Poems

ENTER SANDMAN

I freely admit I enjoy a good nap
The ones that overtake me so easily
Slip-sliding away in Morpheus’ lap
Asleep like a babe oh so peacefully

Sometimes I feel my eyes closing
I’m aware of the droop of my chin
There’s no harm in a wee bit of dozing
It’s no big deal and I freely give in

I can doze off at the drop of a hat
While watching TV or having a read
I stretch and purr like a contented cat
And it didn’t take any Xanax or weed

I fall asleep in the usual places
In church, on a plane or a bus
Staring at all the other yawning faces
It happens to every last one of us

I fall asleep on a massage bed
Or while getting a spa pedicure
Transported someplace out of my head
Where everything’s blissful and sure

I’d nod off in math class when I was a teen
Something that’s frowned on in school
I’d sit in the back and was never once seen
Algebra was so boring and I was too cool

One day I fell asleep at the seashore
When I awoke I was red as a beet
In all of my life I was never so sore
Couldn’t even cover myself with a sheet

Then came the days of pulling all-nighters
I’d party till dawn and then crash
Drawn to the lovers, the dreamers and writers
Trying my best not to do something rash

Up all night meant sleeping all day
My life became quite a mixed jumble
If you want to dance, the piper you pay
Either slow down or stumble and tumble

Falling in love is like falling asleep
Sometimes taking you quite by surprise
Along came a guy and I fell really deep
Married and pregnant in the blink of an eye

A baby in the house requires much work
Feeding and bathing and cleaning up poo
I am many things but I am no jerk
When my baby had a nap I did too

Having children brings so many joys
You love them with your whole heart
It matters not whether girlies or boys
Your worries begin right from the start

Children are little for only so long
The teen years come round awfully fast
I cannot sleep; could something be wrong?
They’re out and their curfew has past

The kids are no more, they’re all fully grown
And you’re proud that you did your best
They’re happily married with kids of their own
And you think now it’s your time to rest

Sorry but it really doesn’t work that way
You’ve been blessed with a couple of grands
Your kids are so busy with work every day
And the care of their babes is now in your hands

It’s not bad at all if you just use your head
When the grand-babies nap so do you
At night you sleep peacefully tucked in your bed
Cos you’ve done the best job you could do

NAR © 2022

1000 Words

SEE ME, FEEL ME

My husband Sam and I were hosting our usual Friday night dinner with friends, something we’ve been doing for several years. Sam is a psychology professor at NYU and I manage Dahlia’s, an eponymously named floral shop.

Our weekly dinner companions are Claude and his wife Piper who own a small eclectic bookstore called The Paper Trail and Austin and Rebecca who have been engaged for seven years. Rebecca is a music teacher at a private school in Manhattan and Austin is a graphic designer. We keep asking them “When’s the big day?” but neither one seems to be in a rush.

Our dinner conversations are always lively, touching on a variety of topics. This particular evening, Sam said “I asked my class this question today: ‘If you had to choose between being deaf or being blind, which would you choose?’ Now, my friends, I’d like to know how you would answer that question.” My husband – ever the provocateur! Perhaps that’s what I find so stimulating about him.

Well, no big surprise, no one said anything for a moment; this was a profound question. I finally decided to break the ice by responding. “For me, as a florist, I would have to say I’d choose to be deaf. I need to see the arrangements I’m creating, which color flowers go well together, the best bouquets to match bridesmaid’s dresses, even something as simple as placing flowers in the right vase. I wouldn’t have to hear the bell on the shop’s front door or the telephone ring; both can be hooked up to a light to get my attention. And customers could always email or text me with their orders. Why, I could even communicate with my customers via tablets in the shop. I’d still be able to see and smell all the beautiful flowers, meet my customer’s expectations and take pride in my creations.”

Spurred on by my answer, Austin chimed in. “Exactly! I totally agree with Dahlia. In the field of graphic design, I would be incapable of working without the ability to see. These days there are so many electronic devices we can use to communicate; I don’t think being deaf would interfere with my life or my work at all.”

Immediately Rebecca countered what we said. “I get where the two of you are coming from but I could never teach music if I were deaf. I’d be able to place my fingers on the correct piano keys or strum the right strings on a guitar because I’ve been making music all my life. It’s second nature to me. But I wouldn’t want to exist without the sound of music, to hear my students playing, to correct their mistakes or praise their achievements. It would be impossible for me to conduct an orchestra, not knowing if the violins should be a little louder or the bassoons pianissimo. Austin, if you were deaf, you wouldn’t hear the wedding march when I walk down the aisle or hear me say the words ‘I do’.”

Austin was quick to reply. “As long as I could see your radiant face in your gorgeous wedding gown carrying the beautiful bouquet designed by Dahlia, that’s all that would matter. And as far as hearing you say ‘I do’, I would read your luscious lips before tenderly kissing my new bride.”

We all laughed as Sam exclaimed “Nice save, Austin! Claude and Piper, we’ve yet to hear from you. What’s your poison – deaf or blind?”

As if on cue, both Claude and Piper declared their answers at the same time; he said “Deaf”; she said “Blind”. They stared at each other in bewilderment and the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh at the expressions on their faces. Of course Sam had to keep the game going by saying “At last! Some controversy, a little gasoline on the fire of our conversation. Let’s keep this ball rolling!” and he poured everyone a fresh glass of wine.

Claude cleared his throat. “Piper, mon cher, we own a bookstore! How can you possibly say you would choose blindness over deafness? Mon Dieu! Have you forgotten how we bonded at that little book shop in Paris … what was the name? Ah! La Manoeuvre! We both reached for the same book of poetry by Paul Eluard and when our eyes met I knew I could never look away.’’

“Oh, my darling Claude. I could never forget La Manoeuvre. You read poetry to me and time stood still. It was as though we were the only people in that shop. Our love for books is why we bought The Paper Trail; that store is our baby. I know each book on every shelf and have read most of them. The feel of the paper, the smell of the leather-bound first editions, hearing you read to me – I do not need sight to love a book.”

Piper and Claude moved closer to each other and embraced, momentarily forgetting they were not alone. They kissed, then pulled away, embarrassed. Piper blushed and gave a breathless laugh.

“Claude, do you remember the books I had in my bag the day we first met?” Piper asked.

Claude nodded and said “Oui. One was ‘Wuthering Heights’ in Braille and the other was French sign language. They were for your parents.”

Piper looked around the room at the rest of us and explained. “My mother is blind and my father is deaf. Somehow they never had trouble communicating; I suppose they spoke the silent language of love. That’s why I was so passionate about having a Braille section in our bookstore. Also, there is new technology to help both blind and deaf people enjoy a movie or television.”

Turning to Claude, Piper said “As long as I can hear your voice, it doesn’t matter if I never see another thing again.”

We all felt a little in awe of Piper at that moment. We sipped our wine, captivated by the sounds of silence.  

NAR © 2022

News

READ ALL ABOUT IT!

If you’re looking for something really great to read, I suggest these wonderful books of short stories by my friend and mentor, Simon J. Wood. In addition to Simon’s previous three books, his three new ones are: Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural, and Flash Friction: 72 Little Stories. Simon’s three new books are available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback format while his three original books are also available on audio format. Some are scary, some are funny, some are ironic, some are romantic and all are fabulous. They are highly recommended and if you choose a paperback version you’ll find they are of a very fine quality, too! Click HERE to see all titles on Amazon. Simon’s website, To Cut a Short Story Short, can be found at simonjwood.wordpress.com.

PS – I’ve never had a book dedicated to me before. Really quite lovely! ☺️

NAR © 2022

Longer Stories

A LITTLE THING LIKE THIS

It was raining when Kate Sullivan left Mercy Hospital. She was exhausted after her 12-hour shift, a bit short-tempered and very sweaty. All she wanted was to get home, peel off her scrubs, shower and go to sleep.

Usually Kate walked the seven long city blocks to her apartment in Soho just to clear her head, grabbing a donut on the way. Even after a nightmare of a shift, walking was better than riding the New York subway. Her Crocs and scrubs had been splattered with enough bodily fluids at the hospital; she had no desire to be subjected to the lascivious Neanderthals who rode the train.

But walking home this morning in the pouring rain was not an option. Stepping out from under the protective awning of the hospital, Kate hailed a taxi. As if by magic, one appeared almost instantly. “Thank God” she sighed, praying the cabbie wasn’t one of those chipper talkative types. She just wanted someone to drive her home in silence.

“Good mornin’ to ya, miss. And where might ya be goin’?” The cheerful driver’s greeting sounded like angels singing.

Kate groaned quietly and rolled her eyes. “I might be going home if you’d just start driving’’ was her clipped response.

“Yer wish is my command! Where to?” the cabbie asked, undeterred. In a matter-of-fact voice Kate gave the driver her address.

“I’ll have ya there in a jiffy!” he replied and began humming a tune, one which was vaguely familiar to Kate but she couldn’t place it.

How could anyone be so cheerful at the ungodly hour of 5:00 AM? Kate glanced over at the cabbie’s ID card taped to the tinted plexiglass that separated the front and back seats. She read his name was Declan O’Murphy; could it be any more Irish? His photo depicted a rather handsome man, probably early-thirties with tousled brown hair and a shadow of a beard. He wore a somewhat serious expression but there were deep dimples threatening to break out, almost as though he had a private joke to share. His eyes stared back at Kate and she felt goosebumps doing a jitterbug up and down her arms.

Kate sat back in her seat, took out her phone and quickly checked her schedule. Damn! Another 12-hour shift tomorrow night. She peeked over the top of her phone to steal a glimpse of the driver and immediately looked away when she saw he was looking at her in the rearview mirror. He grinned broadly showing dazzling white teeth. He looked extraordinarily handsome.

“Are ya a doctor, then?” he asked, eyes dancing.

Pfft!” Kate exclaimed. “No, I work a lot harder than most doctors I know. I’m an ER nurse; just came off an all-nighter and have another one tomorrow.”

Declan whistled and pushed his cap back a bit. “ER. That’s pretty heavy-duty stuff now, ain’t it? Well, I’ll leave ya be; just relax. OK if I put on some music?”

Kate shrugged and mumbled “whatever”; she found herself smiling slightly at Declan’s charming Irish accent. She was surprised when rock music filled the taxi. Kate recognized the song as the same one Declan was humming and found she really liked what she was hearing. She was sure she’d heard it before but just couldn’t place it.

She leaned forward a little, talking over the music. “I like this song a lot. Who is it?” she asked.

Declan jokingly gasped and smacked his hand across his chest as though mortally wounded. “Ya can’t be seriously tellin’ me ya don’t know the best rock group to come out of Ireland? Why, this is the one and only Thin Lizzy. Here … take a look at this” and he passed Kate the jacket for the CD ‘Jailbreak’ through an opening in the plexiglass. “That there’s the great singer Phil Lynott, gone too soon like so many before and after him.”

Kate really enjoyed the CD, especially “The Boys Are Back in Town” and before she knew it they had arrived at her apartment building. Was that disappointment she was feeling?

Here we are, safe and sound”. Declan offered to walk Kate to the front door with an umbrella but she said that wasn’t necessary and asked how much she owed him for the ride. They settled up and Kate made a dash for the front door. Declan watched her disappear into the building, then drove off in search of another fare.

It wasn’t until Kate was in her apartment that she realized she still had the CD jewel case. She frowned wondering how she’d be able to get it back to Declan. He only had her address, not her name or apartment number and she didn’t notice which cab company he worked for. “Well, I’ll think of something” she thought. “Right now I need a shower and sleep.”

When she was done, Kate got into bed, reached for her phone and clicked the YouTube app, searching for Thin Lizzy. She fell asleep listening to ‘Jailbreak’.

The following night her shift was just as hectic as the night before. At 5:00AM, dog tired, achy and hungry, Kate left the hospital for her trek home. No rain today and the pre-dawn streets were still deserted except for an occasional car and the lights from a 24/7 donut shop. She was about to stop for a sweet chocolate glazed when she heard two short honks from a nearby car. Looking over her shoulder she recognized Declan’s taxi and immediately smiled.

The window slid down and Declan’s sing-song voice rang out: “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, lassie. Might ya be lookin’ fer a ride home?”

Kate laughed and walked to the cab. Easing into the back seat, she teased Declan a bit, asking if he was hoping to find her or his CD case. Now it was Declan’s turn to laugh. ”Could be I was hoping to find both.”

They exchanged friendly banter all the way to her building; there was even a little flirting going on. Kate asked herself if she could be falling for this guy after two short rides in his cab. What was really weird was she never got a clear look at Declan but she realized to her amazement that didn’t matter. For once she was attracted to a guy for his personality, the things he said, his sense of humor and his appealing Irish accent – not his looks. Usually that was the first thing that drew her to a man but this was different.

Hey, Declan, you know what I just realized? You don’t know my name!”

“Well, I was hopin’ you’d tell me cos I have something to ask ya” he replied.

“My name is Kate. Kate Sullivan. What do you want to ask me, Declan?”

“Ah, a wee bit o’ the Irish in ya, is there? I knew it! Well, Katie, there’s a Thin Lizzy cover band playing tomorrow night at Paddy Maguire’s and I was thinkin’ it would be grand if we went together.”

Kate didn’t hesitate for a second. “I think it would be grand as well. I’d love to go, Declan. I want to get to know more about you.”

“Aye, Katie, that you will. I’ll pick you up right here tomorrow night at 8:00. And, Katie – my friends call me Murph.”

No one ever called her “Katie”; she felt little butterflies in her stomach when Declan called her that.

Kate wanted to look great for her date but didn’t want to look like she tried too hard. She chose a sunny yellow camisole, her favorite pair of skinny jeans and dangerously high-heeled sandals. She hoped Declan would appreciate her look.

At that same moment Declan sat in his taxi waiting for Kate; he was so nervous he got there 20 minutes early. This was a bold move for him, rarely acting so impulsively, but he felt he and Kate clicked after spending only half an hour riding in his cab. He thought about his grandparents who met on a train in Belfast and were madly in love by the time they reached Dublin. He hoped Kate wouldn’t be disappointed.

When Kate spotted Declan’s cab, she stopped for a minute to compose herself; she hadn’t been this excited about a date in eons. It was crazy – she barely knew the guy. Declan saw her standing in the doorway of her apartment building and his heart started pounding; she looked amazing, so understated yet elegant.

Kate started approaching the cab. “Well, it’s showtime, boyo” Declan whispered to himself as he got out of the cab and walked around the front to greet Kate.

Wow! You’re a fine thing tonight, Katie!” Declan said breathlessly.

Kate stared at Declan in disbelief. “And you’re … you’re …”

“Ah, so you’ve noticed I’m a little person, have ya? All 4 foot, 5 inches of me.” Declan gave her a crooked smile. “Achondroplasia; I’m sure yer familiar. Katie girl, if this is a deal-breaker, I understand.”

All Kate could do was stare. Neither one spoke. Kate laughed nervously and said “Yeah, this is quite a surprise. Oh, damn! I just remembered something.”

Before Declan could respond, Kate ran back into her building. “Well, I suppose that’s it then, ya eejit! Shoulda said something before now!” he chastised himself. He shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking back to his side of the cab.

Murph! Wait!” It was Kate calling out to him. Declan turned around to see Kate running back to the taxi. Catching her breath she said “Here. I forgot your CD case.”

Taking the case from her outstretched hand, the first thing Declan noticed was Kate had switched her high heels for flat sandals. He looked up at her and she smiled broadly.

Declan O’Murphy, if you think a little thing like this is going to change how I feel about you, you’re dead wrong. Now drive. Our night is just beginning.”

NAR © 2022

Musings

IT’S A NEW YEAR!

It’s a new year! I love new years. I love the fact that I’ll be leaving a whole year behind me, no matter if it was good, bad or so-so. I like that kind of closure, the feeling of starting over again and having a fresh year ahead of me filled with new chances and new experiences.

Let’s start our new year with hearts full of thankfulness and hope, leaving all the unhappiness behind us and having faith for a better tomorrow.

A new year means a new chapter. I hope 2022 is an incredible part of your story.

NAR © 2022

300-500 Words

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION?

Did you ever wonder how New Year’s resolutions began? I never really gave it much thought so I checked it out and learned it was a religious thing, not to be confused with a ‘religious experience’. Those I know about!

The omniscient Wikipedia tells us the ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year. During a massive 12-day religious festival, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed (much like religion and politics today). If the Babylonians kept to their word, their gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor – a place no one wanted to be. Babylonia, however, was short-lived; the empire fell apart and reverted to a small kingdom for several centuries.

Hmm, so much for grandiose gestures and so-called good intentions.

I never saw the point in proclaiming a resolution on New Year’s Eve for all to hear when I knew there was a damn good chance I wasn’t going to keep it. Why put so much pressure on myself? That’s not being negative; it’s being realistic. Besides, no one really cares about someone else’s resolution unless it involves them.

The truth is, I’m actually pretty happy with the way I am. That said, it doesn’t mean I won’t try to improve whatever needs improving; just like Jell-O, there’s always room for improvement. Could I be a better person, do more for others, be more productive? Sure – who couldn’t?

As I sit here this moment, I can honestly say I can’t think of a single New Year’s resolution I made that I kept. In fact, I’ll take that one step further: I can’t think of a single New Year’s resolution I ever made – and if I did make one, it couldn’t have meant much because I’d surely remember, no?

To everyone who makes a resolution tonight and sticks with it, I say “Congrats to you!”. To those who aren’t as successful, welcome to the club – the human league. It’s a large group and you’re in the fine company of those with good intentions.

As for me, I resolve not to make any resolutions; I can be sure I won’t disappoint myself or others. I will, however, strive to be a decent person, treat others with the respect they deserve, lend a helping hand whenever I’m able and – for crying out loud – be honest. Let’s face it; there are some people who lie when the truth would serve them better!

The last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone; still, there are growing reasons to be optimistic that our fortitude will be rewarded. So here’s hoping we all have a grand New Year’s Eve and emerge in 2022 in good health and full of resolve to bounce back stronger than ever.

See you then.

NAR © 2021

Musings

YES, VIRGINIA

Preface: All this month I gave a lot of thought to writing the “Great American Christmas Story”. I began more drafts than I can count and deleted them all; I just wasn’t feeling it. When my grandchildren began asking if Santa was real, I remembered the true story of an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon who wrote a letter to her local newspaper asking that very question. The newspaper’s editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, felt compelled to respond to Virginia’s letter in the form of a feature article. His ‘letter’ to Virginia contains an amazing message, a poignant gift to share with young and old alike. It’s an inspiring response and truly makes one stop, think and assess what’s important in life.

I realized that’s exactly what I wanted to convey in my story but Mr. Church beat me to it and in a much more eloquent way.

I hope during this holiday season you’ve had a chance to reflect on some cherished Christmas memories. There are so many magical moments during Christmas that really do make it the most wonderful time of the year. Isn’t it a pity the special and unique love we feel for one another during Christmas starts to evaporate shortly after the holidays?

Life is often not fair nor is it easy. There’s a lot of discord in the world, too much hatred, unhappiness and suffering. Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other can be a monumental task, especially after the last two years. We need something to cling to, to believe in and to help us remember what Christmas was like when we were 8-years-old.

I hope you find Mr. Church’s response to Virginia’s question enlightening, captivating and heartwarming. This is how it appeared in The New York Sun on September 21, 1897; I think you’ll agree it’s as appropriate and meaningful today as it was 124 years ago.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

A ROLL OF THE DICE

It was a picture-perfect day just before Christmas, 2001; not a cloud in the sky. My husband Bill and I were returning from a two-night stay at Foxwoods, a casino located in Ledyard, Connecticut. It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive and we were enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. We fared well at the tables and were in good spirits, listening to the radio and discussing where we should stop for lunch. It was a fun get-away before the rush of Christmas.

The ride was smooth – clear sailing as far as we could see. I was driving at a fairly decent clip in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. As we rounded a slight bend in the road, we were startled to find the traffic had come to a stand-still. My vantage point had been cut off and I was completely caught off guard. Bill yelled “Watch out!” and I slammed on the brakes of my RAV4 hoping to avoid hitting any cars in front of me. In doing so, I swerved wildly and the rear end of my car fish-tailed out to the right. The car was now at a 45º angle. I was able to avoid crashing into any cars in front of me and I struggled to straighten out my car but the guy behind me came barrelling down the highway, slamming full force into the driver’s side rear quarter panel of my car.

Unless you’ve experienced a crash of that magnitude, it’s impossible to describe the impact; I never felt pressure like that before and it’s easy to see how the force could result in someone sustaining severe whiplash, a broken neck or worse. At that moment everything switched to slow motion, like we were floating in space. Acting on reflex, Bill raised his right arm above his head to protect himself.

We glanced at each other quizzically with that WTF look in our eyes as my car rolled over once, twice, three times then landed upright with a mighty thud like a miniature Sherman Tank on the right shoulder of the highway. It’s miraculous that no other cars hit us as we rolled over to the side of the road. How the hell did my car manage to land on its tires? Thank God it did; I can’t imagine what it would have been like landing upside down, the roof smashed in, dangling from our seat belts. What seemed like an eternity probably took all of five seconds. The guy who hit us was stranded in the middle of the highway, the front end of his car smashed in. We learned later that his car was a rental and the driver had no insurance.

Immediately upon settling, there was a tremendous whooshing sound as the sunroof caved in on us; we were showered with fragments of glass, dirt and gravel which the car must have scooped up as it rolled over. The safety glass of the windshield was totally shattered but did not fall apart or crumble into the car, seemingly held together by some sort of invisible industrial-strength tape. My only injury was a whacked left knee, probably because I had a death grip on the steering wheel the entire time. Bill wasn’t so lucky; his raised hand did little to protect him. His head was cut and bleeding and the index finger of his raised hand had a deep gash. His hand had also been badly jammed as we rolled over, sending shock waves of intense pain from his fingers all the way up his arm, into his shoulder and neck.

To say we were stunned would be a huge understatement. This was something we saw on TV; it didn’t happen to us. We became aware of the high-pitched “beep beep” of a tractor trailer truck approaching us in reverse. The truck driver witnessed the accident, pulled off the road and backed up to see if we were alright. Of all the vehicles on the road at that moment, only one person stopped to check on us. Jumping out of the cab of his rig, the trucker told us not to move while he called for help.

Within minutes we were surrounded by police cars, fire engines and ambulances. The doors of my RAV had to be pried open so we could be extricated safely; I was able to walk to the ambulance but Bill was strapped onto a gurney. He was covered with a blanket, still unable to lower his arm. It was a surreal sight watching him being lifted into the ambulance and I heard him yell out in pain as his fingers brushed against the roof of the vehicle. I didn’t even look back at my car as we were whisked away to a local hospital.

After being examined, I was told I had no serious injuries but Bill needed X-rays and an MRI. The cut on his head was stapled and bandaged; his lacerated finger was sutured and placed in a finger splint. The MRI revealed a pinched nerve which was preventing him from lowering his arm. The poor guy was in agony and the doctors talked about keeping him overnight. The last thing Bill wanted was to be admitted to an unfamiliar hospital and he made that perfectly clear to me and the doctors. They insisted he stay for at least a few hours for observation but after that, if they thought he was stable enough for the ride back to New York, they would not keep him against his will. Bill was worried about me but I assured him I was fine. He asked me where my car was and I feebly replied that I didn’t know. That’s when I realized I needed to take action; first on the list was to track down my wrecked car and all our belongings.

I was running on nothing but shock and adrenaline; the only reason I didn’t collapse from the trauma was because I knew I had to get things done. I must have looked a mess with ripped clothes and my hair full of road debris but I didn’t care. It’s amazing what’s important and what isn’t when your back is against the wall; it’s called survival.

The first thing I did was call the police station to find out where my car had been towed; all our luggage, including the money we won at the casino, was in the car along with the usual stuff people keep in their vehicles – everything from important car documents to extra packets of ketchup. Once I found out where my car was impounded, I asked someone at the nurse’s station for the phone number of a taxi company to take me to the salvage yard. When the taxi showed up, I was more than a little surprised to see it was a stretch limo. The driver told me he had a lot of upcoming jobs transporting people to and from Christmas events and he had just picked up the limousine.

When we arrived at the junk yard, I explained to the people in the tiny cubicle of an office who I was and why I was there; I was greeted with shocked silence and slack-jawed expressions. Finally the hush was broken when the manager pointed out the window to my RAV4 and said “You mean to tell me that’s your car? We didn’t think anyone walked away from that accident!”

We walked over to what was once my beautiful car. What I saw before me was a heap of mangled metal and broken glass. Had it not been for my ‘vanity plates’, I would not have believed that was my car. I stared at the wreckage in bewilderment; how were we alive?

Once the reality hit me, my knees buckled and I held onto the car to steady myself. The people from the junk yard gathered several boxes for me and the taxi driver helped me get everything out of the car. He removed my license plates and checked all the compartments to make sure we got everything. I don’t know how much I could have done without him. Satisfied that the car was empty, the driver loaded the boxes into the trunk of the limo and we returned to the hospital.

On the ride back I told the driver, whose name I found out was Yosef, about the accident and that Bill was hurt, unable to lower his arm. Yosef asked me where we lived and how I planned to get home. When I told him I hadn’t thought about that yet, he offered to drive us home. What?! It was almost three hours to New York and another three hours back, but he didn’t balk. He said it was the perfect solution; all our stuff from my car was already in the limo and there was plenty of room for Bill to lie down comfortably on the spacious sofa-like seat in the back.

This man, a total stranger, was willing to wait as long as it took to get us safely home. I accepted his kind offer and slumped down onto a chair in the hospital waiting room. I had to call our sons at home to tell them what happened. They were understandably concerned and wanted to drive up to Connecticut to bring us home but I told them it was all arranged; I just wanted them to stay put and be safe. I didn’t even realize Yosef had disappeared until he returned with a bagel and a cup of coffee for me. I couldn’t believe how kind that man was and I thanked him saying the food would help with my pounding headache. As if by magic, Yosef produced a couple of Advil. I looked up at him and he was smiling, one gold tooth sparkling in the bright hospital lights. At that moment he looked just like a guardian angel.

I must have dozed off in the waiting room. When I woke up I was under a warm blanket, my head resting on a soft pillow – definitely not hospital issue. A bit dazed, I glanced around the room; there was Yosef sitting in the corner, talking on his cell phone. He saw me and gave a little wave. I ran my hand over the blanket, my eyes asking if he had provided it; Yosef smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I silently mouthed the words “thank you” and held my clenched fist against my heart.

I checked my phone, surprised to see that two hours had gone by. A nurse came into the waiting room; I recognized her as one of the nurses who had been taking care of Bill. She asked me to go with her and I followed her to one of the many curtained-off beds in the ER. Bill was lying on his back, his arm still up but bent at the elbow with his bandaged hand behind his head. The doctor explained to me that he gave Bill a strong shot of Demerol and a muscle relaxant. He was able to gently manipulate Bill’s arm into a more comfortable position but he would need physical therapy to gain full range of motion. By the look on Bill’s face, it was obvious the meds were doing their job; he was pretty out of it. The doctor gave me two prescriptions to have filled when we returned home and said that Bill was free to go. He also advised me to get the prescriptions filled as soon as possible; Bill would definitely be needing them once the initial dose began to wear off.

With some assistance Bill was able to get into a wheelchair and escorted to the ER waiting room where Yosef greeted us. It wasn’t easy but we managed to make Bill comfortable in the spacious rear section of the limo; even in his drugged condition he was impressed with the car. There were bottles of water in the mini-fridge and more of Yosef’s blankets and pillows to make the ride home as cushioned as possible. Once we knew Bill was secure, we began our journey back.

Yosef suggested we stop at the nearest CVS Pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled. Since the meds were “controlled substances”, the script would only be valid in the issuing state; I wouldn’t be able to get Bill’s meds in New York – something I didn’t think of. Once again Yosef came to my rescue and we stopped at CVS before continuing our trip.

We rode in silence for a little while, then I thanked Yosef for the blankets and pillows. He said “it was nothing”; he had gone home while I was napping in the ER, told his wife Zeynep what was going on and she insisted he take the pillows and blankets with him. That gave me an opening to find out a little more about this Good Samaritan who crossed my path that day.

Yosef and Zeynep were married for only a short time when the Iraqi Kurdish Civil war broke out in 1994.  He talked quietly about the war and the horrors he witnessed. He swore that if he and his bride made it out safely he would strive to help anyone in need whenever he could. With the assistance of American forces, he and Zeynep were able to escape their town of Diyarbakir in Turkey. They made it to Greece, then on through Italy, France and finally to England where Zeynep had relatives in Birmingham. They stayed in England for several months, then decided to emigrate to The States, settling in Connecticut. The couple found work in a small Turkish restaurant and when Zeynep became pregnant and could no longer work, Yosef took on a second job as a taxi driver. He said they had two little girls – Aiyla and Esana – the treasures of his life.

Just then my stomach growled and I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat all day except a bagel and coffee. Yosef said there was a basket with some food in the back of the limo and I should help myself. Zeynep had prepared black olives, hummus, ekmek flatbread and a thermos of black tea. Yosef said it was the perfect food for travelers – something that was easy to carry and provided sustenance as well as comfort. I sat near Bill and ate my meal with gratitude for this stranger who found me at a time when I desperately needed help.

I asked Yosef what his name meant; he replied “God increases”. How very fitting. He went on to say that Zeynep meant “precious gem”, Esana meant “safeguard” and Aiyla meant “moonlight”. I scribbled everything Yosef told me on a paper napkin. Maybe it was my imagination working overtime or the fact that Christmas was just days away but those names made me think of the birth of Jesus and what Christmas was really all about.

Yosef asked me the meaning of our names; I explained that Bill was short for William which meant “strong-willed warrior” and my name, Nancy, meant “filled with grace”. Yosef thought they suited us; I thought that day they couldn’t have been more appropriate.

The ride was uneventful and time passed quickly. Before I knew it, Yosef had delivered us safely home. Together with the help of my sons, Yosef managed to get Bill from the car into the house. Bill was awake now but groggy and he reached for Yosef’s hand. With a voice heavy with emotion Bill whispered “Thank you for everything”. Smiling, Yosef nodded and wished Bill well.

My sons brought the boxes into our house and I walked with Yosef to his car. I took some money out of my coat pocket to pay him for everything he had done – if one could even put a price on all he did. He covered my hands with his saying “No, please. I did not do this for money. I truly believe there was a reason I received your call for help – to aid you in your time of distress. Seeing you safely home is all the reward I need.” I was overcome with emotion and humility and I impulsively hugged Yosef. I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my actions or that my face was streaked with tears of gratitude.

I croaked out a heartfelt “Thank you, Yosef. God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas”. He smiled and replied “God’s blessings on you, Nancy filled with grace”.

I stood outside my house as Yosef drove away, watching the taillights of the limo disappear down the street. I looked up at the pale moon; to the north was a dazzlingly bright star shining in the black sky.

It was a cold night but my heart was glowing. I truly felt like “Nancy filled with grace”.

What was left of my car

This is a true account of a terrifying situation; we will never forget that accident 20 years ago today. God was watching over us.

A big shout-out to the caring trucker, whoever you are. Huge thanks to all the incredible emergency and medical personnel who cared for us.

Blessings upon blessings forever to Yosef, Zeynep, Ailya and Esana. Yosef – there are no adequate words to express our gratitude. You are a giant among men.

Sincere good wishes to all who read this. May you have a wondrous Christmas!

NAR © 2021

Tiny Love Story

IF ONLY

If only I could touch you
Gently caress your face
And look deeply into your eyes

If only I could sweetly kiss your lips
Softly like a butterfly on a flower petal
And linger there breathing quietly against your mouth

If only I could run my hands slowly down your arms
And entwine my fingers with yours
Feeling your heart beating against my chest

If only I could lay beside you
As you run your fingers through my hair
My bare leg splayed across yours

If only I could feel you deep inside me
As I have imagined countless times before
Knowing you have desired the same thing

If only

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

UNDER SIEGE

“Board the chopper immediately, Eliza! This is our last chance to make it out of here and get to our safe house on the island. Get in now, woman!” Sidney Longstreet screamed at his wife over the roaring of the helicopter blades.

Eliza glared at her husband; she’d had enough of his misguided and imperious representation of women as weak, mindless, shallow creatures in need of a man to rescue them from every situation, no matter how monumental or trivial.

“Year after year I’ve put up with your supercilious attitude. You’re a pompous idiot, Sidney, and I refuse to take orders from you ever again. You can take all your medals and degrees and honors and shove them up your ass!”

Sidney’s veins bulged out of his neck and his face turned purple. The bitch always had a facile tongue but this time she crossed the line, embarrassing him in front of his pilot, crew and most of all, his lovely secretary, Claire Bliss. His mind strayed briefly as he thought of Miss Bliss and how perfectly her name suited her. Did Eliza have any clue of their office dalliances? Well, the fuck if she did! Their very existence was now in jeopardy and he was getting out with or without his wife.

“How dare you talk to me that way! You were nothing but a guttersnipe from Liverpool when I first noticed you. I was the only one who saw a pittance of hope for you – even with your unintelligible Scouse accent hawking flowers on the docks.”

“Sidney, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss how you transformed me into a proper lady. As you keep pointing out, attack is imminent. I’m not leaving here so just take your darling Bliss with you and get the hell out of here. And by the way, I’m keeping the diamonds and furs. When this siege is over, I won’t need you or your money. Now go! I can just make out the sounds of their approach.”

Sidney barely glanced at Eliza as he slid closed the chopper door, giving the pilot the signal to take off. “She’s sealed her own fate. If they find her she’ll be done for. May God help her. Come Claire, sit beside me. You’re safe with me.” Despite everything, Sidney had to admit to himself that Eliza had more fortitude than he did.

Once the chopper was far enough away, Eliza could hear the invaders approaching. She ran into the house and bolted the door, quickly closing all the curtains and turning off the lights. She then entered a hidden wall panel and descended the three flights of stairs to the wine cellar, making sure all the doors were locked behind her.

The underground room was stocked better than delivery day at Tesco! Eliza could live comfortably there for months, perhaps even a year. In addition to all the food and drinks she could possibly need, there was a small stove, refrigerator, bathroom, a comfortable bed, television, internet, heaters and fans. Every amenity was at her disposal. All she had to do was stay calm and quiet.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sidney arranged for the construction of a tunnel which was a means of escape should any intruders make it through the three flights of metal doors into the wine cellar. Eliza patted the pocket of her jeans for the tenth time to make sure she had her cell phone.

She became aware of the faint sound of vehicles approaching and doors slamming. Eliza could hear muffled voices but couldn’t make out a single word. Suddenly there was pounding on the front door and she heard the bellow that made her blood run cold:

ELIZA! Lizzie, wer are ya? It’s yer dad and mam, Aunty Mimsy and yer cousins Beth, Maureen, Colin and Lil Mick come for the month. Are ya ‘ome? Did ya ferget we was comin’? Sid, ya bastard. Wer are ya?”

Eliza’s father turned to his wife and said “There be norra ‘ere and no sign o’ their cars.”

His wife shrugged indifferently. “Gorra cob on, Tom? Fancy a bit of brekkie in town then? I reckon we can come back later, see if they be ‘ere.’ If not we’ll just bugger off. Who needs ’em?”

“Yeah, sound one, Helen.” Tom spat on the ground. “LIZZIE! Wer are ya, yer fuckin’ Majesty?! We’ll be back!”

Eliza lit a cigarette, flipped on the radio and reclined on the bed. She had no illusions her low-life, demanding, unwelcome family gave a damn about her. She was nothing but their meal ticket. She also knew they’d get good and pissed at the local pub, eventually give up and head home to Liverpool.

Sidney would be in for quite a shock when he discovers the divorce papers waiting for him at the safe house. Eliza’s attorneys did their homework well and had plenty of dirt on Sidney; he’d never contest the divorce and she’d be living a very comfortable life – or perhaps she should say “Blissful”.

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

REBEL WITH A CAUSE

“Come in here please, Connor!” I called out to my son.

Connor came bounding into the kitchen. “What’s up, Mom?”

“Have you seen the bag of frozen French fries and the burgers we just bought?”

“Not since we left the store. Aren’t they in that bag on the floor by the fridge with all the other frozen stuff?”

“No” I replied. “I just looked through the bag. Funny, I could have sworn they were right on top. You know, this happened the other day; Dad couldn’t find the box of donuts or the hot dogs.”

“Did you check the receipts, Mom?”

“Yes. Everything was listed, even the missing food. Dad said he was going to call Costco but I’m not sure he did. They obviously forgot to pack those items.”

“Yeah, that store was super busy; I can see how they might have overlooked something. Well, good luck, Mom. If I can help let me know.”

“Actually Connor, there is something you can do for me when you have a minute. There’s a box of old photos you can bring down from the third-floor storage room.”

“Sure, Mom, but I was heading over to Joey’s to play video games for a while. OK if I bring the box down when I get home?”

I gave him a “thumbs up”.

I texted my husband to see if he had called Costco; he replied with an eye-roll emoji and wrote that he totally forgot about calling. “OK, no worries. I’ll handle it” I texted back. Now to call the store about my dilemma.

After speaking to a couple of people and being put on hold several times, I was assured nothing was left behind at the store. The manager said I could bring in my receipts and they’d issue a refund. That was fine with me but it still didn’t explain what happened to our lost items.

When Connor came home, he went straight into the den to watch TV. “Excuse me, bud. Aren’t you forgetting something?” He looked at me with a blank face. “My photos?”

Smacking his forehead and groaning, Connor headed upstairs. “And don’t forget to walk the dog!” I called after him.

Not even a minute went by before I heard Connor yelling for me.

“Mom! Come up here – quick!”

I raced up the stairs.

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” I asked nervously.

“I’m fine, Mom. I heard noises in here; check this out.”

We entered a guest bathroom which we never used.

“Look what I found” he said. Balanced on the edge of the bathtub was our missing bag of French fries – half-eaten.

“What’s going on here?”

“Take a look.” Connor drew back the shower curtain. Peering over the edge of the tub was our golden retriever, Rebel, moaning. Surrounding him were the empty packages of all our missing food. He look at us with those big sad doggy eyes.

“Oh, Rebel! What have you done?” I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. “You little thief! Poor baby. Sounds like you gave yourself a nasty bellyache. C’mon boy, let’s get you to the vet. It’s gonna be OK.”  

Rebel

NAR © 2021

Tiny Love Story

NO OTHER LOVE

Her skin is the color of peaches and cream, soft as a cygnet’s downy feathers. Sleepy eyes gazed up at him, sparkling like the icy blue waters of a glistening lake. His heart melted as her pouty rosebud mouth smiled sweetly. Strawberry blonde hair framed her head, caressing her perfect face. He held her in his arms and kissed her eyes, her nose and her cheeks. His lips brushed lightly against her ears and he delicately nuzzled her neck. At that moment he knew he would never love another as deeply and tenderly as his precious newborn baby girl.

NAR © 2021

500-750 Words

SOMETHING: An Interview with George Harrison, November 2001

Interviewer:  How did you get into music?

George: Ever since I was a small boy all I wanted was to be a musician – or a gardener (laugh). I remember the first time I heard Elvis on the radio. I didn’t know who he was at the time. This incredible voice was coming from someone’s window as I rode by on my bike and I had to find out who he was. Making music wasn’t about being famous; that was just a bonus. It was a way for me to express my soul. All I wanted was to make music and be in a band like John and Paul.

Interviewer: How are you and Paul getting on?

George: Paul’s a genius and he’ll be the first to say so! Listen, we love each other like brothers and always will but we have our fall outs, just like all families. We can really get on each others nerves but you just don’t stop loving somebody for that. The thing about Paul is his relentless need for mental stimulation and public adulation. He craves attention, being the center of the universe. He thinks he’s right all the time and won’t give up on something until he gets his way. That’s his personality, not mine. I’m an easy going guy and he treated me like a mariachi band guitar player at times. You think that didn’t hurt? He can be damn manipulative but from the day we met I felt he was truly great. It’s been my privilege all these years to make music with him.

Interviewer: Care to comment on the “Paul is dead” story?

George: Not really.

Interviewer: You’ve got to admit there’s some compelling evidence out there.

George: Conspiracy theories abound! Anything is believable if presented the right way. We all decided not to make a big deal out of the story. If we came out fiercely denying it, well that would have just drawn more attention to it. We felt it best to leave it alone and stay out of it. You can make up your own mind, man. I’m not going there.

Interviewer: Fair enough. How was your relationship with John?

George: John was brilliant, incredibly creative and spontaneous. People saw him cutting up and joking around but he was surprisingly insecure and withdrawn. John’s brain never stopped and he had a wickedly funny sense of humor. He could be a saint or a bastard but he was always honest and I loved him. And no matter what anyone felt – myself included – John was one with Yoko. They had an amazing bond; they loved each other deeply and just wanted to be in each other’s company all the time. They couldn’t help it and they didn’t care how people felt about it. That’s why Yoko was always a presence and I applaud John for that. After the group split our paths rarely crossed. Then that psycho shot him. This man of peace … killed so violently … the very thing he vehemently opposed. I like to think I’m a forgiving man but that is the one thing I will never forgive. (George stares off into the distance; we’re quiet for a moment)

Interviewer: What about Ringo?

George: Ha! Ringo! I smile just saying that name. He’s a really great drummer but he took a lot of shit from John and Paul, as did I. Ritchie was an easy target but he was thrilled just being in the band. He’s one of the happiest people I know. What you see is what you get with him. No airs about him at all. We were really good mates until I mucked it all up and had an affair with Maureen. That was a grave error in judgement on my part. Ritchie forgave me because that’s how he is but we lost that tight closeness we had. Listen, let’s be honest – we all had our share of infidelities. That doesn’t excuse what I did. Ritchie is all about peace and love. He’ll do anything for his friends. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Ritchie.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about Eric Clapton.

George: (Big sigh) Eric. Well, what can I say? He’s my brother, you know. We have a connection – as close as the fine strings on a guitar.

Interviewer: What about his affair with your wife?

George: Well, it wasn’t exactly a stellar period for any of us. Eric was obsessed with Pattie for a long time. She was such a free spirit, luscious, impossible to resist! Pattie loved us both passionately but I had my flings and she chose to be with Eric. I don’t blame her. I was disappointed with them, sure, but how could I judge them when my behavior was just as bad? We all just moved on.

Interviewer: Which of your songs do you consider the best?

George: You probably think I’m going to say “Something”, right? Well, you’re correct because I always knew I was capable of writing a song like that but neither John nor Paul believed I could do it. Even George Martin had his doubts. They certainly didn’t give me much of a chance. Do you know Frank Sinatra said it was the greatest love song in the last 50 years? Well, I guess I showed them, didn’t I? (laughing loudly, coughing). But right up there with “Something” is “My Sweet Lord”, my first solo number one release. Both those songs are on the album for Bangladesh which I honestly believe is my best work. It wasn’t about just writing songs; I had something important to say, a message to get across to people. It was a very fulfilling time in my life.

Interviewer: After the split, did you think The Beatles would ever reunite?

George: No. We four guys – we came together to make music. We created something special and ended up making history. In a short period we lived a lot of lifetimes and as a group we were burned out, ready to have a go as solo artists. I had all the material things one person could ever want. What I needed was spiritual fulfillment, to be the best person I could be. I’m dying, you know. Cancer. My days are numbered. Those years with the Lads – they were brilliant. I’ll never forget a moment.

Dedicated to the memory of George Harrison on the anniversary of his death, November 29, 2001.

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

WHEELBARROWS AND WOODPECKERS

My Dear Annie,

It took about ten minutes of me staring at a blank computer screen before I started typing this email – and that’s just today. I’ve been doing the same thing every day for the last eight months. The idea of reaching out to you began thirty seconds after you left our house and closed the door on our life together. I have about a thousand thoughts and questions swirling around in my brain, much like the autumn leaves dancing in the wind in our backyard.

I got up early and made myself a cup of coffee, then sat by the kitchen window and watched the birds at the feeders. You’ll be happy to know the red-headed woodpeckers have returned, just as they always do. How I wish you would come back to me, too.

I held my coffee cup up to my nose and inhaled the rich aroma of dark roast. I’m drinking from that cup you gave me ages ago with COOL BEANS scrawled across the front. I use it every day and always think about you (not that I need a reminder) and I’ve decided that today will be the day I must summon the courage to write to you to say “I’m sorry”.

You see, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and I can’t think of a better time to tell you what’s on my mind. If I don’t do it today who knows if I ever will? I miss you, Annie. I miss you so damn much it literally hurts. My heart aches for you and my stomach churns when I realize what a first class jerk I was to let you slip through my fingers.

I don’t know what I was thinking. No, I take that back; I do know. I was thinking about myself – me, myself and I. What a stupid, selfish idiot I was. I’m sure you’d agree with that assessment. I’m equally sure there’s a spot for me in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest fool ever. How could I expect you to put your dreams and plans on hold while I pursued mine?

If I’ve come to realize anything over these last few months it’s the fact that what I want in life isn’t more important than what you want and all my achievements are not worth a damn without you. I am so sorry for not seeing that sooner.

When I finally realized how empty my life was without you and how much I yearned to be sharing and living our dreams together, you were long gone. I don’t blame you one bit; if I was you, I would have left me, too. I’m useless without you and I’m so ashamed that I put myself before you.

Do you remember that old wheelbarrow we found last year buried under weeds and ivy? It was missing its wheel and was of no use to anyone. You had the brilliant idea of transforming it into a planter instead of throwing it away. I have also lost my wheel, my direction in life and I find I can’t do anything without it, without you. I need you to help bring me back to life, to give me purpose. I need your forgiveness. I need you.

I was driven by my need for success and power more than anything else – more than putting you first, more than your deepest desire to start a family. How could I have deprived you of that? How could I have deprived us of that? How could I have been so blind not to see that was exactly what I wanted too? Well, I screwed up royally. All the success and power I ever wanted are mine now but they are hollow victories. The price was too dear – losing you and everything that was and might have been, that should have been. I wake up alone in our bed and come home to an empty house. And all day, every day, I simply exist like a wheelbarrow without a wheel.

I have no idea where you are, how you are or what you’re doing. I pray that you haven’t lost all faith in me, even though that may be what I deserve. That would surely destroy me because my love for you is stronger than ever. I wouldn’t blame you for not believing what I’m about to say but I would do anything, give up everything just to have you by my side once again. I am empty inside without you and I’m begging for a second chance. My one hope that I cling to every day is the fact that I haven’t been served with divorce papers … yet. Please tell me there’s a chance for us, a chance that you can possibly forgive me.

Thanksgiving Day. How blessedly thankful I would be to have you back, to have you tell me we’re going to be okay! How thankful I would be for the opportunity to show you how much I love you and need you in my life!

Tomorrow I am going to wake up early, pour a cup of coffee and watch the red-headed woodpeckers in our yard. Then I will attempt to prepare my very first Thanksgiving meal by myself. I bought a little turkey, all the fixings and a lovely bottle of wine … just enough for two. It would give me the greatest joy to share the day with you and every day after that, to hold you in my arms and make all the sorrow go away.

Annie, if only you could sprout wings like the red-headed woodpeckers and fly home to me! Will you come home for Thanksgiving dinner? Please come back to me and never leave.

I love you so very much.

Charlie

~     ~     ~     ~     ~      ~     ~     ~     ~

Push ‘send’ and pray Annie hasn’t changed her email address. Go to bed, thankful for a second chance.

It’s Thanksgiving morning. I’m anxious and afraid to check my email. Instead, I decide to wait just a bit and pour myself a cup of coffee. I sit looking out the window as the woodpeckers hop from branch to branch finding their way home.

Did Annie get my email?  Will she answer me? I guess I can put off the inevitable for only so long. I decide to check my computer; nothing. My heart is shattered. What a fool I was to wait so long.

The luscious aroma of roasting turkey is already beginning to fill the house. I can’t bear the thought of eating this celebratory meal alone. When the bird is done, I’ll bring it to the homeless shelter; at least someone will reap the benefits of my stupidity.

I clean up the kitchen and pour another cup of coffee. I think I’ll sit by the window and work on the crossword puzzle while the turkey slowly does its thing. I wonder what the woodpeckers are up to.

I glance out the window to check on my feathered friends. Standing by the once useless wheelbarrow, suitcase in hand, is my Annie. She gives me a sweet smile and a little wave.

I never ran outside so fast in all my life.

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

INSPECTOR MONTALBANO

The king is dead. Long live the king!

He really wasn’t a king; he was the mayor. Well, in truth, he wasn’t even the mayor. His name was Joe Montalbano and he was a royal pain in the ass.

Joe and his wife Pauline were one of the first couples to purchase a house on my street when they were built in 1960. They had a large piece of corner property – plenty of space for their precocious son Joe, Jr. to run around.

Joe was one of those guys who knew everyone and their business and they in turn knew him. A retired firefighter, there wasn’t a store owner, restaurateur or town official who didn’t know Joe. He belonged to the Knights of Columbus, the Kiwanis Club, the local beach club, the town pool, the Italian/American Society and the bocce team. He was a scout leader, coached Little League and marched in every parade. He also attended monthly town meetings and made his opinions known loud and clear. Joe had a lot of opinions.

Joe was the self-appointed inspector of our street. He would drive around in his maroon Bonneville doing 5 miles per hour checking every house for scofflaws. Now if Joe was doing this as some sort of community watch program to protect our little street, well that would have been fine. But that was not what motivated Joe. He was a busybody looking to make trouble wherever he could. Joe wasn’t happy unless he made his neighbors miserable.

If someone was doing a little home improvement, perhaps putting in a patio or cutting down a tree, that person better have a permit taped to the window and all the necessary papers in order. Joe would go out of his way to schmooze it up with the homeowners, make seemingly friendly small-talk and if everything wasn’t kosher, he’d sniff it out and report it to the town supervisor. Nice, right?

So, let’s say the poor schmo didn’t have a permit. He’d have to tear down any new construction he did on his own, apply for a permit and pay a hefty fine. Then if any new construction was approved, he’d have to hire someone to do the job and end up paying out the nose for work he could have done himself! But wait. If the construction wasn’t approved, then everything would come to a screeching halt anyway. And God forbid the building examiner found some unauthorized work that had been done years before; it would all have to come down. Good bye to that ‘illegal‘ den the family has been enjoying the last ten years. Thanks, Joe!

Once – and only once – I parked my car in front of my house facing the wrong direction. I wasn’t going to stay long; just enough time to use the bathroom and gather my dry cleaning. I couldn’t have been inside more than ten minutes when I noticed a police car out front. I ran outside but he cop was just pulling away and he had left me an unpleasant surprise – a ticket for “car facing wrong way while parked”. Who even knew that was a law? Apparently it is and I broke it to the tune of $150! Thanks, Joe!

Let’s talk about garbage for a minute. Collection days on my street are Monday and Thursday; we’re supposed to put our trash out in the morning on those days. God help the person who put their garbage out the night before! Good old snitch Joe would call the sanitation department. You can bet your sweet ass that person would get a serious reprimand and have to drag their trash back into the house. And if it happened again, a lovely fine would be doled out instead of a warning. Thanks again, inspector!

Everyone likes a little party occasionally, am I right? The Fourth of July, Super Bowl, graduation; these are times to celebrate. Invite some friends over, fire up the grill, have a few drinks, play a little music, talk, laugh, maybe even do some karaoke – that’s what people do at parties. Now, there’s a cut-off time for noise in the neighborhood; everything needs to end by 11:00 PM. So let’s say you’re on the front porch saying farewell to the last of your guests and it’s 11:08. Guess who pulls up in front of your house – Officer Krupke with his little ticket book and a big shit-eating grin, that’s who. “Is there a problem, officer?” you ask innocently. “Disturbing the peace by breaking the town noise ordinance” the cop replies as he taps his watch and hands you a summons. “You have a good night now.” You don’t have to ask who ratted you out; he must have all official phone numbers on speed dial.

That’s what Joe did; he went out of his way to make his neighbor’s lives miserable, all in the name of due diligence. Nice guy, that Joe.

So, years later when Joe finally kicked the bucket, everyone except the people who lived on our street went into mourning. The funeral was worthy of Vito Corleone! The fire department, the police department, the Knights of Columbus, the Kiwanis Club and the bocce team pulled out all the stops and paid for the biggest funeral with the longest limos, the most flowers and best catering the town could provide.

But our little street was cheerful as usual – not that we were necessarily happy that Joe was dead – oh, no no no! It was more a sense of relief knowing “Inspector Montalbano” wasn’t breathing down our necks … or anywhere else, for that matter.

Well, that sense of sweet relief lasted about a week. That’s when we saw the familiar maroon Bonneville crawling down the street at 5 miles per hour. And who was behind the wheel? Why, it was Joe, Jr.

The king is dead. Long live the king!

NAR © 2021

Poems

THE 11TH HOUR – Guest Post

November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States. For much of the rest of the world and especially in Europe, it is Armistice Day, the day that marks the end of World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, over 20 million people had lost their lives.

I am humbled and honored to present to you a guest post by my friend, Paul Griffiths – The Birkenhead Poet. Dedicated to the young boys who lost their lives, he calls it “Shot At Dawn”; I call it perfection.

Shot at Dawn

I was not yet sixteen when I joined the army. I wanted to fight.
To do my bit for King and Country, to be on the side of right.
Both my brothers had signed up so I lied to my dear old mum.
I even forged her signature; I was foolish young and dumb.


From fifteen years to nineteen years I aged overnight.
I sailed right through the boot camp, I was so eager to fight.
The things that I know now I wish I knew back then.
I was too full of bullshit and bravado wanting to be one of the men.

I was a big lad for my age but I wasn’t very bright.
Why didn’t I listen to my Mother? My Mother was always right.
I thought I was born to be a hero, to wear medals on my chest.
Instead I am nothing but cannon fodder damned with all the rest.

I soon lost my rose-tinted glasses; they got trampled in the mud.
At the sight of so many bodies, all this carnage and the blood.
I’m freezing cold and hungry, too tired and scared to even sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty now for the last two weeks.

I’d never heard anything like it when the enemy barrage fell.
Hiding like a rat under the ground – it was three nights of living hell.
The ground shook all around us and I was terrified.
A shell exploded right above the trench top, we were all buried alive.

My eardrums were bursting, my mouth was full of clay.
Please God, come and save me. Don’t let me die this way.
Then I heard the sergeant in the darkness counting who had died.
When he finally called my name out, I broke down and cried.

I don’t know how long I was buried down there; it felt like an eternity.
When they finally dug me out of that hell hole something died inside me.
My days collided in on themselves; I was in a total daze.
I felt confused and frightened lost in the fog of war’s damned malaise.

The Captain wasn’t bothered about me; he just didn’t want to hear.
He sent me back to the front line with a bollocking and a flea in my ear.
Sergeant said “If you want to be a hero lad, now you’ll get your chance.
The orders are just in, we are pushing forward for the big advance.”

All I could do was find a quiet corner to sit alone and weep.
I couldn’t function properly anymore, I’d cry myself to sleep.
I told the Captain how old I really was; he didn’t care about my age.
He said he could only go off what was written on my signup page.

I was scared sick to the pit of my stomach, I was absolutely terrified.
Thinking back to the day I signed up, wishing that I never lied.
I knew what lay above the trench top and it was worse than bad.
The Sergeant said “Don’t be scared, son. Keep your chin up lad”.

As the Sergeant took a little look above the safety of the parapet
A bullet hit him right between the eye’s; it must have his name on it.
He fell back right on top of me; man, he nearly knocked me out.
I was pinned down under his dead weight, I couldn’t move about.

By the time I wriggled free of him the other guys had gone.
To be mowed down by machine guns, all I could do was look on.
Then I heard the Captain screaming, calling out my name.
He called me a damn young coward to my eternal shame.

I tried to explain about the Sergeant and getting stuck in the mud.
The Captain was deaf to any reasoning, my excuse did me no good.
Captain put me on field arrest and I was immediately taken off the line.
I was told my court martial hearing was to be held in four days time.

I told the panel my true age, about my actions and exactly what I did.
They said I was just another lying coward who had run away and hid.
The verdict they passed was guilty, the sentence was death.
I screamed for mercy to deaf ears until I couldn’t catch my breath.

The weight of the world sat on my narrow shoulders. I was all alone.
Knowing I will never see my Mother again or my family back at home.
It rained all week relentlessly but the sun rose on that fateful morn.
Today is to be my last day on earth; I will be shot at dawn.

I felt the warm sun on my face but the air was bitterly cold.
They marched to a post against a wall and tied on my blindfold.
My body shook uncontrollably with fear. I was absolutely terrified.
Innocent yet guilty and about to be shot by my own side.

I prayed to God to save me, to give me a second chance.
When I heard those words “Ready, Aim” – I’m sorry, I pissed my pants.
I didn’t hear that final word of “Fire!” I don’t think I felt any pain
As bullets tore through my body time and time again.

I died branded a coward, my service forever put to shame.
To be remembered as a black mark on my family’s good name.
The records show I died aged twenty though I’d barely turned sixteen.
Labeled as a coward in the great war; but what does cowardice really mean?

PTG. © copyright

500-750 Words

SOFTLY AS I LEAVE YOU

Parish, New York – a sleepy little town about 20 miles from Oswego, just about kissing Lake Ontario. I was born in Parish and lived there until it became too small for me or maybe I just got too damn disillusioned.

I was the only child of Ron and Betty Cooper. Dad never said he was disappointed that I was a girl but I knew he really wanted a son. Mom named me Carly Grace. Dad never called me Carly; I was always ‘Carl’ to him. I didn’t mind too much but mom always said it was a heartless thing for him to do – a constant reminder that she couldn’t give him a son.

We lived in a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Dad would sleep most of the day and go to work after dinner. He was a bartender at Floyd’s Place in the town of Mexico, about seven miles from Parish. College kids from Oswego would bring their dates to Floyd’s Place; it was a dive but dad did a good job keeping their tankards full all night.

I remember having to be very quiet during the day so dad could sleep. Mom kept me busy in the kitchen; she was a terrific baker and taught me how to make homemade bread.

Both my parents were heavy smokers. Even when mom was baking she’d have a Marlboro dangling from her lips. Well, mom got cancer and softly, peacefully passed away the night before I turned 13; to this day the smell of freshly baked bread reminds me of her.

It wasn’t long before dad hooked up with Paulette Garrison, a nurse who’d stop by the bar every night after her shift. Dad started staying at Paulette’s place in Mexico and by the time I was fifteen I was pretty much living on my own.

Memorial Day weekend rolled around and dad brought Paulette back to our house. I was looking forward to a cook-out and fireworks but dad and Paulette only came out of the bedroom for beer and cigarettes. That Saturday night I packed a few things in mom’s old suitcase, took her address book, whatever money I could find and softly left my home in Parish.

When I arrived at Grand Central Station, I called mom’s cousin Rita in The Bronx. She didn’t hesitate for a second, taking me in and caring for me like I was her own daughter. She also gave me a job in her bakery on Arthur Avenue. When Rita retired she put me in charge and I eventually became the owner.

Nine years went by when I got a call out of the blue. It was Paulette letting me know my dad had died – three week ago! There was certainly no love lost between us but I felt I should drive up to say farewell.

I stood at my father’s grave feeling nothing but the cold wind stinging my face. Softly I turned and left Parish behind me forever.

NAR © 2021

Musings

TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE

This is one job I would suck at!

Worker bees are the laborers of the behive. They are all female (figures!) and do not breed (fuck that!).

Their jobs include collecting the pollen and nectar, defending the hive, feeding the queen, drones and larvae, and making the wax (is that all?).

Because they work so hard during the busy season, a summertime worker bee will live for only about six weeks. Six weeks!! Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise.

Worker bees have a stinger but they can only sting mammals once and then they die (oh, the humanity!). They can, however, sting other insects over and over again to protect the hive (hell, yeah!).

That’s the only fun part! Die, bitches!! 🐝 😎

NAR © 2021

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 in 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

While I may have exaggerated the facts a bit, there no denying that this story was truly written in loving memory of my father-in-law and mother-in-law John and Gertrude Richy, both taken from us much too soon. My affection for them could never be exaggerated. ❤️

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