COME FLY WITH ME

THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO DENISE AT GIRLIEONTHEEDGE’S PROMPT WORD:  BUBBLE
SIX SENTENCES EXACTLY – NO MORE, NO LESS. PUNCTUATION BE DAMNED! FAULKNER WOULD DEFINITELY APPROVE.

My dearest Hope ~ How you continue to invade my thoughts in the stillness of the morning’s early hours; I awaken and for a moment I believe the dream to be true, the feel of your smooth yielding body next to mine, the tenderness of your kiss on my lips but when I reach out my arms, you are not there and a tear slowly emerges from the corner of my eye. 

Somehow I manage to get through the disorder that is my life but without you I am not truly alive – I merely exist; you asked so little of me and brought unimaginable joy to my lonely world for you were my princess and I took great pleasure dressing you in satin and lace, your shining blue eyes sparkling with excitement whenever I brought home a gift for you and you delighted in each present, whether a bottle of perfume or a book of poems which I would read to you every night. 

Yet, in all honesty, those steamy sensual sex games we played are what I miss the most for you were insatiable, your beautiful mouth smiling with desire, your lithe body as malleable and compliant as the branches of a willow tree; we fit together perfectly and those intimate times we shared together in our bed are etched in my mind forever. 

Leaving you in the morning to go to work was torture, especially that one morning when you looked so beautiful as you slept that I didn’t have the heart to wake you so instead I placed a single rose on your breast for you to discover when you awoke and I quietly closed the door behind me leaving you alone, my darling, to dream – a concept I no longer remember as dreadful nightmares constantly invade my sleep leaving me bereft; only the knowledge that you’d be there waiting for me when I returned was what got me through the day and I’d race home to see you, to embrace you, but that all ended one year ago when I found you lifeless on our bed.

Today I walked to the park and I when I remembered it was our anniversary, all the air left my body like a burst bubble leaving me feeling hollow inside; the children in the park were playing with kites and balloons, laughing with glee as the wind lifted their playthings higher and higher when suddenly one of the little girls cried out in dismay as the string escaped her hand and her balloon slowly floated out of sight, leaving the poor child inconsolable and I thought of you, calling for you to come back to me; that’s when I realized I had two choices: continue living the life of a lonely, broken man or to find someone to share my life – that, my darling Hope, is when I chose the latter for I truly believe you would want me to find happiness again, to fill this void in my wretched life. 

I slowly walked home, retrieved my mail and sat on the couch, dejected, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the tip of a familiar publication – could it be possible on our anniversary – yes, it was the Johnson Premium Dolls catalog with a large banner advertising 40% off discontinued blow up sex dolls, so with trembling fingers I flipped through the pages until I found another you, my dearest Hope; overcome with joy, I placed my order immediately and tomorrow I will insert this letter into a balloon, inflate it and release it to reach you in heaven as a reminder to myself to never again buy you roses with piercing thorns ~ My love forever, Lawrence. 

NAR © 2023

ON THE ROCKS

Ancient Greek temples dotted the hillside of Agrigento. “Aren’t they magnificent, Camilla?” I tried engaging my wife of seventeen years in conversation.

Camilla always wanted to visit Sicily; now we were finally here but our vacation had been marred by the news of the death of Eunice, her closest friend since college. Actually, Camilla had been depressed ever since Eunice’s cancer was diagnosed two years earlier. She became morbidly preoccupied with illness and death and every little pain sent her running to the doctor. She had become lethargic and morose. The whole situation was tedious; I thought a holiday abroad would lighten both our moods.

I don’t like this place, Nigel” Camilla remarked. “It reeks of death and decay. You can practically see blood stains on the ground.”

Good God, Camilla! Why are you allowing your mind to give in to these macabre thoughts?” I questioned impatiently. “Feel the sun on your face. Look at the glorious Mediterranean surrounding us. Let yourself be transported to another era.”

I’ve got a ghastly headache, Nigel. Take me back to the hotel!” Camilla demanded.

But we just got here! Look at these fabulous gnarled olive trees. Why, they must be as old as the ruins themselves. Impressive, aren’t they? Let’s sit and enjoy the view. You’ve always dreamed of coming here, Camilla. Enjoy it!

How can I enjoy myself knowing Eunice is gone? How can I enjoy anything ever again? She was my dearest friend.” Camilla buried her head in her hands, sobbing.

I know it’s difficult, my dear, but try not to dwell on it. Here, listen to this.” Retrieving a brochure from my pocket, I began to read. “‘In mythology, Agrigento was founded by Daedalus and Icarus.’ Just think of it – these temples have been here since the 5th Century B.C.! The contemporary glass and steel buildings back home can’t compare to these majestic structures!”

Nigel, please! You think I give a damn about any of this? It’s meaningless without Eunice. Meaningless, I tell you! She was the light of my life.”

Camilla stared at me with frenetic eyes. I was beginning to believe she was losing her mind.

Your life is meaningless? What about me, Camilla? I’m your husband, for crying out loud! We’ve been together for seventeen years. Does that count for nothing?”

Oh, come on, Nigel! Isn’t it about time we admitted the truth. Our marriage is a sham! And now Eunice is gone! There’s nothing left for me!” Camilla turned and started walking away.

Eunice! All you ever talk about is your beloved Eunice!” I yelled after her. “You’ve been obsessed with her for years! I always wondered but now I know why you were never interested in sex, laying in our bed with about as much enthusiasm as a cold fish. You and Eunice were lovers, weren’t you?”

“Yes, I loved her and she loved me passionately, deeply. I never loved you, Nigel. Never!” Camilla looked at me with intense loathing and I became enraged, jealous of her dead lover.

“I’m glad Eunice is dead, Camilla. I hope the cancer slowly gnawed away at her and her life was one of incessant pain. Oh, I’m so glad she’s dead and now you’re in agony without her!” I spat out dreadful words of rage.

Camilla picked up a rock and threw at me but it fell short. She started running and I caught up with her, reaching for her arm. She screamed “Don’t touch me, Nigel! Just go away and leave me alone!”

Pulling away, Camilla ran toward the craggy cliffs. In a horrifying instant she was gone, plunging headlong against the rocks, her body shattering like an empty vessel, and disappearing into the sea.

Aghast, I stood staring into the abyss. “Goddamn, you, Camilla!” I shouted. “Goddamn you! Go be with your precious Eunice!”

After a long while alone on the cliffs, I walked back to my rental and drove to the hotel. I saw no reason to rush back home. Perhaps I’d extend my holiday indefinitely, head to the Amalfi Coast. I realized it had been ages since I’d had any time alone. I inhaled the heady fragrance of the plumeria and eucalyptus. I exhaled slowly, relishing the stillness of the night.

A glass or two of limoncello on the rocks would be the perfect way to end the night.

NAR © 2023

Parva leves capiunt animas

IGNORE THE FUNNY APOSTROPHE WHICH POPS UP EVERY TIME I TRY TO REBLOG SOMETHING AND READ ON. HOC TERRIBILIS EST, DUDE! ALMOST AS GOOD AS MEL BROOKS!

bluebird of bitterness

If you’re just an ordinary schlub who would like to sound erudite and scholarly, nothing does the trick quite like sprinkling your conversation with Latin phrases. Here are some that you’re sure to find useful in common everyday situations:

Magister Mundi sum.
I am the Master of the Universe.

Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare.
I think some people in togas are plotting against me.

Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes. 
If you can read this, you’re overeducated.

Mellita, domi adsum. 
Honey, I’m home.

Totum dependeat.
Let it all hang out.

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem!
Stand aside, plebians! I am on imperial business!

Quo signo nata es?
What’s your sign?

Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.
If Caesar were alive, you’d be chained to an oar.

Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could…

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WE’RE #1!

IT IS MY PRIVILEGE TO SHARE THE NEWS WITH YOU
THAT OUR LATEST ANTHOLOGY
IS NOW #1 ON
THE AMAZON BESTSELLER LIST!
I SHARE THE JOY AND PRIDE
ALONG WITH EVERYONE
WHO CONTRIBUTED
TO THIS AMAZING BOOK.
THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN
TO THE AUTHORS OF THE ANTHOLOGY
BY GABRIELA MARIE MILTON, EDITOR

We are thrilled to let you know that Hidden in Childhood: A Poetry Anthology published by Literary Revelations is now a #1 Amazon bestseller. This book was made possible by the gorgeous poems you, poets from around the world, sent us. Thank you for trusting Literary Revelations with your poetry.

Congratulations! You are now #1 Amazon bestselling poets!

Amazon Description: 
From authors featured on NPR, BBC, and the New York Times, and from emerging poets, comes a monumental anthology in which every poem sends shivers down your spine. Childhood’s joy and trauma expressed – with stunning talent and sincerity – by over 150 poets in more than 280 poems. Childhood spaces magnified by the human memory, populated by good and bad, by trips to hell and heaven, in an almost Hieronymus Bosch type of atmosphere. Over 150 voices call you to read this book. Read it. You will learn that childhood never goes away. You will be reminded of the beauty of the seraphim and the need to protect children from any form of abuse. 150 voices knock on your door. Open the door. A chorus of childhoods will tell you that our children need love.

Literary Revelations is proud to bring you this anthology and deeply grateful to all contributors for pouring out their hearts into the pages of this book.

If you are interested, the book may be purchased here: Hidden in Childhood: A Poetry Anthology https://a.co/d/6H4pKiw 

NAR © 2023

FIRENZE, MI AMOR

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in Firenze, Italy
Image used with permission by photographer

My husband Dan had recently been offered a two-year assignment in the Firenze branch office of his company. It was the opportunity of a lifetime which couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient point in our lives. We’d been married for six years and now a few loose ends were starting to fall into place for us.

After months of gut-wrenching indecision, we believed the time was right to start a family; the spectacular apartment overlooking Central Park became available and our bid was accepted; my art gallery had taken off and was written up in Aesthetica Magazine, drawing the attention of the world-famous artist Klaus Voormann who stopped by one day out of the blue. I was shocked when he proposed the idea of exhibiting one of his original drawings for a month or two and even more surprised when he showed me photos of the artwork he wanted to display – the cover of The Beatles album, Revolver

No, this was not the time to pack up and move to Italy but even with all the amazing events balancing precariously on the pinnacle of our lives, how could I ask Dan to turn down this dream assignment? I couldn’t. After all, it was only for two years. 

We were able to sublet our spectacular apartment overlooking Central Park; I regretfully left Klaus Voormann in the hands of my capable gallery manager and with ineffably heavy hearts we put our hopes and plans for a baby on hold – at least for the immediate future. With very mixed emotions we left New York for our new life in Firenze.

My husband’s company arranged for our living accommodations in an exquisite apartment overlooking the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. During the first couple of weeks of our stay, I busied myself becoming familiar with our new home. There were endless shops and museums to occupy my time but I could only do so much sight-seeing. Unbelievable as it might sound, I soon found myself becoming bored in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

To make matters worse, Dan was assigned to the Padua office for one week. Located 140 miles north of Florence, he clearly couldn’t commute. He’d have to stay there and I wasn’t allowed to go with him. I had trouble sleeping while Dan was away and found myself waking up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 AM. I’d make a pot of coffee and write in my journal until the city yawned and brushed the sleep dust from her eyes. 

One particular morning I was feeling unusually lost, my journal sitting on the desk mocking me. Coffee cup in hand, I went out to the balcony to breathe in the early morning air when I spotted a man walking down the street. I wasn’t too far away but I couldn’t clearly see his face. He wore a fedora-type hat and long black coat, his gloved hands by his side. Perhaps, like me, he was also having trouble sleeping. There were a couple of things about this scene that struck me as ordinary yet peculiar: the man’s casual way of walking indicated he wasn’t in a rush but he kept his eyes straight ahead, never glancing from side to side. There were also no signs of activity anywhere in the city, not even a ripple in the water. The man continued walking until he was no longer in view and I soon forgot about him.

The next morning the man was back, again carrying himself in the same determined yet unhurried manner. He reminded me of a character in a film noire detective movie. I found myself becoming more intrigued. When I saw him approaching on the third morning, I quickly grabbed my Nikon and snapped a photo. After three days of this routine, I decided I clearly needed to find a project I could sink my teeth into, something creative. While visiting the Uffizi Gallery later that morning, I discovered many types of art courses were offered there. I registered for photography, a subject I knew a little about. It was also one of the few classes that included day trips. All I needed was my camera.

Dan finally returned from Padua and after a romantic weekend reunion, he was off to work and I headed to the Uffizi. There were only four other people in the class – a married German couple and two Irish nuns. As I gazed out the window, a man’s voice as deep and mellow as a glass of montepulciano resonated throughout the room. I turned to see someone familiar – the man I had spotted walking by the Ponte Vecchio! He was quite handsome with light hazel eyes and a shock of black hair. He introduced himself as Leone – not Mister or Doctor or Professor – just Leone, our instructor

The course was interesting, the scenery breathtaking and the teacher took his job very seriously. I was enjoying the class but, as I told Dan, it could have been a bit more fun. Leone was all business. That’s why I was totally surprised that rainy Tuesday when I was the only one who showed up for class and Leone suggested we wrap up early and get a bite to eat.

We went to a café in the Uffizi and for the first time the impersonal teacher relaxed; I truly enjoyed his company and when our conversation turned to my gallery in New York, Leone was very impressed. During lunch I got a text from Dan saying there was a business dinner he couldn’t get out of and would be home late. Curious about the disgruntled look on my face, Leone asked if anything was wrong. I explained the situation and he said it must be fate, the perfect opportunity for me to see his studio. I was grateful for the diversion.

Leone’s studio was simply but elegantly decorated. The walls were covered with his stunning photos, all black and whites, each one a masterpiece. His work consisted solely of portraits; this surprised me considering all the beautiful sights in Italy. Leone said faces had much more interesting stories to tell than places and asked if he could take a few photos of me. I was a bit reluctant but flattered and so I agreed. It was there in the back room of his studio where our affair began.

In the eight years since Dan and I met, I had been with no one else. I had no idea how monotonous and unimaginative our sex life had become. My affair with Leone was dynamic, passionate, electrifying. We were ravenous when we were together and starving when we were apart. Our relationship became extreme. Leone brought out my wildly sexual, erotic side; there was nothing we wouldn’t do to give each other pleasure. The more we saw each other the more we wanted each other. Our affair became all-consuming and never diminished for the 20 months we were together. Twenty months! I had friends whose marriages didn’t last 20 months.

Always in the forefront of my mind was the fact that Dan and I would be returning to New York and for the first time during my affair with Leone I became afraid. There was more going on than sex. There were deep feelings. There was affection. There was love. That was never supposed to happen. 

Two weeks before Dan and I left for New York I told my lover I would never see him again and even though it killed me, I ended our affair. One week later Leone sent me a text which read “I think about you too much”.

Why can’t I stop loving him? Why can’t I stop this hunger inside me? I wanted him so much but I desperately did not want to hurt my husband. Dan was such a good and decent man. He didn’t deserve any of this. I was in love with two men and it had to end. 

Dan and I returned to New York. We moved back into our spectacular apartment overlooking Central Park. I resumed ownership of my fabulous art gallery and added two new photographs – one of the Ponte Vecchio and another of a man with light hazel eyes and a shock of black hair.

We settled into our usual routine. We got comfortable in our apartment and talked about having a baby. It was like nothing had changed in the two years we were away but everything had changed.

Exactly one month after leaving Italy, I found out I was pregnant. Firenze, mi amor!

NAR © 2023

AMONG THE POPLARS

My name is Nanette and this is my story.

When I was eight years old, my parents bought a small house on a tiny crescent-shaped street called Magnolia Terrace, one of the many cul-de-sacs in the area. At the end of the street was a turnabout and beyond the turnabout was a footpath that led into a wooded area dense with poplar trees.

Magnolia Terrace was the tiniest street around with only 8 houses; they were all very similar, modest and affordable. Each house was painted a subtle shade and the street was lined with magnolia trees; from March through April, the graceful trees bloomed in an array of pastel colors, from luscious whites to pale yellows to deep pink and purple hues.

The residents of Magnolia Terrace were hard-working people with a great love of family, God and country. We were far from rich but we were content.

There were children in every house and our street rang with the sounds of fun and laughter. When the streetlights came on, we knew it was time to run home for dinner; there would always be tomorrow for more childhood games. For me and my friends, Magnolia Terrace was the happiest place on earth.

Our fathers all worked for the same factory about fifteen miles from home and they would take turns driving every day – two cars, four men per car. They’d leave for work at 7:00 AM and be home by 5:00 PM in time for dinner. Two or three nights each week our dads would go bowling, get together at one of the houses to play cards and attend a meeting at the “lodge”. We kids thought our dads were really spies for the FBI and the factory was just a cover because they all used a secret handshake and wore the same ring like Dick Tracy.

Sometimes when our fathers went out, our mothers would get together for sewing bees or book clubs. About once each month all our parents would get dressed up and go to the lodge for a fancy dinner and an important meeting. As usual, they never told us anything about their time at the lodge. It was grown ups only.

There was one very important rule our parents made sure we clearly understood: under no circumstances were we allowed to go beyond the turnabout and into the poplar woods. When we asked why, our parents told us the woods were private property and we would be trespassing; there would be a hefty fine to pay. This sounded very official to us and we were raised to obey the law so we never entered the woods.

Time passed very quickly for us; I was now 18 years old and a senior in high school. I had a boyfriend named Ryan; his house was diagonally across from mine and was the closest to the woods. Our parents knew we liked each other but we were never allowed to be alone. The only time we were even allowed to hold hands was at the weekend barbecues where there were lots of people around.

When our fathers went out at night and all was quiet, Ryan and I would sneak down to the footpath near the woods. We never did anything bad – just talked and made out – but it was our special time together. One night we were making out when Ryan suddenly stopped and motioned for me to be quiet. He tapped his ear and pointed into the woods; we sat very close together as silent as could be and that’s when we heard it – distant sounds we could only describe as guttural chanting.

Ryan took my hand and as quietly as possible we left the area and ran back to our houses. My mother was engrossed in her sewing, the TV on in the background, and she never heard me come in and head up to my room. Whatever Ryan and I heard in the woods frightened us both but I knew we had to find out more.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I had a weird thought: my mother was always busy at her sewing machine but I never saw any of her creations. What was she making? The next day she had a large box delivered; it had obviously been damaged during shipment and was taped up but some of the contents were visible. All I saw was what looked like white cloth and I didn’t think it was a big deal but my mother became irate and screamed at me to go back into the house. She could be very strange at times and I never knew when she would fly off the handle.

Ryan and I decided the best night to go back to the woods would be bowling night; that was Monday, four days away. We were determined to go deeper into the woods; we wanted to see and hear more but knew we had to stay out of sight. Neither one of us had any idea what to expect; it could have been a group of hippies camping in the woods. Whatever is was we hoped our questions would be answered on Monday.

The weekend dragged on. If my mother was still upset about her delivery, she didn’t say anything. On Sunday we had our usual barbecue and just as everyone was beginning to head home, my father started handing out brown packages tied with red string to all the men. My mother always used red string to secure her packages so whatever was wrapped in that brown paper had been made by my mother. I wondered how many times the same packages were handed out over the years and I never noticed. None of the men opened the packages but they seemed very happy to have gotten them.

Finally Monday evening arrived and at 8:00 PM all the men of Magnolia Terrace headed out to go bowling. When it was safe, I snuck out of my house and met Ryan at the turnabout. The crescent moon did little to light our way. We held tightly onto each other’s hands as we hesitantly entered the woods. Every few feet we would stop and listen but all was silent. About 15 feet in, we were startled by a distant glow that lit up the night sky like a rocket; the low chanting we heard the other night began and intensified to an angry rumble. Believing the revelers were blinded by the glow of what must have been a bonfire and deaf to all sounds but their own, Ryan and I felt emboldened and crept further into the woods. We now had an unobscured view and what we saw shook us to our core.

Was this a spacecraft surrounded by aliens? The luminosity of the fire was so intense, it was impossible to clearly make out shapes and sizes. Then gradually the flames diminished just enough for us to clearly see this was no spaceship but something far more horrifying in its significance: it was a blazing cross! And the creatures were no extraterrestrials: they were men, maybe as many as 25, dressed in white robes with attached capes, rope belts and pointed hoods with eye holes covering their faces.

We were transfixed. Ryan spoke to me in a barely audible voice “Nanette, I can’t believe what we’re seeing! It’s a Ku Klux Klan gathering.”

I nodded and whispered softly “I know. I saw them on the news. I’m frightened, Ryan! Why are they here so close to where we live?”

But before Ryan could answer, the chanting stopped and one man began to address the group. I gasped and buried my face in Ryan’s chest, my body quivering, and he held me tightly. When I looked up, I was crying and barely able to utter the words “That’s my father!”

“I recognize his voice, too” Ryan replied. In hushed tones he continued. “Nanette, we can’t stay here. Let’s go back to my house, slowly and as quietly as possible. Here, take my hand.”  Terrified, I held Ryan’s hand tightly as we cautiously made our way back to the clearing, never letting go of each other. Once free of the woods, we ran back to Ryan’s house and collapsed under a tree in his backyard.

For a long time we sat huddled together, saying nothing. Finally, Ryan spoke softly: “Nanette, we have to talk about this, but not now. Let’s get our thoughts together and we’ll talk during the week. I think you need to go home now and try to get some sleep.” I started to get up but Ryan held onto my arm. “Nanette, be careful. I love you.”

That was the first time Ryan said those words and I told him I loved him, too. We hugged, then I quickly walked back to my house across the street. As usual, I snuck in through the kitchen; my mother and a few other women were playing bridge and no one saw me scramble up the stairs to my room. I threw myself onto my bed and cried into my pillow. This felt like a nightmare.

From the next day on, nothing was the same but I had to act normally. I could barely look at my father let alone talk to him without feelings of anger and disgust. I was also deeply saddened. It was difficult to believe that all the fathers living on our perfect little street were members of the KKK and all the mothers supported them. The many nights they were supposedly bowling or playing cards they were really in the woods plotting and scheming and doing God knows what. And all the time my mother spent hunched over her sewing machine she was making the men’s robes and hoods! The fact that our parents were living duplicitous lives all these years made me sick to my stomach.

There was nothing Ryan and I could do and no one we could trust; the Klan hid in plain sight. Confronting our parents with what we knew about them would do no good. Ryan told me to hang on a little longer until he figured out what to do. A couple of weeks later he told me he came up with a plan. He said during Sunday’s barbecue we would tell our parents that we were in love and wanted to get married after graduation. Ryan said he would ask my father for his blessing and tell him that he wanted to work in the factory with the other men to provide a good life for me. We were sure our parents would see we were mature enough to make such a big decision and would give their blessing. Ryan told me once we were married we could leave town and never return to Magnolia Terrace.

As happy as I was with Ryan’s plan, I was filled with mixed emotions. It wouldn’t be easy leaving my parents and the only home I ever knew but I couldn’t go on turning a blind eye to the evil lives they were living. I cried for the younger kids who would be left behind but I saw no other answer; this was our only way out.

On Sunday the barbecue was in full swing when Ryan said he had an announcement to make. Everyone quieted down as he told my father about our wishes to get married and asked for his blessing. To my surprise my parents were very happy for us and my father enthusiastically patted Ryan on the back. My mother began to cry and embraced me. I was revolted by her hug but told myself I’d only have to play this charade for a little while longer.

Everyone was very happy for us and my father droned on and on about how we could build a house of our own on the plot of land right next to their house. Ryan laughed and nodded at my father’s enthusiasm and we smiled at each other across the yard knowing our plan was successful. Relief washed over me as I watched my father and Ryan walk over to the area where our future house was to be built and laughed thinking how flawlessly Ryan had pulled off his plan.

Just then my mother came out of the house carrying a bag and placed it on the ground next to my father. I looked on in disbelief as my father reached into the bag and drew out a familiar-looking brown paper package wrapped in red string and proudly handed it to Ryan. They both looked over at me with serpentine eyes as they smiled and shared a secret handshake. At that moment I knew I’d been betrayed.

NAR © 2023

WITH HUMBLE GRATITUDE

It is a great thrill for me to announce that my poems will be included in HIDDEN IN CHILDHOOD”, the latest anthology edited by Gabriela Marie Milton, scheduled for release the end of this month on Amazon. Among other works, Gabriela is the author/editor of the #1 best-selling poetry collection “WOUNDS I HEALED: THE POETRY OF STRONG WOMEN” (which also features two of my poems).

To be included in this newest anthology with so many incredibly talented authors is a proud achievement for me; I am humbled and grateful. Many thanks to Gabriela for giving me this amazing opportunity. 

NAR © 2023

HAPPY TOGETHER

This house has been my home all my life. I was born in an upstairs bedroom in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm and, with any luck, I’ll die peacefully in my sleep in that same bedroom.

I lived here with my mother, an elementary school librarian, and my dad, a veterinarian. See the red door on the left side of the house? That was the entrance to Sullivan’s Pet Clinic. I always thought dad had the best job in the world – working out of our home caring for animals every day and many nights. Those middle of the night emergency calls were always the worst. I grew up standing by his elbow, engrossed by everything from happy birthings to heartbreaking endings.

Being an only child and a constant figure in the clinic, it was naturally assumed by everyone, including myself, that I would follow in dad’s footsteps. However, that was not to be the case. You see, as much as I loved working with animals, I took the sick and dying aspect of it all very personally; I wasn’t very good at handling the loss. What use is a veterinarian who only treats healthy animals? I might as well be a groomer at PetSmart!

After my second year of college, with no real goal in mind for my life, I dropped out and left home. I found I was adept at quite a few things: I was a carpenter, a pool cleaner, a gardener and a plumber and, while I was good at all those things, none of them brought me the sense of fulfillment I desired. So at the ripe old age of 28 I decided to return home. My parents were overjoyed to see me, of course; however, that thrill diminished rapidly once I told them I had no intention of joining the family practice. My dad made a suggestion: “Find a paying job which will allow you to contribute to the privilege of living in a comfortable house with a roof over your head and food to eat or move out”. I chose the former.

One day while perusing the want ads, I saw a listing for a housepainter. The company was local, the job was full time and since I had dabbled in a little painting at my previous jobs, I applied for, and landed, the position. I was to start the very next day. It wasn’t rocket science but there was skill involved and I enjoyed the work; doing anything with my hands was supremely satisfying. With each brush stroke, time flew by and before I realized it, I was a 46-year-old man married to my dear wife Laurie, the local church secretary. We were the parents of three teenagers – two daughters and a son. Savannah was the eldest at 17; she would be heading off to college next year. Following close behind was Georgia, 16 and Max, 14.

One late summer afternoon while having our traditional Sunday dinner at my parent’s house, my folks stunned us with the news that they were going to retire and move south. Hard as it was for dad to believe, he could not find anyone willing to take over his practice without also buying the house. Sullivan’s Pet Clinic unceremoniously closed its doors and my wife and I and the kids moved into my childhood home. We bid farewell to my parents and locked the door to the clinic, promising we would do our best to find someone who wanted to take over dad’s practice. Unlike my father, I had no problem renting the clinic while my family lived in the main house. Still no one expressed an interest in the practice.

On a rare Saturday off from work, I threw myself into sprucing up the yard. I grabbed the necessary gardening equipment and “invited” the three couch potatoes playing video games to join me. After much grousing and a bit of bribery we were hard at work pulling weeds and pruning dead branches. After a scant five minutes, Savannah let out a squeal and called me over, informing me “there something stuck in one of the azalea bushes” and she was “pretty sure it was alive”. At first I didn’t see anything but upon closer inspection I found that Savannah was right. Mixed in and almost undiscernible among the reddish blossoms was a female cardinal. She was obviously wounded, her left wing hanging uselessly and a small bloody wound on her breast. 

Instincts that had been dormant for years arose and came rushing at me like a locomotive. I yelled for the other two kids to run into the garage to get a shoe box and some of my clean painting cloths. They were quick in their return and with gloved hands I gently plucked the wounded bird from the bush, placed her in the cloth-lined box and began walking her into the house. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something bright red flitting from branch to branch, whistling an unanswered call, and I knew it had to be the wounded cardinal’s mate.

Fumbling through a maze of pens, clips and rubber bands in my dad’s old rolltop desk, I finally found the keys to the abandoned pet clinic. Unlocking the door I was amazed to see my wife Laurie had kept the place clean and organized and I made a mental note to thank her when she returned home. 

“First order of business is to assess the bird’s wounds, especially the spot where there’s blood” I announced to my kids in a voice that sounded eerily like my father’s. I asked Savannah to find gauze pads and apply light pressure to the bird’s wound while Max used his phone to search for info on broken wings. When Savannah told me the blood from the puncture was dry, my dad’s voice quietly whispered in my ear not to dislodge the clot; doing so could cause the bird to bleed out. Savannah applied a dab of Neosporin around the wound, replaced the dressing and wrapped a long strip of clean cloth around it, securing it with a small piece of surgical tape.

“There’s a ton of stuff here on caring for a wounded bird” Max shouted triumphantly, waving his cell phone over his head. I read what he found and quickly assessed what we needed to do.

Ok, we need to fill a hot water bottle to keep the bird warm and a long strip of cloth to wrap around her wing and body. We all worked together efficiently and our patient seemed to sense we were trying to help her. Savannah placed the hot water bottle under the bird and put the box near the window in the sun.

“We did good, guys! Let’s just leave the bird to rest and we’ll check her in a little while.”  I started walking toward the door that led to the main house when Savannah called out to me.

“Dad, we can’t keep calling her ‘the bird’. She needs a name. How about ‘Lady C’?” she asked. And we all agreed that was a good name.

When Laurie got home from work, we told her about our adventure with Lady C. Sounds to me like all those years at your dad’s side is what really got you through this.” I had to admit it – Laurie was right and I felt a pang of remorse for never following in dad’s footsteps.  

As we talked, Laurie looked over my shoulder out the window. “There’s a male cardinal flitting around out there. I’ll bet you that’s Mr. C wondering where his lady is.” That’s when I remembered spotting the bright red cardinal earlier in the day.

After dinner we went back into the clinic; Lady C was resting comfortably. Georgia replaced the hot water bottle for a fresh one and on the way out I thought I heard a tap-tap-tapping sound by the window. When I turned to look, nothing was there.

Days went by and Lady C continued to heal beautifully. Her little chest wound was now unnoticeable, covered by new feathers, and her wing was in fine working order. During the whole of her convalescence, Mr. C could be seen in our trees, on our back deck and even on the windowsill looking into the clinic. He must have been the one tapping on the window weeks ago.

At last the time came to let Lady C go free. We removed her wrappings one last time and watched as she hopped around the inside of the shoe box which had been her home for the last few weeks. I reached for our little patient and Savannah stopped me. “Can I do it, please?” Of course, my answer was yes.

We brought Lady C outside and placed her on the wood railing around our deck. Slowly we backed away and in no time at all Mr. C came swooping in, landing next to his lady. They began chirping to each other and sweetly canoodling, completely oblivious of their audience. Then, as one, they flew off into the trees.

Time went by and every so often we’d see the cardinal couple flying around the yard and visiting our feeders. Then they disappeared, gone for a new life somewhere, happy together. A few months went by and then one morning, just as the weather was beginning to change, we heard a clatter of that distinct cardinal chirping. When we peeked outside the window, we saw Mr. & Lady C … and their fledgling twins. 

Savannah turned to me, her eyes shining brightly. “Dad, I’ve made a decision. I want to go to veterinary school and follow in Grandpa’s footsteps.”

I hugged my daughter tightly. “Let’s call Grandpa; he’ll be so happy and proud to hear your news.”

I suddenly realized I was grinning like a kid, full of excitement. It was a great feeling.

NAR © 2023

There goes one more…

Just in case you failed to notice that I’m an audiophile as well as a storyteller with a huge passion for The Beatles, I thought I’d share this meteorite of excellence with you –
Only one of the greatest guitarists ever to have lived playing one of the greatest songs ever written by the greatest group ever to have graced this universe. That’s a lot of greatness; it doesn’t get any greater than this!
Thank you, Jeff, and thank you, Girlie! ☄️ 💫 ✨

GirlieOnTheEdge's Blog

He was unassuming, one might say “modest”. I cried today for Jeff Beck. Not before first smiling and reveling in the gift he offered. A tribute popped in my YouTube feed this morning. I decided to watch it. Here’s the link. Beginning at 9:35 in the clip until conclusion of that particular segment at 12:34 minutes… “Niagara Falls, Frankie angel.”

Thank you, Jeff.
Girlie

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U.S.S. ARIZONA

Author’s Note: It’s funny sometimes how things unfold. I was talking with a friend last night about navy and submarine movies, how much we both enjoy watching them and offering each other suggestions for a few good films. Then I came across another friend’s post – Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (FOWC). The required word was “stodgy” – not your everyday kind of word. I wondered if I’d used that word in any of my past stories so I did a quick search and “U.S.S. Arizona” popped up – a story about, of all things, a navy battleship! It’s funny sometimes how things unfold.

Gregory Tomlinson stretched out on the top bunk, smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes, watching the cloudy vapors swirl around the dimly lit corner of his berth on the U.S.S. Arizona. Some of the guys exchanged letters and treats from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their radios saying “This news is a bore! Turn it off and find some Glenn Miller!” And the men all laughed like boys at summer camp. 

Hey, Gregory” whispered Leo Becker from the lower bunk. “Can I ask you a question?”

Gregory chuckled. “I think after eleven months trapped in this can you can ask me anything!” 

Leo hesitated for a second then said “Ok, here goes. How come you never get any mail? 

Gregory didn’t answer and Leo could have kicked himself. Lighting another cigarette, Gregory inhaled deeply and blew a perfect smoke ring. 

Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing seamlessly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.” 

Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon, am your friend?? With your Tyrone Power charm and good looks you probably have a girl in every port! All I have is this box of letters and photos from home.”  

Ha!” snorted Gregory. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Your box is very special, Leo; even if I had a box I’d have nothing to put in it. When I was 15, my parents were killed in a car crash and I was left alone – a family of one. No siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – no one. I took off and made the Navy my family.”  

“I have a question for you, Leo” Gregory continued nonchalantly. “How many nights have we sat on your bunk poring over the contents of this box?” 

Leo rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mumbling “eleven months, 30 or 31 nights give or take a few here or there  .. I’d say between 330 and 345” Leo calculated. 

And how many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he stared at Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, unsure. Gregory stopped to light another smoke. “You told me how you said “hi” to Jenny the day you were painting her office at the school and she said “hi” back and smiled. You said you got lost in her eyes and you knocked over a can of paint! She had the sweetest disposition and didn’t get mad, even when the stodgy principal went nuts over the spilled paint.” Gregory sighed. “You said how you really started liking her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories about Jenny, Leo? Because I felt all alone but hearing you talk like that made me feel like I had two friends – you and Jenny.” 

Leo barely had a chance to get his thoughts together when there was an enormous explosion, followed by continuous bombings and eruptions. Pearl Harbor was under attack. Leo quickly stashed his belongings into his knapsack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The attack on the Arizona lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker. 

Upon Gregory’s medical discharge from the navy, he was summoned by his commanding officer and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened the envelope he found a letter with an inscription:

“To my dear friend Gregory. I wish you could have seen how your face lit up whenever I talked about Jenny. You clung to every word I said. I never told you this but Jenny asked about you in every letter she wrote to me. Truth is, she was much more interested in you than she was in me. But you know what? That’s OK. If ever there were two people who belong together it’s you and Jenny. I love you both and you two love each other, too, even though you haven’t even met yet. Don’t waste another minute, Gregory.
You belong with Jenny and she belongs with you.”

Gregory’s eyes welled up with tears and he could barely make out the last few sentences. Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, he read on:

My friend, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this letter. It will make me so happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other. Don’t forget your old pal, Leo.

Gregory tucked Leo’s box under his arm and picked up his knapsack. He walked down the hallway and spotted a bank of telephone booths. He stared at Leo’s letter for about three seconds before reaching for the phone.

NAR © 2020

Reposted for Fandango’s #FOWC http://fivedotoh.com/2023/01/14/fowc-with-fandango-stodgy/

THE MONK

Typing the final paragraph of my thesis, my computer crashed. It would not start up at all. 

This could not be happening! 

The closest place that had public computers was the library. I ran there, rushing through the doors into the brightly lit room. All the computers were being used! Frantic, I explained my problem to the librarian and asked if there was another computer available. 

She brought me to a room. The door locked behind me. There was a desk, paper, a quill and a candle. And I was wearing sandals and a medieval monk’s robe. 

Where was I? 

NAR © 2023

100 words written for Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Script

A SOFT TOUCH

A couple of years ago New York was hit by a major snowstorm. Wearing thick-padded booties, the snow silently tiptoed in while we slept and when we awoke there was a three-foot-deep crystalline blanket everywhere we looked. It was coming down pretty heavy and we could barely see anything in the backyard as we looked out our bedroom window … almost as if someone was standing on our roof shaking out a king size comforter full of feathers. Bill and I stood there for a while taking in the silent beauty of it all, then shuffled into the kitchen to prepare a pot of coffee and a few slices of my homemade banana bread. 

The instant we were done making breakfast, the lights went out. There was no point in trekking down to the basement to check the circuit breakers; we knew the area had experienced a power outage. We sat in the kitchen by the still-hot radiator enjoying our coffee and warm toasty bread, a pale white glow from the snow enveloping every room in the house. Before retreating to the living room, I poured our pot of coffee into a thermos to stay hot for a few hours.

I went to the closet and brought down Bill’s emergency hand crank radio with LED flashlight, AM/FM stations including the NOAH weather channel, a power bank of phone chargers and USB ports. This baby would serve us just fine until the power was restored. In the meantime Bill ventured out to the frozen tundra of the screened-in porch to retrieve some logs for the fireplace.

Bill got a nice fire going while I set up the radio on the table between our recliners. The phone chargers and USB ports were lifesavers; we were able to keep our cell batteries from dying and my laptop going so I could work on my stories. I was even able to plug in my new electric blanket which used a handy dandy USB port. Bill marveled at the technology of the little red radio and only bemoaned one design flaw – there was no TV.

We were happily ensconced in our recliners enjoying our little haven. All was silent outside except for an occasional gust of wind and every so often we’d spot a blue jay out our front window picking berries off the holly bush. I think we must have dozed off for a bit when we were roused by the harsh sound of steady scraping. We listened for a few seconds, then realized someone was outside shoveling the snow. We peered out the window to see our two little neighbors, six-year-old twins Jackson and Connor, shoveling our front path. At least that’s who we figured they were; it was impossible to tell by the way they were bundled up. 

We sat back in our chairs, sipping our coffee and listening to the steady scrape-scraping of the boys’ shovels. Closer and closer the sound came; now they were clearing the steps leading to our front door. The adagio of their shovels was replaced by a sharp staccato knocking on our front door. I sank deeper into my blanket while Bill went to get some money to pay the enterprising kids, delighted that he didn’t have to shovel our front path himself. He opened the heavy wooden door and stood just inside the glass storm door to settle up accounts. Jackson and Connor stood on the front porch leaning on their shovels; toothless grins, cherry-red faces and sparkling blue eyes glistened in the still-rapidly falling snow which clung to their long blonde eyelashes.

“We cleared your path for you, Mr. Richy!” they proudly declared in unison, looking over their shoulders to admire their handiwork which was now covered by a fresh ½” of new snow. They looked back at Bill, staring up at him for his approval, their faces sporting the goofiest, most irresistible smiles imaginable. 

“I see that, boys, and a fine job it is, too” replied Bill. “So tell me, what’s your going rate?

With furrowed brows and crinkled noses the twins eloquently asked “Huh??”

“How much do I owe you for shoveling our path?” Bill asked in a way they could understand.

Very matter-of-factly with absolutely no sign of embarrassment or regret, the boys announced “Oh, we’re not allowed to accept money. Our mom and dad said we have to do good deeds.”

“Hold that thought, boys, and don’t go anywhere.”

Bill scurried back into the living room. “Are you hearing any of this conversation?” he asked me, clearly incredulous. “A concept like that in this day and age is mind-blowing!”

“Well, what’s your game plan?” I asked, knowing Bill always had a plan brewing.

“My game plan? Why, I’m going to pay those boys for a job well done and toss in a few packs of Pokémon cards just for good measure!” He was downright gleeful.

Bill scurried back to the boys and, opening the door just a crack to keep the cold out, shoved $20 and two packs of cards into their pockets.

The boys immediately started to put up a fuss about taking the money but Bill told them to stash it in their piggy banks for a rainy day and if their dad had a problem with, he was more than welcome to come over and talk about it. With new-found treasures in their pockets, the toothless twosome raced home to show their friends their unexpected booty. Their little friends cheered loudly at the sight of the boy’s riches. Even their dad came out to see what the hubbub was all about.

The big financial deal now settled, Bill sat back in his recliner and sighed contentedly.

“You’re such a soft touch” I teased. “You’re rather pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”

As a matter of fact, I am!” he replied. “Listen, I’m all for good deeds but when I was their age, I was out shoveling snow and I know it’s hard work. Those kids did a damn good job. If their dad objects to them getting paid, I’ll just tell him to think of it as a tip for his two fine sons. I can’t believe he’d have a problem with that.”

Well, it came as no big surprise when the twins soon returned and began shoveling the snow off our driveway – and this time they had reinforcements. Their momma didn’t raise no dummies! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen five six-year-olds shoveling one driveway like their little lives depended on it. 

Better get your wallet out, Rockefeller. They’re back and they brought company” I laughed.

Bill may have unwittingly created a couple of monsters; during the spring the twins started going door-to-door pulling a wagon behind them. They were selling rocks! I’m reasonably certain their parents did not give permission for their budding business venture because it ended as abruptly as it started. Too bad; I’m sure they had the rock-selling market cornered. Very entrepreneurial kids; even Warren Buffett had to start somewhere!

Well, kind of a pity when you think about it. The boys scrubbed those rocks until they glistened in the sparkling sunlight. They really were impressive-looking rocks – there’s no denying that – but they were still just rocks, not exactly a priceless commodity.

Bill bought two. He’s such a soft touch.

NAR © 2023

DECONSTRUCTING CHRISTMAS

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in
“Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”

It was January 8th, the second Sunday of the new year; Martha asked her husband George to help her take down the Christmas decorations. As was George’s usual reaction, he sighed heavily, a look that said “anything but that” dripping from his face. He just couldn’t help goading her.

Martha planted herself directly in front of George and began singing an annoying children’s song in a very loud voice. The lyrics had been changed and Martha thought they were so very clever; George thought they were maddening and covered his ears tightly with his hands. Martha pulled George’s hands away and sang even louder until George was ready to explode.

“Enough howling! You sound like a cow giving birth!” George shouted in response. “Well, I guess you don’t leave me much choice.” He inserted a bookmark into his dogeared copy of “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, placed it on the side table and pushed himself out of his easy chair. 

“Oh, don’t be such an old cluck, George! I have reinforcements.” Martha disappeared into the kitchen and emerged a few minutes later dancing a clumsy version of the bossa nova while rattling a martini shaker over her head.

“Now you’re speaking my language, señorita!” George replied, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Martha poured them each a drink. George took a sip, savoring the perfectly chilled vodka. No matter what he thought about Martha, she could make a damn good martini. George stoked the logs in the fireplace, enjoying his drink and staring at the flames.

“Are you just going to stand there while I do all the work?” Martha asked, her temper starting to rise.

“I’m getting into the spirit, Martha. Are you going to begrudge me every little pleasure in life?”

Martha drained her glass. “The trouble with you, George, is you’re perpetually petulant!” She struggled with the tongue twister and laughed raucously. 

“Shut up, Martha. You’re incredibly less humorous than you think you are” snapped George as he poured himself another martini. Martha suggested George fuck off and went back into the kitchen to prepare another round. Popping an olive into her mouth, she was startled to hear the sound of breaking glass coming from the living room. 

“Honestly, George! How can you be so clumsy? We’ll be drinking our martinis out of plastic cups at this rate!” 

The un-decorating rapidly deteriorated when Martha realized George hadn’t dropped his glass; it was one of her treasured Swarovski crystal angel ornaments. It landed on the hardwood floor and shattered, the slivers spreading like a crack in thin ice.

“You dumbbell! You wretched, good-for-nothing oaf! I despise you!” Martha shrieked like a wounded animal.

“Oh, stop braying, Martha. It isn’t exactly a Michelangelo, you know!”

Martha picked up George’s beloved book and threw it in the direction of the fireplace. George lunged for it and crashed into the Christmas tree, toppling everything onto the floor. Lights and ornaments smashed under the weight of his body and he cried out as broken glass tore into his skin.

Oh, God! My ass! My neck! Bloody hell! There’s glass everywhere!” he bellowed.

Martha casually finished her martini and threw her glass into the fireplace, delighting in the tinkling sound and the dancing flames. She looked at George entangled in the tree, shards and splinters of glass strewn about, and she started chuckling. Clutching the martini shaker, Martha chuckled more and more until she tumbled into the easy chair laughing uproariously. She removed the cap and poured what little vodka was left straight into her mouth. Standing unsteadily, she looked around the room. 

What a dump!” she quipped.

“Darling, I’m in a fair amount of pain. I believe I’m going to need a Band-Aid … and another martini. Be a dear and make a fresh batch.”

George started laughing uncontrollably as Martha danced around the room singing “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf? Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf so early in the morning?”

Slurring her words to the song, she fell to her knees in a dizzying fit of drunken hysterics.

NAR © 2023

WORDPRESS BLUES

TO ALL MY FRIENDS:

Recently I noticed I am unable to comment directly onto some of your blogs. This has never happened before and is only happening on some blogs which makes it even more of a mystery. If I was unable to comment anywhere on WordPress, I’d know the problem was likely something to do with my settings or my computer; that is not the case.

I’ve had multiple conversations with WordPress; I was told in no uncertain terms that the problem cannot be fixed. I find that very hard to believe. The first suggestion WordPress gave me was to clear my browser cache; in all honesty, that’s the first answer they give to every problem.

You are not just my readers; you are my friends. We have a line of communication going; when that line is broken, it’s very frustrating. I can’t see my comments on your pages and I know you can’t see them either. A friend of mine did a little checking for me and he was unable to see any comments by me on some of your sites.

I have a favor to ask: if you have not seen any comments from me on your site in the last week could you please check your settings and see if I ended up in spam? One friend already confirmed that she found me in her spam settings; once she removed me, she was able to see my comments on her page again.

Thanks for doing this and for understanding this snafu. The WP gremlins are at it again! Please post any questions or comments here. Thank you all so much!

NAR © 2023

STOP THE HEARTACHE

As soon as I pressed the “print” button, I got a little thrill. This is the 400th story I’ve written for my site sine I began writing in 2017. That is a great accomplishment for me and I thank each and every one of you for making that possible. I hope you enjoy #400 as you read this latest ink. 😎

“Mr. Bennett, we did everything in our power but the injuries were too extensive. I’m sorry. Your wife did not survive the surgery … the surgery … the surgery … your wife did not survive …”

My eyes flew open and I gasped for air like a drowning man. My fisted hands clutched the disheveled sheets on my bed. I was soaked in sweat, my heart racing. The recurring dream came back last night. Gradually my heartrate slowed down and my fists unclenched. Laying on my back, I stared up at the softly whirring ceiling fan. I closed my eyes for five seconds and the tears started. It never gets better; it never gets easier.

Three years ago my darling Olivia, my life-force, my soulmate, my wife of two ineffably brief weeks died in a ghastly motorcycle accident while on our honeymoon in Barcelona. Frozen in place, I stared at her broken body; my brain told me she was dead but my heart and soul refused to listen.  

I remembered the ambulance and police arriving, the excruciatingly long ride to the hospital, the lonely wait in the eerily quiet emergency room and the surgeon’s words … those words that haunted me day after day after day. My wife was dead, my brief marriage erased and my heart crushed. We hadn’t even opened our wedding gifts.

I dragged myself to the shower, trying to wash away the dream. It didn’t work. It was time for me to leave here, escape the memories and the sadness. Our friends stopped calling long ago and there was nothing left for me. My parents were dead; Olivia’s parents wished they were dead instead of her. In this huge world I was utterly alone. It was time for me to go.

A loud thunderclap announced it was not a good day to take out the bike. I’d been sleepwalking for three years and I’d had enough; I needed to do this. For the first time in forever I removed my wedding ring and placed it on the dresser next to my phone and wallet.

“Will the bike start up?” I wondered “Or has it died, too?” I grabbed my helmet and walked to the garage. The bike was plugged in; when did I do that? In one of my rare moments of clarity? I slipped on my gloves, opened the garage door and climbed on my bike. It was pouring and I had no idea where I was going. It didn’t matter; I stopped caring. Now I needed to stop the heartache.

NAR © 2023

WISHFUL THINKING

Saying “Hello” is so much sweeter than saying “Goodbye”. 

Hello to a new year, new beginnings, new friends and new memories to be made.

Goodbye to 2022; it was not a stellar year for many of us.

Change was in the forefront last year; changing our habits, our attitudes, our priorities is not easy but it is often good and usually necessary. I chose to make some difficult changes; I was indecisive and flip-flopped many times but ultimately got my act together and made the necessary adjustments in my life. I cut ties with a few people which, while being profoundly difficult, proved to be for the best. I will miss those people but I will not allow them to influence my life.

There were losses, especially one that will forever leave a void. That was the passing of a dear old friend, a tremendous shock and extreme sadness for everyone who knew him. Rest easy, Jean-Michel; there is no doubt in my mind that you are singing with the choir of angels.

Health issues were a concern for us again this year. Arthritis has found a nice home for itself in most of my joints; it’s not fun watching yourself slowing down and being unable to do the things that once came so easily. Through our communication, I discovered that many of you are enduring the same pain; it was eye-opening and humbling to hear of the great discomfort you’re experiencing. I’m doing whatever it takes to keep myself from turning into the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. If only WD40 worked on people! I have a fabulous physical therapist who has brought me out of the depths of pain before and is doing so again. Thank God for you and your magic hands, Dr. Wonda!

Good times and serendipitous events occurred as well during 2022. I made a lot of new friends on WordPress, had my work published several times and will be joining forces on an exciting project with one of my new friends who is now a very good friend. I’ve never had a writing ‘partner’ before so this new side venture should be interesting and fun. This is not in place of my website; I won’t stop writing stories and will never abandon my baby, The Elephant’s Trunk! 

Over the years I have been blessed more times than I can count so there’s no point dwelling on the negatives and what-ifs. I thank God for my amazing Bill, our beautiful family and incredible in-laws. Truly dear friends are a rare commodity; I’m so very thankful for the few everlasting bonds of friendship that have been formed over the years. We came perilously close to losing a family member as recently as ten days ago. With a multitude of prayers and God guiding the doctor’s hands, she is now on the road to recovery. Marie, we love you and are so grateful to have you back with us. And soon you will get to see Colette again!

And now for you, my dear WordPress friends. Sincere thanks for reading my stories, my labors of love. I appreciate you, all your “likes” and comments, but most of all I delight in our camaraderie. We are a family of writers, poets, artists, cooks, musicians, comedians, deep thinkers and visionaries, all bringing joy and entertainment to others while living our own dreams, whether grand or modest. Thank you for allowing me into your world.

I wish you all a happy, safe, healthy, blessed and fulfilling year ahead. Take good care and be well always. And may all your wishes and dreams come true!

Happy New Year!

NAR © 2023

CANDLE IN THE WINDOW

One of the first things I noticed about the house across the street was the candle in an upstairs window.

It was December 1980 – two weeks before Christmas – and we had just moved into our new home. My mom quickly located the boxes marked ‘CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’ and put my dad to work decorating outside. When he was done every house on the street was aglow except for the one with the solitary candle. I was fascinated by that candle; it was lit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

About a week later there was a knock on our front door. Mom answered and I scurried along behind her, anxious to see who was visiting us for the first time. Standing on the front porch was a chubby little old lady with silver hair, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks and I couldn’t resist blurting out “Are you Mrs. Claus?” She chuckled a bit saying no, she was Mrs. Granger from across the street and had come to bring us an angel food cake as a welcoming gift. Mom introduced herself and invited Mrs. Granger inside but she declined saying “perhaps another time”. Before she left I told her my name was Eleanor and I had just turned ten on December 1. She smiled slightly at us but there was sadness in her eyes.

Mrs. Granger’s angel food cake sat on one of her beautiful Spode Christmas plates. Mom said we should return the plate on Christmas Day brimming with sugar cookies, which is exactly what we did. We rang the bell and mom apologized for showing up unannounced, adding that she hoped we weren’t interrupting her Christmas festivities.

No, dear. Not at all. I was just preparing myself one of those frozen dinners – turkey, for a special treat.” Mom made polite small talk while I glanced around the living room. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration in sight, not even a card. A fading ember in the fireplace made me think that Mrs. Granger was probably very lonely.

I suddenly found myself asking the question: “Mrs. Granger, why is there a candle in the window upstairs?”

Mom gave me a withering look as Mrs. Granger slowly walked to the sofa and slumped down. I felt awful when she started crying, dabbing her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Mom sat next to her and held her hand, not speaking.

In hushed tones Mrs. Granger told us her story: she married late in life and was blessed with a son, Edward. Her husband died in an accident when Edward was three years old and she raised the boy by herself. When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, Edward enlisted; he was declared MIA on December 1, 1970 and she hadn’t heard a word in the ten years since then. The candle in the window was her way of holding vigil for Edward, steadfastly waiting for any news. We sat together for a few minutes, then Mrs. Granger politely said she wanted to be alone. Silently we left. It was then that I understood why she looked so sad when I told her my birthday; – her son went missing the day I was born.

Two days later mom returned to Mrs. Granger’s. She apologized for the intrusion on Christmas Day and said we hoped she would join us for New Year’s Eve dinner. Mrs. Granger said gently “No, dear. I haven’t celebrated a new year since Edward disappeared.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about Mrs. Granger. Our New Year’s Eve table was set for three, sparkling with mom’s best dishes, silverware and crystal glasses. I sat in the bay window watching the lightly falling snow; then I noticed the candle in the window of Mrs. Granger’s house was not lit.

Mom!” I gasped. “The candle is out.”

Mom, dad and I walked across the street on leaden feet. Mom rapped softly on the door; we could see a dim glow coming from the fireplace. One more knock and the door opened slightly; Mrs. Granger appeared, her face wet with tears.

Are you alright, Mrs. Granger?” mom inquired with obvious concern in her voice.

Oh, my dear! My mind has been preoccupied all day” she replied, her voice trembling. “You see, I received some news today.”

Mrs. Granger turned and walked back inside, leaving the door ajar; apprehensively we followed her. There by the fireplace stood a handsome, smiling soldier; her long-lost son Edward had finally returned home.

We were overjoyed for Mrs. Granger; finally some happiness in the dear old lady’s life. We said our goodbyes and headed for the door.

“Wait, my dears!” Mrs. Granger called out. “There’s something I’ve been waiting a long time to say. Happy New Year to us all!”

We smiled through our tears knowing Mrs. Granger’s deepest wish came true this New Year’s Eve. The candle in the window was out but a new flame burned brightly in her heart. She’d never be lonely again.

NAR © 2018

Mrs. Granger

I’M ONLY SLEEPING

Where am I? What’s happening? I thought I heard screams in the night. Could I have been dreaming?

I’m supposed to be sleeping, waiting for the Spring, but I’m not and it’s too soon to be feeling so warm. My lower extremities are aching as though someone as been tugging on them, but I’m not in pain. Some of my friends have suffered excruciating agony. One day we were together and the next day they were gone; I never saw them again.

My limbs feel a little heavy; am I carrying objects in my outstretched arms? There’s a slight pressure on my head – not terribly heavy but a feeling I am unaccustomed to, like a crown. I can hear faint voices now. It’s hard to make out full sentences but the words sound like “looks beautiful” and “brilliant idea”. What does it all mean? What is a brilliant idea?

I have no clue how much time has passed; I think only a week or so but I have lost all track of time and I’m very tired. I need to sleep.

What is going on now? It feels like I’m being lifted and carried away; I’m afraid. What’s happening to me? I feel like some pressure is being taken off me and I’m being lowered into a hole. I can sense something familiar, something soothing covering my base. I can smell the crisp outdoors and I detect the fragrance of the earth, of fresh soil.

I’m beginning to notice a chill surrounding me; it’s a refreshing and safe feeling and the strange uncomfortable warming sensation is passing. My lower limbs feel like they are bound but I am safe and comfortable – like being enveloped in a soothing blanket of snow. I feel protected, as though in a cocoon.

Thank you for giving me a chance to live by not taking an ax to me. Thank you for digging me out of the ground and keeping me alive. You have given me the chance to rest now and to grow strong under your protective care until winter arrives once again.

It was a joy spending Christmas with you!

I’m not dead; I’m only sleeping.

One of the saddest things is seeing all the dead and forgotten Christmas trees discarded after the season.
Next time you go looking for a Christmas tree, consider buying one with its root ball intact;
you can replant it in your yard
or place it in a pot.
It gave you so much joy
during the holidays;
why not give it a chance to live!

NAR © 2021

THE MISSING PIECE

Born two days before Christmas in 2002 at the same time in the same hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of edelweiss. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!” 

One baby was born to the king and queen of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and hazel eyes. The Winslow’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital. Evelyn was having tea with friends in her comfortable library at home when she suddenly went into labor.

The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair golden brown and eyes of green like her ancestors from ancient Persia. Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring, the little shop in Harlem where she worked when her water brokeHer kindly boss Ken Siegel carefully escorted her to Mercy Hospital.

It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same winter’s night. Hours later both women had given birth to sons.

Five days later on December 28th the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need while the waitstaff plumped Evelyn’s pillows and served her breakfast in bed. 

Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor home to her basement apartment in Harlem. He offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner of the basement on which Rosa dozed restlessly while her infant son slept in an old borrowed cradle. The bathroom consisted of a toilet bowl and a sink where Rosa washed herself with a sponge, shivering in the cold December night. She breastfed Victor and cooked simple meals for herself on a hotplate.

The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake shared by Ken and a handful of trusted friends. 

Shortly after Victor’s birthday, Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man. She cared deeply for him and believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had acquired a larger space and expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing store. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content. 

The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of the other’s existence. Though they lived just two miles apart, the large and busy city allowed them to lead separate lives. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys with many friends yet sometimes they both felt an unusual void in their lives – something neither one could understand or easily dismiss. 

One day between Christmas and the new year Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop to buy a new suit for his son’s 18th birthday.

“We’re closing early today, Mr. Winslow – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but I must ask you to come back tomorrow” Ken stated nervously when Carlton and Maxwell entered the shop.

Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me” replied Carlton in his usual condescending manner. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit for his birthday. Are you trying to get rid of us?” 

“I’m sorry but I have something personal to attend to. I really must close now!” Ken insisted. 

But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the back room; they were laughing happily and Rosa held a small cake with a single candle. When the two teenage boys came face to face, a silence fell over the shop. They stared at each other in a strange sort of amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance. 

Carlton gasped in shock when he saw Rosa and she became faint; they had not laid eyes on each other in a very long time. Ken rushed to Rosa’s side and whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to get rid of them. I never wanted him to see you or Victor. I failed you.”

Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my sweet husband. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame” Rosa replied softly.

Gathering all his courage, Ken stood up proudly and spoke directly to Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know twenty years ago I ran a small tailoring shop in Harlem. Rosa worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in that tiny shop … but you knew that because you came there often. Eventually I was able to acquire this lovely store and you became one of my regular customers. After Victor was born, I asked Rosa to marry me and we have been together for seventeen years. Mr. Winslow, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly; we are a family. But even someone as self-centered and obtuse as yourself would know at first glance that both Victor and Maxwell are your biological sons.” 

Clearly stunned by this information, Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?” 

“Because you were married and your wife was also pregnant. You would never have supported us or accepted us as your family” Rosa cried.

“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.

Ken loudly slammed his hand against the front desk, startling everyone. “Victor is MY son. I am the one who lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” he shouted. “You would never have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind are selfish and spineless; you have money but you have no respect or dignity. Now, I must insist that you leave and never bother us again!”

Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. You have to believe I would have done the right thing by you and your mother. You’re a bright boy; surely you can see that.”

Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton, the father he never knew, and said nothing. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. “Mr. Winslow, you know nothing about me. Please do not dare to insinuate yourself into my life or the lives of my parents.”

Victor’s words stung and Carlton was taken aback. “Maxwell” he said angrily. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home. Now!”  

“No, father. After all I just heard, there’s no way I’m leaving now. You can turn your back and walk away but I can’t” Maxwell replied. “I just found a missing piece of my life. I’m going to stay and get to know my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.

Rosa and Ken looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.

Carlton was furious but he made no attempt to reach out to his sons. Instead, he angrily left the store and began walking home, wondering how he would explain this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.

NAR © 2019

THE LAST VIOLIN

It wasn’t often that we received a package from Sicily, so when one arrived that Tuesday afternoon between Christmas and the new year of 1964, we were all very excited. 

The family sat around the kitchen table as my mother painstakingly opened the brown paper, being careful not to tear the stamps which my father would place into one of his leather-bound albums. Finally the outer wrapping was removed, revealing a plain white box. My mother slid the cover off the box to find a card sitting atop pillows of tissue paper. Prolonging the excitement, she read the card silently to herself, then aloud, translating into English: 

“Dearest Concetta. We noticed how much you admired this while you were here on vacation. You left without buying it so here it is as a memento of your time spent with us. We hope you enjoy it as much now as you did then. With love – Cousins Paolo and Enza.” 

Slowly, carefully, Mom removed the tissue to reveal the most beautiful music box I had ever seen. It was a miniature violin, made of highly lacquered ebony with mother of pearl inlay. We all sat in wonder as my mother gently wound the music box, then placed it on the table as an ancient Sicilian folk song began to play. It was wondrous and I immediately fell in love. 

Cradling it tenderly in her hands, my mother moved the violin into the living room and placed it on the marble coffee table where it became the glistening centerpiece of the room. 

Several times each day I would wind up the music box to listen to the hauntingly beautiful tune. I never tired of the glorious melody and treated the violin like a treasure, always careful not to over-wind it. I listened, mesmerized, as the music slowed down and the final note was played. It was my delight for many years and I imagined it being mine one day. 

Decades later when my mom passed away, a few of her cherished items were placed in her coffin and buried with her … a small tin of pink sand from Bermuda where she and Dad honeymooned, a little toy horse which belonged to her precious firstborn who passed away at the age of two and, unbeknown to me, the magical violin music box. 

I grieved the passing of my beloved mother. I mourned the loss of that treasured music box … the first, last and only violin I would ever have. But now, during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I remember that Tuesday in 1964 when that violin entered our lives … and I smile.

NAR © 2017

OUR ‘ENRY

WHILE I KNOW BOXING DAY HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE ACTUAL SPORT OF BOXING, I THOUGHT SOME OF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ A POEM I WROTE LAST YEAR. YOU MAY BE SURPRISED, EVEN SHOCKED, TO LEARN THAT BOXING IS NOT MY WHEELHOUSE. NEITHER IS WRITING POETRY SO I HAD TO DO A FAIR AMOUNT OF RESEARCH AND EDITING. BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I HAD A LOT OF FUN IN THE PROCESS AND I LEARNED A LOT. I HOPE YOU ARE EQUALLY ENTERTAINED WHEN YOU READ MY POEM. HAPPY BOXING DAY TO ALL MY FRIENDS UP NORTH AND ACROSS THE POND! 🎁

Commemorated through the region
for his prowess and pugilistic might
was the one and only Henry Cooper,
a champion born and raised for the fight.

He and George were born on the third of May;
the two brawny lads were identical twins.
By the age of fifteen Henry excelled in boxing
with seventy-three out of eighty-four wins.

This proud son of South East London was a giant,
a lefty with a formidable uppercut jab;
cut-prone and no great defensive technician,
yet his glove on one’s jaw felt more like a stab.

Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic,
he cut an imposing figure.
With powerful fists licensed to kill,
his look was of sternness and rigor.

In September ’54 he fought Harry Painter;
it was his very first match as a pro.
The battle took place at Harringay Arena
where Henry soundly defeated his foe.

Our ‘Enry took off like a house on fire,
for nine bouts in a row, no one got in his way.
But he lost number ten on a technical knockout;
how ironic that match was at old Harringay!

Henry bounced back, never one to stay down;
every match for him was compelling and vital.
But he suffered a big loss on February nineteenth;
Joe Bygraves took the Commonwealth heavyweight title.

Henry was no fly-by-night flash-in-the-pan;
undefeated champ for twelve years was he.
Our ‘Enry fought with the greatest and best
including “The Louisville Lip” – Muhammad Ali.

The young champ was still known as Cassius Clay;
the year was nineteen hundred and sixty-three.
A great deal of ticket-selling for this long-awaited bout
created a massive amount of world-wide publicity.

In the fourth round Henry was leading on points,
Ali making little attempt at effective aggression.
Henry felled Ali with a left hook to the body;
“‘Enry’s ‘Ammer” it was called in the profession.

Well, Ali’s manager brought him to the corner,
administering smelling salts banned in the UK.
The prohibited act was witnessed by no one
and a rejuvenated Ali defeated Henry that day.

Decades later a vital extra six seconds
showed up in a long-missing recording.
If all things had been on the clear up and up
the headlines would have had different wording.

For a second time Henry went up against Ali
who was now world heavyweight champion.
Though cut and tired, Henry never hit the canvas;
a TKO was the decision and again Ali won.

Henry won forty out of his fifty-five matches
and in 1971 it was time to hang up his gloves.
But Henry was never really down for the count
and he had a rich life full of many great loves.

Jump back to the late 1950s
when Henry met the love of his life.
A Gina Lollabrigida look-alike
who he courted and took as his wife.

She was dark-haired, petite at just five feet tall
and her name was Albina Genepri;
a waitress at Henry’s favorite restaurant,
a beauty from the Apennine region in Italy.

Two people who grew up hundreds of miles apart
from similar backgrounds – both working middle-class.
Henry was a cockney bloke from Beckenham in Kent.
When Albina learned English, her accent was like cut-glass.

It was ironic but Albina hated boxing
yet she remained Henry’s strength and his shield.
He constantly asked her to come to his fights
but only one solitary time did she yield.

Henry was known as a prince among men
and a king of the ring in many a fight.
In 2000 he was dubbed “Sir Henry Cooper”
joining the ranks of paladins and knights.

One night on his way to a sporting event
Henry received a call from his son.
“Come back home, dad!” was the pitiful plea.
“Something terrible’s happened to mum!”

Their’s was a love that movies are made of.
Lives full of happiness and very few tears.
They both were the real deal, genuine article
and their marriage lasted forty-seven years.

Albina had suffered a heart attack,
her devoted life had come to an end.
Henry never truly got over the shock
but like a willow he learned how to bend.

Just three years later Our ‘Enry
quietly passed while watching TV.
His son said it was quick and painless;
“He’s with mum now for all eternity.”

He was a lovely gent and a good fella,
a great husband, dad and true friend.
All those dear mates of Our ‘Enry
were loyal right up to the end.

Henry & Albina Cooper
Henry Cooper was the only boxer
ever to be knighted.

Henry vs Muhammad Ali


NAR © 2021

Season’s Greetings!

IT WAS A REAL TREAT FOR ME TO GUEST POST ON SONGSHINE SOUNDS AND WRITE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY SONG, “THE CHRISTMAS SONG” BY NAT KING COLE. I HOPE YOU ALL ENJOY THE BACKGROUND STORY, GREAT MUSIC AND THE CLEVER VIDEO. MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! 💫 🕊️

Songshine Sounds

One of the most well-known and beloved holiday tunes is “The Christmas Song”made famous round the world by Nat King Cole. It’s certainly one of my favorite Christmas melodies, evoking a simpler time filled with family traditions and warm memories.

“The Christmas Song” (commonly subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”)waswritten in 1945by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé (yes, the Velvet Fog, himself).

According to Tormé, the song was written in Julyduring a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool”, the most-performedChristmas song was born.“I saw a spiral notepad on Bob’s piano with four lines written in pencil”, Tormé recalled. “They started,‘Chestnutsroasting… Jack Frostnipping… Yuletide carols…Folks dressed up likeeskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later we’d written that song.”

Since Nat…

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THE JOURNEY

Mid-August in Alabama is about as hot as hell’s back kitchen, or at least that’s what folks like to say. It was just me and ma making do as best we could since my pa got himself killed in some place called Vietnam. I don’t recall much about the day we got the news. Couple of soldiers in fancy uniforms came to the door and mama started wailing like she was being skinned alive. Ma never really got over that. Some folks said she went plum crazy that day. She’d sit on the porch in that rickety old rocking chair staring straight ahead, just mumbling to herself and fidgeting with pa’s dog tags like they was rosary beads.

I sorta became invisible to ma so I started spending my time down by the watering hole mostly swimming and fishing so we’d have something to eat. I went hunting one day, surprising ma with a rabbit and we cooked it up for dinner. Ma hugged me tight and put pa’s dog tags around my neck. Next morning I found her hanging in the barn and started screaming till the neighbors came running. That’s when I began living with the Jenkins Family. I was six years old. 

The Jenkins’ was good hard-working farm folk and they treated me real fine. They had a truckload of kids – eight boys and one girl – but they didn’t think twice about taking me in. Ma Jenkins always said “Kids fill the house with love. What’s one more mouth to feed?”

At first the days moved slow as molasses in February. I knew right quick that farming wasn’t for me but I did my share every day. When I was about fifteen or so Ma Jenkins said I sprouted into a handsome devil, the spitting image of my pa. Right about the same time I started taking up with Nell Jenkins. Two years older than me, she was all legs, boobs and big sky blue eyes. We made love every night and she taught me stuff I didn’t think was possible. Somehow we never got caught. We was crazy for each other but I wasn’t looking to get hitched. I knew if I didn’t get off that Alabama farm I’d die there. One night while Nell slept I placed my pa’s dog tags on her pillow and slipped out. I was 17 years old.  

I lied about my age and got me a job as a long distance trucker; hard as it was, it beat the hell outta farming. Shit! Where have the years gone? I been trucking now for 16 years. I’m only 33 years old and dog tired; I feel like I’m 103. I been thinking a lot about Alabama lately – maybe settling down, getting a job in a hardware store. A few days later I quit my job and went back to where it all began.

There was a nip in the air when I arrived home on the morning of Christmas Eve. It felt like snow could be coming. The Christmas tree was up in the town square, the same weathered ornaments I remembered from my teenage years. I got out of my pickup and looked around a bit; not much had changed. A brisk wind blew in from nowhere; I rubbed my hands together and stuffed them in my pockets to stay warm. A white Christmas hereabouts was almost unheard of.

Wiley’s Diner was still there. I went in and sat at the counter. It was early and the place was deserted. The cook popped his head out from the kitchen and asked what I’d like. “Coffee, please” I said and stared out the window as the first snowflakes started drifting in and I got lost in Alabama memories.

“Here ya go, fresh hot coffee. How about a slice of buttermilk pie with that?” I turned to see a young waitress wearing a Santa hat, a welcoming smile on her face. She was a pretty little thing and I found myself staring into big sky blue eyes. My heart skipped a beat. She wore a name tag with ‘Stevie’ written on it; around her neck hung dog tags and I knew. Lord Jesus! This is my baby girl! I asked if her ma’s name was Nell and she smiled, saying “Yes. Do you know her?” I said I did a long time ago. I don’t know what possessed me but I scribbled my name and number on a napkin, asking her to kindly give it to her ma. She said she surely would and tucked it in her pocket.  Choking up a bit, I lowered my head and busied myself with my breakfast. I couldn’t chance her seeing the tears in my eyes.

I tapped the brim of my cap and smiled, saying “See ya” to the girl wearing my pa’s dog tags around her neck. “Now don’t forget about giving my note to your mama”.

“No sir, I surely won’t” she replied with a smile and patted the pocket of her waitress uniform.

I walked back to my truck and sat for a long time in the cab, my face in my hands. Dear God, is this some sort of Christmas miracle? Did you bring me back here to find my daughter? After so many years and thousands of miles I wondered if Nell could ever forgive me.

NAR © 2019

PART 2 – The (K)Not

As promised, here is Part 2 of Spira’s post “The (K)Not. What you’re about to read is incredible. Be prepared to have your mind blown. Read on, if you dare. 🤯

inSPIRAtion

{Denise gracefully hosts Six Sentence Stories, where writers unleash their magic under one simple rule: in no more or no less than 6 sentences.
This week’s prompt word is : KNOT }

This is the continuation of thePART 1 – The Knot.
If you haven’t read that first, kindly do so and then return to read Part 2.

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CHRISTMAS MUNCHKINS

I’VE BEEN TAKING A BREAK THIS MONTH
BY POSTING SOME OLDER PIECES.
HOPE YOU’VE BEEN ENJOYING THIS BATCH OF HOLIDAY STORIES
FROM THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST! 🎄
🎅🏼

It had been a busy night at my bar and I was cleaning up after the last customer left. It was Christmas Eve and most people headed out a little early to get home or do last-minute shopping. I locked up, turned off the lights and went upstairs to the apartment I shared with my wife Nicole and our little girl Mariah. 

It was quiet in our apartment but I could see a dim light coming from Mariah’s room. I peeked in to see my girls reciting bedtime prayers. My daughter’s sweet voice was hushed but I heard her say “And God, please remind Santa the only thing I really want for Christmas is a kitty”. 

I sat in the living room staring at the Christmas tree. Nicole came in and sat beside me. “You heard?” I nodded and said “You know, Nic, she’s such a good girl, never asks us for anything. I have to see if I can find her a kitten.” 

“At this hour, Kevin? Where are you going to go?” 

“Honestly Nic, I have no idea – but I have to try.” 

Every place I tried was either closed or sold out of kittens and puppies. Even the humane society and animal shelters had no kittens. I drove up to Westchester and down to Brooklyn with no luck. Time was running out and I was getting more and more depressed with every passing minute. I just wanted to make Mariah happy; disappointing my little girl on Christmas was not an option. 

As I was heading back home, Nicole called. “Kevin, did you have any luck?” 

“No luck, Nic. I’m tired, I’m frustrated and I’m really bummed out. I’m gonna stop for a quick cup of coffee and I’ll be home in a few. Love ya.” 

I pulled into a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts and ordered a coffee while the store owner’s cat rubbed up against my leg. “Adding insult to injury” I thought. The store was empty at this God-forsaken hour. I asked to use the restroom and as I walked to the back of the shop, I noticed a box in the corner. Normally a box wouldn’t interest me but this box was whimperingI gently flipped up the top and to my amazement saw four tiny kittens in the box. Forgetting my need to use the restroom, I raced back out front, practically falling over myself and startling the owner. 

“Sir, I’ve been driving all night looking to buy a kitten for my daughter for Christmas. Please, I’m begging you! Can I possibly buy one of your kittens?” 

The owner looked at me and said “Aw, no man. They’re not for sale.”

I stared at him blankly, not knowing what to say. I was exhausted and frustrated and finding a box full of kittens was a miracle. At this point I did’t care about my pride – all that mattered was Mariah – and I was willing to beg. I slowly got down on one knee.

The store owner looked shocked and even a little embarrassed. “Aw, come on man! What are you doing?” he asked incredulously. “Get up off the floor. I already told you I can’t sell you a kitten.”

I stood, looking him square in the eye. “I know, sir, but it’s my little girl. She‘s only four-years-old and all she … ” and he cut me off in mid-sentence.

“I can’t sell you one” he repeated emphatically. “But I’ll gladly give you one for your kid.” 

I swear to God, I could have kissed him. Grinning like an idiot, I grabbed him by the shoulders. “Bless you, sir. Merry Christmas!”

Sit down and drink your coffee” he said as he shuffled off to the back of the store humming “Jingle Bells”.

Christmas morning Mariah excitedly ran into the kitchen and saw the mugs of hot cocoa and the Dunkin Donuts Munchkins box on the table. “Yay, Christmas Munchkins!” she squealed as she reached for the box, her big green eyes opening wide when she saw the tiny kitty staring back at her. 

Yeah … this is the best Christmas ever.

NAR © 2018

PART 1 – The Knot

It is my great pleasure to repost “The Knot”, an inspiring poem by my friend, Spira. Your kind comments would be greatly appreciated. Be prepared for Part 2 later this week. On behalf of my friend I offer my sincere thanks!

inSPIRAtion

{Denise gracefully hosts Six Sentence Stories, where writers unleash their magic under one simple rule: in no more or no less than 6 sentences.
This week’s prompt word is : KNOT }

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FORCED FUN

What the hell am I doing out on a night like this?” Glenn grumbled to himself, his mood worsening with each soggy step he took. “Freezing rain, my feet are soaked and I don’t even want to go to this damn office Christmas party!”

No one at his company knew that Glenn was planning to quit on New Year’s Eve. He was sick of his dead-end job, always being passed-over and stuck in a little cubicle all day. There’s got to be more to life than that!

Running into the little gift shop located in his company’s office building, Glenn spotted a small lapis lazuli ornament near the cash register and decided it would make a fine Secret Santa gift. As he reached for it, his hand bumped into a lovely feminine hand with sparkling fuchsia fingernails.

Hold on, buster! That’s mine! I just left it on the counter while I went to get a gift bag.”

Turning his head sideways Glenn encountered a familiar face; it was the receptionist at his office. He always thought she was pretty but tonight she looked particularly fetching.

Carrie, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry but the rule is if you put something down before paying for it, it’s fair game. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to look around for anything else.”

Carrie recognized Glenn immediately. He reminded her of a dreamy Hugh Grant in his younger days – handsome and charming – just not at this particular moment.

Glenn, right? Well, I’m in a hurry, too. The office Christmas party is tonight and this is my Secret Santa gift. You’re probably here for the same reason.”

Guilty as charged” Glenn quipped. “Come on, Carrie. It’s been a crappy day. I just want to buy this gift, make an appearance at the party and get the hell out of there.”

I feel the same way. These office celebrations are the worst! The last place I want to be is at that party but it’s mandatory. Nothing like ‘forced fun’!”

Glenn had to chuckle at that.

Look, Glenn. There’s a bunch of other ornaments right over there. Just pick something and let me buy this one, alright? I did see it first, after all.”

Oh, alright! It’s all yours!” Glenn conceded and dashed off to look for something else. He quickly found a small gold star ornament, grabbed a gift bag and returned to the register just as Carrie was finishing up her purchase. She gave Glenn a little smile and headed out into the lobby. He couldn’t help noticing her shapely legs as she walked away, heels click-clacking on the marble floor.

So, we meet again” declared a voice beside Carrie as she waited for the elevator. She felt a slight rush knowing it was Glenn.

Or maybe you’re following me” Carrie replied coyly, hoping she wasn’t blushing. She and Glenn never really spoke to each other at work but he always caught her eye. Glancing at him Carrie was struck with how intensely blue his eyes were. At the same moment Glenn was thinking how very kissable Carrie’s lips looked in the shimmering light of the lobby’s chandelier. 

They stepped into the elevator, the only two occupants as it made its slow ascent.

Mind if I ask why you’re dreading this party so much?” Glenn inquired.

That’s easy!” Carrie replied. “I hate my job! The people are unfriendly, all I do is answer the phone all day and give directions to rude visitors. This was not my dream when I first came to New York. I’m bored to death and capable of so much more. If I tell you something will you promise to keep it a secret?”

Glenn nodded and gave her the ‘zipped lips’ sign.

I’m quitting on New Year’s Eve” Carrie whispered.

No kidding! So am I! I hate my job, too. Working out of glass box 8 hours a day was never one of my dreams. But mum’s the word, OK?” Glenn whispered back conspiratorially and they stared into each other’s eyes like kids making a pinky pledge.

Any idea what you’re gonna do?” Glenn asked.

Not really” Carrie sighed “but I’ve always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast in Maine.”

Sounds delightful” Glenn replied wistfully. “We used to vacation at my grandparent’s lake house in Maine when I was a kidIt’s gorgeous up there – a really great place to settle down.”

The elevator door opened to the office party in full swing. Glenn and Carrie groaned and deposited their little bags on the Secret Santa gift table. He went one way, she went the other but every few minutes they found themselves staring at each other across the room.

After a short time Carrie casually made her way to the elevator. She was just about to make her escape when she heard that familiar voice cry out “Hold the elevator!” and Glenn rushed in breathlessly.

They stood side-by-side, both too nervous to say a word. Then the inevitable happened.

I was wondering…..” they said at the same time and laughed self-consciously.

You first” prompted Carrie.

I was thinking perhaps we could get a drink somewhere and talk about our dreams” Glenn suggested.

My thoughts exactly” Carrie replied. And when they stepped outside they discovered the freezing rain had changed to snow.

Looks like one of my Christmas wishes has come true” Glenn remarked, delighting in the sight of snowflakes gently landing on Carrie’s hair.

Carrie smiled up at Glenn. “Maybe we could have that drink at my place” she suggested, her eyes twinkling. “We could start up the fireplace, string popcorn for the tree …..”

I’d like that very much” Glenn replied softly and slipped his fingers between hers.

NAR © 2020

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

Graphic by Mckenna Richy

Yay! Daddy’s bringing down the boxes of Christmas decorations from the attic! There’s a bunch of plastic tubs with a million trillion ornaments in them and a ginormous box with the tree. Daddy’s saying bad words ‘cause the box is heavy; he said ‘he’s busting his hump’. I never saw a hump on my Daddy. Mommy keeps slapping his arm and telling him to be quiet. Mommy said it’s Christmas Eve and we gotta put up the tree and cook all this stinky fish for dinner. Yuck! I wanna have pizza but she said no ‘cause fish is the Italian trabition, whatever that is. 

Oh no! The tree is broken! Why can’t we have a real tree like my friend Susie? Her family cuts a tree down and I think it smells just like the forest. Daddy says it’s ok; the tree isn’t broken. It comes in pieces like a puzzle and we gotta put it together. I’m gonna go play with my Colorforms now. I don’t wanna put the tree together. It’s boring. I just wanna hang ornaments and hold tinsel against the hot lights until it melts and snaps in half. How cool is that? Daddy always lifts me way up high to put the angel on the tippy top of the tree. 

Daddy’s calling me. Wow! The tree is covered with lights and it’s time to hang the ornaments! Mommy has a box that nobody’s allowed to touch ‘cause it’s got all her special ornaments. I don’t know what’s so special about them. I’ve got a Gumby and Pokey ornament. Now THAT’S special! I gotta use the stepstool to reach the higher branches. Mommy says I better not fall in the tree like I did last year. Boy, did she get mad! Finally it’s time for the angel and Daddy lifts me way up high to reach the top. She’s the most beautiful angel I’ve ever seen and I just wanna stare at her all night. 

Ding! Dong! Yay! Grammy and Grampy are here! Grampy says the fish smells delicious. Pee yoo! I’m not gonna eat it. I’m just gonna have some pisgetti. After dinner Mommy says we gotta get dressed for church. I don’t wanna go but Grammy says it’ll be sinning if we don’t go. 

Oh man! There’s no place to park at church and Daddy’s saying more bad words. Mommy’s slapping his arm again. FINALLY we park and go inside. Whoa! It’s so pretty! So many candles and twinkly lights. And there must be a zillion people! Grampy says they’re all a bunch of phonies. Boy, Grammy gave him a really big punch on the arm! We squeeze onto a bench and I snuggle into Mommy’s fur coat. It’s so soft and warm. I just wanna go to sleep. Maybe I can nap for just a little while ‘cause Santa’s coming tonight and I’m gonna stay up all night and wait for him. 

Woohoo! I did it! I stayed up all ni….. 

Wait a minute. How’d I get in my jammies? And I’m in bed! It’s Christmas morning and I missed Santa! I ran down the stairs ’cause I could smell the bacon and pancakes that Mommy’s making. Yay!! Santa came! Santa came! Look at all the presents! Mommy says breakfast first, then we can open the presents.

I never ate so fast in my whole life!! 

NAR © 2018