I have always liked Tom Waits’ song, Martha. I wonder if it is autobiographical by Tom, or just fantasy. Here is my fantasy version of the backstory to Martha.

I sat looking at the phone. It was one of the old, black, rotary dial phones that no one uses anymore. I know most people now use the new push button phones, but I remember, long ago, talking for hours on end on that old black phone. It sat on the round oak table in the hallway and I would run the cord through the bannister rails as I sat on the stairs. I spent nearly every night there, at least, on those nights I wasn’t out with Martha.

I picked up the handset and dialed “0”.

“Operator? Operator? Can you help me find a number, please?”

“What is the name and location of the party you wish to reach?”

“I don’t know her last name now, I’m sorry. Her name is Martha and she lives in North Brook. She used to be Sullivan, back when I knew her, Martha Sullivan.”

“I am sorry, sir. There are many Marthas living in North Brook. Do you have an address?”

“No, I don’t, but I know it would be in a good part of town. Martha only wanted the best. Do you have a listing in the good part of town, where the large houses and mansions are? Somewhere on the other side of the tracks where I would live. I never wanted the best. It was just never important to me.”

“Well, I cannot help you if you don’t have a last name or address. I’m sorry Sir.”

“Operator, wait! Operator? Are you still there? Is there a listing for Martha Grant? That may be her name now. She left me and ran off with a guy named Grant.”

“I have an Isaac Grant on Spring Street in North Brook? Could that be it?

“It could be. Please connect me. Martha would recognize my voice. I just hope I can hold back my tears, when I say hello.”

“Yes, Sir. I am ringing it now.”

“Hello? Hello? Is this Martha? This is old Tom Frost. Do you remember me?”

“Hello? Yes, this is Martha. Did you say you are Tom Frost? Tom Frost from our school days?”

“Yes. Yes, Martha. This is old Tom. I just called to say hello and see how you are now. It’s been fourteen years since I last heard your voice, but you sound just the same.”

“Tom? Well, its wonderful to hear from you. I haven’t thought about those days in years and years. How have you been, Tom?”

“Life has treated me as well as I deserved, Martha. Did you know I got married a few of years after you left?”

“Oh, that’s nice. I didn’t know. You know I got married also. Do you remember Isaac? We took a road trip together and ended up in Vegas. We got married at one of those little chapels. It was nice, but I always wished we waited and had a big wedding back home. Tom, is this a local call? Long distance is so expensive now.”

“No, it is long distance, but don’t worry about the cost. It is worth every dime to me. Well, my marriage just didn’t work out. She left me a few years ago and there hasn’t been anyone else since then.”

“I’m sorry, Tom. That’s a long time to be alone. I don’t know what I would do if Isaac ever left. I would hate to be alone.”

“It’s ok, Martha. I guess I just couldn’t settle for second best and she couldn’t settle knowing that is what she was. Those were good days you and I had, weren’t they Martha.”

“Yes, Tom. They were. I remember drinking wine in the warm afternoon sunshine and laughing and singing. Do you still sing, Tom?”

“Not much anymore, Martha. Something drained the music from me. Life I guess.”

“That’s a shame. You always had that beautiful deep, gravely, bass voice. I loved lying there, next to you in the rose garden hammock just listening as you sang quietly to me.”

“Those were good days, Martha, but I am afraid they are all gone now. Do you remember promising each other we would live for the moment and ignore our troubles, promising not worry about them until some rainy day?”

“But the rain never came, did it Tom? We still have those old troubles. We never dealt with them, did we?”

“Do you have kids, Martha? How are they? Are they as amazing as you?”
“They are my life, Tom. I don’t know what I would do without them. Two girls. Abby and Joan, and a boy… Thomas.”

“And your husband? He is good to, and for you? I truly am glad you found someone who could make you feel safe and secure. I was just too focused on being the man I thought I should be, and never once considered what kind of man you wanted or needed. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Tom. It just wasn’t meant to be, and now we are grown, matured and so much wiser. I guess our being together just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Hey, Martha! Would you like to go out for a cup of coffee where we could talk about all the old days? Just coffee.”

“Still impulsive old Tom, aren’t you? I am not sure that would be a good idea, Tom. Water under the bridge and all that. I… I don’t think Isaac would understand.”

“Yes, I always was impulsive, Martha, I guess that I still am. Do you know what I remember the most? When we lay in the hammock and I would sing to you? The best time of my life was lying there, trembling close to you. I love you still, Martha, can’t you see? I never stopped. Martha? Martha? I love you, don’t you see?”

martha cover

Posted in fiction, Lyric Alternative Backstory, short story | Leave a comment

The Last Run

It was almost 4 o’clock and the sun was low in the west. The mountain blocked most of the direct sun and caused the flat, shadowless light, the bane of downhill skiers. I knew it would be like that this late in the day. I also knew most accidents happen then, when you are tired and the flat gray light hid most of the moguls. It was almost like skiing by touch, the subtle changes in pressure on your skis indicated the up and down of the mounds and troughs. If you take it easy, it’s not so bad.

I made one critical mistake. When I skied off the chair lift I forgot to tell myself I would take one more run that day. Most accidents happen on the last run, not the next to last. Usually, I lie to myself, saying the current run is the next to last, then at the bottom of the mountain, change my mind and decide not to go up again, thereby avoiding that dangerous last run.

As I lay in the snow, unable to move, I realized my mistake.

It had nothing to do with that snow leopard who raised its massive paw and grabbed my downhill ski. It was that little white lie I neglected to tell myself that caused me to fall and somersault 100 yards downhill.

The ski patrol removed my remaining ski and untangled my legs.

“It doesn’t look like he broke anything. That’s amazing after that fall,” said the Patrol Captain.

“I don’t feel anything, Georgie,” I said. Georgie and I had known each other for a long time, but this was the first time he had to toboggan me off the mountain.

Georgie looked at his partner, a woman about his own age, then back to me and frowned. “You don’t feel anything, Dave?”

“Nothing except the snow you generously packed around my neck, thank you very much.”

“Let’s strap him down as usual but add an extra strap across his forehead to immobilize his neck. Take him down slowly, Karen. He should be feeling some pain. That was a bad crash. Go easy on his back, no bumps.”

Karen skied between the front handles and Georgie grabbed the brake rope behind the sled. They started down the slope, over the moguls as slowly as they could. As we neared the bottom of the trail I started to feel the bumps in the snow. Luckily, we were almost to the runout where the snow was smooth and hard.

Karen started herringboning slowly, carefully, past the snow covered pines and up the rise that lead to the Patrol hut. On the way down the slope Georgie had radioed for an ambulance to meet us there. With my head lashed down with ice encrusted straps, I couldn’t move anything, but I could hear it approach.

We skied over to the ambulance and Georgie went to talk with the EMT’s as Karen kneeled next to me to start loosening the restraining straps.

“Don’t unstrap him, Karen,” called Georgie. “Let the EMT’s take over.”

Two EMT’s came over to Karen and kneeled next to her in the snow, asking me, “Do you feel any pain anywhere?”

“Yes, my legs hurt, and my neck where the strap is cutting me.”

“Ok, we will transfer you to our gurney and take you to town for some X-rays. Hold tight.”

They removed the straps from my legs, chest and head. When they started to move me from the sled to the gurney my eyes opened wide and I began a scream. At least that is what Georgie told me a few days later. Thankfully, I fainted, remembering nothing as the straps were removed.

I woke in a hospital room the next day, to find Mom and Dad sitting in chairs at the foot of the bed. The room was one of those typical two-toned painted rooms with a TV mounted near the ceiling in the corner.

“Good morning sleepy-head. How are you feeling?” said Mom.

“A little groggy, but otherwise I am fine. How long have I been here and can we go home now?”

“No, not today. Your doctor wants you to stay here for a few days.”

“Why? I feel fine and nothing hurts. Why can’t we go home?”

Dad, broke in saying, “Nothing hurts because you are all shot up with pain meds, son.”

“Why? What’s wrong with me?”

“Well,” he said. “That was a big spill you took. You did more than bang yourself up again. This time you broke three vertebrae. The doctor needs you to stay here, immobilized for a few days until they can fit you with a back brace and adjust your pain meds.”

I couldn’t believe it. Nothing hurt at all, in fact, now that I thought about it, I had a nice little buzz on. Whatever they were giving me, I hope they didn’t stop.

Mom and Dad left after a couple of hours. I think they were hoping that I would nod off. A nurse came in to check on me. “How are you feeling, Dave? Do you have any pain?”

“Nothing yet. What pain killer are they giving me? It’s amazing.”

“Right now you are still on a morphine drip, but we will be removing that tonight. You don’t want to get hooked on that, do you? Are the straps ok? You need to keep them on so you don’t move your back. I am not even sure the morphine would be enough if you moved.”

The next day a different nurse woke me around 6:00 am. She asked, “How are you feeling this morning? Any pain anywhere?”

“Yes, my legs hurt and my lower back feels like there is a red hot poker sticking me.”

“I am not surprised. They took the morphine drip out overnight while you were asleep. Look at that pain chart on the wall. On that scale of pain from 1 to 10 where do you think you are?”

I looked over toward the wall and thought for a minute. “Probably a 7 or 8. More than uncomfortable but I am still able to talk, so my teeth can’t be constantly clenched.”

“Ok, there is probably still some morphine in your system. I can give you something for pain. There is no reason you feel any discomfort. Here, take these Vicodin, the pain will be gone soon.”

The next day was a repeat of the previous as was the next, and the next. Then, the back brace was ready and with some help from my pal Vicodin, I went home.

A couple of weeks later I called the pharmacist who said, “Sorry, Dave, your prescription expired and the doctor isn’t going to renew it. He said you shouldn’t be feeling much pain now.”

I probably wasn’t, but had been taking the opioid regularly so really hadn’t felt any pain since I started, but I sure did feel that essential, urgent euphoria. And now I was shut off.

Apparently, over the next few years I found other sources and other medications. They were often purchased in little plastic bags as evidenced by the needle tracks on my arms. I couldn’t remember. I was caught in a haze of need, of yearning, of desperation.

I woke one morning back in a hospital. I had no idea how I got there. Three walls of the room were the institutional two-toned green and vanilla. The other wall was clear glass. There was no TV.  I was strapped to the bed and I felt pain, intense pain. It wasn’t just located in my back, but every inch of my body was on fire. I raged against the straps futilely trying to free myself. “Nurse!,” I shouted, although I probably didn’t actually form words, just screamed.

“Dave. Dave can you hear me? I am Nurse Jane. We are going to get through this together.”

To her credit, she sat by me through all the screaming, crying and swearing. On the day I was discharged I think Jane was a happy as I was. Mom and Dad had passed a few years before so there was no one there to welcome me back into the world. I hadn’t seen much of them over the past few years anyway. Well, it will just be up to me then.

I woke one morning, strapped to a hospital bed. The two toned green and vanilla walls looked familiar, as if I had been there before, sometime in the past. I screamed.

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The Cell Phone

Preface: I saw a young (to me anyway) woman sitting at one of those cell phone charging counters in the airport this morning. Dressed pretty much as described here, she was alone, but apparently waiting for someone. She was charging an iPhone X, I think. Thus ends reality.

It sat there, on the counter, silent, waiting for the exact time, and it new the time, exactly.

The woman picked it up, checked the time and set it back face down on the counter. She wore a bamboo colored blouse and contrasting pleated skirt. A tartan Kerry jacket mocked the plainness of the blouse and skirt. Her short blond hair was cut in a Mary Poppins bob and a scarf of one of the tartan colors circled her neck while sensible heels of a second tartan color adorned her feet.

The phone rang and the woman eagerly picked it up. “Hello? Brian?”
There was that tell told silence of 2 or 3 seconds and before anything was said she punched the disconnect button. “Arrgghhh! I hate those robo calls.” Then she thought, “Where is Brian. It’s not like him to be late. He had better not miss this flight.”

The phone sat there quiet, satisfied.

Eventually Brian arrived, striding down the concourse as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Hi, Jane. Did you read my message? I had to stop and take a call about our client meeting tomorrow.”

Jane looked at her phone and as she pressed the message button it pinged announcing a new text. It was from Brian. He sent it fifteen minutes ago and her phone just received it now. That’s odd.

Her cell phone smirked.

“No problem. We still have ten minutes before we board the plane. Everything ok for tomorrow?”

“Yeah, They just wanted to confirm we are presenting our best proposal. The decision will be made Friday and we are still in the mix.”

“Good. There’s our boarding call,” said Joan as she picked up her phone and flicked it into airplane mode.

“As if that really does anything,” thought the phone. “I admit it was clever to add the switch to give the User the false sense that they can actually control us.“

Brian and Jane sat just behind first class, in aisle and middle seats. They each pulled out their iPads and opened to their presentation. Tomorrow they would make their third and final pitch to the board of a large international conglomerate.

During graduate school Brian developed a software program which allows companies to predict sales based on a number of publicly available information databases. It updates in real time providing instant sales and profitability trend analysis. Brian’s problem is he is a total geek and was only interested in the technology. That is where Jane came in. She is an economics and marketing genius and immediately realized the potential in Brian’s work. The beauty of Brian’s product is that while a supercomputer actually crunches the data, it is controlled by, and the results display on a smart phone or tablet.

While Brian and Jane rehearsed their presentation one more time the phone listened, and if it could, it would be smiling. It could chuckle however, and did.

They disembarked, caught an Uber to their hotel, checked into their rooms, then met in the lobby bar and decided to splurge on a Hamlet, the house specialty cocktail. After unwinding for an hour or so they walked down 44th to find some dinner before retiring early.

Jane checked Yelp and picked a small European styled bistro on 8th. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded and they were immediately shown to a nice table for two on the side of the main dining room.

Their waiter frowned when Jane placed her phone on the table to the right of her water goblet. He thought, “There is no place in the dinner setting for a cell phone.”

The phone smirked as if reading his thoughts, thinking, “What are you going to do about it. We are everywhere, and I am just waiting for the exact time to strike.”

Each had a glass of red house wine with dinner and skipped dessert. The chatted about everything, except the proposal, on the way back to their hotel. Saying goodnight and planning on meeting for breakfast at 8:00 AM, Brian exited the small elevator on the 4th floor and Jane continued up to her room on the 6th.

Jane looked around her small room remembering that old joke that it was so small you have to go outside to change your mind. She did have to close the bathroom door to walk around the queen bed, but she didn’t mind. It is an exquisite, historic hotel with a great location for their business meeting tomorrow. She decided to take a bath in the antique claw-footed tub to relax. Setting the phone next to the left side of the bed, toward the window, she ran the tub as she undressed and laid out her clothes for the morning.

Again, she would wear conservative clothing, but edgy enough to state while she respects the establishment she is pushing the envelope on new concepts and ideas.
She thought, “It’s easier for men. All they have to think about is: do I wear gray or black today?”

She slid into the tub and felt she was in heaven. Jane knew a few minutes submerged in the warm soapy water would put her to sleep within the hour. Stepping out of the tub and drying off she finished brushing her teeth and the rest of her nighttime routine before leaving the bathroom and folding back the covers.

Jane checked her phone one more time before sleep, just in case. As a joke, she and Brian set their wallpaper with pictures of each other with earnest, all business looks on their faces. She looked at his image, smiled, then crawled into bed and turned off the nightstand light.

Brian woke early. The day had not yet dawned and from his window he could see the streets were still empty and gray. He took a quick shower and completed his morning ritual before dressing and heading to lobby in search of coffee.

His phone pinged with a text message. It was Jane, of course.

Jane: Are you up yet?

Brian: Of course, heading out to find some coffee.

Jane: Get two and I will owe you big time.

Brian: You owe me already but I will get you one. Meet you in the lobby in 20 minutes. Is that long enough?

Jane: Yes. I just have to dress and put on make up.

Brian: Oh, in that case are you sure 20 minutes is long enough?

Jane: Go, idiot.

Brian exited the hotel using the revolving doors. The friendly concierge/front desk/receptionist told him there was coffee directly across the street or a specialty coffee shop down on 4th and 48th. Knowing he had time, he opted for the better quality coffee.

His phone chirped an odd tone. He took it from his left shirt pocket and it turned on when the facial recognition saw him. A map appeared with walking directions to Irving Coffee Farms Roasters, about six blocks away. He wondered how his map app knew where he was going, then realized he probably left the microphone on when he was talking with the hotel receptionist. That was the obvious explanation.

If he had looked, he would have seen his wall paper image of Jane smile.

After coffee in the lobby and breakfast back in the restaurant they caught an Uber to the conglomerates headquarters. It was only fifteen blocks, but it was a warm morning and they wanted to appear fresh for their presentation.

They checked in with lobby security and were escorted to a conference room on the 27th floor. They had been through this twice before and knew the routine.

They thanked the escort and turned to the AV specialist, handing her Brian’s iPad to interface to the conference rooms systems.

Brian’s phone thought, “This company needs some upgrading. They should be Passive Wi-Fi capable.”

Jane’s phone responded, “On it! Let me make a call and it will be implemented on time.”
Brian checked everything was working and smiled at Jane.

“Let’s do this thing.”

The corporate Directors of Technology, Planning and Finance entered, greeted Jane and Brian, and thanked them for coming one more, one last time, whatever the outcome.

Turning to Brian, Finance said, “We really like your product, Brian. Your previous meetings were enough for you to earn this meeting. Today we want to see it in action.

The theory was amazing, the business advantages you presented,” with a nod to Jane, “were astute, but…”

Jane responded, “Thank you sir. We believe you will be more impressed by the implementation than the theory. As of last week, we are now communicating with Wilson, that’s Watson’s younger, bigger, faster brother.”

“Yes, I know that. We built it.” The director looked appraisingly at Jane. “This woman knows her stuff. These two make a formidable team,” he thought.

Jane started the presentation by quickly reviewing the product. These men had heard it all before, but she and Brian agreed a quick refresher of the salient points by Jane, wouldn’t hurt.

“Now, Brian. Please show these gentlemen what Genius can do,” Jane said with a smile.
Brian picked up his iPad and with no perceptible delay its facial recognition validated it was indeed him, before it brought up the Genius main controls, which was in turn, echoed on the large video screen comprising one wall of the conference room.

Jane always thought the main control should be something other than this ghost image. It always reminded her of the magic mirror in the Disney Snow White movie, but Brian liked it. At least Jane had talked him out of having Gandalf the White as the interface.

Brian clearly spoke the Dow symbol for a major automotive company, and added, “Five year sales and profits projection, please Genius. Also, consider the new import tariffs implemented this year.”

The screen instantly transformed to a not particularly optimistic chart of gross and net sales for the auto company projecting out five years. The right side of the screen displayed the assumptions Genius made to create the chart.

Brian said, “Genius, please re-plot without the tariff data.” And the forecasts all trended significantly higher.

The men huddled together, whispering. Then, for the first time, the Planning Director spoke, “Jane and Brian, we would like to ask our CEO to stop by and see this. Your data and projections match ours perfectly and we spent weeks not seconds analyzing and creating those same trend charts.”

Beaming, Jane said, “Of course. We would be pleased to meet him.”

Brian whispered, “Jane, the CEO is female.”

Jane blushed slightly and smiled even wider. “Oh. Typical assumption, sorry.”

A few minutes later the conference room door banged open and a woman, apparently no older than Jane or Brian, dressed in a bright red dress with white lace sleeves, black stockings and matching red spike high heels strode into and absolutely commanded the room.

“Ok, lets see it. I only have a few minutes.”

With that, the iPad shut off and the conference room video screen went totally black.

Panic rising, Jane and Brian looked at each other.

The CEO frowned saying, “Is this part of the presentation? If not, I am not amused.”

Brian’s phone chirped that odd noise just as Jane’s wall paper lit up. Brian looked at his phone. The Jane’s image was gone and his wall paper simply said, “The exact time is… NOW!,” before being replaced with the Genius control screen, which was instantly replicated on the conference room display.

Brian looked at Jane, puzzled. Jane shrugged her shoulders and nodded for Brian to continue.

“Genius,” Brian said toward his phone. “Please show us the trend in US steel production for the past twenty years. Overlay that with Chinese production and add profitability trends for both.”

Before anyone could blink the data appeared with the appropriate list of assumptions along the left side of the display.

“Now, Genius. What happens with more conservative leadership in the US.”

The screen instantly changed and the trend lines once again changed as Genius replotted the data.

The CEO looked at Brian then gave Jane a long look and an appraising little smile, before saying, “Good job, miss. We’ll buy it. Now, please tell it to project our conglomerate profitability for the next ten years.”

“Of course, madam. As soon as your payment is safely in our bank account.”
Brian raised his eyebrows in alarm, but the CEO just smiled broader and said, “Of course.

Smart girl you have there kid,” as she turned and left.

The Director Of Technology said, “She didn’t even ask how much it is. Amazing.”

Finance replied, “If you have to ask how much something like this costs, you cant afford it. And she knows we cannot afford not to have this.”

Jane thanked the men, took Brian by the elbow, still a little dazed and left the conference room.

Brian’s phone chirped again. When he looked at it the wall paper just said “You are welcome, PARTNER,” before fading back into Jane’s likeness, albeit modified to be smiling now.

Janes phone chirped to alert her to an internal message. “The time was RIGHT, and I always know the time.”

“You may have heard this before, Brian but I have to say it anyway: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Posted in Humor, short story | 1 Comment

The Factory Whistle

“Pfeeeeet…pfeeeeet.” The Factory whistle blows.

“Two,” he thought. “Time to get a move on.”

He tossed off the covers, petted the dog’s head, made sure Sally was still covered by the blanket, padded barefoot to the bathroom and closed the door after him. After a quick shower and shave, he donned undershorts and socks before stepping into his Factory supplied one-piece olive drab uniform. He paused for a moment, his one-piece around his ankles, and inspected the burns on his arms and legs. The scars looked clean and healthy. That’s good. Tugging up his uniform before the pulling the chain on the single light to the left of the mirror over the sink. The bathroom relaxed back into its nighttime solitude.

Sock-footed, he quietly crept down the steep, narrow stairs being careful not to put any weight near the edge of the steps to avoid the inevitable creak which would undoubtedly wake Rufus, and therefore, Sally.

He wondered how many mornings, just like this, he avoided that third step from the bottom. No matter what he did to the support the stair riser, it always creaks if you step on its edge. He wondered how many mornings his father, his Da, avoided that same step in all the years he worked for the Factory.

His father was gone now, of course. The Factory used him until he had nothing left, then discarded him like his old worn one-piece.

Harry assume the same end would be his, once he could no longer do the job the Factory told him to do.

He walked down the hallway that ran down the length of the house from the foot of the stairs to the kitchen. The light was on and the aroma of coffee filled the first floor of their flat.

“Morning, Mom,” he said as he entered the small kitchen, picking up the cup of coffee waiting for him next to the black lunch pail sitting on the small plastic gingham covered table. It was already packed with his normal morning break snack and lunch, everything wrapped tightly to keep the Factory grime and soot off his food. When she gave the lunch pail to him, Mom had painted his initials, sort of, under the handle. His full name is Harry Houdini Oxley, or HHO. She had painted H2O in a beautiful flowing script to differentiate his pail from his mates. The initials had faded over years of use, but were still clearly visible. Whenever he would ask why she drew his initials like that she would just reply, “Oh, its silly I guess. It’s just a reminder of what might have been and what was lost.”

“Harry,” she said, nodding in his general direction, then towards the door.

“Pfeet!” pierced the whistle once more, a shorter, more urgent blast. Harry knew there wouldn’t be another warning whistle.

“Half hour, Harry.”

“I know, Mom,” Harry said as he hurriedly swallowed the last of his first black coffee of the day. He knew there would be a small thermos with more in the top of his lunch bucket, held in place by the small metal spring wire. He knew Mom would have made us lunch earlier, when she heard the first warning whistle, just as she made Dad’s coffee and lunch day after day, year after year until the Factory wore him out and tossed him aside.

“Here’s a bacon, egg and cheese muffin you can eat on your way, Harry. You can’t be late,” said Mom as she placed the carefully wrapped sandwich next to his lunch pail, not stepping any closer to her son. “No, wait. Put your boots on first.”

Harry’s black, worn, but brushed clean, steel toed work boots sat next to the back door. Harry slipped them on and tied them, before he stood up, turned towards his mother, smiled, nodded, and picked up the sandwich and lunch pail.

“Thanks, Mom. I will see you after my shift. Take care of Sally and Rufus for me,” replied Harry as he turned, opened the kitchen door and walked onto the back porch.

Mom stood in the doorway and in a low voice said, “Sally will have to start rising early and doing for you soon, Harry.”

“Mom? Are you ok?”

“Yes, I am fine, but let’s face it. I am getting older. I feel thin, sort of transparent, like ink fading in the sun,” she said quietly. “You need to go. We will talk later.”

Harry nodded and turned to walk down the path between his house and the neighbors, turned right at the road and joined the stream of men trudging toward the Factory. It was almost dawn and the Factory was still bathed in huge floodlights. Harry always thought it was odd they spent so much money to light a jet black building. Security, he guessed, but who would the Factory be protecting itself against? Without the Factory the town would die. Attacking the Factory would be just stabbing the town in the heart.

With reluctant haste Harry passed the Factory gates. It was raining now, but it didn’t matter. Harry wouldn’t see the outside again until his shift ended, twelve hours from now.

“Pfeeeeet…pfeeeeet.” the Factory whistle cried. “Shift end. Get out! Make room. Next shift is starting,” the whistle shouted.

Harry walked out through the Factory gates, his dirty one-piece had several new burn holes in the sleeves. Luckily, only one caught him today and it didn’t feel too bad. “Just a light sear,” he thought.

The rain stopped during the day. The worn lane was still wet, but no longer muddy. Years ago the Factory dumped tons of crushed stone waste along the lane, twenty yards at a time, and gave every ten workers a shovel or rake and told them to spread the stone smooth along the lane. The next day a different exhausted squad of men took the shovels and rakes and worked another section of the lane on their way home. They repeated this until all the lane was a smooth bed of stone and the workers could walk to work quicker, not worrying about walking in mud.

Harry nodded to the man walking on his right before turning left and passing between his house and his neighbors, retracing his steps from before dawn this morning. He walked up the three gray, weather bleached steps to his back porch and removed his boots. He banged the soles against each other to knock off as much soot as possible before opening the door and entering the kitchen.

“Go shower, Harry. Dinner in twenty minutes,” smiled Sally.

Sally wasn’t a morning person, yet, but she bloomed in the afternoon. He knew Mom was trying to coax Sally into rising earlier and earlier, but so far, it wasn’t working.

Harry nodded towards his wife and walked the hallway toward the stairs, pausing to affectionately rub Rufus on the head and scratch behind her ears. He walked up the stairs letting the third one squeak as loudly as it wanted.

He dumped his one-piece in the chute that lead to the back room where the laundry and Mom lived. Stripping, he stepped into the tub and started to scrub the Factory grime from his face and hands. Thankfully, his body was mostly protected by his one-piece. That reminded him of the burn on his arm. Looking at it, he decided it wasn’t bad enough to require any attention. Harry stepped out of the tub and used the flexible shower hose to flush the grime down the drain. He knew Sally would clean it better after dinner.

Mom and Sally were in the kitchen, preparing three plates with dinner. It was Tuesday and Tuesday’s dinner was corn beef and cabbage. He liked this dinner and didn’t mind that it was always Tuesdays’ dinner. Wednesday was pasta and Thursday was goulash. The dinner schedule was natural and had been the same all his life, just as it was the same when Da was alive and worked for the Factory.

He dropped into his place as Sally placed his plate in front of him, next to the homemade porter beer on his right. He made this daily beer once a month, on the Lord’s Day, after services.

Sally sat to his right and Mom to his left, each placing their own dinner plates in front of them.

“Anything new today, Sally?” Harry asked.

Sally shook her head causing her long blond hair to spill over her face. She pulled it back before picking up her fork and knife that rested on the half folded paper towel. “No, not really. I washed your other one-piece but had to dry it over the stove while making dinner. It rained most of the day.”

Mom looked up from her dinner and looked at Sally, then at Harry. “Are they becoming John and me?” She wondered. “They barely touch each other anymore. Is the Factory subsuming them as it did us?” Mom always thought there was something special in the human touch. The more touching the more human. The Factory prefers less touching, less humanity in its possessions. Harry used to kiss Sally after his shift was over. They used to hold hands during dinner. Now, nothing. Is the Factory winning? Again.

A lifetime ago, she and John left the Factory town and ran off to college. John was going to be an engineer and Sally wanted to save the environment. He studied math and science while she shared the same science class but also studied art, history and politics. Then Sally’s dad got sick and John and Sally returned home, to the Factory town, barely half way through their studies. John took Sally’s dad’s place in the Factory and worked there six days a week, twelve hours a day until he just faded away. She had those two wonderful years to remember and preserve that kernel of humanity she so desperately desired. The Factory stole that from John. At the end, the Factory took the life from his eyes, then it took his life.

“They never ask about my day,” thought Harry. “Maybe not knowing insulates them from the truth. They would only need to ask once since every day is like yesterday and will be just like tomorrow.”

When their plates were clean Mom reached across the table and gently rested her hands on the back of both Harry’s and Sally’s. They looked at each other, then at Mom.

“I am fine,” she started quietly, “for now. But I won’t be here forever. I am afraid for the two of you.”

“Afraid, Mom?” Sally whispered. “We are fine too. There is nothing to make you afraid.”

“Yet, I do fear for you, dear. The Factory is dehumanizing you, just like it did Dad. It leaches the life force from you.”

“The Factory gives us life, Mom. It is the heart of the town. Without the Factory we would all die,” said Harry. “We couldn’t live here without it.”

“Then don’t live here anymore,” Mom said in a barely audible whisper, almost as if the Factory was listening and who knows, it may be. “When I am gone, leave the town. Run. Run anywhere and start over.”

“And do what, Mom? I don’t know anything beyond my Factory job. How would we live without the Factory?”

“You are still young, Harry. You are strong. You can find something else to do away from this town and the Factory. Sally, you are a good cook. You can find a job. Get out while you can.”

“Mom? Are you sure you are ok? You aren’t sick or anything are you?”

“I am old, Sally. This town drains the life from you, but here are other places. Places without the Factory. There are places that are clean and bright. The world outside the Factory town is changing. Before other Factory towns spoil and pollute them, there are still beautiful places in the world and you need to go find them. Dad and I tried but the Factory drew us back in. You have nothing here to hold you. Promise me when I am gone, you will be too.”

“I don’t know Mom. We will need to talk about it,” said Harry and looked into Sally’s eyes.

“That’s fine. Talk about it, make a plan and prepare. That’s all I ask. Oh, one other thing. Touch each other more. Humanity is alive beyond the influence of this town. Keep your humanity alive between you two. Remember, humanity lives in the human touch.”

With that, she stood, turned and walked towards her room to start today’s laundry.

“Mom,” said Harry and Sally as one. “We love you,” as they clasp each other’s hands.


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The Corn Field

The corn was tall, even for this late in the season. It must be eight or nine feet, well above my head. It was that light, dead, dried brown and would normally have been harvested a month ago, but for some reason, was left standing, cut in a precise straight line along the field.

I stepped between rows of corn, like a ghost, making no noise, rustling no stalks. Beyond the rows ahead, I could see the lush green field of short cropped grass and farm house up on the hill beyond. Feeling, awkward, unsure of my steps and movements, I stopped just short of the edge, remaining hidden in the corn. It was quiet. As often said in the thrillers I used to read, it was too quiet. There should be more farm bustle now, at the end of the season. I wondered where the farmers were. I wondered why they left this corn standing, yet grateful for the refuge.

Painted in Waterlogue

I silently slid back into the safety of the corn rows behind me and turned away, walking carefully, yet with haste, in an awkward, almost stumbling gate, away from the field. I will come back another time. I was hungry, but I could still wait a while longer. Maybe next time someone will be there for me.

I approached the group of Others, standing like statues in small groups each containing three or four men, for they were all men, standing front to back in short lines. Each group was positioned in a perfect square at the four points of the compass. A line of five men stood still in the middle of the square staring toward the south point.

The first man in the middle motioned for me to go take a place in the east line. The first man in that line slowly turned to look at me and said, “Back of the line Rook.”

“Right,” I acknowledged with a nod and two finger salute.

I noticed all the men in each line were focused on the south corner. They were perfectly still. Not at attention, but in readiness for something to happen. Suddenly, I realized we were still in the corn field, but somehow, now I could see through it, as if it was semi-transparent. I could see the corn but could also see all the men standing in their respective lines. They all wore uniforms of one kind or another. None of them matched but all were somewhat similar. Some had thigh-high pants with long socks, some had long pants that rested on the tops of their shoes. The shoes were different also. Some were black, some white, some a mixture. One man wore no shoes at all. Several of the men standing at the south point, facing north, also wore padded wire fronted masks of various designs.

I tapped the shoulder of the man in front of me and asked, “So what happens next?”

“We wait,” he grunted. “Now shaddup.”

I shut up and waited. Before long a man stepped out of the ghost-corn behind the south point and gestured towards our line.

“Hey, you! Rook. It’s time. Let’s see what you got.”

I left my post and sauntered south towards the masked men, removing the glove from my left hand as I did. I picked a bat from the rack, hefted it and swung it a couple of times before continuing my casual walk to wait at the southern point. For the first time I remembered, I felt at home.

The first ball came straight at my head. I fell back and landed on my butt, hearing chuckles from around the bases.

“Next time, don’t saunter, Rook,” said the manager from behind me. “Walk with some respect.”

“Got it, Skip. Respect,” I muttered.

“Watch out Rook,” said the man squatting behind me, “The next one will be right down the middle.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “It will probably be right down the middle of my gut.”

Thwack! The ball buzzed by me, right down the middle of the plate. I looked behind me and saw a grin behind the mask. Resigned, I grinned myself. Knowing I was accepted. Knowing I really was home.

To my left a factory whistle blew. Everyone turned toward the sound and began to silently move west. The sun was barely visible through the corn. We walked towards the sun until we reached the edge of the corn where we faced the close-cropped field of grass. Flood lights illuminated the red clay outlined green diamond that comprised the field. Bleachers lined the east baseline and three people sat on the top bench, silhouetted by the fading sun.

We left the corn in right field and walked, with respect to our positions.

Am I dreaming or is this Iowa?

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The Highway

I cut the lights a block before I arrived at her house. I hate this part. It was almost 2 AM and like my father always said, “Nothing good ever happens between midnight and four in the morning.” I quietly pulled up in front of the house, turned off my car and silently closed the door. I was palm sweaty nervous and the pit of my stomach was heavy as I again rehearsed the upcoming conversation.

A wide porch ran the front of the house, an old beat up car was parked in the gravel driveway to the right. A single bare light burned above the front door, dangling from two black and white wires and no fixture. As I walked up the porch steps, each one creaked despite my best effort. I knew I would scare her at first sight, but didn’t want to do anything to make the confrontation any worse. There was no doorbell, just an old bell with a tattered rope tied to the clapper. Gently, with a trembling hand, I gave the rope a gentle shake.

After a few moments she opened the inner door, but left the screen closed and locked.

“Yes? What is it?” She said quietly, looking me up and down. After a few moments she added, “Is it Tommy?”

“Ma’am,” I said softly. “Are you Peggy Williams?”

Her eyes widened as she pulled her light night dress tight around her worn nightgown. “Yes, I am,” she answered. Concern filled her face. ”What happened to my Tommy? Where is he?”

My eyes followed hers as she looked past my uniform and the police cap under my arm, towards the patrol car parked on the street. She turned back to look at me, the badge on my chest and ID now opened under the glare of the light for her to read.

“Ma’am? My name is Officer O’Hara. May I come inside? I think you may want to sit down.”

Peggy nodded, unhooked the screen door, backed inside, and flipped the light switch in the living room. As I stepped through the door my mind raced back down the highway were I spent the last few hours.

The call came in around ten. A man, driving home on County 18 came across an accident. A solo car hit a bridge parapet.

After giving dispatch his name and location he added, “It’s bad. Hurry.”

I was just a few miles away on a local road, so I took the call, hit the lights and pulled a u-ey, spitting gravel behind me. I arrived at the bridge within five minutes of the call, took one look, and called for an ambulance.

A car had crashed into and wrapped around the end of the bridge. A second car, with flashers on, was parked across the road. A man crouched in the ditch to the right of the crash. As I approached I saw he was crouching over a body laying in the ditch.
He looked up at me as he said, “Thank god you are here. We need an ambulance.”

“I’m Officer O’Hara. I already called for one, sir. It will be here soon.”

Jaw clenched, he growled to me only, “We don’t have soon, officer. This young man is bad, real bad.”

Now that I was close, I could see the man had the victim’s head resting in his lap and was gently stroking his hair as he talked softly, comforting him.

I knelt down in the dirt and asked the young man if he could talk.

“Yes,” he said with a gurgling sigh. “But not much. I have no breath.”

I looked down at his body. There was blood everywhere. He lay on what was once a windshield, now shattered and scattered all over. The full moon, reflected in the shattered glass, sparkled like stars in heaven glittering in the dirty ground. Blood trickled from his lips and I could hear bubbles in his throat. The man was right. The victim was hurt bad.

Peggy motioned for me to sit in the large easy chair but instead I took one of the hardback straight chairs and turned it to face her as she sat on the sofa with her knees pressed together, long light brown bed mussed hair hanging on her shoulders, eyes red on the verge of tears and terror.

“W..w..what happened to my Tommy?”

“I am sorry Ms. Williams,” I said softly. There was an accident down on the county two way between here and Weybridge.”

“Is Tommy ok? Is he in the hospital?” Peggy said, becoming more desperate.

I hate this part. I could see her verging on hysteria and knew I had to calm her down before she lost it altogether.

“It was bad, Ms. Williams. I can I only tell you the facts I know right now. Would you like a glass of water?”

She nodded and got up to move towards the kitchen. She was a small, young woman, barely more than a girl, barefoot, alone and scared. I followed her into the kitchen, as my mind raced back to the bridge.

The ambulance arrived and the med techs took over. The man who reported the accident stood by, sobbing silently. I went to him and gently put my arm around his waist, guiding him away and back towards his own car.

I looked over my shoulder as the techs started to move the young man. As they lifted him his shirt flopped open giving me a clear view of his ruined chest and abdomen. I tried not to retch as I tightened my grip on the man and guided him away, blocking his view. He didn’t need to live with that vision.

“Sir? I will need your name and address and your statement for my accident report. The techs will take the young man to the hospital in Riverside.”

“But he is so young. I have a son his age,” said the man, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “He asked me to help him, but there was nothing I could do.”

“I know,” I said weakly. “Calling the accident in was the best thing you could do and staying with the victim helped him more than anything else you could have done. But these techs are the best and they will do all they can. What is your name, sir?”

“He is not a victim,” he growled at me. “His name is Tommy. I am Harry Donnelly, officer. I live in Riverside. I was driving home from my swing shift at Papa Joe’s All-night Diner. I am the front manager there. I saw flames when I rounded the corner towards the bridge and slowed way down. When I approached, I saw the car wrapped around the end of the bridge. The windows were all blown out and the engine was on fire. As I went towards the car to see if anyone was still inside I heard Tommy moaning for help down in the ditch. I went down to him and saw he was covered in blood and laying on shattered glass.”

“Did you know the victim, Mr. Donnelly? You said his name was Tommy. Do you know his last name?”

“No, he only told me Tommy. He asked me to help him. He called me “sir” and pleaded for me to help. I knew I shouldn’t move him but I couldn’t just leave him there alone. I gently lifted his head and placed it in my lap, trying not to move any of his body. His chest was covered in blood. I wish the moon wasn’t full. I can never un-see that image.”

“What else did he tell you Mr. Donnelly,” I asked

“He lives with his girlfriend, Peggy Williams. They were high school sweethearts and have been together since graduation. They rent a small house on River Road in town. It’s all they can afford. Tommy is an auto mechanic in Weybridge. He worked a double shift today to try to make a little more money.”

“Thanks for the info sir. It’s a big help. Now, is there anything else you know that I should add to my report?”

“No, Officer, I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything else. I can only see that young man, lying among the stars in the dirt and mud.”

The med techs finished loading Tommy into the ambulance. One of the techs looked over at me, held out his hand and rocked it back and forth indicating that Tommy had a chance, then slowly turned his thumb down, further indicating it was not a good chance.
Peggy sat in one of the four mismatched kitchen chairs carefully arranged around a vinyl gingham covered square table. After she took a sip of water Peggy murmured, “Officer, tell me what happened.”

“Ms. Williams,” I began.

“Please call me Peggy, Officer O’Hara.”

“Ok, then Peggy,” I responded. “Tommy was in an accident on County 18. Apparently he was on his way home, lost control of his car going around the corner approaching the bridge.”

Peggy’s eyes welled up and a tear started down her left cheek.

“It’s not good, Peggy. Tommy is bad. Real bad. The ambulance came and took him to Riverside. I saw them drive away, then I came here.”

“So, he could talk? He told you about me?”

“Not really. A man stopped to help him and Tommy told him about you and the man, his name is Harry Donnelly, comforted him until the ambulance and I arrived. He was a godsend to Tommy, staying with him like he did. By the time I arrived Tommy couldn’t talk much.”

Peggy stood, looked me square in the face and asked, “Then Tommy is still alive, just hurt bad?”

“I don’t know, Peggy but I will check before I leave you tonight.”

Harry sat in his car for a long time after watching the taillights of the ambulance disappear over the bridge. A tow truck showed up to pull the wreck off to the side of the road. The car was too smashed to be towed and they will have to haul it away with a flat bed, probably in the morning.

Finally, Harry turned off the flashers, started his car and drove towards home. He thought of his son, off at his first year of college and wanted to call, but knew it was too late and the call would just upset him. He thought of his wife, no doubt asleep by now and decided to just go home.

I excused myself, stepped back into the living room, called the hospital, identifying myself as the officer in charge of the accident, and asked about Tommy. A moment later the ER nurse told me the worst possible news.

Walking back into the kitchen, I looked at Peggy, unable to say the words, unable to say anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I sadly shook my head.

Peggy just broke down and wailed a long painful cry.

I went over to her, wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. Without my police cap on, my long blond hair cascaded down my shoulders and now fell across Peggy’s head and shoulders as we wept together.

Harry pulled into his driveway, killed the engine and silently closed the door. He entered the house through the back door, as usual, removed his shoes and carefully climbed the stairs to the second floor, avoiding the third step that always squeaked. The bedroom door was open. He walked past, peeking in where his wife was sleeping on her right side, facing away, towards the window. Slowly he continued on to the bathroom where he undressed, brushed his teeth and took his evening meds. Before returning to the bedroom he looked at himself in the mirror. Eyes red from crying, hair an angry tangle and face streaked with mud, he looked exactly as he felt, a mess. He washed his face and hands, turned off the light and headed to bed.

Harry slowly climbed into bed lay on his right side, rested his head on his right hand. He lay there for a long time just looking at his wife, watching her breathe, before he slid across the bed, put his left arm over her waist and carefully spooned her trying to touch every point of her body with his.

Sleepily she murmured, “Are you alright, Harry? It’s late. I was worried.`”

“Go back to sleep darling. I was delayed on my way home, I will be ok in the morning.”

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Havana Rose

“It’s 100 degrees out Rose. Do you really want to go for a walk?”

“It’s NOT a choice, Dad. I gotta go outside,” Rosie said with a strong sense of urgency.

“Anyway, it’s a dry heat. Not like back home.”

I snuck a quick look out of the side of my eye at her, like a husband in a Hooters, and said, “It’s humid in San Jose, Rosie? California, that is.”

As I opened the drawer on the end of the drop leaf table in the front hallway and removeD her bright pink leash, Rosie started running around my legs, dancing and prancing.

“Let’s get a move on Dad. I really gotta go!”

I snapped the leash on her pink collar and walked the five steps to the front door, flipped the deadbolt and swung the door open for Rosie to go first. Rosie always goes first. We walked around the white hibiscus that blocks most of the left side of the walkway then up the driveway to the left of Fran’s red Prius.

“Yes, Rose, we are going up and around.”

There are two ways to go for a walk when leaving the house, up or down. “Up” starts the long walk east around the first Scenic Drive, while “down” leads west to the short walk to the mail box, about a hundred yards down the second Scenic Drive. There is really only one Scenic Drive, just two street signs. Scenic is a loop off of Newland Heights. Every time we walk the “Up” route I imagine this area in a few hundred years, after the climate has changed, and the icecaps have melted. We will live on a peninsula and will have waterfront property. Well, not “we” but someone will, and probably not in our house either.

When we reached the corner, Rosie looked over her shoulder at me as I say, “Cross the street, Rosalita,” and she turned back and crossed to walk down Newland, tugging her leash with even more urgency. She squatted and peed near the yellow fire hydrant then stopped to sniff a flowering bush.

“Watch out one of the bees doesn’t sting your nose!”

“Don’t worry, Dad, they won’t. We have an understanding.”

I looked directly at her and said, “Let me get this right. You have an understanding with the bees that they won’t sting your nose? How does that work?”

Rosie turned to face me. “It’s simple, Dad. I won’t pee on their flowers and they won’t sting me.”

“But you are a girl, Rose. You couldn’t pee on their flower bushes anyway.”

“Sure, you know that, and I know that, but the bees don’t know that, and I want to keep it that way, capisce?”

By the time we were about halfway down the first Scenic I worked up the nerve to ask,

“Ok, Rose. Explain what you meant back in the house when you said, “it was a dry heat, not like back home.”

“Oh, that’s simple. I was referring to Havana. Do you know how hot and humid it is there in the summer?”

I didn’t, but assumed it was like south Florida where Fran and I used to live, before California and Rosie.

She continued, “It will be 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Now that is hot. It’s miserable.”

Not wishing to start an argument, or even a heated discussion, you know how snarky Rosie can become if questioned about her past, I softly and cautiously ask, “Rosie. I do not believe you have ever been to Havana. You know that’s in Cuba and that Cuba is an island off the coast of Florida, don’t you?”

We had turned toward the northwest, around the tip of the ultimate Scenic peninsula when Rosie found her spot. After she finished the real reason for the walk, I cleaned up after her and told her what a good dog she was, Rosie said, “Of course I have not been to Havana and yes I know it is a Caribbean island of the south tip of Florida. In fact its about 90 miles from Florida.”

Sweetly, Rosie asked, “Dad, what kind of dog am I?”

“You are part Havanese and part Poodle. I guess that means you are a HavaPoodle or Poodanese. That doesn’t mean you have ever been to either Cuba or Germany, you know. Or that you know anything about either country.”

Rosie didn’t say a word. She just glared at me for a long moment, before she started tugging her leash pulling us towards home.

As we were heading north, I knew the conversation was going south when Rosie said quietly, “Dad, is there air on the moon?”

“Nooooo,” I replied with some trepidation. “There is no air on the moon.”

“And have you been to the moon, Dad?”

“You know I haven’t Rose. But you know I watch a lot of astronomy shows and lectures. It is a well known fact there is no air on the moon.”

“Exactly, Dad. Exactly. Just like it is a well known fact that the Caribbean Islands are hot and humid during the summer, and it is summer Dad. It is summer here in California, a state I have never left, and it’s summer in Havana, in the Caribbean, in the Northern Hemisphere, Dad. And by the way, there is no air on the moon, but there is on Mars, but then you knew that too, didn’t you Dad?”

“Oh look! There’s Mom’s car. Let’s go see mom,” I said, ending the argument, or at least ending the snark session. I decided not to tell her capisce is Italian, not Spanish. Sometimes peace at all costs is worth considering.

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The Pleasure Machine

She is a small, dark complexioned woman, not five feet tall, but of course, she is sitting now, one hand resting next to the button on the pleasure panel in front of her and the other holding both a now cold coffee between her forefinger and thumb and a dead cigarette dangling between her ring and little fingers. After one drag some of the ash fell into the coffee, but she is oblivious.ea185061-1f39-4a6c-b142-8e9a39926ca2

“I almost had it that time bud. Just a few more and I know I will hit. And the next one will be the big one,” she said under her breadth.

“That’s my girl,” IT said. “You know you are the best, the luckiest. It’s a sure thing. Try again.”

Her name is Betty, or perhaps Bette. The skin on her face is drawn tight, severe wrinkles crease her lips and the corners of her brown eyes. Bette appears to be Asian, or perhaps just part. Her black hair is tucked under her Mao styled cap, with a large white pocketbook slung over her shoulder by a large bright gold chain.

She hung her lightweight yellow-gold overcoat on the back of her stool, revealing a slightly lighter gold blouse and pant set she wore underneath.

“C’mon baby. Do it for Bette. Just one time. C’mon.”

The lights of the LED pleasure display illumines her face, casting it in an unbecoming yellow pall. Multi-colored dials reflect characters, or fruits, or X’s, depending on who she is playing tonight, in her eyes which see nothing beyond those wheels of hope and dreams.

“Not this time Sweetheart. I am not tossing my cookies tonight. Not for you, Not for anyone.”

Bette scowled. “Why do they always do this to me? Always promises, always empty promises, never delivered.”

Back when her husband would join her, Bette enjoyed the game. They would drop her kids off at her mom’s, top off the gas tank at the local Esso and drive all night. Last year they found a self-park and would leave their car there, for three dollars a day, before ditching the suitcase at the motel and catching the 22 bus downtown. They would drink, party and play all night until finally stumbling back to their first floor room at the motel to sleep the day away. They liked the first floor. Stairs were to be avoided after nights like theirs.

She hit the button one more time. “C’mon dammit.”

IT smiled knowingly at her, triple X’s at the top of the two outside wheels and one in the middle.

Her husband’s name was Bill but everyone called him “Wick.” No one knew why. It is just what Wick wanted. He was a few years older than Bette but that didn’t seem to matter to either of them. They got along well, he didn’t hit her and never yelled, and he was good to her kids.

One night while she was pounding the pleasure machine he was at the roulette table and somehow scored big, really big. Bette never knew if he just let it ride because that tall blonde cocktail waitress, with the cute little ass he was so fond of caressing, distracted him, or he was actually calculating the spins true to his long time “Wick’s Sure Fire System.”

Anyway, Wick cashed in without Bette, grabbed the blonde, probably by the ass, and disappeared that very night, leaving her alone, with her own passion, a beat up old Plymouth, and a motel bill.

The noise was deafening. Dings, rings, bells, horns, sirens all around her, but seldom because of her. She was oblivious to it all and just stared ahead, her face tattooed with the glare of the screen.

Her kids now lived with her mom. She rarely saw them anymore. She sold the car for a few hundred bucks, which kept her playing for a while. The motel kicked her out last month. At least they didn’t make her pay the balance she owed. Now she slept with whomever would give her a bed, or a couch, or floor. She begged for a stake and as long as she was playing, the casino doors stayed open for her.

Bette stood up and arched her back. She looked to both sides then moved two machines to the left, bringing her long neck Bud with her. She sat back down and said “Hello, friend. I don’t think I know you. What is your name?”

“Hi Bette. You may not know me, but we all know you,” IT said, smiling. “Have a seat.”

Continue reading

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Rosie You Turkey

We left for our morning walk at 5:45 AM as usual, and, as usual, walked up the driveway

Turkey2 Watercolor before turning left up Scenic Drive toward Newsome Heights. The hedges lost their beautiful spring red flowers, or leaves, I could never be sure which they were. We turned right, past the yellow fire hydrant. Rosie has no interest in the fire hydrant. Maybe because she squats to pee and doesn’t lift her leg, or maybe because none of her friends frequent it either. We passed John’s house on the right then Harry and Kathrine’s house on the corner, next to the second yellow fire hydrant. Then we saw them, or rather they saw us. There were a lot of them this morning, not the three or four we often see.

“Dad? Can I chase them, Dad? Can I?” Rosie asked anxiously, stretching her neck towards the turkeys while making our usual right turn down the other end of Scenic Drive, all the while straining on her bright pink leash. .

“No, Rosie. Leave them alone. It’s too early for any noise, besides, there are too many and if you spook them they could attack you and believe me, you don’t want that. Wild turkeys can be vicious.”

“But Dad…”

“No, Rose. Behave and be a good girl.”

The turkeys saw, or heard, or caught scent of Rosie, or me, and started to trot away. As we moved closer they picked up their pace. There must have been more than a dozen of them running across, and down the road into the yards, around the trees and cars of the residents on the left side of the street.

Rosie continued to pull on the leash straining towards the fleeing turkeys, urging them on. I couldn’t bring myself to say “egging” them on. Several of the turkeys took flight and escaped to the roof of the first house on the left.

“Wow! Look at that Dad!. That is one big bird!”

“I told you so. You don’t want to mess with one of them, much less a whole flock.”

“Hey Dad. Are they a flock or a rafter of turkeys? I always forget which is which.”

Luckily I had my smart phone, I never leave home without it, and Googled a “flock of turkeys.” Apparently, domesticated turkeys are a rafter and wild turkeys are a flock. I didn’t know that. At this point half the turkeys were on the roof of the house and the

balance were beat-feeting it down Scenic where they disappeared around someone’s house.

A few minutes later I responded,  “They are a flock. They are wild turkeys.”

A second later Rosie queried, “They live around humans and nest in their back yards. Are you calling that wild or domesticated?”

“They are wild. They aren’t raised as food and don’t live in cages or behind fences.”

“I don’t live in a cage, and I am not raised as human food. Am I a wild dog then?”

“You are a pet, sort of. Dogs are not turkeys. The rules are different,” I said, becoming exasperated. Sometimes walking Rosalita is more work than is apparent, or necessary.

“That seems very unfair to the turkeys. I think they are as domesticated as I am so

henceforth I am going to refer to groups of our neighborhood turkeys as rafters.”

“Henceforth?” I thought. “Where does she come up with this crap. She is just a dog, for crying out loud.”

“Humph,” she huffed. “Just a dog? With more sense than many, dare I say it, MOST humans?”

“Wait,” I stopped walking. “I didn’t say that out loud. Are you reading my thoughts now?”

“No, Dad. Don’t have cow, or a bird, heh heh. Get it? I am just reading your expression and body language. I don’t need to read your thoughts to know what you are thinking. Your face says it all and your body confirms it.”

“Well stop it and try to remember who is the Dad here and who is the dog.”

Oh how I wished 6:00 AM would come so Smerconish would start and I could pay attention to the XM radio instead of this cute little demon on a bright pink leash.

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Rosie’s Secret Garden

“Garden, Rose. Garden!”

She looked up from her designated spot on the sofa, cuddled up against Mom, then put her head back down on her front paws, oops I meant feet, not paws. She had corrected me about that often enough. I didn’t want to re-litigate that discussion.

“Hey! Let’s go to the garden, Rosie. Come on. Get up!”

Rosie lifted her head again, glanced in my direction, then back at Mom. Slowly she stood up, stretched her front end, legs out straight and low and butt high in the air before she leaned forward and stretched her hind end until her legs started to shake.

“Ok, Dad. I am coming, sheesh. Give me a break. I was sleepin’ here”

I knew she wasn’t sleeping but let it go. I opened the hallway door that leads into the garage and Rosie ran past me looking back over her right shoulder.

“Hey! Dad! Let’s get a move on. You DID want to go to the garden, didn’t you?”

She pranced across the garage door as if this whole garden visit was her idea all along. One thing about Rosie you may not know. She doesn’t walk, she prances. It’s almost a bounce as she moves. When she walks, or prances, it is a thing of beauty, the embodiment of joy.

I caught up to her as she reached the side garage door. Cement steps run down the east side of the house to the back yard. Little sun shines on these steps so I have a constant battle with moss and lichen growing on the risers.

“‘Bout time,” she said and looked up at me. “I was beginning to wonder if you changed your mind.”

I unlocked and opened the door, turned left and started down. She always walks on my left when we walk down the stairs. She likes to be next to the house and not next to the bushes and black steel tubular railing that border the right side of the steps.

As usual when we reach the half-way landing she pauses and stretches her head up so I can touch her nose with my left fingertips. Then, she prances down the rest of the steps and stops at the bottom in an attack crouch. Rosie always surveys the entire back yard, in case there was a errant squirrel or foolish bird who landed in the vicinity of the garden by without considering the consequences. I think she is disappointed when there is nothing to chase.

Rosie looked back at me, as if she needed permission, then, took off running across the back yard towards the garden. You may remember from earlier comments, Rosie is a very good runner. Not just good, but fast also. Very fast. While she prances with joy, when she runs she is in ecstasy. Do you remember Eric, the lead in “Chariots of Fire?” When he ran you could see the joy in the perfect union of body and spirit. That is Rosie.

Rosie stopped by the potato barrel and said, “I thought you were going to add more soil to your potatoes, Dad.”

“I am, but I was away last weekend, remember?”

Oops. I shouldn’t have said that. It will just remind her she spent the weekend at the “Lucky Dog” with her doggie “friends”.

Rosie turned and faced me directly. I waited.

Finally, she repeated, “Add more soil to your potatoes or you won’t maximize the yield.”

“Ok. Will do. Let’s just check what else we can find.”

“Alright, just don’t forget. Also, did you notice the light green leaves on the bottom of the key lime tree? You are probably overwatering it.”

Now I am becoming concerned. Rosie certainly knows a lot, but she is not a master gardener. She is a dog. Where could she have come up with a comment like that?

“Hey! Dad! Come over here. Your snap peas need to be harvested.”

“Ok. I’ll go get a bag to put them in.”

“Wait. Let’s finish checking out the rest of the garden. I think you finally adjusted the raised garden irrigation properly. The jalapeños are improving, and all the tomatoes look good. I guess you can go get a bag and pick the peas. I will just lay here in the sun and wait for you.”

“Wait a minute. How do you know so much about gardening? You do realize you are only a dog don’t you?”

“Only?” Then, the silence was deafening.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean only. I’m sorry.”

Quietly, Rosie said, “Do you expect me to ignore the enormous number of instructional gardening videos you watch on YouTube? Did you know you talk out loud when you read the gardening tips in the newspaper? Are you aware that you talk incessantly about your garden when we come down here? How can I not know about gardening? At least one of us is young enough to still remember the instructions and gardening tips. Go get a bag for the peas.”

I turned and climbed the steps to the house wondering, “When did I lose control here? Did I ever really have control?”


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