Longer Stories

WAYSIDE CHAPEL – My Childhood Memory

On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar famously walked off his show for a month at NBC. Paar abruptly quit The Tonight Show four minutes into programming after discovering that a joke of his that included the letters “W.C.”, meaning “water closet” (a polite term for a flush toilet) had been censored. As he left his desk he said, “I am leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way than this to make a living.”

Paar returned to the show on March 7, 1960, strolled onstage, struck a pose and looked right into the camera. “As I was saying”, he said “before I was interrupted.” Of course, the audience erupted in applause.

He continued, “When I walked off I said there must be a better way to make a living. Well, I’ve looked and there isn’t. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like Radio City. Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I’m totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past. Any who are maligned will find this show a place to come and tell their story. There will be a rock in every snowball and I plan to continue exactly what I started out to do. I hope you will find it interesting.”

Jack Paar hosted The Tonight Show from 1957-1962. He took over the show from Steve Allen and then passed the comedic torch to newcomer Johnny Carson. At the time, Paar was called “The King of Late Night TV”. When Johnny Carson became host, he humbly settled for being called “The Prince of Late Night TV”. Paar retired in 1965. When asked why he didn’t do more television, he replied “I’ve said everything I want to say and met everyone I want to meet. Why hang around?” His trademark catchphrase was “I kid you not!”

As a teenager I remember coming across a book on one of the shelves in our living room called “I Kid You Not“; the author was Jack Paar. The infamous W.C. joke was in that book. Even as a teenager I roared with uncontrollable laughter as I read it, tears streaming down my face. I hope you will find the joke as funny as I did. Have some tissues ready for those tears of laughter!

THE HARMLESS W.C. JOKE THAT CAUSED ALL THAT TROUBLE

An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room for a more extended stay and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms and when everything was settled the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.

When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a W.C. around the place. She immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there was a W.C. near the room.

The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters W.C. and the only solution they could come up with was the Wayside Chapel. The schoolmaster then wrote the following note to the English lady:

Dear Madam:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding about 230 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday.
As there are a great number of people who are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early although, as a rule, there is plenty of standing room. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is musical accompaniment.
It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was incredible to see the expressions on their faces.
The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people since they believe it is a long-felt need. My wife is rather delicate and has trouble attending regularly.
I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone. For the children there is a special time and place so they will not disturb the elders.
Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,
Sincerely,
The Schoolmaster

NAR © 2021

Information in this post was compiled from the following sources:
“TV Acres Censorship & Scandals; Jack Paar’s Water Closet Joke on The Tonight Show”; Frogstrom “Jack Paar Walks Away”


250 Words

THE BUTCHER BOY

Dangerous was too tame a word to describe Lyle Benson; no, he was treacherous, savage, vicious and murderous – but you’d never know by looking at him.

Lyle was one of those men blessed with movie star good looks and a silver tongue which the ladies found charming and irresistible. He also had a photographic memory and had acquired a broad knowledge covering many different topics. He was what women called ‘a keeper’; problem was any lady who hooked up with Lyle Benson was never seen again.

Just a flunkey, Lyle learned the tricks of the trade by working for crime lord George “Bugs” Moran, Al Capone’s primary rival. Moran was so sadistic he once kidnapped and mutilated a bodyguard of Capone’s, then mailed back what little was left.

Watching Moran in action always got Lyle’s engine revving. In a salacious frenzy, he’d hunt down some sweet innocent. He’d impress her with his wit and savoir faire. Lyle would tell her he was a doctor, his black bag always by his side. He’d wine and dine her, then drive to his secluded cabin where he’d unhurriedly butcher her until she pleaded for death. Only then as she gasped her last breath could the butcher boy get an erection. Only then could he have an orgasm.

But Lyle also had a compassionate side. He’d regularly send flowers to his catatonic mother and sister, residents in a Canadian asylum. He never could bring himself to kill them but the boy had to start somewhere.

NAR © 2021

Poems

A MOONLIT SILHOUETTE – Guest Post by Paul Griffiths in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October)

Even in the cold evening air she’s finding it hard to breathe.
She knows he’ll be home soon, her safest option is to leave.
It’s going to be one of those nights, she can feel the static in the air.
It feels safer to be somewhere else, anywhere but there.

She feels so forlorn tonight out on the street feeling so alone.
Freedom for a few hours is still freedom; she likes being on her own.
Lost in her own thoughts trying to escape from her own life.
Anchor chained to the kitchen sink, she’s feeling like a Stepford wife.

Heavy of heart and mind she bites down on her inner pain.
Thinking of nothing in particular, her self doubt still remains.
Her head is mixed up with the daily grind, she’s feelin’ so confused.
Is this what true love feels like, only to be left feeling used?

Promises get broken and the hurt of rejection always stings.
Trying to make sense of chaos from nonsensical stupid things.
Cut off from her friends, she feels empty and alone.
Knowing there’s another argument waiting for her back at home.

So she just keeps walking in the same old circles with no place to go.
Thoughts whizzing around her head, yet her footsteps seem so slow.
She used to be scared of her own shadow and afraid of the dark.
Now her shadow protects her, as they walk arm and arm in the park.

As the heavens open up above her and the rain begins to pour
She smiles through the tears but she can’t live like this anymore.
The outpouring can’t wash away that feeling that she feels like dirt.
Just can’t sugar-coat a back-hander; even the memory of it still hurts.

Walking and walking for hours until her poor feet start to ache.
Trying to decide what’s for the best and what path she should take.
As she comes full circle on herself and arrives back at the start.
Hoping things might be different as her world falls apart.

He always swears down that he’s sorry, this comes as no surprise.
She’s used to his bullshit; she’s a human polygraph machine with eyes.
But she doesn’t want to argue she is too emotionally drained to fight.
Still lost in her own little world walking the dead end streets at night.

It’s getting time to bite the bullet and return to a life of wedded bliss.
She never knows what mood he’s in when he’s been out on the piss.
The bus shelter looks so inviting, a safe harbour from the pouring rain.
Is it time to go home and face the music or go around and around again?

Eyes bulging with the weight of tears she wears a lost look on her face.
The lights are on at the window, so she quickly walks past her place.
Questioning her own existence, thinking is this as good as shit gets.
As she drifts back into the shadows to become a moonlit silhouette.

PTG © copyright

300-500 Words

CRACKER JACK DAYS

When I was a kid growing up in The Bronx my favorite snack was Cracker Jack. It didn’t matter that the molasses-flavored, caramel-covered popcorn and peanuts got stuck in our teeth and remained there for hours; it was just too tasty to resist. My Dad used to say we were putting our dentist’s kids through college because we were there so often!

I’d run to the store with my allowance and grab the red, white and blue box with a picture of Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo just begging you to indulge in the sweet golden nuggets. That image of Jack popping a piece into his mouth made our tummies rumble and our mouths water. Back in 1960 a box of Cracker Jack cost 10 cents – one thin dime. In big letters was the message that made our little hearts flutter:

NEW PRIZE INSIDE!

We’d excitedly rip into the box wondering what we’d find. Would it be a decoder ring, plastic figurines, miniature notebooks, stickers, baseball cards or temporary tattoos? Once the surprise was revealed, we’d get to business gleefully stuffing our faces until our bellies hurt! My Cracker Jack treasures were stored in one of my mother’s large mason jars which I kept on my desk in my room; it was a clear vessel so I could easily see all my prizes – a plethora of multi-colored playthings and trinkets which to me looked like precious gems. Sometimes my friends and I would get together and trade prizes; the boys always wanted the baseball cards and miniature guns while the girls were more interested in the tiny baby dolls and jewelry. A big favorite was always the plastic whistle which we’d blow continuously while running around the house causing our parents to grimace and cover their ears.

Cracker Jack became so popular with people of all ages, it was even sold at the world-famous Yankee Stadium. A hot dog, a soda and a box of Cracker Jack – you couldn’t ask for more to make a perfect day with the Yanks – except a win, of course! You remember the old song, don’t you? I bet you’re singing it right now:

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back!
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game!”

Nowadays kids won’t find surprise toys and trinkets in snack or cereal boxes and that’s a damn shame. Those days are gone; I guess somebody decided those little treasures were a “choking hazard”. Funny how back then we never heard about anyone choking on a Cracker Jack toy, getting sick from drinking water out of the garden hose or crossing their eyes so much they’d get stuck that way. We’d do our homework right away so we could go outside to play with our friends instead of plopping down on the couch watching shows like “Felix the Cat”, “Sky King” or “The Lone Ranger“. When the street lights came on, we knew it was time to run home for dinner – and our moms never had to yell out the window for us to get home. Man, those were simpler times!

Today there are only a couple of surprises about Cracker Jack and they’re not very good ones: there are no more peanuts because too many kids have nut allergies; a box costs way more than 10 cents and you don’t even get a full box for your money. And the only message on the package is “CONTENTS MAY SETTLE IN TRANSIT”. What big change occurred in transportation to result in the “settling phenomenon”? Just one more crazy thing to ponder in the year 2021.

Boy, I sure do miss those Cracker Jack days.

NAR © 2021

Poems

THE PAIN LIVES ON – Guest Post by Paul Griffiths

Proud to present this poignant poem to you written by my friend Paul Griffiths, the Birkenhead Poet. To say more would not do this poem justice; it’s perfectly and eloquently written. Thank you, Paul.

How bad must life be when you freely choose to die?
If suicide is the answer then the question must be “why?”.
Why did you do what you did, why did you want it all to end?
You reached out to the reaper, instead of reaching out to a friend.

Did you think that no one loved you, loved you enough to really care?
Were you even thinking at all, caught in your own world of despair?
When your world was crumbling did you feel all hope is gone?
So alone in those final moments not wanting to carry on.

There’s a song that says suicide is painless but that isn’t true.
The pain gets passed on to your loved ones – pain left behind by you.
Your hurt becomes their guilt, your pain becomes their pain.
Believing in some way you failed them, never to see you again.

All that is left is heartbreak and regrets; it’s too late now – you’re gone.
Your suffering is finally over yet your pain sadly lingers on.
Did it have to come to this, did it have to end this way?
Sometimes simple words like “Help Me” are the most difficult to say.

Suffering in silence whilst welcoming the grave.
There’s no coming back from this when the decision has been made.
Suicide is not the answer to a desperate cry for help.
A problem shared is a problem halved, but you kept yours to yourself.

When those dark clouds gather above you and your tears fall like rain
Please don’t be afraid to ask for help, to help to ease your pain.
Death, it is so final and life is often full of sorrow.
Even though life isn’t easy it might be a brighter day tomorrow.

Asking if you’re alright may save a life. September is Suicide Awareness Month. x

PTG © copyright

500-750 Words

TASTY BALLS

“Mohammedan-owned Chinese/Tai/Himalayan/Middle Eastern/Indian restaurant – well, you certainly don’t see too many of those in Lancaster, Pennsylvania but there it is right in the heart of the downtown dining district. This meeting of culinary minds is definitely intriguing and what an original and humorous name –Tasty Balls’. That caught my eye and gave me a good laugh as I read about the new exotic fusion restaurant in the newspaper.

I wondered if my wife Judith intentionally left the paper on the kitchen table conveniently opened to the dining section for me to see. Judith has many fine attributes; subtlety is not one of them.

We met soon after I graduated college. I took a year off to backpack my way through Asia and the Middle East. Money was tight so I had to be frugal while traveling; that’s how I learned to find really good food at cheap prices.

While trekking through China, I stopped at a noodle and dumpling place. I was drawn to the sound of feminine laughter coming from the next table. There were two pretty blondes who looked to be around my age; I asked if I could join them and they agreed. Judith and Eunice were cousins from England on holiday. I hit it off quite well with Judith and we agreed to meet the next night for dinner. After that night we knew we wanted to be together and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I continued reading the article, I learned this new restaurant was operated by the same people who managed a nearby tea house called ‘The Barefoot Magpie’ – another place I’d never heard of. How can this be? I’ve lived in Lancaster all my life and thought I knew every place there was to eat. Obviously I haven’t been getting out enough lately.

What’s this? ‘Tasty Balls’ serves only one item: dumplings. What made it so special was the staggering number of varieties of dumplings on the menu. Now I knew without a doubt that Judith left this article here for me to stumble upon; she knows I am the world’s biggest sucker for dumplings!

Well now, let’s see what else the article says: “Extravagantly yet handsomely decorated … moderately priced … perfectly prepared dumplings … culinary delight.” My stomach rumbled and my mouth watered as I read a description of just a tiny sampling of dumplings offered at ‘Tasty Balls’: 

  • Jiaozi – A Chinese dumpling consisting of delicately sautéed ground meat and chopped vegetables wrapped into a thinly rolled dough-ball which is then fried to a golden brown or gently steamed.
  • Xiaolongbao – A Taiwanese delicacy, this steamed dumpling has meat and broth inside. The small, succulent orb is meant to be eaten whole; one bite and the fortunate diner’s mouth is filled with liquid ambrosia.
  • Momos – A staple from Tibet and Nepal, these delectable pouches are filled with yak, beef or chicken and have become an obsession with the patrons at ‘Tasty Balls’.
  • Shish Barak – Middle Eastern ravioli-like envelopes filled with seasoned lamb, onion and pine nuts, these piquant squares are boiled, baked or fried and served in a warm yogurt sauce with melted mint butter and a garnish of chopped cashew nuts.
  • Muthia – This Indian delight consists of chickpea flour, turmeric, chili powder, curry powder and salt bonded together with oil. Once shaped, these fritters can either be fried or steamed, depending on personal preference.
  • Luqaimat – Originally from Saudi Arabia, this luscious dessert translates into “small bites”. Found in many Middle Eastern countries, this is a treat of fried dough sweetened with date syrup and garnished with sesame seeds. With a scoop of pistachio ice cream, this is a delightful end to an unforgettable meal.

I suddenly realized the newspaper was wet; either I was salivating over the scrumptious description of dumplings or I was crying tears of joy that this heaven-sent restaurant was now located in little old Lancaster. Oh, what joy, what rapture!

Judith came into the kitchen, took one look at my face and asked “What in the world has come over you?”

Holding up the soggy newspaper I exclaimed “This – as if you didn’t know, you little minx! Tempting me with an article about delectable dumplings.  Well, it worked. It’s ‘Tasty Balls’ tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t think so, luv” Judith laughed. “That’s Cousin Eunice’s. She must have left it behind when she returned to the UK after her visit. That paper is from Lancaster, England!

If I had a sword I would have fallen on it.

NAR © 2021

Poems

MISS JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

Their house sits high upon a cliff
With water and rocks all around.
But something stinks, just take a whiff;
You don’t need no bloody bloodhound.

Such a lovely couple when they were out;
Good looking and dressed oh so fine.
There was never a reason for people to doubt
Their union was anything but sublime.

However, one thing could not be denied:
The young lass she never did smile.
With eyes often red as if she’d just cried,
A certain fear one could sense for a mile.

As fine as they looked, one dared not approach;
They were cloaked in a dark shroud of danger.
She seemed to annoy him and he would reproach
With words filled with malice and anger.

She was prim and proper, always quiet and shy,
While he acted quite pompous and proud.
It was obvious to all; we soon found out why:
He liked mocking her and talking too loud

A week or two passed with nary a sight
Of the couple we called Jekyll and Hyde.
We all had our theories which gave us a fright,
A feeling Miss Jekyll had horribly died.

Some folks say our claims are nothing but folly,
People getting carried away with their thoughts.
But Hyde came to town like a peacock so jolly,
To pick up a large jar he just bought.

Now on Hyde’s arm is a red-headed floozy
As flashy as the peacock himself.
Her perfume smells cheap while he is all boozy.
And a jar with Miss Jekyll’s head sits on a shelf.

NAR © 2021

Poems

PHAT ASS RAP

🎤  🎼 🎤 🎵 🎤 🎶 🎤

Weighed myself on the bathroom scale today.
I gained fifteen pounds. No goddamn way!
Eatin’ Dunkin Donuts – now what you gonna do?
With an ass that big no man will look at you.

Planned a two-week vacation in the land of Eritrea.
Lookin’ like a tub of lard they just might mistake ya
For an elephant, a rhino, or a hippo or a pig.
Why’d I ever let myself get so fucking big!

Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught in a trap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught like a rat.

Suppose I could put myself on a damn diet.
I really don’t wanna cos I know I won’t like it.
Why don’t I just get a pass to my local gym?
Hop right on the treadmill and get myself slim.

Lots of them gym rats look mighty hunky;
Maybe one or two will like a girl who’s chunky.
But working out will have me sweating like crazy.
Fact of the matter is I’m just too goddamn lazy!

Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught in a trap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught like a rat.

Got me a pair of some violet spandex pants
But I didn’t look like JLO when she does a sexy dance.
I looked like a balloon in the Christmas Day parade
Or a big fat ass clown in the penny arcade.

At the gym was some guy called Aristophanes,
All greased up and looking pretty as you please.
This guy was hotter than melting candle wax.
I wanna take him home, give his ass a few smacks.

Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught in a trap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught like a rat.

I started warmin’ up and I know I caught his eye
Cos he walked right up to me saying “My, oh my!
You are one fine mama in those pants so tight.
Let’s blow this joint and have some fun tonight!”

I said “Oh yeah, baby. You lookin’ mighty hot.
Come back to my place and show me what you got.”
But when we got home he couldn’t get my pants off
He was a-huffin’ and a-puffin’ like Sir Peter Ustinov.

Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught in a trap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The phat ass rap.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m caught like a rat.

My ass got so big it filled up my recliner
And here I was thinkin’ I looked even finer
Than Kim Kardashian and her big ass sister too
But I was plenty wrong! Oh, what’s a girl to do?

Now wait just a minute – there still may be some hope.
That guy called Aristophanes thought I looked so dope.
I’ll go back to the gym in spandex all a-glitter
And this time they will have a nice long zipper!

Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Let’s cut out all this drama!
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I’m a phat ass mama!
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Let’s cut out all this drama!
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Just call me when you wanna!

🎤  🎼 🎤 🎵 🎤 🎶 🎤

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

BURNING MAN

John and his friend Danny at the grill

We’ve all heard the expression “Where there’s smoke there’s fire”. Well, if you were ever around the vicinity of Hawkins Street on City Island in The Bronx, particularly 50-something years ago, you’d agree that statement is true.

You see, back then John and Gertrude and their four kids lived on Hawkins Street, #93 to be exact. It was a cute little white saltbox house with blue trim – emphasis on little as are most houses on City Island, many of which were originally built of wood from dismantled ships. The main entrance to the house was a glass enclosed front porch maybe about five feet deep and 20 feet wide. Inside the porch was a door that led to the living room; for some reason no one ever used the front door. Everyone entered through a side door near the back of the house down the driveway – probably because it was easy to just get out of the car and walk a few feet to the side door.

That side door opened onto a long narrow unheated porch where Gertrude would store fruits and vegetables and other sundry food items. The porch ran almost the entire length of the house and opened directly into the kitchen. From there, heading toward the front of the house, you’d find the dining room, a small step up into the living room and the previously mentioned front porch. A staircase leading to the second floor was situated between the living room and dining room. Upstairs were two bedrooms and single bathroom for six people. One bedroom was John and Gertrude’s; the other was shared by their four kids. The three boys had the main area and their sister’s “room” was a small section off the boy’s room that was originally a closet. The only entry into the girl’s bedroom was through her brother’s room – certainly not much privacy. The house had no attic, basement or any other storage area.

To say the house was “cozy” is an understatement but they managed. It was a happy house and it served them well.

John worked for the New Haven Railroad at the Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest wholesale produce market in the United States. One of the perks of John’s job was he got to bring home leftover fruit, vegetables and other items that got left behind or “fell off the trains” – a real bonus for a family of six living on one income. Whatever John brought home, Gertrude didn’t have to buy at the grocery store and could spend a bit more on meat and other staples. Gertrude knew how to stretch a dollar and once in a while the family would enjoy a nice steak. There was a cute little dog named Fluff who lived across the street. He’d come running whenever John lit the grill and waited patiently till the end of the meal for the steak bones. If there was one thing John really enjoyed it was getting a good fire going in the old grill.

Gertrude had a clothesline that ran from the back of the house across the yard to the opposite side where it was attached to a section of the wooden mast from the America’s Cup contender “Vanitie”. Hauled up at Jacob’s Shipyard on City Island, “Vanitie” had been dismantled and stripped of everything, even her bowsprit. Nothing remained but the hull and mast of the once beautiful sloop; how that section of the mast ended up in the backyard at 93 Hawkins Street was a mystery to the family but it sure was a conversation piece. Surrounding the mast were a number of cherry and fig trees and an assortment of bushes. Off to the side was an old shack which was barely standing.

One day John decided it would be an easy and enjoyable task for a fire-lover such as himself to get rid of the shack by burning it piece by piece on the grill instead of dismantling the whole thing and lugging all the pieces of wood and shingles to the junkyard. After all, he burned all the detritus in the garage – why not the shed?

The smell was terribly acrid and the amount of smoke was enough for neighbors to call the fire department several times until they finally realized it was just John burning pieces of the shack. Some men spent their spare time constructing additions to their houses; John incinerated dilapidated outbuildings of his house. Fire is mesmerizing and he was getting the job done, albeit in an unconventional manner.

Over the course of several months that old shack gradually disappeared. On the last day of the sacrifice by fire, John got a bit carried away and loaded up the grill with the last remaining pieces. Well, I think you can guess what happened next.

The flames grew higher and one spark leapt up and kissed Gertrude’s clothesline, setting it and all the drying laundry ablaze. The fire continued down to the end of the line, igniting the trees and a few surrounding bushes; somehow the old resolute mast miraculously escaped damage. Hearing Fluff barking his head off, Gertrude looked out the window to see John desperately trying to salvage what he could of the backyard. Billowing clouds of dark smoke filled the sky above Hawkins Street and beyond.

Gertrude ran to the phone to call the fire department; so did a dozen other people. Thank goodness they didn’t simply think “Oh, that’s just John at the grill again”. The fire trucks arrived in time to salvage what was left of the yard. The same, however, could not be said for John’s sorely wounded pride.

Fifty-plus years later and we’re still talking and laughing about my father-in-law John’s adventures at the grill.

NAR © 2021

Vanitie

Written in loving memory of my father-in-law and mother-in-law John and Gertrude Richy, both taken from us much too soon. ❤️

The annual Burning Man Festival is traditionally held from the end of August through Labor Day which is why I chose this date to publish my story.

300-500 Words

A BRUSH WITH FATE

It was nothing, really; just an unsettling feeling.

The apartment was deathly silent – no water running, no sounds coming from the kitchen, no television – nothing, not even the comforting, barely perceptible reverberation of Matt’s snoring.

The quiet was oddly disquieting. Lying on the bed on my right side, I eyed the digital clock on the nightstand: 7:15 AM – a little early for our usual Sunday morning sleep-ins.

Gradually I shifted onto my back, staring up at the ceiling for a minute or two waiting to hear something, anything. I slowly turned my head and glanced over at the left side of the bed – Matt’s side. He wasn’t there. “Hmm, wonder where he is?” I thought. I listened again; still silence. I called out “Matt? Babe?” No response.

“Okay, maybe he went to get bagels and The Times.” It’s very unusual for us not to make love on a lazy Sunday morning. Sex in the morning is always delicious but last night was incredible; we really got carried away. I don’t know what came over me; my desire was insatiable and Matt certainly was ready, willing and able to oblige. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought about the night before; the images were so intense, I started getting aroused. I called out again: “Matt, honey! Are you here?” Still nothing.

Matt and I met about seven months ago, shortly after my breakup with Danny. I thought Danny was ‘the one’; we even talked about marriage. We really were a perfect match in all aspects of our lives. The fact that sex with Danny was the best I’d ever had was a bonus. But somewhere down the road things began to unravel and we just sort of drifted apart. That was a very low point in my life; I loved Danny and I still think about him often. It’s only natural that I would.

Then Matt entered the picture and there was an instant attraction between us. We were both on the rebound and took things slow. We decided not to move in together, not just yet, opting for weekends here or at Matt’s. We were committed to each other but not ready for anything as permanent as living together. We agreed the only thing we would leave at each other’s place was a toothbrush.

The more I thought about last night, the more I wanted Matt in my bed right now. Looking at the clock I was amazed to see that 45 minutes had gone by. Where the hell was Matt?

I got out of bed and padded barefoot into the kitchen, checking the living room on the way. I was clearly alone, not even the usual welcoming presence of a fragrant pot of coffee. I looked around in confusion.

Feeling the strong urge to pee, I raced back to the bathroom and there I found all the answers I needed. A sticky note with angry red letters on the mirror read YOU TALKED ABOUT SEX WITH DANNY IN YOUR SLEEP … AGAIN!! I’M OUTTA HERE!

 And there was just one lonely toothbrush in the holder – mine.  

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

MOONBEAMS AND PIPE DREAMS

The night of my husband’s funeral was the loneliest point in my life. After everyone went home, I was totally alone in the house I shared with Ned for 32 years. I don’t ever remember the house being so cold and quiet. Moonbeams engulfed my bedroom yet emptiness was all around.

Ned made me promise that I’d get on with my life after he was gone. The last thing he wanted was for me to spend my days grieving. I agreed because I knew that’s what he needed to hear but I doubted turning that corner and moving on after losing the love of my life would be easy for me. 

The next few weeks were a blur. I went out only to buy groceries, turning down all invitations from well-meaning friends to join them for lunch, a movie or a round of golf; it just wasn’t in me.

The time inevitably came when I knew I had to do something with Ned’s belongings. I found some empty boxes in the attic and began filling them with his things to donate to a men’s shelter. Lovingly I folded each shirt, jacket and pair of pants. I polished his shoes and included a couple of packages of new socks and underwear. The men living in the shelter were going through dire straits and deserved to be treated with respect.

The one thing I couldn’t part with was Ned’s cherished pipe collection. The warm aroma of cherry and whiskey lingered in the house. I pictured Ned sitting at his desk meticulously cleaning each pipe and placing it in the rosewood stand. I walked to the den where he watched TV, enjoying his pipe after dinner; my eyes filled with tears and I broke down – probably my first really good cry since Ned died.

It took about a week to get everything boxed and I called for a donation pick-up. The man I spoke to told me someone would come by on Thursday before noon; I told him I’d leave the boxes on the front porch in case I wasn’t home at the time.

Thursday morning I placed the boxes on the porch and headed out to the cemetery. It was four months since Ned’s passing and I had flowers to place on his grave. I stood by Ned’s gravesite reminiscing about our time together when I noticed the sun dancing off a coin on the headstone. “Of course!” I thought. “I should have known Tom would come by.” Ned and Tom were best friends ever since serving together in Vietnam. Keeping with tradition, Tom left the coin on Ned’s headstone as a sign that he stopped by to pay his respects.

After the cemetery I shopped for a few groceries. When I got home the boxes were gone; there was a receipt from the men’s shelter stuck in the front door. I placed the groceries down and sat on the porch’s double swing, staring at the vacant spot where the boxes sat just a few hours earlier. The void I felt at that moment was almost unbearable.

Silent tears rippled down my cheeks. “It’s not fair. It’s just not fair!” I cried as I pounded my fists against my legs.

“No, it isn’t, Lizzie. Lots of things in life aren’t fair.” There was Tom standing on the top step. Without a word he walked over to the swing, sat down beside me and cradled me in his arms as I wept. Tom spoke in hushed tones: “I know exactly how you feel, Lizzie. I went through it when Kay died. You and Ned were there for me through it all. There’s no feeling that comes close to a broken heart. We lost our soul mates; I hope you’ll let me help you like you helped me.”

We sat for a long time without talking, just holding hands sitting on the swing. Words weren’t necessary between dear old friends. Tom helped me bring my shopping bags into the house and together we put everything away.

How about I brew a fresh pot of coffee, Tom? Make yourself comfortable in the den and I’ll bring it in.”

When I got to the den, Tom was sitting at Ned’s desk admiring his pipe collection. His still handsome face was creased with a sweet, sentimental smile.

“You know, Lizzie, that long-stemmed pipe in the middle was always my favorite.” Tom’s blue eyes glistened and I could tell he had shed a tear or two for his dear friend.

“It was Ned’s favorite, too, Tom. I remember the day you gave it to him.”

My heart fluttered as I removed the pipe from its stand and placed it in Tom’s hand. “I know Ned would want you to have this.”

Tom closed his eyes for a few seconds, his hands cradling the pipe. “Thank you, Lizzie. I’ll treasure this always.”

Tom said he had to get home and we walked to the front door.

“Wait, Tom. Can you come for dinner Saturday night?”

“I’d like that, Lizzie. Very much.”

“Me too, Tom. Is 6:30 okay?” and he nodded ‘yes’.

I said goodbye and pressed my back against the closed door. And I smiled for the first time in months.

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

A CHANGE OF HABIT

“Called to be a nun? You can’t be serious, Luna!” Hudi was stunned when her sister disclosed her secret.

“Hudi, I shared with you what is in my heart. If you can’t accept it, that’s fine but don’t start giving me a speech or trying to change my mind.”  

Hudi started laughing. “This is some sort of joke, right? We’re no longer little Catholic school girls back in Spain!”  

Luna didn’t even crack a smile. “I should have known better than to expect you to understand, Hudi. We may be twins but we couldn’t be more different.”  

“Why a nun?”

“Hudi, look at me. I’m not petty, funny or sexy like you. I can’t dance, I don’t know how to wear makeup or fix my hair or even dress nicely. I’m hopeless! Being a nun and spending the rest of my life in a convent is my destiny.”

Hudi laughed again. “Your ‘destiny’? Please, Luna. Aren’t you being a bit dramatic? It sounds like this nun thing is more of a ‘hiding’ than a ‘calling’. You’re not supposed to be a nun because you’re unhappy with your life.”

Luna didn’t say anything; she knew Hudi was right.

“Listen to me! You’re not hopeless. I’m your twin; who better to help you? First thing I have to do is teach you how to fix this nest of twigs you have for hair; then everything else will fall into place.”

Over the course of a few days Hudi taught Luna how to apply makeup and do her hair. They listened to their favorite salsa music and without even realizing it, Luna was moving to the beat.

Getting dressed one day, Hudi couldn’t believe her eyes. “Luna, you have an amazing body! Why hide it under a habit?” Luna couldn’t stop blushing.

Hudi always knew she wanted to be a designer and landed a job in one of New York’s biggest fashion companies. Her boss was impressed with her designs and offered Hudi the chance to put together a hot new lingerie line. Hudi jumped at the opportunity and threw herself into her work.

Luna, however, was having serious doubts about her decision to become a nun.

When her assignment was done, Hudi had a brilliant idea: instead of showing her boss one-dimensional drawings, why not have someone model them? The first person who came to mind was her sister.

Luna wanted nothing to do with the project but Hudi was convincing and Luna reluctantly agreed. On the day of the big reveal Luna was a nervous wreck. Hudi put on some salsa music and shoved her sister into a room full of executives.

Luna swayed to the music, then let her satin robe slip to her waist revealing the most feminine and sexy bra anyone had ever seen. Her figure was as incredible as her lingerie.

Proudly Hudi announced “Ladies and gentlemen. May I present to you our model, Luna Delgado, wearing our next hottest seller – ‘Hudibras’.”

And the room erupted in applause.

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

MAXIMUS OVERDRIVE

Maximus Gluteus caught a glimpse of his reflection on a sheet of polished tin which his wife Labia used as a mirror. He had really let himself go! He was a disgrace, not just to himself but the entire world of gladiators.

Originally known as Maximus Biceptis, he was no longer the god-like hero of the stadium. Where was that former champion of the amphitheater? Gone were the defined, well-built curves visible through his tunic, the muscles straining against the fabric at the forearms, biceps and chest. His sculpted calves, broad back and wide neck were flaccid, as were other parts of his anatomy which Labia was quick to point out.

Maximus was not only popular with the general public; he was greatly admired by the Roman emperor Sartorius. He won many battles against highly skilled adversaries. Sartorius was particularly impressed by his heroics and rewarded him with more palaces and riches than he could have asked for. Sartorius went so far as to give Maximus his prized solid gold chariot and team of Berber horses.  

If anyone knew how to have a good time it was the worshipers of Bacchus, the god of wine. Maximus and Labia threw lavish Bacchanalia where debaucheries of every kind were practiced freely and enjoyed by all. Members of the cult would spend uninhibited all-nighters dancing, watching circus performers, feasting on fattening foods and decadent desserts, engaging in wild sex and, of course, drinking themselves into a stupor. Surfeited with too much wine, they could be awoken only by the cacophony of the servants crashing cymbals.

Labia, a once-famous gladiatrix, was considered an exotic rarity by her audience. Attempting to maintain her impressively athletic yet feminine physique, she exercised frequently in the gymnasium and swam in the warm baths. Maximus, however, had become lazy and spiritless. He encamped himself in the large atria overlooking the Mediterranean, reclining for hours on end in the lavish gardens which had been planted with olive and fig trees, grape orchards, almonds, walnuts and chestnuts, oranges and tomatoes, etc.

Maximus reveled in the good life, lying on his chaise lounge listening to poetry while the palace harpist played softly. Naked dancing nymphs performed for him, slaves fanned him with exquisite peacock feathers and beautiful servant girls fed him cheese, pheasant, figs dipped in honey, meaty chestnuts and wine. A life of gluttony and pleasure suited Maximus; he was a well sated man.

Maximus became so fat, Labia refused to have sex with him. Even his concubines were repulsed by him but knew they had to do the deed or risk being executed. It got so bad, the poor girls resorted to pulling straws to see who would share their master’s bed. The ladies, however, had little to fear; most nights Maximus was so drunk he was in no condition to get it on.

It didn’t take long before Labia began spending more and more time away from the palace. She would go for long walks along the seashore with her beloved greyhounds, Laconia and Molossia. It was during one of those walks that Labia first laid eyes on the newest and most popular gladiator who recently transferred to Rome – Maximus Erectus.

He was quite a sight to behold, especially when exercising naked on the beach. To say that he was well-built was an understatement. Erectus was perfection from head to toe. Tall, blond and powerfully built, sinewy muscles rippled down his arms and legs and across his Herculean back and chest. He was broad-shouldered with a flat, rock-hard abdomen. His body was bronzed from the sun and glistened with sweat. He was one ripped Roman.

Labia stared transfixed at the spectacle before her; even the dogs sat in quiet attention. Finishing up his routine, Erectus ran toward the sea, jumped into the waves and swam for a while. When he came out, he spotted Labia standing on the beach watching him. Without any hesitation or embarrassment, he walked directly to her. Smiling broadly, he reached down and patted Laconia and Molossia, laughing as they responded by happily wagging their tails. Labia’s tail had already begun to wag.

The two struck up a conversation. All the while they were speaking Labia’s eyes kept drifting down toward Erectus’ magnificent member which seemed to take on a life of its own. When Labia mentioned she, too, enjoyed exercising and swimming, Erectus commented that she looked like she was in terrific shape and invited her to join him on the beach whenever she desired a partner.

Now, there’s no denying Labia had a few years on Erectus, but she was still firm and supple. She decided to join him on the beach the following week; it wasn’t long before the duo became partners in every way.

Labia packed her bags and left Maximus Gluteus for her new lover. Tossing everything into the golden chariot, she clicked her tongue and the team of Berbers trotted off. Labia laughed gaily as she shouted, “So long, you big fat ass!”

But Maximus Gluteus was too drunk to hear her.

Footnote: Emperor Sartorius had a dream that he would be overthrown. He consulted the wisest philosophers and dream interpreters who all agreed this would indeed be his fate. Fearing torture and a slow death at the hands of his enemies, Sartorius made it known that should such an uprising occur, Maximus Gluteus was to be summoned to execute him; he trusted Maximus would end his life as quickly and painlessly as possible. Sartorius was eventually overthrown and Maximus was called. However, since Labia had absconded with the golden chariot, Maximus had no choice but to travel to Sartorius’ palace on foot. Alas, his massive weight slowed him down so much, Maximus did not arrive in time to save Sartorius from an excrutiating death. Due to that unfortunate event, the expression “Lardum Asina” came about. Today we know it as “Lard Ass”.

NAR © 2021

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250 Words

IT WAS PARADISE

Eastern Long Island, New York. A little village called Montauk. “The End”, according to locals; drive to the tip of the peninsula, walk a few steps and you’re in the Atlantic Ocean. Can’t get much more east than that!

We first drove to Montauk in 1984 to a no-frills family motel right on the beach overlooking the ocean. “Let’s go out for a weekend. If we don’t like it, we won’t go back.” Famous last words.

It was paradise.

Step outside the sliding back door of the motel room and your toes disappear into the sand. Big pool full of sunburned people having the time of their lives. Huge towels and colorful umbrellas along the shore, saltwater mist sprayed by the balmy breeze, a dog running with a Frisbee in its mouth.

There was a pizza place and an ice cream joint constantly busy. Seemed like all the kids had sun-streaked blonde hair and bronze tans, feet perpetually covered in sand, happy as clams.

Drive five minutes west on ‘the stretch’ between Montauk and Amagansett to a place known simply as ‘LUNCH’ for a mouth-watering lobster roll or a platter of fried puffers and chips. Best meal ever.

At night little fires dotted the beach, kindling glowed and crackled. Kids pierced marshmallows with long sticks and stuck them in the flames for a gooey sweet treat you won’t eat again till the next summer.

That weekend trip in ’84 turned into 37 years of vacations, each one longer that the one before it. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been able to get out to “The End” but we’ll be back.

It was paradise.

A lobster roll at Lunch

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

REVENGE IS SWEET

I don’t really think of myself as a thief; I’m more of what you’d call an “exchanger“. Has a nicer ring to it, doesn’t it?

See, here’s the deal: I take other people’s lunches from the refrigerators at work and replace them with mine. That’s not really stealing; it’s more like sharing without the other person knowing – kind of like a one-sided Secret Santa.

I’m a terrible cook. The staples in my house usually consist of protein bars, crackers, peanut butter, and microwave popcorn. Even if I could cook, I don’t make enough money in my nowhere job to stock up on the kinds of foods I like to eat.

My job is to deliver the mail to the different departments for the company where I work. There are 15 floors in the building and each floor has two kitchens where the employees can eat their lunch, so I have 30 refrigerators to look through every day. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s pretty easy to get away with if you do it right.

So far I’ve been lucky; I haven’t been nabbed taking anyone’s lunch. And, as I said, I always leave something in its place. Of course, it’s usually a protein bar or peanut butter on crackers but it’s something.

You wouldn’t believe some of the food people bring in for lunch – leftover veal parmigiana with pasta and salad, a nice piece of steak with vegetables, a giant roast beef sandwich – I’m talking real food! One day somebody brought in an entire rotisserie chicken with biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy – the whole nine yards!

I’m not allowed to leave the mail cart unattended; I could lose my job over that. I put my meager lunch on the bottom rack of the mail cart and when no one’s around I go into one of the kitchens and make a quick switcheroo. I always have my water bottle with me so it just looks like I’m in the kitchen refilling my bottle. Unless someone is watching me, there’s no way to know it’s me swapping out the lunches.

The trick is not to look out of place which isn’t hard because no one ever pays attention to an insignificant nobody like me. I’m practically invisible. I’d be shocked if anyone at work knew my name. I’m just “the mail guy”.

I casually wheel the mail cart into the kitchen, snatch something from the fridge and fill my water bottle. I hightail it out of there, leave that floor and head to a different kitchen where I heat up my pilfered lunch. After that I walk to a park by the water. Lots of people eat at the park and nobody knows me. If it’s raining, then I just eat lunch in my old Dodge in the company parking garage. People are constantly coming and going in that garage so I’m just another face in the crowd

My second job at Bob’s Barbecue Pit is where I eat dinner. The pay isn’t great but Bob’s an okay guy; he knows we’re all struggling and he lets us eat for free.

On Friday everything went off without a hitch. I grabbed a lunch, skedaddled outta there and headed for the park. Lunch was great – turkey, Swiss and avocado on a roll, a bag of chips and the biggest brownie I’d ever seen. Just as I was about to toss my garbage, I noticed the name “Chris Phillips” on the bag. Thank you, Chris, for a delicious lunch!

I finished the afternoon rounds, then headed over The Pit but I wasn’t even half-way there when my stomach started churning and I began getting bad cramps. I knew I had to get to a bathroom fast so I decided to go home. I made it just in time! I had the worst diarrhea ever! I spent Friday night and Saturday in the bathroom and all of Sunday recuperating. That’s when I realized it had to be the brownie! I bet Chris took a chance that his lunch would be swiped and he loaded the brownie mix with Ex Lax.

That rat bastard! This called for retaliation!

All week long I thought about how I could get back at Chris, but was it really worth it?    

Maybe it was time for me to move on, try to find a better job, earn more money.

Or maybe I could find the perfect payback for that weasel Chris. After all – I do like my sweets and revenge is the sweetest of all!

NAR © 2021

Guest Post

GUEST POST: THE BUILDING

Once again it’s a privilege to post a story written by my 12-year-old granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. She makes me proud every single day.

Part 1 – Selected

There’s an abandoned building up on Bison Street. I know because I pass it every day on my way to school. I know because the Clean-Up Team at my school is hosting a fundraiser to fix it up. But there is something strange about that building.

HENRY!” my friend Carlos shouts. I snap out of my daydream. “You’re standing when Principal Miron has told everyone to sit down!

I turned red and sat down. The principal began her announcement:

“Thank you, Carlos, for that loud clarification on your part” she laughed. “Well, good afternoon, students. Before you’re dismissed for the day I just want to say … WE DID IT! Starting next week every day after school a select group of students will start cleaning up the building on Bison Street! Special thanks to the school’s Clean-Up Team! That is all, students. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you all on Monday.”

I walked home with multiple thoughts filling my head: Am I part of the selected group? Why next week? HOW THE HECK DID THE SCHOOL GET ENOUGH MONEY?!

I opened the door to my mother’s restaurant. “Hola, Mama.”

Hola, Henrita. I am a little busy with work right now. Can you grab an apron and help Marko and Linda with serving the customers for about three hours?” she asked.

I sighed “Sure, Mama.” I guess I’ll tell her about cleaning up the building when she’s not so busy.

*

I was lying on my bed. Mama’s restaurant didn’t close until 9:00 PM and I was feeling a little depressed. Before he died, my dad and I would always binge-watch our favorite TV show, “Detectives at Middle School”. It was a show about twins who would deal with mysteries, middle school life and parent drama. Mama promised that I could stay up late on Friday nights so we could watch the show together and keep the tradition going but lately she’d been forgetting our deal and I really can’t blame her.

The restaurant has been twice as busy with dad gone and everything. I enjoyed helping sometimes; other times I didn’t. My mom’s new boyfriend Jonathan works as one of the staff and I don’t really like him that much. He calls me “Henry”; everyone else calls me by my real name – “Henrita”– even my mom. Henry was my dad’s name and he gave me the nickname “Pequeño Henry” which means “Little Henry”. He said I’d always be his little girl no matter how big I got. I only let my friends Carlos and Sasha call me “Henry”.

Suddenly I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My BFF Sasha came in with some muffins. “Hi H” she said as she gave me a chocolate muffin, my favorite.

Hey, Sashay” I said, reaching for a muffin.

You thinking about your dad again? I’m sorry, Henry. I know how much you loved him.” Sasha knew me really well; it’s almost like she could see the thoughts in my eyes.

Thanks for checking on me, Sasha. Did my mom fall asleep again?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

Yeah, she did, but we can watch “Detectives at Middle School” together if you’d like.”

I smiled. “Sure. Let’s sneak downstairs to the restaurant and grab some snacks!” We stuffed our pockets with popcorn, cookies and sodas, then hurried back to my room as we heard Mama making noises like she was waking up.

That was close!” Sasha said and I giggled. “As Mama likes to say: ‘Fisgones van a fisgonear’ (‘Snoopers gonna snoop!’). We both laughed as I turned on the TV and we began to watch the show.

*

Sasha must have woken up before me because when I woke up there was a sticky note on my forehead that read: “Went home. Left you something sweet on your desk!” On my desk was a box of leftover muffins plus a new batch of chocolate muffins. That’s my BFF!

I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I turned on the TV, sat on the couch and began to eat my cereal. Then my mother came down all dressed up.

Mama, you look nice! Where are you going all dressed up like that?” I asked with a mouthful of cereal.

Johnathan is taking me out for breakfast, Henrita, and you’re coming with us.”

I nearly choked on my cereal. “Huh?!”

You heard me, Henrita. Now go get dressed.”

I didn’t want to go to breakfast but what Mama says goes; it would take at least a million dollars to get her to change her mind. I put on black sweatpants, a grey T-shirt and a black hoodie, pulling the hood over my dark brown hair. When I came downstairs Mama said “Honey, we’re going to a fancy brunch place. I wish you’d wear something nicer.”

I wanted to say “I really don’t care or want to go anyway” but instead all I said was “Well, at least I brushed my hair.” Mama sighed and we got in the car. On the way to breakfast I saw the abandoned building.

Hey, Mama. Do you believe in ghosts?”

Mama laughed “What has gotten into you?? Of course I don’t believe in ghosts!”

When we got to the restaurant Mama sat down next to Jonathan and I sat across from them. “So, Henry, how’s school?” asked Jonathan.

Fine. And my name is Henrita.”

Mama gave me a stare like daggers. Changing the subject, Mama explained to Jonathan “The school Clean-Up Team and some other students are going to clean up that old building down the street. I hope Henrita participates.” I rolled my eyes and put my head on the table. “Henrita! Sit up!” Mama scolded. I exhaled loudly and sat up straight.

The waiter came and asked us what we wanted to have for breakfast. I said “I’d like a way out of this place!” Mama glared at me. “Sorry. I’ll just have a bagel with cream cheese.” When the waiter was finished taking our orders I pulled out my phone and texted Carlos and Sasha on our group chat.

I’M STUCK AT BRUNCH WITH MY MOM AND HER BOYFRIELD!” 😦 – HENRY
“YIKES, HENRY! I GOT SOCCER PRACTICE. GOOD LUCK!” – CARLOS
“JUST HANG IN THERE, GIRLFRIEND!” – SASHA

“Henry! This is the third time your mother has spoken to you!” Jonathan said angrily.

Huh? About what?” Why does he insist on calling me “Henry?”

No phones at the table.”

I put my phone in my pocket. “Happy now?”

*

I got grounded. Yep. Grounded. Mama said that Jonathan did nothing wrong and wouldn’t listen to anything I said. She said that my father would have done the same thing. That made me really angry and I yelled “If we were having breakfast with dad I never would have needed to text my friends. I was angry and dad never made me angry! I’m sorry, Mama, but I don’t like your boyfriend and I never will! Please don’t compare him to dad!”

Mama looked very sad and I felt terrible but I couldn’t take back what I said. Now I’m sitting here on my bed feeling sorry about everything and stuffing my face with one of Sasha’s muffins. Thankfully Mama said I was only grounded for today.

Carlos, Sasha and I usually have our video game tournaments on Sundays. I’m not a video game addict; however, Carlos is. All he ever does is play soccer and games. I’m not judging him; I’m just saying he’s the gamer of the group. Sasha has skills but prefers to draw and bake. Then there’s me; Sasha usually wins whenever she and I play ‘cause I absolutely SUCK at video games. I’ve got zero coordination. I always lose. I won a dance video game but only because I took dance classes from age 4 until I turned 12.

And suddenly there it was. BAM!! My mom burst into my room with my phone. “Your BFF and boyfriend won’t stop texting you!”

“I’m confused. Oh, do you mean my two best friends?” I replied sarcastically.

She just says “Oh, right. Well, I don’t know how to make it shut up! And I don’t like the way you talk about Jonathan!”

I want to get one thing straight: Carlos is NOT my boyfriend. Sasha, Carlos and I have been friends since forever. Anything else is just weird. Mama is always asking things like did I meet a boy? Or do I have a boyfriend yet? I think Mama wants me to have a boyfriend for some reason but what do I know? I picked up my phone and looked at our group chat:

*

“HENRY!!! THEY PICKED WHO’S GOING TO HELP CLEAN UP THE BUILDING!” – CARLOS
“REALLY? I HOPE IT’S NOT ME!” – SASHA
“WHY’S THAT?” – CARLOS
“I’M ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH AS IT IS. YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW, CARLOS!” – SASHA
“DO YOU KNOW WHO’S ON THE LIST?” – HENRY
“NOPE. THEY JUST SENT AN EMAIL.’ – CARLOS
“THEY’LL PROBABY ANNOUNCE IT MONDAY AT SCHOOL.” – SASHA
“IF I’M ON IT, IT’LL GIVE ME A REASON TO STOP BEING THE THIRD WHEEL ON MY MOM’S DATES!” – HENRY

*

Monday morning started with an announcement by Principal Miron:

“Good morning students. The school board and I have selected the students for the Clean-Up Team … and they are Marcus Con, Jackie Kale, Martha Steward, Alex Tetry and Henrita Cruz. The Clean-Up Team has volunteered to work Mondays-Wednesdays. The selected students will work Wednesdays-Fridays. Congratulations! That is all for now. Have a great day!”

It’s official; I’m spending half the week cleaning up an abandoned building. I hope it’s not too bad. I mean, everyone is bugging me about getting out of the house so that’s taken care of. But still, why me? Is it a punishment? Did I do something wrong? I’m confused.

As I’m walking to math class, Sasha and Carlos appear by my side. “I’m convinced it was a random pick. All three of us had a chance” Sasha said.

“Yo, Henry. You find any ghosts, call us before you become one” Carlos laughed. Sasha lightly punched him; “Don’t joke like that, dude!”

*

The first days of the project were just the basic safety rules: don’t go to the top floor without an adult to supervise you; wear a helmet and goggles. Little things.

“Henrita, are you ready to go?” Mama called from downstairs. SHOOT! I forgot about lunch with Mama and her boyfriend.

I marched downstairs in jeggings and a grey T-shirt with a lightning bolt on it. My dark brown hair swayed side-to-side as I walked down the stairs.

Right away Mama was on my case: “Henrita, we’re going to Jacques Van Goldam for lunch. They won’t let you dress like that.”

“I’m counting on that. Besides, I’m going to the abandoned building – not to lunch.”

“Henrita, it’s a Saturday. That’s a day off from clean-up.”

“Extra credit, Mama. And there will be adult supervision.”

“Alright, Honeycomb. Just stay safe.” Mama kissed my head and smiled but I could tell she was disappointed.

Now what I said wasn’t exactly true; I was going to the abandoned building but I was going alone and it wasn’t for extra credit.

I grabbed my phone, put it in my bag and left. I was walking on Bison Street when I spotted the building. I’ll admit, it looked better than it did last week but when I walked inside it looked exactly the same as when I left on Friday. After I explored the first three floors, I decided to do what no one else had yet done. I was going to the fourth floor. The only way to get there was from a circular staircase. I knew it would be tiring but I was going to do it.

The fourth floor looked just like the rest of the building – dark, dusty, abandoned. I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight, shining it around the room. And then I heard it. A thump, like someone knocked something over. I looked everywhere with my flashlight. At first I didn’t see anything. And then I did.

I saw her

*

Part 2 – Construction

“Hello” I said.

The girl responded with “Hello”.

“Are you a ghost?”

“No. Ghosts are somewhere else.”

“So, who are you?”

The girl giggled. “I’m Scarlet. And I live here.”

 I was shocked by her answer. “You live here? I thought this building was abandoned.”

Scarlet smiled. “Technically it is, but my mother, brother and I used to live here.”

“What happened to them?” I asked.

Scarlet looked heartbroken. “There was a shooting. I was at a sleepover. Whoever did it left no survivors.”

“I’m so sorry!”

She put on a fake smile. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

*

It’s been a month now and every day Scarlet and I have talked. I brought her food and clean clothes. One Sunday Scarlet and I were playing a game of ‘truth or dare’.

“Alright, truth or dare?” Scarlet asked me.

Truth” I responded.

Ugh, fine. Lame-o!” Scarlet joked.“Why did your family come to California?”

“Well, I used to live in the Caribbean but after my dad died in a car crash my Mama said it was best if we moved here” I explained. “Your turn; truth or dare?”

Scarlet seemed confident. “Dare.”

“I dare you to do a handstand!”

Scarlet groaned. “Aw, come on!” She sighed and attempted to do a handstand but she fell backwards and we both burst out laughing. “Truth or dare, Henry?”

To Scarlet’s surprise I said “Dare.”

Finally! I dare you to prank call someone.”

I smiled and pulled out my cell phone, dialing Carlos’ number.

“Hello.”
“Yes, your pizza order is outside on your doorstep. Twelve large pepperoni pies, four salads and three brownies –all for a cost of only $19.99.”
“Henry, are you ok?”

I hung up and put my phone down. “There you go!”

Carlos was left scratching his head wondering what was up with Henry and that strange call. He called Sasha right away and between the two of then they figured out that Henry was probably in the building. After all, it was a Sunday and she wasn’t at home or with them so where else could she be and what was she up to? The two friends were concerned about Henry but knew she could take care of herself. And if she WAS in any danger they knew she’d call back.

*

MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE BUILDING

*

“You can’t do this!” shouted Mr. Al.

“I’m sorry, sir, but this is our only choice” responded Matthew, a construction foreman.

“We’ll see about that!” Mr. Al dialed a number on his phone. “Diana, I need you at the building ASAP. There are people here.”

Five minutes later Ms. Miron pulled up in one vehicle and two police officers in another. “What’s going on, Al? asked Ms. Miron.

Mr. Al explained “These people want to demolish the building!”

One of the officers spoke up. “I’m Officer Jonane and this is Officer Benjamin. We heard that Middletown High School is renovating this old building.”

Ms. Miron took a deep breath. “Yes, that’s correct. We are.”

Officer Benjamin asked “Do you have all the official paperwork? Our scans say that you don’t and you just went ahead and began cleaning the building on your own without permission.”

Ms. Miron and Mr. Al became flustered, neither one knowing what to say.

“I think we have our answer” Officer Jonane spoke up. “We don’t need any more excuses. There are no students in the building. Is that right?”

Mr. Al replied “No. It’s a Sunday. The building is empty.”

“Good. The building will be destroyed in just a few minutes. Everybody clear the area!” And with that the officers walked back to Matthew and the rest of the workers.

*

MEANWHILE, BACK INSIDE THE BUILDING

*

Scarlet and I were sitting next to each other talking about our lives. “I guess we have a lot in common” Scarlet said.

“Yeah, I guess we do.”

Suddenly, R-U-M-B-L-E!!!

“What was that?” Scarlet asked, panicked. I got up to look out the window.

“They’re demolishing the building! I shouted.

Scarlet looked at the door leading to the staircase. “We need to get out!”

We ran to the door. Scarlet and I struggled to open it and finally managed to do so. We ran down the stairs as quickly as we could. Scarlet made it to the second floor but the building was coming down leaving me on the third floor. I could hear Scarlet shouting my name, just barely. I looked up and saw the ceiling cracking. My life flashed before my eyes and then everything went black.

*

I awoke in the hospital with my mother sitting next to me. “Mama?”

She gasped and looked up. “Honey, your awake! Jonathan and I have been so worried about you.”

I didn’t really care about Jonathan.

“How long was I out?” I asked.

One week, Henrita. One week!” Mama said, a bit over-dramatic. I smiled; it was good to see her again.

The next few weeks were busy with tests, therapy and horrible hospital food, but early in May I was able to go home. In the car Mama said “I hope you have an explanation, young lady. According to the principal, you weren’t even supposed to be in the building.”

I winced. How in the world was I supposed to tell my very traditional mother that I snuck away to a dangerous building in order to get away from her and her boyfriend?

When I got home Carlos and Sasha immediately ran up to me and hugged me. Sasha cried a little “Are you ok? What happened? Did you break anything? We figured you were in the building; now I feel bad that we didn’t call somebody. You never would have gotten hurt!” were some of the many questions and comments they had.

“I’m fine, you guys. I’ll tell you everything.”

We walked upstairs to my room. When we entered I saw a note on my bed:

“Henry, I’m on the run right now. If I was was with you, I would tell you everything but  at the moment I can’t. We’ll find each other again, I’m sure of that.
Love, Scarlet

“Who’s Scarlet?” Carlos asked, looking over my shoulder back and forth from Sasha to the note. Sasha put her hands up like a police officer was pointing a gun at her. “Don’t look at me. I’ve never heard that name before in my life.”

I smiled. “There might have been a few things I didn’t tell you!”

*

Epilogue – 8 years later

I’m 22 now. I haven’t heard from Scarlet since that note. Sasha and Carlos ended up falling in love and getting married; my mother married Jonathan. And although I wasn’t happy about that, Jonathan is part of the family now and I’ve come to accept it.

Sasha and Carlos know all my secrets. My mother, however … she has a slightly edited version of the story.

I don’t know if there is danger out there but I’ll find Scarlet … one day.

MFR © 2021

500-750 Words

A COLD CALL

“Hi, I’m calling about your ad.”

Her voice was soft and sultry, as smooth and silky as his finest Maker’s Mark bourbon. The image of a voluptuous goddess with long wavy caramel-colored hair, tanned skin and moist red lips immediately appeared before him. He could see her pearly teeth as she smiled, tantalizingly nibbling her bottom lip. He felt himself getting hard.

“Is anyone there?” he heard her say and roused him out of his fantasy.

“Yes, sorry. I’m here. I was distracted for a moment. There’s something about your voice; it’s very … familiar” he replied trying to sound nonchalant.

“I get that a lot” she answered, her throaty laugh arousing him again.

“Are you calling about the apartment or the car?” Please let it be the apartment … let it be the apartment …  he pleaded silently, picturing her sprawled on his bed. 

The Ferrari, of course. No sexy car list would be complete without it, don’t you agree?”

There was that laugh again. He had to meet this woman. Today.

“Of course. She’s an incredible vehicle” he said, a bit disappointed that she wasn’t interested in seeing his apartment. How he’d love to get her there.

“Incredible sounds about right. And exciting, too, judging by the photo in your ad. With her open top she’s as sleek and beautiful as a topless Ferrari should be – a car to melt some hearts and explode others.”

As she spoke, he had a vision of her in the Ferrari, top down, driving along the Santa Barbara coastline, her hair loose and wild like crimson flames. She was laughing as she drove faster and faster, her hand teasing the elongated head of the gear shift. She was wearing a short black leather skirt and a low-neck sweater, her stunning breasts heaving with excitement. She smelled of honeysuckle and peaches. His heart was racing, his erection pounding.

Who is this woman? He couldn’t think straight. Snap out of it, dummy!

“So, when would you like to see her?” Today, today, today raced repeatedly in his brain.

“Today, if that works for you” came the response he hoped for.

“Hmm, today. My schedule’s kind of tight but I might be able fit you in around 4:00” he lied. “Would that work for you?”

“Yes. I can come anytime.

Was that a double entendre? This woman was driving him insane with desire!

“Hold on one sec. I just need to check on something.”

He waited impatiently for her return. His plan: they’d meet at 4:00, take the Ferrari out for a drive and get back to his place just in time for a “spontaneous” dinner and whatever might follow.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. I wanted to make sure my wife would be available at 4:00.”

Wife? Did she say wife? She was married. To a WOMAN! His passion vanished instantly along with his raging erection.

Hey, I’m getting another call. Can you hold?” he lied again.

Deflated, he pushed the “end call” button and the line went dead.

NAR © 2021

300-500 Words

SPREAD ‘EM

When I became pregnant with my first baby in 1977, my husband Bill and I were over the moon! We were thrilled and dove headfirst into the whole pregnancy phenomenon – buying furniture and clothes and setting up a nursery. At the time I was 26 years old, weighed 105 pounds and stood 5’4” tall.

Throughout my pregnancy I craved barbecued hamburgers, fresh tomatoes and hot fudge ice cream sundaes every day. After nine months, I gained a whopping 72 pounds and at some point had to remove my rings because my fingers were getting swollen.

Who cared if pregnancy gave me cankles and made my fingers swell? It also made my boobs huge and turned me into a nymphomaniac – a little perk my husband didn’t mind one bit! Besides, as soon as the baby was born I’d lose the weight. I thought I’d immediately jump back into my tiny Jordache jeans and halter tops. How naive I was! It came as quite a shock to discover I could only fit into maternity clothes. I suddenly didn’t feel quite so sexy anymore!

A couple of weeks after the baby was born, we were invited to a Christmas Eve party. It had been a while since we’d been out so I was looking forward to slipping into my fanciest maternity outfit and sliding my rings back on. I wanted to look pretty and festive and it seemed like a good idea at the time but no sooner was my sizeable wedding ring back on when my finger began to swell. Before my eyes it tripled in size and went from various shades of pink to red to finally a pulsating, throbbing blueish purple. And it started to hurt like a son of a bitch, too.

I immediately ran cold water over my hand but the ring wouldn’t budge. Bill filled a bowl with water and ice and I soaked my hand until I lost all feeling. No luck. We tried scrubbing with lots of soap and water – nothing. We dragged out every sort of lubricant we could think of from WD-40 to KY Jelly to olive oil. We even tried the “string thing” (don’t ask; that’s another story). Bill lovingly suggested I try to relax and take deep breaths while he pulled on the ring. I screamed at him to “fuck off” because “This wasn’t Lamaze Class and I felt like I was giving birth again.” Nothing worked. I was now in agony and convinced my finger would eventually shrivel up, die and fall off.

There was only one thing left to do. I told Bill to take the baby to the party while I went to the hospital. Hopefully they’d give me a shot to reduce the swelling. When the nurse noticed my maternity clothes, she told me I was in the wrong department and directed me to Labor and Delivery. I indignantly informed her that I wasn’t pregnant and showed her my ever-expanding finger; she immediately dragged me into one of the rooms in EMEREGENCY.

Doogie Howser, M.D. and his assistants took one look at my digit, gasped and scratched their heads. When you’re on the receiving end of that horrified reaction coming from professionals trained to remove knives lodged in skulls, it’s not a good feeling. Excusing themselves, the doctors stepped out of the room, consulted for ten seconds and returned with the verdict: “We have no choice but to cut it off”.

“MY FINGER??” I gasped.

“No, silly. The ring” they laughed. “We’re going to get Jerry and Ares. If they can’t cut it off, no one can” replied one doctor who immediately regretted his choice of words.

And who, may I ask, are Jerry and Ares?”

Jerry is our top custodian and Ares is the strongest 8” mini bolt cutter in his toolbox.”

Within minutes Jerry appeared; a sparkling red tool which I was pretty sure was Ares dangled prominently from his belt. I was also pretty sure Jerry had just smoked a joint but, hey, he was the best and given my predicament, beggars can’t be choosers. Jerry examined my finger, made all sorts of grumbling noises and proceeded to sterilize Ares before he scrubbed up.

At last the moment of truth arrived. Jerry told me to turn my hand palm facing up and “spread ‘em”. I assumed he meant my fingers and did as instructed. Jerry made the Sign of the Cross, kissed Ares and with the precision of a neurosurgeon gently slid Ares between my skin and my ring.

One loud “snip” was all it took for the back of my ring to be cut in half. Jerry broke out his mini pliers and separated the ring enough to remove it from my finger. We all let out a collective sigh of relief. Tragedy averted.

In case you’re wondering, I never got the ring repaired. It sits in my jewelry box as a reminder that even though it may seem like a good idea at the time, that isn’t always the case.

Ares

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER

“Cloak and Dagger and a dozen oysters on ice” was the order placed by a vaguely familiar voice in the corner.

Her interest piqued, Judy Lowe leaned in a bit to get a better look. Where had she heard that voice before? Finding it a little too dim to see, she decided to go over and check out the situation. Taking her Bloody Mary with her, Judy casually strolled to the end of the bar and wriggled her curvaceous bottom onto the stool.

“Pardonne-moi” Judy cooed. “The name of your drink is tres intriguing.” The man was older than Judy expected but extremely handsome with silver hair and a rich tan. “Has anyone ever mentioned you look like Cary Grant?” she asked smiling flirtatiously.

Never” he replied in a clipped Bristol accent as he gazed appreciatively at Judy’s decolletage. “Ah, yes. The Cloak and Dagger: the perfect blend of Blackwoods Gin from the Shetland Islands, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, green chartreuse and Extra Brut sparkling wine. It’s the quintessential pairing with oysters.

“I’m Judy Lowe, a model from Los Angeles. And you are?”

“Enchanté, Judy. My friends call me Archie” and he gently kissed the palm of her hand.

Judy gasped; no man had ever kissed the delicate flesh of her palm. It was so European and sexy.

“Archie, would you mind terribly if I had a little sip of your Cloak and Dagger?” Judy asked. ‘A friend once told me the perfect drink with oysters is a Bloody Mary and I’d like to see who’s right.”

“Oh Judy, Judy, Judy! Whoever told you that was obviously terribly mistaken or an uneducated boor” Archie teased. “No, you may not have a sip of my drink; you shall have your very own. Barkeep! Please prepare a perfect Cloak and Dagger for the lovely Judy Lowe from Los Angeles.”

When the bartender set the drink before Judy, she clapped her hands in glee like a little girl and reached for the glass but Archie stopped her.

“Oh, no, my dear. This must be done right! It’s a process. First slide the oyster into your mouth and savor the taste. Delight in the pleasure; it should never be rushed. Now, follow with a sip of the Cloak and Dagger and let the juices mingle. That’s a good girl. Now swallow.”

Judy was in ecstasy. Never had she experienced anything so sensual. “Oh my God, Archie! That was heavenly.”

“Let’s raise our glasses, lovely Judy, to the noble oyster and the Cloak and Dagger. May they be forever immortalized as the true nectar of the gods!”

Archie stood and kissed Judy’s palm. “And now, my dear, I must bid you adieu.” He flipped his hat onto his head, tapped the brim and left.

When Judy came back down to earth she discovered a folded piece of paper in her hand. Gently she peeled back the corners to find it was a cocktail napkin on which was scribbled: “Dearest Judy: The world is your oyster. Always, Cary.”

July slowly exhaled. “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Archie aka
Cary Grant

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS

 “Use the call button on the side panel of your bed if you need a nurse. My shift is almost over. Can I get you anything before I leave?”

It took me a few seconds to remember where I was as I stared at the friendly face of the nurse standing over me.

“Pain meds would be lovely” I answered immediately. I had been in an accident earlier, falling three feet off a friend’s deck and shattering my hip. At first I felt nothing; then incredible pain started coursing its way up from my toes to the crowns on my teeth. Moving a millimeter caused me to scream out in agony. Too bad I’d forgotten to wear my suit of armor!

“Your next round is in two hours – a specially-prepared cocktail to get you through this. Until then, try to get some rest” the nurse suggested.

I’m a firm believer that copious amounts of pain medication should be dispensed frequently but apparently here in the hospital my opinion is worthless. I smiled wanly and asked the nurse for my iPhone; if I couldn’t have propofol at least I could have music.

Trying to rest in a hospital is next to impossible. Patients crying out, buzzers buzzing, machines whirring, carts rolling, elevators dinging, doctors discussing. Even the mourning doves who held dominion over the sparrows on my windowsill were cooing incessantly.

I slip in my earbuds and cue up The Beatles “Helter Skelter” – the best and only hard rock, heavy metal song they ever recorded. No matter how shitty I may be feeling at any given moment, listening to that masterpiece makes life perfect for 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

Someone wheels in my dinner cart. Lifting the lid I see a bowl of soup, a sandwich, a beverage and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Not feeling hungry just yet, I go through my collection of albums trying to decide which one to play. Ah, “Revolver”. You can never go wrong with that beauty. I close my eyes and revel in the genius that is George Harrison singing “Taxman“.

I’m suddenly aware of a rush of air and find I am now outside floating uptown over the streets of Manhattan, my hospital gown flapping like laundry on the clothesline. I hear the old-fashioned car horn sound of “Ahooga” behind me and swivel round to see a flying ice cream truck being driven by none other than John Lennon. Somehow as bizarre as it all is it seems perfectly normal.

“You getting in? We don’t want to be late” John says.

“Late for what?” I ask.

For whatever comes next” John replies with a grin and I slide onto the seat beside him. “It’s very rude to be late, isn’t it?” and we zoom off.

“AHOOGA!!”

“What’s on your bucket list, me darlin’?” John asks me and I answer without hesitation “To go to Liverpool!”

“Ah, me lovely Liverpool. I won’t be going back there again, I’m afraid. Next stop: The Dakota!” John calls out and we swoosh away.

No, John. You mustn’t!” I beg him and I start to cry.

Oh, but I must! Now dry those eyes. It is what is and we can’t change that.

John turns to face me, taking my hand in his, and continues:

When Paul and I met for the first time, do you think we had any idea what tomorrow would bring? Of course not! We didn’t have a clue where we were going in our lives. We were kids still wet behind the ears! Then we met George and we three became as close as brothers, but we didn’t know that the best was yet to come. George brought Ringo into the group and look what happened. Well, you know; you were there with us at Shea! It was a phenomenon!

You can never stop tomorrow unless you stop today just like I can’t stop what’s going to happen to me. I’m scared but this is my destiny. Tomorrow will always happen and yet tomorrow never knows.”

He was silent for a moment, deep in thought, then he spoke very fervently to me looking me straight in the eyes.

Nancy, listen to what I’m going to say. Aim for the stars. Work hard, love with your whole heart, be the best person you can be but never ever forget to have fun. Time is fleeting so always eat dessert first. Got it? Good! Now, let’s be on our way.”

And as I nod in agreement I can hear the faint words “Try to realize it’s all within yourself. No one else can make you change and to see you’re really only very small and life flows within you and without you.”

And in a flash John and his flying ice cream truck were gone.

I open my eyes and prop myself up on my hospital bed pillow. Dinner is still there, right where I left it, and I find I’m suddenly starving. Ignoring all the food on my tray, I go directly to the Ben & Jerry’s, pop open the pint of ice cream and dig in. I realize until this moment nothing in my life ever tasted so delicious.

NAR © 2021

250 Words

TALKING ‘BOUT FIREWORKS, BABY!

Nights in Manhattan. The bright lights of Broadway. The fusion of fragrances emanating from the legion of restaurants. The cacophony of languages of millions of immigrants. The Big Apple – excitement and diversity down to its core.

So how the hell did I end up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, hopelessly in love with my Amish husband Eli, married for four years with three kids and twins in the oven?

Good old revenge. I wouldn’t “play ball” with my boss so instead of being assigned to photograph Macy’s July 4th Fireworks I was banished for a month to cover the “Plain People’s” Summer County Fair.

What I thought was going to be a nightmare was quite the opposite. When the handsome, lusty Eli Fisher and I locked eyes, it was “Grossfeelich” – a “good feeling” from head to toe and all parts in between.

Being accepted into the Amish community, let alone marrying, is difficult but Eli and I had a few things going for us. I was a city girl but I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. We weren’t kids. Most Amish were married before age 20; Eli and I were both 26.

But the clincher was the serendipitous aspect of my name: Menno Jakob.

Menno Simons and Jakob Ammann were the most revered men in the Amish religion. The elders were convinced I was descended from them when I was actually an Italian Jew from Canarsie.

That secret was ours alone for I was perfectly “oll recht” as far as Eli was concerned. I was his “little firecracker” .

Talking ‘bout fireworks, baby!

NAR © 2021

Play

BLIND HEART POURED OUT

A PLAY IN ONE ACT

The setting is Sunrise Senior Living, a retirement home in upstate New York. Julian Vega, approximately 30 years old, has just arrived to pay an unexpected visit to retired Monsignor Patrick Bannon.

Receptionist: May I help you, sir?

Julian: Yes, I’d like to see Monsignor Bannon if he’s available, please.

Receptionist: Monsignor has just finished lunch and is in the library, his usual afternoon pastime. Please come with me.

[Julian follows the receptionist down the hall to the library.]

Receptionist: There he is in his favorite corner chair. Enjoy your visit.

[The library is a comfortable room with paneled walls, Persian rugs and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. Light classical music floats softly through the room. A tray with a tea pot, cups and a dish of cookies sits on the table to the right of the Monsignor. An empty chair is on the opposite side of the table and an open book sits on the Monsignor’s lap. As Julian approaches, he notices the elderly priest’s book is in Braille. Julian speaks softly.]

Julian: Excuse me, Monsignor. My name is Julian. I’m sorry to intrude on your private time but I was hoping we could talk. I have some important information.

Monsignor: Ah, I thought I heard someone heading in my direction but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you?

Julian: No, you don’t know me but I’ve heard about you and knew I had to talk to you.

Monsignor: Well, it’s nice to meet you, Julian. Please make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to some tea and cookies.

Julian: Thank you, Monsignor. I’m fine.

Monsignor: So, what’s on your mind, Julian? You’re not from this area, are you? I detect a familiar accent.

Julian: I moved up here about six months ago; I’m originally from The Bronx. Quite a change of pace but I think I’ve finally found a place where I can settle down.

Monsignor: That’s good to hear, son. We all need to find our way home. And what a coincidence! I was at Holy Rosary Church in the Bronx for years! But please, you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on about myself. How can I help you, Julian?

Julian: Well, you’re right about finding my way home. I’ve been a drifter most of my life. Times have been tough for me and I could never catch a break. My demons followed me everywhere I went, constantly reminding me of my sins and failings.

[Monsignor Bannon closes his book and carefully places it on the side table, a sign that his attention is fully on Julian.]

Monsignor: Please continue, my son. I may be retired but I will always be a priest and anything you tell me will stay right here.

[Monsignor pats his chest to indicate his heart. Julian hesitantly begins to unburden himself.]

Julian: Well, I’m not really sure where to begin.

Monsignor: Wherever you feel comfortable, son, but I find the beginning is usually a good place.

[The priest feels around for the handle of the teapot and begins to pour out a cup of tea for both of them. Julian immediately comes closer to help but the Monsignor raises a hand to stop him; he’s learned to do this and many daily routines instinctively over the years since he became blind. He hands Julian a cup of tea, raises his own cup to his lips and waits for Julian to speak. The two sit in silence for a moment before Julian starts talking again.]

Julian: My mother was from Puerto Rico. She and her large family settled in The Bronx where her father did manual labor and her mother took in laundry. My mother would help with the washing and ironing of clothes. They were dirt poor; my mother and her siblings never went to school. My mother did some house cleaning for women in the area. Her family was very devout and went to church every Sunday. When my mother turned 17, she was offered the job of laundress at their church. She eventually became the cleaning lady for the rectory and brought home every dime she ever made. She was good and decent but that all changed in 1970 when my mother was 20 years old.

[Julian stops talking and looks out the window. The monsignor tells him to take his time, gently encouraging him to continue. The old priest knew Julian was going to tell him something of extreme importance.]

Julian: My mother became involved with an Irish priest at the church and they began an affair that lasted seven years. That’s when she became pregnant. She told the priest that she was carrying his child but he refused to acknowledge his responsibility and told my mother he would never leave the church for her. It was her word against his and my mother knew no one would believe her side of the story. She was humiliated and desperate. She fled to Ossining to find her good friend Anita from Puerto Rico.

[Upon hearing those words, the Monsignor sits very still, makes the sign of the cross and rests his head in his hand. He waits for Julian to continue.]

Julian: Anita lived with her mother in the tiniest of apartments and worked in the kitchen of nearby Sing Sing Prison. She provided a home for my mother and I was born in that apartment. Several times my mother tried calling my father, the priest, with no success and finally gave up. Eventually Anita got a job for my mother in the prison laundry; I was raised by Anita’s mother.

[Julian places his cup on the table and both men sit quietly for a moment. Julian continues.]

Julian: I was an angry kid with a big chip on my shoulder. I was always getting into trouble, disrespecting everyone and everything. For years I heard whispers about the Irish priest at Holy Rosary Church who knocked up my mother and tossed her away like yesterday’s garbage. All the voices in my head screamed at me to get my revenge. How different our lives could have been if only he’d been a man and did the right thing. So, one day I went back to The Bronx, right back to the church where everything fell apart and found that Irish priest. I called out his name and when he turned, I threw bleach in his eyes. Do you remember that day, father, when you saw the face of your son, my face, for the first and last time?

[Monsignor Bannon weeps silently, his head bowed. Julian continues.]

Julian: I heard your screams as I ran out of the church. I didn’t know or care where I was going; I made you pay and I just had to get away.

[The two men sit crying, shoulders heaving. The Monsignor reaches for the box of tissues on the table, offers one to Julian and takes one himself. After a long period of quiet, Julian continues.]

Julian: But I was punished for what I did to you. As I was running from the church, I was hit by a delivery truck. I was thrown like a ragdoll, my body shattered. That was 15 years ago and my life has never been the same since. While in rehab I discovered a hidden talent; I’m an artist and I spend hours painting every day. When I was finally discharged from rehab, no one would hire me. I found small jobs like being a messenger and selling newspapers in subway stations. I felt like I was being cursed, chastised for what I did to you. I came here today because I knew it was time to make my confession to you. I pray you can forgive me, father.

[The Monsignor extends his hands and Julian reaches for them.]

Monsignor: Julian, there’s something you must know. Please walk with me in the garden.

[The Monsignor reaches for his white cane and the two men make their way to the door. The Monsignor holds the door open for Julian.]

Monsignor: Please, let me hold the door open for your chair, Julian.

Julian: How did you know I’m in a wheelchair, father? I never mentioned that to you.

Monsignor: When you lose one sense, your other senses become heightened. When you first arrived I didn’t hear footsteps but I knew you were approaching because I could detect the almost imperceptible purring of your wheelchair. I also knew who you were the moment you began to speak. I only heard your voice once 15 years ago but I have never forgotten it. It’s very true that God moves in mysterious ways. It was His wish that we re-connect, that you find your way home and that we become whole together. Julian, I forgive you for what you did to me all those years ago but there is something vital you must know and you need to prepare yourself for what I am going to tell you.

[With great urgency, Julian grabs the Monsignor’s hands. The priest can feel Julian’s tears as they fall onto his hands.)

Julian: Please, tell me what I need to know.

Monsignor: Julian, your mother and I never had an affair and I am not your father. When you returned to Holy Rosary seeking your revenge, I had only been there for a couple of years, taking over the position of the former priest who had been reassigned. His name was Patrick Gannon, not Patrick Bannon – a very easy mistake to make. I never even met your mother and had no idea why you attacked me. Now it has become crystal clear but I carry no hatred in my heart for you.

[Julian is shocked by this revelation and sits dumbfounded staring at the man he believed was his father, the man he thought betrayed his mother and destroyed his life.]

Julian: My God, Monsignor! How can you forgive me for such a horrible act? You’re blameless in all of this!

Monsignor: Julian, no one is blameless. Being blind has taught me to see with my heart. It has made me a better person, a better priest. I see goodness in you. God brought you here for a reason – not just for you to clear your conscience but to give you back your life. Sometimes it takes years of pain and hardship but there are things in life we can’t comprehend. We can only try to accept them and see what good can come from them.

Julian: I’m sorry, Monsignor, but I don’t understand what good can come from my assaulting you all those years ago. You’re an innocent man. Please tell me what you’re talking about.

Monsignor: Several weeks ago the art instructor here accepted another assignment and the directors have been searching for a new teacher ever since. The job pays well and includes room and board but so far they haven’t found anyone. I’ve been here long enough to have some sway. Julian, I’m sure you’d be welcome here as art instructor if you’re interested.

[Julian begins to weep again and the Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s head.]

Julian: I will never be able to repay you for helping me this way.

Monsignor: Julian, my son, I feel no need to be repaid. I have had a good life. You’re the one who has suffered for too long, physically and emotionally. Yes, it’s ironic how this all unfolded but God has a plan in mind for all of us and I learned many years ago never to question His plans. I see things more clearly at this moment than I ever have before. Come with me. Let me introduce you to the directors. I’m sure God will open their eyes and minds to the great possibilities that lie ahead.

[The Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s shoulder. Julian reaches up and covers the priest’s hand with his. Together they leave the garden.]

NAR © 2021

Guest Post

GUEST POST: FORBIDDEN LOVE, PART 2: REVENGE OF THE WINGS (Fantasy)

It’s a thrill for me to post the second installment of “Foribidden Love”, a fantasy angels and demons story created by my granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. Last time we saw our star-crossed lovers Cameron, Princess of the Angels, made a huge leap of faith and love by joining Jasper, the demon boy, on the other side. This act resulted in Cameron becoming a demon and angering her mother, Queen of the Angels. Alex, an angel who was also in love with Cameron, could not believe what Cameron had done and was willing to do whatever it took to bring her back to the Land of the Angels.

Mckenna has been working on Part 2, among other stories which will also appear here, since before Part 1 was published in February, 2020. Much has happened in our world since then; a lot was very disturbing and frightening for all of us. There were many things our kids didn’t understand; sometimes as adults we forget that. I’m so proud that Mckenna kept her mind active and her imagination flowing by continuing her writing. She’s quite the young lady now at 12 years of age. She’s determined to give everything she does her best shot and I know she will succeed at whatever she chooses to do. And if she learns a little bit from me along the way, then even better. The universe awaits!

So, what do you do for fun around here?” Cameron asked.

“Well, this place has no rules so basically you can do whatever you want” Jasper said with a smile.

“Huh!” exclaimed Cameron. The two walked through the town that the angels hated so much.

“Next question: Why the heck is there so much lava?” asked Cameron playfully, while pointing to the multiple volcanoes and lava-falls. Jasper just laughed.  Cameron flicked her finger against his head. “I’m being serious, y’know!”  

“Okay, well, this land has a very long history.  Do you want to hear it?  And I’m only explaining because I’m sick of the questions.”  Jasper said.

Cameron sat down. “I’m kind of offended, but I’ll take it” she said half-jokingly.

Jasper sat down next to her and began to explain the long and somewhat boring history of his home.

Meanwhile back at the palace, Alex was pacing his room, thoughts running through his head.  He knew that if he tried to kill Jasper, he would have to kill Cameron, too. But the truth was he didn’t really want to kill anyone. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to die. His mind was racing! All Alex wanted to do was fall asleep and wake up in a world where the past 12 hours never happened. Easier said than done! Suddenly the door burst open and Alex’s older brother, Mason, burst into the room.  

“What the heck did you do, Alex?! I heard that the Royal Guard is planning on killing the Prince of Demons and YOU’RE leading them. You’re supposed to be getting married to the princess in two weeks!

Alex sighed. “She’s no princess.” 

Mason was taken aback. “How can you say that?  Her mother is the Queen and she possesses the greatest power in the world.” 

Alex flopped on his bed. “Before you start shooting your mouth off, how ‘bout you look out the window?”  

Mason went to his brother’s window and saw Jasper and a demon girl talking. “Who is that demon, the one with the black hair?” 

Alex threw a pillow at his brother, “Take a wild guess, genius!” 

Putting two and two together, Mason sarcastically said to Alex “Ouch, bro!  You REALLY messed up big time!” 

Alex was annoyed. “Thanks for making me feel worse. It was your idea to marry into a powerful family.” 

Mason put his hands up. “I’m aware of that.”  He paused as Alex sat up. “But are YOU aware of what you have done?” And with that, Mason walked out. Little did anyone know that next time Mason saw his brother, he would be a different person.

TWO DAYS LATER

Cameron’s mother, the Queen, addressed Alex: “Now, I have put a spell on you so that when you cross over, you will not turn into a demon. I’m trusting you to bring my daughter back.”  Alex saluted the Queen and he and his troops marched to the border. They burst in and began putting out the fires.  

Jasper and Cameron were inside the demon castle when they heard the terrible commotion outside. The couple rushed to the window.

“It looks like war out there!” Cameron cried.

“Then we better go and fight.” declared Jasper. 

Cameron paused and looked out the window again. After what seemed like a million years, she replied “Yes, Jasper. You’re right. We must fight.” They both leapt out the window and flew over the battle scene.

Noticing Alex, Cameron asked “Jasper, why is Alex here?” 

“I have no idea” Jasper replied.

Suddenly Cameron and Jasper were sighted.

“DOWN WITH THE DEMONS!!!” Alex’s troops shouted.

Cameron flew down to Alex. “What are you doing?” she shouted.

“Just following orders” Alex answered.

“And what are those orders?!” demanded Cameron.

Alex replied: “To kill the demons.” 

“But why?” Cameron asked.

“You could ask your mother” Alex said. But wait – I think maybe there’s a way to make this all stop.”  He offered Cameron his hand. “Come back home to the Land of the Angels and never leave again. Then all this will end.” 

Cameron felt like she was going to explode. “You think I came this far just to go back after only 24 hours?!  I crossed the border because the demons did nothing wrong. I belong here as a demon with Jasper. YOU can go back and tell my mother that her daughter is gone!”  

“Listen, if I don’t bring you back to your mother…”  Alex’s voice trailed off.

“What, Alex?  What’s my mother going to do?” asked Cameron.

“She will leave me to die and come and fetch you herself” Alex replied quietly.

At first Cameron didn’t know what to say. Then she spoke what was in her heart: “I just want a peaceful world where people can love whoever they want, where there is no queen or king.”   

Suddenly Alex knew what had to be done. He snapped his fingers and the troops disappeared. Jasper flew down and stood next to Cameron.

“What are you doing, Alex?” he asked.

Alex didn’t answer. Then it happened. His angelic wings turned black and his blonde hair to a rusty red.  

Standing in the place of what once seemed like a lost cause was now a chance for redemption.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“He failed!” said the Queen of Angels angrily. “If that so-called ‘angel’ can’t bring my daughter back, then I’ll have no choice but to do it myself.” 

TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 3 OF

“THE FORBIDDEN LOVE” SERIES

MFR © 2021

Poems

FRENCH KISSING LIFE

There is a place somewhere called Paris
And I’m going there on vacation today;
A city where every useless worry or care is
Forgotten and carelessly tossed away.

I don’t need to see the Eiffel Tower
Or pray at Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
I’d happily pick a delicate wildflower
Or caress a charming man’s arm.

I’d love to stroll through Pére Lachaise,
Have a chat at the grave of Jim Morrison.
I’d play him some tunes like Jimi’s “Purple Haze’’,
Just dishing the dirt with that sexy rapscallion.

You won’t catch me near the Seine for dinner;
Much too highbrow and touristy for me.
Seat me at a bar with the saint or the sinner;
We’ll close the place down at quarter past three.

Mona Lisa is enigmatic in a gilt frame so fine
But the thought of the Louvre is a total bore.
I’d rather be laughing in a park drinking wine
Or sharing a smoke on a bench with a whore.

I’ve got nothing to hide; it’s far from a secret:
When it comes to Parisian men I’m a big flirt.
The playboys in the square whisper “Come, be my pet”
And I purr “Oui, oui, mon cheri! Who will it hurt?”

There is a place somewhere called Paris
And I’m going there on vacation today.
I’ll give life a sultry lingering French kiss;
When I’m in Paris I like to do things my way.

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

RED STAR PINES

The sun was just beginning to rise over the Sangala Valley and the day was already warm. Ekon, a middle-aged widower and his son Mosi sat outside as they did each morning eating their breakfast before beginning their long day in the fields. It had been just the two of them since Ekon’s wife Bisa died from a fever several years earlier.

The Sangala Valley is very small but a good home for Ekon and Mosi. There is an abundance of sunlight for growing crops and copious amounts of fruit trees to provide much needed shade during the hottest times of the day. Mosi goes fishing daily in nearby Lake Caballo; he has become quite proficient but Ekon is the hunter, always keeping them well-fed with rabbits, pigs, deer or fowl. They also keep roosters, chickens and have a female mule for milk.

Three other families live in the valley and share the area peacefully, frequently trading with each other. Ekon and Mosi are fortunate to have a variety of foods to eat; however, they have had no luck growing wheat or other grains – something Bisa excelled at. Sometimes the women bring them flatbread and loaves of Green Mealies, a fluffy corn bread, in exchange for various items.

Forests of wild pine trees grow in the distance and the view from the valley is magnificent. One evening as father and son relaxed by their campfire after a long day, Mosi expressed his greatest desire: “Father, one day I shall visit the Red Star Pines.”

“One day?” exclaimed Ekon and laughed heartily. “My son, the pines are thousands of miles away, a rigorous and dangerous journey of many months. It is a quest, not a day’s adventure.”

“But how can that be, Father?” Mosi questioned. “I can see them as clearly as I can see Lake Caballo.”

“Mosi, the wild pines are enormous and tower over everything” Ekon explained. “Their closeness is a mere illusion.”

“But Father” Mosi argued. “Look across the lake. The pines are plainly visible and the land is flat. We can get there in half a day!”

“That is true, my son, but they are just saplings. There’s much more to the pine woods than meets the eye. You must give up this fantasy. Now, off to bed for both of us.”

Mosi did not mention the Red Star Pines again for a long time but he never abandoned his dream. One morning during breakfast Mosi told his father that he had decided he would not be able to rest until he traveled to the woods – or at least tried. Ekon’s first reaction was to once again talk Mosi out of his idea but as he looked at his son he realized he was no longer a child and his mind was made up. Ekon told Mosi he understood the need that drove him and they would make the trek together.

Mosi was thrilled and immediately began to prepare. Ekon said they must bring only the barest of necessities, their fishing and hunting tools and their mule Shiga. There was also one priceless object which Ekon would never leave behind, a treasure handed down from generation to generation – a tiny vial containing the Tincture of Jal’mboor. One small drop on the tip of the tongue would allow the user to speak in any language chosen and the spell would remain until no longer needed.

They set out the following morning, reaching the woods in a few hours. Mosi was shocked to find he was taller than the saplings. The terrain was flat and easily passable until the fifth day when they came upon a vast, swiftly-moving river blocking their path. Having no craft, the duo consulted an old map and chose to travel east. This would take them out of their way but is was the safer route. After many days of walking they reached a shallow section of the river which they crossed safely.

The new terrain was steeper and difficult. The forests were dense and hardly any light shone through. They were keenly aware of strange sounds and Ekon kept his spear by his side. Without warning the trees began to quake; suddenly hundreds of birds flew out and disappeared. A second later a massive tiger appeared. He stared at Ekon and Mosi, slits of amber eyes observing their every move. He snarled, exposing razor sharp fangs. Ekon whispered for Mosi to stand perfectly still but Shiga was spooked and whinnied loudly. In an instant the tiger leapt but Ekon was ready and felled the giant cat with his trusty spear. The duo dined that night on sinewy tiger meat, refilled their water skins from a babbling brook and went to sleep. They would start fresh in the morning.

However, when Ekon and Mosi awoke they were not in the same place as the night before. They were in a higher elevation; it was colder and there were traces of snow. They were comfortably covered in blankets next to a small fire under a giant pine tree. Shiga happily munched in a nearby trough. Besides the change of location, there was a much more obvious and disconcerting difference: both men had aged approximately five years! Mosi looked to be about 25 years old and Ekon had some grey in his hair and beard.

A group of men emerged from the woods; immediately Ekon reached for the vial in his wrap and placed one drop on the tip of his tongue. Quickly Mosi did the same. The leader of the group spoke rapidly, explaining how his men found Ekon and Mosi unconscious near the brook five years ago and brought them back to their village. The brook had been poisoned years ago by after a mysterious storm and an antidote had yet to be found. The men were members of the ancient San tribe, learned men of science who assured Ekon and Mosi they meant them no harm. When Ekon answered in San, the men were surprised but quickly deduced Ekon possessed the power of the Jal’mboor. As they spoke some San women approached with food and clean clothes. Mosi immediately caught the eye of a beautiful young woman called Tayla and they smiled shyly.

Ekon and Mosi learned much from the San people. They knew how to preserve food in such a way that it could be dried, shrunken to a compact size and last for years. They developed a shield of invisibility to disappear at the first sign of danger thus avoiding any conflict or violence. They were philosophers and great thinkers but lacked basic skills such as carpentry. Even their tents were falling over!

Mosi and Ekon told the San people of their quest to reach the top of the Red Star Pines. Many had tried but very few succeeded. It was a treacherous journey but the San could help if Ekon and Mosi did something in return for them: teach them to build huts. The pair agreed and spent the next two years working with the San people. During that time Mosi and Tayla fell in love and he promised to return for her after they reached the summit.

The San warned Ekon and Mosi about the Sanguine Precipice, the Eikae Dragon Den and the bloodthirsty Madosu Gorillas. The San said they would provide Mosi and Ekon with a map to get them safely passed the precipice and presented them with the invisibility shield to evade the monstrous dragons and gorillas. Mission now complete, Ekon and his son prepared to leave the next morning.

Shiga was loaded down with new flasks containing safe water, bundles of food, blankets and the invisibility shield. Bidding Tayla farewell, Mosi and Ekon followed the San people until they were safely on the other side of the poisonous brook. At the last minute, Mosi fetched a few old water skins and filled them with poison water. Now they were truly on their own, prepared but anxious. The higher they climbed the colder it became and they blessed the San women for their gift of warm clothing.

The pair hiked forever, sometimes not uttering a single word. Their silence was soon disturbed by horrifying screeches and savage bellows. They knew they reached the first hazard: the Eikae Dragons. The sound of huge flapping wings filled the sky and Mosi quickly grabbed the invisibility shield just before catching a glimpse of the nightmarish creatures. They covered themselves just in time and the Eikae hovered over them, sniffing the air suspiciously with gargantuan nostrils, then angrily flew away. Mosi and Ekon remained where they were until they were sure all was safe. They carefully retracted the shield and secured it onto Shiga’s back.

At first Ekon kept a record of the passing number of nights but eventually lost count. They walked for what seemed an eternity and Mosi questioned himself a thousand times over. They came to a divided path but the San map was unclear so they chose a path with no particular reason in mind. It proved to be the wrong choice. Rounding a bend they found themselves face to face with the Madosus. They were hideous beasts, a combination of a gorilla and a hippopotamus. Ekon froze as the savages slowly came closer, snorting loudly and beating their breasts. But Mosi thought quickly and placed a drop of the Jal’mboor potion on the tip of his tonge.

To the bewilderment of the gorillas Mosi began speaking in fluent Madosu: “We are travelers. We seek no trouble. All we wish is to pass by safely.”

One of the gorillas asked: “How is it you can speak our language?”

“We are magicians. We can offer you whatever you desire. What is your greatest wish?” Mosi asked, covering his fear.

“TO EAT YOU!” shouted the Madosu.

“But you can do that any time” countered Mosi.

“ABSOLUTE POWER!” roared the gorilla.

“If that is what you desire, I can provide it. It’s as easy as drinking the supernatural waters in these skins” and Mosi tossed the sacks to the gorillas. They greedily drank the brook water and were poisoned within seconds.

Elated with their great success over the Madosu, Ekon and Mosi quickened their pace and moved on. Their relief was short lived, however, when they reached the Sanguine Precipice. Never before had they seen such a narrow path nor so steep a cliff. Mosi checked the San map and saw a widening in the path about four feet ahead. Crossing those four feet would be crucial. They could not make one false move. Mosi believed he and his father could do it but he wasn’t sure about Shiga. The men decided to lighten Shiga’s load by dividing it beween them. She stood a better chance without the extra weight. Slow as snails they proceeded, placing one foot before the other, Mosi leading Shiga and Ekon gently pushing her rear.

Just as they safely reached the clearing, Shiga lost her footing and landed full force on top of Ekon who howled in agony. Working quickly Mosi got Shiga upright and tied her to a tree; then he returned for Ekon. As soon as Mosi tried to lift his father, Ekon screamed and lost consciousness; Mosi immediately knew his father’s back was broken. Mosi carried Ekon like a newborn baby and laid him in the shade of a Red Star Pine; it was only then that he realized they had made it to the summit. His quest was complete but at what cost?

Slowly, Ekon opened his eyes and whispered “We made it, son!” Then quietly he exhaled and died. Mosi cried out in sorrow, the mountains echoing his mournful wail, and Shiga softly nudged him with her head. Mosi buried Ekon on the summit of the Red Star Pines, laying his trusty spear, bow and arrow across the grave. Snow lightly began to fall as Mosi packed all their belongings and securely placed them onto Shiga’s back. Now knowing the safe route Mosi and Shiga began their trek back to Tayla and home to the Sangala Valley.

NAR © 2021

Poems

A SHELL OF A MAN

A SHELL OF A MAN

Who the hell do you think you are,
Sitting out there in your fancy car?
Everyone know that you’re just a tool
Strutting around town like a Goddamn fool! 

You spend more time on your pretty boy look
Thinking you can snag me with your Devil hooks.
Well, let me tell you something that you might not know:
Your looks count for nothing when it’s all for show.

You’re not a man, just an empty shell
Of someone I thought I knew so well.
It’s obvious to everyone who called you friend
You care for no one and deep wounds never mend.

What happened to your soul, your spirit, your heart?
Did you ever once wonder why we had to part?
Of course you didn’t; your conscience is clean
Of every misdeed you claim to have never seen.

You used and confused me, deluded and abused me
And made me forget the strong woman I used to be.
I don’t look any different; it’s inside I’m not the same.
It’s gotten so don’t even recognize my name.

It won’t be long before you’re all alone.
No one’s gonna call you on the telephone.
You’re the biggest loser so face the facts:
People will judge you by your deeds and acts.

You think you’re perfect like Christ walking on water
But what kind of man abandons his wife and daughter?
My father always said you were a piece of shit
But I turned a deaf ear; I just didn’t want to hear it.

I trusted you once; I was blind, deaf and dumb
To the fact that you were nothing but a piece of scum.
How could I have been such an idiot not to see
What a snake in the grass you’d turn out to be?

You wooed and chased me, swept me off my feet
With pretty little gifts and whispered lies so sweet.
I felt so very special when we were out together.
Never listening when told I could do much better.

I loved you so much and you promised me all
So we ran off and got married at Buxton Hall.
A quiet little honeymoon at the Tan Hill Inn;
No more sneaking around and ‘living in sin’.

It didn’t take long for your true colors to show.
I caught you making time with some floozy named Flo.
That was just the start of a whirlwind of deceit.
You broke my heart to bits and I kicked you to the street.

So now you’re sitting there just like you own the place
With a look so smug I want to slap it off your stupid face.
You thought you could control me, break me down, but in the end
I turned into a willow tree and I learned how to bend.

Do us all a favor and get the fuck out of here.
Don’t come close to me or those I hold so dear.
Drive as far away as you can and don’t ever return.
You’re going straight to hell and I’ll be laughing while you burn.

NAR © 2021

Poems

GUEST POST: BEFORE MY EYES

BY PETER DAVIES

IT IS AN HONOR TO PRESENT TO YOU A POEM BY PETER DAVIES, MY FRIEND FROM ACROSS THE POND. I’M SURE ONCE YOU READ THIS INSPIRING PIECE YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHY I CHOSE IT FOR MY SITE. THANK YOU, PETER, FOR YOUR BEAUTIFUL PROSE.

Why do I feel so pointless
As a broken pencil to be cast away;
My mark fades now on this true Earth
These eyes are turning from blue to gray.


Why do I feel so shattered
As a window looking far into the Sun;
My words sinking away to the shadows
These eyes beholding the kingdom come.


Why do I feel so helpless
As a sparrow with a broken wing;
My heart becomes hollow and empty
These eyes searching for a soul to cling.


Why do I feel so unloved
As a beast of burden before the blade;
My hands are cut to the bone and bleeding
These eyes they close in a dream of shade.


Why do I feel so mortal
As a child who is born only to die;
My tongue it tastes the salt of the shore
These eyes have drowned in tears to cry.


©️ Peter Davies. 2021

Longer Stories

SHOULD HAVE GONE FOR PIZZA

“End of the Line. What a clever name for a seafood restaurant!” declared my mother as we rode down Main Street in Sag Harbor. “Let’s stop for dinner, Mark. I’m starving.”

My sister Mckenzie, brother Jake and I exchanged looks and rolled our eyes. Going to a restaurant with our parents was our least favorite part of vacation.

“Sure, Jan. Looks like a nice little place!” my Dad readily agreed, as usual. “Whaddya say, kids?”

“Why don’t you drop us off at the pizza place and we can meet you back at the hotel?” I suggested knowing that idea would never fly.

“Rebecca Grace, this is the first summer vacation we’ve taken in years and we’re going to dinner as a family. There’ll be no further discussion, is that clear?”

Why do mothers always use our first and middle names when they’re cross with us? That conversation ended exactly as I knew it would but dammit it, I had to try for my sake and my siblings. Being in the company of our parents 24/7 sucked. We have dinner with them back home every night. We’re teenagers; we can handle pizza or burgers on our own once in a while – and some Mike’s Hard Lemonade! (You didn’t hear that from me!)

The restaurant was actually pretty nice – nothing fancy and it was right on the water. Even I had to admit it had potential. The proof would be in the pudding and by that I meant the menu. Mom was the pickiest eater on the planet and Dad, God bless him, had the patience of a saint. My sister, brother and me? Not so much.

First thing my eternally hormonal brother noticed was the pretty young waitresses in their tight white t-shirts and even tighter khaki shorts with “FORE” and “AFT” emblazoned respectively.

“Yeah, baby, this place is a bit of alright” Jake said, practically drooling over a cute redhead who smiled flirtatiously at him. Mckenzie laughed so hard she nearly choked on a breadstick and said “When did you turn into Austin Powers? You’re such a dickhead!”  I thought that was pretty hysterical coming from a 13-year-old. Jake gave her the finger under the table and Mom gasped “Mckenzie Faith! I swear sometimes the devil himself resides in that mouth of yours! Mark, why do you let them watch those nasty foreign movies?”

Dad was nonplussed and mumbled something that sounded like an apology even though he had no idea what he was apologizing for! He was just trying to avoid an unpleasant scene.

Much to Jake’s chagrin one of the head waitresses came over to our table. She wore black pants, a white blouse, a black vest and looked more like Sister Rosetta Stone than Emma Stone! She asked if we were ready to order; Mom gave her standard reply which we all silently recited, our noggins bouncing back and forth like those little bobble-head dolls on car dashboards: “Everything looks so delicious, I just can’t decide! You all go ahead and order first. I’ll be ready by the time you’re done.”

Dad ordered first: “I’ll have the salmon with mixed vegetables and a Sam Adams, please.” BAM! Four seconds flat.

Jake said he’d have the pizza. The waitress pointed out the window to Sag Pizza then announced that ‘our pizza is on the kid’s menu and available only to children aged 10 and under”. She jokingly asked if Jake was 10 years old. I couldn’t resist replying that he only behaved like a 10-year-old but he was really 15. Jake hid behind a menu, his face turning as red as pizza sauce.

Giving Jake a chance to cool down, the waitress asked “How about you, girls? Do you know what you’d like to eat?”

Mckenzie and I answered in unison: “Fried shrimp, waffle fries, iced tea and extra ketchup, please.” BAM! Five seconds flat.

Recovering from his embarrassment, Jake sullenly said “Fish sticks, onion rings and a Coke.” BAM! Two seconds!

Shocker of shockers: Mom wasn’t quite ready! Flustered, she said “Oh, my! That was awfully fast! Let’s see” and she buried her head in the menu which the rest of the family had now committed to memory. Finally her recitative began:

“You know, I’d really love to try that soft-shell crab sandwich but I remember when I was a little girl I ate one and the shell wasn’t soft
at all. I’ve never forgotten that;
very traumatic! Tiny shards of shell getting stuck in my throat!
How’s the blackened swordfish? Is it spicy?
I just can’t tolerate spicy foods.
Delicate constitution, you know?
Sometimes they say it’s not spicy when it really is
so you can’t be too careful.
Uh, sushi? Definitely not! Anyone who eats raw fish
is asking for trouble.
You have to be out of your mind to order that horrid stuff,
no offense.
Oh, now, this looks promising: grilled tuna, but it comes with a horseradish sauce.
Why does everything come with some kind of sauce?
Seems all the rage lately.
I’m not so sure how I feel about that – almost like they’re trying to
cover something up”
(and she laughed at the little joke she just made).
Hmm, baked potato or rice? All those useless carbs!
Can I substitute something healthy and gluten free,
maybe green beans or a salad but no cucumbers, croutons,
onions or dressing?
And absolutely no horseradish sauce!
Oh, yes, water to drink, with a lemon wedge, please.
Not a wimpy slice; a nice big wedge. Yes, that’s what I’ll have.
Thank you, ma’am.”

And she handed the menu back to the waitress whose eyes had glazed over five minutes ago – much like Luca Brasi who sleeps with the fishes.

The blessed waitress, who was even more patient than Dad, innocently suggested Mom try the plain grilled tuna on a bed of fresh salad greens to which Mom replied “Oh, goodness me! I didn’t even see the salad section on the menu. Why don’t you bring everyone their drinks and I’ll just give the menu another look?” I think we all died a little just then.

Jake grumbled “Should have gone for pizza” and we sat there contemplating the scrumptious Sag Pizza right across the street and another two weeks of meals just like this one – all except Mom who still had her head stuck in the menu.

Dad discreetly motioned for the bartender to keep the fortifying Sam Adams coming. Way to go, Dad!

It was gonna be a long night.

End of the Line

NAR © 2021

250 Words

CYBER HOOKUPS

Flower child, bohemian, hippie. No, she was never one of those. She was always cool with her oh so very low-rise jeans, halter tops, outrageously high platform shoes and drop-dead smile. She had a peculiarity for going commando, occasionally opting for the tiniest of thongs.

Classy in a smooth and sensual way that was second nature, she was never one who had to try too hard. Delightful imperfections that went unnoticed, she had IT and she was irresistible.

Living in the fast lane, she went to clubs and concerts, hanging out with everyone from hookers to Carmelites. She never really enjoyed drugs with the exception of the indescribably exquisite quaalude. She led a life of no regrets, no apologies, no explanations.

Friends and lovers – never a lack of either. Women were jealous of her but she was too much fun to dislike. Men were ineffably drawn to her like the proverbial moth to flame. She was no alley cat, no “screw-‘em-in-the-disco-bathroom” type. She could be submissive when she wanted to be but knew how the game was played, never doing anything she wasn’t curious about, and stopping if she didn’t enjoy it.

And now in the autumn of her life when all her friends are winding down, she’s still starting up. A couple of seemingly innocuous messages online led to the start of a crazy, sexually charged and mutually intoxicating long-distance liaison. No attachments, no commitments, no worries. Something that could end as quickly as it began but would never be forgotten. Games with one roguish, audacious and charming devil who’s as insatiable as she.

And right now that’s exactly how she likes it.

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

DANCING ON THE BLACK KEYS

DANCING ON THE BLACK KEYS

Orlando Hightower – or “Keys” as he was known by everyone – was probably the hottest black jazz pianist since the legendary Scott Joplin. He was the real deal, on top of his game at the tender age of 17. The world was his oyster.

Times were dangerous in Harlem, New York. The year was 1923 – the United States’ era of Prohibition and racial segregation.

Orlando was born with fingers wiggling and toes tapping. He had an innate talent to play whatever popped into his head and danced out of his hands. Once he heard a tune it was carved into his memory. He created songs on his grandmother’s rickety upright as easily as someone writing a shopping list.

When Orlando was 12 his mother got a job as chief housekeeper for the Gale Family. Orlando would tag along with her, making himself useful and staying out of trouble. Mrs. Hightower kept him on a short leash knowing how easy it was for young boys to get caught up in the allure of unsavory activities. She always said Orlando was destined to be a man of noble position. A life of crime only led to the destruction of morals; once that happened you had nothing in your future except misery and a jail cell.

Moe Gale was co-owner of the world-famous Savoy Club and an extremely wealthy man. Orlando would entertain himself for hours at the Gale’s baby grand by penning original songs. One of his favorite things to do was write pieces in the pentatonic scale using only the black keys of the piano. Orlando’s talent did not go unnoticed by Moe and he was determined to have him play at The Savoy. Unlike many clubs, The Savoy had a no-discrimination policy. Moe implored Mrs. Hightower several times a week to allow Orlando to play at the club and her answer never changed: “When he’s old enough. Let him be a boy.” Moe would always ask when that would be but Orlando’s mother just shrugged saying “When I know, you’ll know.”

After almost five years of pleading with Mrs. Hightower, she finally relented and gave permission for Orlando to play at the club – on a trial basis. Moe was ecstatic; he knew a sure thing when he saw one. Moe became Orlando’s manager and kept him on the straight and narrow.

Orlando started at The Savoy as pianist with the large house band and his skills were quickly noticed by the clientele. Soon he became a member of the jazz quartet and shortly was featured as accompanist for some of the biggest singers of the day.

Finally the night arrived for the premier of Orlando’s solo performance and his career took off like a starship. Mrs. Hightower sat at the best table in the house, her face beaming with pride as she watched her son play. But the thing that brought her enormous joy was the marquee out front –

Appearing Nightly At The Savoy:
The Incomparable ‘Keys’ Hightower!”

Mrs. Hightower could now rest east knowing her job was done. Orlando had turned into an accomplished, successful and noble gentleman of high character. He made his mother proud.

NAR © 2021