SALTY TEARS

My life-long friend sat beside me, holding my hand as I lay crumbled in bed. Her eyes were rheumy from too many tears, very uncharacteristic of her; I was used to her carefree, bawdy laugh – just one of the many things we had in common.

“Is there anyone you’d like to talk to … besides me, that is?” she asked, already aware of what my answer would be.

“If you mean a priest, you know better than that” I whispered in reply. “No. I’m ready to go. And you’ll be on my heels, toots!” My friend cackled; she knew I spoke the truth but it did not frighten her. Like me, she had enough of this mortal coil.

We’d been through a lot together, she and I. We thought of each other as sisters, not just best friends. There was only one secret I never shared with her or anyone and I would take that to my grave. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

We had both lost our husbands a couple of years earlier; hers went first and mine followed shortly after. We were there for each other through it all. Part of me was relieved my husband went before me; he had always been the stalwart in our marriage, a steady rock who cared for our family without complaint. He was stronger than me; I always knew that and at times it made me feel ashamed because I doubted I could do for him what he did for me. He cared for me even when he was exhausted and ready to drop. How he cried seeing me in pain; he thought I didn’t know but I could hear him weeping late at night. He loved me with all his being until his last day; he slipped away in his sleep without a chance to say goodbye – perhaps the kindest way for both of us. It would have killed him if I’d gone first, leaving him alone.

“I’m so pissed off” I said, making my friend laugh again.

Tell me about it!” she replied colloquially. “I feel your pain, sis.” And I knew she truly did.

Damn this arthritis, this crippling disease that turned me into a twisted dried up old vine! “Remember when I was a hot number a thousand years ago? My melons were nice and firm back then!”

“Haha!! They called us ‘The Honey-Do Twins!” and we both laughed again, happy memories of our once supple bodies dancing around in our brains. 

“What the fuck happened?” and again we cracked up. Our laughs turned to coughs and gradually we calmed ourselves. I strained my eyes to look at my dear friend; at this point, my mouth and my eyes were my only body parts that moved on their own without pain.

I’ve got one regret” I whispered. “I should have fought harder. I let this damn crippler control me. I should have pushed myself, done more with my family and friends. I pray they understand and forgive me. I wanted to spend more time with them, live a fuller life; I just hurt too damn much.”

Tears ran down my face and my friend wiped them away. “Do you want me to call your sons?” she asked.

No, not now. Wait till it’s over. I can’t bear to look at them.” Even now I’m thinking of myself. What a coward! “Kiss me goodbye, sis. I’ll see you on the other side. I love you very much, you know.”

My friend leaned over from her wheelchair; she gently pushed my hair aside and kissed my cheek, our salty tears mingling. 

“Goodbye, my dearest friend. I love you” she murmured, even though she knew I could no longer hear her. “I’ll be right behind you.”

NAR © 2022

STELLA BY STARLIGHT

It was Friday night and my paycheck was burning a hole in my pocket. As it turns out, my on again/off again boyfriend was off again so I was free as the proverbial bird. Just as well; I was getting tired of the slouch anyway. But it was New Year’s Eve 1946 and I didn’t want to be alone.

Anxious to hit the casino and ring in the new year, I got myself all dolled up in an outfit that was quite possibly illegal in 33 states – a lowcut slinky little silver number with a high side slit, silky fishnet stockings with lacy garters and black satin stilettos. Maybe I’d run into a high roller ready, willing and monetarily able to treat me to a bourbon, a thick juicy steak and a slice of pie a la mode for dessert.

I grabbed a taxi to the hotel, the driver ogling me in the rearview. I wasn’t interested in any two-bit palooka so I played it cool. I pulled my hat down around my eyes, raised the collar of my coat and lit a Chesterfield. The smoke encircled my head and my bright red lipstick left a perfect kiss around the filter. 

When we arrived, I tossed a fiver at the cabbie and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The clickety-clack staccato of my heels on the cobblestones alerted the doorman.

“Evening, Miss Stella. You lookin’ like an angel tonight, yes you is!” His eyes twinkled gaily, lighting up his round ebony face.

“Jasper, you sweet talker! Too bad some lucky lady already snatched you up!” and he cackled like he was hearing it for the first time.

Only regulars at the Floridian Hotel were on the down low: you took the elevator to the ninth floor then walked up a flight of stairs and headed toward a nondescript door at the end of the hall. If the scowling peepers that glared through the slit in the door approved, you were escorted into a room and through a closet that led to a full-scale casino.

One gander at me and I was in like Flynn.

Just as I was about to knock on the door, I heard a man’s voice in the darkness.

“This must be my lucky night. How you doin’, doll?”

I’d know that voice anywhere; it was my MIA boyfriend Jake. Yeah, he was a no-account but what a dreamboat – a regular Tyrone Power! He stepped out from the shadows and I found myself getting all twitchy. He looked real good.

“What’s cookin’, baby? You looking for a little sugar?” Jake laughed softly and grinned.

“What do you think, Jake? I’ve been all on my lonesome for three months with you gone! Were you in the slammer?”

Like I said, he looked good so I walked right up to him and kissed him long and hard on the lips. He pulled me close, groaning as his hands slid up my dress. He was more than happy to see me, if you get my drift.

“Listen, baby, I had a nice gig dealing at a casino up in Buffalo and I made some serious moola running a fool-proof scam. I’m dealing here tonight. If we double up, we can make a killing.”

It sounded dangerous and exciting. I nibbled his ear and reached between his legs, giving him an approving squeeze. “I’m in” I whispered.

Work first, then I’ll show you how much I missed you” Jake said. We knocked on the door.

The slit opened and immediately slid closed; the door cracked an inch and we were quickly ushered inside. “’Bout time you made an appearance, Jake. Boss man’s waiting on ya” barked Marcellus, the bouncer. “Stella, my beauty! Lawdy, you lookin’ fine! Always a pleasure.”

“Yeah, the pleasure’s all yours, big boy!” I laughed and gave Marcellus a smooch on his chestnut brown cheek. He always smelled of Old Spice.

Jake and I worked our way to the dimly lit back room; the boss was steaming and I huddled behind Jake. I’d never been in the back before; the aroma of old leather and cheap cigars was heavy.

“I don’t like waiting, Jakey Boy” the boss man grumbled.

“I apologize, Mr. Walters. I was waiting on my girl. You know how dames are. It won’t happen again.” Jake made nice and I peeked over his shoulder at the head honcho. “Please allow me to introduce Stella.”

As I stepped from behind Jake he smoothly slid off my coat. Old Man Walters nearly stroked out when he saw me, eyes bugging as he gave me a slow once over from head to toe.

I extended my hand. “Charmed, I’m sure, Mr. Walters” I purred doing my best Marilyn Monroe.

He kissed my palm and drank me in like a man dying of thirst. “Enchenté. Beautiful, just like the song ‘Stella by Starlight’. Please, call me Sid.” He licked his flabby lips, drooling like a bulldog. “Jake, you’re working the main table tonight. Bring the lovely Stella with you. She’ll attract the big bucks for sure. You know your way around the tables, honey?”

Sure, Sid, I’ve done it all, even boxman. I’m a pro” I lied. I coulda told Sid I was a circus monkey and he woulda believe me.

Is that a fact? Excellent! Our usual boxman is out tonight – some nonsense about his wife having a baby. You’ll be Jake’s boxman.” Sid had no idea he just opened the door for us. Jake winked at me on the way out to the floor.

We set up shop at the main craps table; I’d been hanging around casinos long enough to know what I was doing. As boxman, I was the only one allowed to handle the money to make change for chips. The action was heavy and the men were mostly looking at me, not the table. Jake charmed the ladies and I distracted the men. He was like that amazing English magician, David Berglas, with flawless sleight of hand. No one noticed big dollar chips making their way into hidden pockets in his suit. My clutch purse was lousy with bacon. Hell, I woulda stuffed big ones in my panties if I was wearing any! The excitement was exhilarating and I was flying high as a kite.

At 3:00 AM Jake and I went down the service elevator for a smoke break. An hour later we were on a train headed to a little desert town out west called Las Vegas with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a whole lot of dough. Along the way I dyed my signature platinum locks auburn and bought myself a plain dress. We changed our names, kept our noses clean and landed jobs in a greasy spoon, cautiously but consistently making a buck. We shacked up in a room in the back and our salary included a bed and three squares a day. We bided our time until at last we caught a break – Jake bought an old casino and slowly brought it back to life. We started living the good life. We didn’t look back and Sid never found us. We heard through the grapevine he kicked the bucket trying to screw some chippy young enough to be his daughter. As Jake liked to say “The only way to go!”

A couple years later I mailed four grand in plain brown packages to Jasper and Marcellus. Inside was a card signed with a single ‘S’; they’d know. I had a sweet spot for those two big galoots and they always kept their mouths zipped; it was the least I could do.  

NAR © 2022

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION?

Did you ever wonder how New Year’s resolutions began? I never really gave it much thought so I checked it out and learned it was a religious thing, not to be confused with a ‘religious experience’. Those I know about!

The omniscient Wikipedia tells us the ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year. During a massive 12-day religious festival, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed (much like religion and politics today). If the Babylonians kept to their word, their gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor – a place no one wanted to be. Babylonia, however, was short-lived; the empire fell apart and reverted to a small kingdom for several centuries.

Hmm, so much for grandiose gestures and so-called good intentions.

I never saw the point in proclaiming a resolution on New Year’s Eve for all to hear when I knew there was a damn good chance I wasn’t going to keep it. Why put so much pressure on myself? That’s not being negative; it’s being realistic. Besides, no one really cares about someone else’s resolution unless it involves them.

The truth is, I’m actually pretty happy with the way I am. That said, it doesn’t mean I won’t try to improve whatever needs improving; just like Jell-O, there’s always room for improvement. Could I be a better person, do more for others, be more productive? Sure – who couldn’t?

As I sit here this moment, I can honestly say I can’t think of a single New Year’s resolution I made that I kept. In fact, I’ll take that one step further: I can’t think of a single New Year’s resolution I ever made – and if I did make one, it couldn’t have meant much because I’d surely remember, no?

To everyone who makes a resolution tonight and sticks with it, I say “Congrats to you!”. To those who aren’t as successful, welcome to the club – the human league. It’s a large group and you’re in the fine company of those with good intentions.

As for me, I resolve not to make any resolutions; I can be sure I won’t disappoint myself or others. I will, however, strive to be a decent person, treat others with the respect they deserve, lend a helping hand whenever I’m able and – for crying out loud – be honest. Let’s face it; there are some people who lie when the truth would serve them better!

The last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone; still, there are growing reasons to be optimistic that our fortitude will be rewarded. So here’s hoping we all have a grand New Year’s Eve and emerge in 2022 in good health and full of resolve to bounce back stronger than ever.

See you then.

NAR © 2021

NO JOKE!

Death is no laughing matter;
It isn’t some practical joke.
It doesn’t care if you’re thinner or fatter;
Death comes to all sorts of folk.

Death isn’t anything new, we all know
It began in the Garden of Eden.
Cain, he killed Abel, it was mano a mano;
He was jealous and just had to get even.

Death came to Caesar as quit a surprise
At a meeting in the Theatre of Pompey.
The Senators punctured his back and his sides;
“Et tu, Brute?” was all he could say.

Death for young Romeo was a goblet of poison
Which he drank thinking Juliet was dead.
She found her dead lover, stabbed herself in the bosom
And dropped dead at the foot of his bed.

Death is the bloody result of world war;
Brave men within earshot of guns.
Grenades flying high like a bird on the soar;
Frightened lads crying out for their mums.

Death is something we don’t like to ponder;
It gives us the cold sweats and chills.
Not so for a psycho who’s out on the wander;
Killing quenches his thirst for cheap thrills.

Death is merely a passage of sorts,
Ambiguous though it may seem.
Don’t forget what your mom used to say ’bout your shorts,
“If you die they had better be clean!”

Death can sometimes be quit accidental;
Even crossing the street isn’t easy.
Finding oneself in the path of a rental
Will most certainly make you feel queasy.

Death likes to climb into bed when you’re sleeping;
Some say it’s the most pleasant way.
Under your bloomers and sheets it comes creeping;
Good thing you had no plans for the day!

Death can be so inconvenient!
It shows up when you haven’t a hunch.
One minute you’re pitching your new camping tent
And the next you’re a hungry bear’s lunch.

Death likes to hide in the darkest of places
Where junkies shoot up in the night.
But nobody sees the relief on their faces
When they finally give up the fight.

Death can appear right in front of your car
And you cannot control your Range Rover.
You slam on the brakes but you’ve gone way too far
And drive over the White Cliffs of Dover!

Death comes a-tapping on your neighbor’s back window
And you’re thinking “Thank God it’s not me!”
Next thing you know your poor wife is a widow
When you’re squashed by your dead neighbor’s tree.

Death has been known to appear at the station
While you’re waiting for the next express train.
There go your big plans for summer vacation;
But you made the late news – don’t complain!

Death frequently happens in bathrooms
After falling through the glass shower door.
It’s going to take more than a mop and some brooms
To clean all the blood off the floor.

Death will take all the fun out of life;
I hear that it happens quite often.
So have lots of sex with your perky young wife
Before they lower the lid on your coffin!

Death comes to all whether dirt poor or rich;
It’s never been known to discriminate.
You can be a real gent or a son of a bitch,
Pure of heart or brimming with hate.

Death will happen in every generation;
Today or tomorrow, no one can tell.
Whether a low-life or of high veneration
We’re all gonna end up in heaven or hell.

Death doesn’t come for a gain or a profit;
It’s certainly no money-maker
Unless, of course, you’re lucky to sit
In the chair of the rich undertaker


NAR © 2020

AQUAPHOBIA

Attribution of my fear to all things nautical haunted me for years. The cause of this anxiety seemed so near – that feeling you get when a word is on the tip of your tongue but the answer is just out of reach. I finally solved the puzzle quite by accident one day while in an elevator. The song “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone With the Wind” was playing and suddenly the floodgates opened and so many memories came rushing back to me.

When I was a child my family enjoyed watching a television show called “Million Dollar Movie”; the music I heard in the elevator happened to be the theme for that show! The format was to feature popular movies which would run for an entire week, airing twice nightly; after one week a new movie would be shown. For some reason many of the films were scary and rather traumatizing for an impressionable ten year old.

One of the first movies I recall was “Creature From the Black Lagoon”, a dark tale of a strange prehistoric beast that lurked in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. I would scream and huddle close to my father every time the creature appeared on the screen.

Then there was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” about a deranged professor/explorer who led his intrepid party on an expedition in search of the mythical buried city of Atlantis. It was rife with monsters, evil sorcerers and dangerous crystalline mines. I would have nightmares about being trapped under water in one of those mines; I’d wake up in a cold sweat yet I couldn’t resist watching the movie whenever it was shown.

An annual family favorite was “The Ten Commandments” – a cinematic masterpiece by Cecil B. DeMille. As a kid I loved Bible movies! Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt with Rameses and the Egyptian charioteers hot on their heels. Upon reaching the Red Sea, Moses raised his arms and commanded the waters to part, leaving a clear dry path for the Israelites. Taking advantage of the opening, Rameses ordered his troops to continue their pursuit. Suddenly the waters began to churn and roil. Waves as tall as mountains came crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, swallowing them up like children’s toys. While it was unquestionably one of the most spectacular special effects of all time, the only thing I could think about was how terrifying it must be to find oneself drowning, knowing that death was inevitable and imminent.

Water and all its dangers played a major role in most of the movies that caused me great anxiety. I never had a close encounter with drowning so I just chalked it up to an inexplicable phobia; somehow coming to that realization eased my mind. Years later when my parents invited the family on a cruise to the Bahamas, I admit to having some trepidation but it was our first cruise and my parents were very excited.

Our ship was enormous – the equivalent of a floating resort. Everything we could possibly want or need was available to us from bowling to casinos to Broadway musicals. It was perfect – until we ran into stormy weather which forced everyone inside. I was feeling rather uneasy so I decided to stay in my cabin and relax. Turning on the tv I settled in to watch the movie of the night which happened to be “TITANIC”!! Are you kidding me?! What programming idiot thought that was a good choice?? I spent the last two days of the cruise in my cabin!

That cruise experience pushed me over the H2O edge and I didn’t go anywhere near the water for a while. Who could blame me? That didn’t last long, though; being a true Pisces, I can’t stay on dry land for too long. I’d be like a fish out of water!

NAR © 2020

A COLD CASE

Word on the street was Louie “No Nose” Lombardo was sprung from the slammer. His early release spelled big trouble; besides seeking revenge, Louie heard his sworn enemy Tony “The Cutter” Tedesco had been sniffing around his wife. 

Louie and Tony weren’t always enemies. In fact when they were kids they were inseparable. They would ride their bikes down to the empty lot where they’d scrounge around for discarded cigarette butts with just enough left for a couple of drags. They played stickball in the street with a broom handle and a Spaldeen. During the summer they’d hitchhike to Orchard Beach and sneak in through an opening in the fence. 

One day around Christmas Louie got caught in Woolworth’s trying to shoplift an angel ornament for his mother. When the store manager realized Louie’s father was held in high regard by the members of La Cosa Nostra, he looked the other way. And he let Louie keep the ornament saying “He didn’t want any trouble”. 

Tony’s father was a mortician for the Sisto Funeral Home and you better believe he knew where the bodies were buried. He wasn’t called “The Undertaker” for nothing. Sometimes the boys would sneak in after a wake to check the big sofa cushion for loose change. 

Louie’s father was the manager of Luca’s Ristorante, a well-known mob hangout. Luca Lombardo knew what side his bread was buttered on; syndicate bosses like Rocco “TNT” Randazzo and their soldiers were all welcome at Luca’s. 

For the first 19 years of their lives nothing or no one could come between Louie and Tony – that is until Rocco brought his  daughter Rosanna to the restaurant. Rosanna was a vixen – long chestnut hair, flawless bronze skin, emerald green eyes and a body that could melt the mozzarella right off your pizza. 

Rosanna was a real tease and Tony and Louie fell hard. She hooked up with both, enjoying the game of pitting them against each other, watching their animosity grow like rival nations. After stringing them along for over a year, Rosanna chose Louie. He hungrily kissed his future bride’s mouth as Tony glared at them. 

Rocco gave the couple his blessing along with an extravagant wedding, a lavish honeymoon to Italy and a beautiful house. It wasn’t long before Rocco brought Louie into the family “business”. A year later Rosanna had a baby and Tony was invited to the christening party. Louie paraded Rosanna around the room on his arm like a trophy while Rocco proudly displayed his first grandson. Tony lost it. He and Louie starting fighting. Pushing and shoving led to punches, then the switchblades came out. Suddenly Tony’s brother Angelo lunged at Rocco and Louie intervened, fatally stabbing Angelo. Tony whirled, slicing off most of Louie’s nose. 

At his trial Louie was charged with manslaughter and sent up the river to Dannemora. Rocco told Louie to sit tight; he’d take care of everything. He called in some favors, greased a few palms and reminded the Governor about his sex scandal that Rocco made disappear. It worked and Louie was pardoned and released. Rocco was indebted to Louie for saving his life. “Whatever you want I’ll make it happen” Rocco pledged. Louie whispered in his ear and Rocco replied “Consider it done.” 

Two weeks later Louie was staring at a portrait of Tony next to his closed casket at Sisto Funeral Home. The photo of his one-time best friend had to suffice; after being blown to bits by a car bomb there was nothing left of Tony to look at.  

The police have no leads. 

NAR © 2020

UP, UP AND AWAY

Hope, my dearest –

Why do you continue to invade my dreams in the stillness of the morning’s early hours? I awaken and for a moment I believe the dream to be true. The feel of your smooth yielding body next to mine, the tenderness of your kiss. I reach for you but you are not there and a tear slowly emerges from the corner of my eye. 

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

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

Leaving you in the morning to go to work was torture. Knowing you’d be there waiting for me when I returned was the only thing that got me through the day. I’d race home to see you, to embrace you. But that all ended one year ago when I found you lifeless on our bed. You were so beautiful that morning as you slept I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I placed a single rose on your breast for you to discover when you awoke and quietly closed the door behind me. Oh, the dreadful nightmares constantly invade my sleep! How could I have left you alone like that? I’m sorry, my darling Hope. 

Today I walked to the park. When I realized it was our anniversary all the air left my body and I felt empty inside. The children in the park  were playing with kites and balloons, laughing with glee as the wind lifted their playthings higher and higher. Suddenly one of the little girls cried out in dismay as the string escaped her hand and her balloon slowly floated out of sight. The poor child was inconsolable. I thought of you and called your name. The little girl’s mother bought her a new balloon and gently tied the string around her daughter’s wrist; she ran off laughing, carefree once again. 

That’s when I realized I had two choices: continue living the life of a lonely, broken man or find someone to share my life. That, my darling Hope, is when I chose the latter. I truly believe you would want me to find happiness again, to fill this void in my wretched life. 

I slowly walked home, retrieved my mail and sat on the couch, dejected. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the tip of a familiar publication. Could it be? On our anniversary? Yes, it was–  Johnson Premium Dolls with a large banner advertising 40% off discontinued sex dolls. With trembling fingers I flipped through the pages until I found you, my dearest Hope. I was overcome with joy and placed my order immediately. 

Tomorrow I will insert this letter into a balloon, inflate it and release it to reach you in heaven. And never again will I buy you even one thorny rose.

My love forever,

Lawrence 

NAR © 2020

HEADLINE STORY: AN UNLIKELY HERO

News Report, May 24, 1865 – The day started out as any ordinary sunny spring day in Fantasy Land but by noon the town was in a frenzy for the news was out that 9 year old Mary Andrews had lost her lamb, Snowflake. Mary had Snowflake for only a few months but they had become attached to each other immediately, so much so that he followed her to school every day, even though Mary knew it was against the rules.
Teacher Sarah Johnson had this to say: “Mary’s such a lovely girl and Snowflake is so sweet with his fleece as white as snow. I didn’t mind the fact that the lamb followed Mary to school because she always tied him to a nearby tree but today for some reason he followed her right into the classroom. As you can imagine all the children wanted to do was laugh and play.” Pressed for more information, Miss Johnson went on to say that she took Snowflake outside herself and tied him to the tree but when the children went out to play the lamb was nowhere in sight.
The three blind mice who live across the road from the school became rather indignant when questioned about the incident. “Of course we didn’t see anything, you fool! We’re blind as bats! But we did hear some strange noises near the tree shortly before the children came outside.” When asked to described the noises one mouse said “It sounded like pulling or tugging” while another thought it was more like a snapping sound. The third mouse added “There was definitely a scuffle of some sort. Poor little Snowflake.
Mary’s parents, Abigail and Wyatt Andrews, rushed to the school to console their daughter. Mr. Andrews was visibly upset to learn that the teacher had taken Snowflake away from Mary. “She had no right touching that lamb. She’s a school teacher, not a farmer and has no idea how to tie a proper knot. She should have asked Mary to tie Snowflake to the tree like she always does.”
Moments later Little Bo-Peep arrived on the scene and was asked her opinion on the incident. “Well, I’ve been a shepherdess for a long time now and if there’s one thing I know it’s this: If you leave them alone they’ll come home wagging their tails behind them.”
By mid-afternoon all the town’s residents had gathered at the school and formed search parties to look for Snowflake. Even Humpty Dumpty was there, sad and terribly broken up. In all my years as a reporter I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support.
A new development as Hansel and Gretel just arrived at the school. “Wait! We think we can help!” they cried and tearfully reminded those of us still at the school of their traumatic encounter with the evil witch who held them captive in her gingerbread house. “We all know how much Snowflake loves herbs” Hansel said. Gretel added “They’re growing all around the witch’s house. Snowflake may be headed there. If the wicked witch catches Snowflake he won’t stand a chance.”
With great trepidation we entered the forest and came upon the witch’s house. There she was, all gnarled and bent over, dragging a bleating Snowflake behind her. “Stop!” the witch shrieked, “I’ll kill him right before your eyes!” Suddenly, Humpty Dumpty ran up to Snowflake and grabbed him from the witch’s clutches. Snatching Humpty, the witch cackled “Fine! Take your precious lamb! I’ll feast on scrambled eggs tonight!” and she disappeared into the dark forest with Humpty.
Such an act of bravery by Humpty Dumpty! He was indeed a good egg. 

NAR © 2020

THE BIG “C”

“Papers! Not one, not two but three papers all due on Monday!” exclaimed Hannah in exasperation. “One on the assassination of JFK, another on the Scopes Trial and…..”  

“Let me guess” interrupted Hannah’s brother Eric. “A 1,000 word book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.” 

“How could you possibly know that?!” questioned a puzzled Hanna. “You must be psychic!”  

Eric laughed. “Hardly! Mr. Cavanaugh hasn’t changed his assignments in years. I bet he still says the same thing.”  

Brother and sister looked at each other trying not to laugh as they simultaneously did their best Mr. Cavanaugh impersonations – “Remember class, the quantity of your work is second only to the quality!”   

Eric and Hannah cracked up laughing. 

“Well, kiddo, good thing our folks are at the cabin by themselves this weekend and I’m going to ‘Ozzfest’ with Kyle. You’ll have plenty of peace and quiet to get all your work done. Good luck, sis!” Kyle laughed as he waved Hannah goodbye. 

“I’m gonna need it!” she groaned. “My grades haven’t been very good lately.”

Hannah went to the den where she and Eric always did their homework. First she read her emails, then went on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Bored, Hannah got up to stretch her legs, perusing the multitude of books in the den. Her mother saved everything from when she and Eric were babies – albums of photos, drawings, assignments, awards and diplomas. 

On one bookcase there were neat rows of black binders from her birth to present day as a Junior in high school. On another bookcase were tidy rows of grey binders from Eric’s birth to his current class – a Freshman in college. Running her fingers along Eric’s binders Hannah stopped abruptly at a section labeled ‘ERIC’S HIGH SCHOOL ESSAYS’.  

“Hmm … I wonder?” Hannah asked herself. She looked for the binders from Eric’s Junior class and found the tab that read ‘MR. CAVANAUGH’

OMG!” Hannah gasped. “Let’s see what we have here.” 

With anticipation she ran her finger down the list of Eric’s essays, her eyes almost bugging out of her head when she spotted  ‘JFK Assassination’. Further down the list she found ‘The Scopes Trial’.

“This is too good to be true!” Hannah exclaimed. “Two out of the three essays I need are here! I’m sure Eric’s book reports are here, too … fingers crossed.” 

Sure enough Hannah found another binder labeled ‘ERIC’S BOOK REPORTS’. Opening the binder she located Eric’s Junior year section and poured over the titles. “Bingo!” she shouted gleefully. “There you are! ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Three for three!” Thank goodness her mother saved everything!

Taking all three of Eric’s assignments, Hannah sat at the computer station where she scanned and forwarded all the papers to herself. She then changed the dates, margins and fonts so her work wouldn’t look identical to Eric’s. Finally, changing his name to hers, she printed out the papers, returned the originals to the binders and put everything back on the shelves. 

Done!” she crowed,  feeling quite pleased with herself. “And I didn’t have to do any work. Now that’s what I call being one smart cookie!

Hannah spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with her friends at the mall and watching movies on Netflix. On Monday she confidently turned in her assignments. On Friday Mr. Cavanaugh handed Hannah a large folder. To her shock inside were her reports as well as Eric’s reports. All Eric’s papers were marked with a big red ‘F’; hers were marked ‘FC’

“Obviously you had no idea that I save all my students work. You also did not know that Eric failed his assignments” Mr. Cavanaugh reprimanded Hannah. “By copying his work you not only failed, you cheated. Therefore, young lady, I’ve given you the grade of ‘FC’ – ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ and ‘C’ for ‘Cheating’. Your parents have already been informed of this. I hope you have learned your lesson.” 

Hanna felt sick to her stomach; she never saw this coming. Her parents were going to be furious.  Would they ever be able to trust her again? 

Looks like this smart cookie’s plan completely crumbled” Hannah thought regretfully. 

NAR © 2019

LONG STORY SHORT

Windsor Kelly entered the Washington Square brownstone and walked to the elevator. He tapped his toe impatiently, waiting for it to arrive. Finally the wooden doors opened and he entered, pushing the button for the fifth floor. 

Exiting the elevator, he slowly walked to the staircase, his footsteps echoing through the hall as his shoes made contact with the marble floor. He then climbed four flights of stairs until he reached the ninth floor. He walked to Suite 9D, glancing at the name on the bronze plaque on the door: Dr. Eugene Balthazar, Speech Therapist. He rang the bell before entering, as the sign on the wall indicated, and sat quietly in the waiting room. A few moments later the doctor opened the door to his office, inviting him to have a seat. 

“So tell me, Windsor. Have your been practicing the instructional syllables I demonstrated last week?” 

“Yes, I h-h-have, but i-i-it’s been s-s-six long w-w-weeks and I h-h-haven’t s-s-seen much of a d-d-decrease in the f-f-frequency of my f-f-frustrating s-s-stuttering; h-h-however the vulgarism is m-m-much b-b-better”, stammered Windsor. 

“Well, as I mentioned at the beginning, it’s a process. Keep practicing and I’ll see you next week.” 

Windsor did as instructed and returned the following week. His goulashes made squishy noises as he sloshed through the rain. Closing his umbrella, he entered the brownstone and took the elevator directly to the ninth floor. Again he sat in the waiting room until Dr. Balthazar called him in. 

“Windsor, before we begin I’d like to ask you a question. There are security cameras set up on every floor of this building. I can see everyone enter and use either the stairs or the elevator. I’ve noticed you usually take the elevator to the fifth floor, exit and climb the remaining four flights of stairs to my office .. except on rainy days when you take the elevator directly to the ninth floor. Why is that?” 

“Oh, you noticed that, did you, you little dickwad? Well, shithead, have you noticed that I’m a fucking dwarf .. all Goddamn three feet of me?!?  If you’d pull your noggin out of your ass, you’d realize I can only reach the fifth floor button. But with the tip of my umbrella, I can reach the ninth floor button. Get it, dipshit? Hey! Whatthefuckedness?! I didn’t stutter once! It’s a bloody miracle! I’m outta here, you pompous asshole! Process that!”

NAR © 2018

CHUNK ‘O BURNING LOVE

Out of chunky peanut butter again!”  Ralph had just woken up and all he wanted was a cup of black coffee and toast with chunky peanut butter. Was that too much to ask? Standing there in front of the open cabinet scratching his substantial stomach, he began searching the kitchen shelves but there was no chunky peanut butter to be found. Oh, there was creamy but nobody likes that crap except wusses and prissy women like his wife, Marge.

MARGE! WHERES THE GODDAMN CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER?” He listened closely but got no reply. Probably at her stupid writing club…..as if she could ever be an author!”  

“Gotta do everything myself around here”  Ralph muttered as he got dressed and went out for his beloved chunky peanut butter. First stop – Acme Grocers. No luck. Shit!”  grumbled Ralph. On to Shoprite. Again no chunky peanut butter. Ralph was starting to get really pissed off, the hair on the back of his neck standing straight up. Another stop at Wegman’s….they have everything. There were all sorts of butters….peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, sunflower…..even that hoity toity natural stuff…..and it was all creamy!“Where’s my fucking chunky peanut butter?” – the words raged through Ralph’s pounding brain. 

“What is this .. a freaking conspiracy?”  Ralph started frantically searching the shelves, knocking all the jars onto the floor. Broken glass flew everywhere and Ralph yowled in pain as huge shards ripped into his hands. That’s when he completely lost control. Customers ran from the the store in a  panic as Ralph began morphing into The Incredible Hulk. He stormed out of Wegman’s and bounded down the street toward Walmart, ripping the doors off the store in his fury. 

People cowered in terror as Ralph trashed the store in his frenzied search. Just as he reached the peanut butter aisle, Ralph woke up in his own bed, sweating and panting. Oh, sweet Jesus! It was just a nightmare.”

Slowly Ralph got out of bed, splashed cold water on his face and shuffled into the kitchen. Marge came through the back door with an armful of groceries just as Ralph poured himself a cup of coffee. 

Then, as though off in a distant fog he heard Marge speaking in slow motion: “SORRY……RALPH…… THEY……WERE……OUT……OF……CHUNKY……PEANUT……BUTTER.” 

Ralph’s roar and Marge’s blood-curdling screams could be heard all the way down to Wegman’s.

NAR © 2018

THE BIG STING

Open a map of New York, go as far east as possible and you’ll find the town of Montauk – a laid-back fishing village kissing the Atlantic Ocean. I lived there with my brother and parents. Winters were harsh and barren, a sharp contrast to the summers teeming with tourists escaping madding NYC in search of the perfect wave, a golden tan. My favorite month was April – trees budding, flowers sprouting, the delicious smell of the ocean. 

Our house was off the beaten path, with only two neighbors nearby. One was a young couple with rambunctious five year old triplets: Timothy, Thomas and Theodore – ‘The Terrorizing Trio’. The boys had identical bicycles – one red, one blue, one yellow – which they rode with wild abandon throughout the neighborhood. 

Our other neighbor was snooty old Professor MacGregor, newly-retired teacher turned nature enthusiast. He was very particular about the upkeep of his yard and the glorious profusion of flowers attracting all varieties of birds and insects. His pride and joy was a tall redwood hive encasing eight honeycomb trays. Inside sat the queen, surrounded by her working and droning colony. Mac, our secret nickname for the professor, would don his protective suit every day and inspect the hive and the honey within – puttering, muttering – making sure everything was as it should be. 

And it always was .. except for THAT day when mom looked outside and saw a huge black swarm rapidly approaching. Closing all the windows and doors, we watched anxiously as thousands of buzzing bees hovered over our house, took a sharp turn and headed straight for town. Once we knew it was safe, we ventured outside only to hear the enraged obscenities of the professor. 

Dad and the triplet’s father ran over to see what was going on. There in his yard was a blustering Mac, wandering around the remnants of his beloved hive which were strewn about the yard, the redwood gouged and marred with traces of blue, red and yellow paint. The triplet’s dad groaned and raced out the yard toward his house, yelling out their names as he ran. 

Suddenly, we heard screams coming from the village as horrified townsfolk ran for cover from the buzzing horde. It took a long time for Montauk to settle down; the only one to benefit from that infamous day was the town doctor, busily tending sting after sting after sting.

NAR © 2018

MINDGAMES

Melt away the fears and anxieties in your mind. Feel them liquify and allow them to slowly trickle down your face. Relax as tiny rivulets flow down your neck, shoulders, back, thighs, legs and finally your feet where they silently fall away into the ‘Well of Anxiety and Panic’. Keeping your eyes closed, cover the well, lock it in place trapping your anxieties inside. Inhale. Exhale. Open your eyes and allow the calmness and peace to envelop you.”  

After six long months of listening to my therapist repeat the same litany in her soft, sing-song voice, one would think I was well on my way to living a life free of worry, what-if scenarios, anxiety, panic attacks and Xanax. 

Oh, I have my times of quiet lucidity … weeks of stress-free bliss when I can enjoy a lovely dinner with my husband or a carefree shopping trip in Manhattan. Nights when I fall asleep quickly and easily and wake up refreshed and at peace.  

Then just as I’m getting used to this ineffable comfort zone … WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!! … the panic machine is back with a vengeance, coming out of nowhere with all the subtlety of an 18 wheeler, taking over my life for days upon weeks upon months only to suddenly, spontaneously run out of gas and coast away down the road leaving me in a safe haven until it reaches a rest stop where it can take a break and refill its gas tank for the next assault. 

It’s a cesspool of WHAT THE FUCKEDNESS, the grasping, squeezing dragging down quicksand of FUCKEDUPEDNESS! 

Some Einstein once said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is a faithful servant.” 

Note to self: read it daily: 

MIND. Noun: a beautiful servant; a dangerous master

NAR © 2017