the spoons have erupted
The Spoons Have Erupted
Forever In My Mind
Checking the colostomy bag for the tenth time this hour, she readjusted herself in the padded rocking chair and continued her vigil. Just as it seemed he was settled, he'd jerk awake and ramble whatever thoughts what was left of his mind could conjure up.
There were times she swore he looked right at her. Impossible, he told her, he's just a mumbling vegetable. She wondered if the young doctor was gentler with treatable patients.
"Momma," he cried out, "my shoes hurt."
She reached out to touch his forehead.
"Mom! My shoes hurt...come and play, mom and dad are gone. Here, throw the ball...throw it...over here. over...Mom, my shoes hurt."
She was told by one of the older doctors that when he was conscience, talk to him of things he'd remember. It might give him a last grasp of reality. Something might trigger in his mind. She said, "David, remember our honeymoon? Remember that singer at the piano bar? Didn't he look just like Johnnie Ray?"
"Sam, get down, do you wanna get caught?"
"Remember on Frankie's fifth birthday, when you bought him that BB gun? I told you he was too young. You said, no, he's old enough. Remember how he accidentally shot you in the back of the leg?"
"Listen, Sam, if we pack a couple of sandwiches, we won't have to be back until four."
With that he turned over and relaxed. She watched him, holding her breath, until she knew he was sleeping. Then, checking the colostomy bag one more time, she settled and began reflecting.
For thirty years, they shared good and bad times with equal vigor. They bore and raised three children together and loved their grandchildren—six at last count. They went through the low points as a team and never gave up the dream (even when they seemed so out of reach and beyond their means). He was the best father and best husband and best friend she could have ever imagined. She felt blessed by his side. He was good to her, he was good for her, and he loved her. She, in return, loved him.
She remembered crying the day he told her he had the disease. He gave her the medical name; she shook her head. Most people call it Alzheimer's disease, he said, and anyway, it sounds better that way. He didn't want to be taken by something he could hardly pronounce. He held her that night, eventually they both cried.
That was nine months ago. He was so healthy then. Nine months...he thought he was just getting slower. He didn't know how bad it really was. The disease, you see, eats brain cells so quickly, they have no way of replenishing themselves. Then, when brain cells die, the function they perform dies also. Pain is a given. Thankfully, at this stage, he was mostly unconscious; he didn't feel much.
She must have fell to sleep because his voice woke her up with a start.
"Alex, wake up. I heard something."
"Honey?" she said to him, "David?"
"Look over there, can you see it? What is it? No, over there. Look, behind the stump."
"David...remember the dance when we first met?"
"Mom, when's daddy gonna come home?"
"...you held my hand that first night. You were so bold."
"I think it's one of those magical snap dragons."
"Remember that Nash Rambler you bought. Blue wasn't it?"
"I hate squirrels. Watch this shot."
"Tina called yesterday, honey. She's coming in tomorrow."
"Alex Demond, you give me back that Jack Armstrong pencil or I'll tell your mother."
It seemed that his childhood was all that was left in his emptying mind. He spoke so clear, it was easy to imagine he was anywhere else but in that hospital bed.
"Mom, can I sleep out with Alex tonight in the cedar woods?"
"I remember when you gave me that ring with all the birth stones of the kids. Do you remember that? That was the best present I ever got. I'll never forget that day."
"Claire, that little son-of-a-bitch kid of yours just shot me in the ass. I told you we shouldn't have bought him that damn gun."
She lost her breath when she heard her name. She felt a little relieved that she was still in his brain. They had been together for so long, it was painful thinking he would die without her memory.
"Mom, dad said I can go if it's all right with you, can I?"
"David," she said, "This is Claire. I know what the doctors have told me, and what you have left in your brain. I've tried to accept that. I know that."
"...Alex, what do we do with the skin now?"
"I don't want you to die. But I don't want you to suffer. All I want is be in your mind right now. I want you to think of me."
"...look, I told you it was a snap dragon."
"I want you to know that I love you."
"...I told you so."
"I love you, David."
She reached up and touched his forehead. He sucked in a comfortable breath. He was quiet for a second. As she silently sobbed, her tears fell on his bed. Then with his eyes closed, and his mouth slightly opened, he said, "...I know...I know."
Beyond Love And Money
It came to him one night as he fought insomnia with warm rum. That's it, he thought, now he knew what to do with his third wish. It had been seven weeks to the day since he had unearthed the mud-caked bottle and opened it up to release a six thousand year old genie. Three wishes, the genie had told him and then he disappeared. Skepticism and anxiousness followed while he was careful what he said until one morning two days later he whispered, I wish I were the richest man in the world.
Instantly, he was standing in a gold-filled room with armed guards and blue suited accountants. "It's official," one told him, "You are now the world's richest man." Everyone applauded.
The second wish came that very evening. He was designing a castle that would sit on the property he had just purchased on the bank of the Thames when he thought of how lonely he had always been and he wished for the love of beautiful women.
Of course, by morning he was swarmed by beautiful women of all sorts. He was happy. For seven weeks he wondered what his third wish would be. He had love and money, and what else is there? What could you ever want beyond love and money?
It came to him that night. He wanted what all men knew they could never have. He wanted to die and then live afterwards. It was the one thing no one owned, the knowledge of being dead and being able to relive it. He wished that he could survive death.
He, at first, was going to shoot himself with a rifle. Then he realized that that was too quick. He wanted to have a slow death. If he was going to die, he decided, he might as well make it worth the while. Poison and hanging were considered, then dropped. He finally decided to jump off the Empire State Building. Imagine how long it would take to fall, just imagine.
He bought the Empire State Building and emptied all the floors. Then he invited the world to come and witness his flight. Nearly a million noses were pressed against a glass or looking up from the street as he stood on the ledge of the observation floor and jumped out.
Falling, falling, forever falling...His life didn't pass before his eyes. He just fell. It took forever. A rush went through his fingers and emptied his heart, and he had to struggle to keep his eyes open. Falling, falling, forever falling, then splat—he hit the concrete. The pain...His body was torn apart and he felt it all. Then he woke up.
In the most lavishly equipped hospital that money could buy, and surrounded by beautiful nurses lovingly rewrapping his torn body, he lay paralyzed. Every bone in his body was shattered, every nerve severed, and every inch of skin destroyed. He lay there in phantom pain and dreamed of falling again and again. It was the only thing his mind could conjure up. The doctors were unable to explain how he lived. He did, that was all they could agree on. No one, they said, could live with a body torn about so. But he was alive and dreaming of his death. He fell and fell and fell and when he hit bottom, he felt the pain. When it was over, he lay there praying that he had one more wish. With all that was left in his soul, he wished that he were dead.
She was screaming, "Why do you do this? Every week it's the same damn thing. Why? You go out, get drunk, beat somebody up, and then try and kill yourself. Why?"
He didn't answer. He just hung his head and rocked back and forth in and out of the shadow that the one bare floodlight created on this midsummer midnight. He was half supported by a huge figure hidden completely in the dark.
She continued, "God damn you. You think this is what I want? Do you think this is what I married you for? You got a baby at home. Remember? Why don't you go home where we both belong instead of having me chase your ass all over town?" He just rocked. "Are you listening to me?" She leaned into him. "Tell you something, I'm not gonna bail you out anymore. If you get thrown in again—forget it. By the time you get out, I'll be gone. We'll both be gone."
He bolted straight up. For a moment, he looked sober. "You'd had never ever take my kid away. I'll kill you first."
"Kill me," she laughed, "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to? I'm your wife. I'm not one of those bodies you beat up to prove you're a man. I'm not scared of you."
He was deflated. His head fell again. He sounded drunk. "Baby, I hurt." He was reaching for pity. "I hurt everyday for just living. You don't know what I feel; how I hurt. Oh baby, I don't know what to do. What do I do?"
She answered calmly, "Just get a job." She was growing angry, "Oh, I forgot, you don't have to. You're blessed. All you have to do is keep breathing and you get that little blue check. Free money, and you go out and get all your friends drunk. Hey look, we're sorry we raped your great-grandparents. There, now you've heard it. Now you can get on with your life." She whispered, "Terry, don't you think they've had your balls long enough?"
"You don't know," Terry answered, "You just don't understand."
"You're right, Terry, I don't understand. I don't understand how you can do this to yourself every week."
He looked at her with generations of hate, "Hey look, don't blame me. Blame the BIA."
"It you, Terry, it's you. You can't blame nobody."
"But it's not me, it's the BIA." He was quietly pleading. "The BIA, The BIA, Don't blame me, it's the BIA." He was growing angry. "The BIA, the BIA..." He began to scream out each letter in an angry chant, "B-I-A...B-I-A..." His scream peaked and released pure anger., "B-I-A...B-I-A..." He paused when he realized he could not scream louder, he whispered, "It's the BIA."
"It's you, Terry," she whispered back, "It's you. You're a man. You don't have to be what they labeled you."
He began shouting, "What the hell do you mean? You don't know a fucking thing about being me. I am what I am, nothing will change that. None of your god damn good talk matters." He tore at his skin. "See, I'm still me. This is what I am." He turned away from the light. "Can't you see? Don't you understand?"
She tried to answer, "I..."
He turned back and snapped at her, "God damn it, don't you see? I'm an Indian, a fucking Indian." He began his chant again, "An Indian, Indian," He grew louder, "Indian...Indian..." It was guilt that was being released with each timed yell. "Indian...Indian..." The word was one syllable, "Indian...Indian..." Again he paused before he whispered, "Indian."
In the pause between the word, they could hear a car bounding down the road. The tires bouncing off pavement drowned out the engine. Terry stared until the cop car came into view.
With lights flashing, the car raced down the road, but took the turn into the parking lot slow and deliberate. It came to a stop a full fifteen yards from the floodlight. All was frozen in the alternating red and blue light.
After a moment of still, a spotlight burned momentarily blinding the three. Another pause until the car door opened and out stepped a cop stretching out of his seat. While he stood there, hands on his hips, he scoped the scene.
There were three of them. A young woman, very short and very unattractive; Terry, medium built; and a giant of an Indian who stood back from the other two.
The cop stepped closer and said, "So what's going on here?"
"Just talking," the big Indian said.
"Well," said the cop, "your talking just woke up some old man three blocks away."
The girl spoke up. "Sorry."
"Yeah," said the cop nodding his head, "So what's the problem?"
"Just talking," said the girl.
"I'm asking Terry." Terry just hung his head. He was exhausted from all his screaming. The cop smiled, "Are you drunk, Terry?" He didn't answer. The cop walked around until he was facing Terry who had turned away. "There's a guy over on Third Avenue beaten up pretty bad. It has your signature all over it. Did you do that?"
Terry looked up and said, "No..." Then instantly, "...yes"
"He pissed me off."
"Do I have to arrest you again?" the cop asked shaking his head. "Terry, this game just ain't fun anymore."
The big Indian stepped forward. "Let me take him home. He won't cause any more trouble. Please."
"What do you say, Terry, had enough for one night?"
Terry looked at him with glassy eyes but didn't answer.
The cop continued, "Go home, go straight home. No more beer. Understand?" The big Indian nodded and threw his arm around Terry's shoulder dragging him away. The girl took the pitch and walked off toward her car. The cop yelled after them, "If that guy wants to press charges, I'll have to come get you. Understand?"
The girl was already in her dark green Gremlin. The dome light made her appear even more unattractive. She stared over at Terry. Her door shut and she yelled out the open window, "Take him home, take him straight home this time." She started the car and pressed off. All six cylinders strained to keep up with the acceleration her foot asked of the pedal.
At the same time, Terry was being thrown into the cab of a jacked-up Ford pickup. He looked like dead weight flopping around, although the big Indian carried him like a rag doll. Walking around the truck, the big Indian looked at the cop and said, "Thanks." He hopped into his seat and started up the truck. The blasting of heavy metal drowned out the roar of the engine. The big Indian, embarrassed, turned it off and looked over at the cop. When he got no reaction, he drove off down the alley. Just as the car was almost out of earshot, the cop heard the music turn back on. He saw the truck turn the wrong way—away from Terry's house. He knew they weren't going home. It didn't matter, he thought, that Indian drove better drunk, and that guy Terry beat up told the cops that he fell out of a truck.
The cop stood there, hands on his hips, shaking his head. With everyone gone, he held center stage alone. Bathed in his own spotlight, his shadow stretched out down the alley as he stood in his own silence. He thought of the rest of his shift. It was still early. He would still have a couple of domestic disputes to break up. This was the life of a small city cop—separating drunk men from beating the hell out of the one person they were suppose to love. Terry was the excitement for the evening.
He thought of Terry and why he had to get drunk every weekend. He thought of the past and of his ancestors and wondered if he should feel guilty for what had happened. He decided no. He walked back to his car. He thought of the gift of birthright and how Terry's people had been blessed and cursed by being born Indian. The truest race, punished for its nobility, was being erased slowly and methodically. It was an unanticipated conspiracy. By compensating for guilt, they took away the soul of the race. It has become genocidal suicide. He thought of the future and of the free pick-ups and cash and the lack of ambition and the darkness of the future for Terry's people and he shook his head. He wondered what was sadder, the fact that no one could change things or that no one would even try.
The Birth Of The Blues
"Everybody gets the blues
everybody gets the blues
ain't no matter what you do's
Everybody gets the blues."
The mere sight of powder blue depressed her. Greens, reds, and lavenders didn't seem to bother her at all. In fact, she loved colour. But powder blue set her off. It unleashed an overwhelming melancholy in her that was near pure depression. She didn't understand it. She just accepted it.
She couldn't remember when powder blue didn't effect her. It might have been her whole life. She just didn't know. It was one of those things she lived with—like freckles, or acne. She didn't understand it, she just accepted it.
* * * * *
He loved her. The story on how they met and how they fell in love is really not important. He was simply, completely in love.
One day he came home and caught her crying with her head in a pillow. He ran to her, dropped to his knees, and held her. "What's wrong?" he said, "What's wrong?" She just look at him and held on to his neck until he thought it would break. He saw the sadness in her eyes. He held on tighter.
On the table, over his shoulder, he saw a magazine opened up. The page was wrinkled from so many tears, it appeared to have been dropped into a bath. On the open page, was an advertisement for bridal gowns with three, too-pretty, smiling models and flowers. There he noticed it—the backdrop, it was powder blue. He held on tighter.
It was shortly after they met, she told him of what powder blue did to her. He didn't understand. He did talk to a doctor friend of his who told him of something called inanimate transference. It was a theory in which someone actually transfers all their pains into one object, or in her case, a colour. He still didn't understand, but he did try.
One afternoon, while lunching in the park, she whirled around in his arms and caught sight of a passing bus. A banner, stretched along the side, promoted a local radio station. The letters were big and black and outlined in powder blue. As quickly as it took to draw in a breath, she began crying. He held on to her—he didn't understand it all, but he tried.
He bought a little powder blue post card and kept it in his secret file case. Whenever he needed a reason to love her he pulled it out. Once, he just sat on the edge of their bed and stared into it for what seemed like hours. To him it held no secret power, no magic. He didn't feel anything but love for her. He filed the post card away.
He suggested psychotherapy, or home hypnotism, but she wasn't interested. It was that part of her that he had to understand. He didn't, but he did try.
On business, he left town for three weeks. She couldn't go. He sat in his hotel room and missed her. How he wanted to touch her, to hold her. If she was to cry now, he would be a thousand miles away. He pulled from his case the powder blue post card. It always served to remind him of her and now, it was the only thing he had. He held it in his palm and stared into it. He thought of her and thought of her being away from him and he became sad. Looking down at the card, he noticed a teardrop, then a second, then a third. He reached up to his eyes and found he was crying. He wished she was there to hold him. He finally understood.
He came home and kissed her so hard she was embarrassed. He told her he had missed her and loved her, but didn't mention the post card. He did stop trying to cure her. He understood that everyone had to hold their own sorrows in their own way. He knew that no matter how much he loved her, he couldn't change what powder blue did to her.
She wondered why he stopped fusing over trying to find a cure for her. She did know that he made her so very happy. He was always there for her and she felt so safe in his arms.
So happy that she was, she didn't even notice that her bouts with powder blue were becoming less and less frequent.
She didn't even notice how content she had become.
She didn't notice how he laboured to make her smile.
It was all worth it to him. He loved her.
She did notice though, that he was always there for her. Always a breath away. Right by her side.
What she didn't see was that he was also always a few steps ahead of her painting powder blue out of her world.
* * * * *
He held her as she cried and looked down at the bridal ad. His lips curled like a smile as he shook his head. How did that magazine get in here? He held her. He understood.
Cotton And Neon
Chilled red wine swirled in the crystal glass just before her dark red lipstick stained the edges leaving a perfect impression of the perfect lips that begged desire. Two hours ago, they were strangers at a night club trying to talk above the too-loud dance band acting out poses from long ago remembered postcards. He was awkward, stumpish, and big-cheeked-that was the quickest way to describe him. She was long and sleek, and fit the short black dress impeccably. Even leaning against the small round table that held their drinks, she towered over him. He wore an over-sized camel hair suit, and peeked out of thick horned-rimmed glasses looking as out of place as she looked above it.
He sounded excitable, "What are you thinking?"
She smiled as she brought the wine back to her lips. "Oh...just that this is some night."
"I'll say. God, you're beautiful." He was like a boy dashing around trying to please. He poured her more wine, asked her what station she wanted on the hi-fi, and reached out to touch her a hundred times. Finally...he did.
His one touch erupted in love-making that was indescribable. She was the most passionate person he had ever met in his limited ventures into sex. She was in control. Every desire he had, he had only to think of, before she would please it. Volumes of books and films couldn't record the eroticism in those moments. He was sexually fulfilled.
In the aftermath, he sat drained and in the woes of alcohol. "Could I tell you something?" he asked her.
"Sure," she said locked in an embrace stroking his back.
"I've got a secret that I've never told anyone, but if I don't tell you, I swear I'll just explode."
"We couldn't have that now, could we?"
"I've lived with this for so long, and now, I feel a weight being lifted in just the thought of telling someone. I swear, you're not going to believe this."
"Let's just see."
"Ok," he sat up and looked deep into her dark eyes, "Well...I don't know where to start...OK, this is it. I haven't always been a human." He looked at her to gauge her shock; there was none. "I've only been human for three years. You see, I met this genie who granted me a wish. I thought and thought for what seemed like forever before I decided what I really wanted was to be human. Oh, I don't miss my old life, much. Of course, I know I'll live longer as a human, but I still have a fondness for cloth. And, at times, I find myself hanging around neon, but it was worth it." He looked into her eyes, "Shocked?"
"No, not really."
"You don't mind?"
"You don't care that I'm not human?"
She shook her head.
"You don't care that I used to be a..."
"Yeah," he was shocked, "a moth; how did you know I was..."
She stroked his back and drew him closer. "Oh...I knew from the start. It's very difficult for a moth to act human at night. Silly, silly boy. So this genie, was his name Allabna?"
"I've met him. You see, I have only been a human for two years myself. In my case though, I don't miss a thing. I used to be a black widow." Suddenly he felt a piercing sting in his spine. In one quick movement, she stung him and filled his body with poison.
He lay paralyzed on her bed watching as she devoured him. He felt no pain, but watched as she ripped pieces out of his body.
"This genie, Allabna," she told him, "he spent a good deal of time granting wishes to insects. And thank god he did. I get so lonely, you know...so, so lonely." She pulled a piece out of his neck and all went dark. His last thought was to curse the man who invented polyester; he was cruel man, such a cruel, cruel man, no thought for the common moth; none what so ever. Then he died.
Love As A Weakness
"I need a drink," she said as she pushed the comeback cup across the table spilling the ice inside.
"Don't you think you've had enough?"
"I don't think so. Look, I can still stand." She stood up from the counter she was leaning on and twirled. "Oh, god," she said as she fell to the floor, "I shouldn't have done that."
There she lay in the fetal position, head tucked into the floor, moaning. He came across the counter and lifted her up onto his lap. With his shirt sleeve, he wiped the combination of sweat and spit off her face. She rolled off him and tried to stand.
"I need a drink," she said grabbing the nearest stationary object, "pour me a drink."
He sat in the spot that she fell in and shook his head.
"If you love me, you'll pour me a drink..."
He looked at her.
"You do love me, don't you?"
He stood and walked back toward the counter.
"You pussy," she yelled. "Christ, I have to get drunk to see how much of a puss you really are."
He filled her cup and handed it to her. She reached out and grabbed his arm. She kissed him and he kissed her. He held her in his arms and lifted her off the ground. Passion was thick.
Finally she pulled away, leaving her hand on his thigh. "You love me, don't you?"
He finally said what she knew he would, "Yes..."
She stroked him and smiled, "You'd do anything for me, wouldn't you?"
"And all I'd have to do was ask, huh?"
He didn't answer. He just nodded.
She mocked him, "Puss."
He couldn't look at her.
"You'd kiss my ass if I asked you to, wouldn't you?"
He couldn't look at her.
She sounded surprised, "You would, you'd kiss my ass."
He lost his grip on her back.
"Yeah...that's what I want you to do. I want you to kiss my ass."
He shook his bowed head.
He remembered when they first met. She was everything he wanted. They met like most boys meet girls—he was a local-hire roadie for the BERLIN concert and she was one of those kinds of girls who always happened to own a backstage pass.
She told him of her dreams and he told her his and they shared a secret sorrow with each other. He fell in love with her the night she drank too much vodka and ended up on her knees face deep in the porcelain alter. He held her head and stroked her hair and fell forever in love with her. Imagine realizing the moment of love while holding someone blowing chow. He became dedicated to her.
He loved her and she knew it. Love became his weakness. He leaned back on the counter and realized she might be serious.
"Do it now, kiss my ass."
"Denise," he said, "I love you. But I can't be with you. I have to go. I have to get away from you. I don't even know who you are. If you'd only make up my mind..."
"You know," he continued, "I can't stand to be away from you, but when I'm with you, I can't stand to be near you. Why did you do this to me? Why did you take my soul away from me?"
She looked at him and laughed, "Are you gonna take me to REM tomorrow?"
"You don't hear me, do you?"
"Maybe," she screamed, "if you said something..."
"God, Denise..." He walked over to the door. With all the strength he owned, and with the only speck of self-respect he had left, he walked out.
"Get back here, you bastard. Don't walk out on me. Get back here. Robert...Robert, you fucker...come back." She stopped screaming. "Robert, if you love me...you'll come back."
He never did.
Six months later, some new boy sat in the half dark of her bedroom and stroked her back. He wiped tears from her face and fell in love with her. "...so I swore it would never happen again. Men only hurt me. And I couldn't go that again. So if you love me, understand that, OK? The last guy I loved hurt me like no one has ever been hurt. I swore I'd never get over him. The bastard..."
This new boy felt himself give his heart to her. He felt that he finally found the perfect girl.
"If you love me, you'll be patient." She grabbed his thigh. She jumped up and pushed him back to the bed. "I need a drink," she said, "go pour me a drink."
He jumped up and walked to her counter. He loved her and thought that she needed his love. No one should be hurt like this Robert hurt her. The bastard, he thought, the selfish bastard.
"...Well?" he asked.
She tried to answer, but all she could do was wiggle nervously on his worn sofa. She had been looking into his eyes when he asked her the question and now she was frozen in a blank stare. If only, she thought, time could stand still. If only she could go back and stop him. She knew this moment was coming. She all but regretted it. But wishing this time away didn't change things. She was stuck staring into his eyes as he waited for the answer.
"Well...?" He pressed her again.
"I knew this was coming," she said, breaking eye contact, "I knew this was gonna happen. All my life I've waited for this moment, and all my life I've managed to avoid it." She sank back into his sofa and took a deep breath. "I can't believe I let this happen." She looked up toward the tiled ceiling and spoke to herself, "You were always so careful, never letting your heart get in the way." She looked back over toward him but was never caught by his eye. She continued, "You know, deep down I wanted this to happen. I guess I even prayed for someone like you. I wished that you'd never come, but in reality I've lived on the hope that someday someone like you would be sitting here asking me that question.
"I've always lived day to day running from a past I never knew but guilty of anyway. Every time someone came close, I'd run away; never letting anyone touch my heart. But you touched me, and now...I just don't know anymore. I've already told you that you've made me happy. I mean that. Since I came to this stupid university and met you, my life has changed. For just a while, I forgot who I was and who I'll always be. For just a time, I knew what happiness was. You see, no one ever loved me before...I guess I didn't give anyone much of a chance. Listen, it hasn't been easy being me." She looked over at him and saw his eyes fall, "No, don't feel sorry for me. Christ, I've done enough of that myself already. I want you to know that I do love you. I do.
"So now I'm gonna tell you something about myself that no one else knows. I'm gonna let you in on my secret...my guilt. It's something I had hoped I'd never have to share. But I think you should know. Then, after I tell you, and you know the truth, if you still want to, you can ask me about marriage and I'll answer. Is that a deal?"
He nodded and fell back to the sofa. He was breathing in regular but too short of breaths.
She sat up and looked out the closed window; it was dark outside. "I'm not American, you know. My father is, but my mother is Russian. My father went to Russia and met my mother in Minsk. They got married and he started working at some electronics plant. When I was born, we got permission to move to America. We lived with my grandmother in New Orleans for sometime; then moved around to Little Rock, Houston, Atlanta, and Dallas. I don't remember these things, but this is what I've been told. And of course, I've read about it.
"I was too young to remember what happened, but I feel it—I've lived with it everyday. I'm sure my father's intention wasn't to hurt me. I'm sure he loved me very much, but I don't know. l do know that I spend all my days thinking about it and sleep all night dreaming of the guilt. I wake up shaking and wondering who knows my secret. I feel so dirty and hated and I can hardly look someone in the eyes for fear that they might say something about what my father did.
"I've lied to people about my father and what happened when I was three. Three years old...Christ, you'd think I'd get over something I was too young to remember. You'd think I'd get on with my life knowing that I had nothing to do with it.
"I was innocent, and my father died long before I could ask him why. I've always wondered if he knew what he was doing. I wonder if he had known how I was to be effected by his crime; if he knew that I'd cry every night praying I was never ever born to him. If he knew the pain it would leave in this world, I wonder if he would have still done it? I just can't help but wonder. I wish he would have lived long enough to answer my questions. The quilt is bad enough to live with, it's the not knowing why that eats me up. I just want to know why.
"I can't help feel this way, I can't help but feel sorry for myself. You've brought the only sun into my life, and I don't want to cloud your heart too. I don't want you to go down with me. I love you too much. You don't need my guilt.
"Sometimes I think someone sent you to me to make up for the hell I was given at three years of age. You are my sanctuary. You are why I've lived with the guilt for all these years. I don't want to share my pain, I want to forget them. You see, I've come to believe that you are my saviour, that you are reward for my repenting. But I wanted you to know about me. I wanted you to be sure.
"I want you to be positive you love me. I want you to love me despite myself, my past, and my father. I want you to wash away the past and help me destroy the guilt that has been destroying me all these years. I want you to tell me that what my father did is over and no matter how much I want to change the past, I can't and that I should just go on living my own life. I want you to be sure that after you knew who I really was, that you could love me anyway. That's what I want.
"I want to tell you...but still it's hard...the words just won't leave my tongue. Look at me. Look!" He turned, but it took effort. She looked at him and continued. "My father did the worst thing a man can do. I was three, I don't remember. I hate him, but I can't, he's my father. You're supposed to hate the man who did what he did, but I couldn't. I'm supposed to love him. I'm torn, I've always been torn. I waste all my tears wishing he was never my father, I spend nights crying, guilty for his sin. Everyone hates him, but I...I still love him. He was guilty of one of man's gravest crimes, and I still love him. He altered my live forever and I still love him. I don't remember his eyes or his hair or how he smelled. But every time I see his picture, I'm rushed with emotion. He's my father. And no matter what I say or do, or what I believe or deny, the fact is that my father killed the President. My father is Lee Harvey Oswald...You see, I'm guilty...I am the assassin's daughter."
Not So Great Expectations
It only took a moment before he realized that black wasn't the real colour of her hair. Gray smoke twisted in the air under the force of her breath as she rhythmically brought a long-ashed cigarette to her mouth. As she drew in quick breaths, she squinted. It seemed like a job to her to be smoking—a job she did well. She was new in the bar (not new, but new to him) and it was his turn to leave with her. The night was cold, as late November can be, and like most nights, the only solace that could be found was in the black-haired girl.
No one knew her name. In company, they called her babe, and apart, they called her the black haired girl. She was strange even in a bar that catered to strange people. Pale faced and dressed all in black, she just sat alone owning a secret smile. Different days, different people would go over to her with espresso and lemon peel and try to take her home. It seemed the one rule she had about leaving with someone was they had to ask her. Someone always did because she always walked out the door with someone new to sleep with. She never discriminated either; be it race, creed, colour, or sex. All she needed was a stranger.
Rumour had it that she was the china doll-skinned girl in Jack Kerouac's travel guide for the beat. She never said whether or not it was true. She just smiled that secret smile and left with the stranger d' jour.
It was a difficult night for everyone in 'THE WHOLE'—the name of the coffee bar in which they all existed. It was hard being esoteric on this Thursday night. Earlier that day, on the other side of the country, in the heat of the Texas sun, somebody killed the President. Of course, he wasn't their President. They spent a great deal of time inventing their own society. So this boyish rich demi-god who now owned three bullets in his head was only a figure head of the establishment they so despised. None-the-less, the murder of the President caused a gap that filled the night.
She was strangely jovial. Everyone else wanted to grieve; she only wanted to leave with the next stranger. When he sat down with her, she giggled and said, "I was wondering when we'd get around to you."
He ordered two espressos and watched as she danced around the table. He was angry and embarrassed and asked her how she could be so happy when the President was dead.
"Because I'm alive," she answered.
"But aren't you sad?"
"I'm through being sad. In fact, I've learned how to make this world pretty and good."
"Easy...I've lowered my expectations. Too many people expect too much from life and therefore are disappointed when shit happens. Not me, I don't expect nothing so when nothing happens, I'm happy." She paused expecting a debate; he wasn't there to argue. She unsuspectingly blurted out, "I'm sick of being unhappy. I'm fed up with bullshit. You wanna ball or what?"
He looked at her for a long time, trying to understand who she was. He knew that she was masking a trauma, or excusing herself from guilt. He knew that she was truly unhappy and existed by laughing on the outside and crying on the inside and that the strangers she left with were only a temporary respite. He saw how sad she was and said, "Sure."
On the walk to his flat, he asked her her name.
"Babe," she said, "I thought you knew that."
"Your real name?"
"I don't have one." Then she laughed. "Can we grab some 'Sneaky Pete' and rag?"
He walked into a little corner market and brought out a paper bag.
"How 'bout a cig now?" she asked, "It'll relax me." She leaned in and grabbed his arm. " And I think you'll be wanting me relaxed."
The next morning he felt tired but fulfilled. He leaned over to her and kissed her good morning. She had melted into his body last night (and he into her's) and she gave him love that was not only complete but absolute. He felt proud to have given himself to her. She seemed to have existed so that he could. Every move he made was like a symphony, every touch was like the summer wind. Every kiss was like a new breath. She was perfect for him.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. He reached down to kiss her mouth and she leaned up to meet him. He couldn't help himself, but he was so happy, he said, "I love you."
She fell back to the bed and covered her head with the pillow. "No," she said, "don't do that. What's gotten into you? Christ, who the hell do you think you are?"
"But last night..." he said.
"Yeah...we were good. I was good."
She took the pillow off her head and threw it at him. "God, you're so stupid." She pulled at her black hair. "OK, I admit you were good. But don't you remember what I told you?" She leaned up and grabbed his face. "Every one's good for me...even you. Let's just say you were rewarded by my low expectations."
Requiem For A Butcher
The thumping at the door interrupted Wheel Of Fortune just as she was about to solve the puzzle. Walking toward the door, she watched as they added a vowel, then paused until the door sounded again. Straightening her back the second she opened the door, she was truly surprised to see two policemen standing with hats in hand.
"Are you Mary Feeney?" one of them asked.
Though she hadn't had a drink all day, she tried to sound sober, "Yes...Am I in some sort of trouble?"
The shorter cop, the one with steel rimmed glasses, stepped forward as if to enter. "We're here to ask you some questions," he said.
Blocking the door, expecting invasion, she shook her head and asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, ma'am," answered the tall one, "we just need to ask you some questions. It shouldn't take much time. Can we come in?"
She looked at his badge and his nameplate and stepped aside. The smaller cop looked over her shoulder inspecting the room. She pulled her hand through her hair and back-peddled into the one room apartment. "Yeah," she said, "sure, come in." She turned and picked up the pile of newspapers and magazines that were haphazardly thrown on the floor. She punched the off knob on the television and sat in her towel-covered recliner. "Please," she told them, "sit down."
"Thank you," said the tall one, "I am Officer Paine, and this is Officer Stax. We need to ask you a few questions. We'll be brief and hopefully be out of here in a few minutes, Please bare with us." As he spoke, he reached into his left breast pocket with his left hand and pulled out a little blue notebook. "Ma'am," he continued without looking at her, "Do you know Martin Walker?"
She sounded shocked, "Martin Walker?"
"Yes," interrupted Officer Stax, "Martin Steven Walker, age 35, white male..."
"Yeah, I know him. Why?"
"Ma'am..." began Officer Paine.
She interrupted back, "I didn't know him too well."
"Yes, ma'am. How did you know him?"
"I...we...dated a few times."
"A few?" pushed Stax.
"Yes," she nodded defensively, "two or three times."
Paine took her attention and asked, "What kind of guy was he?"
"He was...sort of weird."
"What do you mean by weird?" Paine asked the question without looking at her. She shook her head until he looked up and caught her eye. "Weird in what kind of ways?" he pushed.
"Oh...you know...just weird."
Officer Paine reached out and touched her hand. It shocked her enough to jump. She saw the seriousness in his eyes and the impatience in Stax's. Paine pressed her again, "Please, ma'am, this is very important."
She sat back hard on the easy chair. "Listen," she said, "I don't know what this is all about, but...we dated. He bought me dinner; we saw a show; we had a few drinks. I met him over at the laundry. He said he lived..." She paused and looked at the ceiling. "Oh, " she continued with a burst of recollection, "I mean the laundry down on Blair. He said he lived over on King and Fifth and...Now I never went over there, mind you. We went out, that's all."
"Yes," said Paine, "I understand. Listen, did he do much talking?"
"That's the funny part. Sometimes he'd talk on and on. He'd go on forever and when he was done, I didn't know what he had said. I tried to listen, I guess he was just boring." She grew more and more comfortable as she realized she was sitting in the sanctuary of her own living room. "He wasn't the best looking man I ever went out with. In fact, the only reason we went out at all that first time was because I simply wasn't quick enough to come up with an excuse. The next couple of times we went out was because I was tired of cooking and he was buying. No big deal."
They listened to her quick trip through the evening, the movie at the RKO on Chester, the dinner at the diner under the tracks, the drink at the dive on the corner, and the bus ride back and forth. It was a plain story, leaving out only details. She thought her story was over.
"Did he ever come over here?" Paine questioned her.
"Of course, he picked me up."
"Oh yes, of course." Paine stopped writing and looked up, "Miss Feeney, I know this might seem personal, but it sounds to me as if you're leaving something out. You've got to tell me everything. It's important, believe me, it is important."
She paused again, then volunteered, "I asked him to stay the night. And he was going to...He tried, I mean we tried. He couldn't. I don't know why. God, it was so embarrassing. I know I shouldn't have, but I laughed. He started crying, and I laughed again. I called him queer. He just crawled up underneath my sofa and cried. I know I shouldn't have...but what could I do? I was embarrassed."
It was silent for a moment. Officer Stax broke the quiet with another question. "When was this?"
"Let's see...that was...God, I just started at Data-Com. That was three years ago." Her eyes lit up. "Three years? Let's see, one, two, yes, three years ago. Wow."
"Was that the last time you saw or heard from him?" Paine asked.
"Yeah, that was the last time. I hope he's not in any kind of trouble or anything. He was kinda goofy, but...I don't think he was a bad guy or anything."
Paine shook his head and continued writing. It was quiet for some time before she finally asked, "Is he in any trouble?"
Stax stood quickly and leaned toward her. In a voice one saves for inquisition, he said, "Last night, six states away in some little Arkansas town, one Martin Steven Walker walked into a movie theater with a loaded shotgun and killed nine people. He then held the local police at bay for several hours wounding nine more and taking hostages. Early this morning, when he came close to exhausting his ammunition, he released all his hostages, and in front of dozens of witnesses and a couple of news cameras, he turned the shotgun on himself. The last words he said before blowing his brains out were, I hate you, Mary Feeney!
An American Shame
The instant pause the city was thrown into was released as the echo of the thunderstruck faded. The day ended and night was to begin with the dark heavy clouds coming out of the mountains to the west. To the east, what was left of today rolled seemingly on forever. Most of the storm will leave the town alone tonight. Already I can see the lightning flash north. In a short hour, just beyond the curve of the earth, Cheyenne would be bathed in this July storm. But now, the crowd moves back to motion waiting for the next shudder from the sky.
I sit head down, pretending to read from yesterday's paper, keeping one eye on my much too slow watch. Impatiently, I wait for that appointed hour I set for myself as a going home time. A dark green park bench, under what shade the thin overcast sky afforded, was my refuge for this Sunday. Another useless fact I concentrate on until the thunder froze the crowd again.
As the new thunder faded, a voice interrupted my waiting...
I looked up and almost sincerely said, "Sure, I'm sorry, sit."
"Many, many thanks," she said, "legs too old."
I smiled and got back to my make-believe afternoon of reading. In my mind, I filed a quick description of the old lady. Late fifties, perhaps sixty; five one, five two; silver hair, almost too perfect teeth; and a round face. Maybe Chinese, maybe Japanese, I have trouble telling the two apart.
"You live in town?"
I almost didn't hear the question. "Huh?...oh, yeah."
"I think Denver pretty. You think Denver pretty?"
"Yeah, sure, why not?"
"I live in El Segundo, that in California...you hear of El Segundo?"
I turn to face her and shake my head, "No, is it a pretty place?"
She smiled, "No, too far from nowhere to be pretty. It pretty safe though." That's where I thought the dialogue would end. She continued, "I live with son and son's wife. Big house. She like me. I stay out of her kitchen and she let me stay with grandchildren. She not Japanese. I like her anyway.
"Son work for government. Make good money. He not lazy. He good boy." She spoke with a pleasant smile and magnetically drew my interest. "You born in Denver?"
"Been here all my nineteen years." I answered.
"I born in Oakland. Daddy own big market on Whelly Street. I remember Whelly Street. We happy on Whelly Street."
I interrupt her, "I've been to Oakland."
"It not hard to be happy in Oakland." Maybe she didn't hear me. "We happy. I remember every weekend we drive...daddy drive a Ford...so we drive Ford to Chinatown. We go morning, and come back after night. We drive back late, but daddy always wake me up when drive over bridge. I like to see bridge. Both daddy and mother born in Kyoto. That in Japan. He tell me he meet mother on Shiki Bridge. Shiki Bridge holy place. Mother walk over every day to pray. Daddy always wait for her to come back. She fourteen when they marry. Mother tell me it good place to meet husband, so I make daddy wake me up when we come home from Chinatown. Your Denver have no bridges?"
"Well, we got the Colorado River suspension bridge. Highest in the world."
"Oh, I not see bridge, Maybe next time in Denver."
"It's a little farther south. This your first time in Denver?"
"No..." Her smile faded. "I come in 1942. It raining then."
I smiled, "It rains most of the time here. 1942? That was almost twenty years before I was born. What was Denver like then?"
"I only sixteen," she said, "sixteen...I no want come to Denver. Oakland happy place. I remember day daddy tell me to get clothes and one doll because we move away. Mother and me cry. Baby brother tell her that little men don't cry. Then we on train and daddy gone. Mother and me and lots of other Japanese people on train. We come to Denver." She paused. I waited. Finally, she continued, "This my vacation. I come alone. I come back to see Whittington."
"Oh," I interrupted her again, "I have cousins who live up near Whittington. Do you have relatives there?"
"No, no relatives. Just mother and brother and other Japanese. I was sixteen all alone in Whittington.
I noticed that through her broken English, the one word she said without an accent was Whittington. She said it perfectly, as if she had practiced the word over and over again.
"I live sixteen year before Whittington," she continued, "I never hear word jap before. I do not know what jap mean. I ask brother what it mean. He say jap mean me. I say no, I American like him. He say no, we jap now. So here we are, all japs in Whittington. Whittington not nothing like Oakland. I not happy. I cry all the time. I see mother cry. I see brother cry. Daddy fight Nazis in Italy and he is hero and we in Whittington and japs. We eat food and sleep in beds and salute American flag every day. We say we are Americans, but still GI's stand on other side of wire with rifles. Brother try to talk to GI's, but they call him jap and walk away. Brother try to run away, try to go back to Oakland. GI's catch him and beat him up. They call him jap spy. He just boy, not spy. He hate Americans. I say you American. He tell me no, I jap. That's when I start to hate Americans.
"Whittington take my heart, then take mother. Brother and me cry. Old woman tell me mother die even in Oakland. Brother hate Americans and Whittington. Father never come back from Italy. He never see Whittington. So when we free to go, there no place to go. We are alone. No mother, no father. I grow up. I stop crying.
"Me and brother go back to Oakland after war. Daddy's market now Jew store. We have no more Oakland. America give us little money and we live with daddy's brother. I marry man I meet at festival under bay bridge and brother goes to Tokyo because he hate Americans. He leave and I don't cry. Last time I cry in Whittington. I don't have tears left to cry.
"Brother goes to China to fight Americans in Korea. Japanese hate Chinese for thousands of years. And so does brother, but he hate Americans more. He kill many Americans before war end. Then he come back to Oakland and say he don't hate Americans no more. I only hate Americans a little. I hate Whittington most. Brother had to kill Americans to forgive. I sorry for American mothers, but I still don't cry. Brother owns business in Seattle and he likes Americans. I marry and move to El Segundo with husband who hate Americans a little. For many years, we speak only Japanese. Husband old. He fight in Italy, but don't know my father. He kill Nazis and won metals. He not understand Whittington. I not tell him. He die last year, and I don't cry. I live with son and wife. I not forget Whittington. I come back for vacation. Denver pretty place when it not raining."
I looked around and see that she's right. Denver is a pretty place. To the east, fertile farmland stretches out to the Great Plains as far as the eye can see, and to the west, the powerful Rocky Mountain rise up almost forever. Denver isn't spoiled by industry. It's a perfect marriage of concrete and clay. Man has yet to take away the beauty of this mile high city.
I turned to see the old lady nodding her head. She sat, eyes closed, smiling; just nodding her head. "Yesterday I go back to Whittington," she continued, "Buildings all gone, but mountains still there. I walk around where the buildings were. I remember everyday back when I was a girl. I walk to where the building that I sleep used to be, and where we eat, and where mother die. It all come back to me. I walk around in empty field, and stop. I stop and I not know why. Then I remember that this is where wire was. I still afraid to cross line. I hear mother cry, and I hear brother cry. I sit and cry. I cry and cry. Brother had to kill GI's to forgive and forget. I had to come back and cry. I no jap, I'm a Japanese. I'm an American. And I not hate Whittington no more. I forgive you."
I sat there not knowing what to say. "I..." I stumbled out, "I didn't know we had one of those..."
She helped me, "Whittingtons?"
"Yes," I said, "a Whittington."
"It took days for America to forget Whittington. It take life for japs to forget. If you be good American, you not forget Whittington."
"Can I say I'm sorry."
"Yes," she said, "I lost Oakland, mother and father, and forty years remembering. I go back yesterday and now I can cry and you can say you are sorry. And I can say I forgive you.
"Denver is pretty place. Old women need pretty places. When legs grow tired, old women need pretty places to rest. I thank you for letting me rest here in your Denver.
"I feel like white bird singing pretty songs. I forget Whittington and I can cry again. I go now. I go to airport; fly back to California. You come to El Segundo someday. Yes, do come. And no hate japs. Japs cry like you. And no forget Whittington. Americans should cry there too. Whittington a shame. Whittington an American shame."
I watched as she stood and wobbled away. I was struck. I watched her walk to the corner and watched as a taxi magically appeared. She turned around with the little smile and waved. As soon as the door closed, the rains came. Thunder blew out of the sky causing the people crowded into park to freeze again.
To this day I still think of Whittington, El Segundo, and that old lady. I still cry when I think of what we had done. And I still watch the sky when it thunders. I also think of how fitting that it rain as she drove away out of Denver. With memories of Whittington resolved, now she can remember how pretty Denver is in the rain.
"My god," she whispered, "I'm shaking."
An audible laugh escaped, "You're supposed too," he said.
She stood up and crossed the blue-darkened room. In the half light, she saw his arms stretched out toward her. She trusted him—that much was perfectly true. She believed in him—no one else did. They all called him trash. She knew better. He alone understood her. When she laughed, he thought it was funny. When she cried, he didn't run away. These last two months have stood still for her.
"I love you, you know that?" she said.
"...yeah, I know." He was the only man she knew whose whisper was loud. He continued, "Do you trust me?"
"Do you love me?"
"...yeah," she said even lower.
"Do you believe in me?"
"I do..." It was all she could do to talk. "I do believe you."
With eyes wide open and in his loud whisper, he said, "You know what we have to do?"
Had he not been anticipating the answer, he would have not heard it.
Seventeen years ago, she was born into a world skewered with violence. June 20, 1968. On the morning she sucked in her first breath, the middle Kennedy choked his last. Not two month before, a black shouter was silenced on a Memphis motel balcony. Hate was burning in inner cities and no one knew the cure. Her mother's generation grew up not knowing what a Vietnam was; her generation would have to live under its weight.
Her mother hated him the moment she brought him home from school that first day. He's nine years older than you, baby, her mother told her, and he's got that crazy look in his eyes. He's no good, baby, no good at all. And anyway, what's a girl like you, already with a nine month old boy to drag around, gonna do with trash like that?
The baby boy was a gift from some long ago forgotten camaro evening and beer. She loved her baby, it was the only thing she had. He loved her baby too, she knew it.
"What were you before I found you?" he questioned her.
"...I'll tell you. You were a fucking slut, weren't you? I saved you, didn't I?"
Her tears fell heavy. She couldn't stop them. He was right, of course. He alone knew the true her. He alone saved her from herself. "I know..." she sniffled, "I know."
His eyes lit up brighter than the sun off water. Right then, in the blue light, he looked almost fluorescent. She could see her soul in his eyes, and the absence of his.
He said, "You know what we have to do. What we've talked about."
She didn't even look up. "Yes...I know."
"Do you trust me?"
The pounding of her heart almost drowned out his voice.
"Do you believe in me?" he asked.
"I do...I'm cold."
She felt him smile. He said, "I know you are...I know."
And he did, he knew all about her. He knew what scared her, what she hated, who she feared. He knew where she liked to be touched and what made her cry. These past few months have stood still for her.
He took her face in his hands. "Then we do it."
Air pressed into her lungs in—between her too-short breaths and tears, "...OK."
He stood and followed the only light out of the room. She fell to her knees. Her legs melted. She pressed her head to the carpet covering both ears. She still heard the blast. She stopped breathing, but only for a moment. He returned elbow deep in blood. "Don't worry," he said, "he didn't feel a thing."
"Oh God..." she cried.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
She nodded slowly.
"Do you trust me?"
She didn't move.
He handed her the gun. The cold steel of the handle seemed odd compared to the hot barrel. "Do you love me?" he asked again. The gun weighed a hundred pounds. He continued, "Do you believe in me?"
She looked into his eyes, and she believed in him. He alone knew her. He was the only thing real in her wasted life. She worshipped him.
"You know what to do," he said, "your baby's waiting."
That voice, she thought, he was speaking inside her mind.
"It's what's right." he said, "it proves your pure love for me. You do love me, don't you?"
She could barely speak. Her voice was just a loud breath, "I do love you."
"It's what we have to do."
She cried and tried to breath; it was more like quick sucks of air she drew in to spit out. She closed her eyes and realized that it was all too late.
"My god," she said, "I'm still shaking."
"It will all be better in a moment. Do you love me?"
He helped her turn the gun around. "Do you believe in me?"
With a smile, he whispered into her mind, "Who am I? Who did I tell you I was? Have I ever lied to you before? Who am I? Who did I say that I was?"
She stared at the hollow barrel and with his conviction, she replied, "God." She pulled the trigger. At that very last moment, her eyes were as vacant as his. She was empty. The last two months stopped still.
"Did I tell you that I started a new story last night?" There was no answer. "I call it, If God Could Swim. I'm not sure if it's a comedy or tragedy yet; could go either way. It'll probably be a tragedy, I write sad better." There was a pause. "You're not gonna try and stop me, are yeah?"
"I don't think I could."
"Good." His head hung low, "I'm doing it this time." Long pause. "I'm going through with it." He finally took his face out of his hands, "I'm gonna kill myself, Gordon."
"Good luck this time."
"I'm serious. This time I mean it."
"OK, tell me why." He shot sarcastically.
"Look, I'm here for your help. If you just want to make fun of me, I'll get the hell out of here."
"I'm sorry. Tell me what happened. Why are you going to kill yourself?"
He thought about it for a second. He was about to answer, then he shrugged, "I don't know, I just am. That's all, just am. Do I need a reason?"
"To eat rice cakes, no. But suicide, yeah, you need a reason."
That brought a half-laugh from him. He sat hunched over as if in pain. His face was white, pale, almost sick looking. His hands were as white as his face and his lips were dry and cracked. He moved in unsure jerks. "Look, Gordon," he said, "I need help. Are you gonna help me, or what?"
"You're right. How you gonna do it? Gun? Poison? Yeah, how about sleeping pills? Twenty safety coated caplets and bingo, it's the promised land."
"No, it has to be a gun. I've done a lot of thinking, and it has to be sudden and thunderous. It has to be a one time thing, or I'll back out of it. I couldn't do it, then be alive one second after. I'd find a way to live. It has to be with a bang. Something I couldn't change. I'm sorry, Gordon. It's just that...I'm a puss. I can't help it."
"Do you have a gun?"
"You might need one."
"You have one, don't you?"
"Yeah, a little one."
"It'll work, won't it?"
"Yeah, it'll work. Maybe. But it might not blow your whole head off."
"You sonofabitch, here I am asking for your help, and you're just making fun of me. I'm serious this time. I'm gonna kill myself."
"You know what, John, I believe you are."
"You're damn right I am. Are you gonna help me?"
"Sure...sure I'll help."
A thick silence filled the room. Gordon wanted to say something, but didn't know exactly what John wanted to hear. This wasn't the first time John had come over with a suicide wish. In fact, it no longer shocked Gordon to have this grown boy whimpering like a child on his sofa. Gordon figured his job was to be there as a sounding board to let what ever bothered John escape.
It was difficult pinpointing what bothered John. It seemed everything bothered him. He was the kind of guy that wasn't happy unless he was unhappy. He lived under sorrow. He wasn't sad. In fact, sad would have been a step up for him. He just took everything too damn seriously. Gordon sat waiting for John to open up. Finally, he did.
"Damn it...what's the use of it all? I give up. I'm wasted. I've given all I can. I'm empty,...drawn; I'm hollow, I'm out of chances. There's no way I'll be able to make anything out of myself—or my life." John sat face down in his own pity. "I've come to the end of my own line."
Gordon leaned into John, "What is it?"
John turned and looked Gordon right in the eyes. His eyes were hollow. It almost made Gordon suicidal. John looked away. He sat still for a second, no, for a minute. Time had halted. Finally, he spoke, "I've come to doubt my own lies," he said, "I mean, all my life I've yelled up to the sky, Listen here, you. John Maller says that there is no god. Do you hear me? I say you don't exist. There is no god. I swear he answered me. I swear I heard him laughing. He asked me if I remember ever being really happy. He laughed as if he already knew the answer. He did, he already knew."
Gordon broke the silence that followed, "Do you remember being happy?"
Again John didn't answer. He looked around the room as if searching for clues. Then he spoke, "Do you remember AMERICAN GRAFFITI? Remember the scene at the end of the movie, the one where Harrison Ford is about to race Paul LeMat? The false dawn rising up over the desert behind them. Cars lined up side-by-side. Cindy Williams in the Chevy, all of them chewing gum like they were jaw breakers. Remember Toad standing there...not breathing? Can you see the two cars lined up side-by-side? Remember? It was that black Chevy and the cropped rail job on the old Ford, do you remember that?" Gordon nodded his head. "Remember Green Onions?" John continued, "Booker T, remember? That moment before they raced and everybody holding their breath and Green Onions getting louder and louder. The roar of engines drowning out every noise except Booker T and the beating of hearts. Remember Harrison Ford and Paul LeMat staring each other down? There was no fear in their eyes. None! Just the rattle of gas powered engines and Green Onions. Remember? Remember?"
"Well...I was happy then. I remember sitting there watching that scene and being happy." John leaned over and painfully smiled, "I was happy then."
Gordon watched John slowly melt into a fetal position on the floor. John started to mumble, "It's over. I wanted so much to kill myself. I wanted to end it all. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to see for sure if there is a god, and if he was the one laughing at me. I wanted to go to him and face the consequences." John gained confidence in talking out loud. "I had hoped that I could look god right in the face when I was about to go and say nothing. If I could die without saying please, god, I figure that's what would make me a success." John fell into another silence. Gordon sat there until he became uncomfortable. He got up to walk out of the room. John sat up and said, "I'm going to do it, Gordon. I'm going to do it. I'll need your gun. Get me your gun. I'm gonna do it."
Gordon walked out of the room with no intention of getting the gun. He walked into the kitchen and ran a cold glass of water. He leaned against the counter and shook his head. He had listened and thought that it was enough.
Gordon couldn't remember John being this despairing. He stood there thinking of what to say. What if he couldn't talk John out of it? What if after all he had to say, he still wanted to go through with killing himself? He didn't have the answers. He walked back into the room.
John was on his back on the floor. He was crying out loud. He had his arms over his eyes. Tears ran like rain off his cheeks. He was out of breath. He heard Gordon walk back into the room and turned away. He tried to suck in full breaths, but found it impossible. He said, "I can't do it. I just can't go through with it. I'm worthless. I even fail on my own suicide." He turned and faced Gordon. "He came into this room a second ago."
"God. He walked over to me and laughed. He shadow punched me and I flinched. He laughed again and said, God says there is no John Maller. Then he laughed again and left." John rolled away and started crying again, "I wanted to kill myself. I really did. I was going to do it too. I was really gonna do it. Fuck, I'm a puss," he said, "an absolute puss."
The Bitterness Of Rot
I burst into this world that early March morning that marked the last of winter for the year. I entered in a rush, exploring even at that early age. I carried on as a very typical newborn, or so I am told. I must rely on others to recall the first few days in which I have no memory. I was told that I did infant things with surprising instincts—I guess I was born to be born.
Now that I have time to reflect on a short but full life, I see my past and accept why I am here right now. Not that I can see, of course. None of us can see, not in the literal sense. I mean, I understand.
We exploded into this world together. There were six of us—six together, but apart. We spent the first few months eating and drinking and absorbing the sun with innocent fervor. We were six together, but apart.
It was a warm April morning—a very typical morning, a morning like hundreds that it followed—that we were given knowledge. It happened suddenly, almost like an explosion. One moment we were stretching up to the sun, the next we knew why. It was a complete knowledge. We had no eyes, but we knew what was around us; we had no ears, but we could hear each other; we had no fingers or arms, but we felt. It was sudden and complete. We were still six, but suddenly, we were one.
We all grew nearer near our father. He spoke to us as one and we heard him as six. He told us of what to expect in life and how we must accept our fate. He told us about the water, and the sun, and the disease we all feared. He told us of the glory of self-sacrifice and the bitterness of rot. We learned what we needed to know from our father. He was there as we grew together.
Inside all of us, we had a secret nightmare, something that we knew we must not share with each other. But because we knew each other's thoughts, we were aware the others knew. None of us dared ask father about the cold liquid and never ending darkness. We accepted only that it was our shared nightmare.
Throughout the summer, we ate, drank, and reached for the sun growing closer and bigger. We lived for rain, or showers, or the stillness of a moist morning. It was the glory of being. Still, deep inside each of us, we shared the nightmare.
The heat and our growing bodies demanded more food, and water, and sun. We shared what was, and grew as six that were one.
Early September, we felt a rush of nervousness as we knew our time was near. The whole tribe was a buzz. Some of us were taken away as they grew strong and full. Away to the glory of being, giving their lives as fate had it.
I was quickly approaching that point of glory. My skin was a deep green, with only one yellow patch left. I was full inside, juicy, ready to explode. I was finally a ripe cucumber—so proud and strong. I was ready to be taken to give my body for the glory of life. It was our fate.
I remember the elation and nervousness the moment I felt the hand around me. I remember the sudden pain (but pleasure) I felt the moment I was plucked from the vine, father, and the five others. I was completely wasted as I was thrown into a wooden bucket with dozens of others like me. We were off for the glory.
We learned long ago, shortly after we were given knowledge, that the purpose of the cucumber was to refresh all other living things with the water and seed and body of our being. We were proud to be part of the chain, it was our fate; we were cucumbers.
That was a year ago. My fate was sadly different. I was not allowed the glory of the salad. I was brushed and washed and dropped into a jar of cold sour liquid. There I waded for a year in a dark room as the liquid engulfed me and saturated my full strong body with mush. This was the nightmare—this is what we all secretly feared.
Now I lay limp only a remnant of the proud cucumber of a year ago praying that others would not have to suffer this unbearable pain of the wait. It's cold here in the dark—chillingly cold. Colder than the late winter of March. We just wait and pray for a conclusion. Occasionally, the darkness is broken by a bright white light that signals hope of the end. Others have suffered my same fate. A few of us, including me, have endured the desecration of our bodies.
Once, when the light awoke us from purgatory, we were moved to daylight where I was skewered. The trident pierced my flaccid body and I was brought out of the cold liquid. I felt hands around me again, only this time, they were unwelcome and unfeeling. I was ripped in half giving only a token crack. Then, half of me was dropped back into the cold dark liquid. I felt so ashamed. I felt violated. I understand that I will never know the glory of the salad. That is not my fate. I know now why we feared the nightmares. It was justified. Because here in the cold wet darkness, I've come to know that for me there is no cucumber heaven, only pickle hell.
Cleaning God's Closets
The force of the explosion (implosion might be a better word) scarred nearly a square mile around Bakkus Hills, South Dakota. The entire town awoke and ran out into the night to find the cause of the commotion. Nothing like this ever happens in Bakkus Hills, much less at two o'clock in the morning, so when the six hundred strong came onto the meadow where the blast occurred, shock was the only word to describe it.
They found me burned and broken on the ground so near to the death I had predicted for myself. I didn't really want to die, it's just that I thought that there was no way I could survive. I was told later that the shock wave threw me into the air where I missed the most destructive force of blast and landed on the soft ground turned over by the explosion—just lucky, I guess. Imagine waking up in Bakkus Hills, South Dakota and being told that you survived the largest explosion in state history.
After I recovered, I made the talk show circuit. I was sort of famous (or maybe infamous) because of the explosion. Why was the most asked question, then how; then, of course, Bakkus Hills? Why Bakkus Hills was the easiest question to answer. I picked it because it was out of the way and if my plan failed, I didn't want too many people left in the wake. How was a bit more difficult. It was a mixture of Bacardi Rum and Diet Coke and a sliced lime. Of course, rum and coke and a lime mixed is far from volatile, but what caused the explosion wasn't what I mixed, but where it all came from.
Why I did it is very difficult to explain. I am not a hero. I am certainly not a saint. I am only a man who was put in a difficult situation and found only one way out.
It all began (and I'll give you the short short version) one day when all seemed lost. Everything was not mine and hope was so far away. I gave up. I asked a seemingly empty sky to give me justice, a reward for being tortured by life. Of course, nothing happened. Then, one day, a stranger approached me and told me he had heard my plea and that he was willing to give me all that I wanted.
For what price, I asked. I knew who he was, and having no regard for my soul, I was willing to bargain.
You will have everything you desire, he told me, everything you want, every need satisfied instantly.
All this for my soul?
No, not exactly, he said, all this for the souls of anyone you love. Your soul is free. There will be no binds on you.
At this time in my life I loved no one and no one loved me and I predicted little change in my lifetime so I gladly sliced my right index finger and signed the parchment in blood. The stranger smiled and gave me a photostat copy of the contract and told me good luck.
My first desire was a long hot bath, and almost instantly, I was neck deep in was solid gold tub surrounded by bubbles and wine. That was seven weeks before the explosion.
After a solid week of drunken sordid sex and unabashed over-indulgences, I received word that my mother had died. She fell in her kitchen and broke her neck. That's the way she would have wanted to go—with a dish towel in hand and sucking her last breath on a no-wax shine hardwood floor. God rest her soul.
I went all out and got her a solid gold casket and a mausoleum, and I even got lines and lines of mourners. As I was about to leave, the stranger appeared before me with my mother. Thanks for her soul, he said and disappeared.
Mother, I yelled, I'm so sorry.
I began to think of everyone I ever knew and might have loved and now have put in danger. I thought of all the people who had given me a smile or a nod and all those who gave me love as I grew. What have I done, I thought.
From a small brown metal file case I pulled the photostat copy of the contract. I reread the fine print. There was only one way to void the contract. It read: The party of the first part (which was me) must willfully contrive subterfuge on the party of the second part (hereto known as Mestopholes). It was the only way out.
I was sitting on a silver throne in the middle of meadow near Bakkus Hills drinking rum from a crystal goblet. The stranger appeared and asked why I begged a meeting.
My mother, I said, give her back her soul.
He laughed, a deal's a deal.
I'm talking a trade, I said, let's trade my soul for her's.
I don't need your soul, he said, you signed the contract.
Yes I did, I told him, pouring myself another drink, I just thought we could talk, I heard you liked to deal. Oh, I'm sorry, would you care for some rum?
The stranger smiled and said, only if it's aged and tempered and chilled to the perfect...
Of course, I interrupted, of course.
I poured a second goblet of rum and coke, dropped in a fist full of crushed ice, twisted in a slice of lime, and handed it to the stranger. He raised the chalice to mine and toasted, Here's hoping you loved wisely and well, he said. I smiled and swallowed.
You know, I told him, after my mother died, I had plenty of time to think about my life and of everyone I ever knew and maybe loved. I thought of the jack knife my father bought me and I cried, I thought of the pasted stars my second grade teacher arranged at the top of my coloured paper and cried. I thought of the baby girl my sister had and how it squeezed my thumb and I cried. I thought of the big eyed girl in seventh grade who smiled at me when I stumbled asking her to dance and how she danced with me and I cried. I spent all night crying thinking how loved I was and how much love I can give and I how I gave it away. I hated you for what you made me give up. I cried so much that I was able to fill cups full of tears: tears of love and tears of hope. I took those tears and froze them so that I would have proof of love. As a matter of fact, the chipped ice in your drink are my frozen tears. You've been sitting there drinking down my frozen love. Dirty trick, wouldn't you say? The goblet flew by my head and the stranger jumped up. His face turned bright red as he grabbed his throat. I can't believe this, he said, there is love inside of me. He fell to the ground and shook violently.
That's all I remember until I woke up in the hospital. I was charged with the illegal discharge of explosives, but there was no proof of what exploded so the charges were dropped. I had once again lost everything and most of my skin is covered with treated cloth, but I am free. My mother is still dead, but she is free also. She's probably in heaven right now cleaning God's closets. And like I said before, I'm on the talk show circuit, usually the first guest. I'm pretty famous now, like a movie star or something. I'm getting used to fame. I'll have to. Because now, after Bakkus Hills, South Dakota, I'll forever be the guy who killed the devil.
A Splendid Spur
Whispers echoed off the granite walls of the great hall, abundant light filled every corner with no apparent source, and the smell of Jasmine hinted with every breath. All the leaders, of all the people, be they warrior or statesman, were gathered in the great hall heeding the invitation of the Grand One. Peace was observed, nations and worlds put aside differences, and brothers and enemies alike embraced in his presence.
Almost no one in the hall could remember the big war—the one that almost destroyed everything. Certainly no one in the room was present at the last council. The laws set down at that conference still abound and the power of the Grand One was still absolute. He received his sovereign then as the victor of the war and has ruled absolutely since. Other lesser leaders have come and gone, other people have battled and lost; he alone sat on the throne and ruled. A call from the Grand One came as an order and all who governed sat in the great hall awaiting an audience.
Tart berry wine filled all goblets and remained full even after the nervous sipping by the nervous assembly. Ten billion seats were filled and ten billion mouths were stilled when the Grand One entered. The silence grew to a thunder as his white shift gracefully billowed at his feet. His face was gentle but hard, his white beard pulled his cheeks low, and he slowed as his pink lips broke into a smile. The great hall breathed as one.
"Welcome," he finally said. His whisper boomed off the granite walls. "I acknowledge you in attendance." When he sat, his hands reached for a goblet and he drank a full swallow of berry wine. Ten billion pair of eyes focused on him as he leaned back on his throne. He spoke again, "It is time I choose a successor." One loud gasp was the response.
After the hall resumed quiet, a slight dark boy arose and walked toward the throne. "I am ready, father." he said.
The Grand One reached out and touched the sleeve of the black garment worn by the dark boy. They both smiled. The Grand One spoke, "The one who follows me becomes ruler of all that is. He becomes the final decider of all that will become. He ascends to the supreme dominion. It is not an endeavor I recommend, but my successor comes with my highest recommendation." The dark boy glanced over the ten billion. The Grand One grabbed him by both hands and spoke only to him as he spoke to the ten billion. "My successor's word will be as mine. His dictate will be final. His monarch will be eternal. Follow him as you follow me—absolute." The dark boy nodded. "As your next sovereign," the Grand One continued, "as the new potentate, a forever faithful attendant..." He rose and dropped the hands of the dark boy; turning, he continued, "...my steadfast young compeer..." From the end of the table of Generals, a boyish man stood dressed in gleaming white armour. The Grand One reached out for him. "My allegiant vassal, my loyal nephew...Your new Grand One...God."
All was still, a reverent air filled the hall. Eyes looked, then looked away; they were witnessing an ascension. The dark boy sat down hard in the wooden divan and stared open-mouthed at the throne. The Grand One and the new Grand One stood side-by-side. Ten billion strong rose as one according respect. All but one rose his palm into the air saluting the new King of Kings. The dark boy alone dropped his head into his hands and cried and thought of the throne that should have been his. "Father," he whispered, "why have you deserted my heart?"
The Grand One reached out for his son; they embraced. The Grand One whispered in the dark boy's mind, "My love for you knows no bounds, your heart is my heart; your soul is mine. Son, my throne is yours by right, but not by rights. You've always been my most trusted vassal—a splendid spur. As a general, you have been invaluable. As my second, I am indebted. Understand, without explanation, my decision. I need you as a Prince. God now needs you at his side. I trust I can count on your alliance." He kissed the dark boy's cheek. The dark boy walked away.
A thousand moments passed as ten million palms faced the new Grand One. A loud still encircled the hall. In the flush of respect, the dark boy walked toward the throne with head down. Ten million hands fell realizing that this gesture out-weighed all their pomp. The dark boy stood in front of the new Grand One and knelt at his feet. "Cousin," God said, "rise with me. I need you by my side. Rise."
"For my father," the dark warrior spoke, "I kneel. For what we have become, I renounce. Today, we are allies. Tomorrow, I take my leave of your kingdom." He turned toward the ten billion. "At the next day," he shouted, "I leave with all those who wish to follow. It is not war I conspire, only retrieving what is mine. Today, I toast the Grand One; tomorrow I become Grand One. To all who follow, I recognize. Salute!"
The dark boy walked out of the hall. No one moved. Some would follow, but later, much later, after the berry wine was finished. For now, the Grand One owned the moment. No one wanted war, but no one knew why. It had been so long since the last one, no one knew the horrors. Cheers and tart berry wine flowed the whole of the day. Tomorrow would begin the darkest time man would come to know, but today they coronated a new king—a new Grand One. The granite walls of the great hall sounded with hope. War was still a tomorrow away.
In a secret chamber, the Grand One and the new Grand One shared private thoughts. "My good nephew," the Grand One said, "my son has taken his leave. This fight is yours alone. I have no word of encouragement. It will be a long terrible war. No side will claim victory. It is written that good must battle evil. It is prophesied. I choose you over my own son because I knew he would not be able to sustain good. He is corrupt, and he is soft, he is led by the dark side. All I can offer you is the knowledge that my son can never defeat you in a face-to-face confrontation You are much too strong for him. Good will always conquer evil. But he is wise as well as evil. His powers are in man's weaknesses. Beware of my son's treachery. Satan is a formidable enemy. I bid you farewell. I am done...and I am gone."
Late that night the dark boy sat in his chamber and realized that this was his destiny. He was only fulfilling prophecy—the dark prince defying his father. He donned a black cape and laughed a hollow laugh. At that moment, he became the Prince of Darkness. At that moment, he became the effigy of Evil.
Notes Back To The World
soldiers do the fighting
while, back home, mothers do the worrying.
A soldier isn't always in battle,
but, to a mother, he is always in danger.
The worst thing (according to a mother)
that can happen in war is that her son is killed.
The second worse thing that can happen
is that her son kills someone else's son.
How are you? I'm fine. Thanks for the peanut butter cookies, they were real good. Unfortunately, when they got here, they were all crumbled up. But that was OK, I just ate 'em with a spoon.
Tell Joey and Richie hello for me. Tell them I'll send along a letter real soon. Tell 'em not to worry, their little brother is just fine.
We're stationed near De Trong, so I'll be able to pick up that film camera Joey wanted. There is a real base here. It's still in the jungle, but at least we got real mattresses. Still send mail to me care of the Pacific Post Office. And send lots.
Speaking of mail, do you think one of you could look in on Glennie? I think she's lost my address. I mean, I haven't heard from her in a couple of months, and frankly, I like her mail. I sure miss Glennie. I sure miss a lot of things.
Oh, It's not that I hate it here in Viet-nam. I mean it's pretty. But I sure miss Wilson Springs. I miss the yellow flowers and the pink cherry blossoms in spring, and I miss the train that blows black smoke all the way up the pass. And ma, don't tell Richie and Joey, but I miss the snow too. All it ever does here is rain. It rains here day in and day out. I ain't never seen so much rain. One minute it's clear blue, then boom, rain—hard rain too. I just don't know where all the water goes. I ask Chin...Oh, Chin he's my bunkie. His real name is Charles something, but everyone calls him Chin on account of this scar he has on his neck that looks like a second chin. He got it up north of Hue from this NVA reg. He's a good egg-old Chin. Anyway, I ask him where all the rain goes and he says that it has to rain so much here in Viet-nam because Viet-nam is really just hell and the rain goes to putting out all the fires so we Americans can come and save the world. I asked Chin to come to Wilson Springs after he rotates and stay with us for a while. I hope you don't mind. Do you?
Do you know what I think I miss the most? I miss the way girls run to the phone when it's ringing; the way they giggle, and the way they try to act so grown-up-as if it were the most important thing in the world. There are no girls here in Viet-nam. There ain't even kids. Only small old people. I think that's one thing we've taken away from them. We may have given them Democracy, but we've taken away their youth. It makes me kinda wish I were young again.
Remember how you use to sing to us when we were little boys? And how I used to cry when you finished, so you'd sing again? And remember how you used to say, you know your momma loves you so very much, don't you? I don't think I told you how much I loved you. I do, I love you for everything you did for me. I wish I'd have known my daddy, I wish he'd have lived to see me as a man. But I'm glad I had you. I wanted to tell you that. I wish I were there right now and you were singing me a song. I wish I were anywhere but Viet-nam...You know your baby loves you so very much, don't you?
Mom...there's something I've gotta tell you. I don't know how. It's been bothering me for awhile and I knew I had to tell someone. Chin wouldn't understand, I don't think he would, and anyway if momma wouldn't understand, then nobody could. Momma...Mom, I killed someone. I've killed another man. See, I don't know, I could have killed before, I...I just didn't know. So many bullets and bombs and dead bodies, it was easy convincing myself someone else did it. It's just that...well, we were on this patrol behind the To Tol River coming up on this hamlet we knew was VC. It was stupid, every Thursday, we'd march in about O-nine hundred and search for weapons and stuff. We did this for five straight weeks, every Thursday, O-nine hundred. Well, on the sixth, there was an ambush ready for us. We took it in the shorts. We were pinned. They must have had twenty snipers all around us. Anyway my luewy called in for heavy arty, and the jungle just blew up. There were things flying all around me, pieces of things and stuff, and then...the hamlet got it. Oh mom, I ain't never seen nothing so horrible. I can't even explain it.
Anyway, we were pinned down in this water ditch, waiting for the fire to clear out a retreat, taking care of our wounded, when all of a sudden from across the rice patty, this kid comes running at us firing this AK-47 like he was leading the charge like Gunda Din. Everyone just stared at him, not really believing it was happening. Or maybe not really wanting to believing their eyes. Whatever, I took my rifle and aimed it right at him. All of a sudden, he stared at me and started shooting. I heard these bullets spitting right above over my head and little coughs of dust in the dirt around me and I shot. Got him right in the face. He stopped dead and froze right in mid air, then he fell backwards. He didn't even kick. He must have died as soon as he was hit.
Anyway, as soon as the fire settled down, we walked over to him to see who he was. He was just some kid, some stupid dead kid. Chin pulled out the gook's wallet and picked up the gun. This new kid, he's a corporal, reached down and ripped his ear off. All it took was a twist, and he handed it to me. He's your kill, he said, I'll confirm it for you. As we were marching out, everybody who passed the gook spat on him. It sure was hard being an American then.
Well, back in camp, Chin gave me the wallet. Inside was a picture of his family. I guess it was his family. It was an old man and woman, and a girl I think was his wife, and a couple of kids. There was a yellow letter I couldn't read and an old French franc. I sat on my bunk and I thought of you and Glennie and I cried. I knew it could have been me, and I knew that it could have been you in the pictures. I cried all night.
The next morning, we had to go out again and I picked up my rifle and walked into the jungle. All the way I was thinking to myself about Wilson Springs, and you, and Glennie. I remembered the letter she sent me just after I got here and how I kept it and how it yellowed in my wallet. I tried to think of something other than Viet-nam. I tried to picture Glennie in a yellow summer dress, but all I could see was that kid's blown-off face.
I tried to eat, but couldn't. I tried to drink, but it stuck in my throat. I reached into my pocket for some gum and I pulled out the ear. I threw up. I ran to a rock and threw up.
I've tried to forget it, and sometimes I do. But it eats me up most of the time and I hope that just telling you will make me feel better. I wanted to tell you and have you hold me on your lap and tell me you forgive me. Tell me it's OK, tell me everything is all right. I wanted to hear you sing me a song and sleep a whole night and hear nothing but a cool Montana breeze. I wanted to be so far away from Viet-nam that not even rain could remind me of it. I wanted to see Glennie and kiss her under a big clear sky.
Thanks for hearing me out. I feel better already. Tell you what, let's not talk about this no more. In three months, I'll be short and then I'll be home. And then I don't ever want to talk about Viet-nam again. Let's pretend we never spoke about this. Just tell me you forgive me and that's all I'd need.
Oh yeah, tell Joey not to worry. Tell him we're winning this thing over here. I mean we must be. We've already killed over a million enemy, and how much more of them can there be? Right?
Tell everybody I'll see them soon and tell them I said hi. Make sure someone gets to Glennie and get her my address. Stay well. You're forever in my prayers.
P.S. You know your baby loves you very much, don't you?
A Blood Reward
A dozen reporters followed the police chief out of the darkened hallway into the shaded daylight of the forest. "Chief...Chief..." Microphones and cameras followed his every move. "Chief, is it true you found..."
The chief walked with arms out, begging for quiet. "Please, please, I have a statement to read." The mob fell silent. The chief continued in his unique make-believe-matter-of-fact tone, "This morning, two of my officers, acting on an anonymous tip, entered this house and found two bodies, both apparent victims of gunshot wounds. Upon initial investigation, the crime probably occurred after midnight last night. Both victims were pronounced dead at scene. We have a suspect in custody. His identification is being withheld until arraignment can be arranged. He is, however, described as male, caucasian, age unknown."
"Chief," interrupted a reporter, "we've heard through some sources that the victims were..."
"I'm sorry," interrupted the chief, "we cannot disclose the identification of the victims until next of kin can be notified. So far, we've had trouble tracking down any known family."
"Can you tell us whether or not the victims lived in this house?"
"I can't answer that question right now."
"...were drugs involved?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't help you speculate. I'll have another statement to make after we sort out the facts. Thank you." The chief worked his way back into the small building.
Chief Frank Frederick, a veteran of over twenty years in the police force and a Vietnam combat tested Marine, appeared sickened by the evidence left in the tiny wood room. The place was in a shambles—tables overturned, blood smears on the walls, pieces of flesh splattered everywhere, broken ceramic jars left in their place of destruction, and the bodies...oh, the bodies.
Chief Frederick was no stranger to death. He owned a full knowledge of what man is capable of doing to his fellow man. He'll always remember Vietnam and of the time he came upon the evidence of man's virtue in the form of mutilated children—a reprisal for American chocolate found in the hamlet. The images would always find ways of haunting him, and it took much less than this. He lived day-to-day with the memories adding more colour as the years passed. Even when he tried to forget, he'd always remember.
He remembered having to collect limbs and search for arms and leg under trees and buildings. He remembered knowing that the job was finished when he counted up the heads and divided the limbs by four until they came out even. He remembered finding the decapitated remains of two friends who were sent back out into the bush in search of a radio one of them had left behind. And he remembered the Captain, when hearing of the murders, asking if the radio was recovered.
That was one of the main reasons he had come to this town. He wanted to live out his life in the calm this forest village would afford. For twenty years, the manufactured quiet was uninterrupted only to be shattered by the revelations of last night's murders. Chief Frederick walked into the little room and was forced to relive the horrors of a past war.
This little cottage was almost storybook from outward appearance. Not even tourists were allowed to disturb its serene effect. The residents of the house were among the celebrated. The village was hallowed because of them. The world whispered their names when dreaming out loud. It was novel, at first, being ward to such a town. Smiles and friendship were abundant in this capitol of dreamland. Most people wished to live like they did here. It was wonderland—until last night.
The morning passed quickly for the six man police staff. Chief Frederick rushed from the tiny house to the make-shift laboratory over a dozen times before the pieces began to come together. It was a team effort. No one solves crime alone—not even in fairy-tales.
Without the benefit of a specialized lab technician, Chief Frederick relied on the vast knowledge of Detective Milne.
Detective Milne was also a war veteran who had spent time fighting Germans before making his way to this hamlet for peaceful retirement. It had been years since he had a case like this. It satisfied a long lost thirst for adventure, but in doing so, it destroyed the peace with which he had become accustomed. He knew, as did Chief Frederick, that this was no longer a fairy-tale town. The world had finally caught up with them.
"So, Al," asked Chief Frederick, "what killed them?"
"It was pretty obvious from the start, but we've confirmed they were shot at close range with hollow point, copper tipped slugs out of a .44 magnum. One shot would have done it, but he tried to fill them with holes. Only problem is, a .44 don't leave no holes. It happened about two, two-thirty last night."
"Well, not quite. They were both pretty much coked up before they died; some alcohol too. I doubt they felt a thing."
"How 'bout the suspect?"
"He was so strung, he probably could have flown in himself."
"Pure grade too; almost 95% pure. I don't know where they got the stuff. It was high grade."
"Not much of a storybook ending, huh?"
"So much for happy ever after."
"One more thing, Chief. We found this under one of the bodies."
"A gram scale. Why would they need a gram scale?"
"Looks like more than sweets were coming from that house."
"Who would have thought," the chief said shaking his head, "who would have thought?"
The investigations that followed was revealing to say the least. The house was being used as a drop off point for Colombian cocaine before being packed and shipped off to both coasts. Under the guise of a syrup/honey store, the cocaine could be stored and shipped without raising suspicion. The high profiles of the victims insured no questions of motive. It was a perfect little crime.
The operation would have gone on forever had it not been for greed. They simply wanted more and more. With the increase of trade, came the increase in pressure. They wanted more money, mor— power, more influence, and more free drugs. The pressure became too great. They reached for the brass ring and in the end they were given a blood reward.
The sole-survivor was unable to help piece together the crime. Being the only witness, he was also the prime suspect. When the police arrived, he was passed out on the blood and ceramic pieces with the gun in his hand. Attempts to sober him were useless as the drugs owned his mind.
He was terminally youthful. No one knew his real age. He had been around for years, but still looked like a boy. He had come one day from another town to escape reality and just stayed. He could be found sitting by a stream, or under a tree reading at all hours of the day. He was possessed by a will to survive on youth. Lately though, the years had begun to creep up on him. He was becoming an old little boy.
Chief Frederick began interviewing people who had known the suspect. He found that no one really knew him at all.
"My name...it's a...JJ, JJ Morrison."
"How well did you knew Chris?"
"Not well, not well at all."
"When did you first meet him?"
"Oh god," he answered scratching his tangled hair, "I really don't remember. He's just always been around. He was a loner. You know, liked to be by himself a lot."
"What do you mean?"
"You know, a loner." He stopped for a moment looking for the right words. "...liked to keep to himself. He'd never be caught in a crowd. I don't think he was unhappy, just troubled."
"Yeah, you know. He was getting older and that was something he couldn't deal with. It was getting harder to whistle like he did when he was a kid. He couldn't handle it. He wanted to be forever young, and he knew deep down that he couldn't. It hurt him. I could tell." He shook his head. "I guess everyone has to grow up, huh?"
The victims were royal in the eyes of the village, if not the whole world. It would prove a chore linking them with drugs. The facts were clear, however; the proof overwhelming. It only served to remind him of the fact that even our children's heroes can be infected with greed. It wasn't easy to admit, but it was impossible to ignore. To taint their images would be like telling a child there is no Santa Claus. Many times, truth is wicked.
That night, before the press conference, Chief Frederick met the suspect. "Hello, Chris," the Chief said as he walked into the padded cell, "I'm Police Chief Frank Frederick. I don't believe I've had the opportunity to meet you before this." He reached out his hand. "How do you feel?"
"I want a lawyer."
"You'll get a lawyer. I just wanted you to know that you're our prime suspect. You should be charged by morning. You know we don't have a full-time judge here. Murder one—two counts, I'd imagine. You got anything to say?"
"You go to hell!"
"OK, Chris, but a lot of people are going to want to hear this story. You should get it on record before someone screws it up."
"Yeah," laughed Chris, "maybe someone will write a book about us."
"Did you kill them?"
"I don't remember."
"Why, what? Why I killed them, or why don't I remember?"
"I know my rights, I want my lawyer."
"You're going down in history, you know?" The Chief stood and walked toward the door. "People are going to remember your name. You'll be mentioned in the same breath with Lee Oswald, Charlie Manson..." He was almost out the door when he turned to see a wicked grin grow on that boyish face. "You'll be famous. Everyone will know your name."
The kid jumped up and rushed the clanging door, "They already do," he yelled, "they already know my name."
The press conference was standing room only. News media from all over the world had begun arriving as soon as the rumours had leaked out that morning. Chief Frederick walked to the microphone. All eyes followed his every pensive move. In his life this was to be the biggest moment he had come face-to-face with—he was prepared.
He brought with him the evidence, the motive, a suspect, and the victims. It should have been easy, but it wasn't. He was exposing a drug ring that stretched around the globe and into the dreams of the whole world. He felt guilty. It had become his duty to topple wonderland. And all he had to do was reach for the microphone, open the book, and destroy a legend. It was thrust upon him to amputate the dreams of childhood and bring innocence to extinction. He regretted his duty, but he continued.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," he began, "I am Police Chief Frank Frederick. This morning my office began an investigation into a double murder that apparently occurred sometime last night in the cottage at the edge of the forest. We have a suspect in custody who was arrested at the scene of the crime. We also have undisputed evidence that links all involved in the dealing and trafficking of illegal drugs—most high grade cocaine
"Our suspect is one male, age unknown, address unknown, named Christopher Robin. The two victims who were found shot to death were apparently residents of the house. They are described as one small male bear, tan; age unknown, and one tiger, male, yellow and black, age unknown..."
"Oh, my God," came a scream from the back of the room, "He killed Winnie-the-Pooh."
"Yes," confirmed Chief Frederick in his unique make-believe-matter-of-fact tone, "Winnie-the-Pooh, and Tigger too."
A cautious darkness filled the room while she looked toward her feet and stepped out of the hall. A moment passed, then another, and then, yet another, until it became awkwardly late to embrace. There they stood—a tired soldier and a green eyed wife/mother. They weren't meant to meet each other like this, after all these years; but then again, one really doesn't plan these things. He finally spoke.
"Well, come in." he said.
"It's so good to see you again. It's been too long."
He nodded and walked toward the radio and turned the volume down. By the time he turned around, she had already sat down on the sofa. He sat facing her with his back toward the lone light shielded somewhere down the hall. "This is really amazing," he said, "Not two hours ago, I was writing you a letter. One of a couple of hundred I was sure you'd never get the chance to read. I was trying to sound intimate and close despite two thousand miles and five years. There I was, and the only way I could touch you was with a pen and old songs. And now...here you are. I could pour my heart out on that paper, but now, I can't find the right words to say. I'm just happy that you're here."
"I thought...I heard..." she was fumbling with her words. "I thought you were dead."
"I was." He smiled.
She grew more comfortable, "I read about you in the paper. I mean, I saw the article about you last week. It says you were a hero, silver star or something."
"No, I'm no hero. You married?"
"Are you happy?"
"Yes," she said, then turned away, "and no." She looked back at him and paused for a moment. "I mean, I'm content. I finally feel whole. I have a place to belong. Someplace where someone loves me and my kids. Something had to be sacrificed and I made the choice." She laughed, "I guess I'm growing up. Oh, you'd like him. He's a little like you, but...he's more like all the other boys I fancied."
"I knew you'd be married. I pictured you as a little homemaker. A spacious white kitchen with all four burners going, cooking up meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I saw a dark brown walnut dining table with white plates and brown place mats. I could almost touch the silver platter with light yellow butter, and feel the dampness run off the lettuce on your salad. I pictured it a billion times. Steam would rise off the corn and golden brown bread would fill the room with a sweet soft warm smell. I had all this pictured in my mind. You in the perfect home, a real meat dinner, and your forever loving husband—which of course was me. It kept me alive."
"I thought you were dead..."
"Please don't apologize. I understand. I do."
She started crying. "I'm sorry. I thought you were dead."
"Oh...please don't cry." He reached for her. He touched her hand and melted. "What's your kids' names?"
She wiped the tears from her cheek and swallowed a thick breath, "Ronnie," she smiled, "and Peter Jr."
"I bet they look like their mother."
"Could we turn a light on in here? I haven't seen you yet."
He jumped up and turned away, "No!"
"I have some souvenirs from Captain Takaki. He didn't leave me much. And what he did leave is not really appealing. I want you to remember me the way I was, not the way I am now—all bruised and broken. If I heal, then perhaps we'll meet under lights. Until then, I need to survive in half shadows. Please give me that much."
She didn't understand, but she nodded. "Who's Captain Takika?"
"It's Ta-ka-ki, and he was our warden, and we were his ward. He was the prisoner of war camp's commander. A ruthless bastard. And I'll tell you something for nothing, if it hadn't have been for you, he would have beaten me. He would have won."
"Well, through all the hell he pulled us through, thinking of you and all we've done, and this meeting here, I just had to press on. I know it sounds silly, but there were hundreds of other guys who didn't make it. I was lucky, I had you. In fact, what we had was so complete, I shared your memory with other men who had nothing. I hope you don't mind." She was confused, but still she nodded. "Thank you," he continued, "thanks from all of us."
"I had no idea."
"How could you? My bad luck being shot in the neck. I mean, I could have died right there on Taipai. And talk about lucky, if it hadn't have been for four people, I wouldn't even be here right now. I'd be in some dirt hole and my mother would have my metals."
"Yes, four people. First off, the Chinese paratrooper who found me after I escaped Takaki's Hotel, the Aussy doctor who put all my parts together in the right order, you, of course, and Maggie Whiting..."
"Yeah, the singer. Apart from you, she is the only other woman in my life. You see,...part of our exercise was being...beaten. And Captain Takaki really believed in exercise. He had these two goons we called, tweedle-dum and tweedle-dumber. They were huge men. And oh, could they exercise us.
"When I was young, I used to think I knew all about pain. Once, when I was nine, I remember stepping on a nail and thought that was the most painful thing that could ever happen to a man. Now, I know there's no limit to what the human body can take. I mean, there's no such thing as pain. It only hurts when it hurts, after, you can forget about it. Kind of like having a baby, I guess.
"Every time they tor..." he corrected himself, "...exercised me, I would hang there and try to feel. After the first few times, it just didn't hurt anymore. And the only time I felt something was when they pushed the threshold farther. Oh, it was painful, but...it didn't hurt. Sometimes, God forgive me, I would hang there and pray they would do something more drastic just so that I could feel something/anything. But mostly, I just hummed that Maggie Whiting song, I'm sure you've heard it, Far Away Places. Do remember that song? I remember it always started with the boots in the side, that's when I'd start...'Far away places with strange sounding names./Far away over the sea./ Those far away places with the strange sounding names,/ calling...yes, calling me." Then the bamboo straps would come out, then the rod. All the while...'Going to China, or maybe Siam/ I've got to know for myself/ Those far away places with the strange sounding names/ from a book/ that I took/ from a shelf.' I'd sing to myself while I was being exercised and the beatings would just pass. I didn't feel a thing. As long as I had Maggie, nothing hurt me. 'I start getting restless whenever I hear/ the whistle of a train./ I pray for the day I can get underway/ and look for those castles in space.' You'd be surprised how little pain hurts when you share it with Maggie Whiting."
All the while, she sat looking at the shadows around his face wondering what he looked like. "I love you," she said.
"And I never stopped loving you. Let me tell you this, I had plenty of chances too. Where I was, there were plenty of chances not to love anyone." She turned her head down.
"Look," he continued, "I'm sorry for talking like this, but I want you to know who I am. And I want you to know what you mean to me. I'm sure I'm different...but so are you. I wanted to know how you remembered me."
"When I heard you were missing, I nearly died. Everybody thought you were dead. Then you come home a brave hero."
"Two words that should never go together—brave and hero. I'm a hero because I lived, that's all, just lived. And brave? You want to hear how brave I am? For five years I've imagined how you'd taste; and what you'd feel like; and the heat that our bodies would make. I wondered where I'd touch you and where you'd touch me and what we'd say at the moment of frenzy. For five years, the strongest need I had was to be in you and to taste your mouth and the sweet soft warmth of your breath as it is pushed into me. I've wanted you more than I wanted even myself, and now you're here, and I can't even reach over and touch you. That's how brave I am."
She leaned forward, then back again, then forward, then back. She stayed back and he knew it was over. He hung his head and tried to talk; he couldn't. "I hope you're happy," he muttered.
"Oh," she rushed, "I am..."
"My, look what time it is. I've really got to be going. Let's get together real soon. I know where you are. I'll call." She stood up and walked toward the door. He reached out and helped her with her jacket. She turned back to him and said, "I'm so glad you're not dead." Pause. "I wish you the world."
He smiled and opened the door. "I'll be fine," he said, "remember, no pain."
She reached out and hugged him, "I love you."
"And I never stopped loving you."
She kissed his cheek and wiped the tears from her own, "We'll get together again, I swear."
"Yes," he said, "we'll get together."
She looked toward her feet as she stepped out the door. She turned and didn't hear him when he said, "Don't ever forget..."
"Goodbye," he said and watched her walk away. He was shattered. He closed the door and walked back to the sofa. As he sat head down all alone in the half dark, he began singing softly to himself, 'They call me a dreamer,/ well maybe I am,/ but I know that I'm longing to see/ those far away places with the strange sounding names/ calling...calling...me.
The last thing Alex's parents told him before they sent him off to bed was, you had better be a good boy or Santa won't come by here this year. Alex was nine, and every hip nine year old knows there is no such thing as Santa Claus. And anyway, August is just too early to start threatening a kid with Christmas. Alex drifted off to sleep feeding the notion of the holiday dreaming of the toys he was going to get this year. A warm summer breeze flipped up the neatly pleated curtains that hung free from the open window. The rustling awoke him.
As Alex's eyes adjusted and focused to the night, he sat up in bed and fought the thirst in his mouth. He turned towards the flying fabric trying to decide whether it was worth the effort getting out of bed. The pressed twisted twine of the thick carpet tickled his bare feet as he slid across the room. The heat decided for him against closing the window, so Alex pulled the curtains open and tied them down. Still half asleep, he dragged his way back. The full moon crawled in the open window and gave the room a dark blue glow. Alex was about to fall back into bed when he saw the man standing by the door. He was about to scream when he heard the man say, "So...how you doing?"
Alex fell to his bed face first and looked up with his mouth gaping. The man walked over to the bed and sat down. "Alex," he said, "don't you know who I am?"
Alex shook his head. "No," he said, "who are you?"
The man smiled a dark blue smile. "Why, Alex, I'm Santa Claus."
Alex tilted his head in recognition. "You're Santa Claus?"
"The one and only."
"But you don't exist."
"So say some. But I do. Don't you believe in me?"
Alex thought for a moment then shook his head. He said, "No."
Santa quietly laughed, "I didn't think so."
"Nobody believes in you anymore. My whole class stopped believing in you last year."
"And it took you a little longer?" Santa asked.
Alex was finally fully awake. "I wanted you to exist," he said.
"Yes," Santa said, "I know."
"Do you really exist? Are you real?"
"Well," Santa answered, "yes and no."
"I don't understand."
"I exist, but I'm not real." Santa Claus sat on Alex's bed and took a deep breath. "You see, Alex, I'm like sunshine or darkness. I exist, but I have no proof. Here I am, but you can't touch me. You can feel me, and I could touch you, but when I'm gone, I'm even less than memory. I'm magic, Alex, and you can't touch magic."
"I'm a feeling," Santa continued, "a stroke of the heart. I'm the feeling you get when you see fish swim underwater, or when you catch a snowflake on your tongue, or when you slide down an iced hill backwards. I'm what's in a baby's cry, or what makes one laugh. I'm the feeling you get when you're the only one in class to know a hard answer. That's what I am, Alex, I'm magic.
"I'm the roar that comes from thunder, or the whisper that comes from rain. I'm all the things you see before you're old enough to understand. I'm the first autumn leaf that falls on your head, or your first walk on ice. I'm all the things that you once believed were magic, like lightning at midnight, and rainbows on the run. I'm the rush you feel when you see a shooting star late at night and think that it fell only for you. I exist in that wonder of innocence. It is what I am."
"Alex," Santa said as he stood and walked toward the door, "I know why you don't believe in me. And that's fine. I just wanted you to know that I'll always be around. You can forget me, but I could never forget you—I am you. I just wanted you to know that."
Santa walked back over to Alex. "I think you will miss me," he said as he pushed his fingers through Alex's hair, "and I know one day I'll come back to you." Alex smiled and nodded. "Sometimes," Santa continued, "I wish we were born with doubt and lose it as we get older. We need magic when we mature. Shame that we pretend it doesn't exist. Quite a pity." Santa walked toward the wall and disappeared.
Alex pulled the sheet over his head and tried not to fall asleep. His eyes just seemed to fall shut. He lay there wondering if Santa visited all little girls and boys like that. And he wondered if maybe Santa came for only him. He got out of bed and walked over to the window and sat on the sill. He looked north and followed the Big Dipper to the handle. Suddenly a white streak turned to blue as a shooting star fell north toward the horizon. Alex smiled and went back to bed. "Thank you, Santa," he whispered, "Thank you."
With Aztec Charm
It must have been four years ago. It's strange how time flies when you go nowhere. It was on a corner in Spring. I was breaking french bread and spooning creole shrimp in an expensive restaurant with my friend Terry who makes a living breaking bread with the highbrow. Guilty over fondling a twenty dollar piece of fish, I turned to stare out the window. Standing there, framed by lunch traffic, stood an old man dressed in an old brown coat and a white beard. He stood on the corner cursing the cars and tempting fate by dancing in and out if the street daring anyone to kill him. I watched him for twenty or so minutes before he found boredom in dodging cars and took off down the street in search of other corners.
I returned to the credit card lunch, but felt detached from the cloth napkins and homosexual waiters. I couldn't seem to get the old man out of my mind. Everyone has a story, Terry told me, and we both wondered what the old man's was. Why was he here? Where was he before? Why is he spending my lunch hour in my conscience?
I had to know.
Another hour passed, I listened to a New Orleans Jazz band, laughed at ugly girls, pointed out the bourgeois, and forgot the old man. It almost worked.
From out of the corner of my eye, I saw the old man walking back. It was as if he had just walked around the block as a break. He was back home on his corner. I was to never forget him again.
I spent plenty of time trying to write his story. I ripped up reams of first lines that I would start but never finish. Finally I came to believe the tale written by my friend Terry on four pages of lined paper. To Terry, the old man was a conquistador—a warrior of many battles. A hero to Spanish settlers in the new world. The old man had become a legend as the General who had conquered the Aztec people and sat at the right hand of Cortez. The old man, Terry wrote, had led an army into the mountains north of Mexico in search for El Dorado—the lost city of gold.
El Dorado was once the home of dead Indian chiefs and gods. Legends told of the street being bricked in gold and priceless fortunes in diamonds, emeralds, and turquoise. Legends also told of the curse that followed all those who tried to disturb the kingdom of the dead in El Dorado.
Terry wrote on how the old man led an expedition right up to the gates of El Dorado where the gods reached out and killed everyone in the army with the exception of its General. The angry gods cursed the old man to eternal life without riches or wealth. Just a poor man walking the earth until time itself ends.
In these years since the New Orleans Cafe, I've kept the old man in mind. When driving by the corner, I bend my neck in all directions trying to catch a glimpse of him toying with city drivers and dancing on the pavement alone. I remember him when I find myself sitting at a table paying outrageous fortunes for lettuce or beef. I think of him when I try to sleep shivering under sheets and wondering what's keeping him warm. So he stays on my mind, though out of sight.
I saw him today—the old man. At first I wasn't sure. Then when I turned, I almost fell back on my chair. There he was, the star of all my guilt dreams, in flesh and blood. Five years of trying to put him on paper seemed foolish at that moment. There he stood above narrative.
He was surrounded by three men helping him with his blue suit jacket and pushing and pulling the chairs and papers and pens in front of him. His white beard had grayed and dulled, and his long hair was tangled and mused in the same way I remembered five years in the past. Strangely, he didn't look out of place in a five hundred dollar suit. He sat alone as three yes-men took care of his wants, and spoke not a word. People would shift by him and he would sometimes nod or shake his head, but mostly he sat and let others take care of his wants. I watched for a moment, utterly confused.
I began working my way over to the old man when I was stopped by a man with steel rimmed glasses and limbs almost as strong. I said, "I know that man."
"You might," he told me. "He's president of Investment Inc."
"Yes," nodded the man taking hold of my arm and leading me back to my table, "president and chairman of the board. He's doing business now, so let's not bother him."
"But I know him," I said, "I remember him when he was a..."
"Yes," interrupted the man, "and I'd thank you not to mention that."
"But how could he be president of this company?"
He pulled out my chair for me and said, "Have a seat please."
I sat uncomfortably waiting for an answer and maybe, I hoped, the old man's story.
The young man spoke. "I'm not sure if you're aware of the financial trouble we've had over the past few years. It was really a bitch surviving in this corporate world. I'll tell you, it's not easy out there. The meek lose more than their balls, literally. Well, daddy left me Investment Inc., and it was falling fast. I mean fast! And I didn't like the idea of corporate castration so I resorted to drastic measures."
"So what does this have to do with the old man?"
"...I'm getting to that. You see, I just didn't have the business instincts—I was raw meat in the den of lions. Well, one day I was lunching at the New Orleans Cafe when I saw him standing on the corner..."
"Yeah..." I interrupted, "Yeah, that's where I saw him too."
"Anyway, I saw him there and thought of myself in a corporate graveyard clutching what was left of my gonads in my left hand reduced to a pile of grovel. And in this future, I saw the old man standing right there on that corner exactly in the way I first saw him. Then it came to me, this old man on the corner, he was quintessential corporate america. He had survived on zero assets and continued on life's journey. He had learned to live on no means. That's exactly what I needed for my company. So I took him off the streets and put him in a suit and asked him to run my company. Well, that was almost four years ago and the rest is history. We're now a Fortune 500 company, and profits are expected to be up again.
I shook my head, realized my mouth was opened, and noticed the old man stand up and reach into his wool overcoat. He pulled out a crumbled paper cup and walked over to a young lady who was acting as hostess and asked her for chipped iced. After the hostess returned with the ice, he held on it as if it were a puppy. He put it back into his pocket and quickly glanced around the room to see if anyone had watched him.
I smiled and shook my head. "You know," I said, "I've been trying to write his story since I first saw him at the New Orleans. So many first lines, and so many endings, none of them seemed to fit. But there's no way I could have come up with this ending."
"I'll bet," the young man nodded.
"This is kinda silly, but I had a friend who wrote a his story. It's the closest I've ever come to understanding him." I paused for a second, looked over as the old man picked chicken out of his beard, looked back at the steel rimmed man and smiled. "My friend's story," I said, "it had the old man a conquistador general."
The young man stood, slowly building a low groan into a bellow laugh. He looked at me as he walked away. His laughter awoke me from self-pity. The last thing I heard him say before he rejoined the party was, "A conquistador? Come on...he's just another bum."
"Do you believe me? I've got to know that you believe me."
"I believe that you believe you saw something."
"But I did, I did see it. Oh, why doesn't anyone believe me?"
The room was well lit but had that dark, closed-in feeling. There were no windows and only one door in the laboratory. They were alone, but still they whispered.
"Look, I was coming home from work by the old road when I heard this shwoosh-whirling sound. I looked up and the whole road seemed to light up. That's when I saw it. It was right above me. God, it almost hit me. It crashed into the field next to the road. I ran up to see if I could do something/anything, and there it was—big as a house and stuck into the ground. It wasn't on fire, but it looked hot. I was right there. I saw it with my own eyes...right in front of me. Anyway, that's when I saw them. There were three of 'em. One was already dead—all torn apart. The other two just lay there. They looked a little like us. I mean they had two legs and arms and two eyes and stuff, but their heads were real small and their ears stuck out like dishes. I was scared, man, real scared. Their skin was dark and lined and they were wearing silver suits. I swear. I saw them with my own eyes. And all I need from you is to believe me."
"Why come to me? As a scientist, you must know that my official stand is that extra-terrestrials do not exist. Some have theorized life on other planets, but we need proof, not whacked-out stories from factory labourers."
"The military is out there right now. They will give you all the proof you need. I saw them converge on the scene as I was leaving to get help. Why don't you believe me?"
"Proof, I say, give me proof."
From a small blue bag that hung from his side, the labourer produced a box—a squared box. "Here," he said, "here's your proof."
"What is it," the professor asked.
"I don't know. I found it on the ground beside the spaceship. Examine it, dissect it, eat it for all I care. Just believe me. I know I'm not crazy. But I need someone like you to prove it to me."
"Look," the professor said, "give me a few minutes to make some calls. I've got a friend in the government. If the military knows anything, he should know. You wait right here."
An hour passed and the labourer thumped his steel-toed boot off the white wall until a black scuff was left as evidence of his impatience. The door opened. The professor entered.
"So?" the labourer asked jumping to his feet, "what did you find out?"
"Something big's happening out there all right. The whole military is hush-hush right now. I took that box to a friend of mine downstairs...He tells me it's made of some metallic mineral not found on this planet. He guesses it's some sort of message machine. He's working on it right now."
"Do you believe me yet?"
"Let's just say I'm starting to question my position. I don't think there is much more that can be done tonight. What say you go home and get some sleep? In the meantime, I think you should keep this to yourself. If the government caught wind of you, there's no telling what would be done. There are an awful lot of paranoid power men on the council. And don't worry, I think you came to the right place."
On the drive home, the labourer could barely stop staring at the black sky. Not alone, he thought over and over again, we're not alone.
When he returned home, the military was waiting for him. His house was emptied and all his belongings were tucked into neat white plastic bags. He was arrested and searched. Later, after hours of questioning, he was released to his finely brushed vehicle. Even the ashtrays were sucked dry. Damn thorough, he thought, just like our government, every corner searched.
He drove back to the science hall and waited until the professor returned for the day.
"Welcome back," the professor greeted the labourer with a shake, "I understand you've been detained. Not to worry though, seems they think you're just a stupid worker caught on the wrong side of road. According to them, you know nothing. Oh, by the way, seems like there were plenty of other stupid workers out last night. So many in fact, the government has had to make an official statement. Have you heard it? No? Well, get this, the council claims that a military experiment went awry last night and all information must be classified. Even confiscated the little box. Oh, don't worry. We got all we needed from it. We were right, it was a message machine. We recorded the sounds and have someone working on it right now. This whole place is buzzing about. There's nothing like a secret to give morale a boost."
"But what about what I saw?" the labourer asked.
"Can't do much about that now. There's no proof left. The military has swept the lot clean. But I think we have enough recorded and photographed to keep us busy for quite some time. Lucky break, you coming to us like you did. You changed quite a few minds last night. Maybe the world. Who knows? Who knows?"
Back in the laboratory an hour later, the professor almost runs in and grabs the labourer. "Figured out the code, we did, simple binary language—up, down, up, down. Not unlike our own. It's the proof we've been looking for. Not enough to convince the government to acknowledge other life forms, but it's a start. Anyway, the message read, We come in peace. We are from the third planet from our star in the last quadrant of our galaxy. It goes on telling about them and who they are. Seems like they call their home earth. We know who they are, but we have nothing left to prove they were."
The labourer reached under a pile of paper stacked on top of a table in the corner. "I hid this here last night." he said, "I kinda thought I'd be frisked." Wrapped inside of a paper bag, he pulled out a swatch of silver cloth. As he unwrapped it he handed it to the professor. "Thirteen bars," he said, "alternating red and white, and a patch of blue with fifty stars." He paused before he smiled, "kind of makes you wonder what their world must be like, huh? Kinda makes you think."
The bed still smelled like her. Patchouli mixed with body heat mixed with strains of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet filled every crack and corner of the twisted sheets and covers. His head swam in delirium. She had left over an hour ago leaving the air perfumed and thin. The song had ended, but he still heard the music.
When he closed his eyes, he could see the silhouette of her mused hair and the perfect shoulders that hung above him like the sky. He tossed and turned. His mind filled with the past two hours and he remembered them as one does a dream. He was alive and the blood churned through his fingers as he tried to sleep.
She had left in silence and when her shadow disappeared, the music began again. He walked around the room begging his heart to start. His pacing became a dance. He began breathing as he fell back into the scented bed. Strings and horns embraced him in his remembering. It was her bed now—she filled it forever. He tossed and turned and smelled and smiled. He tried to close his eyes, but all he could do was live with the memory of her flesh. He bolted out of bed and reached to the top shelf and pulled a light blue comforter that was saved for snow and January cold. He danced to the living room and fell to the floor. Here he was at peace; here he could rest. He fell asleep remembering her body and smelled her air and knew that he could never again sleep in that bed. It would be sacrilege. Perhaps if her smell would go—maybe then. But no more, he thought, not after what God had brought. He then closed his eyes and fell to sleep. In that last moment before his mind escaped, he tried to grasp the reality of the night. As he sucked in the last breath of awake, he swallowed her perfumed air. With the unconscious sigh that followed, he knew that he had touched heaven.
* * * * *
He was sick the next week. He felt a bug deep inside him. He felt it every time he stood up, sat down, rolled over, or breathed. He seemed lost in his own room. He would try to stand, then fall back on the sofa with a gravity controlled plop and a moan instead of a breath. His equilibrium failed him in public that week. He would rise and fall with the hour. No one noticed. He wallowed in his malady alone. He would come home, pull Romeo and Juliet from the disc case, and roll up with his light blue comforter on the floor and sleep. In dreams she came alive, and the room again filled with patchouli and magic. As he slept, she lay next to him and he forgot the bug that lived in his body. They danced on the floor and he again swam in delirium. Tchaikovsky strained and pulsed as he slept on the floor. He was well—she was still with him.
When he awoke, she was gone and he struggled to get off the floor. He wanted to restart Romeo and Juliet and fall again to sleep. He pulled himself to his feet and ran a hot bath. Sammy Davis Jr. crooned from the amplified speakers as he attempted to dress for the day. The bug had returned.
It was just about the moment he opened the door; just about the moment he fell out into the day; just about the moment he encountered the sun, it hit him. As he was about to reach for the door, he was felt something touch his lips. The wind kissed him and forced perfumed air into his lungs. Her ghost had reached inside and filled him with strength. He then danced out the door and attacked the morning. No one knew why he skipped about that day. No one knew why he smiled alone. No one knew why he was so happy. He wouldn't answer them. He just sat there and tasted the patchouli in his lungs and smiled. She was still inside him.
* * * * *
Her smell disappeared—as smells always do. The air returned to the sweet musty cologne burnt candles leave behind. It was almost back to normal. He picked up his life and continued.
In her going, she left behind a tumbler of prism rose and that last kiss. He took to remembering as he made his way back into the bed. It was as she had left it—covers kicked and tangled. He fell backwards and closed his eyes. It had been exactly one week to the minute that Romeo and Juliet pressed into his soul and he touched the hot flesh. He turned to his side and remembered how his lips rested against the pillow of her belly. He smelled her musk in his mind and tried to leave the room—there was nowhere to go. He was home and she was gone. That night he replayed the whole dance—what was said; what was done...and what wasn't.
He knew that he had to go on—that there were other nights to battle insomnia. He also remembered the so—many years before she rose on his midnight and created the sun. He already knew alone. He knew the roar of his own sigh in the darkness and the silence of passing cars and footsteps.
He knew that she was his light, but he knew she was someone else's life. He knew he had to wait. He knew all about waiting. It was what he was. He knew what the reward might be—what God could bring. He lay back and opened his mouth. There on her shrine—his bed, he sucked in waxed perfume and pretended it was patchouli. He closed his eyes and thanked his God for sending him a rose in his desert. Romeo and Juliet cried out all that night. He tried to sleep.
At that moment, he knew no fear. Life was his gift; death a detour. He was repaid for his Dulce Vida in her ghost. He knew one day sleep would come again—as he that knew one day she would also. He closed his eyes and recounted her nectar. He was happy. He was in love. He knew no fear. Because in his weakness, he had touched heaven.
The blue-green field of light from his monitor screen bounced off Alister Taylor's face as he turned to hear the shuffling of feet and jingling of keys downstairs. "Honey," he yelled, "could you come up here for a moment?"
"Can it wait, dear? I'm on my way out."
"It will only take a minute or two," he yelled. He heard her bounce up the spiral staircase to his garret.
"OK," she said as she came into the room, "just for a minute though, I'm already late."
She was young and beautiful and his wife. He was old, old enough to be her father. She first fell in love with him when she was only thirteen and read his book in her jr. high library. He was already America's most famous author and his works were required reading in most high schools and some liberal jr. highs. His most famous book was the one she first picked up—Lincoln Lies—a collection of short stories based on famous Americans.
She had read the book and told all her friends that one day she would marry the young man on the cover.
One day, she did.
She somehow managed to get herself invited to an autograph party, and then she somehow managed to get the author's attention. No one was shocked that the forty-nine year old writer became attracted to the nineteen year old waif. Hardly anyone questioned him when they became engaged after only two weeks together. And only a few who knew him were surprised when they were married.
At her request, they were wed at the same little New Hampshire cottage she had read about in his book—Pilgrim Pleurisy. It was a romantic wedding, she wore white and her parents were invited. The news media were somehow kept away and the quiet ceremony was recorded on video and was available on both VHS and Beta. At his request, they honeymooned in Greenland as so he could research his newest book—A Viking Blunder.
"I just finished this chapter," he told her as she stood above him, "and I want you to read it. It's my first murder mystery, and I think it sounds a little awkward."
"You want me to read?" she asked him a little irritated.
"Just a page and a half...You weren't going somewhere important, were you?"
She stood staring at him for a moment, then plopped down on the easy chair near the window and sighed, "I guess I could be a little late."
After the honeymoon, they moved to Los Angeles where he felt he had to be to finish his screen version of Lincoln Lies. They had a house built in the hills overlooking Hollywood. She designed and furnished the bottom two levels and he designed the attic to resemble the one room apartment he had rented in Portland in the first years that he had become a serious writer. It was like two different worlds—that house. The steel spiral staircase was the only entrance into his world. And once there, it was completely self-contained. She was the only one allowed free entrance, but even she seldom made unexpected visits.
He would call her up to the room to proof-read his works. Every writer needs someone to tell him how great he writes, and she never disappointed him. "The best you've ever written", or "Incredible", or even, "Instant classic"—she always had a new complement for him. After a time, she knew her role. She realized early what life with a writer would become. She was happy, but only because she was married to Alister Taylor—at least on paper and in the press.
"Thank you," he told her as he stood and handed her two computer generated pages of script. "The working title is Cheating Death. I don't think I want it published. I'd be happy to leave it as our little story."
The name Alister Taylor on the cover of a book meant instant success. His publishing company drooled every time an envelope reached their office with his name on the return address. It was once said that if Alister Taylor typed two hundred pages of asterisks followed by a question mark, it would become a best selling philosophy book in its first week.
"Our hero is a middle-aged man named Hanley Ross," he explained, "he has spent the last three months planning the perfect murder. These two pages center around that murder. I want you to tell me if it sounds realistic. Do you want me to read it to you, or would you like to read it to yourself?"
"I'll read it," she said reaching impatiently for the paper.
Alister leaned back in his padded writing chair and watched his wife digest the story. When she was apparently finished, she hung her head and tried to look up. With all the strength in her heart she whispered, "Did you kill him?"
Alister stared at his wife until she raised her head and looked him in the eyes. "No," he said, "...no."
She crawled to his feet, held on to his leg, and began crying. "I am sorry," she sobbed. He reached down and stroked her hair. She said again, "I'm so sorry."
Alister felt a tear roll down his face and held his wife's chin. "I'm done writing for the day. You know what we should do? We should watch Dr. Zivago. Tell you what, I'll make the popcorn and you pour the drinks."
They both stood and leaned on each other and made their way down the stairs and into the kitchen. Occasionally they would touch each other just to reassure themselves that the other was there. So it went the rest of the night. They sat on the white Persian sofa, watched Dr. Zivago on big screen, and held on to each other afraid to let go. The night passed and although they could feel each other's breath, they spoke not a word. All was understood.
Why Do The Blues Keep Dying?
Thomas Theodore Jackson died last night. Sure wa'nt no loud death. He just closed his big ol' eyes and fell 'sleep. I know I cried. Zoots—all his friends called him Zoots—anyway, old Zoots he just held on to Lucy Jones with both hands. I knew she wa'nt going nowhere. Zoots asks me to bury him with Lucy Jones. You see, after his wife split Lucy was the only thing Zoots could love-well, 'cept for music that is. Lucy Jones was his ax and his ax was tenor sax. I once heard it said that Zoots Jackson was the best damn sax man ever. Course, it was Zoots who said it. Just like Zoots too. Oh he was good...good 'nough to be big had it been for couple a breaks. He got on OK. We both got on OK. Least we played...yeah...least we played.
I met Zoots back in '42 in North Carolina. We were both stuck in the 442nd engineering corps—an all negro brigade that spent the war building a bridge over the Pee Dee River near Elkin. The 442nd was all black—'cept for the uniforms which were green and the officers which were white. Zoots and me, we played in a little combo that kept the boys kicking on base—'cause we weren't allowed in town at night. Every weekend, the Major would let some negro kids from town in and they'd gig with us. Zoots and me, we got the bug then and we'd been playing ever since.
After the war, we both took our horns and took off for Harlem. We had it figured that if we wanted someone to hear us, we had better be where someone could hear us. So September of '46, we went into Harlem and we didn't come out until 26 years later. We weren't lost or nothing, just seemed every time we figured on leaving, some other gig would come up and we'd stay and play. For 26 years we played. Little clubs here and there and every once and a while we haunted the big stomps. We did the Savoy. Course we played the afternoons or morning gigs. See, night was saved for the names and though we were good, we weren't no Charlie Parker nor Fatha Hines.
And we waxed a few sides too. Maybe four.. five platters. We backed Coleman Hawkins. They called us the Harlem Side All-Stars. Used to own a copy. Don't know where it ran off to. Played on a concert album with Count Basie. We were doing a month of mornings at Razor Petes, when the Count hears us gig and wanted to bring his boys over and record. Here we were, just two mouths sucking reed and gigging with the Count. I turn around and back on drums is Cozy Cole. I mean the Cozy Cole, and over blowing trumpet is Cootie Williams, it just after he left the Duke and he was hot. Imagine me and Zoots in this company. Did I tell you that on the ivory was the Bushkin boy? Lordy...Lordy, what a night, what a night indeed.
Hey, the Bird once heard Zoots wail. Yeah, we were afternooning it at the Cotton, when the Bird waltzed through. He was straight then...before the stink blew his mind. Anyway, Zoots took off on Rocking Chair and Bird just sat back and shook his head. Zoots was sounding real good too. When the Bird man flew, I heard him say, That cat can blow. I told Zoots what Bird said, and Zoots just polished Lucy Jones and said, Yeah, I guess I can. Just like old Zoots too.
Once I asked Zoots why he calls his ax Lucy Jones. He told me of a lady he knew back in Mississippi who he did some work for. I guess Mr. Jones was a busy man, 'cause 'fore too long Zoots was doing not only his work, but his job as well. Zoots would smile and tell me how he went to Mrs. Jones a boy and came back a man. He would say that Lucy Jones was one woman who could bring the last ounce of sweat out of a man. Zoots say every time he think back on Lucy Jones, his mouth water. And what better way to wet a reed, he say. Zoots, right again.
Zoots and me always just got on, even when I up and marry my baby Tela. Old Zoots just kicked a step and married a skinny dancer named Norma. She was poison from go. Zoots must have loved her though. I mean really loved her. Every time I seen them together, she be beating on him. I mean every time. One time I ask him, Zoots, why you let her hit you so? He say, ah, she don't hit too hard and she never aims at my chops and anyway, I probably deserve it. Zoots!
Well, 'ol Zoots came home one day a bit too early and caught that skinny dancer with a Cuban bass man. Zoots just asked the skin to split and sat down and stared old Norma baby down. She must have said the wrong thing to him because he just up and caught her right on the chops. Zoots, I say, why? He say, Man, she don't play no ax. Good ol' Zoots.
I remember back when we were gigging the Cotton afternooning it for Pops Foster just for he died, Frank Costello walked in. I mean Frank Costello-the boss of bosses, the big guinea. He was warring with the Seigal boys at the time and here he was lunching with a bunch of greasy thugs hanging around. Seemed ol' Frank had a thing for negro sax and he sat there and got to liking Zoots. After the gig, he asked Little Fats Miller to introduce him. You could see the sweat pooling on Little Fats' cheeks as he walked over to Frank with Zoots behind him. Zoots was sucking on a weed and let his ax swing to his side and Little Fats said, Zoots, this is Mr. Frank Costello. I guess Zoots didn't know who Frank was, 'cause he reached out and stroked Frank's lapel and said, Whoa, Frank, this are some rich threads. Bet you own a good Jewish tailor. Good thing Mr. Costello laughed, good thing for Zoots.
But that was just like Zoots. One time we were stomping early mornings at Jimmy Ryan's following the Duke, when out walks Billy Strayhorn. Now Billy was a child then. but that Face could shine on the 88's. The Duke let him run his band and when Duke Ellington tell you you good, you's good. At this time, the biggest wax was A—Train and just so happen Billy wrote the record. Every Jazz man who was a Jazz man had the chart memorized, and so did Zoots. Anyway, Billy walks out and people start pushing him up on stage begging him to play A-Train. It didn't take much of a push and so Fingers Tole who was our keyboard man gave up his chair. I start to follow Billy and so does Zoots. So here we are, me and Zoots, on stage with Billy Strayhorn jamming the biggest tune on the berg with the cat who penned it. Wow! Anyway, old Zoots is carrying the melody when the bridge before the break comes and Billy takes over on lead. Zoots, now get this, Zoots turns 'round to Billy and says, Hey kid, slow it down a bit. Can you believe that? Slow it down a bit. Just like old Zoots.
He sure could play though. He was magic. He used to tell me that when he played, he could see little angels fly out the horn. I couldn't see 'em, but I sure could hear 'em.
I'm sure gonna miss 'ol Zoots. Can't remember life before the 442nd and Zoots. He was there when I lost my baby Tela. The cat held me together. Thanks Zoots.
We started a billion tunes, me and Zoots. Only finished one really. It was written down in B-flat so that Zoots could start it. But he always brought it up so I could lead. He said he like how I spoke it. Called it Zoots tune.
Just for he died, 'ol Zoots call me down to his face. He squeezed old Lucy Jones and said, I hope God digs jazz.
Yeah...so did I, Zoots, so do I.
He was, by his own definition, a pathological sex-fiend, and if judged by his own numbers, he may well have been. Billy Rawson once claimed over five thousand conquests, (which broken down over his eighteen sexually active years, would come to a different woman every 1.314 days). Of course, he could go without for a couple of days, then double up the next. He was, within his own mind, insatiable.
Once Billy Rawson boasted of knowing over seventeen hundred sexual positions, then with a wink and smile he'd footnote that bit of trivia by adding that those were only the earthbound positions. Billy told of the Brazilian prima donna who was, through the course of one night, able to get all seventeen hundred out of him. Most babes, Billy says, are good for only two, three hundred tops, then they're done. Damn shame too, Billy also says, a good architect needs to make every corner different to show how good he truly is.
Billy Rawson owned the confidence of a stud horse alone with half dozen mares on some Kentucky ranch. He never, ever felt rebuked. If rejected, he'd move on down the line like he was looking for an empty urinal.
Billy was proud of the fact that he had slept with not only some broad's sister, but with her mother as well. And the old adage that goes as long as it had two legs...didn't always apply. Billy Rawson was generous that way.
One late October midnight, Billy Rawson died. His car brakes failed and he fell two hundred feet off some dark canyon road into the home of a woman he had never slept with. (Imagine the odds.)
A pale blue darkness fell over Billy Rawson as he floated over his torn body. Then suddenly, but slowly, he was sitting in, what seemed to be, a dentist's office. He sat there, listening to music he recognized but couldn't name, waiting. The magazines placed on the table in front of him were of different dates. but were all magazines he had read. The room had two doors, but Billy knew not to leave. He had no explanation why, he just knew. He also knew he was dead.
Eventually one of the doors opened. A tall dark man in a dark suit came in. It was the red tie and matching socks that Billy noticed, not the black clipboard in his hand. Billy stood.
"Let's see here," the man said, "you are William Timothy Rawson, born May 18, 1954, in El Monte, California?"
"Yes," Billy answered solemnly.
"Parents are Patrick James and Sybil nee Tomerson Rawson?"
"Well then, welcome to Hell."
Billy Rawson was finally rebuked. Gone was the confident smirk and sarcastic laugh. "Hell?" was all he could say.
"Are you surprised?"
"Well...no, I guess not. That means you must be..." Billy couldn't find the right word.
"I am he. I have been given many romantic names over time, some that I have enjoyed. But please call me by my given name, just call me Satan."
Billy Rawson always knew this was inevitable. He fought with himself for a moment trying to think of a reason why he might have been rewarded with heaven; there was none.
"Come now, Mr. Rawson," Satan said, "or can I call you Billy?" Billy nodded, thinking to himself that the devil could sure as hell call him anything he pleased. "It's my job to house you until it is deemed proper to reevaluated your case," the Prince of Darkness continued, "That shouldn't be too long. Perhaps a billion years or so. You're case is pretty simple. I mean, it's not like your Hitler or anything like that. I'll try to make your stay as comfortable as possible."
Billy interrupted, "...but I thought Hell was..."
"Pure fiction," interrupted Satan in return, "conceived in the minds of poets. Makes damn good drama, don't you think? Anyway, just let me know what your needs are and I'll try to oblige. And by-the-way, you have one wish coming. It's like the one phone call thing. It's part of the deal. Think hard about what you want. I can grant you anything you desire. Anything but freedom. I am, after all, not my brother. But everything else is yours. Think. I'll be back." Then he left the room.
Billy thought and thought about what he wanted. He thought for years, waiting inside that dentist's reception room. Finally, it came to him.
At that very instant, Satan came in the door. "Well Mr. Rawson, have you decided?"
"Yes, I have."
"Well, what then?" Satan laughed, "Oh, I love this part, you know. This is the best part of being me. Tell me, Mr. Rawson, what is your wish?"
"I want to make love to me."
"You want to what?"
"I want to feel what it feels like to be made love to. I want to know what it feels like to be a woman. I want to know if a female orgasm is the same as a man's. I want to feel what a woman feels. I'm not queer or nothing, now don't get me wrong. I'm just curious."
"Now that's a wish."
"Can it be done?"
"Why sure it can be done. Pretty simple stuff. Billy, I can call you Billy, right? Well, Billy, you do impress me. You make me proud."
Instantly, they were standing in Billy's living room. It was just as he had left it. The Elton John album was still on the stereo, the motorcycle magazines were still opened on the coffee table, LeRoy Neimann posters filled the walls, and the stained coffee mug was still in the same place it had been dropped right before he took off up the canyon looking for action. He was home.
"Good luck, Billy," Satan said as he walked toward the door, "see you in the morning. Don't do anything you wouldn't do?" Satan laughed and as the door closed behind him, Billy heard him say, "I do love my job."
Billy Rawson sat down and listened to Elton John talk about some tiny dancer, when he suddenly felt a rush of nervousness go through his body. He took a deep breath and heard the door bell. He stood up and walked toward the door and felt the anxiety race through his chest. He opened the door and standing there was the most beautiful creature ever imagined. He stood gawking for a moment when he felt a twinge of pride—but it wasn't his pride. He asked the woman in and he felt flushed when she said yes. He offered to take her coat and when she removed the satin wrap, he felt the tickle on her arm. This was it, he thought, he stood there and felt what she was feeling.
The night moved on and he charmed her. When he was funny, he felt amused. When he was deep, he felt moved. He was doing the feeling for both of them. When he finally reached across the sofa and touched her shoulder, he felt her race of passion. He felt the wanton she felt. He felt the tingle in her breast, and the heat beneath her belly. He felt how different they were from his own lusts. He felt the controlled urgency she had and was impressed. He lunged to kiss her and she accepted him. He felt both of their hearts paced with each other and the heat and coolness of the air on both of their skins. He touched her where he felt it felt best. He learned so much feeling her thoughts. He felt the rush as she fell back into his bed and the lose of balance as he fell on top of her.
He felt that she needed him inside of her. It was a more intense emotion than man owned. He thought the world was exploding as he felt himself enter her from her side. Where man was the weapon of war, woman is land fought for. He feels the fury of battle, she feels the invasion. He felt her sweat and his sweat. He felt the pressure of his weight on her. He was both the conqueror and conquered. He was granted his wish.
He awoke and turned toward the other side of the bed. She was gone. The door opened and in walked Satan. The room was unchanged. It smelled of the previous night.
"I granted your wish," said Satan, "I hope it was all you desired. A wish such as that deserves at least the hope. And I hope the memory of last night can keep you satisfied for the next billion years or so. Until then, you may keep the house, you may keep everything in it. It will never deplete. What is yours, will always be yours. Until a billion years, Mr. Rawson, good day."
He was gone in a puff of blue smoke. Good drama, thought Billy. He walked into the living room and put Elton John back on. It was while the tiny dancer danced, that he had a chance to relive the past night. He had come to know what no man had ever known—what it feels like to be a woman. He thought about every chill and brush, and rush of blood, and what a woman makes. He was able to look back and relive the entire night. He thought to himself that this is truly Hell. He knew the truth now, there was no question, everything had been answered. There was no room left for doubt. For the next billion or so years, Billy Rawson had to live with the fact that he was a lousy lover.
In The Solitude Of Purgatory
The morning sun sliced through the room like a giant scythe, bending and breaking the walls of dust that flew throughout the room. A sharp sun-blade moved slowly across the silk comforter, edging over the hills and gullies that two bodies create.
Inch by inch the light crawled, bringing a heat into the half-lit bedroom. The light and heat combined to rouse one of the bodies and the ritual morning dance of stretching awake began.
Softly, a groan echoed off the light painted walls. Through the comforter, a body turned and reached for the other. The arm extended and touched...
"Ahh," he yelled. He jumped from the bed and brushed his hand over his chest, "How many damn times do I have to...Jesus Christ...Oh, that was horrifying. Damn it all."
The woman pulled the comforter back. Her head peeped out of the top. She was a striking woman. Shoulder length brown hair, perfectly combed, big cheeks, cute little nose, and huge puppy dog brown eyes—she looked remarkably similar to a young Ida Lupino.
"I'm so sorry," she said, "sometimes I forget."
"Well...yuck," he shuttered, "don't let that happen again. Do you know what that feels like? Christ, it's made me sick."
"I am sorry. It won't happen again. I swear."
"Well...just make damn sure of it." He made his way over to the window. He pulled the linen curtain aside, "I think I want hot croissants with orange marmalade this morning."
She arose from the bed. Her white camisole was perfectly pressed. She moved with royal grace.
"Oh," he continued, "and Irish mint coffee."
She left the room, leaving him alone to bathe and dress. The silver tub filled quickly and within minutes, he was pulling on perfectly tailored dark blue pants and the matching vest. He left the room after he ran a comb through his thinning black hair. He looked in the mirror and saw the same ugly little man that looked back on him yesterday.
He looked every bit forty-eight. The paunch that he wore around his belly proved his life-long addiction to Italian food. He was badly out of shape. The walk up the stairs most of the time took his breath. He was a pitiful, sorry man. Throughout his life, people stayed away from him—he barely liked himself. He made his way down to breakfast.
In the dining room, she stood like a goddess. She was wearing a tan dress with a wide blue sash—almost the same one Ida Lupino had worn in High Sierra. The table was set with the finest china and silver, three long white candles burned around the setting, and his breakfast looked exactly as he had asked for. She pulled his chair out and he sat and began breakfast.
"It's a wonder I can still eat," he said, "after that this morning." He shook his head. "You know, it felt like a touching a damn snake...all scaly and slimy. Ooh...god, just thinking about it makes me sick."
"I am sorry," she apologized, "but sometimes..."
"I don't want to hear no more of those damn excuse. Just don't do it again. Could I get some orange juice?"
She left the room and came back with a silver chalice.
"You did leave the pulp in it, didn't you?"
He finished his breakfast and walked out on the veranda. "It's gonna be another beautiful day," he said, "yup...another beautiful day." He sat in a thick leather lounge chair and watched the sun rise. A few lazy clouds polka-dotted the sky giving off just the right amount of shade. He asked for a tall pitcher of lemonade and she instantly brought it to him with a frosted glass. "Sit down," he told her. She sat. "Did you ever get a chance to see Johnny Eager?" he asked her.
She shook her head.
"Oh, you missed a great movie there. It had Robert Taylor, and Van Heflin, and...oh yeah, Lana Turner. Wow, she was something.
"Anyway, it was the story of this two-bit hustler who tried to muscle in on the syndicate's business. Robert Taylor, who played Johnny Eager, was real cool, see, and Van Heflin played his second. But it was Lana Turner who really got to me.
"There was this scene, see, where after Lana falls for Johnny, and Johnny get this visit from Lana's father, who turns out to be a crooked judge...Hell, ain't there always a crooked judge? Anyway, the old man tells Johnny to stay away from his little girl and Johnny asks what it's worth. So all hell breaks loose and..."
For an hour he told her the story of Johnny Eager. Every detail, every scene.
"So remember I told you about the scene where Lana tells Johnny that she loved him? I'll tell you something for nothing, that was like wow. So there was Lana, what a beauty, wearing this long black sequin dress with a wide black beaded belt, and her beautiful blond hair pulled back with a black ribbon—she was stunning. And Robert Taylor, now that's what a man should look like. A black double breasted tuxedo with an angel white shirt and black bow tie, it was incredible. There was heat in that scene, real heat." He nodded his head for a moment, watched the sun move behind and out of a lazy cloud, took another sip of ice cold lemonade and said, "Don't you think lobster salad would be nice for lunch?"
After they took lunch out on the veranda, he leaned back in his chair and breathed deep. "Think I'll take myself a nap," he told her. "I just might need the rest."
"Thank you," she interrupted, "thank you for letting me love you. Thank you for letting me stay here with you forever."
"Ah hell," he told her as he walked out of the room, "You have no place to go, and anyway, as long as you give me everything, I'm happy with you." Then he walked up the stairs to the bedroom.
He lay there trying to sleep and for an instant wondered how he became so lucky. It seemed that throughout his entire life he was always on the tail end of a two headed coin. Nothing went right for him, every deal he made soured; every job he had he lost; every girl he liked left. One thing after another, it was always something. So how did he luck out big this time? No explanation.
After he died, he had that meeting with all those angels, and they told him he didn't have enough credits to get into heaven, but the good news was, he wasn't going to hell either. Purgatory, they told him, for maybe a million years or so. A home, and all alone. They'd come get him when it was time.
Well, all that was par for his life—more bad luck, but how could she be explained? How could he luck out and find her?
A fallen angel, she told him, a black spirit. He found her hiding that first night they left him here. Her name was Adeidra, and she had lived in the 1800's. Her sin was denying God. Time and time again she swore out loud that God was just some letters in some old book. Then she died and found out how wrong she was. Damned to hell she was, damned for all time.
Anyway, she told him that somehow she was lost in the system and was able to sneak away. They would never miss her. Hell was so full, that one less dragon skinned demon wouldn't be noticed. So she left Hell and wandered the void that surrounded the heavens knowing that she was a lost soul. She could never go anywhere, someone would find out about her and send her back to Hell where her dragon skin would be eternally burned off by the fire baths she was forced to take. So she just wandered around the void and waited for time to end.
How lucky to find her, he thought. Finally someone who'd stay. Someone so grateful to him that they would love him no matter. Imagine finding someone to love in the solitude of purgatory.
They found out soon after their life together began that she had the full powers of a nether-angel. She was able to create any temptation he desired. She could give everything and be grateful for the giving. He nodded off to sleep.
When he awoke, he found a black tuxedo folded over the dressing table chair. He bathed again, sprinkled on some old cologne on his chin, and pulled on the perfectly tailored black pants. He took the black bow tie that hung over the chair and tied it around his neck. He reached for the double breasted jacket and was surprised how well it fit. He looked in the mirror and nodded. If only I looked this good alive, he thought.
He walked down the stairs to a darkened dining room. The only light was coming from the three candles still burning on the table. He flipped the light switch on the wall and the room lit up. A rich dark brown filled the room. He heard the door open and turned to see her walk in. She seemed to glide over the hardwood floor until she was by his side. Her scented blonde hair was pulled back by a black ribbon and the sequined black dress hung to her like flesh. A beaded black belt circled her waist as she moved closer to him. So beautiful, he thought,...so damn beautiful—she looked a little like Lana Turner.
Later that night, as they lay in bed, he turned to her and kissed her perfumed shoulder. "I'm sorry about all that stuff this morning..." he said, "It was uncalled for."
"Think nothing of it."
"God, I love you."
"And I must love you."
"Yes, I guess you must."
"Anything you want, I must do," she told him, "I have no where but Hell to go. I'll make you happy. Just let me stay here with you. I'll give you everything. All you need do is dream."
His voice softened, "I know who I am, and who I'll always be. Nothing can change that. It's just that...here with you, most of the time, I'm not the ugly little man who was damned here for a million years. I've become a prince charming. That's all I really want—not to be the real me."
She slid over and pressed her body next to his. He ran his hand up and down her silky smooth back. "I understand," she said, "and I promise never to let you see the real me."
He smiled and she kissed his neck. "Oh," he sighed, "this is heaven."
"Yes," she said, "yes, it is."
Every Lonely Midnight
He opened his eyes for just a moment before the white light forced them shut. He squinted them open again and saw a shadow move towards him. "Is someone there?" he asked. He heard a shuffle and a soft feminine voice.
"Yes," she whispered, "I am here."
"Who are you?" he asked watching the shadow close in on him.
"I am Stasha."
He felt the soft back of the chair hold him up. He pried his eyes open but the white light pierced through and forced them shut. He felt the softness of a small hand hold his cheek and the warm of the musk in the air around him.
"Be still," she told him, "you have forever."
He was weak. He tried to stand but the power failed to enter his legs and he landed back on the soft chair. He resigned himself to wait.
The stroking of his cheek rocked him to a calm. Slowly he began opening his eyes. Each time he began to speak, she would place a finger over his lips. When he finally reached a focus, he looked at Stasha. She was beautiful.
Stasha smiled at him and placed her hands behind his head and helped him off the chair. He looked around the room and noticed that everything was either black or white. The tables, the chairs, the cupboards and doors were all painted in the extreme. No grays, he thought, not even shadows. He felt the strength in his legs return but leaned on Stasha none-the-less. She was dressed in a long white shift which was contrast to her long black hair. She spoke to him and he was flooded by the deep of the black in her eyes.
"How do you feel?" she asked him.
"Weak," he answered. "Where am I?"
She didn't answer. He pressed her again, "Where am I?"
She turned away and paused before she said, "I don't know."
He was confused for a moment. His face turned into a puzzle. He pulled Stasha towards him. In a cool panic he asked, "Who am I?"
Again she turned away shaking her head and said, "I don't know."
He walked back to the chair and sat. He strained to remember. What a puzzle. He knew colours, smells, distances, and sense; but he didn't know who he was. What a curious thing, he thought.
Stasha sat next to him and began an explanation. "I found you sitting in this chair," she told him, "I don't know how you got here or where you came from or who you are, but I welcome your company.
"You see, I've been here an awful long time—perhaps a million years or more. I don't know where here is, but I have a few ideas. I remember dying," she said, "I remember being buried and I remember floating away. Then the next thing I knew I was here. And here I've been ever since. I've tried to leave, but there is no where to go. I have my flute and there is always water to feed my garden, so I continue. I have spent the last million years just wishing for company and suddenly here you are."
He turned to face her and held out his arms. She fell to him with a sigh. She pressed her head into his shoulders and began crying. He stroked her hair and wondered who he was.
Six months passed. She became used to his company. He would spend all his time trying to please her. He was somewhat content in her company; finding solace in making her happy. He would sit on the chair and listen for hours as her mouth touched the flute and magic escaped. Then he would sit alone in the dark black and white room and stare into the nothing out the window.
She approached him in the dark and sat by his side. "What's wrong," she asked, "are you troubled?"
He swam into her dark eyes and shook his head. "I'm not sure what's bothering me," he told her, "I just don't know." He felt the warmth of her arms around his shoulders and the cool of the darkness. "It's just like...like an itch I can't seem to reach, or a word I can't seem to say. It's more like a question I can't answer, hope I can't have, or light I can't see. I want to be happy with you here. I want to walk with you in the nothing and listen to the angels breath out your flute, and I want to touch you and love you and give you what you need; but I want to know myself also."
"You talk of your past," he continued, "the things you did and the things you shouldn't have done. And that's what I want. I want to remember a past."
"You mean before me?"
"Oh no, please don't misunderstand me. I am here to make you happy."
"And you do."
"I want you to have everything you want. But there is that one small part of me that needs for me. You give me everything that you can give. I just need everything I can give. It's that simple. Who am I?" For the first time since their first meeting, he directed the question at her. He repeated, "Who am I?"
She sat silent for a moment until she realized he wanted her to answer.
"You once told me that you wished for company," he said, "that you wished for me. Well here I am and I am here for you. Why?
She sat in her quiet for a few moments, sighed, and turned to him. "I've been banished to purgatory," she told him, "I understand that my sins were not enough for the eternity of hell, but that my sacrifices were not payment for the reward of heaven. I've resigned myself to that. And I've always accepted the solitude of purgatory. I know alone. So I thank who ever gave you to me. I don't know where you came from, and at first I didn't care. I was happy to share my world with you. And I thought you were happy to just be. You can breath, you can think, you can laugh, you can sit stilled; and I thought you were happy. You're here right now and that should be all that matters. I don't know what else you want."
"I want to know who I am," he shouted, "It's not you, it's me I want to know. Don't you understand? With you and this world, I'm happy. But I can't go on without me. I hate for just being. Don't you see? Don't you understand? I've got to know who I am. If you want me to live on, I must know. If I can't, you've lost me. I just can't go on..."
Stasha stood and walked away. She paused, turned, and began sobbing. "I know who you are," she said. He looked up passive. "I know where you came from." She walked to the white window and spoke slowly. "You're what I've always wanted. You're what I've always needed. Even before purgatory, I knew you. You were there for every lonely midnight and every rainy Sunday. You are a part of me." She turned back and walked slowly toward him. "Now you know...now you know..." She closed her eyes and again she began crying. "You are a figment of my imagination. You only exist in my hope and my solitude. Now are you content?"
He sat open-mouthed on the chair where she first found him and tried to focus. The lights were getting brighter. She watched him squint and slowly disappear. "I'm sorry," she whispered as he became vapor, "...I'm so sorry."
When the tears dried from her white shift, she stood and walked for her flute. She returned and sat in the chair and began playing. Angels kissed the air around her and she played on. She didn't know how much longer she would be banished to purgatory, and it didn't really matter much. She played on remembering his memory and the short times they shared and knew that it not only had to be enough, she knew that she had touched her soul and that truly it was enough.
By shredding the bark of an old elm down the street and letting it dry, and then painting it silver and stringing it over the small pine he found on the next block, Sidney Pack could imagine he had tinsel for his Christmas tree. He had been working on it for months and finally finished the project on, by his own calculations, December 24th. When Sidney was eleven, in search of a merit badge, as a tenderfoot in Boy Scouts, he made a calendar using only the stars and the phases of the moon. Now, all these years later, he was thankful for the one useful thing he did in his life.
After Sidney messy death, and as a victim of a mob hit, he was sent before the council of angels that fairly heard his case and banished him to Purgatory. It didn't take deliberation. You see, back on earth Sidney was a small-time hood, never having the guts or brains to mastermind that big score. He went through his life content to knocking off liquor stores and snatching big old purses from little old ladies. He never got rich. He never got famous. He was never big-time enough for major jail time. His only reward for a life of petty crime was always living on the run and ending up for a million years in Purgatory.
His one saving grace, the only thing that kept him from Hell, was his overwhelming guilt. Sidney would spend the whole of the week just ahead of the law filling his meager pockets with meager booty and then spend the whole of Sunday in church. In fact that was where the mob finally caught up with him. It seemed that Sidney had made the fatal mistake of holding up a convenience store owned by a Mafia capo. In these days of waning influence and modern organized crime, the one mobster Sidney crossed was the only left who lived for bloody revenge. Any other store and Sidney would have just gotten away with thirty-six dollars and a bag of mexican chips. Instead he left with the cash and a price on his head. They found him coming out of an Independent Baptist church soul cleansed and the perfect target. One small caliber bullet was thrust through his left temple and the gunman disappeared back to Oakland leaving Sidney buried as a third page story and standing in front a council of angels.
He was given a spacious home; a home like one he had dreamed of all his life with an upstairs and a fireplace. He was also given a neighborhood that looked exactly like a small northeastern town he once visited escaping the heat of a Gotham summer. Of course he was alone, no one goes to Purgatory with company, but he spent the first hundred or so years looking for signs of other life—there was none. In and out of empty house up and down the empty block, Sidney conceded his solitude. And again, being so used to nickel flop joints and shining landlords for the rent he was uncomfortable for years and years in his own house waiting for someone to come and take it all away from him.
So Sidney Pack settled down and made the best of his situation. He started his calendar and built a small sun dial (another benefit of Boy Scouts) and began living a second life. His house was filled with books and he began reading and learning how to cook. He found that food in the house never depleted and the firewood rack was always filled.
It was in that second year of recorded time that Sidney built a small alter in the back room and used it every Sunday as a church. He also learned to pray. He gave thanks for the house and the neighborhood and the books and the food and the fact that he wasn't in Hell. He had a lot to be thankful for.
December 24th and Christmas Eve, Sidney filled the fireplace with thick logs and sat next to the make-shift Christmas tree and smiled. This is the way he had wanted his life to go back on Earth. He was content. He was happy. He was deep into a book when he thought he heard a knock. He froze. He burned a stare into the door until it knocked again. He marked his place in his book and walked slowly toward the door. He was frightened. They finally found him, he thought, someone had finally come to take all this happiness away from him. He opened the door.
Standing in the half light of evening stood a man dressed head to toe in red with white fur for a collar and cuffs. He had an enormous white beard and two bright red cheeks. Sidney was shocked.
"Hello, Sidney," the man said.
Sidney couldn't answer.
"Could I come in?" the man asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Sidney answered coughing out the first words he had said out loud in a couple of hundred years, "please, come in."
"Thank you," the man said making his way into the living room. He smiled when he saw the tree. "Very, very nice. I do like your work. Tell me, how long did it take you?"
"About five months for everything, including the decorations and lights. I took my time. I have plenty, you know."
"Oh, yes, I know."
"Please," Sidney gestured, "have a seat, make yourself comfortable. Would you like some egg nog? Made it myself."
"Thank you, that would be nice."
"How about some sugar cookies?"
"All right, only a couple though, got to watch my weight."
Sidney left for only a minute and returned with a cold mug and a saucer filled with brightly decorated cookies.
"Oh, these are wonderful," the man said taking a huge bite and leaving crumbs on his white beard, "you must give me the recipe."
"It's quite simple..." Sidney began.
"...I've been watching you," the man interrupted, "as a matter of fact I've had my eye on you for quite sometime now. You see, it's my job to mark your progress. I guess you could say that I've got myself this little list that I check twice. It kinda tells me who's been naughty and nice." The man smiled showing off bright white teeth. Like that, he looked exactly as Norman Rockwell imagined he did. Sidney smiled back. "This is how I thought your life would go on Earth," the man continued, "this is how we set it up for you. However you took a couple of wrong turns and made a couple of bad mistakes and ended up...well, you remember. Anyway, this is much, much better I'd imagine?"
"Oh, yes," Sidney agreed, "I'm happy now."
"Good. So tell me, Sidney...what have you learned?"
Sidney thought about it for a time and answered. "There is just so much that I've learned, I could take a billion years trying to simplify it and I really think it silly to be profound to you. But I will say this, I've been both happy and unhappy and I like happy better."
The man smiled. "That is good, that is very good. Well, Sidney," the man said standing, "I've got to be going. This is a busy night for me, you know. So many things to do and places to go. But before I go, tell me, what is the thing you miss the most?"
Again Sidney thought. "I guess what I miss the most is some sort of company. Someone to talk to, someone to share all this new life with. A friend, sir, that's what I miss most—a friend."
The man nodded and walked toward the door. "Merry Christmas, Sidney, and so many happy new years. Oh, I almost forgot, I brought this for you." He handed Sidney a bright green and red package. The man smiled, "Merry Christmas."
"Thank you," Sidney said with the beginnings of a tear in his right eye, "thank you." The door was about to close when Sidney caught sense of himself. "Sir," he yelled causing the door to reopen and bringing the man back into the half light, "I'm sorry for asking this, but...I've got to know...are you the real Santa Claus?"
The man laughed, "Well, tonight I am. This is only one of my many part time jobs. The rest of the year I'm God. Good night, Sidney, bless you."
Sidney stood stilled for what seemed like hours. The man left and the quiet Sidney was left in finally shook him. As he made his way back to the reading chair he remembered the gift in his right hand. He sat and tried to tear open the wrapping, he couldn't—his hands shook too much. Finally, with the green and red paper on the floor, Sidney opened the small box. Inside of soft tissue wrap, folded in half and taped shut was a piece of white paper. Sidney carefully pulled the tape apart and unfolded the note. It read: 345 Oak Street. It took a second before he realized that it was the address right across the street. Sidney stood and walked toward the door. As he opened it to the night, he took a deep breath. Across the street, under the falling snow, at 345 Oak Street, a house that had always been empty, Sidney saw a big picture window just left of the decorated door with the lights on.
Free Bonus Singles
Bouncing up the stairs with a rattle that sounded like rubber sticks on snares, she turned the corner, entered the room, and fell to his lap. A spark of life ignited as they melted together joined at the lips. She would occasionally sit back, stare into his eyes for a moment, then fall forward into him. In the quiet, I could hear both their hearts beating as one. It was a true, pure, unrestricted love they owned that moment. They were alive. Forty-five minutes later she tried to go. Her leaving was more like an exorcism. She would try to stand up, then was pulled back by gravity. She leaned in and out of him until, finally, she broke free. As she bounced down the stairs again with the same rattle, I realized that I was left as their only witness. It was quiet again, and he smiled without effort. He looked at me and tried to talk; he couldn't. Finally he shook his head and said, "I can't explain what it is when I'm with her. But...she makes me feel like Bambi's father."
He first fell in love with her as she worked behind the counter at the bakery. She would bend down behind the slanted glass and appear sweeter than the glazed donuts and maple bars. She would smile behind a tiny nose that was always flecked with flour. Her short dark hair covered her cute little ears and his heart went pitter-patter every time she sliced brownies or separated rolls. He thought that heaven was the smell of vanilla on her index finger. She might have loved him too, had she not transferred to the butcher department. He tried to follow, but was lost. She forgot his name. I mean, how did he stand a chance now? He was just an average man, and she was a sweet girl that handled meat all day?
He came into the room and found his brother crying on the floor. Neil Sedaka was turning at thirty three and a third revolutions sobbing in a thick falsetto. "What's wrong?" he asked. "It's all just so sad," his brother told him without looking up, "I don't know if I can make it through another day. There's just nothing to look forward to." "Nonsense," he told him, "you have the whole world ahead of you. You're young, you're rich, and you look like me; what more could you ask for?" His brother looked up. How sad his eyes were. "Hope," he said, "that's all I want...just hope." Neil Sedaka finally shut up and gave way to Carole King. She spun and cried just as sad. He wanted to reach down and hold his brother. He wanted to protect him and give him everything without effort. It was those eyes, he thought, they were just so damn sad. "What is it?" he asked. His brother dropped his head back to the floor. He cried through his hands and said, "I don't think I can go on living in a world in which Orville Redenbacher is a party animal." Good point, his brother thought and left the room.
He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth and waited for her to breath down his throat. His tongue pushed back her teeth as she reached up with her face. Finally, they pulled apart as he fell to her neck breathing hot air into her flesh and sucking in the scent of patchouli and the sweetness of her sweat. This is the feeling lost with youth, he thought—the race of passion mixed with calculated pleasure. This is the innocent kind of lust that passes with age. So many songs raced through his aching memory...You make me feel so young. You make feel like spring has sprung...Younger than springtime am I, gayer than laughter am I. He was a kid again. Here in the arms of a woman more than a decade younger, he toyed with images of yesterdays past. In the dark, he became young. He found what he had lost in those days he ran instead of watched. She gave him the gift of youth. He licked her neck and whispering in her ear, "I wish we had met when I was sixteen." She kissed his chin. "I do too," she quietly told him. "But," she said as she bent down to tug the base of his neck with her teeth, "then again, I would have only been three years old."
Her father walked into her well lit bedroom kicking aside the skirts and shirts and shoes that littered her floor. She was huddled under her favorite pink comforter sitting hunched over on her bed. She didn't even try to hide her tears. Her father sat next to her and put his hand on the side of her head patting her ears. "I loved him, daddy," she said turning up to look into his eyes, "I feel like my heart is twisted and torn. Why do I feel like this? Please tell me that I'll be over him tomorrow." Her father wiped the tears from off her face and smiled. "I wish I could, baby," he told her, "I guess all daddies wish that their little girls go through life with laughter and dances. It just ain't so. Guys come through and break their little hearts and make them cry and turn them into children again. It's all a part of growing up and there's nothing I can do to stop you from getting your heart stepped on. Just know that it will happen and like you've heard a thousand times before and like you'll hear a thousand times to come, you always get over it. Not very wise, huh?" She sent new tears over her cheeks and fell into his arms. "I've been wanting to give this you for some time now," he continued. From his left hand he produced a black cassette case. "It's Billie Holiday," he said, "I've always believed that every young woman should fall in love with Billie Holiday. I know it's not much, but...I think it will help. It always has before." He stroked her hair until she began to breath in constant deep breathes. "Thank you, daddy" she said, "thank you." He left the room and she waddled over to her console. With volume low and lights off, she escaped into a world where jazz guitar and saxophone pity carried her away. Billie Holiday bit at her soul and soothed her heart. She still cried, but now she had someone to cry with.
Though the room was quiet, he was still screaming. It was not an angry scream, but more of one that comes with adrenaline. He was sitting on the floor cradling her in his lap. God, I love you, he said, but you know that. I don't know what I'd do with you gone. He breathed in and out forcing words through gasps and tears and quick sucks of air. He quieted for a moment as he rocked her back and forth. I've given you my whole life, he told her, every hour of every day. I've lived for you. Is it too much to ask that you live for me? Can you do that, can you live for me? He felt his hands grow warmer and she became lighter. Tomorrow, he said, we'll go out and forget this ever happened. We'll go over to the island and spend the whole day. I'll give you the world on a string and love you and live every second for you and all I ask is that you live for me. Can you do that for me? He lifted her face to his and kissed her mouth, please...please live for me. Just then, two men broke in through the door and pushed him aside. He rolled over and hurried to stand up. He caught his breath and reached for her. One of the men grabbed his arm smearing the blood over his sleeve. I'm sorry, it's too late, the man said, she's already dead.
Although he wasn't old, he was so much older then her. He remembers telling her that the first time he fell in love, she was only two. Age was a difference that grew as they grew apart. He was happy to live in her time because he owned the knowledge to balance the mistakes of his time with the blessings of hers. He was happy to care for her; though she cared for everything else. And it was her youth that he loved. She was so full of young and he had lost the gift so many years ago, he would follow her just to feed off her youth. She would bounce in the room and would suck in his breath and lose the thoughts he had planned to share with her. Perhaps she understood him; perhaps she even cared for him, it's just that she had forever to live for and he had already tasted mortality. He was, at times, despairing, and she was mostly becoming despondent with him. He would spend the free moments in his life scripting out lines he would tell her that would prove he truly loved her; but every time she entered his world, he fumbled with hello and goodbye and destroyed everything in-between. She owned a gravity with him, and she didn't even know it. Content as he was to simply live out her youth, he forgot to act out his own emotions. How happy she made him and how sad he was becoming living out his love alone. One day she smiled at him and he ran the whole day suspended above the ground smiling at no one and everyone. She had become his whole life—she had become love. He skirted down the carpeted hall shuffling with a limp that proved his age not realizing the world was watching him. She sat behind a desk full of flowers and watched him walk by. He smiled out loud and just as he was passing, he opened his grin and said, "Even my heart is dancing..." And it was.
"No, I don't hate nobody," she said covering her face with her little hands, "but I don't like the cold." Big brown eyes sat above full pudgy cheeks that all six year old girls own. Loose tangled light brown shoulder length hair fell into her face and she didn't seem to notice. She was pretty (but then again, who would dare call a little girl ugly?) She was very thin, though she owned a childish plumpness. She was, in so many ways, like every other little girl; but she wasn't. She owned a secret. It was a secret that destroys adults and should never be shared with a child. It was a gift from her father in a time he will always blame on so many other things. He gave her the guilt and lives with himself denying it ever happened. She knows it happened; she'll never forget. But it's autumn afternoons like today that she'll be given a respite from memory. She runs out the door and turns her face up to the shaded sun. With a quick wide movement, she bends down and snags up a piece of scrap wood. She sits on the cool grass and folds her legs up under her cotton dress that has crept up above her thighs. The air is cold, but she sits and imagines a thousand different stories as the wood becomes a thousand different things. She ignores the cold and escapes to different worlds where she can become anyone she wants to be. In her presumed innocence, she sat with the ability to forget. For the moment, all the pain, the guilt, the shame, the tears, and the despair have disappeared. In her own little childlike way, she survives the past with a secret power that only children own, she simply smiles.
From the very first moment they locked eyes, he noticed the pained smile stretch across her face. She quickly shook her head to shake off the shock and said hello almost matter-of-factly. He smiled and touched her hair almost like a reflex. She didn't shy away or move forward, she just stared at him with that pained smile. "I knew you'd walk in here one day," she said, "Everyday, I would watch the door knowing that you'd eventually walk through it. So, how yeah been?" He didn't answer, he just smiled and waited for her to talk. "I can't believe it's been so long..." she continued, "Then again, I can." It had been seven months since she decided to leave. She left behind all they had become. "You know, I knew you'd come through that door one day. I've been waiting. I can't tell you all the hours I wasted watching that door. Every time the chime rang, I'd come out from the office to see if it was you. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you're here, but I am." They smiled and laughed and talked of old times and she told him that she had forgotten how happy he made her. "I'm not unhappy now, it's just that...you make me so especially happy. Thank you for coming in. You had to though. Lord knows I've waited. You know, when I left, I told myself not to say goodbye. I thought it would be easier that way—It wasn't. I'm so glad you came in here today." He wasn't sure what that meant until he saw the pained smile return to her face. "I'm glad I had a chance to see you again," she said, "Now I can stop watching for you to walk in that door. Now I can stop waiting, say goodbye, and get on with forgetting you."
The slow scratch scratch scratch of the stylus begging to jump the vinyl has owned this room since the song ended minutes ago. He struggled to lift his head in a vain attempt to begin the record again. It had been the tenth time he heard the song and the tenth time he sank lower and lower into depression. She was gone and the all he had left was the slow scratch scratch scratch at the end of the record. He hadn't even the strength to reach over and change the song. He was immobilized by injury. He sat there listening to the scratching until he held his breath in an attempt to gather the power it would take just to move his hand. After pained moments of struggle, he lifted his head and tried to move. With the only strength left in his soul, he choose to yell. The muted shriek drowned out even the echo of amplified scratching. With all that he was left with, he cried, "Love you when you're bad, why do you have to be bad? Why can't you just be good. Why do you have to be bad? Why?" He slipped back to the chair and would never rise again. Now, forever and forever, the room was owned by a perfectly metered thirty-three and a third scratch scratch scratch.
Even though he so much wanted to look at her, he just sat there and stared out the window. The rain running down the slanted glass caused shadows to run down his face. If you pretended, you could imagine that he was crying. He said, "You know, you've become such a wonderful listener." A cynical laugh made its way out of his half smile, "Or maybe it's because I've become such a wonderful talker." He wondered if she was looking at him. He took the chance and smiled and laughed again. This is where the scene would change, pause, then fade to black. In his mind, he thought, that's a take.
He scratched the paper with the little bird feet markings he so boldly called the alphabet in an effort to compose a letter. He tried to write with passion; it was the one emotion he was told he lacked. He tried to make sense of his own confusion; knowing full well he lacked the tools. It was an important letter, one that would try to make up for the years of hurt. He threw away the first six drafts after they became over-worded. Well aware that his letter would be read out of politeness only, he tried to say the right words knowing they would only be taken wrong. It was difficult just composing the letter in the first place. For years and years, they told him he would never be anything to anyone. He was almost convinced. For years and years, he was fed with his own lack of confidence. He was told his life was meaningless and unimportant. But now he found someone who loved him and found the goodness in him. He found someone who wanted to grow old with him. How could he be so wrong if someone found him so right? It was with this knowledge he wrote the letter. He wanted them to understand; no, not just understand, but he wanted them to leave him alone. So his seventh draft was the one he sent away: Dear mom and dad, You always said that I'd never be more than a boil on the asshole of the world. This note is to inform you that I have surpassed even your expectations. Be proud of your sun, I have just bought the Taj Mahal. Love, the kid.
It had been tearing her up for sometime now. All the questions she asked herself in silence and the doubt she lived with were eating her up alive. She couldn't live with the uncertainty any longer. So she asked him. That was six hours ago and now her questions were answered and all doubt erased. She sat in the half dark and watched him sleep. Occasionally he would turn over and see her awake and ask her why. She hid her tears with a turn of a head and told him that she just wasn't sleepy. He'd turn back to his pillow and she'd go on watching him. Finally, after hours of silence, she said loud enough that he would certainly hear, "Damn you, you don't even love me enough to lie to me."
She saw him the moment she entered the cafe. He sat, alone, beneath the paint-by-numbers copy of Picasso's 'Old Man With Guitar'. It's true she saw him that very first moment, but it was some time later she noticed she was staring at him. It was the way he held his fork that she focused on, or maybe it was the methodical chewing she was watching. Whichever, she became obsessed by him. He sat there unaware that he had come under the curious eye of the girl across the aisle. He coughed while drinking chilled water and she almost jumped up to save him. He scratched his rough beard and she felt a tickle on her neck. He gawked at the backside of a teenage waitress and she felt uncomfortably embarrassed. He had become more than a lunch show to her and she didn't quite know why. He sat back after his lunch and she noticed that she hadn't touched her food at all. She just sat there and watched the man and wondered why. His dark eyes were familiar to her, but were eyes she couldn't place. His thin lips above the pointed chin were like someone she knew; but who? It became almost painful watching him. Something so familiar, something so frightening close to her. She watched him until he turned and caught her stare. It was at that moment she understood. Looking into his eyes, it was like looking into a mirror. This man; there was no way of proving it, but this man—a total stranger, could well be her real father. She broke the stare, looked down into the cold coffee cup, swallowed her shortening breath, and let him walk out the door.
The official cause of death will be suicide, but I was there; I know better. I know that before you can take your own life, you must own a life. He didn't kill himself as much as he just died. He simply gave up. He stopped wanting to live and just died. Too bad all that can't be in the official report. I'll always remember him as one of the three brothers that interrupted each one of our lives for a time. They were only three brothers, and little people at that. They weren't even gnomes, or dwarfs, or pixies—they were only men whose only magic was the ability to make noise. And though it was that noise that gave them notoriety, it was also why he felt so ordinary. After thirty-six years, he couldn't live with that. He wanted more. And there was no more. Noise! he'd always say, guns make noise, opening a can of soda makes noise, I want to be different. Of course, he wasn't. He was always the third of the three brothers. It became too much for him. He just gave up. I should know, I was there. I saw him that last time. He was despondent. I knew something was wrong. He blamed his brothers for his failures. Always number three, he'd say. They tried to help him through it. They couldn't. It was an uneventful demise—if not sad. I awoke that morning and poured myself a large bowl of Rice Krispies and threw in a ripe strawberry. It was when I poured in the milk that I heard it. As soon as I tipped the white plastic carton and the milk fell, I heard: Snap, Crackle, Fuck it—then he drowned himself.
Bathed in neon and amplified fiddle, he sat on the bar stool believing he was the last cowboy on earth. He existed in this bar. Outside this world, he was alone. Inside, he was the show. His only claim to fame, he'd tell you, was that he was the man who first said, You don't buy beer, you rent it. Wearing a black Stetson, a shirt with fringe and pearl buttons, and with green polyester pants tucked into imitation cowhide cowboy boots, he spun around the stool talking so the everyone in the place could hear him. Taking a swallow of the Coors longneck, he said, "You know, boys, it's like I always say, You don't buy beer, you rent it." He laughed at himself as if it were the first time it was ever said. Everyone followed suit. He was fun to watch. It was sad to see, but without someone like him, they would be forced to look into their lives and see how pathetic they really were. He was the jester. Everyone laughed at his life to save their own. He twirled around and around until he fell off the bar stool and wet his pants. Everyone laughed as he sat there drinking what was left of his beer sitting in his own urine. The place roared. He laughed at himself and said, "Well, you know what I always say, Shit happens, what-d-yeah-do?"
He reached across the bed. His white boney hand touched the blue printed sleeper that hung across her shoulders like Christ's robe. "I'm scared," he said with a tear in his voice, "I've never loved anyone as much as I love you, and it frightens me." "What, darling," she whispered, "what frightens you?" His voice quaked. He answered, "You do. You frighten me. You see, all my life I've been alone. And I've never complained. I've had to heal my own pains, and invent my own happiness. But now, since I've met you, I've found out that even I could be happy. And now I'm afraid someone is going to take that away from me. I'm afraid that if you died, it would be something I couldn't deal with. Before I knew this love, alone was my friend. Now, I couldn't exist without you. I'd go mad, I'd lose my mind." He fell to the bed. She rose without making a sound and walked behind him. She stroked his spine and kissed the back of his neck. "Well then, darling," she said, "We'll just have to make sure you die before me."
She sat on the edge of the worn sofa hunched over a weathered acoustic guitar—hair fallen over her face, black laced legs crossed, strumming forced fret chords in forced time. "I think I've got it now," she said looking up with a smile that barely disguised the tears of moments ago. I knew what she was playing, but still I found it difficult to recognized the intro of Peace Train. You're right," I told her as I fell to her side on the sofa, "I think you've got it now." She pushed the guitar to my lap, I set it down it aside and let her lean into my shoulder. "You do something long enough," she said, "you'll eventually do it right, right?" "Right," I said balancing the weight of her body on my own. It was only moments ago I came home to find her crying on my sofa with Billy Holiday bleeding digital blues through stereo strings. As I tried to touch her exposed back, she flipped away and said, "I've just realized that life is a cancer and memory is only a symptom. What do you have to say about that?" I wanted to tell her that most people are profound when sad, and that even though every one has pain, she should feel lucky that right then she had someone to share it with. Instead I stroked her hair and left the room. Later, as she leaned against me and General Public replaced Lady Day, she looked up and said, "I think I've changed my mind. What I meant to say is that hopelessness is the acne of the world." I smiled and nodded. She dropped her head and closed her eyes. Welcome back to the real world, I thought and continued stroking her hair.