CHEER DOWN

STARTING TODAY AND CONTINUING THROUGH THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING NEW POSTS. I WILL, INSTEAD, REPOST SOME OF MY EARLY STORIES, MANY OF WHICH MY NEWER READERS HAVE NEVER SEEN. IN THE MEANTIME I WILL BE DOING SOME WORK ON A COUPLE OF NEW PROJECTS AND WILL BE BACK TELLING STORIES IN 2023. I HOPE YOU ENJOY THE MONTH AHEAD READING MY HOLIDAY-THEMED POSTS!

BUT BEFORE THAT GETS UNDERWAY, I’D LIKE TO START WITH SOMETHING NEAR AND DEAR TO MY HEART. AS YOU ALL KNOW BY NOW, I AM A GREAT LOVER OF THE BEATLES, IN PARTICULAR GEORGE HARRISON. TODAY I’M SHARING A STORY I WROTE ONLY TWO YEARS AGO. IT’S MY TRIBUTE TO GEORGE WHO PASSED AWAY ON THIS DATE IN 2001. UNLIKE JOHN, GEORGE SLIPPED PEACEFULLY INTO THE NIGHT, DYING THE WAY HE LIVED – WITH HUMILITY, FAITH, PEACE AND ACCEPTANCE. HIS PASSING WAS A GREAT LOSS AND A SOMBER DAY FOR HIS FANS.

I WAS 13 YEARS OLD WHEN THE BEATLES CAME INTO MY LIFE AND I’VE TRIED TO LISTEN TO THEIR SONGS EVERY DAY SINCE THEN. THANK GOODNESS FOR THEM AND THEIR MAGICAL MUSIC! A WORLD WITHOUT THEIR SONGS WOULD BE A MISERABLE PLACE. HERE IS “FOUR-HEADED MONSTER”.

Famous? Fame was not the goal. Money was not the goal. To be able to know how to get peace of mind, how to be happy, is something you don’t just stumble across. You’ve got to search for it.”

So said George Harrison when the Beatles split up after only eight years – an incredibly short time when you think what a phenomenon they were. As John Lennon once sang: “So Captain Marvel zapped us right between the eyes!”, their music zapped us between the eyes and amazed us. It was like no other.

The Fab Four, The Lads, The Mop Tops, The Four-Headed Monster; those were just a few of the names given to the group. They skyrocketed to fame in the U.S. after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and the following year performed before 56,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs in Shea Stadium. I was there and that awesome day remains one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. In 1970 John Lennon recalled the show as a career highlight: “At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.”

Sadly, George and John are no longer with us. Today marks the 19th anniversary of George’s death – stricken by a cancer that ravaged his once healthy and supple body. And in 1980, John, the peace-loving, anti-war, anti-violence activist, was senselessly gunned down by a madman whose name will never cross my lips.

There are no words that can express how deeply the Beatles touched our hearts and souls. We embraced them and their music changed us forever. In all the world there is only one group with the word ‘mania’ attached to its name: the greatest band ever – the Beatles! 

ZAP!!

NAR © 2020

“I tell you, Larry, there is no other band, there will never be any band like them ever, for eternity. They are the best. I say to you Larry, here in 1965, that the children of 2000 will be listening to the Beatles. And I sincerely mean that.” – Manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein, talking to Larry Kane, a journalist starting his career at the Top 40 music station WFUN Miami.

EVENING IN PARIS

Grandma Lila and I always had a closeness few people get to experience in their lives.

My mother Zoey learned she was pregnant with me when she was 14 years old – too young to drive and too old to play with dolls. The boy she said was the father did what any teenager would do in that situation; he denied everything and bailed on her.

Abortion was not open for discussion. Grandma Lila told my mother in no uncertain terms that getting pregnant was irresponsible but ending a baby’s life was unforgivable. As far as Grandma was concerned Zoey had two choices: she could stay home and help earn money by doing work with her – sewing pearls and little bows on ladies panties – or go back to school until it was time for her baby to be born. She’d rather die than be seen in her condition so Zoey opted to say home with Grandma.

Even though it was the lesser of two evils, as far as my mother was concerned staying home was like being in prison. She and Grandma Lila sewed for hours while watching soap operas, cleaned the house and cooked meals. Zoey didn’t go out and never saw her friends. She got bigger and more uncomfortable with each passing month and couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over. Finally on a chilly November morning just before Thanksgiving Zoey’s water broke and Grandma Lila brought her to the hospital. Zoey was in labor for almost two days when the doctor finally decided to do a C-section. Then the unthinkable happened: there were “complications” and my mother bled out. She died in the delivery room.

Grandma Lila was devastated at the loss of her only child. My mother never had the chance to see me, hold me or delight in that new baby scent. When I was placed in my Grandma’s arms, she swore to protect me for the rest of her days. She took me home and held me tight as she settled in her rocking chair, her soft woolen shawl draped over us both. That’s where our bond began, wrapped in a shawl delicately fragranced by the hint of gardenias from Grandma Lila’s perfume, Evening in Paris.

From day one Grandma Lila was my champion. It was she who fed and bathed me, watched me take my first steps and sat up with me all night when I had scarlet fever. We baked cookies, played in the backyard sprinkler and laughed together watching I Love Lucy. Grandma put me on the school bus in the morning and greeted me every afternoon when I got home. She took me to piano lessons, Girl Scouts and soccer practice. Grandma was there for every concert, spelling bee and sports event. As I got older she sweetly explained the “birds and bees”, careful to answer only the questions I asked and not overwhelm me with too much information.

When I started dating, Grandma Lila would give me a little wink if she approved of the boy or a rub of her nose if she didn’t but she never interfered. Then I met Steve and she told me he was “a real keeper”. Steve asked for Grandma’s blessing before he proposed to me and she walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. And she was the first to hold our daughter Jenna just hours after she was born.

Months turned into years and Grandma Lila started spending more time in her rocking chair wrapped in her beloved woolen shawl and looking out the window. She was old and frail now but the thought of putting her in a nursing home never crossed our minds. Steve and I took care of her until the very end, just as she took care of me for so many years. I began wrapping Grandma’s shawl around my shoulders as I sat on the sofa watching TV; it brought me comfort and sweet memories of my life with her.

It was right after Thanksgiving, just a few months after Grandma passed away, when I returned home from shopping and was struck by the familiar fragrance of gardenias wafting through the house. Maybe Steve surprised me with flowers but gardenias blossomed in spring and summer, not late fall. As I walked by the living room I saw Grandma’s shawl wasn’t on the sofa where I left it; I found it draped over her old rocking chair and neither Steve nor Jenna had moved it. I picked up the shawl and held it to my face, inhaling the fresh scent of Evening in Paris. Tears filled my eyes; I knew that Grandma Lila had visited us that day. I miss her so very much.

NAR © 2020

TRADITIONS

Black Friday means nothing to me nor to any sane person I know. It has been a long-standing tradition of mine to start writing out my Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, I am one of a diminishing group who still writes letters, birthday greetings and Christmas cards, affixes stamps and brings them to the post office. I send many more than I receive and that’s ok because I’m not looking to receive cards; it’s not my intention to ‘guilt’ people into sending me Christmas greetings. I enjoy sending cards in the mail although this year it may take me longer because of my wrist. That’s ok; they’ll eventually get done. I hope my cards bring someone a little bit of joy and brighten up their house with Christmas cheer. 🎄 🎅🏼 🕊️

How many of you still mail Christmas cards?

NAR © 2022

CALIBAN O’DOULE

There was once a very old man who lived deep within the dense dark forest. He liked to eat morels, mushrooms, berries and the little rodents who had the misfortune of getting themselves caught in the very old man’s traps. But the most delectable meals for him were plump little boys and girls lost in the woods – a rare but finger-licking scrumptious delight.

Or so the legend goes.

One unseasonably warm and sunny day in late November many years ago, young Ethan Collingwood and his even younger sister Penelope were on a journey, an expedition of sorts. It was really just an assignment handed down by their mother – to gather the chestnuts that grew near the dark forest and bring them home for Thanksgiving dinner.

The woods were once abundant with huge chestnut trees which were greater than 100 feet tall and more than ten feet wide. The nuts they produced in late fall were small, about the size of an acorn, and sweet with a flavor almost like a carrot when eaten raw. After roasting, the flavor got nuttier and took on an almost candied sweetness. Besides Mrs. Collingwood’s perfectly cooked juicy and tender turkey, the roasted chestnuts were the highlight of their meal. Ethan and Penelope’s mouths watered at the thought of Thanksgiving dinner just one day away.

With strict orders from their mother not to go too deep into the dark forest, the siblings chatted happily on this warm November morning, baskets dangling from their hands for collecting lovely chestnuts. But when they arrived at their destination there were no chestnuts to be found. All the trees near the dirt road were barren.

Let’s go into the forest just a tiny bit further” Ethan suggested.

Penelope protested. “But mother said…” and Ethan cut her off with a wink and a shrug. 

Just a tiny bit further. As long as we can see the road, we’ll be fine.” Ethan was, after all, one year older than his sister and big brothers always know best. And so Penelope agreed.

And Ethan was right, for only twenty steps deeper into the woods, chestnuts covered the ground. Brother and sister began collecting the delicious nuts; for each one they put in their baskets, they popped one into their mouths. They kept chattering away as they walked, collecting and eating chestnuts with every step they took. In no time they had gobbled up so many nuts, they grew tired and needed a rest. They propped themselves against the mighty trunk of a chestnut tree and quickly fell asleep.

Time went by as time is wont to do. Day had turned to night and the warmth of the sun had been replaced by a biting wind.  When the young ones awoke, they were disoriented and cold and their baskets were only half full. Mother would be so very disappointed. But Ethan, being a bright lad, had an idea.

Let’s return home and fill our baskets with chestnuts along the way! Mother will be delighted when she sees all the nuts we collected and will forgive our tardiness.”

Penelope sprang to her feet, cheered on by Ethan’s plan, but as she looked around, she realized she had no idea where they were. Penelope burst into tears and Ethan inquired why she was crying; surprised by her answer, the boy looked around and saw that they were indeed lost. Ethan felt like crying himself but refused to let his sister see his fear. 

Don’t cry, Penny. All we need to do is follow the trail of chestnut shells we discarded and we will find our way home.”

Encouraged by this brilliant idea, the siblings began retracing their steps but when they spotted a tiny ramshackle of a hut hidden among the trees, they knew they had walked in the wrong direction. The children realized this was the home of Caliban O’Doule, the very old man who liked to eat plump little boys and girls lost in the woods, and they were sorely frightened.

The moon began creeping out from behind a cloud, casting strange and horrifying shadows wherever the young ones looked. Low hanging branches took on the appearance of bony arms and fingers ready to snatch them away. As the crooked limbs inched closer, Ethan and Penelope turned to flee but were stopped dead in their tracks. Looming before them was Caliban O’Doule himself. He wore an ancient, threadbare cloak and his long, scraggly grey hair and beard reached his knees. His eyes were piercing blue and cold as a tomb. Brother and sister were too terrified to move.

Licking his lips, the very old man raised a gnarled hand and patted the top of Penelope’s blonde head. His stomach rumbled and he grinned. “Well, what have we here? Guests! And just in time for dinner.”

Ethan and Penelope screamed loudly, scaring off the hundreds of bats hiding among the branches. “Hush now or you’ll wake the dead” warned the very old man. “Why all the fuss, children? You are lost and far from home … so far that no one can hear your screams.” And grinning once again, the very old man placed a gnarled hand on each child’s shoulder and turned them around. “Please join me in my little hut. I’ve not had company in ages. Please. I insist.” And he gave them both a little shove.

Clutching their baskets and each other’s hands, Ethan and Penelope slowly walked to the hut. The very old man reached over their heads and pushed the door open. “After you” he said, chuckling. Ethan and Penelope cried silently as they entered the hut; they knew they never should have disobeyed their mother and now their fate was sealed. The very old man lit a stubby little candle and pointed to a wooden bench in the corner. Ethan and Penelope scrambled to the bench holding onto each other for dear life. Their round faces were flushed and stained with tears.

The very old man shuffled over to the bench and took their half-full baskets away. “Tsk, tsk! This paltry sum will never do! I prefer a large portion of chestnuts with my meal, don’t you?” he asked and laughed softly. Penelope and Ethan stared in petrified silence as the very old man walked to a large bushel and filled their baskets with chestnuts. Turning, he handed each one their basket and said “Now, up with you and come with me. Don’t try to flee; you’ll only end up deeper in the dark forest. And for pity’s sake, stop weeping like babies!”

Penelope and Ethan did as commanded and the trio walked for what seemed an eternity. “Keep walking, younglings, eyes forward. We’re almost there.”

They followed the moon-lit path which grew brighter with each step. They began walking a bit faster; the faster they walked, the brighter the path became. Then suddenly the very old man yelled “Now, run!” and the children bounded out of the woods holding their chestnut baskets tight. 

Ethan and Penelope looked around in bewilderment; they were on the road leading to their house and the very old man was nowhere to be seen. They raced home as fast as their little feet could carry them and nearly fell through the door into their cozy, sun-filled kitchen. Mrs. Collingwood let out a startled squeal and dropped her cooking spoon onto the floor with a clatter.

“My heavens, children, you scared me half to death! You’re home so soon! Hardly an hour has passed! Were you racing each other again?” their mother asked a breathless Ethan and Penelope.

“Oh, mother!” cried Penelope. “You’ll never believe…”

“How many chestnuts we found!” interrupted Ethan, stepping in front of Penelope. He balled his hands into fists behind his back – their secret signal to stop talking. They proudly gave their overflowing baskets to their delighted mother who rewarded them with mugs of steaming cocoa and freshly baked sugar cookies.

Ethan and Penelope never again mentioned that day in the woods or their encounter with Caliban O’Doule; but every time they walked on the dirt road by the entrance to the forest, they paused for a moment and peered inside.

NAR © 2022

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

NB – In 1904, a gardener noticed that a chestnut tree in the New York Zoological Park seemed to be suffering from a mysterious blight. The disease was ultimately traced back to a variety of Asian chestnut that had been imported to Long Island, but by then it was too late. The blight spread, and within 40 years, nearly every American chestnut was dead.

THE TENANT

A recent photo of my house on the left.
It seemed much larger and prettier 60 years ago.
Where’s our little garden out front? 😔

My childhood home was a brand-new two-family brick house in The Bronx. It was the end house of a row of ten attached houses that looked exactly the same: each house was the mirror image of the one next to it. We were fortunate because we had a corner house which meant one side of the house was unattached, giving us a bit more property and providing access to our backyard via a walkway from the front. All the other homeowners gained access to their backyards through a door in the master bedroom or from the basement.

We lived on the first floor – my mother, father, sister Rosemarie and I – and always rented out the top floor. Over the years we had many different tenants ranging from an older couple and their unmarried daughter to newlyweds from our church. Almost all our tenants were people we knew; very few were new faces via word of mouth or people answering an ad posted in the local grocery store window.

Like most Italian families, we made good use of our large basement. We converted it into a comfortable open concept living space complete with bathroom, kitchen/dining room, TV area, a laundry and sewing room for my mother and workshop for my father. It was where we ate all our meals, did our homework, watched TV and basically hung out.

The basement had an iron girder running along the ceiling which supported the framework of the house; three floor-to-ceiling iron posts were positioned approximately10 feet apart and were attached to the girder. The cement floor was covered in a light-colored linoleum and the kitchen/dining area was painted a cheery yellow and white. One day my Dad came up with the idea to drill two holes about 20″ apart in one section of the girder. Using an indestructible S hook, he attached a wooden chain swing to the girder for me and my sister to play whenever we were unable to go outside. Pretty clever of him and great fun for us! When not in use we simply took the swing down and stored it away.

We only used the first floor for ‘formal’ entertaining and sleeping. There was a nice living room, a kitchen, dining room, bathroom and two bedrooms – the master for my parents and a second room shared by Rosemarie and me. The design of the second floor which we rented was very similar to the first floor with the same number of rooms and basic layout. With my mother’s permission, and only when my parents were home, certain tenants were allowed to use the laundry room in our basement. Mom was very circumspect as to who she allowed into our basement and not every tenant passed muster.

My parents rarely left me and my sister alone during the day and never at night; however, one evening they had a wake to attend and our tenants were not at home to watch over things. Our parents were reluctant to leave but Rosemarie and I pleaded with them to let us stay home by ourselves; after all, they were only going to be gone for an hour or two.

My parents finally relented. They didn’t want us thinking they were treating us like babies so, without our knowledge, they asked our good family friend John Barbato who lived across the street to keep an eye on the house. John was a retired NYC cop and when he was asked to keep an eye on something you can bet he took his task very seriously.

After Mom & Dad left, Rosemarie and I settled down in the basement to watch TV; all was quiet and we weren’t the least bit uneasy about being left alone for the first time. We were watching our favorite show, Dr. Kildare, gazing into Richard Chamberlain’s dreamy eyes, when there was a sudden commotion out in the backyard. We heard running down the stairs, a dog’s loud barking, banging on our door and a man’s gruff voice. We clutched each other’s hands and huddled close together on the couch in fear. Then we recognized the voice of John Barbato shout out “Rosemarie! Nancy! Are you in there? Is everything ok?”

Relieved but still rather apprehensive, we peeked through the back door window curtain and saw John brandishing an official police flashlight. He had a concerned look on his face as he reined in his skittish German shepherd ‘King’ who was literally chomping at the bit. King was always friendly around us but in his frenzied state we decided it would be wiser to keep the chain lock on the door. Opening the door just enough for John to see us, we asked what was going on, if everything was alright. John, apparently reassured to see us safe and sound, immediately tried putting on a nonchalant face as he pulled King away from the door with a “Quiet, boy. It’s ok.”

“Oh, hi girls” John replied breathlessly. “I was just taking old King here for a walk. You, know – getting our nightly exercise – and just stopped by to say ‘hi’. You and your folks watching TV?”

John was not a good liar; Rosemarie and I knew right away this was not an ordinary social call. One look at our friend with his agitated guard dog and a huge NYPD flashlight that could knock someone out in a single blow was not normal behavior for John. We told him our parents were out for a while and we were fine. He seemed content and with a self-conscious chuckle said “Well, ok. I’m right across the street if you need me. Goodnight, girls.” John instructed us to close the door and secure it with the deadbolt, which we did. Then he was off, King huffing and puffing at his side.

Rosemarie and I looked at each other as if it to say “What was that all about?” We returned to watching TV, both aware that we were sitting just a bit closer to each other than before John and King showed up. I couldn’t help asking myself one question: if John thought our parents were home and we were all peacefully watching TV together, why did he shout out our names and ask if we were ok? 

Less than an hour later, Mom and Dad returned and asked how our first evening alone was. 

“It was fine” Rosemarie replied, “except something strange happened with John. He and King came by looking all nervous and asked us if everything was alright. We talked with him for a few minutes and he left when he saw we were ok. He reminded us to lock the door with the deadbolt.” 

My father didn’t even take off his coat. He went straight upstairs to use the phone which was odd because there was a phone right there in the basement. A few minutes later he came back downstairs and said he had to go talk to John. When Dad returned, he looked agitated and Mom quickly announced it was late and shooed us off to bed; we didn’t even get to watch the end of our show! From our bedroom Rosemarie and I could hear our parents talking but we couldn’t make out what they were saying.

The incident with John and King was forgotten until four days later when the third house down from us was broken into via the basement door. Items were stolen but worse than that – the woman living there had been assaulted. That scene with John and King at our basement door came rushing back to us. That was when my father admitted that John told him he was certain he saw someone sneaking around the back of our house the night my parents were out. If there was someone lurking around our house that night, they were gone by the time John and King arrived. Who knows; maybe someone was scared off when they heard John and his agitated dog approaching.

Fortunately, the woman who had been attacked was not badly hurt and was able to give the police a good description of her assailant. He was quickly apprehended and the revelation of who he was shocked everyone, especially my family.

The intruder was our very own upstairs tenant.

NAR © 2022

Me (L) and Rosemarie on the original front steps,
Palm Sunday 1955
What our swing looked like.

SNOT BUCKET

Denise at girlieontheedge hosts Six Sentence Stories, where she challenges us with one simple rule: write a story comprised of 6 sentences – no more, no less. This week’s prompt word is : ETERNAL and this is my story.

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

So yesterday was our babysitting day for Colette; you all know Colette – my precious dropped-from-the-sky fluffy cloud filled with sugar-coated Gummy Bears, that sweetie-pie cutie-face who I love with every last aching bone of this decrepit body (my decrepit body, not Colette’s; she’s only 3 years old – I’m 103).

Now, ordinarily Colette is all the above-mentioned nouns, adjectives and what have you as you can plainly see by this pic:

But yesterday she was more like this (FYI this is not Colette; I would never embarrass my grandchildren like this; actually, I would, but I shall refrain from doing so today.

Like most three-year-olds, Colette is going through many stages; this one happens to be the phase where she’s seeing just how far she can push those buttons, how long she can stall doing what we ask her to do, how many hours she can go without sleep which is taking a toll on everyone and if that weren‘t enough, the poor thing has a cold, the full Monty complete with coughing, sneezing, bubbles from her nose and even a little vomit thrown up for good measure.

To make matters even more exciting, she didn’t want to sleep in her crib, opting to sleep on the twin bed in her room with me as her pillow. My brilliant plan was to wait until she was asleep, then gently extricate myself from under her but when I tried to move, it was impossible and as luck would have it she was sleeping like a log, dead weight on my aching wrist which was at this point howling like a caged wild animal.

But being the loving, patient Grammy that I am, I took one for the team, resigning myself that I was there for the duration and making myself as comfortable as I could, all things considered; what I did not fully realize at the time was – having just come off a horrendous cold last week – how terribly compromised my immune system was and while I cuddled up on the bed with Colette, her little germs silently crept up my chest and found their way into my body ensuring that the cycle of the eternal cold will continue with no end in sight – *cough, sneeze, cough*. 🤧

NAR © 2022

OOFAH!

Still have lots to write; just gonna take me a bit longer to do it!

PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injections in my arthritic wrist. If you’re unfamiliar with PRP, a vial of the patient’s blood is placed in a centrifuge for about 15 minutes until all the good stuff rises to the top. It’s then injected into the aching joint. Significantly reduces the pain compared to cortisone and much safer for you.

Round two for my left wrist in a few weeks, then my spine. Meanwhile, right wrist must stay immobile for a while. I can wiggle my fingers and type but the cast and discomfort are slowing me down.

Don’t think I’ll be writing out too many Christmas cards this year. Hey, could be worse!

NAR © 2022

NICE DAY FOR A WEDDING

“Well, we got lucky, sweetheart; the rain held off. Ella, are you ready? The musicians are waiting for my signal.”

I could hear the sound of my dad’s voice but his words were garbled like I was under water and my thoughts were being carried away by the current. When I didn’t answer, my dad motioned for one of the musicians and told him to “just keep playing”.

My dad and I were always close, even more after my mom passed away last year. He knew me better than anyone; when I didn’t answer his question, he stood silently by my side waiting patiently. I knew he was concerned and I loved him more than ever for not pushing me.

We were standing at the doorway to my future. A hundred or so guests sat far enough away so that I could not see them nor could they see me. The top of a white tent far down the pathway on the left side was barely visible – the tent where my groom James was waiting. 

We fell in love with the view of this breathtaking winery after attending a wine tasting with friends. All we could talk about for weeks afterwards was how lush and green everything looked; James said he couldn’t think of a more beautiful spot to get married. Next thing I knew we were engaged and now, at the worst possible moment, I was having doubts.

My relationship with James was meteoric; we met at a bar where we were both plastered. I had just split with my long-term boyfriend and on the same day learned that my mother had pancreatic cancer. James’ fiancé had just broken off their engagement after learning she was pregnant by some other guy and was going to marry her baby daddy. Needless to say we were both miserable; even in a drunken state our antennae went up and we found each other, commiserated, got even more drunk, went back to his place and had sex.

What should have been a one-night stand turned into a relationship and in record time we were “a thing”. James is a doctor which impressed the hell out of my mother and she fell instantly in love with him. He was wonderful to her; that’s something I will never deny. Mom kept saying what a great catch he was, how I shouldn’t let him get away. Her dying wish was for us to be married. 

And why not? We weren’t kids, we both had great jobs, we wanted the same things in life and we were in love. But shortly after my mom passed away, I began to feel not so much in love with James as I thought I was. Sweeping away the detritus of negative thoughts from my head, we set a date for the wedding. How could I break a promise to my mother? How could I ignore my commitment to James? My heart told me one thing while my brain told me another. I shut out the voices in my head and they were quiet for a while. Today, on my wedding day, my brain was screaming at me.

The pathway leading to the tent seemed incredibly long and I could easily imagine myself escaping down one of the side paths between the hedges. What kind of thought was that for a bride on her wedding day? I was not one for fanciful imaginings; what I was feeling was very real. My knees buckled slightly and my dad steadied me.

“Talk to me, kiddo.”

I turned to face my dad. “Daddy” was all I managed to eke out before the tears started. I hadn’t called my father Daddy in years. 

Dad magically produced a handkerchief. “What’s going on, honey?”

“This doesn’t feel right, Dad. I’m about to marry James because of a promise I made to Mom.”

“Ella, if you want to back out, I’ll stand by whatever decision you make. But it’s best for everyone if you do it now, not after you’re married.”  

My dad’s love for me was boundless and all I could manage to say was “But you spent so much money to make this day perfect.”

Dad put his hands on my shoulders. “Damn the money and damn the promises. All I want is for you to be happy. If you think this is a mistake, say the word. My car is parked right outside.”

“What about James?” I asked biting my bottom lip.

“I’ll talk to him privately, Ella. Don’t worry about that.”

I looked at my dad and quickly nodded. He reached into his pocket and handed me the keys to his car.

Go on now. I have some explaining to do.” He kissed my cheek and took off down the aisle.

NAR © 2022

In response to Sadje’s picture prompt on What do you see #158 October 31, 2022

Flashback Track Friday #92

First off, I must apologize for these damn BIG apostrophe marks! Nothing I can do about them except change my site theme and that’s not gonna happen so please excuse me. Here’s a guest post I did for Songshine Sounds. It was an honor and a thrill. I just love doing this stuff! I hope you enjoy my post; the best is yet to come! 🎶

Songshine Sounds

Welcome once again to Flashback Track Friday. Each week, one of us will present a song to you, and out of that song, will prompt you with a question.

Another guest post today from the wonderful Nancy, The Sicilian Storyteller. And what a treat we have this week! Over to you, Nancy.


Time for a little Slowhand… and by that I mean Eric Clapton, one of the most successful and influential guitarists of our generation. Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of“The100 All-Time Greatest Guitarists” ranked Clapton #2 – no small feat. Can you guess who came in #1? I think I’ll save that icon for another post.

Now I’m sure most of you would associate Clapton with Cream – and you’d be right – but did you know that was not the first group he belonged to? Like most famous guitarists, Clapton started out playing with local bands and in…

View original post 410 more words

PASSING THE BARRE

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #191,
based on the image above from Shutterstock

Kessa Hopkins practically floated through the entrance of the Joffrey Ballet School; auditioning for the world-renowned academy was a dream come true for her. The road ahead wasn’t going to be easy. This was only half the battle; if she passed today’s audition she would have to pass a second, more difficult audition if she hoped to be accepted to the school. Joffrey’s admissions are highly competitive and only 4% of students go on to graduate. At least for now she had her toe in the door.

Kessa felt her first exhausting 90-minute audition went well but it was impossible to read the faces of the judges. When she was done the head judge thanked her for coming and said the review board “would be in touch”. Two weeks later, when the email from Joffrey finally arrived, Kessa was too nervous to open it. When she finally worked up the courage to read the email, she held her small drawing pad up to the computer screen and very slowly revealed one word at a time:

“Dear Ms. Hopkins,

We at the Joffrey Ballet School are pleased to inform you …”

“pleased to inform you…” Kessa stared at those four words for an eternity before letting out a scream that caused her cat to race out the room, paws frantically skidding against the wood floor as he made his escape. Kessa crept up to the computer to read the email in its entirety, praying she hadn’t misread the opening line. Relieved that everything was copacetic, she pushed the print button on her computer. Snatching the paper from the printer, Kessa jumped onto her bed, read and re-read the letter at least 10 times, folded it neatly and placed it under her pillow. Then, before anyone could say “on pointe”, she leapt up and pirouetted around her room until she was dizzy. 

“They liked me! They really liked me!” she breathlessly exclaimed to her reflection in the mirror. Then it hit her: she had to do this a second time, even better than the first. Euphoria dissipated into self-doubt; Kessa bounded up the stairs to her safe place – the loft where she spent hours painting and clearing her head. Kessa painted ballet dancers in the impressionist style using quick, loose brush strokes; she had an impressive collection of more than two dozen pieces of artwork in her loft.

Kessa was the real deal, a genuine hat trick with beauty, brains and talent. She was also her own worst enemy, quick to be overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt about her ability to succeed. As she painted she thought about the email from Joffrey. Okay, so she passed the first round; that was great. Now she had two weeks to prepare an eight-minute original routine as part of her next audition.

The email went on to explain that everyone would be dancing to the same piece of music – “Gymnopédie No. 1″ by Erik Satie. No notices would be sent out after the second audition; acceptances and rejections would be announced in person at the conclusion of the audition session. Kessa imagined how awful it would be being rejected in a room full of people. Talk about pressure! With that thought in mind, Kessa decided not to tell any of her family or friends about her auditions; she’d much rather surprise everyone with good news instead of hearing their sad words of consolation. 

The next two weeks consisted of Kessa planning her dance routine and sketching the ballet positions she planned to incorporate into her program. This was her tried and true method – plan, sketch and practice. Once Kessa knew her routine was solid, she would create paintings using her sketches as reference.

Time always seemed to fly by when Kessa was on a deadline; now the day of the audition was here. She packed up her art portfolio with the plan to pass the time during the auditions by sketching the other dancers. When Kessa arrived at the school, she was surprised to see only six other people had received callbacks. She barely had time to warm up when she heard her name. Kessa didn’t mind auditioning first; she’d be relieved once it was over and she could sketch the other dancers.

It didn’t take the judges very long to make their decision. Only two of the six dancers passed the audition; Kessa was not one of them. Upon hearing the news, Kessa’s heart sank; she closed her eyes for a few seconds letting the reality sink in, then turned and walked back to her corner of the room. While she was putting her sketches away, someone approached and said her name. Looking up, Kessa recognized one of the judges. “What could he want?” she wondered. Standing, she asked “Yes? What can I do for you?”

I was hoping you’d show me your etchings” was his response.

Despite her disappointment over failing the audition, Kessa had to laugh. “Sorry, that sounds like an old pick-up line only in reverse.”

The man laughed, too, and replied “Very quick on the uptake, Miss Hopkins! I admire that. Talent and a sense of humor, too.”

“Not talented enough, apparently” Kessa quipped.

“What happened today was unfortunate but if it’s any consolation, you were in the running. It’s a tough field, Kessa. You knew that going in.” His response was honest and he had a refreshing way of speaking. “But at the moment I truly am more interested in your drawings. May I?”

Kessa didn’t mind showing anyone her sketches; she was proud of her work and pleased this man took an interest. After a few moments he asked “Do you paint as well?”

“Oh, yes. Oils mostly” Kessa replied, intrigued by his curiosity. “In fact, I think I have one of my smaller paintings with me” and she started rifling through her portfolio, pulling out an 8×10.

The man took the canvas from Kessa and walked to the light near a window, examining it closely and speaking softly to himself. He turned to Kessa. “Tell me, do you paint ballet dancers exclusively?”

“Yes. Ballet and painting are my passions. Excuse me but who are you?”

“Oh, forgive me! My name is Julius DeWitt. My father is Dean of Admissions here at Joffrey.”

“Oh, I see” Kessa said, not quite sure how to react to that information.

“Kessa, I know your heart was set on attending Joffrey. Not passing an audition is a bitter pill to swallow. I was in your shoes once and what I thought was the end of the world was actually a blessing.” 

Intrigued, Kessa asked Julius what he meant.

“It would be much easier for me to show you. Please, Kessa. Come with me.”

Julius had a pleasant way about him and Kessa was curious. Gathering her belongings, she followed Julius down the hallway to a large, glass enclosed room. A plaque on the door read “The Julius and Cecile DeWitt Art Gallery”. 

Kessa looked around questioningly; the room was empty. “I don’t understand, Mr. DeWitt. If this is an art gallery, where are all the paintings?”

“We’re just getting started, Kessa, and are about to begin our search for an artist to fill these empty walls with beautiful paintings. After seeing your drawings, I believe you are that person. I would like to name you as Joffrey’s permanent resident artist.”

Kessa was stunned. This was not the direction she thought her failed audition would take her. “Mr. DeWitt. I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything, Kessa. Let me explain what we’re all about and then, after you’ve had time to think, you can decide.”

But Kessa’s heart was already doing jetées and pirouettes; she knew what her answer would be. 

NAR © 2022

BARK AT THE MOON

This was the sixth night in a row that a nightmare woke me up. I’m a sound sleeper but something was throwing me off and this past week did a number on me. I felt drained and on edge. Now it was 2:00 AM and I was craving a cigarette. I got up and scoured my apartment hoping to find a smoke – which I didn’t – and thinking about why I was having these constant nightmares. I mean, nothing different happened in my life, except I’d started smoking again. 

And there was also her.

Last weekend I went to a party and this gorgeous redhead walked up to me and asked me for a light. I’d quit smoking about eight months earlier but for some reason – call it a security blanket – I continued to carry my Bic around in my pocket. This chick was way too hot to let her slip through my fingers so I reached into my jeans and pulled out my lighter. 

I flicked my Bic and damn(!) if she didn’t cup both her hands around mine as I lit her cigarette. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, the smoke encircling her head. All the while her eyes never left mine. She had the palest blue eyes I’d ever seen and the contrast against her red hair and mouth was bewitching. Then she did something to me no woman had ever done before; she took the cigarette from her lips and placed it between mine. That move was so intrinsically sexual, I couldn’t think of anything else but possessing this woman. I took a long drag, that familiar heat singeing my lungs. 

We shared her cigarette and when there was nothing left, she took me by the hand and led me into the bathroom. Locking the door, she turned her back to me and leaned against the sink staring at my reflection in the full-length mirror. She hiked up her skirt and I was not surprised to see she wasn’t wearing panties. She said two words and they weren’t “Happy Halloween”; I didn’t have to be told twice.

Fifteen minutes later we left the bathroom together. I went to get us a couple of drinks and when I turned around, she was gone. I searched everywhere but couldn’t find her. Just like that – the greatest bathroom sex I ever had and now she was gone. And I was left craving her and another cigarette. That was the night I fell off the wagon.

Now I needed a smoke so badly I tried to salvage butts from the trash but they were all buried under a soggy coffee filter. I had no alternative but to head out to the all-night 7-Eleven

I grumbled and dragged myself out of bed. I switched on the overhead lamp and immediately cringed and looked away; the damn light hurt my eyes too much.  Squinting, I staggered into the bathroom and splashed water on my face. Grabbing a towel, I wiped off and looked in the mirror. Holy shit! What I saw startled yet intrigued me. My eyes had changed from brown to ice blue. There was no denying that woman had done a number on me.

It was now 2:30 AM. I threw on yesterday’s clothes, turning up the collar of my leather jacket. Before venturing out I grabbed my shades. Stepping outside, I was momentarily caught off guard by the number of freaks walking around; then I remembered Halloween was just winding down for many partygoers. A bright moon cast strange, elongated shadows across the walls. Dressed in black clothes, I must have blended in with the silhouettes for no one took notice of me. 

As I entered the store I was pleased to see there was only one other customer – a nondescript woman wearing a hooded cape. I stood behind her at the register and when she turned to leave, I was blown away to see it was the redhead from the party. She looked directly at me, gave a little laugh and left without so much as a word. I was glad my dark glasses hid the lust in my eyes. I quickly bought my smokes and bolted from the store.

I looked up and down the street; nothing – she was gone. Then I spotted her standing across the street watching me. “Ok” I thought. “This is gonna be interesting.” As soon as I started heading toward her, she turned and began walking away. She walked slowly, her cape swaying side to side, and I followed her just as slowly. She took her time and I had no doubts she knew I was there. She climbed the steps to an old apartment building; I followed. She casually walked up three flights of stairs and down the hall to the last door where she stopped, removed a key from her pocket and unlocked the door, leaving it slightly ajar as she stepped inside. If that wasn’t an invitation, I didn’t know what was. I entered the apartment and closed the door behind me.

The room was awash in moonlight streaming through the window where she stood staring up at the night sky. I lit a cigarette, took a long drag and handed it to her. She placed the cigarette between her bright red lips, took a couple of puffs and tossed it out the window. She turned to face me and shrugged off her cape. Of course she was naked; I would have been sorely disappointed if she wasn’t. She loosened her hair and a cascade of long crimson tresses escaped and flowed silently over her flawless body. Her hair shimmered in the moonlight; the fragrance of strawberries and honeysuckle filled the room. She was intoxicating.

She drew me closer and parted her lips in a sultry smile; it was then that I saw her delicate fangs. I was aroused, my cock throbbing. A deep passion rose in me and I groaned with a fierce hunger. I turned my head and willingly offered her my neck. She feasted on me, then gave herself up to me with shameless abandon. 

Whatever I had become that night didn’t matter. Nothing mattered any more. My savage blood boiled as I barked at the moon.

NAR © 2022