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!

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”.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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
500-750 Words

RAINBOW BRIDGE


Eric and Sue always knew they’d get a dog someday – not one from the pet shop but a rescue in desperate need of a loving home. When they saw Lily, all chocolatey-brown with big doe eyes, they knew she was the one. She was the sweetest, most gentle dog ever, despite having been abused and terribly frightened most of her life.

Animals know when someone is trying to help them. Lily knew she was safe, happy living in her home on Paradise Place with Eric and Sue. She loved them as much as they loved her.

After six years together Sue noticed that Lily had a little raspy cough and some trouble eating; this worried her. A trip to the vet confirmed her fears; Lily was diagnosed with a rare case of tongue cancer.

Malignant. Inoperable.

How much time?”

Within the year” was the grim answer.

Sue and Eric promised each other two things:
– They would spoil Lily rotten and smother her with love.
– They would never let her suffer or die alone.

The veterinarian decided the best treatment would be medication and radiation therapy. It wasn’t a cure but Lily responded well; she was a happy girl. She loved napping in the upstairs TV room. Upon waking she’d walk to the top of the stairs, stretch and shake her head, dog tags jangling noisily. When baby Julia came along, Lily was so good with her; Eric and Sue never worried when Lily was near the baby.

Eight months later Lily started getting worse. Within days she declined rapidly; she was listless and wouldn’t eat. Eric and Sue were blindsided one morning when Lily began vomiting blood; they knew the end was near for their beloved girl. It’s not like they weren’t expecting this; it just happened so fast and too soon.

At the animal hospital Eric and Sue comforted Lily as the vet gave her a sedative. They whispered loving words and kissed her head. Lily finally relaxed in their arms. Another injection was administered and Lily passed peacefully after just a few seconds.

Eric and Sue were heartbroken. They took the next day off from work to recoup, scrubbing the blood from the carpet and washing Lily’s bed. That night while folding laundry Sue heard a noise upstairs. She thought it was Julia but the baby was fast asleep. Then she recognized the sound: jangling dog tags! Exhausted, Sue knew it had to be her imagination … until she looked at Eric. He was white as a ghost, his gaze transfixed on the staircase. Sue whispered in questioning disbelief “You heard that?!” Eric nodded yes. “That was Lily!”

Logically they knew it couldn’t possibly be Lily but they looked anyway. Then they checked Lily’s leash and collar; of course they were right where they put them the night before. But in their hearts they knew – Lily had come back one last time to her home on Paradise Place to say goodbye and let them know she was ok on the other side of Rainbow Bridge.



Lily
500-750 Words

MAHOGANY HALL


Despite great wealth and prominence, nothing could save Andre Deloitte’s wife Claudine.

The year was 1910. Andre, Claudine and their ten-year-old son Henri lived on Breakneck Lane in the exclusive Garden Heights section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Their majestic manor, “Mon Rêve”, was Claudine’s dream home but she detested the foreboding name of the street. Andre reassured Claudine she was just being silly and superstitious and the family happily settled into their home. The popular couple hosted extravagant parties and entertained the rich and famous from all parts of the world.

Andre owned the illustrious Deloitte Jewelers. His clientele was elite – oil tycoons, judges, entertainers, governors and successful entrepreneurs such as Miss Lulu White, “Queen of the Demi Monde” and madam of the elegant bordello Mahogany Hall in Storyville, the infamous red-light district of New Orleans.

It was during one of their lavish soirees when the Deloitte’s dreamworld turned into a nightmare. Claudine was making her usual grand entrance down the marble staircase when the heel of her shoe became entangled in the hem of her gown. She fell, landing at the foot of the stairs like a mangled doll, her lovely neck snapping like a twig; she died instantly. Claudine’s apprehension towards Breakneck Lane wasn’t so silly after all.

Andre was devastated by Claudine’s death and threw himself into his work. Henri was left in the care of the household staff and a kindly au pair named Josephine. The boy missed his mother very much but thrived under the tutelage of his caregivers. As he grew into his teen years it became obvious to Josephine that Henri needed his father’s guidance more than ever. Andre decided the best course of action was to bring Henri into the family business.

Henri enjoyed being in the shop with his father and soon became quite knowledgeable about gems and precious metals, even demonstrating a flair for designing jewelry. Andre told Henri he had a highly regarded client located across town who was interested in buying several one-of-a-kind pieces. Andre urged his son to accompany him to his patron’s residence where they would display Henri’s unique creations. The cient was Madam Lulu White.

Mahogany Hall was home to “women of the night”. Girls lounged on sofas, their unfastened robes revealing supple naked bodies. Others wore filmy shawls with intriguing thigh-high striped stockings with high heels. Henri blushed when he realized a few of the girls were eyeing the bulge in his pants – something that bewildered yet excited the inexperienced teen.

Henri spoke to his father about the allure of Mahogany Hall and his desire to return. Andre realized there was no stopping Henri and smiled knowingly as he drank his cup of Bowdoin Chicory Coffee. “Just don’t fall in love, son” was Andre’s advice.

Fascinated by everything about Mahogany Hall, Henri returned the next day. As he walked around the estate he became aware of soft music and followed the sound to a small parlor. There, at a spindle leg table in the middle of the room sat the most alluring creature imaginable. She sipped a glass of Raleigh Rye, her lacy manteau barely covering her breasts. There was a hint of a smile on her face and her eyes fluttered in a dream-like state. Sensing Henri’s presence, she looked up and smiled. Placing her glass on the table, she slowly removed the pins from her hair. Her eyes danced seductively as waves of chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders. Mesmerized, Henri could not control his burgeoning erection. He smiled back.

Enchanté. I am Henri Deloitte.”

The girl replied “I know who you are. I hoped you would ask for me. I am Isabelle Badet.”

Despite his father’s warning, sixteen-year-old Henri fell hopelessly in love.

For the next year Henri was a frequent visitor at Mahogany Hall. He made his wishes clear to Madam Lulu that Isabelle was to see no other men; he was happy to pay dearly for the luxury of having her exclusively to himself.

In November of 1917 the government abruptly shut down Storyville and Mahogany Hall was forced to close its doors. Henri searched frantically for Isabelle but Madam Lulu and all the girls were gone. Despondent, Henri joined the army, fighting overseas in World War I. The young lovers never saw each other again. The birth of Evan Deloitte the following May was Isabelle’s most treasured memory of her blissful love affair with Henri.

500-750 Words

EAT MY DUST


Particularly sensitive about her bright red hair, twelve-year-old Moira was constantly teased and ridiculed by the other kids in school. A day didn’t go by when she wasn’t under attack, either verbally or physically. The bratty kids would run after Moira, pulling her hair and calling her Devil Girl or Carrot-top. They’d force her off the bus and chase her home where she’d run inside crying, hiding in her room.

Moira’s mother begged the principal to do something but he claimed his hands were tied. “Kids will be kids. What do you expect me to do – expel all the students?” was his cavalier comment.

Aside from her cousin Andrew, Moira had only one true friend – a confident and strong-willed girl named Tanya, one of the few black students in their school. Tanya’s brother Justin taught her how to handle herself. She was no coward and would blast the other kids, making them back off. “Stick with me, girl! We’ll show those fools some day!” Tanya would laughingly say to Moira, putting her arm around her shoulder. Nothing seemed to bother Tanya but that was far from true. She felt the prejudice every day; she just never revealed her emotions and would wait until she was safe in her mother’s comforting embrace to vent her frustrations.

Fortunately the friends had something in their favor: they were both incredibly beautiful. Unlike most redheads Moira’s creamy face had no freckles, her eyes were a bewitching hazel and her hair was straight and lustrous, not a shock of fire-red curls like Little Orphan Annie. Tanya’s complexion was like velvet, the color of hot cocoa. Her eyes were a glistening golden-brown and her jet-black cornrows were luxurious and silky smooth. Their exquisite good looks confused the fickle boys and threatened the jealous girls.

Tanya and Moira remained close all through their teen years. High school wasn’t a cakewalk for the girls; every day a new challenge would present itself and the friends would put on a brave face. Tanya became Moira’s coach, teaching her everything she learned from her brother. Slowly Moira’s confidence became stronger and school wasn’t such a living hell.

Not one boy had the guts to ask Moira or Tanya to the prom which was no surprise. “Screw it!” was Tanya’s reaction. “Who needs them?!” Moira came up with a wild idea and when she shared it with her friend, Tanya grinned and said “You’re on, girl. Let’s do this thing!”

On the day of the big dance the friends went to the salon for “the works” – nails, hair and makeup. When they were done they looked amazing and totally different, playing a crazy game of trading places.

The outcasts walked into the prom not knowing what to expect but once everyone saw them, all trepidation disappeared. The boys were dumbstruck, mouth gaping open while the girls stared, seething with envy. Moira was on Justin’s arm while Tanya walked hand-in-hand with Andrew.

They left everyone eating their dust.

500-750 Words

I GEMELLI


Resemblance can be a freaky thing. Supposedly everyone has a doppelgänger; someone out there is a duplicate of you with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always wanted to have removed. Apparently there’s a 1 in 135 chance that there are several pairs of clones walking around, each completely unaware of the other’s existence.

Speaking of doppelgängers, my husband has an identical twin – exactly the same in every way except their political leanings and choice in women. All their lives people have called Bill by his brother’s name and the same is true of Jim. Even our sons look more like brothers than cousins and have been confusing people for years.

In his late teens Bill had a cyst just below his right eye. After surgery he was left with a tiny, almost imperceptible scar. At last, something to differentiate the twins! A few months later while doing repairs on a boat, Jim turned his head abruptly, banged into a pipe and cut his face. He now has a tiny, almost imperceptible scar in the exact place as Bill. Identical right down to their scars!

My cousin Franco has lived his entire life in Sicily. The first time my family traveled to Europe I was about 14 years old and met my cousin for the first time. The strong resemblance between us was undeniable. We could easily pass for fraternal twins or, at the very least, siblings. It was simultaneously amusing and disconcerting for both of us. Everyone referred to us as “I Gemelli” “The Twins” – so named for the thin tubes of pasta twisted around each other. Fifty-plus years later and our resemblance remains strong; however, Franco has a mustache and beard and I, fortunately, do not!

It’s been said, and scientists concur, that the longer people have a pet the more they begin to resemble that pet. Pure-bred dogs have been matched to their owners by strangers time and time again. I wonder if the same can be said about husbands and wives or perhaps even friends. Apparently, that phenomenon is true. I can’t explain it – I’m not a scientist, just a writer of stories. However, the possibility became quite real when events unfolded at my son’s wedding.

There were many people in attendance, friends and family alike. My sister Rosemarie was one of the guests as was Debby, my next-door neighbor and best friend for the past 35 years. I should point out at this time that while Rosemarie and I have some familial similarities, we really don’t look alike.

Time arrived for the family photo session. The music was playing, people were dancing the Macarena and mingling about. Janet, the wedding photographer was scrambling around trying to wrangle immediate family members for photos. Craning her neck for a better look into the crowded room, Janet turned to me in surprise and said, “You’ve been keeping secrets from me!”

I was rather perplexed by that comment and asked Janet what she meant, to which she replied, “I know your husband has a twin brother but I had no idea you have a twin sister!”

Then it hit me: Janet was talking about my friend Debby who does indeed look a lot more like my sister than my real sister! Many people have said we look like twins and it just so happened, totally by coincidence, that Debby and I were wearing the same dress that day; the only difference was I wore deep purple while Debby chose black.

I laughed and said to Janet “I really hate to burst your bubble but she’s not my sister; she’s my best friend.” I spotted Rosemarie in the crowd and pointed her out to the photographer. “See the woman in the cream-colored dress? That’s my sister.”

It took a lot of convincing for Janet to accept the fact that Debby wasn’t my twin sister; I think she may still be somewhat skeptical. I wonder: would the same people who matched the pet owners with their dogs match me and Debby as twins?

You be the judge.

Me and Debby
Rosemarie and me
Me and Debby
500-750 Words

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS


After much hard work and determination, Anthony was in a good place in life. He loved his job and enjoyed the people he interacted with every day. He had to make some sacrifices along the way but he managed to find the time to mix business with pleasure. Anthony knew if he played his cards right he’d be next in line for a promotion. Having that new title would open many doors for him.

During a routine meeting Anthony was surprised by a bit of news. He was informed that the Rome office needed some help for a few months; since he had worked in Rome previously and spoke fluent Italian, he was specifically requested for the temporary position. At first Anthony wasn’t thrilled about the move and disruption in his life but when his boss told him it would be “a feather in his cap”, he accepted the assignment.

Flying into Leonardo da Vinci Airport always gave Anthony a rush. He loved Italy and had many friends there. One person in particular had been on his mind the entire flight: Gabriella. It had been more than two years since he had seen her; they texted frequently after his last trip to Italy but hadn’t communicated in quite a while. He longed to see her and hoped she felt the same.

Anthony quickly assessed the situation in the office: the staff’s computer skills were practically nonexistent. Time, patience, new MacBooks and a good teacher were desperately needed. He was given approval to order whatever was necessary to get the office functioning properly. Once that was done Anthony was free to contact Gabriella.

He sent her a text:

Ciao, bella! I’m in Rome and would love to see you. Can we meet?”

Antonio! I’ve missed you! Come to my apartment tonight. I will cook dinner. You remember my address?”

Si, si! Everything about you is carved in my memory! I’ll be there at 7:00. Ciao, cara!”

Done with his first day on the job, Anthony hurried to the pensione where he was staying. He showered, changed his clothes and stopped on the way to Gabriella’s to buy a bottle of wine. He knew seeing her was terribly wrong; he was already in a committed relationship but he couldn’t stay away.

Pushing aside the gate to Gabriella’s apartment building, Anthony raced up the steps two at a time. She stood at her open door waiting for him. His heart skipped a beat as it did every time he saw her. She pulled him inside, closing the door behind her. “Mi amore” she whispered, seductively nibbling at his ear. He scooped her up in his arms, whisking her off to the bedroom.

Life for Anthony was a dynamic mixture of business and pleasure – wrapped up with work every day and making love to Gabriella every night. The days became weeks then months. The staff learned well and was now up to speed. Anthony’s time in Italy drew to an end and he would leave Gabriella once again. Their last night together would remain with him forever. He had many lovers but none as captivating as Gabriella.

Anthony’s superiors gave him permission to visit his parents in Westchester County before returning to his job in Manhattan. He had much to think about during his flight and knew he had one serious matter to resolve: he needed to clear his conscience. He hailed a taxi at Kennedy Airport and told the driver his destination. When they arrived Anthony gave the cabbie $20.00 and suggested he get some breakfast, then come back in an hour to pick him up.

Alone in the early morning, Anthony stood outside for a few moments gathering his thoughts. He walked up to the dimly lit house and rang the doorbell. As he waited Anthony gazed at the beautiful old church next door. His reverie was abruptly broken when the porch light came on. In the doorway stood his mentor and confidant, Monsignor Valenti.

Anthony! This is a surprise! I didn’t know you were in town. Come in, come, in! I’ll make some coffee.”

It’s good to see you, Monsignor, but this is not a social call.”

What then? Official church business?” asked the monsignor curiously.

No” Anthony replied softly. “It’s personal. I’ve come for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have broken my vows and must confess my sins.”

The monsignor sighed heavily. “Come. Let’s go to the chapel, Father Anthony.”

The errant priest began “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” as the monsignor quietly closed the door behind him.

500-750 Words

THE BAMBOO CURTAIN


It all came about one day in April. Newly divorced, I had recently moved into a house in the country and was enjoying my morning coffee on the patio. Birds of many different varieties flitted about the bushes and fruit trees in the yard next door. Even a couple of deer and a few rabbits were contentedly munching on the grass. I felt like I was in the middle of a Disney movie and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the animals started singing!

Looking around my property I couldn’t help but compare my landscaping to that of my neighbor Marjorie. Hers was overflowing with every sort of plant imaginable while mine had a paltry number of pitiful-looking bushes on the verge of death. Right then I began to envision my very own Garden of Eden; there would be shrubs and trees and flowers everywhere, even a few statues and perhaps a water feature. My yard was going to be even better than Marjorie’s!

Perhaps her ears were burning or it was just a coincidence but at that very moment Marjorie turned in my direction. Even from thirty feet away I could see her beady eyes squinting at me. A rather obese woman, she was sweating profusely as she labored in her garden, her ridiculously small bonnet providing little shade to her balloon-like face. I waved to her but she didn’t wave back; either she didn’t see me or she chose to ignore me. Marjorie wasn’t all shits and giggles. Her husband left her for another woman (no big surprise there!) and her grown children lived far away. It seemed like her only joy in life was gardening.

Being a city boy I knew nothing about gardening so I called the local nursery where one could get anything from a watering can to a majestic pine tree. One of the workers came by a few hours later and walked through the property with me, making suggestions as we went along. I told him how much I wanted to spend and gave him free reign to plant whatever he thought best – the more impressive the better.

A few days later the nursery truck arrived at my house. I caught a glimpse of Marjorie peeking through her curtains as my purchases were unloaded and carried into my yard. The landscapers got to work planting everything from small flowering shrubs to walls of bamboo. They put in a birdbath and several animal statues as well as a Japanese-inspired water feature. Before my eyes the once barren desert was now a flourishing oasis. Take that, Marjorie!

My new bountiful yard only spurred her on to do even more planting; every time she added something new, so would I. It became a childish game of retaliation.

Returning home from shopping one day I was shocked to see a police car and an ambulance outside Marjorie’s house; she had suffered a fatal heart attack while working in her garden. Well, there certainly was no love lost between us but I never wished the woman any harm. I hoped whoever moved in next door would treat Marjorie’s yard with the same tender loving care.

A few weeks later I woke up to the screeching sounds of power tools. Unable to see through my dense hedges, I walked to Marjorie’s old place; all her marvelous landscaping was being leveled to the ground! After everything was hauled away a bulldozer began digging a huge hole for a swimming pool. Week after week work continued on the pool. Occasionally I’d see two attractive women talking in the driveway, obviously the real estate agent and the new homeowner.

Finally one August day all was quiet; the pool construction was complete. I had asked my friends Charlie and Frank to come over to help me install my new 80″ flat-screen TV. Afterwards as we sat on the patio enjoying burgers and ice cold beer we became aware of the sound of splashing water and girlish laughter.

Damn kids!” I grumbled, rolling my eyes.

Charlie nearly spit out his beer. “Don’t tell me you don’t know!”

Know what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.

You dumb son of a bitch!” Frank howled. “You got two super hot chicks living next door to you! You could be savoring some girl-on-girl action right now if it wasn’t for that damn bamboo curtain!”

I just couldn’t let old Marjorie win. Hoisted by my own petard!

500-750 Words

SINS OF THE FATHER


Twenty years had passed since Danny Cameron had seen his parents. Perhaps he would have handled things differently had he known this estrangement would be the outcome. He asked himself that question every day and the answer was always “no”.

Danny excelled at football and had a shot at going pro but his real passion was music. His dream was not shared by his father, Donal, who constantly pushed Danny in the direction of professional sports. Night after night Danny was subjected to the same diatribe:

What the hell kind of musical career do you think you’re gonna have?
If you think you’re gonna be the next Paul McCartney you can forget that pipe dream!
Danny, you can be a great quarterback on any pro team you want,
make millions and have women beating down your door.
You’d be a damn fool to let that opportunity pass you by!”

Danny couldn’t stand another lecture and the dam burst. He yelled at his father in frustration:

Dad! Enough! Football may be your dream but it’s not mine.
I know it won’t be easy but I’m determined to pursue music.
Forget the money and all the women. I’ve met someone and we’re moving in together.
It’s time I started living my life on my terms.”

Before Donal could respond, Danny’s mother Fiona chimed in excitedly:

Danny! Why didn’t you tell us you have a girlfriend?! This is so exciting!
What’s her name? How did you meet?
We must invite her to dinner. I want to hear all about ……..”

STOP!” Danny shouted. “I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a boyfriend. His name is Richard. I’M GAY!! Mom, Dad – I’m gay.”

And there it was – not exactly what Danny planned but the words were out and there was no taking them back. Donal was enraged; he lashed out, slapping Danny’s face so hard he almost fell over.

GAY? Call it what it is, Danny – you’re a fucking queer! You make me sick!
Get out of my sight! Get out and don’t come back!!”

Grabbing his phone and car keys, Danny stormed out. He moved in with Richard, a law school student by day/valet parking attendant by night. Danny had a couple of gigs in a bar but that didn’t last and he eventually got a job as a singing waiter. He hated it but it helped pay the bills.

Fiona secretly phoned Danny from time to time and managed to get his belongings to him, but father and son never communicated.

Richard passed the bar exam and landed a great job. Danny had written several “damn good songs” as Richard called them but he just couldn’t catch a break. Richard encouraged him to be patient and keep trying.

Friday was a busy night at the restaurant. Danny was singing “Something” to a newly-engaged couple when he saw Richard come in with a group of people. When Danny’s song was over, Richard motioned him to the table and said “You have a great voice! Do you sing anything other than Beatles songs?”

Thinking “What game is he playing?”, Danny followed suit saying he had written a number of songs.

Well, how about singing one of your own songs for us?” Richard asked.

Wondering where this was all going, Danny sat at the piano and sang his heart out. The restaurant erupted in applause. One of the men at Richard’s table handed Danny his card and said “Call me tomorrow”. The card read ‘Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering Studios, Inc.’. Feigning calm, Danny expressed his thanks but his heart was pounding and his head was exploding; Bob Ludwig was a mega recording producer!

Later that night at home Danny couldn’t stop thanking Richard for his introduction to Bob Ludwig. Richard hugged him and said he deserved it.

Danny’s career took off and he became a sensation. Then the call came from his mother; his father was gravely ill. Fiona said Donal was asking for him. After all these years Danny knew it would not be easy seeing him again; he reluctantly acquiesced.

Danny returned to his childhood home where Donal was being privately treated. Waving Fiona and his nurse out of the room, Donal beckoned Danny to come closer. He could barely speak and Danny bent down, his ear next to his father’s lips.

Donal rasped, his breathing labored:

I hear you’re a star, a real big shot. You’re famous!
You’re living the life you always wanted, aren’t you, Danny?
Everyone adores you but to me you’re still nothing but a disgusting queer!”

Danny looked into Donal’s cold, unforgiving eyes full of loathing and revulsion. Staring emotionless at his father, he reached for Donal’s oxygen tube and squeezed it as tightly as he could, cutting off his air supply. Wheezing, Donal’s eyes bulged and his face turned blue; then he stopped breathing.

Danny straightened the crimped oxygen tube and walked out of the room without looking back. Hugging his mother, he whispering “It’s over”.

500-750 Words

MY DEAREST FRIEND


October 11, 2020

Known to everyone as Baby Mary, she was my dearest friend for three fleeting years, from age four to seven. Nearly six decades later and I can still picture her heart-shaped face the color of warm caramel framed by waves of chocolate-brown hair, her wide eyes glistening shyly.

At the time my family occupied the corner house of a row of two-family homes on Eastchester Road in The Bronx. Baby Mary and her large family, the Romanos, shared one house. She lived on the ground floor with her parents, maternal grandmother and older brother. Her aunt, uncle, cousins and paternal grandmother lived upstairs. We were just three houses away – close enough for little girls to run giggling back and forth multiple times a day. We spent all our time together, busy with important little girl things.

The residents of Eastchester Road were immigrants; they were not partisans but adhered devoutly to their Italian heritage and love of family. They were proud to be living in the United States and strove to become citizens; some passed the test, others didn’t. We delighted in celebrating all the traditional Italian holidays and festivities. Christmastime was a veritable light show, everyone in friendly competition for the most impressive decorations.

I was fascinated by Baby Mary’s mother and grandmother. They did piecemeal work from home, sewing little bows onto ladies’ panties. Their hands moved like quicksilver as they sat in their crowded living room watching soap operas and sewing. I rarely saw Baby Mary’s father; he worked in New Jersey in his cousin’s shoe repair shop and only came home on weekends.

At the age of five Baby Mary and I started kindergarten. Every morning my mother would walk us to school and pick us up in the afternoon. The best times were when she came to get us in her car. My mother was one of the few women in our neighborhood who had a driver’s license. We would gleefully hop into her Ford, begging she take us to Carvel for ice cream. Sometimes we’d stop for gas and my mother would complain about the price being 30 cents a gallon, calling it highway robbery.

When it was time for us to go to first grade, my parents decided to send me to a different school. It was the first time I was going to be away from my dearest friend and we were heartbroken. We would run to meet each other after school and we played together as much as possible but it wasn’t the same. And our trips to Carvel were few and far between.

One day after school Baby Mary didn’t run to meet me. I looked up and down the street but she was nowhere in sight. My mother brought me inside and told me the saddest news I had ever heard: the Romanos moved away that day. She explained that they went to live in New Jersey where Baby Mary’s father worked. I cried for days and couldn’t understand why she had to leave; now I felt so lonely. There was no one to tell my secrets to, play with my dolls or happily share ice cream. I had to see my dearest friend, even if it was for an occasional visit. I pleaded with my mother to drive me to New Jersey but she never did. There was always some reason why we couldn’t go. When a young couple moved into the Romano’s house it was as though Baby Mary never existed.

Years later I learned the truth: Baby Mary’s father was in The States illegally, a fugitive hiding from immigration authorities. He had committed a terrible crime before fleeing to America. He was apprehended in New Jersey and deported; the whole Romano family returned to Italy. I never saw or heard from Baby Mary again. I think of her often and wonder if she ever thinks of me, her dearest friend.

500-750 Words

SHE’S LEAVING HOME. BYE, BYE!


September 27, 2020

Melanie! Breakfast is ready. Better hurry or you’ll be late for school!” Evelyn Coe yelled up to her daughter from the bottom of the stairs.

Frank, I don’t know what’s gotten into Melanie lately” Evelyn complained to her husband. “I can’t keep up with her mood swings.”

Remember when she was dating that loser Jeffrey and we insisted she end the relationship?” Frank asked. “I wonder where he is and what he’s up to. You don’t think she’s still seeing him, do you?”

Last I heard he was selling used cars. Melanie said something about him working at that lot on Matthew Street near the Cavern Club, I think. I hope she didn’t go behind our backs and continue seeing him. She wouldn’t do that to us, Frank, would she?”

Stubborn girl!” bellowed Frank. “Don’t forget how she fought us about going to public school with the ‘cool kids’ instead of attending Rigby Academy! She has never wanted for a single thing her entire life. She takes everything for granted. She’ll be going to college in a couple of months. Hopefully she’ll get her head on straight.”

You’re right, Frank” Evelyn agreed. “But now she’s talking about taking a break before college to ‘find herself’. I can easily find her; she’s upstairs sleeping!”

Evelyn marched to the stairs and called out: “Melanie! You better be down here in two minutes or I’m coming up!”

“There’s no way in hell Melanie is taking time off to go gallivanting around God knows where!” Frank threatened. “Tonight we’re going to have a serious conversation. She’s had a very privileged life and if she thinks she’s going to take advantage of our generosity, she better think again!”

I’m going upstairs and dragging her out of bed.” Evelyn thumped up the stairs to Melanie’s room but moments later came running into the kitchen clutching her handkerchief, tears in her eyes.

“Frank! Melanie wasn’t in her room. I found this letter. She’s gone! Our baby’s gone!” Evelyn wailed.

What do you mean ‘gone’? Let me see that” and Frank snatched the piece of paper from Evelyn’s hands. He read out loud:

Mother and Father.
I’ve run away with Jeffrey. I want my freedom.
I’ve lived under your thumbs long enough and
for the first time in my life I’m doing what makes me happy,
not what you want me to do.
Please don’t come after me or try to find me. Goodbye, Melanie

Running out of the house, Frank yelled for Evelyn to call the police. When he returned he breathlessly informed his wife that Melanie’s car was gone.

The police arrived soon after; Detective McKenzie asked the usual questions: Did the Coes think Melanie was forced to write the note? Did she leave against her will? Were any of her things missing?

Tearfully Evelyn answered the detective’s questions. “Her suitcase and some of her clothes are gone. She wasn’t forced to leave. She left us for Jeffrey. She did this to hurt us!”

I’m sorry, folks, but unfortunately we have to wait 24 hours before filing a missing persons report. My hands are tied” Detective McKenzie replied sympathetically.

God knows where they are by now!” Frank exclaimed.

I can’t believe she would leave us!” Evelyn lamented. “She has everything here; a nice home, lots of clothes and her own car. Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly? How could she do this to me?”

We never thought for ourselves. We worked so hard all our lives to get by. What did we do that was wrong?” Frank cried in desperation and frustration.

Hundreds of miles away Melanie and Jeffrey were speeding down the highway heading for a new life.

Any regrets leaving home like that?” Jeffrey asked.

None!” Melanie replied without hesitation. “I’m finally having fun and that’s the one thing my parent’s money can’t buy!”

She snuggled close to him and they sped away without looking back.

Melanie Coe

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Countless numbers of people are familiar with the song “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles. In 1966 Paul McCartney read a newspaper story in the Daily Mirror about a girl named Melanie Coe which inspired him to write the song. Although most of the content in the song was embellished, McCartney said that a great deal of the story about Coe, who was 17-years-old at the time, was accurate. Coe left with her boyfriend, a croupier; she did not meet a man from the motor trade (as the song says), although her boyfriend previously had been in that business. She left in the afternoon while her parents were at work while the girl in the song (and in this story) left in the early morning as her parents slept. The names of Melanie’s parents, Frank and Evelyn Coe, as well as her boyfriend Jeffrey, are fictitious. Coe was found ten days later having previously mentioned where her boyfriend worked. When she returned home, she was pregnant and her mother took her for an abortion. An update on Coe appeared in The Guardian in December 2008 and she was interviewed about the song on the BBC program The One Show on November 24, 2010. In May 2017 Rolling Stone magazine carried an interview with Coe to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

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SECRETS ON MYLAR


September 2, 2020

Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Free love and hooking up. No strings, no regrets, no jealousy – just consenting adults getting stoned and getting it on. There was a clear understanding: never get romantically involved with someone else’s spouse.

The year was 1973.

Four young friends, Nathan and Brooke and Michael and April, lived in an apartment building in Riverdale. The girls were sexy and fashionable in their halter tops, tight low-rise jeans and platform shoes. The guys were good-looking and cool in their faded jeans, crisp white t-shirts and leather blazers. They had many similar interests and traveled in the same circle of friends.

Brooke and Michael broke all the rules. Their attraction was instantaneous. Everyone else was so out of it they never noticed that the duo always ended up together.

Brooke was one of those girls who was innately sensual and completely oblivious to the power she had over men. She was electric. Michael was handsome, smart, funny, sexy and vain, confident and fully aware of the effect he had on women.

Michael was a photographer; Brooke taught piano. They had the luxury of working locally while their spouses April and Nathan worked in Manhattan. It was very convenient for Brooke and Michael to get together whenever they wanted. He loved taking photos of her – hundreds of erotic nudes. He even let her take one of him, something he never let anyone do. She kept the photo tucked away in an inconspicuous compartment in her wallet.

For April’s 25th birthday she and Michael had a party with a lot of guests which gave Michael the opportunity to display his new photographs. One piece was an intriguing black and white image on glossy Mylar poster paper. As Nathan and Brooke admired the print, Michael sidled up to her and whispered “That’s you.” She stared intently, tilting her head a bit. Then she saw it – the vague form of a woman’s body! Brooke was annoyed that Michael would display something so personal but also felt a rush; only they knew about the image hidden on the Mylar.

Time passed as it always does, lifestyles changed and the four friends slowly drifted apart. Brooke got pregnant and she and Nathan moved to Connecticut. Michael and April got divorced. Out of the blue one night Nathan and Brooke got a call from April: Michael was dead; he crashed his Corvette into a tree, dying on impact. The news was devastating, especially for Brooke. She barely slept that night thinking of all the times she shared with Michael.

A few days later Brooke received a package in the mail; a neatly typed address label was attached. Removing the wrapping, she was shocked to see Michael’s Mylar poster and the image of her naked body. Taped to the back of the poster was a large manila envelope full of Brooke’s nude photos and a note: “Consider this a gift; the negatives come with a price. Imagine Nathan’s reaction.”

The note freaked her out. Who sent this? There was no return address but the postmark read “Riverdale”. Brooke immediately thought of April and knew she had to get the negatives from her, regardless the cost. Nathan could never find out.

Brooke gathered everything, grabbed her purse and started driving towards Riverdale, towards April. All she could think about was Nathan and getting the negatives back. Michael promised he would destroy everything and she couldn’t believe he would lie to her. April must have known about her and Michael all along. Her mind on the past, Brooke almost missed the Riverdale exit and swerved erratically back onto the highway. She never saw the oncoming truck; Brooke died instantly in the crash.

At that exact moment Nathan sat in his Manhattan office opening a large manila envelope with a neatly typed address label. Stuffed inside were hundreds of mysterious negatives.

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NEW YORK STATE OF TERROR


August 10, 2020

Death was on Julia Rubino’s mind a lot during 1976.

Automatic nagative thoughts (or ANTS as she called them) started entering her brain months go when she first heard about the mysterious murders in New York City.

The killer openly taunted the police. Seeking misplaced attention and public veneration, he wrote rambling and ambiguous letters to journalist Jimmy Breslin who printed them in his column in The Daily News. In his letters the murderer sometimes referenced a cult, hinting that the killings were a rite of passage. Other times he claimed a demonic dog owned by his neighbor Sam spoke to him demanding the blood of pretty young girls.

All the victims were females with long dark hair; as a college student with shoulder-length brunette curls, Julia felt particularly vulnerable. When she told her parents she wanted to cut her hair and dye it blonde they said she was over-reacting. Julia’s boyfriend Steve told her she was being ridiculous, that there was nothing to worry about. He said they were safe in their little town of New Rochelle. Violent crimes like that only happened in dangerous urban locations, not quiet Westchester County.

At night Julia and Steve often drove to the Glen Island Beach parking lot in New Rochelle; it was a popular make-out place and the police very rarely patrolled the area. When Julia told Steve she didn’t want to go parking any more, he got pissed off. Tearfully she reminded him that the killings always involved two victims – young women and their boyfriends parked in cars. She couldn’t shake the idea that something terrible was going to happen to them. Steve argued that they had no other choice if they wanted to be alone. They had no privacy living at home with their parents and Julia felt going to a motel was sleazy. Frustrated, Steve yelled at her to calm down and get a grip. Afraid of losing him, Julia begrudgingly chose to give in.

On July 29 things took an unexpected and shocking turn; the first murders in Westchester County occurred. This time the killer’s MO was different and left the police wondering if the shootings were done by the same individual or a copy-cat killer. The victims were two girls sitting in a car in a well-lit area – not a girl and her boyfriend in a darkened parking lot. The two women were nurses Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria. They had been sitting in Jody’s double-parked Oldsmobile outside Donna’s house talking about their night at a New Rochelle disco. When Donna opened the car door to leave a man suddenly approached. Pulling out a gun, he crouched down and opened fire. Donna was killed instantly but Jody survived. The attack happened quickly however Jody was able to give a description of the assailant; it matched that of the shooter of the previous killings.

Westchester County residents were panic-stricken, especially Julia. Police urged everyone to stay vigilant and refrain from sitting in parked cars. Julia considered dropping out of college and hiding in her house until the murderous madman was caught; her parents convinced her it was irrational to completely cut oneself off from the world.

For more than a year the killer held the citizens of New York captive but on the night of August 10, 1977 the state of terror finally ended. After a tense shootout the murderer was apprehended at his Yonkers apartment – ironically within earshot of Westchester Community College where Julia was a student.

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of that historic arrest. The notorious killer was David Berkowitz, known around the world as Son of Sam.

That was exactly ten years ago to the day. Berkowitz pled guilty to all the shootings and is currently serving six life sentences in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.

Authors note: With the exception of Julia Rubino, her boyfriend Steve and her parents, everyone and everything in this story is factual.

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THE DATING GAME


July 27, 2020

Rachel and Paul had been together for six years. They assumed one day they would marry, have kids – the whole nine yards – but life has a funny way of taking twists and turns. Their romance and dreams just fizzled out but they remained very close and relied on each other for guidance – from the job scene to the dating game.

One night Rachel texted Paul: “Hey, babe. Ella & Sam set us up with blind dates for Fri. U in?”

Paul: “Y not? No plans anyway!”

Rachel: “Great! Emilio’s @ 7. Glad U R my back-up!”

Paul: “Ditto, babe! C U there.”

Both kicked themselves for calling the other “babe”. Old habits die hard.

Friday night the foursome met at Emilio’s. Paul and Rachel exchanged looks; her eyes were screaming “WTF!” Dinner was quick.

As soon as Paul got home he called Rachel: “What just happened?!”

Rachel howled: “A TOTAL FREAK SHOW!! Your date was downright scary! She looked like Vampira and I swear her eyes were red! She wore a black cape – with a hood, for Christ’s sake and her steak was so rare it was practically throbbing!”

And what about YOUR date?!” Paul exclaimed. “Wrist-to-neck tattoos, facial piercings, boots with spikes and a ‘Carcass’ t-shirt! He downed a bottle of beer in two gulps and belched like a bloody Viking!”

I’ll never let Sam and Ella play matchmakers again. I’m sure they thought it was hysterical” Rachel quipped. “So … my mother set me up with her friend’s son, ‘The Doctor’, for next Saturday. If you get a date maybe we can try this again.”

Sure. Noting could be as bad as tonight” Paul replied. “I’ll call ya.”

A few days later Paul called to say he had a date for Saturday – a friend of his cousin. “But she said ‘drinks only’ and she’ll take a taxi.”

Fine” Rachel agreed. “If it’s another debacle we can all go our separate ways.”

Arrangements were made to meet at ‘The Aviary’ in Central Park. Rachel’s date was Wesley, a gynecologist/obstetrician. He was handsome, tan and suave. Paul’s date was Ginger, a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret with modeling/acting ambitions. She was a vivacious redhead with mischievous green eyes.

The hostess seated them at a semi-circular booth; Ginger smoothly slid in between Wesley and Paul. With each sip of her martini Ginger inched closer to Wesley, asking risqué questions about his practice; he was more than happy to oblige. Before long they were blatantly flirting, leaving Paul and Rachel dumbfounded. Giggling, Ginger excused herself to use “the little girl’s room”. The trio sat in awkward silence until Wesley’s pager beeped. He announced he had an emergency at the hospital, apologized and left.

Well, there’s no point in me hanging around” Rachel said glumly. “Ginger should be back any second.”

As Rachel got up to leave she glanced out the window and saw Wesley and Ginger getting into his car. “What the hell, Paul! We’ve been dumped!”

Arm in arm Paul and Rachel started the slow walk of rejection through Central Park.

Do you think we’ll ever be as happy as when we were together?” Paul asked quietly.

I don’t think that’s even remotely possible” Rachel sighed.

In the loneliness of the park they held each other tightly, sharing a warm familiar kiss in the moonlight.

Why the hell did we ever break up, Paul?”

I have no idea” he replied wonderingly.

Take me home, babe” Rachel whispered. “I miss us.”

Fingers entwined, they climbed the stairs and went inside, locking the door and the world behind them.

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NIP TUCK


July 19, 2020

Attribution, retribution, convolution, resolution! All I am saying is give Reese a chance!”

Sprawled out in the stern of our cabin cruiser, my wife Reese drunkenly belted out her version of John Lennon’s hit song. I was piloting the boat on our return trip from a weekend wedding celebration on Catalina Island; Reese’s sister Margaux had gotten married … again.

Like her sister, Reese had a terrible track record in the marriage department. She was on her third husband – recording industry mogul David Hamlin – when we began our affair. I was a confirmed bachelor living very comfortably in an exclusive penthouse in the city. After her divorce I moved into Reese’s mountain-top estate in Bel-Air, California. I had the dubious distinction of becoming husband number four.

I’m Dr. Jeremy Phillips, plastic surgeon to the rich and famous in Beverly Hills; Reese was one of my patients. As her doctor and lover, I learned her deep dark secrets: her expensive cocaine habit, compulsive shopping on Rodeo Drive, her penchant for Grey Goose and an addiction to plastic surgery. She was beautiful in everyone’s eyes except her own. She wanted me to turn her into a goddess, which I did.

When drunk Reese could be either a sexy vixen or a slutty bitch; tonight was definitely the latter. She struggled into an upright position, slowly got to her feet and staggered toward me, one hand grasping the boat railing and the other a bottle of vodka.

For fuck’s sake, Jeremy, why do you always have to wear that ridiculous outfit? You look like a stupid overgrown kid playing dress-up!” Reese slurred. She drained the bottle, dropping it on the deck.

This is proper nautical attire, darling, perfectly appropriate for every occasion” I replied. “But you don’t know the meaning of proper and appropriate. You’re all but falling out of your dress.”

Reese ran her hands up and down her tanned body, laughing as she hiked her dress up around her waist revealing her perfectly sculpted derriere. She wriggled herself between me and the steering wheel and lowered her top; her magnificent breasts shimmered in the moonlight.

What’s wrong, Captain? Don’t you like the way I look? All the other men do” Reese purred tauntingly. “Margaux’s new husband loves every inch of me. He can’t get enough! You know, Jeremy, you always were a lousy lay. Maybe that’s why you got this big bad boat – to compensate for your tiny dick!” and she laughed again.

Darling Reese, you’re nothing but a drunken whore. You disgust me!” I snarled and she reached up to slap my face. I grabbed her wrist and she looked up at my enraged face, her eyes wide with uncharacteristic fear. And in that moment she knew.

I shoved her out of the way and she fell, hitting her head with a sickening thud. Putting the boat in neutral I quickly checked on Reese; she was dead, a large jagged crack in her forehead oozing blood. Carefully I adjusted her dress and looked around the boat making sure nothing was out of place.

We were near Marabella Marina but just out of earshot. Heading for the dock I placed a frantic phone call. “Mayday! Mayday! Emergency on board the ‘Nip Tuck’! We need an ambulance at Marabella. My wife is badly injured. Hurry!”

The police asked me a few routine questions but it was obvious Reese’s death was a tragic accident. My wife clearly had too much to drink; she lost her balance and fell. It happened so fast I couldn’t prevent it … even if I wanted to.