REMBRANDT GOES HOME
Alan Steinberg was known as a wise old man. He never made any bones about his age. Born in 1920, he was a fit old man, who ran in marathons in his native city of Bristol, Pennsylvania. In his white tank top, he maintained an even pace in the “over-ninety” category.
“Jeff,” he called to his young friend Jeff Patrick, who with hundreds of others – yes, hundreds! – were cheering everyone onward as if this were the Tour de France bike race.
Alan reached into his khaki shorts and pulled out a handkerchief he had sewn himself on his old Singer machine and mopped his brow. Although cool breezes sailed along the path by the dirty brown Delaware River, he had no illusions of keeping cool.
He watched for the many friends he had, as well as his former students when he taught at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – Lily, Sammy, Raymundo, Joanna – and doffed his red Phillies’ cap when he saw them.
Would his pseudo-grandchildren be there? Ten-year-old Grace and 8-year-old Ted? They were the great loves of his life, but their mother was as possessive at the Wicked Queen in Sleeping Beauty and he rarely got to see them.
Running, he imagined the black ringlets of Grace which tickled her neck and her penetrating blue eyes. Her little brother, Ted, not surprisingly, was a mischief maker, who spoke with a slight lisp.
Ages ago, Alan’s father disabused him of the notion of God. Ingersoll, that was the man’s name. Father and son went to see this Ingersoll in a huge circus tent attended by men and women who wanted to see The Lord put in his place.
What a fiasco!
Alan lived by himself in a small apartment in Grundy Gardens on Pond Street. As he ran, he imagined himself at home in front of the television, his feet propped up, and being visited by his next-door neighbor, Alicia. He was hoping to get her in bed, but she was what she called herself “a proper lady” and only marriage would do.
Forget that. He’d been married and divorced several times and still had a healthy appetite for sex.
After Alan came in first in a field of twelve, he stood up on a platform while huge white clouds caressed him from above.
“You’ve done it again,” said Mayor Ron Abrams, wearing a pair of red and white air cushioned shoes. “We’re happy to present you with this trophy, once again, but if you should move, well, we won’t be too disappointed.”
Everyone laughed except for Alan Steinberg.
The hell with everyone in Bristol, he thought. Same old, same old. Where was an old man to spend the last days of his life? Hawaii? Beautiful but too far, on an island popularized by the TV show, Hawaii Five-O. Southern California? Always sunny with its artichokes, lemons and grapefruits. Run to California, the paradise of the twentieth century, with its dazzling movie studios. Oh, yes, how he remembered when he and wife number two, Mae, watched Gone with the Wind on their flickering TV.
Holy cow, he thought, as he viewed the rolling hills of Vermont on his computer. That anti-semite Solzhenitsyn had once lived there after the USSR exiled him for telling the truth about his country.
Alan, who had been a curator and sought-after teacher at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, packed his bags and left on the train for Vermont. Certainly he knew there were pick-pockets waiting to roll an old man like he was. Before he left, he bought black hair dye at the Cut-Rate Drug Store in Bristol. And permitted himself an ice cream cone by the Jack and Jill Ice Cream Truck.
“I hope I never forget the sound of that jingle,” he laughed.
“White River Junction” announced the porter on the train.
“Hold on! Hold on!” said Alan. “This is where I get off.”
As he tottered up to the door, the porter wished him a very good visit. Alan tipped him a five.
The train station was dark inside. A wall of vending machines lit up the room. Such awful stuff. Everything with artificial sugar inside. Was that why he had lived so long? Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Vernor Ginger Ale (pure), Dr Pepper with added saccharine. There was a separate coffee machine on a table. Nothing worse than the stale smell of coffee, though the cups with their little stripes looked inviting.
“Artemis Estates said they’d meet me here,” he said to the man at the ticket counter.
“No sign of them.”
“Do you suppose I could walk there?” asked Alan.
“Sure, if you don’t mind dropping dead on the way over. Ninety degrees outside.”
“Call me a cab, then.”
This was Alan’s first disappointment. Had he miscalculated after calling the place and being assured there were dozens of men and women his age and more importantly, daily exercises to help his aged body and activities to help his mind.
Arriving at twilight, he walked up the ramp of Artemis House. Artemis? The huntress, the goddess of the moon, and beloved by Apollo.
A few weeks earlier, Alan had taken a class in astronomy. In the early evening, students of all ages stood on The Bristol Wharf, and stretched their heads high above.
An enormous telescope was available for viewing, though most of the students were content just hearing about the constellations and why they were called, say, Orion the Hunter.
“Yes,” they said. “It does look like a hunter.”
Alan had bent down. Very hard to do at his age and let his left eye look through the telescope. To his amazement, he saw Jupiter – terribly bright – and four of her twelve moons – all discovered by that rebel Galileo. He discovered them in 1610 – four hundred nine years ago - and of course he was forced to recant the appearance of the beauties, Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto. They were named by Simon Marius, whoever that was, but were soon forgotten until modern times.
Alan was grateful for the ramp. He fluffed up his swatch of gorgeous black hair, as two women in nurse’s uniforms greeted him.
“Mr. Steinberg,” said one of the women, who looked as if she were wearing a nun’s habit. “You will no doubt want to refresh yourself, yes?”
He managed a begrudging smile, as they led him into his room.
It was no bigger than a monk’s cell.
He insisted on carrying his two heavy suitcases.
“I’ll be fine,” he said, slamming his door, which did not lock.
He lay down on his bed, which was really a cot. And there he slept until morning.
“Are you awake now, Mr. Steinberg?” asked one of the nurses, awakening him with a start.
Privacy, thought Alan. They were like spies, watching his every move.
Holding his elbow, the woman escorted him into a large dining hall. He had read in the brochure that Artemis Estates used to be a Jesuit monastery. Large windows allowed the morning light to glimmer across the room.
A buzz of noise, sounding like the warming up of an orchestra, greeted him. He went over to a window and looked outside. His eyes looked up in the sky to see if Venus, the morning star, had arisen.
A small mercy, he thought.
At least his legs were steady. A man in a long white robe like the Pope sat at his table. A nun sat next to him and fed “the Pope” what looked to be gruel, oatmeal.
Who could he talk to? There must be someone here with a brain.
A vase with fresh flowers sat in the middle of the table.
Fluffing up his hair, he asked in a loud voice, “Anyone know what’s for breakfast?”
Three women looked up at him. They stared at him. And then looked down at their bowls.
“C’mon, dammit,” he said. “you’re certainly not eating dog food.”
One of them managed a smile.
Then he realized the women and men, too, were afraid, as if they were hostages.
This was not even elder abuse. They were being used for nefarious purposes. God only knew what for.
A young woman in white, whose uniform read, “Artemis Estates,” pulled up a chair and sat next to him.
“We haven’t officially met,” she said. “I’m Sister Claire. And I’ll be what we call your ‘concierge.’ Now what would you like for breakfast?”
She looked to him like a Vermeer milk maid.
“Well, seeing as how we’re in Vermont, how about some good ole Vermont cheese, a rasher of hot bacon, and some scrambled eggs.”
“Of course,” said Sister Claire. She excused herself and with her stately walk, disappeared into the kitchen.
His stomach rumbled as he awaited his breakfast.
A young boy about fifteen came around with a tray of either tea or coffee.
Alan upended his coffee cup and heard the splash of hot coffee into his white mug. Holding the coffee in both hands he sipped gratefully.
Sister Claire brought his food, which made him feel human again.
“You have made me very happy,” he said to her, as he dug in.
There was nothing as good as scrambled eggs. So simple. So satisfying. He remembered his days at the Eagle Diner in Bristol. Such pretty waitresses they had with their white ruffles above their bosoms. And the bottomless pots of coffee.
And outside the windows, all manner of cars, and a lake – Silver Lake – with proud geese swimming with their goslings not far behind.
“Might you have a library here?” Alan asked Sister Claire.
“Of course we do,” she said.
They met there when the clock chimed two in the afternoon.
Should Alan tell her he thought he was in a madhouse? The Madwoman of Chaillot?
He stood and stared at the library shelves, moving around for a better view.
He was impressed.
“From the Jesuits?” he inquired.
“Summa Theologica” by Thomas Aquinas; “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton (how he’d enjoyed that, eclectic reader that he was, God or no God); and “Confessions of Saint Augustine” – terribly wordy but he did enjoy reading about why God gives us “free will.”
He and Sister Claire sat at a finely hewn table.
She offered him a slice of chocolate.
“We make chocolate ourselves. If you like, perhaps you can work there.”
Tentatively, he tasted it, as if it were poison.
“Mr. Steinberg, you do not trust us.”
“I am trying, mademoiselle, just give me time.”
What he was doing was figuring out how to get the hell out of here. First, though, he must unravel the mystery of what was going on.
Every time he passed someone in the hall, he would bow his head, and say, “Hello, I am Alan Steinberg, late of Bristol, Pennsylvania. And who may you be?”
He had categorized the residents as characters from paintings.
A woman with bright eyes was Gainsborough’s “Mrs. Ford.”
She promised him she would find out who she was, the name was not coming to her.
And the spritely gentleman who was certainly Eduard Manet’s “The Fifer.” An old acquaintance of Alan had this colorful poster in her apartment, the first thing you saw when you walked in.
The fellow broadly bowed before Alan, but seemed not to remember how to speak.
Nefarious? Not at all. They simply had various varieties of dementia. Lewy body (the kind Robin Williams died of), vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s. While certainly not contagious, it was dreadful to live among these poor souls who had lost their seat of reason. Or, their very souls, if you believed in that nonsense, which he certainly did not.
And who was he? Alan Steinberg? Easy. Rembrandt’s self portrait at sixty-three years of age. Not handsome with his face turned toward us, but it revealed the traces of everything he had painted, including his lifestyle, terrible poverty, which stung his entire life, until he was revered as possibly the greatest portraitist of all time.
He would leave when the moon was high in the sky. He would tell no one. Who, after all, was there to tell?
Two days elapsed. Instead of carrying his two suitcases he found a Sierra Club back pack in the Common Room. Anyone could have it.
He had been doing leg strengthening exercises in his monk’s cell. Bending down seven times, then rising up unassisted. Standing on tiptoes, then rocking backward to stand on his ankles. Doing backbends where he curled into a worm-like creature. The black dye was washing out of his hair. Such vanity, he thought. “You silly man,” he thought.
Letting himself out an unlocked kitchen door, he breathed the smell of the night. Acres of wheat fields, a whiff of chocolate, a pond somewhere with bullfrogs croaking, and fireflies.
“How had Solzhenitsyn liked fireflies, the bastard,” he thought.
He hefted the backpack until it settled like a young child he never had.
Walking on the side of the road, he stepped into the bushes whenever a vehicle passed.
Finally he saw the sign for the train station White River Junction. It glowed in the distance like a bar of gold.
The door was locked, but he jiggled it, and it snapped open.
Sure enough, the train master, was asleep behind the counter. Why, it was van Gogh himself, in his famous blue postman’s uniform.
Alan sat down on a worn bench, opened up his backpack and helped himself to some almonds, a half bottle of Dasani water – fresh from the tap – and a book of short stories by Anton Chekhov.
Wouldn’t it be nice if he met a woman as sweet as the woman with the lapdog?
Jasmine Williams is a creative writer currently attending Full Sail University. She has also been a model for 8-9 years. She spends most of her time volunteering at a barn, working at a lake-side restaurant, and helping out at a spiritual store. She has a deep love for animals and hopes to use some of her later works to help bring knowledge to nearby communities. In the meantime, she writes quite a bit of Fantasy. She hopes to one day work for a video game company, aiming high to become a part of Nintendo.
In Light of Friendship
Spear wiggled his body back, preparing to pounce. His small, black feet flattened the grass as he planted himself in preparation.
“Spear,” Hannah said, “don’t you dare.”
Spear soared through the air. He slammed into Hannah’s stomach, and she fell back into the grass.
“Spear, that was absolutely unnecessary,” she said.
Her laughter rang out. Hannah had the prettiest laugh. She was elegant, in most cases. She spent most of her time in the art studio, but she was watching Spear for Alex today. Hannah found him one day while she was on her way to the market. His small, turquoise body was so limp. He looked quite like a colorful opossum. Hannah urged the guards to stop the carriage and she found Spear hardly breathing. She rushed him to the apothecary and Stewart helped him. Hannah got incredibly attached after that.
She sat up and brushed some dirt off of Spear’s back.
“Look what a mess you’ve made,” she said.
Spear put his head down in shame.
“It’s fine, bubs. Do you think we should go to the market? I’d like to cook today and it’s really not far,” she said.
Spear nodded, croaking happily as he started to walk off.
“Spear, wait,” she said.
He stopped to look back at her and wagged his tail impatiently. Hannah laughed. She stood up and brushed the dirt off her dress and they made their way along.
“I miss planting in the community garden like I used to. I haven’t had much time with Alex coming to stay,” Hannah said.
Spear looked up at her and stopped. He touched his paw to her leg empathetically. She picked him up and hugged him, eyeing her surroundings.
“Did we take a wrong turn, bubs?” she asked.
Spear looked around, worried, and nodded.
“I should have paid more attention,” she said.
She examined the forest around her.
“You don’t remember the way, do you?” she asked.
She turned to look at Spear, but he wasn’t there.
“Spear, stop playing,” she said.
Spear squealed, loudly. Hannah’s breathing hitched as she tried to figure out what direction it came from. She panicked a bit and ran into the forest. Spear’s squeals sounded out.
“I’m coming, bubs,” she said.
A man appeared, seemingly out of thin air. Hannah stopped dead in her tracks.
“What have you done with him?” Hannah asked.
“Ah, so he’s yours then?” he asked.
“What sort of question is that? You took him from me,” Hannah said.
“Strange that he doesn’t have a collar on, then,” he said.
“Well, he was right there with me,” Hannah said.
“As I’m sure you know, wild Nidwid hunting is still legal. Their blood can be used for magic,” he said.
“Well he’s not wild. You need to give him to me. Now,” Hannah said.
He laughed, crossing his arms.
“Your precious guards aren’t here,” he said.
The palm of her hand met with his cheek in not even half a second. He raised his hand and rubbed the area, suprised.
“Did you just slap me?” he asked.
“Obviously,” she said.
Spear squealed, louder this time.
Hannah braced herself and she kicked the man straight in the stomach. He toppled back onto the grass and looked at her in surprise.
“What? You think a girl can’t have martial arts training?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve never seen it,” he said.
“I’m good enough to play with the big boys and I know your father, now that I think of it. Your brother was the man I was to wed,” she said.
His expression flattened, and he looked terrified.
Hannah ran past him only to find Spear laying in the grass alone. He had bitemarks all across his neck and there was a good amount of blood. It was another Nidwid. The man must have his own. He wasn’t a hunter. He wanted her. He probably assumed she had ruined their lives, to not marry his brother. Their kingdom had been struck by poverty over the last few years, but it wasn’t her job to save them. Especially not after their father had her mother assassinated. What did they expect? She picked spear up and he made an exhausted squeak as he slumped over in her grasp.
“Spear, it’s okay. It’ll be okay,” she said.
A tear ran down her face and she imagined what it would be like if he didn’t make it. She trudged over to the man and put her foot on his chest, plunging him further into the dirt. She held Spear, whose breathing wasn’t the best. It was getting slower and slower by the minute.
“You tell me the way to the apothecary and I won’t have you killed,” she said.
“Go out here,” he pointed, “take a left and it’s straight down the road”.
“How far?” she asked.
“It’s really not too bad. You’re not that far out of the city,” he said.
She took off, cradling Spear. Tears ran down her cheeks and she tried to calm herself. After what felt like forever, she rushed into the apothecary.
“Hannah? What’s wrong?” Stewart asked.
He rushed over and looked down at Spear. He nodded and ran into the back.
“Can you fix it, Stewart?” she asked.
He ran out and took Spear from her arms, taking him into the back. He motioned for Hannah to follow. He set Spear down on the table and applied a cream to the wounds. Spear grunted, unhappily. He wrapped some gauze around the wounds and plopped him back into Hannah’s arms.
“You put this cream on twice a day. Wrap it in gauze. Keep him hydrated. Bring him back if he gets worse,” Stewart said.
Hannah nodded. Stewart bagged up the supplies and handed them to her.
“Breathe, little lady. He will be fine,” Stewart said.
Hannah let out the breath she had been holding. She hugged Stewart closely, trying not to squish Spear, and made her way home.
A man appeared by her side and held out his hand. “Need a lift?” he asked, eyes shining under his glasses. He had a handlebar mustache, a tuft of dark hair on his mostly bald head, and his teeth had traces of red, which made sense, with the pack of Red Vines he was clutching in his other hand.
Amelia hauled herself up, brushing the dirt off of her clothes. “Thanks, Mister,” she said bashfully, staring at the floor.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Where are your mom and dad?”
The girl shrugged. “Dad’s at work so he didn’t come. Mom probably went to the dog park with my brother.”
The man nodded, glancing around the playground, his thin hair blowing as a gust of wind trailed by. “Would you like a Red Vine?” he asked, arching the opened packet toward the girl.
Amelia reached to grab one and pulled it back. “I can’t,” she said, tapping the shiny metal lining on her teeth. “Braces.”
The man frowned, arching the sweets toward her again. “Go on, I won’t tell.” He winked, and Amelia grinned, taking a couple from the bag and biting them hesitantly so they wouldn’t stick too much.
“What’s your favorite candy?” he asked.
“Gumdrops,” she replied, fidgeting. “But Mom says I can’t have those either.”
“You don’t say!” he beamed. “I think I’ve got a box or two of those in my car. You see, I’m delivering a candy shipment to my pal Dean over at the Westside Cinema, but I don’t think he’ll miss a couple.” He winked again, wiggling the Red Vines. “I can get you a box if you like, as long as you keep it a secret.” He brought a finger to his lips and smiled. Amelia giggled, glancing around at the unbeknownst children, and distracted mothers chatting about yoga or clacking away on their phones. The rest of her family was still nowhere in sight.
She nodded and the man grinned, leading her to a black car that was parked beside the playground, a little way down the street, away from the hustle and bustle of parents pushing oversized strollers up uneven sidewalks.
He unlocked the car and rummaged through the backseat, out of Amelia’s view behind the door. “Whelp, not in here,” he said, closing it. “Must be in the trunk.” She followed him to the back and he revealed the contents to her. “They’ll be in those boxes,” he said, pointing. “Go on, take a look.”
Amelia arched forward, desperate to get her hands on the forbidden sweets, but all she found when she opened the cardboard were more packs of Red Vines. She turned to the man in confusion and he grabbed her shoulders roughly, shoving her into the trunk.
“Here,” she said rolling the man over and tipped the rim of a coke bottle into the man’s mouth. “Swallow. All of it.” She said making sure that he did as he was told.
“That’s disgusting,” the man said not opening his eyes.
“But it will make you feel better,” she said taking a moment to breathe and look around. It was a dingy hotel room. Wallpaper dated back to the 50’s with the same décor style, but it was cheap and they weren’t really planning on staying for long.
“…erra. Terra,” the man said breaking Terra from her stare. “You need to stich up my stomach.” He said.
“Right. Sorry James,” Terra said grabbing a cloth bag from their designated medical bag. She unrolled the bag and picked a curved needle with some thread. She worked slowly making sure everything was ready before cutting off James’ shirt. Dried blood caked around the jagged tear in his stomach. “You got lucky.” She said getting to work cleaning up the area.
“No joke,” James said wincing as the alcohol burned. “But how was I supposed to know the werewolf was on steroids?”
“There were the remains of cattle the thing left behind,” Terra pointed out as she began the first suture. “And the accounts of the people who managed to get a look at the beast.”
“Yeah, yeah,” James said before yelping as he finally felt the needle.
“Shut up,” Terra said glaring at James. “We don’t need the neighbors waking up and complaining about us.”
“Careful with that damn needle,” James groaned before laying back down.
Terra rolled her eyes before going back to work. Slowly, the ugly wound was closed. Terra carefully ran a damn cloth over the sutures cleaning the blood off and to check her work. Finding it satisfactory she stood up and pulled out a jar. She unscrewed the cap and carefully scooped up some awfully smelling gray glop and smoothed it across the suture work.
“There. Now get some rest,” Terra said closing the lid and tossed it back into the bag. “I’m going out.”
“Not alone, that thing will tear you apart.” James said struggling to get up.
“Relax,” Terra said pushing James back down. “Sun’s coming up. I’m running to the gas station to get us something to eat. Besides, you are the one to make stupid decisions in this team.” She said smirking at James before cleaning up and leaving the hotel room.
James sighed as the door closed behind Terra and settling back down trying to rest. He shifted slightly feeling the itch around the wound area. The poultice was doing its work speeding up the healing and making it itch massively. He got up unwilling to stay in his own filth and shuffled to the bathroom.
The hot water helped clear his head. With a towel around his hips he walked to his bag intending to pull out something comfortable to wear while his wounds healed. He frowned hearing the door knock.
“Forgot the key Terra?” James said walking to the door and opened it. Revealing not Terra but a burly looking man with wild wolf like eyes. “Well. Shit.”
Terra walked down the long hotel hallway arms filled with food and drinks. She pulled the key card out of her back pocket to unlock the door but stopped. The door was slightly open and she knew that she closed it behind her. Setting the bags down she pulled out a small gun that was tucked into her boot before approaching the door.
“James?” Terra said opening the door slowly. The first thing she saw was blood. Lots of blood everywhere. “Shit. James?” Terra said stepping into the room and closed the door firmly behind her. She looked to the bathroom first where it was closest to the door.
“Ah, wonderful timing Terra,” James said when she finally came to the bedroom section of the hotel room. “Our good werewolf friend followed us home. Don’t worry he’s dead now.”
“Oh, for the love of…” Terra said covering her eyes with her free hand. “Put on some damn clothes!”
James frowned then looked down. “Oh, right.” James said realizing that he was now naked after the struggle. “Sorry about that.”
“You’re not hurt, are you?” Terra said not moving her hand away from her eyes even as James pulled on a pair of sweat pants.
“No more than when he tried to take a bite out of me.” James said walking over to pull Terra’s hand down. “Help me, will you? He’s got at least two hundred pounds over me.” He said before heading back to the body.
“Right.” Terra said putting her gun away and went to help James. They worked quickly and quietly getting the body wrapped up in the stripped blankets from the two beds. They got the body dumped in the dumpster before packing up their things and leaving.
“So giant werewolf is taken care of.” Terra said driving down the interstate. “Where to next?”
“There’s a town in Nevada that looks like they might have a banshee.” James said looking at the news article on his laptop.
“To Nevada then,” Terra said with a grin.
Digging to the center of planet Earth
This place is a world that is separate from modern day Earth. It is below the surface of this planet and goodness is what it brings to people. There are people from the surface of Earth who choose to live down there, and their lives have changed for the better this way.
The center of the Earth has always been a mystery to many. Until now, where people in this one part of the world can dig their way to this location.
The center of the Earth is a place where people go to, to get away. They need to go there to recharge their batteries or go their to permanently live there.
The people that have never come back from this experience love their lives even more down there. They love a peaceful life without war and confrontation.
People who live on the surface of Earth endure constant confrontation and destruction. This is how it is for the most part for the people on the surface of this massive planet.
The people who now live at the center of the Earth enjoy their time with peace. There are no wars down there or massive bouts of confrontations.
The world here is only for people who love peace and serenity. This is a place that is completely different than the surface of the Earth. The world that is above the center of the Earth where most of the humans live.
The center of the Earth has many theories about what is down there. As the author of this story I believe in the science interpretations.
This is a fictional short story. The world at the center of the Earth is amazingly peaceful and quiet to anyone there.
People need this in their lives. The life for most of them on the surface of Earth is completely the opposite. This is the case especially in large cities around the world.
The only thing a person needs when they venture this way to the center of the planet Earth is an open mind. A person with an open mind can allow this to take place and experience the greatness of such a world down below.
This is how it will be for this world at the center of Earth. The planet is what it is and humanity can do what it wants to see peace and serenity in this way.
The Dead Communicate with the living on Planet Jupiter
Their reincarnated selves can travel to planet Jupiter and see that world. The life on planet Jupiter can interact with the dead from the present and the past.
This has taken place for about fifty years in this cemetery. No one in the town knows about this because this is the way the dead communicate with Jupiter. Once a person is dead no in the town knows about their reincarnated lives. Reincarnation is not believed in Dover, but it still exists after fifty of the dead communicating and traveling to Jupiter.
The dead will communicate tonight with Jupiter. There will be a full moon in Dover and it will be a clear night.
The dead like the friendliness of Jupiter and its people. They love to communicate with friendly people who do really care about the dead in general.
The dead feel that communicating will keep their minds open. The dead love to see how enthusiastic the Jupiter world is when they do travel to see them.
Right now, the dead are communicating with Jupiter. Various graves will let their dead go and explore Jupiter when Jupiter allows them to reincarnate and see their world. This should be a treat to the dead and to the world of Jupiter.
Various spirits leave the cemetery here in Dover. No one can see them leave their graves, but they are doing it now.
They will enter the domain of Jupiter quickly. Spirits arrive in Jupiter much faster than living man does.
The spirits should reach Jupiter within ten minutes or so. Then they will be able to see the planet Jupiter and interact with people there.
The dead mean a lot to people on planet Jupiter. There will be famous and not so famous people there as they interact with the people on this planet.
Jupiter is a vast world, obviously. It is the largest planet in the solar system and it is by far the friendliest as well.
Jupiter is expecting at least twenty spirits to enter their world now. They should arrive in no time as they travel at hyper speed in the solar system to reach Jupiter.
In exactly ten minutes the spirits made it to planet Jupiter. They love seeing the vastness of this great planet.
People that live on planet Jupiter now see the spirits. The spirits are happy to be welcomed by these people.
There is so much to do on planet Jupiter. The spirits will take in a lot of sightseeing here. The people want to show them all that they can before they go back to planet Earth and their graves.
The spirits turn into human form on planet Jupiter. They are not affected at all by the gravitational force here.
The spirits will travel in a tour bus for some time to see planet Jupiter. They will see different sites now than before when they ventured here.
As time has passed, the tour was totally amazing for the spirits. They were able to see the red circular site on the planet. They saw how gravitational forces affect people here as well. They also saw how beer and wine are made on this planet. The lifestyle here is totally different than on planet Earth.
The people here are friendly and welcoming. There is no such thing as wars on planet Jupiter. This made the spirits feel great inside. Wars and destruction are common on planet Earth.
The tour has ended. It took them about five hours or so to see what they encountered on this tour. They loved every moment of it.
The spirits will now travel back to planet and to their graves. They loved being here and would come back to planet Jupiter again. The people wished them well as they venture in space back home.
Planet is so far away from Jupiter, but the spirits travel at hyper speed to venture back to Earth and remain in their graves.
When will these spirits see planet Jupiter again? There is no clear answer to this question. It could be soon or far off into the future. All that can be said is that enjoyed their time on planet Jupiter and hopefully they can experience such hospitality again when their next venture awaits their beckoning call.
Devils and Angels bringing the dead back to life
Most people think of angels and devils as fantasy characters. In other words, no realistic in our society today.
However, massive reincarnations have been spotted in certain places in the world. The dead could be seen coming back to life.
The devils brought back to life famous bad people. On the opposite end of the scale, the angels brought back to life famous good people.
The bad people who came to life only existed in the dark. Their bad pasts would not hold up against sunlight at all. The good people were the opposite. They came to life, no matter what part of the day. They had good souls and cared about people when they were alive.
These are unique situations, but the realities have taken place. The first people to come life are the good souls. They have come to life from this one cemetery just outside the city of Los Angeles.
The bad people have come back to life in a cemetery just outside of Seattle. Again, these souls only come to life when it is dark outside.
These former lives will see the modern day again. This is how it is and how life will be for them when brought back to life.
The angels want goodness in our world. This is how they see Earth and how they believe anything positive can happen from this.
The devils do not understand goodness. They only understand bad concepts and that is why life will come back to life at night. However, the bad souls that do come back to life do not last long. The are mostly contained in the cemetery they were buried at.
The angels are powerful, even more so than the devils. This is how it is for them and how it will remain as well.
The angels have brought back the dead now. These former souls are now alive and can explore planet Earth now.
They were chosen by the angels. The angels want them to explore Earth and enjoy this second chance at living.
They can always come home to the cemetery. They can do whatever they want within reason. They were the good souls chosen by the angels and life should be great for them, too.
The situations for both parties will continue out. However, the devil’s plans will not take part too much longer. The bad people are shunned too much from the power of the angels.
Goodness will always outweigh badness. This is something that can never be overlooked. This is just a reality in our world.
The goodness in our world will always exist. The planet needs this input for better things to happen. Take this all in and let it continue. For this is our planet and our future as time continues forward to let our future be bright every step of the way here on out.
Lisa Yarnell is a writing instructor at Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, Florida, and a student at the University of Arkansas at Monticello's MFA program in creative writing. She has been a waitress, an office manager, and many other things, but all along, she has written stories. In "Unmoored," she is pleased to give fictional life to Lillian, a woman in her 70's who is finding adventure.
1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
2. At Sea
3. At Sea
4. At Sea
5. At Sea
6. Alicante, Spain
8. At Sea
9. At Sea
11. At Sea
12. Livorno, Ital
13. Civitavecchia, Ital
The words “at sea, at sea, at sea” filled her mind, floated before her eyes. She’d finally pushed “send” after typing “I will go.”
“I’m conflicted about this trip,” Lillian’s son, Chris, said to her. They were in the Florida room of his Florida house, to which he and his wife Sue, in collusion with her two daughters, had brought her. Just six months after her husband Oscar had died, they had uprooted her at the age of 74. That’s how she thought of it. Yanked away from her home of thirty years, in Virginia-- a move that, still in the daze of widowhood, she had been unable to resist.
She kept quiet at Chris’s mention of conflict. If they were going to have this conversation, then Chris needed to be its engine. She certainly wasn’t going to keep it going herself.
“I know we’ve met Martin, and he seems responsible. You like him, I think.”
She did not blink. She’d gained skills during her half-century as a wife. She knew how to handle an imminent “talk.” By the time their first child’s first tooth had sprouted, she had developed some expertise at the game. She had figured out that that Oscar’s calculated planning for “big” conversations--about moving to a new house, about her quitting work, about budget cuts for household expenses--included rehearsals in which he would practice nodding at emotions that she expressed and would devise reasoning to counter her objections. She had learned to withhold such cues by keeping silent. Oscar would then flounder about, essentially restating his main point over and over, ever more weakly. It had given her a small advantage in a marriage in which she was often powerless.
As Chris was, now. He rounded his lips and sighed, obviously stumped.
“So, here’s what it is, mom. I know you haven’t been happy here. I know you’re tired of the view from this porch,” he waved his arm toward the pond, where twenty-five ibises (she’d counted) wandered in a wide but connected group, “and it hurts me to see you here, not knowing what to do with yourself--”
She did him the favor of blinking and raising her eyebrows.
And then he did it, asked a question, an effective move to break her aggressive silence: “I mean, I’m right, you’re not happy here are you?”
She’d have to answer. Maybe. But first: “The ibises remind me of pigs”, she said, “the way they always come in a herd, poking their noses into the grass. Sometimes I think I can hear them snorting.” She laughed.
Chris glared at her. She relented.
“I’m comfortable here. I have a spacious, furnished room in a lovely home. You’ve found me doctors. You take me to church. I’m welcome at your dinner table. I know I’m cared for. How could I be unhappy?”
“But this trip…”
“I’m quite excited about the cruise.”
He joined his hands, bounced them up and down twice between his knees, looked straight in front of him (not at her) and said, “So, this is how I think about it. What if I tell you, yes, mom, I think you’ll be fine cruising to Italy with a gentleman you just recently met online, but then find yourself injured or sick, or fighting off his advances somewhere in the ocean south of--I don’t know-- Marseille?”
He spoke again.
“Or what happens if I say, ‘no, not this fellow, never with MY mother,’ and then I see you day after day, out here on the porch, clicking away on the iPad, or staring at the water, sad and bored.”
She understood his problem and in a rush of maternal feeling wanted to let him off the hook. But she remembered, then, catching him once, putting her iPad down surreptitiously when she entered the room. She had looked later, and the messages were still visible:
Martin: You look fabulous today.
Lillian: You can’t see me, you old fox. Ha-ha!
Martin: I can see you like no one else does. :)
Lillian: I know you can. . . what’s out on your lake this morning?
Martin: Herons. Tall blue herons, with legs that don’t quit. Like yours.
Lillian: You’ve never seen my legs :)
“Chris. I might be fine on this trip, and maybe not. I could fall and break my leg climbing the stone stairway at the Chateau d’If, but staying here, I could have a stroke walking out of the front door of your home on our way to church. I want to see the world, places that your father was never interested in seeing, and I’m going with Martin. Stop fretting.” That’s what Martin called it, fretting. They sympathized on this point.
And in fact, Rita, Martin’s only daughter, had expressed some concerns to him. Chris had taken his mother to meet Martin face to face for the first time, driving her the three hours to Jacksonville from Orlando to a get-acquainted meeting in his home. After introductions and drinks, Rita asked Chris for a hand in the kitchen, making a lame joke about leaving these “kids” alone to get to know each other,
Martin then leaned toward Lillian and said in a stage whisper that the children could hear, “My daughter wants to check you out, and make sure you’re not some crazy woman who sleeps with an ax under your pillow.”
Rita turned back. “Dad! I didn’t say that.”
“No,” he’d winked at Lillian, “she didn’t. I believe she was concerned about a dagger, not an ax.”
On the morning of their departure, they met outside the cruise terminal, transported by their respective children who stood chatting together, then fussing over them until Martin told them to scram.
“You two get out of here,” he said. “Rita, you’ve got a long drive. Get on the road before you lose the light.”
“Okay, dad, you’ve got your…”
“Stop! We have everything we need. Don’t worry,” he directed his face to Chris, “I’ll take good care of your mother.”
Martin’s tone of authority pushed some reset button. No longer were they elderly people, the object of worry and care. They were parents, doing adult things, unfettered to their children’s hovering concern. After Chris and Rita gave them quick hugs and left together, not daring to look back, the two travelers hesitated on their own.
They found their way to the stateroom, bit by bit, at Martin’s slower pace. Lillian paused an awkwardly long time at the threshold, ahead of Martin and the steward who held open the door. She had expected to see two twin beds. Bed, night table, bed. Twin beds. That had been the arrangement depicted on the website at the link she’d received from Martin. But here before her was the one bed, topped by a white expanse of queen-size comforter and a towel cleverly folded to resemble a seahorse, riding its waves. She wanted to ask the steward if there had been a mistake but muted herself as Martin passed by and made his way through the room, excused himself, and entered the bathroom.
The steward addressed his welcome spiel to her alone then. After giving information on a muster drill at such-and-such time and urging her to attend the Sail-Away Champagne Reception taking place now, after assuring her that anything she needed, he could provide (what about the bed[s], she thought?), he departed, leaving her alone with Martin, who had emerged from the lavatory just in time to be too late to absorb the steward’s informative spiel. Lillian had been conceiving of the trip as a late-life adventure, but it hit her now, baldly, what she had gotten into: a cruise-long, nearly-blind, date. Her date now approached her and pointed to his right ear, calling her attention to a hearing aid.
“You’ll have to listen for me sometimes,” he said and then grinned, “Our voyage begins!”
How corny, she thought. He took her by the upper arms and pulled her to him quickly until her head rested uncomfortably on his chest. She closed her eyes, dizzy with confusion about what would be expected of her. Words came to her-- companion, date, lover, aide, friend, wife. Each one seemed to call for a different way to hold herself, a different way to be held. When he let her go, she patted the part of his chest that had accommodated her head, and said, “Well, now.”
They left to make their way to the sail-away event. Lillian paced herself so that she was walking at the speed Martin could manage--a slow stroll, that’s what it was. To curb her urge to walk more quickly, she listened carefully he pointed out various sights. Following Martin’s monologue felt familiar. Her late husband Oscar had often explained the world to her, and at least in this instance, the explanation was not redundant. She knew nothing about being on a cruise.
Eventually, they exited to the promenade deck toward the reception. Martin told her it was the one path around the circumference of the ship.
“We’ll have to walk the entire promenade one day,” he said. Lillian quickly made plans to walk it daily, at her own pace.
She wondered if, once underway, the ship’s movement would make the walk difficult, but now it was pleasant. They had to stop, though, when they reached a small crowd of people bunched up at the stern, who then moved forward bit by bit, until they’d all rounded the corner and could spread out around the emerald jewel of the terrace pool.
She directed Martin with a tug toward some ascending benches facing the stern like an amphitheater. The view excited her; after months sitting on Chris and Sue’s back porch, she felt that she could see the entryway to whole world from here. At the foot of the short stairway she stopped, remembering Marvin’s cane, wondering if he’d need her help to manage. He gave her a smile and urged her to proceed; he switched the cane to his left hand and grab the rail with his right. She hesitated, but he nodded sternly, indicating she should go on, and so she did. Reaching the top and finding a seat, she saw he was several steps behind, slowly but capably ascending, and she turned her gaze toward the harbor in front of her, and the people below.
She looked, first, at their clothing. Her own travel wardrobe had been an ordeal to put together. Her elder daughter, Gill, had presented her with tropical cruise wear, way too much of it, though the ship was sailing to Italy in April. Confused about the nature of her mother’s relationship with Martin, her younger daughter, Sarah, had sent a modest, white chenille bathrobe, and two overly pretty, gauzy, ballerina-length nightgowns. Lillian had settled on packing plain, sensible slacks, a few blouses and sweaters, a nice windbreaker and walking shoes.
No one had mentioned sex, beyond Chris’s brief mention of “advances. Gill had asked if Lillian thought Martin attractive, and Sarah easily referred to Martin as “mom’s boyfriend.” Lillian tried to balance her ideas on the subject. On one hand, she pretended that she and Martin were old friends, platonic, travelling companions--the idea of sex was absurd. However, she then had to acknowledge that he was a man, that she was a woman, and that they’d met, essentially, on a dating site, and that Martin was attractive with that thick head of white hair and his mischievous eyes. But she was 74, and he was 80—but sex? Ridiculous. Maybe. However, though she’d left many of her wardrobe gifts at home, she had brought the pretty nightgowns with her.
Beside her above the pool deck, Martin commented about the sights, pointing out how the pool was made to seem as if the water continued into the sea. “It’s called,” he informed her, “an infinity pool.” But mostly, he watched the crowd, and she felt happy that they didn’t have to chatter. She wanted to be good company; he had, after all, paid for her passage.
Suddenly, then, the clamor of the celebration intensified, and she could see Martin extend his neck high to look toward the pool.
An extraordinary woman stood on its edge, her back to the crowd. She wore a tight black outfit and a filmy ivory wrap embroidered with designs of magenta, gold and green. Her hair hung down her back in long black curls. Her arms were raised and spread in a “Y”. The gauzy wrap undulated in the breeze. Her back was arched, and she was clearly planning to fall forward into the pool, which then she did with a great splash and shouts of disbelief (and scattered applause) from the crowd. The cruisers parted, as waiters with trays rushed poolside to do something about the event, though really all they could do was bark, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” as the woman popped up grinning to the surface and swam to the side. Lillian turned to Martin and saw him with his hands raised, the very picture of the woman’s before the dive, and his deep and warm laugh made her laugh, too. Not even during the most entertaining moments of their online flirtation had she realized she might like him so much.
On this first night, Lillian wanted more than anything for their bedtime not to be awkward. She didn’t want to find out whether he drank Metamucil, didn’t want him to see her box of bladder leakage panties, didn’t want them to hear each other pee, didn’t want to see him in his underwear. Stop being a child, she told herself. You had a marriage of 45 years. You raised three children. You changed diapers on your own husband in the end. You have shared your life with fleshly beings and here is another one.
She patted the comforter, full of pin tucks that formed stars and shadows on each side of her. The bed filled the room behind. She didn’t know which side was “hers”, and thinking that he might have a preference, she avoided choosing a nightstand. She stretched her left leg out and touched the one small upholstered chair in the room, and then stretched her right leg out to touch the desk chair. This stateroom will be the only witness to whatever it is the two of us make of each other, she thought. With her left leg, she pulled her carry-on bag out from under the chair to where she could reach it. She dug around inside for her book.
It had gone all right, though, she thought later, as they lay in bed--she reading, he watching the ship’s channel broadcasting in the captain’s confident voice details about the next day’s progress through the seas. “What are you reading?” he asked.
“It’s a book about Nellie Bly,” she told him, “She went around the world in 1889.”
“A woman?” he asked.
“Yes, a journalist. Quite courageous, really.”
“Would you like to make plans for tomorrow? What would you like to do?”
I would like to talk about my book, she thought. But she said, “I wake pretty early. I’d like to walk around the promenade deck. I thought I might risk it all and get a pedicure at that spa we toured last night.”
“A pedicure is risky?”
“Diabetes,” she said, confessing, “You’re supposed to be very careful with your feet. But mine seem okay. What have you thought about doing?”
“Sleep late. Breakfast, have a visit at the cigar bar, catch the morning news, then maybe I’ll sit by the pool, watch the women in their swimwear.”
She looked at him. It’s an entree, of sorts, she thought. He wants to let her know he still feels like a man. But couldn’t he find a better way? He was smiling.
“Now, don’t think I’m a dirty old man, just an honest one.”
She realized that she did not want to engage in this conversation yet. He’d have to do better. “So, I’ll meet you by the pool about 1 for lunch? I’ll be the one in slacks,” she said.
“It’s good to have you here, Lillian. I went on a Caribbean cruise with the kids and grandkids a few years ago, but they’re a lot to keep up with. I could never tell if they really wanted me to hang around them or if they wished I’d go take a nap. Then I took a cruise by myself from Boston to Nova Scotia. Love to travel. Love to see things. It was beautiful, that trip, but I was lonely.”
“Lonely.” That felt more honest, more human. She closed her book and put it on the table, then reached her arm across her body to pat his shoulder but missed and patted the pillow instead. “Well, neither of us will be lonely on this trip.” She turned her light out to try to get some sleep.
In the following days, Lillian spotted the diving woman several times. Never in the auditoriums for the shows, never at dinner, but always moving, propelling herself forward on high heels, black curls bouncing like a hair conditioner commercial. They once passed in a hallway, along the passage lined by game tables, and their eyes met briefly, sharp deep brown meeting sharp grey-blue, the woman’s eyes saying “hmmm...who are you?” and Lillian’s eyes asking “what kind of life force are you?” Lillian saw then that the woman was older than she’d first estimated--that lithe, springy body claimed youth, but the face was older, mid-forties maybe. Nevertheless, the woman’s energy enlivened Lillian, radiated in waves that couldn’t be stopped by mere matter. Later, she’d seen the woman through the glass in the gym, power-walking on the treadmill, arms bent and punching the air at waist height, eyes forward, facing Lillian through the glass. For a moment those eyes left the invisible distance and landed on Lillian, curiosity brightening them after the first nearly hostile glance. Lillian moved on. She began to wonder about her own interest in this woman. She laughed at herself. It’s like I have a crush, she thought.
Lillian had never requested that they move the beds apart, so she and Martin worked out their sleeping territories wordlessly. And now that she was in them, in those words “at sea, at sea, at sea,” and their power had been tamed by routines the two had established in the first days of the sailing. The nights were hardest, and still awkward, as they lay side by side, she having slipped off her white robe and gotten in bed wearing one of her thin nightgowns. After reading, she’d turn off her own bedside lamp. Staying as close to her nightstand as she could manage, she’d lie very still and try to focus only on her own breath, feeling the slight rocking of the ship. He’d always been in bed first, lying on his back, his night table light off. When she turned hers off, he’d say something about the day, talk for a few minutes about cigar bar conversation, about what they’d do tomorrow. Usually, she’d murmur in reply, not wanting to engage in any talk that might acknowledge that they were a couple, sleeping together. He’d not made any advances, though he’d whistled at her when she was all dressed up for dinner. He’d put his arm around her waist when they stood still to look in a shop window or stand in line for a show, and it had slipped down toward her hips once or twice. She’d wondered if he liked the feel of her body, or if he was just showing off to the bystanders, claiming her as his woman, or even signaling to himself that he was still virile.
Occasionally she began to think more clearly about sex. She tried to imagine what it would be like at her age. She pictured her legs wrapped around him but then scrunched her nose, remembering her last glance at her legs in a mirror. Aging legs. Aged. But lying there, her legs felt fine, healthy. She thought of running her hand down her thigh to see if it was crepey and dry. That’s all I need, she thought, for Martin to catch me feeling my own leg. When she could hear his light snore, then she could fall into sleep herself.
One night, after she turned her light out, he said, “The diving girl came into the cigar lounge today.”
“The one from the first day? I’ve been wondering about her!”
“Yes, she came in, sashayed around with a cigarette in her hand, ordered a brandy, and bothered Teresa about knitting and watching Fox news. Told her she could be doing that at home. The diving girl is some sort of Hispanic, talking fast and excited. Her name is Isabella. Ees-a-bella. She sat on the arm of my chair for a minute and told me my white hair was fabulous.” Then he imitated her accent “‘Jore beeg white hair iss fa-bu-loose’. I told her she was a bad girl to challenge Teresa, the queen of the lounge. She sashayed around a little more and left waving her hands and saying ‘Fox News, Fox News, Oh my Jesus.’”
Lillian did not like his caricature of the woman. She had turned toward him in the bed to hear the news and in the little light from the moon she saw him hold up his hands and wave his fingers as he told about the event. She did like the idea of diving-woman challenging the grande dame of the cigar bar. During Lillian’s couple of visits there to fetch Martin for dinner, she’d met Teresa and deemed her too showy about her wealth and too all-knowing about the ship. Queen Teresa had acknowledged Martin’s introduction of Lillian with only the slightest change in her face--a nod and brow wrinkle--as if there were nothing notable enough about meeting her to merit a verbal response.
On their fourth day at sea, Lillian finally met Isabella. She’d been taking her breakfast and afternoon coffee on the pool deck rather than in the enormous feeding hall on the 7th deck, which called itself The Palermo Court, but which was just a glorified cafeteria, complete with clanging cutlery, plastic trays, and queues for beverages. Here, on the other hand, she paid for a breakfast croissant and a large, but better cup of coffee, read her book, and enjoyed sitting in the fresh air, and she’d come back after lunch to do the same. By now, it was her spot. But she’d spoken to no one. Here she was, out in the world where she’d been so excited to go, and her curiosity about the others crossing the sea with her was growing avid. She didn’t want to be like Teresa, doing just what she could do in her own living room, but with better coffee.
This day, when Lillian took her place at the usual table, there she was. Diving woman. Isabella. Sitting. Smoking. Staring out into the water. When the waiter and Lillian exchanged words, Isabella slowly turned her head. And Lillian could see in them recognition, recognition from their previous, wordless meetings.
“I see you,” said Isabella. “I see you here every morning.”
“From where?” Lillian had never seen her at the cafe on any of her previous visits.
“From up there.”
Ah, Lillian saw that, from an overhang on the deck above, her table would be visible.
“I’m Izzy,” she said.
“Izzy,” Lillian repeated, as if she’d found the answer.
“Isabella.” Isabella put out her cigarette, picked up her coffee, and came to Lillian’s table to sit. “Where’s your husband?” she asked.
It was a sudden question, an odd question, just the sort of question that, from anyone else, would have irked her. She’d have found a way not to answer. But she wanted this woman to stay.
“I’m Lillian,” she said pointedly, the introduction having been omitted. “He’s dead, my husband. I’m here with a gentleman friend.”
Lillian saw Isabella’s life force grow stronger. She sat up higher. Even her skin seemed tighter. Lillian liked the atmospheric shift at her table. After days of hunting and watching for Isabella, she now had the woman’s attention.
“A friend, huh?” she grinned and leaned forward, “What kind of a friend?”
Lillian leaned forward a bit too. “I’m not altogether sure.”
“Oh. Oh! Oh?” Isabella clearly wanted more.
It wasn’t a fact that Lillian had planned to tell to anyone on the cruise Nevertheless, in that moment, she said it:
“To be honest, we just met one month before the cruise.”
“A boyfriend, a new boyfriend!” she leaned even further forward and whispered, “Is it hot? Where is he?”
“He stays in the cigar bar, mostly, and we meet sometimes for a show or dinner”
“How did you meet him?”
Lillian laughed and didn’t answer.
“Come on,” Isabella whispered. “You can confide in me.”
Her accent warmed Lillian’s ears. Martin’s imitation had been crude, a joke. The “k” in “come on,” “confide” were like popping corn, and the tip of Izzy’s tongue between her teeth on the “n’s” and “d’s” made them soft, lightly percussive.
“I’ll confide,” said Lillian, putting her mouth a few inches from Izzy’s ear. “I met him online…”
“I love it, I love it, I love it!”
“What are you doing now?” Izzy asked Lillian.
“I thought I might see the film about Alicante. We’ll get there in three days, and I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m so excited to go to Spain, I live in Miami, but I came here from Colombia. We should hang out in Alicante, because I can speak Spanish for you. Oh, please, let me do your hair” said Izzy, reaching forward to lightly pull on one of Lillian’s short curls. “The color is beautiful. It’s strawberry blonde, I think?”
“From a box of course,” Lillian answered, “but it’s the color I started life with.”
“Come, come,” Izzy stood and took her hand, “I want to fix it, use the hot iron. We’ll surprise your boyfriend with a new hairstyle for dinner!”
“Maybe another day, Isabella. I told Martin I’d meet him for the film. We’re trying to watch all the films about our ports of call before we get to them.”
“Okay,” Izzy shook her head. She sat again, “I’m looking for distraction. I came on the cruise to celebrate my divorce.”
Izzy took a bottle out of her bag and poured what must have been liquor into her coffee. “I took everything. All the money in my settlement. All my jewelry. It’s here with me. I bought so much luggage. I did not know what to do next. So here I am!”
“Oh, my,” said Lillian, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s the best thing. I’m going to have the time of my life.” she pulled out her phone and looked at the time. “You need to go to your film,” she said, “I’m going to find some fun. Come here tomorrow again. We will do your hair!”
That night, after lights out, Lillian spoke first: “I met Isabella today,” she said, “the diving woman.”
She felt Martin’s interest from across the bed.
“The Hispanic woman?” he asked.
“Colombian. But she lives in Miami. She wants to do my hair.”
“I’d be careful with that one. She got in trouble with security the other day for trying to steal her photograph.”
“Steal it? Oh, my goodness.” Lillian wasn’t happy to hear that. She liked that she had made a friend. “How on earth?”
“She used her phone to take a picture of it in the photo lounge--they have them displayed on the wall, and she was photographing hers.”
“Well, that hardly seems like a crime.”
“No. Would you like to go on one of the excursions when we get to Alicante?”
She thought for a minute. “I don’t think so. There’s a day at the beach or a bus to an orange grove. We have all that in Florida.”
He laughed. “You’re right about that. Maybe just a walk into town, have lunch at the port.”
“I’d like to visit that castle,” she said, “but it looks like a hard climb. Walking the esplanade would be fine.” She liked saying that. Esplanade.
She felt his hand, in the dark, searching for her, and realized she’d rolled over onto her back during the conversation. He fiddled around under the covers, found her hand, and squeezed it.
“Walking the Spanish streets together. Fantastico.” he said.
She gently removed her hand, and then turned toward her night table, “Good night,” she said.
“Buenas noches,” he said.
Lillian rather enjoyed having a date each evening when they went to the lavish dining room for dinner. On the first night, they had been alone at their table for four, but their tablemates had appeared on the second night, a friendly couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. At dinner, Martin fell easily into the role of elegant gentleman, pulling out her chair before the host could do it, urging her to try a bit of every course rather than saying no to the delicious fruit soup for fear it would spoil her dinner. Their conversation went so much better here than in the stateroom, without the specter of intimacy looming. On this night, their table companions had stayed away again, and she’d been telling him about the few years she’d worked as a schoolteacher. He told her that he’d been a bad student himself, too restless to stay even long enough to graduate.
“I left school and started out working at the post office,” he told her. He said his first job had been to place a pouch of mail onto a type of crane, so that the pouch could be grabbed by the catcher arm of a moving train. At a critical moment, he also had to collect the incoming mail thrown to him by the train’s mail clerk. It had been a dangerous job. He told her how the locomotive would come through at night, the light from it blinding, the wheels on the track deafening, and that if the incoming mail weren’t thrown just right, it could end up under the train causing a snowstorm of shredded mail or worse, could knock him over and onto the track. He loved it, though “I got a fierce desire,” he told her, “to work on that train, and eventually I got my high school diploma by mail and took the test that allowed me to take the job as an American Railway Postal Clerk.”
“Oh, you must have travelled a lot then!” she said.
“I did, with that job, and in the service, too.”
She wanted to ask him more about the extent of his travel, but just then he looked over her shoulder, and she turned to see Izzy approach. Martin stood and pulled out one of the empty chairs. As she sat, Izzy craned her neck looking for the waiter, got his attention, and ordered a glass of wine.
“So, Ms. Lillian, the man with the beautiful white hair from the cigar bar is your boyfriend!” She turned to Martin and said to him, “I saw you in the library today, reading.”
“The library?” Lillian asked, interested.” What were you reading? You never read at night.”
Izzy said, “I know, it was called Around the World in 80 Days. I know, because I thought, I want to go around the world on this cruise ship! This one doesn’t go that far, but you can extend your ticket after Rome to go on to Venice and Alexandria. I asked, and they have room. I’m thinking about it.”
“It’s 72 days, Around the World in 72 Days,” said Martin, turning to Lillian. “It’s a book about Nellie Bly, the woman in your book. I thought we could talk about it, but I wanted to be more informed.”
Lillian felt herself blush a little, flattered that Martin had taken an interest. She thought he’d been bored by her reading.
“Ms. Lillian,” Izzy announced, “You have not yet come to let me do your hair. You must come tomorrow afternoon.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. It’s just so pretty, and I think it will be fun for us.”
“Well, Martin and I are going to the film about the Barcelona excursions at 2…”
“So, I will meet you at the coffee shop by the theater at 3!” Izzy said, and then looked at her phone. “Oh! I’m late for the dancing. You’ll come with me tomorrow?”
“Yes, I will,” said Lillian.
Izzy picked up her glass of wine and left.
Izzy’s room was a marvel, three times as big as Lillian’s and Marvin’s, and with a balcony. A translucent persimmon-colored scarf draped over the lamp on the dresser cast a sunset glow over part of the room. Rich-colored, embroidered quilts were draped over the cruise line’s standard bedding. Izzy offered her a drink, which she declined, and then made her own, pouring an orange-colored liqueur over ice. “Aperol,” she said. “My before-everything cocktail.”
Lillian sat on a chair facing the mirror. Izzy stood behind her. With two fingers, she’d raise a lock of hair, letting each slide through and drop before examining another in the same way, as if Lillian’s hair were the only thing of beauty in the world.
“I brought all my things,” said Izzy. “I don’t know if I will ever go back home. You like the blankets?”
“I think we should do curls. Light curls. Your hair is so fine. I have one attachment…” Izzy reached for one of the many pieces of luggage set around the room, sat on the bed and dug through it. “Here.” She rose with a long, narrow black rod, came back to the dresser, removed a large cylinder from the curling iron that was already there, and put on the new rod. “It will heat quickly,” she said, plugging it in. She lifted the big rod. “Looks like a vibrator, yes?”
“Hmmm….” said Lillian.
“Oh, you are not shocked. I know this. You have daughters?”
Lillian did have daughters, but her relationship with them was not such that they’d ever discussed sex toys with her.
“I have two,” she answered, “and we are not very close.” Izzy disappeared from the mirror, and Lillian heard ice and the liquid sound of a refill.
“No? Well, as you know, I am no longer close with my daughter. I understand.”
But Lillian was sure that Izzy did not understand. Her own daughters had never stolen her husband. They just had never seemed to like her. Oscar, a fan of the history channel, had once explained to her that generals lost battles because they were always fighting the last war, using strategies that had worked once, but had grown obsolete in the face of a changing battlefield. That’s what she’d done with her daughters. She tried to explain this to Izzy,
“I trained them to fight the last war,” she said, “I trained them to be women in my generation. It wasn’t what they needed. They didn’t understand it, but they did always understand that I was wrong. The world changed so much.”
“Such pretty hair. Fine hair. Strawberry blonde,” Izzy said as she used the warm wand to make curls in Lillian’s hair. Unlike the girls at The Style, who’d place their hand crab-like on the top of her head and turn it as if she were a product being twisted into shape at a factory, Izzy treated each curl gently, as a precious material. It felt so good.
“We should do your makeup!” Izzy said when she’d finished spritzing the new style with a light fresh-smelling hairspray. “But I have nothing light enough. I’m very tan. What can we do? I know! It’s early--we can go down to the gallery and visit the boutique. They will have something. They will make your face free just to show you their products.”
“Won’t they get irritated if I don’t buy anything?”
“No! It will be an excitement for them. They are very bored.”
It seemed a bit dishonest to Lillian, as she sat on the padded cushion of the golden stool in front of the makeup counter, listening to the beauty consultant’s buffered but clear sales pitch. His name was Dobro, he said, and he called her “Ms. Lillian” as he chose colors and became intimate with her face. “This Luminesce, this plays wonderful with the light. You can’t see wrinkles. They disappear.”
Izzy had disappeared too, wandered off in between the application of the primer, the ivory foundation, the copper glow, the amber eyeshadow. After 15 minutes, Lillian thought, perhaps she’s found something else to entertain herself with, and I’ll feel I have to buy something at the end of all this. She imagined seeing the animation drain from Dobro’s face if she left without a purchase. But as he dabbed powder on her cheeks and nose with light, quick jerks of his wrist, she heard Izzy’s voice behind her: “Look at my fish!” Izzy’s arm appeared in front of her face, her wrist now encircled with a golden chain dangling a diamond-encrusted fish charm.
“Diamonds! Diamonds!” she said, “I will have to stop loving diamonds one day”. She then whispered in Lillian’s ear, “Ricky’s credit card. I can’t believe he hasn’t cut me off!”
“Isn’t she just sweet?” Dobro asked Izzy, bringing their attention back to his work. Lillian thought she really did look nice now, with some discreet color in her face, with soft curls, blue eyes accentuated by the coppery eye makeup. She suppressed an instinct to search in her purse for her wallet. Izzy put an arm around her waist and helped her down from the stool.
“Thank you so much!” she said loudly, and quickly, with an exaggerated gracious smile, and not leaving a moment for Dobro to close his sales pitch, led Lillian out of the shop. Lillian felt naughty, rude, confused, and liberated.
“Let’s go to the champagne lounge.” They strode forth together.
Champagne was lovely. At first, they sipped quietly and watched the water out the portside window. Lillian enjoyed the lull after the whirlwind of afternoon. She needed a rest before dinner. Martin would be tired, too. He was taking a captain’s tour of the technical part of the ship, and though he never complained about walking, with the cane, she was beginning to be able to tell when he’d had enough.
The view from the lounge to the water was grand, and the music was classic and muted. But Izzy being Izzy, the pace seemed to pick up without either of them moving from the table. Izzy’s phone buzzed, and she began to text.
“Someone from home?” asked Lillian.
“No. I can’t get enough service to get a text back to Florida. It’s a man,” she said. “I met him last night, and already we are having a fight.” She punched the glowing keyboard with a manicured fingernail, the diamond fish clicking against the phone with each poke. After every bout of texting, she pulled a flask of the Aperol out of her purse and filled her champagne glass with the orange liqueur, then downed it as quick as she’d poured it. Somehow, the whole time, she kept a conversation going with Lillian.
“He is here on a family reunion, and he wants me to have dinner with his whole family. I just want him for dancing, and now he wants me to be a girlfriend. Do you fight,” she asked, “with Martin?”
“I don’t suppose I know him well enough to fight,” she said.
“Do you think,” Izzy paused in her drinking and poking to lean across the table and look Lillian in the eye, “do you think you could marry this man?”
“Marrying again is nothing I’m interested in,” Lillian answered, thinking she was telling the truth.
“I like to be married. I am not good at maintaining myself.” Izzy said, shaking her head and then raised her hand to motion the waiter over. “May we have another split of champagne?”
“I have had too much already,” Lillian told her.
“Don’t worry. I’ll drink it fast. Then we must go to your room to pick out an outfit to go with your makeup. Even…” she said softly, “...even if you do not want to marry this man, it is good for him to see you looking lovely. A man who remembers a lovely woman will always help her.”
Izzy was feeling the effect of all those drinks, Lillian could see, and she was glad that Martin was not yet in the room when they arrived. If she was lucky, they’d have half an hour, and Izzy would be gone before he came down to get ready for dinner.
“Bring me your dresses,” Izzy commanded, sitting a little out of kilter on the edge of the bed.
“I don’t have any dresses.”
“Okay then, what do you take...what do you do for the nice dinners?”
Lillian pulled out the two pairs of black dress slacks she’d been wearing to the dining room on formal nights.
“Oh, no. We need to get you a dress. I think I have one that will fit,” Izzy said, and started, unsuccessfully, to rise, “but we are not in my room. We should go there.”
Lillian grew ever more concerned, realizing that her friend was very, very drunk.
“Let’s just look through my blouses here,” she said. “I have some nice jewelry to go with them.”
“I will come. Let me see.” But as she tried to rise, she fell again to the bed and lay on her back, her eyelids drooping.
Lillian shook her.
Izzy looked at Lillian and said, “I’m tired,” and then closed her eyes.
“Izzy? Izzy? You have to get up!” Lillian said, but then nearly laughed at herself, because of course, that’s what people said to those who were passed out, when it was clear that no one in that condition, clearly, had to, or could, get up. Izzy was conked out, on the bed, eyes closed, the tumbler turned sideways on her belly, the bitter orange liqueur slowly winding its way out between melting ice cubes onto the white dress, onto the white comforter, and--worse-- all of this on Martin’s side of the bed.
“Izzy,” Lillian said, “Izzy!” She sat on the bed and shook her, but there was no response, none. A commotion arose in the hallway outside the stateroom--people, returning to dress for dinner. She had to get Izzy out before Martin came back. Imagine his dismay to find this woman passed out in his room, whose missteps already fueled the gossipy conversations in the cigar bar. And now? Why now? . . .when they had just started to break the ice, holding hands in bed, laughing at an anecdote, enjoying their dinner dates.
She worried that Izzy might need medical help. Her face had grown pale. She was drooling. The steward. She could call him, of course! But how could she do that to Izzy? Ship security already had Izzy on notice due to the dust-up on the Lido deck, the attempted theft of the photos.
Lillian forced her arm under Izzy’s back, thinking perhaps she could lift her, wake her, but the effort failed. Her 74-year-old arm muscles weren’t up to the lift. She reclined then herself, hopeless, her arm still under her friend’s back. It might be stuck there. Izzy’s body grew heavier by the minute. One shoulder bone dug into her wrist, and she pictured a bracelet of Plavix bruises forming there.
The look on Martin’s face, when he entered, was comic. He was so evidently expecting anything but the sight of both Lillian and Isabella lying on their backs on his bed that he stood there a moment, eyes wide open and pointing his cane alternately at each of them.
“She came to help me pick out an outfit to wear tonight.”
“She’s in no shape to pick out an outfit, is she?” Martin said, and then came toward the bed. “Is she all right?”
Lillian managed to slide her arm out from under Izzy’s back and to sit up. “I don’t know, Martin. She’s been drinking a lot, and we were having so much fun, but then …” Her arm was numb, and she bent it at the elbow to shake out her hand at the wrist.
“Isabella,” Martin said in a deep, commanding voice, “Isabella, you must get up!”
Whether it was Martin’s echo of her own fruitless command, or some image she suddenly saw of Jesus commanding Lazarus to rise, Lillian began to laugh, at first softly, and then to the point that she couldn’t speak.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said when she could speak, “What should we do?”
“We should wake her up and send her back to her room!” Martin said, and then said again “Isabella, you must get up!”
“I’m worried about her,” Lillian said.
“She’s just passed out,” Martin said, “and we need to get to dinner.”
“Martin! We can’t leave her like this. She could get sick and…”
“I can’t,” he said, “pick her up and carry her to her room.” He waved his cane to demonstrate why not. “We’ll call a medic in. I saw a steward down the hall with a cleaning cart. I’ll request that he send someone.”
“You said yourself she might be sick, Lillian. The medical staff are the obvious ones to handle this.”
“Martin, she’s been in trouble with the ship staff. I don’t want to cause her any more difficulty. She’s been so kind to me. We’ve had such fun.”
They looked at each other. They’d never dealt, together, with a disagreement or problem of any magnitude at all. She didn’t want to explain anything more. She wanted Martin to accept her position. She knew in that moment that if he began to order her around, it was over. Her blooming, curious affection for him would wilt.
“You can go on to dinner,” Lillian said, “I’m the one who brought her in. I’ll wait with her.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
They were quiet again, then, thinking some more. About what to do. About what each expected from the other. She began to be hopeful, thinking they’d work this out together.
“She can’t be left lying on her back,” Martin said. “She’ll choke if she vomits.”
“There are more pillows in the closet,” Martin said, “will you bring them?”
Lillian opened the closet door, blocking her view of the bed. The pillows were high on the top shelf, stacked on the left side of the closet, behind an iron. “I can’t reach them,” she said.
“Get my cane, it’s fallen on the floor.”
Unseen by Martin, Lillian dropped her arms to her side in frustration. She reacted, for a second, to being bossed around, but then heard him say, “do you think you can reach the pillows with it?” She closed the closet door, came to the cane, picked it up, walked back to the closet, and opened it. She grabbed the handle, and poked it into the closet shelf, “I don’t think this will help; there’s an iron in front of the pillows” she said.
“Are you using the crooked end?” he asked.
“Ah, no! That helps!” she angled herself to grab the top pillow with the cane’s hook and, with a little maneuvering, pulled that one down, but when she angled for the second pillow, the iron tumbled over and fell, glancing her on the forearm before it hit the floor.
At the sound, Martin yelled “Are you all right?”
“I’ve got one pillow,” she said. She grabbed it and closed the closet door a bit--it was still held open by the fallen iron, but she could now return to Martin. “Here.”
He directed her where to place it and eased Izzy down on to her side. She pulled her legs up and snuggled into the pillow
Lillian offered the cane to Martin. “She looks comfortable. Do we need the other pillow?”
“You’re bruised,” Martin said, taking Lillian’s wrist instead of the cane.
“It’s the dang blood thinner,” Lillian said, “They put me on it after I had my stent put in, and I can’t pet a cat without getting bruised.”
“I don’t take any of it anymore.”
“None of it. They had me on the Plavix, the lisinopril, the statin, the pill for my sugar. I couldn’t tell the damn things apart. Rita came over on Sundays and put them in two of those pill containers. She gave me one hell of a lecture when I decided: no. more. pills. I did think of getting some Viagra before this trip, though.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned. Lillian didn’t want to ignore the comment. It offered an opportunity to grow more comfortable with each other, to discuss—rather than avoid-- the topic of sex. But not now. Not with Izzy here.
Instead, she said, “My children would be the same, if I tried to stop taking my pills. I’m going to have another bruise here,” she held out her forearm. “That iron hit me on the way down.”
“We should ice it!” Martin said, using the desk chair and his cane to get up. He looked at the refrigerator, snuggled under the desk. “They should put that thing on a stand.”
“Ice,” Izzy said, “could you get me some ice?”
Startled at the sound of her voice, Lillian and Martin looked at her. Her head was still on the pillow, but her hand was raised, cupped to receive some ice, apparently. Something purposeful aspect of the gesture comforted Lillian, made her think that Izzy would be all right.
“Yes!” answered Lillian. She reached for the bucket on the desk and bent down and opened the refrigerator, which they hadn’t used yet. “No freezer. I’ll have to go down the hall.”
When she returned with the bucket full of ice, Izzy was sitting up, Martin’s arm supporting her. She prepared a glass full of ice and gave it to Izzy, and then put some ice in a washrag to place on her arm.
“Oh, you’re missing dinner!” Izzy said.
“There’s 24-hour food here, we’ll get something later,” Lillian answered. “How are you doing?”
“I feel drunk,” said Izzy, “I feel okay.” she looked around. “Is this an intervention?” Izzy spoke slowly, looking into her glass of ice. “My husband and daughter tried that...intervention. Intervening with me,” she said, “they teamed up against me.”
“She’s all right,” said Lillian, “but she shouldn’t be alone.”
“Maybe we can intervene a little,” said Martin, “since we’re here.”
“You!” said Izzy, “What do you think about her hair and her makeup?”
Martin looked at Lillian, studied her for a moment and nodded his head. “You look very pretty,” he said.
Lillian finally felt relief. The problem would be resolved, somehow. Izzy was chattering. She and Martin had handled it all, together.
Martin sat beside her and patted her thigh. “You’re a good friend,” he said. “How’s your arm?”
“I think the ice did some good.” She lifted the washcloth and showed him her unmarked forearm. “Thanks for helping out, Martin. I didn’t mean to bring you into all this.”
He smiled, “I’ve kind of liked her ever since she dived into the pool. Moxie, that’s what we used to call it. She has moxie.”
“I’m not really divorced,” Izzy piped up. “I packed and I left. I was mad at the intervention. I said, don’t you dare follow me onto that ship. I will kill you. He has not even called me. Not one call. Not one text. Not from my daughter either.”
Martin said, “The satellite’s down, Isabella. He might have tried, but you wouldn’t get it yet. They don’t think we’ll have service until we get to Alicante.”
“When is that?”
“Tomorrow,” said Martin.
“Maybe we should take her for some coffee,” said Lillian.
”Good idea,” said Martin. “How about it, Izzy, can you stand?”
Lillian spent the night in Izzy’s room, as a precaution. After an hour sitting on the balcony, door cocked open so that she could hear Izzy’s snoring, she came inside, crawled into the bed, and lay under the Colombian quilts. She wondered how she’d ever sleep on dry land again, without the comforting, soothing rock of the ship, which felt like the most natural thing in the world. She listened to Izzy breathing, felt her move jerkily, roll over, fluff her pillow, and she wondered how she’d ever sleep alone again. In the morning, they’d meet Martin and walk into Alicante together. For now, Lillian barred herself from thinking of any future but that, and fell asleep.
The esplanade was paved with tile in a pattern of waves, in black, in red, in white. It was dizzying. It was stimulating. It seemed alive. She didn’t mind so much that Martin’s cane slowed them down; she liked how he took advantage of their pace to pause and breathe in the seaside air, nostrils wide. Izzy had come with them, planning to find the beach and sunbathe. After she wandered off, they found a place overlooking the shore to have a sandwich and a glass of wine. From their chairs at La Terraza Centro, Martin and Lillian could see Izzy on the shore. They saw her remove her wide, colored silky scarf, flatten it in the breeze, lower it to the sand, sit, and put her head back to tilt her face to the sky. After a few moments, she reached in her bag and got her phone. She held it to side, shading its screen with her hair. They watched her poke a couple of times, read, and poke again.
“I wonder if I should go over, in case the messages are upsetting,” Lillian said, leaning forward in her chair, feeling pulled toward the beach, toward Izzy. Martin shook his head. “I don’t know, my dear. Maybe let her read and think a while. She’ll find us if she needs us. Not one to suffer in silence, that one.”
It was true. Martin put his arm around Lillian’s shoulder and pulled her close and kissed her nose.
Lillian made herself lean back into her chair. She reached up and pulled Martin’s hand from her shoulder down toward the flat part of her chest, not so far from where her heart was beating in there, in the sunshine, on the dizzying esplanade, in Spain. It wasn’t sex, but it was good.
Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published five fiction collections, Life in the Temperate Zone, The Decline of Our Neighborhood, The Artist Wears Rough Clothing, Heiberg’s Twitch, and Petites Suites; two books of essays, Professors at Play and The Posthumous Papers of Sidney Fein; two short novels, Losses and The Derangement of Jules Torquemal; a book of verse, Fifty Poems; essays, stories, and poems in a variety of scholarly and literary journals, and the novel Zublinka Among Women, awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction. Hsi-wei Tales, a collection of Chinese stories, and Intuition of the News, a book of non-Chinese stories, are forthcoming.
What would such a person want with me? It certainly was a question. I’ve thought about it lately and my conclusion is that he installed me in his disorderly flat to interest the women he managed to lure there. The idea must have been to make them think he had a soft side, that he was capable of sincere affection. I gathered that these women thought him exotic; they liked his accent. They all approached my cage with the identical, rather silly smile and asked my name. “Oh,” Johannes would say with a grin, “that’s my faithful comrade, Fritz.” “He looks sad,” some would say. “Do you ever let him out so he can fly around?” One said, “He has such intelligent eyes.” Every one of them asked if I could talk. “When he likes,” Johannes would reply coyly. “He’s got a mind of his own, does Fritz; but he’s a good boy.” This pretense of devotion really did make a good impression on the women, at least at first. In fact, Johannes fed me irregularly, often neglected to clean out my cage and to keep the water fresh. When one of the women asked how he came to have me, he’d tell her an elaborate story about saving me from a filthy bazaar during his year in Africa doing humanitarian work. To forestall premature departures by the women, Johannes taught me a speech. When one of them headed for the door he would clap his hands and I was to say, “Wie geht es dir, Fräulein? Geh nicht. Ich liebe dich.” It worked surprisingly well. The woman would stop and ask Johannes to translate what I’d said. This he did in a manner he probably thought irresistibly charming. It took me a long time to learn that little speech, and Johannes was hardly a patient teacher. He yelled at me and slapped my cage if I got a word wrong or if my pronunciation didn’t meet his standards. At the time, I had no idea what the words meant, though I did understand they must mean something—something that could make a woman who wanted to get away from Johannes reconsider doing so.
I too longed to get away from Johannes but had no idea of how to go about it. I couldn’t simply fly away, not with my clipped wings; anyway, Johannes never opened my cage, except to change the newspaper that lined its bottom when he kept me in with a long fork. Eventually, I concluded that the only recourse was to find some way to make him wish to be rid of me. But, even if I could find that way, the risk was terrifying. He might have left me to die of thirst or simply twisted my neck. He was certainly capable either. If I irritated him at the wrong time—for instance, after a woman had walked out—he might just toss me out the window. My first and last flight.
I bided my time.
Then I noticed that Johannes was bringing only one woman back. She stayed over nights and then entire weekends. Her name was Juliet and I could see how it was. Johannes went from being kind and loving toward Juliet to sounding sarcastic and angry. Twice I saw him grab her arm while he shouted at her. I paid close attention. Then one night the two of them returned and Johannes was already yelling at Juliet. As usual, he’d been drinking and he went on drinking after they came in, growing more furious with each gulp. Juliet expostulated with him, apparently denying something. And then suddenly, if I understood correctly, she too became angry and stopped denying anything. Johannes exploded. He threw his can of beer in her direction and ran to the door, violently yanking it open.
“Get out!” he shouted. “Raus mit dir! Raus mit dir, du. . . du Schlampe!”
Raus mit dir, du Schlampe. I let these words sink in; I could tell they were powerful. I memorized them and waited to unleash them. Last year, when I was being read an old play, a couple lines reminded me of the feeling I often had during my time with Johannes: I understand a fury in your words but not your words. When I think back to that unhappy epoch I appreciate and even identify with Desdemona’s double innocence. Unlike Johannes’ cheating girlfriend, Desdemona had not betrayed Othello; but she was also innocent in being unable to make out the meaning of an angry speech. That’s just how I was back then, hearing noises, knowing they expressed something, but unable to make out their meaning.
I did escape. I’d like to think that my cleverness and bravery were rewarded, but the truth is that I was just spectacularly lucky.
Juliet never returned, and it was a long time before Johannes brought a new woman back to the apartment. The two of them came in tipsily and fell down together on the couch. I waited until they were entangled before delivering my speech as loudly as I could: Raus mit dir, du Schlampe!
Everything stopped. Johannes leapt up. The woman, alarmed, cried, “What was that? What did he say?”
Johannes tried to calm her.
I said it again. Raus mit dir! And again and again. . . until she left. Johannes was infuriated.
I played this scene three times with three different women.
Johannes made threats, growling and shaking his fist. He whacked my cage so violently that I fell over and hurt my head. But this only encouraged me.
I began to say it over and over at random times, even when he was asleep. Raus mit dir!
I don’t doubt that Johannes would have liked to kill me. But he also wanted money and he had bought me from a pet shop. This meant I had value, and so, instead of wringing my neck and stuffing me into a garbage bag, he sold me. I’ve never asked for how much and I’ve never been told. But I do know that he posted flyers on bulletin boards around the university. One of these was spotted by my savior, Leda, the love of my life. She bought me. It is Leda who has made me the focus of her life and work, as she is of mine. It is Leda who gave me a new life and purpose and so much more, immensely more. It is Leda who changed the despised name Fritz to the noble one of Akewi.
The second thing to say about Leda is that she’s a scientist. This means she saw me as a research subject, though before long our relationship became something closer and more intimate, a collaboration. Our work reinforced our attachment; we were two oxen yoked to the same load, pulling it up the same hill. My progress was hers.
As a teenager, Leda had read about Alex and Irene Pepperberg and was moved by their story. Learning about them set the course of her life—therefore of mine. Like Leda, Dr. Pepperberg had given a significant name to her subject and friend. “Alex” was an acronym for Avian Language Experiment. The two worked together for three decades. It was slow going but both persisted. At the time of his death, Alex had a vocabulary of a hundred words, and gave every indication of understanding their meanings. He could ask and answer questions, distinguish colors and shapes, and grasped spatial relations: above, below, over and under. He was able to make requests, such as the wish to stop working when he was tired. Alex was even able to teach behaviors to other birds, becoming, in a sense, a lab assistant. Dr. Pepperberg estimated that Alex had the intelligence of a five-year-old child, certainly on a par with dolphins and apes. The scientific world was more than skeptical. Birds have bird brains, they said, and they aren’t mammals. But the evidence was undeniable.
What caught Leda’s imagination was that Dr. Pepperberg, though she never claimed two-way communication, said that, when he died at thirty-one, Alex had not achieved his full potential. Creatures like Alex and me can live forty-five years or more.
Leda told me how, when Dr. Pepperberg came to the lab as usual one morning, she found Alex dead. She spoke movingly of the dreadful shock Dr. Pepperberg must have suffered and the mourning that followed. I was touched too and understood that Leda was imagining how she would feel if I were to die. She told me that Alex’s last words were the ones he spoke to Dr. Pepperberg every night when she left the lab: You look good. See you tomorrow. I love you. Leda wept. I had never seen her cry before. I wanted so much to comfort her.
When Leda leaves me for the night, I sometimes think of both Alex and Johannes and say, Geh nicht. Ich liebe dich. It’s a kind of serious private joke.
Third, Leda is patient with me and unfailingly encouraging. She rejoices in any progress I achieve, ascribing it all to me when it is a lot more than half her doing.
Fourth, Leda is beautiful.
I liked my new home in the laboratory. It made a change from Johannes’ cluttered and dingy flat and my filthy cage. Everything was clean and white. My cage was huge compared to the old one and it was carefully seen to. I was allowed out of it for hours at a time. Leda even made a special perch for me by her desk. The wooden dowel wasn’t too thin or thick but just right. There was a big window high on the wall. I could look out whenever I liked. During the day I could see sunlight and trees. At night, there was the one big moon and the countless little stars.
At first, it was just a kind of playing with sounds. My earliest efforts were senseless noises, then equally meaningless rhymes. Making rhymes pleased me because they pleased Leda. Whenever I made one she would give me a special treat, a bit of fruit—melon, strawberries, or mangos—or some of my favorite vegetables—carrots and sweet potatoes. With such encouragement I croaked out plenty of nonsense.
What sight like
Salt on inch
Then, one afternoon—I’ve never figured out quite how—I managed to fit rhyme to reward:
When Leda heard that couplet, she fairly danced around the lab. Watching that was even better than the strawberry I earned.
For a time, Leda took on an assistant. Her name was Selena and she wasn’t much interested in me. She preferred the white mice who never said anything, at least nothing either she or I could hear. Selena took notes on experiments, helped keep the lab clean, and asked Leda endless questions about how to get ahead in animal psychology. When she was alone cleaning up, she liked to listen to music but I couldn’t hear it because she had these wires that kept it in in her ears. I didn’t even know she was listening to music until the time the wires fell out of her ears and I could hear the faint beat.
One day, Selena brought a box that put out plenty of sound. It was music but also words. I was afraid Selena might turn it off, so I hopped up and down, bobbed my head, and squawked: “Good good mood. Good like food.”
One song attracted me powerfully. I beat my wings against the cage so Selena would play it again and, to my delight, she did. It amused her that I liked this song. She came over to my cage and laughed at me. That was an important day.
Years later, I found out the song was called “Around the Way Girl.” It’s long and most of it passed right through me; but one line stuck. Like Desdemona, I understood the passion in the words, just not the words. Somehow—maybe because of my infatuation with Leda—I intuited that it was a love song, even though the singer didn’t sound loving.
Silky milky, her smile is like sunshine
I tried to memorize these words the way I had the ones Johannes taught me. I practiced over and over and, two mornings later, when Leda came into the lab I greeted her with Silky milky, her smile is like sunshine.
Leda thought the words were mine until she told Selena about it. Selena laughed and explained they weren’t mine but LL Cool J’s. All the same, Leda was still wowed. That was the day she began to call me Akewi. In Africa, it means poet.
Leda began reading to me. She started with nursery rhymes--Jack and Jill went up the hill. . . Georgie Porgy puddin’ and pie. . . . Then she moved on to short but more challenging poems--Never met this fellow attended or alone / without a tighter breathing and zero at the bone. . . Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / is hung with bloom along the bough. . . . Whenever I liked a particular bit, I’d try to repeat it.
Gradually, Leda expanded the scope of her readings; but, for a long time, she chose only poems. I was often bored or exasperated by understanding so little and I let her see it by closing my eyes or reeling on my perch as if I were about to fall off. But Leda persisted. It was as though her purpose were to drown me in verse. Little by little, my vocabulary grew and I began to understand a little more without so much strain. Nevertheless, I never found the relation between sound and meaning easy to grasp.
For a long time, Leda read out of the same book. This was a fat little paperback called Immortal Poems of the English Language. It featured little portraits of the poets on the front and back covers. Whenever she was going to read me something by one of them, Leda always showed me the portrait first. I liked that. They were all so different from one another. I wanted to meet them. Leda explained why this was impossible.
The most lasting impressions on me were made by a poem by Dylan Thomas and one by Percy Shelley. It was by hearing over and over these poems that I improved my ability to connect sound to sense.
“Poem in October” thrilled me. It wasn’t clear but didn’t need to be as it was as much music as words and the music was intoxicating.
. . . Here fond climates and sweet singer suddenly
Come in the morning when I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Years later, when Leda told me about Alex, dead at thirty-one, I thought of this poem’s first line: It was my thirtieth year to heaven. By then I was myself well over thirty.
I couldn’t take in all of what Dylan Thomas wrote, of course even though I made Leda read it over and over.
“Fond climates” was puzzling but pleasing to repeat. I liked the way “The wood faraway under me” shifted things, as if the poem shot up to take a bird’s-eye view. The words seemed to awaken some atavistic impulse in me or perhaps a recovered memory of unclipped wings, though I’ve never flown above a wood; I’ve never flown above anything.
When I finally figured out the distinction between wringing and ringing, I was delighted but also baffled. Two words could sound the same but mean different things. It was an unsettling revelation and I thought about it for a long time.
Shelley’s poem spoke to me more directly than “Poem in October.” I liked to think he had me in mind, Akewi, as he wrote it.
Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert;
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. . .
. . . Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought
Singing hymns unbidden
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hope and fears it heeded not. . .
I loved the word “skylark.” Leda explained that it is a bird that sings beautifully and suggested that the poet identified himself with it. To me, though, it seemed that, if Shelley was comparing himself to the skylark, he was admitting he came in second:
Better than all measures
Of delightful sound
Better than all treasures
That in books are found
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!
Maybe Shelley wanted to be both a poet and a bird. I wanted to be a poet and a bird too, like the skylark, like Shelley. I too longed to scorn the ground, to soar. This poem felt like it was calling to me, and I determined I would do my best to merit the name Leda had given to me. Akewi.
Leda’s belief is that language isn’t acquired from lessons or words from dictionaries but from swimming in the sea of language—or flying through a sky filled with floating words. Leda read something to me every day but only for about ten minutes. When she saw how keen I was to learn, she set up a machine near my cage that played people reading—stories and plays but mostly poems. I had a switch that I could peck to turn the voices on and off. If I wanted, I could listen all night and sometimes I did just that, too excited to sleep. At other times, the voices droned and I fell asleep in minutes. Over the years, both my vocabulary and confidence swelled until I felt ready to make my first serious effort at composition. It was a painstaking, exasperatingly slow process; moreover, the result was crude and didn’t make very good sense. Nevertheless, from Leda’s response you’d think I’d produced an avian Divine Comedy.
Let those in, but stay outside;
close the cage, just not too wide.
Bestir yourself while you’re at rest;
your worst is better than my best.
The stars are out, the sky’s black blue;
the clock runs slowly, one to two.
One meal a day makes not a fast;
an unfed bird’s not apt to last.
Endure the storm and pay your dues,
regret nothing, ignore the news.
Keep bad folk out after you go;
if they say yes, then we’ll say no.
Leda transcribed it. She also gave it a title so she could file it properly, she said. She called it “Akewi’s Advice.”
My second attempt was better, at least in my opinion. Leda makes no distinctions between good and bad. Whatever I produce delights her. She’s an enthusiastic audience but useless as a critic. On the other hand, she excels at finding titles; for some reason, I can never think of one. This one she called “Gnomic Song”:
tigrous eye, unblinking, wide,
an ink-stained mirror on a dish,
to show those things that shadows hide.
Arcanae in roots of heather,
chthonous rumbling under clods:
if gods didn’t make the weather,
surely weather made the gods.
Rivers wrap a smooth white stone,
storms blow soft through hollow reeds,
blood and marrow, wings and seeds.
Go pluck pits from brittle pods,
a song from lungs fretted with feather.
If weather hasn’t made the gods,
Surely gods have made the weather.
Leda and I had been together for more than ten years by then. They were good years, filled with listening and then composing. Still, I consumed far more than I produced. I had seen her thesis, and it was impressive, thick, with a blue cover. But what she showed me now was different. It was a book like Immortal Poems of the English Language. It made me an author, too. Most of it was Leda’s writing, her data and charts, but it included my verses as well, transcribed and neatly printed out. “Look,” she said, and showed me the cover. It was a picture of Leda and me. She beamed. “We’re famous, Akewi.”
Then came publicity and photographers, interviews, airplanes, audiences, applause. From adults there was skepticism and condescension, from children, curiosity and awe. For our public appearances, Leda wore make-up and colorful clothes. She altered her hair, too. I didn’t care for all these changes but kept it to myself.
Did I have mixed feelings? Of course I did. Being famous made Leda happy but it divided us and took us away from home. Worse still were those times I stayed in the lab while she flew off to one of her conferences to defend our work. That’s when I learned what pining means, that you could resent what you yearned for. Out of that soup of feelings I spooned these verses:
and newsprint is no gladsome guide:
away from bright cold steel tables
all’s deranged, detached, denied.
How am I doing? what
Perhaps I’ll tell next Monday,
or maybe in November.
From me to you to me
from you to me to you--
Akewi alone, forlorn, unfeathered,
forsaken like the last bird in a zoo.
5. My Fortieth Year to Heaven
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashore.
Did you grasp it, being then so full of life, with so much of it ahead?
Leda is older too. Her hair is turning the color of my feathers. But to me her beauty has only deepened. The elastic enthusiasm of youth began to harden when she got her degree but it has been replaced by a queenly seriousness. One thing has not changed at all; her devotion to me is undiminished. I see the anxiety in her face when she arrives each morning and the relief when she sees me doing my best to hop up and down at the sight of her.
During these last weeks I have been making a poem for her—a farewell poem, a valediction—but now that it’s done I can’t bring myself to say it to her.
I took my theme not from Dylan Thomas or Percy Shelley, not from any of the immortal poets of the English language, but from what an old philosopher said. John Keats, to my surprise, rated philosophy above poetry. An eagle is not so fine a thing as a truth, he explained. I’d like to argue that an eagle is a kind of truth; still, I know what he meant.
You in an airplane, I in a balloon.
The sky moves, and the clouds.
We move too. You fast and not low,
I far below and very slow.
You showed me us in a photograph.
It’s a sort of proof, ocular proof,
you said, proof of our fame, you said.
The Congo Grey that loves you
will love you ‘til he drops dead.
But When We Are Dead, Then We Do Not Exist
Silence isn’t silent, sleep isn’t sleeping,
darkness isn’t dark, meaning isn’t meaning.
The perch beneath me that I won’t feel,
warm sunlight in our lab I will not feel.
Shall I drop down right now, shall I?
My cage will be spotless at last.
But I’ll miss all the words I’ll miss,
and songs, but most of all you.
Goodbye. Don’t cry. Just blow a kiss.
You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you.
Ich liebe dich.
“Don’t know, I think this guy works at the hospital.” A male cop said.
“Dispatch said the ambulance is stuck at a railroad crossing, help me, we’re taking him.” His partner instructed. They crammed him in the back of their vehicle. He tried not to pass out. It didn’t work.
Edwin’s colleagues asked with a smile and sat various flower arrangements on the table. “How does it feel to be a patient at the job?”
“Weird, but thank God.”
“You had an aneurysm, Edwin, thank God, the cops brought you.” Even with tubes everywhere and words of caution from his doctor he couldn’t help but think who wanted to be Director of Nursing? Time to retire, Edwin, the easy way, not the hard.
Thank God, they brought him to Masonic General where the best ER doctors and nurses in the world worked. He adjusted the bed to view the north end of the floor and the nurse’s station. They’d want to transfer him off ICU as soon as possible. He couldn’t blame them. Who wants one of the bosses watching them? Two young cops stopped at the desk and made an inquiry. They laughed and joked with the staff momentarily and headed toward his room. Why? He didn’t know either, but the female reminded him of his ex-wife. She pushed back the glass partition, smiled and stepped into the room. “Hello, Mr. Ames or should I say doctor?”
That voice, he heard it before in the hall where he collapsed. “Ames, is fine, officer and I’m a Ph.D. not an MD.” Jesus, she looks like Carmen, medium height, smooth skin and a heavy chest with curves despite the uniform and protective vest.
“You got the VIP suite, that’s good. I’m Officer Ames-Smith and this is my partner, Officer Jennings.” He nodded at her partner who looked like a bodybuilder and she stood closer then he liked. “We were down the hall when you collapsed in the elevator. We scooped you up and got you here; I wanted to check on you. It’s not every day we act as an ambulance.”
“Thanks, you probably saved my life.”
“Your welcome. We’re on lunch, so we wish you a speedy recovery.”
“Thanks again.” He watched them rush toward the elevators. Time to get more sleep; and hopefully a better recovery. Did Cindy know what happened to him? She should after all it was in her building right down the hall from her apartment. She convinced him to take the day off. “You need a break, so I’m inviting you over between the holidays. This leg is Christmas, the other New Year’s.” What normal guy could refuse that? She was a fifty-year-old top fashion designer who looked thirty-five with a perfect body and personality. People fell in love just talking to her. She nor anyone else knew why he vowed to never cross the river.
Don’t think about the past, that was decades ago.
Every time he said that, he did it anyway.
He needed to get back to work, it was the only family he had now. He hadn’t thought about the other in a long while. Out of sight, out of mind.
Edwin Ames, Ph.D. scaled the side of the jagged wine bottle in an effort to dodge the alcohol molecule pursuing him. He woke up drenched in sweat. His heart raced. The monitors beeping overhead were deafening. You’re safe, Edwin, safe.
Alcohol…his friend, enemy, comforter and advisor that’s why he lost damn near everything. It had been decades since he drank. Why dream about it? It had to be that late-night slice of pizza. He could not shake the thought, that damn cop reminded him of Carmen. Carmen, a demon waiting to happen and he and alcohol brought her forward. They should’ve never gotten married. Both were unhappy, but he didn’t listen to the best advice a man could get: don’t ever hit her and after he did he drank himself into a blackout, he remembered nothing. When he went back home she sat at the dining room table next to her mother. She had a huge black eye. His heart sank; the grief overwhelmed him, he left out. He sped down the street ignored stop signs and lights. What was he doing, death wasn’t the answer he’d already hurt someone?
Snap out of it, that was a life time ago.
Edwin could feel the sighs of relief when his subordinates watched him being wheeled out of ICU. His assistant Director of Nursing smiled. “Good to see you looking better boss plan on retiring?” His colleague asked in a low voice as they entered the elevator.
“Don’t know yet, Mary.” The little genius they nicknamed her and at 5’1” she was in great shape being a former gymnastics coach. “Hint, hint or what?”
“No, not at all, but…”
They stopped at the nurse’s lounge; Mary pushed open the door.
“Surprise!” Edwin forgot it was his birthday. He was getting old perhaps he should leave. But, this was all the family he had after he became a pariah from his other. An hour later the party ended like all office parties. He hoped sampling all the ethnic dishes won’t give him more nightmares.
Two emergency room surgeons left early on a cop involved rollover accident. Cops, that brought Officer Ames-Smith to mind. His interactions with cops were few and far between. A cousin was a cop, probably dead or retired. After he hit Carmen he threatened to kill him and the other cousins wouldn’t speak to him. Everybody hated him on both sides of the family. His parents said they didn’t like him for what he did. That hurt too. The snobs in the family didn’t fully accept him anyway because he was adopted. He begged Carmen for forgiveness with the promise never to raise his hand to her again. She forgave him alright, but it included serious payback. Was God mad at him too? Everywhere he went he was reminded of domestic abuse. He tried drinking the torment away. That all but cost him his good government job. And, with no money came, no honey, even after his reinstatement. That hurt. Who and how many were screwing his wife?
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Edwin and enjoy the spices of life.
The best wife to have is someone else’s.
Months passed and he’d grown accustomed to not being with Carmen. The night he got mugged and left in the gutter changed everything. Whoever or how many jumped him damn near killed him. It was a miracle he didn’t have brain damage. Was Carmen’s family or friends behind it or his? Nobody visited, that was the proverbial wake-up call. Those blows to the head focused his intelligence. The foolishness stops now. Edwin “Drunk” Ames called his father. “Thanks for the visit and the flowers…I’m gone, good bye.” His situation needed serious analysis. The day of his discharge he stood in front of the mirror; he was well built, good height and muscle tone, handsome and highly intelligent, a lady’s man who fell in deeply in love with the wrong woman. He swore he’d never go on the south side again. Decades later he still felt it wasn’t meant for him to cross the river.
The transporter pushed him into his new room. It was well lit with all the furniture on locking wheels, pastel curtains and blinds, the psychological affects worked well. TV got to be boring with limited channels; crossword puzzles solved that problem until Officer Ames-Smith stuck her head in the door.
Hey, there Edwin, how are you?”
Just his luck, he gets settled and here she comes. “Hello, Officer Ames-Smith, I’m fine. What’s your first name, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Ellen Ames?” It couldn’t be! That would be too much to bare.
“Yes, Ellen Ames and don’t forget the Smith.” She gave him the arched eyebrow a trait of his ex-Carmen.
“I won’t.” Again, past memories hit him like a tidal wave. Advice from divorcee’s, “Don’t look back or stick around too long.” He stuck around because his money was funny and he was accustomed to a certain standard of living. Finding a good apartment wasn’t easy. They worked different shifts…a good thing and with no kids it was barely, hello or good-bye in passing. His marriage was over, period. He started a slow recovery from the heart break.
Carmen fell in love again. Now she was trying to drive him out of the apartment they agreed to share until he found a place. She no longer hid she was seeing someone else. Fine, so was he, but she and her lover should have more respect. Phone calls and innuendos were pissing him off. The voice on the other end sounded familiar, Smith, who transferred years ago. Edwin used wisdom and took the clip out of his pistol and checked-in to a transient hotel; thank God, two days later the reality company called with the ideal apartment.
A couple of months later his place was perfect; a couple months later Carmen said, she was pregnant. “So. Why tell me, tell the father?”
“I am,” she laughed, and shook her finger in his face.
He exploded. “You lying, bitch!!” But, the judge, who found Carmen and her lawyer attractive and stated as much, decided the child was more important than the truth and ruled against him.
He objected to the judge’s behavior…then she got alimony too.
Carmen’s revenge or God’s punishment. In spite of that he stayed sober, a lesser man might have given up, but he put the child support and alimony in the budget and never looked back. He heard she had a daughter and his efforts to reconcile with the family got rejected because he wasn’t a father to someone else’s child.
In today’s world DNA testing would’ve been in his favor.
“Dr. Ames, Dr. Ames, you with me?” Officer Ames-Smith asked.
He snapped out of it. “Yeah, yeah, I’m here.” He sighed. He might as well ask the stupid
question. “You’re Carmen and Smitty’s daughter, right?” He felt like a fool after he asked and the look on her face said the same.
“Did Carmen put you up to this, whatever it is?”
“No.” She stepped over to his side and poured cup of water. “Want some?”
He shook his head. “You clean up well like your mom…your day off?”
“Yeah, thanks.” She pulled up a chair. “I’ll cut to the chase.”
“Oh no, that sounds intriguing.”
Ellen downed her water. “Now that you know who I am I don’t mean to open old wounds…”
“You know about those?” Edwin interrupted.
“A few, not all, let’s say I know enough.” Ellen took a candy bar out of her purse. “Want a piece?”
“Anyway, after an officer takes someone to the emergency room they have to make a report. I remembered the name and you looked familiar from old family photos.”
“They still got pictures, that’s a surprise.” He shook his head. “Was it on a dartboard?” He laughed, but she didn’t.
“No, let me finish.” She bit off a piece of candy. “I know you were abusive and a drunk, but I don’t hold grudges for something that has nothing to do with me. And, this is most important, I know you aren’t my father and I don’t agree with what she did.”
“Whoa…wait a minute. How long have you known this?”
“Since I was a teen. I told them both they were wrong. Why should you pay for someone else’s kid? I got popped in the mouth, but I’m right.” Edwin nodded. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my parent, but…”
What was this about was she apologizing for something or what? Why would they tell her anything? Decades had gone by and by now his name shouldn’t come up. Man, she looked like her mom and dad. She had the same sincere expressions like Carmen. That was a positive. “What do you want to say, Ellen?”
“I don’t hate you or anything; I want to thank you for the years of support. I cannot imagine what it feels like being forced to take care of somebody’s kid.”
“Well, you know…”
“Let me finish.” She cut him off.
“There were times when that check put food on the table. Don’t ever mention that, please.”
Edwin raised his hand. “Scout’s honor.” He chuckled. What a revelation looks like Martin Smith wasn’t entirely God’s gift to humanity. But, after and during decades of his estrangement from the family hard times may have hit everybody.
“I’ve wanted to tell you that for a while, but since this happened it’s a prayer answered. I admire your strength and determination to succeed considering what they put you through.”
“Well, thank you, Ellen.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. That warmed his heart. That was right. He could’ve been a MD, but working limited him to nursing. Nurse practitioner was as far as he went. “Tell everybody I said hello, I’m not bitter not that they’d care.” Every year he called his parents on their birthday. He got a dry, “Hello, how are you?” and that was okay. Since he was adopted it wasn’t as hard from them to forget him. At least that’s what he told himself.
“Will do and I’m keeping you in my prayers.” She smiled and left.
He was thankful she didn’t bore him with the happenings of Carmen and the rest of the Ames family. He didn’t care. Now time for a nap.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” Edwin’s nosed twitched from something tickling his nose. His eyes popped open; he rubbed his nose and smiled.
“Hello, Cindy.” She waved a bouquet of roses in his face. “Thanks, I wondered had you forgotten the old man.”
“No, I haven’t. They scared the mess out of me when they carried you out the building.” She kissed him, a long tongue probing one at that. “I’ve been trying to get info on you, that was a waste of time. I felt bad about you crossing the river, bad karma you said, but you did it anyway.”
“That’s alright. A booty call might have got him here, but she also virtually begged him to let her fix dinner, that was impossible to turn down. “You look good in grey and black pants hugging the right places. You design those?”
“Yes. I added a few details before the seamstress made the prototype.” Cindy said.
“But, before we go further you can cook at my place call it superstition, but I’m not crossing the river. Can you live with that?”
“Yes, I can.”
Tim Green is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing For The Entertainment Industry bachelor’s degree program at Full Sail University. He plans on enrolling in either the Film or Entertainment Business master’s degree program at Full Sail University upon graduation.
Follow him on Twitter @TimGreen24 and on Instagram @tim_green24
My Dad, The Greek God
I got released from class early and decided to go practice for my swim meet this weekend. I emerged from the glass doors to an empty pool air. The gray tiles seeming to blend into the pools. I get up on the diving board and adjust my googles. I close my eyes to focus and control my breathing. I dive in and begin to swim.
When I open my eyes, I’m no longer in the pool at my high school. Somehow I got transported to an ocean. The vibrant pinks and greens of the fish exploding into my eyes. The reefs swaying in the current. I see Great White and Hammerhead sharks and mana rays swimming in harmony around me like I wasn’t even there. I notice that I’m not even swimming, more like I’m being sucked through the water and am breathing like I would if I was on land.
The floor dropped off beneath me and I stopped inside a massage stone formation. There were tall, buffed out men with one eye centered on their foreheads walking about. Somehow there was a fire burning under the ocean.
“Hello, son,” a voice bellowed behind me.
Shocked, I spin around, and was face to face with a man with a long white hair, a beard made out of seaweed. He was slim but muscular like a swimmer would be. As far as clothes, he only wore a toga with a golden trident broach on the right shoulder and green rope belt. He was holding a gold trident with an emblem of another trident at the base of the center prong. The emblem seemed like overkill, but who am I to judge.
“Who are you? Where am I?” I asked.
“Zach, I am your father, Poseidon. Welcome to my underwater forge in the,” he replied.
“Poseidon? That’s crazy talk. The Greek Gods are a myth,” I said.
“We’re only myth because we allow it be. It gives you mortals something to look up to,” he said.
“This is all crazy, why am I here?” I asked.
“I am growing old and very tired. I need someone to take my place as God of the Sea,” he said.
“You have got to be kidding me. You just expect me to drop everything I have up there to become the new God of the Sea? Why me anyways?”
“Because you are the only one of my kids that has nothing on the surface. You mother gave you up and I had responsibilities here to contend with. You are the only one I feel deserves this chance.”
“Oh, so you’re taking pity on me? I’m sorry but I can’t take the position. Now send me back to school.”
“I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do now. Once I made my choice, Zeus made it to law. You are to take my spot and I am going to get a much-needed retirement.”
“Then, as my first declaration as God of the Sea, I give it back to you.” I said.
“It don’t work that way. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone down here. You have all my working cyclops and you can have conjugal visits every fifty years.”
“FIFTY YEARS? You’re impossible. First, I get released from class mysteriously, then I get transported to the ocean, now I’m being forced into being the God of the Sea.”
“Just be glad that you’re not the son of my brother, Hades. You think this job sucks, just imagine not really being on Earth at all.”
“Great, go ahead and make your jokes.”
I didn’t wait for a reply. I just swam away. I kept swimming for so long I managed to get all the way back to the Gulf coast in Tampa. I saw all the cars rushing about the roads. I witnessed all the people splashing in the water, enjoying their normal lives. I couldn’t bare it any longer. I turned around and swam away, not knowing that I just unleashed a tidal wave on the coast.
“Guess I’m going to need to work on that.” I said.
DORIAN J. SINNOTT
ELISE DANIELLE IRWIN
ESTRELLA DEL VALLE
JORGE SERRANO SIERRA
ROBERT E. PARKIN
RUTH Z. DEMING
RYAN R. ENNIS
SANTOSHI SUBRAMANIAN & SHALINI PARAMESWARAN
TAMARA NICOLE CANTY