300-500 Words

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you then.

NAR © 2021

300-500 Words

CRACKER JACK DAYS

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

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

NEW PRIZE INSIDE!

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, I sure do miss those Cracker Jack days.

NAR © 2021

300-500 Words

A BRUSH WITH FATE

It was nothing, really; just an unsettling feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2021

300-500 Words

SPREAD ‘EM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MY FINGER??” I gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ares

NAR © 2021

300-500 Words

A BLOODY MESS

“Remove impossible stains .. wine, grease .. even blood. Hey, I found it!“ shouted Robert from the kitchen. Walking back into the parlor, his brother Daniel was still standing over the body of Stuart Givens, Daniel’s business partner. 

“Great! Gimme that. We need to get this blood stain out of Meryl’s Persian rug before she gets back from her spa weekend. This is her favorite rug; it cost a fortune! 

“Danny, I think you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than your wife’s rug” replied Robert. “Stuart’s dead! I saw the whole thing. He lunged at you and hit his head on the mantle. It was an accident. Why don’t you just call the police?” 

“I can’t! It’s not that simple. He had evidence against me.” 

“Meaning?” 

“Stuart proved months ago that I was embezzling, forging last wills and testaments, other legal documents and he was gonna turn me in. He confronted me and I couldn’t let that happen!”  Daniel ran his hands through his hair.  “Listen, I knew he was having an affair so I had him followed. I have photos. I suggested he come over tonight so we could talk. It got heated and he came at me. You saw it with your own eyes, Bobby. Stuart and I reign over every other estate lawyer out there and this will ruin me. Now let’s just clean this rug and get rid of  Stuart’s body.” 

“What the fuck, Danny! How could you be so stupid?” exclaimed Robert. “Ok, don’t worry. We got thisI’ll scrub the rug and you look for a tarp in the basement. I have an idea. We’ll wrap Stuart in the tarp, put him in his car and you drive it down the back roads. I’ll drive my car down the main road and we’ll meet up near that ditch at Route 9. All we have to do is get him out of the tarp, place him behind the driver’s seat and push his car down the ditch. It’ll look like an accident. Then we’ll drive back here in my car. And Danny .. grab some rubber gloves, too.” 

When Daniel returned with the tarp and gloves, the rug was clean. “Good as new!” Robert declared. “Ok, bro. Let’s do this!” 

The brothers met at Route 9. Wearing rubber gloves, they removed the tarp, put Stuart in the driver’s seat making sure the car was in ‘DRIVE’, then pushed it down the ditch, watching it crash into a tree. On the way home, Robert collected the tarp and gloves to toss into an incinerator behind a condominium on Route 9. Everything went off without a hitch. 

As they drove back to Daniel’s, Robert cautioned his brother to speak to no one. As if! 

The next day the police discovered Stuart’s car in the ditch but there was no body to be found. 

That evening Daniel got a call. “Hey, partner. You’re a bigger loser than I thought! We’ve got some unfinished business to discuss.” 

Daniel turned white as a ghost. The caller was Stuart. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

HORSE OF ANOTHER COLOR

“Eavesdropper, eh? Terrific odds. He’s a mudder and the track is muddy today. And look at his lineage! Yep, Millie, I predict that’s the winner of Race 9” said Harry Goldman to his wife. She brushed him off with a wave of her hand. “Whatever, Harry Houdini. Not one of your famous magical predictions has paid off yet.”

“All right, Millie. I admit you got lucky today. What’s your secret .. communicating with a horse whisperer?” 

“Oh, zip it, Harry! If it wasn’t for me, we’d be in the poor house. You haven’t won all day! Now be quiet and let me concentrate on my choice for this race.” 

Harry heaved his portly body out of his seat. “Pardon moi, madame. I’m gonna place my bet on Eavesdropper. Then we’ll see who’s got horse sense!”

“You mean horse’s ass, don’t ya?” Millie cackled. “Go on. I’ll be along in a minute .. I’m thinking here.” Snapping her chewing gum, Millie studied the racing form, then traipsed to the betting windows. 

Bets placed, Harry and Millie settled in for the race. “I got a good feeling about this one, Millie!” Harry said excitedly. 

The starting gun shot out and the announcer shouted “And they’re off!” 

Eavesdropper took the lead immediately and held on. Anxious, Harry stood to watch. Suddenly the horse in fourth place started picking up steam. Faster and faster, he flew past the other horses and at the last second crossed the finish line just before Eavesdropper. 

The announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “What a shocker! The winner by a nose .. Muddy Waters!”  

Harry slumped into his seat. “I don’t believe it! Eavesdropper was a shoe-in.”

Millie, however, was flying high.  “I won again! Good old Muddy Waters. I knew it!” 

Millie, I’m begging you! “How’d you do it?” 

“Harry, remember how you said Eavesdropper was a mudder? When I saw the name ‘Muddy Waters’, I knew that was an omen.” 

But how did you pick ALL the other winners?”

“It’s the colors! If I like what the jockey’s wearing, I’ll pick that horse.” 

“That’s your strategy? COLORS?!? Ok .. who you picking for the last race?” 

Millie looked around surreptitiously and pointed to a name on the card. 

HIM?? Rabelais? His color is ‘Eiffel Tower Brown’ .. like a turd!” 

“Not so loud, Harry! He’s from France and you know how ‘I fell’ for those Frenchies!” 

“Aren’t you the clever one?” Harry groaned at Millie’s little joke. “I give up, Millie. Go with your cockamamie ideas and bet it all on Rabelais!” 

Millie was already at the window before Harry was even finished talking.

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

JUST AN ORDINARY SUNDAY

Eavesdropper! Go away, Cathy, and stop being so nosy!” 

“I’m not an eavesdropper, Susan! I was just walking down the hall. Besides, you’re not my boss!” 

“Don’t make me come up there, girls! What’s going on?” shouted Cathy and Susan’s mother Evelyn. 

The girls stomped down the stairs, both yelling at the same time. 

“QUIET!” They took one look at their mother’s face and immediately stopped talking. “That’s better! Now, one at a time tell me what happened. Cathy, you first.” 

“Why does she get to go first?” whined Susan.

Because I said so” sneered Evelyn. “I’m tired of you girls arguing all the time. Start talking Cathy.” 

“I was on the phone talking to Marcy about Rabelais and I saw Susan listening at my door .. as usual.” 

“About him .. your French boyfriend” teased Susan, making goo-goo eyes and kissing noises. 

“Excuse me?” Evelyn asked sarcastically. “What’s all this about a French boyfriend?” 

“It’s true”, replied Susan. “I heard her talking about him .. how he’s smart and funny, he’s a writer and a doctor. He must be ancient .. like 30 or something!” 

“Nice trap you set for yourself, Susan”, commented Evelyn. “For someone who claims she’s not an eavesdropper, you seem to know an awful lot about your sister’s private conversations.” 

Susan’s face turned bright red in embarrassment and anger and tears welled in her eyes.

“But, mom…..” Susan stammered.

“But nothing, Susan. Be quiet! Cathy, you start explaining just what’s going on and it better be good!” Evelyn demanded. 

Mom, there’s no boyfriend. And Susan, you’re such a dummy!” snapped Cathy. “Rabelais lived during the French Renaissance! Do you even know how long ago that was? Marcy and I were discussing our book reports about him. Mom, she’s just jealous because you gave me a Princess Phone for Christmas and not her. I am 15, after all.” 

“It’s not fair!” cried Susan. “I’m 14 and all I got was a stupid record player!”

“The very same record player you use every day listening to your beloved Beatles?” interjected their dad peeking over his newspaper. “And if I’m not mistaken, the famous foursome are appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show tonight. Now .. if you think there’s even the slightest chance you’re going to watch that show then you better stop arguing, apologize and help your mother set the table for dinner.”

“We’re sorry!” the girls sang in unison and ran happily together into the dining room. 

How did you manage that minor miracle?” Evelyn asked her husband.

“Elementary, my dear. It’s called communicating.”

Is that so? Sounds more like ‘bribery’ to me!”

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE IMMIGRANTS

Francesco Amato glanced down from his perch 60 stories above the streets of New York City. As he ate lunch, he talked casually to his friend, Giuseppe, who sat across from him about four feet away. Francesco lit a Camel cigarette, tossed the box of matches to Giuseppe and both men lounged on their beds of steel. Keeping his eyes open to maintain his balance on the 18 inch wide metal plank, Francesco took a long drag on his cigarette. Then the whistle blew; lunchtime was over. 

Giuseppe pitched the matches back to Francesco. They rose to their feet, now old pros at this daily death-defying balancing act. Just then a gust of wind came out of nowhere, scooped up the wrappings from lunch and swirled them about before they slowly drifted out of sight. Both men held on to a nearby vertical beam until the wind stilled.

Looking below at the large wind flag, the men saw that it was still white .. safe conditions. Yellow meant proceed with caution while red indicated dangerous work environments. The crew worked throughout the year, but if a red flag was up, no one climbed the beams. 

There were no harnesses to prevent a deadly fall, no safety nets should someone slip ..  nothing to protect them, save them. All they had to help them scale the beams were ropes dangling from above, good balance and guts. 

Calmness restored, the men strapped on their tool belts containing welder’s gloves, hammers and tongs. A rudimentary pulley system was used to hoist the beams and buckets filled with iron rivets in white hot coals. Using their tongs, the men removed rivets from the coals, inserted them into pre-drilled holes in the beams and hammered them into place. After every hole was filled, the men climbed up to the next level and repeated the process. 

When the end-of-work whistle blew, Giuseppe stretched for the rope to begin the long, slow descent to solid ground. Suddenly he lost his footing and slid off the beam. Francesco yelled out in horror “No, Giuseppe, no!!” as he tried in vain to grab his friend’s arm. The crew watched in stunned disbelief as Giuseppe tumbled down, his screams echoing throughout the beams. 

Francesco sat slumped over, unable to move, silently crying as a single mournful thought invaded his mind: he didn’t even know Giuseppe’s last name. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

SWEET LITTLE MAGGIE

“Welcome, friends. You’re listening to Dr. Grey, ‘The Night Owl’. Let’s talk about what’s keeping you up at night. Caller, are you there?” 

Yes, I’m here and I feel a little foolish calling you about my problem. It happened so long ago.” 

“Let me assure you, caller, there’s no reason to feel foolish. Obviously whatever happened is still haunting you. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Whenever you feel comfortable, I’m here to listen.” 

“Ok .. here goes nothing. You see, I was born deformed. Growing up in a small Midwest town, I was teased mercilessly, especially by the other boys.” 

“I can see how painful that must have been for you. Please continue.” 

“High school was a living hell. There was a group of guys who beat me up every day. The only friend I had was a sweet girl who wasn’t disgusted by my deformity. It was real easy to fall in love with her. But she had a boyfriend .. the guy who treated me the worst. How I hated him! I started thinking of ways I could hurt him like he was hurting me.” 

“Caller, I can only imagine your pain. May I ask .. have you called in before? There’s something familiar about your plight. Please, go on.” 

“No, I’ve never called before, Chief.” 

“What did you just call me?” 

“Oh, did that nickname ring a bell, Chief? Yeah, big man on campus back in Madison, Indiana. It was you, Chief, who made my life a living hell, you who tormented me every chance you had and eventually turned my only friend against me .. my sweet Maggie. Do you have any idea how much I hate you? “ 

“Oh my God! Fred Waldron! Fred, I’m unbelievably sorry for all the pain I caused you. I was an idiot with a big mouth. But now we have a chance to….” 

“To what? Talk it out? Forgive and forget? I don’t think so. Too late, Chief. See, I’m dying. That’s right. My deformed body is riddled with cancer. I had one last thing to do before I die and believe me, it wasn’t to hear you apologize. It was to hurt you in the worst possible way.” 

“Fred, what do you mean?” 

“You’ll see. When we hang up I’m gonna put a bullet in my brain. And you? You should go home and check on your sweet little Maggie.” 

CLICK.

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

BALLS TO THE WALL

While reading the real estate section, my wife Jen called out to me. “Hey, Eric, check this out. You know that community we love? One of the houses is available, has everything we want plus a big yard and a pool. And get this .. their asking only $275,000! That’s well within our budget!”  

“Seriously?  Those houses usually go for twice as much! Wonder why it’s so low.”  

“The agent’s number is right here” replied Jen. “Let’s call.”  

After talking to the agent, we agreed to meet at noon. When we arrived she explained that the owners had moved out of the country and were anxious for a quick sale. The community was lovely and families were outside enjoying the great weather. The house was even more beautiful than we imagined .. not a thing wrong. We asked the agent to make arrangements for an inspector to check everything out and a few days later he reported the house to be in excellent condition, removing all doubts. 

“Well, babe”, I said, giving  Jen a hug, “looks like we just found our dream house!”  

Two weeks later we moved in and everyone was very friendly. In fact, the guy next door came over and invited us to a community welcoming barbecue that weekend. We knew we were gonna love this place.

The barbecue was fun and later on at home we talked about how nice our neighbors were. In particular, Jen was surprised by how helpful the men were, “Except for that one incident when Barb got annoyed with Gil because his mashed potatoes were lumpy!” she laughed.

As time passed, we couldn’t help noticing that the men were house-husbands while the women went to work. How odd! One night Gil called to invite me to the Friday night poker game at his house and Jen to a ladies night at Susan’s. 

The game was going well when Gil suddenly asked “So, Eric, when are you gonna get your balls snipped?”

 Nearly choking, I sputtered WHAT??”  

“Sure! We’re all snipped. Dr. Susan does it .. smooth and rapid. Our wives convinced us life would be much calmer that way .. and it is. Here’s her number.”  

Mumbling excuses, I left the game and darted home .. colliding into Jen running from the other direction. 

“Do you know what they do here?!?” she asked, horrified. 

I nodded frantically. “And the only things getting cut are our losses! We’re outta here!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE EIGHTH OF DECEMBER

While cradling my year old son in his bed after a bad dream, I sang softly to him my favorite Beatles song, In My Life. He stared up at me, his blue eyes moist with tears. Slowly his breathing became calm and his eyelids began to flutter. At last he was asleep and I kissed his eyes, removing the last traces of salty droplets as I pulled up his covers.

Closing the door gently behind me, I went back downstairs where my husband Bill was watching Monday Night Football. One look at Bill as he sat on the sofa, his head in his hands, told me his team was playing badly. I kidded him about being so serious about a game but he didn’t react. I softly called his name and when he looked up at me there were tears running down his face.

As I sat next to him he turned to me, took my hands and told me that John Lennon was dead, shot on the doorsteps of his home, The Dakota. I stared at him in shock. Why would he say such a horrible thing? Who would ever want to hurt John?

He turned the tv volume back on; the game had been interrupted by the report of an incident involving John. I fell to the floor sobbing as the reporter droned on about ‘rapid gun shots’ .. ‘police/John/hospital’ .. ‘dead on arrival’.

I cried uncontrollably and kept repeating no! no! no! as my husband held me in his arms and I wailed in unimaginable anguish and disbelief. We sat on the floor for a long time, clinging to each other, unable to stop my tears or unhear the words coming from the tv.

At one point my three year old son crept down the stairs, frightened and wondering what was wrong with mommy. My husband quickly scooped him up and returned him to his room, whispering that mommy was very sad about something she saw on tv and she would be ok tomorrow.

But I was not ok the next day. I was not ok the next week. I was never truly ok after that night. No living, loving soul in the world was ever ok again.

These days, almost 38 years later, as I cradle my son’s babies in my arms and rock them to sleep, I sing In My Life and I remember John. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE DANGEROUS GAMES WE PLAY

Tuesday, 10/27/1961

Dear Diary: There’s a new boy in school named Carter. He’s so cool. He’s part black .. light mocha skin with amazing green eyes. I dig him. If my parents find out I’m dead! They’re so prejudiced! Gonna dream about him tonight. 

Wednesday, 10/28/1961

Dear Diary: Fabulous news! Carter is now my Biology partner! I know he’s into me. He winks whenever he sees me. My friends giggle; they’re so childish. Really! We’re 15. The black girls are giving me dirty looks. Beverly bumped me hard when she walked by. Carter likes me! He’s so hot! 

Thursday, 10/29/1961

Dear Diary: We were sitting real close in class, sharing the microscope. Carter’s arm brushed against my breast and I liked it. I leaned in closer and placed my hand on his leg, slowly moving it higher. Then the bell rang! Carter whispered “Give me your phone number”. I scribbled it down and he winked at me. 

Friday, 10/30/1961

Dear Diary: Teacher’s Conference Day. No school but my parents had to work. The ringing phone woke me. I was stunned to hear Carter’s voice: “Pretty Lily White. I’m bored. Come to my place. We’ll listen to music.”  I said “Okay“, and got his address. I walked the three blocks to his house. The radio was playing Motown and we started dancing. He gave me a drink .. Scotch, I think .. and he laughed when I coughed. Taking my glass, he kissed me deeply. Just then three boys from school arrived. We were partying – drinking, smoking and dancing. I must have passed out. I came to in Carter’s bedroom, naked. Somebody was on top of me while the others watched. I could vaguely hear the Miracles singing “Ooh, Baby, Baby”. Next thing I know I’m dressed, being helped down the stairs. Carter told someone to “clean up the condoms“. He opened the front door and I staggered out, the cool air clearing my head a bit. I smelled like sex and booze. Somehow I made it home, showered and crawled into bed. How could this happen? 

Weekend, 10/31-11/1/1961

Dear Diary: Faked a headache and skipped the Halloween dance last night. Today I just hung around the house. I can’t face anyone. 

Monday, 11/2/1961

Dear Diary: This morning at school I saw Carter walking with his arm around Beverly. He winked at me as we passed. His friends laughed. I want to die.

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

DAY 1 – Today, as I walked the hills, God spoke to me. We’ve had many talks before, but today was different.  There was a certain unhappiness in his voice and he didn’t say much. Later, right in the middle of dinner, I heard God calling: “Noah? NOAH!” Oh, for Christ’s sake! Always when I’m eating! I got up and went to our usual spot. God said that he was going to start a torrential rain that would flood the earth, essentially killing everyone. Then he told me to wait for instructions. OMG! This is heavy stuff. 

DAY 32 – Three weeks later God called again and told me to build a boat .. actually, he called it an ark and it had to be a certain number of cubits (Note to self: Google cubits). After it’s built I can only bring my wife, sons and their wives. In truth I did ask if I could leave the ladies behind but God just laughed and said there was a method to his madness. Now, here’s where it gets really crazy: I had to bring two of every animal, male and female, and enough food to feed all of us for forty days and forty nights. I don’t think even he knows what a major project this is.

DAY 35 – Tonight I told the family what we had to do and they looked at me like I was from Mars. My sons helped me build the ark while the women prepared plenty of unleavened bread and picked legumes, vegetables and fruit. 

DAY 318 – Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we finished the ark. Now came the monumental task of collecting the animals and gathering provisions. The whole family worked tirelessly getting that done. Just as we got the last of the animals on board, it started to rain. We pulled up the plank, making sure everything was totally secure. 

DAY 327 – It’s only been a little while and I realized I should have brought three of every animal because I’m dying for a piece of meat. Now I’m a freaking vegetarian? Oy vey! 

DAY 358 – Today my wife says “Noah. There’s a problem. Where are the unicorns?” Well, I sure had a good laugh over that one. “You believe that fairytale??” I guffawed. “Next thing you’re gonna tell me is there’s gonna be some biblical book about us. Woman, you crack me up!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

LONG STORY SHORT

Windsor Kelly entered the Washington Square brownstone and walked to the elevator. He tapped his toe impatiently, waiting for it to arrive. Finally the wooden doors opened and he entered, pushing the button for the fifth floor. 

Exiting the elevator, he slowly walked to the staircase, his footsteps echoing through the hall as his shoes made contact with the marble floor. He then climbed four flights of stairs until he reached the ninth floor. He walked to Suite 9D, glancing at the name on the bronze plaque on the door: Dr. Eugene Balthazar, Speech Therapist. He rang the bell before entering, as the sign on the wall indicated, and sat quietly in the waiting room. A few moments later the doctor opened the door to his office, inviting him to have a seat. 

“So tell me, Windsor. Have your been practicing the instructional syllables I demonstrated last week?” 

“Yes, I h-h-have, but i-i-it’s been s-s-six long w-w-weeks and I h-h-haven’t s-s-seen much of a d-d-decrease in the f-f-frequency of my f-f-frustrating s-s-stuttering; h-h-however the vulgarism is m-m-much b-b-better”, stammered Windsor. 

“Well, as I mentioned at the beginning, it’s a process. Keep practicing and I’ll see you next week.” 

Windsor did as instructed and returned the following week. His goulashes made squishy noises as he sloshed through the rain. Closing his umbrella, he entered the brownstone and took the elevator directly to the ninth floor. Again he sat in the waiting room until Dr. Balthazar called him in. 

“Windsor, before we begin I’d like to ask you a question. There are security cameras set up on every floor of this building. I can see everyone enter and use either the stairs or the elevator. I’ve noticed you usually take the elevator to the fifth floor, exit and climb the remaining four flights of stairs to my office .. except on rainy days when you take the elevator directly to the ninth floor. Why is that?” 

“Oh, you noticed that, did you, you little dickwad? Well, shithead, have you noticed that I’m a fucking dwarf .. all Goddamn three feet of me?!?  If you’d pull your noggin out of your ass, you’d realize I can only reach the fifth floor button. But with the tip of my umbrella, I can reach the ninth floor button. Get it, dipshit? Hey! Whatthefuckedness?! I didn’t stutter once! It’s a bloody miracle! I’m outta here, you pompous asshole! Process that!”

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

DOG DAY AFTERNOON

“Windsor, you son on a bitch, get your ass off my lawn! Go on .. get the hell outta here!” 

That was Old Man Jenkins. He and his wife Margaret live next door to us and the source of his rage was none other than our pet bulldog, Windsor. My husband Tom would run out of the house, apologizing profusely. 

“Sorry, Mr. Jenkins! Windsor’s a handful but he’s just playing. He’s really lovable once you get to know him.” 

“Get to know him!? Are you freaking nuts, Peterson? That bastard just crapped on my fruit trees!” 

“Fertilizer, Mr. Jenkins?” Tom suggested sheepishly and dragged Windsor away. 

“FERTILIZER!?! I think you mean shit! 

Hush now, Aaron!” chastised  Margaret. “Using such vulgarism .. why, there’s children next door!” 

“Don’t hush me, Margaret! That damn dog’s a menace! If you can’t control your frigging mutt, Peterson, I’m gonna call the cops. Or maybe I’ll just put a bullet between his beady little eyes.” 

And the kids started crying. 

“Now, Mr. Jenkins, please don’t say that. You’re scaring my kids.” 

“Well, that’s just too damn bad! You solve this problem or I will .. permanently.” 

Tom brought Windsor back inside, promising the kids everything was going to be ok, that Old Man Jenkins was just sputtering angry syllables that he didn’t really mean. 

The next few days we kept Windsor on a short leash. Old Man Jenkins seemed to calm down and busied himself with his fruit trees. 

On Saturday morning Margaret Jenkins approached me in the grocery store. “Thank you, Alice, for keeping Windsor out of our yard. Now Aaron can care for his beloved fruit trees in peace. In fact, he’s been so preoccupied he hasn’t noticed the family of critters living in our wood pile. They’re just so darling, I even named them – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar!” 

And off she went, chuckling surreptitiously. 

Sitting down to dinner later that day, we suddenly heard Old Man Jenkins yelling at the top of his lungs. We never heard him scream like that before so we knew it had to be something awful. Please .. not Windsor! We raced outside, stopping dead in our tracks: there stood Old Man Jenkins, pricked by at least 100 porcupine quills.

“Excellent aim, Balthazar!” exclaimed Margaret. “Guess he knows you’re just a mean old ‘prick’, Aaron!”

Old Man Jenkins learned a lesson that day: don’t mess with Margaret; she’s one smart cookie!

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

INEFFABLE

Piano music drifted up to her as she leisurely strolled the aisles of the exclusive Manhattan department store .. not the unremarkable, annoying background Muzak one usually hears in waiting rooms and elevators. No, this was definitely different. 

Being a devotee of the piano, she was convinced no one else in the world could possibly love its sound more than she. Enchanted, she felt compelled to find the source of the music. 

As she approached the escalator, the volume increased minutely. Gliding down, gently floating closer and closer, she realized “this is LIVE music”.

Arriving at the store’s café level, she stood still, tilting her head slightly in the direction of the beckoning music. Sensing an invisible hand on the small of her back, she swayed slightly as the unmistakable melody of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” trickled above the polite chatter of the ladies who lunch. 

 “Someone is definitely playing the piano” she thought, quickly adding “Oh, please, don’t let it be one of those self-playing digital pianos.” 

Now the music was clearly audible and she followed the winding hallway from the escalator into the center of the café area. Suddenly standing before her in all its glory was a glimmering ebony Steinway baby grand. The lid was open, revealing the hammers and strings, but concealing the pianist .. if there even was one. 

As if on cue, she heard a silky rich voice as smooth as Maker’s Mark Bourbon singing and she imagined Harry Connick or Frank Sinatra. As she made her way around the curves of the Steinway, the illusive piano man came into view. She kept her eyes downcast, afraid to look, and just listened as this sorcerer cast his spell on her. 

Slowly she raised her head to surreptitiously glance at the singer. He wasn’t the handsome, debonair Harry or Frank .. actually, he looked more like Woody Allen .. but when he caught her eye everything fell away and all that mattered was the here and now. She approached him tentatively, her hand gliding along the piano, eyes still locked with his. 

Ruefully she thought to herself “Why do I always fall in love with musicians? I would follow this man anywhere.” The feelings deep within her heart, her body, her soul were ineffable ..  impossible to comprehend. She sat beside him on the piano bench, their legs touching. 

Please”, she whispered in his ear. “Don’t ever stop playing!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

LAMB STEW

As she kneaded the dough for that night’s supper, Liliana caught a glimpse of her reflection in the open kitchen window. The wild child from years ago had been replaced with a confident, sexy woman. No cover girl, for sure, but not bad at all for a well-seasoned dame of a certain age. 

Long brown hair, hazel green eyes and a captivating smile more than made up for her slightly prominent Sicilian nose which only added to her unique beauty (or so she had been told). She was not tall and thin but her legs were long and her curves voluptuous. No skin and bones, this one. Laughing lustfully, she thought “more like a handful … or …. a ripe mouthful”. She laughed at herself often … another appealing characteristic (or so she had been told). 

Her laughter rippled through the sun-kissed Sicilian air. Brushing an errant lock of hair from her face, she continued kneading and massaging the dough with sensual, undulating back and forth motions. 

Looking outside, she noticed the handyman Gaetano across the veranda smiling, watching her appreciatively. Should she smile back or simply ignore him?  She had seen him working next door several times before … no movie star, he … but there was something intriguing about this stranger. That familiar fantasy began surging in her mind. Was it his powerful arms, the cigarette dangling from his lips, his crooked smile, the devilish twinkle in his chocolate eyes? 

Chuckling heartily, he pointed to her, then began wiping his face with his hand. Glancing quickly at her reflection, she saw a streak of flour across her forehead and nose. Mortified, and barely managing to maintain her composure, she reached for a towel to clean her face. Suddenly he roared with laughter and she realized in her haste she had wiped her face with the discarded flour sack, not a towel. 

Now she, too, was consumed with laughter, tears streaming down her floured face, doubled over in giddy convulsions. Regaining self-control, though still giggling despite herself, she stood … only to find she was face to face with this charming rogue. As if in a trance, she allowed him to gently wipe the flour from her face, her eyes never leaving his, tiny gold flecks dancing provocatively as he looked at her intently. 

“I prepared lamb stew for supper. Would you like to join me?”  

“Si, cara. I would love to.”  

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE RIDDLES OF LOVE

PRINCES OF MAGONIA!

YOU ARE SUMMONED TO VIE FOR THE HAND OF PRINCESS AMIRA!

Fifty answered the royal command. Upon seeing Amira, everyone gasped; she was stunning. The double of her late grandmother, she grew more beautiful every year .. skin as white as porcelain, eyes as blue as crystal waters and hair the color of the stars. Her loveliness was surpassed only by her cleverness. She longed to be married but found men boring and inane. 

Amira motioned for everyone to sit and in a confident voice addressed them: 

“One among you will be my husband! Marriage is not based solely on appearances. To win my hand, you must be clever and smart. These fifty parchments, one for each of you, contain three riddles. You have two days to solve them. Record your answers on the parchment, returning them to my secretary. Use your brain; only a clear head and clever mind will win my hand.”

Forty succumbed on day one. On day two, the remaining ten reported to Amira’s secretary. Nine answered incorrectly and were dismissed. Only one had all correct answers. Placing the parchment in her desk, the secretary presented the victor to Amira. 

“Greetings, clever prince! What is your name?” 

“I am Khalil but I am no prince. I am squire to Prince Wahid. He could not answer your riddles.” 

“And YOU can? Let us begin!” 

   “I can only live where there is light but will die if light shines on me. What I?”

Khalil answered “A shadow.”

“The more there is, the less you see. What am I?”

He replied  “Darkness.”

“What disappears the moment you say its name?”

Khalil said “Silence.”

“Excellent, Khalil! All correct! But you tried to fool me.” 

“Wahid is a dolt, besotted only by your beauty. He is not worthy of you. Please afford  me one opportunity. I have a riddle for YOU. If you answer correctly, we shall marry. If not, I will leave immediately.” 

Intrigued, Amira agreed. 

“He loves a princess though his blood is not royal.

He has nothing to give, just a heart that is loyal.

He has no earthly treasure but is clever and smart.

And can promise his bride all the love in his heart.”

“Who am I, Amira?”

 Reaching for Khalil’s hands and drawing him closer, Amira whispered:

“The answer is YOU.

You are honorable, clever, fair of face

AND

my future husband.”

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

PLAY BALL!

Ever since he was a small boy growing up in Fairfax, Missouri, Will Horton was obsessed with baseball. Every chance he had he’d play ball with his friends and when no one was around, he’d put on his mitt and spend hours bouncing a ball off the old shed behind the house.  

In 5th grade Will was one of the starting pitchers for his Little League Team, the Badgers. They practiced three or four days a week after school and played a game every Saturday against the rival team, the Coyotes. By the time Will entered 7th grade, he qualified for the traveling team playing both home and away games.

Will lived on a dairy farm with his mother, June, and his dad, Tom. They tended cows, sheep and goats from dawn till dusk which was rough and demanding work. It was a hard life but the Horton’s were sturdy stock and enjoyed the farming life. 

Most nights during baseball season Will and his dad would enjoy watching the local Major League baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Will dreamed of one day playing with the Royals in Big K Stadium. He longed to go to a game but tickets weren’t cheap and Kansas City was 100+ miles from Fairfax. “Some day” Will would whisper to himself and fall asleep every night looking through his collection of baseball cards. 

On his 13th birthday Tom totally blew Will away with two tickets to the Royals game that Sunday afternoon. Will was so happy, his whooping and hollering got all the cattle skittish. “Sunday is three whole days off! I don’t think I’m gonna sleep a wink till then!” Will said excitedly. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. After their morning chores were done, Tom and Will ate breakfast, then jumped in the truck for the drive to Kansas City. Will chatted all the way, going on and on quoting all the Royals stats. As they approached the city, they were in awe of its size. Driving into the Big K parking lot, Will swore it was the biggest building in all Missouri. Finding their way through the maze of gates and entrances, an attendant showed them to their seats. 

Will was speechless. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer filled the air and the crowd was anxious for the game to start. Finally the Royals ran onto the field to the roar of cheers. They played a great game and won with a staggering score of 12 to 2. All the way home Will and Tom talked about the game. That night at bedtime he promised himself again he would one day be starting pitcher for the Royals. 

Time went on, Will graduated high school and was recruited by the University of Miami as pitcher for the Miami Hurricanes. After school he delivered pizza, saving what money he could. He was living the dream. One night that dream abruptly turned into a nightmare when Will’s delivery car was sideswiped by a truck and slammed hard into the side of a building. Will lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital .. his pitching arm amputated just above the elbow. He was vaguely aware of people in his room, hearing snippets of conversations – “Freak accident” .. “tried to save the arm” .. “tragic loss”  .. “baseball career over.” 

Will was devastated; his baseball days were over. He transferred to a college in Cincinnati, which was located across from the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. On game nights he’d go up to the school’s rooftop, wistfully watching the games. One dismal night Will pushed himself up and stood precariously on the ledge. A soft voice behind him said “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”

Turning his head slightly, Will saw a cute little brunette wearing a baseball cap. ‘What’s it to you? You don’t even know me.

“That’s true” the girl replied “but if you jump who’s gonna go to tomorrow’s game with me?

Will found himself smiling a little despite his depressed mood. This girl was cute and spunky. Offering her left hand, Will reached out and climbed off the ledge. “Hey, I’m Kate. Nice to meet you.” 

Kate meant what she said and the next day they went to the game together. Entering the stadium, Will felt alive again as all the sights, sounds and smells filled his head. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. He was home! Natural as can be, Kate tossed Will a mitt just in case a ball came flying right at them. She was a firecracker and he fell in love that day. They went to games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and at their fifth game, Will proposed. Kate jumped into his lap, gave him a big kiss and said “YES .. under one condition, mister. We honeymoon in New York. I’ve always wanted to go to a Yankees game!” 

Will couldn’t decide which event thrilled him the most: his wedding day or actually stepping into the immortal Yankee Stadium. The experience was more than he ever dreamed and the game was perfect from start to finish .. even though his beloved Royals lost to the ‘Bronx Bombers’. They bought Yankee caps and jerseys and on the way back to their hotel he excitedly said to Kate “Let’s make a new tradition .. to visit as many ballparks as we can in our lifetime.’ Kate nodded happily in agreement. 

A couple of years later Will and Kate became the parents of twin boys. They loved playing ball in their backyard and Will even learned how to pitch lefty. They started playing Pee Wee Baseball and on their 4th birthday, Will made a big deal of presenting them with their gift. “This is a custom your mom and I started before you guys were even born. Now it’s time for you to join us in the ‘Horton Family Ballpark Adventure’!” 

Will beamed with happiness as his kids excitedly tore into the gift box to find two Royals baseball caps, official mitts and four tickets to the next Royals game. Will gazed at his family and suddenly realized THIS was his destiny all along. Winking at Kate, they grabbed a baseball, bats and mitts as Will shouted “PLAY BALL!”  

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

OH, JOHNNY! OH, JOHNNY! OH!

Promenaders?” Christy looked up from her homework, a confused look on her face. “Wow! Such a weird wordWonder what it means. Mom, are you listening to me?” 

Julie, Christy’s mom, stopped preparing dinner and turned to talk to her daughter. “Yes sweetie, I’m listening. I know the word and you do, too. Just think about it for a minute, Chris. Anything come to mind?” 

Christy’s face was skewed in a bewildered expression. “It sorta sounds like that weird fruit, the one  with all the red seeds in the center which you’re supposed to eat. How bizarre is that .. eating seeds? Ya know what I’m talking about, mom

Julie laughed. “You’re thinking of pomegranates, Chris!  And yes, it’s a little strange but the seeds are really delicious. I’ll get some for you to taste. Now, back to your homework .. ‘promenaders’. It’s a word you’ve heard before. Try again.”  

Christy absentmindedly chewed on her pencil, deep in thought, then smiled as though a huge secret had suddenly been revealed. “I know! Promenaders are teenagers who go to proms!” 

“Very clever, Christy girl, but not quite right. Wait .. you’ve just given me an idea! Let’s see if this jogs your memory.” Julie dashed out of the kitchen and returned with one of Christy’s old yearbooks. “Remember when everyone took square dancing in 7th grade?”  

“Sure, but what does that yearbook have to do with anything, mom? That was ages ago when I was twelve. I’m fifteen now!” 

Julie rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know .. you’re so very grown up now! Here, humor me and take a look at this picture. It’s from one of the square dances you used to go to. Read the caption.” 

Christy heaved an exaggerated sigh, took the yearbook from Julie and recited the verse:

*Then you all promenade with the sweet corner maid singing “Oh, Johnny! Oh, Johnny! Oh!”*

Christy’s eyes opened wide. “I remember that song! That’s the part of the dance when we strolled around the dance floor. So promenaders must be people who stroll!”  

“There ya go, kiddo! You got it!” Julie exclaimed. 

Christy jumped off the kitchen stool and started heading toward the stairs leading to her bedroom. 

“Hey .. where you off to? Dinner’s almost ready” Julie called out after her

I’ll be back down soon, mom. Gotta finish this essay.”  And she ran up the stairs singing “Oh, Johnny! Oh, Johnny! Oh!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

Promenaders strolled down the sun-streaked boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ladies twirled their parasols while the gents tipped their straw hats as they passed each other and stroked their handlebar mustaches. It was Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, a perfect day with sunshine, blue skies and children laughing.

Margaret Wilson and her boy Sam came from Philadelphia for the fresh sea air, to gaze in awe at the hotels built like fairytale palaces along the seafront and to admire the piers dripping with neon lights. The most famous was the Steel Pier, known for its dance bands, water circus and other such attractions. In fact, it was revealed that the famous composer John Philip Sousa and his band would be performing that very afternoon. 

There were barkers selling salt water taffy and cotton candy, minstrel shows, fairgrounds and the famous Diving Horse, specially trained to charge up a 60 foot ramp to a platform atop the Steel Pier where a woman clad in a smattering of sequins leapt onto its back just before it plunged off the pier. Horse and rider flew through the air, hitting the water to the applause of delighted throngs waiting below.

But one didn’t have to venture far from the boardwalk to sample less wholesome activities. In venues like the Paradise Club, tourists could watch nearly naked women dance to jazz music. And if they wanted something not just risqué but illegal, they could visit the brothels catering to every taste, gambling dens and slot machines. There was the criminal element, too, with occasional holdups and shoot-outs. 

However today was a holiday. Children played gleefully, the start of school the furthest thing from their minds, while their parents strolled in their most fashionable clothes, making small talk. Nothing could spoil a day like today. 

Suddenly the cacophony of gun shots rang out. People screamed and scattered as gun-wielding robbers ran from the pawn shop, shooting wildly. They jumped into a waiting car and took off. All was silent until a piercing wail rose to the heavens and everyone turned to see Margaret Wilson cradling the body of little Sam, shot in the heart by a stray bullet. In his jacket pocket was a folded essay, now stained with innocent blood – “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”. 

The police arrived, removed mother and child and the band played on. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE POKER GAME

“How do, ladies and gents? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dougal James MacTerrier, but everyone calls me ‘Mac’. I’ve been top dog at Barktower Manor for ten years now. You see, his lordship, Hound Ruff Branan saved my life one night after that fleabag Angus ‘Scotty’ Montgomery caught me sniffing around his bitch and nearly tore me apart. In my clan, when another saves your mangy life, you’re beholden to them forever. Truth be told, I’ve had a good life here. 

Tonight I’ll be donning my vest and tam as I’m the greeter for the weekly poker game. Sir Ruff and the boys always have a great night playing cards, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. Well, there was that one game a few weeks back that didn’t turn out so well. 

That particular night started out like any other. Sir Ruff, his four cousins the Hounds of Baskerville and the two Boxer Brothers were having a grand time. M’lord’s sweetheart, Madam Pompadour, owner of the fabulously successful pup salon Shampooch, and her saucy poodle assistants were there to cater to everyone’s needs. They looked extraordinarily fetching in their French maid outfits. Tails were wagging, for sure! 

It was no secret that the Boxers were in debt big time to loanshark Weezy “Pit Bull” Mulally, and had cooked up a scheme to win back their losses that night.  The game was going strong and the pot was getting bigger when one of the Boxers slipped the other a card under the table. Things were looking good for them and they surreptitiously exchanged a few more cards without anyone noticing. The hounds were growling their displeasure as the Boxers won game after game. 

Just then Madam Pompadour and her delightful maids came in carrying silver trays of bones, kibbles and bits. When Sir Ruff looked up from his paw of cards, he caught the reflection in a tray of the Boxers passing winning cards. M’lord began barking and howling loudly, alerting the other hounds who immediately pounced on the cheating Boxer Boys. The two connivers were no match for the five rabid hounds and things did not end well for the brothers that night .. but they did end permanently. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear our guests scratching at the door, eager for tonight’s game. Let’s hope the night goes well. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, you know!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE TENDER TRAP

The south side of Chicago is a dangerous place. Dingy bars, seedy hotels and strip joints are scattered throughout the city. Gordon Peters had a taste for all of them .. along with bourbon, brunettes and black silk stockings. 

Most nights Gordon would slither into his favorite bar, The Tender Trap, jacket collar turned up and hat low on his forehead.  He’d sit on the end barstool, order a bourbon and case the joint .. just the usual losers. But Gordon had patience. He’d nurse his bourbon, smoke his Marlboro’s and sooner or later she’d walk in .. maybe a secretary working overtime or a bored and lonely housewife. 

After about 45 minutes, she ran in from the rain, shook her damp dark brown hair, headed to the bar and ordered a martini. Glancing around the room, her eyes landed on Gordon, then looked away. He walked over and, removing his hat, asked if he could join her. She was startled to see how handsome he was – a regular George Clooney. 

Making himself comfortable, Gordon motioned for another round. They talked for a while; her name was Christine and she had recently taken a job as Pathologist at Chicago General.  He asked if she’d like to get a bite to eat and she agreed. After dinner, Gordon was ready to make his move. 

“Look, it’s stopped raining. Let’s take a walk.” Strolling the dimly-lit streets, he suddenly pulled her into a dark alley, pinning her against the wall. She could feel his hardness against her belly and forced herself to remain calm. Slowly he pulled a black silk stocking from his pocket and, wrapping it around her neck, began strangling her. The wetness in his pants and bourbon breath repulsed her. Gagging, struggling, her eyes bulged and she slipped to the ground. Removing the stocking, he placed it across her face snarling  “Courtesy of Gordon Peters“, and ran off. 

But Christine was smart. Being an M.E., she knew exactly how to feign death. She didn’t move until she felt safe, then ran to the nearest police station and reported the attack. The police said their detectives had been looking for this guy after four women were found strangled by black silk stockings. Now, thanks to Christine, they had his name and the name of the bar. 

The next night as Gordon left The Tender Trap he was surrounded by cops. Case closed. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

With vacation just one week away, Lauren was excited about buying a new bathing suit. Over the past year she had been diligent about diet and exercise and lost 65 pounds. She was proud of herself and eager to show off her great new figure.

At the mall she passed a few swimwear shops until one caught her eye. There was no loud music or glaring, off-putting lights; rather the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing. Feeling comfortable, she went in. 

Welcome” said the saleswoman. “May I help you or would you care to just browse?” 

Lauren explained her recent weight loss and asked for a few suggestions. 

Impressed with Lauren’s recent accomplishment, the saleswoman said she needed an eye-catching suit that would leave everyone speechless. Darting between display racks, she returned with three suits for her to try on – a blue and white polka dot bikini, a strapless jungle print bandeau and a simple one-piece with matching tunic set. 

Lauren entered the softly-lit dressing room. Stepping into the one-piece, her breath caught when she saw her reflection. The suit fit her perfectly, modestly showing off her curves, while the subdued shades of purple and turquoise shimmered slightly. The purple cotton tunic provided just the right amount of coverage. “I look amazing!” she whispered.        

Lauren bought the set and as a first-time patron received a coupon for 15% off her next purchase. 

During the week she was busy packing. On Friday morning an Uber picked her up for her flight to Mexico. 

In her hotel room Lauren put on her bathing suit, cover-up and stepped out into the pool area.  She found a free lounge chair and swept the tunic over her head. Suddenly she heard loud gasps, laughing and lewd whistling. Looking down she was appalled to see her beautiful new suit had turned totally transparent in the bright sunlight! 

Grabbing her tunic, she covered herself, humiliated. Immediately hotel security arrived and escorted her inside. 

“I don’t know where you come from, señorita, but here in Méjico we have laws!” barked the hotel manager. “I must insist you leave this hotel at once.” 

Back in her hotel room Lauren suddenly noticed the tiny label inside her bathing suit – “THE REVOLUTIONARY ‘DARE TO BE YOU’ COLOR-VANISHING SUIT!” 

Bags packed, she tossed the scandalous suit into the trash thinking ruefully to herself, “caveat emptor”. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

IN THE KEY OF GEORGE

With exactly 67¢ in his pocket, George Adams made his trek for a morning cup of coffee. He would walk from his rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment, buy his coffee and sip it while flipping though his beloved book, “The Complete Organ Method”. 

On this particular morning, he trudged through the slush in his beat-up boots, 67¢ jingling in his pocket. Placing the coins on the counter, he ordered his usual.

“Sorry” said the girl behind the counter. “The price is now 69¢.” 

Befuddled, he exclaimed “I’ve been a patron here for years. The price is always 67¢!” 

Apologizing, the girl explained that she didn’t set the prices. George scooped up his 67¢  muttering “oughta be some laws” and trudged back home. 

George was, to put it nicely, frugal. He grew up during The Depression and knew how difficult his parent’s life was. His father’s last words were Never trust banks!” Fortunately George was an excellent student, earning a scholarship to college and a grant to continue his studies, receiving a Doctorate in Music. 

His first job was assistant organist at Trinity Church. The following year the organist retired. George replaced him and began teaching organ lessons. He made a good salary yet continued his frugal lifestyle by eating canned soup, buying used clothing and drinking 67¢ coffee. 

George’s favorite student was Brad Ridgeway; he reminded George of a young version of himself. Brad worked in the mailroom at Dun & Bradstreet; his salary was so meager the only place he could afford to live was at the YMCA. He was determined to become a great organist some day but music school was beyond his budget. Brad’s parents worked for Walmart back in Ohio and he wouldn’t dream of asking them for money. Times were tough but he just kept on trudging through one day at a time. His only real friend was George; Brad didn’t realize it at the time but George felt the same way about him.

One day at his lesson Brad noticed that George was coughing more than usual and not looking well at all. He asked George if everything was alright, if there was anything he could do. George just shrugged it off, mumbling something about the long-term effects of a case of childhood tuberculosis. At the end of the lesson George handed Brad a small sealed envelope and whispered “Son, if anything should happen to me, I want you to open this. Keep it safe and don’t tell anyone. It’s for your eyes only.” Brad slipped the mysterious enveloped into his pocket, knowing better than to ask any questions. If George wanted him to know more, he’d tell him.

Uncharacteristically, George missed Brad’s next lesson. Brad waited at the church for about fifteen minutes then went to George’s apartment to check on him. The landlord informed him that “the old guy” had passed away in his sleep three days earlier. Crushed, Brad slowly walked home. Suddenly he remembered the envelope. Reaching into his threadbare pocket, he opened it finding a note with a key taped to it and the inscription “For Brad: G.C.S. #520”.

Everyone living in Manhattan knows “G.C.S.” stands for Grand Central Station and the key was obviously for a locker. Brad raced there, found locker #520 and with trembling fingers unlocked it to discover at least fifty paper bags stuffed with $100 bills! Scrawled on each bag was “NEVER TRUST BANKS!”

Dumbstruck, Brad slowly closed the locker and with tears in his eyes, he looked heavenward whispering “Thank you, my dear George!”  

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

BADDA BING, BADDA BOOM!

Justice of the Peace? You wanna elope, Angie? Our parents haven’t even discussed the wedding!”  

“Exactly, Taylor, and it’s gonna stay that way!” said Angie in her best Marisa Tomei voice. “Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to an Italian wedding? No? That’s what I thought. There are two things I know for a fact – #1: our parents couldn’t be more different and #2: left in the hands of my family, our wedding will be a circus, complete with unicycling-jugglers and a magician. Remember my cousin Gina’s engagement party?  Well, picture that ten times worse. Forget about an elegant ceremony in your parent’s country club like your sister had, with one maid of honor and a best man. There will be no dainty hors d’oeuvres and flutes of champagne served by an attentive waitstaff followed by dinner of Beef Wellington and fingerling potatoes. The delicate wedding cake with gold leaf flowers? Ain’t gonna happen. Our romantic wedding night in the country club honeymoon suite? Fugetaboutit! My parents are old school, Taylor, and only want a real Italian wedding. My father would rather swim through the shark-infested Straits of Messina than go against tradition. Now picture this: the ceremony will be held at St. Vito’s Church with my mother’s uncle, Monsignor DelFino, officiating. There will be at least ten bridesmaids and groomsmen, a flower girl and a ring bearer. The reception will be held at The Villa Barone catering hall where my brother-in-law Carlo, the newly-elected volunteer fire chief, had a sweet sixteen birthday party for his daughter.The cocktail hour will be a cash bar with antipasto served buffet style. The reception dinner will be Italian wedding soup, penne alla vodka, salad and a choice of chicken, prime rib or fish. The cake will be five, maybe six tiers. My cousin Vinnie will play the tarantella on his accordion, followed by the pièce de résistance – the Viennese Dessert Hour and flaming cherries jubilee. Our wedding night will be spent sitting around the kitchen table with you, me and my mother counting the money we got for wedding gifts while my father records everything in an accounting book like a cigar-chomping Iamblichus. OR ….. we go to City Hall, get hitched and spend two luscious weeks in sunny Aruba. Your call.” 

“Are you kidding me, Angie?  Say no more. City Hall awaits!” 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

FIELD DAYS

Justice, Fergus and Eustace were little triplets, abandoned at an early age. They never knew their father who was the ‘love-em-and-leave-em’ type and their mother was a floozie who ran off with a smooth-talking rat. They were in dire straits for a while but now they lived on a farm and life was pretty good. 

Days were spent romping in the tall grass eating berries, seeds and an occasional bug. At night they slept in the barn loft – a discarded half-filled bag of mulch as their bed. And they always kept an eye out for cats, snakes, owls and other creatures of the night .. the typical life of a field mouse. 

Justice was the self-elected leader. Fergus was somewhat dim-witted, obviously not the brightest bulb. Eustace, the only female of the trio, was a free spirit who apparently took after their mother. Most nights Eustace could be found across the yard getting it on with the Hamster Boys. Eustace was not very discriminating but size definitely mattered. One night she took off with one of the hamsters; her brothers never saw her again. 

Sometimes the farmer’s teenage son and his friends would come into the barn, hanging around smoking some funny smelling stuff and laughing their fool heads off. One day Fergus noticed something the teens had left behind – shiny and glittering in the sun. He climbed down to investigate and discovered a long glass tube with a bowl attached to the end which contained remnants of something that looked like weeds. ‘Lunch!’ thought Fergus and began chowing down.

It wasn’t long before Justice heard Fergus’s excited giggles and went to see what nonsense the dimwit was up to. There he was, chasing his tail all around the top of a well, Bob Marley music playing in the background. Suddenly Fergus screamed ‘CANNONBALL’ and jumped into the deep well. Justice heard a tiny squeal followed by an almost imperceptible splash .. then silence. ‘Poor little twit’ Justice muttered to himself and slowly walked back to the barn.

Alone now, Justice packed a few items and bid farewell to the barn. Along the way he came across a young couple enjoying a picnic. Reaching into her basket, the woman produced a small piece of cheese and gingerly offered it to him. Tentative at first, Justice looked up into the woman’s twinkling blue eyes and was immediately besotted. He took the cheese in his tiny hands, placed it in his little hobo sack and ran off. 

Justice had been served.

Once he was far enough away he sat down and nibbled happily on the cheese, staring at the wispy clouds and reminiscing about his siblings, now gone. 

That day Justice had prevailed. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

It is raining again’ Rachel thought woefully as she looked out the window of the Manhattan apartment she shared with her boyfriend Jeff. ‘And the weather forecast is for rain all week  and into the holiday weekend!’ She and Jeff talked about getting away for a few days, maybe to Washington DC or to Boston but the weather all along the east coast looked bad. Labor Day weekend was just a few days away and it would be great to escape this incessant rain. 

It is raining like crazy!” exclaimed Jeff as he entered the apartment. “I’m soaked, hon. Toss me a towel, would ya? We’ve been talking about getting away for Labor Day. Why don’t you  check the computer for vacation spots while I get changed? I’ll be back in a sec.” 

“It is raining everywhere” whined Rachel as Jeff returned to the living room. “I thought about going to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or Disney World  but they’re having rain, too.” All evening they checked out various places, with no luck. They were about to give up when Jeff shouted “Whoa, babe! Look what I found on Expedia .. two round trip tickets to Cabo San Lucas for $296 per person and only $200 for the hotel! AND NO RAIN IN SIGHT!! Let’s go for it!”  Rachel threw her arms around Jeff’s neck shrieking “Cabo! Swimming! Mojitos! SUNSHINE! HELL YEAH!!”

“It is raining, babe. Can you hear it? For the first time in ten days I don’t give a damn because tomorrow we’ll be in sunny Méjico! I’m so stoked we made those reservations the other night.” Jeff yawned while Rachel snuggled up against him. “I thought I was  dreaming”, she replied sleepily. “Cabo, here we come!” and they drifted off to sleep. When they woke the next morning, the rain had stopped but it was cloudy and the sky was gray. The Uber picked them up at 8:00 for their 10:00 flight. The closer they got to the airport, the lighter the skies became and by the time they were seated in the plane, the sun was trying to break through the clouds. They arrived in Cabo just in time for cocktails and dinner, watching the glorious sunset from the hotel’s veranda. Very early the next morning Jeff was awakened by Rachel’s crying. “Honey, what’s the matter?” he asked.    

“IT IS RAINING!!” she sobbed. 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

PAINT IT BLACK

It is raining. Little Joseph, only four years old, is riding in the back of a big black car, his mother Carla by his side. They are following a long flower-covered car. Mommy said daddy’s in that car but Joseph can’t see him. Their car stops; other cars arrive. Everyone is dressed in black. They’re all crying. Everyone follows some men carrying a long black box into a grassy field. ‘Is this a picnic?’ Joseph wonders. The men lower the box into a large hole in the ground and mommy tells Joseph to “say goodbye to daddy.” He is confused but follows her lead,  tossing a flower into the hole. They return to the car. Carla lights a cigarette, smiles and tells Joseph daddy won’t be coming back. Joseph is sad and doesn’t understand why daddy would leave without saying goodbye. Looking out the window he waves bye bye with his little hand. 

It is raining .. again. Joseph wants to play with mommy but she says “No .. I’m busy on the phone”. He goes exploring the cellar where there are lots of boxes .. great for climbing and building. Joseph spots a small box among the big ones and decides it’s perfect for the top of his fort. Just as he’s placing it on the tippy top, it slips from his hands, scattering torn  photos of daddy. There’s a newspaper clipping, too, but he can only read a few words – ‘BOAT’ .. ‘LOST’ .. and ‘ROMANO’ – his surname. Joseph doesn’t understand any of it but he instinctively knows mommy would be mad at him. He puts the box back where he found it and goes upstairs. 

It is raining but Joseph hears laughter outside. From the window he can see mommy and a man kissing under a tree. The man takes a suitcase from his car and he and mommy run to the house. They throw open the door, dripping wet, still laughing. Joseph thinks it’s all very strange for grown ups to act this way. Carla looks at Joseph and scolds, “Naughty boy! Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?” But Joseph just stands there, looking at them. “Well, silly goose”, purrs mommy, “say hello to my friend. He’s your daddy now.” Laughing and hugging, they ran up the stairs, leaving Joseph alone in the hallway. Slowly he walks to the window and starts to cry. Will it ever stop raining? 

NAR © 2018

300-500 Words

THE YUS BUS

Other people often popped in and commented on her FaceBook posts, especially the rock music and Beatles groups. Reading their comments was an enjoyable way to pass the time. For some reason most of the responders were guys. Many posts were benign remarks, some were a bit more animated while others were downright hostile. Once in a while she would respond to the posts but always ignored the vitriolic ones. Why throw gas on a fire? 

One response to her Beatles post caught her attention. The guy who responded was intelligent, imaginative and his comments were thought-provoking. He didn’t kiss-up or act like a know-it-all. He mentioned music and groups which she was familiar with and that intrigued him .. pieces like Supper’s Ready and The Cinema Show by Genesis. To her surprise, she was delighted that he was a huge fan of this magic music. 

They began a casual correspondence on FaceBook, exchanging music videos and introducing each other to new artists. But the glue of the relationship was their love of the Beatles. The more they chatted the more they realized how much they both adored the Lads .. really got them and appreciated them above all others, especially John. How ironic, how enjoyable, how lovely. 

While “talking” one day, they discovered another common love existed .. writing .. and he encouraged her to pursue a long-abandoned passion for writing. They exchanged emails and a most unusual and unexpected relationship blossomed. He sent her rough drafts of his stories, asking for her opinion, critiques, etc., and she did the same. It didn’t take long before this became a frequent routine. It came as no surprise that they greatly admired each other’s work. What was unexpected was the multitude of similarities they shared .. not just in music and writing but in everything in their lives. There was only one word to describe their relationship – ineffable. 

It’s rare for two people who have never met to develop an inexplicable union .. one in which messages are exchanged at the exact same moment and identical words are used to describe feelings and sensations. They communicate daily ..  emailing and phoning, sharing a smooth cyber slow dance, afloat in an indescribable soulship of loving affection .. a bond that can’t be broken. There is no longer “him” nor “her” .. in fact there isn’t even an “us”. They are simply “YUS” .. riding THE YUS BUS. 

NAR © 2018