double Margarita followed by a hallucination of the
Conquistadors slaughtering the Native Americans.” Bernard replied, “The Fiesta brings out old hurts and many in the community have tried to incorporate the Native American side of history into the Fiesta to no avail.” I replied, “You’re a perceptive man, Bernard. You told us when we checked in you “felt something in the air but couldn’t put your finger on it”. You were right!”
Bernard made a suggestion. “Tonight is your last night in Santa Fe. May I suggest I arrange a change of environment?” I said, “What do you have in mind, Bernard?” “There is a beautiful authentic Japanese spa called “The Lotus Tree” located in the hills just outside of town. I believe a relaxing massage followed by dips in the warm and cold pools will cleanse you both and provide a beautiful prologue to your stay in Santa Fe.” Rebecca perked up and said, “Just what the doctor ordered. Book it Bernard.” Bernard asked Elena to phone the spa and book an evening in their VIP suite and schedule massages. Elena remarked, “You both will love it. It’s like taking a trip to a mountain hideaway spa in Japan”. Bernard replied, “We’ll have our car take you to the spa and we’ll pack and forward your luggage.” I thanked Bernard and Elena for their hospitality and proceeded to hand them each generous gratuities and both declined. Bernard remarked, “It’s been our pleasure to meet both of you. La Flora is always pleased to have sophisticated world travelers frequent our beautiful property and hope you will recommend us to your friends.” I promised we would.
The La Flora limousine made its way up into the hills above Santa Fe. The streets were lined with beautiful Adobe styled estate size homes. We reached a discrete sign, “Lotus Tree Spa” and headed up a steep, narrow driveway to the lobby entrance and were greeted by a short, mature Japanese woman wearing a kimono. She bowed and said, “Welcome to The Lotus Tree Spa, Mr. and Mrs. Di Carlo. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m “Kiko”. My husband and I own the spa.” She walked us into the lobby and passed the front desk. Kiko replied, “La Flora has already made arrangements for your stay. If you’ll permit me to show you to your accommodations, I believe you will find them to your satisfaction.” Kiko slid the key card and opened a Japanese style sliding doors revealing a spacious, traditional Japanese inspired apartment with a large balcony overlooking Santa Fe. Rebecca was impressed and said, “I don’t think I’ll ever leave.” Kiko was joined by the concierge who introduced herself as “Joy”. Kiko said, “Joy will show you our award-winning dining facilities, spa, and pool.” Kiko bowed and said, “Please contact me personally should you require anything during your stay, Konbanwa”.
Joy guided us through the magnificent spa including a five-star Japanese fusion restaurant, men’s and women’s locker facilities, the massage treatment rooms, and large inviting hot and cold pools. Joy remarked, “We’ve taken the liberty of scheduling you both for a couple’s massage after which you may enjoy the pools. The restaurant will accommodate you for dinner at your convenience.” We thanked Joy for her hospitality and returned to our beautiful suite. The luggage arrived and was folded and placed neatly into the drawers and hung in the closets. Our massage was in one hour so we sat on the veranda and watched the sun set into the West.
We were met by our massage therapists and fell into a deep ninety minute sleep during our Shiatsu massages. We were gently awakened with glasses of cool, cucumber water. We were provided with complimentary bathing suits and accompanied to the lavish hot and cool pools which we had to ourselves. We each took a dip in the ice cold pool and then jumped quickly into the hot pool. Every nerve ending from our heads to our toes were energized. We lay on our backs and stared up at the starry night and I remarked, “The stars are so big and bright as if I can reach into the sky and grab one.” Rebecca remarked, “They’re beautiful. I think the peyote make them all the more magnificent.” Rebecca moved in close to me and I placed my arms around her waist. She whispered to me. “Frankie, I had an amazing dream when I fell asleep during my massage. I dreamed of those poor Pueblo people who were born in this marvelous country and can’t share the same opportunities afforded us. When we get home, let’s have a conversation with our attorney and accountant regarding our estate plans. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create an educational scholarship fund for those children?” I heard in Rebecca’s voice and saw it in her eyes, the same beautiful obsession she had when creating her clothing line. It felt like the old days discussing our dreams over a milkshake in the Brooklyn drug store. I said, “That’s a beautiful idea, baby. I’m sold.” I drew her close and we kissed passionately. We had found a new purpose which would provide us a worthwhile endeavor outside of our travel. I remarked, “That kid, Jackson might be a good candidate for Director.” Rebecca replied, “I was thinking the same thing. He wants to teach the real history of the southwest and we can help the Pueblo kids get a college education.”
We enjoyed a light dinner of sushi and sashimi and returned to our beautiful room. A full moon hung low in the sky and illuminated the room. Rebecca said, “Leave the lights off, Frankie.” She led me to the bed. We were in love again and fell asleep in a tight embrace.
We were to meet our charter jet at noon. Kiko and her husband graciously invited us to join them for a traditional Japanese breakfast. Kiko’s husband was an American named Albert Wicks. I judged him to be in his seventies. He was athletic, tall, and very comfortable with Japanese traditions. We learned they met when Albert was an Air Force pilot stationed in Japan. After retiring from the Air Force, Kiko and Albert sailed the world in their own sailboat for fifteen years. They were a fascinating couple with courage, a sense of adventure, and still in love after these many years. Al insisted on driving us to the airport which was about an hour away. He was eager to get a glimpse of our charter jet. We said goodbye to Kiko and Al summoned his car.
The valet delivered Al’s red Tesla. “Typical fighter pilot”, I thought to myself, “A fast red car.” Our bags were loaded into a van which followed us to the airport. Al asked, “So what did you think of Santa Fe and Taos?” Rebecca replied, “We’ve been around the world, Al, and our trip here has been like no other.” He asked, “How so?” I replied, “We met interesting people, including you and your lovely wife but we were also exposed to a beautiful State and learned a great deal from the Native Americans.” Al replied, “That’s exactly my take on the place. Kiko and I traveled the world for fifteen years and could have chosen to live anywhere. We discovered Santa Fe on a trip ten years ago and immediately knew it would be our home.” Rebecca chimed in, “It’s been a revelation for us, Al. We were busy clothing executives and our business was our sole purpose in life. When we sold the business, we were fortunate enough to travel the world but without any purpose in life. It took an accidental whiff of peyote to give us a new sense of purpose and rekindle our marriage.” Rebecca reached for my hand and held it tight. I could see Al’s eyes in the rear view mirror watch her every word. Al said, “I heard about your hallucination from Bernard. It’s not uncommon. I’ve seen similar apparitions throughout the world. I’ve given up trying to explain the unexplainable. Maybe it was the peyote or a “message” from the universe. My advice is to remember the magic of Santa Fe and it will either be a beautiful memory or a call to action.”
Al pulled up to the charter jet and had time to talk “shop” with our pilots Rick and Jeff who showed him the cockpit while the luggage was being loaded. It was time to taxi and we said goodbye. Al stood and watched us as we sped down the runway waving goodbye. As our jet climbed out of Albuquerque, Rick came on the speaker and said, “Santa Fe is on your left.” We took one final look at Santa Fe, Rebecca remarked, “New Mexico is truly “The Land of Enchantment”. After we set up the scholarship foundation, let’s pay a visit to Amma on our next adventure.”
Our “stopover in Santa Fe” provided us with a new purpose for living outside of travel and our love was rekindled. The sun’s rays beamed through the windows of the cabin, radiated off the beautiful turquoise bracelet, and “danced” to the Coltrane playing softly throughout the cabin.
Chris Ingram was born in St Louis, Missouri and raised in Oyster Bay Cove, on New York’s Long Island. He spent over thirty years broadcasting, mostly as a newsman in markets of every size and at CBS News in New York. He has also been a disc jockey, cook, truck driver, and a high school wrestling coach. Recent works include.”The Heights,” and “Redemption," published by the Sadina Literary Review and Flash Fiction Magazine respectively. Chris now lives in South Jersey and writes full time. His website is chrisingram.org
THE PRICE of the PRIZE
Hoooooonk! Honk Hoooonk! "Thumper" Ray Lydon can hear the horns blaring over the expectant murmur of another sold-out arena. It's clearly a smaller venue, where fans employ hand-held air-horns to express their excitement, displeasure, joy; desire for a fried snack. Ray advances in his fighting stance, fists on either side of his face, right knee leading, and launches a devastating series of punches and kicks to his opponent's head and thighs. Hooooonk! Another horn blares. He howls, "Enough with the horns already, We're in a fight here!" He looks up, expecting to see his counterattacking opponent racing across the ring with murderous intent, and sees instead... Light. Blinding, searing sunlight. It's as if he's been sleeping soundly in his bed and the blinds have suddenly been cast open. Through tightly squinted eyes, he sees pavement beneath his feet, painted with thick white lines. He's in a crosswalk on Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Or is it Broadway, in New York? West Madison in Chicago? He can't tell. Nothing looks familiar. And he can't move. The clarion of the crowd has been superseded by the cacophony of honking cars; that electric murmur supplanted by the enraged hollering of inconvenienced motorists. "Thumper" has wandered off again. Would-be samaritans, inclined to lend a guiding arm to a clearly confused man, are put off by his fighting stance, and it's a good thing. Last time this happened, he laid out two helpful citizens before the cops (and an ambulance) were called. Luckily for Ray, his last knock-out victims were fans; when they found out who he was they declined to press charges. A five-figure pay-off and some autographed striking gloves helped grease those skids. This time he's alone. His head jerks side-to-side, dodging invisible punches as he falls back into his earlier revery, until a familiar voice breaks through.
"Pop! Hey Pop! It's me, Chuck. Come on with me Pop!" "Chucky?" Ray's tensed shoulders relax a bit as he looks around for his son. But what is his boy doing in the cage? "You better get outa here, son. There's only room for two in the ring!" "No, Pop, no. It's not a ring. We're in Lauderdale, Pop. You're holding up traffic. Again." The last word is stifled; he doesn't want to start an argument in the middle of rush-hour traffic. And if his intent is to shame his father, to hurt him, well, that ship has sailed. He places a gentle arm on Ray's shoulder. It takes considerable force to guide the confused man, walker in tow, across the street and then to a bus stop bench. "Have a rest, Pop. Here, take a sip." He hands his father a 12-ounce spring water bottle, half-filled with the only thing that seems to give Ray pleasure anymore: Svedka vodka. Chuck sighs. "At least you have cheap taste in liquor." "Thumper" takes a furtive, exploratory sip. His eyes widen in recognition, and he takes a long pull, distorting the bottle's sides as he drinks. "Ahhh! That's a good son!" "Yeah, that's me all right Pop." He rubs his father's shoulders with something just shy of conviction. “You promised to stay in the van, Pop,” he whispers, as if to himself. ”Come on, drink up. We should be getting home." A flicker of impatience crosses the fighter's brow, "Don't you rush me! You don't tell me what to do!" "I know Pop, I know. It's just hotter than hell out here. Don't you want to get in the air conditioning and watch some old fights?” Ray sucks on the vodka. "Those aren't just 'old fights,’" he snarls. “Those are history." He looks at the bottle. "We got more of this at home?" Chuck rolls his eyes upward at the setting sun. "Oh, you know it, Pop. A case, at least." "Ya know, I learned to love Svedka when I was training for my first title. Couldn't even get it here when I moved back to the States. Had to smuggle it in, order it special. It was good enough for me then, and it's good enough for me now. Why mess with a good thing?" Chuck is mouthing the words as Ray speaks them. He's heard them at least ten-thousand times. "Words to live by, Pop. Words to live by. C'mon, let's go." He helps his father, suddenly very weak, rise from the bench. "I'm still parked around the corner at the Walgreens. Can you make it?" Ray simultaneously pushes Chuck away and clings tighter to his son’s arm. "Of course I can make it. I'm the champ of the world!" There's an anger in those words that saddens his son. Where Ray had once uttered that phrase with pride and a little healthy irony, it has become a hollow declaration of entitlement gone-by. A desperate cry for recognition. A plea for proof he even exists. It doesn’t help that his “world championship” is only recognized within a few countries in Asia. Chuck helps him into the Jeep, lifting his feet, one-by-one, over the lip of the door jamb. Ray cries out in pain, as if he's being tortured on the rack, and it sickens Chuck. It's not as if Ray had ever been particularly stoic about his injuries (when it came to his ability to take pain, jokes made the rounds that "Thumper" was a "pussy, not a hare"). But he used to have some restraint. Now, Chuck is convinced, his pained cries are just another way to get sympathy; to be noticed is to be. Chuck puts the Jeep in gear and drives the mile or two to his dad's apartment tower on the beach. There was a time, he recalls, when even past his prime the name Ray Lydon could sell out major arenas. At least in those states that permitted Mixed Martial Arts competitions within their borders. Those days are over, thinks Chuck as he pulls into the garage beneath the tower. The only one who doesn't know it is you. He looks at his father, who is rapt as a baby at the nipple, desperately trying to suck the very last drop of vodka from his plastic bottle.
* * * * *
"Thumper" Ray Lydon had been the best. 30-years earlier he had won his only major title as the only non-Asian fighter to win the highest Muay Thai “World” championship in Bangkok. As the outstanding fighter of all the weight classes in the tournament, he was awarded a lion-skin robe. He’d be called, “champ” for the rest of his life. Of course, since he'd been left on the streets of Bangkok at the vulnerable age of sixteen, Ray's learning to fight was no matter of choice. The alternatives were few; starvation or prostitution. His father had deserted him after one of their usual set-tos; Ray had a vicious temper eclipsed only by his father's. Ray had left him on a street corner with a couple of hundred Thai baht, worth maybe ten bucks, and told him if he didn't like his itinerary to make his own. He'd stayed there for four hours, though it seemed like the whole day, hoping the old man would come back; ask if he'd learned his lesson. But even then Ray knew he'd have replied that he hadn't, and to fuck off, so he wasn't shocked that he never saw his father again. It didn't take long before he encountered the violent world that would come to define him. The first time he pulled out a bill to pay for a stick of skewered insects he took a blow to the kidney so hard he was enveloped in a field of blue stars. He held on to his dinner, and his cash, but only after a brutal row that left him battered and dizzy. His stateside training in traditional boxing and folkstyle wrestling had given him a leg up on any Nattapong-come-lately, but he knew his chances against the better kick-fighters, like the ones his father had taken him to see, were much worse. He had dragged a numb right leg and several cracked ribs to a deep corner of a dank alley that night. Keeping a constant look-out for another assailant, Ray endured the pain of chewing the crunchy crickets with loosened teeth. Eventually he fell into a troubled asleep filled with dreams of the bloody bouts his father had taken him to, and visions of a great yawing emptiness; himself in a leaking dugout canoe. In time, after he'd fought off a few efforts at strong-arm robbery, he developed a reputation. He was the farang who wouldn't quit, the white guy with guts. After one battle, when, it seemed, the entire neighborhood had taken up spots from which to spectate, he managed to hold off four older boys. He took a beating but never went down. The fight seemed to last for hours, and was only broken up when shopkeepers, alarmed at their loss of commerce, threatened to call the police. It was the first time Ray heard the sound that would drive him through the rest of his life: the cheers of an audience. The love of the crowd would replace the love of a father. He had heard applause before, at high school wrestling matches and and amateur boxing bouts, but this was different. It was a deep-throated, animalistic, savage roar that nonetheless enveloped him in a warmth that was the closest thing he'd ever felt to love. He managed to raise a hand, bruised and bleeding like the rest of his aching body, before limping off to the corner of the alley he'd made, and defended as, his home. Oddly, it was his worst defeat that led him onto the crooked path to greatness. One of the kids he'd beaten, badly, a week or two earlier had an older brother. That Ray had been defending himself from a robbery was irrelevant; the boy's honor, and therefore his family's, had to be reclaimed. The elder brother was a full-time fighter; one of the elite who battled in gruesome conflict in the dingy, smoke-filled dens where the rings were just oases of organized violence in the middle of a raucous river of unrestrained vice. When the vengeance-seeker showed up at the entrance to what had been dubbed "Farang Alley" by area shopkeepers, all conversation stilled. The silence reached Ray like a wave. He pushed aside the tapestry that served as a door to his wood pallet shack, and saw danger personified. It was clear this Thai man-child wanted a piece of the white boy; to send him on his way once and for all. He stood six-feet tall, with long, sinewy muscles rippling like taut bands beneath his shining hairless torso. Ray stood up from his cross-legged position in one fluid move. The stranger assumed a fighting pose. There was no way out now; once a man raises his hands one either fights or flees. Flight was out of the question. Ray could not afford to start from scratch in another neighborhood. Besides, this moment would only come again, in another time or another place. The fight was spectacular, but ugly. As usual, Ray took the offensive. He landed a punch to the bigger man's chin which did little damage except to the other man's pride. Ray was preparing to wade back in again when a sharp kick to his left ear sent him sprawling. He managed to stay off the hard-packed dirt only by crawling along, like an orangutan, on his hands and toes. He reached a moldy stone wall and righted himself. He couldn't afford to take the time to regain his senses, even if he couldn't quite see straight. He hurled himself toward the spot where he believed his foe stood, and caught him in the ribs before taking a shot to the right side of his face that closed his eye. He replied with a blocked punch at his foe's nose, and ducked just in time to avoid another sweeping kick to his head. As his opponent spun to recover from the delivery of the kick, Ray swarmed in with hooks and uppercuts, landing just enough to force his foe backwards in an effort to regroup. Ray kept coming, knowing his best - his only - chance was to fluster the more skilled, disciplined fighter. He even surprised himself and his opponent by grazing his chin with a front kick. But it was all downhill from there. Fortunately his wrestling skills allowed him to avoid or minimize some potentially devastating blows. But the bigger, stronger foe delivered sharp punches and wrenching kicks almost at will in a display of surgical striking that Ray would never forget, and barely recover from. But he never gave up, even if it was obvious he could never win. He refused to go down, never took a knee, until the end when, after even his opponent was exhausted from delivering the beating, Ray sank to his haunches, bowing his battered, bleeding head in surrender. His eyes swollen shut, gaze cast downward, Ray never saw the display of respect he received from his opponent, who reared up to his fullest height, buried his right fist in his left hand, and bowed deeply before walking, gingerly, out of the alley. When Ray awoke, days later, in an unfamiliar bed, he first wondered if the fight had been just another dream; that he was back home in Boston. When he tried to lift his head from the soft pillow, burning pain radiated from the base of his skull throughout his body, all the way to his bruised feet. He knew the fight had been no dream. As he tried to deduce his location he sank back into another series of feverish dreams, of combat, and of that leaking canoe, him aboard, enveloped by an eternal horizon.
* * * * *
Ray is throwing combinations again. Chuck counts the punches from the kitchen of their Ft. Lauderdale high-rise. Ray is in a deep slumber, on the far side of their luge living room on a recliner/lift chair facing the big screen TV, his back to the ocean view. From the combinations, Chuck can usually guess what fight his father is reliving: left cross - right jab - left uppercut - foot sweep; Chuck surmises he's fighting Trevor "Freight Train" Johnson. He's pretty sure it's the second round, the one in which he did the real damage. "Freight Train" surrendered on his stool before the third. Smoke is overwhelming the inadequate vent fan above the stove where a two-inch-thick steak sizzles. "Hey, Pop, you ready for your vitamins?" Chuck watches his father's quivering form. "Pop?" Part of him hates to wake him; part of him wishes he'd never wake up. Chuck has been a willing prisoner of this penthouse penitentiary, even as he plays the role of warden. It strikes him as ironic, until he realizes that's probably how most prison wardens feel, living on prison grounds. The old man has been descending, in fits and starts, toward what Chuck can only imagine will be a short, fatal stay in an adult care facility. He knows that will be the end for him. By the last days of a wasted two-week attempt at in-patient physical therapy ten months earlier, the one before Melanie left him, Ray didn't even know what state he was in. He gave his father a month in an old folks home before he'd die. When he wanted to give his old man credit, Chuck supposed he could believe that he became so abusive toward Melanie, his third wife, to spare her this. When he'd met her, she was an accountant with his management team. He had been divorced once, and had barely survived the calamitous final fight of his career. They stayed married for 17-years until she just couldn't take his cruelty anymore. He told her to take half of everything and scram. She did. Chuck won the job of taking care of the ex-champ by default, and only then did he really appreciate how many balls Melanie had been juggling. From submitting bills to the insurance companies, paying the taxes and disability for the aides, Taking Care of Pop had grown into a small business. Chuck knew he was dropping some of those balls, but he did his best to stay on top of the unending stream of paperwork and bills. That Ray’s two other children ("fruit of my loins," as he liked to call his progeny) never helped a bit didn't trouble Chuck. They had families, jobs, responsibilities, and were far across the country. It made perfect, excruciating sense that Chuck was the one who'd preside over his father's protracted demise. He was the one who followed him into the "family business." That his fighting career had been a bust was undeniable: six pro fights, three wins, one draw. He'd tried coaching, but his failures loomed too large in his own heart to permit him the fantasy that he had anything to offer the up-and-comers who trained at his dad's gym. And he would ever forgive himself for allowing Ray to get into the ring that one, last time. So what else was there for him but to become his father's caretaker; his "keeper," as Ray liked to call him in his increasingly common fits of pique. Chuck takes the steak out of a cast-iron pan, laying it to rest on a wooden cutting board. He grabs a zipper-lock bag with vitamins, blood thinners, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, blood pressure, thyroid and anti-seizure medication; his evening dose of pills. Filling a short plastic glass with water from the freezer door, he shouts over the blare of the TV. "Time for vitamins, Pop!" He shouts again as he nears his father, laid out on the leather lift chair. "Here ya go, Pop! Vitamins, then steak and potatoes!" The old man stirs. "How 'bout some Svedka? Ya know, I learned to love Svedka when I was training for my first title shot.. Couldn't even get it here in the States..." "That too, Pop, That too. All in good time." He scoops five pills at a time into a plastic soup spoon and dumps them in his father's open mouth. Strands of saliva stretch across the void. "Here' ya go," says Chuck as he brings the plastic cup within range of Ray's faltering grasp. He watches as the old man's trembling hand struggles to bring the cup to his lips, and tilt the water into his mouth. It takes at least thirty seconds before he manages a sip. Chuck brings the spoon and the empty bag back to the kitchen. Ray eats from a tray secured to his lift chair. Chuck sits at the dining table 40-feet away, the better to employ his knife and fork. He's already cut Ray's food for him.
* * * * *
Charles Anthony Lydon was born to Ray and his first wife Alice while Ray was fighting in Southeast Asia. Kick-boxing was still barely even a novelty in the States then, and Alice and "Cal," as she called him, an acronym of his initials, maintained a home base in Somerville, Massachusetts, in a two bedroom apartment in a "triple decker" in the shadow of Route 93. Ray came home to meet his first-born son, then departed two weeks later for another series of fights. Alice died in a car crash before he would return. Chuck (his father could never bear to utter the name Cal again) had been un-restrained in a play-pen set up in the "back-back" of the Country Squire, and survived without a scratch. Ray missed the funeral, and remarried eight weeks later, to a widow with one daughter from Cambridge. The next ten years would be hell for the champ's son. The stepmother, Annika, was an angry drunk. Chucky provided the perfect canvas for her expression. She'd shriek profanities relating to his shortcomings as she'd lift him by his ankles, bouncing his head off the oak floors of the Somerville walk-up. She'd stuff his face in the downstairs toilet, and pull the lever. He'd float away and above himself then, observing, as if the abuse was being meted out to someone else. Fortunately, Chucky had learned to swim before this particular treatment began; he knew enough to slowly exhale so as not to take in the toilet water. All things being equal, he preferred the days she'd lock him in the hall closet. In time, Chuck learned to entertain. Stepmother, teachers, classmates; all were potential threats that could be diverted with a well-timed quip or facial expression. He didn't realize it then, but the elements of his ever-sharpening wit - his impressions, his ability to form a quick one-liner and deliver it without giving offense - these were the weapons in his own arsenal. Ray may have had his jab, his uppercut, his roundhouse kick; Chuck had a nimble mind.
* * * * *
Ray's rise through the ranks of the Muay Thai world was neither easy nor smooth. It took over a month to recover from the gruesome beating he took in the alley. He was spoon-fed by strangers for the first week. He later learned that the boys bringing soup to his lips were doing so against their will. Feeding the farang was a punishment, like cleaning the toilets or mopping blood from the canvas floor of the ring. He wasn't sure how long he'd been there when he became aware of the same scrawny old man sitting in a corner of his room, past the foot of his bed and the open window with its billowing white curtain that obscured his presence. But he certainly noticed when the man rose, seemingly out of nowhere, to send one of his feeders packing with a smack when he started throwing spoonfuls of food in Ray's face. "You are worth ten of him," the man told Ray as he took the chastened kid's place and resumed Ray's feeding. "But you have much to learn." His english pronunciation was impeccable. "I am Master Bo." When Ray responded with an outstretched hand and a croak, "Ray Lydon," the old man seemed surprised, and pleased. He lay down the spoon and gently grasped Ray's bruised hand. "Pleased to meet you, Ray Lydon." He let Ray’s hand fall from his own and returned to the feeding. "Now you must eat. Then rest. Great things await you, but not today." Ray soon lapsed back into his turbulent sleep.
* * * * * The wireless electric doorbell rings in the Fort Lauderdale penthouse. "Come on in Ben," Chuck rises from a low-slung leather seat beside his sleeping father's chair. "He seems to have calmed down now. He was really swingin' about an hour ago. I think it was the Monrovia fight in '74. Five rounds. Broke his jaw in the third. KO'ed some Korean with a minute left. Just a bloodbath." Benedict, a Nigerian kid, compactly muscular, polite almost to the point of obsequiousness, smiles and nods. "He is a great man with man great memories to live over again." Chuck shrugs, and presses the button to raise his still groggy father to his feet. "Funny, he only remembers the stuff from the ring. He can't even name his own children." Between the two of them, Chuck and Benedict coax, chide and just plain muscle the old man into a wheelchair. Both know it's just a matter of months before the Champ would be unable to walk at all. Chuck leaves the really intimate cleaning chores to the professional, stepping in only to hold the old man up as his ass is washed, or as his three layers of diapers and absorbent pads are fastened. Another wrestling match gets the 300-pounder into bed. "I wanna go home" Ray moans. "You are home, Dad," replies a weary Chuck. "This is NOT my home." Ray’s voice seems to rattle the hurricane windows. "I live in Somerville, Massachusetts. And you are NOT my son." Chuck sighs, tired and depressed. "Who am I, then?" Ray opens his eyes wider than they'd been all night. "You're my brother." Chuck doesn't even have the energy to torture the old man, as he would some days, with a quiz about where he was, or in what year they were or what state, which would inevitably leave his father tight-lipped and confused. "Okay dad, get some sleep." Chuck walks down the hall, leaving Benedict to the details of which light to leave on, and gathering the shit-stained wipes to bring to the garbage chute. Chuck pours himself three fingers of bourbon and ads three curved ice "cubes" from the freezer's ice-maker. He turns the giant flat screen back on and absently travels up and down the guide before settling on a reality show about a woman tattoo artist. In no time he's reliving his version of the old days, thinking about the rescue that saved his life. After the divorce from his second, child-abusing wife, Ray sent the kids to boarding schools as he travelled the world looking for fights. For Chuck, he settled on Cushton Academy, a top-notch prep school in north-central Massachusetts. It was there where Chuck first encountered role models, men and women, who were respected for their intelligence and wit; emulated for their kindness and generosity - not for brawling, might-makes-right bravado. It was the place where, still too deep in the midst of his trauma to qualify as suffering from post-traumatic stress, Chuck stepped haltingly from his protective shell. Where he learned to trust others and believe in himself. Where he learned he could excel even while risking, even courting, failure. And where he learned there were far worse things than not winning. Not trying, for instance. It was one of the few decisions about his son the Champ had gotten right. Chuck had to give him credit for that. Chuck settled on wrestling as his "main" sport. Lacrosse and soccer filled his springs and autumns. But wrestling, with its individualistic essence; the knowledge that the only one to blame for his mistakes was himself, helped him focus his energies like no other sport. He had played lacrosse far longer, but was still not sure sometimes where he should be on the field. With wrestling, the coaches drilled you on the moves, and you mastered them or you didn't. Everyone would see it. In just a couple of years, Chuck had been elected Varsity team Captain and made the podium in a tough league. But he would never be another Ray Lydon. Not even close. Chuck thought about his father's path to the top of the heap, and managed to feel sympathy for the mean old bastard.
* * * * *
After about ten days in bed, 16-year old Ray Lydon was permitted to make his way around the Dojo that had claimed him from the streets. Its name, hissed at him by a student clearly annoyed to have been interrupted by so unworthy a piece of flotsam, translated roughly into English as "Joyously Embrace the Battle," and was built into a hillside about three miles outside Bangkok. There was a central, open-air ring protected from the sun by a thatched roof extending at least ten feet beyond the ropes. It was supported by four ancient posts, hewn from four single trees, bearing the dents and scars of generations of punches and kicks. Three buildings embraced the ring's north, east and western sides, with the southern end of the complex open to the dramatic view of the city beyond. The sturdy but simple house at the head of the ring had seven steps leading to a broad porch with a central doorway. It was here where Master Bo and his subordinates resided, and where to his astonishment Ray had been housed during his recuperation. To the east stood the dormitory, filled with rickety bunks bearing sawdust-filled mattresses and single crates for each student's possessions. The western building housed the kitchen and dining hall. A single water pump stood in the corner between the kitchen and the Masters' house. As a new student and beginner at organized fighting, Ray had been assigned the bunk farthest from the entrance, closest to the toilet that hovered over an open pit at the dormitory's rear. His chores included cleaning that primitive privy, and to rake out the pit's contents when its drainage path was blocked. He embraced those duties with vigor, surprising the toughs that populated the dorm with his willingness to shoulder any job with his head high. At first, Ray's presence was tolerated, just barely, by the other sleek, sinewy boys and men who battled, ate and played within the confines of the dojo. But their disdain was kept in check for two very good reasons. Camp champion Kane, who had beaten Ray so mercilessly in the street, was the one who had brought him to the attention of Master Bo. Under the protection of Kane and the elderly Master, no one dared to pour pepper sauce in his fish head soup or rig his bunk to collapse as they did to other newcomers. But they were permitted; encouraged even, to take out their contempt for the round-eye in one place only: the ring. And they happily obeyed. In a defensive drill called "shark bait," one student after another, from the smallest to biggest, would take their turns throwing blows or kicks. The job of the man at the center of this maelstrom was to successfully block, dodge, or preemptively disarm each attack. In the early days of training Ray suffered the ignominy of getting knocked out of the drill by some of the littlest children in the place. Even Kane had joined in the derisive laughter of his fellow students. But Ray took his disgrace as a lesson, motivating him to learn the ways of discipline, focus and sacrifice. Within a year he was ready to challenge Kane for primacy of the Dojo. The relationship between them was more complex than the surface indicated. Kane certainly protected Ray as a big brother would his younger sibling. In fact Kane's blood brother, the one who had started the fight with Ray in the first place, never got over the sense that he was supplanted by another boy; a white one at that. He left the dojo soon after Ray's arrival and disappeared into the whirlpool of iniquity that was always waiting outside its gates. But there had developed a much stronger bond than that of adopted brother and his protector. Though Ray never learned much Thai besides the basic ring instructions (i.e. Fight - chok, Punch - mat, Elbow - sawk, Knee - khao, Kick - dtae, etc), he learned to read Kane's eyes for insight into the events around him. A simple raised eyebrow was enough to sit Ray down when he was rising to meet a challenge from a jealous training partner. If a master witnessed the insult, and Ray's refusal to take the bait, the offender would be punished. They shared an intimacy that was never expressed physically, but was tender nonetheless. They also had to fight. For six months, Ray had been traveling with the Dojo's best, taking on the cream of the many area dojos in the region. At first, Master Bo won great sums, trotting out his "round-eyed wonder," and watching him annihilate his overconfident opponents. Eventually word spread about Ray, and he continued to bring honor (and money) to his dojo, never losing, never hitting the canvas in a dozen bouts. Kane was similarly successful fighting more seasoned competition. But in a recent bout, not far from the alley where he discovered Ray, his 42-fight win streak crashed to a halt with a dislocated kneecap from a clearly illegal (to all but the referee) blow to the joint. It took the sight of the venerated Master Bo himself, assuming a fighting stance in front of his fighters, to clear a path to safety through the ensuing melee. Back at the dojo, the good news was that the trainer/healers found no evidence of structural damage. The patella had been forced back into position shortly after the escape from the fighting den, and a full recovery was predicted. But the rules of the dojo were clear and incontrovertible: Any fighter who suffered a defeat was required to defend his position on the ladder against the next highest ranked teammate. And the next fighter was required to make that challenge. Kane was ranked first. Ray was next in line. Their challenge bout was held six weeks after Kane's knee injury, and he had been able to train at full speed for almost two weeks. The ring was surrounded by every member of the little society on the hill. Cooks and dishwashers wagered on everything from how many rounds it would last to who would land the first punch and kick. Master Bo stood at the center of his porch, arms crossed, solid as the ancient posts supporting the ring’s thatched roof. Inside the ropes, Ray was besieged by doubt. He had no interest in beating his friend, though he was confident he was capable of doing so. He knew Kane was a powerful man; it was only a little over a year since he had beaten Ray to a pulp in Farang Alley. But Ray knew Kane's deepest secret: partial blindness in his left eye. It limited his peripheral vision, leaving him open to a well-timed punch or kick from his opponent's right. It was the kind of weakness that, if known, could be fatal. Ray was one of only a handful of people who knew. Ray patted himself on the abdomen, enjoying the 30-pounds of sinewy muscle he had developed thanks to intense exercise and a healthy, protein-rich diet. Should he exploit the weakness, and in so doing, divulge the secret? Was it possible that the masters expected him to do so, looking for a new lion to lead their pack? Ray decided that he would fight, and defeat, his dearest friend without capitalizing on his knowledge of his friend's Achilles heel. Kane had other plans. He came out in a whirling onslaught of spinning kicks and back-hands, fighting with an urgency none of the assembled witnesses could recall seeing from their champion in years. Ray was accustomed to a more patient, probing style from his mentor, and was caught off guard. When Kane landed a powerful kick to Ray's right ribcage, it as all Ray could do to trap the leg in the crook of his arm to gain a moment's rest and clear his head. He attempted to sweep Kane's back foot, but dropped his head within range of a powerful uppercut that landed flush on his chin. Stunned, Ray only regained awareness of his surroundings after having sunk to one knee. He managed a strategic retreat for the rest of the first round, blocking most of what Kane sent his way, landing a few tepid blows meant mostly to maintain a safe space between himself and savage opponent. Back in his corner, the boy assigned to tend to him implored him. "Chok! Chok" "Yeah, Fight. No shit," Ray took a mouthful of water and spit it out. It was red as wine. "Shit." He reinserted his mouthpiece and rose for the second round. Round two began like the first, but Ray was better prepared for the barrage. He focussed on his footwork, feinting and bobbing, managing to end up where Kane's fists weren't; throwing the occasional tenderizer to Kane’s ribs and liver. He could sense frustration working its way into Kane's psyche. The older fighter began throwing haymakers that missed and left him off-balance and vulnerable to counters from Ray, who was only too happy to oblige. After two rounds, Ray was a bloody mess, but Kane was fading. The tide turned in the fourth, when Ray landed yet another crushing blow just below Kane's sternum. Now it was the mentor's turn to drop, taking a knee as his body and brain struggled to reestablish communication. After the fifth, the medical trainer visited Ray's corner to make clear to that he was on borrowed time. The referee was ready to stop the fight if Ray took much more abuse. Ray knew what he had to do. He came out with a steady series of lefts to his taller foe's ribs, from just above his pelvis to his armpit. He dodged most of Kane's reposts, and just as he loaded up for one more left, sensed Kane turning to block it. That's when Ray took what he knew would be his last shots of the bout. As Kane turned to protect his right ribs, Ray suddenly turned and spun, delivering a crippling kick to the left side of Kane's head. With his partially blind eye, Kane didn't see it coming until it was too late. Ray followed the kick with a sharp right hook. He saw Kane's eyes roll back, and bowed slightly before spinning to return to his corner. He heard his friend hit the canvas without turning to see it. Tears rolled from both eyes as he waited for his stunned seconds to clamber into the ring. Hours later, sitting with Kane, who was now resting in the masters' quarters in the same room in which Ray had been nursed back to health a year ago, Ray tried to apologize. He was still raw, physically and emotionally. As Kane was taken from the ring, Ray's hand had been raised before a silent camp. Then, one by one, the 30-students climbed through the ropes to bow to their champion. It was his coronation. It felt like a wake. Now, Kane shook his head, waving off his apology with a handful of swollen knuckles. Master Bo appeared in the doorway. "You fought with courage today. Ask yourself. Do you think Kane would apologize to you if your situations were reversed?" "But, Master," Ray spoke softly, head bowed. "It was selfish of me to take advantage of a secret weakness. It was..." Ray's shoulders rose as he inhaled deeply, fighting back a sob. "It was cowardly." "No!" Kane lifted his head from his pillow. "Not coward. Courage!" Master Bo patted his shoulder, and the he lay back down. "This was your graduation day. Today you became a fighter. You faced defeat. You turned it to victory. We must do what it takes to survive. One does not find honor by hobbling one's self. You find it in defeating doubt; by overcoming fear; by using your training to its fullest. Today was your greatest test. I knew this. Kane knew this. Now you know: honor your opponent by doing your best. If you hold back, you make both of you..." he searched for the word. "Smaller? Do you understand?" Ray looked at his friend, who lifted his head and stared back through blackened eyes. "I think so, Master..." He saw Kane drop his head on the pillow, tension leaving his body as the penny dropped. "But Master, I never wanted... this. I never wished to be the top man." Master Bo smiled, his long white beard illuminated in the gloaming. "That is a good thing, because you can never lead this dojo. Your fate lies beyond these walls. You came to us from the wider world, and it is to that world which you belong." Ray sensed the truth of his master's words before he finished uttering them. "Then why..?” Master Bo patted his shoulder in a way that reminded Ray of his father. "Why did we bring you here in the first place? Why did we train you as we did? Why did you have to fight your only friend in the world?" Ray could only manage to squeeze a strangled, "Yes," through the sob welling up in his throat. Master Bo continued. "Do you know why we brought your here? When Kane came to me, ashamed of tarnishing our house by beating an untrained foe, I could see that you must have been a special fighter. To erase the harm done to our honor, I sought to give you the training that you lacked. We provided you a home, food, even friendship, because we owed all of these to you. Today's fight was the final payment of our debt to you. You have honored us as a fine student, and we have honored you like a son. But now it is time for you to go. "But Master, where will I go? I have no home but this school." "This school is no longer your home. We have packed this sack for you. It contains clothes, shoes, some food and a little money. It is enough to start a life." With a slight bow, Master Bo solemnly handed Ray a silken pack, then ushered him to Kane's bedside. "Greet our newest Master, and say good bye." Suppressing a sob, Ray bowed deeply before his friend. "Master Kane, you honor me." His battered friend managed to rise up onto one elbow. "Honor yourself as you have honored this place, and all you have been given will be repaid. Go now, friend. You must never return." With another solemn bow to Master Bo, Ray turned to leave the structure. What he saw as he stepped into the late afternoon sun took his breath away. All the students, Masters, cooks and cleaners stood in two lines facing each other on either side of his path; somber sign of great respect. Ray thought he might prefer to take physical blows than endure the wrenching farewells from those who had become his brothers and role models. As he passed the men, each bowed deep and long. Some cried openly. Ray managed to maintain his own silence, but felt tears, first hot, then cooled by the evening breeze, flow freely down his cheeks as he proceeded, head high. He didn't dare look back as he exited the open gate and heard its bamboo doors squeal shut behind him. He was on his own. Again.
* * * * *
Chuck has been watching his father, what's left of him, writhing in his leather lift chair. He's pretty sure he knows which battle this shell of a man is reliving in his dream. Four or five successive twitches of his left pectoral muscle, followed by a ducking of the head and the rapid-fire contraction of his right thigh. It's a series he's seen many times. The old man stirs from his semi consciousness. "Kane again, huh Pop?" The former champ grunts. "I got him good, didn't I?" "So I've heard, Pop. I wasn't there yet. Wasn't even born. I wasn't even a glint in your eye back then." Chuck knows what will come next. "You're not my son." "Okay Pop." Chuck foregoes the futile argument over his parentage. In times past he would, spiting his father by forcing him to confront his own confusion. Lately, he just doesn't have the desire. He knows the words aren't meant in rebuke; his father genuinely doesn't remember Chuck is his son. Sometimes he's an extra brother, others an imaginary aunt's kid. But the words still pack a punch. You're not my son. They weigh nothing, yet still have cutting power. Chuck recalls the day he realized his father was different from other dads. He was still a kid, attending public school with his siblings on Boston's North Shore. It was the early 1990s and ESPN aired a piece about a fast-growing, still controversial sport largely unknown to Americans; Muay Thai, or Thai Kick Boxing. They included a short feature about an "American Master Making Waves" in the sport. Over grainy films of head-kick knock-outs and blood-soaked canvases, Ray "Thumper" Lydon was described as an alternately savage, gentle, articulate practitioner of a brutal sport. Though his father was well past his prime, Chuck had been proud of the portrayal. But he soon was made aware that others, particularly the parents of his playmates, took away a very different view. He was engaged in an argument over nothing with one of his best friends; one with whom he fought, and made up, often. This time, though, his friend's father burst out the front door, red-faced. "You don't scare us, young man!" His face was contorted and spittle flew from his lips. "And we're not afraid of grown men who kick when they fight, either. You tell your big shot dad that if he has a problem with that, he can throw his sissy kicks at my Colt .38 Special! Now get off my property!" Chuck felt his face burning with a mix of embarrassment and anger. He looked to his friend, who had moved to his father's side, for reassurance that their friendship was still safe. All he received was a middle finger. Even then, a sixth grader, Chuck knew that they were afraid. And that made him proud. Chuck is brought back to present day by his father's croaking voice. "I wanna cocktail!” “You've already had your cocktail, Pop. Almost bedtime." "No it isn't almost bedtime, and go get me my cocktail!" His father's voice still has the power to jolt Chuck, though the fear behind the shock has been long-gone. Replaced by revulsion and pity. Mostly revulsion. But even his revulsion is diluted by his sense, if not of guilt, of responsibility. He knows he, and a few members of Ray's inner circle bear the stain of complicity in how Ray has come to this state. If only I'd have spoken up in time. Instead, they let him take the beating that, no matter what the doctors say, Chuck believes landed his father in this condition. "Okay Pop. One Svedka, rocks, on the way." "Less rocks, more Svedka." "As always, dear father." "I am NOT your father!" "Okay Pop." Chuck opens the freezer and reaches for the vodka. It didn't take "Thumper" Lydon long to find his footing in his new life. It turned out that master Bo had informed a trusted fight promoter of Ray's impending freedom, and after spending one night in a Bangkok flop-house Ray was awakened by a boisterous voice moving from room to room, calling out his name. "Ray Lydon! Ray Lydon!Where is Ray Lydon?"Ray opened the hollow door to his steamy room. "What? Who is it?" Ray wasn't hung over, but he could've used another hour's sleep to bury the effects of the previous night's Mekhong rum. "Ah, so you're the famous Thumper I've been hearing about!" The sun, not quite at full height, shone across the room and through the gaping doorframe, illuminating the man's face. Scars ran from the corners of his mouth all the way to his ears, and his right eye drooped weakly. At first glance he had the face of the utterly defeated. But he had the swagger and stance of man unburdened by doubt or fear. Not necessarily a fool, thought Ray, but maybe. He reached out his hand. "Ray Lydon. Who the fuck are you?" "I, the fuck, am Aaron Livingtree, promoter extraordinaire and all-around man about town." Ray straightened up. He’d heard of Livingtree's reputation as a man who made money for his fighters; who would literally shed his own blood for them. "Oh, captivated by my winning grin, are you? My 'Saigon smile'? Well, my friend, I got this a long time ago. May 10th, 1973, to be exact. A coupla months after the Yanks pulled out of the 'Nam. I was promoting four of my boys in a Quonset hut at a port just across the river, south of Saigon. My guys won, but the Man didn't want to pay. Well, I got the money and my boys got out, and I got this as ah, shall we say," his working left eye lit up and he smiled broadly, heightening the effect of his mutilation. “this bonus!" He laughed sharply. "'Course, they call it Ho Chi Minh City now, but I'll stick with 'Saigon Smile.’ Ho Chi Min City Smile’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it!” He peered up at Ray with a crooked grin that accentuated the droopy eye and garish slashes to his cheeks. "And that's all we will have to say on that front, okay my boy?" Ray stepped aside to allow him in. "I never asked," he muttered, mostly to himself. It was his days under Livingtree that established Ray as a force in the broader fighting world, though he remained effectively anonymous in his home country. He became known as a canny fighter with a cast-iron chin, able to take the worst anyone had to give and come out on top in the end. It was Livingtree who arranged trips to the States in the early 1980s, setting up exhibitions and winner-take-all tournaments that were often illegal but extremely popular in many west coast cities and Pennsylvania and in the Southeast. It was on one of these trips, to Alabama, that Ray met and married his first wife, Alice. She was the married mother of a four-year old girl, working full-time to support her and a slob common-law husband who didn't see the point of both spouses holding down jobs. Ray saw her in the kitchen of the high school where the event was held. Tall and athletic, she had played basketball in college for the two years she could afford to stay. By the end of the night she had packed up her kid and headed to Las Vegas, where Ray "Thumped" another hapless opponent and added a wife and a stepdaughter to his entourage. If his wife's sudden death had any effect on Ray, no one could tell. Tongues wagged when he re-married eight weeks later, but he needed someone to watch his kid. Alice’s daughter was reclaimed by her father and never heard from again. Ray was on the road a week later. Annika moved the family to Ipswich a few months later. It was there, with Chuck as their target, where her internal demons found their full range of expression.
The fires of home, whether those of a child's hell or of a wholesome hearth, held no attraction to Ray. Already in his 30s, he was getting old for a fighter, particularly a practitioner of his sort of combat. As the '80s waned, opportunities to fight in the US were opening up. Some states even allowed their athletic commissions to certify what they were now calling "mixed-martial arts" bouts. Ray envisioned a few big paydays and then retirement, to Vegas or Florida. But Livingtree argued a more conservative (and so far profitable) course. He believed Ray would profit more fighting a few more years in Southeast Asia, with strategic appearances in Japan and the US. He was worried by the rising influence of the Gracie family's style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with its devastating and incomprehensible holds that could snap an opponent's arm or detach a tendon in the blink of an eye. Ray had no "ground game," and they both knew it. But Ray believed he could keep the Brazilians at a safe distance, and break them with his blows. Ray and Livingtree parted ways in 1990 on respectful, if not amicable, terms. Of course, Livingtree had been right. As "MMA" gained traction, the Brazilian vale tudo (anything goes) fighters and shoot wrestlers dominated the field. Unrepresented, Ray practically had to beg for a shot at the new organizations holding tournaments across the USA. In 1995 in Mississippi, he broke his back against the eventual champion of a new promotion that would rise to mainstream sport stardom. "Thumper" Lydon was sure he'd be left behind. In traction at Boston General Hospital, Ray had lots of time to stew in a bog of self-pity. He had some savings; decent investments, thanks to Livingtree. He could afford to retire. But he realized he wasn't ready to quit. The fire that burned so hot in that alley in Bangkok was burning
still, even if, perhaps, a little yellow had creeped into the blue flame. He considered his mistakes. Training hadn't failed him. He was still as manic in the gym as he was in his youth. No one could keep up with him there. He hadn't gone soft, having kept his skirt-chasing and boozing and drugging to what he considered moderate levels. He had done everything he needed to do, but it hadn’t been enough. He knew he couldn't become a ground game expert; he was just too old. Until recently, his basic high school wrestling experience had been enough for him to get by when it came to grappling. But he knew that what he lacked was the right defense for the times. If he couldn't learn the new tricks, perhaps he could at least learn to defend against them. If he could draw the grapplers in, then turn their aggressiveness against them, he might have a fighting chance. Thus was born the last glorious flash of Ray Lydon's career. He knew he didn't have long, but he would make the most of what time he had left. He simply loved fighting. There was something about the pain of the first blow (but it wasn't pain; more of a shock, really. The pain usually came later) that motivated Ray in a way that words never could. It sharpened his focus and awakened his mind to the myriad techniques at his disposal. And the sight of his own blood; the metallic taste and smell of it, triggered the release of some primordial power that enabled his muscles to work harder even as his body was drained of the medium that carried fuel to them. Thus it was that cut and bruised he was at his best. He felt joy in the full extension of a front kick to the jaw of his opponent; reveled in the transition to a flying back-kick. It was as if he were playing music; body his instrument. In fact, in his best moments, he’d often hear a favorite song or another in his mind as he went about his art. He became aware, he believed, of every fiber of every muscle in his body, savoring the knowledge that his training had rendered him as strong, as flexible and quick a weapon as he possibly could be. He had learned early
never to stop moving. In the rare times he found himself in the clinch, or djab ko, he probed for weaknesses in his foe's technique; his balance or footwork under pressure. When he received a blow, he analyzed his own body position, the distance from his opponent, his follow-through, to make sure that shot wouldn't breach his defense again. He took a lot of shots, and meted out many more. And he loved it. He came to relish the feeling of oxygen depletion, somehow maintaining his poise and throwing kicks and punches even as he felt himself on the verge of unconsciousness. It sometimes felt as if he weren't fighting a man, but all the forces of nature; all men. Those moments, when he felt used up and battered, and still managed to resist the Siren of surrender, were when he felt most alive. But they exacted a great price. Ray would pay for every euphoric moment with years of confusion. For every ecstatic victory came the bill, years down the line; dulled wits, infirmity, dementia. In his later, rare lucid moments Ray would bemoan the number of shots he endured in his pursuit of the prize. But he also knew no one could have convinced him back then, when he was lean and lithe and deadly as a panther, to fight more defensively today lest he end up slow and dim as the weakest prey in the herd tomorrow. If his later condition carried with it any blessing it was that such moments of self-awareness were few, and instantly forgotten.
* * * * *
"Bedtime, Dad," Chuck gently shakes his father's right shoulder until he rouses from whatever half-sleep revery he had disappeared into. Today's 11pm aide, Andrea tonight, has arrived for the overnight shift. Chuck had already set up the collection of metal contraptions
required to move him this late, after a few drinks: his walker, used to get him up from his lift chair, and the wheelchair to transport him to the bathroom for his nighttime ablutions. "What's all this crap? I don't need that!” Ray is indignant. Chuck replies, weary, "Yeah, Dad, except you do, so, let's just get it done, okay." "I am NOT your father." "Then who am I to you?” Chuck reaches behind the old man to wrap a lifting belt around his waist. "You're my brother." "You didn't have a brother. You were an only child, remember? As best as we know, anyway." "Bullshit." "Okay, okay. Now one, two, three...UP!" Chuck and Andrea pull Ray to his feet, and with the help of the walker coach him forward until there's room to slip the wheelchair behind him. Ray collapses into the chair with a moan. "What hurts, Dad?" Chuck doubts anything hurts; his father, the terror of countless fighting rings and cages around the world, is a classic Munchausen case. After 40-minutes of the familiar abuse and cries from imaginary pain, the champ is in bed and Chuck can relax. Drink a drink of his own. Bourbon. Zone out in front of the 70-inch flatscreen watching miners battle for the scraps of gold left behind by Alaskan mining concerns who couldn't be bothered a hundred years ago. Or a skinny Texan with slicked back hair and his brilliant, long-bearded sidekick buying, creating and flipping bad-ass hotrods. They've created their own "things", and succeeded. Chuck likes that; wonders if he'd ever have the gumption. He drifts off in the bourbon's warm embrace.
* * * * *
After prep school, Chuck went to Lehigh University, under the grandest of misconceptions that his 4th place finish in a tough New England prep school league, with his captaincy and selection as MVP of his team, qualified him for the big-time of college wrestling. It took a week of practice to disabuse him of his dreams (and that's all they were; he had nowhere near the focus and drive of those division one studs). He also discovered he liked beer, and was apparently, to his surprise, attractive to women. Boxing, while something he had done well as a young kid, was never his favorite. But when a local bar advertised a tough guy tournament over Thanksgiving break, he signed up. Even through the beer and the coeds, Chuck had kept in shape. He ran early in the freezing mountain air because he liked the solitude, and it helped clear the sticky beer cobwebs from his brain. He lifted weights because, well, he always had. For the first time in years he was eating normally, not starving to make weight. By the time of the tournament we was a solid 190-pounds. He fought under an assumed name; no use bringing his father's fame into this. As “Chuk Atoms” he knocked out his first three opponents, drunk kids on dares, probably, in under a combined two minutes. In the semi-finals, he had to work a little longer, laying out a 240-pound football player and crowd favorite early in the second round. The worst blow he took was from a beer bottle thrown after that fight. In the finals, nursing an egg-sized mouse on the back of his head, he faced a ringer. The guy was the top man at the local boxing club, and had sparred at Kronk gym in Detroit. Chuck kept his distance, jabbing and dancing, looking for an opening. But this guy knew how to cut off the ring, taking away territory, step by
step. Chuck decided to launch an attack before he got boxed into a corner, and unleashed a flurry of hooks and crosses. He dropped his head, and a counterpunch glanced off the knot on the back of his skull. It split open, and blood flowed down his back and into the hollows of his clavicles. Chuck stepped back as the crowd began chanting something he couldn't quite make out at first. “Red-Neck! Red-Neck!” The fans cheered the blood, now painting his neck like a scarf. They'd found a new favorite, an underdog with a blood-red neck. Thus, a prep-school educated Lehigh University student from Boston's comfortable North Shore became known as "Red Nek Chuk.” The outcome of the bout was never in doubt. But "Red Nek" gave them a show, lasting the full three rounds, bloodied, battered, but on this night, anyway, beloved. He quit school before Christmas and hit the road.
* * * * *
"Thumper" Ray Lydon's rebirth as a fighter took about as long as the gestation period of a rabbit. That his new team logo featured a take on Walt Disney's famed bunny, with a cartoon sledgehammer instead of a big foot, was, according to his camp, strictly coincidental. By the time Disney's lawyers caught wind of the obvious trademark violation, Ray was retired. But the one month he spent in intense training, not to master the ground game but to defend against it, made him a new fighter. His breakthrough bout came a year to the day after his back was broken, in the final round of a tournament in Alameda, California. Facing a foe who claimed to have trained with the Gracies (which turned out to be false; he was trained by a man who was fired by the Gracies), Ray was taken to the mat in the opening minute. He managed to fight off, in quick
succession, an arm bar and a rear naked choke; got back to his feet, and delivered three thunderous body punches and a knee to the chin of his opponent, who was out before he even started to fall. The win was Ray's ticket back into prime time. After two more convincing undercard victories, he was named to fight in a co-main event at Brendan Byrne Arena, in New Jersey. He was 39. As Ray put the finishing touches on his reborn career, Chuck was coming to grips with the fact that, as a fighter, his future was limited. "Red Nek" Chuk Atoms joined a gym outside Boston. He trained hard, but, he knew, not hard enough. Once again he lacked the focus and desire of his cohorts, and the talent that might otherwise have overcome his sloth. When he showed up for training sober, but still rank with the previous night's whiskey, his trainer delivered an ultimatum. Get serious or get out. Chuck considered it for about a minute, and cleaned out his locker. "Red Nek" Chuk ended his fighting career with a winning record and no future.
* * * * *
Ray set up training camp in a little place called Harmony, Maine; rented out a former hunting camp, built by wealthy New Yorkers during the Gilded Age. The original owners had even built a now-disused rail spur leading to the property, which now consisted of a palatial main building overlooking Great Moose Lake, a huge barn and about a dozen cabins. From the 1960s through most of the '90s the place had served as a summer camp for rich kids. Downtown Harmony consisted of a combination convenience store/post office and a few homes housing a dozen-or-so year-long residents.
A cold wind was whistling through the birches when Chuck hopped out of a warm taxi at the post office to ask directions. The door resisted his efforts to push his way in, before giving way with a groan. A bell mounted atop it rang as he stepped inside. Snacks and staples seemed to overflow from shelves stacked almost to the low, water-stained suspended ceiling, giving the place a claustrophobic feel. Chuck turned to the counter. Behind it was a bank of mailboxes, flanked by cigarette and chewing tobacco displays. A heavy-set woman sat reading in a chair to one side. She didn't move when Chuck approached, ancient floor boards, worn beyond creaking, seeming to sigh as they gave way beneath his feet. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me? Chuck smiled as he leaned on the counter. "I'm trying to find Camp Wild Moose..?" The woman peered at him, over her reading glasses, above her book. "Can't get theya from heya." She looked down at her book. "Excuse me? I'm sorry, what did you say?" She deadpanned, "You can't get theya from heya. Ya shoulda been heya yesterday." Chuck felt himself getting anxious. "I'm sorry. I don't understand. What do you mean..." "Ha! Just messin' with ya!" The woman sprang from her seat with surprising alacrity. "I got ya, too. Hook, line and evah-lovin' sinker! Didn't I?" Chuck felt sheepish. "Well, I guess you did at that." The woman put out her hand. "I'm Jane. This is my place. You're lookin' for Camp Wild Moose, ahr you?" Chuck nodded in the affirmative as she release his hand and continued.
"Well, I been told not to tell anyone where Camp Wild Moose is. What do you think about that?" Chuck started to answer, but Jane kept on. "Course, I don't work for them, now, do I? Some big shot cage fighter training there, is what I hear. Well if ya ask me, I don't really care for that kind of ..." "I'm his son." Chuck finally jumped into her verbal stream. "What's that again?" Chuck repeated himself. "Chuck Lydon. Nice to meet you." Jane eyed him with what seemed to Chuck was a mix of suspicion and curiosity, as one might inspect a steak a couple of days past its sell-by date, or a two-headed goat. She spoke up. "Well if you're his son and he's your father, how come you need me to give you directions?" "He doesn't know I'm coming. It's a surprise." She furrowed her hairless painted brow. "A happy surprise, I hope. Chuck grunted, "Well, we'll see, I guess." "Well, I ain't supposed to give directions to nobody. They say I'm supposed to wave 'em off, send 'em packin'. But they ain't payin' my salary, ahr they?" "I guess not," Chuck rubbed his chin-stubble nervously. "Have many come looking?" "Nope. You're the first. She paused for a moment. "Well, you seem hahrmless enough..." Chuck nodded as she directed him to the obscured turn-off to the camp. "Now, don't you tell 'em old Jane sent you. You found the place on your own, y'hear?" "Yes ma'am, and thank you." He shook her hand and turned to leave.
"All right then," she sighed. "All right then." Jane returned to her seat and her book as Chuck bounded down the wooden steps and across the frozen mud to his waiting cab.
* * * * *
Ray hated snow. His only memory of the stuff before he returned to the states was from childhood, and that had been so very long ago. A lifetime. He vaguely recalled shoveling the short driveway, making a few bucks digging out a neighbor or two. But mostly he remembered hating the cold; the way it snuck through the slightest opening to bite his flesh; burned his hands and cheeks. "What is this, Rocky Frikkin' Four?" He almost fired his newest manager when they arrived just after an unexpected late autumn snowfall. "I tell you what: I am not shoveling a single fucking snowflake." He recalled a scene from the actual film. "And I'm not carrying any telephone poles across the frozen fucking tundra, either." The surprise six inches had melted in a couple of days, and Ray had come to enjoy his surroundings. He augmented his usual training methods with canoeing and rowing an old wooden boat. "Good for your core," his manager had told him. But, even with the accompaniment of a trainer or some hanger-on in a boat nearby, what Ray really enjoyed was the quiet. Out on the water, even when the wind was whipping whitecaps over the gunwale of the rowboat, he felt a sense of peace and solitude. It was almost akin to his days in Farang Alley. There, too, he was navigating untested, dangerous waters, but could find peace
in his solitary existence. He had a vague memory of a feeling, perhaps in a forgotten dream, of him in a small boat, rowing… When Chuck arrived at his camp, Ray was ambivalent. He was happy to see the kid; always was. But that jollity never seemed to last very long. Ray knew he was a lousy father, especially to younger children. Once they could communicate and had some level of self-awareness, he was better with them. He knew that was probably because they could leave. The truth was that Ray almost never thought about his kids, or his step-kids. Chuck was the only one that made any effort to stay in touch, but years could pass when Ray couldn't tell you where even he lived or what he was doing. As it worked out, their time at his training camp would probably be the most mutually enjoyable stretch in their lives.
* * * * *
The sound of the penthouse door opening at 11am means the dayside aide, Ellen, has arrived. She's probably Ray's favorite; Jamaican, jovial, compact - he calls her Shorty - she brooks no nonsense from the old Champ. She never gives in on any task, no matter how many windowpanes his thunderous voice might rattle. Daily battles over taking his pills, drinking his water, standing up to get his ass washed always ended with him in the same state: medicated, hydrated, and clean. Chuck helps out where he can, disinfecting and making the bed, handing Ellen the supplies she needs. But mostly he's around to provide the muscle to get or keep his father on his feet, or transfer him to a chair. The champ is getting worse. Chuck wonders how long it’ll be before he stops walking altogether. He knows it will be a mixed blessing. It'll mean no more
wandering into crosswalks, no more sneaking to the freezer to chug some vodka. But it's also a defeat; another in a growing stack that marks the place of his surrender. His doctor has told Chuck, "there's nothing killing him;" that he could live like this for many years. But Chuck doesn't recognize his father's current existence as any kind of life at all. Ray has parked himself at a green light and is waiting for it to turn red.
* * * * *
Chuck told his cab driver to take a left at an unmarked, bough-covered entrance to a dirt road off the main drag. "Where're we goin," the driver asked, "the Bat Cave?" "Something like that." Chuck noticed the change in tire noise as dirt gave way to gravel about a quarter of a mile in. After several twists, the path opened onto a large parking area in front of a voluminous red board-and-batten barn. The cab from Waterville ended up costing him 65-dollars, leaving him without enough cash to return to the bus station, let alone to purchase a ticket. Looks like I'm in this for the long haul, he thought as he threw his black duffle over his shoulder and took in the view. The familiar sounds of training emanated from the barn. His glasses steamed over with the moisture of body heat and sweat as he slid open the big door at the front of the barn. He was met immediately by a young, muscular kid; shoulders back, chin up.
"Who you?" The kid was trying to be intimidating. Uncertainty in his eyes belied his bravura. Chuck decided against challenging him. He extended his right hand. "I'm Chuck Lydon. And that bad-ass up there," he pointed his chin toward the ring, where Ray was breaking the will of yet another sparring partner, "is my father." The kid looked Chuck up and down before stepping past him and pulling the heavy door shut. "We don't open this door. Too cold. Next time, use the side door. It goes into the office." Surprised at the ease with which he allayed the young man's suspicions, Chuck walked toward the ring. It was set up in the back of the cavernous space. While the barn's exterior may have looked a hundred years old, inside it was almost new. Its broad floorboards looked fresh from the lumberyard, and were crisply mitered and tight-fitting. The walls were sheathed in beaded, naked pine. Several rows of painted benches were set up before the ring. There were no spectators this day, just a couple of up-and-comers brought in to help train Ray. "Time!" Someone hollered as Ray's partner fell to one knee under a barrage of blows Chuck thought he'd lay low for a while, and surprise his father once his sparring session was over. He tried to hear what the training staff was telling him as another palooka stepped through the ropes to replace the first. His dad looked fitter than Chuck ever remembered him. A sweat-sopped tee shirt clung to his muscled torso like wet paint. Suddenly, something seemed off. Ray was standing him his corner, when he became rigid, his whole body clenched tight. His eyes seemed to focus on the old hay loft in the rafters. His seconds became a protective wall as his trainer hissed. "Ray. RAY! What's the matter, Ray? You in there?"
It ended as soon as it began. The men returned to rubbing his shoulders, massaging his arms, giving him water. But Chuck knew something very serious had just transpired, even as the men, and Ray himself, tried to hide it. The trainer waved off the latest human punching bag. "Know what fellas? That's enough sparring for today. We don't wanna overload the Champ. Thanks for coming in. You can see Horace in the office for your pay. He placed a hand on the back of the fresh sparring partner as he ducked under the ropes. "That goes for you, too, Tommy. Y'all come back tomorrow at ten, hear?" The men gathered their gym bags and pulled on sweatshirts as the kid who had greeted Chuck ushered them out a side door. Chuck rushed to ringside. "Dad, you all right?” His father, who had looked so powerful moments before, cast a weary glance at his son standing below. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but issued no sound. One of the men, whom Chuck assumed was his trainer, stepped between them. "Who the hell is this boy? Who let him in here?" He glowered down at Chuck. "Who let you in here, homey?" “That's my son." Ray rasped weakly. "He's okay." He sank onto a folding chair that had been shoved into the ring. Chuck noticed the trainer was still staring at him. "What's wrong with my father? And who are you?" The man seemed to soften a bit. "I'm Troy Lacey, your dad's trainer. Nothing's wrong with him. He's just overtired from training too hard." He tried to laugh, but it came out as a grunt. "Gotta
keep you outa that rowboat, my man! Too much cross-training." He winked at Chuck. "A non-fighter wouldn't understand." Ray grasped Troy's bicep. Color seemed to be returning to his cheeks. "You're talkin' to none other than "Red Nek” Chuk Atoms, scourge of the Rust Belt. He is a fighter!" Chuck was shocked, and warmed, to learn his father was aware of his brief fighting career. He looked up at Ray, who appeared very much recovered. "Hey, Pop. You okay?" Ray pushed away the attendants clustered around him and hopped to his feet. "What, that? That was just dehydration. That's all. I have to learn to drink my water." He turned to his trainer. "Isn't that what you're always telling my, Troy?" He lowered his voice in imitation of his trainer. "'That Diet Coke is no substitute for clean, fresh water.' Isn't that what you're always telling me?" He laughed a short laugh, and threw one leg out of the ring, ducking below the top rope while pressing down on the middle one. "C'mon, son. Let's take a boat-ride!" Chuck stood on the floating dock on a little inlet to the lake as he waited for his father to change his clothes. He watched Ray walk toward him. The older man's gait seemed slow, though his upper body rocked powerfully with each step. He reached the dock and pointed at a classic Chris-Craft. Nodding at the cockpit, he grunted. "You drive. I'm bushed." Chuck stood still. "What happened in there?" Ray removed the stern line from its cleat. "What happened in there was I was dehydrated. And that's all I will say on the subject. Period." He headed toward the bow and began freeing its line Preferring not to risk their detente so early in his visit, Chuck turned and stepped carefully into the vintage boat. He offered Ray a hand, which he uncharacteristically accepted before plopping
into a white vinyl seat. A turn of the key and a push on the throttle, and they were off. Cold air burned their cheeks as they cut through it. "How did you know about my boxing?" Chuck asked above the noise of the engine and the splashing water. "I thought I kept that on the down-low." He was pleased by his father's interest. "Your mother told me. She heard it from that girl you used to date at college. What was her name? Jane?" "Jane De Rose. Right." Chuck paused. "Annika's not my mother, by the way. And you're not even married to her anymore. You guys are still in touch?" Ray rubbed his stubble. "So, I lack imagination. What can I say? As a wife she was a disaster. But in bed..." "I don't want to hear it!" Chuck took his hands off the wheel to make a cross with his forefingers, as if he were warding off a vampire. "Back! Keep that stuff to yourself! Besides, what about Melanie?" "Melanie is nice, too. We got married, you know. Almost a year now." Chuck raised his brow in mock surprise. "So a new wife and an old one on the side? By the way, I never got the invitation." Chuck smiled sardonically. Ray shrugged. "Well, I figured you wouldn't be able to make it, and I knew you couldn't afford a gift, so why put any pressure on you? Chuck laughed along with his father as the Chris-Craft sliced a scimitar in the flat water of the lake. "What a family. Hear from any of the other kids? "Nope." Chuck looked back at the camp. It seemed to recede deeper into the Maine woods the farther out they went. "Look, if this is some sort of 'You weren't there for me' trip, I'll pay your bus fare home."
”No, Pop, not at all. Sorry. I was literally just wondering. I don't keep in touch with them either. I ust wanted to see how you're doing. That's all. And I'd like to stick around for a while, if that's all right with you, and your boss back there..." "Stay as long as you like." Ray looked admiringly at his son; his thick mane flowing in the wind. He knew he got that from his mother. "Hell, I'll put you on the payroll, if you don't object to the dirty work." "Never have, so far!" Chuck grinned as he extended his right hand under his left arm to shake on the deal. "Okay, you got it." Ray grasped his son's hand. "And he's not my boss. He's my trainer. One of the best there is. He's more like a mother. No..." He tilted his head in mock deliberation. "More like an overbearing aunt." "Okay Pop. Wanna head in?" Chuck looked at the sun through the naked trees on the horizon. "Might as well," he said. It's a bitch parking this thing at night." Chuck swung the boat around and headed back to camp. Ray continued, ”We're not gonna be able to do this much longer. Pretty soon this whole lake will be frozen solid.” He stood, pointing landward. "Just take it straight to the dock. I'll grab the front rope and tie her off..." "Bow line," Chuck corrected him. "Say what?" Ray looked aggravated. "It's called a bow line. Not a 'front rope.'" "Well, well," Ray chuckled, as if to himself. "Looks like all those summers away at camp taught you something after all!" He growled in classic pirate voice: "Arr, matey! I'll get the BOW LINE,
and tie her up. Someone will come and put our ship away. But shiver me timbers, we can handle the BOW LINE! Arrr!" The freeze had actually already begun, in eddies and still waters along the water's edge. Their's was the last boat-ride of the year. Life in camp alternated between the insanely hectic and the serenely calm. Usually the former characterized the early hours and the latter the evenings. Every day started with Cheffy (the cook had a real name, all assumed, but he preferred "Chef, or Cheffy") banging on a huge, rusted iron circle that served as the "dinner bell," calling everyone to breakfast. It was the only time non-cooking staff was welcome in the kitchen, so Cheffy could cook the eggs and bacon to order and breakfasters could toast their own bagels or bread on the salamander and serve themselves cereal. Lunch was taken more casually, any time between noon and two, consisting of hot and cold sandwiches, and anything else the Champ might want made. Dinner, with bell clanging, started at seven sharp. Chuck handled nighttime pot scrubbing, on top of sweeping the gym and plowing and shoveling the occasional snowfall. While not fond, he did not share his father's aversion to the cold; could even find it invigorating at times. He enjoyed driving the plow truck; even got pretty good at directing the snow into the banks that would remain long after the last snow. But he'd be gone by then. Camp was scheduled to end two weeks before the night of the fight, New Year's Eve. He also assisted with the training; helping get his father's gloves on, donning the huge padded gear that would protect his midriff as Ray worked on his body blows, getting him water between sparring rounds. They sat together almost every dinner, and Chuck felt warmed by the reflected light as his father traded war stories with the reverent veteran trainers and the hangers-
on who trailed the fight world like Civil War camp followers. Of course this relative bliss couldn't last. One night, about four-weeks in, Ray was regaling his table with tales of his days in Thailand, recounting a semi-legal fight with a man twice his size. "I mean, I didn't know they made Asians that big, right? I figured he had to have some Gringo blood in him." The men at the long table, including his son, listened raptly. Another dozen or so others, plus Cheffy and members of his staff hung around, leaning in to hear the tale. "So anyway, this guy comes barreling in at me, and I side-step him, you know, use his weight against him. Now you have to know, theses rings were not exactly engineered to the exacting standards we have in the States. He hits the ropes, and BANG, it pulls away from the turnbuckle, he goes flying into the crowd, and... the rope... and...the..." His voice trailed off as his body went rigid, eyes rolled upward. "Pop? Pop!" Chuck, seated to his right, grabbed his hand. it was eerily cold and for a second he feared his father was dead. Then, suddenly, Ray's chest expanded with a deep inhalation and he shook his head slowly, blinking. "Whew, head rush..." A few men mustered awkward laughter as Chuck and Troy Lacey tended to Ray. Troy spoke up first. "Okay, everybody. Dinner's over. We're overtaxing the Champ here. Let's let him get his rest." Chuck spoke up as a few diners began swinging their legs over the benches. "That's right, guys. Time to clear out. The kitchen staff needs to clear all this up before they can prep for breakfast. See you all tomorrow.
In a minute or two Troy and Chuck were alone with Ray, who was sweating as he clung to the end of the pine table. The kitchen crew cleared the last plates and condiments from the tables and disappeared behind swinging doors. Chuck rose from his bench to face Troy, who was rubbing Ray's trapezius muscles, gently saying, "You're all right, Champ. You're all right." "What the fuck was that?" Chuck snarled as Troy raised a finger to his own lips. "No, don't shut me up. And don't feed me that 'he was dehydrated' crap. What's going on here? That looked like some sort of a, some sort of seizure!" "I can't tell you, even if I wanted to. And right now, with your attitude, I don't think I do. Besides, I've promised the Champ..." Troy looked much more contrite than his words sounded. Ray stood up between the two and turned to his son. "Chuckie, there are some things in my life, just as there are in yours, that are nobody else's business. You're just gonna have to accept that. Or leave." He turned, slump-shouldered, toward the staircase that led to his suite. Chuck shouted after him. "I leave? No, you leave. Isn't that how it works? You walk away, whenever the shit gets too deep, or just because you feel like it. You leave your kids with a malignant bitch because you have better things to do. You leave your new wife so you can have a toss in the hay with your ex..." "Stop it!" Ray turned with more energy than Chuck thought possible, given recent events. "And grow the fuck up. Life didn't turn out as you'd like? Do something about it! You're still fucking young. make yourself a life. Don't come around here whining about getting your ass whipped by your stepmom! I paid for your college, I paid your rent; kept a roof over your head and food in
your belly. Not enough for you? Tough!" He grabbed the banister and turned toward the stairs. "Damn sight more than anyone ever gave me. Horace will cash you out in the morning. You're fired.” Chuck noticed his father could only manage one step at a time, dragging his left foot to join his right. He stood, frozen, just as he had as a child when bearing the brunt one of his father's verbal fusillades. Troy approached quietly. "He doesn't mean it, Chuck. He'll cool down tomorrow." Chuck smiled sadly. "Yes he did. You don't know my father; nothing new here." He turned to face Troy. "He's having seizures, epileptic seizures, isn't he? When did they start? Has he been checked out?" Troy lowered his gaze. "I can't answer that, man." He paused, and caught Chuck's gaze. "Don't worry. The doc says he's fine. He got some meds. But says they slow him down, and he doesn't want them showing up in any blood tests. He'll start takin' 'em the day after the fight. That's just a few weeks away. He'll be just fine.” Chuck felt helpless. He thought about taking the story public, or at least going to the state boxing commission. But he knew he couldn't betray his father, whom he knew would rather die in the ring than miss his big chance; his big payday. Better just to leave. He extended his hand to Troy. "Good luck. Take care of my dad." Fourteen hours later he was on a Trailways bus for Boston, a bundle of cash in his pocket. His father had been very generous. Chuck lacked the wherewithal, or pride, to refuse.
* * * * *
This is a bad idea. Chuck sits at his father's side as the Champ struggles to find words. The winter sun angles sharply into Chuck's eyes as he lowers a window blind. The phone is on speaker and Ray is recounting (or trying to recount) his memories of his last big fight, "No Mercy in New Jersey," as it came to be known. Its 15th anniversary is a few weeks away, and Chuck has agreed to allow a freelancer to interview his father for a piece he says he's pitching to Sports Illustrated. "It was... ah.. what's the..?" Thick-tongued, slurring, Ray struggles to complete a thought. Chuck jumps in during one of the long gaps in his father's response. "We are not recording, correct, Marcel?" "No sir, no recording for broadcast. As agreed." "Why don't you just shut up?" Ray glowers from his recliner. His eyes icily accuse his son of trying to steal his spotlight. The reporter speaks up. "So, Champ, as you were saying, what was the turning point of the..." Ray interrupts. "It was the... whaddya call it..?" Chuck whispers "The ref. The long count in the first..." "That damned ref! That's what it was!” Ray is animated. “He... well... he..." "Took too long on the count in the first." Chuck prompts his father again. This is a bad idea. "He took his own sweet time, is what!" Ray turns his head toward his son. "And I don't need you... butting in!" "I think that's gonna have to be all for now, Marcel. I'll call you later." Chuck disconnects the call before the reporter can respond. "Where'd he go? Was that it? 'Cause I've got lots of stories..." Ray seems vaguely angry.
"Yeah, Pop, he had to go for now. We'll finish up later." "Well, then get me a cocktail." You sure Pop? It's only four o'clock. You've only been out of bed for a couple of hours. "Bullshit! I've been up and at 'em since sunrise. You're the one who slept the day away. Now get me a god dammed cocktail. "Whatever you say, dad." Svedka on the rocks, coming up. “Less rocks, more Svedka!" Ray smiles in anticipation.
* * * * *
The walls beneath Brendan Byrne Arena pulsate with the downbeats of electro-pop-synthesized music. In the bowels of this great enclosed concrete bowl built into the marshland of New Jersey, Ray lays, silent in the darkness of a painted cinderblock dressing room. His bed is a padded examination table that for some reason reminds him of getting stitches as a kid, before Thailand; before… everything. He's completed his warm-up and takes this time for himself, planning his first move, reflecting on the work it has taken him to get here, steeling himself for the the battle to come. All night he's heard the thudding of the music, the swelling chorus of the crowds, and the whoops and sobs of undercard fighters on their way to combat and back. The door opens, allowing a sliver of light to slice open the darkness. "Ten minutes, Ray," his manager pokes his head in. Ray waves him inside. "Get the lights, Troy. Let's get this party stahhhted!" His exaggerated Boston accent fails to lighten the pre-fight tension. Fluorescent tubes flicker to life as Ray swings his legs over the side
of the table and slaps himself in the face. The half-gloves restrict him to the use of four fingers, but his blows serve their purpose. His eyes are wide as two more men from camp, whom he barely knows, arrive to rub his shoulders, massage his arms and ready him for the gantlet-walk to the ring. Ray looks to his trainer. "Any sign of my son?" Troy averts his eyes. "Not yet, Champ." Ray hops off the table and onto the cold concrete floor. "Fuck him. He's dead to me." "Okay Champ. You ready? Ray is stretching his neck muscles, shrugging and swinging his head from side to side. "Ready as I'll ever be." They're balked at the door as gurney bearing the loser of the last undercard bout is run down the hall to an emergency exit and a waiting ambulance. Ray quips. "Such service. In my day you just bled until it stopped. Then, if you could walk, you might get a band-aid.” Troy slaps him on the back, squeezing his shoulder before leading him out the door. "Well, I'm sure your opponent will be happy to hear that medical treatment has improved." "Fuck him, too. He's gonna regret ever stepping into the cage." The walk to the ring has become Ray's least favorite thing. From the supposedly jaded workers lining the subterranean halls who sneak peeks nonetheless, to the screaming fans whose incoherent shrieking provide no clue as to their allegiance, he never feels more exposed. Stepping into the octagonal ring, enclosed with rubber-covered chain link, brings him peace,
even a sense of safety. He can hear some chanting above the din. "Thum-Per! Thum-Per! Thum-Per!” He's never really cared for the moniker, but knows that one doesn't pick one's own nickname. He has embraced it now, with a garish cartoon on the front of his ringwear. The crowd quiets as his opponent makes his way to the ring. Manuel "Man-Mountain" Martinez ducks through the open cage door and snarls. This is the man who broke Ray's back in Mississippi. He's huge, and strong, but Ray has doubts about his chin. He knows he had him dazed and ready to go down before the "Mountain" dug in a couple of underhooks and body-slammed Ray to the mat. The bell rings, and Ray wastes no time. He marches straight across the ring and feints a right then throws a jarring front kick straight into Martinez' chin. The "Mountain" clinches, seeking rest and recovery time as he and Ray trade rib shots and seek an advantage. He shoots for a take-down, and takes Ray to the mat, but "Thumper" fights off his grappling and the two return to their feet. As his adversary rises Ray lands a knee flush on his chin. The "Mountain" is hurt, and Ray literally smells blood. It's flowing from his opponent's mouth. Ray presses for the kill. A spinning back-heel to the cheek, and four solid body blows, followed by a right elbow to the bridge of the nose, and the "Mountain" is crumbling. The crowd rises to its feet, sensing the kill. Ray feels a buzzing in his brain as he dispatches his adversary with a knee to the solar plexus and a right cross. The buzzing rises above all the noise, even the referee's count. Ray can't move. He's standing over his fallen challenger, in what looks like a pose of exaltation. His eyes glare skyward. his fists clenched before him, waist-high. The ref stops the count, ordering Ray to a neutral corner for the second time. He tries to move "Thumper" but he's rooted to the mat,
solid as a statue. The bells rings to end the round as the "Mountain" regains consciousness and struggles to his feet. Ray's seizure abates as his cornermen drag him to a folding chair. "I'm ending the fight." Troy yells over the raucous noise of the arena. Ray grabs his arm, hard. “You do, and I'll kill you.” His eyes have yet to decide upon which Troy they should focus. "I'm okay. Just get me some water.” TV announcers on one of the biggest pay-per-view events to date express amazement, anger, disgust, bewilderment. Did Ray interfere with the count because he wanted to deliver more abuse to the dangerous Martinez? Is he out of his mind? One even suggested it looked like some kind of seizure, but was quickly shouted down, accused of making fun of the handicapped. Ray is fortunate to get out of the second round alive. Rising like a rocket at the bell, Martinez is upon Ray almost before his seconds have left the ring. Convinced Ray was showboating over his prostrate form, he exacts a revenge rarely seen in any fight before or after. He savages Ray, who can barely defend himself, with an endless barrage of punches, kicks and body slams, only to let Ray back up and do it all over again. To Ray's very good fortune, the referee recognizes his inability to "intelligently defend" himself. He calls an end to the slaughter three minutes into the five minute round. Ray will spend three nights in the hospital, but will carry the damage of those eight minutes inside the cage the rest of his days.
* * * * *
Chuck had vowed to not even watch the fight. His father had sent him a whole VIP kit; parking sticker, backstage pass, front row ticket. Knowing their value, Chuck had done what he thought was the right thing and returned them. He was back in Boston, staying with some Ipswich friends who were going to northeastern law School and living in Jamaica Plain. It was they who convinced him to join them at Foley's for a few beers and a night of "man's barbarism to man," as one of them put it. Law students, he thought, as he tied his boots and prepared for the 20-minute walk to the old bar. He and his friends were already buzzed by the time the co-main event of the evening began. Chuck's friends knew from experience not to tell anyone who his father was; it always ended in awkward social situations at best, and violence and police involvement at worst. His initial nervousness was quickly replaced with relief and pride. "He's carving him up!" His three friends pounded his back as they watched Ray disassemble the "Mountain." "He's down! He's down!" Chuck leapt to his feet as the tavern erupted in cheers. But he knew immediately what was wrong. He watched his father stand stock-still as a ref literally put a shoulder into his side and tried to move him. The crowd in the bar was incredulous. "Get to a corner, you idiot!" "What the fuck are you doing?" "Holy shit, he let him get up!" Chuck was out the door and into the January cold before the bell sounded for round two. He just hoped his father would survive the beating that was sure to come. Looking ahead, he knew no one would ever know what really happened in that ring. Too many people had conspired to put an aging, sick man into the ring with a brute half his age. Chuck knew he was as guilty as the rest of them. They could all face charges, if not criminal then certainly administrative for their fraud. And Ray would lose the paycheck that would underwrite his retirement. Chuck
retched into a snowbank behind the local high school track. His friends caught up with him, gave him his coat, and told him how the fight ended on the walk home.
* * * * *
Months have passed since Ray's crosswalk incident. He's abandoned walking altogether. The anniversary of his most famous fight has passed; his camp still publicly blaming the ref for a long count, everyone else wondering what the hell Ray was doing, showboating like that. Those who know the truth carry their culpability in different ways. The doctors, after all, have assured them that while Ray's career caused his dementia, there was no proof that fighting with seizures had made it any worse. But Chuck wonders what blows caused the brain damage. Was it a cumulative thing, and if so, did the beating he took in that last bout put him "over the top?" No one will answer that question. Chuck is in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner. The sun set hours ago; the windows of the entire east-facing wall of Ray's condo is a bank of black squares. Ray sits in his recliner/lift chair, watching the same syndicated comedy he views every night. "Here it comes, Chuckie!" Ray calls for his son. He leaves the kitchen and stands beside his father. The TV blares, "Sit Ubu, Sit. Good dog!" Ray recites the words every night; won't permit any interruption until he hears, and repeats, the production company's tag line. Chuck knows what comes next. "I wanna cocktail." Chuck assumes a waiter's persona. "Very good, sir. The usual?"
"Damn right, boy. Svedka on the rocks." Chuck drops the waiter act. "You got it, Dad." "You're not my son!" "Okay, Pop. Okay. Svedka was it? On the rocks?" "Less rocks, more Svedka. You know, I started drinking Svedka when I was training for my title. Couldn't even get it in the States when I came back. Had to smuggle it in. Now it's all I'll drink. Good enough for me then, good enough for me now. No sense messing with a good thing!" Ray smiles vacantly. His son grabs a fresh bottle from the freezer. "Words to live by, Pop.”
Alex Seifert is a screenplay and novel writer who is currently a Creative Writing Student student at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. He is enthusiastic about sharing his creative ideas and stories with other people just to see the sheer amount of joy he brings to their faces. He hopes to one day become a successful screenplay writer for television or movies. His hobbies consist of biking, watching movies, and managing his own Youtube channel called AdventureJedi24. You can follow him on Twitter @Alex38033504.
Nature’s Garbage Man
The air was nothing but a slight breeze that I felt around my face. I was standing by the porch taking in the wooden giants with shades of red, orange, and yellow stretched across the landscape around me. The sky was a orange and pink hue as the last visible remains of the sun started to fade away. I averted my gaze from the soothing paradise to look at the garbage can from below and away. My eyes laid on a rusted, silver cylinder with many yellow bags overflowing from the open top. The stench that emulated from it was powerful enough to rival that of rotten eggs and spoiled milk. I turned around to the house and called out, “Honey, did you close the garbage can?” I got a reply of, “Oh, no I didn't! I’ll get it!” I reluctantly respond, “No, no I’ll do it!” The silence was a strong indicator that she agreed with me.
I had descended the porch stairs and approached the trash can with the stench growing increasingly unbearable by the second, the raw scent was enough to make me almost vomit. When suddenly, a big, black blur emerged from woods and sauntered towards the trash can. I immediately froze, and I was afraid enough to not even scream, fearing that if I called for help then this creature would kill me. Thankfully, the beast was tearing into the yellow bags with its claws and fangs ripping and teething on anything that seemed edible. It noticed me standing around, sweat dripping across my face. This forest monster stood up on its hind legs to get a better look at me, trying to size me up. Then, the threatening visitor started to approach me out sheer curiosity. My breath held and my heart was trying to rip its way out of my chest, the closer the intruder came towards me. It smelled me with its elongated snout, looking directly at me with its amber brown eyes. Then a noise that sounded like gun from miles away caused my opponent’s small, round ears to move around like a satellite dish. As suddenly as it came, the “garbage man” ran back into the thicket from where it came dragging the yellow trash bags with it. I was finally allowed to move. I was breathing heavily and felt like I could pass out. I slowly and cautiously placed the lid on the trash can. I then darted to the the porch and inside the house where I locked the door behind me. With my mind racing and my thoughts comprising of how that situation could have gone wrong, I could only shout, “Honey, next time you take out the trash you better be sure the lid… stays… closed.”
Author has out now three books out available on Amazon and published by Outlaws Publishing entitled: An Old West Texas Attorney and the 8:10 to Chicago, An Old West Texas Attorney: The Apache Custody Case, and An Old West Texas Attorney: The Fort Davis Black Sox Scandal
The Cost Of A Pit Bull
Mr. Pitbull owned a pit bull obviously. He thought it was cool to own one. Everyone had one. So he got one too. But over the strong objection of his wife. “That breed of dog is dangerous. They’re bred to kill. Pit bulls have been known to attack young children. What if it attacks the neighbor's’ little girl?” she warned him. “Oh he won’t do that. He’s a good dog,” responded her husband brushing aside her constant nagging for him to get rid of that dog before something terrible happened. Mrs. Pitbull hated Beast, that’s what he named the dog, Beast, and she vowed to herself that she’d get rid of that dog one way or another. Beast that is, not her husband. She hated that damn dog because it ignored all her commands. Wouldn't obey her at all. Paid no attention to her like she didn’t even exist except to growl at her every so often to let her know who was boss. Furthermore Beast had cost a small fortune to buy, plus there were always on going vet bills and dog food and and dog vitamins and dog toys expense as nauseum. Mr. and Mrs. Pitbulls neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Familyvalues, had a little girl, age five or so, and she had a bunny rabbit which she kept in a rabbit hutch, duh what else would one keep a rabbit in, in her backyard. Because the bunny was so fluffy and white, their daughter named her rabbit Fluffy. Not very original but then again five year olds aren’t all that original when it comes to naming their pets. “Always make sure you close the cage door Sweetie when you’re done petting Fluffy. We don’t want him to get out and get lost now do we,” they warned their daughter. That sealed Fluffy’s fate and he was doomed with extinction the second they said that. And thus one day the inevitable happened, their daughter didn’t latch the door closed, for after all a five year old is not a responsible person, and Fluffy got out. And that was the day that Beast just happened to run out the door into the yard before Mr.Pitbull could stop him, stop him from killing Fluffy that is, for after all an adult can be irresponsible too. “Our little girl’s heart is broken,” said Mr. Familyvalues presenting the dead bloody mutilated body of chewed up Fluffy to the Pitbulls. “Are you sure it was Beast who did this?” asked a doubtful Mr.Pitbull, not being able to say the word kill or acknowledge the obvious truth, for how could his sweet loving pet do such a thing. But before Mr. Familyvalues could respond to such a dumb question, Mrs. Pitbull’s eyes shot darts at her husband. Like lasers they burnt into his brain and he quickly realized his marital life was at stake. “How about I write you a check to buy a new Fluffy?” her husband ever so graciously offered. “What about our daughter’s pain and suffering for her loss, the wrongful death of her beloved Fluffy? That’s worth something too,” added Mr. Familyvalues. Mr. Familyvalues was a young associate attorney at a big law firm there in town and sometimes he liked to flex his young legal muscles. Knowing this Mr. Pitbull quickly settled on a sum agreeable to all, including his wife for she wanted him to pay dearly for keeping that blankety blank dog and feel the pain of money lost. And in addition to the money there was one additional term of the settlement agreement that was insisted upon by Attorney Familyvalues. That was that Mr. Familyvalues would make a police report about this incident since he wanted it on record. In legal terms, establish kind of a precedent or in other words strike one. So Fluffy was laid to rest in the backyard of the Familyvalues. But only for a short time. Until the next day that is when Beast accidently got out again, through the fault of Mr. Pitbull again, and dug up Fluffy. Another monetary settlement was reached for grave robbing by a canine. A second police report was made though no canine unit was called to the scene. And when they were finished Mr. Familyvalues warned the Pitbulls with, “That’s strike two.” And that’s when Mrs. Pitbull got her epiphany. So the Familyvalues got a second rabbit for their daughter. This one was named Snowball because he was white and looked like a big snowball their daughter said. And the day after Snowball arrived on the scene, Mrs. Pitbull put her plan in motion. She feigned sickness and called in sick to work. No one at the office doubted her for she was a nurse and if anyone would know if they were sick or not, it would be a nurse. Mr. Familyvalues went off to his office and his wife took their daughter to daycare before she went off to teach first grade. And as to Mr. Pitbull, he went to work as usual riding shotgun in the city garbage truck. Then when she was home alone wearing her sickness costume of bathrobe, pajamas, and slippers with accompanying kleenex tissues wadded up in her hands, Mrs. Pitbull left her house and snuck over to Snowball’s hutch in Familyvalues backyard. Somehow when she was visiting the rabbit, she ‘accidentally’ left open the cage door when she went returned to her home. Next thing you know Beast somehow got loose off his chain in their backyard and the first thing he did was make a beeline straight to Snowball’s abode. Snowball was still in the safety of his cage. He was high enough off the ground that Beast couldn't jump up into his cage and grab him. But like a dumb bunny Snowball panicked and jumped out the door hoping to make a run for it. He didn’t have a prayer. As he jumped out, Beast jumped up, and caught Snowball in his teeth in midair. Beast’s jaws crunched into and pierced the rabbit's skull with a sickening nauseating sound heard by Mrs. Pitbull watching all this at her back door. She cringed but nevertheless watched it all with a kind of perverted delight. Then she dialed Attorney Familyvalues at his office. “I’m sorry,” she told him “but I’m home sick today, coming down with the flu I believe, and I wasn’t paying attention and uh well it seems our, I mean my husband’s dog, got out again and somehow opened your little girl’s rabbit cage and killed your little girl's new bunny.” Mr. Familyvalues held his temper in check and then said he would call the police and meet them there at his home shortly and for her to be there or else. He didn’t say what the or else was but being an attorney it could mean one thing, legal action. When he got there the police were already talking to Mrs. Pitbull, but at a distance as they did not wish to catch the flu from her as she had warned them about. Then they talked to Attorney Familyvalues. He informed them of the previous two reports on file concerning this dog and thus they called the Animal Control Officer who quickly arrived on the scene. She took Beast into custody and then spoke to Mrs. Pitbull. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to write you up ma’am,” she hollered from a distance, having also been informed by Mrs. Pitbull that she was coming down with the flu. “It's not my dog officer. It’s my husband's. All the pedigree papers are in his name,” she hollered back from a safe non-contagious distance. “Okay then. What’s his name?” Mrs. Pitbull gladly gave it to her. The Animal Control Officer then wadded it up and threw the citation at her, for she didn’t want to get close enough to catch the flu, and said, “See that he gets that please.” “Oh I will,” Mrs. Pitbull faithfully responded. “There's a court date on it and I’m sure the animal will be ordered destroyed then. Your husband will have to pay the costs of all that plus the fine and court costs you know. This is the third time the police have been involved, the third strike so to speak.” Mrs. Pitbull had trouble suppressing a smile. “I understand officer,” was her fake meek reply. And with that the officer left with Beast in the canine Paddy Wagon and he wasn't even an Irish setter. Attorney Familyvalues then turned to Mrs. Pitbull, still at a distance. But she spoke first. “Here’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “First I’ll get you some money and there’s still time for you to go and get Snowball number two before your daughter gets home from daycare. Your daughter doesn’t need to know what happened here today. She’ll never know the difference between the two bunnies anyway. Second since you can't bury another body in your backyard without your daughter finding out, you sack up Snowball and put him out with the trash for tomorrow's pickup. Third you tell your spouse what happened and I’ll tell mine and nobody says anything about this to your daughter. Okay?” “Okay except for one thing, the pain and suffering to my daughter.” he countered automatically ever the attorney. “Mr. Attorney since your daughter isn’t going to know about Snowball’s death. She’ll suffer no pain and suffering. Duh.” “Okay,” he mumbled, head bowed, feeling like a fool. And so he agreed to the plan. The next day Snowball number one went out with the garbage. Mr.Pitbull had no idea that he was throwing Snowball in the garbage truck when it stopped there to pick up the Familyvalues trash. As to Snow ball number two, he was now just plain Snowball. Well he, well actually he was a she now was an exact duplicate of Snowball number one. But their daughter would never know the difference, and even if she did, Attorney Familyvalues was sure that Mr. Pitbull would gladly pay for the sex change operation. Well after that Snowball kind of became a local celebrity. Their daughter took her to show and tell at the daycare center later that week and the following week Snowball appeared in Mrs.Familyvalues first grade class for Pet Day. All the children loved Snowball,He was so cute, cuddly, and fluffy. Mr. Pitbull paid the fines and court costs and Beast went on to doggy heaven or maybe he went to the depths of doggy hell, probably the latter. Mrs. Pitbull now sat down with pencil and paper in hand and started computing the costs of Beast. The purchase price, the paperwork to register the animal, the vet bill, special dog food and dog vitamins and dog toys her husband insisted on, the cost of two settlements with the neighbors, cost of two rabbits, court costs and fines, and the cost of putting Beast down and disposing of the body. It came to a considerable sum. “Who'd have thunk it,” she said to herself when she added it all up. But it was worth it for Mrs. Pitbull knew that sooner or later that animal would have attacked the neighbor’s little girl and then there really would have been literal hell to pay. She was thankful that she had gotten off as cheap as she did.
Divorce Lawyer Romance
Flynn Griffin, a thirty five year old divorce lawyer knew that he couldn’t let this case go on any longer. He looked across the conference table at his opponent, attorney C.J. McIntosh, and his mind drifted. For his client’s sake, for his own sake, he must stay focused, concentrate. He had to stop thinking about C.J. McIntosh. He had to reach a fair settlement for his client Mrs. Williams and he had to reach it now today. His problem with his adversary, Claudia Jane McIntosh or C.J. as everyone called her, was that Flynn Griffin was in love with her and she likewise was in love with him. Both their clients didn’t know this of course nor did anyone else for that matter, no attorneys, judges, court clerks, no one, as the two of them had made an all out effort to keep their affair secret one. They did this because they both knew that they were dancing on the edge of an ethical dilemma, representing opposing clients while being romantically involved. So therefore they hid their relationship and hoped the case would soon be settled, time would pass and everything would go away. Flynn reminisced and thought back to the time when their relationship started months ago simultaneously with the Williams first divorce hearing for temporary support. Ironically that was Valentine’s Day of all days. Before then the two of them hardly paid any attention to the other. To each of them the other one was just another battlefield adversary. But because the Williams divorce was so bitter and hotly contested and went on so long there was a lot of communication back and forth between the two attorneys. Back and forth over the phone, back and forth written correspondence, back and forth in and out of court. All this constant communication between them planted the seed that germinated and grew into their affair. Settlement conference after settlement conference had been held all to no avail as the Williams could not or would not reach an agreement despite the best efforts of their attorneys. This was because each of the Williams had an affair and each blamed the other for doing so. Hatred and revenge ruled their thinking so much so that nothing got accomplished by the attorneys except billable hours and growing their relationship. That relationship came to fruition one day after a heated temporary support order hearing that went on until way late in the afternoon. Finally when it was exhaustingly over, Flynn nonchalantly asked C.J. as they left the courthouse, “How about a beer? I could use one.” “I could use one too,” answered C.J. jumping at the offer. “I’ll buy the first round,” she volunteered as her eyes twinkled and a cute little smile curled up on her lips. Flynn picked up the signal. She was being coy with him, somewhat flirtatious, so quickly he responded, “That’s fine by me.” Both of them had sensed for some time now that a mutual attraction existed between them and that now was time to act on it. Flynn saw her then for the first time that Valentine’s Day as an attractive young woman about his age with strawberry blonde cutely cut short hair, light blue sparkling eyes, freckles across the bridge of her little turned up nose, and a curvy petite body with shapely legs. He no longer saw her as the enemy. C.J. likewise looked at Flynn differently then too. Such an attractive young man, six foot tall, blue eyes but with thick black stylish hair, a rare but attractive combination, abs, no gut, toned with a dignified stately manly appearance. To her too he no longer was deemed an adversary but now as a possible catch. So they gathered at the local attorney watering hole but nothing much came of this first encounter since there were too many other attorneys present for them to have any meaningful personal conversation. Therefore they agreed to meet at another bar next Friday after work. At their second such meeting the relationship took root and grew to where it was today. And today Flynn needed to concentrate. He tore his mind away from C.J., for the moment that is anyway, as the parties got down to business. It was apparent now that progress toward a settlement was finally being made. Everyone sensed it, the parties and their attorneys. And it was going to be settled for the same old reason that all divorce cases got settled. The parties had run out of money. They couldn’t afford to fight anymore. Also it helped that things had run their course. The Williams had had enough, fighting that is. All the hatred and revenge had burnt itself out. The parties were exhausted. They knew that it was time to turn the page, get on with their lives. So they reached an agreement. It was written up, signed, and presented to the matrimonial walk-in judge, that is the judge who heard uncontested divorces, the following week. The parties briefly testified as to what they had agreed to in writing, that they voluntarily signed the agreement and that it was a complete and fair settlement of all their property, debts and rights that arose during the course of the marriage. The judge signed the Divorce Decree that bound them to the terms thereof and it was all was over in less than fifteen minutes of court time. The Williams were free. Free to remarry. But Flynn and C.J. were not free, not free to marry yet because the Williams divorce still hung over them like an ominous dark rain cloud that wouldn’t go away. For if either of the Williams later believed that they got a raw deal, and found out that the attorneys were romantically involved with each other, there could be hell to pay. They could claim that their attorney’s judgement was clouded and thus their attorney was not working in their best interests. Both attorneys could face ethical charges as well as a malpractice claim. So Flynn and C.J. agreed that they would just have to cool it for at least six months or more before their relationship could become known. They would just have to somehow hold back their passion until then. Nevertheless they continued to have their secret meetings at the parks where they would walk off in some isolated part of woods holding hands, talking and getting to know each other better. Getting to know each other better that was their main driving concern. Both had a disastrous first marriage and neither wanted a second one. Sometimes they would just talk about the thrill of being young and in love and the wonders and the beauty and the joy of life itself. At other times they did not talk at all. They just sat, held hands, cuddled and cooed. They had similar trysts at the courthouse law library, when no one else was there of course, or at the public library in their isolated little nook off one of the back aisles. All these public place rendezvouses were of a furtive nature. Keeping a constant look out almost made them not worthwhile as they just prolonged their agony. Yet despite all that they still cherished every moment thereof and could not give them up. Even the ones at his or her office, after the help had left for the day, were short as they were fearful of someone in the office complex seeing them coming and going and putting two and two together. And all this time, through all this, whenever they saw each other at the courthouse, they would politely just say ‘hi’ or ‘how you doing’ making sure that was the extent of their conversation. They never held a conversation where just the two of them were present so as to not arouse any suspicions and of course they never took any more cases where they would be opposing counsel. Flynn and C.J. had kept their relationship a chaste one so far. They had their reasons. Both knew that their first marriage had resulted in disaster. Both wanted to take their time before entering into a second one, so scared of making a second mistake, so scared that the mad heat and passion of sex would run them amuck like before. So ever so cautiously they took their time, making sure that they learned all the traits and characteristics of the other. Knew each other's peeves, quirks, likes and dislikes, religion and politics as they did not wish to learn about them after the fact again. Both laid bare their souls leaving no stone unturned and by doing so they both found out that they had much more in common with each other than they ever had with the person that they had married. But all the cuddling, hand holding, pecks on the cheeks were taking their toll on the parties sex drive. Their passion boiled just beneath the surface ready to erupt. Only the questions of when and where remained. The when came six months after the Williams divorce. The Williams had remarried, to each other thank God, and the fear of any claims against them for mishandling their divorce died with their remarriage. And thanks to the legal profession the question of where was answered too. In their state all attorneys were required to take continuing legal education courses, so many hours a year. To do this one had to attend a state bar association approved seminar and get a certificate verifying that they had attended for so many hours. Seminars were held across the state by the bar association every so often and one was coming up next month at the opposite end of the state. So Flynn and C.J. chose that as the date. Each booked their own room each in separate motels for the Friday night before the Saturday 8 a.m. seminar so as to give no appearance of any impropriety. Each drove their own car there to for the same reason. All this love is tax deductible they joked with each other as they made their plans. That Friday afternoon each checked into their respective rooms, then Flynn flew to C.J. They couldn’t wait any longer and quickly they knew each other in the proverbial Biblical sense of the word. Once their flames of passions had cooled and reluctantly were put on low burner, they went to a chic elegant French restaurant, the name of which they they could not pronounce let alone know what it means. But they didn’t care because it was one with dim lights in a cozy corner, candles, soft music, tuxedoed overly courteous waiters, fine white linen tablecloths and napkins, sparkling champagne in stemmed crystal glasses, and a five page menu, in French of course, offering expensive exotic appetizers, entrees and desserts. A restaurant so thick in romantic atmosphere that it was palpable. Flynn took it upon himself and ordered the champagne and entrees. C.J. was impressed. She liked a man who would take charge, be a gentleman, treat her like a lady, let her be his beautiful princess, he her prince charming. Time passed and soon the fairy tale midnight hour approached. Back they magically flew in Flynn’s carriage, his beat up old Volvo that is, to their motel boudoir. Flynn had brought his personal effects and clothes for tomorrow’s seminar and despite not having gotten to sleep until the early hours of the morning, the lovers did make it to the seminar on time. At five p.m. they received their certificate of attendance for eight hours and headed out for the historic tourist part of town with all its boutiques and chi chi little shops still open late for the Saturday night crowds. Up and down the street they strolled, hand in hand, going into every little trinket and gifts, t-shirt and clothing, candle and incense, antique and junque, arts and crafts, wine and liqueurs, ice cream and candy shop. Taking in all their fruited aromas, being dazzled by all the beads and bobbles and assortment of colorful merchandise, examining and fondling this little item or that, buying some little thing for the other, each having a high old time. However there was something Flynn had to do first before they returned to their ‘no tell motel’ as they jokingly called it. He took C. J.by the hand and led her down the street to a jewelry store where he abruptly stopped. C.J read the name on the window, ‘Diamonds Galore and More.’ Flynn stood there before her, his hands holding hers, trembling somewhat, nervous, fearful of stuttering, looking her directly in the eye he began, “C.J. will.” But before he could say another word she burst out, “Yes Flynn. Yes I will marry you,” and she leapt forward threw her arms around him, hugged him tightly and kissed him passionately. “Well then,” said a relieved Flynn having regained his breath and composure. “After we pick out the ring all we have to do is set the date.” “Let’s set it for Valentine’s Day, the day the Williams divorce started. After all it’s their divorce that brought us together.” “Well that’s a pretty long engagement. Valentine’s Day is over four months away. Why wait so long. I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it,” whined Flynn. “Well actually there’s something else that we have to do first dear. You haven’t forgotten have you?” giggled C.J. “Oh yes I remember now,” said Flynn. “How could a divorce lawyer like me forget something like that. We have to go home, each get a good divorce attorney, and divorce our spouses.” “That's right dear.”
Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
RED HIGH HEELS
Meredith and Peter were watching the original Hawaii Five-O on his upstairs TV in his blue bedroom. They each had their own pillow. His had cost an unbelievable $250 at a mattress store, while hers cost $20 at Kohl’s. She had tested it out on the dusty floor by the men’s ties. “Always a beautiful day in Hawaii,” said Peter. “Maybe the two of us could go visit,” said Meredith, knowing the answer. “You know me, kid,” he said. “I don’t want to go anywhere except Cape May.” “It would really be fun living somewhere else,” she said. “Don’t you love your yellow house and living next door to the man in your life?” “Of course I do,” she said, snuggling against his gorgeous hairy chest. After she went home, she began to plan what to do. She would show him. As she walked to the compost heap they shared, her thoughts cascaded as she poured out the contents of the yellow pitcher: chicken bones, egg shells with bits of white still inside, the ends of zucchini, apple cores. Did she love Peter? She supposed she did, but it was hard to really know. He was certainly good to her. For her most recent birthday – she was twenty-six – he bought her the complete short stories of John O’Hara with a black and white cover showing O’Hara as a man with big ears and wearing a banker’s suit. She pulled out a suitcase with wheels from her basement, sneezing from the dust. She packed lightly for she would only stay a couple of days and decide if she wanted to move to Vermont, where her college alma mater, Goddard, was spread out on acres and acres of what was once farmland. She’d stay in Kilpatrick Dorm, for a small fee. Her biggest decision was what books to bring. Her father had given her “Random House’s Best Sports Stories” and her mom, a pair of yellow silky pajamas with her initials MLL monogrammed on her breast. Peter loved it. A day later, she was in the living room pacing back and forth when she heard the horn. There it was, “Dave’s Limo” pulling into her drive. Peter was at work so there would be no tearful goodbyes. She wheeled her red checkered suitcase onto the porch steps and the driver hefted it inside. Most of the December snow had melted. Five hours later, she was aboard a small plane heading for the Plainfield, Vermont airport. Her tray was down and she was sipping on a ginger ale to settle her stomach. She returned the unopened foil pack of almonds to the flight attendant, Neil. Her book slid off the tray with a thud. The plane careened back and forth. The pilot announced, “We’re having some turbulence. Please put your trays up and buckle your seat belts. Nothing to worry about.” Meredith looked out the window and remembered the green meadows of Vermont. A blonde, she and her friend Wendy had once sunbathed in the raw one gorgeous summer day, bringing with them Italian hoagies from the country store and Tastykake Krimpets. Everything was now covered with sparkling white snow with iridescent crystals. What a great decision she had made. The speaker above her head crackled with static for several moments as the plane seemed to plummet downward toward the snow and ice. There was no doubt about it. The plane was about to crash. Involuntarily, screams poured forth from the passengers, herself included. Her blue earrings shot out of her ears and luggage from the overhead compartments spilled onto the passengers. More screams and then silence. The plane came to a stop like a dead bird in the Arctic. Meredith looked around. The old lady next to her lay on the floor of the plane in a bath of blood. Her mouth was wide open with fear as if she were watching a horror movie. Meredith cleared her throat. “Is anyone alive?” she called. “Hello! Hello!” The pilot must be alive, she thought, but the roof of the plane was squashed down like a toy bucket. She knew from movies and TV shows that she must move as far away from the plane as she could, lest it blow up. She spilled out the emergency door, but stuck her head back inside. “Please! Please! Somebody answer me!” she called. She crawled back in on her aching knees and saw the kitchen was right there. She helped herself to all the packets of nuts and crackers that could fit into her coat pockets. Plus a cup of hot coffee in a plastic cup. She wore Pantyhose and red high heels, the perfect thing, she thought, for wandering around in the snow. She caught her breath away from the plane and sipped on the hot coffee, which helped clear her head. Suddenly an orange fire ball bright as the sun filled the air. Meredith held her ears. For sure, now, everyone was dead. Pulverized as if they were in a blender making a chocolate milkshake. Her eyes filled with tears. Her red high heels dug into the snow as she looked toward the sky. Clouds were skittering to the left, the west. She brushed away thoughts about how she and Peter had sat on her screened-in back porch and made shapes of them – a lonely camel, a snowman with a scarf on, and a dog scampering across the sky. In fact, was it her imagination or was that a real dog barking – or was it a wolf come to eat her alive? A huge white dog ran up to her and jumped on her coat. She held out her hands and let him lick her. She was saved. The two of them trotted toward a farmhouse, where he lived. “Barney,” said his master. “Who have we got here?” “Meredith,” she answered. “I was on the plane that crashed a little while ago. Did you hear it?” “Sure did. You’d have to be stone deaf not to have heard it!” She refused to be hospitalized and persuaded the farmer and his wife to put her up for the night. She also refused to take a plane back home. Peter drove up in his black Honda Fit. Now she was sure she loved him. “Satisfied?” he asked. “Not really,” she said. “But it’ll do for a start.”
Annika Ellis is a student studying creative writing in Orlando, FL. In her free time, she enjoys playing video games and doing ballet in her living room. You can follow her on Twitter @Ink_Flavored.
When Gabriel turned the corner key and opened the door to his apartment, he saw exactly what he didn’t want to see. Immediately, the sickening scent of booze assaulted his senses, old and stale, and he kicked a beer bottle on the way in the house. It was empty, but the stain on the carpet suggested it hadn’t been. There were even more bottles when he made his way into the living room, along with open, half-empty wine bottles, an empty fifth of whiskey, and an unopened fifth of vodka that had rolled off the kitchen counter and onto the floor. The mess didn’t make him angry, as most people would be. It terrified him. Gabriel picked up the bottle and rushed into the living room, where he saw exactly what he was dreading. His girlfriend, Maggie, drunk out of her mind on the couch. Maggie was curled up on one corner of the couch, surrounded by used, crumpled up tissues, sniffling quietly, her head drunkenly lolling to one side. She held a highball glass in one hand and a nearly-full fifth of whiskey in the other. The glass didn’t look like it had been used at all, and Gabriel’s dread turned into horror as she took a swig right out of the bottle. She didn’t seem to notice him. “Maggie, what the hell happened?” Gabriel asked, and Maggie jumped. “Drinkin’,” she slurred, hiccuping loudly. “Why?” he asked, brushing away her tissues and sitting down next to her. “I dunno,” she mumbled and brought the bottle to her lips again. Gabriel snatched the whiskey out of her hands. “Absolutely not.” “G-give it back.” “No, I’m not going to give it back, Maggie. Weren’t you supposed to be at AA?” “S-supposed to.” “What happened? Where did all this booze come from?” Gabriel set the liquor on end of the coffee table furthest away from his girlfriend. Ever since he found out about Maggie’s drinking problem, he stripped the house of any and all booze, and made sure that she didn’t buy any. She’d been going to AA since then, and she promised she wouldn’t ever drink again. “When I was leavin’,” Maggie said, “Cindy came first.” Gabriel dragged a hand over his face. “Cindy? Is that where all this came from?” Maggie nodded and sniffed again. “Maggie, I thought you said you made her stay away from you?” Without warning, Maggie burst into drunken tears, gripping the front of his shirt and sobbing loudly. “Hey, hey, hey, Maggie. It’s okay. I’m not mad at you. I’m not angry, okay?” He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her back and forth. “Everything is okay. I promise. I promise. I’m not angry with you.” Either Maggie wasn’t paying attention, or she didn’t hear him. She kept crying into the front of his shirt, gripping it like a lifeline. “Let’s get you cleaned up, okay?” He tried to stand them both up, but Maggie wouldn’t budge. “Maggie, come on. Let’s get you to bed.” She still didn't move. Gabriel stood up and tugged her by the arms. “Come on, Mags. You're a mess.” Maggie shook her head. “You're being a child,” Gabriel said, getting irritated. He pulled her harder, but she still didn't move. “Seriously?” he asked. “You need to get cleaned up, and you need to go to bed. Come on.” Maggie wiped her eyes, still filled with tears, and pulled her hands from Gabriel’s grip. “No. Nothin’ matters anyway.” “Nothing matters?” “What’s the point? Why am I even here?” Gabriel sat down next to her again, guilty and silent. She’d never talked like this before. When he didn’t say anything, Maggie continued, “We all die anyway. Why’s it even worth it to try living happy? Everythin’ goes poof sooner or later.” She made her fingers look like an explosion and dropped her hand heavily. Gabriel was silent again, for a moment. Then: “You know why it’s worth it?” “Isn’t.” “It is. And it’s worth it because I love you.” “You die, too.” “We all die, Mags. Doesn’t that mean we should enjoy life while we have it?” “If we all die, we shouldn’t even try to live.” “Maggie.” “I don’ wanna live anymore.” Gabriel fell silent again. He pulled Maggie closer to him. She didn’t object. They sat in silence. Maggie’s sobs eventually coming to an end, replaced by occasional sniffling. Gabriel rubbed her arm, trying to think of something to say. “Cindy… didn’ come over,” Maggie mumbled. “What?” “When you went to work, I —” she coughed wetly “— went to th’ store… and bought these.” “It’s okay, Maggie.” “I’m s—” “No, don’t be sorry. It’s okay.” “Why?” “It’s okay because you’re not going to do it again.” “But—” “You’re not going to do it again, because I’m going to help you want to live. I promise.” “Okay…” “I will. One day, you’ll be happy, and you’ll want to live. And I’m going to help you get there. I promise.” Maggie didn’t say anything. Then, Gabriel heard a snore against his chest. “I promise,” he whispered into his girlfriend’s hair. The five o’clock sun drifted steadily downward, and the light through amber curtains on the living room window painted the couch in a hopeful, golden light.