Longer Stories

A LITTLE THING LIKE THIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2022

Longer Stories

A ROLL OF THE DICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was left of my car

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

WHEELBARROWS AND WOODPECKERS

My Dear Annie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you so very much.

Charlie

~     ~     ~     ~     ~      ~     ~     ~     ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

I never ran outside so fast in all my life.

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

INSPECTOR MONTALBANO

The king is dead. Long live the king!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king is dead. Long live the king!

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

WAYSIDE CHAPEL – My Childhood Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2021

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


Longer Stories

MAXIMUS OVERDRIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Maximus Gluteus was too drunk to hear her.

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

NAR © 2021

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Longer Stories

RED STAR PINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TO EAT YOU!” shouted the Madosu.

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

“ABSOLUTE POWER!” roared the gorilla.

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

SHOULD HAVE GONE FOR PIZZA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was gonna be a long night.

End of the Line

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

HER DRIVING FORCE


When she saw him for the first time, he was walking alone at night in the pouring rain. She sat in her car, stopped at a red light, and watched as he slowly tramped forward, head lowered, collar raised and hands in his pockets. He seemed haunted, lost and oblivious to the weather and his surroundings.

He appeared to be in his late teens, tall and slim. Even though she couldn’t see his eyes she felt a great sadness must be behind them. She had the strong urge to reach out to him. She experienced that familiar combination of sympathy, nurturing, curiosity and desire. 

The light changed and she had no choice but to move on. Instead of going straight she turned right once, twice, three times until she was now at the corner just as the teen approached. She pulled up to the curb and rolled down the window, asking if he needed help, perhaps a ride to wherever he was headed. At first her questions got no response; neither she nor the young man moved. Then he slowly raised his head and looked up. His eyes were lifeless, his face devoid of emotion. 

Again she called out to him, saying he must be cold, possibly hungry. No reaction. She leaned across the seat and opened the passenger door offering him shelter from the rain. Still he did not move and she quietly asked him to allow her to help. His face softened imperceptibly and he tentatively approached the car. She said to please get in and close the door. She smiled as he did what she asked. 

She inquired if she could take him somewhere; no response. Shifting the car into drive she headed in the direction of her house. She told him he could trust her. She offered him the comfort of a hot meal and a place to rest. He sat looking straight ahead, saying nothing. She spoke softly, telling him she had groceries in the car – a freshly roasted chicken and warm bread – and she noticed he inhaled slightly, savoring the delectable aromas. She drove into her driveway, pulled straight into the garage and closed the door using the remote control. With a velvety laugh she told the young man she was famished and was going inside to eat. He was welcome to join her – his choice. 

She became aware of his presence before she saw him. He stood in the doorway, his sopping wet coat dripping on the floor. She told him to remove it and she gingerly helped him take it off, hanging it on a hook to dry. She placed heaping platters of food on the table and only then did he look up, his face expressionless yet more handsome than she imagined. He allowed her to lead him to the table where his hunger overcame him and he devoured everything on his plate, never once looking at her.

When he finished eating she brought him to the den where he sat on a sofa by the fireplace. Quietly she placed pieces of kindling and wood in the fireplace and watched as the flames began to flicker, filling the room with a warm glow. When she turned around the teen was asleep, his face finally at rest. She removed his shoes, covered him with a blanket and went upstairs to bathe.

Slipping into a sheer robe, she went back downstairs and silently walked into the den. Her guest was awake, staring at the fire. She sat beside him and placed her hand over his. He didn’t move away. Emboldened, she lifted his hand and placed it on her breast. He shuddered and closed his eyes. Reaching across his body she placed her left hand on his right shoulder, turning him to face her and for the first time they looked into each other’s eyes. She shrugged off her robe and placed both his hands on her breasts, encouraging him to caress her. His breathing was ragged and she smiled seductively as she began to unbutton his shirt. Now his hands were roaming freely and he didn’t stop her when she unzipped his pants, feeling his erection growing harder beneath her deft fingers. 

She told him it had been four empty years since her husband’s sudden death and she was very lonely. Slowly she eased him back and mounted him, delighting in the exquisite sensation. She gyrated smoothy, deeply; there was no need to rush. Afterwards they went upstairs to her room. There was much she could teach this boy and the possibilities excited her. 

The next morning when she awoke she was alone. She went downstairs but he was gone. Unperturbed, she walked into the kitchen and brewed some coffee. She lit a cigarette and sat at her laptop. Clicking a key she studied the roadmap that appeared on the screen, contemplating her next objective. In which direction would she drive tonight?

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

TO THE MOON, ALICE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

MISTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this time they were clapping for me!

NAR © 2021

Longer Stories

AMAGANSETT BEACH

Known for their wild imaginations, triplets Carter, Patrick and Lisa couldn’t get anyone in their dad’s restaurant to believe they saw a UFO on the beach. No matter how hard they tried, everyone just laughed it off as a prank. The fifteen-year-old siblings and their parents lived in a beach house just behind the restaurant, a small family-run business in Amagansett. Their dad had finally been granted his liquor license and all their friends were reveling in the good news and celebrating the festivities. Enjoying the evening and feeling slightly inebriated, everyone dismissed the tall tale of UFOs.

It all began an hour earlier. The teens had been on the beach occupied with their new video game, Robbery Bob. The sky that night was an ominous pitch-black, devoid of any stars or even the sliver of a moon. Their devices gleamed like little beacons in their hands as they sat in a tight circle on the sand.

Lisa finally won her first game against the boys and whooped with glee; her brothers fell backward, groaning in the mock disbelief of defeat. Looking up at Lisa blissfully doing her victory dance, Carter noticed an amorphous light high in the sky. Pointing it out to his brother and sister, they joked about it being a UFO. They held their games up to their faces, the green light from the screens making their features look like extraterrestrials. They wrote off the far away object in the sky as just a plane but there was something unusual and a bit unnerving about the craft. It didn’t move in a forward direction as an airplane would; instead it gradually descended toward the water while slowing approaching the shore. The closer it came to the beach the more it took on the appearance of a giant jellyfish.

The dim lights of the missile began getting brighter until they were so intense the kids had to shield their eyes. It then started vibrating noisily and emitting shrill sounds. Covering their ears, the siblings sought shelter under a nearby dock. Realizing Lisa was not with them, Patrick and Carter looked back and saw her still on the beach, arms outstretched and staring straight at the ever-increasing light. They called out her name and yelled for her to come to them but their cries couldn’t be heard above the piercing noises of the craft. Lisa stood in a trance, unable or unwilling to move as a shimmering halo surrounded her entire body. The mysterious craft hovered over her, long-reaching prongs crackling and sparking like electric tentacles. Abruptly the noises stopped and the lights dimmed; the missile spun around and shot off like a rocket. In an instant it was gone, swallowed up by the blackness of the night.

Lisa fell to her knees, dazed but seemingly unharmed. The boys raced to their sister, grabbed her arms and ran as fast as they could to their dad’s restaurant. They animatedly retold the story and were rewarded with amused and disbelieving faces. Frustrated and agitated, they gave up trying to convince their parent’s friends and went home, retreating to their rooms. The next few days were awkward and many weeks passed before any of them mentioned that night on the beach.

One morning months later Carter awoke around 4:00 in a cold sweat. Momentarily disoriented, he switched on the lamp beside his bed and saw Patrick standing at their bedroom window looking out into the predawn sky. Carter asked his brother what he was doing and Patrick turned to him, a troubled look on his face. Haltingly, he explained a strange dream that had disturbed his sleep. There were little pointy-headed men standing at the foot of his bed chanting “We are the partisans. You are needed, Patrick. Come with us”. The little men took Patrick into a large room with gigantic gears crashing and grinding against each other. They walked to a metallic cerulean-colored door and entered an area with several different chambers. Patrick was led to a small room where he was instructed to sit on a large cushion in the middle of the room. The lights were turned off and the little men left the room, leaving Patrick alone in the darkness. He tried standing but found he was unable to get up; the cushion had a strong hold over him. At that point the dream ended and Patrick woke up. Carter sat on the edge of his bed staring at his brother in stunned silence, then whispered “That’s impossible! I just had the exact same dream!”

Thoughts of that night on the beach came flooding back to the boys; could this dream have anything to do with that night? They knew they had to tell Lisa about their visions. Shaken, Lisa reluctantly admitted to also having a very similar dream. She said that when the little men led her to the metallic door, they entered a crystal chamber; rows of transparent silvery pods neatly filled the room. Each pod contained a young woman much like herself asleep on her back, arms crossed over her chest. The last thing she remembered was being led to an empty pod and reclining on the bed as the crystal lid was lowered and locked in place. The siblings sat quietly for a long while trying to absorb all they had shared.

As time went by the dreams became less frequent and eventually stopped but the next several years brought much unhappiness to the family. The triplet’s parents contracted a novel virus and died withing weeks of each other. Patrick, Carter and Lisa took over operation of the failing restaurant until Lisa became ill and could no longer work. She started getting unbearable pains in her stomach and her brothers brought her to the hospital. After doing a scan, doctors discovered Lisa had a sizeable tumor and immediately prepped her for emergency surgery. Patrick and Carter were informed of the development and waited anxiously for news.

When the doctors opened Lisa up they were shocked to discover the tumor was actually a translucent gelatinous sac delicately inscribed in beautiful calligraphy with the words ”The Partisans”. Peering through the diaphanous membrane of the sac, the doctors were aghast to see it was full of miniature people with pointy heads. They carefully removed the sac in one piece, placing it in a receptacle on a cart next to the operating table. Once the sac was out, another shocking discovery was made: Lisa’s uterus had be removed, the surgical technique highly advanced and unfamiliar to any of the doctors. Bewildered, the surgeons began to complete the operation when Lisa’s blood pressure suddenly plummeted; she crashed and died on the table. When the doctors examined the sac, it was empty. The tiny pointy-headed people had vanished into thin air.

Patrick and Carter were devastated by the news of Lisa’s death; they were horrified hearing about the sac full of little people. Of course, the doctors had no explanation and the brothers made no mention of that night years ago on Amagansett Beach. On the way home from the hospital, Patrick asked Carter if his dream about that night had returned. Carter admitted that it began again shortly before the novel virus. Patrick nodded in agreement; his dream had also returned.

“Do you know what it all means?” Carter asked.

Patrick drove the car to the side of the road and turned off the engine. He thought for a moment then spoke very softly. “Yeah, I think I do. I believe Lisa was impregnated that night on the beach. The Partisans used you and me to fertilize the eggs of the women in Lisa’s dream, including Lisa. The Partisans likely caused the virus, ridding the world of countless older people. We had no idea we were creating a whole new life-form, the beginning of a new generation.”

Carter ran his fingers through his hair, pondering his brother’s words. “As incredible and far-fetched as it sounds, I think you’re right. How many others do you think this happened to?” he inquired.

Who knows? Hundreds? Thousands?” Patrick declared. “One thing I’m sure of: the Partisans didn’t simply vanish; they are repopulating the universe. And this, brother, is far from over.”

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

SEPTEMBER SONG

When I was younger I remember my grandparents dancing in the living room to some of their favorite ballads: “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time”, “As Time Goes By”, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, “You Belong To Me”. They would drink a glass or two of sherry and talk about “the good old days” and how quickly the years pass. There was one song in particular that always made them somewhat melancholy. They’d sit side by side near the fireplace just listening to the words and holding each other close:

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game”

I was just a kid and I couldn’t understand why a song about weather and time made them sad. That’s the way it is with kids; time means nothing. If someone is 25-years-old, that’s practically ancient! We’d watch shows like “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show”; the actors were probably 40-years-old, if that, but they looked decrepit to us. The concept of aging was nonexistent.

You just blink your eyes once and you’re suddenly in high school. Then before you know it you’re married with kids of your own. Wait a gosh darn minute! When did that happen? Funny how time has a way of creeping up on you. One day you’re sledding down a giant snow-covered hill and the next you’re taking your own kids sledding down that same hill.

Your little Katie with a head-full of golden curls is now a teenager and you hear yourself saying the exact same things your parents said to you. And now your parents are the ones sitting by the fireplace listening to “September Song”.

Then one morning you wake up and it’s Katie’s wedding day. You catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror and your wife says how dashing you look, still so handsome in your tuxedo and you tell her she’s radiant in her gown, always the prettiest girl in the room. And in each other’s eyes it’s the truth; you haven’t changed a bit since your own wedding day.

You think about your grandparents, gone for a long time now, and you remember the call you got from your mother last week:

“Oh, dear, we’re just heartbroken over this
but your dad and I aren’t going to be able to make the trip
up to Vermont for Katie’s wedding.
Lord knows, we hate to miss it but we’ll be there in spirit.
Please give sweet Katie-Girl all our love.

You understand; they’re 80-something and need to take it easy. It’s a long trip from Florida to Vermont and they can’t handle the cold weather. Still you feel very sad knowing they’ll miss their granddaughter’s special day.

What a beautiful bride Katie was! Doesn’t her wedding photo look lovely on the mantle next to yours and your parents and your grandparents? Now it’s just the two of you in that old, empty house. Once upon a time, when you and your brothers and sisters were kids, the house was filled with your laughter. But wait – it’s suddenly not so empty and quiet anymore. Where’s all that noise coming from? And you take a peek around the corner; there are your grand kids in the living room near the Christmas tree. There’s some rock and roll song on the record player, the 12-year-old twins are playing “Yahtzee” and your 15-year-old granddaughter is furtively sharing a sweet kiss with her boyfriend under the mistletoe.

C’mon, kids!” Katie calls out from the front hallway. “Your dad’s got the car all packed up and it’s time to go. Say goodbye to Grams and Gramps.” And she gives you both a kiss on the cheek promising to call soon.

It seems like just yesterday but you realize eight years have gone by since you left Vermont and retired to Florida. You think about playing golf but your rotator cuff has been hurting a lot lately and your wife isn’t quite ready to hit the links so soon after her hip replacement. Well, let’s not think about that now. There will be plenty of days for golf. So you pour yourself another cup of coffee and work on a crossword puzzle while your wife knits a blanket for Katie’s grand-baby – your very first great-grandchild.

Now in the evenings you sip sherry in the living room. “There’s nothing good on tv these days. How about we listen to some music? Well, look what I found!” and you blow the dust off an old forgotten record laying on the shelf.

What memories that song brings back!” And you sit holding hands, gazing at faded family wedding photos on the mantle, listening to Sinatra sing:

“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September”

And you give your wife a hug and a gentle kiss on the forehead.


NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

I WANNA ROCK!!

“‘Cattle Decapitation‘?! What the hell kind of music are you into now, Colin? Sounds like another really depraved rock band from Sweden or Britain – that’s what you’re listening to these days, isn’t it? Like that other group you worship – ‘Liquid Graveyard’. What the hell does that even mean, Colin? Your mother and I have had it with this heavy metal music, if you can even call it music, which you insist on blaring throughout the house. You play it at all hours of the day and night and we’re losing our minds. You have absolutely no respect for anyone else. Your poor grandmother is afraid to come out of her room and eats all her meals behind her locked door. Frankly it’s nothing but head-splitting noise and I can’t blame her one bit for keeping herself locked away from you. I mean it was bad enough when you were into ‘Motörhead’ and that Lemmy freak but we kept our mouths shut; kids go through phases, I know that. Then you started getting into some pretty disturbing stuff, groups like ‘Autopsy’ and ‘Cannibal Corpse’. Really, Colin! It’s damn upsetting to the whole family and we’re seriously on the brink of kicking you out of the house. What do you have to say for yourself? What do you want to do with your life?!” Colin’s father, Mark, was apoplectic with rage.

I WANNA ROCK!!” Colin wanted to scream at the top of his lungs but he wouldn’t give his father the satisfaction. Instead, he looked up at his father from the recliner in his basement bedroom and calmly asked “Are you done spewing your uninformed and ponderous statements, Dad, or do you have more to say? If you’re done, I’m gonna ask you to leave my room and let me enjoy my music. If you’re not, feel free to continue your rant. You don’t mind if I put on my headphones, do you?” Colin knew he was adding gasoline to the fire but at this point he didn’t care any more. Obviously his father had been going through his stuff; he never takes the time to listen to what he has to say and has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Actually comparing ‘Cattle Decapitation’ to ‘Motörhead‘ – what a pedestrian misconception!

“Why you little son of a bitch! You’re telling ME to get out of YOUR room? This is MY house; I just let you live here! We fixed up the basement for you when your grandmother moved in. We could have easily had you share a room with Kyle but we realized you needed your own space, being five years older that your brother. And how do you repay us? By turning this place into a shit hole! Look at your crap – magazines, posters, CDs, video games, boxes of God knows what spread out all over the place. No wonder your mother practically has a panic attack every time she has to come down here to use the washing machine. She’s almost as scared as your grandmother! It breaks her heart seeing what you’ve done to this room. You know, she always wanted to make this her arts and crafts area but gladly gave up the space to accommodate you. Have you ever shown your appreciation, even once? No, you haven’t! You’re such a selfish and spoiled ingrate!” Colin stared at his father, fascinated as he watched his eyes bulge with every word and the throbbing veins in his neck looked like they were going to explode.

“Since we’re talking about me, Dad, other than my taste in music and the fact that you think I’m a selfish ingrate, have I ever done anything youre ashamed of? I’m a good student and I’ve got a job. All the stuff you call “crap” – I bought everything you see here with my own money. I never asked you for a dime to buy CDs or video games. That’s a lot more than you cay say about other kids my age but you‘ve never acknowledged that. You just constantly browbeat me about my music.”

Mark was momentarily caught off guard; he’d never heard Colin talk like this before. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time they actually had a civilized conversation; they always just screamed at each other. Who was this kid?

Dad, let me ask you a question. Didn’t you have your favorite groups when you were my age, maybe even some your parents didn’t approve of?” Colin asked.

“Of course we did, Colin. We listened to lots of different groups like ‘Guns N’ Roses’, ‘Mötley Crüe’, ‘Whitesnake’ and ‘Quiet Riot’, among others, but that music is no comparison to the crap that’s out today, especially this garbage you listen to. Yeah, maybe my father gave me some grief now and then – it’s a father’s job to keep his kids in line – but back then the music we listened to was really good. You know, your mother still loves The Beatles? You can’t get any better than that.”

Colin inched to the edge of his chair. “Dad, do you honestly think you’re telling me anything new? I know all about those groups you used to listed to. You think I’m only aware of what’s popular now? Give me a little more credit than that! At least my mind isn’t closed off like yours. I like ‘The Beatles’, ‘Stones’, ‘Led Zeppelin’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘AC/DC’, ‘Metallica’, ‘Rush’ – should I go on? I accept the fact that my music isn’t for everybody and you should at least acknowledge that and try to be a little more broadminded instead of sticking it to me every chance you get. Did you ever think the reason I stay down here listening to my music is because you and I never just sit and talk about stuff?”

Mark exhaled deeply. “You make some valid points, Colin, you really do but at least the names of the groups we were into weren’t twisted. Tell me, what the hell kind of name is ‘Cattle Decapitation’, for crying out loud? It’s not normal! What the hell am I supposed to make of that?”

Come on, Dad. It’s just a name. Didn’t you listen to ‘Poison’ and ‘Fine Young Cannibalsand ‘Nine Inch Nails’? And since you mentioned “twisted”, what about ‘Twisted Sister’? What kinds of names are those? Besides, you don’t know the first thing about ‘Cattle Decapitation‘” Colin replied.

Well, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what the name means, Colin. It’s repulsive!”

And there you go again, making a judgment call with no real information to back it up! Dad, can you cool down long enough to give me a minute to tell you something about them?”

Mark sat down heavily on the side of Colin’s bed. “Go ahead, Colin, but it’s probably not going to change my mind.”

‘Well, you might be surprised, Dad. And I’m not making any of this up. It’s all on the internet so Google it if you don’t believe me. ‘Cattle Decapitation’ is an American group, not Swedish or English. That’s rightfrom right here in the US of A, just like your good old boy Ted Nugent! And they aren’t famous for cutting off the heads of innocent cows or sheep. Their music isn’t heavy metal – that’s what you listened to. Their music is called ‘death grind’ which I know you think sounds really sick; it’s like a fusion of death metal and grind-core, not that I’d expect you to understand that but it wouldn’t kill you to look it up. You just might learn something. Their songs actually protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals. the abuse of the environment and other subjects such as misanthropy and genocide. Much of the band’s music is based on putting humans in the same situations that animals are subjected to like animal testing and brutality. And I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear” Colin continued “that the members of the band are vegetarians, just like me – or haven’t you noticed I gave up eating meat two years ago? They aren’t savages. When you think about it they’re not all that different than ‘that fab little group’ Mom loves so much; they’re just expressing themselves in a different way.

Mark looked at his son with skepticism. “I don’t know, Colin. That just doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, listen to them; that lead singer sounds like he’s possessed by demons!”

“That’s because they’re angry about the situation of the world and they’re trying to get our attention! Their song ‘Bring Back the Plague’ is all about COVID-19 and is the painful, truthful humor we all need right now. And it was filmed responsibly on cell phones while the band was in self-isolation. Do us both a favor, Dad” requested Colin. “Forget the music for now and just read the lyrics to their songs, then compare them to the groups you listened to. That’s all I ask; think of it as a compromise. After that, if you still want to kick me out of the house, that’s your right.”

Ok, Colin, I’ll take a look but I can’t promise anything.”

Mark went to the fridge and grabbed a Bud Light. He climbed the stairs to his den, flipped on ‘Metallica‘ and started Googling ‘Cattle Decapitation‘, death metal and grind-core.

Well, I’ll be God damned! he said after reading for half an hour. “The kid actually knew what he was talking about.” Mark switched off ‘Metallica’ and searched YouTube for ‘Bring Back the Plague’. Putting on his headphones, he took a swig of his beer and for the first time in ages he actually paid attention.

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

ALL ABOARD!

Cattle, not people! That’s what it felt like to me when I was riding the subways of New York City. Just when you think another person can’t possibly fit, at least a dozen manage to squeeze their way in. It’s kind of like the clown car at the circus, only not the least bit amusing.

The first half of my morning commute from New Rochelle in Westchester County into “the city” was quite pleasant. I’d buy a muffin and a freshly brewed cup of coffee at Britain and McCain’s, then hop on the Metro North New Haven line. At the time I worked on Church Street in the financial district of lower Manhattan. The 7:18 AM train was brightly lit, clean, perfectly climate-controlled and the seats were nicely spread out making for a comfortable and relaxing ride. I’d always see the same friendly faces, fellow suburbanites with their briefcases and newspaper tucked under an arm. A nod or a wave was all that was necessary; no need for casual conversation as everyone was looking forward to a peaceful trek to work. It was all quite civilized. It took 40 minutes to get to Grand Central Terminal where I’d then hustle to catch the subway to Church Street.

Grand Central – an awe-inspiring wonder of architecture and one of the busiest terminals in the world – has always been a whirling hub of activity with harried commuters scurrying about like so many little ants rushing to catch their train. Finding a seat on one of the countless subway trains was a continuous battle. Any shred of human decency was discarded at the terminal doors as people trampled each other in the hopes of securing a place to sit or, at the very least, a spot against a wall on which to lean. If you were unable to find neither seat nor wall, you’d have no choice but to position yourself in the aisles where you could hang onto the hand straps suspended from the ceiling or stand shoulder-to-shoulder like disgruntled sheep crammed in a stall with no place to go. And if anyone should stumble and fall, God help them because no one else would! Livestock on the road to the slaughterhouse; is it any wonder so many people were frustrated and disillusioned by their daily commute and in turn hated their jobs?

Most days there were unexplained delays and the 20-minute ride to Church Street took much longer than that. The unvoiced question dangled in the stifling air: how long will we be stuck this time? People would hang their heads in defeat and heave a sigh of resignation knowing they were at the mercy of the subway puppeteers. I stared at this sign for so many mindless hours I can still recite the entire message in both English and Spanish:

For people with claustrophobia, just being underground is a nightmare; similarly being jammed on a subway is a hellish experience, especially in the heat of summer. The worst part was when the train would stall in the tunnel and all the power would go out – no lights, no air conditioning, no nothing – just the overwhelming conglomeration of the stench of body odor, bad breath, urine and other bodily secretions along with the complaining gripes and groans, pisses and moans of those stuck in the train. And as if that weren’t bad enough, you’d suddenly become aware of the alarming feel of creepy, unwelcome hands fondling your ass or some horny pervert rubbing against you – and you were incapable of moving an inch. I recall being frozen in place praying for the lights to quickly come back on and the train to start up. For any normal person, being groped regardless the situation is a humiliating and despicable ordeal; having it happen while trapped in a dark, crowded, sweaty, smelly subway car is indescribably terrifying – enough to put anyone over the brink. I came close to losing it more times than I care to remember. Crying out “Get your filthy hands off me!” would generally elicit snickering, laughing or the occasional tsk of commiseration and disapproval.

That was the typical morning subway expedition; by the time I arrived at the office I felt like I needed a shower. When the workday was done at 5:00 PM, the mass exodus would begin and the subway horror show would start again. It didn’t take me too long to realize I couldn’t endure these conditions indefinitely and I discovered an unusual survival strategy; I started taking the train four stations deeper into the bowels of Manhattan from Church Street to Canal Street, a 10-minute subway ride in the opposite direction from Grand Central Station and further away from the comfort and serenity of the New Haven Line. My reasoning behind this backwards maneuver was really quite simple: Canal Street was the originating point for the trip to Grand Central and I would always find a seat. If I waited to get on at Church Street the train would already be full. I’d head straight for the somewhat secluded two-seater in the corner. I didn’t care how long the trip took, how crowded the train became or how many times we got stuck; as long as I was sitting in the corner I felt safe. I could close my eyes and pretend to be asleep or hide my nose in a book; I finished quite a few chapters on that 30-minute ride while tucked away in those coveted corner seats.

For some reason, though, I would inevitably attract the undesirables. Many a ponderous man would wedge himself into the seat next to me, breathing heavily and reeking of garlic. Why, when there were plenty of empty seats, would I end up with Jabba the Hutt plopping down next to me? I would stay put and do my best to cope with a most unpleasant situation. There was also the occasional sicko (although one is more than enough) who would position himself directly in front of me, his manhood at full attention mere inches from my face. Those were the times I prayed for death. If I could have hung myself from one of the ceiling hand straps I gladly would have done so, drifting off into unconsciousness while visions of Lorena Bobbitt danced in my head. Instead I would prop my briefcase vertically on my lap and hide behind it. By some source of divine intervention the lights never went out during one of those close encounters of the worst kind.

It’s been more than 40 years since I worked in Manhattan; I loved my job and the people I worked with but after seven years I’d had enough of the commute. Kudos to those who travel the trains for twenty or more years; I have no idea how they do it! I don’t miss riding the subway one bit and if I have to go into Manhattan these days, I drive. I’ll gladly take on any maniac behind the wheel of a taxi or a truck rather than deal with the neanderthal subway passengers. I’m just thankful my days of riding the New York City cattle cars ended while I still had my dignity and sanity intact.

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

GUEST POST – FOUR RED ROSES: A VALENTINE STORY

Posted on February 10, 2020

It is an honor and a pleasure to present to you a slightly different spin on your typical Valentine’s Day romance story written by my friend and founder of Write Away, Simon John Wood. I loved the unique and unexpected direction this story took and the fact that it mentions the Beatles is a plus in my book. It was difficult to choose one story from Simon’s extensive collection; he’s a prolific writer, entertaining us with everything from animals to horror to romance. Please check out his blog, To Cut A Short Story Short; I guarantee you will be enthralled for hours on end!

Sandra Malone sat staring at her laptop. On the left side, a heart with a ribbon around it and the words, ‘To My Valentine.’ On the right, a blank page anticipating her inspired verse. She sighed. She’d needed the work and, as a poet – of sorts, had been recommended to Gibson’s Cards to crank out twenty Valentine verses and messages. After a morning’s work, trying to think of original lines using ‘Valentine,’ ‘please be mine,’ ‘heart,’ ‘never part’ and such, she was sorely tempted to rhyme ‘heart’ with ‘fart.’ That’d make Gibson’s sit up!Her self-published collection of poetry, Waste Disposal, a humorous – she hoped – ‘take’ on T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, hardly qualified her to write such drivel! As for her own slim book, it had yet to reach the fifty sales mark, and, she admitted to herself, even those sales were largely down to herself, buying copies to give away to friends and family, most of whom had smiled politely and tucked the book away on a dusty bookcase, to be perhaps glanced at one day in the distant future.She stood up and walked across to a patio window, gazing across the lawn to a small group of silver birch trees. She’d become cynical since Tony had left her, she realised. Stuck on her own with Arthur, her nine-year-old autistic son. She looked at her reflection in the window, noticing a slim figure and long blonde hair, pleased that her crows’ feet and marionette lines weren’t visible. But, hey, she wasn’t unattractive. Men still made the occasional ‘pass’ at her. Just that they only wanted one thing, and it wasn’t to be step-dad to a difficult child.Barry, her last ‘boy-friend,’ though decades past boyhood, if truth be told, had been different. He’d experienced hardship of his own, losing his wife to a bizarre accident – a sheet of glass had fallen from a building, practically slicing her head off – and neither of his grown-up children would talk to him. But one day, Arthur had decided to make a rabbit hutch. Barry offered to help and was rewarded with a nail through his hand and a trip to hospital. After that his visits had diminished to zero.Sandra smiled a wistful smile. Barry’s had been the only Valentine card she’d received for several years. Even Tony hadn’t bothered towards the end, instead doubtless directing them to Irene, his ‘dancing partner,’ with whom he was now ensconced. And here she was, racking her brains over composing sentimental nonsense for the wretched cards. How ironic!The phone rang. “Hello Sandy, it’s Marge, how’re the verses coming on?”“Oh, er, OK, I’ve still got a few to do.”“What, how many? We agreed twenty; I need them by five o’clock.”Nervously, Sandra glanced at the time. Just gone three. “Oh, I’ve done, er, fourteen. I’ll have another six in an hour.” She crossed her fingers, hoping that Marge wouldn’t ask her to send what she’d done so far. She’d been told that Marge had ‘scary’ days.“That’s fine, Sandy, I’m checking the image proofs now. As soon as we get the verses, Copeland’s will get the presses rolling. Think of all those lovers you’ll be bringing together. And all those babies you’ll be making!”Sandra forced a laugh.“OK, hun, rushed off my feet here. Make sure you get them to us by five, OK? Byeee!”Sandra replaced the handset, finding her hand covered in sweat and her breath short.Sitting at her laptop again, she gave in to temptation. By 4.45 p.m. she had nineteen verses, adapted from Valentine cards found online. ‘Old verses given a fresh twist,’ she tried to convince herself. And well-matched with the images! One more to go … but she felt tired, fed up of writing doggerel.Splashing her face with cold water in the bathroom, she heard the phone ringing. It would be Marge again, no doubt. Well at least she was nearly there.Instead, a voice from the past. “Hi, Sandy, it’s me, Barry, look I know it’s been a while, er, but could we talk?”

He must have the radio on, she thought. In the background she could hear The Beatles. She hesitated, “Barry?” Then she had a sudden inspiration. “Just a minute.” She went to her laptop and, opposite an image of four red roses, typed, ‘All You Need Is Love.’ Simple, but it would do nicely! Pressing ‘send,’ she returned to the phone. “Hi, Barry, how’s your hand?”

Longer Stories

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

Did you ever wish you could go back in time to when you were five years old? That’s a reasonable age – old enough to grasp the difference between right and wrong yet young enough to be just a kid having lots of fun; not on the cusp of adulthood so it’s probably a good idea to try not to muck it all up.

If I, a sixty-something-year-old woman could write a letter to my five-year-old self, I might say something like this:

“Hey, you!

There’s a ginormous amount of ‘stuff’ that you’re gonna have to deal with in life so listen up:

• Everything you’ll ever need to know you’ll learn in kindergarten so pay attention.
• Follow the Golden Rule, obey the Ten Commandments and listen to the Beatles because life really is about peace, love and understanding.
• Mom and Dad aren’t the enemy; they’re doing the best they can so cut them some slack.

Right now you’re having the time of your young life. Your days are pretty much planned out. Mom does all the work and there aren’t a lot of demands on you. It’s mostly playing, eating, napping, doing a chore or two, sleeping; repeat tomorrow. Life is good and you’re a happy kid.

Sometimes, though, you’re gonna be so sad all you wanna do is cry and that’s ok; even big people cry. You won’t be sad forever. Other times you’re gonna get so mad you just wanna hit somebody, but that isn’t a good reaction – except if it’s Willie Casa; he’s the bully who lives three houses down. So when he hits you over the head with that plastic gun of his, you’re gonna bop him in the nose. And you know what? He’ll never bully you again.

Speaking of noses, yours is ok right now but in a few years it’s gonna turn into a real honker and you’re not gonna like it. You’ll get teased some and it’ll hurt. But hang in there because the most important guy in your life won’t care about that at all. He thinks you look like Sophia Loren and that’s a good thing.

Mom isn’t comfortable talking about a lot of personal stuff and you’re gonna wake up one morning to discover you’re body’s changing. It happens to all girls and while some of it is pretty yucky, most of it is really amazing. Let’s just say God knows what he’s doing and you’re gonna turn out ok.

When you’re about 13 somebody cool is gonna enter your life, coming and going for a couple of years. He’s a 16-year-old beanpole name Steven Tallarico – Google him. You might feel like kicking yourself because you didn’t run off with him but your whole life would have turned out differently and probably not for the best. Don’t worry. In 1968 you’re gonna go on a blind date and that guy will change your life forever and in the best ways imaginable.

You’re gonna make a lot of mistakes; everybody does. It doesn’t matter who you are in this giant world – you’re gonna screw up and believe me some of your booboos are doozies. You’re gonna hurt people and when the dust settles all you can do is apologize and try to make things right. The important thing is to own your mistakes and take responsibility.

Responsibility. Accountability. Big words with important meanings and so easy to overlook. They’re gonna be important to you and believe me, kid, there’s nothing wrong with that. People won’t always act the way you want them to; try to remember just because YOU think someone should act a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way for them. Let it go because it’s wrong to force people to do anything. And don’t let others force you.

Don’t be afraid to smile and make friends but don’t blindly trust people you don’t know. And if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If somebody scares you, scream your head off and run like hell because there are some bad people out there. But there are also a lot of wonderful people and most of the time you’ll be able to see the difference. Sometimes you won’t and people will hurt you. Shame on them! Cut your losses and move on; it’s their problem, not yours.

Nobody’s life is perfect, not even yours. You can own a lot of great stuff but if you don’t have a loving family and friends then you don’t have anything. You will be greatly blessed in more ways that you can count – not by the wonderful things YOU do but by the wonderful people in your life.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:
• Listen to Mom and Dad; they really do know more than you (especially about Woodstock!).
• Go easy with the blue eye shadow; it’s not a great look. And watch out for sloe gin fizzes; they have a way of sneaking up on you and knocking you on your ass.
• Be a friend, lend a hand and don’t judge; you never know what someone may be going through.
• Be respectful – not only of others but of yourself.
• The popular thing isn’t always the right thing and the right thing isn’t always the popular thing. That’s a tough one.
• If you say you’re gonna do something, do it. Be responsible (see above).
• Don’t be afraid to show your emotions and let people know how much you care; it’s how you know you’re alive.
• Be flexible. Things don’t always go as planned.
• You’re gonna have your heart broken more than a few times and you’re gonna break some hearts, too. It sucks but that’s just the way life is.
• Don’t be late. Period. You can’t control the weather or traffic but you can anticipate it.
• Don’t lie or make excuses. Not only does it show poor character – it’s too hard to remember all your tall tales. The truth always comes out.
• Smoking is not cool so cut it out. It’s a disgusting and expensive habit.
• Listen to the Beatles as much as you can; not only is their music just about the best you’ll ever hear, you’ll learn a lot from what they have to say.
• Just be a decent person; it’s really not that difficult.

And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Love, You!”

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

JUST DESSERTS

Death comes suddenly to some; for others it takes a lifetime.

It was Good Friday of 1946; Kathleen O’Brien walked through a narrow cobblestone passage way to St. Brigid’s Church. She hated walking by Sully’s Bar with its overpowering stench of booze and abundance of seedy characters hanging around but she was late for services (a terrible habit) and this was a convenient shortcut. She was twenty-two years old – no longer a kid – yet she’d rather die than admit to her mother that she missed the Veneration of the Cross. It was bad enough she was late for everything.

Seeing an unfamiliar man drinking a beer and leaning against the wall outside Sully’s, Kathleen quickened her pace. She heard him chuckle and say “What’s ya hurry, toots?” She walked even faster, opening the side door of the church; it creaked loudly. The elderly priest paused in mid-sentence and made a grand gesture of looking in Kathleen’s direction; he stared at her over his glasses, giving her a withering scowl. Embarrassed, she quickly found a seat at the end of a pew next to Mrs. Callahan who huffed at having to make room for this rude latecomer.

As is the tradition on Good Friday, everyone remained after services for a period of silent prayer. It was a time to reflect and meditate, one of Kathleen’s favorite parts of Holy Week. When the ushers opened the church doors the sense of peacefulness and solemnity was instantly shattered by the loud music and drunken laughter emanating from Sully’s Bar. “Some people have no respect” thought Kathleen angrily. “An Irish pub shouldn’t even be open on Good Friday!

As she began her walk home Kathleen noticed the same man from the bar standing at the corner. Had he been waiting for her or was this just a coincidence? Warily Kathleen took a step when suddenly the man started walking right toward her. She was taken aback as he stood in her path and extended his hand. “Name’s Harry Selkin and you’re one fine lookin’ dame. Ya need somebody like me to walk ya home. It can be dangerous for a good Catholic girl like yourself to be alone in this neck of the woods.”

Where do you get off saying something like that to me?” Kathleen snapped. “And how do you know I’m a good Catholic girl anyway?”

Well, I ain’t no Einstein but I seen ya practically runnin’ to St. Brigid’s like ya pants was on fire and I’m guessinya ain’t no altar boy – not with them gorgeous legs.” Harry replied in a very ‘Bogey’ sort of way. He smiled and his tough guy persona became surprisingly charming. Kathleen found it hard not to laugh just a little at this roguish stranger and she shocked herself by allowing him to walk her home.

Harry and Kathleen were as different as a gorilla and a swan but there was an undeniable chemistry between them and they started falling in love. No one was more surprised than Kathleen; Harry was like no man she had ever met. Sure, he was rough around the edges but she loved how his face lit up like a kid whenever he ate dessert, especially his favorite – homemade apple pie. Kathleen was known for her baking skills and would make a pie for Harry every couple of days.

They had a whirlwind courtship and Harry popped the question, much to Kathleen’s delight – and her parent’s chagrin. At first they tolerated the relationship thinking it would blow over, but the more serious it got the more concerned they became. There was a major obstacle her parents couldn’t overlook – the fact that Harry was Jewish. Kathleen’s father was dead set against Harry, calling him names like ‘Christ killer’ and ‘kike’. He was enraged when Kathleen announced that she and Harry were going to get married with or without his blessing. Her mother was crushed. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Can’t you see he’s no good for you? I don’t trust him at all, Katy girl, not at all!” she warned, crying into her apron. Kathleen hated defying her parents but would not be dissuaded; she was in love! Her father said she was a blind fool and if she married “that good-for-nothing bum” she was dead to him. With a heavy heart Kathleen closed the door of her childhood home behind her and never looked back.

Harry and Kathleen got married in city hall, the judge and his clerk their only guests and witnesses. After a weekend honeymoon in Niagara Falls the couple settled into Harry’s tiny apartment – a walk-up on the fifth floor and almost within arm’s reach of the elevated train. Kathleen was startled by the scream of the locomotive but Harry said she’d get used to it.

The dilapidated condition of the apartment shocked Kathleen but she was determined to turn it into a lovely home for them. She sewed curtains and towels for the kitchen and bought bed coverings from the thrift store. She also bought sacks of apples from the fruit stand to make Harry’s beloved apple pies. She read in her cookbook that it was alright to freeze apples until you were ready to use them – a handy tip Kathleen didn’t know.

Harry worked the graveyard shift as a printer at the local newspaper, seven days a week from midnight till 8:00 AM. His fingers were permanently stained with black ink. The first morning he came home from work and saw the newly decorated apartment, he got angry at Kathleen for spending his hard-earned money on unnecessary things. Uncaring, he left ink stains on the bedspread when he sat down to remove his shoes. However his mood lightened considerably when he eyed the sacks of apples and Kathleen forgave his angry outburst when she saw that boyish grin.

While Harry slept during the day Kathleen cleaned, shopped and cooked. She wanted a vacuum cleaner but Harry said it was too expensive and the noise would keep him awake so she settled for a carpet sweeper. Their only chance to be together was at breakfast and dinner time – and of course for coffee and dessert. Kathleen suggested a few times that it would be nice if Harry worked during the day so they could be like a normal couple and spend more time together but her words fell on deaf ears.

She also longed for a baby. Each time she thought she was pregnant it turned out to be a false alarm. She saw a doctor who wasn’t very encouraging; he shrugged his shoulders, gave her ambiguous explanations and performed a couple of routine tests. He told her it was just one of those things; not all couples could get pregnant. When Kathleen finally got up the nerve to mention to Harry what the doctor said, he laughed and said it wasn’t his fault she couldn’t get pregnant; “Just ask that sweet little Frenchie I knocked up during the war” was his mean-spirited reply. Kathleen felt like she’d been kicked in the gut. When she cried that she needed something else to fill her lonely days Harry yelled to “go get a job and start earnin’ ya keep around here! Who needs another mouth to feed anyways?” Kathleen was reeling; how could he say such hurtful things? Heartbroken, she eventually gave up on having a baby and found a job as a presser in a shirt factory. The work was exhausting and she still had to maintain the apartment and cook for Harry.

What happened to the guy she married? Harry was constantly annoyed about something or other and drank more now than usual. He got mean when he drank and and Kathleen bore the brunt of his anger. When he demanded sex every night before going to work, she kept her mouth shut but she was silently screaming. This was no way to exist, like a piece of property and not a person. She’d lie awake at night remembering her mother’s warning words. The only thing in her God-forsaken life that she truly enjoyed was baking and she did it all for Harry. She would fantasize about how lovely it would be to have her own little bake shop; she’d make lots of delicious cakes and pies for her large following of loyal customers – not just for her selfish husband. She knew she could do it if she only had the chance.

A few weeks after Kathleen began working she started complaining about backaches and being very tired – probably from constantly lifting the heavy pressing machines at work. Harry, as usual, was unsympathetic and said she better toughen up because no way was she giving up that job.

One morning Kathleen asked Harry if he could bring down the mixing bowl she kept on top of the fridge so she could make an apple pie. He was tired from working all night and wanted to get to sleep but he obliged her at the prospect of dessert. Harry put down his bottle of beer and got the step-stool out of the closet. As he started to climb, Kathleen hoisted a five pound sack of frozen apples, wincing at the pain in her back, and bashed Harry as hard as she could on the back of his head. He fell backwards onto the kitchen floor, his lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Kathleen hurriedly tore open the sack of apples and dumped them into a pot on the stove. She shoved the empty apple sack into the garbage bag, bunched it all up and threw it down the incinerator chute outside their apartment door. Placing a new bag in the garbage can, she looked at Harry’s body and felt sick to her stomach, vomiting in the sink. She washed her hands and face, then placed a call to the police.

HELP!” Kathleen screamed into the phone. “My husband fell! I think he’s dead!” Then she calmly sat at the kitchen table and waited, crying over misspent years. The police and ambulance arrived quickly; after examining Harry, he was officially declared dead. Blunt force trauma, they said, obviously from smashing his head on the kitchen floor. Everyone was very conciliatory and sympathetic and they respectfully removed Harry’s body. “If there’s anything we can do, Mrs. Selkin, please let us know” the officers said as they left Kathleen alone in the quiet apartment.

Kathleen cleaned up the kitchen and called her boss at the shirt factory to say she wouldn’t be able to work that day. Her boss barked that if she didn’t come in to work she shouldn’t bother coming back at all. Kathleen simply said “Goodbye”. She put the pot of apples in the fridge and after changing her clothes she went to the funeral parlor to make arrangements for Harry.

When she got home she received a phone call from her doctor. “Mrs. Selkin, I’m calling because your test results came back; you and Mr. Selkin will be thrilled to know you’re pregnant. Congratulations, Mrs. Selkin!” Kathleen swayed in stunned disbelief and grabbed onto the edge of the table. She managed a weak “Thank you” and hung up the phone. “Pregnant” she whispered in awe and her slight smile slowly grew into a broad grin. She gently touched her belly, truly happy for the first time in years.

The next morning Kathleen baked a large apple pie with the same apples she used to bash in Harry’s head. When the pie was done and still warm, she placed it in a box and delivered it to the nice policemen. On the way home she stopped in the little bakery near her apartment and inquired about a job. It was a start, a new beginning for her and her baby.

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

LOCK IT UP

Finding himself suddenly unemployed, Omar anguished over supporting his family – not just his wife and kids but his parents in Somalia. One would think having a biomedical engineering degree would open many doors for him but the job search proved more difficult than Omar imagined. His wife Waris was trained as a midwife and she was willing to go back to work but Omar was too proud to allow her to be the only breadwinner in the family. He would find work if it was the last thing he did. Waris encouraged him to look outside his comfort zone; it was then that he saw the ad in Craig’s List:

Drive With Uber – Be Your Own Boss.
For information call 888-555-BOSS

Omar called the number; a man with a strange accent anwered. “UberBoss” was all he said.

Um, yes” replied Omar haltingly. “I’m calling about the ad.”

Email your phone number and driver’s license to uberboss@hotmail.com. We’ll be in touch.”

That’s it? Don’t I need to take a test or something?” Omar asked.

Look, buddy. You want the job or do you want to play 20 questions?” the man replied sarcastically.

Yes, I’m interested, but what is the pay, please?” inquired Omar.

The man sighed impatiently. “$25 an hour; UberBoss gets 20% commission plus 25% booking fee.”

Omar was stunned. “That seems a bit exorbitant!”

That’s the going rate, buddy. Work six days, clear $100. Take it or leave it” was the gruff response.

Considering he currently had no income, Omar accepted.

Ok, buddy. Someone will call you.” Click. Within the hour Omar received his first assignment.

A woman was waiting for Omar; she wore a burka and only her eyes were visible. She signaled Omar to roll down the window, handed him a thick envelope and quickly walked away without saying a word. Taped to the envelope was a key and instructions which read: “100 Hester Street, Locker #57. Unlock padlock, remove backpack, leave envelope and key, snap padlock shut.”

The destination was a YMCA. Upon entering the building Omar spotted a hallway with a row of lockers. He found #57, opened the padlock, removed the backpack, placed the envelope and key inside the locker and snapped the lock shut. The pack had a tag with an address, locker number and key attached; this had to be his next destination. It turned out to be a bus depot and the locker contained a thick envelope just like the one the woman had given him earlier. Omar determined he had to remove the envelope and replace it with the backpack from the previous locker. He tossed in the key and secured the lock.

This routine continued for six hours at which point Omar received a text from UberBoss requesting his PayPal address. He was advised that his work was finished for the day and he would get a new assignment in the morning. Omar complied and shortly after he received another text, this time from PayPal informing him that $100 had been deposited in his account.

The days were tiring and monotonous. Omar’s ass was sore from driving all around town and he didn’t speak to a single person all day. Being an uber driver was not what he thought it would be; he was just some tool in a game of hide and seek. But he’d been at it for three weeks and had accumulated $2100 in his PayPal account – more money than he had in a long time.

Omar was getting very curious about the contents of the envelopes and backpacks but they were tightly sealed – except for today. Noticing a small tear in the envelope, Omar used his pocket knife to finesse the opening just a bit. Peeking inside he saw stacks of neatly bound $100 bills and the hooded eyes of Benjamin Franklin staring back at him.

Omar considered his next move for about five seconds. He drove to the address on the envelope, ripped off the key and shoved the envelope under the front seat of his car. Driving to his destination he located the locker, grabbed the backpack and snapped the lock. Whatever was in these packs had to be very valuable.

As he sped home Omar knew he was taking a huge risk but it was worth it for Waris and his family. He laughed excitedly at the prospect of financial freedom and the more he laughed the faster he drove. The sound of screaming sirens brought Omar back to reality; a police car was chasing him. He was forced off the road and commanded to step out of the car. While looking through the car the police found the envelope full of money. They also found a backpack crammed with bricks of cocaine.

Omar’s world came crashing down around him and he desperately proclaimed his innocence, to no avail. He was handcuffed and hauled away on the spot. Omar never saw the text that came from UberBoss: “Big mistake, Buddy! Say bye bye.”

At the same moment back at Omar’s house a frantic Waris was tearfully staring down the barrel of the UberBoss’s gun.

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

EVENING IN PARIS

Grandma Lila and I always had a closeness few people get to experience in their lives.

My mother Zoey learned she was pregnant with me when she was 14 years old – too young to drive and too old to play with dolls. The boy she said was the father did what any teenager would do in that situation; he denied everything and bailed on her.

Abortion was not open for discussion. Grandma Lila told my mother in no uncertain terms that getting pregnant was irresponsible but ending a baby’s life was unforgivable. As far as Grandma was concerned Zoey had two choices: she could stay home and help earn money by doing work with her – sewing pearls and little bows on ladies panties – or go back to school until it was time for her baby to be born. She’d rather die than be seen in her condition so Zoey opted to say home with Grandma.

Even though it was the lesser of two evils, as far as my mother was concerned staying home was like being in prison. She and Grandma Lila sewed for hours while watching soap operas, cleaned the house and cooked meals. Zoey didn’t go out and never saw her friends. She got bigger and more uncomfortable with each passing month and couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over. Finally on a chilly November morning just before Thanksgiving Zoey’s water broke and Grandma Lila brought her to the hospital. Zoey was in labor for almost two days when the doctor finally decided to do a C-section. Then the unthinkable happened: there were “complications” and my mother bled out. She died in the delivery room.

Grandma Lila was devastated at the loss of her only child. My mother never had the chance to see me, hold me or delight in that new baby scent. When I was placed in my Grandma’s arms, she swore to protect me for the rest of her days. She took me home and held me tight as she settled in her rocking chair, her soft woolen shawl draped over us both. That’s where our bond began, wrapped in a shawl delicately fragranced by the hint of gardenias from Grandma Lila’s perfume, Evening in Paris.

From day one Grandma Lila was my champion. It was she who fed and bathed me, watched me take my first steps and sat up with me all night when I had scarlet fever. We baked cookies, played in the backyard sprinkler and laughed together watching I Love Lucy. Grandma put me on the school bus in the morning and greeted me every afternoon when I got home. She took me to piano lessons, Girl Scouts and soccer practice. Grandma was there for every concert, spelling bee and sports event. As I got older she sweetly explained the “birds and bees”, careful to answer only the questions I asked and not overwhelm me with too much information.

When I started dating, Grandma Lila would give me a little wink if she approved of the boy or a “thumbs down” if she didn’t but she never interfered. Then I met Steve and she told me he was “a keeper”. Steve asked for Grandma’s blessing before he proposed to me and she walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. And she was the first to hold our daughter Jenna just hours after she was born.

Months turned into years and Grandma Lila started spending more time in her rocking chair wrapped in her beloved woolen shawl. She was old and frail now but the thought of putting her in a nursing home never crossed our minds. Steve and I took care of her until the very end, just as she took care of me for so many years.

A few months after Grandma passed away I returned home from shopping and noticed the familiar fragrance of gardenias wafting through the house. As I walked by the living room I saw Grandma’s shawl wasn’t in it’s usual spot on the sofa; it was draped over her old rocking chair; neither Steve nor Jenna had moved it. I picked up the shawl and held it to my face, inhaling the fresh scent of Evening in Paris. Tears filled my eyes; I knew that Grandma Lila had visited us. I miss her so very much.

NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

PAPA-LOGIC

In 1930 at the age of 15 my dad emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily. He spoke no English, had very little money and knew a bit about barbering. He settled in Brooklyn, moving in with friends from his home town in Sicily, but dad couldn’t live off the kindness of his friends forever; he needed to find work. Fortunately his friend knew of a barber who was looking for help so dad applied for the job and started work the next day.

When dad showed up at the barber shop he had a copy of the Italian newspaper Il Progresso under his arm. The barber said to him in Italian “Hey, Vito. If you want to learn how to speak English, do yourself a favor and stop buying that newspaper. Instead buy the New York Times and read it every day.” My dad took that advice to heart; reading the Times and dealing with some English-speaking customers is how be became fluent in English. He was a self-taught man; in fact, after a few years he hardly had any accent at all.

My parents were married in 1939 and dad was drafted soon after. He served overseas during WWII, something he never liked to talk about. The one thing I did know about dad’s army days was that he drove a jeep – a little fact that’s rather ironic; dad never learned how to drive! Many years later something came over dad and he decided to give driving a try, probably thinking “how difficult could it be?” He sneaked into mom’s car, turned the key and floored it, immediately driving in reverse onto the front lawn of the house across the street! Thank goodness no one else was on the road at the time.

During the 1950s we had fresh Italian products delivered to the house including olive oil imported from Sicily. Dad was jealous of the handsome salesman and demanded my mom stop the olive oil delivery. Mom was a good-looking woman and men were naturally attracted to her but she was very proper and never gave them a second look. She wasn’t a flirt and the thought of cheating on my dad never crossed her mind; killing him, yes, but cheating on him? Never!

Our family was very musical; we all sang, my sister and I played the piano and dad played the mandolin. He surprised us by auditioning for our church’s production of The Mikado – and he landed the role! What a riot seeing this mustachioed Sicilian guy made up to look Japanese wearing an authentic kimono and singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs. He was the hit of the show!

We’ll never forget the day two officials from our church came to the house to talk to dad; he was the church treasurer at the time but what no one knew was he had zero math ability. Dad botched the books terribly and had to account for his multiple mistakes. After a grueling two-hour meeting dad was relieved of his position as church treasurer. Fortunately for us mom always handled the family finances; left to dad we would have landed in the poorhouse.

One of my worst memories happened the morning after I had my first period. Dad came into my room and with a stage-worthy dramatic bow said “Good morning, young lady!” He thought he was being complimentary; I thought it was gross and humiliating.

Then there was the time dad was mowing the lawn with his brand new electric mower. Well, the mower got jammed and dad turned it over to clean it out; however he forgot to turn the damn thing off and lost the tip of this thumb in the process.

Dad was very protective of me and my sister and every guy we dated had to pass inspection. Throughout my dating years I had a curfew and dad waited up for me every night – right up to the night before my wedding day! Dad thought he had things well in hand; if he only knew how many times I sneaked out of the house to be with my friends or hung my head out the bathroom window for a forbidden cigarette!

When my sister and I had kids, they started calling dad “Papa”. Dad was an affable guy, always coming up with corny jokes or comments which soon became known as “Papa-Logic”. We would roll our eyes when he would intentionally order an “Al Pacino” instead of a cappuccino. Dad loved being controversial, too, and took great pride in getting his point across. I remember one day he saw a sign in a pizzeria window which read “WE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Nothing wrong with that as far as we were concerned but dad felt differently and made no bones about it. He started a heated discussion with the pizzeria owner demanding that the sign should read “WE THINK WE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Dad wouldn’t back down and the sign remained unchanged. And to make matters worse, we were never allowed in that pizzeria again.

One day dad and mom went to an art auction while on vacation. Dad was dressed nicely and wore dark glasses, a big watch and a couple of rings. He won a bid on a painting and the auctioneer exclaimed “Sold to the gentleman in the sunglasses!” He then asked my dad his name. Dad said “My name is Vito“. Then jokingly the unwitting auctioneer asked “Tell us, Vito. Are you The Godfather?” Well, dad couldn’t possibly resist an opportunity like that. He cocked his head, stared at the auctioneer and replied in his best Marlon Brando voice “Now let me ask YOU a question, Mr. Auctioneer. Do you really want to know the answer to your question?” The poor auctioneer started sweating, his hands literally shaking in fear! He made sure the staff meticulously wrapped dad’s painting, walked it to mom’s car and very carefully placed it in the back seat, all under the close scrutiny of my dad. They refused the tip he offered and practically fell over themselves in their hurry to get away from “Don Vito”. Of course dad thought it was hysterical; mom had a completely different opinion of the incident.

My dad was a good guy, a clown at times but he had a heart of gold. Even though he could get on our nerves big time all his friends enjoyed being with him. He adored his family and loved being Sicilian but I think one of the proudest moments in his life was the day he could do the New York Times crossword puzzle – in ink!

 NAR © 2020

Longer Stories

DUTY-BOUND

NEW YORK CITY, 1920

“Manga il cibo sul tuo piatto, Sophia, o lo mangerai dal pavimento.”

(“Eat the food on your dish, Sophia, or you will eat it off the floor.”)  

Without changing her expression or taking her huge brown eyes off her father Vincenzo’s face, three year old Sophia picked up a meatball, extended her arm over the side of her high chair and very calmly let it drop to the floor. 

Silence. Everyone sat in suspended animation as Vincenzo deliberately put down his knife and fork and removed the napkin which was tucked into the neck of his shirt. Slowly he stood up, went behind Sophia’s chair and grabbed the back of her dress. He lifted her up and holding her feet with his other hand, lowered her face to the floor. Sophia’s mouth touched the meatball and she turned her face away, but Vincenzo pushed her face into the food, forcing her to take it into her mouth. Satisfied, he sat her back in her chair, returned to his seat and resumed eating. Sophia languidly chewed the meatball. 

Hesitantly everyone resumed eating except Sophia’s mother Francesca who sat watching her daughter. At the end of the meal as the women cleared the table, Francesca placed a napkin over her daughter’s mouth so she could dispose of the uneaten meatball. “Mai più, Sophia. Fai il tuo dovere!” Francesca said. (“Never again, Sophia. Do your duty!”)

Francesca was a frail woman and as Sophia grew she helped her while Vincenzo worked 12 hours a day on construction. When Sophia was 11, Francesca came down with a terrible case of scarlet fever which affected her heart and kidneys and left her housebound. Early every morning Sophia would cook breakfast for the family and pack lunch for her father before she left for school. At lunchtime she would come home to check on Francesca and make something for them to eat before going back to school. After school she would stop at the pharmacy to buy Francesca’s medicine. Sometimes she would surprise her mother with a piece of her favorite candy. First she would care for her mother, then cook dinner before her father came home from work. When dinner was finished she would do her homework and get ready for bed. Since Francesca was sick, Vincenzo slept in Sophia’s room while she slept on the small sofa. It was the right thing to do – her duty – because her father worked so hard and needed his rest. 

Eventually the family began struggling financially. Vincenzo decided that it would be best if Sophia left school and took a job in a sewing factory. Sophia would have preferred to stay in school, but she knew it was her duty to help the family. Francesca’s sisters would take turns checking on her while Sophia was at work. Occasionally they would bring food but they all had large families and were struggling themselves. Sophia still woke up very early to make breakfast and prepare lunch for herself, Vincenzo and Francesca. She worked from 8:00 until 6:00, then came home to cook dinner, clean up and care for her mother. It was a hard life but Sophia knew it was her duty. 

Sophia was an excellent seamstress and her work was always done quickly and perfectly. In the time it took the others to sew one blouse, she completed four. And because her work was beyond compare, she earned more money. She was promoted to making dresses and suits and the other girls were jealous, calling her “your majesty” and “princess”. One girl was so envious of Sophia she began working hurriedly and carelessly, accidentally cutting off most her pinky with the large shears. It was not Sophia’s fault but everyone treated her like it was. 

One Sunday after Mass Sophia’s cousin Gaetano introduced her to his friend Paolo Rossi. By now Sophia was 20 and had never been on a date. She was too busy doing her duty. The young couple were immediately attracted to each other, began dating and married in 1940, just after the start of the war. One year later their first baby was born and fortunately men with children were not being drafted so Paolo was able to remain at home. Tragically, the baby developed nephritis and died at the age of two – and a grieving father, now childless, was drafted. 

Sophia was devastated; no husband, no baby. She devoted all her time to caring for Francesca. The days were grim but thankfully Paolo returned home safely and two more babies followed – healthy girls. The young family, Francesca and Vincenzo moved to a house in the Bronx and Paolo found work in a mechanic’s shop while Sophia stayed at home with the girls and her mother.  Five years later Francesca died and Vincenzo became ill. Of course the ever-dutiful Sophia  cared for him until his death. 

In 1970 Paolo suffered his first heart attack. Three more followed over the years. He developed aortic and abdominal aneurysms and struggled with emphysema and bronchitis until his death in 1996. Sophia cared for him as a dutiful wife for all those years.  

Dear readers, in case you haven’t realized by now I was one of those little baby girls born to Sophia and Paolo. Throughout my childhood and youth, my mother was constantly busy cleaning, cooking, sewing. She was a dutiful mother and took very good care of us, but I never felt a true mother’s love. 

The first time I met my boyfriend’s mother, she was ironing. She immediately stopped her work, brewed a pot of coffee and placed a crumb cake on the table. We sat and talked for hours. That was an afternoon of fun and laughter and I felt the love in that room. I married that boy whose mother did everything out of love, not out of a sense of duty. 

Sophia died in 2010. On her headstone was intricately carved her life-long creed: “FAI IL TUO DOVERE”.

NAR © 2019

Longer Stories

THE DIABOLICAL DOCTOR DIAMOND

It was Deirdre Diamond, Doctor of Pharmacology and loathed next door neighbor. I’m sure she’s the one who poisoned my koi pond. And I know why she did it, too. It’s because I mowed over her nasty thorn-encrusted wild rose bushes that constantly grow over onto my property. I had every right to do so and my physical body never trespassed onto her property – only my lawn mower–  yet she sought her revenge by killing my beautiful fish. And why would she do such a thing?  Because Deirdre Diamond is just plain nasty, hard-hearted, unsympathetic and more than a bit demented. 

We’ve had arguments for years now, mostly because she refuses to honor our property boundary lines. She loves to complain about my dog, Roscoe – a lazy old bloodhound who barely barks and never wanders off but Deirdre calls him a “vile nuisance”. If anyone on this earth is vile it’s her! She also grouses about my wife Judy sunbathing topless on our upper deck, telling other people she looks like a heifer. The truth is a peeping Tom would need binoculars to see Judy all the way up on the deck so Deirdre had to have gone out of her way to snoop on my wife, then blab about it. How typical of Dr. Evil! 

But this – the poisoning of my beloved koi fish – was senseless and I’m not going to let her get away with it! I don’t know if or how I’m going to be able to prove she did it but I’ll come up with something. She thinks she’s so slick, getting away with anything. Well, we’ll see about that, Deirdre! Yes we will! 

Later that week as I lay in bed during the wee hours I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle when I heard the long-anticipated sirens of the approaching fire trucks. Then that afternoon when I heard the news in town that Deirdre’s garage had all but burned down during the night, I feigned surprise and bit my tongue to keep from laughing out loud. Spontaneous combustion. Imagine that! Well, I guess old Deirdre’s got no choice now but to get rid of those gardening chemicals and what’s left of the badly damaged garage before something worse happens. One never knows, does one? 

The next morning I asked my wife “Judy, have you seen Roscoe?” as I stood in the kitchen holding his bowl of dog food. Judy replied that she had not but he might be snoozing under his favorite weeping willow tree. He does love his naps. I went out to look for Roscoe and did indeed find him under the tree, but he wasn’t sleeping; the poor old guy was dead. Not a single noticeable mark on his body. Probably meant to look like old age did him in. Never sick a day in his life and now he’s dead – or should I say murdered? And by that lunatic Deirdre, I’m sure of it. She hated Roscoe just like she hates everyone and everything. This has gone way too far and she’s got to be stopped. Dear Roscoe. How I wish he would have ripped out Deirdre’s throat but the sweet guy wouldn’t even hurt a fly. Why Deirdre ever became a doctor I can’t say for sure but it certainly wasn’t to help people or do no harm. 

Well, I may be naïve but I won’t let Deirdre intimidate me. However, it is a pity that someone accidentally left the gas on in her oven. It’s not like her to be so careless. She could have died of asphyxiation or imagine if the whole house had exploded, blowing her to kingdom come! What a hoot that would have been! If she knows what’s good for her, Deirdre will keep her threats to herself and stay off my property. She killed off all my pets. Now it’s just me and Judy and Deirdre’s presence is unwanted. Her very existence disgusts me. 

An unusually peaceful weekend went by and Judy convinced me to visit my brother in New York for a few days. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and Judy was going to be tied up with preparations for the church yard sale so I agreed to go. I was only there for two days when the call came. Judy was dead! Apparently she never showed up to help with the yard sale – very untypical of her – and friends came to the house looking for her. I flew straight home and learned Judy was found in our bed, dead from an apparent heart attack. There was no trace of foul play, no apparent marks, no poison. But I knew better. Only a maniac like Deirdre could pull this off. She killed my wife and I’m going to get my revenge if it’s the last thing I do. 

Who says revenge isn’t sweet? I watched the whole thing unfold from behind my bedroom curtain, binoculars at the ready. Deirdre getting into her car, turning the key and then BAM! BAM!! BAM!!! Seeing little bits of Deirdre strewn about her driveway was spectacular! She had no idea I was a demolitions expert from my days in Vietnam. This was by far my greatest detonation dance of death! No one could prove it was me who did this, just like no one could prove Deirdre did what she did.  

This calls for a celebration – a toast to my deeply despised and not-so-dearly departed nemesis, the maniacal Doctor Deirdre  Diamond. I think that nine hundred dollar bottle of bourbon will fit the bill nicely. 

Ah, so sweet! So smooth and warm going down. Sweet as revenge. Finally I can relax.  

“Wait a second. What’s happening to me?” I wondered anxiously. “My throat and chest are on fire!” I clawed frantically at my shirt collar. “No! This is not possible … Deirdre poisoned my bourbon!!” I underestimated just how diabolical she could be.

Damn you, Deirdre Diamond! Damn you!”  

NAR © 2019

Longer Stories

DR. ROBERT

Playboy: a man, especially one who is of comfortable means, who pursues a life of decadent pleasure  with multiple women. 

Meet Dr. Robert Chase. Even in hospital scrubs, cap and a surgical mask with only his eyes visible, the man oozed sex appeal. It may be hackneyed but women wanted him and men wanted to be him. 

He was rich, handsome, clever – an expert on the dance floor or in the OR, adroit in the boardroom or the bedroom, charming but not cloying. He attracted people and he was admired by all.

Robert was what is called in the trade a ‘nip/tuck guy’ .. a plastic surgeon whose clientele consisted of rich women looking for bigger boobs, fuller lips, tighter butts and curvier hips. There was no doubt he had hooked up with most of his patients. In his office he had a provocative poster .. half woman/half cello .. with a quote by Pablo Casals: “The cello is like a beautiful woman who has not grown older, but younger with time, more slender, more supple, more graceful.” 

However, there were two peculiar qualities about Robert that just couldn’t be explained: #1) He was married to a gorgeous, funny and smart woman, one any man would be proud to call his wife; why the insatiable need for other women? #2) For someone who was incredibly worldly, he could be uncharacteristically stupid at times. Perhaps it was his ego or self-denial that made him so reckless as to give women his real name, home and cell phone numbers .. the road to perdition.

Robert was the keynote speaker at a medical convention in Miami. Since he wasn’t slated to speak until the third day, he decided to troll the beaches looking for ladies. It wasn’t long before he spotted a fetching redhead chasing her errant beach umbrella in the wind. He came to her rescue, catching the umbrella and securing it in the sand. They talked for a while .. her name was Scarlet .. and made plans to get together that night for dinner. Robert was his usual charming self and the evening ended with Scarlet inviting him back to her room where he spent the night. In the morning they exchanged phone numbers and he kissed her goodbye. 

That afternoon Robert discovered a topless beach and, as a nip/tuck guy, he was in his element. He strolled over to the tiki bar and struck up a conversation with a voluptuous blonde named Denise. Giving her his business card, she jumped up, grabbed his hands and planted them on her breasts. Feel them!” she demanded. “Do you think they’re the same size?” Not skipping a beat, Robert suggested they go up to her room where he could give her a “proper exam”. He was quite thorough and it didn’t take much convincing for him to spend the night. Next morning he put Denise’s number into his phone and bid her farewell. 

Leaving Denise’s hotel, Robert collided with a bikini-clad goddess on roller skates. They tumbled onto the boardwalk clinging to each other. Looking into Robert’s eyes, she said ,”I’m Rita. Pleased to meet you.” Biting her bottom lip, she asked if he’d like to join her for coffee “or something”. Robert groaned in frustration, explaining that he’d love to but he had to get back to his conference. After exchanging names and numbers, he impulsively kissed her, promising to call.

At the close of the convention, Robert was invited by three other doctors to stay in Miami for a few days of golf. Robert agreed and called his wife Sophia to tell her he’d be home in four days. They played eighteen holes every day and relaxed in the evening with prime steaks, fine whiskey, Cuban cigars .. and girls galore. Robert was a legend among his friends and they were duly impressed. They would joke around by saying “Dr. Robert Chase .. always on the case.” 

Finally after a week away from home, Robert was ready to return to his lovely Sophia. If she knew of his philandering, she never let on. She was always occupied with lunching and shopping with her friends or going to the spa. And he was sure to return with shiny baubles, flowers and Italian chocolates .. her favorite. On the plane ride home to Santa Monica, Robert busied himself by looking through his iPhone at all the new lady friends he met in Miami. There they were in all their glory .. names, numbers and photos. Don’t want to lose track of those lovelies! 

Robert’s driver Charles met him at the airport and upon arriving home he was surprised to see some unfamiliar cars on the driveway. Grabbing Sophia’s gifts, he bounded up the stairs and into the house calling her name. Sophia came running to greet him. “Hurry, Robert! You must say hello to my guests!” She pulled him out to the veranda and much to Robert’s shock there sat Scarlet, Denise and Rita .. all looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. 

“Darling”, Sophia purred. “You’ve been a very busy boy. You see, when these charming ladies started calling here looking for you, I decided it would be nice if we all met and had a little chat. They certainly had a lot to tell me about you and Miami. Are you alright, darling? You look very pale. Here, have something to drink.” But before Robert had a chance to reach for the glass of champagne, Sophia threw it at him and slapped him hard across the face. 

Robert reeled from the smack. He was stunned, humiliated, desperate and begged pitifully, “Sophia, please, let me explain.” 

No! Not one more lying word from your filthy mouth! What a damn fool I’ve been all these years!” Sophia snarled at him. “Your bags are packed and Charles will drive you to a hotel. Do not try to see me or contact me in any way. My lawyer will be in touch. And Robert, before you go .. leave the gifts.” 

NAR © 2018

Longer Stories

LAPIS LAZULI SKIES

Arabic lanterns surrounded the palace high up in the hills of Qatar. Some were on the ground lighting the maze of pathways leading to the palace. Others dangled from the multi-layered eaves and swayed gently in the breeze, creating shadows that danced in the night. Still other lanterns stood atop the parapets, casting a diaphanous cloud over the entire fortress, encasing it in a shroud of the palest turquoise blue imaginable. And the largest lanterns of all were mounted on the high palace turrets, their glow reaching up to the heavens and down into the deep forest below. 

As enchanting as the palace looked on the outside, inside was filled with sorrow and despair. Within the great walls of the palace lived King Abdel, the royal family and a countless number of servants. King Abdel resided in the palace since the day of his birth, the first child born to his parents, King Aali and Queen Nuha. Tragically Queen Nuha died in childbirth, leaving her husband alone with their newborn son. Abdel was cared for by the queen’s wet-nurse and handmaids but King Aali was too heartbroken over the death of his only wife to take an interest in his newborn son. Burdened by anguish and grief, the king lost his will to live and he, too, died .. leaving the infant orphaned and King of Qatar. 

Abdel grew to be a strong and handsome man. He was a brave warrior and commanded a huge army of loyal soldiers.  Abdel married twenty-seven times, each wife lovelier than the last. Sadly, no children were conceived and Abdel was childless with no heir to assume the throne. At last, when Abdel was sixty years old his newest bride, Queen Yaffa, presented him with his first child .. Her Royal Highness Princess Fayruz, the Arabic name for turquoise – the color emanating from the palace lanterns as well as her incredible eyes. 

“By Allah, our Lord, to You belongs all praise. You are the Sustainer of heaven and earth. But could you not have given me a son?!” cried King Abdel in a combination of frustration and joy. 

But once Abdel looked at his daughter, he was enchanted .. besotted by her perfect beauty. Her skin was a warm mocha color, her downy hair just a shade darker and her eyes, like two turquoise gem stones, were bewitching. She was the treasure of the palace, worth more than any fortune in all of Qatar. 

Weeks turned into months and months into years and, as if ordained by the gods, Princess Fayruz remained the only child of King Abdel. She was a delight to everyone in the palace, loved by all from the cooks in the kitchen to the great advisors of the king. Having no siblings, she became friends with the children of the palace workers, all the while being groomed to one day assume the position of Queen of Qatar. 

Of all her many friends, her dearest one was Dabir, the son of the palace teacher. Dabir was a handsome boy with skin and hair the same color as Fayruz. And just like the princess, Dabir also had the most amazing eyes .. his a twinkling amethyst violet. All the children shared a classroom, played together and napped on cots in the large rest area. The princess’s handmaids were always with her but it was Dabir whom Fayruz would run to when she had a nightmare. The two children huddled together as Dabir calmed her fears. His tenderness and gentle spirit did not go unnoticed by the palace physician and it was decided that when he turned thirteen  Dabir would begin to study medicine. 

Dabir was an exemplary student and at the age of fifteen was ready to continue his studies at a university hundreds of miles away from the palace. The day of his departure was the saddest day in Fayruz and Dabir’s young lives and the two dearest of friends vowed to write to each other daily. Fayruz cried every night for two weeks after Dabir left but the arrival of his first letter brought her much happiness. They wrote each other frequently but as time went on the letters became few and far between as both became more involved in everyday life. 

Now Fayruz was seventeen and “High time that she be married”, declared King Abdel. Arrangements were made for princes from far and wide to call upon Princess Fayruz in the hope of winning her hand. She was a stunning beauty and all her suitors were smitten with her, but Fayruz was not interested in any of them. Two more years passed and still no husband was chosen by Fayruz. King Abdel was nearly eighty years old and his health was failing. He begged Fayruz to choose a husband so he could die in peace .. a bit of an exaggeration which was always King Abdel’s nature. 

As Abdel’s conditioned worsened, the palace doctor was at a loss to help him and other doctors were summoned to treat the king. Once again he pleaded with Fayruz to choose a husband and this time she acquiesced, promising to select someone by the end of the month. Perhaps love between her and her chosen one would come after marriage. 

The final week of the month arrived and Fayruz met with possible suitors while doctors examined the king. On the last day of the month Queen Yaffa rushed into her daughter’s drawing room to tell her the king was much improved and was asking to see her. Fayruz hurried to her father and as she approached his bed the doctor turned to bow before her. To Fayruz’s amazement the doctor was Dabir! Crying tears of joy, Fayruz and Dabir ran to each other, embracing – reunited after so many years. 

One month to the day Fayruz and Dabir were joined in marriage. That night King Abdel slept as peacefully as a newborn babe while the palace lanterns glowed in a delicate fusion of turquoise and amethyst. 

NAR © 2018

Longer Stories

SAFE IN A BUBBLE

“Arabic For Dummies”? The Qur’an? What the hell are these disgusting books doing in our house? You’re still associating with that .. that .. savage, aren’t you, Gloria? Answer me!” 

“Papa, please, calm yourself. It’s not good for your blood pressure. If you’re referring to Yusuf, he is not a savage. He’s a sweet, gentle and loving man and you’d  realize that if you got to know him. He’s a student at the university studying religion and…..” 

“And the making of bombs and God knows what else! Gloria, he’s an Arab, a Muslim, for the love of God! Haven’t you seen enough on tv and in the papers to know what these people are capable of? Crashing planes into buildings, blowing up villages, turning themselves into human bombs! They’re animals, all of them!” 

“And since when did you become an expert on Muslims or Arabs? You’ve never even tried to get to know them. All my Arab friends are good people .. peace loving people. We’ve spent hours talking, exchanging philosophies and sharing meals.” 

“I cannot believe what I’m hearing. You actually sit down and eat with these people, if you can even call them that? This is a nightmare! How can you do this to me?” 

“What am I doing to you, Papa? You haven’t even given him a chance. You refuse to meet him, to sit down and have a conversation with him. You’d see he is a man of peace, a good man incapable of hurting anyone.” 

“Are you crazy? Do you actually think I would sit with him in my house? Please, God, don’t tell me he has you brainwashed already! That’s what they do, you know…draw you in to their cult and before you know it you’re hooked and there’s no way out. Why can’t you stick to our own kind, find a nice Jewish boy? An Arab and a Jew .. whoever heard of such nonsense?!” 

“You’re not going to bring that up again, Papa, are you? You didn’t give Evelyn a hard time when she said she wanted to marry Sal. And what about Kenny when he and Makayla got engaged? An Italian son-in-law and a black daughter-in-law are in our family now and you won’t let me see Yusuf, simply because he’s an Arab!” 

“Oh no, there’s no such thing as simply an Arab, Gloria. They all have a hidden agenda! Are you blind to what’s going on around you?” 

“Papa, look at me. I’m a grown woman capable of making my own decisions. Why can’t you trust my judgement like you did with Kenny and Evelyn?” 

“Gloria, you’re not thinking clearly. Sal is a doctor, making a fortune. Your sister and their kids will never want for anything. Makayla’s parents are both lawyers and she’s in law school herself. Your brother and sister made smart choices. They didn’t bring some maniac suicide bomber into our family.” 

“STOP! Stop saying that! You know nothing about Yusuf and you have no idea what you’re talking about! He’s a wonderful man and I have deep feelings for him.” 

“Deep feelings? What are you saying, Gloria? Are you sleeping with him?” 

“Oh my God! I can’t believe you just asked me that! I’m not a child and, frankly, that’s none of your business.” 

“None of my business? As long as you’re living under my roof, it’s my business.”

“Here we go again! Well maybe it’s high time I moved out of this prison and found a place of my own!” 

“PRISON! After all your mother and I have done for you, you have the nerve to say that? And by ‘a place of your own’, you mean shacking up with that terrorist, don’t you? Why don’t you just stab me in the heart and put me out of my misery!” 

“Enough! What’s going on here? I can hear the two of you all the way downstairs!” 

“Hilda, אהובתי (“my love”) I didn’t hear you come in.” 

“As if you could hear anything over all the yelling in here! What’s gotten into the two of you?” 

“It’s your daughter. She’s being absolutely unreasonable. I don’t even know who she is anymore.” 

“Oh, so now she’s MY daughter? Sheldon, the last time I checked she was OUR daughter.
Is this about that Arab boy again?” 

“Mama, please, I can’t talk to Papa about this any more. If anyone is being unreasonable, it’s him.” 

“Gloria, why don’t you go out for a while, go to that nice coffee shop near the university.
Sheldon, come sit with me.”  

“Hilda, are you crazy? She’s going to run right to him! Don’t you see what you’re doing?” 

“Just like you ran to me, Sheldon, when your parents called me a filthy Nazi? Look at me, Shelly. Do you remember what it was like for us when we first met? You a Jew and me a German. Ach du lieber! What were we thinking? My father was so furious, he wanted to kill both of us. But we knew we’d rather die than be separated. Sheldon, you should know better than anyone that you cannot judge one man simply by the color of his skin or what country he comes from or what god he worships. You’re a good man, liebchen. You were a good man when we were teenagers and you’re a good man now. You’re scared, Shelly, just like we were scared back then. But we persevered and in time my parents saw the real you and your parents saw the real me. Do you remember what you told your parents all those years ago?” 

“Of course I do. I said ‘I love her and I would die for her’.” 

“Ja. And do you remember what I said to your parents?” 

“Like it was yesterday. You said ‘I love him and I would die without him’.” 

“Things haven’t changed that much, Sheldon, except now WE’RE the parents. I hate to burst your bubble but they love each other and it’s as simple as that. Trust them.” 

NAR © 2018