His gun unloaded — in the face of being captured, and killed — Corporal Rathers looks to the “truck”... the ball at the top of the flagpole. Artillery fire blazes in the distance. Or is it nearer? He climbs quickly, breaks the ball off the top and slides down. The contents inside aren’t as expected: there’s the razor blade to cut off the flag’s Stars and Stripes, the match to burn them, but the bullet to take his own life is MIA. He does his duty, then thinks about the bullet. Until one shot – through his right temple — takes all thought away.
‘Blank Stare’ was trapped in the bathroom mirror. I needed to find a more appropriate mask for the occasion. I practiced ‘Haven’t Had My Coffee’ and ‘Wounded Puppy,’ but neither one felt sufficiently genuine. ‘Mister Contrition’ required too much energy. She wouldn’t believe it anyway. ‘Rather Be Anywhere But Here’ was honest but would set the wrong tone, and ‘Gee, you look nice’ would be misinterpreted. ‘Wanna Fuck?’ was definitely out of the question. There wasn’t a clear winner in the repertoire. In the end, I stuck with the boring but sensible ‘Blank Stare’ for having lunch with the ex.
I almost miss the turn because everything looks different now.
The ancient willow that guarded the corner is gone, its lawn totally devoid of the thing that dominated it in my childhood.
I hear her shift in the back seat.
“That your old school?” my daughter asks.
“No,” I say towards the rear-view mirror, “ that was past your Grandmother’s house.”
We won’t visit it, because I had no intention of sightseeing.
Quick stop at the house, get what I need signed, back to the main road, up to the highway and we’re gone again, to cheeseburgers and then home.
We're dancing to our favorite song, and I pull you closer to me.
You're burning like I am, and you come closer, as we're swaying and touching, ignoring the other dancers, the laughter, and the smoke of the bar.
Nearly crazy with passion, I whisper, "Baby, I need you so much. I—" I stop those two other words I'm feeling, but you know, replying with a sweet, simple, "Mmmm."
Then, the song ends. I see... it's not you. Another woman. Although it's wrong, I keep holding her...staring at her.
I need her to keep being you for a little longer.
“It’s murder!” said Detective Sergeant Smithers.
“But the clues don’t add up.” Constable Andrews shook his head.
“Go back to your desk and look at them again, son. I’ve been at this a lot longer than you and I think you’ll find I’m right.”
Fifteen minutes later a contrite Constable Andrews knocked on his Sergeant’s door. “You were right, Sarg! I had the answer for three down all wrong. ‘Murder’ fits in perfectly now.”
Detective Sergeant Smithers grinned. “Cryptic crosswords are tricky, lad, but you’ll get the hang of it.”
A river of thoughts flowed through Jill's mind. Obviously, her friends never understood that she was still the same person who enjoyed attending concerts, browsing antique shops, and dining out at the hottest spots in town. Their perception of her was so different now. The last time they frequented their old haunts together, she could walk. But a drunk driver changed that forever.
Constantly overcoming obstacles, Jill acknowledged that life was beckoning her to seek out other adventures. Though the same person, she truly was different now for having transcended into a wiser woman.
“Oi, you, the dead-ringer for Marilyn Monroe wearing a badge,” she yells. A headscarf covers her permed white hair; she wears black kitten heels. A black handbag and stooped, wrinkled man hangs off her arm.
“Can I help you?” I give my best PSO smile.
Big lummox’s left his false teeth on the plane. Was gonna rinse ‘em in the toilet sink after lunch.” She hands over a boarding card from Flight 66.
Teeth returned they toddle off to Baggage Claim with a royal wave and a grin from dazzling false teeth.
Dead ringers for Queen Liz and Prince Phil.
“What do you mean, ‘The secret's out’?”
“Sorry! I slipped up. I didn't mean to spill.”
“What were you thinking? Now our reputation is shot.”
“One little detail won't destroy us.”
“Even something as embarrassing as this?”
“Why don't we spin this to benefit us?”
“How do you propose we do that?”
“We suggest all entrance donate $1 for future lotteries.”
“We then award it all to the winner of this one.”
“Genius! Then no one knows we lost the prize money.”
“It will be our little secret. That’s good teamwork.”
“As long as this snafu stays with us.”
The trick, she said, is to seize your own contentment – to love yourself for who you are, for what you are capable of doing, for what you have already accomplished, for what lies ahead – to loosen the knot your hopes and fears and anxiety have tied – to smile ever from within – to say yes.
Yes, he said, that surely is the trick. That must be the trick, our only trick, the one that has escaped the smallest shadow of the smallest doubt, forever and always – but not yet.
With great unease she sighed, deep enough for both of them.
Sometimes you feel too cautious to laugh, speak, think and breathe. You breathe in gentle phases which you can count. Words become weight in your bones, until you feel like you can hardly walk. Time becomes a prison which you cannot find an open door. Pain becomes a norm until you are numb to pain and pleasure. All you see around you are egg shells. You wonder why they wanted you to be yourself.
For once, Barry was proud of himself. 332 lbs down to 291 in three months was a real accomplishment.
It wasn't easy. He missed his favorite foods, but he knew eating healthier was worth it; also drinking water and walking.
He was doing just that one day when a pickup sped by him. The male driver yelled, "Fat-ass!" Then a girl yelled, "Boobs bigger than mine!" while laughing.
Barry stopped, confidence shattered. Ignorant jerks, he thought, but his hurt was stronger. He walked home, dejected, needing comfort from his only friends.
Two months later, he was back up to 317.
We were sitting under the lyre tree. She and I. There’s still an hour to go before the poetry-reading session.
“Most poets”, I said, “render their poems looking at the page. But you recite your own entirely from memory.”
She was intently listening to a sound of drum airdashing from beyond the hilly terrain far off.
“I knit in my head first”, she said. “I put pen to paper later, only when the light-bulb moment metamorphoses into an image. I then hang it in my mind’s gallery. Just a glance at the picture within, and the words start tumbling out.”
Her words flailed across the kitchen. “Are you crazy, Bob? Taking a ten-year-old kid to sit in a duck blind. He could have gotten pneumonia. Is this some kind of mid-life thing?” Small drops of spittle coated her chin. “Now, it’s the health club. Vitamins aren’t good enough? Martinis instead of beer. And a hairstylist. Weejuns with tassels. Why?”
“Zip it, Barb, he’s coming.”
“Tommy, poor boy, oh, come to Momma.” She folds him into her obese, food-stained, muumuued bosom. “Poor, poor, baby, are you freezing?”
“It was great, Mom. Vicki brought hot chocolate and sandwiches and…”
“Vicki! Who’s Vicki?”
August has become my doleful month since 2018. If losing a mother was not enough to mourn, then I don't know what would be enough. Entering this eighth month with the heartbreaking moment that still haunted me, I saw myself in a tug of war against August. I wanted to pull myself away as far as possible from going through the month and leap to the next month. But how could I defeat the universe? I had no other options but voluntarily dragging my saneness to seize these agonal days.
On the 24th day, I put flowers on a tombstone.
As a boy, he took photographs with his father’s Brownie. At family gatherings, he was always the one behind the camera.
As a teenager, he got his own camera, an Instamatic. Through the years, he had several 35mm cameras. He stored his photos in shoe boxes. When digital replaced film, he created albums on his computer.
Sometimes he would leaf through his old photos.
“Oh, what I’ve seen!” he would say.
He willed his photos to his children. When he died, going through them, they discovered there were no pictures of him, only a life as seen by the photographer.
God looked at Her inbox and sighed. Ever since She'd gone all IT and invited prayers online or via social media, She'd been swamped with demands for action on one topic: sexual harassment. Mainly from women, the complaints were of inappropriate comments and, of course, intimate touching. One third of all women confessed that sharing a lift with a man alone made them afraid. Then there was Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo movement.
By 2019, God's patience had run out. They were quite right. It was time to make everyone respect each other's personal space. Time for a new coronavirus...
In southern Italy, I’d rediscovered my girlhood Catholicism. I landed in this abbey, seeking some sort of divine union. As brides of Christ, we wear gold wedding rings on our left hand. Most sisters here say they’ve found that miraculous faith. I don’t think I have yet.
Many summers ago, my family drove to Atlantic City, decades before the glittering gambling palaces. On a long pier jutting over the ocean, a horse and its female rider would, thrice daily, ascend a tower, dive down sixty feet into a small water tank, and emerge unscathed. Now theirs were leaps of faith.
Jerry Fidelman worked in his cubicle on the recursive self-improvement algorithm. An aging hacker who'd cut his teeth on the PDP-10 while a student at MIT, he suffered from insomnia and programmed at a startup on a Linux box. Unhappily, Miles was stuck in a for-loop whose terminating condition remained unsatisfied.
The problem arose at each instantiation of the female class at runtime, prerequisite to the creation of a love instance, the boolean data type <panic> returning invariably true. This led to a repetition of the instruction sequence, as well as incrementing a nocturnal sleepless state as an unwanted side-effect.
A squawking pheasant shoots up from the weeds alongside our favorite walking path. Wings drum under our chins, and the white ring flashes in the sun. A few yards beyond us, an explosion of feathers.
The pheasant sprawls on the ground like a ripped pillow. Neck like a broken cornstalk, the bird’s bleeding eyes stare at the long, pointed tail.
We consider a covering of dirt and weeds as we watch the falcon circle. Instead we go on.
I told you if he was never around anymore I would come back. We were sitting on the front porch of your parents' old house. You lived there with him for many years, seemingly quite happy.
But I could imagine you in here, all alone while he was at work. Or was he out becoming secretly involved with other women?
You and I, apart. It shouldn't be that way. So I did what I had to do; he is no longer around. I am back and we can be together again. Do you love me as much as I love you?
Under a blazing Sun the Overseer’s grip tightened on the young boy’s shoulder, prompting him to recite the mantra as he had been taught…
“We are not the same. There are rules I must obey.
I must not look in your direction – it is forbidden.
I must not smile at you – it is forbidden.
I must not wave at you – it is forbidden.
I must not speak to you – it is forbidden.”
Under the same blazing Sun, the father placed a loving hand on his young daughter’s shoulder guiding her from the compound.
She left in tears and silence.
A scream jolted paradise. Voices rumbled, dissipated. Under mango trees thin dogs lay unperturbed.
“Another theft,” someone in our procession blurted. “Happens often.”
We shuffled over a well-trodden gravel path to visit a sacred space. A place where religion and art blended to impress, under the blessings of Shiva. Drawn we were to complete the exploration. Until time of departure.
As we waited to board the boat, a young girl screeched. Parents consoled her over the theft of ice cream from her hand.
No arrest. The culprit escaped, poised to reoffend.
One of many monkeys on India’s Elephanta Island.
Peter died quietly at his mother’s home after two weeks of lying in bed, unable to eat solid food. There was nothing medicine could do. Everyone was waiting. The funeral will be held later this week. Hundreds will attend, including the mayor, since his mother was so well known. Peter turned fifty last month, a kind man who had fallen on hard times. He was living under a bridge in Los Angeles when he got ill. His mother’s home was his last refuge. His obituary gives heart failure as the cause of death. But the failure wasn’t in Peter’s heart.
I was visiting the place for the first time in many years. A high-rise building stood where we used to have our house.
I could not locate any of our ex-neghbours.
As we were about to turn back, a stray dog rushed towards me. Tail wagging and whining in excitement, it began to paw all over me. I recognized it as the older version of one of the dogs I used to feed.
My childless wife petted it.
“Let’s adopt it,” she suggested.
She wanted to give it a house and love. I had no objection.
They travelled with few possessions, but each tucked into their pack something to remind them of home: a curled sepia photograph of their grandparents, a stone smoothed by the waters of the lake or a tail feather of a bird that shone in blues and greens in the light of the moon.
Marooned now in the concrete and glass of the city, where no birds sing and darkness is never complete, they look up at a moon that is smaller and less bright, but they know it to be the same one. Which tethers them to the possibility of return.