18 anna sybilla - crop1



          Once upon a time in Sweden on a farm there lived two young sisters named Anna and Sybilla.  They were identical twins.  Anna and Sybilla were jealous of each other and they bickered about anything and everything.

          Sybilla said, “You are taking too much time in the mirror!”

          Anna said, “I wanted to wear a green dress today!”

          Sybilla said, “You took the bowl of porridge that I wanted!”

          Anna said, “You only like Staffan because he likes me!”

          Underneath the floorboards of their farmhouse lived the Elf named Torgny.  Torgny was the impish protector of the farmer’s land, wife, and children.  The bickering of Anna and Sybilla was unsettling to Torgny.

          Sybilla said, “Stop playing your accordion; I am reading!”

          Anna retorted, “Of course, you must keep reading; Teacher says I read so much better.”

          Sybilla countered, “Teacher says I am the best runner.”

          Anna taunted, “That’s because you have to run after all the boys!”

          Sybilla stung back, “Well at least I don’t have to run after Staffan, now do I?”

          Their mother could not comprehend their resentment of each other, “Why can’t each of you be happy with what you have?  Why do you worry that the other might get something better?”

          Anna and Sybilla pointed, each a reflection of the other, and said in unison, “She started it.”

          Mother held both sides of her face as if it would crack in two.

          Just then came a knock on their front door.  It was Staffan, “Did you hear?” he said breathlessly, “They have picked The Queen of Lights.  It is you, Anna!”

          Anna glanced at Sybilla to verify jealous defeat on her sister’s face.

          Staffan continued, “And you, Sybilla, you have been chosen as one of her handmaidens…”

          Sybilla clenched her fists and pouted but Staffan did not notice as he continued, “…and I have been chosen as a Star Boy!  I can’t wait to tell the others.  I get to wear a hat decorated with stars.”

          “It’s only a paper hat,” muttered Sybilla but Staffan did not hear her.

          Staffan turned to leave just as Anna and Sybilla’s father came to the door, “Hello, sir!” Staffan beamed.  “A very good day to all!”

          Father smiled as Staffan danced aside and departed running.  Father said, “Yes, I agree that it is a very good day.”  Father hugged Mother, “It is cold but dry.  The barn is full of grain and warm for the cows this night.”

          “You are just in time.  Supper is ready,” said Mother, “Come along, girls, hurry and wash so Father can enjoy supper while it is hot.  You can tell him the good news then.”

          At the supper table Father was still in a very good mood, “We have had very good luck this year.  We should all give thanks to our benefactor: Torgny!”

          Torgny was listening under the kitchen floorboards.

          Anna reported dutifully, “Sybilla said that The Old Beliefs are silly.”

          Sybilla said pointedly, “So did you, Anna.”

          Anna quickly changed the subject, “Guess what, Father?  I have been chosen as this year’s Queen of Lights!”

          “Oh, my goodness, more good luck.”

          “And guess what else, Father?  Sybilla has been chosen as one of my handmaidens.”  Anna looked toward Sybilla with condescending graciousness.

          “Oh, my goodness,” Father said, “That is wonderful news.  Both of my lovely daughters will be in the procession together.  That is wonderful, isn’t it?” Father nodded to Mother who was eyeing her daughters warily.

          Sybilla said to Anna, “Yes, it will wonderful to watch you trying to balance the Crown of Candles on your swollen head while you try to lead the procession without tripping on your own foot and falling down.”

          Anna glared at Sybilla.  Father spoke up, “Oh, my goodness, now Sybilla, you don’t mean that, do you?”

          “Oh, yes I do.  And…,” Sybilla turned to Anna, “I’ll be marching right behind you holding hands with Staffan.”

          Mother wasn’t quick enough.  Anna threw her biscuit at Sybilla.  Sybilla dashed her milk into Anna’s face.  Anna shrieked.

          Mother flew behind them both, “Enough!  That is it for you both!  No supper for either of you!”  Mother took Anna and Sybilla by the ears and dragged them into their bedroom, “It is nearly Christmas and you act this way?!”  Neither sister dared to protest.

          Father lowered his eyes and shook his head slowly, “What is to become of my girls, my lovely daughters?”

          When supper was nearly finished Father lifted his chin toward Anna and Sybilla’s uneaten supper and said to Mother, “Maybe we should offer their suppers to Torgny tonight.  Maybe he can give us just a little more luck for the sake of our daughters?”

          Torgny was listening underneath the kitchen floorboards and he licked his lips thinking about all that food.

          Before Mother and Father went to bed that night they placed Anna and Sybilla’s supper bowls on the fireplace mantle.  Father intoned so that his daughters could hear, “Oh, Torgny, we hope you enjoy this wonderful food.  And, oh, my goodness, we hope that you can help us with our silly daughters.”

          Mother smiled wryly, “I don’t know if that is such a bargain.  We may have to invite him to eat with us every meal.”

          Soon, when the farmhouse had grown very quiet Sybilla, who was not sleeping, said softly to Anna, “I am hungry.  Can we agree that we are both hungry since we had no supper?”

          “Yes.  Why?”

          Sybilla sat up in their bed and whispered, “You heard Mother and Father say that they were going to give our suppers to Torgny?  Well, what a waste.  I’m terribly hungry now.  They’ll probably give that food to the pigs in the morning before we even rise and then they’ll tell us that Torgny ate it, like they always do.”

          Anna whispered back, “I know what you are going to say.  I will do it if you will do it with me.”

          Sybilla nodded, “Good.  What a good joke to play on Mother and Father.  We will pretend that we don’t know anything.”

          Anna added, “We can say in the morning how hungry we still are and how sorry we are and look sad.”

          So Anna and Sybilla tip-toed to the fireplace mantle and ate their suppers that were still warm.  They returned to their bedroom and lay side-by-side without squabbling for once.

          Torgny was furious when he found that the bowls left for him were empty.  He quickly figured out what had happened and he looked toward the girl’s bedroom.  Curling his lip he said, “So you want to play with Torgny?”

          Sybilla awoke first in the morning.  When she tried to get up out of their bed on her side she was restrained and quickly hissed at Anna, “Let me go!  Why are you holding me?”

          Anna then awoke and as usual she tried to be the first one out of their bed, but she too was restrained.  “Stop it, Sybilla!”

          Finally they both pulled the blanket off of themselves and they screamed and screamed.  There was only one body there and it had the head of Anna and the head of Sybilla!  They thrashed in panic upon the bed.  Mother and Father heard their screams and ran into the bedroom.  Mother toppled against Father and nearly fainted, but Father knew right away what had happened and he said, “Torgny!”

          Father held his wife and called to his daughters, “Stop screaming!  Be still!  It is Torgny.  You ate the gift of food we promised him, didn’t you?”

          Finally the weight of reality held Anna and Sybilla still.  Anna’s head was on the right side and she could feel only the right arm and the right leg.  Sybilla’s head was on the left side and she could feel only the left arm and the left leg.

          “We have to move together!” cried Anna.  She and Sybilla concentrated and finally pushed themselves upright on the bed.  They concentrated and slowly moved both legs to dangle over the bedside.  Mother held her hands over her mouth and stared in horror.

          Father understood and said to Anna and Sybilla, “You must now work together.”  He said to Mother, “What a sly prank to answer our prayers.  We must all bear Torgny’s judgment and please him and hope that someday he will forgive our daughters.”

          So Mother and Father began to call the enchanted creature Anna Sybilla.  One person, two names.  Their daughters could only accept their fate and make the best of their punishment.  Very soon the whole village knew of the magic spell and everyone was in awe of Anna Sybilla.

          Both sisters learned to help each other to comb their hair.

          They both learned to agree on the dress to wear.

          They both learned to agree on what to eat.

          Anna taught Sybilla how to play the accordion.  They both became a sensitive musician.

          Anna helped Sybilla with her reading.  They both became a very good reader.

          Sybilla taught Anna to run and together they ran like a deer.

          They together charmed Staffan and all the other boys who now fought to carry Anna Sybilla’s books to and from school.

          They together helped Mother and they learned how to cook.  As an excuse to cook, Anna Sybilla began to prepare meals as a gift to Torgny, breakfast, lunch, and supper.

          Father was so very pleased and proud.

          One morning Anna Sybilla awoke and they were again two separate sisters.

          Anna said, “The Old Beliefs are wise beliefs, Sybilla.”

          Torgny was underneath their bedroom floorboards and he smiled and nodded as he anticipated his breakfast.  Mother and Father who were looking in on their daughters now wept with joy.

          Sybilla gave Anna a great hug.  They both whispered tearfully together.

          “I miss you.”






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 19 hey there lonely girl - crop1



          I sat down finally on the corner of my bench in Brethren Park.  I hunched and lighted my last cigar.  I blew a cloud of smoke between my knees and onto the pathway.  I watched my smoke disturb the destiny of ants.

          “Don’t get old,” I croaked.  Brethren Park took no notice.  I was just waiting now.  I closed my eyes.  It was so quiet that I could hear the tremolo of the tinnitus in my ears and as I concentrated upon it I could imagine it engulfing my world in a shriek that no one else could hear.

          That’s when she sat down hard at the other corner of my bench.  She startled me.

          “I’m sorry,” she said glancing at me, “I can’t do anything right.”  She held her school books against her chest like a shield and she hung her head.  Her face puffed red holding her breath.

          “Is everything OK?” I asked.

          She burst, sobbing, “I’m so ugly!”

          “What?  What?  Who said you were ugly?”

          She was trembling.  She was crying hard, almost silently, leaning forward, and a string of spittle descended to her shoes.

          “Don’t cry, missy, don’t cry.  What’s your name?  I’m Garvey.  It’s alright.”

          What the hell was I supposed to do with a crying girl?  Instinctively I reached toward her and I placed my hand gently on her shoulder.  Real or imagined, the pain was real to her.  She caught herself and sat up straight with a giant snotty sniff and wiped her nose with the length of her sleeve.  My hand was still on her shoulder.  She glanced at my hand and then our eyes locked.

          “I’m Cora.  I’m sorry,” her face crinkled as she suppressed another sob, “Garvey.  Nice to meet you.”

          I withdrew my hand.  She wasn’t a fairy tale princess, she was no Barbie Doll, but she wasn’t ugly like a witch or something.  She did have soulful blue eyes, her nose was… noticeable, she had a wide mouth and thin lips that were trembling.

          I shook my head, “You are not ugly! Cora, who said…, who said…?”

          “Everybody.  The boy I like…  I just want to be somebody else.”

          “Cora, what do your friends say?”

          She exhaled trying to control her tears, “I have no friends.”

          “No friends?  You can’t mean that, Cora.  Old people can have no friends, not young kids.”

          “In my phone contacts list I only have two people who are not related to me,” she couldn’t dam the tears, “I just want to talk to somebody.”

          “Hey, Cora, I’m listening.  I’m kind of your friend right now, aren’t I?  Why, if I were 17 again, I’d surely be your friend.  You seem like a really nice girl.”

          “You’re just saying that because I’m crying.  I just don’t like myself!  I am always so embarrassed that I’m so ugly.”

          “Cora, please, don’t say that.  It is not true.”

          “I have acne and my face is red and greasy…  And the boy I like…, I just want to talk to him and be friends with him so bad, but it’s never going to happen…, I can’t stop thinking about him…, I just want to die.”

          I got angry, “Don’t say that!  Cora, young men are idiots!  They all just want to copulate with fashion cartoons.  Most just can’t appreciate a good woman until it’s too damn late!  Believe me.  God made men crazy like mice to preserve the species a million years ago.”  And I squeaked, “Even before I was born.”

          Cora spluttered an unwilling laugh, “I don’t know what ‘copulate’ means.  Don’t’ worry; I’m not going to kill myself.  I couldn’t do that to my family.  I see all these other people posting how they want to commit suicide…”

          “And a young girl like you should never even think about things like that.  What is happening to this world?”

          “I just wish there was a way I could start over as a new person.  I’m so awkward and ugly I just want to start as someone who is not, who doesn’t have my problems.  A person that this boy would like…”

          “I think every teenager feels like that.  Believe it or not, you survive and it gets better,” and then my mind whispered ‘for a while.

          I thought in my desperate dishonesty,  Just don’t get old.

          Cora shook her head, “That doesn’t help me now.  I can hardly go a night without crying in bed.  I want to tell all these people at my school how lucky they are to be so nice looking, to have so many friends.”

          “Cora, Cora, you have friends at school don’t you?” My mind whispered I am an impotent old man, trying to rescue a drowning child.

          I felt terrifyingly helpless.

          Cora didn’t answer my question and she continued, “And when I see the people I have to sit at tables with at school…  I feel bad saying this: they are unattractive and awkward and I am part of that group.”

          “Cora, isn’t there a counselor at school?  Isn’t there one adult who knows you, to whom you can turn?”

          “I don’t want to see a counselor; I don’t want to talk to my parents.  They can’t change who I actually am.  They’ll just say you will find someone when you’re older.”

          Then Cora said softly, “I know how many kids have these problems…”

          She looked at me and smiled and she swept away her tears with her fingers, “It was nice of you to listen to someone like me…, Garvey.”

          “Hey, Cora, I really like you.  I am so sorry you feel… down.  But I swear that I will be so sad if you give up to the mean, terrible part of this world.  Don’t give up.  I don’t know what to say…, I want to say…,”

          Cora held my gaze and turned her head quizzically.  My vision grew blurry with tears.

          “Cora, promise me that you will come to this bench and talk to me tomorrow or the next day, or soon, OK?  Believe it or not…, you have helped me, Cora, you have helped me.  Please say yes, OK?”

          “I have helped you?”  She stood up, “OK, Garvey.  I would like that.  Tomorrow, if I can.”

          “I’ll be here.  I’m out of school,” I grinned lamely.

          Is this wrong?

          This isn’t wrong.

          Cora smiled sweetly and walked away down the path.

          When I lost sight of her, I arose stiffly from my bench.  I needed to get to the hospital and nullify the suicidal Oxycodone overdose I had taken before I sat down, before Cora saved me.



Based on a heartbreaking post for help






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 01_the cruise crop1



        It was madness! How had I come to this?

        I had been so happy alone in my ocean view suite on the grand cruise ship Merrow. I was going to see the entire Pacific Rim.

        I remember that I was sitting in my suite sipping a flute of champagne for my breakfast. I was gazing out over the enclosed private teak veranda. With deep respect tinged by awe I was watching the great ocean consummate its marriage to the vast sky.

        I had my very own butler for the cruise, Hao, who entered the room with a box of La Palina cigars in his white gloves. I still could hardly believe that those cigars were provided at my request

        With earnest precision Hao prepared a cigar for me.

        “Mister Young, sir, you like I start streaming ‘Dirty Harry’ as you request?”

        “That would be perfect, Hao. Thanks, man.” He really took care of me. I exhaled a bouquet of smoke that was redolent of sweet cocoa and coffee. Yes, I was just a punk who felt lucky.

        “Pardon me, Hao.”

        “Yes, Mister Young, sir?”

        “What do you recommend for later this morning?”

        “Oh, sir, you be very happy to go to Mermaid Casino. She is to be very lucky for you.”

        “Hao, did you know that a casino in the United States is often called ‘the boat’?”

        “No, sir, Mister Young, Very interesting to know. Thank you, sir.”

        “That name dates back to the paddle boat era,” I added in summation. I was getting drunk and I always became erudite just to prove I wasn’t drunk.

        I do enjoy the classics. When “Dirty Harry” was concluded I sat in respectful silence until the ash of my cigar fell and smudged my spa robe.


        I had wanted to get up and get going anyway. It was a matter of pure will. Time was an archaic formality on this cruise.

        I ran the bath water hot and I therein poured the Ferregamo Body Lotion. I gingerly swirled the bath water to dissolve the lotion. I desired to be gilded with lotion over every pore, crease, and cranny. I settled into the spacious bath tub and scuttled myself. I used the Bvlgari Bath Soap between all my toes.

        I had googled “smart casual” and confirmed my attire with Wikipedia. I looked pretty snappy when I entered The Mermaid Casino.


.02_the cruise chapter signs, crop1


        I saw her immediately. It was as if everything else in that place suddenly became just a frame for her full dark hair, heart-shaped face, burgundy lips, and emerald eyes under those sprays of black lashes. She posed imperiously in a silver dress.

        I remember approaching her at the roulette table feeling like I was on a moving sidewalk. There was a space beside her and I filled it. She turned to me and …, my God …, her eyes took hold of mine and she asked, “Well, do you feel lucky, punk?” She smiled devilishly.


        “You don’t play roulette, do you?”

        “No. No. How, how did you know?” Oh, that was very smooth, Mister Young, I thought to myself. I felt flushed and disoriented.

        “I shall be your Lady Luck tonight, Mister Y…,” I could swear she almost said my name but she then asked, “What is your name?”

        My eyes were wide and I stuttered, “Alen. Alen Young. Alen.”

        “You’re sure now?” She laughed. “I am Jeanette. Jeanette De Long.”

        I blurted out, “Jeanette, have we met before?” and I knew it could never be possible.

        “Do you use that line to catch fish?” she mocked.

        “No. No. I didn’t mean…, I don’t know why…, I’m sorry…”

        Jeanette put me out of my misery with a smile and a sympathetic touch on my shoulder, “I’m teasing, Alen. I am quite sure that we have all met in previous lives.”

        She was no Call Girl. What was I dealing with here? I now understood what people meant by “enchanting”.

        “Alen, I will now show you how roulette is played. Place your bets alongside mine each time.”

        I obeyed. In a whirl of hours the two of us won thousands of dollars! I was giddy. And I was also impossibly at ease with her. I was… in Love? Well, Mister Young, who wouldn’t be? Certainly not any of these guys gathering around us, and probably not even those women there.

        One slick and groomed lothario who looked to be cut right out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly was caressing Jeanette’s arm with his knuckle and whispering into her ear.

        Jeanette turned toward me, “Let’s get out of here, Alen.”

        I faced that lothario as I gathered our chips and I made the most obnoxious “well, there you have it!” face that I could pucker at him. Man, I did not want this crazy dream to end anytime soon.

        And it didn’t.

        Jeanette asked me as we exited the casino, “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

        “Sure. Of course,” my God, she was radiant, transcendental, and I was with her.

        “I’d like to go back to my suite and freshen-up. Have your butler reserve a table at The Sea Châteaux and call me with the reservation time. I will meet you at my room, Suite 555, one half hour before dinner. Alen?”

        “Yes? Yes. What?”

        “Are you… Are you having a good time with me?”

        All I could do was joke, “Duh?”

        Jeanette asked, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we, Alen? These cruises can be interminable without someone special.”

        “Lonely in a crowd,” I agreed, “Believe me, I understand.” Sure. I understood about me. What the hell did I understand about her? I watched her wag away down the hallway.


.02_the cruise chapter signs, crop1


        There always seemed to be a uniformed Courtesy Assistant at each major intersection to guide passengers. They somehow knew where I belonged because without my asking they either blocked or facilitated my passing.

        But only their mouths smiled.

        I entered my suite at last and said, “Hey, Hao, my man.”

        “Hello, Mister Young. You have good time, sir?”

        “Hao, you magnificent …I could kiss you.”

        “Very sorry, sir, no kissing guests. Big trouble, sir,” and he grinned.

        I laughed.

        “Mister Young, you feel pretty good, yes, sir?”

        “Hao, no joke, I had the best time of my life. I think I’m in Love.”

        “You very lucky, sir. I know this.”

        “Hao,” I asked regally, “could you please make a dinner reservation for me and a Miss De Long at The Sea… Shadow?”

        “The Sea Châteaux, sir, yes, very nice place. Very romantic.”

        “And then call Miss De Long at Suite 555 to confirm the reservation, please?”

        “Yes, Mister Young. Ve-rrrrry romantic.”

        Then it hit me and I frowned.

        “No romantic, Mister Young, sir?”

        “No dinner jacket, dammit.”

        “Mister Young, sir, I bring dinner jacket for you already.”

        “You did? Hao, are you psychic?”

        “No, Mister Young, sir, I feel pretty good.

        “No, no. Not ‘sick’. Psychic. I mean: how did you know?”

        “Oh, I told you you very lucky today, Mister Young, sir.”

        “Chinese wisdom, Hao?”

        “Yes, I think so, Mister Young, sir,” and Hao bowed and departed with a smile. He left behind for me a silver tray with a gin and tonic, a cut cigar, and … a Magnum condom. I laughed.


.02_the cruise chapter signs, crop1


        Jeanette was ravished by my eyes as soon as she opened the door to her suite.

        I shook my head, “You look… You look…,” then I just held my hands apart and made a clownish face like I had been hit by a mallet. I wasn’t really clowning, though. Her dress was a dance of skin-tone sinuous sheer veils that gave the impression of, well… a nymph in a misty waterfall

        “You’re sweet. Thank you.”

        The Sea Châteaux was elegant and private but it was no reason to take my eyes off of her. For our dinner she recommended the masterpiece seven-course “Celebration of the Pacific Rim”.

        As we dined and I delved into her I kept thinking, “Jeanette, if you were a dinner, this would be you.” And then her tomboyish attitude toward her beauty put the zest on our desert.

        There had been very little “small talk”, thank God, something at which I was lousy. But, in fact, Jeanette had become quite philosophical.

        “What do you know about Physics, Alen?”

        “Oh, I’ve called the Physics Hotline a couple times.”

        “I suppose you wanted to hear about those bodies in motion, right? Seriously, do you know anything about Quantum Mechanics?”

        “Well, I do remember a documentary once that was saying Quantum Mechanics is very much like the ancient Chinese I Ching. Very Zen, counter-intuitive, you know, like ‘there is no such thing as energy, energy is not a thing, but a relationship of things’, and ‘nothingness is the source of everything’, and…”

        Jeanette sat forward, animated, “Yes. Virtual particles. The bedrock of our existence: tiny particles appearing out of nowhere for an instant and then vanishing. They think that the ‘Big Bang’ was one of those tiny particles that…, that…,”

        “Went public?”

        “Alright,” she smiled, “And it could happen again, any time.”

        “Whatever time is,” I winked.

        Now tell me, who talks like that over a romantic dinner with a beautiful woman?


.02_the cruise chapter signs, crop1


        After dinner I walked with her back to her suite. The Courtesy Assistants politely gestured the way even though Jeanette did not need their help.

        She invited me into her suite.

        The room was warmly and seductively lit. I could smell an orange blossom fragrance diffusing throughout. She turned and put her arms around my neck at kissed me. Then she pushed my hands down to her bottom and kissed me deeply again. I lifted her veils and devoured her for hours. I had never been so… insatiable, unstoppable. When at last we just held each other and I stared at the ceiling I had a sweetly disturbing thought: this is the happiest I will ever be.

        It must have been late. I was awakened by another woman in the room. I placed a pillow over my exposed personality. Jeanette’s private female butler was unfazed and kept her eyes averted. She was a porcelain beauty, wearing a clinging red silk dress embroidered with gold floral designs. She stood at the foot of the bed with a spa robe for Jeanette.

        Jeanette arose and let the woman wrap the robe around her. Yes, yes, I arose too watching that little scene. As Jeanette then walked toward the bathroom she said back to me, “I’m taking a bath,” then to her female butler, “Mai, please keep Mister Young entertained.”

        When I looked over, Mai was already stepping out of her dress. Naked she slipped beside me before I could move a muscle (except the one that she reached for). I stopped her arm and then rolled off of the opposite side of the bed.

        “Mai, what are you doing? Jeanette! What is going on?”

        From the bathroom Jeanette called out casually, “I want you to be satisfied, Alen.”


        I stomped into the bathroom. She was already submerged in bubbles. She looked up at me as I stood indignantly naked over her.

        “Aren’t you happy?” she asked with innocent sincerity.

        I climbed into the bath with her, “Jeanette, all I want is you.”

        “I hope you are sure.”

        “What does that mean?”

        “There must be no regrets between us.”

        I took her hand and kissed it, “You must never doubt me, Jeanette.”

        “And you must never doubt me, Alen.”


.02_the cruise chapter signs, crop1


        I watched Jeanette dress. She put on a black laced evening dress-suit. I didn’t even think to ask her where she might be going at that hour until she asked me, “Do you want to go up to the Observation Deck? There is going to be a meteor shower.”

        “Then I suppose I should put my clothes back on?”

        “You wouldn’t want that to get hit by a meteor, would you?”

        “I’d knock it ‘out of the park’,” and I swung my hips.

        Jeanette covered her face and said, “Ahhh!”

        A half-hour later we were strolling down the hallway but when we came to the turn that Jeanette apparently wanted to make the Courtesy Assistant stood in her way. She just brushed past him and he frowned but he then stood aside with his eyes down as I followed her. That happened again and again until we opened the door onto the Observation Deck.

        What a night this was. The stars were like sparkling frost on the dome of the dark sky. You could tell where the ocean began only because that is where there were blurred reflections of the stars.

        “The moon will rise soon,” Jeanette told me.

        The door closed firmly behind me.

        We strolled between a semi-circle of people there sitting cross-legged on the deck and an individual whose back was toward the ocean and leaning against the railing facing them.

        “Star gazing class?” I asked them. They seemed excited to see us.

        “Hello, Jeanette,” said the lanky bearded fellow who was sitting at the focus of the semi-circle, leaning against the railing. He stood up. He was naked except for thick round glasses and a college “mortar board” hat!

        “Hello, Guru Bill,” said Jeanette, nodding, “I offer my heart like a bouquet of flowers,” and then she gestured towards me, “You know Alen.”

        I thought she was joking. Who the hell was this clown?

        Guru Bill said, “But I am always glad to see Alen.”

        “What do you mean by that?” I blurted, “What is this?”

        “This is my Meditation Class, Alen. We are all here to witness.”

        I thought he was referring to the meteor shower.

        I looked ahead for Jeanette. She was standing with both hands on the railing and looking down into the undulating hills of the ship’s wake. As I approached her I heard her say, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”


        She turned her head toward me and repeated, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”

        “You’re being poetic, right?”

        She stared intently into my eyes, “No.”

        I got a chill, “You’re scaring me, Jeanette, stop it.” I tried to chuckle. I reached for her and placed my hand on top of hers.

        She released the railing and gestured for my other hand and I gave it to her and she faced me, “Alen. Listen to me. Can you remember anything before this voyage?”


        “Can you remember anything about your life before this cruise?”

        I smiled, “I love you so much I don’t think I can.”

        “No, Alen. Try to remember. Tell me something.”

        “Well, that’s ridiculous, of course I remember.”

        But my memory quickly reached an impassable grey wall. I suddenly became terrified.

        “This is a stupid joke. You have hypnotized me!” I pulled both of my hands away from her, “This is not funny, Jeanette! What have you done? Why are you doing this?”

        “Alen, all I have of myself, too, is a thousand memories of being on this ship. Then I became… ‘enlightened’. I jumped from this deck into the ocean to end my,… my,…”

        “Imprisonment,” said Guru Bill. “Perception of imprisonment.”

        I raged at him, “What the fuck are you? Some kind of Charles Manson?”

        Jeanette took my face into her hands and looked into my eyes, “Alen, listen. Listen! I jumped that first time but instead of ending it I ‘awoke’ back on this ship. But now for some reason I keep the memory of each previous ‘life’ on this ship. I eventually jumped again. It was a cycle. I kept remembering each jump and I was trying to perfect my escape each time by changing something, anything.”

        “You want to die?” I cried.

        Guru Bob spoke again, “Not die, Alen. Escape the endless cycles.”

        “Then why don’t you go and jump, yourself, motherfucker!” I hollered at him.

        “Because, Alen, I have reached the highest state of enlightenment: indifference. To me, one cycle would be the same as another cycle. I no longer care. I too have tried a thousand times with Jeanette to help her to convince herself not to care. But she is a stubborn soul. She can remember her iterations and in that she is somehow enlightened but she is caught like a fly in this flypaper illusion and she struggles.”

        “Jeanette! This fucker is insane! Let’s get out of here.”

        Guru Bill said to me softly, “Do you see my ‘star gazing class’ here? Alen, these souls reached the same state as Jeanette did initially. But they were afraid to jump. And now they can’t go back below anymore.”

        I sprinted back to the door by which we had entered the Observation Deck. It was sealed tight! Then I saw my butler Hao’s face in the door’s portal. I screamed, “Help, Hao. Open this door. Let me in. This guy’s fucking insane!” I pulled at and shook the door handle hysterically.

        Then Hao spoke to me, “Very sorry, Mister Young, sir. You cannot come back anymore. I cannot let you in. But, Mister Young, sir, you must believe me! You are ve-rrrry lucky!”

        I bellowed, “What the fuck are you talking about? Open this God-damned door! Open it!”

        I felt Jeanette’s hand on my arm and I flinched and turned to her with my eyes wide. She spoke softly, “Alen, for the last hundred times you have jumped after me.”

        “Stop it, please stop it!”

        “Alen, I finally figured out that the flaw in my desire was that I was jumping alone. Believe me, please, that we have loved each other a hundred times. I came for you a hundred times. You feel it. You know you feel it. Remember how you felt like you knew me within that first moment at the roulette table? But then, here in the end, in this final moment, you do not jump with me.”

        I was just whimpering now.

        Guru Bill stood beside Jeanette, “She would jump. You could not find the desire to jump. You end up one of my ‘star gazers’ for awhile but in the end you are driven mad with anguish over Jeanette and you jump anyway. But it is too late. You have come back a hundred times yourself, Alen.”

        I slid to the deck, “Oh, God”.

        Jeanette kneeled and hugged me, “Alen, Alen. It is the two of us together. That is the only way.”

        “The only way to what? Death?”

        “The only way to a possible freedom. Why do we have this feeling that there must be more than this? Alen, remember our dinner conversation? About Physics? Guru Bill, help me here.”

        Guru Bill calmly said to me, “Alen, this cruise is the pimple on a greater reality. Why do you think you can access so much from cyberspace? There are things out there that do not exist here. This ship will never reach those shores. But, Alen, I will always remind you of your option to consider me.”


        “I no longer care. I am content to be the Good Shepherd for my flock of ‘star gazers’. It is only painful to stay here if you think that there is, anywhere else, an ‘Alen’ or a ‘Jeanette’ who will be any different.”

        Jeanette helped me to my feet. She left me wobbling on my own. I watched her go to the railing.

        She said sadly, “I am going to jump. With or without you. Maybe the next time we will jump together. Good-bye, Alen. I do love you. I will love you ten thousand times more.”

        She turned and put both hands on the railing. The meteor shower began. A thousand fiery scratches appeared across the dome of the sky.

        Guru Bill said to Jeanette, “This is the sign.”

        Jeanette placed one foot onto the railing. I cried out, “Jeanette! No! Wait!” and I ran to her.

        She held out her hand to me.

        This time I take her hand.






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04_see spot read, crop1



        Roger still mourned for the death of his dog. Roger was alone.

        For the longest time since his dog had died Roger had left his beloved dog’s water dish in the kitchen and the doggie-toys where they had last been dropped around the house and strewn in the yard. But now Roger decided that he must let go for his own sanity. Those reminders only made him trip on sadness.

        “I’m old and just can’t carry anymore sadness.”

        Roger hoped that he would someday think about Spot with only fondness.

        “I couldn’t bear to lose another dog like Spot. I am too old,” He resolved, “I am just plain alone and I am going to be content with memories.”

        Roger remembered how he came to name his dog “Spot”. His wife was still alive. The dog had shown up a stray in the neighborhood. The dog had been a good looking mutt and healthy but confused and frightened. Roger had figured that the dog got left behind when one of the many of his neighbors who had lost their homes in that recession just weren’t able to take a dog with them to their new lives. That was heart-breaking to think about.

        Roger’s wife would feed the dog on the porch and always made sure there was a dish of water. Finally she had gently cajoled Roger, who was long retired and needed things to do, to accept the dog as family and to build a doghouse in their backyard. At first, at a loss for a name, he had resorted to the name “Spot” from the classic books of his childhood, the Dick and Jane reading primers. Then, to tease his wife, while his wife was still alive, he started calling the dog “G-Spot” to make her giggle and blush.

        “Where is G-Spot? I can’t seem to find G-Spot. Will you help me find G-Spot?”

        After his wife passed away Roger just called him Spot.

        When Spot passed away, Roger tried to be practical and considered that he must sell the spacious wooden doghouse that he had built. But although he could imagine the words he could not imagine the deed itself even though he worried now that in a moment of weakness that he would keep the doghouse as a mausoleum for Spot’s ashes. But he instantly realized that he then would become Crazy Old Guy.

        Roger had scattered his wife’s ashes over their favorite meadow in the mountains. He resolved to do the same for Spot.

        Roger was now on his hands and knees inside the big doghouse pulling out the layers of blankets and then pulling up the carpet pad.

        That’s when he found the leather-bound book.

        “No More Dead Dogs,” read Roger in astonishment, “by Gordon Korman. This is a young adult’s book!” He blinked past the possibility of Spot having a library and wondered, “Who would put this here? Why?” His wife had not been prone to such practical jokes. But their driveway had no gate, and then there was the neighbor’s fence behind them that was only five feet tall.

        “How long has this thing been here?” he muttered while rotating the book through all angles. The corners of the binding had been gnawed, but not as severely as if it had been used as a stolen doggie toy. “For God’s sake!” Several pages have been dog-eared as references. Roger opened to dog-eared Page 5 and his eyes fell upon, “…Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down…”

        Roger sat up erect and bumped his head. He then backed out of the doghouse with the book. Someone had hand-written upon the inside of the back cover:


Gabriel Roch

2314 Josie Avenue


        That was an address on the block behind Roger’s house! Roger could not resist taking a walk there immediately.

        It could not have been a more beautiful day anyway: sunny, slightly breezy, between winter rainstorms, with snow on the mountains to the East. A “picture post-card day” Roger thought.

        He was carrying the book with him as he strolled. So many neighbors had come and gone in the last five years that he didn’t know anyone well enough anymore except to acknowledge them with a nod. He figured he just didn’t have the strength to make new friends anyway.

        2314 Josie Avenue was now a rental house.

        There was a real-estate sign in the front. Apparently it was vacant. Roger sauntered up the sidewalk. Roger was ready to just turn around and continue on his tour of the neighborhood and enjoy the day when the house’s door opened and a grey-haired woman emerged.

        When she raised her eyes and saw Roger standing there she said, “I don’t have time to talk. Just give me your hand-out, alright?”

        “What? Oh,” said Roger with a grin, “This isn’t a Bible. I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness or anything. It’s just a book I’m carrying.”

        “I am so sorry. Were you interested in this property?”

        “Maybe. Can you tell me a few things about it?”

        “Of course. I am Marta St. Joseph. Call me Marta.”

        “Marta,” he nodded, “I’m Roger.”

        “It was owned by a family until the recent downturn…”

        “The Roch family?”

        “Why yes, did you know them?”

        Roger smiled, “I knew their dog.”

        “Oh, my God, it is so strange that you say that.”

        “What’s wrong?”

        “I bought the house about five years ago as an investment. For several years the Roch’s son would show up and ask around if someone ever saw his dog anymore. He told me that his dog had run away just before they had to move out. The family was breaking down, the son said. I tell you that having to move out like that must have been devastating enough to everyone; and then to lose their dog… Do you know that they had to leave behind almost everything? It broke my heart. I even rented a storage space for their things for awhile.”

        “What happened then?” asked Roger.

        “Well, the mother and son eventually reclaimed their things. They thanked me,” Marta exhaled and pursed her lips for a moment, “They hugged me. I don’t know what happened to the husband. Very sad. I think they did get back on their feet eventually.”

        “There but for the Grace of God…,” offered Roger.

        Marta paused and reflected and then she looked up at Roger, “You joked that you ‘knew their dog’. What did you mean by that? Was it true?”

        “Yes, ma’am. If it was their dog then he is the one who came to live with me and my wife just about five years ago. We gave him a home. He became family.”

        Marta saw Roger’s eyes suddenly shine with tears.

        Roger’s words clenched in his throat, “Sorry…, Marta.”

        “That’s OK, Roger. What happened, if I may ask?”

        “My wife passed away a year ago and just a few weeks ago, Spot, that’s what we named him as kind of a loving joke…, but anyway, Spot passed away.” Roger gave a wry grin and sniffed and shrugged.

        “Roger, I am so sorry.”

        “That’s OK, really. That’s life, eh?”

        Marta said, “Do you know that the son said he used to read with that dog? The dog would lean on his lap and watch him turn the pages so one day the son just started to read out loud. There was one book, he told me, that made him laugh as he read it out loud and the dog would bark like he was laughing too. Isn’t that just precious? I tell you, I would be very sad to lose a friend like that.”

        “No More Dead Dogs,” boomed Roger like an oath, smiling.

        Marta was willing to appreciate the joke, but she looked puzzled.

        Roger showed her the book and said, “I don’t know if Spot took this from what they had to leave behind…”

        “Oh, my God,” Marta said slowly with awe. “It is: it is Love that keeps us alive.”

        With optimism born again, Roger asked, “Marta, would you care to walk with me for awhile? It is a beautiful day.”






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05_man and woman drowning, crop1



.06_man and woman drowning chapter symbols, FEMALE crop1


        The light of dawn moves over the surface of the Indian Ocean. A remnant of the airliner’s fuselage and wing still floats. On the wing a woman huddles on her hands and knees. She is wearing a wedding dress. She trembles against the remains of the fuselage. She whispers inarticulate prayers. Little white waves flash like sharp white teeth and lap the edge of the rocking wreckage.

        She raises her eyes to the undulating debris field which is horrifyingly adorned with floating wedding garlands. She cries out in her hoarse voice, “Is! Anybody! Here?!” Her head drops in weariness.

        There is a loud splash. She looks up. A corpse of a man in a tuxedo suddenly bobs up in the floating debris field and then moves rapidly through the water toward her. She screams. The shark pulling the body then drags that puppet corpse below the water. She begins to sob in terror knowing that The Wicked One himself must be tormenting her.

        The wing and fuselage remnant creaks mournfully and begins to sink. She screams. The skirt of her wedding gown becomes heavy with the rising water. It is pulling her down with the wreckage. She hears a voice calling to her.


        Suddenly she wakes up in her own bedroom with a gasp.

        Shakti leaps from her water bed and immediately paces, deliberately stomping her bare heels as loudly as she can, “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God…”

        The dawn light is gently illuminating her bedroom but she turns on every light. She goes into her bathroom and runs the tap for a glass of water, but hesitates, thinks twice, and turns it off.

        “A cigarette,” she invocates. Shakti opens a drawer and paws in the back of it for the forbidden secret emergency cigarette. She lights it as she fumbles with the television remote and turns on the TV and showing is Bridezillas, “Of course,” she mutters and turns up the volume anyway.

        Shakti impulsively calls her fiancé who waits in India, “Oh, Raj, thank goodness, good morning. Ok, good evening. Yes, everything is fine. No, I am not smoking; I was … blowing my nails dry. Yes, the nail polish your mother sent to me. I just needed to hear your voice. I had the most terrible dream… what? Yes, of course I still love you, but… No, no, Raj … dearest, I told you a hundred times that you are being silly: I am not having second thoughts, so please stop saying that. Beloved, I am watching a show this very minute all about weddings but I had the most terrible dream. That’s right. It doesn’t mean I don’t… Every girl is afraid before her wed… ok, I meant ‘anxious’… ok, then, ‘excited’… Well, then, you should see how the women in this wedding show are reacting… It doesn’t matter: today’s women are themselves… No, of course I’m not forgetting Indian values… Ok, ok, my dearest beloved, I will let you get back to your dinner. I love you, too. Please tell your mother and father ‘hello’ for me. Yes… Yes… Someday I will be proud to learn to cook like your mother. Raj… Raj… You know …,” Shakti did not want to hang up just yet.

        “You are always in my dreams.”

        ‘Wearing a tuxedo’ she suddenly thinks as she realizes the irony of her farewell. But Raj has already gone.

        Shakti begins to dress for work without taking a shower. She just cannot take a shower right now. Instead, she dabs scented oils in several unusual places. She brushes her hair in creative ways in order to calm her feral sleep-tangles.

        Shakti then stops herself before the portrait of Lord Ganesh upon her dresser. She takes two pieces of paper and upon one in blue ink and upon the other in green ink she writes furiously two different letters.

        Next, Shakti lights a small candle and drips a little wax into a white dish. She anchors the candle upon the wax. She stares into the tiny flame and recites, “Oh Great Ganesh, here I am with so many obstacles to work around and with so many decisions to make. Please break all the obstacles obscuring alternate solutions and help me accomplish goals written in these letters.”

        Shakti now holds the edges of both letters up to the candle flame and then she lets both letters drop into the white dish and burn as she chants, “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha”. When there is finally only cold ash left of the two letters she extinguishes the candle and blows the ashes into a convenient Zip-Loc bag.

        She tucks the Zip-Loc under the pillow of her unmade bed.

        Finally she exits, “Early to work for the first time,” she wryly observes.


07_man and woman drowning chapter symbols, MALE crop1.


        In the floating debris field there is a man’s head and shoulders bobbing above the water. His head is thrown back and his mouth is open and he slowly rotates in the passing swells. He floats still strapped into his seat. A woman’s voice nearby is shouting hoarsely, “Is! Anybody! Here?” He twitches in a sign of life. There is a loud splash. A woman screams.

        The man gasps into consciousness. He rolls uncontrollably upside-down strapped into the seat. He fumbles with the seat-belt and kicks free and away under water. He surfaces gasping and glances all around in confusion. A woman screams again. The scream comes from a large remnant of the airliner’s fuselage and wing and so he dog-paddles toward it.

        He now realizes that the remnant of the fuselage and wing is sinking. He swims around it and sees the woman. She is wearing a wedding gown and she is shaking her hands in shear panic as the water is reaching her waist. She is now hysterically tearing off the gown and doesn’t see him or hear him calling to her, “Hey! Hey!”

        He can feel the airplane wing under his feet now and he lunges to catch the woman as she faints. He tears the rest of her heavy wedding gown off of her. He holds her tightly.

        He suddenly sees a man in a tuxedo bob up in the floating debris field and the man hollers “Shakti!” The tuxedo man then rolls over and reveals only a severed torso.

        The fuselage and wing have stopped sinking. He holds the woman’s face close to his own. It is Shakti from work! She is soft and they are warm together. He presses his lips to hers. She opens her eyes to him.


        Brodie shudders awake and lifts his face from the couch where he had passed-out prone drunk crying the night before. He rises to his knees on the couch and there is a clatter of empty cans. He lowers one leg to the floor and steps bare-foot onto a slice of pizza.

        “Awwwwwwwwwwww, SHIT!”

        Brodie takes off his V-shirt and uses it to wipe his foot. He throws the shirt into the empty pizza box on the coffee table. The box and shirt slide off onto the floor. He slumps back shirtless onto the couch in defeat and surveys the damage. Since his wife had left him a month ago this place has become a garbage dump.

        Brodie tousles his own hair. He strokes his jaw. It feels like only one day since he shaved. Good. But he smoked a pack of cigarettes last night. He leans forward and sips from the flask of Gran Marnier liqueur on the coffee table, swishing it in his mouth and between his teeth and then gargling. He swallows and exhales, “Sophisticated.” He then drips some Gran Marnier into his palm and rubs his hands together and sniffs the aroma of orange liqueur and then smears it under both arms and across his chest. Now he won’t need to shower. He isn’t sure if he could keep his balance anyway, “So, safety first.”

        As he pulls on his clothes for work he observes the wrinkles and purses his lips as he begins choke on memories so he tells himself, “So what? Who are you trying to impress?

        He rubs his eye then he remembers his dream. “Shakti,” he muses to his reflection, “She is hot. You like her but you never thought about her like that before. Did you? Maybe. Not officially. You do spend a lot of time talking to her at work. But it’s too late now. She’s supposed to fly to India and get married next month.”

        Brodie can hear his reflection thinking, “So? You were supposed to be married and now you’re not.”

        “Yeah. Hell, I’d marry Shakti for her laugh alone,” and then he shakes his head to expel that notion as if he were a dog shaking off water.

        When he was married Brodie had never left for work this early.


.08_man and woman drowning chapter symbols, TOGETHER crop 1


        The parking lot is nearly empty at this early hour.

        As Brodie parks he notices Shakti shuffling toward the offices, What are the odds? “Hey, Shakti, did you forget to go home?”

        Shakti stops and looks over at Brodie and smiles, Oh, thank you, God. He’s one of the guys I actually like talking to.

        He hustles to her side, thinking, What exactly am I doing?

        “No rest for the wicked ones, right?” shrugs Shakti, Poor guy. He’s a mess since his wife left him. Still, there is something sexy rugged here even if he is scruffy. “Welcome back,” she teases. Scruffy? I should talk. He smells good. I could bite him! “Working on the company song?” She laughs. Shakti! You’re engaged.

        “Catching up,” There is that sweet laugh, like tinkling bells. I love that laugh. She smells good. I would lick every inch. Why does she have to be engaged? Brodie responds, “I can get a lot done at work early when no one is interrupting me with their problems,” Shakti looks kind of wild this morning, sexy, “What are you doing here so early?”

        With a wry grin she says, “Oh, earning that imaginary raise and imaginary bonus, of course,” What is happening here? I think he feels it, too. Wait, I’m not thinking straight. I’m engaged.

        Brodie says, thinking, I can’t believe I’m doing this, “Look, I haven’t even had any coffee yet,” I must still be drunk, “Would you like to go to Ahab’s with me? Oh, so what? It’s only coffee, “I’ll buy,” Are you out of your mind? She’s engaged. What is going to come of this? Are you so fucked up that you want to fuck up her life too?

        “Sounds good, actually. You are on, ‘Mister Brodie’,” and then Shakti pinches her lower lip, saying softly, “You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?”

        “You know, ‘Miss Shakti’, I think I do.”






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 18_vengeance is mine, crop1



        There you are.

        I’ve been waiting for you to show up.

        Yeah, just keep on walking like nothing in my world is your problem, asshole.

        You have no idea.

        I’m going to repay you for every fucking thing you ever did to me.

        You seduce my wife, and then you get me fired for making a scene at work? How is that possible?!

        I put up with you and that fucking job for ten years! Do you really think you’ll get away with that? Do you and your friends think I’ll just go away? Guess again, motherfucker: I have nothing to lose now.

        You’ve made my life total shit. My wife left me like it was my fault.

        I’ve gone on a hundred interviews since you got me fired, and they all say “Thanks, we’ll let you know” and then they blow me off when I call back to touch base. Someone is saying something to them when they check my previous employment. It’s you, isn’t it?

        You know what? I don’t even care if it isn’t you! You’re the dick-head who kept on making a fool of me in front of everybody at work.

        The bank locked me out of my own house. How am I supposed to pay a mortgage without a job? How am I supposed to get a job without a place to live? Do you give a fuck? No. Do you think that’s funny? You really don’t care who you fuck, do you?

        Well, today you are going to care.

        I’ve been staying here in the park. Otherwise where would I be? On Skid Row eating your garbage? No. I’m right here watching you stroll up this freeway overpass.

        Yeah, go on. Take a look down. A lot of fast-moving traffic down there. Well, I hope you’re enjoying this morning.


        It’s your last.




A man jumped to his death from a freeway overpass today. Witnesses said he was talking to himself before he suddenly leaped down into oncoming traffic.






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09_i just felt like it, crop1



        I call myself Eurydice in my band The Hummers but my real name is Anna (gag).

       My dad is making me come along to see Grandma or else he won’t give me any money. I hate hospitals. I hate “nursing homes”. I hate having to live with my dad.

        Things were fine when I was living with Jessabella and Chelsea, even if they kept calling me Spooge-Lips because of the white lipstick I wore onstage. But then Jessabella got a D.U.I. and Chelsea lost her job. Now I have no band and no place that I can afford to live except back with my dad (gag).

        Now we are going to see Grandma in the Adios Hotel (no, that’s not really the name of the place). He says it’s important.

        “Here we are, Anna. Shalom Bayit Nursing Home.”

        “Why do I have to be here, again? Grandma doesn’t even recognize me, Dad.”

        “I don’t even recognize you with that hair and all those jigaboo rings in your face!”

        “Jigaboo? Really, Dad? What are you, like, a hundred years old?”

        “No, smart ass, but Grandma will be one hundred years old in three days! Three days! Do you realize what an accomplishment that is?”

        “Accomplishment? Whoa! I didn’t realize that getting old was an Olympic event.”

        “Yes, smart ass, yes it is, or should be, or… oh, shut-up.”

        We parked and Dad went around to the trunk, “Come here. Help me,” he said. What did he want me to do now?

        He was folding a pink envelope into his shirt pocket and then he lifted out of the trunk a fair-sized framed picture. It looked kind of amateur. The colors were done right I had to admit. It was a painting of some old time family in a wagon being pulled by a white horse. There was a dog and a cat, or a rat, or a puppy, I couldn’t tell.

        And I couldn’t care.

        “What is this for?” I looked to heaven.

        “What is this for? I’ll tell you what this is for, young lady (or whatever you are supposed to be)…”


        “Wa-aah!” he mocked, “Your Grandma painted this herself when she was about your age! I found it while I was preparing for the estate sale. She had it in a special place. Along with this letter.” He tapped the pink envelope in his shirt pocket.

        “What letter?”

        “You are going to find out, so listen up, Uranus.” I saw him grinning at his stupid joke.


        “Whatever. Now help me carry this to her room, my dear sweet Anna!”

        My face puckered up involuntarily. My dad laughed and pointed at me.  I knew it was the face I used to make when I was a kid. “There she is!” He said.  He knew I hated it when he tried that “Daddy’s Little Girl” shit on me. So pathetic.

        I thought Grandma’s room smelled like my biology class in high school. And Grandma looked like that Cabbage Patch Doll that my dad was so excited about getting me (and then he said I couldn’t play with because he bought it to be an “inheritance for me someday”).

        Grandma’s blanket was up tight under her chin. She was sleeping with her mouth open.

        My dad kissed her forehead and said softly, “Momma. Momma, it’s me. And Anna is here, too. We’re here to see you. And we have something you will like.”

        Grandma opened her eyes. I couldn’t help thinking, “What big eyes you have, Grandma,” but I stayed totally cool. She gave my dad a big childish smile. My dad smiled and said, “Momma, hi. How do you feel, Momma? You look beautiful as always,”

        Grandma squirmed under the bed sheets. My dad loosened them and then Grandma raised a pale wrinkled veined yellow arm and held my dad’s face in her hand. She beamed. She started to cry. My dad started to cry. I clenched my teeth.

        There was no reason, no reason for me to cry.

        “Momma, say ‘hi’ to Anna. You remember your granddaughter, little Anna?”

        Grandma turned her head and looked right at me and laughed like a baby. She thought I was funny looking. That hurt, fuck’s sake. “Show her the painting already, Dad.”

        “Momma, look at this. Do you remember this painting? You painted it. Remember?”

        And then, Oh My God, it was like a spell was broken. Grandma grasped the painting in front of her with both hands. She raised her head and her eyes came alive, like, like, came alive!

        Grandma breathed, “Oh, Mother. Papa. Dear Feodor. Little Anya. And sweet Grand Mama. Afanasi, my beautiful horse, Afanasi. Oh, Zhuchka, silly puppy, don’t just stand there under the wagon! Go get your little Druzhok before he is trampled.”

        “Momma, is this a painting of your family back in Lithuania?”

        Grandma said with great clarity, “I painted this in Paris, after I left home. I painted them as I remembered them. I painted them as if they had come to visit me in Paris. But I never saw them again.”

        I had to ask, “Why did you leave home, Grandma?”

        “I just felt like it. That is all.”

        My dad shook his head and said as he always did about his family, “Hard-headed.”

        “There was not artistic freedom anymore,” pronounced Grandma, looking far away in her eyes.

        “Yes, yes. Artistic freedom, Momma. You were an artist. That was The Great War? World War One, wasn’t it Momma?” but I knew he was saying that for my ignorant benefit.

        I said indignantly, “I know which War it is, Dad. She met Grandpa in Paris. Grandpa was in the Army Artillery. He married her and took her to America.”

        Grandma clicked her tongue, “She knows, my son, she knows. Son, you are like my Papa was to me: to him I was just a silly disobedient daughter. So I left.”

        Well, I thought, shit me, Grandma. Is somebody in this family actually on my side? Why did you ever stop painting? Because of Grandpa? Because of the Depression? Because of eleven kids?

        My dad spoke up, “Momma, no, I don’t think Anna is silly, Momma”

        “Oh, Puh-lease, Dad,” I said, almost straining my eyeballs rolling them.

        “I don’t! I do not! I know how special you are, my dear sweet Anna. That is why I brought this letter,” and he fumbled the pink envelope in his shirt pocket, “Your Grandma was keeping this in the same special place as this painting. Anna, you wrote this letter to Grandma when you were thirteen years old. You don’t remember. Read it, read it out loud for your Grandma.”


Dear Grandma,

How the Heaven are you? Are you still growing in your own youth? Call this a poem so you won’t be afraid when I speak my own truth. I cried when I lost my cat. I know how I feel about that. How do you feel? You, source of my Dad, I can speak to you. Yours is the love that created this whole generation of words. To you I cannot lie.

The New Country grows dark just like The Old Country. Any drunk can become a Holy Man. To forget is Divine. I cannot forget you.

Do you still play the organ? Do you still draw in charcoal? Do you know how it all happens? It is only the Past that happens. Even God doesn’t know Tomorrow. He planned it that way. What could He say but: You and Me?

I’ve got a way to take the world. I call it Myself. I scratch my clouds of wonderment, breathe the way I feel, and hear the Inner Mystery building Neutron Bombs, telling me that I cannot say less: I love you.



        Grandma leaned back on her pillow, breathing in little gasps. The nurse came in and said that visiting hours were over. We both kissed Grandma good-bye. She smiled.

        So then I started to care about my dad’s little celebration for Grandma’s 100th birthday in three days.

        But two days later Grandma died.

        I didn’t need to cry. I just felt like it.






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10_alamoud the goat, crop1



          Little Pashmina chased her only playmate, the beloved baby goat Alamoud, through the ruins of her stone village beside Lake Kansaoya.  When she cornered him, Alamoud made a capricious hop and then charged to butt her gently.  Pashmina reached down and held up Alamoud’s foreleg.  Alamoud put his tongue out the side of his mouth and blew, making the wet vibrating sound that made Pashmina laugh.  Pashmina mimicked Alamoud and Alamoud was taken aback.

       Pashmina then heard the call of her mother, Mazdayasna.  Pashmina looked up to the hills and to the cave in which she lived all alone with her mother.  Her mother wove sweaters from goat hair for the distant followers of Tourism.  Her mother had told Pashmina mysteriously that her father was the Lake. 

       Mazdayasna called again and waved her arm to Pashmina and then she started down the goat trail.

       Pashmina asked Alamoud, “What can this be, God Willing?”  But Alamoud stood absolutely still, looking past her and then trembling.  A great shadow fell over Pashmina.  Pashmina turned around to see an enormous man with many scars on his face and arms.

       “Are you God?” she asked breathlessly.

       “I am Saoshyant,” he smiled, “You are Pashmina?”


       “Where is… your mother?”

       “She comes, “ pointed Pashmina.

       Alamoud hid behind Pashmina and bleated.

       When Mazdayasna arrived she was holding some sweaters.  She stood before Saoshyant for many breaths.  Suddenly Saoshyant embraced her mightily.  Mazdayasna moaned and began to cry.  Pashmina was alarmed.

       “Punish me and not my mother!” cried Pashmina.  Alamoud bleated in fear.

       Saoshyant and Mazdayasna both looked upon Pashmina with tears in their eyes.  Suddenly Saoshyant burst into laughter.  He released Mazdayasna and in one stride he knelt down and embraced Pashmina mightily.

       Alamoud bleated and trembled but still he charged at the great hands of Saoshyant and butted.

       “Well!” boomed Saoshyant.  “I need more warriors like you, little one.”

       Saoshyant released Pashmina and arose and turned to Mazdayasna, “And I need more sweaters to trade for food and ammunition for my men, oh Beloved.”

       Mazdayasna bowed her head, “I am sorry.  I waste nothing.”

       “I know.  I know.” And Saoshyant embraced Mazdayasna again, “We will be satisfied with what God provides us.”

       Mazdayasna whispered, “God Willing, you will have victory and you will return to stay with us forever.  And then it will be safe to tell Pashmina.”

       Saoshyant turned away holding the sweaters in one hand, and scooped up Alamoud in the other powerful hand and while holding Alamoud by all four legs upon his massive shoulder he strode away.

       Pashmina cried out after him and was running behind him, “Where are you taking Alamoud?”

       “To Heaven, Pashmina.  It is God’s Will.”

            Her mother called to Pashmina to come back.  Alamoud was bleating in terror.  Pashmina burst into tears, “Take me instead, God.  Take me instead!  Do not take my friend!  Do not take Alamoud from us!”

       Saoshyant’s stride began to lessen.  Pashmina caught up to him and she fell upon the ground groveling, “Oh, merciful God Saoshyant!  Release my friend!  Release Alamoud”.

       Saoshyant looked down upon Pashmina.  The sand was devouring her tears.  With a sigh, he lowered Alamoud to the ground and released him.  Alamoud ran to Pashmina and hid his head next to hers.

       “Brave Pashmina and noble Alamoud, you are my Window unto Heaven itself.”  






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11_the narrow woods, crop1



        I was twelve years old. My family moved to a new town during my Junior High School.

        They had talked forever about moving . They had looked at all kinds of places. I never believed that we would ever actually move.

        Therefore, now I had lost my few friends.

        I dreaded that new school. Back then I used to read a lot. I had an insect collection. I had a tide-pool aquarium. I was a real book-worm nerd. I felt a little better when I found a cool little lizard on my way to school that first day. He let me catch him easily and I found out that he would just sit on my shoulder. I named him Master Blaster. I hid him in my button-down shirt pocket.

        Mrs. Daws was teaching us French for first period. She taught French with a Southern twang. In class, for an exercise in French, I had to pretend I was asking Brittany Reina for a date. It was humiliating.  Brittany didn’t have to say “Beaucoups les nons” like that and make everyone laugh. It was only pretend.

        I found out that Brittany’s boyfriend was a tough guy named Wyman Wood. Wyman was in my gym class. For laughs, he would threaten to beat-up this “slow” kid named Grant Siemens unless Grant beat-off in the showers. Wyman and his friends would scream with laughter and make fun of Grant’s last name. The cacophony in the locker-room was demented.

        At lunchtime all the lunch area benches were crowded and boisterous and a little bit unnerving. There was one table at the outskirts where I saw Grant Siemens sitting next to a girl wearing a scarf. I went to that table and sat at the opposite end. I took Master Blaster out of my pocket and placed him on my shoulder. I offered him a pinch of lettuce from my sandwich.

        Grant said to me with a bright-eyed beaming smile, “That is so cool. What is your name? My name is Grant.”

        I lowered my head and glanced around, “Hi, Grant.”

        “What is your lizard’s name?”

        “Master Blaster,” I said and Grant howled with laughter.

        “This is Carolyn,” Grant pointed to the girl beside him.

        I raised a finger, “Hi, Carolyn.” And then I realized who she was.

        I already had heard everybody talking about Carolyn, making fun of her. Carolyn Calhoun was a short shy little girl with a round, round face, a long pointed nose, bad acne, and a bright sweet smile and happy bright eyes. She looked at me sideways, head bowed and sheepish. With her scarf, and her long dress over her potato-shaped figure, she reminded me of a Polish refugee in my World War Two book.

        “You better hide Master Blaster,” she said to me softly.


        “Master Blaster is in danger.”

        Just then, I noticed that Wyman Wood was approaching Carolyn. I whisked Master Blaster into my pocket.

        “Hey, Calhoun!” shouted Wyman, “My friend Schminky over there is in love with you!”

        A boy, evidently Schminky, at the adjacent table stood up and whirled around with a revolted look and cried, “Oh, God, fuck you,” and everybody at the table shrieked with laughter. The boy dropped to the ground, pretending to gag.

        Wyman then turned to Grant, saying, “Good show today, Grant SEMEN.” And Grant grinned along, whipping his hand up and down in mock masturbation, actually enjoying the attention.

        Brittany, sitting at that adjacent table, screamed in mock horror.

        “Aw, leave him alone,” came out of my mouth. Wyman’s friends at the adjacent table, including Brittany, went, “OOooo!”

        Wyman glared and then he crept toward me at the opposite end of the bench as ominously as he could, “Hey, faggot, I hear you asked my girlfriend for a date! What now? Are you gonna teach me a lesson?”

        I started to say, “Aw, why are you ..,” and then Carolyn caught my eye. So when Wyman grabbed my shoulders and yanked me off of the bench and onto the ground I curled into a ball and cupped my shirt pocket to protect Master Blaster. Wyman kicked me once, in my unprotected ribs.

        “So the Retard Convention has a new member. Let’s all welcome the new girl!” Thankfully, Wyman returned to his applauding followers.

        I got up, mortified, trying to tell myself that I had done the right thing… for Master Blaster, that is, who was safe. I sat back down at the table.

        I asked Grant and Carolyn, “Does that shit happen all the time? Why do you eat next to them?” and my tough talk trembled a little, “Carolyn, how did you know he’d pick on me like that?”

        Grant interrupted matter-of-factly, “He picks on everyone.”

        Carolyn closed her bright eyes, “No. I could see it. I see things.  I hear things.  I don’t always understand what I see. I am a fortune teller.”


        Grant spoke up enthusiastically, “Tell him why you don’t have a million zillion dollars if you can tell the future!”

        Carolyn opened her eyes and smiled innocently, “It is the gift. I heard my Grandma say one night that I was a ‘bortion but I lived. If I had a million dollars then I would lose the gift.

        I asked, “You are serious?”

        “Yes. I can even tell that my mom and my dad are going to leave each other, and they never yell at each other; they never say anything. I can just tell.

        “OK? OK. But what else?” I asked politely, trying to be serious.

        “Do you like to read?” asked Carolyn.

        “Sure, but with these glasses, who couldn’t tell that…?” I chuckled.

        “You are going to be a story writer.”

        Well, she was sure telling me what I wanted to hear. But then the bell rang, sounding the end of the lunch period. We three stood up to go to our respective classes. I waved vaguely, “See you Monday.”

        Carolyn answered as I walked away, “I won’t be here Monday. I’m going into the narrow woods.”

        “Huh?” I asked, but she didn’t seem to hear me as she walked away.

        On Monday the whole school was wrapped in a buzz about Carolyn. She had been killed in an automobile accident.






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 23_miss gaido, crop1 - resize 1



        How many women get two careers? Especially one as lucrative as this one is. That bachelor party was quick and easy.

        Oh, shit, I’ve left my windows down on my car. Some cat has probably pissed in my new car.

        Focus! Put the cash away first, in the locking bank bag.

        Who’s next tonight?

        What’s it say on the dashboard memo?

        Mmmmm, what’s this? “The Kohn party” – Shit, this is bad even for my handwriting.

        “GPS: ‘Kohn party’.” OK. I don’t remember punching this one in. Mmmm, not far.

        I could never have afforded this car on just my salary. Voice-activated radio.

        “FM: ‘104 point three’”. Alright. I like this song.

        “…It’s per-son-al, myself and I, we got some straighten-in’ out to-o do-o…”

        Hey, alright, here we are. Only a couple blocks. The word must be getting out. Nice house. The music inside is kind of loud. I won’t need my boom box.


        Wow, this house is even nicer inside.

        Why is this kid answering the door? Why is he smoking a cigar? “Is your father home?” This kid looks familiar. Who are those other two boys? They look familiar.

        “Hey, uh, kid, what’s going on?”

        “What do you mean, you’re sorry?”

        “You’re the one who wrote on my memo pad? You changed my GPS?”

        “That bachelor party was at your father’s house?!”

        “This is Travis’s house? Who the… Wait a minute…”

        Oh, God. Holy shit.

        “You’re Phil, you’re … Travis and you’re… Allen from Fourth Period English!”

        Aw, what the hell.

        “Yeah, $316.73 will do…”






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