I’m just about as sure as sure can be the plumber in dingy green overalls has the goose in the back of his truck. It’s not that I heard it, but I’m certain I saw it when I casually looked out the side window and spotted Mona undressing in the lumberyard. All of us regularly admonish her about going public with what we’re so lucky to see all the time indoors, and she made quite a sight, all that softness and all those curves amidst the slats and boards of different hardwoods, but her disrobing wasn’t enough to keep my eyes from spotting the grey-black goose. The bird was standing (or, actually, kind of waddling-in-place) behind the cab of the vehicle being driven out of here by the plumber in green, the nice plumber, who, earlier in the day, had offered me a Snickers bar in exchange for my handing him a pipe wrench that was a tad out of his reach. But if you’re going to go after the goose—and I absolutely wouldn’t fault you if you did—then you better put pedal-to-the-metal and follow this guy in green who’s driving a Ford pickup. Don’t even give the gaggle of other men in the lumberyard the time of day (they’re always plenty of guys hanging around here), and forget all about Mona and me. Sure, I imagine I’d come to somewhat miss the honker myself if it were gone for good, though probably not as much as you would, but essentially, I can vouch that the rest of us are all okay as is.
An airplane brought Laura back to what was now her homeland, a cab took her to what was now her home, but she opened the door feeling lost, lonely.
It was five in the morning, her husband and daughter were still asleep and Laura thought about waking them up. She knew they could make her feel better but decided against such a selfish impulse. This was her problem to deal with.
Laura went to sit on her favorite spot next to the window. There, she stared at them, the majestic mountains that looked over the city. Los Andes. It was so beautiful! Yet, she felt lost, lonely.
Ten years have passed since the first time she had seen them, ten years as heavy as an entire life and all she was able to feel was some painful sensation oppressing her chest. It was as if a shadow devoured the light in her heart.
She looked at them again, making an effort, really making an effort to focus on the beauty of the magnificent view. Nothing. Those huge white peaks just made her feel small, vulnerable, never at home.
Someone told her once she felt that way because she was a child of the sea. The blue-green immensity had been there for her while growing up, framing her memories in particular sounds and smells.
Laura shook her head. If that was true why had she felt the same crushing sensation two days ago while contemplating the sea from her childhood room’s window? The truth was that the place where she had grown up no longer existed. It had felt foreign from the moment she walked out of the airport. And the city where she was living in now wasn’t home either. Was this the cliché endless-longing-of-the-migrant sentiment some psychologist had mentioned on a talk-show?
“Mommy, you are here!”
The small girl’s voice and hug surprised Laura, those little arms around her waist made her feel loved, cherished. But the ache was still there.
She hugged her back. “I missed you so much, Celia.”
The girl sat on her lap, outlining the mountains on the glass with her tiny finger.
“Do you like the mountains?”
“Mhm, I want to climb them.”
Laura blinked surprised, that was unexpected.
“What about the sea? Do you remember it?”
“Yes, I miss the waves, I want to sail them.”
Suddenly, she understood, she could see herself in Celia. She remembered running along the shoreline of the Caribbean Sea, a child full of anxiety, wanting to grow up as fast as possible to go and explore beyond that endless flat horizon.
It was all clear now. She had packed her things and said goodbye because there was a curious spirit inside her, pushing to go to those places that were outside the reach of her eyes. The anguish was just her nomad soul claiming that there was still so much to see, so much to touch, to hear, to smell, to taste
Frantically, Pepper scampered on padded paws around an expanse of mighty oak trees that shaded the public park. Totally oblivious of a gentle fall breeze which tousled her glossy grey fur she crossed an expanse of mowed grass and within minutes stood before her friend, Stuart.
“Why the hurry?” he vocalized, as he waited patiently for Pepper to catch her breath. In the meantime she flicked her magnificent tail in the squirrel’s direction but exuded a little too much hip action, and unceremoniously knocked him over. Nimble and none the worse for wear, Stuart promptly regained his balance, stood upright for a nanosecond and then discretely moved a few steps back.
“Whoops, sorry,” Pepper said, as she paused and stared at him sheepishly with her enormous black eyes. “I’ve missed you while you’ve been away.” She then proceeded to tell him how her tail during his absence had attracted far too much attention from the other squirrels, and they would come up close and try and touch it. And it had frightened her.
“So what did you do?” Stuart asked with a tone that expressed concern and waited for an answer with bated breath and furrowed brow.
“I came up with an idea,” said Pepper. “I told everyone that if they promised to leave my tail alone, we could still hang out together. But it would be on my terms.
“And how’s that working out for you?” asked Stuart, as he puffed out a breath, and then teased his palate with an acorn.
Pepper grinned. “If we take a nut or two out of the equation my stockpile now sits at a whopping six thousand, five hundred and twenty two,” she vocalized. “But then who’s counting.”
I woke up this morning, the echoes of yesterday's dream still lingering in my mind.
I walked in a world, I remembered. Similar to ours, yet different. People strolled together and chatted, laughed, heads flung back in abject hysteria; yet, oddly, no sound emerged from their throats.
I passed one couple, arms linked together. They faced each other, chatting soundlessly together, and their lips smiled but their eyes screamed, and their hands clenched together in tight fists made of impotence.
I woke up, drenched in sweat, crying and not sure why.
As I dressed, got into my car, drove to work--as I sat at my desk and started working--I couldn't shake the dream.
And I spent my day on the phone, offering sweet promises to hopeless pleas. And on the way home, a desperate man performed for money, but no one paused to glance.
And I turned on the TV and listened to two politicians argue, neither listening to the other.
And wondered if I still was dreaming.
It wasn’t exactly a great devotion that formed between Thomas the plumber and Aquamarine, the exotic, the very late afternoon Thomas got the call to bring his tools and skills down to Ruby’s Show Bar outside Grand Forks. Once there, Thomas found himself using his chemicals and a lightweight snake to unplug one of the sinks where Thomas the barman dips and washes beer mugs and cocktail glasses.
Standing within the horseshoe-shaped runway and across from the zealous customers, working in the bar’s black light and pounding rap music, with both hands on the heaving snake as he moves his torso up and down and the snake whips through the bubbly water to bust the stubborn clog and free the choked-off drain, Thomas the plumber barely notices Aquamarine tiptoe up beside him and thrust her tongue in his ear. But then he feels her hands inside his shirt, rubbing on his belly, even as he keeps working that snake up and down, up and down. He thinks he hears her laughingly say how drop-dead easy it is to love a working man; he guesses she repeats something like that several times before she goes up on stage, and he certainly remembers this kind-of rose and gardenia fragrance hanging around after Aquamarine’s jiggling hiney has passed from being right beside him.
Soon the drain works okay again, and soon Thomas the barman gladly pays Thomas the plumber his one-hour minimum and roundtrip mileage, and Thomas then drives home in his van to his wife and kids and a steaming macaroni-and-cheese-and-tomato-and-frankfurter casserole. But the downtown beat and Aquamarine’s tongue, voice, hands, and smell keep entering his person throughout the now-starry night. In his sleep, Aquamarine’s voice sounds as if it’s the only female voice apart from his mother’s that Thomas has ever heard; it keeps asking him over and over when is he going to follow the North Dakota roads and motor back to Ruby’s—when? when? when? And as the sun of the following day first enters the bedroom, Thomas clearly hears Aquamarine moan a command that “you get your tight ass back here in no longer than a fortnight at the very most.”
‘Alice darling, you’re looking so sad.’ “Sad? No, not even close. This is my unhappy face trying to suppress my happy face. I’m glad it’s working.”
‘Alice, sweetie, the rest of the room just absolutely adores him!’ “She adored him I’ll bet. That's her happy-unhappy face for sure.”
‘Ok Alice, have it your way. What about that guy by the door?’ “A big fat unhappy-happy face, I can spot it a mile away, don’t get me started.”
‘Alice, go give your man one last happy-unhappy face smile before they close him up?’ “Look, I paid good money to have them take him in the back and burn him. When that’s done, you’ll see my real happy face.”
‘You are so bad Margaret, I mean Alice, dammit!’
Cut! Ladies! Margaret, that was fabulous, aaabsolutely fab. Lets take it again from the top. My Happy Face! aaand... Action!
When I was little, I found an abandoned dog near my house. He was such an old fat dog but I found him really cute so I brought him home. My dog and I played together each day. One stormy day when I went to his bed, he wasn’t there. I couldn’t find him at all. I sighed and took a look out the window. Then I saw him fighting with another dog, I ran out to rescue him, but when I arrived he was dead. I got mad and I punched the other dog in his face as hard I could, now he is dead too. I fell on my knees and I cried.
‘Aye it wis a pure blast, man. Eh? Who wis there? Aw, Jamesie and Kyle were there, an Big Ryan an… who else?’
The man’s voice call had already been in progress five minutes earlier when I’d arrived at the bus stop. On he goes, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of words tumbling into his phone. He doesn’t even interrupt the call when the bus arrives.
‘Aye, this is me gaun tae work, I’m jist getting on the bus - two poun fifteen, driver - cause I start at half-eight, shift straight through tae five, aye.. whit’s that?’
I sit some way behind him. He’s on one of the side-seats at the front, feet and elbows splayed wide, his right hand clamping the phone firmly to his ear, somewhere deep inside his hood.
‘So I says tae him no way, an dae ye know what he says next? He says…’
His voice is loud, much louder than it needs to be, and it echoes, rebounding metallically, throughout the bottom deck of the bus. People look up from books and phones and free Metro newspapers. Even some of the people listening to music adjust their earphones and turn up the volume, and so the rest of us are haunted by the faint, trebly, rhythmic ghosts of dance music.
Ten minutes into the journey he‘s still going, still roaring, still laughing. None of the stern backward looks from quieter book, Kindle or phone users have any effect. He probably doesn’t even notice them. Then, as the bus lurches away from traffic lights, he presses the button, summoning a musical ‘ding!’, and rises to his feet.
‘Aye, that’s me getting aff. Traffic’s pure murder, by the way. So who’s aa gonnae be there the night?’
As it happens it’s my stop too. I notice eyes all along the bottom deck lifting and brightening, observing with approval Voice Call Man’s departure.
When I jump from the bus I see him standing motionless on the pavement. He’s holding his phone in front of him and is staring at it, as if trying to summon meaning from it. He sees me.
‘Fuckin battery, man. Battery’s fuckin ran oot.’
I try to smile companionably. It isn’t easy.
‘Need tae borrow a charger,’ he says, looking at his phone, still, and speaking to it rather than to me. ‘Left ma ain charger in the flat.’
Soon I’m in the office, three floors above the bus stop. I look out. He’s still there, hood up, phone held out before him. Suddenly, he seems very alone.
"Do you want to help me make some tuna salad?” my aunt asked, already knowing the answer.
It was Aunt Ida’s magical food, something that I thought she invented for the longest time. It was magical because it made us both happy, even if Aunt Ida’s heart hurt or I felt gloomy.
Aunt Ida cranked her old can opener, slowly crunching the lid of the Chicken of the Sea can like she was playing a musical instrument.
She boiled two large eggs and peeled one small onion. Her bulging eyes filled with tears as she chopped, but it didn’t stop her. She put the diced onions into the large bowl with the tuna. She passed me a top-handle knife, and I chopped with both hands. Every so often, she added a glob of mayonnaise to make the tuna creamy.
"Watch your fingers," she reminded me with a smile.
She ran cold water over the hard-boiled eggs, removed the shells and added the eggs to my bowl. I continued to chop at a steady rate until my aunt said it was okay. Then she closed the lid of the mayonnaise jar, stepped back and proudly watched me whip it all into a delightful tuna lather. We patiently waited for the four fresh slices of Wonder Bread to pop up from the toaster.
As we ate the tuna fish sandwiches and drank our Coke, Aunt Ida said that she knew that she loved me ever since I was a baby. She said that I was so cute that she couldn’t stop holding me in her arms.
Aunt Ida put down her sandwich and grabbed her chest. It was her heart again. “Angina,” she called it and muttered some obscenity under her breath. She held onto the shaky table, placed a nitroglycerin tablet under her tongue and was quiet until she could catch her breath. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and straightened up.
“That was a close one,” she said with a smile.
She finished eating her tuna sandwich as if nothing were wrong. I was relieved that her heart didn’t hurt anymore. Although, I believed that it was the magical food and not the pill that made her feel better.
Katie runs faster than she ever has before, her footfalls echoing down the alleyway. A cat, or rat, it's too dark to tell, bolts into the shadows as she slaps through an oily puddle, grime splattering her shins. She risks a glance over her shoulder. They can't be far behind. Hope, as she reaches a doorway, this one without massive locks or bars. Frustration, as she struggles against it, shouldering the door as she rattles the handle. It shudders but doesn't give. She hears the quiet, but unmistakeable metallic snick behind her.
Time stands still.
Tears stream down her cheeks as she turns to face the man standing there, waiting. He's breathing heavily, but she knows running again is futile. It's over. The total calm she feels in the face of such indescribable fear is almost funny. Silence hangs in the air, and then the surreal moment passes. She snorts sharply, shakes her head almost imperceptibly as she speaks to the man. He mutters a simple response, shakes his head no, moves forward, closing the distance to Katie in less than a second. His face is lost in shadow, but she was looking at the knife as it flashed silver in the pale, second-hand light. At the knife, and the hand holding it.
Erica shuddered as she took her hand off the body, opened her eyes, overbalanced and planted her backside firmly on the dirty cobblestones.
"Jesus, are you all right...?" Holborn asked. She looked up at the detective, blinking.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." she said. "I need pen and paper." She could never make out speech, but she'd seen the tattoo on his wrist. She handed Holborn the sketch. Headed toward her car.
A man, hidden across the alley, put away his own pen, and started walking.
He shoved her hard, yes, but nothing like the wallop she affected to draw attention, and there had been no clout nearly strong enough to send her halfway down the row of putters on display and for sale against the pro shop wall. He felt she deserved whatever he had handed out, because when she chose the moment she did to strip down to black panties and bra, that was all it had taken to distract his attention from his patient scouting and tracking of signs and clues he believed would surely lead to an Orange Honduran caterpillar. For before the girl’s interruption, he thought he had been zeroing in on one along a lower branch of a tree that borders the country club parking lot, but now, as his attention re-coalesced and he resumed the goal of getting a photograph of his quest—as his concentration came back to where it never should have wavered in the first place—the rare, rare bug was nowhere in sight, and nor were there any new or additional indicators. Oh, he continued looking hither and yon a good twenty minutes or so, even charging into the pro shop at one point and getting physically angry again with the worthless girl who was taking shelter there and trying to win some sympathy from a clerk or two, but nothing was to any avail: the Orange Honduran seemed gone for good.
Oh, no I say to myself, once I leave the mall to the parking lot. “Where the heck is my car?”
Confusion set in a few years ago, but recently its gotten worse. Before my mind went blank, I could remember the general direction of where the car was parked. But now, I seem to wander around the foggy sea of cars hoping that one of them is mine.
I feel a lot of anxiety, wondering if I have a car in the first place. Sometimes I forget the car’s color and make. Did I have a Mazda or was it a Toyota? The past and present get all jumbled up in my mind. Don’t ask me what day it is or the name of our president because I’ll just shrug my shoulders.
Why did I go to the mall in the first place? There was nothing I wanted to buy. I’m not carrying any bags. It’s like I was dropped in this mall by a bunch of space aliens.
I wish there were someone to help me, a security officer who could drive me around the parking lot until I found my car. Then I could get warm and not shake and shiver so much. I look down at my shoes. I’m not wearing socks again.
Oh, there it is. Hmm, it’s a white Mazda Hatchback. Did I have a hatchback? I look inside. Yep, that’s mine. There’s that little Porky Pig figurine on the dashboard that my wife bought. The seat covers have holes on the driver’s side. Yep, that’s it. I try to open the car door, but it doesn’t open.
I reach into my pocket for the keys.
Holy smokes! I must have lost the keys. Or did I leave them at home?
A kind man with a Quiet Meadows windbreaker taps me on the shoulder. He takes my arm in his and leads me to a big white van with a group of seniors inside. He opens the door like a gentleman, puts a stool down and helps me up onto the van. He seems to know my name. He seems to know where I live. “Who are you?” I ask.
I thought the girl I spent my first night with luxuriating in Warsaw had liked me quite a bit, but she failed to show up the second night. Now it’s true she told me her sense of direction wasn’t worth the effort it would take to discern red gooseberries by the niggardly light of a crescent moon, and that furthermore, she was not a native of Warsaw (or even Poland). I also surmise that her desire to come back to my garret after just one night there had been frustrated if she tried to use her father’s compass, for she had taken pains to detail that the compass (which she said she often carried on her person) had been damaged long ago—“during the Gomulka years here in Poland”—even though, she further related, her dad is German and has been in Warsaw only twice in his life so far. However, she went on that even though the loved the compass to high, high heaven, it had never been satisfactorily repaired, and, as we both stretched out straight as boards in bed and admired the shadows of the window blinds made by the lamp on my nightstand (before the two of us got entangled in one another), she had further added, “But where poppa’s dying to go, he doubts any compass in the world will function properly, and that’s the nighttime bright city of Perth in otherwise gray and lusterless Australia.”
In the wee hours of the morning, a man stood upon the barricade of a flyover looking down at the hard concrete road fifteen feet below. He estimated that the fall would take about three seconds, the death would take much longer and would be excruciatingly painful.
He leaped. His weight caused him to shift posture mid-air such that his bottom would strike the ground first, the impact shattering his pelvis and along with it, his spine into a thousand little irreparable pieces. Before he would feel the impact, his head would strike the ground, cracking open in unimaginable ways and damaging his brain to the point where, even if he got rushed to the hospital on time, he would remain at best a vegetable for the rest of his life. He wondered how his wife would react when the police gave her the news. What would the children do? Would the office staff mourn his loss? Would his volleyball buddies pool money and buy a wreath? He wondered how it was possible that he was still thinking. Shouldn’t he be dying already, if not dead? He opened his eyes and found himself lying beneath a clear blue sky. The sun was climbing and he was lying in a pool of his own sweat, stinking of vomit and the previous night’s booze. There was light traffic on the road and the vehicles zipped around him avoiding him as if he were a bloody pig lying lifeless in the middle of the road. “Bloody pig lying lifeless in the middle of the road,” yelled a voice and he felt someone tap, not too gently, at his arms and legs with a baton.
The cop’s face held an expression of anger and disgust.
“Couldn’t you find anywhere else to die, you drunken bastard?” he shouted, hitting him harder, now that he was starting to come to his senses.
The man struggled to his feet, his mind still addled, his body not yet under his control. He swayed and fell against the cop. “Get off me you piece of filth,” hissed the policeman, shoving him away. The man staggered unsteadily, backing up against the railing of the bridge. He teetered, lost his balance and went over the edge, head first. As he lay dying in a pool of blood, he realized that he had been right. The fall had not taken more than 3 seconds.
You are sad, Springer Spaniel, when your family is eating a big juicy steak, and they don’t share any.
Everyone else in the room partakes of the scrumptiously grilled rib-eye but you. You sit under the table, near the humans' feet, and make guttural sounds but they still won’t give you any food. You nuzzle their leg, lick their boots, and bark, so they notice you. They still refuse you that tasty meat that you are salivating over.
You would do anything for it. You would do tricks that they would never imagine you could do like balancing upside down on your head and spinning the housecat off your back paws like they do in the circus.
If only they knew how desperate you are.
If only they knew how you were suffering under the table. You kneel down and rest your head on your paws as if you’re bowing to a king. If they give you some meat, you will allow them full reign over you. They could pet your fur against the grain. Or they could leave you in the bath all day until you shrivel up into a Chihuahua. They can make you bark to a cheesy song or wear a goofy pair of sunglasses. You’d do anything.
“Meat, meat, meat,” you woof repeatedly. You bark in a friendly tone at first, and then you growl more demandingly—like you are in charge.
But you are a foolish Springer. There’s nothing you could do to get the steak that you desire. Nothing.
They continue to ignore you. You hate when humans make believe that you don’t exist. You will ignore them when they want something from you. When they want to snuggle in your warm fur, you will turn away. When they toss a tennis ball at the beach, you will not fetch. When they want to show you off to their friends, you will act untrained and wild, jumping on them, smelling their crotch, and nipping their heels like a Dalmatian.
“Wait!” you say, hearing a loud thud on the floor. You know exactly what it is. Something has fallen. You jump up and scramble to the kitchen. “There it is,” you yelp. “Oh boy,” you bark. It’s a bone, and it’s raw!
I’ve been summoned to attend a gathering today, an event that should be a happy occasion. After twenty years of working for the same company, it was time for me to retire. I just have one final obstacle to overcome - my leaving party.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the people that work for me. Well, some of them anyway. My problem is this, every single milestone in my life, from birthday to anniversary, I receive the same gift- a snow globe.
I made one single off-hand comment regarding the tiny plastic menace, and ever since my entire department thinks I have a fetish! What started out to be a mild dislike has manifested into irrational hatred. My dining room has become a haven for these ghastly little things.
There will be hell to pay if my parting gift is anything less than a two-week, all-inclusive holiday to Torremolinos.