We're miles and miles apart, aren’t we?? But when the rain hits my rooftop in the wee hours. I’m awakened. I remember your smooth humor, that soft, southern voice that hits me like a whisper on my neck. I remember those boyish eyes. It holds me deep in the night for a while until reality sets in. I think about my mother who just stares at the ceiling in a ratty bathrobe like she might find the answers there. I think of my sister who has slipped into a coma, the beauty, sleeping, one you don’t touch, like a forgotten doll in a closet. The rain’s pounding-pounding now and the storm’s setting in, swirling, moving fast like the rhythm of my heart. In the end, I’m just a lost girl in the dark who clings to hope and that one shot at love until I fade into a beautiful colorless dream that may or may not come true.
Hear the gleeful giggling? My teenage daughter has her giggly best friend over.
Here they come, running into the living room giggling with excitement. Daughter is clutching something fresh off the printer. Wide eyed with expectation she hands me the piece of paper without saying a word.
The document is a proposition. The popular boy band of the day is coming to town in a couple of months. The girls would like tickets to the show but can’t afford them at the moment.
Unable to contain herself any longer, “They are the best boy band ever,” she shouts. Well, she has probably heard three or four boy bands in her teen life. This means her sample pool is really small, but I hold my tongue.
“And soooo cute,” chimes in girlfriend triggering a duet of chortling.
Their businesslike proposal is this. I pay for the tickets today; repayment will be by instalments per their after-school jobs.
Yes. Of course, my answer will be yes.
A flash of inspiration! Is it an opening? Do I see an opportunity? I am thinking quickly and come up with this strategy.
Donning a serious frown. I pretend to study their proposal. Finally turn the page over. The reverse is blank. Without looking up I ask, “Where is your repayment schedule?”
The girls turn their heads to look at each other for a moment. Slowly it dawns on them. They didn’t hear a NO. They snatch the page, run, and titter all the way back to the computer.
Hear the sound of conspiratorial whispering mixed with the sound of little chuckles? Now the sound of hesitant clicking of the keyboard.
My aim is to teach an important life lesson. How am I doing?
Peter finished reading the brochure and rang the bookings department. “Is this dress code stuff real? Surely it’s been phased out?”
“Between you and me, Sir, that tradition is quite a selling point. Guests love dressing up. We call it Gala Night. Black tie for men and long dresses for the ladies. If you aren’t properly dressed….”
So Peter bought an evening suit and all the gear, including a double-ended bow tie. And he practiced tying that tie until he was perfect.
On Gala Night the sea was calm with a gentle breeze. Peter sang as he put the studs in his shirt: “I’m puttin’ on my top hat, Tyin’ up my black tie…da di da di da di daa.” Not for him one of those lifeless pre-tied things on elastic. His was a Proper Bow Tie. When you pulled the ends a magician’s knot gracefully unwound to become a silken ribbon.
The maître de seated him by the window. A waiter shimmered up and floated the serviette on to Peter’s lap. He ordered salmon followed by fillet steak. As he waited for the starter Peter watched the moon rise, sipped his aperitif and let his thoughts drift …
The spell was broken when a tall dark man, clearly sailing close to the wind in his choice of jacket, raised his voice to the maître de. The maître de threw his hands in the air and the man pushed past him into the restaurant, leading a small blonde in stilettos and mini skirt. Heads turned to follow the action. The man sneered, scanned the spectators, and berthed himself at the table next to Peter. At close quarters his DJ became a creased, grey, linen creation, with jeans and a t-shirt. No trace of any neckwear.
Peter sat to attention. “Guests love dressing up” ... ”If you aren’t properly dressed” … Dress code? Tradition? The words swirled in Peter’s head. His hands shook as he played with the cutlery and fiddled with his tie. This could not be happening: he went over to the maître de.
“How did that gentleman get in?” he asked, on the point of losing his self-control. “ I rather think he should…not be here. What are you going to…?”
“You’re right, Sir, of course you are. Although I would like to, I can’t really ….”
“But you must,” said Peter. “Tradition…”
“I love tradition, Sir, but sometimes….” He mimed toothache.
“OK. I get the picture.” Peter sighed, loosened his tie, and went up to the buffet on the top deck.
A chef in immaculate whites appeared behind the short-order counter: “How can I help you, Sir?” she beamed.
“What’s your best dish?” Peter hung his jacket on the chair.
“Well, Sir, they say I cook a mean plate of scrambled eggs.”
Peter dined on the creamiest, most exquisitely seasoned scrambled eggs ever eaten on the North Atlantic.
With only the moon and stars for company … and a charming short-order chef, properly dressed.
While watching Vietnam War news on television, my elderly nextdoor neighbor heard a knock on his door. He opened it to face three men. "Where's your money for the Baltimore Evening Sun," one asked? "I paid the paperboy last week," Mr. Hecht insisted. "My son told me you didn't," the man screamed. "Where's the money"?
Mr. Hecht led them to the living room, pointing to money on a television table by his chair. "One of them scooped up the change I had to buy ice cream from the Good Humor truck.
Another man grabbed a $10 bill for the milkman."
"After that," Mr. Hecht said, running a big, rough hand through his white hair, "two of them shoved me into my chair and held me in it, while the third one tied my hands with clothesline rope. Then, he shoved rags in my mouth."
My heart raced. If this could happen to my heavyset neighbor, it could happen to anyone in our working-class neighborhood, including me.
Mr. Hecht had invited me in for iced tea and to tell me this story. He was in his seventies. He told me he rotated his hands until the rope loosened enough for him to free them. Then, he yanked the rags from his mouth.
As we sat in his kitchen talking, a breeze carried the smell of roses his wife had planted through the screen door. Mr. Hecht offered me cookies he had baked and fresh lemon quarters to cut the sweetness of the tea.
A widower, Mr. Hecht cooked his food, vacuumed and polished his Victorian furniture, and washed his clothes. He seemed comfortable living by himself despite the rising crime in our neighborhood. Hardly a night went by without police car sirens wailing through the nearby business district.
Mr. Hecht and I had been neighbors since I was born. That was 20 years ago. Months after our discussion, I heard knocking on Mr. Hecht's door. Pulling the window shade aside to peek out, I saw three men on his porch. They were in their thirties. Mr. Hecht opened the door. Placing my ear up to our adjoining wall, I strained but failed to hear what was said. Then, someone slammed the door.
With shaking hands, I pulled the window shade aside again to look for the men. I didn't see them, so I grabbed my keys, locked the door, and climbed over a railing separating our porches. Pounding my fist on Mr. Hecht's door, I yelled, "It's Mary." Looking through the sheer curtain panel covering the door's glass, I saw Mr. Hecht sauntering towards me.
He opened the door, looking as if nothing unusual had happened. "They got me again," he said. "They snatched the money and rushed out as if their lives were in jeopardy.
Maybe they were.
The annoying thing about this neighbourhood is that it’s a mix of the old and the new, Asian, Western and a bunch of stuff in between with no rhyme or reason to the shops here.
Wherever there was an empty space, someone’s put something there.
You have a noodle shop next to a soap store next to a used record slash head shop.
Even the rep theatre we just left seems to have just been dropped there.
How do people live in this?
But like anything, this is my problem, not theirs.
Suddenly we’re there.
“Best Dim Sum Dinner”
Ayesha looks at it a bit sceptically.
“Everyone says they’re the best,” she says, “whom to trust?”
It takes me more than a few seconds to realize that she’s making a joke.
We walk in.
The cashier waves us to a table near the back and another, passing waitress hands us what looks like a scorecard.
I realize now I should have checked this place out before.
However, Ayesha doesn’t seem to mind.
The old ladies seem to know her and I get the feeling this isn’t her first time doing this, which makes me uneasy.
In a way I wish we were both fumbling through this for the first time.
The rain has slackened off by the time we are done and now it’s just a dark, slightly chilly night.
“Want to walk around a bit, just…hang out…?” Ayesha suggests.
“Sure,” I hear myself saying, unsure where to suggest we ‘hang out”.
I hope she doesn’t suggest a club, let alone going dancing.
She looks like she’s a ‘dancer’.
I would suggest that we walk towards her house, but I realize that I don’t even know where she lives.
As well, not exactly the impression I’d want to give, her realizing that I’m walking her home.
Either she’d think I was trying to get rid of her or worse, I assumed that the date would end up at her place.
Stupidly, I really didn’t plan for a ‘third act’ in this date; I thought it’d be the movie, dinner and then I walk her to the subway and we say the usual pleasantries and then the awkward call a couple days later when I call her up and she says she had a great time, but…etc..
That’s what I’m used to, if I ever get this far.
This is new.
“Great,” I hear her saying.
And then she does it.
She takes my hand.
I really don’t do hand holding — or intimacy of any kind, really.
But she’s holding my hand and it is kind of nice and reassuring.
And I trust her.
Which is also a strange and new feeling.
For most of my life, classmates and ‘friends’ were nice to me just so that they could make fun of me later or get something from me.
It’s been a learning experience since I left home.
But her hand feels like a door left open.
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For new readers, Mr Flea (so named for correcting the wardrobe mistress's spelling of puce) provided props for a production of the Merchant of Venice. John Wallett designed the programme and the show was in the garden of a house called “Corbière”.
Gather around class. Let us examine the case of the Human Disease. As you are aware, this illness has been eliminated and the specimens that remain are in high security labs. The illness is well documented as an example of how one species, when unchecked, can cause severe destruction.
The human race was a species with great potential, but it was unable to reach beyond its primitive past. Had it been willing to admit that it was just another animal driven by instincts, it may have fared better. But instead, it insisted on distancing itself from the other inhabitants on Earth, thinking it was better, and creating god images to confirm its superiority. It thought itself intelligent, and measured all other intelligence by comparing it to its own. Had it been as intelligent as it thought it was, its extinction may have been unnecessary. A warlike species it created excuses for conflict and destruction everywhere it went. It fought over many matters of a trivial nature: god images; resource distribution; even the colour of its skin.
In its arrogance, it regarded the Earth as its property, to do with as it wished, without any regard for other inhabitants. It pushed the biological systems of the planet to breaking point. This one species was the primary cause of the sixth major extinction event, and it was directly responsible for more damage to Earth’s biodiversity than any other species in the 4.5 billion years of the Earth’s existence.
But as you know, the actions of humanity did not go unnoticed. The Galactic Community met to decide the fate of this species and came to a decision; until the human race was able to prove that it was worthy, it would not be allowed to leave the planet of its origins. The destruction wrought by humanity could not be allowed to spread into the universe. But, as the Earth approached a tipping point where many more species would suffer, stronger measures had to be taken; the human race was reclassified by the Galactic Community as a disease. Like any pathogen, it had to be contained, studied, eliminated.
The Sol system was declared a forbidden zone. Placed under a strict quarantine with penalties for unauthorised access. Only individuals chosen for their knowledge of dealing with invasive diseases were allowed to visit. The concerns were real, the danger imminent. The human race could not be allowed to spread.
Yet still it persisted, launching its primitive craft into space, intending to colonise another planet. Many argued that it was time for further action; containment was not enough.
The treatment of Earth took place shortly after, and once humanity had been eliminated, the planet began to recover. A few humans were kept alive in heavily secured laboratories for study. There is hope that one day, a vaccine may be developed in case of another outbreak of this terrible illness.
We are told by the experts that we go through five stages of grief when we experience a loss. I am not qualified to question their authority, numerical or other, but I wonder at their explanation of arithmetically coming to terms with that loss.
Five steps: one, two, three, four, five – not necessarily consecutive and it is apparently possible to become stuck at a stage.
Let's think about each of them for a minute, John…
Noun. The act of denying something.
Your denial is farcical. The truth is undeniable. I have the evidence. You. Caught.
In flagrante delicto.
Adverb. In the very act of wrongdoing, especially in an act of sexual misconduct.
With Honoria, (ha!) my friend (ha!).
Noun. A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.
A word with five letters that doesn’t come close to describing my incandescent rage and my blistering contempt for you both.
Verb. The back and forth process of negotiation in order to make an agreement between two parties.
This is a new low even by your despicable standards and non-negotiable, so stop your contemptible grovelling. Just. Go.
Noun. The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.
It won't happen. I will never consent to accept your lies and duplicity.
As in Depressed Fracture
Transitive verb. The type of fracture usually resulting from blunt force trauma, such as getting struck with a hammer, rock or getting kicked in the head.
Thanks for that Merriam-Webster – I’ll bear it in mind.
She wasn’t the least attractive girl in the class, but you might have thought so. Jane Welch had that blotchy skin and Patricia Estes never washed her hair and it looked like the color of mud. But Ellen, our Ellen here, was sort of dumpy (her nickname was Humpty), and her clothes were like out of a 1930s Sears Catalog.
And Ellen (God how she hated that name) had to work every afternoon clerking in her folks’ hardware store. (Her Mom and Dad actually called themselves her “folks,” and they actually called her work “clerking.”
So one Friday night there came the fire in the store. (Not set by Ellen.) Not a big one, so her folks figured they could open again by Sunday after church. But no, they didn’t need Ellen for the day. She’d just be in the way, so why didn’t she spend the day at the Library?
So off our Ellen went, but as she approached the Library, her feet unaccountably turned and took her to the backside of the building where a tiny, scraggly little wood lay. A patch of wildflowers grew at the beginning of a path into the woods. Ellen’s hand picked the flowers as her feet took her on the path.
“Weirder and weirder,” Ellen said, half expecting a rabbit with a watch to appear. No such but a strange patch of white clay was what she encountered, steaming and bubbling.
“Even weirder she said. It’s not a rabbit hole, but it’ll do.”
She gazed at the opals in her palm. "Exquisite."
"Pick one," he said.
"Oh, my goodness."
"Consider it a gift." Grinning, he stroked his unshaven chin.
Four opals slid from her hand onto the coffee table.
A manicured fingernail flicked away a bluish-gray stone. She was looking for red fire and black magic.
"Hmmm…let me see." She picked the smallest gem and held it up to the light. "Yes! This is the one."
"Let me see it." He reached out.
"No." She clenched her fist and defended the stone.
"Give it to me."
Pulling back, "It's mine."
He grabbed onto her wrist and brought her close to his chest.
They struggled. He tightened his grip. Her fingers sprang open.
Now he had the opal. Immediately, he dropped to the floor.
She lifted the stone from his hand.
A smoldering dead body, smoke wafting from nostrils and mouth—
Indian giving came at a price.
Walking home from the corner pizza shop early one evening, Mary felt somebody grab her backside. She turned around to face a teenager brandishing a knife that gleamed threats of rape, death, and robbery. She screamed, turned, and ran for her life.
Her hands shaking, Mary unlocked the old wooden and glass door of the duplex house her grandparents bought in the 1920s and rushed into the living room. She plopped on the worn Duncan Phyfe sofa next to her mother. On the television were pictures of desperate, screaming, horn-honking customers queuing up at gas pumps during the oil crisis of 1973.
"Mom," she said, "This guy grabbed my backside and pulled a knife on me by the cottage the Eppings used to live in. He didn't rob me. He just stared at me, flashing a knife in my face."
"Are you alright," my mother asked, hyperventilating. "You look pale." "Just scared, Mom. He could have put the knife through me just as easily as he groped me. I didn't hear his footsteps behind me."
Hurrying to the black rotary phone on the telephone stand outside the formal dining room with French doors, Mary's anxious mother lit a cigarette and dialed her husband at work.
When he got home, Mary's father tossed the Baltimore evening papers on the living room coffee table and sat in the wingback chair to talk with Mary.
"I'm so sorry this happened, honey," he said, loosening the tie around his neck. "What did this kid look like? Was he taller than you? Was he thin or fat"? "He was about thirteen," said Mary, a college senior. "He wore a knit cap." "What did his face look like," Mary's father asked? "You have to have a good description to tell the police," he said. "How was his face shaped? What did his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears look like"? "I don't know, Dad," Mary sighed with frustration. "I can't remember. It happened so fast." "If you can't describe him, we can't call the police," her father explained. "There may be twenty thirteen-year-old boys in the neighborhood wearing knit caps."
For years, Mary questioned why this teenager did what he did. She wore a mauve raincoat that almost reached her ankles. It was hardly the kind of clothing to entice a boy to grab a woman's rear end. He didn't demand money, even though pocketbook thefts were common in this working-class neighborhood, especially in its business district at the end of Mary's residential street. Maybe this kid was a psychopath who took pleasure in seeing terror in people's eyes.
About two weeks later, Mary's mother happily told her that police officers had picked up a teenager in the business district for committing a similar assault. "It must have been him," Mary thought. "It wasn't likely that there were other teenagers in the neighborhood groping women and flashing knives."
I watch the June bugs crawl around as the fireflies float and light up my porch. It makes me want to let go, give in and be free. Part of me wants to tell you, you do light up this tiny space, my world. Your humor and compassion, that coolness and great love for music make me feel like I’m back in our hometown, but I’m not. I did escape that world and left for college to start over. I started over in an empty land full of strangers and oddly, I felt safe. I felt safe from a mother who cracked over-over and over like an egg and left me reeling to clean up the mess, and I did. Yeah, I always did.
For my lovely sister was busy, twisted up like a vine with her massive choice of boys in the jungle. She had that kind of power, truly, while Mother was blank and I was lost. We were all lost, really. All of us, trying to get one foot back on the ground. Maybe one day I will find you through the cracks and the crevices. Maybe one day you will appear with those fireflies. And all that beautiful, yellow light, it will pour in.
When the phone rings in my college dorm, sometime after dawn, it’s a piercing sound like a hot kettle. Outside my window, I see a sugar sky, the view is grainy cloudy-white. My Mother’s crying on the line. I can’t make out the words until I hear “accident,” and “in the river.” I flinch then and go numb. I know it’s about my sister.
They say she jumped from a swing and never came back up until they pulled her from the water. Now, she’s lying in a grey room hooked up to those damn machines. The last time we spoke I didn’t tell her that her zest for life always made me look closer at the bigger picture.I didn’t tell her she gave me hope. We’re only a little over a year apart, but she guided me. My world was always brighter. Our mother’s feeble, fragile, unstable with her main purpose being, “find a man who fills the holes.”
Mostly, Mom’s in her bathrobe waiting for her government check. I watch the clouds roll across the sky with ease. Still, there is no sun or warmth on this day. There is no magic trick that can erase all those holes, but I R-I-S-E.. I move from room to room to room until I am ready to drive those winding roads that will finally lead me back home.
“Spatchcock Chicken” is a questionable name for an ocean-going yacht. But Robin’s wry sense of humour was his way of showing indifference to danger.
Everybody liked Robin, but ike all mankind, he had his quirks. An encyclopaedic knowledge of the luxuries chosen by castaways on Desert Island Discs. And he considered himself the world’s greatest experts on spatchcock chicken. And for years he talked about sailing alone round the world.
When he passed fifty-five he took a sabbatical, and bought a yacht. At the send-off party you could feel the tide of goodwill for his success. But months later a pod of sperm whales had other ideas.
Twenty-five days after they struck Robin was still getting used to life on a Pacific island. He had found a habitable cave; and he was learning modest survival skills. He caught the occasional fish, had yet to trap any animals, and found the birds tough and stringy.
Nightfall on the island was dramatic. Looking at the wondrous sunsets from the cave mouth Robin thought about cold beer, and pals to share it with. With no one to talk to, ideas bounced round his brain like pinballs. Imagination and reality blended in a strange sensory continuum. His saw footprints in the sand; mythical rescue planes circled overhead.
He dreamt he was the castaway on Desert Island Discs. Lauren Laverne asked him what his luxury item would be. Spatchcock chickens and a grill to cook them. It was against the rules, but she had heard he was a great guy, and she gave in.
For the next few days the ground near the cave mouth rose in a tiny hill. It grew sharp, square corners. Metal began to sprout from the earth, forming a shiny grill and a bottle of gas. In the depths of the cave, a video screen had descended, attached to a stalactite. When he switched on, again Lauren appeared, and warned him always to cook his chicken skin side down.
He was ecstatic. This run of events happened to saints and mystics, not to ordinary mortals. He danced for joy; sang to the clouds; wrote poems on rocks. If he had to live on a desert island, this was how to do it. Might a beer be possible?
Then he did a terrible thing. He put a chicken on the grill skin side up.
The ground shook. Lightning split the sky. Rain fell in torrents. Huge waves rent the sea. The cave entrance was flooded. The grill was ruined. The gas bottle was carried away. Robin hunkered down in the shadows of the cave.
Amid the storm’s rage the video screen pierced the gloom. Helen Willetts explained: “Palm trees will be uprooted by the hurricane, but anyone now on a tropical island who stays put throughout the storm will definitely be rescued…”
Robin squatted before the screen with his chicken leg, still short of a beer, and waited for the storm to pass.
She was terribly fearful of what was about to happen to her. She would soon transition from her current level of life to the next. She felt like she had barely existed and now her time was up. Her life had sped by like a high speed bullet train. She was quite anxious about leaving her comfortable surroundings, where all her needs were met and she felt completely safe and secure. She couldn’t understand what was suppose to be so great about this next life. Sometimes she even wondered if there really was one. Supposedly you would see a tunnel and there would be a bright light at the end of it.
Her biggest fear was the unknown. There was simply no way to know what lay ahead for her in the near future. She would do anything to stay where she was.
“ Why did she have to leave? ” she thought, “ Why couldn’t she stay here, if not forever, then just a while longer ? “
It did not seem fair to her at all. But no, it was not to be. She knew her time had come as she apprehensively and reluctantly entered the birth canal.
Ron Howard entered into the famous Catedral, a historic Renaissance-style Catholic Church centrally located in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru in the Central America. Among all the interior gorgeous decorations made up of gold jewelry, looted by the Spanish Conquistadors from the then-native Inca population, hanged high on the wall an old framed painting of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. But what was the black food item on the plate in front of him? Ron could not focus on it via his expensive telescopic camera since the use of a camera inside was strictly forbidden. Ron noticed a local devotee standing next to him. Ron introduced himself to him and inquired about the painted meal on the plate in front of Jesus. Smilingly, the gentleman replied “It was a grilled guinea pig.” Ron exclaimed “A grilled guinea pig?”
It turns out that the Conquistadors, after invading and defeating the indigenous Inca habitats in the country, started converting them to Catholic Christianity. One of the popular cuisines of the region throughout the history was “grilled guinea pig”. In order to be friendly to the locals as well as make the conversion process easier, the church officials at the time took the liberty of commissioning the painting with the deliberate choice of portraying the last meal of Christ, before his crucifixion, a grilled guinea pig.
Suddenly Ron remembered witnessing a similarly-themed painting on the inside roof of a church in Cochin in Southern India, once occupied in mid-sixteenth century by the Portuguese. In that painting, the guinea pig was replaced by a ripe juicy yellow mango, the favorite summer fruit of the locals.
And throughout the centuries, both paintings stayed in their original forms with no attempt to modify their contents. In a way, it made sense, whether it was intended or not. That painted grilled guinea pig and the ripe mango became historic witnesses to the forced religious conversion of the defeated by the winner in the flow of the river of civilization.
Ten-year-old Heather was sooo bored. It was another boring holiday, another boring family get-together, the same boring food, the grownups sitting around outside and talking about the same old boring stuff. The other kids were playing the same boring games. Heather didn't want to play with them. They were a bunch of babies anyway.
She couldn't take it anymore. She went over to a picnic table and got herself a cup of black cherry Kool-Aid. She looked around and decided she would go over where her granny and Aunt Wanda were sitting under a shade tree and talking about sewing and other boring things. Heather started to interrupt them, talking about things that she liked. Granny didn't mind, because Heather's her favorite, but Aunt Wanda seemed to be getting more upset each time Heather broke in.
After Aunt Wanda started giving her dirty looks, Heather started like she was going to walk away, when she tripped and fell forward and spilled her Kool-Aid on Wanda's lap.
Wanda screeched and quickly got up. "Oh, you little shit!" She yelled at Heather.
"Wanda, watch your dang mouth here," Granny said sternly. Then in a gentler voice, she said to Heather, "Honey, are you alright?" Heather stood up and smiled at her and nodded.
Wanda, red-faced and furious, yelled, "Mom, are you kidding me? Didn't you just see what that little brat did to me?"
Granny shouted back at her, "Wanda, it was just an accident, and I know she's sorry! And you better quit calling her names!"
Wanda started screaming, "Like hell it was! It was on purpose and you know it! My dress is ruined! She needs her butt spanked!"
Granny then started to scream herself. "You won't lay a finger on that baby! It was an accident! And if these kids get upset because of your hollering, I'm gonna be really mad!"
The argument went on, becoming angrier and about other things besides Heather. They were both crying. Heather's mom (who was totally ignoring her), Aunt Margaret, Uncle Larry, and a cousin Heather barely knew, came over and were trying to calm the women down, but it sounded like they were getting upset as well, and taking sides. All the other grownups stopped what they were doing and quickly started walking that way. The other kids had stopped playing and were watching the situation and looking scared.
Heather ran off by herself up the street, her face sullen, but satisfied in her heart and mind. She learned that sometimes a girl has to make her own fun.
'All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.' --William Shakespeare
The writer's group, at the Seniors' Center, wrapped up at eleven. I was thinking about stopping at Starbucks for a morning coffee when I heard: "I like Pope Francis. He says dogs have souls." Kathy's voice. She had her hands folded on top of the conference table. Her powder-blue cardigan curled around her shoulders.
I paused. "You're kidding?" I raised a brow and chuckled.
"That's what the Pope said. And did you know there's no more Purgatory or Limbo?"
"Yes, there's only Heaven or Hell."
"So, it's up, or it's down?"
"That's right." Kathy raised her chin. "I'm a lapsed Catholic."
"So am I. Hope you're right about Purgatory. I hate to think of being stuck waiting to get a get-out-of-jail card to pass. Go!"
Kathy flashed a smile.
"Gotta think about what the Pope said. Sure, as hell, I don't want to go down." I chuckled. "See you next week." I walked out of the classroom.
Kathy loved to write stories about growing up a Catholic and how, as an adult, she challenged some of the teachings, especially birth control.
Another week rolled around.
At nine on a rainy Wednesday morning, I walked into the room with ten copies of my story.
Donna, the group leader, passed around the sign-in sheet. I signed next to my name. I noticed that Kathy, usually one of the first to arrive, had not. Although I didn't know her well, I did know she rarely ever missed a meeting.
Soft talking. No laughter. Something was wrong.
"What's going on?" I glanced at Donna.
"Kathy died Saturday. She went to bed and never woke up." Donna wept.
After the meeting, while walking toward Starbucks, I thought about Kathy and the fleetingness of life. Then, a mangy dog crossed my path.
The dark clouds came together, forming a thin, angry line, sending down straight strands of water. The rain gathered into puddles on the yard below. I watched from my tenth floor, trying to breathe in the scent of the earth. Rushing down the stairs into the yard, I knelt near the puddles, trying to inhale deeply.
“Ma’am, where is your mask?”
I looked up blankly to see a uniformed man.
“May I see your ID?” he asked after a minute.
I tried to take in the disappearing scent of petrichor.
“Answer me. Are you a citizen?” He asked.
Panic began to spread through me when the rain slowed into a drizzle.
Suddenly, I felt sorry for him. “Take your mask off for a minute. Inhale the teakwood and the wet earth before they get away.” I begged him.
The officer turned to another man who tapped his head, his eyes crinkling. I watched the earth sucking in the last drops of rain among their muffled sounds of laughter. My eyes filled up.
"Not all there. She has been like this for more than a year." a voice said as the dry clouds departed, leaving the skies blue and clear.
Every now and then, the aroma of a well-baked pizza takes me back to a summer fair held in the 1960s at a Catholic church in the US. That's where my friend Sharon learned a lesson she never forgot.
Each night, we zipped two dollars in quarters into our change purses to take to the bustling neighborhood fair. With the money, we could buy food, drinks, take rides, and place bets. At the gambling booth, Sharon's lesson began.
On the shelves of the booth were used games, toys, knick knacks, and a doll in a teal hand-crocheted antebellum dress. Sharon wanted that doll.
Placing two quarters on number 8, our ages, the volunteer spun the wheel the way people on television game shows do until it click, click, clicked to a stop at number 3.
We left to buy cotton candy, a sweet sticky confection made of spun sugar, a treat as pink as a child's blush. We cleaned our sticky pink fingers and mouths in the school lavatory.
To get there, we had to walk by Catholic statues and creep past scary-looking nuns in full habits.
We sighed with relief once we got outside, having escaped a curse from a statue and a whack from the nuns' rulers.
We sipped bubbly Cokes as we meandered to the popcorn stand to buy cups of the salty, crunchy, buttery snack.
The next evening, Sharon decided we'd go to the gambling booth first. Placing two quarters on number 8, she lost again. Unzipping her Cinderella change purse, her small hands shaking with excitement, she pulled out two more quarters. She bet and lost again. Gambling fever had hit her like the flu.
She couldn't ride the ferris wheel because she had spent her money. I wasn't treating her because of our ride last year.
Sharon rocked the seat so high, I saw us being thrown into the air and to our deaths on the schoolyard. I screamed, threatening to have the statues put a curse on her if she didn't stop.
Sharon dragged me to the gambling booth on the third night of the fair. Putting her money on number 8, Sharon lost to the number next to 8. Coming that close to winning, she was as charged up as a racehorse at the gate. Putting down money, she stood straight as a soldier, held her breath, and watched the wheel stop far from number 8.
On the next night, she continued to lose. Hooked by the idea of a win, Sharon bet a buck fifty on the fair's last night. On the last of the three spins, the wheel stopped at number 8.
"Yeah," Sharon screamed. "I'll take the doll in the blue dress."
Before school started, Sharon reflected on what she had sacrificed to win: thrilling ferris wheel rides, crunchy homemade cookies, and creamy chocolate fudge.
"The doll wasn't worth it," she told me. "I thank the Catholic church for teaching me that money gambled is money wasted."
I’m nervous, if you want to know the truth.
I’m in a shady part of town, surrounded by a lot of people I’d rather not be surrounded by, truth be told.
I’m sure some of them are probably friends of the guys we just robbed.
For some reason, our pickup guy got the wrong street and now we’ve got a dozen blocks to walk through, before the guys we robbed let their friends know what we did and they come looking
And I’m carrying about a million dollars in seeds in a baggy.
Yeah, you heard that right.
Well, Swazi Silver Black to be precise.
If you’re not into smoking weed, you’ve probably never heard of it but it is the holy grail of Cannabis, the last of the legendary land-race cannabis strains to be actually found.
Travis McGee supposedly smuggled them out of Swaziland in the early 70s, inside a couple 35mm Black and White film canisters.
Rumour is that the silver in the film tainted the seeds’ genetics but made it super potent.
Supposedly Travis wanted to try it out and grew one plant, as a test.
The weed that came from it was supposedly the best weed out there that summer.
Even Jagger and Richards supposedly wanted to get some.
I’m using the word ‘supposedly’ a bit too much you say?
Well, I have to because we’ll never know for sure what went down that summer.
We know that McGee partnered up with Marty Davis, a weed grower up in the mountains.
We know that the Feds got wind of what Marty and McGee were up to and raided their ‘office’.
Marty went one way and McGee the other, right into Federal Custody, where he served 20 years, before dying of cancer in a federal hospital ward.
Marty disappeared, along with the seeds.
And Swazi Silver Black disappeared off the face of the planet just like that.
Until a couple years ago.
Legalization brought a lot of people out of the woodwork.
The internet gave them a forum with which to discuss their love and expertise of cannabis.
And to run a con.
The guy we stole the seeds from?
Connor Davis, Marty’s grandson.
So he says.
He could be lying, like I am about being McGee’s son.
The plan was simple, really.
Get to know Connor, convince him that I’m McGee’s grandkid and that resurrecting the McGee-Davis partnership would be the greatest thing since sliced bread, meet up with him, steal the seeds in Nebraska, where cannabis is illegal and sell them to a grower in Colorado, where it’s legal.
Davis can’t say shit about it without getting busted for possession.
And who cares?
He’s a little punk who got lucky because he’s sitting on a gold mine that his grandfather stole from ‘mine’
Do I care about the real McGee?
I just appreciate the opportunity this gives me.
It’s a great con, if I do say so myself.
As Kyle rounds the corner of his parents’ house, he sees his dad standing atop a ladder, hanging the pipe chimes they made back when he was, what, ten? He smiles, then, dancing between his mom’s potted plants, continues across the deck, grabbing hold of the ladder to help steady it.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in. Thought you and Maggie were taking the kids out to pizza tonight.”
“Maggs had to work late, and the boys are doing a sleepover at their bud’s house.”
Stepping off the ladder, he chuckles. “So having been abandoned by everyone, you had to settle for your old man’s company?”
Kyle takes in a long breath. “Actually, I need some advice.”
“You remember my teens, and maybe my early twenties...”
His dad’s eyebrows raise. “How could I forget?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I guess I wasn’t exactly the best son. Or even a good person.”
His father puts a hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “We all make bad choices now and again. I know I sure did. You turned it around, that’s all that matters.”
“But, for some reason lately it’s all I think about. I know I’m a good dad and husband—“
“Thanks. But I just die when those days steal my thoughts.”
His father nods. “Follow me.”
They cross the deck dropping down to the side entrance of his dad’s massive workshop. As the door is opened, and the lights thrown on, Kyle is taken aback. He’d forgotten how big the shop really was. Standing in the doorway, he can’t help but stare. Tools of every imaginable kind line the walls, while woodworking and metal-shaping machinery fill the floor. There’s an array of winches and lifts for working on cars taking up the middle, and a paint booth to the back. He remembers painting his first car - a Datsun clunker that barely ran. Candy apple red. Though his father said nothing at the time, his face clearly spoke for him.
“Money down the drain.”
They stop at a workbench to the front, a tall shelf just behind filled with the toys and projects they used to make together so long ago. That is, until he became a teen...
His dad motions Kyle closer, then points out into the shop. “Okay, got pretty much every tool known to mankind here, tell me which one you need.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Gotta be something in here that we can use to wrench out those bad memories.”
“Right answer. The past is past. Not one thing here, or anywhere else on this good Earth, can change a single minute long gone. It’s all dust in the wind.”
“Yup.” Smiling, he pokes Kyle’s forehead, then his chest. “Look here, my wayward son, if you fill your head and heart with yesterdays, you’ll never have a stitch of room for today. Or for that lovely wife and those great boys. Let yesterday go. We kinda like having you around today.”
“Should we ask the Captain to go back for him?” Doreen asked earnestly.
Maud looked at the deserted rear deck which had been their perfect relaxing spot to soak up the sun and have a good gossip. Until George had discovered them! Maud’s husband George was like a black cloud sprinkling doom all over their hard earned slice of paradise.
Doreen and Maud had saved for years to take this cruise through the Greek Isles. Their cabin was miniscule but the weather, and the wine, were perfect. Two weeks without the stress of cooking meals, or being asked to care for sick grandchildren. Just two friends escaping.
Doreen was the lucky one, it was easier for her to escape; Bert had passed away four years ago. She and Maud had planned the trip over coffee, two days after Bert’s funeral.
Maud still had George. She had come home on the day of the funeral and looked at George stretched on the couch, his thin strands of hair combed over in a failed bid to disguise his bald crown.
“Get us a beer love,” had been his greeting. Not one word about the service or how her best friend was coping. Maud decided to escape.
They told no one. Maud switched to no name supermarket brands and pocketed the savings from her housekeeping budget. Gorge paid no attention to what she cooked anyway..The savings increased slowly. The friends celebrated when the final stamp was placed on their passports. George didn’t bat an eyelid when he was told the grandchildren had measles and Maud would need to be away for two weeks.
“I suppose I’ll have to eat at the pub,” he made it sound as if he was sacrificing himself.
Maud had underestimated George though. For all their secrecy, when the ship had docked at Mykonos, there was George, floral shirt straining across his large belly and what resembled a dead animal attached to the top of his head.
“Not a wig,” he insisted, “a toupee”, he boasted, rhyming it with tee-pee. “I’ll share your cabin; after all my money paid for it.” He was at his most obnoxious.
Doreen and Maud did their best to ignore George as he strutted around,”checking out the talent,” as he called the other female passengers. They retreated to their quiet spot to discuss the problem. George followed, fiddling with his new hair in the breeze.
“I’ll need the cabin if I score.” George trying to sound like James Dean was too much for Doreen and Maud, they broke into a fit of laughter. George turned back angrily, his progress interrupted by a gust of wind that took his hair over the railing.The two friends were in hysterics, tears streaming down their faces.
“My toupee,” George screamed, climbing after it and losing his footing.
“Well should we?” Doreen repeated looking at the water, “ask the Captain I mean.”
Maud, still chuckling, wiped her eyes. “Perhaps later love, it's almost happy-hour.”
I glow a bit when you sit in my section. I wait around again for our lunches or sometimes a long dinner. Most of the time, I find myself undressing you. I think of tracing my finger ever so lightly, circling your arm, creeping down-down until I reach your thigh. I love the way you glare at me with those “icy blues.” Maybe you can read mine and you’ll get warm as the blood rushes-rushes like hot lava. It’s all those thoughts that make me dizzy, sweaty, aching for the unknown.
Your laughter seems to say, “Ain’t got no worries, Babe,” and I smile for hours. When you move, it’s with great ease, that coolness that seems to set me free. When you whisper those lyrics from certain songs, it gives me chills. I write this to tell you, if you ever truly let me in, you won’t need that booze, junk, the damn coke anymore the way my Dad did. The earth tends to rattle and spin when you experience the power of real connection. You see what it means to unleash and sink into someone who has the same heavy vibe and flow much like lava and the sea.
It's a better high Max, a brand new one.
Will we come up if we dive into deep waters?? Maybe, maybe not?
Still, I know there’s a part of you who wants to stay buttoned up and coast along. It’s easier to sit around with old comforts. Isn’t it? It’s easier just to play it safe by the shore. Ultimately, there are some of us who will never leave the shore.
“Fred Potton! I want a word with you!”
“I never expected to say this, but I don’t like the way you gaze at Lizzie McDougal down at the bowls club. And I’m not the only one who thinks you’re paying her too much attention.”
“It’s nothing, Love. She’s just a very friendly, happy person.” He paused and looked at the ceiling. “And I was asked… by the club captain to… give her a bit of coaching. Honestly, there’s nothing more to it.”
Fred had been studying cruise brochures for some weeks.
Welcome to sailing from Southampton to New York on a Transatlantic Crossing…
Find your perfect cruise… be carried away in the spirit of celebration…
He had decided that Cunard offered unmissable deals on double cabins and incomparable tradition. His mind was made up. But he knew Dorothy had some odd ideas about ships and the sea. “Idiosyncratic” he called her. What if she wouldn’t go?
As he finished his morning coffee, he closed his eyes and imagined the gentle, soothing motion of a great liner in mid-Atlantic. The waiter refilled his glass. At his side a lady companion in raptures over a new wardrobe and a real reason to dress up. This was the life…
A lop-sided smile lit up his face and he began to snore.
“Are you OK, Fred?”
Later Dorothy poured afternoon tea.
“Dorothy, this cruise idea,” (He only called her Dorothy when he had something really serious to say.) “I can’t put it off any longer. We need a change of routine, a new, challenging experience. This COVID stuff is getting to us, limiting our horizons, making us cantankerous.”
Dorothy thought of Channel ferries and island-hopping in Greece. Then she wondered why Fred was suddenly so oratorical and what cantankerous meant. She winced.
“Isn’t it a bit risky, Fred? I never was the world’s greatest sailor, and I don’t think I could face being cooped up with all those other people in a tin box.”
“This isn’t a tin box, Love, it’s the Queen Mary 2. World class. All mod cons and all necessary precautions.”
“Well, I’m not at all sure. I need to sleep on it.”
“Think on, Love. And remember that you’re not as old as me. We’re neither of us getting any younger. If I don’t do it soon maybe I never will. If you won’t come…” He stood up suddenly and went into the garden for a cigarette.
A week later an imposing envelope plopped onto the mat. From Cunard: “Final reductions. Few cabins remaining.”
Dorothy was making lunch.
“Now then, Dorothy. Are you coming to New York? Or... or should I …”
Liz McDougal walked past the kitchen window on her way to the bowls club.