GUEST POST: THE BUILDING

Once again it’s a privilege to post a story written by my 12-year-old granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. She makes me proud every single day.

Part 1 – Selected

There’s an abandoned building up on Bison Street. I know because I pass it every day on my way to school. I know because the Clean-Up Team at my school is hosting a fundraiser to fix it up. But there is something strange about that building.

HENRY!” my friend Carlos shouts. I snap out of my daydream. “You’re standing when Principal Miron has told everyone to sit down!

I turned red and sat down. The principal began her announcement:

“Thank you, Carlos, for that loud clarification on your part” she laughed. “Well, good afternoon, students. Before you’re dismissed for the day I just want to say … WE DID IT! Starting next week every day after school a select group of students will start cleaning up the building on Bison Street! Special thanks to the school’s Clean-Up Team! That is all, students. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you all on Monday.”

I walked home with multiple thoughts filling my head: Am I part of the selected group? Why next week? HOW THE HECK DID THE SCHOOL GET ENOUGH MONEY?!

I opened the door to my mother’s restaurant. “Hola, Mama.”

Hola, Henrita. I am a little busy with work right now. Can you grab an apron and help Marko and Linda with serving the customers for about three hours?” she asked.

I sighed “Sure, Mama.” I guess I’ll tell her about cleaning up the building when she’s not so busy.

*

I was lying on my bed. Mama’s restaurant didn’t close until 9:00 PM and I was feeling a little depressed. Before he died, my dad and I would always binge-watch our favorite TV show, “Detectives at Middle School”. It was a show about twins who would deal with mysteries, middle school life and parent drama. Mama promised that I could stay up late on Friday nights so we could watch the show together and keep the tradition going but lately she’d been forgetting our deal and I really can’t blame her.

The restaurant has been twice as busy with dad gone and everything. I enjoyed helping sometimes; other times I didn’t. My mom’s new boyfriend Jonathan works as one of the staff and I don’t really like him that much. He calls me “Henry”; everyone else calls me by my real name – “Henrita”– even my mom. Henry was my dad’s name and he gave me the nickname “Pequeño Henry” which means “Little Henry”. He said I’d always be his little girl no matter how big I got. I only let my friends Carlos and Sasha call me “Henry”.

Suddenly I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My BFF Sasha came in with some muffins. “Hi H” she said as she gave me a chocolate muffin, my favorite.

Hey, Sashay” I said, reaching for a muffin.

You thinking about your dad again? I’m sorry, Henry. I know how much you loved him.” Sasha knew me really well; it’s almost like she could see the thoughts in my eyes.

Thanks for checking on me, Sasha. Did my mom fall asleep again?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

Yeah, she did, but we can watch “Detectives at Middle School” together if you’d like.”

I smiled. “Sure. Let’s sneak downstairs to the restaurant and grab some snacks!” We stuffed our pockets with popcorn, cookies and sodas, then hurried back to my room as we heard Mama making noises like she was waking up.

That was close!” Sasha said and I giggled. “As Mama likes to say: ‘Fisgones van a fisgonear’ (‘Snoopers gonna snoop!’). We both laughed as I turned on the TV and we began to watch the show.

*

Sasha must have woken up before me because when I woke up there was a sticky note on my forehead that read: “Went home. Left you something sweet on your desk!” On my desk was a box of leftover muffins plus a new batch of chocolate muffins. That’s my BFF!

I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I turned on the TV, sat on the couch and began to eat my cereal. Then my mother came down all dressed up.

Mama, you look nice! Where are you going all dressed up like that?” I asked with a mouthful of cereal.

Johnathan is taking me out for breakfast, Henrita, and you’re coming with us.”

I nearly choked on my cereal. “Huh?!”

You heard me, Henrita. Now go get dressed.”

I didn’t want to go to breakfast but what Mama says goes; it would take at least a million dollars to get her to change her mind. I put on black sweatpants, a grey T-shirt and a black hoodie, pulling the hood over my dark brown hair. When I came downstairs Mama said “Honey, we’re going to a fancy brunch place. I wish you’d wear something nicer.”

I wanted to say “I really don’t care or want to go anyway” but instead all I said was “Well, at least I brushed my hair.” Mama sighed and we got in the car. On the way to breakfast I saw the abandoned building.

Hey, Mama. Do you believe in ghosts?”

Mama laughed “What has gotten into you?? Of course I don’t believe in ghosts!”

When we got to the restaurant Mama sat down next to Jonathan and I sat across from them. “So, Henry, how’s school?” asked Jonathan.

Fine. And my name is Henrita.”

Mama gave me a stare like daggers. Changing the subject, Mama explained to Jonathan “The school Clean-Up Team and some other students are going to clean up that old building down the street. I hope Henrita participates.” I rolled my eyes and put my head on the table. “Henrita! Sit up!” Mama scolded. I exhaled loudly and sat up straight.

The waiter came and asked us what we wanted to have for breakfast. I said “I’d like a way out of this place!” Mama glared at me. “Sorry. I’ll just have a bagel with cream cheese.” When the waiter was finished taking our orders I pulled out my phone and texted Carlos and Sasha on our group chat.

I’M STUCK AT BRUNCH WITH MY MOM AND HER BOYFRIELD!” 😦 – HENRY
“YIKES, HENRY! I GOT SOCCER PRACTICE. GOOD LUCK!” – CARLOS
“JUST HANG IN THERE, GIRLFRIEND!” – SASHA

“Henry! This is the third time your mother has spoken to you!” Jonathan said angrily.

Huh? About what?” Why does he insist on calling me “Henry?”

No phones at the table.”

I put my phone in my pocket. “Happy now?”

*

I got grounded. Yep. Grounded. Mama said that Jonathan did nothing wrong and wouldn’t listen to anything I said. She said that my father would have done the same thing. That made me really angry and I yelled “If we were having breakfast with dad I never would have needed to text my friends. I was angry and dad never made me angry! I’m sorry, Mama, but I don’t like your boyfriend and I never will! Please don’t compare him to dad!”

Mama looked very sad and I felt terrible but I couldn’t take back what I said. Now I’m sitting here on my bed feeling sorry about everything and stuffing my face with one of Sasha’s muffins. Thankfully Mama said I was only grounded for today.

Carlos, Sasha and I usually have our video game tournaments on Sundays. I’m not a video game addict; however, Carlos is. All he ever does is play soccer and games. I’m not judging him; I’m just saying he’s the gamer of the group. Sasha has skills but prefers to draw and bake. Then there’s me; Sasha usually wins whenever she and I play ‘cause I absolutely SUCK at video games. I’ve got zero coordination. I always lose. I won a dance video game but only because I took dance classes from age 4 until I turned 12.

And suddenly there it was. BAM!! My mom burst into my room with my phone. “Your BFF and boyfriend won’t stop texting you!”

“I’m confused. Oh, do you mean my two best friends?” I replied sarcastically.

She just says “Oh, right. Well, I don’t know how to make it shut up! And I don’t like the way you talk about Jonathan!”

I want to get one thing straight: Carlos is NOT my boyfriend. Sasha, Carlos and I have been friends since forever. Anything else is just weird. Mama is always asking things like did I meet a boy? Or do I have a boyfriend yet? I think Mama wants me to have a boyfriend for some reason but what do I know? I picked up my phone and looked at our group chat:

*

“HENRY!!! THEY PICKED WHO’S GOING TO HELP CLEAN UP THE BUILDING!” – CARLOS
“REALLY? I HOPE IT’S NOT ME!” – SASHA
“WHY’S THAT?” – CARLOS
“I’M ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH AS IT IS. YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW, CARLOS!” – SASHA
“DO YOU KNOW WHO’S ON THE LIST?” – HENRY
“NOPE. THEY JUST SENT AN EMAIL.’ – CARLOS
“THEY’LL PROBABY ANNOUNCE IT MONDAY AT SCHOOL.” – SASHA
“IF I’M ON IT, IT’LL GIVE ME A REASON TO STOP BEING THE THIRD WHEEL ON MY MOM’S DATES!” – HENRY

*

Monday morning started with an announcement by Principal Miron:

“Good morning students. The school board and I have selected the students for the Clean-Up Team … and they are Marcus Con, Jackie Kale, Martha Steward, Alex Tetry and Henrita Cruz. The Clean-Up Team has volunteered to work Mondays-Wednesdays. The selected students will work Wednesdays-Fridays. Congratulations! That is all for now. Have a great day!”

It’s official; I’m spending half the week cleaning up an abandoned building. I hope it’s not too bad. I mean, everyone is bugging me about getting out of the house so that’s taken care of. But still, why me? Is it a punishment? Did I do something wrong? I’m confused.

As I’m walking to math class, Sasha and Carlos appear by my side. “I’m convinced it was a random pick. All three of us had a chance” Sasha said.

“Yo, Henry. You find any ghosts, call us before you become one” Carlos laughed. Sasha lightly punched him; “Don’t joke like that, dude!”

*

The first days of the project were just the basic safety rules: don’t go to the top floor without an adult to supervise you; wear a helmet and goggles. Little things.

“Henrita, are you ready to go?” Mama called from downstairs. SHOOT! I forgot about lunch with Mama and her boyfriend.

I marched downstairs in jeggings and a grey T-shirt with a lightning bolt on it. My dark brown hair swayed side-to-side as I walked down the stairs.

Right away Mama was on my case: “Henrita, we’re going to Jacques Van Goldam for lunch. They won’t let you dress like that.”

“I’m counting on that. Besides, I’m going to the abandoned building – not to lunch.”

“Henrita, it’s a Saturday. That’s a day off from clean-up.”

“Extra credit, Mama. And there will be adult supervision.”

“Alright, Honeycomb. Just stay safe.” Mama kissed my head and smiled but I could tell she was disappointed.

Now what I said wasn’t exactly true; I was going to the abandoned building but I was going alone and it wasn’t for extra credit.

I grabbed my phone, put it in my bag and left. I was walking on Bison Street when I spotted the building. I’ll admit, it looked better than it did last week but when I walked inside it looked exactly the same as when I left on Friday. After I explored the first three floors, I decided to do what no one else had yet done. I was going to the fourth floor. The only way to get there was from a circular staircase. I knew it would be tiring but I was going to do it.

The fourth floor looked just like the rest of the building – dark, dusty, abandoned. I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight, shining it around the room. And then I heard it. A thump, like someone knocked something over. I looked everywhere with my flashlight. At first I didn’t see anything. And then I did.

I saw her

*

Part 2 – Construction

“Hello” I said.

The girl responded with “Hello”.

“Are you a ghost?”

“No. Ghosts are somewhere else.”

“So, who are you?”

The girl giggled. “I’m Scarlet. And I live here.”

 I was shocked by her answer. “You live here? I thought this building was abandoned.”

Scarlet smiled. “Technically it is, but my mother, brother and I used to live here.”

“What happened to them?” I asked.

Scarlet looked heartbroken. “There was a shooting. I was at a sleepover. Whoever did it left no survivors.”

“I’m so sorry!”

She put on a fake smile. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

*

It’s been a month now and every day Scarlet and I have talked. I brought her food and clean clothes. One Sunday Scarlet and I were playing a game of ‘truth or dare’.

“Alright, truth or dare?” Scarlet asked me.

Truth” I responded.

Ugh, fine. Lame-o!” Scarlet joked.“Why did your family come to California?”

“Well, I used to live in the Caribbean but after my dad died in a car crash my Mama said it was best if we moved here” I explained. “Your turn; truth or dare?”

Scarlet seemed confident. “Dare.”

“I dare you to do a handstand!”

Scarlet groaned. “Aw, come on!” She sighed and attempted to do a handstand but she fell backwards and we both burst out laughing. “Truth or dare, Henry?”

To Scarlet’s surprise I said “Dare.”

Finally! I dare you to prank call someone.”

I smiled and pulled out my cell phone, dialing Carlos’ number.

“Hello.”
“Yes, your pizza order is outside on your doorstep. Twelve large pepperoni pies, four salads and three brownies –all for a cost of only $19.99.”
“Henry, are you ok?”

I hung up and put my phone down. “There you go!”

Carlos was left scratching his head wondering what was up with Henry and that strange call. He called Sasha right away and between the two of then they figured out that Henry was probably in the building. After all, it was a Sunday and she wasn’t at home or with them so where else could she be and what was she up to? The two friends were concerned about Henry but knew she could take care of herself. And if she WAS in any danger they knew she’d call back.

*

MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE BUILDING

*

“You can’t do this!” shouted Mr. Al.

“I’m sorry, sir, but this is our only choice” responded Matthew, a construction foreman.

“We’ll see about that!” Mr. Al dialed a number on his phone. “Diana, I need you at the building ASAP. There are people here.”

Five minutes later Ms. Miron pulled up in one vehicle and two police officers in another. “What’s going on, Al? asked Ms. Miron.

Mr. Al explained “These people want to demolish the building!”

One of the officers spoke up. “I’m Officer Jonane and this is Officer Benjamin. We heard that Middletown High School is renovating this old building.”

Ms. Miron took a deep breath. “Yes, that’s correct. We are.”

Officer Benjamin asked “Do you have all the official paperwork? Our scans say that you don’t and you just went ahead and began cleaning the building on your own without permission.”

Ms. Miron and Mr. Al became flustered, neither one knowing what to say.

“I think we have our answer” Officer Jonane spoke up. “We don’t need any more excuses. There are no students in the building. Is that right?”

Mr. Al replied “No. It’s a Sunday. The building is empty.”

“Good. The building will be destroyed in just a few minutes. Everybody clear the area!” And with that the officers walked back to Matthew and the rest of the workers.

*

MEANWHILE, BACK INSIDE THE BUILDING

*

Scarlet and I were sitting next to each other talking about our lives. “I guess we have a lot in common” Scarlet said.

“Yeah, I guess we do.”

Suddenly, R-U-M-B-L-E!!!

“What was that?” Scarlet asked, panicked. I got up to look out the window.

“They’re demolishing the building! I shouted.

Scarlet looked at the door leading to the staircase. “We need to get out!”

We ran to the door. Scarlet and I struggled to open it and finally managed to do so. We ran down the stairs as quickly as we could. Scarlet made it to the second floor but the building was coming down leaving me on the third floor. I could hear Scarlet shouting my name, just barely. I looked up and saw the ceiling cracking. My life flashed before my eyes and then everything went black.

*

I awoke in the hospital with my mother sitting next to me. “Mama?”

She gasped and looked up. “Honey, your awake! Jonathan and I have been so worried about you.”

I didn’t really care about Jonathan.

“How long was I out?” I asked.

One week, Henrita. One week!” Mama said, a bit over-dramatic. I smiled; it was good to see her again.

The next few weeks were busy with tests, therapy and horrible hospital food, but early in May I was able to go home. In the car Mama said “I hope you have an explanation, young lady. According to the principal, you weren’t even supposed to be in the building.”

I winced. How in the world was I supposed to tell my very traditional mother that I snuck away to a dangerous building in order to get away from her and her boyfriend?

When I got home Carlos and Sasha immediately ran up to me and hugged me. Sasha cried a little “Are you ok? What happened? Did you break anything? We figured you were in the building; now I feel bad that we didn’t call somebody. You never would have gotten hurt!” were some of the many questions and comments they had.

“I’m fine, you guys. I’ll tell you everything.”

We walked upstairs to my room. When we entered I saw a note on my bed:

“Henry, I’m on the run right now. If I was was with you, I would tell you everything but  at the moment I can’t. We’ll find each other again, I’m sure of that.
Love, Scarlet

“Who’s Scarlet?” Carlos asked, looking over my shoulder back and forth from Sasha to the note. Sasha put her hands up like a police officer was pointing a gun at her. “Don’t look at me. I’ve never heard that name before in my life.”

I smiled. “There might have been a few things I didn’t tell you!”

*

Epilogue – 8 years later

I’m 22 now. I haven’t heard from Scarlet since that note. Sasha and Carlos ended up falling in love and getting married; my mother married Jonathan. And although I wasn’t happy about that, Jonathan is part of the family now and I’ve come to accept it.

Sasha and Carlos know all my secrets. My mother, however … she has a slightly edited version of the story.

I don’t know if there is danger out there but I’ll find Scarlet … one day.

MFR © 2021

A COLD CALL

“Hi, I’m calling about your ad.”

Her voice was soft and sultry, as smooth and silky as his finest Maker’s Mark bourbon. The image of a voluptuous goddess with long wavy caramel-colored hair, tanned skin and moist red lips immediately appeared before him. He could see her pearly teeth as she smiled, tantalizingly nibbling her bottom lip. He felt himself getting hard.

“Is anyone there?” he heard her say and roused him out of his fantasy.

“Yes, sorry. I’m here. I was distracted for a moment. There’s something about your voice; it’s very … familiar” he replied trying to sound nonchalant.

“I get that a lot” she answered, her throaty laugh arousing him again.

“Are you calling about the apartment or the car?” Please let it be the apartment … let it be the apartment …  he pleaded silently, picturing her sprawled on his bed. 

The Ferrari, of course. No sexy car list would be complete without it, don’t you agree?”

There was that laugh again. He had to meet this woman. Today.

“Of course. She’s an incredible vehicle” he said, a bit disappointed that she wasn’t interested in seeing his apartment. How he’d love to get her there.

“Incredible sounds about right. And exciting, too, judging by the photo in your ad. With her open top she’s as sleek and beautiful as a topless Ferrari should be – a car to melt some hearts and explode others.”

As she spoke, he had a vision of her in the Ferrari, top down, driving along the Santa Barbara coastline, her hair loose and wild like crimson flames. She was laughing as she drove faster and faster, her hand teasing the elongated head of the gear shift. She was wearing a short black leather skirt and a low-neck sweater, her stunning breasts heaving with excitement. She smelled of honeysuckle and peaches. His heart was racing, his erection pounding.

Who is this woman? He couldn’t think straight. Snap out of it, dummy!

“So, when would you like to see her?” Today, today, today raced repeatedly in his brain.

“Today, if that works for you” came the response he hoped for.

“Hmm, today. My schedule’s kind of tight but I might be able fit you in around 4:00” he lied. “Would that work for you?”

“Yes. I can come anytime.

Was that a double entendre? This woman was driving him insane with desire!

“Hold on one sec. I just need to check on something.”

He waited impatiently for her return. His plan: they’d meet at 4:00, take the Ferrari out for a drive and get back to his place just in time for a “spontaneous” dinner and whatever might follow.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. I wanted to make sure my wife would be available at 4:00.”

Wife? Did she say wife? She was married. To a WOMAN! His passion vanished instantly along with his raging erection.

Hey, I’m getting another call. Can you hold?” he lied again.

Deflated, he pushed the “end call” button and the line went dead.

NAR © 2021

SPREAD ‘EM

Thanks to a similar story by my friend John Holton (see below), I’m submitting this post to Fandango’s One Word Challenge.
The prompt word is “chop”.
I’m also feeling mixed emotions for I see our recently departed friend Hobbo commented on my story when I originally wrote it last year.
RIP Hobbo.

This hairy hand is not mine!

When I became pregnant with my first baby in 1977, my husband Bill and I were over the moon! We were thrilled and dove headfirst into the whole pregnancy phenomenon – buying furniture and clothes and setting up a nursery. At the time I was 26 years old, weighed 105 pounds and stood 5’4” tall.

Throughout my pregnancy I craved barbecued hamburgers, fresh tomatoes and hot fudge ice cream sundaes every day. After nine months, I gained a whopping 72 pounds and at some point had to remove my wedding ring because my fingers were getting swollen.

Who cared if pregnancy gave me cankles and made my fingers swell? It also made my boobs huge and turned me into a nymphomaniac – a little perk my husband didn’t mind one bit! Besides, as soon as the baby was born I’d lose the weight. I thought I’d immediately jump back into my tiny Jordache jeans and halter tops. How naive I was! It came as quite a shock to discover I could only fit into maternity clothes after giving birth. I suddenly didn’t feel quite so sexy anymore!

A couple of weeks after the baby was born, we were invited to a Christmas Eve party. It had been a while since we’d been out so I was looking forward to slipping into my fanciest maternity outfit and sliding my ring back on. I wanted to look pretty and festive and it seemed like a good idea at the time but no sooner was my substantial solid gold wedding ring back on when my finger began to swell. Before my eyes it tripled in size and went from various shades of pink to red to finally a pulsating, throbbing blueish purple. And it started to hurt like a son of a bitch, too.

I immediately ran cold water over my hand but the ring wouldn’t budge. Bill filled a bowl with water and ice and I soaked my hand until I lost all feeling. No luck. We tried scrubbing with lots of soap and water – nothing. We dragged out every sort of lubricant we could think of from WD-40 to KY Jelly to olive oil. We even tried the “string thing” (don’t ask; that’s another story). Bill lovingly suggested I try to relax and take deep breaths while he pulled on the ring. I screamed at him to “fuck off” because “This wasn’t Lamaze Class and I felt like I was giving birth again.” Nothing worked. I was now in agony and convinced my finger would eventually shrivel up, die and fall off. Or even worse, we’d have to chop it off. Neither option was appealing.

There was only one thing left to do. I told Bill to take the baby to the party while I went to the hospital. Hopefully they’d give me a shot to reduce the swelling. When the nurse noticed my maternity clothes, she told me I was in the wrong section of the hospital and directed me to Labor and Delivery. I informed her that I was no longer pregnant and showed her my ever-expanding finger; she immediately dragged me into the ER.

Doogie Howser, M.D. and his assistants took one look at my digit, gasped and scratched their heads, perplexed. When you’re on the receiving end of that horrified reaction coming from professionals trained to remove knives lodged in skulls and vibrators stuck in various body orifices, it’s not a good feeling. Excusing themselves, the doctors stepped out of the room, consulted for ten seconds and returned with the verdict: “We have no choice but to cut it off.”

“MY FINGER??” I gasped.

“No, silly. The ring” they laughed. “We’re going to get Jerry and Ares. If he can’t cut it off, no one can” replied one doctor twittering like a giddy school girl. It took every ounce of self-control to keep from shouting “Shut up, you fucking idiot!”

And who, may I ask, are Jerry and Ares?” I asked through my pain.

Jerry is our top custodian and Ares is the strongest 8” mini bolt cutter in his toolbox.”

That statement was not exactly reassuring.

Within minutes Jerry appeared; a sparkling red tool which I was pretty sure was Ares dangled prominently from his belt. I was also pretty sure Jerry had just smoked a joint but, hey, he was the best and given my predicament, beggars can’t be choosers. Jerry examined my finger, made all sorts of grumbling noises and proceeded to sterilize Ares before he scrubbed up.

At last the moment of truth arrived. Jerry told me to turn my hand, palm facing up and “spread ‘em”. I assumed he meant my fingers and did as instructed. Jerry made the Sign of the Cross, kissed Ares and with the precision of a neurosurgeon gently slid Ares between my finger and my ring.

One loud “snip” was all it took and the back of my ring was cut clear through. Jerry broke out his mini pliers and separated the ring enough to remove it from my finger. We all let out a collective sigh of relief. Tragedy averted.

In case you’re wondering, I never got the ring repaired. It sits in my jewelry box as a reminder that even though something may seem like a good idea at the time, that isn’t always the case.

Ares

NAR © 2021

#FOWCchop

And here is a link to John’s story: https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/2022/09/17/ring-a-ding-ding-socs/

THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER

“Cloak and Dagger and a dozen oysters on ice” was the order placed by a vaguely familiar voice in the corner.

Her interest piqued, Judy Lowe leaned in a bit to get a better look. Where had she heard that voice before? Finding it a little too dim to see, she decided to go over and check out the situation. Taking her Bloody Mary with her, Judy casually strolled to the end of the bar and wriggled her curvaceous bottom onto the stool.

“Pardonne-moi” Judy cooed. “The name of your drink is tres intriguing.” The man was older than Judy expected but extremely handsome with silver hair and a rich tan. “Has anyone ever mentioned you look like Cary Grant?” she asked smiling flirtatiously.

Never” he replied in a clipped Bristol accent as he gazed appreciatively at Judy’s decolletage. “Ah, yes. The Cloak and Dagger: the perfect blend of Blackwoods Gin from the Shetland Islands, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, green chartreuse and Extra Brut sparkling wine. It’s the quintessential pairing with oysters.

“I’m Judy Lowe, a model from Los Angeles. And you are?”

“Enchanté, Judy. My friends call me Archie” and he gently kissed the palm of her hand.

Judy gasped; no man had ever kissed the delicate flesh of her palm. It was so European and sexy.

“Archie, would you mind terribly if I had a little sip of your Cloak and Dagger?” Judy asked. ‘A friend once told me the perfect drink with oysters is a Bloody Mary and I’d like to see who’s right.”

“Oh Judy, Judy, Judy! Whoever told you that was obviously terribly mistaken or an uneducated boor” Archie teased. “No, you may not have a sip of my drink; you shall have your very own. Barkeep! Please prepare a perfect Cloak and Dagger for the lovely Judy Lowe from Los Angeles.”

When the bartender set the drink before Judy, she clapped her hands in glee like a little girl and reached for the glass but Archie stopped her.

“Oh, no, my dear. This must be done right! It’s a process. First slide the oyster into your mouth and savor the taste. Delight in the pleasure; it should never be rushed. Now, follow with a sip of the Cloak and Dagger and let the juices mingle. That’s a good girl. Now swallow.”

Judy was in ecstasy. Never had she experienced anything so sensual. “Oh my God, Archie! That was heavenly.”

“Let’s raise our glasses, lovely Judy, to the noble oyster and the Cloak and Dagger. May they be forever immortalized as the true nectar of the gods!”

Archie stood and kissed Judy’s palm. “And now, my dear, I must bid you adieu.” He flipped his hat onto his head, tapped the brim and left.

When Judy came back down to earth she discovered a folded piece of paper in her hand. Gently she peeled back the corners to find it was a cocktail napkin on which was scribbled: “Dearest Judy: The world is your oyster. Always, Cary.”

July slowly exhaled. “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Archie aka
Cary Grant

NAR © 2021

TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS

 “Use the call button on the side panel of your bed if you need a nurse. My shift is almost over. Can I get you anything before I leave?”

It took me a few seconds to remember where I was as I stared at the friendly face of the nurse standing over me.

“Pain meds would be lovely” I answered immediately. I had been in an accident earlier, falling three feet off a friend’s deck and shattering my hip. At first I felt nothing; then incredible pain started coursing its way up from my toes to the crowns on my teeth. Moving a millimeter caused me to scream out in agony. Too bad I’d forgotten to wear my suit of armor!

“Your next round is in two hours – a specially-prepared cocktail to get you through this. Until then, try to get some rest” the nurse suggested.

I’m a firm believer that copious amounts of pain medication should be dispensed frequently but apparently here in the hospital my opinion is worthless. I smiled wanly and asked the nurse for my iPhone; if I couldn’t have propofol at least I could have music.

Trying to rest in a hospital is next to impossible. Patients crying out, buzzers buzzing, machines whirring, carts rolling, elevators dinging, doctors discussing. Even the mourning doves who held dominion over the sparrows on my windowsill were cooing incessantly.

I slip in my earbuds and cue up The Beatles “Helter Skelter” – the best and only hard rock, heavy metal song they ever recorded. No matter how shitty I may be feeling at any given moment, listening to that masterpiece makes life perfect for 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

Someone wheels in my dinner cart. Lifting the lid I see a bowl of soup, a sandwich, a beverage and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Not feeling hungry just yet, I go through my collection of albums trying to decide which one to play. Ah, “Revolver”. You can never go wrong with that beauty. I close my eyes and revel in the genius that is George Harrison singing “Taxman“.

I’m suddenly aware of a rush of air and find I am now outside floating uptown over the streets of Manhattan, my hospital gown flapping like laundry on the clothesline. I hear the old-fashioned car horn sound of “Ahooga” behind me and swivel round to see a flying ice cream truck being driven by none other than John Lennon. Somehow as bizarre as it all is it seems perfectly normal.

“You getting in? We don’t want to be late” John says.

“Late for what?” I ask.

For whatever comes next” John replies with a grin and I slide onto the seat beside him. “It’s very rude to be late, isn’t it?” and we zoom off.

“AHOOGA!!”

“What’s on your bucket list, me darlin’?” John asks me and I answer without hesitation “To go to Liverpool!”

“Ah, me lovely Liverpool. I won’t be going back there again, I’m afraid. Next stop: The Dakota!” John calls out and we swoosh away.

No, John. You mustn’t!” I beg him and I start to cry.

Oh, but I must! Now dry those eyes. It is what is and we can’t change that.

John turns to face me, taking my hand in his, and continues:

When Paul and I met for the first time, do you think we had any idea what tomorrow would bring? Of course not! We didn’t have a clue where we were going in our lives. We were kids still wet behind the ears! Then we met George and we three became as close as brothers, but we didn’t know that the best was yet to come. George brought Ringo into the group and look what happened. Well, you know; you were there with us at Shea! It was a phenomenon!

You can never stop tomorrow unless you stop today just like I can’t stop what’s going to happen to me. I’m scared but this is my destiny. Tomorrow will always happen and yet tomorrow never knows.”

He was silent for a moment, deep in thought, then he spoke very fervently to me looking me straight in the eyes.

Nancy, listen to what I’m going to say. Aim for the stars. Work hard, love with your whole heart, be the best person you can be but never ever forget to have fun. Time is fleeting so always eat dessert first. Got it? Good! Now, let’s be on our way.”

And as I nod in agreement I can hear the faint words “Try to realize it’s all within yourself. No one else can make you change and to see you’re really only very small and life flows within you and without you.”

And in a flash John and his flying ice cream truck were gone.

I open my eyes and prop myself up on my hospital bed pillow. Dinner is still there, right where I left it, and I find I’m suddenly starving. Ignoring all the food on my tray, I go directly to the Ben & Jerry’s, pop open the pint of ice cream and dig in. I realize until this moment nothing in my life ever tasted so delicious.

NAR © 2021

TALKING ‘BOUT FIREWORKS, BABY!

Nights in Manhattan. The bright lights of Broadway. The fusion of fragrances emanating from the legion of restaurants. The cacophony of languages of millions of immigrants. The Big Apple – excitement and diversity down to its core.

So how the hell did I end up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, hopelessly in love with my Amish husband Eli, married for four years with three kids and twins in the oven?

Good old revenge. I wouldn’t “play ball” with my boss so instead of being assigned to photograph Macy’s July 4th Fireworks I was banished for a month to cover the “Plain People’s” Summer County Fair.

What I thought was going to be a nightmare was quite the opposite. When the handsome, lusty Eli Fisher and I locked eyes, it was “Grossfeelich” – a “good feeling” from head to toe and all parts in between.

Being accepted into the Amish community, let alone marrying, is difficult but Eli and I had a few things going for us. I was a city girl but I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. We weren’t kids. Most Amish were married before age 20; Eli and I were both 26.

But the clincher was the serendipitous aspect of my name: Menno Jakob.

Menno Simons and Jakob Ammann were the most revered men in the Amish religion. The elders were convinced I was descended from them when I was actually an Italian Jew from Canarsie.

That secret was ours alone for I was perfectly “oll recht” as far as Eli was concerned. I was his “little firecracker” .

Talking ‘bout fireworks, baby!

NAR © 2021

BLIND HEART POURED OUT

A PLAY IN ONE ACT

The setting is Sunrise Senior Living, a retirement home in upstate New York. Julian Vega, approximately 30 years old, has just arrived to pay an unexpected visit to retired Monsignor Patrick Bannon.

Receptionist: May I help you, sir?

Julian: Yes, I’d like to see Monsignor Bannon if he’s available, please.

Receptionist: Monsignor has just finished lunch and is in the library, his usual afternoon pastime. Please come with me.

[Julian follows the receptionist down the hall to the library.]

Receptionist: There he is in his favorite corner chair. Enjoy your visit.

[The library is a comfortable room with paneled walls, Persian rugs and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. Light classical music floats softly through the room. A tray with a tea pot, cups and a dish of cookies sits on the table to the right of the Monsignor. An empty chair is on the opposite side of the table and an open book sits on the Monsignor’s lap. As Julian approaches, he notices the elderly priest’s book is in Braille. Julian speaks softly.]

Julian: Excuse me, Monsignor. My name is Julian. I’m sorry to intrude on your private time but I was hoping we could talk. I have some important information.

Monsignor: Ah, I thought I heard someone heading in my direction but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you?

Julian: No, you don’t know me but I’ve heard about you and knew I had to talk to you.

Monsignor: Well, it’s nice to meet you, Julian. Please make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to some tea and cookies.

Julian: Thank you, Monsignor. I’m fine.

Monsignor: So, what’s on your mind, Julian? You’re not from this area, are you? I detect a familiar accent.

Julian: I moved up here about six months ago; I’m originally from The Bronx. Quite a change of pace but I think I’ve finally found a place where I can settle down.

Monsignor: That’s good to hear, son. We all need to find our way home. And what a coincidence! I was at Holy Rosary Church in the Bronx for years! But please, you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on about myself. How can I help you, Julian?

Julian: Well, you’re right about finding my way home. I’ve been a drifter most of my life. Times have been tough for me and I could never catch a break. My demons followed me everywhere I went, constantly reminding me of my sins and failings.

[Monsignor Bannon closes his book and carefully places it on the side table, a sign that his attention is fully on Julian.]

Monsignor: Please continue, my son. I may be retired but I will always be a priest and anything you tell me will stay right here.

[Monsignor pats his chest to indicate his heart. Julian hesitantly begins to unburden himself.]

Julian: Well, I’m not really sure where to begin.

Monsignor: Wherever you feel comfortable, son, but I find the beginning is usually a good place.

[The priest feels around for the handle of the teapot and begins to pour out a cup of tea for both of them. Julian immediately comes closer to help but the Monsignor raises a hand to stop him; he’s learned to do this and many daily routines instinctively over the years since he became blind. He hands Julian a cup of tea, raises his own cup to his lips and waits for Julian to speak. The two sit in silence for a moment before Julian starts talking again.]

Julian: My mother was from Puerto Rico. She and her large family settled in The Bronx where her father did manual labor and her mother took in laundry. My mother would help with the washing and ironing of clothes. They were dirt poor; my mother and her siblings never went to school. My mother did some house cleaning for women in the area. Her family was very devout and went to church every Sunday. When my mother turned 17, she was offered the job of laundress at their church. She eventually became the cleaning lady for the rectory and brought home every dime she ever made. She was good and decent but that all changed in 1970 when my mother was 20 years old.

[Julian stops talking and looks out the window. The monsignor tells him to take his time, gently encouraging him to continue. The old priest knew Julian was going to tell him something of extreme importance.]

Julian: My mother became involved with an Irish priest at the church and they began an affair that lasted seven years. That’s when she became pregnant. She told the priest that she was carrying his child but he refused to acknowledge his responsibility and told my mother he would never leave the church for her. It was her word against his and my mother knew no one would believe her side of the story. She was humiliated and desperate. She fled to Ossining to find her good friend Anita from Puerto Rico.

[Upon hearing those words, the Monsignor sits very still, makes the sign of the cross and rests his head in his hand. He waits for Julian to continue.]

Julian: Anita lived with her mother in the tiniest of apartments and worked in the kitchen of nearby Sing Sing Prison. She provided a home for my mother and I was born in that apartment. Several times my mother tried calling my father, the priest, with no success and finally gave up. Eventually Anita got a job for my mother in the prison laundry; I was raised by Anita’s mother.

[Julian places his cup on the table and both men sit quietly for a moment. Julian continues.]

Julian: I was an angry kid with a big chip on my shoulder. I was always getting into trouble, disrespecting everyone and everything. For years I heard whispers about the Irish priest at Holy Rosary Church who knocked up my mother and tossed her away like yesterday’s garbage. All the voices in my head screamed at me to get my revenge. How different our lives could have been if only he’d been a man and did the right thing. So, one day I went back to The Bronx, right back to the church where everything fell apart and found that Irish priest. I called out his name and when he turned, I threw bleach in his eyes. Do you remember that day, father, when you saw the face of your son, my face, for the first and last time?

[Monsignor Bannon weeps silently, his head bowed. Julian continues.]

Julian: I heard your screams as I ran out of the church. I didn’t know or care where I was going; I made you pay and I just had to get away.

[The two men sit crying, shoulders heaving. The Monsignor reaches for the box of tissues on the table, offers one to Julian and takes one himself. After a long period of quiet, Julian continues.]

Julian: But I was punished for what I did to you. As I was running from the church, I was hit by a delivery truck. I was thrown like a ragdoll, my body shattered. That was 15 years ago and my life has never been the same since. While in rehab I discovered a hidden talent; I’m an artist and I spend hours painting every day. When I was finally discharged from rehab, no one would hire me. I found small jobs like being a messenger and selling newspapers in subway stations. I felt like I was being cursed, chastised for what I did to you. I came here today because I knew it was time to make my confession to you. I pray you can forgive me, father.

[The Monsignor extends his hands and Julian reaches for them.]

Monsignor: Julian, there’s something you must know. Please walk with me in the garden.

[The Monsignor reaches for his white cane and the two men make their way to the door. The Monsignor holds the door open for Julian.]

Monsignor: Please, let me hold the door open for your chair, Julian.

Julian: How did you know I’m in a wheelchair, father? I never mentioned that to you.

Monsignor: When you lose one sense, your other senses become heightened. When you first arrived I didn’t hear footsteps but I knew you were approaching because I could detect the almost imperceptible purring of your wheelchair. I also knew who you were the moment you began to speak. I only heard your voice once 15 years ago but I have never forgotten it. It’s very true that God moves in mysterious ways. It was His wish that we re-connect, that you find your way home and that we become whole together. Julian, I forgive you for what you did to me all those years ago but there is something vital you must know and you need to prepare yourself for what I am going to tell you.

[With great urgency, Julian grabs the Monsignor’s hands. The priest can feel Julian’s tears as they fall onto his hands.)

Julian: Please, tell me what I need to know.

Monsignor: Julian, your mother and I never had an affair and I am not your father. When you returned to Holy Rosary seeking your revenge, I had only been there for a couple of years, taking over the position of the former priest who had been reassigned. His name was Patrick Gannon, not Patrick Bannon – a very easy mistake to make. I never even met your mother and had no idea why you attacked me. Now it has become crystal clear but I carry no hatred in my heart for you.

[Julian is shocked by this revelation and sits dumbfounded staring at the man he believed was his father, the man he thought betrayed his mother and destroyed his life.]

Julian: My God, Monsignor! How can you forgive me for such a horrible act? You’re blameless in all of this!

Monsignor: Julian, no one is blameless. Being blind has taught me to see with my heart. It has made me a better person, a better priest. I see goodness in you. God brought you here for a reason – not just for you to clear your conscience but to give you back your life. Sometimes it takes years of pain and hardship but there are things in life we can’t comprehend. We can only try to accept them and see what good can come from them.

Julian: I’m sorry, Monsignor, but I don’t understand what good can come from my assaulting you all those years ago. You’re an innocent man. Please tell me what you’re talking about.

Monsignor: Several weeks ago the art instructor here accepted another assignment and the directors have been searching for a new teacher ever since. The job pays well and includes room and board but so far they haven’t found anyone. I’ve been here long enough to have some sway. Julian, I’m sure you’d be welcome here as art instructor if you’re interested.

[Julian begins to weep again and the Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s head.]

Julian: I will never be able to repay you for helping me this way.

Monsignor: Julian, my son, I feel no need to be repaid. I have had a good life. You’re the one who has suffered for too long, physically and emotionally. Yes, it’s ironic how this all unfolded but God has a plan in mind for all of us and I learned many years ago never to question His plans. I see things more clearly at this moment than I ever have before. Come with me. Let me introduce you to the directors. I’m sure God will open their eyes and minds to the great possibilities that lie ahead.

[The Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s shoulder. Julian reaches up and covers the priest’s hand with his. Together they leave the garden.]

NAR © 2021

GUEST POST: FORBIDDEN LOVE, PART 2: REVENGE OF THE WINGS (Fantasy)

It’s a thrill for me to post the second installment of “Foribidden Love”, a fantasy angels and demons story created by my granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. Last time we saw our star-crossed lovers Cameron, Princess of the Angels, made a huge leap of faith and love by joining Jasper, the demon boy, on the other side. This act resulted in Cameron becoming a demon and angering her mother, Queen of the Angels. Alex, an angel who was also in love with Cameron, could not believe what Cameron had done and was willing to do whatever it took to bring her back to the Land of the Angels.

Mckenna has been working on Part 2, among other stories which will also appear here, since before Part 1 was published in February, 2020. Much has happened in our world since then; a lot was very disturbing and frightening for all of us. There were many things our kids didn’t understand; sometimes as adults we forget that. I’m so proud that Mckenna kept her mind active and her imagination flowing by continuing her writing. She’s quite the young lady now at 12 years of age. She’s determined to give everything she does her best shot and I know she will succeed at whatever she chooses to do. And if she learns a little bit from me along the way, then even better. The universe awaits!

So, what do you do for fun around here?” Cameron asked.

“Well, this place has no rules so basically you can do whatever you want” Jasper said with a smile.

“Huh!” exclaimed Cameron. The two walked through the town that the angels hated so much.

“Next question: Why the heck is there so much lava?” asked Cameron playfully, while pointing to the multiple volcanoes and lava-falls. Jasper just laughed.  Cameron flicked her finger against his head. “I’m being serious, y’know!”  

“Okay, well, this land has a very long history.  Do you want to hear it?  And I’m only explaining because I’m sick of the questions.”  Jasper said.

Cameron sat down. “I’m kind of offended, but I’ll take it” she said half-jokingly.

Jasper sat down next to her and began to explain the long and somewhat boring history of his home.

Meanwhile back at the palace, Alex was pacing his room, thoughts running through his head.  He knew that if he tried to kill Jasper, he would have to kill Cameron, too. But the truth was he didn’t really want to kill anyone. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to die. His mind was racing! All Alex wanted to do was fall asleep and wake up in a world where the past 12 hours never happened. Easier said than done! Suddenly the door burst open and Alex’s older brother, Mason, burst into the room.  

“What the heck did you do, Alex?! I heard that the Royal Guard is planning on killing the Prince of Demons and YOU’RE leading them. You’re supposed to be getting married to the princess in two weeks!

Alex sighed. “She’s no princess.” 

Mason was taken aback. “How can you say that?  Her mother is the Queen and she possesses the greatest power in the world.” 

Alex flopped on his bed. “Before you start shooting your mouth off, how ‘bout you look out the window?”  

Mason went to his brother’s window and saw Jasper and a demon girl talking. “Who is that demon, the one with the black hair?” 

Alex threw a pillow at his brother, “Take a wild guess, genius!” 

Putting two and two together, Mason sarcastically said to Alex “Ouch, bro!  You REALLY messed up big time!” 

Alex was annoyed. “Thanks for making me feel worse. It was your idea to marry into a powerful family.” 

Mason put his hands up. “I’m aware of that.”  He paused as Alex sat up. “But are YOU aware of what you have done?” And with that, Mason walked out. Little did anyone know that next time Mason saw his brother, he would be a different person.

TWO DAYS LATER

Cameron’s mother, the Queen, addressed Alex: “Now, I have put a spell on you so that when you cross over, you will not turn into a demon. I’m trusting you to bring my daughter back.”  Alex saluted the Queen and he and his troops marched to the border. They burst in and began putting out the fires.  

Jasper and Cameron were inside the demon castle when they heard the terrible commotion outside. The couple rushed to the window.

“It looks like war out there!” Cameron cried.

“Then we better go and fight.” declared Jasper. 

Cameron paused and looked out the window again. After what seemed like a million years, she replied “Yes, Jasper. You’re right. We must fight.” They both leapt out the window and flew over the battle scene.

Noticing Alex, Cameron asked “Jasper, why is Alex here?” 

“I have no idea” Jasper replied.

Suddenly Cameron and Jasper were sighted.

“DOWN WITH THE DEMONS!!!” Alex’s troops shouted.

Cameron flew down to Alex. “What are you doing?” she shouted.

“Just following orders” Alex answered.

“And what are those orders?!” demanded Cameron.

Alex replied: “To kill the demons.” 

“But why?” Cameron asked.

“You could ask your mother” Alex said. But wait – I think maybe there’s a way to make this all stop.”  He offered Cameron his hand. “Come back home to the Land of the Angels and never leave again. Then all this will end.” 

Cameron felt like she was going to explode. “You think I came this far just to go back after only 24 hours?!  I crossed the border because the demons did nothing wrong. I belong here as a demon with Jasper. YOU can go back and tell my mother that her daughter is gone!”  

“Listen, if I don’t bring you back to your mother…”  Alex’s voice trailed off.

“What, Alex?  What’s my mother going to do?” asked Cameron.

“She will leave me to die and come and fetch you herself” Alex replied quietly.

At first Cameron didn’t know what to say. Then she spoke what was in her heart: “I just want a peaceful world where people can love whoever they want, where there is no queen or king.”   

Suddenly Alex knew what had to be done. He snapped his fingers and the troops disappeared. Jasper flew down and stood next to Cameron.

“What are you doing, Alex?” he asked.

Alex didn’t answer. Then it happened. His angelic wings turned black and his blonde hair to a rusty red.  

Standing in the place of what once seemed like a lost cause was now a chance for redemption.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“He failed!” said the Queen of Angels angrily. “If that so-called ‘angel’ can’t bring my daughter back, then I’ll have no choice but to do it myself.” 

TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 3 OF

“THE FORBIDDEN LOVE” SERIES

MFR © 2021

FRENCH KISSING LIFE

There is a place somewhere called Paris
And I’m going there on vacation today;
A city where every useless worry or care is
Forgotten and carelessly tossed away.

I don’t need to see the Eiffel Tower
Or pray at Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
I’d happily pick a delicate wildflower
Or caress a charming man’s arm.

I’d love to stroll through Pére Lachaise,
Have a chat at the grave of Jim Morrison.
I’d play him some tunes like Jimi’s “Purple Haze’’,
Just dishing the dirt with that sexy rapscallion.

You won’t catch me near the Seine for dinner;
Much too highbrow and touristy for me.
Seat me at a bar with the saint or the sinner;
We’ll close the place down at quarter past three.

Mona Lisa is enigmatic in a gilt frame so fine
But the thought of the Louvre is a total bore.
I’d rather be laughing in a park drinking wine
Or sharing a smoke on a bench with a whore.

I’ve got nothing to hide; it’s far from a secret:
When it comes to Parisian men I’m a big flirt.
The playboys in the square whisper “Come, be my pet”
And I purr “Oui, oui, mon cheri! Who will it hurt?”

There is a place somewhere called Paris
And I’m going there on vacation today.
I’ll give life a sultry lingering French kiss;
When I’m in Paris I like to do things my way.

NAR © 2021