BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

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

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

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

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

He sent her a text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

#FOWCconfess

THE BAMBOO CURTAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn kids!” I grumbled, rolling my eyes.

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

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

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

You mean those two women are a couple?” I asked Frank in disbelief.

Oh yes, my friend. Very much so!” Frank replied cracking up.

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

NAR © 2020

SINS OF THE FATHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donal rasped, his breathing labored:

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

MY DEAREST FRIEND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

AMAGANSETT BEACH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020