Category Archives: Books

A World Without Music—Chapter Three

“Mozart is sunshine.”
 – Antonia Dvorak

April 5, 2012

“I can’t believe you’ve never been to a ballgame.”

Reagan and Prisco sat in row D, behind the Tigers dugout. It was opening day at Comerica Park, and Tigers fans had high hopes for the season. The organization had signed hard-hitting Prince Fielder in the off season, shortly after learning that Victor Martinez would miss the entire season due to knee surgery. Reagan had hoped the Tigers would acquire a bona fide leadoff hitter with some speed. With Fielder the new first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who’d won the batting title in 2011, was moved to third base, and Reagan thought that combination would be a defensive liability – one which he couldn’t see the power hitting of Fielder and Cabrera combining to consistently overcome. Only time would tell.

“It seems a silly game, chasing a little ball around a field,” Prisco said.

“Prisco, Prisco. That’s the beauty of the game. It’s a simple game, a kid’s game – hit a round ball squarely with a round bat. It’s also a game of percentages and statistics – ideally suited for an analytical mind like yours. A manager knows if his utility infielder hits better under the lights than in the afternoon. It doesn’t mean he’ll hit in the clutch at night, but the manager, more often than not, plays the percentages.” Reagan took a sip of his Summer Shandy before adding, “Nearly every boy in America dreams of playing major league baseball when he grows up.”

“Did you?”

Reagan nodded. “I dreamed of being Al Kaline. Kaline is in the Hall of Fame. He played for the Tigers in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies. Played twenty-two seasons for Detroit. The greatest right fielder I’ve ever seen – a real natural even if he wasn’t the most gifted athlete. He hit for average and occasional power. Won the batting title at age twenty, the youngest player to win it. He wasn’t fast, but he was a smart base runner, and could steal a base from time to time.”

“Why didn’t you play?”

Reagan laughed. “This game is not as easy as it looks. Today, with thirty teams, the majors are composed of maybe seven-hundred-fifty ballplayers. Back in the mid-eighties, when I might’ve played, there were twenty-six teams. So there were fewer roster spots. And I didn’t have the talent to get noticed by a major league scout. I was a solid first baseman in college; but I never learned to hit a curveball.”

Prisco only nodded.

“Besides, at this level, it’s a thinking man’s game. When I was a kid, pitchers threw hard and I hacked at anything close to the plate. But the situation constantly changes, depending on the count, the score, whether men are on base, early or late in the game, the matchup between hitter and pitcher. Does the manager put on the hit and run, risk having the runner thrown out before his cleanup hitter can drive him home?”

“What’s a hit and run?”

“The manager puts the runner on first base in motion once the pitcher goes into his delivery, and the batter hits the ball to protect the runner.”

“Then isn’t it more accurate to call it a run and hit?”

“Yes, well, I suppose so. But baseball is filled with nuances like that. For instance, a walk isn’t considered an official at-bat, but a batter who walks with the bases full is scored with a RBI.”

“RBI?”

“Run batted in. He doesn’t actually bat him in, but baseball had to somehow allow for the scoring of the run.”

Prisco sighed. “It would seem this game isn’t as simple as you make it out.”

Reagan laughed. “The basics are very simple – pitch, hit, field and score more runs than your opponent. But the strategies are practically limitless. A manager’s decision to pinch hit in the ninth can make him look like a genius, while the same decision the next night can leave him looking like a goat.”

“A goat?”

“Don’t ask me to explain the origin of the phrase. It’s a derogatory euphemism.”

“You called it a kid’s game. I assume that is a reference to children and not the aforementioned Bovidae.”

“If by Bovidae you mean goat, you are correct.”

“But these are grown men.”

“Who as kids played baseball.”

“They are paid to play?”

“Very handsomely – too handsomely. Today’s players make millions. But there was a time, before the Players Association, when the owners took advantage of the players. If you consider how much revenue the owners take in the result of the gate, television contracts and advertising, it’s only right that they share more with the players, without whom they wouldn’t have a product to peddle.”

They went silent for a time, finishing their hotdogs and sipping their beers as the game entered the ninth inning, with Detroit holding a 2-1 edge over Boston. Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland, pulled Verlander, whose pitch count was 105, and inserted his closer, Jose Valverde.

“They call Valverde ‘Papa Grande,’” Reagan said.

“Why, because he’s overweight?”

“Sort of. A teammate gave him that nickname when he played for Arizona. It was meant as a term of endearment, and the teammate thought it meant Big Daddy. But the actual translation is Big Potato.”

“Why would someone wish to be affiliated with a potato?”

Reagan laughed. “One wouldn’t. But a nickname is hard to shake. Shit!”

Valverde had just allowed the tying run to cross the plate on a Ryan Sweeney triple that scored Darnell McDonald.

“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Reagan said.

“You had a premonition?”

“Just a feeling, Prisco. Valverde was a perfect forty-nine for forty-nine in save situations last year, and I knew he was bound to blow a save eventually. That’s why they play the games. I’d just hoped it wouldn’t be today.”

A few moments later, Cody Ross lined out to Jhonny Peralta at short to end the top of the ninth.

After Ryan Raburn flew out to right field to open the Tigers ninth, Peralta singled and the sellout home crowd was on its feet, urging the Tigers to rally.

Alex Avila followed with a single, so Bobby Valentine, Boston’s manager, pulled Mark Melancon for Alfredo Aceves, and Leyland inserted Danny Worth to pitch run for Peralta.

Aceves hit Ramon Santiago to load the bases, bringing Austin Jackson to the dish. Jackson had had a disappointing season a year ago, striking out far too often for a leadoff hitter. But this was a new season, and Jackson had had a good day, getting two hits in four trips, and scoring once.

After three pitches, the count two balls and a strike, Prisco asked, “Do you have a feeling for what’s going to happen?”

“No, but I’m pulling for a hit.”

A moment later, Jackson singled home the winning run to send the fans home happy.

Later, Reagan and Prisco sat sipping Summer Shandys at Miller’s Bar while they awaited the arrival of their cheeseburgers.

“What did you think of your first ballgame?” Reagan asked.

“It would seem the key to getting a batter out is to keep him guessing as to what type of pitch is coming.”

“Precisely!”

“But this Valverde seemed only to throw fastballs.”

“Which is what got him into trouble. Still, it’s his best pitch.”

“And the batter knows this, which gives him the advantage.”

“It didn’t last season. He didn’t blow a single save all season long, throwing mostly fastballs. Come Saturday, in a similar situation, the percentages will favor Valverde to save the win, at least on paper.”

“But they don’t play the game on paper.”

“Exactly. That’s why they have to play them. Hundreds of things influence the outcome of a game, including luck.”

“I don’t believe in luck.”

“Really? If not good fortune, how do you explain a batter getting enough wood on a fastball out of the strike zone to get a base hit?”

“Perhaps he anticipated the pitch, and his exceptional eye-hand coordination, along with his skill, allowed him to connect his bat with the ball.”

“How about a grounder with top spin resulting in the ball skipping under the shortstop’s glove?”

“That’s just physics and the inability of the fielder to anticipate the bounce.”

“Point taken,” Reagan said. “What about the guy who wins a lotto worth two million dollars? He almost never buys a ticket, but on a whim on his birthday, he purchases the winning ticket.”

“The odds are certainly against him winning, but someone has to win. Why not him?”

“Why not the guy who spends fifty dollars on lotto tickets every week?”

“His chances are increased; but his inability to win is not the result of luck. Poor luck is merely a term devised to deflect accountability in a poor choice, while good luck is used to define an unexpected windfall.”

When Reagan was unable to debate Prisco’s logic, Prisco continued.

“Bad luck can be no more attributed to a man getting hit by a car the result of his failure to look both ways, than to a man who slips and falls in the shower because he chose not to use a non-slip shower mat.”

“So you don’t believe in being in the right place at the right time any more than you believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“Life is predicated on percentages. A man who never had an accident while driving, because he never sped and always obeyed the rules of the road, can still have an accident. In fact, his chances increase as he gets older because his eyesight becomes diminished and his reflexes slow. An accident in this case is not the result of bad luck.”

“I recall many years ago an entire college basketball team, save one, was killed in a plane crash. That one player remained home because of injury and wasn’t going to play. Two weeks later, he was killed in a car crash. Luck or destiny?”

“Neither.”

“Coincidence?”

Prisco shook his head. “Coincidence can also be defined as luck, a fluke, happenstance.”

“I get it.”

“I would ask what the road conditions were on the day of his death. Was he inebriated? Was he suffering survivor’s guilt?”

“Okay, Prisco, you win.”

“What did I win?”

“Our debate.”

“Oh,” Prisco said. “I did not intend to debate. I was merely expressing my opinion.”

“As was I, which is the basis for debate.”

“But I did not endeavor that you should lose. I merely wished to convince you of my perspective.”

“Which is to say my perspective is wrong.”

“If I convinced you of my perspective, do you not, in coming away with the correct perspective, win?”

Reagan laughed. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

Their cheeseburgers were served and the conversation changed to Reagan’s love life.

“I’m enjoying getting to know Cam,” Reagan said. “I think she could be the one.”

“With a world population in excess of seven billion, you would find numerous potential mates. In fact, I would estimate that –”

“Please don’t,” Reagan said. “I’m only interested in this one.”

“She lives in Alabama.”

“So what? It’s not like I’ve had good luck with Michigan women.”

“How can you determine, from nearly seven-hundred-fifty miles away, whether you wish to commit to her?”

“Well, the geography forces us to go slowly, get to know each other, become friends first, before we become lovers.”

“And then?”

“And then, what? Her parents and my parents are deceased. I have no family ties to Michigan. She has an adult daughter who lives in California.”

“Will she move to Michigan?”

“I haven’t asked her.”

“Why not?”

“It’s presumptuous and premature.”

“But it will come up. You complain of the heat and humidity now. It will be more uncomfortable for you in Alabama, which is much nearer to the equator.”

“I know where Alabama is,” Reagan said. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”

“No. I merely wish to express to you the chances of a successful outcome are low.”

“Maybe they are. Doesn’t mean we can’t beat the odds. I only know I’m enjoying her company, even if it is only over the phone. I like her. I like how she makes me feel. I’ll worry about the logistics later.”

“That’s illogical.”

“Okay, Spock.” Reagan was beginning to feel perturbed.

“Why wouldn’t you wish to increase the odds of a successful outcome?”

“How? By dating someone closer to home? I’ve tried that. Contrary to your non-belief in luck, I still believe in it. Who are you to say I can’t increase my chances of finding love in another state?”

“Why are you angry?”

Reagan ignored Prisco’s question: “Two people can ride the same subway to work each morning in New York and never meet. While two others, on opposite sides of the planet, no power on earth can keep them from meeting.”

“Yet the two on the subway stand a greater chance of meeting, if they should leave themselves open to meeting. Perhaps she is intent on reading O and he, New York Times.”

“The chances of meeting someone on a subway –”

“Are no less than meeting someone on Facebook. One just needs to leave oneself open to the possibility.”

“I can’t dispute that any more than I can disprove your theory, Prisco.”

“It is not a theory. It is fact predicated on numerics. If you take into account competition, input into the equation that many men and women are addicted to dating – to meeting lots of potential mates without making a commitment – the chances of finding love while riding a subway are no less than while on a night out speed dating.”

“Too bad we don’t have a subway system in Ann Arbor.”

“You would put my theory to the test?”

“Maybe, if you’d asked me a week ago, before I met Cam.”

“Why should that make a difference?”

“Because I’m committed to seeing this through.”

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A World Without Music—Chapter Two

Two

Caught in a love storm
Howlin’ like a newborn
Trying hard to stay warm
My cover-up is torn up and tattered

Addiction to Apocalypse
Looking for the big hit
Tending to take trips
The ship of love is beat up and battered

 – Robert Lamm

March 31, 2012

Cam

By the way (and yes, I ask a lot of questions …), why is a good-looking guy sitting at home alone on a Saturday night?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Same reason a beautiful woman like you is home alone on a Saturday night. I choose to be because I’d rather be alone alone than alone with the wrong woman.

March 31, 2012

Cam

YES!!! I can so relate to that. I’d rather live the rest of my life alone and happy than to be with someone that makes me miserable! Your profile says you’re a retired marine. Did you see action?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I served in the first Gulf war. Don’t ask specifics. I don’t yet know you well enough to share more.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Sounds ominous. Are you divorced?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, yes, I’m divorced. I’m alone on a Saturday night, aren’t I? More than 15 years. One 3-year relationship that ended nearly four years ago and a couple shorter ones. What’s your battle story?

March 31, 2012

Cam

My hubby and I split 9 months ago. Really, 4 years ago … our marriage ended in 2007, and I finally moved out last year.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, so recent. Sorry to read that. But, perhaps it was for the better, if you’re happier.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh, no need to be sorry. Like I said, it had been over for 4 years before I moved out. He’s a great guy, but it just didn’t work. I’m definitely happier. 🙂

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, he’s either a fool or gay. <g> He must not have known what he had in you.

March 31, 2012

Cam

To tell the truth, I really don’t know what happened. We went from having a great marriage to nothing. Literally. One day everything was normal and good … the next day he slept in the guestroom and never came back. He still hasn’t told me what happened. Oh well … onward and upward! What about you? Why a divorce after all those years?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Wow, and he never told you? That’s too bad.

I was married only five years. It’s a long story. Too long to go into here. Let’s just say she thought she was in love, wanted to be in love; but when the going got tough, she got going.

March 31, 2012

Cam

No, still hasn’t told me. The funny thing is, we have never so much as had an argument. Even to this day, we talk at least once a week. But he won’t talk about anything personal. He calls to check on me or to say “Hi,” but that’s it.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Gee, maybe he is gay?

March 31, 2012

Cam

LoL! I don’t know what his problem is. I don’t think he’s gay … but nowadays … who knows?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, you do know how to put a smile on my face.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Smiles are a really good thing.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Speaking of smiles, you ever see Airplane!? Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker. With Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. An airplane crew takes ill. Surely the only person capable of landing the plane is an ex-fighter pilot turned cab driver now afraid to fly. His name is Ted Sriker, but don’t call him Shirley.

March 31, 2012

Cam

YES! I loved that movie!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Have you seen Julie Hagerty lately? She was cute in those movies, although a little too skinny; but she looks, well, hagerty, I mean haggard.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Uh-oh! No, I haven’t … what’s too skinny?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Like, Shelly Duvall skinny?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh! That’s pretty damn skinny.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Yeah, Shelly Duvall. Remember her in The Shining, with Jack Nicholson? I kept rooting for Nicholson to ax her. She was just annoying in that movie.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Hah! I loved The Shining!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Too bad I didn’t know you ten years ago, before I met my last girlfriend and before you got married. Somehow I think we’d be pretty good together. And yes, I loved The Shining, too, but only because of Nicholson. I didn’t like the ending, which differed from the book.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Why is that too bad? So 10 years passed by … that was then and this is now. You’re not planning on dropping off the face of the planet anytime soon, are you?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

No, not planning it; but hey, none of us is promised an unlimited number of tomorrows. Especially if you buy into that whole Mayan calendar spelling the end of the world thing.

You really are adorable and SO my type, and I haven’t met too many my types in my life. But you’re seven hundred miles away.

March 31, 2012

Cam

That’s interesting (what you wrote about a feeling we would be good together). I don’t meet many that are my type either. They’re very hard to find. Okay, I won’t lie … yesterday I was browsing your profile pics and thought, “damn … he’s a good looking man.”

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, well, you really are sweet. Thank you. I don’t blush easily, but I am now.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I like it that you’re blushing 🙂 I think when we stop blushing we’re in trouble.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

How come we haven’t talked before?

March 31, 2012

Cam

That’s a good question … If you scroll to the top of this thread it looks like we said hello once in March of 2010!!! That was 2 years ago!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I guess that’s when we became friends here on FB. I’m sorry I didn’t flirt with you before now.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Yeah, you’re kinda slow, huh? LoL! Just kidding!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Hey, nothing wrong with slow, unless you prefer fast-movers!

March 31, 2012

Cam

No, I prefer slow. Nice and easy 🙂

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Yeah, nice and easy is how I prefer it, too. ;-P

March 31, 2012

Cam

Mmmm … another thing in common! Are you an only child?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Alas, I’m an only child; but I was never spoiled. The son of a retired marine who was not very nurturing to me. At least that’s what some shrink once told me. I think he told me that so that I could deny accountability with a clear conscience.

Can I ask you a question? It’s okay if you’d rather not answer.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I’m an open book. You can ask me anything. By the way … you really are a good looking man 🙂 Have I told you that yet?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, we’ll see how you feel about that after I ask … and yes, you’ve told me that, maybe as often as I’ve told you how adorable you are. And thanks. Flattery will get you anywhere.

You know, for as much time as we’ve spent trading messages here, and I’ve loved every minute of it, we could’ve gotten to know each other in a third of the time with a phone call. Would you be up for that sometime? Too forward?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Pure sweetness! That’s what you are. ♥ I’d be more than happy to share my phone number. (205) 555-2424 (home) (205) 555-4698 (cell). I only turn on my cell if I’m not at home.
March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, thank you. I promise not to pester you (too much). Would you be up for a call tomorrow sometime? I’d love to hear your voice. Put a voice with the face. I’m free anytime after about one. Name a time.

Your wall says you’re from Hueytown, Alabama. That where Huey Lewis is from?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I was browsing the pics on your site (great music by the way) and laughed out loud reading the captions! Posing with a family, not my own?! Ha-ha.

Yes, give me a call tomorrow! I’ll be home all day. I don’t plan on going anywhere. Well, I need to go to the store, but I’ll do that early in the day. You’re an hour ahead of me.

No, Huey Lewis isn’t from Hueytown, but the Allison’s are. Davey, Bobby … and so is Neil Bonnet and Red Farmer. The Hueytown gang! I don’t know if you’re into NASCAR, but they’re all from here.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Actually, yes, I follow NASCAR. I was pulling for Tony Stewart all the way last year and was so happy he won the championship. And thank you, for your comments on my pictures. I had fun writing the caps.

Okay, I’ll give you a call early to mid-afternoon. That should give us plenty of time before bedtime to get better acquainted. Somehow I don’t think we’d ever be stuck for conversation. But you know, sometimes a lull in conversation is good. Better than filling it in with idle chatter. Sometimes it’s just nice to be in good company with someone.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Okay, I’ll be looking forward to your call. I like putting a voice with a face, too.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

You know the 10th anniversary of George Harrison’s death was this past week. Can’t believe it’s been 10 years already. But you’re probably too young to remember the Beatles. Ah, here’s another question for you: Beatles or Led Zeppelin?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Of course I remember the Beatles! Who doesn’t love John Lennon??? I prefer Led Zeppelin over the Beatles. I wasn’t a Beatles fan, but I was a fan of Lennon and McCartney as solo artists.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, I like them both; but a nod to the Beatles. I hear more McCartney in all the Lennon-McCartney tunes; but Lennon penned some great tunes, as both a Beatle and a soloist.

You like jazz music at all? I’ve seen Dave Brubeck perform in concert three times.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I like to listen to all genres. I’m one of those people that listens to absolutely everything. To prove this, I’ll give you a short list: I met Frank Sinatra and James Brown, and my father was friends with Elvis.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I like pretty much all genres, too, save for hip hop and country. I met Brubeck and his wife and one of his sons at a Christmas party. Way cool. And I saw Elvis perform (the fat Elvis) a couple years before his death. And I saw James Brown, too. He put on a helluva good show. Wow, you met Sinatra? What a rush that must’ve been.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I don’t listen to rap, unless you consider Kid Rock rap … I love Kid Rock! If you’re not a fan, I will send you some of his stuff, and I promise, you’ll become one. Oh, poor Elvis … such a shame the way he went out. I’ll never forget the day my dad came home and told me.

Yes! I was 15 when I met Sinatra! He was extremely cool. I bet you were thrilled to meet Brubeck, huh?

Let’s switch topics … favorite author?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Favorite author? That’s changed many times over the years. I grew up reading Samuel R. Delany, who writes science fiction. Black and gay, but oh, can he turn a phrase. First published at 20. Then I found Gene Wolfe, who also writes science fiction. Now I’m into Umberto Eco. I might change yet again. How about you?

March 31, 2012

Cam

My favorite authors … gosh, I have a few. I like Stephen King, some of James Patterson, and I was a huge fan of Nicholas Sparks, but he became a writing machine and his last few books have sucked. He’s cranking them out too fast so they can be turned into movies, and they’re just bad. It breaks my heart, really. I’ve met him 5 times (twice by accident), and now he’s just in it for the money.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Never cared for Sparks. Too syrupy. I read a lot of King in the eighties and nineties. Love his book on writing, although he had a lot of anger over the driver who hit him. I’ve never read Patterson. People either love him or hate him. I understand he no longer really writes his novels anymore. Pays someone else, then puts his mark on them, and presto, a new Patterson novel. You met Sparks?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Yep … that’s exactly what Patterson does now. There’s another big writer doing the same thing, but I can’t think of who it is right now. It’s a joke. Sparks had a lot of talent. He got sucked into the business and now writes crap. Yes, I met Sparks three times at book signings, once we bumped into each other at a mall, and another time we ran into each other at a restaurant. Still a nice guy though.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, it does my heart good to read you recognize formula fiction when you see it.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh, I’m pretty good at recognizing crap. I think it’s sad when talented people get caught up in the business of it. It drives me crazy that Patterson does commercials, and I get really irritated when money (and everyone with money can do it) gets people with no talent on major networks.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Huh, I wonder if there’s a limit to the number of messages we can send. Do you Skype?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I don’t Skype … I have a laptop and no web cam 😦

March 31, 2012

Reagan

No webcam? You need to get with it, girl!

March 31, 2012

Cam

LOL! I’m buying a new lap top early next year, so I’ll make sure it comes with all the bells and whistles!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I think they all come with cams now, Cam. Hey, how about that? I’m a poet and don’t even know it!

Well, it’s late and I’m starting to fade, and my fingers are heavy. I’ve enjoyed this, very, very much, and I look forward to talking to you tomorrow. Don’t forget to sign my guestbook so I can get your email address.

March 31, 2012

Cam

You must work normal hours during the week, huh? Oh, I signed your guestbook an hour ago!!!

Okay, talk to you tomorrow 🙂 I enjoyed it as well! Sweet dreams 😉

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Rest well, too. I’m a night owl. You’re probably a morning. One thing we don’t have in common, eh?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I’m usually in bed by 11pm, and I’m up every morning at 6:30.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

You think we can make those hours work?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Won’t know unless we try. ♥

Nite!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Goodnight.

March 31, 2012

Cam

xoxox

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A World Without Music—Chapter One

One

“Classic music is th’ kind that we keep thinkin’ll turn into a tune.”
 – Frank McKinney


March 30, 2012

“Tell me about music,” Prisco said.

“Tell you about music?” Reagan took a sip from his glass of club soda, listening to the buzz of the other patrons around them. He glanced at his watch to confirm that he had a few minutes before the quartet had to start their second set. “You might as well ask me to explain the origin of the universe.”

“The cosmos began with a bang approximately thirteen point seven billion years ago, as you measure time. A fraction of a moment later, the universe was a formless soup of the most elementary particles, quarks and leptons.”

“Quark was a character in the television series Deep Space Nine. He was a Ferengi. I don’t even know what a lepton is.”

“A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron that governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms. It ties directly to all chemical properties.”

“Okay. You know, sometimes you really do sound like Mr. Spock.”

“Another fictitious character.”

“Only one of the most beloved sci-fi characters of our generation – you never watched Star Trek growing up in the sixties?”

“I did. But I found the special effects lacking, the storylines trite. Not to mention I found Captain Kirk an arrogant womanizer. What did women see in him?”

“Does it matter, Prisco? It was science fiction. I was seven. I had no interest in whether Kirk and Yeoman Rand were getting it on, or whether he scored with Yvonne Craig as the green-skinned Orion woman. It was only after I reached puberty that she became hot. All I cared about was going where no man had gone before. As for the special effects, sure they’ve come light years since then, but they were state of the art back then. What was important was what they made happen inside my head, how they stimulated my imagination, and gave me hope for the future, that man might one day put aside his differences, see beyond race and culture, to live in harmony. Besides, as far as violence and sex are con­cerned, we’ve been desensitized in this country. There was a time when we couldn’t see Rob and Laura Petrie in the same bed together.”

“Who are they?” Prisco took a sip of his ginger ale.

The Dick Van Dyke Show? A sitcom in the early sixties.”

“My parents did not get a television until 1967.”

“It never occurred to me to ask my parents where their son Richie came from, since his parents slept in separate beds.”

“I assume the way all children come into the world.”

“He wasn’t really their son, Prisco. He, too, was an actor. But TV back then was much simpler, and far less suggestive and graphic. When the bad guy got shot on Gunsmoke, we never saw any blood. He merely doubled over and died with a groan. Today we see all manner of soft porn in prime time, as well as autopsies in all their gruesome detail.”

“Do you think that has contributed to the decay of your society?”

Again Reagan thought Prisco sounded as if he were of another spe­cies, an outside observer gathering data on a dissertation of the fall of mankind.

“I’m convinced of it,” Reagan said.

“And you accept it.”

“What can I do to change it?” Reagan shrugged. “Adam and Eve chose knowledge. By doing so, they opened Pandora’s Box. You expect me, a nobody from Northville, to not only close the lid, but get every­thing back inside the box?”

Prisco shook his head. “Of course not.” Then he continued with his diatribe on the origin of the cosmos – he was good at that, finding his way back to his original subject.

“The universe expanded and cooled, and layers of structure devel­oped – neutrons and protons, atomic nuclei, atoms, stars, galaxies, clus­ters of galaxies, and super-clusters. The part of the universe that can be observed is composed of a hundred billion galaxies, each containing a hundred billion stars, and a number of planets at least equal in number. The universe continued, and continues to expand, at an accelerating pace, driven by dark energy, a form of energy whose gravitational force repels rather than attracts.”

“Okay, Prisco,” Reagan said. “You would know that, and thanks for the science lesson. But what caused the Big Bang?”

Prisco thought a moment. “It was not an explosion. It did not occur inside a laboratory. Assuming that neither time nor space existed before the bang, then we can conclude only that there was no cause.”

“Assuming? That’s not like you, Prisco, to make assumptions.”

“What could exist previous to that moment of creation?”

“That, I think, is for far greater minds than mine to determine.”

“The solution, the reason for creation, must therefore exist outside time and space.”

“God?”

“If I said, ‘yes,’ you would then ask from where does God come.” Prisco never ended a sentence with a preposition.

“Hasn’t he always existed?” Reagan took a swallow from his glass of club soda.

“To consider that presents a conundrum – a situation related to cau­sality no easier to explain than a universe born from nothing. A creator that has always existed is a being that, itself, or himself or herself, exists without a cause.”

“Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Yet if God were to ever ask me what I thought Man’s greatest achievement was, I’d have to say, ‘Our ability to achieve new and more efficient ways of killing each other, the innocents especially.’ That we can kill so easily, without conscience, has led us to shirk our responsibility to the global community.”

Prisco raised his eyebrows. “The question is one of biology, or more pointedly, evolution. A century ago, your people couldn’t comprehend that the Milky Way was only one galaxy in a sea of galaxies numbering one hundred billion. Two centuries ago, you couldn’t imagine the stars were more distant than thirteen thousand light years. Five hundred years ago, you believed your planet was stationary to your sun. Around 300 BC, Aristotle went against the belief of a flat planet to put forth the notion that it was instead spherical-shaped.”

Reagan smiled. For as long as he’d known Prisco, which wasn’t long at all – not by age of the universe standards, or by standards of the aver­age life expectancy of the average man – only a few months, Prisco al­ways set himself apart from the rest of humanity, referring to his fellow men and women as “your people.” Reagan assumed it was nothing more than elitist behavior, despite the fact that Prisco sounded rather Spock-ish in his naiveté. But Spock was a fictional character from a fictional planet, figments of Gene Roddenberry’s imagination.

“The truth of the cosmos,” Prisco continued, “it would seem, is al­ways beyond what can be conceived.”

“Well, then, it’s only a matter of time before we learn the truth.”

“Hardly likely,” Prisco said. “With your proclivity for making war, your growing population, and the rate at which you use up your planet’s resources, you will become extinct before you learn the answer. However, to respond to your statement, the mind is finite. Its comprehension is limited. Suffice it to say that some questions will always be beyond under­standing.”

“Oh,” Reagan said.

“That is the fate of all civilizations – to perish before they can achieve total understanding.”

“And you know this, how? Wait, don’t tell me – it would seem, to you, to be ‘logical.’”

“It is logical.”

“Do you at least have a theory about the origin of the universe?”

“As is the case with all theories, there comes a time when it must be put to the test, outside the laboratory. I know only that the answer, what­ever it may be, will be strange, and likely beyond my experience.”

“On the other hand, maybe it’ll be so simple a child could understand it.”

“Highly unlikely,” Prisco said.

“Will all be made known to us after we die?”

“The essence of who we are never really dies. It merely transmutates into something else.”

“Something greater?”

“Greater is subjective.”

“Something spiritual then?”

Prisco ignored Reagan’s question: “You will see beyond the virtual reality of your corporeal existence. Yet it, too, will be limited.”

“And you know this how?”

“I –” Prisco thought better of his response. “That is beyond my knowledge and understanding.”

“What about your experience?” Reagan attempted to bait the hook he knew Prisco to be. At times Prisco seemed adolescent beyond … well, beyond the great beyond. But Reagan also found him to be wise beyond human measure. Beyond this virtual reality.

Prisco only steered the discussion elsewhere, leaving Reagan to won­der if he were perhaps incapable of telling an untruth, only able to with­hold it, a sort of Star Trek prime directive, Starfleet’s General Order num­ber one, which dictates no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations that have not yet achieved warp technology, and there­fore are unaware of the existence of other worlds in galaxies far, far away. Reagan knew that he was mixing pop culture icons, but withholding a truth, to Reagan, was the same as telling an untruth.

Reagan glanced at his watch; his break was nearly over.

“Tell me about music,” Prisco asked again.

Reagan sighed. “Music is a strange thing. I would almost say it is a miracle. For it stands halfway between thought and phenomenon, be­tween spirit and matter.”

“Heinrich Heine.”

“Who?”

“You quote Heinrich Heine, a nineteenth century German poet.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yet you quoted him.”

Reagan laughed, and played to Prisco: “We humans are like that. We often know things without knowing how we know, or from whence we got the knowledge.”

“Doesn’t that infringe upon copyright laws?”

Reagan grinned. “Only if we use such knowledge for gain – usually monetary. I know the quote, read it somewhere. But who wrote it is un­important to me.”

“Why?”

“Why is it unimportant to me? I don’t know. I’m a wealth of knowledge of worthless trivia. The human condition maybe? I liked the quote, even if I can’t remember where I read it, and so I committed it to memory. Someone else may read it, find it unimportant to them, and so they will immediately forget both it and the man who wrote it.”

Prisco seemed to find that incomprehensible; Reagan continued.

“You want to know about music. I learned in my youth that music is mathematical, a statement I won’t pretend to understand, even though I play bass guitar in a jazz quartet.”

“Mathematics is the basis of sound,” Prisco said. “The musical as­pects of sound exhibit a remarkable array of numerical properties. Nature itself is mathematical. The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece studied the expression of musical scales in terms of numerical ratios, particularly those of small integers. They believed that all nature consists of harmony arising out of numbers.”

“You don’t say?”

“I did say.” One of those many moments Prisco betrayed his ingenu­ousness.

Reagan laughed. “I know nothing about Pythagoreans.”

“Yet you are of this planet.”

“That has nothing to do with my knowledge of the ancients. I love music. That I do doesn’t mean I have a desire to understand it in terms of ratios and numbers. In fact, if I understood music at that level, I’d likely be unable to play.”

“Why?”

“I’ve known a few mathematicians in my time, and computer geeks and IT types. Most are introverts, lacking much in the way of social skills.”

“As are many artists,” Prisco said. “Introverts lacking communal dexterity.”

“True. But geeks are outcasts. Musicians are cool, hep.”

“Hep?”

“An earlier version of ‘hip,’” Reagan said. “It got its start in the early days of jazz. If you got jazz, you were downtown, man; groovy, mod, now, trendy, turned-on, and with it.”

Prisco thought a moment before saying, “Au courant.”

“Yeah, that,” Reagan said, making a mental note to look up the term. “Back in Monk’s day, devotees referred to him as Theonliest, which was a play on his first name, Thelonious. To them, no one else existed in jazz. He was the onliest.”

Prisco only nodded and asked his question again: “Why would you be unable to play if your understanding of music included its mathematical aspects?”

“I knew a computer geek who played a musical instrument – guitar. He dug music – that is, he grooved on the blues.”

“He thought it was groovy?”

“Right. By day, Larry works for EDS, implementing computer hard­ware and software for clients. Extremely proficient at what he does. A few months ago, when I was considering adding a guitarist to Imbroglio, Larry auditioned for us.”

“He didn’t play well?” Prisco said.

“He played very well. That was the problem.”

Prisco looked confused.

“He was very precise. Played the notes as they were written. But we’re a jazz quartet, Pris. Jazz is about improvisation. Music is as much about playing the notes in the right key as it is about feeling the music, and putting feeling into the notes. In jazz, one must play not only what’s there, but what’s not there.”

Prisco only shook his head.

“Think about an author reading from his or her own book. He or she might write beautiful prose, lyrical. But if they stand there and read it in a dull monotone, with no inflection – no feeling – the end result will only bore the listener.”

Prisco sipped from his glass of ginger ale; Reagan continued:

“I dig music. It’s a universal language. It transcends gender, race and culture. It inspires. It can soothe the savage breast, incite a people to re­volt. It can bring two lonely hearts together.”

“But how does it do those things?”

Reagan shrugged. “I don’t know. Is the how really so important?”

“To exist is to seek understanding.”

Reagan shrugged again. “All creatures, great and small, have emo­tions. Somehow, music manages to touch those emotions, and it’s capable of amplifying them. Even my father, who disliked rock and roll in general, recognized quality musicianship. I came home one Saturday, after playing baseball, to find him listening to Chic Corea’s “Return to Forever,” which I’d bought the week before. I’d listened to it that morning, and had left it on my turntable. Although “Return to Forever” was more jazz-based than Corea’s later jazz-rock fusion albums, Dad told me he really enjoyed Chick’s keyboard playing, as well as Joe Farrell’s soprano sax. They touched Dad, and amplified his love of music.” Reagan smiled, and added: “Maybe our connection to music goes back to our time spent in the womb – the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat. The rhythm of love. Beyond that, I can only say that some things, like what existed before ex­istence, are beyond understanding.”

Reagan saw his band mates taking the stage, so he finished his glass of club soda and told Prisco he’d see him after the final set.

As Reagan hoisted his bass, he looked out at the sparse Wednesday night crowd. LIVE had recently acquired new ownership and changed its name from Goodnite Gracie. On the corner of Huron and 1st Street in Ann Arbor, the weekly lineup included a live music showcase each Wednesday night, a Thursday grad night, a live music happy hour on Fri­day evenings, and a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. Reagan much pre­ferred his Saturday night gigs at Gotham City, just down 1st Street a cou­ple blocks. The crowds were larger and far livelier, no doubt because of the weekend. But a gig was a gig, and he needed the money.

A few moments later, the Reagan Imbroglio Quartet – composed of keyboards, bass, drums and alto sax – launched into an instrumental jazz-rock fusion rendition of “Dixie Chicken.” From the Lowell George era of Little Feat, so named for the size of the feet of the band’s founding father, “Dixie Chicken” was the showcase piece of their live perfor­mances. George had once played with Frank Zappa; but their creativity clashed, and Zappa eventually told George that he needed to get his own band. “Dixie Chicken” was the tune after which Dixie Chicks had taken their name.

The piece lasted nearly twenty minutes, and allowed each band mem­ber to take extended improvisational rides. Near the end of the piece, Reagan heard the final verse in his head:

“Well, it’s been a year since she ran away – guess that guitar player sure could play. She always liked to sing along – she’s always handy with a song. Then one night in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel, I chanced to meet a bartender who said he knew her well. And as he handed me a drink, he began to hum a song. And all the boys there at the bar began to sing along … If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken, I’ll be your Tennessee Lamb. And we can walk together down in Dixieland … down in Dixieland.”

In Reagan’s life, it had been fifteen years since she ran away.

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A World Without Music

“Mercy, mercy, Mr. Percy,
there ain’t nothing back in Jersey
but a broken-down jalopy of a man I left behind
and the dream that I was chasing,
and a battle with booze.”
– Tom Waits

“Music is another planet.”
 – Alphonse Daudet


Prologue

1998

Reagan was on patrol in Kuwait, with five other marines fanned out to either side of him in a vee formation, when they came upon a tarp covering a body-sized object half-buried in the sand. The squad con­verged on the tarp and stood in a circle, fearing what – or who – they might find under the tarp. As squad leader, Reagan bent to pull back the tarp and …

Awoke with a start, drenched in perspiration. Rolling himself into a sitting position on the edge of his bed, he muttered, “Fuck.”

Reagan glanced at his clock radio – nearly half past six.

He made his way to the bathroom, where he splashed cold water onto his face; then he stood a moment to glance at his mirror’s image. Staring back at him, his eyes were as wide and filled with the mortification he recalled from Tom Wallach’s death stare.

He made his way back to the bedroom. Removing the Glock 21 from the top shelf of the closet, he padded, barefoot, to the liquor cabinet in the dining room to get his bottle of Bookers. Full the night before when he’d brought it home from the liquor store, it was now nearly half-empty. Dropping into a chair at the table, opposite the door wall to his deck, Reagan considered the drapes, drawn closed against the rising sun. They were blue. Not in the tone or shade of a John Lee Hooker tune, or in the term one might use to describe their disposition to their physician when seeking medication for depression, which is really no color at all but a mood. Not a navy or a midnight blue; not a Miles Davis “Kind of Blue.” Not the blue that accompanies the maize in the Univer­sity of Michigan school colors; not the blue eyes of a Siberian Husky or a sky blue; but a sapphire blue – neither annoyingly cheerful, nor that draws attention to itself and away from the other furnishings in the room – pleasant, soothing. They were a blue that complements both a morning cup of coffee or tea – although Reagan believed, as Oliver Wendell Holmes had written, that the morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it that the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce (Reagan had not been cheerful, not in the morning or any other time of day, for more years than he could recall) – as well as an early evening glass of bourbon. They were the color blue that invites one nearer, if only to draw them wider to admire the pan­oramic view on the other side of the glass or to let more Sunday morning light into the room, to chase away the previous night’s bête noire. The trouble was the beast could always be counted on to return the next night.

Reagan grunted. Since Sarah left, he’d been more and more prone to long and meaningless meanderings. He pulled the cork from the bottle of bourbon and took a long swallow of the honey-colored liquid, straight from the bottle. A moment later, he felt it warm his empty stomach. After taking a second hit, he turned his attention to the weapon on the table in front of him. Picking it up, he noted the coldness of its grip.

“You know, Tom,” he said to the emptiness of his morning, his enunciation slurred courtesy of last night’s Bookers. “I have you to thank for what my life has become. Sarah’s gone, and I’m drinking more.” To prove his point, he took another draw from the Bookers bottle. “All because you won’t let me sleep. I did the right thing. What any good marine would’ve done. I brought you out of the desert, made sure you got home, and this is the thanks I get. Eight years of torment. You know, it’s not my fault you never got to meet your baby daughter, or never again got to hold your wife, kiss her, make love to her.”

Reagan put the Glock into his mouth, surprising himself that he hadn’t given it any thought beforehand. As if not thinking about it would make it easier for him to pull the trigger.

Can a weapon taste cold? he thought. No, but it certainly feels cold.

Reagan much preferred the taste of Bookers to that of the Glock. Not that the Glock tasted of anything; it certainly didn’t remind him of pizza or steak, or the carrot cake at Brighton Bar and Grille. He imagined the aftertaste would be somewhat metallic. But at that point, he’d be be­yond caring.

Reagan didn’t pull the trigger. Not that morning, or any of the many previous mornings, afternoons, or evenings that he sat at his dining room table, Bookered up with his trusty Glock in his mouth. And he likely wouldn’t tomorrow or next week, or next month, or ever.

Am I courageous for not pulling the trigger, for keeping alive Wallach’s memory, for enduring his torment? Or am I simply a coward, fearing what might await me on the other side of the Great Divide, that such drastic action on my part might have neg­ative repercussions from the Big Guy?

“Don’t you know?” he heard God’s voice say. “I never give anyone more than they can handle.”

“Really?” Reagan whispered into the darkness. “I always thought that was something someone made up to help them peddle their religion. If it’s true, that you never give anyone more than they can handle, how come so many people commit suicide?”

Reagan sighed, stood, and strode past the blue drapes, through the door wall and onto his deck, where he and his bottle of Bookers could watch the sun rise on another cheerless day.

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January Book Trailers

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The Cobb Legacy: Life, Death, and Ty Cobb

“I used to think Romeo and Juliet was the greatest love story ever written. But now that I’m middle-aged, I know better. Oh, Romeo certainly thinks he loves his Juliet. Driven by hormones, he unquestionably lusts  (7)

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May 15, 2016 · 10:58 am

Autumn Love

Autumn Love

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May 15, 2016 · 10:51 am

Now Available—The Cobb Legacy

Cagney Nowak is writing a novel around the 1905 shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother a week before Ty was called up by the Detroit Tigers. Although she was acquitted by an all-male jury on the grounds that the incident was accidental, the townspeople of Royston, Georgia, thought otherwise. When Cagney begins to relive the night of the shooting in his dreams, more than a century later and in the guise of Amanda Cobb, he is led to discover his father’s deepest secret.

More than a mystery, The Cobb Legacy is the story of a man’s efforts to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to come to terms with his obsession over the Cobb legacy as well as his own adulterous affair and impending divorce, while doubting that love with an old friend can be his.

Apex Reviews gave The Cobb Legacy its highest rating—five stars—calling it “an eye-opening tale of drama, scandal, and intrigue highlighting the living, breathing history of a fatally-flawed, intrepid folk hero.”

TCL Front Cover

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A Retrospect In Death

ARiD—Futilitarian.png

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April 26, 2016 · 4:01 pm

Chaotic Theory—Chapter One

One must care about a world one will not see.

—Bertrand Russell

In 2115, unbeknownst to the world, a savior was born unto the future…

Antanas sits and watches entranced, his drink untouched, as the young woman, a natural exhibitionist, dances on the table before which he sits. Bathed in the bright spotlight affixed from the ceiling half a room away, her face bears the beauty of her Estonian descent, and her body is that of a goddess. He admires, with his artist’s eye, her well-sculpted glutes, her narrow waist and full hips, well-proportioned breasts, and especially her legs—lush, rounded thighs, taut hamstrings, and curvilinear calves.

Antanas has had success finding subjects at several other similar clubs where women dance, nude, for tips and drinks. He is eighteen and already well-known in Lithuania for his work in clay. Several of his pieces, all nudes, are on display at the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum in Vilnius. Varnelis had spent the second half of the 20th century in the United States and was renowned for his abstract paintings of optical illusions. Before the fall of the United States in the latter half of the 21st century, his work had been on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago. Antanas will likely never travel abroad, as the airline industry succumbed (for myriad reasons, not the least of which were acts of terrorism against refineries as well as a lack of qualified pilots) long before he’d been born, so he has no idea whether any of Varnelis’s work overseas have survived, although rumor has it that much of it—that which has not been brought home to Lithuania—now belongs to private collectors.

When she finishes her routine, Antanas tips the woman generously and asks, in her native tongue, that she join him. If she is impressed by the size of his tip or that he speaks Estonian she doesn’t show it; she merely leads him by the hand to a more secluded portion of the club where she begins quoting him her prices. Antanas offers two bills and asks that she merely sit and enjoy a drink with him. The woman accedes, betraying mild surprise that nothing more will be required of her. After her drink arrives—vodka with water on the side—Antanas introduces himself as an artist, one of Lithuania’s most promising young sculptors. The woman looks unimpressed.

“I want you to sit for me, nude,” he says and watches the woman’s esteem rise with the posturing of her head. “I’ll first need to make several sketches in various poses, and for the clay I’ll require several sessions of no more than a few hours each over several days. I’ll pay you, for each session, whatever you earn for a good night’s work dancing.”

“Nothing else will be required of me?”

Unaware, in his youthful naiveté, of what she is intimating, Antanas shakes his head and watches the woman consider his proposition.

“How do I know you are who you say you are?”

Hurt by her accusation, Antanas shows the woman his identification and tells her a phone call to the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum will prove the validity of his claim.

The woman nods and Antanas wonders if she is considering the notion that she is to be immortalized in clay or simply allowing her self-image to run away with itself, the result of what she may perceive to be, like the other patrons of this establishment, his obsession with her body.

“My name is Loviise,” she says. “When do we start?”

“Tomorrow morning,” he tells her, and gives her his address.

For the remainder of the night Antanas watches Loviise dance. She seems to prefer the sensuous as opposed to the overtly provocative, but she indulges in whatever each patron demands to maximize the size of her tip, and Antanas, his creativity inflamed, imagines a variety of poses by which he might denote Loviise’s incredible anatomy for all time—what little of it remains in the world of man.

Tomorrow arrives and with it Loviise to Antanas’s studio. After two hours Antanas has four sketches: one with Loviise, on her hands and knees, looking back over her shoulder; another in a reclined position on a bed; a third showing Loviise standing, her right leg bearing most of her weight, hands on hips with feet widely spaced; the fourth her feet again apart but with toes in and knees together, with Loviise bent at the waist, torso nearly parallel to the floor, to show her backside, her right hip thrust in that direction and slightly higher than the left as she peers back at the viewer.

When he is finished Antanas bids Loviise to inspect his work. She seems disappointed.

“These look nothing like me.”

Antanas smiles. “No, I suppose they don’t. For my sketches I focus on your musculature—what makes your anatomy do what it does.”

“Draw stares wherever I go.”

“Yes, I imagine it does that,” Antanas says with a laugh.

“Will the sculpture look like one of these?”

“No, it will look more like the real you.”

“Which will you choose?”

“I don’t know yet.” But already Antanas is torn between two—the one that shows Loviise in seductive repose or the one with her bent at the waist; the latter draws the viewer to her backside and best showcases her legs, the stretched hamstrings and graceful curves of her calves, and he likes her asymmetrical posture. While the former, a more traditional pose, shows elegance, Loviise’s open legs indicative of trust. Antanas begins to consider the necessity of a second piece.

Antanas asks Loviise to arrive the next day at the same time to commence work on the clay, and she leaves, seemingly taken aback that nothing more is required of her.

With Loviise gone, Antanas, still chaste at his young age, is acutely aware of the desire with which she’s left him.

Antanas stands back to admire, for a moment, Loviise’s lovely body, which he’s just finished posing for their morning session. She lays on her back, left leg upright but bent at the knee just so to flatter the gentle swell of its calf, foot balanced on a fifteen-centimeter stiletto; her right leg, also bent at the knee, lays flat on the bed at a right angle to the left, its thigh taut, the point of her stiletto-clad right foot nearly kissing the point of its counterpart; her back slightly arched with her right hand rested lightly on her ribcage, nearly in support of her breast, while her left arm falls above her head, where her long brown hair is carefully arranged to look natural on the pillow upon which her head rests. The stilettos are all Loviise wears.

Antanas allows his desire to wash over him for a moment as he drinks in Loviise’s nude form, prone on the sheepskin blanket, his eyes linger on her legs, her rose-tipped breasts. She smiles at him, perhaps guessing his thoughts. Antanas blushes and turns his attention to the mound of clay before him.

“I’m surprised you chose this pose,” Loviise says from her reclined position. “I had taken you for an ass lover.”

Antanas laughs but is unable to mask his embarrassment at her accusation. He briefly considers letting her in on his wish to do a second piece but decides to wait. Instead he says, “You have a beautiful body.”

Loviise sighs as if his assessment were something she’s heard countless times. “They are just body parts.”

Antanas wonders, as he picks up a chisel and sets about sculpting the clay’s shapelessness into the semblance of Loviise’s form, if this were Loviise’s way of telling him she tires of hearing such praise. “You are right,” he says, “if you consider only their basic functions—legs as a means of perambulation, breasts a source of nutrients for infants, the breadth of a woman’s hips to accommodate child-bearing. But there is something artistic in anatomy. God must have been a sculptor when he created Adam and Eve.”

Loviise laughs. “God created all creatures, great and small—the colorful and the graceful as well as the unsightly. To propagate their species, a toad must copulate with a mate. Surely they are not driven by their attraction to another toad?”

“Who can say what attraction exists between genders of another species—perhaps toads perceive the human form hideous. I suspect it is only instinct on which they function.”

“Which is no different than any man I’ve known,” Loviise says with a smile designed to distract Antanas from her callous tone. “At least that’s been my experience.”

“Beauty can be found in many places: in a song, a poem, a glade, a panorama, a woman’s body. That’s not to say such beauty speaks to everyone, but to those who seek, such beauty exists.” Loviise says nothing, so Antanas adds: “Even a baby responds more favorably to a beautiful face.”

“What can a baby know of beauty?”

“Infants are very perceptive. Symmetry is the basis for much beauty. While a baby certainly is incapable of reasoning, it responds more favorably to aesthetically pleasing features.” Antanas works his chisel through the soft clay that will become Loviise’s left leg, removing portions of unwanted clay as he goes.

“But getting back to your comment regarding body parts,” he says. “The history of art is a catalogue of beauty at any given moment of the past. Consider that Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish painter in the seventeenth century, portrayed his nudes as pear-shaped and somewhat full-figured—by today’s standards they would be considered overweight, even obese. But in Rubens’s time, such images depicted the very wealthy aristocrats. To be slender, waifish, betrayed one’s status in society as underprivileged. Yet in the mid- to late twentieth century, the standard for female beauty in print, film and fashion was astonishingly slender—the latter, I suspect, was to allow no distraction from the clothing the model wore. Many women succumbed to anorexia.”

“Which only serves to prove that women have, for centuries, been objectified for their bodies.”

“Yes,” Antanas says, admiring Loviise’s body in its prone position on the bed. “But you allow it, no?” Not an accusation; merely observation.

Loviise seems startled by Antanas’s perceptivity but quickly recovers. “It serves me,” she says. “It provides me a better living than I could otherwise hope for in this dying world. Even if it has left me handicapped in many ways.”

“Handicapped?” Antanas watches Loviise consider her reply.

“I am pleased the world will not outlive me,” she says. “In time my beauty will abandon me and where would that leave me?”

Antanas is silent. He knows opportunities, for men and women alike, are dwindling along with the planet’s resources. For a woman like Loviise, like the women of biblical times, she is surviving the only way she can.

The world’s oldest profession.

Loviise intrudes on his sad thought: “Would you deny you would like to fuck me?”

Antanas blushes and thinks about admitting that he’s never been with a woman, but he doesn’t wish to betray his naiveté. Instead he merely says, “I’m very attracted to your form, for my art.”

“You’re a liar,” Loviise says with a sarcastic laugh.

“I find you very desirable—as you’ve already told me many men do. Your profession invites it, even if your reasons for choosing such a profession are a matter of survival. I would never force myself on you, nor would I pay you for sexual favors.”

“No? Why not?” The woman who professed to abhor being judged for her body parts sounds disappointed. When Antanas doesn’t reply, Loviise adds, “Perhaps you are a pervert and will tend to your own pleasure over that statue you create, when I am gone for the last time.”

“No,” Antanas says. “That is not my purpose.” The thought that he, or anyone, would find his work pornographic is unconscionable.

“Then why do you create it? You wish to immortalize me in the eyes of men for all of twenty years?”

“This statue will endure for centuries.”

“What good does that serve if there is no one to appreciate it?” Antanas can say nothing to rebut Loviise. Then, perchance wanting to hold on to some ideal of her own she would in all likelihood deny, she adds, “Then maybe it is because you are young, idealistic. Could be you still believe in love.”

“I’ve always believed in love,” Antanas says.

“Then you’ve not yet had your heart broken.”

Antanas thinks a moment of Giedre, the girl who’d done just that, broken his heart, two years ago when her family moved to Finse in Norway. Even though they’d never consummated their love, Antanas remained in touch with Giedre for nearly a year, and then her letters to him became fewer, finally stopping altogether a few weeks ago, and Antanas was forced to consider the likelihood that she’d met someone else. He sighs aloud, which prompts a laugh from Loviise.

“From your sigh it seems you believe otherwise.” When Antanas says nothing, Loviise asks, “What was her name?”

“Giedre.” Antanas’s hands stop their work; he feels Loviise’s eyes upon him. “It was perhaps only puppy love,” he says to hide his embarrassment.

“There is something to be said for young love,” Loviise says. “Innocence lost can never be regained.”

Moved by the sorrow in her voice, Antanas looks up, sees pain in Loviise’s countenance, and grieves for her. Not wishing to intrude on her discomfort, he is quick to look away.

“Where did Giedre go and why did she go?”

“Her family moved to Finse, where a greater supply of fresh water exists, thinking to buy a few more good years before―”

Loviise nods to show she understands. After a moment, she asks, “And you? Why did you not follow her?”

“I’m Lithuanian. I was born here and don’t wish to die in some foreign land.”

“Perhaps you did not love her so much as you thought.”

“Or she, me,” Antanas is quick to add as he works the cool, moist clay of Loviise’s left thigh, such a contrast to how he imagines her real flesh would feel to his kneading hands—smooth, like the clay, but warm, soft like a pillow, velvety.

“A young man should pursue his heart’s desire,” Loviise says, as if she is taunting him. Antanas ignores her.

“And you?” he asks. “Will you return to Estonia?”

Antanas watches Loviise consider several replies before she settles on: “There is nothing for me there. I will remain here, where in all likelihood I will die alone.”

“Surely you must have family, friends, a lover.”

“My mother is dead, and my father molested me when I was but a girl. I have no siblings and my friends, if they can be called that, work with me, and they see me as I see them: competition, a hindrance to making a living. As for a lover… I have as many as I wish.” Loviise sounds proud, but Antanas wonders if her pride is manufactured, a mask to cover up some inner damage. “They provide me pleasure and distraction, but little comfort. But at least they cannot break my heart, as I do theirs when I tire of them.”

Antanas looks at Loviise’s magnificent body on the divan before him, tries to bring to mind Giedre’s much more girlish figure (she’d been nineteen when last he’d seen her), and wonders how she might appear today—softer, rounder, fuller. Her name means serenity, and she had provided much comfort to him in these troubling times. Still, her form had not inspired him in his art. No sculptures of her nude body would ever grace the halls of museums—not that she ever would’ve agreed to pose for Antanas; she was much too shy. Still, he’d loved her, for her shyness, her sweet innocence, kindness and compassion, her keen business mind (she’d been instrumental in getting his work into the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum), and perhaps most for her ability to find hope where little existed. In return she had loved Antanas, and seemed secure in her place. And here before him is perhaps the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen; yet she is cold, insensitive, indifferent, perhaps incapable of love. Perfect as her flesh is, inside, despite her arrogance (or because of it), she is broken. Lovely as she appears, Antanas knows he could never love Loviise.

“Why do you look at me like that?” Loviise asks.

“Like what?”

“As if you pity me.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that… it hurts me to hear you speak of love as you do. Love is all that matters in the world. I believe it is what we are put here for.”

“There are many forms of love we seek, all of them for selfish reasons. We want it, of that I have no doubt. But few are willing to give it in order to receive it, preferring instead to take. Then there is love of money—which has made the world what it is today. Many love and covet my body―”

“Even as you loathe it, for what it has failed to bring you.”

Loviise falls silent a moment, perhaps taken by Antanas’s vision, before saying: “A love of flesh is not the same as love of a person. This flesh I wear is not who I am, inside.”

Antanas nods. “What were your dreams, as a child?”

“Dreams? What good are dreams? They are but a momentary escape, in repose, from the harsh truth of reality.”

“A wise man once wrote, ‘Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.’”

“My father dashed my dreams, left me with only nightmares of my past. As for hope, what optimism can be had in the face of what lies ahead?”

“Which makes love all the more important,” Antanas says. “Men and women have been dying for centuries. The man who is told his days are numbered the result of some incurable disease often finds purpose and comfort in love. That our days as a species are limited has always been true; that they now have been given a fixed number makes love imperative, the only thing that should matter.”

“You are young and…” Loviise trails off.

“Foolish?”

“Idealistic.”

Antanas smiles. “If I weren’t I’d long ago have ended my life. I’m sorry you have no hope in finding love.”

“You hope to find love?”

“I find it where I seek for it—at present in my work.”

Loviise thinks a moment, says, “As a girl I dreamed of making scientific contributions to prolong man’s existence.”

“A worthwhile vision.”

“A child’s foolishness. How could I expect to undo man’s centuries of folly?”

“Many have turned a deaf ear to ridicule to accomplish great things. Not all have contributed to man’s demise.”

“Do you also hope to find love with a woman?”

“I do.”

“Then hold onto your hope, and dreams.”

“I despaired, after Giedre left, that I would ever again find love. But time is mending my hope. Perhaps it will mend yours, too, if you wish it.”

“I give hope to others,” Loviise says, “of finding love, even if their love is misplaced in their hatred of me or in their desire for my body.”

“Everyone wishes to be loved, even you, Loviise. You may be broken, the result of what your father did to you, but you can mend, perhaps not as good as new, but well enough to find your heart’s desire.”

“My heart is closed.”

“That is a choice.” Antanas looks up from where he is working, on the clay that is to become Loviise’s right leg, sees Loviise studying him. Rather than acknowledge his wisdom, she deftly changes the direction of their discussion:

“Giedre left before you consummated your love.”

Blushing, Antanas looks down to where his hands shape the clay.

“Nor have you known the pleasure of a woman’s body.”

Antanas sighs but refuses to look up from where he molds his hands to Loviise’s right thigh.

“You fear me,” Loviise says. “Or perhaps you fear your desire for me, because it is not love.”

Little more is said during the remainder of the session; when Loviise leaves, Antanas looks at the clay he’s formed—two legs and a portion of a torso—and he considers the remainder of the sculpture as well as his subject. He recalls the sculptures of the great artists of the past he’s studied. Beautiful renditions of beautiful women; great works of art. It was said that Auguste Rodin had often molested his models, leaving Antanas to consider whether something of beauty could be created from vulgarity. Had Rodin’s models, too, been broken inside, as Loviise was? Perhaps brokenness was a prerequisite for such women—women willing to take off their clothes for the sake of art. Suddenly he finds it difficult to separate Rodin the man from his art.

Antanas recalls a class he’d taken that presented the history of art. There’d been a discussion about a Canadian woman of the mid-20th century who’d voiced her disdain for paintings depicting the beautiful Canadian landscape, which an artist of the time had defined as made for the canvas. The woman had said, “It’s bad enough I have to live in this godforsaken country, why would I want to hang pictures of it in my house?”

It’s true, Antanas considers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—which is just another way of saying beauty is based on perspective. One man’s art is another man’s pornography.

Antanas sighs as he ponders the lie of his own creation. He envisions the finished piece as beautiful, perhaps his best work to date. Yet for all its beauty, it would not, perhaps could not, reveal Loviise’s tormented inner self. It could show only what she was, never the who: the dashed hopes, the broken dreams, the heartache that all combine to make this woman unique and something more than the shell he endeavors to immortalize in clay.

Later that evening, as Antanas prepares his tools for the next morning, his father comes over to his studio from the house. After taking a moment to admire, from two perspectives, the beginnings of what Antanas will call simply, “Loviise,” he nods appreciatively.

“Your work improves with each piece, sūnus,” he says.

“Thank you, tėvas. It helps to have a beautiful subject.” Antanas recalls his earlier discussion with Loviise, his rumination after her departure, and cringes at his reference to a woman as a subject. Loviise is the sum total of her beauty as well as her personality, intellect, her life experience; but the latter has conspired to contrast with her outward appearance. Broken, she strives to hide her pain behind the perception others have of her.

“She certainly has lovely legs—very much like motinėlė’s, when she was young,” his father says, smiling a sad smile, and Antanas realizes his father isn’t paying him a social call, to see his new work. “I look forward to seeing it completed.”

“What is it, tėvas? You look troubled.”

His father looks from the clay to Antanas. “You should know,” he says tentatively, “Jiera has returned from Finse.”

“Giedre’s motinėlė?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?” Antanas says again, his heart sinking when his father hesitates to continue.

“I regret to have to tell you, Giedre was killed a few weeks ago, along with her tėvas.”

“No,” Antanas says, as if saying so would undo it. And then, “How?”

“Many are immigrating to Finse, further straining the water supply there. The local government passed an edict denying entry. The edict also included immigrants of the past year. Many were asked to depart.”

“But Giedre and her parents have been residents for two years.”

“There was an uprising. Giedre and her tėvas were caught up in it, killed along with a dozen others. Victims of circumstance.”

Antanas can say nothing. He’d assumed Giedre’s letters to him had stopped because she’d found another love. He’d grieved her loss to another, had tried to be happy for her. But he finds the truth behind her lost correspondence far more painful. “Giedre, dead,” he says tentatively, trying on the words like an artist might apply a new color to his canvas.

“I’m sorry,” his father says, putting his arms around Antanas. “I know you cared very much for Giedre.”

Antanas returns his father’s embrace and lets out his grief: great sobs of anguish, and he realizes he hadn’t stopped loving Giedre, that his hope they might one day be reunited had never waned.

“You seem sad today,” Loviise says from her place on the divan, where Antanas is arranging her hair on the pillow.

Antanas feels his eyes tear up; he had thought to withhold his grief from Loviise, to lose himself in his work, but her simple statement, posed sincerely—or perhaps it was just the sensuous quality of her voice?—reopens the wound that has had scarce time to form even a scab.

“Giedre,” he whispers, as if her mere name were sacred, “is dead.”

“Antanas,” Loviise says softly, and Antanas tries to recall if she’s ever before called him by name. “I’m sorry.”

Antanas looks into Loviise’s gray eyes, sees his own pain mirrored, and wonders at her ability to perceive the hidden feelings of another; perhaps she is not so cold, aloof, as she wished others to perceive her.

“It is the world in which we live,” he says simply. “We will all join her much sooner than we wish.”

For the next several hours Antanas works silently, sculpting away unwanted clay from Loviise’s torso, tenderly working the clay into semblances of her heavy breasts, right arm and shoulders. On those occasions when he looks up at his subject, he several times catches her studying him. The previous day, when they’d freely conversed, she seemed to relish being the center of Antanas’s world, excluding him from hers. Whether she enjoys watching his hands work the clay or feels pity for him the result of his loss he can’t know, but he feels comfort commingle with discomfiture as her eyes seem, for the first time, to see him.

“I’m tired,” Loviise says much later, not so much a complaint. Antanas has worked longer than he’d originally planned, not wanting, after Loviise’s departure, to be confronted with Giedre’s loss. “My left arm”—the arm that Antanas had arranged above her head—“has fallen asleep.”

Antanas laughs. “And now it will be up all night.”

Loviise joins his laughter. “I wondered if you might have a sense of humor. Come, help me up.”

Antanas walks to where Loviise lays and offers a hand, still damp from clay; she takes it but instead of leveraging herself upright, she pulls him down to sit on the edge of the divan.

“I’ve enjoyed watching you work,” she says, placing one of his hands on a breast. “Watching your hands work my breasts, so lovingly,” she adds with an envious glance at her twin. Antanas feels his face redden. “I wondered how they might feel on mine. You have strong hands, but soft. Can you deny you haven’t wondered how my real breast might feel?” Antanas only looks up from where his hand rests, to find Loviise looking at him. “It’s okay if you want to squeeze—just pretend it is your clay.”

Antanas feels his hand constrict, the breast yield amiably, then he caresses the soft warm flesh, such a contrast to the cool medium of his art; he feels the nipple stiffen beneath his touch, hears Loviise’s quick intake of air.

“Kiss me,” she says.

Antanas lowers his head to partake of Loviise’s parted lips.

Afterward, as Antanas drinks in Loviise’s beautiful body, where traces of dried clay dust reveal where his hands have explored—cheek, shoulder, breasts, hip and thigh—he is unprepared for the flood of guilt that now assails him. He’d barely time to commence grieving for Giedre, whom he hadn’t seen in two years, and who in all likelihood had found love with another, and he now finds himself burdened by his perception of his betrayal.

Antanas studies Loviise’s eyes; in turn hers study his, and he wonders at her reasons for seducing him in the manner she had. Was it because he’d maintained he would never pay for her favors or force himself on her, because he’d professed his love for another woman? Because her arrogance sought to be his first? Or because she felt pity for him, seeking to distract him from his grief for a time? Certainly it wasn’t because she cared for him. Or me for her, he censures himself. Something in him had broken at the news of Giedre’s death and so he’d sought succor in the arms of another, lost that which he’d hoped to one day give to Giedre, or someone else he might come to love.

“You feel guilt,” Loviise says. Her tone is not critical. “Because of Giedre.”

“Yes.”

“And you wonder at my reasons for giving myself to you.”

Antanas nods; Loviise sighs. “It was not out of pity, if that is what you are thinking.” And: “You are unlike any man I’ve met. You are filled with hope, your dreams flourish, which makes you very handsome to me, and desirable.”

“A folly of youthful naiveté,” Antanas says with no small measure of irony.

Loviise ignores him. “I loved watching you work. Your hands work artistry, create beauty from shapelessness. I envy your love of your work, and wanted to feel your hope inside me.”

“You feel no love for me.”

“I don’t know you well enough to feel love. Love comes only later, when our clay masks come off and we can see the unpleasantness in our partner without looking away.”

Antanas is unable to disguise his disappointment by looking away. Loviise goes on:

“You were right yesterday: there is a part of me, a part I thought dead, that desires to be loved. Others have fucked my body, but you, Antanas,” she says, enticing him to look back at her. “You loved my body, tenderly, attentively—even if you are inexperienced.” She smiles at him affectionately, proof, to Antanas, that she isn’t mocking him. “You cared about my pleasure, and made it your own.”

“Well,” Antanas says, somewhat embarrassed by Loviise’s praise, “tomorrow I will finish with Loviise. What would you say to sitting for another piece?”

Loviise smiles warmly at Antanas and says, “I was hoping you would ask.”

Antanas finishes Loviise’s left arm and hair before, forced to confront his greatest fear, turning his attention to her face. He can easily mold her features as she presents them to the world—elegance mixed with manufactured haughtiness—but he wants something more. Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, whose fixed gaze and secret smile provoke a silent communication between subject and viewer, Antanas wants, needs for the sake of his art, to portray, along with Loviise’s great beauty, something of her inner brokenness. Her smile, which personifies equal parts seduction and arrogance, he manages to fashion, in the set of her mouth, into semblance of a mask; while the eyes—slightly downcast—seem to refuse to meet the gaze of the imaginary viewer, contrasting with the smile. The overall effect, Antanas hopes, will invite the viewer to consider something of Loviise’s inner ache.

When he finishes, Antanas invites Loviise to inspect herself. Unlike their first sessions, which ended with Loviise donning a robe before inspecting Antanas’s work, she pads over on bare feet unaware of her nudity, perhaps secure in his presence. Antanas hopes her security is sincere and not manufactured, as he envisions it is when she dances nude for her clients. She seems intent on inspecting her own face, ignoring those aspects of her figure she’d previously discounted as body parts. Perhaps she is already intimately familiar with his imitation, having watched him work on them the past two days, or perhaps she is merely familiar with their representation as seen through the lustful glances of her clients. As she studies herself, from several perspectives, Antanas is acutely aware of her body not as a subject but as a woman, the woman who’d introduced him to the pleasures of the flesh; if Loviise is aware of his scrutiny she gives no hint. She studies her features long moments, and Antanas begins to fear her disapproval. Finally she asks:

“This is how you perceive me?”

“Yes.”

A moment later Loviise nods. “There is something here revealed I thought my secret alone.”

A wave of relief washes through Antanas that he’s succeeded; but it is immediately followed by angst—that she may request that he change it.

“I thought I’d glimpsed it,” he says, “during our first session, through our discussion. But yesterday, after we…”

“After we made love,” she finishes, looking up at him. It is the first time she’s looked at him since coming over to inspect his work. Again she seems to see him, into him, as if he is someone she is loath to hope exists.

“I don’t pity you,” he says, answering her two-day-old charge.”

“But you grieve for that which you perceive as lost.”

“Wounded,” he corrects.

Loviise smiles, takes him by the hand to lead him back to the divan, where they indulge in their sexual passions for the second time in as many days.

Afterward, as they lay basking in the afterglow, Antanas wonders if Loviise might be the woman to replace Giedre, feels uncertainty creep in—whether Loviise might feel love for him. As if she is privy to his inner thoughts, Loviise advises: “Don’t confuse love with sex, Antanas.”

Because Loviise is his first lover, Antanas can’t know that men often blur the two. Confused by her statement, he says nothing.

“I know you love my body, which is not the same as loving me. You want to fix in me that which you think broken, which is both admirable and foolish.”

“Foolish?” Antanas asks, suddenly fearful that Loviise will one day break his heart, as she has told him she’s done many times when she tired of her other lovers. He’d originally thought her comment a lie, to keep up the barrier between them; but now he is forced to consider the truth behind her statement. “Love is never foolish,” he adds.

“But lovers often are just that. No, I’m not referring to you but to me.”

“It is not foolish to believe in love, to desire love, to wish to give love.” Antanas hears Loviise sigh beside him.

“As you’ve already deduced, and shown in your statue, I’m broken.”

“To remain so is a choice.”

“You know nothing of me.”

“I know what you do for a living, and that it’s something you detest.”

“Yet it is something at which I excel. Opportunities in the world today are slim for a woman like me.”

“You don’t have to continue doing something you despise.”

Loviise laughs softly, a canorous sound to Antanas’s ears. “I should work for you? How many statues of me can you create from your obsession with my body parts?”

“I’m not obsessed with your body.”

“So you think,” Loviise says in a patronizing tone.

“You don’t know me so well as you believe.”

“But I know men. You love Giedre, mourn her loss, perhaps seek to replace her to allay your ache.”

“You could work for me, from a business perspective. Promote me, my work.”

“I know nothing of business.”

“It’s not so difficult. I could teach you.”

Loviise falls silent and Antanas hopes she is considering his proposition. A moment later she says: “To what end? Do you imagine that, as time grows short, your art will have meaning?”

“Art will always have meaning,” he argues because he wishes to believe it will be so.

“I love that about you, sweet Antanas—your romanticism.”

“Do you believe that your art, your dancing, will also endure near the end?”

“Pornography has always had its place in the world, perhaps more so in times that were darkest.”

Antanas sighs, unable to refute her wisdom. “Just promise me you’ll consider it.”

“Very well,” Loviise says, but Antanas wonders if her concession is meant only to end their discussion. A moment and she punctuates its end by reaching down between his legs. Antanas feels himself respond and gives in to his desire.

The next day Loviise arrives to commence work on the new piece, and the next day again. Nothing is said about Antanas’s proposition, but each session ends with their customary love-making and Antanas begins to believe in a happily ever after as he feels Loviise begin to feel hopeful about her future.

However, like Giedre, Loviise abandons Antanas, before their third session—long before she might tire of him.

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Chaotic Theory—Prologue

What power, to hold in one’s own hands the ability to affect the present by altering the past… In the 22nd century the world population has dwindled to fewer than a billion, with total extinction expected within a decade.

An erotic tale of love and love lost, Chaotic Theory centers around three profiles of a solitary individual, Antanas Rupkus, a young Lithuanian. In one he is a musician endeavoring to keep alive the work of American jazz musicians of the 20th century. Stoic and aimless, Antanas is incapable of anything but physical intimacy the result of having witnessed, as a boy, his parents killed by Estonian immigrants in search of fresh water.

In another profile, Antanas is a sculptor, filled with hope and the belief that love can overcome all obstacles, until he loses the object of both his inspiration and desire.

In the third, he is a writer whose essays define the mid to late 20th century as the point in history that set man on the path to extinction. But alas, his wisdom comes too late. If only Antanas had lived two hundred years earlier; but perhaps he can, if what Kazys Galdikas tells him is true…


Prologue

d(fT(x), fT(y))>δ

The world will be saved by one or two people.

―André Paul Guillaume Gide

Chaos leans his full weight against the body, twists the knife, feels the body tense and rise up, then go limp. Staring into the blank eyes, wide with fear and the comprehension of death, he feels the warm viscous fluid seeping from the wound in the body’s torso, somewhere just beneath the sternum. One hand on its shoulder, the other still on the hilt of the knife, Chaos takes a step back. When the body tips forward, he performs a combination sidestep and pirouette, exchanging places with the corpse, and gently assists it, as if it is a lover, to a prone position on the floor.

The date is November 8, 2041, a critical date in the history of the 22nd century, although no account of this date’s events appears in any history book. On this day, a day to which the dead man on the floor lying beneath Chaos would refer as his present but which Chaos considers his own past, the dead man had traveled back in time to the year 1941—a date to which they each could lay claim as their past—driven by the same mission as Chaos’s: to change the present by amending the distant past.

The door of the room suddenly bursts in and Chaos looks up to see two men with guns…

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The Cobb Legacy—Chapter One

Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2009

Be good and dutiful, conquer your anger and wild passions that would degrade your dignity and belittle your manhood. Cherish all the good that springs up in you. Be under the perpetual guidance of the better angel of your nature. Starve out and drive out the demon that lurks in all human blood and ready and anxious and restless to arise and reign.

—From a letter to Tyrus from his father, January 5, 1902

The forceps grasping Cagney’s right pinky finger tightened, so he ceased to struggle. He glanced up at the nurse—a pretty woman in her early forties with dark hair and eyes to match: Freyja. She smiled at Cagney demurely through ruby red lips, trying to assure him that all would proceed well so long as he didn’t struggle. The armrest of the chair in which he sat shielded her legs from his sight. Dancer’s legs—long, shapely, and oh so well toned—those assets of hers that had driven him to his adulterous affair. Under different circumstances the mere thought of her firm, freckled thighs and sculpted calves would’ve aroused him.

The face of a doctor now loomed above him; his head mirror reflected the light that shone from a nearby table lamp, leaving Cagney temporarily blind. When he opened his eyes the doctor’s visage filled his vision: a round, fat face with multiple chins; mustache waxed into the shape of handlebars; thin, oily hair combed over from above the left ear in a failed attempt to cover a bald pate, sun damaged and mottled with age spots; steely blue eyes rimmed in red from their addiction to laudanum. Heavy perspiration covered the doctor’s face, beaded on his mustache as he smiled, revealing a good-sized gap between his two front teeth—teeth blackened by tar—a feeble effort to assure Cagney that he was in good hands.

The doctor raised his hands—his fingers sausage-like, gnarled, more akin to those of a hard laborer than a doctor—to show a scalpel in one and forceps in the other.

Cagney struggled and Freyja squeezed the forceps that gripped his pinky; frozen, Cagney was mute to give voice to his pain.

“It will be more painful for you if you resist,” the doctor advised in an accent with which Cagney was unfamiliar. “Now come, open wide for me.”

Cagney was here for a tonsillectomy, but wondered why he hadn’t been given anesthetic. He struggled again to find his voice and fought against the onslaught of panic; yet his breathing remained even, if labored. The doctor seemed oblivious to the terror he was certain must be reflected in his eyes.

“Come now,” the doctor said. “The sooner you open, the sooner we can be done with this.”

Freyja gave her forceps a squeeze, and Cagney reluctantly complied.

The doctor leaned in, exhaled, and Cagney was accosted by the virulent scent of laudanum, its herbal base mingling with that of burnt rubber. Cagney wanted to retch but was paralyzed; indeed, when the doctor reached into his mouth with his forceps and, a moment later, scalpel, his gag reflex was immobile.

Conscious of the pressure on his pinky, Cagney thought that surely he was dreaming. Yet his efforts to rouse himself proved futile.

The doctor sighed loudly and whispered something in a foreign language that Cagney took as a curse; Freyja tittered. Pain seared the back of his throat, and a moment later the doctor removed the forceps from his mouth to reveal in their grip a bloodied baseball…

With a prodigious effort, Cagney forced himself to awaken. Breathless and drenched in perspiration, he took several deep breaths and threw off the blanket to allow the night air to cool him. Outside his bedroom window chirping crickets, croaking frogs from the pond a quarter mile away, and the distant rumbling midnight train crossing the trestle beyond the pond soothed him. He felt lonely, abandoned. Although Charlene would argue that he had been the one to abandon her, and she would be right.

Cagney had been suffering sleep paralysis since beginning the affair. In the first such dream, a hideous demon stuck its head through a trapdoor that appeared out of thin air above his bed to shout a string of vicious obscenities at him while he lay, paralyzed and fully aware he was dreaming, unable to awaken. In another, he was being ravaged by a pack of wild dogs. So long as he lay still, like Freyja holding his pinky in her forceps, they merely held his limbs in their mouths, growling ominous warnings. But when he moved, even tried to rouse himself from sleep, they tore at his flesh. Eventually Cagney managed to wrench himself awake, breathless and perspiring heavily.

Then there was the episode a few weeks ago in which Charlene sat on the edge of his bed whispering incantations and blowing a strange dust over him while Sam, the golden retriever they’d rescued from an animal shelter a few years ago, held his right hand tightly between his teeth as an omen against struggling.

His doctor, who looked nothing like the specter from his dream of a moment ago, assured him the dreams were harmless. He explained that sleep paralysis occurs when the brain awakens from a REM state, but body paralysis sets in, leaving the person fully conscious yet unable to move. Hallucinations often occur, usually forgotten immediately upon full waking. He then asked if Cagney was experiencing narcolepsy. Cagney sheepishly asked what that was and, after a brief explanation, confessed that, no, he wasn’t experiencing excessive daytime tiredness, nor was he falling asleep at inopportune moments.

Cagney’s own research into sleep paralysis revealed that it often was the result of a sudden change in lifestyle, which he was convinced was the result of his affair and subsequent separation from Charlene. The dream in which Charlene tried to cast some spell over him he likened to her attempts, during his waking hours, to control and belittle him.

Despite having filed for divorce, Charlene stated she had forgiven Cagney even as she went on to heap abuse on him for being evil. Her anger seethed, just below the surface, threatening to bubble over at the smallest provocation—often without provocation—and what better person at whom to direct that anger than the person responsible for it?

Yet Cagney, riddled with remorse, couldn’t hope to heal from his sin as long as she continued to reject his apologies as insincere and remind him that his act of infidelity was the result of his being a bad seed.

To forgive is to forget, he thought, in biblical terms. He understood that something as painful as an affair is impossible to forget. But in order to move on, or to try to pick up the pieces of their marriage, Charlene needed to stop throwing his dirty deed in his face.

Cagney wanted a sense of normalcy restored to his life. Feeling his body chill, he pulled the blanket back over himself and considered this last episode of sleep paralysis. The doctor had pulled from his throat no bloodied tonsil but instead a baseball.

Cagney, a lifelong baseball aficionado, had always admired Ty Cobb for his baseball accomplishments. When he saw the movie Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones in the title role, he became interested in Cobb the man—the demons that drove him to greatness on the field as well as to commit the atrocities attributed to him off the field. Fascinated that Cobb’s mother had been found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter of her husband, Cagney decided to write a piece of historical fiction based on the premise that William Cobb had indeed found out that Amanda had taken a lover, that his death had been the result of his discovery and not so accidental as Amanda claimed.

In the spring of 1906, just before the start of the baseball season, Ty had contracted a severe case of tonsillitis, which, fearful as a second year player might cost him his job, he attempted to play through. Finally, with a temperature of a 103, his throat so swollen he could eat only soup, he consented to have them removed by a doctor in Toledo, Ohio. Over a period of three days, Cobb had his tonsils removed without the benefit of anesthetic. Several years later, the doctor was institutionalized, his removal of Cobb’s tonsils without anesthetic palpable evidence of his insanity.

To Cagney, this latest bout with sleep paralysis, with Freyja playing a role obviously a result of his regret over the affair, was easily tied to his recent block to further his novel.

Freyja. Arousal surged at Cagney’s memory of her body against his, the image of her legs in one of the many miniskirts she seemed to always wear once she’d learned the effect they had on him, and cursed his penis, wondering if Charlie was right about a sex addiction.

He’d broken off the affair upon Charlie’s discovery and Freyja had complied, no doubt for reasons of her own. Even with impending divorce, Cagney had no desire to pursue Freyja as a replacement—it was sex and sex alone that had been the allure. The attraction for Freyja, he suspected, had been his unavailability. Yet breaking it off had done nothing to deter Charlie from pursuing her present course, and it didn’t look as if separation, discussion, forgiveness, efforts to work through it, patch things up, the marriage counseling he suggested and that she shot down, would ever be options.

Cagney was saddened by the thought of divorce but not fraught over it, and so he wondered if he loved Charlene, had ever loved her. He associated sadness with his guilt, but no real loss; if anything, he felt relief. Charlene didn’t understand his creative spirit, never provided feedback on his works in progress, and their lovemaking was merely comforting, rarely passionate, as it had been with Freyja. Yet, for some unknown reason, it had improved during the affair.

Cagney cursed himself yet again, this time for being unable to recall the reason why he’d asked Charlene to marry him. Maybe it was because, as he neared thirty, he felt it was the thing to do; and Charlene, because she was who he’d been dating at the time, was the logical choice.

He recalled asking her, during one of their many arguments after she’d discovered the affair, why she’d married him. She had replied angrily that she didn’t know. Anger aside, Cagney wondered if there might have been truth in her reply. Cagney bristled over the notion that it had taken twenty years for him to discover that they weren’t suited for each over, bristled further over the realization that Freyja had been no more well-suited for him.

Therapy had done little to bring him closure or to understand the why behind his betrayal. And so the vicious cycle continued: self-loathing followed by all too short periods of wanting to move on, embrace his inner being and creative self, lose himself in the new novel, and the unanswered question: sex addiction or evil man? The notion that these things just happen brought him little comfort. Inquisitive by nature, Cagney needed a reason.

There was a third option—that the marriage wasn’t a healthy one. Cagney had never considered it unhealthy, but perchance their apathy toward one another was symptomatic of his infidelity. Their marriage was not passionate in or out of the bedroom, save for Charlie’s vehemence in punishing him. The truth was they had little in common to bond them. Cagney couldn’t say that he had been unhappy in the marriage; but in retrospect he couldn’t say that he’d been happy either. That Charlene was pushing for divorce seemed to indicate that she’d reached the same conclusion.

Like many creative types, Cagney tended to be a depressed personality. The marriage had become stagnant, until Freyja came along. Younger, sexier, with the body of a porn star, far more attentive, seemingly taken, at least outwardly, by his being a writer, despite never having read any of his published work.

Cagney assumed blame for the affair, but whose fault was it—Freyja’s for flirting with him, for not taking his initial “I’m flattered but no thanks, I’m married” as final? Charlene for taking him for granted, for writing him off as old and unattractive to younger women? Or was it his fault, for marrying the wrong woman, or for not working harder at bonding with Charlie, to take more interest in her interests even as she ignored his? And did it really matter whose fault it was when the blame had already been placed squarely on his shoulders?

Sighing and wondering when, or if, he’d ever overcome these maddening bouts of paralysis, Cagney rolled out of bed. If he couldn’t sleep, maybe he could push the book forward.

Instead of working on the novel, Cagney reread an article he’d found on the Internet and printed off. The article cited an impromptu 1992 interview with Joe Cunningham’s daughter, Susie Bond, in which she stated that her father never thought another man shot Ty’s father. She went on to say that her father knew another man had been with Amanda that night, and that he even knew who the man was.

The interview concluded with Susie stating that her father always believed that Amanda pulled the trigger, twice, and that she knew, beyond doubt, who her target was.

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The Cobb Legacy—Prologue

My fifth novel, The Cobb Legacy, was picked up by a new publisher, High Tide Publications. Details about the second edition launch are forthcoming.


 

“They killed him when he was still young. They blew his head off the same week I became a major-leaguer. He never got to see me play. Not one game, not an inning. But I knew he was watching me… and I never let him down. Never.”

—Tyrus Raymond Cobb

Royston, Georgia

August 8, 1905

Amanda had just finished tightening the belt on her robe when a creak sounded from the balcony outside her second story bedroom window. Her oldest boy, Tyrus, was playing baseball in Augusta, while the younger two—a daughter and another son—were at friends’ houses.

She quickly stepped, barefoot, to the bed, squatted, and felt under the bed for the double-barreled shotgun her husband kept for protection; William was out of town on business.

Standing, Amanda strained to cock the first barrel on the heavy shotgun. Struggling to aim the unwieldy twin at the window, she tilted her head to listen, over the rush of running water from the bathroom, for sounds from the balcony. A faint scratching came from one of the windows. She was grateful that she’d locked them.

Amanda made her way stealthily to open the shade. Seeing nothing, she moved to the second one, on the other side of the chimney, and opened the shade.

The scratching came again, from the first window. She crept around the chimney to find William’s round, white face staring at her through the glass.

Amanda gasped in surprise and backpedaled until the backs of her legs struck the bed; the water suddenly stopped its mad rush, and silence, as it often did, filled the void between Amanda and William.

William appeared startled by the sight of his wife armed with the shotgun; but then Amanda watched her husband’s gaze move from the twin barrels aimed at his midsection to a place over her right shoulder. A moment later his dark eyes narrowed on his wife’s face.

The pane of glass separating them, save for its transparency, seemed to Amanda a sort of metaphor for what their marriage had become. Meeting her husband’s angry gaze bravely, a corner of her mouth twitched and rose slightly.

Too late, William realized his grim fate.

Amanda savored, for a moment, the transition from the typical stern cruelty on her husband’s face to fear before she pulled the first trigger. Recoiling from the blast, the glass shattered and a gaping red hole appeared in William’s abdomen.

William stumbled backward, landing hard against the balcony railing, and stutter-stepped forward again with a groan, framed within the remnants of the window. The pistol with which he’d armed himself for the occasion clattered to the balcony.

Amanda cocked the second barrel and stepped forward before she pulled the second trigger, and the top of William’s head exploded.

Turning to look behind her, to where her husband had confirmed the town’s talk of her duplicity, Amanda told her lover, “You need to go, quickly. There’ll be questions.”

TCL Front Cover

The Revised Cover

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About the January Saga

In 1992 a man approached me to tell his story. His name was Joe January. A private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940, January can best be described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. That encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm. The second and third volumes of the January saga, One Hot January and January’s Thaw, combine to paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.

January’s story is anything but just a story, despite spanning two centuries and dealing with time travel and alternate realities. The denouement is less than happily ever after, and January at times comes across as a sort of comic book superhero. But in youth we often view ourselves as invincible, only later seeing the repercussions of our actions. Yet given the chance to live life over again, who would turn their back? Hence the meat of January’s story is largely about regret: how, through his own foolishness and cowardice, he lost the two women who meant the most to him.

In One Hot January, Joe January, an emotionally aloof private dick from the South Bronx, unwittingly uncovers an impossible plot of time travel and an alternate reality in which Germany has won World War II by grudgingly agreeing to help a pretty young woman locate her missing father. A Professor of Archaeology from Columbia College, Professor McIntyre must prevent the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands. At the end of One Hot January, January is thrust into the future where, in January’s Thaw, he must survive by his century-old sagacity in our modern world, or as he observes: “Pornography, pollution, global warming, corrupt politics, terrorism, and for all your purported connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, your society is more disconnected than ever.” Sometimes we must look into the past for the voice of reason.

Set against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which Germany won World War II, January’s tale is compelling, and I couldn’t be more pleased he chose me to tell it. I think I’ve managed to capture and remain true to his story as well as his voice.

 

 

 

 

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Autumn Love

I’ve written but four poems in my life. This one, from my novel, The Cobb Legacy, is dedicated, after I met her, to my lovely wife, Colleen, who warms my penultimate season.

For April love blossoms

forever hopeful,

to color life’s penultimate season

and warm its denouement.


About The Cobb Legacy

Cagney Nowak is writing a novel around the 1905 shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father, William, by his mother a week before Ty was called up by the Detroit Tigers. Although she was acquitted by an all-male jury on the grounds that the incident was accidental (that she was a beautiful and sexy thirty-three-year-old woman notwithstanding), the townspeople of Royston, Georgia, thought otherwise.

When Cagney begins to relive the night of the shooting in his dreams, more than a century later and in the guise of Amanda Cobb, he is led to discover his father’s deepest secret.

More than a mystery, The Cobb Legacy is the story of a man’s efforts to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran suffering from what today is known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and to come to terms with his obsession over the Cobb legacy as well as his own adulterous affair and impending divorce, while doubting that love with an old friend can be his.

TCL Cover


 

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January’s Paradigm

January’s Paradigm is forthcoming. Below is the opening chapter. Mature audience; sexual situation.


Part One

A Request

When I die
Do not throw the meat and bones away
But pile them up
And let them tell
By their smell
What life was worth
On this earth
What love was worth
In the end

Kamela Das

Chapter One

I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place. My need was great. I adjusted the collar of my trench coat, thumbed the drooping brim of my fedora, and drew in a lungful of the damp, cool night air that permeated Greenwich Village. I glanced at my watch.

Good, I thought. Still time to make it to The Electric Banana and score.

I reflected a moment on what I’d just witnessed inside of Earl’s Place. That was the trouble with the twenty-first century – everything was legal. In my own time there was burlesque, but compared to this, that was Disney stuff.

I turned to look at the huge, glowing neon lights that hummed their advertisement:

EARL’S PLACE

LIVE SEX ACTS ON STAGE

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION INVITED

I hadn’t, that wasn’t my style. But I had spent the better part of an hour watching in stunned silence, and with expanding arousal.

In a corner, two women writhed naked, their heads buried lustfully between the legs of the other. To my right, three men each enjoyed a different orifice of the same woman, while in front of me a woman was lost in the throes of her own solo exploits, encouraged by the voyeur who was me.

It had all been decadent to be sure, and while I’d been disgusted, I also found myself unable to look away. It would seem my descendants had digressed to their baser, viler instincts. Although repulsed, I had to admit that I enjoyed the scenes that had played out to their conclusions in front of me. I watched, fascinated, as the three men reached their climaxes mere moments apart – a sort of dominoes effect …

It had all been too much. I left enough money on the table to cover my bar tab and departed feeling at odds, my morality at conflict with my biological need.

Control in my own century had been easier; there was a distinct lack of availability due to legal restraints. But in this century any need could be satisfied anywhere, anytime … for a price. If exhibitionism wasn’t your pleasure, then after the show you could find a much more private encounter out on the street.

I’d learned much about twenty-first century New York City in the brief time I’d been here. Pornography and prostitution had developed into separate businesses, each enjoying a thriving growth as a result of the other’s success. Their coexistence was peaceable, their respective kingpins codependent upon the financial well being of the other.

Yet it hadn’t always been that way. A decade earlier there had been gang wars between the factions, similar to those in my own century’s thirties. The wars had been bloody. In the end, to facilitate the survival of both, peace had been requisite. Uneasy at first, it had grown to what it was today – acceptance of the other as a necessary evil for the continued economic well being of themselves. That acceptance, at least on the surface, was acceptable to both sides.

I reached inside my jacket for my cigarettes, found them, lifted one out, lit it, and took a long drag. A moment later I exhaled and stepped off in the direction of The Electric Banana.

I always found myself at the center of conflict. It seemed, after all, the reason for my existence. Conflict always seemed to find me the way it found the protagonist of any good detective novel. Therefore it came as no great surprise when, still several blocks from The Electric Banana, with the streets dark and deserted at the late hour, I rounded a corner to behold three punks, none of whom could’ve been more than seventeen, assaulting what appeared to be a prostitute, what I’d learned was, in this century, a tute. The first held the girl from behind, his right hand covering her mouth to stifle her calls for help, his left arm around her waist. The second brandished a switchblade menacingly, while the third waved a more ostentatious weapon.

I’ve never understood the practice of paying for sex simply because it’s a practice in which I never indulge. I’d never had to since I always seemed able to find someone, somewhere, who was willing to part with it for the price of a drink or dinner. Once I’d learned how to read the body language and discovered the right buttons to push, the rest was simple.

What I understood even less was the practice of forcibly taking something that could be purchased. Violent crimes of this nature were few and far between in the twenty-first century. Because it cut into profits, the syndicate bosses saw to it that the tute on the street was well taken care of. Still, in a city so large …

I stepped out of the shadows and cleared my throat.

“Pardon my intrusion,” I said. The punk with the switchblade quickly turned his attention to me.

“Hey man, we found her first,” he said, and then added, his voice filled with sexual hunger, “She’s ours. You wanna stick around for sloppy fourths, that’s your business, otherwise you better just keep on walkin’.”

The others giggled nervously.

I silently appraised the girl’s want. Her pleading eyes told me all I needed to know. She might be in business to turn a profit, but the fear in her mien told me she was not into acts of violence, as some girls were. There was, after all, like anything, a market for it. While this gal might be selling sex, not violence, these three weren’t bartering for what she was offering. They were drawing up their own contract, one which she would be forced to sign on the dotted line.

“Move along, man.” This from the scum with his exposed weapon in hand.

“Be careful with that thing.” I tried to sound amiable, which for me was difficult, even under the best of circumstances.

“Huh?”

“I’d hate to see it discharge prematurely.”

I didn’t have the patience for this sort of thing. I never had and I never would. Slipping my fingers into the brass knuckles I kept in the pocket of my trench coat, I reacted the way I always did in situations such as this – on instinct.

I stepped forward briskly and, grabbing the first thug by his shoulders, brought my knee up hard into his exposed genitals. He sank to the pavement, his breath, I noted with satisfaction, was long and audible as it forced its way past a grimacing mouth.

Next, I caught the punk with the knife square in the jaw with the brass knuckles. I heard the breaking of bone, the blade clattering to the pavement. The kid sank to his knees, blood flowing from his mouth. A kick to his midsection followed by a right cross sent him sprawling into unconsciousness.

I turned to face the third goon only to discover he was already two blocks away, high stepping his way to safety. I grunted and turned back to the first thug, struggling to regain control of his labored breathing, and cold-cocked him.

“I thought I told you to put that away,” I muttered, matter-of-fact. The echoing footfalls of the third assailant disappeared around some distant corner.

I turned to look askance of the girl who stood trembling, no doubt unsure of the integrity of her would be benefactor. Maybe it was the unsated hunger that’d been aroused at Earl’s Place, or maybe just the surge of adrenaline in the aftermath of my rescue, but I suddenly became aware of the potency of innate sexuality emanating from this damsel who had, until moments ago, been in distress. Large breasts strained against the thin fabric that held them in check, heaving as she fought to control her labored breathing. A narrow waist with hips flaring wide, and thighs that in their lush ripeness threatened to chafe under perambulation.

Finally our eyes met. And in that moment something passed between us. Some unspoken decree seemed to assure the girl that, despite my strange attire and the odd hat sitting jauntily askew high atop my head, she was secure.

The next moment found her seeking further solace in the comfort of my embrace.

I found myself unable to placate the woman’s distress with words. A man of action, I could only return the embrace, my olfactory senses nearly overwhelmed by the too sweet essence of her too blond hair, unsure – just as I was sure of the unyielding firmness of her breasts against me – how long, given the circumstances, the encroachment should last.

Fortunately the girl took the initiative. Her composure regained, she looked up at me and whispered, “You came along just in time.”

“Yeah, well,” I said. “Trouble has a way of following me wherever I go.”

“Lucky for me,” she said in a husky voice.

I was beginning to get the idea she was sizing me up as a potential customer; she seemed to sense my concern.

“Don’t worry, honey. I can tell you’re not a paying customer. A rarity, but I’ve seen one or two. My name’s Ecstasy.”

“Joe January.”

“Pleased to meet you, Joe January,” she said, playfully trying to imitate my century-old dialect. She seemed amused by the alliteration. “Walk me home?”

I quickly acquiesced, sensing there could be a reward in it for me.

“Where you from, Joe January?”

“The Bronx.”

She laughed. “You don’t sound like nobody I know from the Bronx.”

“I’ve spent some time out on the coast,” I lied.

The rest of the walk was quiet. The best way to maintain anonymity is by keeping a low profile, and the best way to do that is by speaking only when spoken to, and by keeping answers short and to the point. I found that that strategy worked well for me back in 1947, and had thus far proven effective in 2047 as well.

“You’re a quiet one,” Ecstasy prodded once we were inside. Her blue eyes lingered mischievously on my hat, prompting me to remove it in a rare display of discomfort.

“Just shy.”

Ecstasy took my fedora and casually flung it down the hallway, in the direction of what I guessed was the bedroom. I was right about the reward; she encircled my neck with her arms and covered my lips with her own. My desire swelled. I didn’t care that she might feel it.

“Shy?” she purred. “I don’t think so. I think you know exactly what to do with a woman.”

She was teasing me now and obviously enjoying the results.

“I also think you’ve got a lot of potential there,” she added provocatively, gently tracing the outline of rigidity that was threatening to escape the restraints rigidly imposed upon it by my pants.

Fresh from the 1940s, I wasn’t used to the forward, liberated promiscuity exhibited by the women of the 2040s. Still, there was something wildly erotic about it.

I returned her kiss, stopping to gently nibble her full lower lip, and then proceeded to her neck and bare shoulder, allowing my hands to roam freely across the smooth twin globes of her buttocks, left bare by her galvanizing black panties. Ecstasy moaned her consent.

Ah, the wonders of the twenty-first century, I mused.

I found her ear with my tongue and, with that discovery, discovered her appetite grew.

“Not so fast, lover,” she teased, pushing me away playfully before taking my hand and leading me to the bedroom.

Moments later she was fumbling with my belt and zipper while I worked at the buttons of my shirt. She giggled at the boxer shorts I wore. Not wanting to be caught in a similar embarrassing moment in the future, I decided I would refrain from wearing them at all.

Ecstasy climbed onto the bed and remained on all fours. Turning to look over her shoulder, she invited me to mount her.

I grasped her by the hips and pushed my hardness into her softness and …

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January’s Thaw—Excerpt

Prologue

September 2083

Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived. If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler.

Most people either find love or love finds them, and they hold onto it, stay with it their entire lives. They are the fortunate ones. The unfortunate manage to make it out of this life without experiencing love, perhaps taking solace in the juxtaposed adage that it is better never to have loved than to have loved and lost.

I was fortunate in that love found me not once but twice, in two different centuries. In the first case I never realized what I had until it was too late. In the second, I fully realized what I had, but knowing didn’t prevent my losing her. You could say I’m living proof that one can be both lucky and unlucky in love.

Love found me the second time a hundred years after the first time. Her name was Ecstasy and she once told me that she loved my loneliness—a man out of place out of time. I surmised that her love for me was born of pity. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my loneliness was the result of my losing the one woman who, at one time, mattered most to me. To this day I regret that I never told her how much she mattered. After I lost Ecstasy, I often wondered if she might not have known that all along—that my loneliness was for a woman who could never usurp her place in my life.

People love for a variety of reasons. Initially I loved Ecstasy for her body. But in time, as I realized I’d never again see my native New York City circa 1947, she came to mean much more to me.

Was our love—hers for my aloneness and mine for her acceptance of my aloneness—of any less value than any other couple’s love? Not to us it wasn’t.

Still, during those initial months, each time I poured myself into Ecstasy’s body, in the afterglow it was of Lindy, my first love, that I thought. If Ecstasy knew, she never let on.

In the pages that follow, I attempt, however clumsily, to conclude my life’s story. I will chronicle the events that led to my appearance in a future a century and a lifetime removed from where my story began.

But there is more. Much more.

Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets.

By the end of this account, perhaps you will understand why I risked giving my past self the chance at the happiness that long eluded him. I failed and he paid with his life. But those of you who’ve read volume one of my life’s story know that. Since then I’ve many times considered making another attempt. Was I justified to try even once?

You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read on to the end, and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.

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Monday Moanin’ Blues

A Michigan novelist I know claims to cut from her finished manuscripts her favorite line. Symbolic, I guess, of not getting too attached to her own work.

Below is an excerpt from my latest novel, A World Without Music. I can’t say it’s my favorite paragraph. Some critics might say it deserves to be cut. Perhaps some readers will skip over it for its density. But I think it goes a long way toward establishing Reagan’s state of mind, his PTSD. He goes on to admit, in the next paragraph, that since his wife left him he’s been more prone to long and meaningless meanderings. As meanderings go, I think it’s rather entertaining.

Dropping into a chair at the table, opposite the door wall to his deck, Reagan considered the drapes, drawn closed against the rising sun. They were blue. Not in the tone or shade of a John Lee Hooker tune, or in the term one might use to describe their disposition to their physician when seeking medication for depression, which is really no color at all but a mood. Not a navy or a midnight blue; not a Miles Davis “Kind of Blue.” Not the blue that accompanies the maize in the University of Michigan school colors; not the blue eyes of a Siberian Husky or a sky blue; but a sapphire blue—neither annoyingly cheerful, nor that draws attention to itself and away from the other furnishings in the room—pleasant, soothing. They were a blue that complements both a morning cup of coffee or tea—although Reagan believed, as Oliver Wendell Holmes had written, that the morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it that the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce (Reagan had not been cheerful, not in the morning or any other time of day, for more years than he could recall)—as well as an early evening glass of bourbon. They were the color blue that invites one nearer, if only to draw them wider to admire the panoramic view on the other side of the glass or to let more Sunday morning light into the room, to chase away the previous night’s bête noire. The trouble was the beast could always be counted on to return the next night.

got-the-monday-blues

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Excerpt from January’s Thaw

The portion of the story in January’s Thaw on which the flash fiction piece Old Love is based.

Our eyes meet, hold for a moment. We are thirty-five years older: Lindy in her 1982, me from my own 2082.

Despite her affliction, which has left her much thinner and frailer than I would’ve imagined, I still recognize her. Despite my own aging—more than a few pounds heavier, longer, grayer hair, bearded and hobbled by a bad knee—perhaps she, too, recognizes something familiar; she looks back at me, her gaze at least steady, perhaps wanting to rec­ognize me.

I smile, nod. It is the polite thing to do.

“Do I know you?” she asks, rushing the four words together nearly as one, the sound more breath than voice; it is difficult for her to support her speech.

I shake my head. “I don’t think so.” More truth than lie: I had withheld from her in our youth any hint of the Joe January I would become.

“Listen,” I add. “Do you have the time? I seem to have left my watch elsewhere.”

Lindy’s eyes widen; I see the light of recognition. A corner of her mouth rises. A moment later a full smile breaks across her face and I glimpse the Lindy I knew so long ago. In that moment I realize that it was this anything but chance meeting that had resulted in Lindy taking the necessary steps to return my watch to me sixty-five years into her future.

John Roberts—I can’t bring myself to refer to him as her husband—seemingly embarrassed to be seen with her, glances at his watch and says angrily, “Twenty-five or six to four.” An inadvertent reference to the song that, in the future, became a favorite of mine.

“Thank you,” I say to Lindy, and, “I hope you will forgive me.”

My apology leaves no impact on John Roberts, who only takes Lindy’s arm and starts to turn her, roughly; Lindy nearly loses her balance but John Roberts is quick to support her.

“Come on, Lindy,” he says. “Let’s go.”

I watch Lindy’s back recede as they make their way to the diner’s exit.

As John Roberts opens the door, Lindy turns back to offer me a smile and a nod that is not the result of her condition, and I steel myself to put the next stage of my plan into motion.

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January’s Paradigm—Fourth Edition Forthcoming

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling detective novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity. 

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right … and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist … or does he?

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

 

January’s Paradigm is the novel that started it all.

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the second edition of January’s Paradigm went to print, and nearly twenty-five years since I sat down to write the first words: I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place.

Two more January novels followed, and I’ve since seen six more of my children published. I’ve learned much over the years, about myself and also about the craft of writing. Should the learning ever cease, I will lay down my pen.

I was resistant to even read January’s Paradigm these many years later. I cringed at the prospect for fear that I would wish to rewrite large portions of it. Certainly there were many sections of narrative I would write differently were I writing it today.

In preparing this edition, I wished to maintain the integrity of as much of the original text as much as possible, not only to show where I was in my life twenty-five years ago, but also to show the progress I’ve made as a writer and a stylist.

The changes are minor, mostly to do with formatting and structure. I resisted the urge to add or revise narrative, with a very few exceptions – what can I say? I’m a perfectionist and never could refrain from tinkering, which is why I rarely revisit my novels once they go to print. I can always find ways to improve a text; never perfect, I can only achieve “closer to perfection.”

January’s Paradigm holds its rightful place in my body of work, and I remain proud of this endeavor.

Below appears an excerpt.


“Come any closer and I’ll cut her, I swear,” the punk with the knife said. The fear in his voice was obvious, making him all the more dangerous.

While I’d been busy disposing of the first two goons, this one had managed to take Susan hostage. He stood behind her, his left arm wrapped tightly around her waist; Susan’s heavy breasts rested on the forearm that held her in check, while the punk’s right hand held the knife to the soft pale flesh of her throat. The corner streetlight glinted intermittently off the shiny blade, evidence of the kid’s nervousness.

I saw the stark panic reflected in Susan’s dark eyes, and the unspent portion of my rage ascended to a new apogee. That Porter would subject his supposed ideal to the rigors of this assault was beyond my capacity to reason, and I hated him for it. I hated him for being responsible for the terror that now resided where before I’d seen only laughter and love, brief respites of concern for me, and hurt (that I’d been the cause of); the sum of which had managed to endear her to me. But even they paled beside the intensity of what was now being reflected in her eyes.

Suddenly, I was uncertain of how to proceed, as I was equally uncertain of Porter’s intent for orchestrating this sequence of events. Did he intend to eliminate Susan from the story? If he did, would her absence from this fantasy cause him to stir from his torpidity, or merely serve to drive him deeper into an already nearly fatal state of denial?

I was no longer certain, as I’d been moments before while dispatching Porter’s other two lackeys, that Porter knew what would transpire in the next few minutes. To me, it felt as yet unscripted. The choice, it appeared, was mine to make. Just as it had been my choice the other night to deal with Kate in the manner I had.

Yet never before had the consequences of my options weighed so heavily.

To act might spell Susan’s demise, for by taking action there was always the chance of success. But to turn around and walk away from this situation would certainly spell doom for her.

Some dim part of my consciousness knew that, in Porter’s reality, this is precisely how situations such as this ended. The assailant’s sexual climax was predicated on violence, and so the pinnacle of that act of passion was really in the aftermath, when the ultimate climax ended with the victim’s death.

“Walk away, man. I just want the girl. Walk away now and I just might let her live. Make any more trouble, I’ll cut her for sure.” I could hear the tension in the voice rising, while Susan’s eyes implored that I pay no heed to the voice coming from just behind her right ear.

In the past, I had always reacted on the pretense of right and wrong; those reactions usually benefitted the underdog.

To walk away now would serve Porter right; let him deal with his own tortured reality.

Yet to walk away would also be wrong, for by doing so I relegated Susan, the aforementioned aggrieved underdog, to certain doom. 

What should that matter to me? She’s just a product of Porter’s imagination, same as the kid threatening to spill her blood, same as everyone I’ve ever met, present, past and future. Hell, the same as me.

That’s not true, that other part of me rebuked. You are real. You must be.

“Come on, man. Don’t make me ask again.”

I noted the look of fear in the kid’s eyes and something else as well, something behind the eyes. Another presence. The same presence that was responsible for all that had, and would, transpire in this fantasy. It wrote the words the kid recited with such uncertainty; yet unsure how I might react, itself terrified that I might abandon it, that other presence betrayed its own uncertainty in the eyes of Susan’s captor. A look that was totally out of character for the character, it pleaded with me. It begged me not to abandon it.

That same presence existed in Susan’s eyes as well.

I closed my eyes as I became painfully aware that there was more at stake here than mere right or wrong.

Walking away to spite Porter would surely sign Susan’s death warrant, and Porter’s shame at being the instrument of her degradation would be too much to bear. He would cut short her suffering because never again would he be able to look into her eyes through mine and bear the pain of having been the author of her fate. 

Yes, I reasoned, it would be wrong to punish you at Susan’s expense. She is but an innocent bystander. 

But why? I argued back. She’s not real. 

But what she represents is. The voice of the gargoyle.

“Porter’s paradigm is mine also,” I muttered.

“What was that?” the kid said.

I ignored him.

I saw the truth in my rationale; but it was a truth that remained blurred, just out of focus. That I should desire what Porter desired was only natural; it was no secret I desired Susan, as did Porter. We were, after all, one and the same. A derivative of Porter’s more abject nature, I allowed Porter the avenue of escape to investigate a lifestyle more glamorous than his own mundane existence permitted.

But I had discovered an unnatural attachment to Susan these past several days. Not only had I grown protective of her, but fond as well. In a way that my own equally mundane existence between the covers of One Hot January had not permitted.

In a sense, Susan was more real than anyone I’d ever encountered, because of Porter’s attachment to her. He’d modeled her after an ideal. She wasn’t just a fictional creation for one of his novels, but instead someone he wished with all his heart he might find in his own anguished reality.

I recalled the way Susan relished teasing me, but instead of embarrassment, I now felt the warmth of affection at the image of her making sport of me, playfully mocking my odd dialect. Coming to my rescue when my inhibitions allowed me to only blush. Her eyes, full of life and love and laughter, and the way she looked at me with those eyes; not with selfish lust as others had, but with selfless kindness, understanding and genuine affection, as well as concern, just as genuine, as she had when I’d arrived unexpectedly at The Oasis just an hour ago. Her laughter, warm and resonant, a wonderfully melodic sound to my ears. I recalled the way she touched me when I least expected it, and all of the other special gifts that made her uniquely her.

All the attributes that Porter coveted, and believed himself worthy of, were the same traits that I now discovered equally desirable yet unobtainable, because I saw myself, in view of my checkered past, as unworthy.

In short, I was in love with Susan Anders. The realization brought my eyes open.

“Don’t even think it, man,” the punk said, but the look in his eyes said otherwise. “I’ll cut her, I swear I will.” The statement lacked conviction. Not a declaration of certitude, it seemed to invite a reply. I obliged.

“You do and I’ll kill you.” I spoke the words softly, yet the weight they carried was obvious.

The kid’s eyes went wide with fear; a moment later a puddle of water appeared on the sidewalk between his feet.

“You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“No,” I said. “Just pissed.”

If this had been a book, I might’ve found the moment humorous; but this wasn’t a book. Although the setting was fictitious and teeming with fictional characters, the outcome of events held life and death ramifications for Robert Porter and all he held near and dear. Susan Anders, for one, or more importantly the ideal she represented. The hope that she, or someone like her, existed in his reality.

And me, too, I suddenly discerned for the first time. Hadn’t I been a paradigm of sorts to Porter, albeit flawed as I was?

I now understood what the voice inside my head meant about being stronger together as one. I also understood why Susan wanted him – Porter – to soften January’s character and make him more real.

In One Hot January, Porter would’ve found some way for me to come to Susan’s rescue in some fancifully violent way that would’ve left her assailant bloodied and broken, and somehow glorify the ferocity of my wrath by having the damsel in distress repay her debt to my heroism with sexual favors.

But this was not One Hot January.

I merely dismissed the kid with a nonchalant wave of my hand.

“Go on,” I said. All of the controlled anger of a few moments ago was gone.

“Get out of here before you get hurt.”

The kid didn’t wait around to be told a second time. Dropping the knife, he released Susan and, with a look of relief mingled with thanks, made good his pardon from my rage. The thanks, I was certain, belonged to that other person I’d briefly glimpsed, the person who had pleaded that I not walk away. The rapidity of the kid’s departure left me momentarily amused.

The next moment found Susan in my arms, her body wracked by sobs, the release of her previous anguish.

In the past, I would’ve had some humorous anecdote ready, a segue into what would’ve brought the chapter to a sort of anti-climax.

But this wasn’t the past, so I kept silent, offering comfort in a strangely different way.

There was nothing I could say to assuage her distress, so I simply returned her embrace, stroking her soft hair, inhaling its fragrance, amazed that the adrenaline high of a moment ago, coupled with the firm reality of Susan’s close proximity, hadn’t resulted in the usual sexual arousal.

A minute later, the violence of her sobs ebbed, and she managed to say between hiccoughs, “I thought … for a minute I thought … I thought you’d leave me.”

“Never,” I whispered, and felt her grip tighten.

The word was meant to reassure her; but even as I spoke it, I knew it was a lie, for I now knew I would be leaving her. And soon.

Inside, I grieved over her loss from me.

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