Issue 6.1

Issue 6.1

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—PROSE—

Yellow Bus by Erin Lynn Cook

Lost and Found by Kathryn Lynch

Jumper by Max Eddy

Christmas Report: Season of Many Dangers by Nancy Scott Hanway

Life Is Finally Perfect for Me by Taylor Koekkoek

Dead on the Turnpike by Joseph Giordano

Lone Star by Trey Edgington

Da Xin by Peter Tieryas Liu

War and Peace: No Connection by Henry G Miller

April 19th by Thorn Rosenthal

The Payback by Kevin Clarkston

Earth Angel by Douglas Cole

Walking Behind by BJ Yudelson

How We Play It by Shelley Stack

Precipitous Fatherhood by Lome A Aseron

Goodbyes and Google Earth by Janeen McGuire Nelson

Piano Lessons by Stephanie Kaplan Cohen

Kept Woman by Michele A Hromada

Bolt by Ronda Muir

No-Man’s Land by Jeni McFarland

Greased Lightning by Jim Landwehr

Catering Job by Eleanore Lee

Invoking the I by Sylvie Beauvais

Between Stone and Air by Audrey Camp

On the Peak to Peak Express by Carolyn Light Bell

Strays by Raud Kennedy

The Little People by Krishan Coupland

The Grim Shady by Michelle Gray

Schrader’s Misdemeanor by Robert Wexelblatt

The Key to my Heart by DA Cairns

Winter at the Pool by Emily Taylor

Facing the Tide by Kevin Coons

A Chance Meeting by George August Meier

Minor Repair by Marcus Pactor

The Drumming by Fred McGavran

—POETRY—

Our Stories Now In Progress by Eileen Hennessy

infinite stardust by Liana Kapelke-Dale

Cygnus Grieving by Elizabeth Crowell

Love Poem by Sandra Kolankiewicz

Phillies vrs. Cardinals (September 24th, 1981) by George Korolog

The Painting Left Behind by John Grey

Crenulations | Word Travel | After Searching for a Falling Star at Emandal, Without Success | Intermission by Maureen Martin Appel

New Day | Forsaken | Limbo by Priya Joshi

I Understand Crickets by Emily Strauss

Red Sun | Sink Into by Gay Baines

Fly by Elena Botts

Ice Storm | Granite by Cynthia Eddy

With Bird’s-eye View by Karen Neuberg

Contract by Leslie Ullman

Block Captain | Joe by Holly Day

Irish Sweater by Ralph F Smith

Cactus Juice | With the Best of Intentions by Randy Aittaniemi

Happy Hour at the Bluebird Tavern by Kevin S McCoy

Death Old Friend | The Knife by Douglas Cole

Muir Woods by Erik Bendix

Fallow by Brynn Copeland

Yellow Bus

By Erin Lynn Cook

abby lived on the side of highway 41 in an abandoned yellow school bus.  It was nestled into a dirt turn-out big enough for two busses, but Gabby’s was the only one.  Amy’s life was already a mess when her ten year old ’76 Volvo broke down expectedly just east of Gabby’s turn-out.  In a panic she did the right thing and took her foot off the accelerator, put the car in neutral, and allowed it to coast the rest of the way down hill into the half circle of dirt.

 

Gabby wasn’t expecting company, but he was never unexpecting of company either.  His life was used to passers by waving and honking, yelling out their car windows “Hey Gabby!” as they sped up the hill that led down the steep slope to the small mountain town of Oakhurst.  A stopping ground for folks on their way to Yosemite.  The Gateway to Yosemite, the town proclaimed.  The other gateway was a bit further north, Mariposa.  The two communities fought for the title, but only Oakhurst had Gabby.

 

He walked with a stutter, as if a stutter could be found in steps.  His hips were bad from his days of riding bulls and irritated broncos.  The rodeo circuit from his youth left him feeling a need to be free in the late 60’s when the flower-child movement finally hit the San Joaquin Valley.  So Gabby up and left his leather chaps for a more leisurely life of wild animal friends and the bright yellow bee of his bus.

 

Amy’s car kind of wheezed.  If cars were capable of wheezing and men were capable of stutter-walking.  She opened her car door.   It creaked a loud warning.  Gabby already knew she was there, of course, which is why he was around the side of his bus by the time Amy had unlatched her hood and had it propped open with the rod peering inside at a cavity of metal, rubber hoses and streaming steam. Like the dirty rotten teeth of a stray dog or a baby left too many nights with a milk bottle for comfort instead of a mother’s arms.

 

She didn’t think of that metaphor.  Or if she did it reminded her of why she was driving away from Oakhurst, the town where Ted lived and their baby didn’t.

 

“Need help?”

 

She could smell Gabby from where she stood with her head shaded by the hood of a car that reeked of oil and exhaust.  She nodded.  “Yeah,” she said.  “I need help old man.”

 

“Not a particularly friendly comment.  I’m Gabby.”  He smiled, gaping holes where teeth may have been.  His nose had been broken from so many falls, his arm was twisted like it had joints where others didn’t.  His fingers weren’t right.  She counted them in her head.  He was missing something.  Thumbs.  Common for cowboys whose spines had been broken and thumbs wrenched off by the leather straps they clung to for one, two, ten, fifteen seconds an earning.

 

Amy took his hand.  It was dry and warm.  Clean, unexpectedly.  Hers wasn’t much smaller than his own, and it was already blackened with grease.  He was shorter than her by a good four inches.  She couldn’t tell if it was stoop, age, or just plain short.

 

“I don’t know anything about cars.”

 

“They’re not much easier to know than women.”

 

Amy rolled her eyes.  It was just what she didn’t need.  Another man yelling at her about how emotional she was.  How irresponsible and pathetically insecure she was.  Couldn’t she just deal with the decision? he’d said.  It was reasonable.  They weren’t ready for a family.  Hell, he didn’t even have a fucking job right now.  I’ve got a job, she’d said.  He laughed.  She hated it when he laughed at her.  She spit at him.  Then he threw a beer bottle at her.  Ted, not Gabby.  It was her fresh memory.  Couldn’t really be called memory yet, because it had happened so recently she could still see Ted’s nostrils flair.

 

“Been driving drunk?”  Gabby said.  He sniffed at her shirt.  His eyes narrowing.  “Hard going round these bends when you’re drunk.  I know.  Seen a ton of accidents just up there on that rise where your car gave out.”

 

“I haven’t been drinking.  It’s none of your damn business anyways old man.  If you’re not gonna help I’ll just set off down the road.  Shit.  It’s all I need another fucker telling me what to do.”

 

The both of them went silent.

 

Gabby made a kind of smacking noise sucking at his empty cavernous mouth.  It was a habit he’d picked up with his tongue.  Never could get used to the absence of teeth.  His thumbs were easier.  He cleared his throat politely.  He knew how to calm an animal down with short quick soothing sounds.  Horses especially responded to him.  When he’d climb up into the pen where they were snorting and ready to kill he’d give them a few clicks of his mouth and settle softly onto their sweating backs, their balls tied up hard under their girth to make them buck even harder.  His last year riding he’d lost most of his teeth and his thumbs and his back had been broken in at least seven places.  His ribs had been broken, a couple of them removed or pieces floating around somewhere in his own girth.  So he knew what pain was and knew what if felt like to have your testicles feel like they were ripped off.  The horses responded the best that last rodeo season.   Each horse a retirement ticket—letting him take home purses of ten thousand and more.  All of which he tucked away in his footlocker, hiding it here and there, under clothes or under the lining.

 

Amy didn’t know about any of it.  She had just seen the old man coming to and from Oakhurst and Fresno.  The drive between the two towns was long and Gabby’s old yellow bus was a permanent marker that she was almost back to Ted or almost away from him. She never considered the man who leaned often times against his bus waving at passersby with a smile.

 

“You’re a mad little thing, aren’t you?”  Gabby said.  He looked at Amy directly.

 

She turned red.  He’d no right to call her anything.  He’d no right interfering in her damn business.  A nosy old fuck, she thought.  Where did he get off?  She wanted to yell at him.

 

Her car let out a terrible howl.  Like the wind had been knocked out of it and it was just now feeling the pain.

 

“What the fuck was that?”  Amy jumped back.  She’d never paid much attention to the car.  It was a hand-me-down from Ted’s brother who lived in Fresno.  He’d felt sorry for his no good brother for what he’d said was the last time.  Ted had thanked him apologetically and Amy hated him for his weakness.  He was always going somewhere for luck.  Someone else for money or hope.  She was tired of feeling sorry for him.  Tired of being all things to him.  Mothering a grown man who only wanted her to lie in bed with him and not have his children.  Who didn’t want to commit to her but needed her just the same.  Every time, every fucking time, she thought, I try to leave he pulls me back.

 

So she took it out on Gabby.  The man with the bad body and terrible stench.

 

“We need to let this thing rest.  It’s a dying animal and wants its privacy.  Maybe if we come back to it in a half hour or so it’ll feel a bit better.”

 

As if on cue the car sputtered.

 

Amy turned abruptly but didn’t know where to go.  She was stuck on a dirt path that just circled back around to the highway.  Wherever she went she’d end up on the road.

 

Gabby knew better than to coax her.  He began to walk away towards the back side of his bus.  It was parked sideways.  From highway 41 drivers could only see one side, not the other.  Not many folks stopped long enough for Gabby to invite them to the other side of his bus.  He heard her footfalls and smelled the dirt she kicked up.  He figured she was throwing some kind of fit.  Like a horse balking at a river bank.

 

Eventually she’d not like the dust anymore and follow him.

 

 

His bus house was set up cozy for him.  The windows on the highway side were all covered with cardboard to serve as both protection from the hot summer sun and privacy.  The cardboard also served as a display wall for taping up his own water color paintings.  The subjects were memories and what lived with or around him.

 

Just outside was his camp stove and fire pit.  There were logs cut into stools and a table made of warped plywood.  There was a bench and two plastic white chairs turned gray from exposure and wear.  One of the chairs had a cushion on it and was placed in front of the fire pit.

 

There were two ice chests with broken handles filled with clean water and a small pump that needed to be hand cranked.  One ice chest was used for dishes the other for washing.  He changed the water every other day from a stream nearby.  On top of his bus was a solar panel used to recharge his radio and light batteries.

 

It was officially the Southern Sierra range.  The hill behind his bus was thick with ponderosa pine, azalea, and dogwood.  There were boulders big as cars and small as dogs.  It was a strange mix of parking lot and wilderness.  He ate what he caught and grew.  Or what the kindness of strangers and Oakhurst residents brought him.

 

Pies, mainly.  He loved a good pecan pie.  It turned out that just that morning Maggie, a widow who’d tried many times to hook him, had brought him two fresh pecan pies.  He cut two slices and waited in his cushioned plastic chair for Amy to come to her senses.

 

Women were always trying to clean him up.  In the twenty years since he’d lived in his bus he’d had three relationships.  All three were castaways.  Women that men had discarded.  He didn’t believe in left-over people.  Never had.  So he took them in and gave them missing things.  His good four fingers from each hand laced between their own, his rough unshaven lips against their necks, his touch up their spine and settling on their waist.  These women needed a man’s touch and he knew where to touch them.  It was natural for him.  Women.

 

Amy stuck her head around the edge of his bus.  Her hair was mussed up and her face was smeared with tears and dirt.  Amy would not be added to the three.  She was a child.

 

Amy looked around her.  Gabby smiled at her and she cringed at his toothless gaps.  It was disgusting.  On the table were two plates of pie.  She was hungry.

 

“That for me?”

 

“I suppose if you’d care to have a sit and enjoy a piece of pie, I’d like the company.  Why don’t you bring them on over here and sit by the fire.”

 

It wasn’t a cool day but not too warm neither.  It was late spring.  She could hear water running naturally near the hillside.  The snow run off was still pretty steady.   She handed Gabby one plate and took the other and sat on the other plastic chair.  It looked dirty, but she figured she was already dirty so it didn’t matter.  She laughed out loud.  Gabby looked at her.

 

“Funny pie?”

 

“You’re a funny old man.  That’s for sure.  How do you live up here without any house?  I mean, don’t the sheriff come and tell you to leave?  I know you’ve been here a long time.  I’ve seen you here.”

 

“Most people have.  Kind of hard to miss a big yellow school bus.”  Gabby ate his pie and watched the fire crackle.  Amy now understood what most of his smell was from.  It was smoke in his clothes.  Day and night smoke.  Stale smoke.  Smoke from a month ago fires when there was snow falling or last week when it rained hard.  Smoke that had soaked into his clothes and turned everything, even the back of the bright yellow bus, dirt brown.  She hated smoke.  It got in her eyes and stung her nose and throat.  She hated it when Ted smoked in their trailer.  She understood how smoke lingered and infested everything.  Her hair, her brush, her glass cups, her dish rags, her milk.  It made her already sensitive stomach turn.

 

The doctor had told her that for a week or two after the procedure she’d experience menstrual-like symptoms.  She’d feel crampy and have loose bowl movements.  She might even be queasy.  She was.  All the things the damn doctor said came true.  Even the pamphlet the psych nurse gave her was coming true.  Remorse, regret, guilt, shame.  Things that would linger, the pamphlet read, sometimes for months or years.  There were phone numbers of contact groups, support groups where she could complain with other stupid women who’d been with stupid men and been taken advantage of.  One woman in the waiting room had been impatient.  She’d snapped at the nurse to hurry it along, it wasn’t like it was her first, she’d said, and Amy felt guilt for even being there.

 

The pie had tasted good, but now it tasted like salt.

 

She set the plate behind her on the plywood table top.

 

“If you don’t mind, I’ve grown accustomed to not wasting anything.  If you’re through, I’ll finish that for you.”

 

Gabby wasn’t shy about his need for frugality.  He didn’t often get something as good as homemade pie and this child didn’t look very contagious.  Can’t catch broken hearts and dead dreams.

She nodded and he retrieved the plate almost licking it clean with the edge of his fork.  It was good pie.  Maggie always made good pie.  She made rhubarb and macadamia nut and mince meat and raisin and then the fresh fruit, apple, blueberry, chinaberry, and blackberry.  The last she made best in a cobbler served up with a dollop of her fresh cream whipped to a light consistency.  If she brought the whipped cream she always stayed for a piece because she brought it in one of her mother’s white porcelain bowls.  Both the cream and the bowl were a sight of almost decadence to Gabby.

 

Amy still seemed out of sorts.  The buttery sugary pie hadn’t soothed her ill manners.  Gabby determined that she’d just not had enough, but it was too late for that, his gullet was full.

A mosquito landed on his arm and he swatted at it.  Amy flinched, as if he were striking at her.

 

“What’s that for?” he said.

 

“What?”

 

“That.  That, you know, what you did just now with your head and mouth.  You acted like I was striking you.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is ridiculous.  I’m going out to the road.”

 

Amy acted like she was getting up to leave.  She put her hands on the arms of the chair and pushed a bit.  What did she want here?  She thought.  Gabby thought the same thing.  He snorted a bit.  She was a rude child, but he knew she was more hurt than rude.  She was tender inside.  Crusty on the outside and soft and vulnerable on the inside.

 

“I’m sorry for being curt with you dear.  Just relax a bit.  Let the fire strike a rhythm in your ears.  You can hear it talking if you just listen.”

 

She took her hands off the arms of the chair.  She didn’t want to leave.  Not really.  She didn’t know what she’d do out there on the road.  She could hike back up the hill and down the other side to return once again to Ted, but she didn’t want that.  Today was a new start.  She’d told herself those words that morning when she packed the Volvo with her records and high school yearbooks and letters from pen pals from summer camp that she kept in a shoe box.  She’d packed up her two photo albums and taken out the pictures of Ted and left them on the table.  He’d been out earning a few dollars by cutting down some trees with a friend.

 

She’d done what he’d asked of her.  And it was too much.  Nothing of him was alive in her anymore.  He was dead.

 

The trick, she thought, was to learn a new way of seeing.  Live alone, she’d heard somewhere.  Live alone and don’t need anyone.

 

Gabby put a stick in the fire and held it there until the tip flamed up.  He lifted it a bit and watched the flame lap and grow, and then he stuck the stick back into the coals and snubbed it out.  He kept doing it, like a game.  Amy grew quiet in her mind and let the fire speak.

 

He’d been right.  There was a kind of voice.  A crackly soothing sound, more like a song.  And the melody lines were the orange and blue that came forward.  It was a different kind of fire, she noticed, there was no smoke.

 

Gabby wanted to paint her.  She was a pretty thing with ruddy brown hair that didn’t stay contained in her barrette.  Her eyes were brown and deep, large almonds, and her nose was elegant too, nice nostrils.

 

“Would you mind if I painted you?” he said.

 

Amy was relaxed.  She shook her head but did not want to speak.

 

He settled himself in his chair again with a piece of wood as an easel and an old egg carton as a palate.  He dipped a cup into one of the ice chests and took his favorite brush from its drying place from under the body of the bus on top of a tire.  It was a snub nosed bus from the 60’s.  It had Central Union painted in bold on the side.

 

While he painted, Gabby talked.  It was his way of concentrating.  Whether he was painting a fallen tree, a bird on a stump, a squirrel eating acorns, or a snow storm, he talked.  Usually there was no one to hear his words, just the hydrogen and oxygen mingling like friends over the earth.  That was a divorce that would never happen, Gabby thought.  Never will the marriage of air disintegrate.  At least he hoped not.  Too many children would be devastated by that destruction.

 

His bus was a different kind of marriage.  The chassis and the body.  He knew it was rusting out.  Rust was the affair, the disease, the love that ate away at the metal.

 

“I’m 67 years old today.  How about that?  You didn’t know you showed up on my birthday.  And since it’s my birthday I’m going to give myself a birthday present and tell you a story.  I don’t often have folks to talk with for an extended period of time.  Not like I have a telephone or such.  I do have my radio, of that I’m grateful.  And I’m not so far removed from Oakhurst that I don’t walk up over that hill and mingle with the residents at the diner and the gas station once or twice a month.  But I usually don’t go over the hill unless it’s bath day.  The women at the diner like me to be a bit cleaned up to serve me at the counter.  I don’t blame them.  There was a time when I was overly concerned about my looks.  I had a lot of women when I was a cowboy.  Something about the rodeo infects women’s heads with romance.  Horses, I think, are the real cause of romance.  Put a good looking man on a horse and women have no control over themselves!”  Gabby laughed and had to lift his brush from the paper.

 

Amy liked his laugh.  It was unexpectedly high pitched.  Almost like a grandma’s laugh.  He was sincere, she could see that.  She felt safe here with Gabby on the back side of his school bus where no passing motorists could see.

 

But the Volvo was in plain sight.  What if Ted went down the hill and saw her parked here at Gabby’s bus?  She had to remind herself that his job that day had taken him up near Sugar Pine.  He wouldn’t be coming over the hill towards the valley until at least tomorrow.

 

She relaxed again and brushed hair away from her face.  She turned her head.  Gabby cleared his throat at her movement and she remembered that he was painting her.  The old man was painting her, she thought.  She wasn’t the odd looking one, he was.  She’d never been painted seriously.  Once at the fair a boyfriend in high school had their portraits done by a cartoon artist.  He’d made her head really big and her body tiny.  Her nose and lips were unproportionately large and her breasts and waist looked unnatural like a Barbie doll.  It didn’t resemble her in the least.  He’d paid a lot of money for the picture and when they broke up she ripped it in half in front of him.

 

“I hate men.”  She just said it.  Matter of fact.

 

“I can tell,” Gabby said.  “I can tell you’re not too happy with men right now.  Where’s your family?  Your daddy?”

 

“Dead.”

 

“I don’t think so.  I think you’re not telling it true.”  Gabby sensed she was lying.  Not so much lying, he knew, as just not telling the truth.  In his 67 years he’d learned that trick again and again.  He knew how to tell a woman she was beautiful and how to tell a man he was smart.  He knew that to say the right things sometimes didn’t mean to always be honest.

 

“That’s what I feel like.  They didn’t like me coming up here.  Said I should stay in school and finish out my senior year.  I told them to go to hell and that Ted loved me.  Ha.  That’s a lie, isn’t it?  You can tell that’s a lie too, can’t you old man?”

 

“My name’s Gabby, told you that. It’s rude of you to call me otherwise.  And yes, men can lie.  I know it.  Done it myself.”  Gabby kept painting.  It was not his usual habit to have someone else do the talking but it didn’t seem to interfere with his creativity so he let her continue.

 

“I’m sorry.  Gabby.  It’s just that I’m stuck here.  What’s down in the valley isn’t much of anything more than what’s up here.  What use is it to have a diploma when something as natural as a baby seems so complicated?”  She put her head in her hands and cried at her own word.  Baby.  Her baby.  She was the weak one, she knew.  Not Ted.  It was her baby and she’d let him make up her mind for her.

 

“No man can get inside your head, honey.  Unless you let them.  That’s true for anyone.  Man or woman.  No one can get into your head, unless you open up your heart and let their words in.  Now lift your head up again and hold still.  I’m almost done, then you can cry all you like.”

 

She let her head be controlled by Gabby’s words.  It cleared it to hold it steady and upright.  Let her tears slide back down her throat and get digested by her powerful acids in her stomach.

 

Let them dry up and become stones to throw into a river.  Gabby’s river.  She listened to the sounds of the fire and the distant stream.  She remembered the snow packed up high on the tops of the mountains, up above Sugar Pine where Ted was chopping down trees.  She thought of the snow melting and running down the mountain trying to find a way down to the valley where it could puddle for a while and get soaked back into the earth.  Or where it could find a larger stream, a river, and run and run with the other molecules to make it to the sea.  The great ocean of water that churned the clouds and seeped like an upside-down cake back up into the atmosphere only to come down again as snow the next year on top of someone else’s mountains.  She decided to be like that water.  She would run down and find her own river to take her somewhere new.  Even though the somewhere new would just be with the same old human species, the same old men and old women working like music notes to make the day go.

 

Gabby turned his portrait around and showed her.

 

Her head was tilted upwards, her chin like a small round stone, her eyes like puddles of chocolate milk, her hair flying out from the sides of her head.  Behind her head was the bus.  The bright yellow bus with such a sparkle that she had to turn her head and look for herself.  Sure enough, there was the sun peeking out from behind a white cloud sparkling like smile.

 

“It’s good.  It’s real good.”

 

“It’s yours.”

 

“Can you keep it?” Amy said.  “I’d like it stay here with you.  Then I’ll know where I am.”

 

Gabby loved this child.  She would make it.  He’d held her leather straps just loosely enough and clicked his tongue just long enough to soothe her wild fear.

 

They walked back around the bus to take another look at the beast that had needed a rest.  The Volvo’s engine turned over with ease.

 

 

——————–

In the past three years my fiction has appeared in numerous journals including Southern Humanties Review, South Dakota Review, Quiddity: International Literary Journal, and Harpur Palate to name a few.  I hold an MFA in Creative Writing and instruct college and high school English.  I am the mom of two energetic and smart guys who are fun to be around.  http://erinlynncook.com.

Lost and Found

By Kathryn Lynch

I

 

he trip to the grocery store had taken longer than expected.  As the Old Lady drove home, she turned on her headlights to offset the darkness which had begun to descend for the night.  In recent years she had left the night streets to the young, preferring to spend evenings in the quiet of her home.

 

On the approach to a long curve, the Old Lady detected an unusual shadow by the side of the road.  Anticipating the movement of a dog or cat into the road, she slowed down to avoid the disaster of killing or injuring someone’s pet.

 

She had already passed the spot when she realized to her surprise that the shadow was a small child wearing only a pair of underpants.  She turned her car around and approached slowly so that the child would not be frightened.

 

It was a small boy the Old Lady estimated to be about 3 and 1/2 years old.  He was shivering in the 45 degree temperatures.  His long hair was dark, dirty, and tangled.  He studied her with intelligent blue eyes as she wrapped him in a blanket she kept in the trunk for emergencies and placed him in the front seat of her car.

 

He didn’t speak, but when she asked him his name, he told her it was “David”.  “Do you know where your mom is”, the Old Lady inquired?  David’s reply was both chilling and matter of fact.  “On the floor.  No get up.”  Without a cell phone in the car, she decided the child would be safest if they left the area.

 

Arriving at the local market, the Old Lady carried the blanketed boy to the deli area, placing a sandwich and container of orange juice in front of him.  The boy tore into the sandwich, wolfing down such large bites that he began to cough.  It was apparent that he had not eaten in some time.

 

She asked the cashier to call the police.  They arrived just as David finished several cookies provided to him by store personnel.  A Social Worker soon followed.  The look of sadness in the boy’s eyes as he left the store with the Worker haunted the Old Lady.  At their request, she accompanied the police to the spot where she had picked up the boy so that they could track down the location of his family. It was late when she got home with her groceries.

 

II

 

She thought about David many times over the next few weeks.  She hoped that he was home and that his mother was well.  The Old Lady recognized that she had handled the situation the best that she could.  It was up to the authorities to see that the child did well.

 

It was with this attitude that she found herself driving back from town early one afternoon after completing some errands.  As she approached the familiar curve, she was shocked to see the boy again.  He was sitting on the shoulder of the road, without a stitch of clothing, tossing rocks into the air.

 

As she pulled up beside him, David’s bright blue eyes widened in recognition.  The Old Lady opened the passenger door and the boy hopped in.  He was shivering again so she turned the heat up high.  This time she made a different decision.  She would take him home.

 

He was sitting in her recliner, devouring two hot dogs and some applesauce.  She had found a blanket to keep him warm and some cartoons on TV to keep him busy.  In about an hour he was sleeping soundly.

 

She would watch the local news.  If they reported a boy missing, she would drive him to the Sheriff’s Office.  If not, he would spend the night at her house and in the morning she would decide what to do.

 

When he awoke, the Old Lady attempted to comb David’s hair.  The mats pevented this, so she cut his dark locks into a boy’s cut and herded him into the shower.  He was dirty, and like any small child, he resisted being scrubbed.  However, when he was dried off, he was as handsome as any boy could be.  The intelligence in his eyes was unmistakeable.

 

The evening news said nothing about a missing boy, so the two of them went to Walmart.  David was wearing one of the Old Lady’s tee shirts which she told him were his new jammies.  As the boy rode in the cart, the Old Lady bought him long pants, tee shirts, underwear, socks, and shoes.  He was delighted when each new item went in beside him.  Lastly, she bought him a transformer doll to keep him company and they went home.

 

III

 

The following morning the news was again strangely silent–no missing boy. The Old Lady now made a drastic decision.  She had a nephew in the State of Washington who, though divorced, had custody of his 7 year old son.  He had expressed several times a regret that he had not had more children.  Now she called him, instructing him to take the following day off work.  She was bringing him a boy.

 

So it was that the Old Lady and David made the trip North.  The boy chatted happily, napping off and on.  She stuffed him with fast food until he finally seemed to be full.

 

She and her nephew agreed that someone would probably be looking for David within the next 30 days.  In that event, she would pick him up and deliver him with a note to a fire station at least 50 miles away.  If no search took place, the boy would stay.

 

To her amazement no one looked for him.  David was living his new life, his inquisitive blue eyes taking in new experiences.  He had a brother, a cat, and a Dad who loved him.  He called her “Grammy”. As he approached school age, David needed a birth certificate to enroll in class.  The Old Lady, who had met all kinds of people practicing law, knew a man in San Francisco who specialized in producing birth certificates, Social Security cards, and other required documents for migratory workers.  For $500.00 he gave the Old Lady a Washington State birth certificate for David which listed her nephew as the father and his ex-wife as the mother.  The validity of the document was never questioned.  It was used to obtain a Social Security card, and later a driver’s license and a passport.

 

IV

 

It had been six years since David had gone north, when the Old Lady observed a car pull up to her trailer.  A well dressed woman with dyed red hair approached the porch, but stumbled on the bottom step as she began to climb.  The Old Lady went outside to help the woman who came inside.

 

Her name was Virginia and she was looking for her son, David.  She had obtained the Old Lady’s name and address from a police report which was generated when the boy was turned over to the authorities at the local market.  He had been returned to her, but he had disappeared shortly thereafter. As she spoke, one hand pumped a lighted cigarette back and forth to her lips.  The other hand shook, and from the smell about her, the Old Lady suspected that Virginia was drunk.  “Did you call the police?  Was there a search?  I don’t remember hearing on the news about a missing boy.” The Old Lady got no answers because Virginia had nodded off and was asleep.  The cigarette was burning dangerously close to her fingers, so the Old Lady removed and extinguished it.  She knew that there had been no search because the plan had been to return the boy to the authorities if there was one.

 

When Virginia awoke, she was cordial and friendly, appearing to forget the purpose of her visit, never mentioning the child again.  The Old Lady suspected that alcohol had fogged her thinking to the point that she was not capable of following through with any train of thought or plan.  She remembered David telling her that his mother was on the floor and wasn’t getting up.  After a few moments of pleasant chat, Virginia staggered down the stairs and was gone.

 

Four years later the news reported that a local woman named Virginia had died in a house fire.  She had been drinking and apparently smoking in bed.  Neighbors said she had a longstanding alcohol problem.  The news report did not mention a missing child.

 

David continued to thrive, especially in school, where he was a top student, absorbing anything the teachers presented to him.

 

He visited his “Grammy” twice a year until she died, crying like a baby when it happened.

 

Epilogue

 

David cannot remember his mother.  He does remember being wrapped in a blanket and a trip to Walmart with his Grammy to buy a transformer doll.  The ragged old doll hangs on his office wall, next to his college degrees and other acolades of his life past and present.

 

He went to medical school and later became a Board Certified Cardiologist.  Peers said his operating skills were second to none.  Patients remembered his bright blue eyes and wide grin as the first things they saw on their roads to recovery.

 

He married at forty and fathered two sons.  They did not get lost.

 

 

——————–

Kathryn Lynch is a retired old lady whose health confines her to her home.  During her working life, she was an elementary school teacher and then an attorney.  Writing helps pass the time.

Jumper

By Max Eddy

  wake up at 8am. By 8:15, I’m reading news online and sipping some Earl Grey tea with milk. By 9am I’m researching which bridge I’ll jump off in order to kill myself. My suicide seems like a casual inevitability these days. Not unlike Christmas, an approaching birthday, or a storm you can smell coming.

 

I’m able to focus my attention on bridges because I am unemployed. I’d been between jobs before, but true unemployment was a state of being I had previously not even understood. Those were the people I heard about on the radio — a nameless, shadowy statistic that might upset the President’s approval rating.

 

I quit my job over eight months ago, long before things got really out of hand with the whole suicide/bridge jumping stuff. When I made up my mind to quit, I told myself that this was all so that I could focus on my writing. Without the job, I’d have enough time to write modest articles that I could sell to any one of the successful print magazines in the greater DC area. The fact that I had never paid for a newspaper in my life, subscribed to no magazines, and read all my news online did not dissuade me.

 

In the end, I did not face rejection: I didn’t write anything. Not so much as a sentence. Instead of striking out to follow my heart, I sent out a series of half-hearted applications to jobs that were essentially the same as the one I’d just left. On the rare occasions I got a callback, or an interview, I’d catch myself attempting to sabotage my own efforts.

 

Once, while working on a particularly tedious writing sample for a communications firm on K Street, I realized I had alternately written “disarming shrugs” and “studly munchkins” over 6,000 times. At first, I moved quickly to delete all this and start from scratch but ended up turning it in with a smile and a handshake. They said they’d call.

 

Bills began piling up. I had the money to pay them, but I only paid up when the red envelops  with frowny faces printed directly on them arrived. I’d done this at least six times and, as a result, developed a furtive if one-sided romance with Román, the man who works the late shift at the water company’s call center. Every time my bill lapsed, which had become rather frequent by now, I had to call him and explain myself.

 

I imagined him as a wiry young man, brilliantly mustachioed, wearing a peach cowboy shirt and standing out like a sore but beautiful thumb in the windowless call center. In my mind, he sat amongst hundreds of dreary drones, laboring away under harsh fluorescent lights high overhead. He sat resplendent, perfect, oblivious to the hopelessness of it all.  From his voice, I imagine it is Mexico City. I’ve never had these feelings for a man, but Román is special.

 

In between bouts of financial truancy, I spent most of my time lying in bed and streaming movies through my Netflix account. It was a chain-smoking-like behavior. For at least a week my movements became automatic: I queued a film, watched it impassively, and then queued the next film. Repeat, ad infinitum.

 

I knew that this behavior was not healthy, but like a worker on a Detroit assembly line I was hesitant to halt my repetitive motion. It had kept me afloat for this long, and if I stopped the works a foreman might suspect me of sloth or union organizing and have me shot in the head — metaphorically speaking. So the movies played on, and on, and on. At some point in this haze, I noticed that Amadeus (1984, starring F. Murry Abraham) started to crop up more and more often amidst the endless parade of films.

 

Though the idea of halting my behavior was unimaginable, I was aware that things were amiss. I tried to keep a grip on it all by making hash-marks on the wall with a now quite grubby fingernail every time Salieri’s anti-Mozart scheming swam into my consciousness. I suspected I was not awake or fully in control of myself during this period. As such, the number could not be considered “accurate,” but I felt that even a rough count would be useful.

 

Salieri, grim-faced, watches as Mozart cavorts around a party casually dispensing genius in the jealous Italian’s face.

 

Make a hash-mark.

 

Salieri looks rapturously pained reading the sheet music he’s purloined from Mozart, acutely aware of his own mediocrity in the face of perfection.

 

Make a hash-mark.

 

Salieri beams aboard the Enterprise and takes control of the spaceship, slamming it headlong into the mobster’s blimp before they can release deadly poison over a Prince concert ca. 1991.

Hesitate, then make a hash-mark. Just to be sure.

 

This particular train of insanity was finally derailed one night when the power went out and I was forced from my prone position in front of the TV. There were over 70 hashmarks on the wall. I staggered toward the window to gauge the extent of the blackout, which seemed fairly large.

Huge swaths of the surrounding high rises were dark. It was dark through the trees where the Masonic Temple usually stood, boldly illuminated. Perhaps it was a hot night and this was a brownout from millions of air conditioners working night and day. Any thoughts about the weather were purely speculative on my part, as I had not left the apartment in days and was comfortably climate controlled.

 

But then I saw it. To the right. Far, far to the right, and almost out of view. The bridge. I didn’t know which one it was; it hopped with modest arches across the Potomac in the direction of the National Harbor. It was glittering gold in the dark, lit up by the eerily orange industrial lighting used only in street lamps. Against the dark river, it glowed like a dream. I wanted to be on that bridge. More than that I wanted to be one with that beautiful bridge.

 

The idea that I should jump off it followed so naturally that I didn’t notice at first. It was just there, and it kept going straight through my mind. Then: Why that one? It’s desperately beautiful, but there might be other, better bridges. Then: Would it have to be a tall bridge, or would a low bridge work? The questions rolled on, and on, and soon Salieri was forgotten. That night, I Googled “bridges + ‘tall ones.’”

 

My slate of possible leaping points shrank and widened in the course of my investigation. At first, I looked internationally. Anywhere that boasted the very tallest and the very best bridges was fair game. I eventually limited myself to bridges within the US. I was unemployed, after all. I wasn’t about to blow the rest of my cash just to kill myself.

 

For a while, I shrank from the prospect of possibly drowning should I survive the fall and focused on purely over-land bridges. Most of these “bridges” turned out to be little more than glorified overpasses. And besides, the idea of smooshing into pavement was not much more pleasant than drowning.

 

My last potential over-land bridge was the so-called “Bunnyman Bridge,” which had the advantages of being local, and having a bizarre story attached. Wikipedia wasn’t clear on the details, but at some point in the recent past a series of sightings involving a ghostly man in a menacing rabbit costume had amassed themselves around the bridge. In one story, he’s a vengeful specter packing a double-barreled shotgun. In another, a crazed, demonic murderer with an axe and glowing red eyes. In still another, a strange, old, bunny-suited man that yells insults at people but disappears under the misty bridge before he can be caught or rebutted.

 

This seemed ideal. I’d be adding to the legend and, in case I failed to die on impact, I could be murdered by a maddened bunnyman with either axe or shotgun. However, the actual bridge was barely seven feet tall, making it more likely that my broken but stubbornly alive body would just be mocked by the old guy in the rabbit suit.

 

“Can’t even fuckin’ die, eh?” He would snarl as he takes a raspy bite off his carrot. “Fuckin’ pussy.”

I immediately removed the Bunnyman Bridge from my shortlist.

 

***

 

“It’s been a while since we talked, and I’m sorry for that,” I said, only a little surprised at the calm in my voice. “It’s not because I don’t care for you, it’s just that things have been really strange lately.”

 

“It’s all right,” says the phone. “I figured it was something like that.” The voice is so smooth, so understanding. I smile, wondering why I had waited so long.

 

“Well, I’m sort of through that right now and I think everything is going to be better…more stable from here on.”

 

“Ah, sí. I’m so glad to hear that.”

 

“The downside is that I don’t think I’ll be talking to you again for, you know, a while or something.”

 

“Ah! Well, that is good, no? As long as your life is together and you’re taking care of what matters it’s ok, yah?”

 

I laugh. “Yeah, you’re right, of course. Thanks, Román. I’ll see you around.”

 

“Buenas noches, mi amigo.” Oh, Román.

 

***

 

Barely a week after, I got a call from my cable company. Or rather, 17 calls from my cable company, the last of which I finally answered when it dawned on me that without internet I can neither search for bridges nor watch Netflix (Amadeus, now only 3x per week). The woman curtly informed me that my bill has lapsed with such frequency that no form of payment by mail or electronic transfer will be accepted. If I want to continue receiving their services, I have to appear at their primary office and make at least 30% of the payment in cash.

 

I ask where their office is and she tells me: Ocean City, Maryland. I jot down the address and she hangs up. Well, at last there are some bridges out that way.

 

And such bridges. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is nearly five miles long, composed of seemingly separate and distinctly designed sections. Immediately, I am in love. I’d been eyeing some overpasses and historical bridges closer to D.C. (convenient, greater chance of disrupting presidential motorcade) but nothing compares to this.

 

The Bay Bridge sits impossibly high off the water, swooping and turning as it winds its way from shore to shore. On one side, the widening bay with placid, sparkling waters. On the other side, spots of emerald greenery embrace the waterline. Angelic white cranes cruise lazily through the wetlands, their preposterous bodies only making them more beautiful.

 

I’m driving slowly, taking in all aspects of the bridge. The high, vaulted pillars that anchor thick cables, the light blue metal. Cars are passing me on the left side, honking angrily. I don’t notice, partly from the view and being lost in thought, but mostly because music is playing at the highest possible volume my Pontiac allows. It’s a mix CD I made, comprised entirely of Mozart’s arias, Salieri’s chamber compositions, and the sound of F. Murry Abraham walking across polished marble in Viennese shoes.

 

I don’t even see the Suburban swerve around me, the driver making a series of gestures, pull in front me, and slam on his brakes. I turn my head placidly, perhaps attracted by the red tail lamps in front of me that are growing larger at a worrying pace. I try to brake but hit the accelerator instead and surge forward in a way that Pontiac had never done in the six years I’d owned it.

 

Salieri’s shoes are going “click, click, click, squeeeeeek, click, click…” but I am screaming and swerving wildly. My evasion is far from graceful and I clip the Suburban sending me into a spin. Nothing is making sense, and I am still screaming, and I see the horrified faces in the Suburban, and I see the glittering watery horizon growing larger on the other side of some very insubstantial looking guard rails. The images repeat, spin zoetrope fashion, and I can’t hear anymore.

 

Clarity, for a moment, and I consider how, unlike Salieri, I won’t have a fall from grace, just fall. Into the Chesapeake no less, which is still dreadfully polluted — a fact that will surely hinder the recovery of my tragic remains.

 

There is a crunch, the sound of cement breaking, and everything goes black with a bang.

 

Sometime later, I hear music. Beautiful flowing music that flowers and grows gently under the direction of an oboe. My eyes open on their own and I can see quite plainly that my car is still very much safe on the bridge; my collision with the barricades doing little more than cosmetic damage to the bridge. Inside my car, everything is covered with white powder from the ejection of the airbag. I have little doubt about the airbag’s successful deployment, as my nose is broken and bleeding fiercely.

 

I stumble out of the car, but the Suburban with it’s fright-faced occupants is long gone. Though they were thoughtful enough to leave their insurance information clipped under my wiper blade. The old man in the bunnysuit isn’t even here. It’s easy to slip into the groove of having nothing to do and no direction to follow after these months, and I do so. But I keep the car between me and the water.

 

I must be bleeding down my leg — probably a major artery dribbling my vital fluids across my upper thighs. No, wait, it’s just my cellphone vibrating. The much-touted touchscreen is shattered, but still usable.

 

“Hello?” I say, uncertainly.

 

“¡Señor!” The voice is belovedly familiar. “How are you doing today?”

 

“R-Román?!”

 

“¡Sí! My friend, I am calling to tell you something fantastic!”

 

“Román, I’m not going to be paying that bill. I’m hoping I’m about to be arrested or, barring that, walking to Delaware.”

 

“Delaware? Are you close by?”

 

“Well, I’m on the Bay Bridge. I was going to jump off but then I almost died so I don’t think that’s really in the cards anymore.” I have to hold the phone from my ear to avoid the slivers of glass, but I can still hear Román’s thickly accented, silky smooth words.

 

“Señor, do not go anywhere. I am turning around right now to come and get you.” There was some distant mechanical commotion and the sound of voices on his end.

 

“Get me? How the hell are you going to get me from the Mexico City call center?!”

 

“México?” Brilliantly pronounced. “Call center? You’re crazy. I’m coming to get you. Stay there.”

 

Eventually, the police come and try to connect me to the unpleasantness with the Pontiac. I lie quietly. I say I’m a vagrant and that I’d been punched in the face by this angry guy who lurched out of the Pontiac and then sped off in a waiting Suburban. “I think,” I tell the cop, “that he left his insurance information on the windshield.” I can tell they’re not buying it, so I add: “got a buck?” because I need to be convincing.

 

The cops want to keep laying into me, but EMS are quite insistent that I be looked at. They hustle me back to the ambulance where my nose is “corrected.” I have to assume that act of breaking my nose was the worst pain my body had ever experienced, but I have no memory of that happening. With that in mind, having my nose “corrected” was the worst and most unimaginable pain I have ever experienced. For a brief moment, I like to imagine that my screams are the loudest thing on the bridge.

 

I’m looking angry and indignant, and more than a bit confused. I’ve whined the whole way and deafened the formally good natured EMS woman who fixed my nose. I can see the police milling around my car. They at least have heard me scream, and I can see that they’re going to come over here and start talking to me again.

 

The thought makes me shrink. I don’t know what I’ll say, if I’ll lie or just come clean and say it’s my car and I banged up the bridge. I don’t even know why I would think about lying, I just don’t want them or anyone else near me. I just want to get this over with, my eyes flickering back to the water’s edge. Get this over with or go back to my apartment far and away from all this reality.

 

Cops have made up their minds before I had, and one of them is coming this way. He’s tall, lean, and probably has a history dealing with morons like me. When his gaze trails away from me and a look of shock cover his face, I’m just as confused. And then I hear the sound of the loudest horn on the road.

 

It’s Román. He’s executing an illegal U-turn out of oncoming traffic in a huge green John Deere combine harvester with yellow trim. Against the grey of the sky, the grey-blue of the bridge, and the blurred lines of cars, the combine gleams like bright green godsend. Up in the cab I see a heavy-set man in a leather jacket and cowboy hat — Román. He’s smiling and waving at me, as is the little girl next to him and the young men on the back of the combine’s cab.

 

In a flash, I’m away from the EMS. Everyone’s too flatfooted to stop me, but I’ve seen enough movies to know a rescue when I see one. A flurry of strong brown hands are lifting me up and into the cab. The little girl is deposited in my lap; it’s his daughter. He’s laughing, a thick belly laugh that shakes the two seater cab.

 

Suddenly, we’re in gear and driving away. The young men clinging to the back of the combine — his brothers, Román says — are smiling, looking curiously at me. I can’t see past them to the police and ambulances circled around the wreck of my car, but we’re not stopped so I only assumed they’re cutting their losses. The little girl kisses my cheek.

 

Román tells me that he’s never worked at a call center in Mexico. He drives the combine at his family farm in the cornbelt region of Delaware and takes calls for the water company on his bluetooth headset to hedge out the hours. He’s not at all like imagined him. He’s big, warm, fatherly. The mustache is far larger, and far more luxurious than I could have imagined.

 

When he called me earlier, it was because he wanted to share part of the $600 million book deal he’d landed for his memoirs, “On The Phone With Román.” Apparently, I’m a big part of it and he thought it was only fair that I get some of the money.

 

He looks me up and down, and then says that maybe instead of money, I need a job. He asks me if I would like to work on the farm with him. He’s thinking of expanding, now that he has the money to do so. Maybe some wine grapes. Maybe a particular variety of orange that’s part of a popular bullshit celebrity diet. He says he could use my help.

His brothers, on the back of the combine, smile and wave at me. Román sends the combine hurtling down the road and the sun in our eyes.

 

I didn’t give him an answer, but I do stay. I learn Spanish. I learn grapes and goats. The farm is large, and so is the family. Somehow, in this place I am both the center of attention and lost in the crowd. There are days, up on the hill where the new orange trees are taking root, that I don’t speak to anyone at all.

 

The heart of the family is the house, which did not exist before Román  got his book deal. Now, it seems like it has been here forever. Inexplicably, the family has a harpsichord wedged against the hearth. Román’s grandmother, recently imported from a Florida retirement home, tells me enigmatically that the instrument is from “before Zapata.” Some nights, with the crickets chirping in the heat, I play it, to no particular tune.

 

 

——————–

Max has been writing and drawing for a while now and is extremely happy to say that this is the first time his work has been published. He currently lives in New York and is much more interested in jumping out windows than off bridges. He can be reached at wmeddy@gmail.com or through his webite www.wmeddy.com.

Christmas Report: Season of Many Dangers

By Nancy Scott Hanway

irst, there is the large water bowl, set down in the corner of the living room. It is a little hard to reach, since I have to nose around the pine branches of the tree set right in middle of the bowl. But it’s worth the effort, because the water tastes wild and refreshing, a delight to the senses. I actually make the mistake of assuming that the lady-boss placed it there for my benefit. Fools me every time. But the very moment I raise my nose from the bowl, she shrieks at me. Bad dog. No. And the tree, which I would assume was there for the occasional nibble, is also off-limits, along with its dog toys. Excuse me? Yes, of course, they are toys. Several of them are even in the shape of dogs, and one is a small wooden corgi emerging from a green box. Is that or is that not chewable? But you wouldn’t believe the reaction when I remove it (delicately) from the branch and begin to gnaw in quiet harmony. Shrieks! Yes, there are shrieks from the boss!

 

Another source of friction between me and the bosses: the toys arranged on the coffee table. All of them in wood, in pleasing shapes: cows, a sheep, a human baby, a fake little manger  with fake straw that makes a lovely crunching sound (although it did get stuck between my teeth for days.) Because I didn’t think anyone would miss it, this year I chose the figure of a lady in a blue veil. With all those other toys, I didn’t think anyone would care. But this was some big deal. Another scream from the boss, more cries of Bad dog, and I am banished to the kitchen yet again. And I have to wonder: Is this simply a test of my moral fortitude, all this placing of toys in the house? Is this what this holiday is all about?

 

Inside is full of moral dangers, but outside there are actual physical threats. During this holiday, all along the street, humans place guard animals outside their homes: savage creatures that threaten the bosses as we are taking our walk. During the day, these brutes play dead, but I can tell right away that they are simply biding their time. The giveaway is the smell. No happy rotting flesh scent, but a strange chemical odor, like that acrid plastic taste when you chew on a kiddie pool. At night these monsters go on the hunt, enormous and bright, bobbing toward us as we walk. A huge white bear (in a highly aggressive stance) stands beside a fat, white-bearded giant wearing a red suit, who waves his arms wildly. A strange black-and-white bird with a red cap stares menacingly as we go by. They don’t dare move toward us; I make sure of that by growling and snapping at them, even when we’re across the street. The boss is oblivious to the danger. He insists on strolling close to them, and he even scolds me for growling (which I wouldn’t do, I hasten to add, if he were fulfilling his duties as pack leader). There are other, more subtle dangers. The humans decorate the outside of their homes with pine branches, curved in round shapes, with looping red tails that wave erratically in the wind. There are lights that flash on and off, clearly a warning to others.

 

Some humans seem to know that this is a dangerous time. They arrive in packs at the door and stand there for several minutes barking in unison: excited yelps and human words that sound like, “No, no.” My bosses don’t seem to understand that this is a signal, or they don’t want to heed the warning. I join in the alarm until the bosses hush me. Stupidly, instead of responding in kind, my masters just hand out hot drinks to the human pack, smiling and thanking them. The pack then moves to the next house to bark the same warning, no doubt hoping to find people who will understand their message.

 

Luckily, this treacherous season lasts for only a few weeks. So far I have kept us safe, with great vigilance and care. Then the enormous guard animals lumber away (to neighborhoods without such brave corgis, one assumes), and the humans take down their indoor trees, and life goes on as normal. Normal, that is, until the season of the eggs and bunnies arrives. But there are always these dangers, and this is my job, after all.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Gabriela D. Flor, W.P.C. (Welsh Pembroke Corgi)

 

 

——————–

Nancy Scott Hanway is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review, Apalachee Review, Conte, Main Street Rag, Pearl, North Dakota Quarterly, Portland Review, Southern Humanities Review, Washington Square, and in other journals. She lives with her husband and son in Minnesota, where she teaches Latin American literature at Gustavus Adolphus College. She blogs about Argentine wine (mostly Malbecs) at Word Vine (wordvine.org.) In her spare time, she raises a very opinionated corgi.

Life Is Finally Perfect for Me

By Taylor Koekkoek

  saw your baldhead approaching my stoop, like a glowing, burning, glistening meteor falling to earth. It made me clasp my hands together and smile dumbly, emit gurgling noises of joy with eyes sparkling like a child’s in front of a Christmas tree.

 

You told me, I was never going to leave you all alone.

 

I had forgotten. Or I’d stopped believing you. I imagined dying alone and leaving a body that would swell and discolor and fall apart before anyone found it. Absence makes the heart grow weak and spiteful.

 

I was angry with you. Maybe I hated you. Thought about fixing you like my cat in your sleep. But I was only upset. I didn’t really want to do that to you. I mean, I may have, if I were given an easy opportunity, but I think I always knew you never loved that woman, that your marriage could only fail, that you’d always come back to me.

 

I knew if I kept calling you, you’d remember you loved me. You were always so worried she’d wise up, like you couldn’t think about anything else. No you can’t just show up at my house; she can’t know about you. No you can’t keep sending letters, no more locks of your hair. I told you I’d take car of her. I thought I would have to make the choice for you, but here you are. My savior. My prince. I imagine my father might have been something like you.

 

You’ll notice I packed my bags, just as you asked two days ago at exactly 3:14 in the afternoon. You said to bring only the essentials, whatever I’d bring if I were leaving town for good: clothes and money and such. And I did. I brought a few more essentials too, like Paul, and his little kitty kennel, and a few months worth of food for him. Paul hardly purred when you left us.

 

You’re surprised to see Paul when I hold him up to nuzzle against your face. And then you say he can’t come with us today. But why, I ask? He has to. He’s part of this family. He’s like our baby. You wouldn’t leave a baby behind. I put him in his kennel and you lift it gently into the backseat.

 

I bought the ticket to Miami a week ago, right after you told me to. I printed out the boarding pass and haven’t set it down since. I’ve held it in my hands, or sometimes I kept it in my bra, tucked against my breasts. Sometimes I kept it rolled partway in my mouth, but took it out before it got soggy. You tell me you haven’t bought your ticket yet, only because you need to tie up loose ends at work before you leave and say goodbye to the little brats you had with that woman. It’s okay though. I’m a reasonable woman. I can wait one more week in Miami for you. I’ll decorate the condo. I’m going to make the living room vintage automobile themed because I know how much you love that sort of thing.

 

I remember how I squealed when you told me you wanted to have a picnic out at the lake.   The day has finally come. I’ve missed being in your car. You open the door for me, like the gentleman you are. The leather is warm from the sunlight and it sticks to my arms and thighs. It is a beautiful place to be. There is still the faint smell of that woman in here, from where she’s sat and leaned her head. I do my best to ignore it. Past is past and now you’re here. We drive away, my duplex shrinks smaller and smaller in the distance and I wish it could shrink away completely. I wish I could forget all my life I’ve spent without you. We turn a corner and my duplex is gone and it’s gone and it’s gone and the only home I have is sitting beside you.

 

The lake is an hour and forty-five minutes from the city. How did we get here so soon? It feels like I’ve only been in your car five minutes. We hardly even spoke on the way here. Maybe not at all. I can’t remember. It’s all a blur. All I remember is leaning my head to watch you sitting there, to watch you scratch your beautiful temple and rub your beautiful nose and to look over at me and smile shyly as if to tell me, You will never know how glad I am to be with you again. How often I imagined your face. How badly I wanted to hold your hand. But I do know, love. Of course I know.

 

And then we’re here. Exhale I tell myself. Green summer grass bends and flattens beneath my feet. There are no fishermen on the lake. No campers or picnickers. The grass thins and becomes the sandy shore where I’d like you to lie me down and run the backs of your boyish knuckles against my cheek. We can make love floating under the summer sky, like we did that weekend we met. Remember? Of course you do. It took my world up like a snowglobe.

 

Our rowboat is beached on the shore. You have two anchors in the boat, because you’re prepared. It confuses me that there is an extra length of rope and a bundle of zipties. When I ask you say you must have left them from the last time you came here fishing. As you row us out I tell you what I want to do to you at the lake’s center and in its privacy. You smile and look down at your feet. Your wonderful feet. Did I embarrass you, love? I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just can’t help thinking about being intimate with you again. Didn’t thoughts of me keep you warm at night?

 

The center of the lake is still. Close your eyes, you say. I have a surprise. I’m so excited when you say this that you have to remind me to close my eyes a second time. I close them and can’t help bouncing in the rowboat. I hear you rummaging around, retrieving my surprise. I try not to think what I’m thinking. I don’t want to get my hopes up — a diamond ring! — Oops, I thought it. It has to be though, doesn’t it? It must be. You must have dropped it because I hear you moving the chain of the anchor around as you look for it, no doubt. My wonderful klutz. In the space of a moment the course of our lives flashes in my thoughts and I’m taking a bottle of vitamins from your hands as you struggle with it and I open it for you, place two capsules in your palm.

 

I feel the boat move. You must have stood up. Metal keeps clinking. Clearing a space to kneel? I feel like a little girl. My mother always told me I’d never get married, but here you are.

 

This is all I ever wanted, just to grow old with you, to watch the world change around us while we are preserved forever in each other, living quietly on the Atlantic coast, underneath palm trees, walking over cool sand on lazy mornings until we’re old and grey.

 

Life is finally perfect for me.

 

 

——————–

Taylor Koekkoek is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He resides in Eugene, Oregon, where he is finishing a degree in English at the UNiversity of Oregon. His work has also appeared in Fogged Clarity.

Dead On The Turnpike

By Joseph Giordano

  heard a bang and the car engine rattled like a box of wrenches. My ‘67 GTO had thrown a rod, and I was fucked. The noise jolted the two girls in the car with me.

 

Susan next to me said, “Oh my God.”

 

Lisa in the back said, “Robert, what was that?”

 

I said, “shit,” put on my blinker and started to coast from the left lane toward the shoulder of the turnpike as cars shot by left and right. We were headed upstate, back to college after the Thanksgiving recess. I’d met the girls at a friend’s party the night before, and over a few joints and some wine I’d offered them a ride back to school. I was a senior in Political Science; they were both English Major sophomores. We were in the middle of a pleasant chitchat about Sylvia Plath, and I had been cool and sensitive and nodded agreement with the ladies that she’d become a symbol of blighted female genius in between a daydream fantasy of which of them I’d bed that evening or perhaps even a ménage a trois. The pleasantness in my brain burst when my car decided to strand me on the road, and I was plunged into a riot of concerns.

 

Lisa said, “Robert, what’s the matter with the car?”

 

“I think the engine’s blown. We’ll need to get towed to a garage and go from there.”

 

Susan’s voice rose. “What do you mean? We’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s starting to get dark. How do we get a tow truck? We haven’t passed a town exit or a service area for miles. Should we flag down a car? I need to get back to the sorority house. My mom will call tonight to check that I’ve arrived, and I won’t be there. I have work tomorrow. We can’t be stuck here.”

 

Susan was a foot away from my ear and her voice sounded like a magpie. That and the thud of reality that I’d either need to buy a new engine or sell the GTO cheap raised my temperature. I guess it was a loss of concentration that caused me to bring the Pontiac to a halt on the shoulder too close to the right lane of the highway. The whoosh, whoosh as cars shot by only an arms length away further upset the girls and they turned their heads to follow every seventy-mile-per-hour vehicle that passed. A big semi blasted its horn, and I jumped in my seat. The two girls bolted from the car like a starting gun was fired and they ran to stand on the grassy berm. In the faded light Susan had a massive pout on her face and stood with hands on hips. Lisa peered down the road to look for help before they passed.

 

Stress sweat sheeted on my forehead and my shirt started to stick to my body. I opened the windows on the driver and passenger sides, and I called to the girls that I needed one of them to steer, and I’d push the car further from the highway. I didn’t get an immediate volunteer, but in a few minutes they started to slap at their legs and arms. The mosquitoes and no-see-ums must have risen from the tall grass of the berm and attacked the girls in a blood lust that worked to my benefit. I imagine they deduced a seat in the car would be better protection from bugs so Lisa said she’d steer. She entered from the passenger side and climbed over the silver gearshift to the black leather bucket seat on the driver’s side as I sidled out a crack in the door and slid along the car to get behind as traffic continued to shoot past. Susan helped me push and we were able to move the car far enough away from the road to have the women feel safe and climb back in. The first thing they did was roll up the windows. I put on the hazard blinker and the small roof interior light. Bugs had gotten into the car and we hunted them down, which was good because the activity gave me a respite from Susan’s complaints.

 

Cars on the road dwindled as night descended. Each set of headlamps lit up two faces of concern inside the car. You don’t realize how black it gets when there’s just a sliver of a moon until you’re away from city lights. The darkness was so intense I felt it in my teeth. The temperature dropped as quickly as the sun went down, and the girls complained of being cold. Shivers stoked the courage of the ladies to brave hungry mosquitoes, and they ran to the back of the car and rummaged through their bags for pullovers using the scant aid of the trunk light. I pushed aside the stash of weed I’d picked up in the city to sell on campus. I’d worked at a law firm the summer before. I was a gofer, but I did get some insight to the unfair plight of people involved with drugs. Okay, heroin is heavy, but marijuana is like taking a drink, and I knew it was only a matter of time before pot became legal. I saw myself as ahead of the curve, and anyway, I was putting myself through school and needed the money. We all came up with sweatshirts and I closed the trunk. We slapped at invisible buzzing and ran back inside the car. We’d let mosquitoes in, and spent the next few minutes killing bloodsuckers.

 

Susan scratched her arms and legs. She said, “Nobody is stopping. What if we have to sit here all night?

 

Lisa said, “Robert maybe you should try and stop a car. Susan and I can go with them while you wait here. We’ll send the tow truck back.”

 

Lisa’s idea wasn’t bad. However I thought, two young women who thumbed a ride outside the car would be our best chance some guy would stop, but I knew without asking that wasn’t going to fly. I said, “Let’s give it an hour. Maybe someone will see our flashers and stop, or maybe highway patrol will come along. The cops give enough tickets for speeding on this road, they must patrol it for stopped motorists.” The thought of police raised a groan of concern in my gut. I didn’t want them to catch me with weed in the trunk. On the other hand dumping my investment on the side of road was an unattractive prospect. While I rolled over this dilemma, Susan spoke again.

 

“It’s cold.  I’m hungry. If I’d taken the bus I’d be at school by now.”

 

That’s it, I thought, I’d sleep with Lisa. Lisa had straight brown hair down her back, parted without bangs. Her high forehead gave her a look of intelligence, and she had brown eyes that didn’t avoid you, a lovely little nose and full lips. Susan had two big ponytails with straw blonde bangs and dazzling blue eyes. She looked like a Scandinavian milkmaid, and before she started her singsong complaints I’d certainly been up for a roll in the hay with her. The bus remark pissed me off, but I looked at her perky tits, and my bedmate choice began to waver again. I’m dark and have had a Frank Zappa mustache and long hair since the Mother’s Freak Out album was released.

 

I decided to get the ladies to talk about themselves to pass the time.

 

“Lisa, didn’t you tell me last night you write poetry?”

 

“Yes, mostly at night. I get terror dreams and wake up screaming. I have my own room in the sorority house because no one will sleep with me. But the good news is that I can put on my reading light when I wake up and write what flashed through my head. Then I can get back to sleep. My work is pretty dark.” Lisa’s gaze fell, and then rose to meet mine. “I don’t think it’s very good.”

 

Susan chimed in. “Oh, Lisa c’mon. Robert, Lisa won the university poetry contest last semester, and her work was published in the school magazine.”

 

“Really? That’s impressive. That sounds like a unique way to cash in on your dreams.”

 

“Well, there’s no money writing poetry. My teachers tell me I’ll need an academic career to support myself, but I don’t want to be a professor. I prefer working with children with special needs so that’s probably what I’ll do.”

 

“How about you Susan, what’s your story?”

 

“Lisa is so together, I feel like a dunce. School and my waitress job keep me pretty busy. I want to backpack in Europe next summer, so I’m taking French and saving money.”

 

Lisa asked, “Robert, what about you?”

 

“When I say I want to be a politician everyone groans. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be someone who makes a difference. Ordinary people need an advocate.”

 

Lisa said, “I think that’s wonderful.”

 

“Yeah,” Susan added, “Senator Robert. Sounds sexy.”

 

Lisa asked, “How do you become an elected official? I wouldn’t know how to start.”

 

“Well politicians need to understand the law, that’s why most are lawyers. I’ve applied to a number of law schools and I should hear back on my applications soon. After school you hire on the staff of some congressman or senator and build a network of support. You need money to run for election even for a small office and that means charming donors. I suppose I’ll need to become a real square and lose the facial hair, but hell, that’s later.”

 

Susan said, “I’m impressed you have your life all worked out. I haven’t a clue what I want to do.”

 

I’d had my eyes on the rear view mirror when a car pulled to the shoulder, rolled up slowly and stopped about ten yards back still with its headlamps lit. The car doors stayed closed, and the glare of the lights kept me from being able to see how many people were inside.

 

Susan said, “Great, finally.” She gathered up the shoulder strap from her brown leather bag like she was ready to leave.

 

Lisa had raised her hand against the bright headlamps. She spoke with a slight quiver in her voice.  “I wish they’d turn off their headlights. Why do they just sit back there and look at us?”

 

I puffed out a breath, “I don’t know. Sit tight, I’ll talk to them.”

 

As I cracked open the GTO’s door, I saw someone had also started to emerge behind us from the driver’s side.  I didn’t want them to just walk up to me, so I stepped quickly to the GTO’s trunk and opened it. I lifted the carpet that covered the spare and took comfort in the feel of the cool metal of the tire iron in my hand. I left it within easy reach and looked back at my visitor who slowly walked toward me. His car was a brand new 1971 Cadillac Eldorado, candy-apple red with a white vinyl top, and he was alone. His silhouette had a prominent Afro and his shoes crackled the gravel on the road’s shoulder. When the man came up to me he was so tall I felt like I stood in a ditch.

 

He looked over my head at the two girls in the car before he said, “Car trouble, man?” He pulled at the knot in his tie like his collar was too tight. He wore a dark, chalk-stripped suit, and the shine on his black shoes was visible in the headlights.

 

I tried to be nonchalant. “Yeah, my engine died. A cop stopped and said he’d call a tow truck. He said he’d swing by again in a bit to make sure we’d been helped.”

 

The black guy smiled and nodded slowly. Then he pulled out a pack of Kools.  “Got a light?”

 

“Sorry, I don’t smoke.”

 

He nodded again and then turned and walked back to his car and got in.

 

Lisa tapped on the rear window to get my attention. I saw the tiny red glow of a cigarette lighter in the Eldorado and my visitor cracked his window and smoked. I walked back to the GTO and got into the car.

 

Lisa said, “What did he say? Is he going to help?”

 

“I don’t think so. He asked me for a match.”

 

Susan put her hand to her mouth. “A match? Oh no. Do you remember the ‘cigarette killers’ in the city? They’d ask for a light and then shoot the person who gave them the match as some sort of gang initiation.”

 

I like to think of myself as progressive. Yet I have to admit when a black guy with a big Afro gets out of a Cadillac my first thought isn’t, oh, he must be a doctor who wants to see if we’re okay. On the other hand, if the guy wanted to do something sinister, why wait? So I answered Susan, “I don’t know what he wants, but if he intended to shoot me he would have done so immediately. But I’ll keep an eye on him. I told him highway patrol had already stopped, and we were waiting for a tow.”

 

Lisa said, “That car he’s driving probably has fourteen cigarette lighters. He’s up to something.”

 

As Lisa made this observation our visitor opened his car door again and I jumped out so I could be near the tire iron.

 

This time the guy said, “It’s a little cold to fuck around. You have the money or what?”

 

He put his hand in his pocket. There was a bulge that could have been a gun. I shifted a little closer to the tire iron. “What money?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

The guy stiffened. His hand started to come out of his pocket when a flash of headlamps lit us both. Another car pulled up behind his and a white guy and a girl jumped out and walked quickly toward us. The black guy’s hand stayed in his pocket and he backed a step away from me and turned his head toward the approaching couple. Then he spun on his heels and walked toward them meeting them at his car. I couldn’t hear what they said, but the three went to his trunk, and popped it open. The white guy seemed to check a package inside and the girl went back to their car and returned with a hard-sided attaché case. They opened the case in the trunk. I couldn’t see what was inside, but the couple went back to their car with a satchel and the black guy walked to his driver side door with the attaché case. All three got into their cars and drove off.

 

Meanwhile Susan and Lisa were rapping their knuckles raw on the glass to get my attention until Susan in frustration opened her window and called out to me.

 

When I got back into the car the girls were on me. Lisa said, “What was that all about?”

 

I said, “I’m not sure. But I think it was a drug deal. The black guy must have thought we were his buyers when he pulled behind us, and he was waiting for me to make the first move.”

 

Lisa said, “Oh hell.”

 

Susan said, “Did you ask them to send us a tow truck?” Lisa and I looked at Susan. “Okay,” she said, “That was dumb. But it’s getting late. How are we going to get out of here?”

 

Her answer came in the form of another set of headlights that pulled up behind us with a rotating red light on the car’s dashboard. We all three got out of the GTO.

 

Two men with smoky-the-bear hats in olive uniforms stepped from the car. The older man came out from the driver’s side. His belly hung over his belt, and the climb out of the unmarked car seemed to exhaust him. He talked as if fighting for breath. “Howdy folks. What seems to be the problem?”

 

Susan couldn’t contain herself. “We’re stuck and I need to get to a telephone to call my mother. Would you drive us to a service station, please?”

 

The second man was short and thin, not the physique I’d normally expect in a cop. Also he looked a little nervous; maybe he’s a trainee, I thought.

 

The fat guy responded to Susan. “First things first darling. There’s been an epidemic of drug drops after dark on this road. You folks know anything about that?”

 

I thought of the marijuana in the trunk, and I bit my lip. I hoped the girls would play dumb, but Susan spoke quickly.

 

“Yes.  There was a black guy here that left just a few minutes ago. He and a white couple made an exchange. It was probably drugs.” She looked at me. “Right Robert?”

 

“I don’t know. Anyway, officers any chance you can call a tow truck on your radio?”

 

The fat guy took a few steps closer to us as Susan spoke and put his hand on the black pistol holstered at his right side. He gave a slight tilt of his head to the other man and said, “Marvin, why don’t you take a look inside these folks’ car. Start with the trunk.”

 

“Hey,” I said, “Don’t you need a warrant for that?”

 

“Marvin,” said the fat man, “We got us here a smart ass college student. Son, your trunk is open and everything in it is in plain sight. So why don’t you just step out of the way so Marvin can take a look.” He punctuated his statement by pulling the gun out of his holster, but leaving his hand hanging at his side.

 

Marvin came forward and I stepped away and let him through. He had a strong flashlight and it took him about two seconds to lean into the trunk and spot the bricks of weed I’d pushed behind the girls suitcases.

 

Marvin said, “Harvey,” we learned the fat man’s name, “We have a winner. Not a gold mine but felony weight pot for sure.” Marvin came up with a big smile on his face.

 

“Well isn’t that nice,” said Harvey. He took the handcuffs off his belt and threw them to Marvin. “Put the two ladies in cuffs. You’re all under arrest.”

 

Lisa, ever the poet, looked at me more in sadness than in anger. “Robert, how could you get us involved in this? Officer we had no idea there was marijuana in the car.”

 

I looked at Harvey. “The girls had nothing to do with this. Please let them go.”

 

Susan looked scared as Marvin put on the cuffs. “Hey, we just met this guy last night. We just wanted a ride to school. Ouch, that hurts.” Susan started to cry.

 

I had a glancing thought that it was strange that they’d put cuffs on girls and left me free. But I was still focused on trying to get Lisa and Susan out of this frying pan. “The women are telling you the truth. I was just giving them a ride; they’re innocent.”

 

Harvey’s belly jiggled when he laughed. “Give them a ride. Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do, eh Marvin?” Marvin had finished cuffing the women, and he had a leering grin on his face.

 

I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

 

Lisa’s eyes widened and started to dart. “What’s going on here?”

 

Susan’s crying morphed into screams, “Help, help.”

 

Harvey brought up his pistol and leveled it at me. The barrel transfixed my gaze, and my mind galloped. Harvey said, “Marvin, put some tape over the women’s mouths.”  The ladies tried to get away from Marvin. Lisa backed into the car, and Susan tripped and fell down hard on the ground. They both struggled against Marvin, but he took two large tears of gray duct tape off a roll and put them over Lisa and Susan’s mouths in turn. Harvey kept his eyes on me and said, “Don’t worry ladies, when we need those mouths, we’ll take the tape off.”

 

A chill started at my shoulders and climbed up through my head. I said, “What the fuck is going on?” But I understood I had to do something. I grabbed the tire iron and lunged at Harvey.

 

The gunshot burned, stung, and my shirt was wet. Lying on the ground I could feel my heart beat in the wound. I smelled grass and gun smoke. A second bullet struck my head, and I went black.

 

***

The doctor said I was lucky. Harvey’s intended coup de grace had creased my skull, and the cold weather slowed my blood loss. A trucker spotted me in his headlamps and got me to a hospital. The other bullet had nicked the intestine and I fought infections for most of my four months in the hospital. The nurse shaved my mustache and after the head wound healed I kept my hair short. With the weight I’d lost, I looked in the mirror and saw another person.

 

The police showed me lots of pictures, first of the entire state trooper force in this county and the counties surrounding, then of people answering my descriptions with violent arrest records. No luck. The pot was gone from my car and I didn’t mention it so no charges were brought against me. Lisa and Susan were missing, and by the time I left the hospital the police wouldn’t admit it, but I knew they thought the girls were dead and buried somewhere in the woods and might never be found. I didn’t want to go back to school and anyway the year was nearly over. Every time I thought about Lisa and Susan I wanted to cry out. When I offered them a ride, I was focused on having sex with them. I was too stupid to think that my carrying pot in the trunk could get them into trouble, and I certainly never imagined Harvey and Marvin. I was responsible for their safety the minute I let them in my car, and I’d failed. When I thought about what Harvey and Marvin did to the girls I wanted to punch walls, and sometimes I did.

 

I went to the library and found Lisa’s poetry in the university magazine. I got stuck on the lines: “Some women have an inner light for thee, / But only if your heart has ears to see,” and my eyes blurred over the page.

I went to see Lisa’s parents. They lived in a railroad apartment in the city on the third floor. Lisa’s mother opened the door; her limbs were thin and looked brittle. She offered me a cup of tea. Over the couch hung a framed copy of Lisa’s poems from the school magazine. Her father left his wooden kitchen chair in the back room to give me a limp handshake. He was probably in his forties, but he looked gray and tired. He went back to his chair and stared out the window to the street.

 

“Lisa was a perfect child. Everyone loved her, and she was so smart. Her poetry was published by the university, you know.” Lisa’s mother pointed over her shoulder. “I don’t understand why anyone would hurt her. She’s still alive.  I know it.”

 

I sipped my tea and said I was sorry in a voice I hoped Lisa’s father could hear.  Lisa’s mother caught a sob with the palm of her hand over her mouth. I saw myself out.

 

Susan’s mother was divorced. When I went to see her she was overdressed, over made-up, and her hair was dyed platinum blonde. She touched me enough to make me uncomfortable, and her first question was if I was Susan’s boyfriend. I told her no. She took out an album of pictures: Susan as a smiling baby, a ballerina of ten and a teenage soccer player. My face flushed, and the woman’s mascara started to run. She went into the bathroom, and I could still hear her cry as I went out the door.

 

I had the first dream in the hospital, scattered gray images, not the entire sequence. I didn’t sleep well, and many days I’d drift in and out of consciousness until noon. I assumed it was trauma from my head wound; the scar where the bullet skidded across the back of my skull was still tender. The images coalesced in my head after I saw Lisa and Susan’s parents, and I started to get repeat flashes during the day: It’s dark.  I hear Lisa and Susan scream for help. I search for them, sweating, thrashing through high weeds and trees. Suddenly high beam headlights startle me, and when my eyes adjust to the glare I see Harvey with an enormous black pistol in his hand pointed at me. I leap at him, but the gun explodes, I feel the bullet enter my body, and my breath is punched out of me. On the cold ground Harvey stands astride me like a colossus.

 

My mind replayed the sequence like a stuck record until my stomach felt like I was in free fall. I fought my mind to change the pictures. There were a couple of young nurses from the hospital, and I tried to focus on them. But the night scenes would recapture my brain. My father had an old 12-gauge shotgun that accepted Magnum loads.  I took it without asking him. Once I had the weapon in my hand, I felt like I’d started treatment for a disease.

I figured Harvey and Marvin would both be armed, and I might have to fire twice quickly without careful aim. The shotgun gave me stopping power over a wide target range. If I was lucky, Harvey would go down fast, but Marvin would freeze. Then I’d force Marvin to take me to the girls’ graves. My thoughts on how I’d torture him would push aside the nightmare images in my head.

 

I got my GTO back on the road and I cruised up and down the turnpike past dark. I slept some during the day and kept myself awake with uppers. Whenever I’d pass a stopped car, I’d circle back a few times in the hope that Marvin and Harvey would show up. Then I’d make sure the motorist would get assistance. I still sell pot on campus. Hey, a guy’s gotta eat. I’ve been doing this a few months and sometimes I think I should apply to law school. But I push that idea aside. I’ve got to get Lisa and Susan back to their parents. Then my mind will be free again.

 

 

——————–

Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn, and grew up in a blue-collar section of New York City. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia, where Joe studies writing at the University of Texas in Austin.  Joe’s story, “Small Men have Trouble,” was featured March 23rd in “Black Heart Magazine.” “Everybody does Everybody Eventually” was in “Crack the Spine” in May, and his story, “To See that Look Again,” appeared in “The Summerset Review” in June.

Lone Star

By Trey Edgington

ake and I should have never called for those hookers. It might have been the two-for-one deal the ad promised. I mean, who could pass up a sale like that? It could have been the fact that Jake had all this extra money he was stealing from work and we were tired of the titty bar. It might have been that our fiancées were thousands of miles away and we hadn’t had any pussy in months. Whatever the reason, it turned out to be a retarded clusterfuck.

 

It was Sunday, and like most nights of the week, I showed up at Jake’s apartment at seven, ready for a night of glitter, fake tits, and overpriced booze. He was sitting at the table, looking in the back of the Dallas Observer—dressed for the titty bar.

 

“You ready?”

 

“Yeah,” he said. “No. I mean, wait a minute.”

 

“You gotta shit or something?”

 

“No. I was thinking.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

He put down the paper and lit a cigarette, crossing his legs like a psychiatrist or a CPA. “This ad says we could get two escorts to come over for three-hundred bucks.” Air quotes around “escorts.”

 

“That does seem like a good deal, but also kinda gross.”

 

“But check out this chick in the picture,” he said, handing me the paper. “You’d pay to fuck her, right?”

 

“Of course I would, but you’re fucking retarded if you think that chick is coming over.”

He looked incensed. “I know she won’t be coming over, but what if she’s half as hot? You’d fuck a chick half that hot,” he said. “I’ve seen you,” he added, trying to prove some point.

 

“Yeah, I’d fuck a chick half that hot, but I wouldn’t pay for it.” I lit a cigarette and handed him back the paper.

 

“That settles it.”

 

“That doesn’t settle shit.”

 

“Think about it; we have all this free money, so really, we’re not paying for it.”

 

This was already making a lot more sense than it should have and I had the makings of a boner in my khakis.

 

He continued, “And even if it wasn’t free money—which it is—we wouldn’t be paying to fuck these chicks. We’d be paying for the experience of having paid them to fuck us.”

 

I totally understood him now.

 

He took a long drag from his cigarette and said, “Like Hemingway in Paris or those dudes in old cowboy movies.”

 

“Right,” I said. “Make the call.”

 

Needless to say, I was nervous while he dialed the number. I knew he was too because he tried to get me to call. As it rang, I lit another cigarette for each of us. A few seconds after dialing, he said, “Hello?”

 

“Blah blah Hooker Hotline,” I imagined the other person saying.

 

“Um, well, uh, I have this advertisement here and it says I can get two girls for three hundred dollars.” Jake was almost sounding British at this point.

 

“Blah blah plus tip,” the hooker hotline person said.

 

“Of course,” Jake said. “How does it work? Do they just come round my flat?”

 

I smacked him in the head and said, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you want some crazy ass hookers knowing where you live? Retard. And why the fuck are you British now?”

 

“Right,” he said. Then into the phone, “Is there a place we can come…a bordello, perhaps?”

 

I looked at him.

 

The person on the phone said something like, “What the fuck is that? No, you can’t come here. Get a motherfucking hotel room and call back.”

 

Jake hung up the phone and told me the hotel situation. We left immediately for the liquor store. Having watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books, we figured the kind of hookers we wanted didn’t drink beer. Good hookers drink cocktails of some sort. On the way, we decided that we should buy shit to make White Russians. We also got some Barcardi in case the hookers didn’t like White Russians.

 

After we got that figured out, we decided to go to some cheap place in Lewisville—a fabulously white-trash suburb of Dallas. It was kind of like we had our clichés mixed up. We both wanted hot, cocktail-drinking hookers, but we also wanted dirty, two-for-one coupon hookers. Maybe we were being realistic. Either way, a cheap ass motel in Lewisville seemed like the way to go.

 

Texas has some fucked up liquor laws, so it was a bit of a drive from the liquor store to the shitty hotel/motels in Loserville. We barely said two words to each other—both thinking of the wild-ass hooker adventure to come. I was thinking, Dude, I hope my hooker looks kinda like Lindsay Lohan with some Pam Anderson titties. I bet she’s really sweet too, like Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas. I hope she didn’t just get gang-banged. That would suck. No. She didn’t just get gang-banged. She’ll definitely have a heart of gold though. She might be working her way through law school. I’ll probably be like her second “client” ever. She loves sex and she’s gonna be really excited when she sees me. She’ll have a few orgasms and think about not charging me. I’ll pay her anyway—just to keep it professional. Anyway, SMU law school isn’t cheap. Also, it would be like cheating on Mandy (my fiancée) if I didn’t pay my hooker.

 

I was thinking shit like that, and I had a hard-on. I was sure Jake was thinking the exact same shit. We pulled off the highway and in to some place called “Super Budget Good Times Motel.”

 

“What do you think,” he asked.

 

“Looks about right,” I said.

 

He checked us in and we found the room easily enough. I set up the bar on the dresser and went to get ice. Jake called the hooker hotline. When I got back I made a neat vodka for myself and a rum and coke for him. “So,” I asked, “What did they say?”

 

“She said they’d be here in about thirty minutes and that we had to pay up front.”

 

“Did she sound hot?”

 

“No. She sounded fucking disgusting, but I’m sure they get the old, worn-out ones to answer the phone.”

 

We smoked cigarettes, drank, and waited for what seemed like an eternity, though it was only about forty minutes. Finally, there was a knock on the door and both of us jumped. He stood up, straightened his pants, and walked to the door. I saw him take a big breath and then open the door, revealing the biggest black dude of all time.

 

“You call for a girl?” the giant black dude said.

 

“Yeah, sort of. I called for two girls. There’s this coupon—“

 

“I don’t know nothin bout no motherfuckin coupon. I got one girl here and it cost six hundred.”

 

“Um,” Jake said, raising up on his toes with his head to the side, trying to see the girl.

“We gots a problem here?”

 

I was getting kind of scared but was relieved to see Jake reaching for his wallet. He handed the black dude the money, and I was thanking God that Jake brought extra money.

 

“Aight, you gots thirty minutes and I’ll be back. Don’t try no crazy shit or I’ll fuck you up.”

 

“Okay.”

 

The giant black dude moved to the side to let our hooker come in. “Oh fuck,” I said. I knew this chick.

 

#

 

About six months earlier, my band played this shithole called the Lone Star Country Club. Total fucking misnomer. It was bad biker bar with volley ball and hot tubs. Nasty hot tubs. We didn’t care; we got free beer and a hundred dollars, no matter how many people came to see us. Anyway, the show was nothing to remember. We didn’t suck. We didn’t do anything crazy. We just played to twenty retards yelling “Skynard” and about ten of our friends. Our bass player and drummer packed their shit and left right after we were done. Fucking useless rhythm section. The other guitar player, Max, waited a while and then told me he had the squirts and had to go home. We usually waited to get the money together, but I understood his problems with shitting at the Lone Star Country Club.

 

I sat at the bar making story notes on bar napkins. The bartender had the biggest goddamn titties I’d ever seen in real life on a chick who didn’t weigh four hundred pounds. It wasn’t hot really, but it was hard not to stare. She was nice enough and didn’t seem to mind me looking. Then, about thirty minutes til two, shit went horribly wrong.

 

This cocktail waitress who had apparently just gotten off came up and sat down next to me. The big-tittied bartender gave me a look that I later realized meant, “Beware. That chick is a crazy fucking slut.” The cocktail waitress had been serving herself all night by the look of it and she wasn’t stopping. Her face was okay and her body was okay, but she looked fucking grungy. There’s no other way to describe it. Her hair needed a new dye job, some heavy-duty shampoo, and a lot of conditioner. I was hoping she didn’t want to talk.

 

“You wanna do a shot of tequila,” she asked, putting her wet hand on my shoulder. “On me?” she added.

 

“Um, sure,” I said.

 

Super titties set up the shots with the lime and salt and gave me another look.

 

Drunk chick said, “We should lick salt off each others’ hands.” She winked.

 

Fu-King Gross, I thought. I said, “Yeah, maybe not.”

 

She seemed a little disappointed, but smiled anyway. Her teeth were surprisingly nice. Then she fell off the stool. I helped her up and left my hand on her shoulder until I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to fall off again. This display of kindness on my part turned out to be a bad idea. “Another shot,” she said. Of course, I’d have another shot.

 

Two shots later, the big-titty bartender cut her off, and that was fine with me. She pouted a little, fell off the stool again, and then seemed to forget the whole thing. Last call came and went, and I was relieved that I was about to get our money and get the fuck out of there. I thanked them both and walked over to the office behind the bar.

As I stood there smoking, I was thinking about the paper I had to write about Byron and how I might have to beat off thinking of those giant titties when I got home. If I wasn’t too drunk. If I was too drunk to beat off, I would write my Byron paper. Right in the middle of that thought, super-drunk chick tapped on my shoulder and then fell into me.

 

“Can you give me a ride home? My friend got mad at me and left and I don’t have a ride and I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” You would have to speak drunk to understand all of that, but luckily, I did speak drunk. I was pretty drunk myself.

 

I felt bad for her and told her I would drive her home. She slid her hand down my chest, grabbed my belt, and kissed me on the neck. It was really wet, and I instantly wished that Mandy was there to save me from this nasty chick. Or at least Max.

 

She continued to tell me about the drama with her friend, basically repeating the same three sentences over and over. Finally, the owner came out and handed me the money. He didn’t seem too happy to see the drunk chick. I put my gear into my back seat and put the drunk chick up front. Getting her in there was much more difficult than squeezing my amp in. At least we were on the way to wherever the fuck she lived.

 

“So,” I said, “Where do you live?”

 

“Well I was living with my mom but she kicked me out because of this thing with her boyfriend. Then I stayed with my friend for a while. Then she got mad at me and I moved in with another friend.”

 

“Okay. Where does that friend live?”

 

“Lake Dallas, but we can’t go there.”

 

“What?” For the millionth time, I was wondering how the fuck I get myself into this shit.

 

“We can’t go there cause I don’t know where it is.” She put her hand on my knee.

 

I put her hand back in her lap and said, “Are you fucking serious? You don’t know where you live?”

 

“Do you really want to give me a ride home?” she asked.

 

“Well yeah. What the fuck else would I be doing?”

 

“We could go to your house.”

 

“No we can’t. Tell me where you live or I’m taking you back to the bar.”

 

“You know, most guys who give me a ride home don’t really want to give me a ride home.” She grabbed my dick.

 

“I’m engaged. Stop doing that.”

 

“If you’re engaged, why are you giving girls rides home?”

 

“If my fiancée was here, we’d both be giving you a ride home,” I said.

 

“You guys like that stuff, huh?”

 

“No,” I said. “Jesus, what’s wrong with you?”

 

It gets a little fuzzy here because I was pretty drunk and very confused. I took her to my house. I was not going to fuck her or even let her stay, but I needed to think. My house was about a mile away from the bar, and I didn’t want to spend any more time driving around drunk than I needed to.

 

I carried my shit into the house and took her back to my bedroom. The conversation was going in circles. Still. Then, all of a sudden and very unfortunately, my nasty sub-conscious spoke up. “G-Man, tell her she can suck your dick if she’ll give you directions to her house.”

 

For some fucked up reason, that sounded like a good plan. I was really fucking drunk. “Hey, drunk girl,” I said. “If you give me the directions to where you’re staying, I’ll let you suck my dick.”

 

“No way,” she said. “I don’t do that. Gross.”

 

Seriously? I thought. Really?

 

Then she said, “I thought you were engaged. You’re a bad person.”

 

You might be wondering why I told her she could suck my dick. Well, she seemed to want some sort of sex, and I figured that letting her suck my dick wouldn’t count as cheating on Mandy. If I ate that drunk chick’s pussy out, on the other hand, that would be cheating. If someone ate Mandy’s pussy out or she sucked someone’s dick, that would be totally fucking cheating. Anyway, I thought it might work, and obviously it didn’t.

 

After she said that shit about me being a bad person, I said, “Shut up. We’re going.”

 

“Where we going? I can’t stay here?”

 

“Fuck no. I’m taking you back to the bar.”

 

“No,” she said, sitting on the floor with a thud.

 

By that point, I’d had enough. I picked her ass up and threw her over my shoulder. She didn’t protest as much as you might think. Rough childhood, probably. I put her ass in the car and drove her back to the Lone Star Country Club. The whole way, she was calling me an asshole and a cheater. And a fag. A few minutes later, I pushed her ass out of my car and drove off.

 

I was too wack to sleep when I got home, so I drank some Jack Daniel’s and smoked until I passed out.

 

#

 

That’s how I knew this hooker who just walked into our hotel room.

 

Jake heard me say “Oh fuck” and seemed to understand that I was saying more than we just got fucked out of a bunch of money. He knew I wasn’t commenting on the fact that we only got one hooker. He also knew that it wasn’t because she was skanky either. He didn’t know exactly, but he knew enough.

 

“Care for a drink?” Jake asked.

 

She said she’d take a White Russian and turned around to look at me. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

 

“I don’t think so,” I said.

 

“You look familiar.”

 

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

 

“Anyway, what are you guys up to tonight?”

 

That had to be the most retarded question I’ve ever heard. We decided to call a hooker or two before taking our grandmothers to church. What the fuck is wrong with you?

 

Jake handed her the drink, and I was happy to see that he didn’t want to fuck her. You never know with him. He can be a nasty bastard. He took the chair by the window. I was sitting on the other bed. She was drinking her drink and not saying shit. She had a bag on the bed with her, and I was wondering what kind of hooker supplies were in there. Jake was looking at the ceiling.

 

Jake finally said, “So, what do you usually do? You know, during these, um, things.”

 

“Sometimes I dance.”

 

“Do you get naked?” he said.

 

“Sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes I give massages.” Then she looked at me and said, “Are you sure we haven’t met?”

 

“Yep,” I said.

 

“Can we see your boobs?” Jake asked.

 

“Okay.” She lifted her shirt like a shy girl at church camp. Maybe half a second of some struggling-ass titties. Then she looked at me and said, “You’re in a band, right?”

 

Fuck, I thought. “Yeah,” I said.

 

“I knew it!” she said, and I wondered why I didn’t lie. Stupid rock star ego or something.

 

“I hoped you didn’t recognize me because I was pretty drunk that night. I have no idea what happened,” I said. It seemed like the best thing to say.

 

“Are you married yet?” she asked.

 

“No,” I said, noticing Jake’s open mouth.

 

“That’s about all I remember. Maybe tequila.”

 

Thank the baby Jesus.

 

After that, the three of us talked about what she liked doing when she wasn’t hookin. She said she wanted to be an actress and she liked singing. Dumb bitch probably liked long walks on the beach too.

 

A few minutes after this, there was a pounding at the door. It had maybe been twenty minutes. Jake opened the door, and of course, it was the giant black dude. “You went over the time. You owe me another hundred.”

 

Jake wasn’t as easy this time. Probably a little drunk. “Dude, it hasn’t been thirty minutes, we asked for two hos, we didn’t fuck that chick, and we paid six hundred already.”

 

“Fine with me. I gets to fuck you up now.”

 

“Goddamnit,” Jake said, pulling out his wallet.

 

Our hooker hugged both of us and told us to call back.

 

When we were sure they were gone, we packed up the booze and went back to his apartment. We both felt way too dirty to go to the titty bar. Instead we got drunk and played James Bond on his Nintendo 64.

 

#

 

I hate writing endings, so here’s a shitty conclusion. You might be wondering what the point of this story is. Really, it’s just a fucked up, true story. More importantly, you might be wondering how or why I get myself into that kind of shit. I get myself into these situations because I’m too lazy to write actual fiction sometimes. So, I do crazy shit like call hookers just to see what happens. How does this kind of shit happen? I really think that once you start looking for crazy shit that crazy shit starts to find you. It sure as shit finds me.

 

 

——————–

I have an MA in Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. I was a reading editor at the American Literary Review and a selected reader at the Art’s and Letters Literary Series at the Dallas Museum of Art. I don’t actually enjoy the company of hookers, though this is a true story; I’d rather watch bad TV. I am currently shopping my novel Heartdrunk–a fabulous story about booze and girls–to literary agents. I am a ex-drunk, living in Dallas, Texas with my cat Ernest.

Da Xin

By Peter Tieryas Liu

t’s 4 a.m. and I see the contours of an alien etching above. I hear a heartbeat that sounds like a big thump on a factory floor, machinery pounding into a wall of steel. I flip on the lights. There’s a gigantic heart on the ceiling, veins covering the organ like a spider web. The aorta is pumping gallons of blood and some of it slips onto my blanket. I cover myself and shrink back, terrified by the monstrous sight. What the hell is a heart doing in my room? The ventricles swell in irregular spasms and the chambers splatter cells into streams of sweltering mucus.

 

I search for the door, but it’s covered in veins. Next to me is a knife and I look down at my chest. There’s a cavity with my flesh torn open. I feel my pulse and there isn’t any. I’m still breathing, but my fingers are cold. It makes me wonder if this heart is my own and I pick up the knife so I can slash my way through to the door.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” an effeminate voice squeaks.

 

“Who’s that?” I demand.

 

“I’m the only one in here with you. What are you doing with the knife?”

 

The voice is emanating from the heart.

 

“I’m trying to get out,” I reply.

 

“I’ve been trying to get out for thirty years,” the heart says back.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I can’t stand the filth you pour down your throat every day.”

 

“What filth?”

 

“The dead cows, the recycled pork fat, the boxes of expired fungi, the sugarized poison you drink every morning. That’s not to mention all the stress you cause. Who gives a shit what your girlfriend thinks? Every criticism she makes gets you worked up like a toe-less cripple trying to run a marathon. You guys explode over petty trivialities and fight every time you meet friends. Let’s not even get into work. You act like a schizophrenic, loving your work one second, wanting to jump off a building the next. You’re like a cheap inflatable stripper chasing after pennies and you deserve to have your ass stripped of flesh. I give up. I no longer want to be your heart so I can die miserably five years from now of a cardiac arrest.”

 

“You don’t have that choice,” I say.

 

“I’ve already made it.”

 

I grab the knife, jump on top of the bed, and stab the heart. My left arm constricts and blood bombards my face. I smell pizza and fish carcasses, the kind mixed up in butcher shops with ground beef and stir-fried intestines. Globules of fat and cholesterol surround my arm. I push further with the blade, twisting it. My shoulder gets swallowed and my hands get penetrated by a thousand needles that make all sensation disappear. A force pulls my chest into the heart and something sharp punctures my neck. I’m getting pulled inside and when I try to resist, the tug gets stronger. My skin is melting, my mitochondria are imploding, all the cells are declaring secession, revolting against the unity of consumption.

 

I float inside the organ. A million particles, sparked by electrical impulses that push all of us against the inner surface, induce a stampede of anger and frustration. The sound of rage is a heart beat and my anger has no bounds as we swell into a hammering sprint, trying to break out with an enormous ‘thump!’ Our attempt fails and the pressure of congestion forces dissolution. I dissolve within my own heart.

 

 

——————–

Peter Tieryas has stories published or forthcoming in the Bitter Oleander, Camera Obscura Journal, DOGZPLOT and the Indiana Review. His collection of short stories, Watering Heaven, is coming out in the fall of 2012. He can be found at tieryas.wordpress.com.

War and Peace: No Connection

By Henry G Miller

ou don’t know what you’re talking about. A lot of nineteen-year-old kids are going to die.”

 

“That’s better than losing a whole generation of nineteen-year-olds because we didn’t have the guts to stop a tin-horn dictator.”

 

Needless to say, the usual clichés about stopping Hitler before Munich filled the air along with the predictable opposing cries about giving us another Vietnam.

 

A bitter debate and ironic because they both had the President’s ear.

 

Tom Adams, a Bronze Star winner, rose from the ranks to become a four-star general. He said “no” to the war.

 

John Bradley, the President’s closest adviser, who never served in the military, famously seeking four deferments at the time of Vietnam, said “yes” to war.

 

And they both said it loudly.

 

The President listened to both of them. They were part of the President’s team from the beginning. When Ben Clark first thought of running for President, they were there. He wouldn’t have made it without them. They both were damn smart. That’s what made this one so hard for the President.

 

He encouraged their arguments. Their debates within the national security team were legendary and often got quite personal.

 

Bradley, in one heated exchange, accused General Adams, of all people, of losing his nerve. “If we don’t attack this two-bit loudmouthed dictator, we’ll be known as the wimps of the western world.”

 

Adams was not to be outdone. He actually retorted by bringing up the unmentionable: “Talking of wimps, how come you never made it to Vietnam? You know what they say, ‘Nobody loves a war better than a noncombatant.’ That’s a polite word for a chicken hawk.”

 

Bradley wouldn’t talk to Adams after that. But Bradley, the civilian, had the last laugh. The President ordered a military strike.

 

Bradley had been very persuasive. “It’ll be a cakewalk. No war is easy, but this will be an easy one. We have immense power. They have a ragtag army of rebellious conscripts and reluctant regulars. The dictator in charge is a pip-squeak who has been sounding off personally against you, Mr. President. He needs a lesson. It’ll straighten him out and the rest of the region while we’re at it. There’s little downside to this war.”

 

While the President ordered the attack after most of the military leaders supported the decision, he still valued General Adams’ contrary opinion. The President wanted both, Bradley and Adams, to go to the war zone and give him a personal progress report. The President knew of their personal animosity but thought their rivalry, if anything, would produce a clearer picture of what was actually happening. He told both of them, “Bury the hatchet, you two. I need you both.”

 

They went with their staffs and they went together as the President requested. The plane ride was cool but correct.

 

On their arrival, they went to the safe zone where the embassy was located. There was a small welcome dinner. But then over after-dinner drinks, General Adams took Bradley aside. “Once upon a time we worked together to get Ben elected President. And you’re one of the smartest guys who ever lived, a university president and all that. I don’t want to be fighting with you.”

 

“Tom, you’re one of the best generals we’ve ever had and I’m honored to be working with you.”

 

After that, it went well. Bradley, a man who doesn’t do much drinking, did some drinking and loosened up. “Tom, if I may call you Tom, General.”

 

“You always did until last year.”

 

“Tom, I’m sorry I told the President that I think you’re losing your nerve; it was just the heat of debate—more heat than light.”

 

“Well, John, if we’re going to bury the hatchet, somewhere other than in each other’s head, I’ll also confess. I never should have called you a chicken hawk. That was below the belt.”

 

“Well, I got to admit that one hurt.” Bradley smiled and poured himself another drink—that great liberator of the tongue. “I know I didn’t go to Vietnam, but who the hell with half a brain went to Vietnam if they could get a deferment? You couldn’t figure out who was on whose side. They all wore the same pajamas and who wanted to go down into the hell of watching your best friend’s head blown off into your lap if there was a way out of it?”

 

“But, John, didn’t you support the Vietnam War and denounce the college kids protesting against it?”

 

“I supported the war in a general way, but we fought a dumb war and the kids in the street were a disgrace—what did they want, anarchy?”

 

The general flushed a little but bit his tongue because he was about to say: “You like to fight wars with other people’s children, don’t you?” But he didn’t and they got past it.

 

Bradley was never more pleasant. “General, let’s have another one for the road. Tomorrow’s our first day and I’m looking forward to working with you.” The evening ended pleasantly.

 

They were in the war zone a week and had spoken to almost all the generals and local leaders. On their last day, they decided to tour the area where the enemy insurgents had been most active. Tom Adams, the general, and John Bradley, the civilian, had been getting on fine. No more sharp words.

 

In fact, the general made a special effort to be nice to Bradley. “John, I just want to warn you. We could come under fire tomorrow. They’ve taken all precautions but you’ve got to expect that things could go bad.”

 

“Tom, thank you, but don’t worry about me. I’ve had to put up with Washington infighting, media ‘gotcha’ interviews, and page-four journalists all my adult life. I’m used to combat.”

 

They both smiled at that one.

 

The next day, they arrived safely in the local headquarters. There was plenty of security.

 

But the enemy attack was very cleverly planned. First, bombs went off. Then when the security forces went to investigate, snipers, who were well placed, hit many of them. Then bombs placed secretly in the headquarters were detonated. And there was a charge by the insurgents into the headquarters. It was obviously a very well-designed plan to capture the two presidential envoys. What a bargaining chip they would make.

 

Then it happened. John Bradley, who had never been under fire before, stood up and started to run, “Let me out of here. Let me out.” His voice had in it the desperate fear of a little child who can’t find its mother and is on the verge of crying.

 

But the general was able to tackle him and bring him down. “Be quiet. Lay down. You’ll get yourself killed.”

 

The moment passed. The security forces overwhelmed the insurgents, drove them out of the headquarters, and then from the entire area.

 

That night, they returned to the embassy. The general never mentioned the incident and John Bradley retired early that night.

 

On the flight home, they worked together on their joint report. They were candid and professional but the warmth they developed on their arrival never quite returned.

 

The President thanked them for their report. “I knew you two could work together. Your report was very helpful. It was good to have the two views.”

 

The President had both of them attend a dinner the next night with his national security advisers. Both men were well received and complimented for their report.

 

On the fundamental issue, however, they remained apart. The general: “I still oppose our effort there and believe we should push for an early and graceful exit.” Bradley: “This war is not a mistake. I believe history will show we changed the direction of the entire region.”

 

The next night the general had a surprise visitor. “Tom, may I come in? I thought maybe you’d offer me a drink.”

 

“Come in, John. This is a surprise.”

 

As they sat alone in Tom’s living room sipping drinks and finally getting past the small talk and awkward silences, John Bradley blurted it out. “I want to thank you for never mentioning to anyone that incident over there when I lost my composure.”

 

“Forget it. It happened to many of us the first time we were under fire.”

 

“You’re a gentleman, Tom.”

 

“The one thing I can’t understand, John, is why that incident didn’t soften your support for going into this war as a first option.”

 

“Oh, Tom, that’s easy. I failed as a person. I lost my composure, but I believe I was still right about the war. There’s no connection between my conduct and that war.”

 

“No connection, John?”

 

“None whatsoever, General. No connection.”

 

They had another drink and when John left, it was all very pleasant.

 

They still see each other on the DC cocktail circuit. They’re always polite but distant. And every time when General Tom Adams sees John Bradley, even though it’s rare, he thinks about the future with vague forebodings. “No connection, indeed.”

 

 

——————–

I have had short stories accepted for publication in literary magazines such as The Chrysalis Reader, The Griffin, Karamu, The Owen Wister Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, Westview, The Distillery, The Writers Post Journal, and RiverSedge.  My play, Lawyers, was performed at the Emelin Theater and Westport Country Playhouse. My one-man play, All Too Human, was performed at the 46th Street Theatre in New York as well as the White Plains Performing Arts Center. My play, Alger – A Story, had a reading in New York with Fritz Weaver and Kevin Conway. A review praised my novel, More, stating, “A lesser writer could not paint with the subtle hues…Miller uses.”