Category Archives: Fiction

The Girl Who Loved Cigars

It’s said that those who experience a life-threatening event see their whole life flash before their eyes.

What if a fetus, at the moment they feel their limbs about to be torn asunder in abortion, see their whole unlived life flash before their eyes?

Marla is haunted by nightmares of being in the womb, terrified by the prospect of having her whole life—everything she’ll ever have and everything she ever will be—taken from her.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars is my new work in progress. It’s been nearly two years since I finished my last novel and I’ve been itching to start a new one. After kicking around two ideas for several months I finally settled on this one and set pen to paper.

I love new projects, but it’s a love-hate relationship. I love them because… well, they’re new, fresh. The ideas for characters, story, plot twists flow freely. The downside is they’re new, fresh. Ideas abound, which results in a lot of starts and stops, and false starts. It takes me a while to settle in, to become intimately involved with the characters, and settle on a theme.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars promises to be my most challenging write to date. I’ve written several short stories from a woman’s perspective, but never a novel. It’s intimidating, and I fear I won’t be able to pull it off, to write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. I don’t know whether I’m good enough to succeed. But I do know I’m ready to try.

Below is a short excerpt.


“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away everything he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Bill Munny, Unforgiven

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Galadriel, from the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings


Part One

“I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
Ronald Reagan


Chapter One

“I’m Marla. I’m almost four years old.”

“Good. And where do you live?”

“In Michigan.” I giggled. “It’s shaped like mitten. Daddy showed me a picture of it in a big book of maps that has all the states. There are fifty. That’s a lot. But not as many as a hundred billion. Which is how many stars Daddy told me are in the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the candy bar.”

“Our address, honey. What’s our street address?”

I felt my smile turn into a frown.

“Come on, sweetie. You know this. It’s just four numbers.”

“I live at 6-5-4-3 Arcola in Garden City, Michigan.”

“That’s right. And what’s our phone number?”

I closed my eyes and tried to picture it. Mommy had written it down on a piece of paper. “Our phone number is Grafield—”

“Garfield.”

“Garfield, G-A-2-468—”

“Nine.”

I felt my eyes begin to tear. Mommy had been making me say my name, our address, and phone number for the last long time. I was bored. I wanted her to read to me. Tubby Turtle is my favorite. Tubby is sad because he’s slower than all his forest friends. But one day he saves Squirrel and Rabbit from drowning and becomes a hero.

“Say it again, honey, from the start.”

“Mommy, but why?”

“Because if you should get lost you need to be able to tell whoever finds you who you are and where you live.”

“Why?” I didn’t understand. Lost is what happens to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock. And then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find it.

“I just told you.”

“Why would I get lost?”

Mommy breathed deep. She did that when she got mad.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“For what, Marla?”

“For making you mad.”

Mommy took my face between her hands, which always makes me feel happy and safe. “I’m not mad, honey. It’s just…”

“What, Mommy?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Why would anything happen to me?”

Mommy hugged me. After a moment she pulled back, holding me by my shoulders.

“Remember yesterday when we went to Hudson’s?”

“Oh, yes!” It was a grand adventure: a bus ride downtown, all the pretty clothes and shoes and perfume—and the toys! All the toys on the twelfth floor!

“Remember when we got separated?”

I nodded. “Is that what it means, getting lost?”

“Yes.”

“But you found me.”

“Yes, I did. But what if I hadn’t? What would you have done?”

I looked at Mommy, unsure. Then I shrugged.

“That’s why you need to know your address and phone number. So you can tell someone if I can’t find you. So they can tell me where to find you. Understand?”

I wasn’t sure I did. But if Mommy thought it was important, then it must be, and I wanted to make Mommy happy.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Good. Now tell me again, your name, where we live, and our phone number.”

And so it went for the next long time, until I got it right enough times to make Mommy happy, and she knew I wouldn’t ever forget.

After she read Tubby Turtle to me it was time for my nap.

Floating, warm and safe and comforted by the rhythm of life, in a black hole of perpetual darkness. Not blinded by obscurity, uncaring of lack of sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Nothing exists in this crèche to delight or disenchant, save the bean.

Muffled sounds from nearby—voices, words mean nothing, not having mastered language—other times cadences of varying tempos, some canorous, soothing; others cacophonous, unsettling…

Accosted by upset, fear, anger: emotions not understood but eschewed, embracing, always seeking to commune with the constant rhythm of life. The voices intensify in volume—short, clipped words. Meaningless, they communicate more upset and anger and hurt…

The passage of time has no meaning, not hours, days or months to mark the growth of the bean—constant change, evolution, becoming, unquenchable thirst.

Stirred by sorrow followed by great distress. Sobbing, the darkness wracked by great waves of anguish, then dizziness and a feeling of sickness followed by euphoria. But the euphoria, too, sickens, alters. Turns perfection into something… less perfect.

More time passes and something changes. The rhythm of life distorts. Still floating, still warm, the previous tranquility gone, replaced at first by indifference, then a growing loathing, directed at the bean that has done nothing save only desire to grow, to become more, to seek meaning, find acceptance. To love and be loved…

In time, immeasurable, more words, filled with vitriol, spoken by a single voice, hurled at the bean. After the words comes acceptance, the anger gone, replaced by a singular purpose that frightens…

The seat of creation preemptively invaded. The fluid that sustains drains; air rushes past unformed ears, lungs sear, pressure exerts on limbs.

In that split second, as the pain grows to excruciating proportions but just before being torn asunder, an unlived life flashes before unseeing eyes…

“Shhh, honey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

I was awake before I knew I was, wrapped by familiar arms. My scream died in my mouth, replaced by a whimpered, “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie, it’s me.”

I wriggled out of her hug. I needed to see the proof. Mommy wiped a tear from my cheek with her thumb. “The bad dream?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“The monster?”

I shook my head.

“No?”

“Nuh-uh.”

Mommy moved my hair away from my face. “Want to tell me about it?”

“I—”

“What is it, honey? You can tell me.”

I shook my head again. “I can’t.” Because not yet four years old I was unable to explain what I did not understand.

“Well, you can tell me about it whenever you feel like it. Sometimes talking about something unpleasant can make it go away. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now come on. You can help me fold the laundry and then help me get dinner ready.”

“Daddy!”

Daddy scooped me up into his arms. “Who’s this little girl?”

“Daddy’s little girl!”

“That’s right. Daddy’s little girl. But you’ve grown so big since I saw you this morning.”

I giggled as Daddy kissed my cheek. Then he rubbed his cheek against mine and I felt its roughness.

“You’re picky,” I said.

“Darn right I am. I picked you as my little girl, didn’t I?”

I giggled. “Silly, Daddy. Your face is picky.”

“Well, excuse me for not shaving before coming home.”

“You smoked a cigar, too, didn’t you? I can smell it.”

“No pulling one over on you, is there?”

“How come Mommy won’t let you smoke at home?”

“She does.”

“Outside doesn’t count. How come she doesn’t let you smoke in the house?”

“Not everyone cares for the smell of cigars, Marlie.”

“It’s not that,” Mommy called from the kitchen. “It leaves a film on everything—the cabinets, the furniture. Now come on. Dinner is on.”

After dinner Daddy put Glenn Miller on the record player and when “Kalamazoo” came on we danced. I stood on his feet as he twirled me around the living room. I sang the chorus: “K… A… L-A-M-A-Z-oh, oh, oh, I gotta gal in… Kala-ma-zoo…”

Then we went onto the patio. Daddy lit a cigar and I sat on a cushion between Mommy and Daddy and we watched two sparrows bathe in our bird bath next to the garage. After they flew off I asked, “Daddy, can we move to Kalamazoo?”

Daddy laughed. “Why would you want to move to Kalamazoo?”

“I want to be a girl in Kalamazoo.” I loved the melody of Glenn Miller’s song. It was playful. That’s what Daddy once said. But I also loved the word Kalamazoo, the way it made my mouth feel when I said it. The way it sounded in my ears. I saw it as a fun place. Otherworldly, like the land of Oz, which also had a “z” in it.

Mommy said, “Not satisfied to be a gal in Garden City?”

“There’s no song about Garden City.”

“Well then, why don’t you write one when you grow up?” Daddy said.

That surprised me. “You really think I could?”

“You can do anything you want, honey,” he said.

We went quiet then, as the sun set behind the house behind ours. Soon the crickets started chirping. I looked up at Daddy. The end of his cigar glowed cherry red as he drew on it. He saw me watching him.

“What am I doing?” he asked.

“Drawing,” I said. “Which isn’t the same thing as drawing a picture.”

“Good girl.” Then he added, “English is a funny language.”

I recalled our lesson from a few days ago. “‘There,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ all sound the same.”

“But all are spelled differently and have different meanings.”

“There,” I said, pointing at an airplane passing over our house, “is an airplane. T-h-e-r-e.”

I heard our neighbor’s dog, Skippy, bark. “Skippy isn’t our dog. He’s their dog. T-h-e-i-r.”

“Right.”

“The Tigers lost fifteen of their first seventeen games this year, but they’re—‘they are’ with a, a…”

“An apostrophe.”

“A apostrophe.” I said the word slowly so I would remember it.

“‘An,”” Mommy said. “An apostrophe.”

I ignored her. Mommy was always correcting me. I didn’t like being corrected.“They’re playing better after firing their manager.”

“That they are,” Daddy said. “Although I don’t believe Norman’s replacement, Jimmy Dykes, is the answer.”

He was nearly finished smoking his cigar, which meant it would be time for me to go to bed. I shivered, although it wasn’t cold outside. I inhaled deeply. I loved the smell of cigars. It reminded me of Daddy. I couldn’t understand why Mommy didn’t like it. If she loved Daddy she should love cigar smoke.

But I had another reason for wanting to take the smell of Daddy’s cigar to bed with me: I hoped it would keep away the bad dreams.

The face, long and white and haggard, nearly hidden by long hair, greasy and unkempt, loomed above me. I reached for the face. Tiny arms with tiny fingers flexing fell woefully short. I wailed, wanting to be held.

The head shook once from side to side. A hand, large and heavily veined, pushed a smoking white stick between the lips on the face; its tip glowed red as the face breathed in deeply. A sigh accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke.

I wailed and reached.

Words mumbled, barely audible. They meant nothing to me, whose only means of communication was crying.

Hungry: cry.

Soiled: cry.

Hold me: cry.

The words registered no meaning; but the hostility with which they were spoken instilled great fear in me. But fear held as little meaning to me as did words. I only wanted, needed, to be held. To be coddled. To be loved.

The lips on the face parted to reveal yellowed teeth—nearly as yellowed as the hair that hung to either side of the face. The smile was not one of affection or meant to reassure. Cold, calculating eyes stared down at me, helpless and needy…

I wailed: Hold me.

The hand that held the smoking stick dropped. A moment later I felt a searing pain on the bottom of my foot. My wail turned to a scream…

I came awake, unsure whether the scream had passed my lips or was only in my dream. When neither Mommy or Daddy came into my room, I knew the scream had only been in my head.

I rolled over onto my tummy and turned my body to let my feet drop to the floor, then pushed myself away from my bed.

Barefoot, I walked past Mommy and Daddy’s room to the bathroom. The wood floor creaked and I hoped it wasn’t too loud. In the bathroom, after closing the door, I switched on the light. Then I hoisted myself onto the toilet seat to tinkle.

When I finished I got down and sat on the rug in front of the sink. Grabbing my right foot I leaned forward and turned my foot so I could see the bottom. There were several pink, puckered scars. But they didn’t hurt.

I got up and, standing on my toes, reached for the cold water tap. I let it run for a while to get good and cold, then half filled the cup that sat next to Daddy’s razor. I drank most of it, spilled the rest into the sink, turned off the light, and went back to my room.

As I passed Mommy and Daddy’s room Mommy said, “Are you okay, Marla?”

“Yes. I was thirsty.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

A moment later I crawled back into my bed, confused.

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Filed under Fiction

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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Filed under Books, Fiction

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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The Past Amok

quantum-time-travel

“The innocent is the person who explains nothing.”
— Albert Camus

 

Feeling as if Alexander Giston were measuring him, looking for a weakness to exploit, Petronis Vanagas stared back and steeled himself.

You’re Lithuanian,” Giston said. The statement surprised Petronis, which seemed to please his guest.

Petronis nodded. “My parents moved from Vilnius here to Amesbury when I was but a boy.”

“I have traces of Lithuanian blood, on my mother’s side.”

Petronis waited patiently, but curious.

“You’re considering providing financial assistance to Thomas Savery, in support of one of his inventions.”

Taken aback by this sudden change in direction, as well as by Giston’s strange accent, which he couldn’t place, Petronis said, “How do you know this? No one knows of my intent to invest in his working model, not even Thomas himself, since I have yet to approach him.”

“But you will.”

Petronis frowned. “As you seem to know, Thomas is experimenting with a steam engine. He requires some financial aid.”

“I ask that you refrain from providing such aid.”

“But, why? Steam is the future of England, and of the world.”

Giston shook his head. “It’s dangerous. Should Savery succeed with his steam engine, many lives will be lost in the future.”

Petronis snorted. “You cannot know that.”

“I can, and I do.”

“Are you a prognosticator?”

Giston nodded. “Something like that.”

Petronis twice pursed his lips. “I do not believe in fortunetelling.”

“Neither do I.” Then Giston added, “More than a century from now, Napoleon Bonaparte will refer to Vilnius, the capitol city of Lithuania, as ‘the Jerusalem of the North’ because of its large Jewish population. A hundred-fifty years after Napoleon passes through, during the House Un-American Activities Committee proceedings in 1954, a countryman of yours, an actor by the name Karolis Bučinskis, will change his name at the suggestion of his agent, who feared that an Eastern European surname might damage his career. Bučinskis will become Charles Bronson—he will take the name from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios—and become a major box office draw after his appearance in The Magnificent Seven, a movie in which he will be cast as one of seven gunfighters, Bernardo O’Reilly, not because he looked at all like an Irishman.”

To Petronis, what Giston just told him, related in a tone of voice that Giston seemed to think Petronis should take at face value, sounded like mere fantasy. What Petronis said was, “What is a ‘movie’?”

Giston smiled. “Moving pictures. In my time, we can capture images on film and show them on a screen, through a projector. Like a play on a silver screen.”

“Why would anyone wish to do that?”

“Because we can,” Giston said, and then, “You have no idea.”

Petronis sneered at his guest. “If you are no prognosticator, then you must be a raconteur, or worse, a liar.”

“I’m neither a fortuneteller or a teller of stories, and what reason would I have to lie to you?”

Petronis looked uncertain how to respond.

“But trust me, I know,” Giston said.

“How?”

Giston sighed, pulled a piece of paper from the folder he held, then pushed it across the table, toward Petronis.

Petronis looked at the slip, and felt his features contort into a semblance of disbelief.

“What sorcery is this?” Petronis was about to accuse Giston of witchcraft.

“It’s no sorcery. That’s a copy of the patent for which Thomas Savery will apply, after you provide him with the funding necessary to complete his working model of a steam engine.”

“You speak strangely,” Petronis said. “What is ‘thats’?”

Giston laughed. “‘That’s’ is a contraction. Surely you’re familiar with those? Shakespeare used them: shan’t, ‘twere, ‘twon’t, ‘tis, ha’n’t, o’er, e’en, ta’en—”

“I know what a contraction is.”

“‘That’s’ is a contraction of ‘that is.’”

Petronis returned his attention to the paper in front of him. “How did you come by this?”

“It’s not important,” Giston said. “What’s — what is important is that you refrain from writing the draft that allows Savery to complete his work on his steam engine.”

Petronis only stared at Giston. A moment later, he watched Giston pull a second sheet of paper from his folder and push it across the table.

Petronis studied the document a moment before asking, “What is this?”

“You don’t recognize your own signature on your own draft?”

“I have writ no such draft.”

“But you will, on the date signified on that draft.”

Petronis looked at the paper again. “A week from today?”

“That’s the great thing about the future. We have records of past events, and ways of making copies of them. Once I discovered that Thomas Savery had created the first steam engine, it was child’s play to find a copy of his patent. It was slightly more troublesome to discover that it was you who contributed money to his efforts to create an archetype.”

Petronis studied Giston, trying to discern if he might be lying. Failing, he said, “You are mad!”

Giston nodded. “A little more than a century from now a man will be born in Boston—you know Boston, in Massachusetts? Edgar Allan Poe will be an American poet, author, and literary critic known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. He will write of madness: ‘Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.’” Giston nodded a second time. “I might indeed be mad, but my purpose is pure: to prevent Savery’s madness.”

“Thomas Savery wishes only to further man’s foray into the knowledge of things mechanical. He wishes to help mankind.”

Giston shook his head. “Savery is misguided. He will succeed only in creating pain and suffering.”

Petronis stared at Giston in horror. “You truly are mad.”

Giston smiled. “No, I’m a time traveler from your future—from the year 1966.”

“You lie!”

Giston shook his head and pushed a third piece of paper across the table.

Petronis read the slip of paper—it was a newspaper clipping dated Friday, October 21, 1966. A detailed account of an accident that took the lives of many people, it included an image of the scene in the immediate aftermath. An explosion was the result of a steam engine: the very technology that Petronis supported.

When he finished reading the account, he looked at Giston. “Surely this is apocryphal.”

“It’s the truth,” Giston said.

“And this image? How was it produced?”

“It’s called a photograph. It’s made through a similar process than that used to create moving pictures.”

Petronis assimilated all that he’d learned over the course of the last few minutes: the copies of the patent and his signed and dated draft, along with the newspaper clipping, and movies and photographs. He felt his previous disbelief turn into something else… not quite belief, but wanting to believe. Because if it were true, then…

A plan began to take shape in Petronis’s mind, and he felt the corner of his lip curl up.

He looked up to find Giston studying him, but Petronis was quick to cover up his treachery.

“I require,” Petronis said slowly, a look of curiosity on his face, “more proof.” He watched Giston take a moment to fully understand what he’d left unsaid.

“You wish to be shown the future?” Giston asked.

Petronis shook his head. “The past.”

“Why the past?” Giston seemed curious.

“There is someone I wish to meet. Someone who is now deceased.”

Petronis watched Giston consider his request. Would he find it unreasonable?

After a moment, Giston said, “If I show you the past, then you will honor my demand?”

Petronis nodded. “If what you show me is truly the past.”

–℘

From Petronis’s home in Amesbury, he and Giston rode by horseback to Stonehenge, which was less than a league west of the small town. After dismounting, Giston led Petronis to just inside the Stonehenge circle, where he removed a small silver box with several knobs and two buttons from a leather case. He pointed the device at the center of the circle and pushed a button.

A moment later, Petronis saw appear a black pyramid that he estimated was approximately a half a perch in height.

Petronis followed Giston to the pyramid, which seemed to be constructed of a material unknown to Petronis—it was cold and hard to his touch, but not metallic. As they neared the construct, he watched Giston turn a knob, and, without a sound, an opening appeared in one of its sides. He gestured that Petronis should enter.

Once Petronis was seated inside the pyramid, Giston climbed in and sat next to him; their shoulders touched within the tight confines of the structure. Turning the knob on the device in his hand, the door closed.

“To what month and year do you wish to travel?” Giston asked.

“May, 1668.” Petronis was unable to withhold a tone of disbelief from his reply. He twisted in his seat; he didn’t like that his shoulder touched Giston’s.

Giston twisted a knob and pushed one of the buttons. A moment later, the pyramid emitted a low hum and began to vibrate. The air seemed to crackle, and Petronis thought he detected the scent of burnt tobacco. The black walls faded to gray, then turned maroon… then to red…

Feeling the onset of vertigo, Petronis closed his eyes against impending nausea.

“I feel ill,” he said weakly; his afternoon meal threatened to rise from his stomach.

“That’s normal,” Giston said. “It will pass upon arrival at our destination.”

A few moments later, the vibration halted, the hum faded, eventually stopping, and Petronis felt his nausea begin to subside. He ventured to open his eyes.

Twisting the knob, the opening reappeared, and Giston led Petronis out of the pyramid.

Petronis looked around before pronouncing, “As I thought. You attempt a ruse. We have gone nowhere.”

Giston laughed. “Of course not. But we have traveled thirty years into your past. This circle of stones looks just as it does now in my time.”

Petronis was unconvinced.

“Where to?” Giston added.

“Back to Amesbury.” Petronis was certain that once they arrived he would easily be able to prove Giston’s folly.

Petronis led Giston through the streets of Amesbury, noting subtle changes to the town, mostly to the names of business establishments—his favorite pub, Ye Olde Speckled Hen, was now a smithy. Petronis felt his heartbeat quicken as he considered that perhaps Giston’s wild story was true, and that maybe he could carry out his plan.

After a few turns, they came to an address on Coltsfoot Close. After dismounting, Petronis positioned himself in front of the door and knocked; a moment later an attractive young woman appeared in the doorway.

“Yes?” she said.

“You are Trisha Collins?”

“Yes.” She looked confused. “Do I know you, sir?”

Petronis ignored her. “You are wed to John Collins?”

“Yes.”

“You will give birth to a daughter, whom you will name Jennifer, eight months from now.”

“Not to my knowledge am I with child.”

“Trust me, you are.” With that, he procured a single-shot flintlock side pistol from an inside pocket in his waistcoat and shot the woman, straight in the heart. The woman fell back, dead before she hit the floor.

“My god, what have you done?” Giston sounded horrified.

“I just shot my wife’s mother,” Petronis said, matter of fact, “who is carrying my wife to be.”

Giston noticed that the shot had drawn the attention of neighbors.

“We must go,” he said.

–℘

When they arrived back to Petronis’s home in 1698, Giston demanded to know why Petronis had brought a gun with him.

“In 1966, English citizens are forbidden by law to carry weapons.”

Petronis grinned. “The English Bill of Rights of 1689 guarantees the right of Protestants to own firearms, along with their Catholic brothers.”

“Had I known you carried a gun, I would’ve forbidden you to bring it with you.”

Petronis laughed. “You did not ask.”

“But why did you want your future mother-in-law dead?”

“My wife,” Petronis said, his previous good humor gone, “is a philanderer. I learned a week ago that she not only betrays me, she betrays me with another woman.” After a moment, he added, “I wonder to whom I might now be wed.”

Before more could be said, a knock sounded lightly on the door to Petronis’s den.

“Who is it?” Petronis called; he seemed anxious.

The door swung in and a voluptuously beautiful young woman entered.

“It is I,” the woman said sweetly. “Silly Petronis, who else but your dear wife, Charlotte? I did not hear you come in. Nor,” she added with a glance at Giston, “did I know you had company.”

Petronis was delighted as the woman stepped to him to place a kiss on his cheek, and he imagined the treasure that lay in wait for him beneath the bodice that restrained her ample bosom.

“Our evening meal will be ready shortly,” she added. “Will our guest be staying?”

“No,” Giston said before Petronis could reply. “I must be going.”

When Charlotte closed the door behind her, Giston said, modulating his voice carefully so that Charlotte wouldn’t overhear him, “You fool! You have no idea what you have done.”

“Obviously I killed my wife to be before she was born. I am now wed to a beautiful woman who clearly adores me.”

“But you have no idea what else you may have changed because of your thoughtless act.”

“What do I care?” Petronis said. “So long as Jennifer is no more.”

“You have no idea what you may have wreaked upon my present, by killing an innocent woman and her unborn child.”

“But is that not what you wished to accomplish—a change to history?”

“But for the good. For all I know, the death of your wife and her mother have resulted in…”

“What?” Petronis was excited by the prospect of learning something of the future.

“Never mind.” Giston said, adding, “A theory exists in my time, known as The Butterfly Effect. It suggests that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.”

“What is Texas?”

“Never mind.” Giston seemed lost in some secret thought. “Fascinating,” he muttered, seemingly intrigued.

“What?”

“I must return to 1966 at once,” Giston said. Then he asked, “Do we have a deal? You will not assist Savery with his steam engine?”

Petronis shrugged. “Of course. I am a man of my word. But surely you must know that if Thomas does not succeed, someone else will, a year from now, or in ten.”

“Maybe. But even if he or someone else does, I’m hoping that this slight change to history will be enough to alter the events that led up to the catastrophe of October 21, 1966.” Then, in response to Petronis’s questioning gaze, he barked, “Never mind,” and bid a hasty departure.

–℘

Petronis opened the door to find a stranger standing there.

“Yes?” he asked.

“My name is Alexander Giston. It’s important that we talk.”

“Do I know you?”

“You could say we’re old friends,” Giston said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t recall me.”

Puzzled, Petronis stepped back to allow Giston entry. After closing the door, he led his guest down a short hallway, where an attractive woman, slight in build, approached from the opposite end.

“You have a guest,” she said, glancing at Giston. “Will he be staying for dinner?”

Petronis looked at Giston, who gave a shake of his head.

“No,” Petronis told the woman. “It will be you and I, Jennifer.” He was unable to hide his disdain for the woman.

“Why do you treat me with such disregard?” she asked.

Petronis rolled his eyes. He had not yet confronted Jennifer regarding the issue of her infidelity. He said only, “We will be in my den.” As he brushed past her, he heard her sigh.

Once they were seated, Giston said, “I’m here to break time.” After that cryptic prelude, he proceeded to relate an improbable story of time travel, providing evidence via several documents: a patent, a draft signed by Petronis, and a newspaper clipping depicting a horrible accident involving a steam engine—a much more sophisticated version of the model on which Thomas Savery was working, the very model in which Petronis was planning to invest.

Wanting to believe in the stranger’s claim, Petronis said, attempting to hide his intentions, “I require more proof. A visit thirty years into my past should suffice, I would think.”

“No,” Giston told him.

“As I thought,” Petronis said. “You attempt subterfuge.”

“No,” Giston said a second time. “This is my second visit to meet with you, although to you, it is our first meeting. Our first visit took place three days from today. You convinced me then to take you into your past. I consented, and you shot and killed your wife’s mother and her unborn child, your future wife, Jennifer.”

Petronis only stared at Giston, wanting to argue against the validity of his guest’s claim. But he couldn’t refute the stranger’s account: his plan was to return to the past to erase his wife’s existence.

“Your wife must survive,” Giston said, “because she is with child, conceived just prior to your discovery of her duplicity. Your son must live because he will create a family tree that will lead to my wife’s birth.”

With that, Giston pulled out a gun and shot Petronis, who slumped at his desk.

As Giston inspected the corpse to make certain it was devoid of life, the door burst in and Jennifer, seeing her husband dead, screamed, “You have killed my husband… murderer!”

“Yes,” Giston said. “You have no way of knowing, but you should thank me.” Then he added, “You will give birth to a son in little more than eight months. Care for him well—you and your lover—because the future depends on him.”

Then he rushed past Jennifer and out the door.


The gist of most time travel stories is changing some event in the past to alter the present—the past’s future, and The Past Amok is no different. But it is also a tale of revenge: Alexander Giston seeks retribution for the death of his family. The reader is led, throughout the narrative, down a path, but when they get to the bottom of the hill, they find a surprise destination awaits them.

Has your spouse ever cheated on you? How did you react? With rage, hurt? Were you tempted to even the score by having revenge sex with someone else? When Petronis discovers his wife’s infidelity and the opportunity presents itself, he retaliates by erasing his cheating spouse’s very existence. Did he overreact?

In short fiction, often what is left unsaid is as important as what the author spells out with words on a page. It is my hope that the reader here will consider Petronis’s response to his wife’s betrayal as having failed. Certainly, even with her gone from his life, the pain of her betrayal remains with him, while she, because she never existed, is none the wiser to his discovery of her infidelity. If none of us gets out of our life without a few regrets, will Petronis one day come to regret never having confronted her with her duplicity? Of course he is robbed of that opportunity by Giston’s action to rectify the past to save his present.

But should the reader not come away with these questions, it is my hope they at least found The Past Amok an entertaining read.

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Filed under Fiction, Short Stories

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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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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God Spoke To Me Today

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago in anticipation of a new novel. I’ve spent the time since kicking around a number of ideas about where the story will go, and the characters. After percolating for a while, I think I’m ready to roll up my sleeves, dig in and commence. God Spoke To Me Today is a working title at this point.

Feel free to leave comments.


Prologue

God spoke to me today, through a woman I never met.

I didn’t ask her a simple “why” question. Not like the ones we put forth from the moment we become self-aware and learn to misuse language—“Why is the sky blue, Mommy?”—and throughout our life—“Why do I exist?” to no one in particular, or to a god who only chuckles and replies, low so as not to be overheard, “Because I wish to torment you.” It was a “how” question. Despite the care the woman put into her effort, she failed to answer my simple question. What I took from her, reading between the lines, was equally simple, bringing me to this moment, to see if God would stop me, or save me.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.

I wasn’t much for prayer when I was young. Is anyone in youth? Or does it come only later, after life beats you down and you realize you truly are powerless, so you turn to that higher being, wondering if he really listens, hoping he got out of the right side of bed that day and will grant you an answer, or pull the right strings, push the right button, turn the right knob, throw you a bone, or will he only sigh and whisper to himself, “Another one comes to me for a miracle when he has nowhere else to go. Will they never learn?”

I was convinced in my long ago youth, perhaps as all young men are, that I was destined for an extraordinary life. In time I settled for ordinary, living a life of, as someone far more extraordinary than me said or wrote, “quiet desperation.” When even that was denied me, I turned to God because I was not yet ready to go to my grave with the song still in me.

They say God never turns his back on anyone, and that if we don’t get a reply it’s because we’re not listening.

A platitude.

My prayers led me to believe in Spinoza’s god—a god whose existence is evident in the order of creation but who doesn’t concern him or herself with the silly fates of men. Spinoza didn’t believe God lived outside of Nature to con­trol it, but instead was a part of it. He couldn’t care less that I was likely to get out of this life unnoticed.

Religions preach that Man is God’s crowning and most prized creation.

Bullshit.

In all the universe, ninety-one billion light years in diameter and growing, with its one hundred billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, with its black holes and nebulas, its hypervelocity stars—stars travelling at a high rate of speed after interacting with a black hole—and who knows what other mysteries, Man is God’s greatest wonder? I don’t think so.

Surely there are greater, less violent intelligences in the universe. Beings who use their opposable thumbs for good and not evil. Unlike Man, whose greatest ambition is devising more efficient ways to kill its own species. If the bible is to be taken at its word, Man so pissed off God that he sent a flood to destroy him.

God, the great I Am.

If God spoke creation, spoke existence into existence, why did he have to send a flood? Couldn’t he simply speak oblivion into oblivion?

I’m convinced that if Christ were to return, he’d take a look around at what Man has done to this wondrous planet, throw up his hands in disgust, and walk away, leaving mankind to finish destroying itself so that this tiny jewel in the cosmos could heal from what we’ve put her through. From the state of the world, I wonder if maybe he already had. Returned, that is, and walked away.

Nihilism is the result of a failure to discover the meaning of life. It sacrifices the meaning God brings into our lives for matter and motion, physics, and objective truth—truths that we can see and touch, in our self-professed intelligence eschewing all things spiritual.

Is anything in life truly objective?

When it comes to truth, we embrace lies, seeking to fulfill our ever-growing wants, taking for granted our needs, which are easily satisfied by that which is all around us.

Jeff Bridges as Jack Lucas in The Fisher King, while in the drunken stupor that frees us, put Nietzsche’s beliefs into the simplest of terms:

“Nietzsche says there are two kinds of people in the world. People who are destined for greatness, like Walt Disney and Hitler. And then there’s the rest of us. He called us ‘the bungled and the botched.’ We get teased. We sometimes get close to greatness, but we never get there. We’re the expendable masses. We get pushed in front of trains, take poison aspirin, get gunned down in Dairy Queens.”

Despite the fact that Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse, claiming to have had Caiaphas fettered and demanding that the German emperor be taken to Rome to be shot, I embrace his philosophy.

Death by train was far too public. Poison much too dramatic. I couldn’t hope to get gunned down at a Dairy Queen, or at a Post Office for that matter, even if the mention of my name in the press might garnish me my fifteen minutes of fame.

I looked down at the water, lapping gently at the pier on which I stood. It beckoned me.

I’d lived for a time in water; that I should die in water seemed appropriate. It would bring my life full circle.

There seems to be two beliefs: one is that it is fairly painless if not quick. The other is that it is very painful, the lungs frantic to draw oxygen while at the same time fighting to expel the substance that, since birth, is foreign to them.

I no longer cared. I just wanted the pain to stop.

I took a step forward, off the edge of the pier, wondering whether it was true: that in dying one’s entire life flashes before their eyes…

God-spoke-to-me-yesterday-e1431173874464

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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.

Cover

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Bathman

Written many years ago and dedicated to the Dilbert generation—those cube rats who are overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated. I never did find a home for this with a publisher, although one suggested I write an alternate ending, which I did; they never did accept the piece. The alternate ending appears after the original. Which do you prefer?bathman

I’d had a miserable day. A perfectly miserable day. A perfectly miserable ending to a perfectly miserable week.

I work with college nincompoops. They may be very good at what they do—providing consulting services to the healthcare industry—but they sure as hell aren’t any good at writing about what they do for our clients. That’s my job—making them look good in the eyes of the client. I format their documents to a certain standard and perform a business read. I chase down errant punctuation and place it where it belongs, correct incorrect punctuation, and eliminate it entirely when it’s unnecessary. I cut the strings on dangling participles. I splice split infinitives and juxtapose compound sentences into their proper order, making sure all clauses are properly tucked into place where they belong, and further making certain that the predicate actually predicates what the subject is or does. I get tense making certain the nincompoops use the proper tense, and lower the case in cases where uppercase is inappropriate and vice versa (or as one nincompoop once wrote, “visa versa”). I also correct misspelled words as opposed (or as another nincompoop once wrote, “aposed”) to letting the nincompoop embarrass himself in the eyes of our clients by ignoring my penchant for perfection. I ensure that modifiers modify what they’re supposed to modify and make my own modifications when they don’t. I also meet impossible deadlines.

Got a deliverable that needs to be at a client site by tomorrow? Give it to me; I’ll get it to done. I just wave my magic wand and it shows up at the client site on time looking like a million bucks and reading like someone with some actual intelligence wrote it.

It was Friday and I’d had a particularly brutal week. I’d had to stay late tweaking some nincompoop’s HIPAA Impact Analysis—over a hundred pages of drivel (if you can’t impress them with clarity, overwhelm them with garrulous claptrap)—and had just finished a hastily prepared meal: a Dolly’s pizza that had been less than hastily delivered a little more than an hour after I’d ordered it… twenty minutes longer than had been promised. The pizza was good, but it was difficult to tell whether it had hit the spot by itself, or whether the shot of bourbon chased by the beer had paved the way.

I settled into my recliner to watch the ballgame. It was late September and the Tigers were struggling mightily. They’d been out of the hunt since late April, and now, instead of struggling to make a late run for the playoffs, they were struggling against finishing the season with 100 losses. If I’d been a betting man, I’d have bet on them to attain that triple digit milestone. Having fallen behind the Yankees early, tonight’s game looked like they would move one game closer to that dubious plateau.

Two and a half hours later the game ended with yet another loss, and I shut off the TV and went to bed. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than I heard the bathroom water go on in the apartment above mine: Bathman was awake and on the prowl…

Since moving into this apartment a few months ago I’d been continuously annoyed by the bathing habits of the resident of the unit above mine. Not having met him, I could only surmise I’d recognize him instantly if not by his acute cleanliness, then most certainly by his water-wrinkled skin, or maybe even by the scales I was beginning to suspect he needed to irrigate so regularly. I never heard splashing, so I assumed he was merely enjoying some perverse Calgon moment, letting the water soak away whatever dirt may have accumulated during the couple of hours since his previous soaking.

He bathed constantly. By noon on weekends he’d already have bathed twice, without ever having left his apartment. Twice more by six in the evening, and twice again by midnight. On one particularly restless night I’d been treated to the sound of his bathroom plumbing (located in my bedroom closet) groaning its protest at 2 a.m., signaling to me that it was time for rub-a-dub-dub, one man in a tub. By the end of my first month, for the first time in my life—no mean feat considering my ex-wife (towards the end I’d taken to playing at full volume Jimi Hendrix’s Hey, Joe, the song that asks the musical question “where you going with that gun in your hand?”)—I’d been ready to commit murder.

I soon began referring to this Bozo as Bathman. The name was accompanied by an image of a caped crusader clad in black latex, with soap scum around his ankles.

The plumbing sang in a high falsetto as Bathman shut off the water, and a moment later I heard him slip-squeak into his porcelain tub. I imagined pasty-white blubbery skin and wondered if his tub, too, might have stretch marks. I closed my eyes and began to drift off…

The bright light outside my bedroom window brought me instantly awake: a circular white spotlight against the night sky with a black “W” embossed within its halo. The Commissioner was summoning The Wordsmith. Someone needed my services.

I bounded out of bed and adjusted my tights made tighter still by a nearly full bladder. “No time,” I told myself and threw my cape over my left shoulder and dashed out the door and down the two flights of stairs that lead to the parking lot. Sliding behind the wheel of the Wordmobile, I flipped the ignition switch and the engine roared to life. I threw it into drive and picked up the Wordphone as I sped around the corner on two wheels and headed east. A moment later the Commissioner picked up.

“Wordsmith,” I heard him say. “We’ve got a situation at a client site.

“What is it?” I said doggedly. My heart was racing with expectation. Last night I’d been summoned to lop the “s” off a series of pro formas, one of those funny little words who’s plural is the same as its singular. The night before someone had relied on Spellchecker and I had been called in to slash all the hyphens from multiple appearances of inter-dependencies and bi-weeklies. God, I love my job.

“One of our consultants has been submitting status reports to a client without first submitting them to you to work your magic.”

“Damn,” I breathed. “How many?”

“Three.”

It looked like I’d be pulling an all-nighter. “What’s the excuse?”

“She said the CEO never reads them.”

“And now?”

“The CEO resigned. The new one wants to see the documentation for everything we’ve done on this project. The three documents are waiting for you on your office e-mail.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll copy you on the final versions.” I broke the connection.

Moments later I squealed to a halt next to the unmanned booth outside the parking lot. I palmed the green disk that prints the ticket, pulled the ticket from its slot, and waited for the gate to lift. I stuffed the ticket into my tights so I wouldn’t forget it.

I raced across the street and stooped at the door so the scanner could read the big red “W” scrawled in script across the black backdrop that was my costume. A moment later I heard the lock click open. I raced to the elevator and pounded the Up button. The door sighed open and I leaped inside and pushed the button for the fourth floor.

Consultants, I thought to myself as I waited impatiently to reach my destination. I couldn’t think of another business where a client is happy to pay someone they didn’t call to tell them something they already know.

The elevator door parted down the middle (I felt like Moses standing on the bank of the Red Sea), and I dashed down the hall to my cubicle. I put on a pot of coffee while I waited for my PC to boot up.

The files were there, as the Commissioner had said. I downloaded the first one. I groaned. It was a mess. It would need a tremendous amount of reformatting to bring it to standard, and from the Executive Summary I could tell that whoever had written it had probably had someone else write their college dissertation.

I took a sip from my coffee mug and—

 ℘

Awoke with a start from the sound of water draining from the tub upstairs.

“Just a dream,” I sighed with marked disappointment.

I settled my head back onto the pillow and into my own very mundane life. I closed my eyes determined to get some sleep. Tomorrow was Saturday and I didn’t have anything major planned. But I knew Bathman had a big day in store for him.

I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my ears to muffle the sound of the draining water…

 ℘

And the alternate ending:

I took a sip from my coffee mug and —

Six a.m. and the plumbing in my closet that was my alarm clock went off: Bathman was determined to start the day off with a clean slate. Yesterday’s HIPAA Impact Analysis had had its impact on me. I rolled into a sitting position and launched myself into action. Without bothering with slippers, I raced into the bathroom.

If it’s clean he wants to be, I can help with that, I thought as I reached for the toilet bowl brush that stood in its plastic receptacle in the corner behind the toilet.

I was in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, but I didn’t care. I needed to make sure I got to Bathman before he hit the water. I bounded up the stairs and pounded on the door with my brush raised, prepared to do battle.

A moment later the door swung in and I stood there, with water trickling down my upraised arm, unable to say a word. In the few months I’d lived here my febrile imagination had created for me an icon I was certain reality could only fail to match. And so before me stood the figure I had not dared to imagine.

“Uh,” I stammered, at a loss, for the first time in a long time, for words. I looked away from the dark eyes that stared at me, down at dainty feet with nails painted red.

“Yes?” came a sultry voice that sounded to me, as my blood pressure fell, as far away as last night’s dream.

My eyes moved slowly up from those two delicately formed feet to take in two dangerously curved legs that disappeared beneath the hemline, about six inches above the knees, of a tiny robe cinched tight at a narrow waist, to linger a moment on the proud swelling of two rather large but not too large breasts that the tiny robe Bathman… um, Bathwoman, wore couldn’t conceal.

What I’d envisioned as pasty white skin akin to something that might crawl out from under some rock was instead a medium shade of Mediterranean bronze, well irrigated not from repeated bathings, but instead, or so I imagined, from recurring application of skin lotion, rich in aloe and vitamin E.

“Can I help you?” the sultry voice asked.

A few minutes later, armed with a pint of Vanish, I padded back down to my own apartment. Yesterday’s HIPAA Impact Analysis was forgotten. And as I vigorously brushed a bowl that didn’t need brushing, I heard my neighbor slip-squeak into her bathtub and cursed myself for not asking her opinion on use of the ellipsis as a licentious literary device…

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