500-750 Words

WHEN IN ROME


Name?” the incredibly bored girl working at the pizzeria asked me indifferently. It was clear she’d rather be doing anything other than doling out food orders. She gave a cursory glance at her clipboard.

Nancy” I replied hoping my order had been received.

No kidding?” the suddenly animated young woman said loudly, slapping her hand on the counter and grinning broadly. “That’s my grandmother’s name! You don’t hear that name much these days. What year were you born in?”

It wasn’t really any of her business but I reluctantly told her anyway. This was a new place in my neighborhood in Rome, New York so I tried to play nice.

Get outta town!” she exclaimed, startling half the people in the place. “Same year as my grandma, too! What are the odds?” she cackled.

I gritted my teeth at the public announcement that I was as old as this girl’s granny. “Little twit” I said to myself.

Well, Miss Nancy, your food ain’t quite ready yet. Just plop yourself down in one of those booths and I’ll bring it over.”

Plop? I may be old enough to be this bimbo’s grandmother but I definitely do not plop!

I found an empty booth, slid in and looked around the pizzeria. There was a hideously unappealing statue of a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, framed photos of Frank Sinatra, Pope John XXIII and Christopher Columbus. On the far wall was a large mural of a ship with “Nina” emblazoned across the bow – no doubt an homage to the restaurant which was called “Nina’s Place”. The decor was tacky and stereotypical.

There was a sudden pounding on the back of my seat and I turned around to see two toddlers bouncing around their booth, a sullen child of about four years of age, a crying infant in a carriage and a woman, obviously their mother, at her wits end. Food, spilled drinks and toys were everywhere. The woman looked at me, her eyes pleading “Kill me now!” I half-smiled sympathetically at her.

I thought about changing seats but just then the pizza girl arrived with my food.

Here ya go, Fancy Nancy! One caprese salad with grilled chicken and a Diet Coke. If you don’t mind my saying so, you look really good for a gal your age.”

I blinked a few times, unsure if I should say “Thank you” or “Kindly go the fuck away”. I chose the former which she took as an invitation to join me as I ate!

So, anyway, my grandma – she’s named after Frank Sinatra’s song ‘Nancy With the Laughing Face’ ” pizza girl said, pointing to the photo of the legendary singer. “Are you, too?”

No, I’m not. It’s a long story” I explained.

Ooh, I love me a good story! I wanna hear all about it. But first I gotta make sure Mr. Rizzo doesn’t cheat me outta my tip, that old miser! Be right back, Nance.”

I cringed; only a select few called me by my nickname.

Take your time” I replied. It looked like it was going to be a long lunch. I really should have ordered the wine!

250 Words

HOSANNA! HEYSANNA!


Legion after legion they watched him with wary eyes, like vultures in search of prey. This seemingly simple man healed the sick and preached of love for one another. What a rabble-rouser, a threat to those in power! He made them all very nervous, suspicious, just by his mere existence.

Multitudes thronged after him chanting “Hosanna! Heysanna!” but he chose only twelve by uttering just two words: “Follow me”. In a darkened room they broke bread together. They clung to his every word, pledging their undying loyalty, but they couldn’t stay awake for even one hour as he prayed that night in the garden.

There was one who denied him – not once but three times – before the cock crowed the next morn. Coward! Yet another betrayed him for a paltry sum. Viper! Like a hunter slinking through the woods he led the soldiers who dragged this innocent man away to face judgement. He stood before one official, then another; no one could find fault with him. They washed their blood-stained hands. He was tried by a kangaroo court. The verdict: guilty of blasphemy.

Stripped bare, whipped and scourged, he was nailed to a cross enduring an agonizing symphony of pain. His desolate mother wept silently at his feet. After torturous hours, whispering words of forgiveness, he slipped into the arms of death. He was buried in a plain tomb.

Three days later his crypt was empty. No force could defeat him. No power could contain him.

Hosanna! Heysanna!”

500-750 Words

ROY G. BIV


“Mommy, who’s Roy G. Biv?” my five-year-old daughter Colleen asked holding up a lesson folder I’d just finished preparing.

“Roy G. Biv isn’t a person, honey; it’s an acronym” I replied, clearly getting ahead of myself judging by the confused look on Colleen’s face.

“What’s a acrimin?” she asked, her freckled face all scrunched up.

I couldn’t help laughing at her mispronunciation. “Acronym, pumpkin. It’s an abbreviation formed from the first letters of a group of words and pronounced as one word.” I explained, forgetting I wasn’t teaching my 4th grade class.

Colleen cocked her head, looked at me quizzically and uttered “Huh?”

Okay, I think I needed to try a different approach. 

“You know how sometimes a rainbow appears in the sky when the sun comes out after the rain?”

Colleen nodded enthusiastically, her ginger pigtails swaying from side to side.

“Well, if you take the first letter of each color of the rainbow you get Roy G. Biv. Look, I’ll show you” and I opened the folder for her to see:

Colleen’s gleaming eyes opened wide and she exclaimed “Oh, yeah! I get it! It’s like LOL, right?”

“Um, close enough” I agreed. “Why don’t you get your big box of crayons and you can draw pictures of rainbows?”

Colleen was meticulous about her crayons, each one going back in its proper place after being used. One by one she picked out the seven colors of the rainbow and began drawing while I finished grading assignments.

When she was done, Colleen ran to show me her picture; it was both amazing and mystifying at the same time. She had drawn a little girl, obviously herself, with a giant bubble coming from her mouth, a beautiful glittery rainbow and a liberal smattering of the ROY G. BIV acronym inside the bubble.

“This is great, honey!” I declared. “Please tell me all about it.”

Colleen was happy to oblige.

“Sure, mommy!” she squealed and jumped onto my lap. “You see this girl down here? Well, that’s me. My hair is red and my freckles are orange! Up here is the yellow sun and down here is the green grass. Blue is for my eyes, all the letters inside the bubble are the color indigo and right here by my feet are violets. Do you like it?” Colleen looked up at me with those crystal blue eyes searching my face for approval.

“Pumpkin, this is the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen” and I meant it with all my heart. 

“Yay! I’m so happy you like it. I made it for you!” She handed me the drawing and I hugged her ever so tightly.

“I think a picture this wonderful should have a name” I suggested. “Do you have any ideas?”

“I already named it, Mommy.”  And turning the drawing over I saw the title that truly touched my heart: “The Secret Language of Color”.

250 Words

MARCH MADNESS


It was one of those rare March snowstorms, the kind that sneaks up on you after a couple of really nice spring-like days.

Our boys were super excited to see the unexpected snow and ran out to build a snowman. Just as soon as they got outside, the girls who live in the house across the street came out and started building a snow-woman.

The boys decided their snowman would be a basketball player. They packed snow into a pair of shorts, slipped a LeBron James jersey over the figure, stretched a headband across the forehead and placed a basketball on the ground as the finishing touch.

The girls dressed their snow-woman in a cute little cheerleader’s outfit, boots and pompoms for arms. They used blue buttons for her eyes and Twizzlers strawberry licorice for her smile. 

The ’snow couple’ looked fantastic all decked out in their costumes and the neighbors came outside to take photos. It was a really fun day for everyone.

Well, it must have warmed up considerably during the night because the next morning both the snowman and snow-woman had melted.

The strange thing, though, was the inexplicable trail in the snow that led from our house to the house across the street. And strewn about the last remnants of snow were a discarded jersey, shorts, pompoms and cheerleader’s uniform.

There was just a little bit left of the snow-woman’s head but that gal was still sporting a huge strawberry smile!

Longer Stories

TO THE MOON, ALICE!


For as long as I can remember my Uncle Bobby was my idol – the self-proclaimed “Poster Boy for Home Depot”. In fact, I can’t recall a time when he wasn’t fixing this or repairing that. He was the neighborhood handyman, the guy everyone called to replace a broken window or unclog their toilet. He could paint a room like nobody’s business, his cutting-in seams done to perfection without the use of that “sissy painter’s tape”. Yep, he was like a magician, my Uncle Bobby was, and I loved following him around on his odd jobs, delighting at his request for me to hand him a Phillips head screwdriver or a roll of duct tape. 

Uncle Bobby was a no-frills kind of guy; what you saw was what you got with him. He was my dad’s brother, living with us in the spare room of our old rambling Victorian house. He must have replaced just about every board of the huge porch that wrapped itself around the house. My mom would complain that the decking looking like a patchwork quilt with no two pieces of wood being exactly the same. Uncle Bobby would always say the same thing: “Don’t worry ‘bout nothing, Margie. They’ll all weather with age and you’ll never be able to tell ‘em apart.” But they never did and the porch truly looked like a jigsaw puzzle.

The biggest problem with Uncle Bobby was the fact that he couldn’t truly fix anything that required real skill, like a washing machine or a radio or a power lawnmower. Whenever he attempted such jobs, he’d inevitably have a couple of pieces left over even after he finished putting the whole thing back together! He’d toss all the unused parts into a ten-gallon drum in our basement which was also his workshop. Funny thing was everything he repaired would work fine for a while, then breakdown after several weeks anyway. Uncle Bobby would explain that he “fixed the dang thing but it was just its time to go”. I think I was the only one who knew about his stash of leftover essential pieces which doubled in size on a weekly basis.

Truth was Uncle Bobby had more crap in our basement than Carter had liver pills and he was slowly but surely inching his way over to the cramped corner where my mom had her washing machine. She finally put her foot down one day and demanded he either clean up his crap or build a wall around her laundry area so she wouldn’t have to look at all his crap. Rather than clean up the place, Uncle Bobby built mom a wall. Even she had to admit it was the best looking wall she’d ever seen, with a door and everything!

Believe it or not, Uncle Bobby was a genuine ladies’ man and he “cleaned up real nice” as old Mrs. Jenkins liked to say. He’d wash up in the basement using Lava Soap, shave with menthol Barbasol and splash on the Aqua Velva then head out to Kelly’s Place for ribs and a few beers. All the girls liked Uncle Bobby but his favorites were the Andrews twins, Patty and Paula. They didn’t seem to mind the perpetual ring of dirt under Uncle Bobby’s fingernails; no matter how many times he washed his hands that grime stayed put. He said it was “the mark of a hard-working man”.

Uncle Bobby loved watching those old black and white tv shows like Flash Gordon, Superman and The Twilight Zone. He had a real fascination with outer space and anything that could fly. That’s probably why he loved “The Honeymooners” – that classic Jackie Gleason comedy show; he’d laugh his head off every time Ralph Kramden roared his trademark tagline “To the moon, Alice!”

I’ll never forget that one Christmas when I got a remote control airplane; I think Uncle Bobby spent more time playing with that damn thing than I did. He was happy as a pig in slop the day he found a used one at the church tag sale. He’d tinker with that thing every chance he could, making it fly higher and faster. He’d inevitably forget to include a piece or two which he’d just toss into that catch-all drum of his.

So one day out of nowhere right in the middle of dinner Uncle Bobby announced he had his mind set on building a rocket ship. Well, I think it came as a shock to everyone but me and they all laughed it off as him just joking around as usual.  But I knew Uncle Bobby better than anyone and he was dead serious. He told me he was gonna use all the bits and pieces and spare parts he’d collected over the years. And what he didn’t have, he’d scavenge for in dumpsters, rubbish piles outside people’s houses or the garbage bins behind Home Depot. Those places were like a magical treasure trove for Uncle Bobby and he always came home with something. “You never know when this might come in handy” he’d declare, proudly showing me a discarded catalytic converter or a manual typewriter.

Well, true to his word Uncle Bobby started construction on his rocket ship the morning of April 1st and the neighbors howled that it was the perfect April Fool’s Day joke ever. But it wasn’t no joke to Uncle Bobby and he worked on that craft every day. He pitched a tent in the backyard, rolled out that giant ten-gallon drum and went at it like a man possessed. And I was his helper; my special assignment was to find him a really good helmet and a cooler which I filled with Hawaiian Punch, bologna sandwiches and Twinkies.

By July 4th Uncle Bobby’s rocket ship was finished. To be honest it looked like a pile of junk but he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever made. He painted it red, white and blue and named it “Independence Day”. By now word had gotten out and the whole neighborhood was there to watch Uncle Bobby attempt to take off into the wild blue yonder. Sporting his best overalls and the cool viking helmet I found for him, he climbed in, waved goodbye and slammed the door shut. 

Well, the damn thing sputtered and smoked and made all kinds of weird noises but it suddenly started shaking and actually took off. It was kinda wobbly at first but it just kept on going higher and higher until it disappeared into the clouds. We all stood there with our jaws hanging open, expecting to see the ship come crashing down any second – but it didn’t. We stayed out there for a long time, then gave up and went inside thinking Uncle Bobby would probably just waltz back in when he was good and ready with some great adventure tales to tell.

Damn thing was, we never did see the rocket ship or Uncle Bobby again. Boy, do I miss him!

Here’s to you, Rocket Man! Hope you had a great journey, wherever you are.

Independence Day
500-750 Words

TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN


Lighted gardenia-scented candles flickered throughout the Brevard Jewish Community Temple. I grew up in Brevard, North Carolina but moved to San Francisco at the age of 17 to “find myself“. After 20–plus years and still not certain who I truly was, I felt the time had come to revisit my hometown. 

It all began after reading an article in the Transylvania County Times about BJCT which my dear friend Marsha sent me; a few of the lines truly resonated with me: 

“It is good to enter into the spirit of the Sabbath, a time in which our personal concerns drop away for a few hours and we get a sense of the larger meaning of life and fellowship, one unconcerned with wealth or occupation or standing. That is what Shabbat can do – take us to a place of repose, equality, community and perhaps even peace of mind.” 

After my catastrophic marriage, peace of mind sounded like an impossible quest. Once my decision to return to Brevard was made, I called Marsha; she met me at the airport and our first stop was the temple. Services were already in progress so we sat in the back listening to the tranquil beauty of the ancient Hebrew chants. 

Hearing the cantor’s resonant voice I realized it was familiar to me. I opened my eyes to see who was singing but my view was obstructed by a woman’s enormous hat. “I know that voice.” Glancing down at my program I saw a name that made my heart pound: ‘Arthur Rosen’.  So much time had gone by but his name still warmed my blood. ‘’The one that got away’’, as the saying goes, when in actuality he was the one I pushed away. 

As the people were leaving the temple, Marsha and I stopped to chat with Arthur; I wondered if he sensed my heart and mind were racing. He was as handsome as I remembered – a little grayer and sporting a closely-cropped beard which added to his rugged charm. His blue eyes were still captivating, his smile warm and inviting. I couldn’t help noticing he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. 

Lois Efron! You have no idea how wonderful it is to see you after all these years! If I may say, you look radiant!” Arthur exclaimed. Truly happy to see me, he clasped my hands in his. 

No embraces, no awkward kiss on the cheek – just genuine pleasure in seeing me again. 

“It’s wonderful to see you too, Arthur – an especially nice surprise.” 

He asked me what I’d been doing all this time and laughed when I told him “I was on the road to find out.” 

“Aren’t we all, Lois?” he asked. “Tell me; were you victorious?” 

Now it was my time to laugh, saying “Oh, no! Not at all!” 

“Well, then, you must persevere!” Arthur replied with an engaging smile. 

We said our goodbyes and I realized we were still holding hands. I suddenly remembered those many nights we held hands listening to “Tea for the Tillerman”.

Marsha slid behind the wheel of her car and I casually asked “So, when were you going to tell me Arthur was still living here?” 

Would you have come if I did?” and I found I honestly didn’t know the answer. “Lois, before we go to lunch I’d like to show you something.”

As we rode through the downtown area I was shocked by how much it had changed since I left. It was now dynamic and vibrant with eclectic stores, charming restaurants and lively pubs. Marsha parked the car, walked to a store and unlocked the door. 

“Wait a second. Is this YOUR store?” I asked.

“Founder and owner” Marsha replied proudly. “What? Don’t sound so surprised! Welcome to Theophilus – a little bit of everything for the discriminating client.” 

We were no longer in Brevard; this was a taste of the exotic Middle East. Gorgeous Persian rugs adorned the floors, hookahs, statues, belly dancing skirts bedecked with crystals, finger cymbals, lanterns, perfumes, jewelry boxes, coffee, almonds, candied dates and so much more filled the store. 

“Do you like it?” Marsha asked excitedly. 

“It’s magical, Marsha. I love it!” I responded, looking around in amazement. 

“And look” Marsha said, gently guiding me toward the front window. “See that blue house across the street? Arthur lives there … very much alone. I’m sure he’d warmly welcome your company.”

I smiled knowingly at my friend; she understood me like no one else.

Yes, I think I’d found my way home. 

Poems

THE GOAT WHISPERER


Ray’s day wasn’t going so well;
In fact, it had been a lousy year.
Things just seemed to be going to hell
And he felt like shedding a tear.

He and the missus hadn’t been married too long;
They was practically newly wed.
But she kept complaining day and night
‘Bout there being no action in their bed. 

“I’m tired and weary, I is!” Ray exclaimed.
“And I’m dead on me feet at night!”
“Well, how ‘bout giving me love in the morning?”
Said the missus trying to avoid a fight. 

But Ray had an answer for that one, too.
“I got lots of work in the morning
Feeding them cows and pigs and goats.
Now please don’t be giving me no warning.”

So Ray went off to tend to his chores;
A farmer’s work is back-breaking stuff.
Just then he found a note his wife wrote
Stashed in the pocket near his old tin of snuff. 

“I’m making your favorite ploughman’s lunch,
A sandwich prepared with loving care.
I’ll bring it to ya ‘round half gone noon
And you can plough me in the sweet fresh air.” 

Well, Ray got busy and sorta forgot
‘Bout his wife coming round near noon.
So he went to the back of the barn for a nap
But the missus arrived a moment too soon. 

She let out a scream and covered her eyes
For the sight she beheld was too crude.
Right there in the hay like two lovey birds
Lay a goat and Ray in the nude!

500-750 Words

OUR LITTLE TRYSTS


“Given. Frank Given. Suite 412. Please check again” I implored the unfamiliar desk clerk at the Pierre Hotel. 

I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s no one registered here by that name.” The young man behind the desk looked at me with a mixture of embarrassment and pity. 

“You must be mistaken” I replied quietly. 

“There’s no mistake, ma’am. There isn’t even a reservation for a Frank Given. Perhaps you have the wrong hotel” the clerk suggested, trying to give me a way out. 

Well, of course I didn’t have the wrong hotel! Frank and I had been meeting at the Pierre the second weekend of every month for three years. I noticed two female clerks huddled in the corner looking in my direction and chattering conspiratorially. My face turned red knowing they were talking about me. 

I checked my phone for any texts or missed calls from Frank; there were none. Rather than stay in the lobby looking distraught and abandoned, I walked into the lounge and ordered a martini. 

I sipped my drink and absentmindedly fingered the outline of the crest of the Pierre Hotel on the cocktail napkin. From where I sat I had a clear view of the front desk on the left and the entrance on East 61st Street on the right. I’d be able to see Frank the moment he arrived. 

After thirty minutes and two martinis I began feeling paranoid. It was painfully obvious, at least to me, that everyone who saw me sitting by the bar thought I was either an elegant call girl just past her prime or a now lonesome and tedious woman who had been stood up. 

Now in a state of semi-panic, I took my phone out again and texted Frank. I stared at the screen waiting for an answer which would offer a perfectly understandable and forgivable explanation. 

Feigning nonchalance, I called Frank’s cell; it went straight to voicemail. Laughing flirtatiously, I left a message proving to no one in particular that all was right in my crumbling world. 

My mind drifted back to that night when Frank and I first met. We shared a taxi and instead of continuing to my apartment, I accepted Frank’s invitation for a late dinner at the Pierre. One thing led to another as it often does and we spent the night together. A fling turned into a romance. 

I became aware of someone approaching. Expecting to see Frank, I looked up, smiling; it was the concierge. Whispering discreetly, he handed me a note. It read: “Dearest Christine. I have treasured our little trysts but now we must go our separate ways. Farewell. Frank” 

Our little trysts!” I was shattered. 

Just like that, as suddenly as it began it was over. Looking straight ahead, I gracefully walked out of the hotel. After buying a bag of roasted nuts from a vendor on the corner, I walked over to Central Park. I sat on a bench feeding the pigeons, thinking of everything and nothing.  

500-750 Words

IF ONLY


There wasn’t anything particularly special about the guy; he was actually rather ordinary looking but something made me uneasy. He just stood near the entrance, silently watching.

It was the usual Wednesday morning story time in the children’s room of the Lansing Library. Parents running errands could drop off their kids knowing they’d be safe and well-cared-for. The children listened intently as I read “The Adventures of Frog and Toad“.

I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable vibe I was getting from that guy. I caught the eye of my assistant, Grace, and with a slight tilt of my head I motioned toward the man. She glanced over and casually made her way across the room.

With cautious confidence Grace walked up to him and in a quiet but stern tone said “You’ve got thirty seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here”.

The man seemed rattled by Grace’s demand and stumbled over an apology. “I’m terribly sorry! I didn’t mean to alarm anyone. I’m here to pick up my son.”

Oh, really? Who’s your son?” Grace asked.

The man replied “Nathan … Nathan Fletcher. I’m Jacob Fletcher. My wife Emily isn’t feeling well. She asked me to come fetch him. She’s pregnant, you know.”

Yes, Emily. Of course! Such a lovely woman” Grace said. “Sorry to hear she’s ill. She seemed fine when she dropped Nathan off.”

Yes, she was” Jacob agreed. “It’s the morning sickness; it really knocks her for a loop sometimes. Emily said she would notify library security that I’d be picking Nathan up.”

Before Grace had a chance to call the security desk to verify Mr. Fletcher’s story, Nathan spotted his father; the boy was overjoyed to see his dad and happily raced to greet him.

Daddy! Daddy! I’m so glad to see you. Is Mommy here?” Jacob gave Nathan a big hug and scooped him up in his arms.

Hi, buddy! Mommy’s resting. She asked me to come get you.”

Yay! Can we get some ice cream? We can bring some to Mommy, too” Nathan asked, bubbling with excitement.

Sure!” Jacob replied laughing. “C’mon! We better get going.”

Grace looked questioningly at me and I nodded in approval, smiling at the happy duo of father and son.

The two left, hand in hand, Nathan gleefully skipping along beside his dad. All was right in the library once again.

Later that night as I watched TV, the show was interrupted by a news bulletin:

A police alert has been issued for the whereabouts of five-year-old Nathan Fletcher and his father, Jacob. The two were last seen leaving Longford’s Ice Cream on Lansing Street around 12:30 this afternoon. The body of Emily Fletcher, Jacob’s wife and the mother of Nathan, was found in the family’s home this evening by her sister. She had been brutally stabbed to death. Mrs. Fletcher was six months pregnant. At this time police believe Jacob Fletcher is the only suspect in the murder of his wife, unborn child and the abduction of his son.”

I sat in abject horror staring at the TV screen; in the upper right corner was the face of the man from the library.

How could I have made such an unforgivable error in judgement? Oh my God! That poor woman! My heart froze when I thought of Nathan.

If only I’d followed my instincts.

Longer Stories

MISTY


It was one of those stormy evenings, the kind of weather that could make people think twice about going out. But “The Divine One”, the legendary Sarah Vaugan, was set to perform at the Blue Note.

Founder and owner Danny Bensusan’s policy was well known: if he brought big acts into a comfortable environment with great food, he could pack the house night after night. He managed to do exactly that and the place soon became the city’s premier jazz club..

I’d been working as a coat check girl at the Blue Note for a couple of months when I was “discovered”, if one could even call it that. The crew was cleaning up after the final show, me in the “Lost and Found” cubicle of the coat room. It always amazed me how people could leave behind such things as mink coats and diamond-studded cigarette lighters! Were they that drunk or was money no object for the elite slumming it on West 3rd Street in “The Village”?

Well, there I was, stashing a forgotten très chic cashmere scarf in the bin, absentmindedly singing ‘Misty’, when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

Hey, you been holding out on me, kid? You got a great set of pipes!” It was Danny. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked.

Michelle” I replied, tapping my name tag with long red fingernails. “Michelle Grant.”

Pointing his index finger and winking, Danny clicked his tongue as if in cahoots with me over some kind of secret and walked off.

About two weeks later I got called into Danny’s office – something that never happened. I thought for sure I was gonna get canned but that wasn’t the case. Danny offered me a singing gig as part of the group that performed with the house band. It was nothing special – just singing ballads while the patrons dined and danced – but it got me out of the coat check room and in front of people. I also got a nice little increase in my paycheck and the clientele started recognizing me as one of the singers. Plus I got to hang out with some pretty big names back then: Lionel Hampton, Carmen McRae, Oscar Peterson and the one-and-only Ray Charles who Danny booked for a full week every year.

So there we were, ears glued to the weather report on the radio, hoping people would still come out in this September nor’easter. We were not disappointed. Slowly but surely the house filled up with fans eager to hear Sarah Vaughan. Danny was beaming, grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be a night to remember. There was just one little hiccup: Sarah Vaughan was nowhere in sight.

Danny kept pacing back and forth, checking his watch every fifteen seconds. I could see him starting to sweat. Then the call came in: “The Divine One” and her crew were stranded on the flooded FDR Drive. They’d get there “as soon as they could” but who knew when that would be?

By now the natives were getting restless and calling out for the show to begin. Danny grabbed me by the elbow and said “It’s up to you, kid. Stall ’em as long as you can. Just get out there and smile and act like everything’s fine.” Before I could object, Danny shoved me onto the stage; hundreds of eyes stared at me like “Who the hell is this chick?”

I stared back like a deer in headlights. You could hear a pin drop. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Danny gesturing for me to get the show started.

I walked up to the mike with feigned confidence and in a hushed tone said “Good evening and welcome to the Blue Note. I’m Michelle Grant and this is ‘Misty’.”

The audience gasped in unison; that was Sarah Vaughan’s signature song. Even Danny and the piano man, Erwin “Sweetness” Brown, looked up in stunned disbelief. I sang the all-too-familiar first three words, “Look at me”, a cappella and “Sweetness” joined in just like it had been planned.

I sang like my life depended on it. When I was done the place was silent, then all hell broke loose, everyone standing on their feet cheering and applauding. I was floored, thrilled that they liked me that much! I twirled around in delight and as I spun I saw “The Divine One” standing behind me. That’s when reality slapped me in the face – the crowd wasn’t applauding for me; the people were cheering the arrival of Sarah Vaughan.

I wanted to disappear. Sarah took my hands in hers and whispered in my ear “Nice job, honey – but you do know ‘Misty’ is MY song, don’t you? And you ain’t ever singing again, ‘cept maybe in the shower!”

I nodded mutely and started walking of the stage but she stopped me and said to the audience “How about a round of applause for my protégé, Michelle Grant?”

And this time they were clapping for me!

Poems

GUEST POST: TWO WEEKS IN NEWBO


FINDING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE YOU TRULY CONNECT WITH IS A REAL TREAT AND THAT’S JUST WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I READ THIS DELIGHTFUL POEM BY PAUL GRIFFITHS, MY FRIEND FROM ACROSS THE POND. THE BEAUTY OF PAUL’S WRITING SPEAKS FOR ITSELF BUT THE FACT THAT THE POEM BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES OF PLACES IN MY OWN BACKYARD SUCH AS CONEY ISLAND AND ATLANTIC CITY MADE IT EVEN MORE SPECIAL. I’M SURE YOU’LL ENJOY “TWO WEEKS IN NEWBO” AS MUCH AS I DID. COME ALONG WITH ME ON A LITTLE VACATION. THANKS, PAUL!

New Palace Amusement Arcade

I’ll tell ya I love New Brighton.
Locally known as little San Tropez.
It’s a fantastic little place.
A place to while those hours away.

Just looking out across the Mersey.
Getting lost in life’s constant ebb and flow.
Hoping that my ship will come in.
Wondering where that ship may go.

Sailing off to the far horizon.
Disappearing beneath the setting sun.
Kid starts screaming at his fallen ice cream.
Then he starts screaming at his mum.

Snapped back to reality.
Right back to the here and now.
The ice cream man ducks for cover.
He reads the Mother’s mind somehow.

She grabs the cornet from her sobbing son.
Then she marches to the ice cream van.
For a moment there was a Mexican standoff
Between her and the ice cream man.

The kid got his 99 with raspberry sauce.
At the expense of a few expletives being said.
These New Brighton fish wives speak a strange local dialect
Unbeknown to us Posh folk from Birkenhead.

That’s why I love New Brighton.
There are so many things to see.
This little village is a hidden Pearl of a place
Nestled on the banks of the Great River Mersey.

I love the grand Art Deco design for the tuppenny arcade.
To be hit with that unmistakable smell of doughnuts freshly made.
Ticker tape parade of yellow tickets thousands of them in all
Gets you a paper aeroplane or a multi-coloured little bouncy ball.

New Brighton’s bygone days are over, those crazy golden years
Of grand ballrooms and iron towers, and sepia photos of the pier.
But that was a different time and time always shapes a place.
I guess that’s what makes New Brighton a special little space.

Grab a bag of fish and chips down by the seafront.
Take a healthy slow stroll along the prom.
Nod my head in respect for the Black Pearl.
Can’t believe it’s gone.

But the flotsam and jetsam is a gathering
Right where the Black Pearl used to be.
To be built on the bones of fallen pirates
Rising once again to sail the seven seas.

You see New Brighton is a magical place
Full of music, poetry and art.
I’ve even heard that you can find little fairies
Hiding in the woods somewhere down in Vale Park.

Or grab yourself a deckchair and hit the neo-classical bandstand.
Sit and listen to the little amphitheatre’s almost perfect wall of sound.
Chill and listen to some of the best of the local talent.
Bands come here to play from miles around.

Better still go and hit a pub, relax with a well earned beer.
Keep your eyes peeled for cut throat pirates or buxom buccaneers.
The pubs and taverns are all welcoming, easy come easy go.
.Just be patient with the yokels, some are just a little bit too slow.

But that’s the real beauty of New Brighton.
You slowly feel you’re traveling back in time.
And being a bit of a time traveler myself
I find that very concept in itself is absolutely fine.

So I’m not going abroad this year.
No, I’ll be going to little San Tropez.
Rhyl is so last year.
New Brighton is the future of local holidays.

We all like to escape to somewhere if only but for a day.
New Brighton is only up the road but it could be a million miles away.
I guess we all need a bit of a holiday, and with that being said,
I’ve Booked two weeks in Newbo for August, a mini break from Birkenhead.

PTG © copyright.

250 Words

ARR, MATEY!


It was a beautiful Saturday morning when my son Tom called.

“Dad, Allie’s gone into early labor! We need you to stay with Molly.” He sounded excited and nervous.

I’m on my way!” I immediately answered.

As soon as I arrived Tom and Allie left for the hospital.

Grampy, can we go to the school fair?” Molly asked. “Daddy was gonna take me today.”

Sure, pumpkin. Let’s go!” I replied – anything to help pass the time.

The playground of Molly’s school, St. Cecilia’s Elementary for Girls, had been magically transformed into a carnival with food stands, games of chance and a giant inflated pirate ship.

Look, Grampy! A bouncy ship!” Molly tugged at my sleeve. “Can I go on, please?”

“You bet, honey! Looks like fun!” I gave my granddaughter a boost. I was half in and half out when the ship started bouncing, taking me for a ride I’ll not soon forget!

Well, a bouncy anything is no place for a 60-year-old man and 20 little girls. They were rolling all over me and every time the damn thing came to a stop, I tried getting out but kept losing my balance.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, the pirate ship was surrounded by police. One cop with a megaphone shouted “Sir, this is for children only. You’re in serious trouble. Come out now or we’ll come in and drag you out!”

I finally managed to crawl my way out. My clothes were in total disarray, little girls were crying and I heard someone yell “You sick bastard!”

Arr! I made the news that night. My fifteen minutes of fame!

500-750 Words

ON THE ROCKS


Ancient Greek temples dotted the hillside of Agrigento. “Aren’t they magificent, Helene?” I tried engaging my wife of seventeen years in conversation.

Helene always wanted to visit Sicily; now we were finally here but our vacation had been marred by the news of the death of Ruth, her friend since college. Actually, Helene had been depressed ever since Ruth’s cancer was diagnosed two years earlier. She became obsessed with illness and death and every little pain sent her running to the doctor. It had become tedious; I thought a holiday abroad would lighten both our moods.

I don’t like this place, Richard” Helene remarked. “It reeks of death and decay. You can practically see the blood stains on the altar.”

Good Lord, Helene! Why are you allowing your mind to go there?” I questioned impatiently. “Look at the glorious Mediterranean surrounding us. Let yourself be transported to another era.”

I’ve got a pounding headache, Richard. Take me back to the hotel!” Helene demanded.

But we just got here! Look at these fabulous gnarled olive trees. Impressive, aren’t they? Let’s sit and enjoy the view. You’ve always dreamed of coming here, Helene. Enjoy it!

How can I enjoy myself knowing Ruth is gone? She was my dearest friend.” Helene buried her head in her hands, sobbing.

I know it’s difficult but try not to dwell on it. Here, listen to this.” Retrieving a brochure from my pocket, I began to read. “‘In mythology, Agrigento was founded by Daedalus and Icarus.’ Just think of it – these temples have been here since the 5th Century B.C.! The contemporary glass and steel buildings back home can’t compare to these majestic structures!”

Richard, please! You think I give a damn about any of this? It’s meaningless without Ruth. She was the light of my life.”

Helene stared at me with frenetic eyes. I was beginning to believe she was losing her mind.

Your life is meaningless? What about me, Helene? I’m your husband, for crying out loud!”

Oh, come on, Richard! It’s about time we admitted the truth. Our marriage is a sham! And now Ruth is gone! There’s nothing left for me!” Helene turned and started walking away.

Ruth! All you ever talk about is Ruth!” I yelled after her. “You’ve been consumed with her for years! I always wondered but now I know why you were never interested in sex, laying in our bed like a cold fish. You were in love with Ruth, weren’t you?”

Helene started running; I caught up with her, reaching for her arm. She screamed “Don’t touch me, Richard! Just go away and leave me alone!”

Pulling away, Helene ran toward the craggy cliffs. In a horrifying instant she was gone, plunging headlong against the rocks and disappearing into the sea.

Aghast, I stood staring into the abyss. “Goddamn, you, Helene!” I shouted. “Go be with your precious Ruth!”

After a long while alone on the cliffs I walked back to my rental and drove to the hotel. I saw no reason to rush back home. Perhaps I’d head to the Amalfi Coast. Too bad Helene had to end her stay so abruptly.

500-750 Words

GUEST POST: FORBIDDEN LOVE – PART 1: SEPARATED AS ONE


It is a thrill and a delight to post a story written by my 11-year-old granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. A smart, funny, talented and loving young lady, Mckenna can be just about whatever she wants to be in life, excelling in whichever profession she chooses. It’s obvious she’s already a very good writer! I’m extremely proud of her for writing this incredible love story. I hope we get to read Part II very soon!

“Hello.”

Jasper heard a voice. He looked up to see a girl angel about the same age as himself on the other side of the border. “Who are you?” he asked.

“The opposite of you” she responded.

“Yeah, I get that. I mean, where did you come from?” Jasper said.

“I came from my home on the side of the border that I am standing on” the girl replied.

“I’m Jasper” the boy angel said, hoping to make an unusual but true friend.

The girl angel smiled. “I’m Cameron.”

EIGHT YEARS LATER

“Cameron! Could you come here please?” called Cameron’s mother, the Queen of the Angels. Cameron walked down the hall of the palace and approached the throne room where her mother was seated.

“Yes, mother?” she said.

“I would like you to meet someone.” Her mother motioned to a boy angel about the same age as Cameron. “This is Alex. He will be your husband” her mother said.

Cameron was taken aback. “H-husband?” she weakly said. “Uh … can I use the restroom? I had a huge glass of dragon fruit juice!” and with that Cameron ran out of the throne room and flew out the window.

Cameron flew to the edge of the border, the place where she first met the love of her life, Jasper. She sat down near the edge and started crying.

Cameron?” she heard Jasper say. “Are you okay?” he asked.

No, I’m really not, Jasper! I’m sorry” cried Cameron, “but I’m being forced to marry someone else – someone I don’t love!” Cameron continued to cry.

“Is there any way out of it?” Jasper asked, trying to help.

None that I can see. I’m doomed!” Cameron whined.

“I’m so sorry, Cameron” said Jasper.

Cameron got up and stood on the edge of the border. “What’s to stop me from jumping over?” she quietly asked.

Huh?” said Jasper. “If you jump to this side there’s no going back!”

“That’s the point” Cameron replied.

You really want to be with me, don’t you?” Jasper asked.

Yes, Jasper. I do” Cameron responded.

I’ll be waiting for you” said Jasper.

Just as Cameron was about to jump, Alex came out of nowhere. “There you are! Everyone has been so worried about you!” he said.

Cameron was surprised to see him. “AHHH! How did you get here?!” she asked, clearly annoyed.

“Your mother sent me to find you. Besides, I would like to get to know my future wife” responded Alex.

Yeah … no!” snapped Cameron.

Well, get used to it. In two weeks you’ll be stuck with me forever” said Alex in a sarcastic tone.

“Well, as you can see I’m fine! Can you please leave? I’m trying to talk to someone who actually means something to me!” said Cameron.

“Ooh. He just got roasted” said Jasper quietly.

“Cameron, you’re friends with this monster?” asked Alex.

Cameron got angry. “He’s not a monster! I’m in love with him!” she firmly said and without thinking she pushed Alex away and jumped off the edge of her side of the border. When Cameron opened her eyes, Jasper was standing over her. “Jasper, did I do it?” she asked.

Jasper helped her up. “You did it, Cameron!” he said.

Cameron hugged Jasper without any care that Alex was watching from what used to be her home.

“What did you do to yourself?” asked Alex, as white as a ghost.

Cameron was confused. “What do you mean?” She looked at herself. She had wings and horns almost identical to Jasper’s and her blond hair had become as black as coal. “Looks like crossing over has some benefits” Cameron said with a grin.

Alex ran back to the castle, probably to tell Cameron’s mother that her daughter was now a demon. But Cameron couldn’t care less. She and Jasper were finally united. Cameron didn’t care what she looked like or what side of the world she was on.

And neither did Jasper.

250 Words

BEWARE THE MALOCCHIO


Rule number one: When you meet your Italian girlfriend’s parents for the first time, which is usually for supper, don’t show up empty-handed. No matter how many times you hear “It’s-a no necessary for you to bring-a anything-a; just the pleasure of-a you company is enough-a”, you bring something.

Believe me, I learned that the hard way. Cara’s mamma insisted I not bring anything; her papa even said they would be insulted if I brought something. In his head, my bringing something meant they weren’t able to provide whatever was needed for a respectable meal.

I wasn’t raised that way. My southern belle of a mother brought her famous peach cobbler to every luncheon she attended. The thought of showing up without so much as a bunch of wildflowers was a cardinal sin.

So when I asked again for what must have been the fifteenth time what I could bring and was told “bring-a nothing”, I brought nothing.

Well, from the moment I arrived at Cara’s house all I got was the ‘malocchio’; as a joke Cara bought me a big red evil eye to hang from my rearview mirror. I didn’t think it was very funny.

When I asked Cara why she didn’t warn me, she said “Everybody knows ‘nothing’ means ‘something’!”

Cara and I have been married six years now. We have three beautiful kids and a nice house. Still, her parents refer to me as that “cheap sum-a-na-bitch-a” who brought nothing.

Go figure!

Poems

OUR ‘ENRY


Commemorated through the region
for his prowess and pugilistic might
was the one and only Henry Cooper,
a champion born and raised for the fight.

He and George were born on the third of May;
the two brawny lads were identical twins.
By the age of fifteen Henry excelled in boxing
with seventy-three out of eighty-four wins.

This proud son of South East London was a giant,
a lefty with a formidable uppercut jab;
cut-prone and no great defensive technician,
yet his glove on one’s jaw felt more like a stab.

Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic,
he cut an imposing figure.
With powerful fists licensed to kill,
his look was of sternness and rigor.

In September ’54 he fought Harry Painter;
it was his very first match as a pro.
The battle took place at Harringay Arena
where Henry soundly defeated his foe.

Our ‘Enry took off like a house on fire,
for nine bouts in a row, no one got in his way.
But he lost number ten on a technical knockout;
how ironic that match was at old Harringay!

Henry bounced back, never one to stay down;
every match for him was compelling and vital.
But he suffered a big loss on February nineteenth;
Joe Bygraves took the Commonwealth heavyweight title.

Henry was no fly-by-night flash-in-the-pan;
undefeated champ for twelve years was he.
Our ‘Enry fought with the greatest and best
including “The Louisville Lip” – Muhammad Ali.

The young champ was still known as Cassius Clay;
the year was nineteen hundred and sixty-three.
A great deal of ticket-selling for this long-awaited bout
created a massive amount of world-wide publicity.

In the fourth round Henry was leading on points,
Ali making little attempt at effective aggression.
Henry felled Ali with a left hook to the body;
“‘Enry’s ‘Ammer” it was called in the profession.

Well, Ali’s manager brought him to the corner,
administering smelling salts banned in the UK.
The prohibited act was witnessed by no one
and a rejuvenated Ali defeated Henry that day.

Decades later a vital extra six seconds
showed up in a long-missing recording.
If all things had been on the clear up and up
the headlines would have had different wording.

For a second time Henry went up against Ali
who was now world heavyweight champion.
Though cut and tired, Henry never hit the canvas;
a TKO was the decision and again Ali won.

Henry won forty out of his fifty-five matches
and in 1971 it was time to hang up his gloves.
But Henry was never really down for the count
and he had a rich life full of many great loves.

Jump back to the late 1950s
when Henry met the love of his life.
A Gina Lollabrigida look-alike
who he courted and took as his wife.

She was dark-haired, petite at just five feet tall
and her name was Albina Genepri;
a waitress at Henry’s favorite restaurant,
a beauty from the Apennine region in Italy.

Two people who grew up hundreds of miles apart
from similar backgrounds – both working middle-class.
Henry was a cockney bloke from Beckenham in Kent.
When Albina learned English, her accent was like cut-glass.

It was ironic but Albina hated boxing
yet she remained Henry’s strength and his shield.
He constantly asked her to come to his fights
but only one solitary time did she yield.

Henry was known as a prince among men
and a king of the ring in many a fight.
In 2000 he was dubbed “Sir Henry Cooper”
joining the ranks of paladins and knights.

One night on his way to a sporting event
Henry received a call from his son.
“Come back home, dad!” was the pitiful plea.
“Something terrible’s happened to mum!”

Their’s was a love that movies are made of.
Lives full of happiness and very few tears.
They both were the real deal, genuine article
and their marriage lasted forty-seven years.

Albina had suffered a heart attack,
her devoted life had come to an end.
Henry never truly got over the shock
but like a willow he learned how to bend.

Just three years later Our ‘Enry
quietly passed while watching TV.
His son said it was quick and painless;
“He’s with mum now for all eternity.”

He was a lovely gent and a good fella,
a great husband, dad and true friend.
All those dear mates of Our ‘Enry
were loyal right up to the end.

Henry & Albina Cooper
Henry Cooper was the only boxer
ever to be knighted.

Henry vs Muhammad Ali


500-750 Words

SWEPT AWAY


The afternoon was damp and raw, sleet stinging my eyes. I huddled deeper into my parka, pulling the hood tighter over my head. As I waited at the busy Brooklyn intersection for the ‘walk’ signal, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a woman in the distance. It was just a brief sighting but she bore an uncanny resemblance to my late fiancé Maggie.

The woman’s clothes were nondescript – dark jeans, a silver puffer jacket and a knit scarf – but it was her black and silver sneakers and the all-too-familiar shock of flaming red hair blowing wildly in the wind that gave me pause. She ran up the front steps of a condo – the same apartment we shared for three years before Maggie died.

My mind raced back to the day of Maggie’s death. We were vacationing by Lake Michigan with our friends Jeff and Rachel. Looking for a bit of adventure we decided to go jet skiing, something new for all of us and rather dangerous considering the lake’s infamous rip tides. Feeling overly confident, we took off like the daredevils we were. We all fell off several times, laughing, but kept on going. It was an exhilarating experience.

Maggie was a gorgeous creature. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she rode the waves, her exquisite breasts barely contained in a tiny white bikini while crimson tresses whipped around her face like the tail of a dragon. She and Jeff were natural athletes and it was difficult for me and Rachel to keep up.

Rounding a bend in the lake, we were thrown off our skis by a large wave. I lost my bearings in the current and when my head finally emerged from the water, I spotted my jet ski and swam to it. Rachel wasn’t too far away, clinging to her craft, but Maggie and Jeff were nowhere in sight. Mounting our water bikes we began our search, frantically calling out their names as we scoured the area. Unable to locate them, we headed for shore and alerted the authorities. Maggie and Jeff’s jet skis were found but there was no trace of them. After two days the search was called off. Rachel and I had no choice but to accept they had been swept away.

After the accident I returned to New York but didn’t have the heart to stay in the condo where Maggie and I lived. I drove to our beach house in Amagansett, leaving the apartment untouched; I hoped one day to return when I summoned the courage.

Now I found myself back in Brooklyn staring at my old condo and seeing ghosts.

An overwhelming force drew me closer. Slowly I entered the building and climbed the stairs to my apartment. Approaching the door I could hear faint music, laughter and the sound of familiar voices. A man and a woman were inside, unaware of my presence. I stood outside the door for what seemed a lifetime. My heart pounding, I raised my fist to knock on the door, then stepped back. Resolutely and silently I walked away.

250 Words

NOWHERE MAN


Vivian looked up from her book and stared at her husband Ray as he fiddled with his iPod. At one time he knew every little detail about that thing; now the device totally confused him. In frustration Ray cursed and threw the iPod across the room.

Fucking thing’s busted!” he yelled.

Vivian sighed and retrieved the iPod, placing it on the table between their recliners. She glanced sadly at Ray who just sat in his chair looking straight ahead. Where was her husband of 55 years? He was gone, replaced by this ‘nowhere man’.

We’ll look at it together after dinner, Ray. I’m sure we can figure out what’s wrong with it” Vivian calmly suggested.

Don’t patronize me, Viv!” Ray shouted. “I’m not a child!”

Sorry, Ray. I was just trying to help. I’m going to make dinner. Soup and salad sound ok to you?”

Whatever!” Ray snapped. “I’m not hungry anyway.”

In the kitchen Vivian wept silently. It was like this ever since Ray’s diagnosis of early onset dementia. She and Ray squabbled over everything. He used to be very handy; now he couldn’t set his alarm clock. When Vivian offered to sort out his meds for him, Ray lashed out saying he could do it himself. He mixed up the dosage and had a terrible reaction leaving him feeling hopeless and helpless.

Ray came into the kitchen and started helping Vivian make the salad, perfectly cutting vegetables and chatting amiably.

The old Ray was back … at least temporarily.

500-750 Words

VAFFANCULO!


So, what brings you here today, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson.

I can’t sleep, Doc!” replied Lou in despair. “I’m so tired! I haven’t slept a wink!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that!” laughed the doctor. “Look, Lou. Of all the ailments people discuss with me, the greatest number of complaints isn’t about body aches, irritable bowels, erectile dysfunction or psoriasis: the most talked-about topic is lack of sleep. Falling asleep at bedtime and getting a good night’s rest is a problem that plagues millions so you’re not alone in this. I’m going to ask you some questions; let’s see if we can come up with a solution.”

Lou yawned and nodded in agreement. His wife Marie chimed in. “Maybe you should start by telling the doctor how much coffee you drink every day.”

Ok, that’s an excellent suggestion. How much coffee do you drink, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson, his fingers hovering over the keys of his computer.

Oh, I guess about eight cups a day and an espresso after dinner. We have one of those – whatchamacallits – Keurig machines. Fantastic things! Just pop in a little plastic cup and brew yourself fresh coffee in thirty seconds!”

Whoa! That’s a lot of caffeine!” the doctor replied in disbelief.” You need to cut back. If you drink that much coffee at least half of it should be decaf. I’d like to eventually get you down to just one cup of regular coffee in the morning. How about alcohol?”

Go ahead, Lou. Answer the doctor” Marie said, giving her husband a nudge with her elbow.

I’ll have a couple of glasses of my cousin Carlo’s homemade vino while Marie’s preparing dinner. And another glass or two with dinner. Oh yeah, I like a nice sambucca while I’m watching “The Tonight Show” with that Jimmy Fallon. He’s a funny guy!”

The doctor stared at Lou allowing his words to sink in.

What form of exercise do you engage in?” the doctor asked.

Exercise!?” squawked Marie. “The strongest parts of his body are his fingers … from pushing himself away from the dining room table, surfing the net and using the remote control.”

Lou’s eyes shot daggers at his wife. She shrugged. “What? It’s the truth and you know it.”

What about your diet, Lou?” asked Dr. Patterson while eyeing Lou’s sizeable belly.

Diet? I ain’t on no diet, doc! My Marie is a fabulous cook!” Lou exclaimed, making her blush. “She makes everything from scratch, including her pizza, pasta, braciola, arancini – you name it, she can make it. And her ricotta cheesecake? Fuggedaboutit!”

Well, it’s wonderful that Marie’s such a great cook but it sounds like you’re eating a lot of heavy and fattening foods” the doctor replied with concern.

What’s wrong with pizza?” Lou asked incredulously. “It’s the perfect food – something from all the food groups. You got your carbohydrates, your protein and your dairy, right?”

Well, technically, yes but I wouldn’t call it ‘the perfect food’. Dr. Patterson entered all Lou’s information into his computer. “Let me get this straight, Lou. Your caffeine and alcohol intake is off the charts, you eat rich foods and desserts, you spend a lot of time in front of some type of device, you stay up late and you don’t exercise. Is that about right?”

Yeah, I guess” Lou admitted begrudgingly.

Do you realize that everything you’re doing is adversely affecting your quality of sleep? And what about you, Marie! How well do you sleep?”

Who, me? Why, I sleep like a rock” Marie answered proudly.

You’re not kidding! You should hear her snore, doc!” Lou guffawed. “What a racket! It sounds like bocce balls rolling around the court! That’s probably why I can’t sleep!”

Marie huffed indignantly.

You snore, Marie? Sounds to me like you could have sleep apnea – a serious disorder. Considering everything we’ve discussed I’m referring you, Lou, to a life management specialist. And Marie, I’m scheduling a sleep disorder study for you.”

Lou and Marie stared at the doctor in shock.

Can’t you just give me some sleeping pills?” pleaded Lou.

And maybe all I need are some of those nose strips” Marie suggested hopefully.

I’m afraid not. You need to make some serious life changes” replied the doctor showing Marie and Lou out the door.

Thanks a lot, Marie, making me tell the doctor everything!” Lou griped. “This is all your fault!”

Oh, shut up, Lou! You can get your own damn dinner tonight. I’m on strike! And another thing – vaffanculo!”

500-750 Words

THE GET-AWAY


It had been quite a long while since Rob and I had a chance to take a vacation, to escape the noise of the city to someplace remote and peaceful. Skiing sounded like a nice idea, a break after the uncomfortably hot summer. All we wanted was a little get-away to relax and unwind.

Our Google search brought us to a place called Marmot Basin located in Jasper, an alpine town in Canada’s Alberta province. The photos were breathtaking; the area was one of the most natural and unsoiled landscapes we’d ever seen. The site said Jasper was “an authentic mountain community that managed to retain a cozy, warm and ‘real’ atmosphere with a laid-back vibe”. It was also one of North America’s largest protected nature preserves. It would be great to get lost for a few days, forget about our hectic lives.

The flight to Jasper was interminable; eight hours with a connection in Denver. The time change did a number on us physically but our welcoming and romantic chateau more than made up for the tedious travel. It was rustic yet charming with beamed ceilings, comfy furniture and a huge fireplace. We spent our first night snuggled up in bed.

Right after breakfast the next morning we set out for a day of skiing. Hoping to find a secluded trail, we consulted one of the guides who gave us a couple of suggestions. We headed out, delighted to see a pristine layer of powdery snow. Looking around we realized we were the only people in the area and there was nothing in sight except evergreens on the hillside.

We started off slowly then gradually picked up speed; the conditions were perfect. About ten minutes into our run we came upon a split in the trail. Taking a break, Rob leaned against a tree and consulted a map, deciding which way we should go. Suddenly we felt movement beneath our feet and the ground gave way in what sounded like a whispering waterfall. In an instant we were tumbling down, enveloped by cascades of snow.

It seemed like an eternity before I came to a stop. I was unable to move but realized I was still clutching my pole. Somehow I managed to wrangle my arm free from under my body and began whacking the snow above me. I didn’t know if I was under three feet of snow or thirty; I had to try to free myself. Snow kept falling on me as I hacked away. Slowly my grave became brighter and I realized a sliver of sunlight was peeking through. I heaved myself into an upright position and broke through the snow.

It was a struggle but I managed to climb out and started yelling for Rob. All I heard was my echo; everything was deathly silent. I found my phone in the inside pocket of my ski suit and dialed Rob’s number hoping to hear his phone ring; I heard nothing. Checking my phone I noticed there was no cell service in the area; I couldn’t even call for help. Gingerly I walked around a bit, all too aware the ground could give way at any moment. My only hope was to try to find help.

I must have walked for miles; the sun had set and I found myself surrounded by trees. I had no idea where I was. Exhausted, I fell to my knees, sobbing. If Rob was still buried in the snow there was no chance of finding him alive.

Through my tears I thought I saw a glimmer of light. I squinted and could barely make out the shape of a cabin in the woods. Was it real or was I hallucinating? I had to keep moving or I would surely die during the frigid night. Slowly I got to my feet and walked toward the light, praying it was not an illusion. I was so very tired; maybe just a little rest before I continued.

250 Words

SOCIALLY DISTANCED


Both men lived in the same apartment building, one on the ground floor and the other, two flights up. They would see each other in passing, nodding ‘hello’ or muttering the occasional “How ya doing?” They were approximately the same age and had seen each other often but a friendship never developed.

Then the corona virus hit and everything changed.

They happened upon each other in a nearby park, masked up, walking their dogs. One had a golden retriever, the other a chocolate lab. They struck up a socially distanced conversation, at first talking about their dogs then, of course, the craziness of COVID.

They were both unemployed computer engineers, laid off because of company closures. Each one contemplated moving back in with their parents but that was impossible; neither one came from accepting or understanding homes.

They started biking and jogging together, often running the six miles that made up the full loop around Central Park. As they talked they discovered they had much in common: their nonexistent love lives, their passion for chess, a fascination with micro-brewing and their dream of working from home as computer app designers. And how gut-wrenching it was coming out as gay.

The next step was so natural: moving in together. They could share one apartment and save money, work on ideas for app design programs, dabble in a little home-made beer and totally, passionately, fiercely fall in love.

A new year, a new start. Love in the time of corona.

500-750 Words

RULERS OF THE CASTLE


Scorching weather we’re experiencing, Maureen. Quite odd for June. You and Jamie should consider postponing your holiday. As you know, your Aunt Camilla detests air conditioning and I fear you will be terribly uncomfortable. Perhaps September would be a more suitable time to visit. Do let us know your decision. Hope all is well in New York.”

I stared at my uncle’s email in dismay. It had been eight years since I visited England. My husband Jamie’s family is from Scotland and we spent our honeymoon there, setting aside a few days to visit my aunt and uncle in Kent. I was looking forward to a return trip and an early summer vacation. Now Uncle George was complaining about an oppressive heatwave.

We had just booked our flights that morning and made reservations at some of the many attractions in the area. Our plans included a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Port Lympne Animal Reserve, Chiselhurst Caves and Hever Castle with its incredible labyrinthine gardens. I could just picture our five-year-old daughter Josie running through the vast field of mazes, giggling at every dead end.

If my aunt and uncle agreed to watch Josie for a few hours, Jamie and I could go on a tour of Shepherd Neame Brewery. I must admit after years in New York I preferred my beer served ice cold in a frosty mug – not at the traditional ‘English cellar temperature’. I never did care for the taste of a tepid brew.

After telling Jamie about my uncle’s message, he reminded me that we had 24 hours to cancel our flights and reservations without incurring a penalty. The first thing we needed to do was check with the airline, then we could look into our other plans. Luck was on our side; we were able to reschedule our flights and all our activities without any problem. In fact, our new agenda was going to be even better than originally planned.

Hever Castle had recently opened an area called “Adventure Playground” where kids ruled the castle. Josie could discover and explore Tudor Towers with its 2 metre high willow structure, a giant sandpit and grassy mounds with hidden tunnels. There were secret dungeons, moats and turrets plus climbing frames, swings and slides. Josie would never want to leave!

I began having serious thoughts about moving back to England permanently. My parents chose to retire in Spain and I had no other family here in The States. Jamie, I knew, would love the idea of being closer to his relatives. Josie had just finished kindergarten and Jamie’s firm had a branch office in London. It would be an experience of a lifetime and the perfect surprise for our families to learn we’d be living in the UK again.

Good news, Uncle George! We were able to change our travel plans to September. Josie can’t wait to finally meet you in person and I’m looking forward to being with family again. We also have a big surprise planned which I’ll share with you very soon. Try to stay cool! Maureen”

Hever Castle Gardens
500-750 Words

ON THE WAY


David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear, self-preservation and adrenaline. An electrical storm during the night wreaked havoc with the streetlights causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.

The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical phrases from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap fifty feet or so from the car.

David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks with friends after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.

Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.

As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.

The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar and carried the bike back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared onto the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.

David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; the song was Euclid’s “On the Way”, his favorite revolutionary political heavy metal band.

Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. He drove up to a pump, intentionally smacking into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the mishap.

David drove home feeling much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.

250 Words

I’M ONLY SLEEPING


Where am I? What’s happening? I thought I heard screams in the night. Could I have been dreaming?

I’m supposed to be sleeping, waiting for the Spring. It’s too soon to be warming up like this. My lower extremities are aching as though someone as been tugging on them but I’m not in pain. Some of my friends have suffered excruciating agony.

My limbs feel a little heavy and there’s a slight pressure on my head. I can hear faint voices now. It’s hard to make out the words but they sound like “brilliant”, “wonderful idea”. What does it all mean? What is a wonderful idea?

I have no clue how much time has passed; I think only a week or so but I’m very tired. I need to sleep.

Now it feels like I’m being carried somewhere; I’m a little afraid. What’s happening to me? Am I being placed in a hole? I can feel something familiar and soothing covering my base and I smell the crisp outdoors. I detect the fragrance of fresh soil.

I’m feeling a chill again; that warming sensation is passing. It feels like I’m bound up but I’m comfortable – like being enveloped in a blanket of snow. I feel safe, as though in a cocoon.

Thank you for not taking an ax to me. Thank you for digging me up and keeping me alive. I will grow strong in your yard in the Spring.

It was a joy spending Christmas with you!

I’m not dead; I’m only sleeping.

One of the saddest things is seeing all the dead and forgotten Christmas trees discarded after the season.
Next time you go looking for a Christmas tree, consider buying one with its root ball intact;
you can replant it in your yard
or place it in a pot.
It gave you so much joy
during the holidays;
why not give it a chance to live!
500-750 Words

CANDLE IN THE WINDOW


One of the first things I noticed about the house across the street was the candle in an upstairs window.

It was December 1980 – two weeks before Christmas – and we had just moved into our new home. My mom quickly located the boxes marked ‘CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’ and put my dad to work decorating outside. When he was done every house on the street was aglow except for the one with the solitary candle.

I was fascinated by that candle; it was lit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I told my dad I was afraid the house would burn down, he assured me that the candle was either electric or battery-operated; the ‘flame’ didn’t flicker and the candle never melted. That made me feel a lot better.

About a week later there was a knock on our front door. Mom answered and I scurried along behind her, anxious to see who was visiting us for the first time. Standing on the front porch was a chubby little old lady with silver hair, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks and I couldn’t resist blurting out “Are you Mrs. Claus?” She chuckled a bit saying no, she was Mrs. Granger from across the street and had come to bring us an angel food cake as a welcoming gift. Mom introduced herself and invited Mrs. Granger inside but she declined saying “perhaps another time”. Before she left I told her my name was Eleanor and I had just turned ten on December 1. She smiled slightly at us but there was sadness in her eyes.

Mrs. Granger’s angel food cake sat on one of her beautiful Spode Christmas plates. Mom said we should return the plate on Christmas Day brimming with sugar cookies, which is exactly what we did. We rang the bell and mom apologized for showing up unannounced, adding that she hoped we weren’t interrupting her Christmas festivities.

No, dear. Not at all. I was just preparing myself one of those frozen TV dinners – turkey, for a special treat.” Mom made polite small talk while I glanced around the living room. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration in sight, not even a card. A fading ember in the fireplace made me think that Mrs. Granger was probably very lonely.

I suddenly found myself asking the question: “Mrs. Granger, why is there a candle in the window upstairs?”

Mom gave me a withering look as Mrs. Granger slowly walked to the sofa and slumped down. I felt awful when she started crying, dabbing her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Mom sat next to her and held her hand, not speaking.

In hushed tones Mrs. Granger told us her story: she married late in life and was blessed with a son, Edward. Her husband died in an accident when Edward was three years old and she raised the boy by herself. When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, Edward enlisted; he was declared MIA on December 1, 1970 and she hadn’t heard a word in the ten years since then. The candle in the window was her way of holding vigil for Edward, steadfastly waiting for any news. We sat together for a few minutes, then Mrs. Granger politely said she wanted to be alone. Silently we left. It was then that I understood why she looked so sad when I told her my birthday – the dreadful day her son went missing.

Two days later mom returned to Mrs. Granger’s. She apologized for the intrusion on Christmas Day and said we hoped she would join us for New Year’s Day dinner. Mrs. Granger said gently “No, dear. I haven’t celebrated a new year since Edward disappeared.”

All week I thought about Mrs. Granger. Our New Year’s Day table was set for three, sparkling with mom’s best dishes, silverware and crystal glasses. I sat in the bay window watching the lightly falling snow; then I noticed the candle in the window of Mrs. Granger’s house was not lit.

Mom!” I gasped. “The candle is out.”

Mom, dad and I walked across the street on leaden feet. Mom rapped softly on the door; we could see a dim glow coming from the fireplace. One more knock and the door opened slightly; Mrs. Granger appeared, her face wet with tears.

Are you alright, Mrs. Granger?” mom inquired with obvious concern in her voice.

Oh, my dear! My mind has been preoccupied all day” she replied, her voice trembling. “You see, I received some news today.”

Mrs. Granger turned and walked back inside, leaving the door ajar; apprehensively we followed her. By the fireplace stood a smiling soldier; her long-lost son Edward had finally returned home.

Mrs. Granger
500-750 Words

FORCED FUN


What the hell am I doing out on a night like this?” Glenn grumbled to himself, his mood worsening with every passing minute. “Freezing rain, my feet are soaked and I don’t even want to go to this damn office Christmas party!”

No one at his company knew that Glenn was planning to quit on New Year’s Eve. He was sick of his dead-end job, always being passed-over and stuck in a little cubicle all day. There’s got to be more to life than that!

Running into the little gift shop located in his company’s office building, Glenn spotted a small lapis lazuli ornament near the cash register and decided it would make a fine Secret Santa gift. As he reached for it, his hand bumped into a lovely feminine hand with sparkling fuchsia fingernails.

Hold on, buster! That’s mine! I just left it on the counter while I went to get a gift bag.”

Turning his head sideways Glenn encountered a familiar face; it was the receptionist at his office. He always thought she was pretty but tonight she looked particularly fetching.

Carrie, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry but the rule is if you put something down before paying for it, it’s fair game. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to look around for anything else.”

Carrie recognized Glenn immediately. He reminded her of a dreamy Hugh Grant in his younger days – handsome and charming – just not at this particular moment.

Glenn, right? Well, I’m in a hurry, too. The office Christmas party is tonight and this is my Secret Santa gift. You’re probably here for the same reason.”

Guilty as charged” Glenn quipped. “Come on, Carrie. It’s been a crappy day. I just want to buy this gift, make an appearance at the party and get the hell out of there.”

I feel the same way. These office celebrations are the worst! The last place I want to be is at that party but it’s mandatory, as you know. Nothing like ‘forced fun’!”

Glenn had to chuckle at that.

Look, Glenn. There’s a bunch of other ornaments right over there. Just pick something and let me buy this one, alright? I did see it first, after all.”

Oh, alright! It’s all yours, Carrie” Glenn conceded and dashed off to look for something else. He quickly found a small gold star ornament, grabbed a gift bag and returned to the register just as Carrie was finishing up her purchase. She gave Glenn a little smile and headed out into the lobby. He couldn’t help noticing her shapely legs as she walked away, heels clicking on the marble floor.

So, we meet again” declared the voice beside Carrie as she waited for the elevator. She felt a slight rush knowing it was Glenn.

Or maybe you’re following me” Carrie replied coyly, hoping she wasn’t blushing. She and Glenn never really spoke to each other at work but he always caught her eye. Glancing at him Carrie was struck with how intensely blue his eyes were. At the same moment Glenn was thinking how very kissable Carrie’s lips looked in the shimmering light of the lobby’s chandelier.

They stepped into the elevator, the only two occupants as it made its slow ascent.

Mind if I ask why you’re dreading this party so much?” Glenn inquired.

That’s easy!” Carrie replied. “I hate my job! The people are unfriendly, all I do is answer the phone all day and give directions to rude visitors. I’m bored to death and capable of so much more. If I tell you something will you promise to keep it a secret?”

Glenn nodded and gave her the ‘zipped lips’ sign.

I’m quitting on New Year’s Eve” Carrie whispered.

No kidding! So am I! I hate my job, too. But mum’s the word, OK?” Glenn whispered back conspiratorially and they stared into each other’s eyes for a lingering moment.

Any idea what you’re gonna do?” Glenn asked.

Not really” Carrie sighed “but I’ve always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast in Maine.”

Sounds delightful” Glenn replied wistfully. “We used to vacation at my grandparent’s lake house in Maine when I was a kid. It’s gorgeous up there – a really great place to settle down.”

The elevator door opened to the office party in full swing. Glenn and Carrie groaned and deposited their little bags on the Secret Santa gift table. He went one way, she went the other but every few minutes they found themselves staring at each other across the room.

After a short time Carrie casually made her way to the elevator. She was just about to make her escape when she heard that familiar voice cry out “Hold the elevator!” and Glenn rushed in breathlessly.

I was wondering…..” they said at the same time and laughed self-consciously.

You first” prompted Carrie.

I was thinking perhaps we could get a drink somewhere and talk about Maine” Glenn suggested.

My thoughts exactly. Would you .. um .. like to go to my place?” Carrie smiled invitingly.

I’d like that very much” Glenn replied and slipped his fingers between hers.

250 Words

BETWEEN CONSENTING ADULTS


Horizontally is the traditional position, Tom. I’m not sure how I feel about this. And you springing it on me after all these years!”

I know this may seem a bit out there, Laura, but honestly – people have done weirder things.”

Maybe so, Tom, but standing up? Let’s face it – this ‘thing’ is really huge and you know it! How will we keep from falling over?”

You’ve never been a scaredy cat before, Laura. You’ll be well protected, wrapped in my loving arms just like a fuzzy little caterpillar in a cozy cocoon.”

But Tom, what will other people think? I can just imagine the look on my sister’s face when she hears about this.”

Other people, Laura? Who cares what they think?! Why should the things we do and the decisions we make in the privacy of our own home matter to other people? Donna and Joe will probably be jealous they didn’t give it a whirl themselves.”

You’re right, of course, Tom, but let’s consider Donna and Joe for a minute. They’ve been in our lives forever. Don’t you think theyll be rather shocked?”

Only if you tell them, Laura. And by then the deed will be done! Hell! They might even want to join in. Donna IS your twin sister, after all; I kinda like the idea of that! The more the merrier! Lord knows, we have plenty of room. Let’s step out of that damn box and throw caution to the wind.”

Thomas Hastings, you’re such a devil sometimes!”

And you love it! What do you say, Laura? You ready to give it a go?”

As usual you’ve talked me into it. I can’t resist you and your wild ideas. Let’s do it, Tom!”

Fantastic! You will not be sorry, Laura. Just get yourself nice and comfy. Hang on, baby. Give me one little second. OK, I’m in!”

Hello. Thank you for using the live chat app at Tower of Memories. This is Melissa. How can I help you?”

Melissa, this is Tom Hastings. Laura and I have talked about your proposal and we’re ready to take the plunge.”

That’s exciting news, Tom! You won’t regret choosing vertical burial plots here at Tower of Memories.”

500-750 Words

EXTRA X CHROMOSOME


CHIMERA TORTOISESHELL KITTENS
AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION!
COME IN – ASK FOR LEAH

Gary did a double-take when he saw the sign on the marquee outside Redemption Ecclesiastical Church. He’d always been fascinated by those distinctively mottled cats with an extra X chromosome. Gary supported humane societies, not pet stores. He knew people paid a lot of money for pets, especially the designer dogs some breeders ‘manufacture’ such as Labradoodles and Yorkipoos.

Not hesitating for a second, Gary walked inside and knocked on the open door of an office marked ‘Communities Outreach Program’. A pleasant voice rang out “Come on in! I’ll be right there.”

Glancing around the room Gary noticed a large bulletin board full of colorful flyers about the church’s events: the weekly Advent wreath candle lighting ceremony, the upcoming Christmas pageant, a clothing drive for the homeless and a sign-up sheet to volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

Hi! You must be Sam. The delivery is all ready for you.”

Gary found himself face to face with the most adorable woman he had ever seen. She was casually dressed in jeans, a Christmas sweater and a Santa hat; her short blonde hair barely reached her shoulders. Dark-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide her luminous green eyes and her infectious smile displayed sparkling white teeth. Even without makeup she was radiant.

Somewhat dumbstruck, Gary said “Um, hi. I’m Gary, not Sam and I don’t know anything about a delivery. I’m looking for Leah.”

I’m Leah. Sorry, there appears to be a mix-up. I’ve been waiting for a guy named Sam to deliver a truckload of groceries to the soup kitchen. I thought you were him.” Leah frowned.

Actually, I’m here because I saw the sign about the kittens for adoption” Gary admitted rather sheepishly, wishing he was there for something more altruistic – like making a soup kitchen delivery.

Oh, shoot! I forgot that sign was still up!” exclaimed Leah. “I’m sorry but the kittens were all snatched up except for the runt of the litter. Poor little thing – I took her home. She’s keeping my cat Othello company – not that he’s thrilled about it.”

Gary was visibly disappointed. “Oh, man! I was excited about adopting a cat. Well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll get out of your hair now, Leah … unless I can help with something.”

Leah checked her watch; it was getting late and it looked like Sam was a no-show. Gary seemed like a trustworthy guy so she took a chance. Besides, he was wearing a Santa hat, too; if you can’t trust a cute guy in a Santa hat, who can you trust? “Well, if you wouldn’t mind I could use a hand delivering those groceries.”

Why not!” Gary answered – a bit too quickly. “I don’t have anything else to do now anyway.”

Great!” Leah answered – a bit too quickly. “You’re a lifesaver, Gary! And I’m really sorry about the kittens.”

On the way to the soup kitchen, Leah and Gary chatted non-stop and discovered they had a lot in common. They were both decent people who enjoyed doing volunteer work, they loved animals and they were hopeless romantics. What could have been a boring night turned into a wonderful evening and they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

When the delivery was done, Leah said “Gary, I want to thank you for all your help tonight. I know you were really hoping to adopt a kitten. How about we make that happen?”

Gary was blown away. “Leah, I didn’t help you because I hoped to be rewarded with a kitten. I really like you and was happy to help. But if you’re serious, then yes – that would make my day!”

I really like you, too, Gary.” Leah blushed. “I just have to warn you: watch out for Othello. He doesn’t like strangers and is pretty territorial. In fact, he barely tolerates me and that’s because I feed him!” Leah laughed.

To Gary’s ears Leah’s laugh sounded like crystal bells.

Arriving at Leah’s place, Gary was too excited to worry about Othello. He was enchanted by the tiny chimera kitten and gently picked her up. He sat on the sofa, cradling her in his arms. Leah’s heart melted watching the two of them.

I’ll go make some coffee” Leah suggested. “You be nice, Othello!”

Out of the corner of his eye Gary saw a large cat in the hallway giving him the evil eye. “Ah, you must be Othello” he whispered. “Look man – please don’t blow this for me, dude. I’ve really fallen for Leah and just between us guys, I think she likes me, too.” Othello crept closer and sniffed Gary’s shoes. Placing his front paws on the sofa he stared intently at Gary, then nonchalantly jumped up and made himself comfortable leaning against Gary’s leg purring contentedly.

Well, how do you like that!” Leah declared in pleasant surprise. “Othello’s taken a liking to you, too, Gary. I think we made a match here tonight.”

Yeah, I think we really did, Leah. And I have the perfect name for this little lady. Leah, say hello to Desdemona.”

Ah, Othello and Desdemona, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers – but this time with a very happy ending” Leah sighed as she snuggled close to Gary.

Othello

500-750 Words

TRYPOPHOBIA


Coroner? What do we need the coroner for?” asked Police Sergeant Jefffries. “It’s obvious this poor slob jumped off the roof. Just look at him!”

Not so fast, Jeffries” snapped Police Captain Russo. “Take a close look at the extensive amount of pimples on this guy. There’s something very strange about them.”

Averse to showing fear but knowing his boss was expecting him to man up, Jeffries crouched down and examined the various array of pustules. God, how he hated those disgusting zits!

You know what I think, Cap? This guy was some sort of perv into kinky adventures and weird stuff. Maybe this is some rare case of an STD.” Jeffries looked up at his superior hoping to have made a good impression.

Jeffries, sometimes I wonder how you ever made Sergeant” replied Russo sarcastically. “If you hope to be Lieutenant someday, you better prove you have what it takes. There’s something nefarious going on here and I can see it with my own two eyes. Have this entire area cordoned off and call the coroner pronto. I’ll bet you a week’s worth of doughnuts he’ll agree with my assessment.”

Humiliated again, Jeffries was beginning to think he really wasn’t cut out for this line of work – always tripping over himself and looking like a fool in front of the captain.

When Dr. Rusikoff, the coroner, arrived he took one look at the body and started barking orders: “Get this man in a body bag ASAP! Hold on … make it two bags and haul him off to the morgue! I’m gonna call ahead. This body needs to be incinerated immediately. Jeffries! Make yourself useful and get a crew to scrub down this sidewalk with the strongest disinfectant you can find.”

Jeffries felt like a lackey but did as he was told. After the street was cleaned up he asked the coroner “Dr. Rusikoff, what’s going on here?”

The coroner looked at Jeffries as if he was an idiot. “Isn’t it obvious, Sergeant? Those aren’t pimples; they’re sacs. Both Russo and I could clearly see organisms moving around inside just waiting to bust out. I heard about this same thing happening in Gongabu in the Kathmandu Valley. Believe you me, Jeffries, it was a nightmare of epic proportions.”

Captain Russo ordered everyone back to the station. “Not you, Jeffries. You’re done for tonight. Report back tomorrow.”

Talk about getting cut off at the knees! “I’m such a loser! I need a drink, a decent lay and some harmless gaiety in my miserable life” Jeffries thought.

He began walking aimlessly about and found himself outside ‘Bar Kathmandu’, the sleaziest dump he’d ever seen. Jeffries drank way too much and woke up the next morning with a stabbing pain in his neck. That pock-marked hooker must have slipped him one hell of a mickey. Stumbling to the bathroom, he looked into the mirror and let out a blood-curdling scream; he was completely covered in throbbing pimples. Just before his head erupted Jeffries saw thousands of tiny grotesque creatures breaking through their sacs and scurrying off.

Who will their next host be? Watch out! They may be heading in your direction!

500-750 Words

ACROSS ANNISQUAM RIVER


Settle yourselves, sinners, and be silent!” bellowed Roderick, vicar of the Olde Annisquam Church. “Prepare to hear the word of the Lord!”

Bearing a strong resemblance to the smarmy, reptilian Uriah Heep with his pointy hawk-like nose, long chicken neck, stringy faded red hair and spindly legs, Roderick was far from the image of a kindly and jovial clergyman. The menfolk detested him, the women shied away from him and the children were frightened of him but he was the only pastor assigned to the villagers of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In fact, the vicar established a mandatory attendance policy that forced the faithful residents to row across the Annisquam River to the church every Sunday – an act that did nothing to improve his popularity or likability.

The vicar continued: “A reading from the Book of Judges. The Lord God madest man to have dominion over the work of his hands and by this you shall have enrichments in everything; blessed are you who believe and act accordingly.” Roderick closed the Bible loudly and preached for the next hour about the “lazy, disreputable and ignorant wretches of Gloucester.” Then like a man possessed he screamed “Repent, ye sinners, lest ye perish!”

No one ever left Sunday services feeling good about themselves. The villagers rowed back across the Annisquam, relieved they had to see the vicar only once a week. He was reprehensible but they were stuck with him. Why he chose to live in the small annex house beside the old church was a mystery; there was a perfectly good church with an attached rectory in the village but Roderick preferred to keep his distance. He didn’t even have a boat to get across the river and he never visited the village, which was quite acceptable with the residents.

The story that everyone heard was that Roderick had a woman who cooked and cleaned for him. Her name was Chenoa, the last of the Agawam Indian tribe; all her clan had succumbed to the plague. Chenoa lived in the forest behind the old church where she hunted and often fished in the Annisquam River. She raised goats and chickens, grew vegetables and maintained a small crop of barley, corn, rye and wheat from which she made bread and whiskey for the elbow-bending vicar.

People talked as they are wont to do; all agreed the relationship seemed particularly strange. Was Chenoa employed by the vicar? He certainly didn’t seem the charitable type. Late one night a few boys decided to paddle across the Annisquam to see what they could find out. Hearing shouting, they crept up to the annex house and peeked in a window.

Roderick was obviously drunk and yelling at a frightened Chenoa; she had overcooked his evening meal and had to face her punishment. The boys were startled when the vicar threw his glass across the room and reached for a birch cane by the hearth. He grabbed Chenoa and ripped the front of her tunic from neck to hem, leaving her standing naked and trembling. He wrestled out of his waistcoat and began whipping Chenoa’s breasts as she whimpered. Purple welts appeared on her chest and bloody droplets trickled down her belly. The vicar dropped the whip and began licking the blood and hungrily sucking Chenoa’s breasts, all the while roughly shoving his fingers inside her. Sweating and breathing heavily, Roderick twisted Chenoa around and entered her from behind, fiercely plunging into her over and over until he cried out like an animal. When he was done he pushed her to the floor.

Scared out of their wits and afraid of being caught, the boys rowed home as fast as possible and told their parents what they had witnessed. The next morning the men reported the night’s horrendous events to the sheriff. They rowed out to investigate, shocked to discover the old church and annex house burned to the ground, still smoldering. Roderick was dead, sprawled just outside the door. An arrow stuck angrily out of his back and he had been scalped; there was no sign of Chenoa. No tears were shed for the ungodly vicar. The sheriff announced he wasn’t going to bother searching for the woman. As far as everyone was concerned, judgement had been served.

On a warm June morning the village women went berry picking by the river. They cried out in horror at the tragic sight before them: a despondent Chenoa had hanged herself from an oak tree across the Annisquam River. The papoose on her back cradled a sleeping infant with reddish hair and a tiny hawk-like nose. A scribbled note tucked inside read: “God forgive me. I cannot bear to look at him.”

Chenoa and Vicar Roderick