INFINITELY BLUE

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INFINITELY BLUE

        He was small and wiry and had curly white hair and infinitely blue eyes. He was in his early 60’s. He was known as Harding “Hard On” Miller. He washed dishes at The Driftwood coffee shop and restaurant a few blocks from the ocean in this little seaside village of Cambria.

        The owner of The Driftwood, named Robert, with big sad sympathetic eyes, had hired Harding one morning over coffee after listening to Harding’s unabashed story. Harding was living out of a truck down in the beach parking lot.

        This morning here at the front counter Robert was handing to Harding a colorful envelope and Harding was oddly upset. Harding set the tray of dirty dishes down on the counter and grabbed the letter from Robert’s hand. Robert winced at that but maintained his sympathetic ear.

        Harding fretted, “What the f.. Hell? I can’t believe it. Again! What is going on?”

        Robert said softly, “It’s a Christmas greeting card, Harding. What is wrong with that? Who is it from?”

        “That is exactly the question! I don’t know. There is never a return address and the stamp is always cancelled from the same town I’m in, no matter where I go! If I didn’t know better I’d think I was schizo and writing to myself for company! My parole officer sure ain’t doin’ it.”

        Harding lowered his voice suddenly and glanced at the two cops, a male cop and a female cop sitting at the other end of the counter. The male cop was eyeing the ocean vista obliviously. His female partner was silently interrogating her face in the black coffee. Harding continued in a whisper that he thought was secure but which resonated off of the shiny hardwood counter and the big window in this nearly empty restaurant.

        “Even when I was in prison, I would get a card every holiday, every birthday, no signature, no return address, just a hand-printed ‘Thank you. You are missed’ always at the bottom of every card. Is that weird or what?”

        “Weird,” agreed Robert. “But really kind of nice. So what is the big deal?”

        “It is creepy. It’s like I’m being stalked. I’ve spent enough time with people looking over my shoulder for one lifetime.” He glanced at the two cops again. They were both turned away. He thought they were both looking out the big window, but the woman was now watching Harding in the reflection while her partner’s eyes were setting sail for that bank of fog on the horizon.

        Harding picked up the tray of dirty dishes and walked back to his washer station, setting the tray down on the stainless steel table. He then lifted from the tray a half-empty bottle of ale that some fisherman had left that morning. The young cook called to him, “Hey, ‘Hard On’, what’s happening?” That bottle, in Harding’s hand, was now a serious parole violation, but Harding walked in a trance with the Christmas greeting card, out the back door and he finally sat down to overlook the reedy creek that sauntered toward the ocean.

        Harding stared at the Christmas greeting card. And with a first splash of ale down his throat, some shiny memories were uncovered. He was suddenly thinking about that evening at Comozzi’s Saloon, right up the street in the village, 26 years ago.

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        Sitting at the bar had been this slender red-head with the most shamrock-emerald eyes. Harding had looked around for the guy she must certainly have been with, but he saw no one qualified. He sat beside her at the empty bar and asked, “Anyone claim this seat?”

        She smiled, looking up at Harding’s reflection in the big bar mirror, “He’s not here.”

        Harding thought to himself she didn’t say “I have a boyfriend (get lost!)” and he then said, “I’m Harding”

        “I’m Shauna.”

        The two of them lost track of how many rounds they bought each other that fateful evening as they poured out each other’s lives. Harding remembered the pressure of his buried pain being released into those deeply forgiving emerald eyes of hers as they had talked.

        “All I ever wanted was for my father to be proud of me.

        My father was a pilot in World War Two. He flew a Liberator in daylight bombing raids over Germany. His best friend was his co-pilot. Half of those guys were shot down.

        He met my mother while she was dating his best friend. When my father and his best friend played baseball between missions my father would just keep looking over at her and she would just keep looking over at him. They were married near the end of the war. He lost touch with his best friend.

        My father was always my hero. But he was never happy with me. My mother was always the life of the family holidays, but even she thought I couldn’t do anything right

        I was always in trouble.

        My father had become the pastor at our church and also the head of my youth group and he was respected by everyone in the community. But he would laugh at my answers to questions during Bible class. He would make me put my nose into a chalk circle on the blackboard and wear a dunce cap. When I wanted to play Church football, he sneered at me that I was too small. Besides, he would say, don’t grow up to be one of those low-life athletes. When I signed-up for Church football anyway, he would never come to a game. One day I was doing really good: I made two touchdowns, and we needed one more to win. Suddenly there was my father holding a clipboard. I asked him what he was doing there and he said he was now the Assistant Coach!

        He benched me and let some lousy guy “have his fair turn”. We lost. I was so furious I quit the team. And then he would always mock me in front of everybody for that, for being “a quitter”.

        The worst was one day in the garage when I found an old trunk of stuff from my father’s pilot days. There was a picture of my father’s flight crew with his best friend and him in the middle. I had never seen a picture of his best friend. His best friend was a tough looking little guy and…and… I had his best friend’s eyes.

        My father caught me and snatched the picture and hit me; really pounded me, telling me to stay out of his things. I left home and joined the Marines that week.”

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        Harding and Shauna finally took their bottles of beer outside of Comozzi’s and headed down to a spot near the creek.

       They were making love when Shauna’s boyfriend found them

        The boyfriend’s crew commenced beating Harding while the boyfriend dragged Shauna up the bank, cuffing her repeatedly with the back of his hand. They left Harding crumpled and crying “Leave her alone!”

        But a few minutes later Harding came up behind them in the street outside Comozzi’s. The boyfriend was harshly restraining Shauna and growling between his teeth how he was going to smash her face. As the boyfriend turned around, Harding, bloodied and limping, shoved a broken beer bottle into the boyfriend’s throat. Shauna screamed and the boyfriend’s crew now swiftly beat and kicked Harding unconscious.

        The circumstances were not important to the court. Harding had come back with “deadly intent” and, after a half-hearted presentation by his court-appointed lawyer, Harding was convicted of Attempted Murder. He was sentenced to 25 years.

        He never heard from Shauna again.

        Harding’s family then all but disowned him. He never saw them or heard from them again. His friends vanished.

        But about ten years later he began to get the greeting cards for his birthdays and holidays.

        His parents both died while he was in prison. When he was paroled he was a stranger in a strange land. He had the small inheritance left to him from his religious parents. He bought a pick-up truck with a camper shell and eventually landed in the parking lot of the Cambria beach.

        All that time the mysterious greeting cards had followed him with every move.

        As Harding sat there, bottle in hand, overlooking the reedy creek sharing his memories, a shadow fell upon him. Harding started from his reverie and turned around. He reflexively but futilely dropped the ale bottle.

        Standing there was the female cop.

        Harding, even as he plummeted into despair, noticed the eyes of the female cop. They were as infinitely blue as his own eyes.

        The female cop spoke softly, “Hello, Harding,” then she showed a hesitant smile, saying, “Father. Dad,… I’m your daughter. My name is Deirdre.”

        “Daughter…?” His mouth fell open. Harding arose.

        “I sent you that greeting card. I sent them all. Do you remember Shauna? She is my mother. She told me your story when I could finally understand, when I was about ten years old. She made me promise not to tell you anything. She thought that she had hurt you enough. She was ashamed. So I secretly wrote birthday and holiday cards to you in prison. When I became a cop I could always find out where you were.”

        Harding was speechless, blinking and moving his lips.

        Deirdre took a deep breath, “Dad, you have a little granddaughter. And she has your eyes…”

        Harding put his hand against the side of his face, “Granddaughter…?”

        “Dad, my husband Brian and I want you to come live with us. Even if it’s only for awhile.”

        Harding lowered his hand from his face, “Can I ask you: where is Shauna?”

        Deirdre tightened her lips and said haltingly, “She, she died… She died…”

        And tears fled both worlds of infinitely blue eyes.

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EPITAPHS

• She didn’t feel as I did

• I dream I slept too late

• Don’t be so sure about that

• You can be sure about this

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VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

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VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

        The first day of the year was cold and rainy. I awakened onboard Marten’s yacht, confused. New Year’s Eve had been the usual balmy night in the middle of Melbourne’s summer.

        I know I am alone now. I sit on the edge of the bed, naked. I light a clove cigarette, the nastiest habit I could conceive until last night. My eyes chase the edge of the storm inland. I see the illumination of distant lightning. All the moored boats are rolling with the thunder and the storm-swell in the bay.

        Last night begins to creep back to me.

        I had gone to The Spice Trade bar. I was joking with the voluptuous blonde bartendress. She was wearing a bronze name tag that said Real Sheila.

        “Why ‘Real Sheila’?” I asked before I gulped my gin and tonic.

        “Because all of the tourists used to ask me ‘Is your name really Sheila?’ and so my co-workers began to call me ‘Real Sheila’”.

        She looked past me and smiled. I turned to look over my shoulder. Approaching was a lovely young woman with a dark complexion and wavy raven hair. She was wearing a short silk skirt. My first thought was about lifting that skirt over her head.

        She sat down right next to me, so I was either sexy or insignificant. I gave her the most sang froid “Hello” I could restrain. “My name is…“

        “Where is your wife?” she asked without looking at me.

        That was like a kick in the coconuts. Without thinking I answered, “Fucking my best friend in California.”

        I had picked the farthest point of civilization away from that previous life yet here was this stranger sticking it back to me.

        She glanced at me and said, “I’m sorry. You still have that married look.”

        I shriveled in bitter acquiescence. She glanced at me again, “I’m Dyanne.”

        I said lifelessly, “I’m Allen”. Real Sheila put an elegant glass of champagne down in front of Dyanne without being asked.

        Onstage, ContraBand began to blow a typhoon of music. I was actually relieved when this big swinging dick came up to Dyanne and spoke beside her cheek, over the music. She stood up to go with him to the dance floor. She turned back to me and spoke into my ear, under the music, “Will you watch my stuff for a minute, please?” Her breath validated my testosterone at least.

        I looked at her purse and her glass of champagne and I soon felt like kicking my pride right out of there. I looked up. Real Sheila was setting down a tall dark iced drink in front of me. “I ordered gin and tonic,” I said with frustration. “What’s this?”

        “This is a Taser. This is where you want to be, trust me. First one is free.” Real Sheila looked out onto the dance floor. I followed her eyes to Dyanne undulating in that short silk dress. Real Sheila’s eyes were reflecting my own animal cortex. I suddenly wondered which of us was more turned-on. How could I compete with that?

        I sucked the Taser like it was a Coke. Where the ice displaced the liquid it was the color of blood. The surrounding liquid was black. I felt piquant flashes in my throat that were carried away by a savory effervescence. That Taser went down far too easily. I leaned toward Real Sheila and shouted through the music, “You’re right. Give me another one, ok?”

        Finally, half-way through the second Taser, I was sure I heard a “click” and then everything about that night became cozy. I had a vision from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof where the tormented character Brick had waited for that same “click”. I never understood what it meant until that moment.

        Dyanne returned, shining, “Thanks for watching my stuff.” Smiling, “What do I owe you?”

        My mind gridlocked. I tried a sly grin.

        “Oh, God, Sheila. You’re feeding him Tasers?” She sipped her champagne.

        Real Sheila shrugged, “He was threatening to put a stick up his ass.”

        I cringed but I was laughing. I didn’t care.

        “What do you do, Allen?” asked Dyanne. I was enthralled by the logic of her inquiry.

        “I work sales for an American company that sells veterinary medicines here. I just moved here, actually. May I ask what you do?”

        Dyanne ignored my question and asked me, “Do you like it here?”

        “I like visiting the ranches, I mean the ‘cattle stations’, in the countryside.”

        Dyanne chuckled, “A real California jackeroo, eh?”

        The thought of California was suddenly like being flushed down a toilet. It must have showed in my face. Real Sheila was there saying, “Here, I’ll trade you for that stick,” and she handed me another Taser.

        After that, I just remember our conversations being so wrenchingly profound that I wanted to cry but I don’t think I did.

        “She was everything to me. I was so devoted to her. Was it wrong? Is it unnatural?”

        “Maybe you bored her by being such a slave.”

        “My momma always used to say ‘Too thick don’t stick’”.

        Around 10PM Real Sheila leaned toward Dyanne, saying, “I’m off. Let’s go to your place and watch the fireworks.” She winked at me, “You too, jackeroo.”

        We navigated out of The Spice Trade. By then I had become a pair of eyes floating between them. I think they both had their arms around me. I was sure I was holding both of them around the hips.

        We came to Dyanne’s car. It was a sporty little orange Tesla. There were only two tight seats inside. “Cool!” I said after considering the implications carefully. But instead they helped me to lie back upon the sculpted trunk, resting my head against the roof of the rear window.

        We drove slowly down the crowded street. Faces passed steadily above me as if they were viewing an open casket. Why were they laughing? I was the Martyr of Love. I remembered being rocked side to side and trying to anchor my stomach to the unmoving stars above. I could hear Dyanne and Real Sheila laughing behind me inside the car. I must have dozed off. Eventually, I realized that we had arrived at the bay.

        They helped me onto a long dock. “Why are we at the docks?” We stopped in front of a moored boat. As my eyes focused, it became a small yacht! On the stern was written the name VAN DIEMEN’S LAND.

        Real Sheila giggled, “Permission to come onboard?”

        “I will insist.” Dyanne then said to me, “This is where I live.”

        I stammered, “On a boat? Why a boat? This must be really expensive. Dyanne, please, may I ask you what you do?”

        She replied, “A rich Dutch bloke I know, Marten, is letting me stay here.”

        Real Sheila asked Dyanne, “Where is Marten tonight, anyway?”

        “Some-fucking-where in India.”

        Once onboard, they sat me in a chair and they went below. I swiveled to look over the side. My mind bounced out into the bay with all the lights and commotion.

        I heard Real Sheila and Dyanne returning and they giggled as they swiveled my chair back around. I swear they were now wearing only bra and panties. OK, why not? I found myself standing swiftly erect and undressing myself down to my shorts.

        We embraced as a trio. Our kisses met at a point between the three of us. Real Sheila disengaged just enough to remove Dyanne’s bra. Then she let her own bra fall. My hands drifted down between their panties and their smooth cool bottoms. I knelt slowly, pulling the panties down with me. When the panties dropped below their knees and fell to the deck, Real Sheila and Dyanne both stepped out of them. The two of them embraced tightly and kissed.

        Still crouching between them, I sipped nectar from one and then the other of them as they slowly gyrated. It was Dyanne who began to twirl her fingers into my hair. I slowly rose back up. Dyanne turned to face me and pulled down my shorts, taking hold of me. Real Sheila moved behind Dyanne, kissing her neck and helping to lift her onto me. I held Dyanne’s bottom while Real Sheila pressed against my hands. I began to caress Real Sheila with my knuckles.

        And so we divided ourselves and shared everything.

        I became aware of the New Year’s midnight by the thunderous crackling of the skies and the canopy of colorful fire that blossomed above us and reflected in the bay.

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        Last night has crept away again. That’s all I can remember right now.

        The storm-swell is becoming stronger and VAN DIEMEN’S LAND is starting to roll so much that I must get out of here before my hangover reaches my stomach. I find my clothes and pull them on and step overboard to the dock, leaving VAN DIEMEN’S LAND.

In the smattering rainfall I start the long walk back to wherever I live now.

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TOUCHING

 touching

TOUCHING

        It was a time of love. Tamara let the white silky summer dress slide down her upraised arms and down over her head. When it brushed past her nipples she smiled and thought of her husband’s gentle hands and how they had sent electricity between her thighs. The dress settled over her bottom and she thought of how tightly they had grasped each other when their love had became ferocious.

        She turned to her husband who stood before the full-length mirror. Wesley held himself erect with pride in his Marine Corps Blue Dress uniform. She came up softly behind him. It was a time to embrace. She wrapped her arms around him under his arms and felt slowly down his hard chest and stomach. They smiled to each other in the mirror.

        Wesley adjusted his white peaked cap and spoke to Tamara in the mirror, “You look wonderful. Are you ready for this?”

        “Only if you hold me.”

        It was a time to laugh, “I think I need you to hold me, dear. When the President says my name all those TV cameras will be on me.”

        “Don’t be nervous. You look so handsome.”

        “Oh, you’re right, of course. It will only be like a firing squad!”

        Wesley turned in Tamara’s embrace and hugged her and kissed her. She disengaged herself slowly and whispered, “It must be nearly time to go.”

        He asked, “Where is our Little Devil?”

        “He’s in his room. Can’t you hear him rolling his baseball into everything?”

        Wesley smiled and thought of the day he gave to their son that first baseball. Their little boy had stood in the backyard joyfully flexing his bowed little legs and clapping his pudgy little hands and beaming at his father.

        “Here it comes, Little Devil. Catch it.”

        “Honey,” Tamara had fretted, “he’s too little for Catch.”

        Wesley had lobbed the baseball toward his son and the little boy had burst into a squeal. Their Little Devil had bent down wobbly and captured the slowly rolling baseball with both hands.

        “Atta’ boy!” crowed Wesley.

        It had been a time to laugh. “It’s big as a basketball to him,” Tamara had said, failing to remain stern.

        Tamara now smiled at Wesley’s reverie. She said gently, “He’s a star pitcher just like you, dear. The limousine is here. I’ll get him. Meet me at the car.”

        Wesley thought of his own childhood near the lake, gathering stones together and casting them away at the surprised ducks so far out there. He became the star pitcher in high school. Tamara was trying-out for cheerleader but she had also tried-out for the love of his life. It was a time to dance. They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. They were married after high school and Wesley enlisted in the Marines and their Little Devil blessed them soon thereafter.

        Now they found themselves sitting in their designated seats at the National Mall for the Memorial Day celebration and the Capitol Fourth televised concert. Tamara leaned against Wesley and wrapped her arms around his right arm. Little Devil sat on daddy’s lap rocking back and forth dazzled by the flashing colors and the musical sounds but Wesley held him securely with his left arm.

        The President was now speaking. It was a time of war. Wesley was drawn unwillingly into memories of his recent tour of duty, the days of combat, the last assignment.

        It had been a time of hate. Those hostages were going to die. It was a merciless fire fight. Wesley was not fearless. He was firing through walls into rooms that Intel had said held only combatants. The hostages were in the basement he had been told.

        He slid around the corner to confirm as “clear” the room he had just pumped full of fire and brimstone. There in the corner were two young children on a bed, cowering in each other’s arms, clutching each other. Wesley felt his legs almost give. How had he not killed them? He forgot the mission. He strode to their side whipping his semi-automatic rifle around the room.

        The children were crying hysterically. Wesley reached toward them. They screamed and cowered against the wall shaking their heads.

        “It’s OK, kids. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m a friend. I’m going to get you out of here.”

        The children whimpered and shuddered. The dust on their faces was streaked with muddy tears. Wesley shouldered his rifle and reached for them and took hold of the boy’s and the girl’s shoulders. The children screamed.

        “We got no time, kids! I’m sorry.” And Wesley yanked the boy and girl together up from the bed.

        The homemade booby-trap exploded imperfectly. It was a time to die. The boy and the girl were rendered into bloody debris. Wesley was thrown back across the room where his team found him.

        The adult hostages had been rescued. The kidnappers were dead. It was a time to mourn the poor dead children. Wesley cried into the shoulders of his men. And then it was a time to keep silence.

        Wesley now heard the President speak his name and he felt the heat of all the camera lights upon him. He saw himself in the big screen monitor behind the President’s podium. Tamara reached for Little Devil and whispered behind her arm, “Stand up, dear.”

        Wesley lifted his son who hung on his arm and passed him to Tamara. Wesley stood erect. He could have been carved from the finest wood. He raised his right arm to salute the President.

        Where his hand had been was now a white bandaged stump. He could still feel his hand as if it were only numb and he held the stump just that distance from touching his white peaked cap.

        He sat back down when the lights turned away. He reached with the white bandaged stumps of both his hands for his son. Little Devil grasped and hung upon those arms back to his father’s lap squirming with delight. Tamara wrapped her arms back around Wesley’s left arm and hugged.

        It was a time to speak, “I am so proud of you.”

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ÉUPHORANASIA

16_euphoranasia, crop1

ÉUPHORANASIA

        I open my eyes and I am pressed warmly against her soft skin. She still sleeps. Her sweet breath is a gentle tide across my mouth. I don’t want to get up; I never do when she is with me. And we have been together since our marriage five years ago. Gloria and I were so young but I wanted her like I want my next breath. I do still. My love for her used to be terrifying when I imagined the possibility of not possessing her completely forever. And now, now we have a little daughter who looks like her and my love for our little girl is, is, is… excruciating. I never thought it was possible to love something, someone else as much as my Gloria. Is this much… really possible? Sometimes I think it is all the happiness that I can possibly bear.

        Forgive me, dear Lord, when I honestly say that I don’t care about the rest of Your foolish world. I mean, I would help someone truly in need, but Gloria has been my sun and my guiding star and, yes, dear Lord, my religion. I work so that she never shall want. My will on her behalf is unbending and it grows stronger. My career has been like a solid stairway, every step higher, more sure, more secure but always for her, never for myself. I am strong because I am so sure of my path. And my little girl is the finest gift I … we could ever bestow upon this foolish, undeserving world.

        Today is Christmas Eve and we will be having our parents over for dinner and a very special surprise for Gloria as well. I have such a good relationship with my in-laws. All those in-law jokes have no meaning in this family. Tonight Gloria’s parents will arrive in the new XL-Z that I bought for her. She will not believe her eyes, and she will be so happy which is all that matters to me.

        I finally get up and I go to work. There will not be much work accomplished anywhere onsite but I have a report to finish as a favor to my boss. No problem, he is a really good boss and I greatly respect him. And I finish my report after 5PM. No problem, I just need to be home by 7PM. It is already very dark and cold outside and I look out my window to see that the parking lot is shiny with this afternoon’s rain slick that captures the full moon light.

        I log-off my computer from my Yahoo Home Page. A news brief catches my eye: Your teenager and the new designer drug dubbed “Éuphoranasia”. What a world. It is not my world. But I should probably know something about it, so I click on the link. Instantly a message in red lettering against a black screen states “The side effects can be Hell”. The message dissolves into an up-close visage of a grotesque upper face with malevolent glaring yellow eyes that seem to stare right at me. Oh, great. A virus. Well, I’ll have to tell IT on Monday. I shut off my computer completely.

        Outside, my car is the only one left in the moonlit parking lot. As I walk toward it I notice the alley-way across the street. Of all things, there is a dark and gleaming XL-Z parked there. Next to it is the silhouette of a man. He is standing still, but I have suddenly the sensation of ice-water in my chest as I believe he is watching me. I get into my car quickly and lock the doors. The man has not moved, but he still seems to be watching me. I step on the gas pedal and slide out of the parking lot into the main street. It is lucky there are no other cars coming.

        It is starting to rain again. I look in my rear-view mirror and see no other car behind me. I focus forward and begin to think about tonight. Christmas Eve with everyone I love. The oncoming car headlights look like a string of bright ornaments. But there is one that has those really bright “phosphorous” headlights that young people think are so cool. I have to squint and turn my face sideways; the phosphorous headlights are so bright. Suddenly, Jesus! The phosphorous headlights swerve directly in front of me. My eyes are wide, my mouth is open to scream, I lean back, and then there is blackness.

        I awaken. I am in unbelievable pain. It feels like every joint is broken. I am lying on the wet asphalt on my side. I see my car. It is crumpled and shredded into the front end of … of the XL-Z from the alley-way. The XL-Z is unscratched, but there is a furious inferno inside the vehicle.

        I sit up in agony. Something softly bounces on my cheek. I reach up and touch it. It is my eyeball, with splinters of glass in it. I try to scream but I choke. My hand falls on my face. It is wet and ragged and I feel glass splinters. A thought hits me: I was thrown through my windshield. Help me. Help me, God!

        Suddenly there are figures rushing around me that I can barely make out. I am grabbed under both arms and lifted screaming. I am conveyed toward the XL-Z that is so shiny and unscarred but with the boiling flames inside that seem to burn without consuming. The door to the back seat of the XL-Z is now pulled open. I am flung inside screaming. The unimaginable pain causes me to shrivel instantly. I faint.

        I awaken on my back under a bright light. My skin shivers in pain from the merest breeze. There is a person in medical garb above me. I am paralyzed. I cannot speak. My one good eye is open but I can not move my field of vision. My sight is glazing over. I cannot blink. The medical person looks into my face and clicks his tongue. Suddenly he slits my torso from neck to crotch. I faint into the raging pain.

        I awaken breathing hot sulfurous vapors. The smell is hideous. My head is tipped back staring at the ceiling of a stone cavern. I am straining on my tip-toes, gasping. Out of the corner of my one good eye I see the unthinkable. I am in a lake of feces. There are others mired as I am, wailing. I suddenly see a pack of hideous dog-like creatures patrolling the shoreline of this Hell. When they pass, one of the other poor mired people wades quickly to the shoreline and scrambles out, slippery with the nauseating feces covering him. Suddenly, there is heart-stopping howling from the pack of dog-creatures who race back to the individual who tries to run. He slips. The dog-creatures are upon him. They rip his guts out and gnaw off his limbs, shaking their heads viciously and with a final shake toss the gory remains back into the lake of feces.

        I am paralyzed with terror. But a moment later a head breaks the surface and gasps, wailing. It is the mutilated fugitive, now apparently whole again. I turn to a woman beside me who has watched the same spectacle. I cry to her. What is happening?

        She looks at me sadly and says it is near the End of Days. The Devil has been allowed his own “Rapture”.

        Do you mean the Devil is kidnapping innocent souls? I must be dreaming but there is too much pain and terror.

        She tells me I have a chance, that I am lucky! She tells me, saying that she no longer cares that she will pay in more suffering for telling me this: my Free Will has not been consigned to the Devil.

        She says to me in earnest that she will create a diversion and that I must flee. Down that tunnel. Before my mind can even sort the meaning, she wades to the edge of the lake and clambers out, gasping. A moment later the dog-creatures are upon her, but before she suffers the same fate as the man before, she screams to me to gather my Fee Will.

        While the dog-creatures are slavering in their mutilation of her, I myself wade to the edge of the lake and slither out, covered in foul feces. The dog-creatures do not see me. I run, slipping and sliding away from the hideous lake and into the tunnel. But where is this going? God help me. God why is this happening to me? Help me.

        I see a glow ahead and finally I am stopped against a perfectly smooth stone wall. The glow intensifies and I can suddenly see through the stone wall as if it were a huge pane of glass. There is a room beyond. It is illuminated only by the light stealing in from the window of a door on the opposite side. Oh, Jesus, Jesus… I am looking into the refrigeration room of a morgue! There are bunk shelves and gurneys with shrouded figures.

        Suddenly, to my shock, one of the shrouded figures arises, casts of his sheet, gets off of the gurney and walks slowly towards me. When he encounters the other side of the wall, there is a halo of light around him and he passes through into the tunnel right beside me! “Help me!!”, I cry. He never turns his head. He has a bewildered look upon his pale face and he proceeds down the tunnel as if hypnotized. I cry after him, but he is soon lost to me in the dark distance.

        I turn back to the translucent wall and I pound upon it. Help! Help! I’m in here! Help!

        But then, for some reason, I think of what the woman who saved me said. She said to gather my Fee Will. I lay my forehead against the translucent stone and I pray to God with all-consuming intensity and I feel my guts tensioning. Suddenly there is a flash of light and I am on the other side, in the refrigeration room of the morgue. The freezing air feels like a balm, but I race to the door opposite and emerge into the morgue examining room. Soon enough I find the employees shower and I run warm water to remove the slime of feces from myself. But when the warm water strikes my burned skin it becomes agony and I barely keep from screaming. I open the nearby hamper and I pull on some soiled scrubs. At the exit door of the morgue there are several white coats hanging. I grab one. I pull some paper booties over my bare feet and I exit into a hospital corridor. Basement Exit the sign informs me. None of the few people I pass take any notice of me. I am outside. I am free.

        I recognize where I am. This hospital is only a few miles from my home. I shuffle rapidly as my paper booties shred into clinging fragments. I just cannot run! I wince in tiny agony with every step. I don’t want to faint again.

        After an hour of eternities I arrive at my street. It is still Christmas Eve. I am crying. But what is this?

        My house is dark. There is police crime-scene tape around my entire property. On the sidewalk is an improvised memorial. I see a large framed picture surrounded by flowers, teddy-bears, and candles. I limp toward the picture. Oh, no, no, God. I fall to my knees in the gutter clutching my hair. It is a picture of my wife and child! No, no, please, God, no!

        Then suddenly I remember.

        I am not her husband. She is not my wife. That is not my child.

        I killed them.

        I was supposed to kill the family of a rival Éuphoranasia dealer. I went to the wrong house. I was caught. I was sentenced to Life Under The Influence Of Éuphoranasia.

        The candles begin to glow brighter. Brighter. BRIGHTER! I cower in blindness, drooling in mental anguish. I feel weak. I am going to faint. Oh, God, no, no. Not again!

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        I open my eyes and I am pressed warmly against her soft skin. She still sleeps. And now, now we have a little daughter who looks like her and my love for our little girl is, is, is… excruciating. I never thought it was possible to love something, someone else as much as my Gloria.

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THE TWO FIGURINES

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THE TWO FIGURINES

Dearest Alysa,

      I am sorry I haven’t written since beaucoup trop long.  It is so weird that we come to Paris together and then we end up seeing each other less than when we were at State.

      I’m at Les Deux Magots right now.  Remember our waiter Henri whom we nicknamed Ennui?  Yes, he’s still here and he’s my waiter.  I guess he embodies what all the tourists expect from a French waiter.  Pee Ess: I ordered the Sandwich saumon fumé de Norvège.  Remember?  LOL (Lox of Love?).

      You won’t believe this!  Remember Alex, our Teaching Assistant in Marine Biology lab?  Well, he’s in Paris and I just “ran into him” here.  It was so weird.  What’s it been?  10 years?

      I looked up to see him standing right by my table and he was holding 2 glasses of wine.  I couldn’t believe it.  You can imagine my expression I’m sure (Like GAAAH).  I still have such mixed feelings about him.  He told me how he found me by reading YOUR blog and how he hoped I didn’t mind.  Pee Ess: Can you say “stalker”?

      So he asks me if I still like Cabernet Sauvignon and he sits down.  He was smartly dressed.  I asked him what he was doing in Paris and he jokes that he was looking for me, only I don’t think he was joking.  You know how he always expected more from my friendship.  I mean, sure he and I had some kind of intellectual connection, and we had some fun (he WAS a good listener), but I was engaged and I just couldn’t feel anything else, any chemistry (or even biology).  How many times did you and I talk about him?  You remember how he was, right?  Remember how he was always giving me “innocent” little gifts that he thought I’d like?  You even said once that Paul was going to punch him out some day.

      I never told you that Alex said he loved me.  That’s right.  You used to wonder why I was so “chaotic and twirly” about him.  Well, that’s why.  He said he loved me, many times.  I kept telling him I cared for him as a friend but I was engaged and the wedding was soon and if he couldn’t accept that then I would be sorry.  Why couldn’t he understand that?  I KNOW I’m not that irresistible (Remember: I can hear you laughing).  You know all of my dark sides.

      He’s newly divorced.  When I asked him what happened, he joked that it was my fault, but I don’t think he was joking.  He was nervous about something and he kept scratching at his forehead until it started to bleed.  Luckily I had a little medical tape.  We laughed about that.

      I didn’t tell him I was divorced.  And he never asked about Paul.  He must have figured it out from your blog.

      It was like a Camus novel.  He sat there talking more than I ever heard him talk at one time (you noticed yourself how he was a “listener” not a “talker”), talking like he was afraid to stop, afraid of what I would say if he paused, and it all sounded like he was looking for some meaning in his life (capital “M”).  He even told me he knew why people died (“To limit the suffering they feel and to limit the suffering they cause”).  That freaked me out a little, but he just seemed tired and sad.  Then we just sat there looking at each other like two figurines in a novelty shop.

      Suddenly it was like he was hypnotized or something.  He reached over and picked up my lipstick-stained wine glass and he downed it.  Then he downed his.  He stood up hugging both wine glasses to his chest and winked and said he would keep them as a mémento of Paris.  He made a joke (“We’ll always have Paris”) and it’s like he floated away toward the Metro.

      Well, you can go back to eating cookies in the buff.  I’m going for a long walk.  Hope I see you soon.

Yours always, love Katka

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THE EARTH ALSO MOVES

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THE EARTH ALSO MOVES

        Yeah, it’s just me and “Hot Rod” Donna.

        I’m finally gonna do it …I mean, we’re finally gonna do it.

        They call me “Birk the Turk”.

        We ride her dirt bike to the foreclosed neighborhood. They are so many McMansions here! I find a vacant house: 6971 Vista Circle. I think that this is a good sign. 69 and 69-plus-two-fingers. Hot Rod sees me smiling. She says, “I prefer 68, then you owe me one.”

        This door is unlocked for some reason. But we lock it when we go in. It is nice. All wood floors. Hot Rod says, “Birk, look here, someone wrote on the floor.”

        The whole empty room has writing scrawled on the wood floor. Hot Rod stares down at it like she’s looking over a cliff, “It’s mishmash from the Bible.”

        Don’t forget: her father is Reverend Swickhard. Yeah, but God has “burdened” her with a face and a body that requires a whole-lotta Birk.

        Hot Rod is mumbling as she reads, “He will exalt you to inherit the land …. I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. In my Father’s house are many mansions…we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way? …take delight in Him, and He will give you the desires of your heart…”

        And I take delight in sucking her tongue, slurping, and she is on top of me, dry-humping and moaning above the scrawl on the floor. I slide my hot little hands under that tight sweater. Oh, God, these are wonderful! So wonderful that I don’t realize I’m thinking out loud.

        Hot Rod pulls-back, grinning, “Yes, they are real, and they are spectacular!”

        I lift my head and re-install myself in her mouth. She is pounding me like I’m a nail. I hear the floor starting to creak under my butt. I tug on her crème leather pants and suddenly there is a loud crack.

        We both scream as the floor falls away behind me in a shower of huge splinters. I see them rise past us like I’m in a dream. We’re falling, falling. I’m weightless. Hot Rod never stops screaming. We are falling in a glowing haze. I squirm around to look behind me. I scream. All I see is haze!

        I am screaming, “Do orgasms cause hallucinations?”

        She is screaming, “I don’t remember coming!”

        My cell phone rings. I yank it out like a rip-chord. “Help!” I scream, shoving it into my ear.

        It is Gabir, saying, “Whoa! That good? I told you!”

        “Help! I’m falling! I don’t know where we are! We were in one of those foreclosed McMansions! Help!”

        Gabir says, “Easy, man. Be calm. Did you steal one of my purple vitamin pills?”

        “HELP!!”

        “Dude, remember: the Universe is your friend.”

        “Shut up! Tell Mom! We were at… 69….6971… something Circle… Vista Circle! 6971 Vista Circle! Hurry! Help!”

        I finally notice that Hot Rod is falling curled up and clutching her cell phone to her ear, crying loudly, “Daddy, make God stop! I’m still a virgin! Yes! I swear I am!”

        I suddenly think of Alice in Wonderland. This is some fucking rabbit hole! But that makes me relax. I stop screaming. Hot Rod sees I am calm and she stops crying.

        “Daddy is on his way with the police,” she sniffs.

        I suddenly notice that there is no other sound. No wind rushing in my ears. I am losing the feeling of falling. Hot Rod reads my eyes and says, “Are we still falling?”

        “I don’t feel anything,” I say hopefully. “Maybe we were never falling. The police will be here soon. They’ll know what to do.”

        We stare at each other, just floating.

        “What should we do until they get here?” I finally ask, filling the void.

        We stare at each other. Hot Rod’s eyes ignite.

        “We probably shouldn’t,” I say quickly. Suddenly I feel really drowsy. I can’t hold my eyelids up.

        Now all is darkness.

        Then there is light.

        I open my eyes into the light. Hot Rod is asleep on top of me.

        The light moves on and suddenly I see a halo of faces. The policeman with his flashlight is grinning and muttering. My Mom looks pissed. Gabir is grinning at me and slicing his finger across his throat

        Reverend Swickhard is slapping his palm with a Bible.

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A PIANO IN THE WOODS (Deus Ex Machina)

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A PIANO IN THE WOODS (Deus Ex Machina)

        A naked man searches in the dim woods. He whispers urgently, “Elodea? Where are you? It’s me, Ameme.”

        A naked woman emerges cautiously, asking, “You were not followed?”

        “Elodea, can’t you see that I left everything I don’t need?” He stops and poses unabashed, his fists upon his hips.

        “Ameme, you know that He might still follow.”

        “I know only that I will follow you anywhere, Elodea.” He looks up and down while she blushes.

        Then Elodea smiles, saying, “It is so beautiful here.”

        “Don’t relax too much. Stay under the tree canopy, Elodea.”

        “I know. I know. Ameme, do you think that this is how it was in the Garden of Eden?”

        “The children’s version or the adult’s version?” Ameme leers as he puts his arms around Elodea and kisses her heartily.

        She follows the kiss a long time and then she pushes herself free, “We shouldn’t waste any time.”

        “How is this a waste, Elodea? We are here to be free, away from the rules of He Whose Name Is Unspoken. What could be freer than a kiss?”

        “If He finds out…”

        “He won’t. How can He, Elodia?”

        “Ameme, He is everywhere!”

        “Everywhere electronic,” corrects Ameme, “And if He cannot detect us…”

        “Can you be so sure? Isn’t ‘disappearing’ something that He will notice?”

        Elodea looks at her own wrist stigmata and then stares at Ameme’s marked ankles and then raises her eyes to his marked abdomen and finally looks into Ameme’s eyes.

        Ameme says petulantly, “If you are so worried, why did you meet me here?” and then he laughs, “If two people make love in the woods, does He Whose Name Is Unspoken see it?”

        “If He does…”

        “Then He is a pervert,” laughs Ameme.

        Elodea cringes at Ameme’s blasphemy. Blasphemy is punishable by death. But Elodea does not leave.

        “Elodea, you are thinking about prehistoric times when He lived in our minds. We expelled Him once before. Drove Him out. People even used to say He was dead!”

        Elodia cries softly, “But they were wrong! He has returned just as foretold in prehistoric times. The Prophets knew back then that this would happen.” Elodea cringes again as she utters her own blasphemy, “How can we drive out He Whose Name Is Unspoken this time?”

        “That is what the White Noise Society will figure out,” says Ameme, sounding a little unsure for the first time.

        “So where are the others?” Elodea worries.

        “Remember: they have no watches …no Geo-Locators……………….”

        “What is it, Ameme? What do you see?”

        “Your kiss must have made me delirious. Is that … a piano?”

        And in the clearing beneath the canopy of the trees is an acoustic piano.

        “Stay here, Ameme! I’m afraid.”

        “A piano, Elodea.”

        “How did it get out here in the woods? It’s a trap.”

        A crow flies to the moldy keyboard and lands causing an eerie chromatic chord to sound. Elodea and Ameme freeze and listen. The sound dies away through the dim woods. The crow then emits a thoughtful rattle from his throat. The crow does not leave and seems unafraid of people.

        “That must happen all the time,” whispers Ameme.

        Suddenly there is rustling all around coming closer. Elodea inhales sharply and clutches Ameme’s arm.

        Other naked people emerge cautiously.

        “It’s the others,” says Ameme triumphantly to Elodea. Ameme raises his arm and whispers hoarsely, “Hail, Soul-Diers”.

        “Hail, Soul-Diers” the others whisper in chorus.

        Ameme speaks, “We are all going to move to surround this altar of sound and assemble the White Noise Society.” They form a circle around the piano, facing outward, away from each other. They each pull a cigarette out of their hair. Ameme says ceremonially, “I bring the light” and he strikes the match upon the piano. The crow does not leave. Each man or woman then shares the fire of the cigarette to their left.

        A halo of smoke rises and hovers, slowly undulating and expanding. When all have finished their cigarettes in silence they hold the butts up until there is no ember.

        Ameme speaks ceremonially, “Do any here have reason to fear He Whose Name Is Unspoken?”

        There is only a thoughtful rattle from the crow. Suddenly the crow bends to the keyboard and pecks four times, duh, duh, duh, DUH, three quick G’s and a long E-flat – the opening of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

        The net falls over all of them.

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THE POUNDING OF NAILS

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THE POUNDING OF NAILS

        In seventeen minutes it’s The Big Midnight for me. I’m strapped to the Execution Gurney with my arms outstretched. I had a choice: lethal gas or lethal injection. Behind that glass must be the families.

        I can see my reflection in the one-way glass. I close my eyes and they reflect the execution protocol:

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The execution protocol authorizes the use of a combination of three drugs. The first, sodium thiopental or sodium pentothal, is a barbiturate that renders the prisoner unconscious. The second, pancuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the diaphragm and lungs. The third, potassium chloride, causes cardiac arrest. Each chemical is lethal in the amounts administered. The inmate is connected to a cardiac monitor which is connected to a printer outside the execution chamber. An IV is started in two usable veins, one in each arm, and a flow of normal saline solution is administered at a slow rate. One line is held in reserve in case of a blockage or malfunction in the other.

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        The red phone is ringing. Can it be? Is there a God after all this? I strain my neck and watch the warden pick it up.

        He says curtly, “Yes, Governer, sir. Yes. Very well,” and then he turns to me and holds the phone down to my ear, “It’s for you.”

        “What? Hello? What? Mom?! Is that you, Mom? Are you at the Governor’s? How did.. What’s all that noise? No! I told you a million times I didn’t do it. Mom, don’t cry. No, no, no, you are a great mom. No, I didn’t do it! I am! I am too, normal! Your inverted nipples had nothing to do with this! I am too, normal! Who gives a fuck what the neighbors think? Sorry,… no, I did not learn to swear from you…Mom?”

        She was gone and I heard voices and the phone being bumped. “Dad? I’m sorry I swore at Mom. No! I keep telling you: I didn’t do it. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was a fine place to work,… yes, I was lucky to even have a job…, yes, you always told me to get along. What has ‘not playing sports’ got to do with it? I am too, normal. Those assholes needed killing, but I didn’t do it. I wish I had the guts, but I didn’t do it! Hello? Aw, you know what it’s like, Dad! Hey, you left your crappy job and started your own business. What was that?”

        My father was handing the phone to someone else, “Who is this?” It was my wife, “Yes, water the lawn at least three times a week, more if it’s hot. No, they aren’t going to stick you with the credit card debt. I told you a thousand times that the mortgage is covered by the insurance. The title to the house? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I added your name. Why do I care what color you’re going to re-paint it? I don’t care if you burn the fucking thing down. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure you’ll find someone to mow the damn lawn. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, I am listening! What do you mean by that? Sure, I talked about it like any worker does, but I keep telling you I didn’t do it! What are you saying: I threatened to kill you? What husband hasn’t done that? No, I already said good-bye to the cats. Hello, hello?”

        My wife had handed the phone to someone else, “Hello? Phil! Dude! Yeah, man, it is a real drag. I know, I know. Don’t you worry, someone else will appreciate your red thong underwear, without judging you. Yes they will. Oh, yeah? What about Zelmo? Oh? Still? No, I told you, these guys didn’t consider a cigar a ‘last meal’. Yes, you can have the whole humidor. Yeah, yeah, kiss-kiss right back at you, dude.”

        My friend handed the phone to someone else, “Kathy? From High School? Holy shit. Wow. I have always…. What? Yeah, … yeah, of course,… sure, now I can see that you made the right choice back then. Yeah. Good hearing from you after all these fucking years. Wait! Don’t hand-off the phone! Kathy! Hello? Oh, Dr. Lu? No, my blood pressure is fine. Yeah. I’m sure it was all that weight I lost. No, I’m sure I’ll keep it off this time. Yeah, thanks. Hello? Reverend Hirth? What do you mean ‘if’ I didn’t do it? No, as a matter of fact, I do not want to go to Heaven. Because: who wants to sing in a stupid choir for eternity? So what makes you think we get to inflict our miserable personalities upon eternity? Well, I hope there is nothing afterall. That’s what I said: Nuh-Thing! What? That is not why I’m going to Hell. I am not going to Hell! This is Hell! Hello? Hello? Are you still there, Reverend? No, I don’t want to talk to the collection agency guy. Tell him that if there is another Hell, we’ll talk later. That’s right. Put the Governor back on!”

        A moment later, “Hello, Governor, sir, have you seen the transcripts? Is there any chance… there isn’t? Fine. No, no hard feelings. Yeah, me too. Yeah. Nice talking to you. Good-bye.”

        I shook my head and leaned away from the phone. The warden replaced it in the cradle. I felt relieved. I felt good. Hell, for the first time in years I felt positive! I smiled.

        “Hey, it’s showtime. I know you’re union here, but it’s midnight. Let’s go…,” and I crossed my stiff legs and I layed my chin on my chest and I took my final bow.

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JACK THE HACK, MAN

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JACK THE HACK, MAN

            Gentle rain smeared lights into the pavement.  Jack Hackman, the short-story fiction writer, walked across the parking lot toward the Faber Publishing building.  Jack took a final breath of the fresh air that had descended from heaven and that had subdued the city.

            In the lobby the music system played Central City Sketches from the jazz station.

            “Hi, Barbarella,“ he said to Barbara the Receptionist.  She smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

            Jack passed the elevator and walked up the stairs, thinking in cadence “prose, poetry, prose poetry; the two legs of literary ascension.”  At the third floor he entered the hallway that led to the West Conference Room.  He could smell that someone had already made coffee and that it was strong.

            “Marie?” he smiled as he passed the little kitchen.  “You?  Early?”

            Marie Lovall, the novelist, watched Jack swagger past wearing his open leather bomber jacket, V-shirt, and jeans and Marie muttered.  “Full costume tonight, I see,” just loudly enough so that Jack could hear her as he was entering the conference room

            On the huge wooden table in the middle of the room was a big cardboard box.  Jack moved aside one of the plush blue-felt chairs and leaned over to peer into the box.

            “Kittens?” he asked.  In the corner of the box huddled six tiny balls of fur, each one trying to get under the other in fear of Jack.  He couldn’t resist touching them but as he reached into the box two of the kittens turned to face him and raised their little paws in defiance.  “Giving me the toe, eh?”

            As he touched one, the kitten spat and rolled backwards.

            “Hey! Don’t scare those poor little guys,” scolded Marie as she entered the room.

            “They stink,” Jack retorted, hardening-up after nearly melting.

            “They don’t have a mother and they need a bath.”

            “They are yours, of course?”

            “The janitor found them between some barrels of chemicals out in the storage shed.  He told Barbara and she gathered them up.”

            “What’s wrong with their eyes?” Jack grimaced.

            “I don’t know,” said Marie as she picked up one of the kittens.  “They must have leaned against a leaky barrel.  I was helping Barbara cut some plastic-like stuff out of their fur.”

            “Barbie should have been a vet.”

            Marie smiled a little in appreciation.  “Yes.  She should also be a mother.  She’s already given the little guys their names.  This is Coquette.  That’s Baby, there’s Boots, Tiger, Frisky Piglet.  I think that one is Arnold, poor little guy.  His eyes are really bad.  And, good God, no wonder he looks so weak.  Look at those fleas!”

            Jack picked up the box of kittens.

            “Hey!  What are you doing?”

            “Bath time,” he said as he carried the box into the little kitchen.  Marie followed.

            “Here?”

            Jack took off his jacket and began adjusting the faucets to give warm water.  “This is a deep sink.  I’ve done this before.  It is the only way to slow down the fleas or to even see them.”

            “What are you going to do?”

            “Don’t worry.  I’m going to hold them under the running water with one hand and pick fleas with the other.  The water stuns the fleas and the water mats the kitty’s fur so you can see them.”

            Marie protested, “They won’t like that.”

            Jack was unmoved.  “Look, just get a clean box and some towels.  They’ll hate it, but the water is warm, and if we don’t do it these damn fleas will suck all their blood.  How would you like that?”

            Marie saw that she couldn’t prevent the rude baths.  “I hate fleas.  They have no purpose on earth.”

            And thus, as the other writer’s were heading to the conference room they were one-by-one recruited to help dry the kittens.  Marie then placed the dry little fuzz-balls into a clean box and closed the lid flaps.  She pushed the box to a corner of the counter.

            The writers were all back at the conference room table when Mr. Faber of Faber Publishing entered.

            Jack thought “Keep hammerin’ those keys, Jack”, and he intercepted Mr. Faber, thrusting his hand to shake.

            “Jack Hackman, genre-ist.  Not ‘artist’.  Entertainer!”

            “I’m not sure that I am pleased to meet you”, smiled Mr. Faber wryly.

            Mr. Faber then nodded pleasantly to Marie, “Miss Lovall.”

            Jack didn’t let up and he said past Mr. Faber, to Marie, “All the women I know love your stuff!”

            Marie smiled sweetly and nodded, “And all the dick-heads I know love your stuff.”

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