STALKING EMMA STONE

stalking emma stone

STALKING EMMA STONE

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        The homely young man, Justin, posed alone in front of his reflection holding the rifle, speaking his best bad-ass, “We all die.  Some of us need to die sooner.”

        Thou shalt not kill

        “Thou shall not murder.”

        What is murder?

        “Murder is killing without Justice.”

        What is Justice?

        “Justice is balance.”

        An eye for an eye?  Where does it end?

        “Justice.”

        How can you be sure you aren’t interfering with God’s Justice?  Even Evil bends to God’s will

        “How can you be sure there is a God?”

        If there is no God, there is no Justice; only random choice or personal whim

        “So I need God for True Justice, God for to kill righteously?  OK, then ‘God guide my hand’.”

        That is hollow

        “So are my bullets.”

        Justin held the rifle behind his back and leaned forward to kiss his drawing of the actress Emma Stone that he had hung beside his mirror, sniffing, “Good-bye, I still love you.”

        Justin lived alone in his apartment.  When he was a child his father had shot to death his mother and her friends in a custody battle.  His father was still on death-row.  Justin dwelt in the government foster-care system until he “aged out” at eighteen years old.  He was on his own from then on in the dark forest of statistics.

        Only half of foster youth will graduate from high school. Fewer than 10 percent of foster youth enroll in college and only 2 percent actually graduate.  More than 25 percent of foster youth will become incarcerated within two years after they leave the system.

        But Justin found a job working at Liberty Supplies gun shop.  The owner, Ravid “Rabid” Kohn, had listened to Justin’s story and he had taken Justin under his wing.  Justin could legally work there and legally own a rifle, yet not own a handgun until he became 21, and he couldn’t sell firearms until he became 21.  Justin had thought about just joining the military at 18, but he was afraid of another government system.

        Justin wanted to be friends with Rabid’s tough little daughter, Karni, who also worked at Liberty Supplies, but Karni soon became jealous of her father’s doting attention on Justin, her father treating Justin like the son that he never had.  She would tell her friends, “Justin is ugly, so I only pretend to be friends, ‘to keep my enemies close’.”

        Karni soon enough found out about Justin’s obsession with the actress Emma Stone.

        Justin gushed, “I posted how much I liked her on her Facebook blog and she posted me back, saying, ‘Thanks :)’.”

        Karni sneered, “That wasn’t her.  She’s got dozens of publicity agents running that Facebook site.  I could have sent that answer for all you would know.”

        Justin had only Emma Stone that he treasured and he sounded inordinately hurt by Karni’s words, saying, “She wouldn’t do that.”

        Karni shook her head as if at an ignorant child, saying, “She has 30 Facebook sites.  I looked.”

        Justin replied fiercely, “I posted on her personal blog.  It said so!”

        Karni mocked, “Oh, Facebook said so.  You can only post the truth on Facebook, I forgot.”

        That hurt Justin and Karni sensed the terrors starting to ooze through his dented faith in Emma Stone.

        Yet, together, Justin and Karni would use Liberty Supplies’ test shooting range in the basement.  They made good competitors.

        Rabid had several “special customers” to whom he made “special sales”, yet he trusted Justin and Karni to be silent when he would let them try “special” sniper scopes and “special” elite weapons in the shooting range in the basement.

        Karni grinned with satisfaction as she was now beating Justin regularly on the range.  That crack about Emma Stone really got to you.  It was his gaping, palpable weakness.  Karni said to her friends, “He is a hollow fragile retard.  I figured out how to get him to get rid of himself.”

        Karni searched the internet for alternate truths about Emma Stone, “Oh, this is good”:

“She’s just not a pleasant person. I have no interest in spending time with this person, let alone looking at this person.  It was hard to achieve any form of friendship relationship…She’s convinced everyone that she’s this thing when she just isn’t…She’s a bitch.”

        And Karni soon discovered that Emma Stone likes black tar heroin.  She forwarded all the links to Justin’s sad little Facebook account.

        Later Karni found the right moment to comment casually while together with Justin on the shooting range, “Hmmm.  You know, Justin, I’ll bet you could get rid of someone just about anywhere with this stuff and nobody would ever know it was you.”

        Justin responded nervously, “No way.  You mean like the President?”

        Karni replied, “I mean like Emma Stone.”

        Justin was aghast, “What?”

        Karni said again, “Like Emma Stone.  She is fooling everyone and she is becoming so famous and she’s a lying tramp.  I’m getting sick of her, aren’t you?”

        Justin wavered, “What, what, how…”

        Karni hissed, “It might take two of us to be sure of succeeding.  But I could do it myself if I had to.  Listen to me.”

        And they talked for an hour, back and forth.

        Justin then brooded broken-hearted and alone in his apartment over what Karni and he had discussed.  Justin made up his mind and stood before the mirror, arguing with himself, grasping his rifle, the “special” compact sniper rifle with silencer that could fold into an apparent briefcase; a briefcase that could snap back into a sniper rifle with a press of a secured button.  Justin then held the rifle behind his back and leaned forward to kiss his drawing of Emma Stone that hung beside his mirror, sniffing, “Good-bye, I still love you.”

        Emma Stone was to host The Amateur Film Academy’s “Breakthrough Awards” that night, being held at the quaint old Stayfree Pavilion, a red-carpet venue downtown.  The back entrance was visible from dozens of rooms in the old high-rise apartments surrounding the Pavilion.  And that was a good decoy for the positions that Justin and Karni took on two separate rooftops across from each other as they arrived separately in the mid-morning before security was established.

        Karni had found out days ago that some twit had tweeted that Emma Stone, and not some stand-in, was going to attend the rehearsal that morning.

        Justin and Karni saw each other’s face low above the two rooftop parapets.  After several minutes a luxury car, not a limousine, pulled up at the rear entrance.  Emma Stone emerged alone from the backseat, opening her own door, dressed in nondescript casual attire and sunglasses.  Justin was nearly bloated with adrenalin, but he noticed Karni’s barely perceptible nod.  He saw the barrel of her rifle creep over the parapet.

        Justin slid his own rifle barrel over the edge of the roof.  He saw Emma Stone chatting with the driver, not in any hurry.  He looked over at Karni’s position.  They had agreed to fire together, they had practiced.

        Justin suddenly shouted, “NO!” and stood erect and he fired toward Karni’s position, shattering a cloud out of brick mortar near Karni’s cheek, stunning her.  Emma Stone and her driver glanced up startled but they did not run.

        Justin screamed down to Emma Stone and her driver, “RUN!” and he fired again at Karni’s position, not realizing that Karni was dazed and already immobile behind the parapet.

        Emma Stone was tackled by her driver and pushed to the side of the vehicle.  Her driver yanked a pistol from his jacket.  Emma Stone screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK?” as the driver aimed upward at Justin and emptied his gun.

        Later, Karni confessed crying to the police that she was not going to shoot and only wanted Justin to fire and take the heat and be out of her life forever, saying, “I figured he wouldn’t hit her.  And I don’t really hate Emma Stone.”

        Karni’s father was questioned but he had too many connections and he was quietly absolved.

        But, after the whole story was sorted out, and against all advice, Emma Stone actually empathized with Justin and visited Justin in jail.

        Justin told Emma Stone,  “I went along to stop Karni,” sighing, “This makes it all worth it.”

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I HAVE NEVER BEEN

i have never been

I HAVE NEVER BEEN

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        Remember that old movie It’s a Wonderful Life?  I was like that silly second-class angel Clarence who begged for a chance to earn his wings.  But you never prayed for me, Polonia.  And then the bells that I finally heard ringing were for another man.

        I have been in your embrace.  I have never been in your heart.

        And now I am adrift in the gulf between this moment of my life and the last time you ever spoke to me, Polonia.  I’m an Urbana cop, for goddsake.  I can’t afford to be so pussy and so distracted.

        It was two weeks before your wedding.  It was going to be a traditional Polish wedding.  That whole neighborhood of Urbana thought it was zajebiscie! (fucking great!).  Your parents tried to be happy for you, but, O Moj Boze (Oh My God), they still invited me.  I swear I think they wanted me to break up the wedding.  Sure, old custom forbids the exclusion of anyone in the village from being invited to the wedding, but then your parents really liked me.  And I liked them.

        I’ll never know what you saw in him.  Was it “bad boy” sex?  Really?  It’s me who would read those books you had for your Literature class just so you could talk about them with me; like that Withering, …Wuthering – whatever – Heights.

        And you would still say kretyn (cretin) things to me like “He’s like Heathcliff and I’m like Catherine.”

        Polonia, the guy’s just an asshole.  It was me who took you to those Gershwin concerts.  And I only liked “Rhapsody in Blue” for your sake.

        You would say things to me like, “You think he’s taking me for a ride.  You can’t be convinced of his sincerity.  You think I’m naturally trusting and that I believe what I want to and I’m being taken.  It really hurts me to have such a beautiful and meaningful thing as our relationship degraded so, and especially by you.  Oh, my dear sweet friend, you are immature in some ways, and you can’t really conceive of or understand this kind of love.”

        Odpierdol sie ode mnie! (Get the fuck off me!).  Wait, I didn’t mean that.  I just knew it was wrong.  You were supposed to be with me.  How could you not understand my kind of love?

        So I was primed when my partner and me got the call for a disturbance on Ridgeway Avenue; a wild party.  We could hear the shrieking from the street below.  We went upstairs and before I could even rap on the door it was yanked inward and a drunken asshole stumbled right out against us and puked on my shoes.  What we saw inside was more of God’s glorious little plan for me.

        It was his bachelor’s party.  A roomful of drunken assholes.  He was on his back on the floor, naked except for a grass hula skirt, arms and legs tied to furniture, and there was some hooker squatting down over his face.  One of his shit-drunk Navy buddies was hollering, “You’re crossing the equator now!”

        In a sideshow his “Boris” was rising up like a charmed snake out of his grass skirt.  His other szkorbut (scurvy) friends shrieked laughter and poured a bottle of wódka Polska (Polish vodka) on it.  Pierdol sie (Fuck me), I was… was… indignant when I realized that his “Boris” had lipstick stains on it.

        I hollered, “Police!  Listen up!  Knock it off!” but it still took a minute before my words penetrated that disgusting… rozpusta (debauchery).

        He was still on the floor and tied to the furniture as the hooker stood up and quickly went to the rear of the crowd.  His red-rimmed eyes finally recognized me.

        “You?” he snarled, “What the fuck are you doing here, asshole?  Get the fuck out!  This is my fucking bachelor party, goddamit!” and then he was supported in all this by the chorus of his drunken cohorts.  I pulled out my baton and stepped into the center of the ring over him, wagging my baton with angry restraint, “Shut up!”

        Then I felt warm liquid on my pant leg.  I twisted to look down.  Incredibly, he was peeing up onto my leg and laughing!  In one reflex I swatted his ugly “Boris” with my baton and then dropped, plunging my baton down onto his poorly concealed nut sack.

        The crowd gasped and moaned for him.  But he was so numb drunk that when his body convulsed he didn’t seem to feel it.  I rose up enraged and I hollered to those surrounding zombies, “Untie him!”

        My nervous partner whispered, “What are you going to do?”

        I cried, “Assault with a deadly weapon!” and I spewed my gaze like a blowtorch around the room, daring any challenger, chewing my words, “And the rest of you fucking assholes get the fuck out of here unless you want to go to jail too!  Party over!”

        My partner added lamely, “No driving!”

        Those perverts stumbled out, stepping over and around him, making the sign of the cross, wishing him the traditional “bread and salt” wedding blessing.  I could hear them thundering down the stairs outside.  I yanked him to his feet and glared into his blindly belligerent excuse for a face.  He was lucky that my partner was still there.  Together we ‘cuffed him and lowered him down the stairs one misstep at a time, him still only in his grass skirt.  When I rumpled him into the backseat I told him that if he puked he was going to wear it.

        My partner asked soon enough as we started to drive, “Where are you going?”

        I said, “To someone who will be glad to see him.”

        My partner moaned, “Oh, no.  Not that.  You can’t do that.  You’ll get us both in trouble!”

        But I drove to your parent’s house where you were staying while you were away from college for the damn wedding.  I told my partner, “Wait here.”  I grabbed him from the backseat, deliberately banging his head on the door, then him yelling, “Hey, fucker!”  I really hoped that your parents would answer the door with you.

        You alone opened the door and gasped, “O Moj Boze!  What happened?  Is he alright?”

        I asked, “Are your parent’s home?”

        You didn’t get it and replied, “They went to a movie, dzieki Bogu (thank God)!  Bring him into my room.  Why is he handcuffed?  O Moj BozeHe stinks!”

        As we both supported him down the hallway I gritted my teeth, saying, “You have no idea.”

        He suddenly started to struggle against me, mumbling, “You get the fuck away from us!  Leave us alone!”

        I sat him on the floor against the footboard of your bed and ‘cuffed him to the two posts.  I stood up and looked around your room.  Your mama and papa still left it a girly room, still with the lace curtains and dolls on the bed.  But there was that monolithic bookcase with all your “literature”.  And your flute, displayed on your high-school music stand, surely by your mama and papa.

        You finally stood right in front of me, demanding to know, “What happened?  Why is he handcuffed?  Why did you bring him here?”

        I said gravely and slowly, “He was… you should have seen…it was out of control…there was…” I exclaimed finally, “He peed on me!” pointing to my pant leg.  And then we both saw the vomit stains on my shoes.

        You reached out and held my forearm and then you burst laughing.  I couldn’t help it: I laughed with you.  You look down at him and started to say, “Poor…” when you noticed his lipstick-stained “Boris” joining the party once again.

        You looked back up at me and you raised one eyebrow.  I just wouldn’t corroborate that pained quizzical expression.  But I reached for you with my other hand and I pulled you toward me.  You stared into my eyes and did not resist.  I embraced you and I kissed you hard, bending your neck back, and you did not resist me.

        You did not resist me.  I pushed you gently backwards until the edge of your girlhood bed buckled your knees and we fell slowly together.  I could not stop devouring your tongue.  I slid my hand up your thigh, raising your skirt.  You moaned and I felt you try weakly to push me away.

        I lifted the crotch of your panties using my thumb and forefinger like a napkin ring.  I stroked you with my knuckle.  You were breathing fast through your nose, but you did not stop kissing me.

        I released your panties and I groped to undo my belt buckle.  You grabbed my belt-loop.  You shed my pants wiggling them past my buttocks like a snake-skin.  I held the crotch of your panties aside and I plunged into you.

        I heard myself gasping, “O Moj BozeO Moj BozeO Moj Boze!” over your counterpoint, “Uh-Oh!  Uh-Oh!  Uh-Oh!”  Your girlhood bed was oscillating like a steam jackhammer.  Then we both finally noticed the loud bump-bump-bump-bump-bump! each time we merged, and him complaining, “Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!”

        His head was being knocked over and over against the foot of the bed.  As appealing as that was to me, that ruined it for you.  You laughed.  I laughed.  We both exploded laughing.  I sat up, resigned.  But I was left with “one in the chamber” as we came to our senses (if nothing else).  I kicked the foot of the bed one time, “Ow!” but you stopped me, not laughing now.

        You said, “Mama and Papa will be home in a half hour.  You must go, take him.  Please do not hurt him.  Take care of him tonight, please?  For me?” adding, “I am so sorry.”

        My partner had been in the car all that time.  When we got back to the station he told the sergeant everything.  The rest of the night I had to watch him and make sure he didn’t choke on his abundant vomit.  I couldn’t even sit down because of my cramped “blue balls”, thank you.

        Of course, he became a heroic legend to all his Navy buddies after that night.

        Out of respect for you, Polonia, I did not attend your wedding or the reception.  But you, you have never spoken to me again.  When I drive by you will not wave and you pretend not to see me?

        I have been in your embrace.  Was I ever in your heart?

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HUNTING FOR YOUR SKIN

HUNTING FOR YOUR SKIN

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“Death is nothing at all … Nothing is past, nothing is lost

One brief moment and all will be as it was before

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.”

 – English theologian Henry Scott Holland

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        I am Judice.  It is a golden morning.  The upper-desert breeze is cool on my face and it whispers in my ear.  I hear a bird singing.  I take a deep breath.  Sitting so still is hard.  But I can see why those hairy guru weirdos like it.  You can see things you never noticed.  The desert is so delicate and sharp.

        Here he comes.  At this distance he looks like a bouncing ball!  He is golden with shades of grey like the morning desert all around him.  How funny.  He’s bouncing on all fours like a cartoon coyote.  He’s glancing left and right like he’s saying good morning to other desert critters.  He’s still coming towards us.  I hear the bird singing.

        Jacey told my mom and dad that coyote skins are going for about $30.  This coyote is young, big and healthy.  He should be worth even more.

        The coyote suddenly stops and seems to be staring in our direction.

        Coyotes are very keen on noise and movement and they have great noses.

 

        I hold my breath.  I hear the bird singing and it sounds too loud.  But the coyote decides to continue in our general direction at an angle far to our right.  I bite my lip to keep from snickering because he is so funny as he bounces on all fours, la-dee-dah.  But I keep my eye and my rifle as one and the same.

        Jacey blows softly on a little closed-reed coyote caller, making a sound like a jackrabbit in distress.  We all keep rabbits to eat.  I remember how surprised I was when I found out they scream.

        The coyote stops again and stares in our direction.  He is face-on towards me.

        “Now,” whispers Jacey, the word barely rising above the cool desert breeze in my ear.

        My rifle sounds like a door slamming in that peaceful desert.  I smell a sweet savor.  I see a mist of blood burst from the coyote’s right shoulder under his chin.  He drops on his side and rolls onto his back.  It isn’t like in the movies.  No dramatic staggering.  It’s like he was snatched down by the earth to witness the sky.  His head rolls from side to side in slow motion.  I suddenly imagine that I can hear him thinking, “Oh, my God, what happened to me?”

        There are several reasons for hunting coyote.  If you enjoy hunting it allows off-season hunts… they are a nuisance in some areas

        Coyotes seem to become more active right before a storm front moves in.

        Jacey hugs my shoulders and kisses my chin as we get up and go over to the coyote, “I love you, Judice.  Jesus loves you.”

        The Christian Harvest Outdoor Ministries offers fully guided hunts in a delightful Christian atmosphere.

        Jacey is the Student Ministry Team Leader.  Jacey would have to be impressed with this kill.  I really like her.  This has done it, I can tell.  She was saved at the age of ten, but I want Jacey to like me as more than just another Self-Confrontation Disciple.  I want to be special.  This coyote showed her I can do it.

God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

        Jacey is looking down at the coyote’s final volitions.  The cool desert breeze pets the coyote’s fur.  It is a fine kill.  The coyote’s fur is truly golden with shades of grey.  And Jacey never looked so beautiful.  The golden morning, the sweet silence, the perfect kill: This moment is so perfect for us.  I just want to kiss her skin.

        I embrace Jacey and she pretends to be startled.  I kiss her chin.  I try to kiss her mouth.  She pretends to push away.  I hold her dearly.

        Jacey cries, “Stop it, Judice!  What are you thinking?”

        Jacey struggles backwards, staring wide-eyed into my face.

        Jacey cries, “For God’s sake, what is wrong with you?  For the love of Jesus, are you a God damned lesbian?  Leave me ALONE!” and Jacey forcefully renounces my embrace.  Her face is now red-veined meat contorted in revulsion.

        I cry, “Jacey, what?  You don’t hate me!  We love each other!  You said so!” but Jacey covers her mouth with both hands and whips her head side to side, denying me.  Denying everything I offer her.  Everything.

        What have I done?  “Oh, God,” I gag as fall to my knees.  Why are you forsaking me, Jacey?  I am crying, “Why are you doing this, Jacey?!”  Oh, God, oh, God, here comes pain.  Such pain!  I am crying.  I am going to vomit.

        Jacey is slowly backing up, abandoning me.  Jacey doesn’t care.  I hiss breathlessly in pain, “Don’t you care at all?”

        I pick-up my rifle, rising onto one knee, “If I can’t have you…”, now what am I going to do?!  I scream, “What am I supposed to do?!”

        I aim the rifle at her, the barrel is shaking, my eyes are burning.  Jacey raises her hands and clasps them in front of her face as she backs up.  Suddenly, she falls down backwards and then turns over and scrabbles away on her hands and knees screaming, “Help me, Jesus!”

        I glance down at the coyote as he gazes so peacefully into eternity.  I turn my rifle, taking the muzzle with my left hand and I hold it into my right eye pressing it against the skin of my closed eyelid.

        With my right thumb on the trigger I vow my final volition, “ ”

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You are HERE

you are here

You are HERE

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          My father is descending mentally into the shadowy valley of Alzheimer’s.  And for weeks now he had wanted to see his beloved five-year-old grandson.  His grandson lives 400 miles north in the town of Elk’s Meadow.  The only time we could get everyone’s schedule together was for this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.  So I was able to get off work on very short notice, somewhat concerned that my co-workers might realize how unimportant I am, and my father and I headed north at 3PM on Tuesday afternoon for a journey that Yahoo! informed me would be 6-hours long (within its virtual reality).

          There was a tropical storm from Mexico crossing our southern borders months ahead of usual, coming up with complete disregard for years of historical weather patterns.  The heat was thick and I wanted the air-conditioning on.  I needed cold air in my face to stay alert.  My father is in his 80’s and complained of the cold.  So I was juggling off-and-on air-conditioning, opening and closing vents, raising and lowering windows, struggling with eternal vigilance to create a democratic environment.  It was like trimming sails on a racing sailboat.

          My father was once the traveling salesman for his own little business and he often travelled the route on which we now were, and I mean often, a lot.  So I suppose he just couldn’t help but micro-navigate for me this journey right down to the specific freeway lane.  The whole trip he pointed-out where former customers of his had their place of business.

          There is a scene in an old episode of the TV series Friends where Phoebe, the free spirit, is asking Monica, the chef, to make a dish, “You know.  The thing?  The thing with the stuff?”  It’s a tiny amusement but my father and I now have a lot of “You know.  The thing with the stuff” conversations, interpreted with my own technique of “Twenty Questions”.  As his son I have learned all of his pet concerns over the years and so I am able to grasp and to translate.  My father’s condition has passed the stage where I could politely wait for him to formulate the exact question or statement.

          Fortunately, this journey up Highway 5 is one I love.  Once north of the spinning gears of clockwork Los Angeles we were into the rolling golden hills crowned with oak trees and then on down into the awesome and legendary Central Valley that pushes apart the coastal mountain ranges and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The Central Valley: whose length and breadth of fruit, nut, vine, field and row flatland can barely be conceived even while witnessing.  Forests of Almonds, Apples, Cherries, Figs, Grapes, Kiwi, Lemons, Olives, Peaches, Persimmons, Pistachios, Plums, Prunes, Pomegranates, and Walnuts; prairies of Asparagus, Beans, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Lettuce, Melon, Onion, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Spinach, Sugarbeet, Tomato; and lakes of Rice.

          Every few hours we pulled into a Rest Stop where, standing between the other travelers, I bought a cup of hot cocoa for my father from the “Wailing Wall” of vending machines.  Next we would dare to use the foreboding Restrooms with the various and fascinating urinal technologies and then attempt to use the stingy washbasin faucets that drooled water for washing, but only as I held the on-button with one hand and listened to the sound of the other hand washing itself.  As my father’s son, I seethed about the highway taxes diverted from Rest Stop improvement.

          Because of traffic out of Los Angeles and because of Rest Stops every few hours, our journey was exceeding the 6-hour cyberspace estimate.  As darkness fell my father grew apprehensive.  Before Alzheimer’s started beating him down he was already nervous about night driving because of his aged vision.  Now, his Alzheimer’s whispered to him that we must be lost and he frequently requested of me to pull off of the freeway and to ask directions from someone.  I tried to reassure him that I knew exactly where we were going but he only took comfort in naming aloud to me each off-ramp street name and asking of me periodically to get off and ask directions.  Understand: Highway 5 travels the backbone of the Central Valley from top to bottom, and Elk Meadows lies right off of Highway 5, so the idea of getting lost was humorous to me but not impressible to my father.  He would hesitantly reply to me, “Well, if you think so…”

          We made it safely and surely to exit number 507, Elk Meadows Road, and we arrived at our hotel ten minutes short of seven hours from the time we had left my father’s house.  I had not wanted to burden my brother and wife in Elk Meadows with this sojourn under the circumstances, even though they had invited us to stay with them.  On the last visit, when we had accepted their offer, my father had misplaced his wallet and upset my sister-in-law by wondering if his then-four-year-old grandson had absconded with it.

          The next morning at the hotel I slept-in.  I finally got up and went in to shave and shower and then saw that all of my toiletries were gone.  My first thought was, “The maid stole…,” and then I had a flash of fear that I myself was getting Alzheimer’s by formulating such dumb thoughts.  I emerged and found my father sitting dressed, suitcases packed, waiting to leave.  My father, who used to stay in hotels only as a necessary evil expense during his sales trips, never more than one night at any one town, had packed up my toiletries and asked, “Are we going?”  I explained that we had that room for three days.  And then I reassured him that I was paying for it.

          My father is fiercely proud that he doesn’t have cable television and thinks that I and all others are suckers for paying to watch TV.  “It’s free.”  He thinks that the whole world is contained in Public Television.  But I sat him down in front of the television and found for him the Military Channel and he was then enthralled watching hours of “World At War”.  I had told him for years that he would enjoy that and the History Channel but he always acted like I was offering him heroin.

          Around 11AM we met my sister-in-law and my nephew at the Family Fitness Center, an enormous temple to militant health.  My sister-in-law was invoking guest passes for us but we still had to fill out forms “for liability reasons” which meant to me only that they were going to use our person information for addressing advertisements to us.  My father subsequently got into his bathing suit and joined his grandson and dozens of other children with a few parents in a large shallow pool outdoors beneath a tall and wide covering.  My father splashed water at his grandson and pretended to be a sea-monster to the squealing delight of his grandson and several other children.  I was happy observing all the activity, thinking, “Good.  Stay on mission.  My dad and his grandson, that’s the mission.  No diversions with relatives.”

          We all took a long drive up to Lake Tahoe where I honored the duties of an uncle and made up silly stories for my nephew’s amusement.  You know how that situation goes: where the uncle gets the nephew so riled-up and rambunctious with laughter that his mother is left with the burden of maintaining discipline by scolding.

          Next day we all went to the Train Museum located in the historic Old Town that preserves the buildings and flavor of the 1800’s.  My father’s grandson sat in the engineer’s cabin of a huge locomotive and pulled on all the throttles and brakes.  My father chased him around the exhibits.  My poor sister-in-law.

          On the last evening my father’s own beloved sister invited all of us to a dinner at her house.  Just before dinner was ready my cousin decided that, “Yes, we have enough time.  I made a DVD of some old family films I found.  It’s only about five minutes.”

          I assumed it would films from the era of my and my cousin’s childhood.

          But the DVD began to flicker with an actual moving picture film from my father’s childhood.  My mouth fell open.  I had seen a few black-and-white photographs from my father’s childhood.  But this was a moving picture show of my father twelve years old and with his eight siblings and his mother and father and uncle in the family house in the 1930’s, Windsor Locks, Connecticut!  His Uncle Joe at that time was doing well despite the Depression and he had purchased a motion picture camera and he was instigating the whole family to clown around for it.

          In the film my father was smiling, bright and as healthy as a twelve-year-old boy should be.  He chased the little family terrier named Peanuts.  He wrestled with his older brother; he teased a sister, the very one at whose house we now were.  I looked over at both of them and then back and forth from that film and I kept saying, “This is unbelievable!”  I saw all my aunts and uncles as young vibrant children.  I saw my grandmother and grandfather, rest their souls, with dark hair and slender bodies, being silly and performing for the camera.

          I had heard all the stories of how poor they had been up until “the War”.  World War Two ironically gave all of them opportunities, my uncles in military service and then to college, and my aunts to factory jobs, all with salaries unthinkable to them at the time of this film.    But in this film they all were, are eternally, a bubbling, bouncing, swirling, tumbling family!

          Words failed me.  Forgive me; words fail me as I write this.  As I looked from the film to my father and my aunt I was experiencing a thrill and a floating feeling.  It was a rapture of spiritual understanding that I cannot express rightly even at this moment of pondering.  I was witnessing a humble and powerful Alpha and Omega.  My father and my aunts and uncles really were young once; they really were not unlike me.  But I was now unlike my insulated self, my fucking selfish self, and I was choking with Love.

          My father and I began our return journey around noon on Saturday after a farewell brunch at an old-fashioned ice-cream shop.  My father and I were both feeling happy as we drove but I was damn tired after all the chauffeuring.  On the way south again on Highway 5 I took an early advantage of a Rest Stop and bought my father a cup of hot cocoa and myself a tall can of cold “energy drink” which is a soup of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and most importantly, a saturation of caffeine.  That propelled me for a few hours.

          But then my eyes grew heavy and my mind began to wander so I pulled off of Highway 5 to yet another Rest Stop.  As my father sipped another cup of cocoa and I sipped another energy drink I was drawn to the wall of maps that were inside a glass enclosure.  There was a big map of California, there was the line of Highway 5, and there was a big thumbtack marking “You Are Here”, nearly at the southern end of the Central Valley.

          We got back on the road and I found a Country Western radio program.  In his recent years my father has become a fan of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Cowboy music in general.  When my father was a kid his hero was Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy”.  It was not long before a Willy Nelson song was announced, “On the Road Again”.  My father cheered, “Turn it up!” and when the song began he started to slap his knee like an imaginary washboard and he burst into song and I was raptured away.

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On the road again

Goin’ places that I’ve never been

Seein’ things that I may never see again

And I can’t wait to get on the road again

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ORCHARD OF THE GOLDEN APPLES

orchard of the golden apples

ORCHARD OF THE GOLDEN APPLES

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        She never let him cut her.

        Docteur Beau Tétravaux, who is the creator deity of The California Beauty Factory, may have been chosen to co-host the annual Golden Apples Pageant for The Most Divine, but Selendra refuses cosmetic surgery.

        The California Beauty Factory is a universe and Dr. Beau Tétravaux is its Big Bang.  It is a Régime of distaff discipline, diction, discourse, diet, depilation, deportment, demeanor, dance, dysmorphia, and doinking, indeed.

        Dr. Beau Tétravaux is warning Selendra, “You do know that you are going to be dans les concurrents supérieurs (within the top contestants), don’t you?  Mousse, Victoria, Chera, and you, ma chérie, each of you are so ‘sure’ that you are the fairest creation since the Un-Do Button.”

        Selendra asks, “And what does Señora Espejo think?”  Señora Espejo has long been associated with the Golden Apples pageantry.  She is Dr. Beau Tétravaux’s gadfly counterpart with her Manhood Academy.  Señora Espejo’s famous quote is:

In this world, that which is truly important is no longer left to chance.  You can live by the Design of Nature, or you can live by the Nature of Design.  Those who live by the Design of Nature want and those who live by the Nature of Design give.

        Dr. Beau Tétravaux is dismissive, “Señora Espejo?  What is she to you?  What she thinks about women is mode à reculons (fashion backwards).”

        Selendra taunts, “And yet she is co-hosting the Apples with you; won’t that make her a hectoring reflection?”

        Dr. Beau Tétravaux puckers, “Ooooo, if only Wit were a Talent Category: you wouldn’t have to rely on your Freestyle Rap performance.”

        Selendra waves away his piqûres (jabs), asking, “So, what do you have for me today?”

        Dr. Beau Tétravaux leers, “A Trojan horse.”  For it is Dr. Beau Tétravaux who instructs the Bed Test course himself.

        Selendra blushes at the coup.

        Selendra was enrolled as a young girl into The California Beauty Factory by her father, Kebenaran Dunia, the CEO of Avidya Communications.  He would always say to her “Beauty is currency in this world.”

        Selendra’s mother had objected to that enrollment, saying, “Women are only the currency of your ambition.”

        Kebenaran soothed, “I should have said that femininity, the feminine principle, is the currency of our world.  Beauty is its denomination,” and tilting his head to her in a calculated move from his youth, “You are my treasure.”

        Selendra’s mother would not be soothed, “I am your wife, the mother of that child.”

        Kebenaran grew ominously conciliatory, “I am sure that you do not forget history.  When tribes, and even states, encountered one another they exchanged beautiful women and beautiful men to purchase the peace between them.  Would you return us to the masculine principle of War?  Although, War was once indeed the sole forge for the greatest material advances of Man: flight, food preservation, the internet, virtual sex, …”

        Selendra’s mother dared to challenge, pronouncing, “Woman is the forge of Man’s soul.  And what is this Man’s world now but warfare dissimulated?  Men like you have fouled the forge, creating this world to stave off the feared obsolescence of your own version of masculinity!”

        Kebenaran’s jaws grew tight, annealing fury, saying, “You sound like a Leper,” using the common slang term for those who still believed in the Design of Nature.”

        Selendra’s mother must have known the consequences of her words, and yet she spoke, “Any sufficiently advanced concept is feminine.  You yourself say ‘It is so easy a woman could do it’.  It is the emblem of excellence, of elegant design.  You know it, you admit it without realizing, and yet you have found a way to arrogate power.  You men are all afraid, aren’t you?”

        Selendra’s mother was banished by her father soon thereafter for such opposition.  Her mother had been a ’38 Beauty Factory mint.  Kebenaran was then legally owed and received a full refund of bridewealth from The California Beauty Factory.  Dr. Beau Tétravaux had told Kebenaran by way of apology, “Sometimes this can happen.  It is the risk of the liberal education that is a standard feature,” to which Kebenaran had muttered, “Perhaps you should consider redesigning your approach to their education.  It could be a commercial advantage and a good selling point for The California Beauty Factory,” an idea which Dr. Beau Tétravaux raised at the next board meeting, stating, “Competition from others, especially the state-owned Venezuelan Beauty Factory, is stiffer than a Viagra overdose.”

        Selendra now imagines the men and women of great power and wealth who await the winners of the Golden Apples.  They bid for immediate ownership.  Lesser men and women await lesser graduates of The Beauty Factory in all the franchise showroom runways, bidding to qualify for a mort gaige (death pledge), an old term for “until death parts us”.

        Selendra has heard from a secret  Leper friend that her mother now lives in a Hindu monastery.  Selendra lately dreamed of her mother, asking in that dream, “Mother, is this dream of you a sign of my weakness?” and in that dream her mother replied, “Do not doubt yourself.  It is I who have dreamt you.  My dearest Selendra, you are going to be a ’57 Beauty Factory, minted for joy.”

        One need only pass unscarred through the orchard of the Golden Apples.

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CEVICHE

01 ceviche - crop1

CEVICHE

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        I am the manager of a small ranch above Lake Matthews.  I pick up day labor at the Eremos Hill Feed and Supply.  Zolin is the boy from Peru.  Zolin is always one that I beckon to my truck.

        “Hop in, Zolin.  ¿Listo a trabajar? (Ready to work?)”

        Zolin smiles and says, “Always ready, Mister Brandon!”

        We drive up into the hills to Miss Adele’s little ranch.  She’s a nice old lady who loves critters.  The ranch is more like a zoo if you ask me.  She’ll adopt any abandoned, orphaned, unwanted, abused critter.  But just because it isn’t what you would call a “working ranch” doesn’t make managing the place any easier.  It’s about five acres spread on the side of Eremos Hill.  Miss Adele jokingly calls her ranch “Frazzle Rock Acres”.

        Zolin tells me, raising the bag from his lap, “I have brought some ceviche from my mother for Miss Adele and for you, Mister Brandon.”

        Zolin has shared ceviche with us before, and I like it: fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice and spiced with chili peppers and onions.  But this time I have to say, “Zolin, Miss Adele is not here today,” and he senses something in the way I said it.

        Zolin asks, “Miss Adele is OK, sí?

        I say, “Miss Adele had to go back to the hospital again.”

        Zolin says in a whisper, and I pretend not to hear, “It is the cancer of the belly again.”

        I say, “The downed fence is up there, Zolin.”

        Today we’ve got to replace the wooden fence that Bart the big white Yorkshire pig pushed down.  Bart is huge.  He is up the hillside even now, still plowing into the wild cool dirt and looking down at the ranch house.  He is the ranch’s “revolutionary”.  A month ago he “liberated” the roosters and chickens from their enclosure.  Bart was born to be eaten, but Miss Adele got him at the County Fair as a piglet and he’s been a pet ever since; a very expensive pet.  Miss Adele got Dolly, his companion, a pig with flower-like dappling, at the same time for the same reason.  I can see that Dolly has joined Bart up the hill even now as we speak.  Miss Adele had told me, cooing, “When they were babies, they looked at me so sweetly like they were saying ‘help us, please, help us’.”

        I remember with a wince of guilt that Dolly smells like spicy sausage to me.  I love sausage.  I haven’t eaten any since.

        As we walk past the big artificial dirt pond, Zolin makes goofy honking sounds at the three Chinese Swan Geese: Kwai Chang, Oprah, and Brooke, who are huddled and gossiping.  The geese turn toward us their heads upon necks rising like periscopes.  Kwai Chang is the leader and he raises his wings as well, lowers his head, and glides toward us with a menacing hiss.

        Zolin laughs, crying out, “¡Ayúdeme! (Help me!)”, quickly trotting up behind me, calling to the little drake Mallard duck standing on the shoreline, ““¡Ayúdeme!  Puddles!  ¡Sálveme, sálveme! (Save me, save me!)”  Puddles turns his bright green head down and then ruffles the grey and brown feathers on his chest.  Puddles had flown in to the dirt pond one day during duck migration and he never left.

        The downed fence is attached to the barn.  The barn is full of rescued cats and a few strays from the nearby residences.  They loll in the straw and climb in the rafters.  Miss Adele has names for each and every one of them.

        I say, “First we have to get Bart and Dolly back inside the fenced area.”

        Zolin nods, “¿Coyotl, si?” using the Peruvian word for Coyotes, as Zolin explained it to me one day.  Apparently, the Aztec Moon Goddess was named Coyo-something-or-other, because coyotl bay at the moon.

        I reply, “Yup.  Coyotes.  But I’m not worried about Bart and Dolly.  My guess is that they can take care of themselves.  They’re probably too much even for a pack of coyotes.”

        Zolin points out politely, “And you have dogs, Mister Brandon.”

        I shake my head, saying, “Yes, but Rommel and Lafayette can’t guard every inch of this ranch.”  Rommel is a short haired Shepherd-Pincher-mix, and Lafayette is a curly-haired Shepherd-Schnauzer- mix.  Those two together are a real “Band of Brothers”.

        Bart and Dolly have dug themselves a comfortable ledge in the hillside and I’m sorry I can’t let them have their way about this.  I approach Bart and he grunts once, questioningly.  Sitting prone he is as high as my crotch.  I stand beside his big head and fondle his big ear and rub his tough snout and he grunts, contentedly.  But then I lean my knee into his neck to let him know he has to move on.  He grunts indignantly a couple times, but when I lean in again, he bustles onto his feet, snorting derision at me, and starts stiffly down the hillside back to the fenced-in area.  He knows.  And Dolly follows, but with fewer comments.  Zolin rubs her big bristly jowls and she gurgles with happiness.

        Luckily when Bart toppled the tall wood plank fence, he had lifted the whole section up onto his snout after rooting under a main support post.  Zolin and I hefted it up again and settled it and tamped it in nice and solid again.

        I have been noticing Zolin looking at me pensively and I ask, “What’s on your mind?”

        Zolin begins to gesture as if he is trying to weave what he has to say, “Mister Brandon, you must know, of course, how I like to work hard for you and Miss Adele, and, I would like to ask a favor of you, and if I ask too much there is no harm done, please understand me, I hope so, and I would never ask this except Miss Adele is so kind, and you are so kind, and it is not really for myself I must ask, please understand me, and I know this is not an easy time for Miss Adele, so I really have no right to ask, but, please understand me, I have no one else who can help, …”

        I rescue him before he drowns in his own words, “Zolin, do you need some money?”

        Zolin’s eyes go wide as if I shocked him, “Oh, no, no, Mister Brandon, no, no …” and he blushes and he looks around for a place to set his embarrassment, “My mother would die of shame if I even thought such a thing…, I could never think such a thing.”

        I don’t help his chagrin by laughing, “Zolin, just tell me.”

        Zolin closes his eyes, takes a breath, and then begins to spread his situation out before me, “My father, my mother, and I are living with my mother’s sister, in her house, and it is good, but when we have come to this country my father has brought two tuis, and he has brought them in two big dog carriers and no one cared.”

        I interrupt, “Zolin, what is a tui?”

        Zolin rubs his neck, trying to squeeze the right words out, “A tui is a cria that has been, has been, has been … weaned, yes, weaned,” he says at last, in triumph

        I now implore him, “Zolin, what is a cria?”

        Understanding dawns, and Zolin says, “A baby alpaca.”

        I repeat, “Alpaca.”

        Zolin confirms, “Alpaca.  My father has dreams of starting a ranch for alpacas.  The money is very good, very good.”

        I say, “So go on with it.”

        Zolin continues, “The female has died, and the little male is now very lonely.  He looks for more attention than my mother, or my father, or my aunt… can give.  And I have seen how kind are you and Miss Adele, and I have no one who can help, just until we find a house of our own, soon, and we can take little Ceviche.”

        I ask to clarify, “Ceviche?  You named him Ceviche?  Like the food you brought?”

        Zolin grins wryly, “My aunt has threatened to make the little guy into her ceviche, so she has begun to call him Ceviche.  She is only joking, of course,” Zolin swallows, “but Ceviche sneaks into the house when he can, and that upsets my aunt, and then my aunt yells at my mother, and then my mother yells at my father, and my father has asked me to ask you if Ceviche can live here for only a little while, of course, with these other animals for his consuelo, his comfort in sadness, just for a little while, I am sure.”

        I shake my head, “Zolin, you can sure shovel words.  I am impressed.  Sure, Ceviche can stay here for awhile.  I’m sure we can find him a happy place.  And I’m sure Miss Adele,” I swallow, “will love him.”

.02 ceviche 2nd etc crop-1

        The next morning I pull in at the Eremos Hill Feed and Supply and there is Zolin with Ceviche, who is as tall as my waist, as well as with his father and his mother and his aunt.  Zolin’s three relatives are small people, with faces like chiseled flint.  The two women wear what seems to be “traditional” Peruvian clothing that they obviously wove themselves.  However, the father wears a blue “Hawaiian” shirt just like the one I bought from Wal-Mart.  They all three seem to move together.  Zolin has remarkably softer features than his parents, maybe from a life here.

        Zolin nods, saying, “Mister Brandon, this is my father, Atl, my mother, Centehua, and my aunt, Chimalli,” as his relations lower their eyes, and he then says, “We cannot thank you enough, Mister Brandon.  You are doing my family, and Ceviche is part of my family, a great service that we can only hope to repay to you someday soon,” and Zolin glances towards his relations, and on that cue their faces soften in unison and they beam the most generous of smiles.

        I bow and say, “Howdy.  Nice to meet ch’all.”  We then guide Ceviche up two planks of wood into the back of the truck.  We tie him behind the cab.  Ceviche seems to welcome the excitement.

        I say my usual, “Well, Hop in, Zolin.  ¿Listo a trabajar? (Ready to work?)”

        Zolin smiles and says, “Always ready, Mr. Brandon!”, as he waves good-bye to his father, mother, and aunt who raise their arms in unison.

        The – difficulties – begin soon enough.  We get Ceviche to the ranch, to “Frazzle Rock Acres”, and take him up to the assorted pens and enclosures.  None of them seem just right at the moment, not even the goat pen, so we let Ceviche loose in the main back yard while Zolin and I start some landscaping that Miss Adele had requested over the phone from the hospital.

        Ceviche trots expectantly to each pen and enclosure.  I had read a little about alpacas last night on my iPhone.  They are naturally curious and intelligentIt is possible to have a single alpaca, but it is not a pleasant existence for the animal.  Alpacas are herd animals and are instinctively gregarious.  They obtain security and contentment from having at least one other alpaca for company.  Ceviche seems most interested in the big goat, named Almond by Miss Adele because of his color, and I added “because he’s a ‘nut'”, he’s a rowdy male, probably a Toggenburg that someone couldn’t handle anymore and so Miss Adele took him in.  Zolin finds it amusing that little Ceviche and big ol’ rowdy Almond are nose-to-nose with civility.  I decide to build Ceviche at least a temporary pen next to Almond’s.

        But while I am kneeling to secure a fence pole, I suddenly feel Ceviche rub his wooly cheek against the side of my head.  He is making an insistent sound like an infant.  “Ehh.  Ehhh.  Ehh.”

        Zolin smiles, “Ceviche likes you, Mister Brandon.”

        I say, scratching under Ceviche’s chin, “Yeah, that’s sweet.  But I got work to do, Ceviche,” and I nudge him away and turn to the task at hand.  But a moment later I feel him rubbing on my shoulder, “I like you too, Ceviche.  But, find something else to do for awhile,” and Zolin looks a little concerned as I firmly move Ceviche away.  I bow back to my work.

        Suddenly Ceviche has both fore-legs across my shoulders in a bid-for-dominance display.  He spits at me!  That is it: I have to tie Ceviche to the nearby Avocado tree.  He is not happy and he begins to screech.  It makes me sad and it upsets Zolin.

        Zolin assures me, “Ceviche will be happy when he gets used to this place.”

        But when Ceviche’s pen is finished, he paces his fence with nostrils flaring if Almond is not giving him complete attention.

02 ceviche 2nd etc crop-1.

        It is the beginning of a hot, dry summer.  Sometimes I just stop and drench my head with water from the hose while I’m working.  One of Zolin’s jobs is to constantly check all the water lines to the animal pens and to keep the dirt pond filled.

        Miss Adele has come home from the hospital and she is amused with our new guest, Ceviche.  She often calls me out from the room I rent to show me some alpaca information that she finds on YouTube.  She finds everything on YouTube.  The air-conditioner is not working well and she finds me a repair demonstration video for that particular make and model.  Miss Adele always says, “You can find anything you want on YouTube.”

        Miss Adele will not tell me details of her condition.

        This night has a bright silver full moon, and it is still in the 80’s in the house.  I cannot sleep.  I go to my dresser finally and I take the bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey from among my toiletries and I shuffle outside into the back yard area wearing a V-shirt and underwear.  It must be 4 a.m. and it is not a lot cooler out here.  I now have to piss.  I set the whiskey down on a plastic chair under the Avocado tree.

        I go to the sage bushes near the wooden perimeter fence to relieve myself.  I can hear coyotes calling in the distance from the orange groves on the other side of Eremos Hill.  It has been so hot and dry I figure it must be getting hard for them to find rabbits and gophers.  The bright silver full moon sits on top of Eremos Hill.  Then I hear a coyote call from somewhere nearby.  Then another.

        The geese begin to make noise, the roosters and chickens start babbling, I hear the cats jumping in the barn, Bart and Dolly are snorting, and Almond is hopping in his pen and making his spitting sound.  I get chills down my spine.

        Suddenly something hits the fence right in front of me and I jump back.  A big coyote scrabbles on top of the fence, sees me, but leaps past me into the compound anyway.  I can now hear the thuds all along the perimeter fence and I can see the flashing silver of coyotes climbing and leaping into the compound.  Now shadows are racing in every direction.  Holy shit!  The geese are screeching.

        I holler, “Hey!  Hey!  Hey!” and run clapping my hands loudly to sound like gunshots.  I can hear Rommel and Lafayette snarling and barking down at the dirt pond and I hear a weird yipping.  They are tangling with the coyotes!  No coyote stands up to the two of them together for long.  But what about a pack of coyotes?  I hear a bashing sound from Almond’s direction, thrashing and crashing, like he’s kicking the pen.  It is a whirlwind of shadows inside the compound.  I now hear cats screaming.  Rommel and Lafayette charge toward the barn.

        I now see shapes and shadows of coyotes retreating, leaping up and scrabbling over the perimeter fence.  The attack must have been only minutes, but it has seemed like an hour.

        I hear Miss Adele pitifully cry, “Oh, no”, and I see her down by the dirt pond.  I run down to her.  She mourns, “They killed Kwai Chang,” and I see that he must have challenged at least two coyotes because both of his wings have been torn off.  I can see in the porridge of dust footprints that Rommel and Lafayette fought the coyotes there, but too damn late.  The remaining geese are safe but agitated in the middle of the dirt pond.

        Then I hear commotion and barking from Almond’s pen and I run back up the hill.  For the first time I realize that I haven’t seen Ceviche.  Almond’s pen is askew and he is lowering his head at something in the corner, and Rommel and Lafayette are by his side, growling in the same direction.

        There is a young coyote on the ground in the corner.  It is a stand-off.  When the coyote sees me he tries to stand, but he falls back down with a gurgling yelp.  His ribs must be shattered and maybe his lungs are punctured.  Almond spits toward him.  Rommel and Lafayette are measuring their ability to finish him off.  I grab an unused pole and call the dogs to stay, and I am going to bash the little fucker’s head in myself.

        Miss Adele hollers, “Stop!” and I halt with the pole raised over my head.  She enters the pen, Lafayette and Rommel step back, and she looks down at the coyote which tries to snarl a threat.  Miss Adele just says, “Shhh,” and the little coyote blinks and relaxes like a pet dog.

        Miss Adele finally seems to notice that I am in my underwear and she hands me her cell phone, saying, “Call Miss Meredith and tell her what we’ve got here.”

        Miss Meredith runs the mobile veterinarian service around here.  She and Miss Adele have been good friends for years, but I suspect that they were once much closer.  I guess guys always get suspicious of women’s close friendships.  But neither one of them ever married.  Anyway, Miss Adele can expect Miss Meredith to gather her associates and come at any time, any place.  And now dawn is beginning to soften this terrible night.

        Miss Adele keeps her sentimentality working for her practical side.  She tells me, “Bury Kwai Chang under the Avocado tree.  I’ll think of him every time I pick an Avocado.  I’m going to see what cats are missing,” as she heads off toward the barn, and then says, “and what roosters are missing”, and I think she then sobs.

        I call behind her, stupidly, “I think they got Ceviche.”

        Miss Adele stops and says, firming, “We’ll tell Zolin together.”

        I retrieve my whiskey bottle from the plastic chair under the Avocado tree.  I take a swallow, unashamed.  I return to my room.  My dirty clothes are on the foot of the bed.

        I am dressed when Miss Meredith and her associate veterinarians arrive.  Miss Meredith consoles Miss Adele.  We are all a little stunned as we survey the battle ground.  I can hear Miss Adele’s broken heart as she tells me pragmatically, “You and Zolin add barbed-wire to the top of the perimeter fence, OK?”

02 ceviche 2nd etc crop-1.

        I drive a while later to the Eremos Hill Feed and Supply.  I say, with forced enthusiasm, “Hop in, Zolin.  ¿Listo a trabajar? (Ready to work?)”

        Zolin smiles and says, “Always ready, Mister Brandon!” but then he asks me, “Is everything OK, Mister Brandon?”

        I answer, “We have a lot of work today, Zolin.”

        Zolin asks, “Is Miss Adele OK?”

        “Yes, she is fine.”

        “Is Ceviche OK?”

        “We have to put barbed-wire along the whole perimeter fence.  It is going to be another wicked hot day.”

        Zolin looks forward and says no more.

        When we arrive at the ranch, I tell Zolin, “Miss Adele would like to speak with you.  She’s in the kitchen.  I’ll be right there.  I have to get something in my bedroom first.

        I take my bottle of whiskey and sit on the foot of my bed and I take a big swallow.  I hang my head and close my eyes and sigh, reliving last night.

        I suddenly feel a wooly pad press against the side of my head.  I sit up startled, as from a dream.  But there he is!  Ceviche!  “Ceviche!” I cry as I drop my bottle of whiskey.  Then I startle him by hugging him.  His fur is matted and there is some blood.  He must have jumped his pen and fled into the house to hide!  My bedroom door to the outside has been open since last night!  He was hiding right here in the house.  Thank God, thank God, and I whoop loudly, “Miss Adele!  Miss Adele!  Zolin!  Come here!  I have Ceviche!  He’s OK.  It’s a fucking miracle!”

        Ceviche screeches at my profanity, but I hug him tight as Zolin and Miss Adele burst into my room.

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CROSS COUNTRY

03 cross country - crop1

CROSS COUNTRY

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        Another private plane had spotted the wreckage of Luke’s Cessna high on the steep and snowy Great Medicine Ridge.  It had been three months since he crashed during New Year’s Eve.

        Luke Steinmann is, was, like a brother to me.  Luke’s father, the Sheriff, had let me live with them like family from the time I was just a fucked-up half-breed boy.

        Luke became a Sheriff, too.  Of course, I couldn’t get accepted.  I became a Park Ranger.  It was alright.  That is, it was alright until Tahnee Hall came between us.  Tahnee.

        I am now calling-in a big favor in the hours before the Rescue Team can be assembled.  Fuck us all, it is going to be a Recovery not a Rescue.  I get Buzz, the helicopter pilot, to take me up there first and immediately.  He knows how tight me and Luke are, were.  No one is going to bust us.  But it is scary.  Buzz can’t land on Great Medicine Ridge of course, so while he manages to hover low as he can, I have to clamber out and drop down from the chopper’s skids.

        The wreckage of Luke’s plane had slid down there right to the sparse tree line.  I didn’t see any bodies yet.  It is tough footing and I have to restrain myself going down.

        There are no bodies in the wreckage.  But I see the sheet torn from Luke’s ever-present pocket notebook and stuck with gum onto the instrument panel, right over the fuel gauge.

ME, TAHNEE, CHEYENNE,

OK, HURT. 

CAN NOT STAY. 

TRY GO DOWN. 

GOD KNOWS.

        God knows, Luke, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

        Tahnee was meant for me.

        Cheyenne, our beloved Border Collie.

        Everyone that ever mattered to me.

        I can see the only way that they could have proceeded down.  A lot of the snow is now gone.  It is a slide made up of rock and branches.  Maybe they found a way to slide down when it was snow.  How far did they get?  I start down, slipping and sliding.  It’s tiring, being so tense.

        None of this was supposed to happen.

        Then I see it.  Right at the edge of the drop-off.

        The stone man.

        I get a blast of adrenaline.  Luke and I used to make little stone men as signals just for each other.  We have, had a way of making them all our own, two legs, a body, two arms and a head.  We made signals out of them.

        This stone man points up the slope to the left, not down the slope to the right along the descending ledge.  I had figured they would have kept heading down.  When I look up over to the left I am doused with adrenaline again.  On the slope is a huge flat boulder that has come to rest against the trunks of trees that did not quite topple with the blow.  It created a narrow dark cave.

        I am clawing my way uphill now, scrabbling up to that cave, heart pounding enough to blow my head off.  The cave is dark and cold.  I can shuffle in on my knees.

        “Tahnee!  Luke!  Cheyenne!”

        For a moment there I am praying for a reply.  I knew there couldn’t be a reply.  No reply is still crushing me.  I fumble my flashlight out of my side pocket.

        “Oh, God,” I am wailing.

        There in the far corner is a huddle of bundled bodies.

        Tahnee and Luke still clutch each other face-to-face.  Cheyenne is draped on top of them, face down.

        “Jesus, Jesus.”  Their eyes are still open.  Tahnee and Luke stare into each other’s dry flat eyes, their eyelids are curled back and shriveled with the cold.  Cheyenne is still on top of both of them.  His dead eyes still despair.  I can’t look.

        As I wrench my gaze away, my mind is fumbling.  I notice the pitiful cold fire pit, a depression, with a fair pile of fire-gnawed twigs and branches.  How long did that last?  I notice clusters of small bones.  Squirrels.  Cheyenne must have hunted for them.  Good dog, I know you kept them alive as long as you could and you died last.

        This wasn’t supposed to happen.  What have I done?

        “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”

        Tahnee was mine.  I had never felt that way about a woman.  What did she think was better about Luke?  What?  God help me, I lost my mind.

        “GOD, THIS IS YOUR FAULT!”

        I was so angry, I have never been so angry, God forgive me, “I JUST WANTED TO FUCK UP SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVED, LUKE.”

        All I did was put sugar in the plane’s gas tank.  The engine never should have started!  How did the plane take off?

        “WHY DID YOU TAKE TAHNEE WITH YOU?”

        I know why he took her.  He told me he was planning to propose to her on New Year’s Eve.

        “YOU NEVER TOLD ME YOU WERE GOING TO ASK TAHNEE UP IN THE AIR!”

        How did the engine even start?

        “GOD, GOD, THIS IS HOW YOU WANTED IT?”

        It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair.  How can I go on?  I am so sorry!  I am so sorry!  I want to die, Great Spirit, Dear God, I want to die!

        Now I turn away and I can see the stone man centered in the view from this cave.

        Now I hear it, the approaching helicopter.  It’s big.  It’s getting louder.  They must have sent the National Guard Medical chopper.

        “WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT?!”

        Then I see the stone man shiver.  The sound of the chopper is thundering, even back here in the cave.  Oh, fuck, the stone man is trembling, he’s falling apart.

        “STOP!”

        I’ve got to get out of here, now I can feel the vibrations from the chopper!  I lunge forward on my knees.  But it is too late for me.  The boulder shifts, crushing the tree trunks.  The bolder is falling flat!

        “I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”

        But I am alive.

        I am pinned with my face in the cold rocks.  I can’t move.  I can’t hear anything now except my harsh breath.  I can only see the swimming sparks in my black imagination.  I can taste blood.  I have bitten my tongue.

        Great Spirit, I am starting to laugh.

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