BLOW

It was the middle of February, probably one of the coldest days of the year, but that didn’t bother me. I liked the cold; people just assumed my persistent runny nose and watery eyes were from the harsh weather when in reality the cause was yet another hit of cocaine – my constant companion, my best friend and my most insidious opponent.

I was waiting outside the NY Public Library in Manhattan for my guy to show up with that lovely little glassine envelope of blow. He was running late, as usual, and I was freezing my ass off, so I decided to wait in the lobby. At least it was a little warmer.

Just a few feet from the entrance sat a bench where I took up residence. I was starting to get agitated, my fingernails tap-tapping on the wooden slats. It had been several hours since my last snort – an eternity for an addict – and I couldn’t still my scattered mind. A prune-faced woman sitting on a bench opposite me kept looking from my fingers to my face, clearly annoyed. Self-consciously I put my hands in my pockets, immediately coming in contact with my little amber bottle with the attached spoon – what a clever design that was, although I must admit the one with the little golden spoon neatly built into the inside bottom of the lid was pure genius. You know the one I’m talking about. OK – this was a nice surprise! I’d completely forgotten about it when I changed jackets the other day; I always keep my stash in my backpack.

Elated, I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, delighting in the feel of the all-too-familiar smooth surface. I could just walk to the corner of the lobby and pretend to blow my nose while actually taking a hit. I’ve done it a hundred times. One quick glance at the bottle and I cursed; it was empty. Hoping against hope, I decided to check my backpack just in case I’d hidden a spare bottle.

I reached down to retrieve my backpack from under the bench when I caught a glimpse of a bright pink book, obviously forgotten or misplaced by a library patron. Being a curious sort, I reached over to check it out and my heart stopped; in bold black print was the title of the book – QUITTING COCAINE: YOUR PERSONAL RECOVERY PLAN. That book and I stared at each other for a full five minutes. Was this some kind of joke, a sign of divine intervention or just a crazy coincidence. Well, I’m not the type who believes in coincidences; everything in our lives happens for a reason, whether we like it or not.

My leg was bouncing up and down like a jackhammer – something that always happened when I needed a hit – so I put my backpack on my lap, crossed my legs and snuck a peek at the book. The first line was a blistering slap across the face: “Keep shoving coke up your nose and you’ll be dead by this time next year.” No “probably” or “there’s a chance”; just a flat-out death sentence, literally. I read the first chapter in five minutes; still no sign of my guy so I continued reading. Forty-five minutes later I’d read the whole book and still no delivery. But I realized my leg had stopped bouncing; when did that happen?

Slipping the book into my backpack I noticed the author’s name on the back cover: Dr. Arnold M. Washton, an internationally recognized psychologist and author specializing in substance abuse treatment. A little further down was a picture of the good doctor, an email address, phone number and the location of his office. Holy shit! This was definitely no coincidence. His office was about a three-minute walk from where I sat at the library.

For the first time in my pathetic and broken life I felt like I had a purpose. I left the library and walked straight to Dr. Washton’s office. I had no idea if the place was even open but I knew I had to take the chance. When I arrived I hesitated for a second, then rang the bell. Immediately there was a buzz and the door unlocked. As I entered I heard a man’s voice call out “In here” and I walked into a dimly lit office. It was a very calming room with the smell of leather and black cherry pipe tobacco.

Dr. Washton sat in a large over-stuffed chair next to a blazing fireplace reading a book. He took the pipe from his mouth and looked up at me; his eyes were warm and kind.

“I need help” was all I said.

“Then you’ve come to the right place” was his response.

And I knew I had.

NAR © 2021

WHY?

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the guy; he was actually rather ordinary looking but something made me uneasy. He just stood near the entrance, silently watching.

It was the usual Wednesday morning story time in the children’s room of the Lansing Library. Parents running errands could drop off their kids knowing they’d be safe and well-cared-for. The children listened intently as I read “The Adventures of Frog and Toad“.

I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable vibe I was getting from that guy. I caught the eye of my assistant, Grace, and with a slight tilt of my head I motioned toward the man. She glanced over and casually made her way across the room.

With cautious confidence Grace walked up to him and in a quiet but stern tone said “You’ve got thirty seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here”.

The man seemed rattled by Grace’s demand and stumbled over an apology. “I’m terribly sorry! I didn’t mean to alarm anyone. I’m here to pick up my son.”

Oh, really? Who’s your son?” Grace asked.

The man replied “Nathan … Nathan Fletcher. I’m Jacob Fletcher. My wife Emily isn’t feeling well. She asked me to come fetch him. She’s pregnant, you know.”

Yes, Emily. Of course! Such a lovely woman” Grace said. “Sorry to hear she’s ill. She seemed fine when she dropped Nathan off.”

Yes, she was” Jacob agreed. “It’s the morning sickness; it really knocks her for a loop sometimes. Emily said she would notify library security that I’d be picking Nathan up.”

Before Grace had a chance to call the security desk to verify Mr. Fletcher’s story, Nathan spotted his father; the boy was overjoyed to see his dad and happily raced to greet him.

Daddy! Daddy! I’m so glad to see you. Is Mommy here?” Jacob gave Nathan a big hug and scooped him up in his arms.

Hi, buddy! Mommy’s resting. She asked me to come get you.”

Yay! Can we get some ice cream? We can bring some to Mommy, too” Nathan asked, bubbling with excitement.

Sure!” Jacob replied laughing. “C’mon! We better get going.”

Grace looked questioningly at me and I nodded in approval, smiling at the happy duo of father and son.

The two left, hand in hand, Nathan gleefully skipping along beside his dad. All was right in the library once again.

Later that night as I watched TV, the show was interrupted by a news bulletin:

A police alert has been issued for the whereabouts of five-year-old Nathan Fletcher and his father, Jacob. The two were last seen leaving Longford’s Ice Cream on Lansing Street around 12:30 this afternoon. The body of Emily Fletcher, Jacob’s wife and the mother of Nathan, was found in the family’s home this evening by her sister. She had been brutally stabbed to death. Mrs. Fletcher was six months pregnant. At this time police believe Jacob Fletcher is the only suspect in the murder of his wife, unborn child and the abduction of his son.”

I sat in abject horror staring at the TV screen; in the upper right corner was the face of the man from the library.

How could I have made such an unforgivable error in judgement? Oh my God! That poor woman! My heart froze when I thought of Nathan.

Why didn’t I follow my instincts?

NAR © 2021

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

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

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

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

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

He sent her a text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

SHE’S LEAVING HOME. BYE, BYE!

Melanie! Breakfast is ready. Better hurry or you’ll be late for school!” Evelyn Coe yelled up to her daughter from the bottom of the stairs.

Frank, I don’t know what’s gotten into Melanie lately” Evelyn complained to her husband. “I can’t keep up with her mood swings.”

Remember when she was dating that loser Jeffrey and we insisted she end the relationship?” Frank asked. “I wonder where he is and what he’s up to. You don’t think she’s still seeing him, do you?”

Last I heard he was selling used cars. Melanie said something about him working at that lot on Matthew Street near the Cavern Club, I think. I hope she didn’t go behind our backs and continue seeing him. She wouldn’t do that to us, Frank, would she?”

Stubborn girl!” bellowed Frank. “Don’t forget how she fought us about going to public school with the ‘cool kids’ instead of attending Rigby Academy! She has never wanted for a single thing her entire life. She takes everything for granted. She’ll be going to college in a couple of months. Hopefully she’ll get her head on straight.”

You’re right, Frank” Evelyn agreed. “But now she’s talking about taking a break before college to ‘find herself’. I can easily find her; she’s upstairs sleeping!”

Evelyn marched to the stairs and called out: “Melanie! You better be down here in two minutes or I’m coming up!”

“There’s no way in hell Melanie is taking time off to go gallivanting around God knows where!” Frank threatened. “Tonight we’re going to have a serious conversation. She’s had a very privileged life and if she thinks she’s going to take advantage of our generosity, she better think again!”

I’m going upstairs and dragging her out of bed.” Evelyn thumped up the stairs to Melanie’s room but moments later came running into the kitchen clutching her handkerchief, tears in her eyes.

“Frank! Melanie wasn’t in her room. I found this letter. She’s gone! Our baby’s gone!” Evelyn wailed.

What do you mean ‘gone’? Let me see that” and Frank snatched the piece of paper from Evelyn’s hands. He read out loud:

Mother and Father.
I’ve run away with Jeffrey. I want my freedom.
I’ve lived under your thumbs long enough and
for the first time in my life I’m doing what makes me happy,
not what you want me to do.
Please don’t come after me or try to find me. Goodbye, Melanie

Running out of the house, Frank yelled for Evelyn to call the police. When he returned he breathlessly informed his wife that Melanie’s car was gone.

The police arrived soon after; Detective McKenzie asked the usual questions: Did the Coes think Melanie was forced to write the note? Did she leave against her will? Were any of her things missing?

Tearfully Evelyn answered the detective’s questions. “Her suitcase and some of her clothes are gone. She wasn’t forced to leave. She left us for Jeffrey. She did this to hurt us!”

I’m sorry, folks, but unfortunately we have to wait 24 hours before filing a missing persons report. My hands are tied” Detective McKenzie replied sympathetically.

God knows where they are by now!” Frank exclaimed.

I can’t believe she would leave us!” Evelyn lamented. “She has everything here; a nice home, lots of clothes and her own car. Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly? How could she do this to me?”

We never thought for ourselves. We worked so hard all our lives to get by. What did we do that was wrong?” Frank cried in desperation and frustration.

Hundreds of miles away Melanie and Jeffrey were speeding down the highway heading for a new life.

Any regrets leaving home like that?” Jeffrey asked.

None!” Melanie replied without hesitation. “I’m finally having fun and that’s the one thing my parent’s money can’t buy!”

She snuggled close to him and they sped away without looking back.

Melanie Coe

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Countless numbers of people are familiar with the song “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles. In 1966 Paul McCartney read a newspaper story in the Daily Mirror about a girl named Melanie Coe which inspired him to write the song. Although most of the content in the song was embellished, McCartney said that a great deal of the story about Coe, who was 17-years-old at the time, was accurate. Coe left with her boyfriend, a croupier; she did not meet a man from the motor trade (as the song says), although her boyfriend previously had been in that business. She left in the afternoon while her parents were at work while the girl in the song (and in this story) left in the early morning as her parents slept. The names of Melanie’s parents, Frank and Evelyn Coe, as well as her boyfriend Jeffrey, are fictitious. Coe was found ten days later having previously mentioned where her boyfriend worked. When she returned home, she was pregnant and her mother took her for an abortion. An update on Coe appeared in The Guardian in December 2008 and she was interviewed about the song on the BBC program The One Show on November 24, 2010. In May 2017 Rolling Stone magazine carried an interview with Coe to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

NAR © 2020

JUST DESSERTS

Death comes suddenly to some; for others it takes a lifetime.

It was Good Friday of 1946; Kathleen O’Brien walked through a narrow cobblestone passage way to St. Brigid’s Church. She hated walking by Sully’s Bar with its overpowering stench of booze and abundance of seedy characters hanging around but she was late for services (a terrible habit) and this was a convenient shortcut. She was twenty-two years old – no longer a kid – yet she’d rather die than admit to her mother that she missed the Veneration of the Cross. It was bad enough she was late for everything.

Seeing an unfamiliar man drinking a beer and leaning against the wall outside Sully’s, Kathleen quickened her pace. She heard him chuckle and say “What’s ya hurry, toots?” She walked even faster, opening the side door of the church; it creaked loudly. The elderly priest paused in mid-sentence and made a grand gesture of looking in Kathleen’s direction; he stared at her over his glasses, giving her a withering scowl. Embarrassed, she quickly found a seat at the end of a pew next to Mrs. Callahan who huffed at having to make room for this rude latecomer.

As is the tradition on Good Friday, everyone remained after services for a period of silent prayer. It was a time to reflect and meditate, one of Kathleen’s favorite parts of Holy Week. When the ushers opened the church doors the sense of peacefulness and solemnity was instantly shattered by the loud music and drunken laughter emanating from Sully’s Bar. “Some people have no respect” thought Kathleen angrily. “An Irish pub shouldn’t even be open on Good Friday!

As she began her walk home Kathleen noticed the same man from the bar standing at the corner. Had he been waiting for her or was this just a coincidence? Warily Kathleen took a step when suddenly the man started walking right toward her. She was taken aback as he stood in her path and extended his hand. “Name’s Harry Selkin and you’re one fine lookin’ dame. Ya need somebody like me to walk ya home. It can be dangerous for a good Catholic girl like yourself to be alone in this neck of the woods.”

Where do you get off saying something like that to me?” Kathleen snapped. “And how do you know I’m a good Catholic girl anyway?”

Well, I ain’t no Einstein but I seen ya practically runnin’ to St. Brigid’s like ya pants was on fire and I’m guessinya ain’t no altar boy – not with them gorgeous legs.” Harry replied in a very ‘Bogey’ sort of way. He smiled and his tough guy persona became surprisingly charming. Kathleen found it hard not to laugh just a little at this roguish stranger and she shocked herself by allowing him to walk her home.

Harry and Kathleen were as different as a gorilla and a swan but there was an undeniable chemistry between them and they started falling in love. No one was more surprised than Kathleen; Harry was like no man she had ever met. Sure, he was rough around the edges but she loved how his face lit up like a kid whenever he ate dessert, especially his favorite – homemade apple pie. Kathleen was known for her baking skills and would make a pie for Harry every couple of days.

They had a whirlwind courtship and Harry popped the question, much to Kathleen’s delight – and her parent’s chagrin. At first they tolerated the relationship thinking it would blow over, but the more serious it got the more concerned they became. There was a major obstacle her parents couldn’t overlook – the fact that Harry was Jewish. Kathleen’s father was dead set against Harry, calling him names like ‘Christ killer’ and ‘kike’. He was enraged when Kathleen announced that she and Harry were going to get married with or without his blessing. Her mother was crushed. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Can’t you see he’s no good for you? I don’t trust him at all, Katy girl, not at all!” she warned, crying into her apron. Kathleen hated defying her parents but would not be dissuaded; she was in love! Her father said she was a blind fool and if she married “that good-for-nothing bum” she was dead to him. With a heavy heart Kathleen closed the door of her childhood home behind her and never looked back.

Harry and Kathleen got married in city hall, the judge and his clerk their only guests and witnesses. After a weekend honeymoon in Niagara Falls the couple settled into Harry’s tiny apartment – a walk-up on the fifth floor and almost within arm’s reach of the elevated train. Kathleen was startled by the scream of the locomotive but Harry said she’d get used to it.

The dilapidated condition of the apartment shocked Kathleen but she was determined to turn it into a lovely home for them. She sewed curtains and towels for the kitchen and bought bed coverings from the thrift store. She also bought sacks of apples from the fruit stand to make Harry’s beloved apple pies. She read in her cookbook that it was alright to freeze apples until you were ready to use them – a handy tip Kathleen didn’t know.

Harry worked the graveyard shift as a printer at the local newspaper, seven days a week from midnight till 8:00 AM. His fingers were permanently stained with black ink. The first morning he came home from work and saw the newly decorated apartment, he got angry at Kathleen for spending his hard-earned money on unnecessary things. Uncaring, he left ink stains on the bedspread when he sat down to remove his shoes. However his mood lightened considerably when he eyed the sacks of apples and Kathleen forgave his angry outburst when she saw that boyish grin.

While Harry slept during the day Kathleen cleaned, shopped and cooked. She wanted a vacuum cleaner but Harry said it was too expensive and the noise would keep him awake so she settled for a carpet sweeper. Their only chance to be together was at breakfast and dinner time – and of course for coffee and dessert. Kathleen suggested a few times that it would be nice if Harry worked during the day so they could be like a normal couple and spend more time together but her words fell on deaf ears.

She also longed for a baby. Each time she thought she was pregnant it turned out to be a false alarm. She saw a doctor who wasn’t very encouraging; he shrugged his shoulders, gave her ambiguous explanations and performed a couple of routine tests. He told her it was just one of those things; not all couples could get pregnant. When Kathleen finally got up the nerve to mention to Harry what the doctor said, he laughed and said it wasn’t his fault she couldn’t get pregnant; “Just ask that sweet little Frenchie I knocked up during the war” was his mean-spirited reply. Kathleen felt like she’d been kicked in the gut. When she cried that she needed something else to fill her lonely days Harry yelled to “go get a job and start earnin’ ya keep around here! Who needs another mouth to feed anyways?” Kathleen was reeling; how could he say such hurtful things? Heartbroken, she eventually gave up on having a baby and found a job as a presser in a shirt factory. The work was exhausting and she still had to maintain the apartment and cook for Harry.

What happened to the guy she married? Harry was constantly annoyed about something or other and drank more now than usual. He got mean when he drank and and Kathleen bore the brunt of his anger. When he demanded sex every night before going to work, she kept her mouth shut but she was silently screaming. This was no way to exist, like a piece of property and not a person. She’d lie awake at night remembering her mother’s warning words. The only thing in her God-forsaken life that she truly enjoyed was baking and she did it all for Harry. She would fantasize about how lovely it would be to have her own little bake shop; she’d make lots of delicious cakes and pies for her large following of loyal customers – not just for her selfish husband. She knew she could do it if she only had the chance.

A few weeks after Kathleen began working she started complaining about backaches and being very tired – probably from constantly lifting the heavy pressing machines at work. Harry, as usual, was unsympathetic and said she better toughen up because no way was she giving up that job.

One morning Kathleen asked Harry if he could bring down the mixing bowl she kept on top of the fridge so she could make an apple pie. He was tired from working all night and wanted to get to sleep but he obliged her at the prospect of dessert. Harry put down his bottle of beer and got the step-stool out of the closet. As he started to climb, Kathleen hoisted a five pound sack of frozen apples, wincing at the pain in her back, and bashed Harry as hard as she could on the back of his head. He fell backwards onto the kitchen floor, his lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Kathleen hurriedly tore open the sack of apples and dumped them into a pot on the stove. She shoved the empty apple sack into the garbage bag, bunched it all up and threw it down the incinerator chute outside their apartment door. Placing a new bag in the garbage can, she looked at Harry’s body and felt sick to her stomach, vomiting in the sink. She washed her hands and face, then placed a call to the police.

HELP!” Kathleen screamed into the phone. “My husband fell! I think he’s dead!” Then she calmly sat at the kitchen table and waited, crying over misspent years. The police and ambulance arrived quickly; after examining Harry, he was officially declared dead. Blunt force trauma, they said, obviously from smashing his head on the kitchen floor. Everyone was very conciliatory and sympathetic and they respectfully removed Harry’s body. “If there’s anything we can do, Mrs. Selkin, please let us know” the officers said as they left Kathleen alone in the quiet apartment.

Kathleen cleaned up the kitchen and called her boss at the shirt factory to say she wouldn’t be able to work that day. Her boss barked that if she didn’t come in to work she shouldn’t bother coming back at all. Kathleen simply said “Goodbye”. She put the pot of apples in the fridge and after changing her clothes she went to the funeral parlor to make arrangements for Harry.

When she got home she received a phone call from her doctor. “Mrs. Selkin, I’m calling because your test results came back; you and Mr. Selkin will be thrilled to know you’re pregnant. Congratulations, Mrs. Selkin!” Kathleen swayed in stunned disbelief and grabbed onto the edge of the table. She managed a weak “Thank you” and hung up the phone. “Pregnant” she whispered in awe and her slight smile slowly grew into a broad grin. She gently touched her belly, truly happy for the first time in years.

The next morning Kathleen baked a large apple pie with the same apples she used to bash in Harry’s head. When the pie was done and still warm, she placed it in a box and delivered it to the nice policemen. On the way home she stopped in the little bakery near her apartment and inquired about a job. It was a start, a new beginning for her and her baby.

NAR © 2020

LOCK IT UP

Finding himself suddenly unemployed, Omar anguished over supporting his family – not just his wife and kids but his parents in Somalia. One would think having a biomedical engineering degree would open many doors for him but the job search proved more difficult than Omar imagined. His wife Waris was trained as a midwife and she was willing to go back to work but Omar was too proud to allow her to be the only breadwinner in the family. He would find work if it was the last thing he did. Waris encouraged him to look outside his comfort zone; it was then that he saw the ad in Craig’s List:

Drive With Uber – Be Your Own Boss.
For information call 888-555-BOSS

Omar called the number; a man with a strange accent anwered. “UberBoss” was all he said.

Um, yes” replied Omar haltingly. “I’m calling about the ad.”

Email your phone number and driver’s license to uberboss@hotmail.com. We’ll be in touch.”

That’s it? Don’t I need to take a test or something?” Omar asked.

Look, buddy. You want the job or do you want to play 20 questions?” the man replied sarcastically.

Yes, I’m interested, but what is the pay, please?” inquired Omar.

The man sighed impatiently. “$25 an hour; UberBoss gets 20% commission plus 25% booking fee.”

Omar was stunned. “That seems a bit exorbitant!”

That’s the going rate, buddy. Work six days, clear $100. Take it or leave it” was the gruff response.

Considering he currently had no income, Omar accepted.

Ok, buddy. Someone will call you.” Click. Within the hour Omar received his first assignment.

+ + + + + + + +

A woman was waiting for Omar; she wore a burka and only her eyes were visible. She signaled Omar to roll down the window, handed him a thick envelope and quickly walked away without saying a word. Taped to the envelope was a key and instructions which read: “100 Hester Street, Locker #57. Unlock padlock, remove backpack, leave envelope and key, snap padlock shut.”

The destination was a YMCA. Upon entering the building Omar spotted a hallway with a row of lockers. He found #57, opened the padlock, removed the backpack, placed the envelope and key inside the locker and snapped the lock shut. The pack had a tag with an address, locker number and key attached; this had to be his next destination. It turned out to be a bus depot and the locker contained a thick envelope just like the one the woman had given him earlier. Omar determined he had to remove the envelope and replace it with the backpack from the previous locker. He tossed in the key and secured the lock.

This routine continued for six hours at which point Omar received a text from UberBoss requesting his PayPal address. He was advised that his work was finished for the day and he would get a new assignment in the morning. Omar complied and shortly after he received another text, this time from PayPal informing him that $100 had been deposited in his account.

The days were tiring and monotonous. Omar’s ass was sore from driving all around town and he didn’t speak to a single person all day. Being an uber driver was not what he thought it would be; he was just some tool in a game of hide and seek. But he’d been at it for three weeks and had accumulated $2100 in his PayPal account – more money than he had in a long time.

Omar was getting very curious about the contents of the envelopes and backpacks but they were tightly sealed – except for today. Noticing a small tear in the envelope, Omar used his pocket knife to finesse the opening just a bit. Peeking inside he saw stacks of neatly bound $100 bills and the hooded eyes of Benjamin Franklin staring back at him.

Omar considered his next move for about five seconds. He drove to the address on the envelope, ripped off the key and shoved the envelope under the front seat of his car. Driving to his destination he located the locker, grabbed the backpack and snapped the lock. Whatever was in these packs had to be very valuable.

As he sped home Omar knew he was taking a huge risk but it was worth it for Waris and his family. He laughed excitedly at the prospect of financial freedom and the more he laughed the faster he drove. The sound of screaming sirens brought Omar back to reality; a police car was chasing him. He was forced off the road and commanded to step out of the car. While looking through the car the police found the envelope full of money. They also found a backpack crammed with bricks of cocaine.

Omar’s world came crashing down around him and he desperately proclaimed his innocence, to no avail. He was handcuffed and hauled away on the spot. Omar never saw the text that came from UberBoss: “Big mistake, Buddy! Say bye bye.”

At the same moment back at Omar’s house a frantic Waris was tearfully staring down the barrel of the UberBoss’s gun.

NAR © 2020

NIP TUCK

Attribution, retribution, convolution, resolution! All I am saying is give Reese a chance!”

Sprawled out in the stern of our cabin cruiser, my wife Reese drunkenly belted out her version of John Lennon’s hit song. I was piloting the boat on our return trip from a weekend wedding celebration on Catalina Island; Reese’s sister Margaux had gotten married … again.

Like her sister, Reese had a terrible track record in the marriage department. She was on her third husband – recording industry mogul David Hamlin – when we began our affair. I was a confirmed bachelor living very comfortably in an exclusive penthouse in the city. After her divorce I moved into Reese’s mountain-top estate in Bel-Air, California. I had the dubious distinction of becoming husband number four.

I’m Dr. Jeremy Phillips, plastic surgeon to the rich and famous in Beverly Hills; Reese was one of my patients. As her doctor and lover, I learned her deep dark secrets: her expensive cocaine habit, compulsive shopping on Rodeo Drive, her penchant for Grey Goose and an addiction to plastic surgery. She was beautiful in everyone’s eyes except her own. She wanted me to turn her into a goddess, which I did.

When drunk Reese could be either a sexy vixen or a slutty bitch; tonight was definitely the latter. She struggled into an upright position, slowly got to her feet and staggered toward me, one hand grasping the boat railing and the other a bottle of vodka.

For fuck’s sake, Jeremy, why do you always have to wear that ridiculous outfit? You look like a stupid overgrown kid playing dress-up!” Reese slurred. She drained the bottle, dropping it on the deck.

This is proper nautical attire, darling, perfectly appropriate for every occasion” I replied. “But you don’t know the meaning of proper and appropriate. You’re all but falling out of your dress.”

Reese ran her hands up and down her tanned body, laughing as she hiked her dress up around her waist revealing her perfectly sculpted derriere. She wriggled herself between me and the steering wheel and lowered her top; her magnificent breasts shimmered in the moonlight.

What’s wrong, Captain? Don’t you like the way I look? All the other men do” Reese purred tauntingly. “Margaux’s new husband loves every inch of me. He can’t get enough! You know, Jeremy, you always were a lousy lay. Maybe that’s why you got this big bad boat – to compensate for your tiny dick!” and she laughed again.

Darling Reese, you’re nothing but a drunken whore. You disgust me!” I snarled and she reached up to slap my face. I grabbed her wrist and she looked up at my enraged face, her eyes wide with uncharacteristic fear. And in that moment she knew.

I shoved her out of the way and she fell, hitting her head with a sickening thud. Putting the boat in neutral I quickly checked on Reese; she was dead, a large jagged crack in her forehead oozing blood. Carefully I adjusted her dress and looked around the boat making sure nothing was out of place.

We were near Marabella Marina but just out of earshot. Heading for the dock I placed a frantic phone call. “Mayday! Mayday! Emergency on board the ‘Nip Tuck’! We need an ambulance at Marabella. My wife is badly injured. Hurry!”

The police asked me a few routine questions but it was obvious Reese’s death was a tragic accident. My wife clearly had too much to drink; she lost her balance and fell. It happened so fast I couldn’t prevent it … even if I wanted to.

NAR © 2020

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 “thumbs down” if she didn’t but she never interfered. Then I met Steve and she told me he was “a 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. 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.

A few months after Grandma passed away I returned home from shopping and noticed the familiar fragrance of gardenias wafting through the house. As I walked by the living room I saw Grandma’s shawl wasn’t in it’s usual spot on the sofa; it was draped over her old rocking chair; 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. I miss her so very much.

NAR © 2020

A LITTLE RAY OF LIGHT

It was a blazing hot day in August of 1971. Sweaty air conditioners were working overtime, filling the streets of Manhattan with an unrelenting drone. I was in the elevator of my apartment building having just returned from physical therapy. There were four other people in the elevator – an exterminator, a mid-twenties hippie chick I knew only as “Rain”, elderly and bitter Abe Samuelson and a very pregnant Asian woman I didn’t know. Abe made a point of moving away from the Asian woman, spitting out the words “savage gooks!” Abe usually wisecracked about my missing arm but today his vitriol was directed elsewhere. Ignorant man. 

The doors closed and we began our slow ascent. Old buildings, temperamental elevators and a heatwave – a bad combination. Somewhere between floors 3 and 4 the elevator jolted to a stop. Before Abe could utter a curse word the elevator churned back to life, coughed a bit and stopped again with an ominous screech. Except for a few groans no one said anything. I pushed the alarm button and reached for the elevator’s emergency phone. Halfway through my call the electricity went out, the AC shut off and my phone connection died. Blackness engulfed us and it started getting uncomfortably warm. 

Abe started cursing and banging the walls, all the while ranting “goddamn fucking dinks – I hate them!” The exterminator was praying in what sounded like Haitian Creole and Rain softly hummed “Let It Be”. I tried unsuccessfully to pry open the doors and reminded everyone that at least part of our emergency call went through so help had to be coming. It was then that I became aware of low guttural moans coming from the Asian woman and in Vietnamese she gasped that the baby was coming. 

I asked exterminator man if he had a flashlight, which he did. Turning it on he handed it to me and everyone calmed down a bit. Amazing what a little ray of light can do. The pregnant woman eased herself onto the floor; I told her I understood Vietnamese from my days as a medic in Nam. I said my name was Jack; her name was Thanh. We talked softly as Abe carried on about his son who died in Vietnam – “And for what?? This trash??” he screamed. The exterminator became more agitated and Rain sat by him holding his hand. 

Thanh told me she married an American soldier in early November 1970 and he brought her back to live in the U.S. with his parents. After two weeks he returned to Vietnam; he was killed November 21st in Operation Ivory Coast. Thanh soon learned she was pregnant. Relations with her in-laws became strained and she moved in here with her cousin. As we sat quietly I thought of that November day. I remembered a soldier flung himself on me as I worked in the MASH unit. He was blown to bits while I only lost my arm. Could that have been Thanh’s husband? 

Suddenly Abe stood up and screamed racial slurs at Thanh. The exterminator sobbed while Rain sang to calm him. I yelled for everyone to “shut up!” And that’s when we heard faint voices. 

“Anyone in there?” 

“Roger that! We’re down here!” I shouted and was rewarded with a resounding “HUA!” 

Haltingly the doors were pried open and a rescue ladder was lowered into the elevator.

“The pregnant lady first.”

Gingerly Thanh made her way up the ladder and was rushed to the hospital. The rest of us climbed to safety.

Call it crazy intuition but I had to get to Tranh

NAR © 2020

THE GRAND OPENING

“Looked only! Didn’t touch!” wailed Eddie, the dishwasher at the Q.E.D. Lounge. The waitstaff came running into the kitchen upon hearing a crash. Shattered crystal covered the kitchen floor – the new shipment of assorted glasses for the lounge’s grand opening. 

Eddie huddled in the corner wiping his runny nose on the sleeve of his sweatshirt, whimpering like a frightened boy. Due to that one decisive extra chromosome, Eddie was very much like a child – a 30 year old man with the mind of an eight year old. Just a little thing called Down Syndrome. Eddie’s brother Jay, the maitre d’, crouched down next to him while everyone stood in stunned silence. 

“Bud, accidents happen. It’s gonna be ok” Jay said calmly. “C’mon. We’ll help you clean up.” 

Without hesitation the crew grabbed brooms and dust pans – everyone except Lou, the belligerent bartender. 

“Don’t look at me. I ain’t helping!” snarled Lou. “It was that Goddamn retard’s fault. He shouldn’t even be around normal people, fucking mongoloid!” 

Jay clenched his fists, eyes glaring at Lou.” Shut your filthy mouth, you miserable son of a bitch! Don’t ever talk about my brother like that!” 

Martin Byrnes, manager of the Q.E.D., stormed into the kitchen. “What the hell’s going on?!” Slowly he looked around, taking in the whole scene.  Martin asked everyone to leave except Eddie, Jay and Lou. 

Martin spoke softly. “Eddie, I’m not mad. The way you help out here represents everything that’s good in this angry world of ours. Can you tell me what happened?” 

Eddie glanced over at Lou then shook his head ‘no’

“Mr. Byrnes is real good to us, Eddie. He deserves the truth” Jay added encouragingly. 

Eddie sniffled and rubbed is swollen eyes. “I saw all the boxes so I went to look at them but I didn’t touch them, cross my heart. Lou, he came in the back door and pushed me into the boxes and they fell.” 

“You lying freak!” yelled Lou. “I was out back chasing that tramp who’s always looking for a handout. Eddie’s mangy mutt was there and he tore a hole in my pants cuff!” 

“Yeah, after you kicked him, I’m sure” declared Jay.  

“Ok, Lou. What happened when you came back into the kitchen?” asked Martin. “Were you so ticked off at the dog that maybe you bumped into Eddie?” 

“Look, Mr. B. I’m telling you I didn’t do nothing” sneered Lou. “Who you gonna believe?” 

“Alright. What’s done is done” sighed Martin. “Jay, you and Eddie finish cleaning up in here. Lou, go down to the basement and bring up whatever glasses you can find. We’re opening tonight as planned.” 

Disgruntled, Lou headed for the basement. He remembered a prior shipment of glasses that Martin didn’t like. Rather than return them they were put in storage. And there they were, two towers of boxes at least six feet fall. 

“Why am I stuck doing this shit job? Where’s that lazy spic busboy?” Lou grumbled. He walked to the delivery entrance and shouted “Hey, Manuel! Get in here!”  

Manuel didn’t answer Lou’s command;  Eddie’s ‘mangy mutt’ did and he growled, hurt by the kick in his ribs from Lou’s patent leather shoe. The dog inched closer, baring his sharp canines.

Lou backed up as fast as he could but not fast enough. The dog sank his teeth into the bartender’s calf and wouldn’t let go. He meant business and was out for revenge … for himself and for Eddie. 

Lou was thrust into the stacks of boxes, splintered wood and jagged glass crashing down on him. As a final coup de grâce, Eddie’s dog lifted his hind leg, pissed on Lou and trotted out the door. 

NAR © 2020

FISH OR CUT BAIT

When I was a toddler my family moved to City Island, a little place in the Bronx, New York. And when I say little, I’m not kidding – 1.5 miles long by 0.5 miles wide. There was one main street and the houses were on the narrow side streets, each with a small beach at the end. Just about every day we would play for hours on the beach at the end of our street. As far as I’m concerned there was no better place for a kid to grow up. 

My Granddad “Pops” was a retired commercial fisherman and he taught us the ropes. We learned how to tie knots, cut bait, fillet a fish and just about everything there was to know about boats. Every weekend we’d row over to Sullivan’s Marina where Pops’ fishing boat “Sea Devil” was docked and spend the day fishing … mostly. I can still remember him scolding us when we dawdled: “Hey, you clowns! Fish or cut bait!” 

When we were first learning how to cast our rods there wasn’t a single time that Pops didn’t get stuck by an errant hook. Our collection of his favorite curse words grew on a weekly basis. So many memories of days on the “Devil” like the time my brother sliced off the tip of his finger while cutting bait or when the anchor chain snapped and we drifted until someone gave us a tow. 

But nothing compared to that Saturday in April. The sun was blazing and it was extremely hot for a Spring morning.  My Dad had the rare Saturday off because it was Easter weekend so he joined us. It was me, my two brothers, Dad and Pops crammed into a rowboat headed for Sea Devil

I don’t know if it was the heat or the dormancy of the day but the fish weren’t biting. We were sweating bullets and out of bait. That’s when Pops noticed the dark clouds in the distance and figured we better just count our losses and head home. 

We climbed into the rowboat, Dad and Pops manning the oars. The sun was obscured by clouds and there was an eerie stillness around us. We heard roars of thunder and Pops and Dad rowed faster. We heard it before we saw it … pouring rain, strong winds and swelling waves. They rowed like madmen but not fast enough. Suddenly we were engulfed in a raging storm and a giant wave crashed into us, picked up the rowboat and flung us into the water. 

The fast-moving rains headed toward shore and the waves quickly subsided. By some miracle we were all alive and the boat was floating upside down. Pops and Dad scooped us up in their arms and swam to the boat. Uprighting it was impossible so they dove under it to find that precious pocket of air.  

Hold onto the seats, boys, and keep your heads above water. Dad and I are going back out and we’ll push this boat to shore” instructed Pops. We clung to the seats for dear life while Pops and Dad struggled with the boat. After what seemed like an eternity they felt the sand beneath their feet and the air pocket became bigger. Eventually we also felt the sand beneath our feet and we all carried the boat to shore … to safety. 

That was almost 65 years ago and I’ve never forgotten that day though it didn’t stop me from going back out to sea. I have a boat and love fishing. And every time I’m cutting bait I’m thinking of Pops. 

NAR © 2020

THE PROMISE

Say, God! We your children, the citizens of the world, the people you created in your own image – Father, we have some questions for you. 

Did you create this deadly, horrendous virus or did you give man the ability to cultivate it in a laboratory? Did you decide one day that you’ve had enough of this amoral world and it was time to start anew or perhaps not restart at all? 

Or is it the handiwork of the devil? After all, how many times did he tempt your beloved Son during his 40 days in the desert? Turning stones into bread to relieve Jesus’ hunger while he fasted; daring Jesus to throw himself off a mountain by offering him dominion over all earthly kingdoms; demanding Jesus kneel before him, again for all the empires of the world. The temptations of hedonism, egoism and materialism – not unlike the world of 2020. 

So what is this hideous evil we are facing now – this demon bug which does not discriminate between those people who are right and good and just or the ones who are evil and sadistic and selfish? It doesn’t care if the victim is a person of power and influence or a homeless man huddled in a cardboard box under a bridge. 

Just recently people were going about their everyday lives – shopping in malls, attending concerts, catching a hockey game, dining out, getting married, hopping a plane to Rome. Kids went to school. People went to work. We went to church – your house where we gathered with our brothers and sisters, clasping hands in a sign of peace. Now your holy houses are closed. 

Grandparents were welcoming their newborn grandchildren only to be snatched from their lives. Kids were gleeful to be home from school until they began missing their friends. They couldn’t have play dates or go to Cub Scouts or music lessons or the toy store. Jobs were lost, restaurants shut down, playgrounds deserted with only empty swings swaying in the wind. 

Wearing rubber gloves while shopping became necessary, scared and wary eyes visible above our ubiquitous masks. People stowed bread and milk and eggs in their shopping bags and hoarded sanitizers and toilet paper. Some became greedy, leaving little on the shelves for others. 

How many of your children will die? How many doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters and truckers put their lives on the line without a second thought, most unable to go home at night to their families? The elderly – confused, frightened and lonely in nursing homes – separated from their families because visits are forbidden. The women in the throes of childbirth afraid to go to the hospital, perhaps not even allowed to go to the hospital. 

We have new words and phrases in our vocabulary – self-isolation, flatten the curve, shelter in place, social-distancing. Yet there are comforting and familiar words such as hope, peace, love, family, faith and health. Those are the words we cling to every day. Those are the words that are stronger than anxiety, depression, helplessness, solitude and fear. 

Eons ago you destroyed the earth by water. Only eight righteous people and every kind of animal were spared. You made this promise: “Never again will I curse the earth; neither will I again smite every thing living, as I have done”.       

No, Father! We your children refuse to believe that you have abandoned us. We know you are a loving and compassionate God. You will end this vile curse, freeing us to once again walk arm in arm, our faces basking in the glow of your never-ending love. 

NAR © 2020

THAT SUMMER’S DAY

The first summer vacation we had with our two small boys was a week at the Ocean Surf in Montauk NY – the perfect family place with a large swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A few rickety wooden steps led to the beach and the pool was right outside the rooms so the kids were always within sight.

Everyone was very friendly except for one Scandinavian-looking family. Their little boy played with the other kids but he would frequently glance over at his parents – loners who drank vodka by day and argued by night.

The week was fabulous and we returned the following summer. The Ocean Surf had not changed and many of the same people were there, even the Scandinavian family but this time the father was absent and the mother looked haggard.

One day the mother emerged from her room carrying a colorful inflatable raft. She told her son she was going for a float in the ocean and to stay with the other kids by the pool. We said we’d keep an eye on the boy and she murmured her thanks.

As the children played the boy would occasionally look toward the ocean where his mother floated, plainly visible in her raft. Some time later the boy jumped up yelling “Hvor er mamma?! Where’s my mom?!” She had disappeared. The boy became frantic and ran toward the beach. Families followed, scouring the ocean with binoculars. Life guards, police and the Coast Guard searched until dark when the quest was postponed until morning. Jeff and Nina Morgan, the hotel owners, consoled the boy and watched him overnight.

At dawn the search began again and the vibrant raft was found washed ashore.  Boaters were questioned and a helicopter surveyed the ocean with no luck. The mission was halted. When the police talked to the boy he tearfully explained that his dad was gone and his mom was very sad. We all had the same thought: suicide.

The boy told the police his name and address; a phone call resolved unanswered questions. The father abused his wife and son. Several  months ago the father beat the boy terribly. To save her son the mother bashed the father over the head with a fireplace poker, killing him. A quick verdict of innocent was delivered and all charges were dropped. The boy said his mother longed for the healing waters of Montauk. Family court discovered the boy had no living relatives and granted custody to the Morgans.

That was a dreadful experience for everyone yet most of us returned the next summer, I think in part to check on the boy. We were delighted to see he was physically thriving under the loving care of the Morgans but the psychological scars were still there. He played with the other kids but would often wander down to the water’s edge and stare off into the distance.

Over the next couple of years we returned to the Ocean Surf. We learned the boy’s name was Tobias but the Morgans called him Toby. He adjusted well to his new life although he still walked to the ocean every day to watch the sunrise.

Eventually our one small room at the Ocean Surf became too cramped for the four of us and we began staying at a larger place. Our sons are married now with kids of their own. The Morgans finally retired, Toby got married and he and his wife manage the hotel. Yet he still heeds the call to sit on the beach every morning and watch the sunrise over the ocean.

NAR © 2020

POOR ALTHEA’S BOY

A fictional newspaper report

Bronx, New York – Sirens tore through the silence last night as police responded to a robbery on Corsa Avenue, a quiet street of middle class two story homes. 

Police approached eye witness Jasper Gardener who gave this account: “I was out walking my dog when a guy came running down the front steps of this house. He was in such a hurry he practically knocked me down.” When police asked for a description Mr. Gardener said it happened so fast he didn’t get a good look at the guy,  just that he was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt. 

The homeowners, Carl and Louise Swanson, apparently arrived home from work while the intruder was still inside their home. Tenant Albert Farrell resides on the first floor of the house and was home at the time. When questioned Mr. Farrell replied that he was watching television all evening and didn’t hear anything unusual. The police speculated that the rumbling noise of the Swanson’s electric garage door scared off the intruder. 

“The perpetrator obviously didn’t have much time; only the bedroom was in disarray” declared Officer Ralph Taylor. “He probably knew the Swanson’s regular work schedule and we believe he got spooked when they came home early.”

Officer Mario DeMarco had this to say: “We discovered muddy footprints in the backyard and on the fire escape leading to the second floor. The intruder must have gained access via a bedroom window.” 

When police asked the Swansons what was missing, Mrs. Swanson pointed to her suede coat on the floor. “Look at this” she told the police. “He left my expensive suede coat behind but ripped off the faux fur collar probably thinking it was real fur.” 

When asked about missing jewelry the Swansons said that other than what they were wearing everything was locked in their safe. 

This guy is an idiot and has no idea of the value of things!” exclaimed Mr. Swanson. “Our extensive collection of Lenox and Lladro figurines hasn’t been touched. And that’s not all. Even my original John Lennon cartoon drawing which I bought at auction is still hanging right there. What a jerk this guy is! I’ll bet this was all done by that no good lousy punk Chucky Brown! What a loser!”

The police were well acquainted with Charles “Chucky” Brown, a small time thief who lived in the area with his mother Althea. He’d been picked up several times for petty thefts but was always released. Police never found anything valuable on him; they couldn’t even charge him with breaking and entering.   

A crowd of people had gathered near the Swanson’s house. One man told the police “I just saw Chucky racing down Corsa Avenue. He was carrying a pillowcase and wearing a hoodie.” 

Immediately Officers Taylor and DeMarco jumped into their car and sped down Corsa Avenue when they were stopped by an accident. Getting out to investigate they discovered a bus and a truck had collided. Pinned between the two was the unfortunate Chucky Brown. His run of small time thefts had come to an end. On the ground lay a pillowcase containing a few items, including Mrs. Swanson’s faux fur collar. Charles “Chucky” Brown got pinned last night but not the way the police expected and certainly not the way they hoped. 

Alright folks. The excitement is over. Go on home now” announced Officer Taylor. “Ok, Mario, let’s call this in. And get a squad car to Chucky’s house to bring his mother down to the station. No matter what a screw up Chucky was, he was still her son. Poor woman.”  

NAR © 2020

U.S.S. ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he held Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, nonplussed. Gregory continued “How you said “hi” to her the day you were painting the chancery and knocked over a can of paint. You said she had the sweetest disposition.” Gregory sighed. “You said she didn’t get mad or anything – how you really liked her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories, Leo? Because I felt all alone but now I felt like I had two friends, you and Jenny.” 

Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, followed repeatedly by non-stop bombings and eruptions. The Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. Leo quickly stashed his stuff into his backpack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The torpedo attack lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker. 

Upon Gregory’s medical discharge, he was called to the admiral’s office and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened it he found a letter inscribed “To my dear friends Jenny Warner and Gregory Tomlinson – Open this box together. Gregory, I wish you could have seen your face light up whenever I talked about Jenny. And Jenny … you must have asked about Gregory in every letter you wrote to me. If ever two people belong together it’s you. I love you both and you two love each other, too – even though you haven’t met yet. You belong together.”

A smaller note was also enclosed in the envelope; it read: “Gregory, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this note. It will make me eternally happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other.”

NAR © 2020

WHEN GYPSIES CRY

Normally I don’t take the subway to work but I heard there was a bad auto accident backing up traffic for miles on the highway so driving wasn’t an option. My train was already at the station when I arrived. Every seat was taken except for one in the corner. I quickly sat down as the train began filling up with passengers. 

Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a man seated several feet from me reading a newspaper. He looked over in my direction and gave me a big grin, his light blue eyes twinkling. He bore an uncanny resemblance to my late father, Gino, and I was unable to resist smiling back at him. He was well-groomed with a thin mustache and I imagined he was a barber like my dad. He went back to reading his newspaper and when he turned the page I was surprised to see it was La Stampa, the Italian newspaper my father used to read.  

Suddenly the subway stopped and the lights went out for a few minutes. When they  came back on I looked over at the man but he wasn’t there. I looked all around but didn’t see him. We were stuck in a dark tunnel – where could he have gone? 

The train started up again and at our next stop many people entered, including two women with five young children; they looked like gypsies. One woman was younger, obviously the mother of the children, and the older woman was their grandmother. The mother protectively held a toddler while the other children clung to her skirt and the grandmother clutched the handle of a baby carriage. The women whispered rapidly in a foreign language as their wide eyes frantically searched the train. They were clearly frightened as though they were running away from someone or something.   

The ride was choppy and the children were getting restless; the women tried desperately to quiet them. At the next stop people brusquely shoved their way off and on. Suddenly a swarthy-looking man pushed the old gypsy woman, snatched the baby carriage and dashed out the train just as the doors closed. The hysterical mother screamed what sounded like “My baby! My baby!”  but no one paid her any attention. I stood up to see if I could help but the train jerked to a start. I was thrown back into my seat, hitting my head.

The harsh train whistle jolted me and I was amazed to discover I was in my bed; the whistle was my alarm clock. It was only a dream! Sleepily, I shuffled to the door to collect my newspaper and turn on the tv. Opening the newspaper my eyes widened in disbelief as I saw the banner La Stampa, the same paper my father used to read. The date was November 17, 1992, the day my father died. 

A voice from the tv roused me from my trance: “A happy ending yesterday for a Romanian woman whose baby was snatched from a crowded subway by her estranged husband. Witnesses directed police to an alley where the man was found hiding in an old abandoned barbershop called “Gino’s”. The baby was reunited with its ecstatic mother.” There on the screen was the same gypsy family I saw on the train!   

Stunned, I dropped the newspaper and collapsed onto my bed. So it wasn’t a dream after all! From the corner of my eye I noticed something sticking out of the newspaper. With trembling hands I gently pulled out a white feather.

Dad!” I whispered tearfully. “It was you.”

NAR © 2019

LET IT OUT

It’s been 12 years but I can remember everything about that night. 

We were out to dinner with our friends Lily, Carl, Karen and Rob at a busy upscale restaurant. It was three months since my husband’s heart attack and the beginning of my spiral into depression and anxiety brought on by stress, worry and the debilitating pain of arthritis. 

I was nervous the whole day but figured I’d be fine at dinner – after all, these were people I knew and loved and who knew and loved me. Sitting at the table I was uneasy but hoped the feeling would subside. 

It didn’t. It continued to build as I sat surrounded by a room full of seemingly stress-free people laughing and enjoying themselves while I was ready to bolt. I was with friends I’ve known for years and I was freaking out, convinced everyone knew something was wrong.

There I was, not only stressing over life in general but stressing over the fact that I was stressing and everyone knew it and they were just waiting for me to explode. My choices: fake it, breakdown, leave or tell my friends how I was feeling. I chose the latter. Apprehensively I told them I was having a panic attack. No one had a clue. 

What happened next was incredible. By exposing myself, by admitting my fear and vulnerability, everyone embraced me  – not physically, of course; that would have been weird – but they all let me know it was ok. Whatever I wanted to do was ok. 

I exhaled for the first time that night and I chose to stay. That was when Karen reached into her purse, handed me the business card of her psychologist and said “Call her”. Lily told me she also went to the same psychologist and quietly poured out her heart to me, unburdening herself while simultaneously letting me know I wasn’t alone. I didn’t even realize I had eaten my dinner and people were ordering dessert. The evening actually wasn’t a disaster. 

The next day Karen called to check on me. I’ll never forget what she said: “You know, I was sitting right there and I didn’t notice your anxiety. You looked perfectly fine and if you hadn’t said anything we never would have known.”

Wow! Talk about obsessing! No one noticed the ticking time bomb at the table. 

What a huge eye-opener that was. It made me realize that how I perceive myself is not necessarily how others perceive me. It made me realize that being stoic and trying to hide my anxiety isn’t always helpful. In fact, it could make things worse. Opening myself up and showing my vulnerability may not have saved my life that night but it showed me it’s ok to let others know “Hey, I’m freaking out right now and I need help.” 

I grew stronger that night by revealing my weakness. And I learned a valuable life lesson: Let it out and let someone in. 

NAR © 2019

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SEW

“Grundy, you old son of a bitch! What the hell are you doing here?” exclaimed Ian Simms.

“Same as you, Ian, and your brother, Carter. Attending the reading of your father’s will. May he rest in peace. 

“Carter, look who’s here!” declared Ian to his twin. “It’s the one and only Grundy!”

It’s been a while, Grundy. I can’t even recall the last time I saw you” remarked Carter. 

“I believe it was your sixteenth birthday – the day before your mother deserted your father and shipped both of you off to military school.” 

“You know, Grundy, there was a time when you showed a bit more respect to me and my brother. You used to call me ‘Master Carter’ and my brother ‘Master Ian’ – back when you were my father’s lowly valet.” 

“Yes indeed – when you behaved like the spoiled crowned princes of Palm Springs. I’d say we’re on equal footing now, Carter.” 

“Watch your mouth, old man” snarled Carter. “Remember you were just a servant!” 

Were being the operative word. Here’s your father’s attorney now. Let’s get on with this, shall we?” 

“Good afternoon, everyone. Please be seated. I’m Lester Garrison, Mr. Simms’ attorney, and we’re gathered here today for the reading of his will. All right then, let’s begin.” Garrison cleared his throat: 

• “I, Franklin Theodore Simms, being of sound mind and body declare this to be my last will and testament.

• To my former wife, Gloria Morrow Simms, I leave a dildo so she can go fuck herself. I’m sure she didn’t have the decency to attend today but there was never anything decent about her. 

• To my sons Carter and Ian I leave both the amount of $19.79 which represents the year you were born. Perhaps if you had bothered to call or visit me just one time in the past 24 years the amount would be substantially higher; however that is not the case. You reap what you sow, boys. 

• To the San Diego Zoo I leave $2.5 million dollars because animals are infinitely nicer than humans. 

• The remainder of my estate, all my worldly possessions and $18.5 million dollars I leave to my one true friend – Samuel Grundy. Sam, you were never just my valet; you were my brother. You were the only one who remained when my family abandoned me. And when I became sick, you cared for me, refusing any income. We spent many hours in the garden by the weeping willow tree playing chess, sharing memories, baring our souls. 

• A note to my sons: if you hadn’t been so self-centered you would have known Mr. Grundy’s first name. Instead you treated him like chattel and called him simply ‘Grundy’. Shame on you both! 

• My lawyer already knows that I don’t want a funeral. I’m to be cremated and my ashes buried under the old willow tree where I spent my final days with Samuel Grundy.

• See you at the tree, Sam. The rest of you ingrates can go to hell.”

NAR © 2019

inspired by Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC)of 24 September 2022, spite

THE BENCH

Grundy sat in his favorite spot: a dilapidated bench on the boardwalk at Coney Island overlooking Brighton Beach. He was celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of his divorce from Cathy, the “Crowned Cunt of Canarsie” as he called her. And he was getting drunk as he did every night. 

His routine never changed. After his shift at McDonald’s, he’d grab a Big Mac, walk across the street to the Liquor Loft, buy a $7.49 bottle of Old Crow Kentucky Bourbon and a pack of Camel cigarettes, then stroll over to his bench and settle in. 

Grundy’s Bench … his home away from home. Well, not literally. Thanks to his cousin Marcy and her husband Phil, he had an actual roof over his head. Grundy was real close to Marcy, growing up together and all, and Phil was as nice as they come, humble but with the bearing of a prince. Grundy lived with them and their three kids and all Marcy asked was for Grundy to cook Sunday dinner for the family. Hell, he’d cook dinner every night for those precious people if he wasn’t always shit-faced after work.   

“Pretty sweet deal” Grundy thought as he took a swig of his Old Crow. “I’m a freaking loser, an embarrassment, yet they treat me with a love I don’t deserve.” He had his own room, a TV and Marcy did his laundry. He mostly kept to himself, getting home late. He had the day shift, breakfast and lunch included. The pay was lousy and so was the food but it beat a blank. 

How the fuck did he end up here? Carl Grundy, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, working in some of the finest restaurants in the world … once one of the best chefs in New York … now a burger flipping drunk in Brooklyn. 

So what happened? Bourbon happened. He wasn’t much of a drinker – an occasional beer – but one night after a particularly ugly argument with Cathy, he surreptitiously chugged a shot of the restaurant’s finest bourbon. It was ambrosia and he had another. Before long it became a ritual, then a habit and finally an addiction. He got caught, fired and the cycle began. Land a new gig, drink their booze, get sacked. Eventually the only job he could get was at Mickey D’s and Old Crow was all he could afford. 

Out of nowhere he recalled the words of some televangelist his mother used to watch: “Your decisions cause your circumstances”. Damn straight! He didn’t even realize he was crying. Well, enough reminiscing for one night. 

Grundy gave his beloved bench a pat and stood up to begin his walk to Phil and Marcy’s. Suddenly he felt a searing pain in his chest and crumbled to the ground.

“Oh, Lord! I’ve made a fine mess of things” Grundy gasped. “I’m hurting and I want to go home. Mom and Dad are waiting for me.”

He died alone that night, his hands still clutching an empty bottle.

NAR © 2019

THE BEACHCOMBER

I guessed that something was wrong as soon as I saw the look of shocked disbelief on my husband David’s face. 

Babe, what’s wrong?”

With tears in his eyes David whispered “I lost my wedding ring!”  

It was our last night in Cape Cod. After dinner we went for a walk on the beach. There was a lot of seaweed in the ocean from a storm a few days before. We walked along the shore, teasing each other with clumps of seaweed; that’s when the ring must have slipped off his finger. But exactly where we had no idea. We crawled around searching but it was dark and we couldn’t see anything. David was devastated. 

“Hon, I know your wedding ring means the world to you but we can always replace it.”   

“I know, Jess, but it just won’t be the same.” 

Dejected, we returned to our room and went to bed. After hours of trying to get to sleep, I grabbed my laptop and Googled “Will a ring wash ashore after falling in the ocean?” 

Almost immediately there was a *ding* on my laptop … a response from “TheRingFinders.com. It read: “We can help find any lost metallic object on the beach or in the water. Enter your zip code and we’ll get back to you ASAP .” 

I entered the zip code for Cape Cod and 10 minutes later I heard from Rick at “RingFinders”. After explaining our situation, Rick said he’d be at our B&B at 7:00 AM to start his search. Thank God for the Internet! 

True to his word, Rick was already on the beach at 7:00. We ate breakfast on the veranda, never taking our eyes off Rick as he searched everywhere with no luck. It was almost checkout time when he trudged up to the B&B.   

No luck, folks. You’re gonna get socked in traffic if you don’t leave now. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m not giving up. I’ll keep in touch with you either way.” 

Disheartened, we checked out and loaded up the car. Taking one last look at Rick, we waved goodbye when we realized he wasn’t waving goodbye … he was waving in excitement. He ran up the beach with his arm in the air, hand clenched in a fist.    

I found it, folks! I found your ring” he shouted. 

We ran to meet him and he grinned as he placed a wet, sandy ring in David’s hand.

The ring was under 11 inches of water and seaweed!

Overjoyed, David hugged Rick and we asked how much we owed him. 

“This is a free service we provide but we gladly accept donations” Rick explained. “Its very rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces when they’re reunited with their precious lost items.” 

I don’t remember how much we gave Rick … that’s not important. What I do remember is David glancing at his ring all the way home and smiling. 

What an experience and certainly an incredible act of kindness. Thanks, Rick!

Authors Note: Every word of this story is true and Theringfinders.com is a real organization. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!

NAR © 2019

HOME OF THE BRAVE

“Settlers from the east, father. When will they stop?” 

Chief Yonaguska looked down at the boy. “Never, my son, but if we are respectful of each other’s ways, there will be no trouble.” Father and son sat atop their horses, staring down at the wagon train.  

Wagon master Patrick Hall spied the Cherokees and whistled a Celtic melody, their established warning signal. The women and children took cover in the wagons while the men remained on their horses – one hand on the reins, the other fingering a shotgun. 

Cautiously, Yonaguska raised his arm in a sign of peace. Patrick did the same. Slowly Yonaguska and his son turned their horses around and returned to their tribe. 

We’ll be gettin’ no trouble from those Cherokees” declared Patrick.  

They’re all savages!” argued Donal Byrne “Ya shoulda just shot ‘em!” 

“I’ll not hear another remark like that again, Donal!“ replied Patrick angrily. “This is a good spot to camp for a few days. We’ll give the horses a rest and do some huntin’ and fishing’.” 

When Patrick and a few men left, Donal and the others stayed behind to protection the women-folk and work on the wagons. The women baked bread while the younger children napped. Some older girls went to gather fruit and berries to make preserves. They were given orders to remain together and not go far but as young giggly girls are often wont to do, they didn’t pay attention and wandered off.  

Anxious about the girl’s tardiness, Donal and some of the men went looking for them. They became aware of faint screams in the distance. The men searched but couldn’t find the girls. Then they noticed discarded baskets, remnants of cloth and blood. Gathering the items, the men found their way back to camp just as Patrick and the hunting crew returned. 

Donal raced toward Patrick bellowing “See! I was right! Ya shoulda killed those savages when ya had the chance. Now they’ve taken our girls and God knows what they’ve done to them! I say we go get our girls back, even if we have to kill all them stinkin’ bastards!”

Just then Yonaguska and several braves appeared on the hilltop, the chief sitting imperially on his stallion. As they cautiously made their way down the hill, the settlers could see each brave carried a girl on his horse. Some of the girls were bleeding, their clothes rent. 

“Ya blasted barbarians! What have ya done to our girls?!” shouted Donal and he aimed his gun at Yonaguska. 

Donal! Drop it or by God I’ll shoot ya where ya stand!” threatened Patrick. Begrudgingly, Donal lowered his gun.  “Now, Donal, take a look behind the chief’s horse.” 

Only then did everyone notice a giant dead grizzly bear. The girls explained how the bear had attacked them and the braves came to their rescue. The braves gently lowered the girls to the ground and they ran to their parents. 

With raised hand, Patrick stepped forward. “We have nothing to offer ya but our thanks and friendship for protecting our girls.” 

Yonaguska replied “Your girls were in peril. It is fortunate my braves were there to help. All we want is peace between us.” 

Then with a slight tug on his stallion’s rein, the Cherokee chief withdrew. He and his braves silently disappearing over the hill.

When cooler heads prevail, there will be no trouble.

NAR © 2019

DUTY-BOUND

NEW YORK CITY, 1920

“Manga il cibo sul tuo piatto, Sophia, o lo mangerai dal pavimento.”

(“Eat the food on your dish, Sophia, or you will eat it off the floor.”)  

Without changing her expression or taking her huge brown eyes off her father Vincenzo’s face, three year old Sophia picked up a meatball, extended her arm over the side of her high chair and very calmly let it drop to the floor. 

Silence. Everyone sat in suspended animation as Vincenzo deliberately put down his knife and fork and removed the napkin which was tucked into the neck of his shirt. Slowly he stood up, went behind Sophia’s chair and grabbed the back of her dress. He lifted her up and holding her feet with his other hand, lowered her face to the floor. Sophia’s mouth touched the meatball and she turned her face away, but Vincenzo pushed her face into the food, forcing her to take it into her mouth. Satisfied, he sat her back in her chair, returned to his seat and resumed eating. Sophia languidly chewed the meatball. 

Hesitantly everyone resumed eating except Sophia’s mother Francesca who sat watching her daughter. At the end of the meal as the women cleared the table, Francesca placed a napkin over her daughter’s mouth so she could dispose of the uneaten meatball. “Mai più, Sophia. Fai il tuo dovere!” Francesca said. (“Never again, Sophia. Do your duty!”)

Francesca was a frail woman and as Sophia grew she helped her while Vincenzo worked 12 hours a day on construction. When Sophia was 11, Francesca came down with a terrible case of scarlet fever which affected her heart and kidneys and left her housebound. Early every morning Sophia would cook breakfast for the family and pack lunch for her father before she left for school. At lunchtime she would come home to check on Francesca and make something for them to eat before going back to school. After school she would stop at the pharmacy to buy Francesca’s medicine. Sometimes she would surprise her mother with a piece of her favorite candy. First she would care for her mother, then cook dinner before her father came home from work. When dinner was finished she would do her homework and get ready for bed. Since Francesca was sick, Vincenzo slept in Sophia’s room while she slept on the small sofa. It was the right thing to do – her duty – because her father worked so hard and needed his rest. 

Eventually the family began struggling financially. Vincenzo decided that it would be best if Sophia left school and took a job in a sewing factory. Sophia would have preferred to stay in school, but she knew it was her duty to help the family. Francesca’s sisters would take turns checking on her while Sophia was at work. Occasionally they would bring food but they all had large families and were struggling themselves. Sophia still woke up very early to make breakfast and prepare lunch for herself, Vincenzo and Francesca. She worked from 8:00 until 6:00, then came home to cook dinner, clean up and care for her mother. It was a hard life but Sophia knew it was her duty. 

Sophia was an excellent seamstress and her work was always done quickly and perfectly. In the time it took the others to sew one blouse, she completed four. And because her work was beyond compare, she earned more money. She was promoted to making dresses and suits and the other girls were jealous, calling her “your majesty” and “princess”. One girl was so envious of Sophia she began working hurriedly and carelessly, accidentally cutting off most her pinky with the large shears. It was not Sophia’s fault but everyone treated her like it was. 

One Sunday after Mass Sophia’s cousin Gaetano introduced her to his friend Paolo Rossi. By now Sophia was 20 and had never been on a date. She was too busy doing her duty. The young couple were immediately attracted to each other, began dating and married in 1940, just after the start of the war. One year later their first baby was born and fortunately men with children were not being drafted so Paolo was able to remain at home. Tragically, the baby developed nephritis and died at the age of two – and a grieving father, now childless, was drafted. 

Sophia was devastated; no husband, no baby. She devoted all her time to caring for Francesca. The days were grim but thankfully Paolo returned home safely and two more babies followed – healthy girls. The young family, Francesca and Vincenzo moved to a house in the Bronx and Paolo found work in a mechanic’s shop while Sophia stayed at home with the girls and her mother.  Five years later Francesca died and Vincenzo became ill. Of course the ever-dutiful Sophia  cared for him until his death. 

In 1970 Paolo suffered his first heart attack. Three more followed over the years. He developed aortic and abdominal aneurysms and struggled with emphysema and bronchitis until his death in 1996. Sophia cared for him as a dutiful wife for all those years.  

Dear readers, in case you haven’t realized by now I was one of those little baby girls born to Sophia and Paolo. Throughout my childhood and youth, my mother was constantly busy cleaning, cooking, sewing. She was a dutiful mother and took very good care of us, but I never felt a true mother’s love. 

The first time I met my boyfriend’s mother, she was ironing. She immediately stopped her work, brewed a pot of coffee and placed a crumb cake on the table. We sat and talked for hours. That was an afternoon of fun and laughter and I felt the love in that room. I married that boy whose mother did everything out of love, not out of a sense of duty. 

Sophia died in 2010. On her headstone was intricately carved her life-long creed: “FAI IL TUO DOVERE”.

NAR © 2019

ON THE BRINK

Today she would find out if her entire life was a lie.

“Where to, Mrs. Carmichael? Shall I call for your car?” asked her ever-attentive doorman, Harold. 

Not today, thank you. Just walking up to Brooks Brothers to buy an anniversary present for my husband. It’s our 15th.”[Note to self: stop at your psychologist’s office first]. 

“Congratulations! You have yourself a nice day.” 

Claire Carmichael smiled at Harold and walked the short distance to her therapist’s office on Earl Street. Ringing Dr. Brink’s doorbell, she waited for his ubiquitous snobbish greeting of “Enter!” 

“Welcome, Claire. Last time you were here we discussed your suspicions that Jeremy was having an affair. Why don’t we pick up from there” he suggested. 

Clearing her throat and adjusting her skirt she began. “I’m no longer convinced Jeremy’s cheating on me. I’m not saying that he’s never had affairs but something is different. Things have changed between us. They’re better. Jeremy’s calmer, more attentive, grounded. He’s home every night by 6:00 and we enjoy our weekends together. No more overnight out-of-town business trips and I’m actually happy for the first time in years.” 

“Interesting” Dr. Brink acknowledged. “And to what do you attribute this change in Jeremy’s character?” 

“We had a heart-to-heart the other night and he confided in me that he’s been having panic attacks for quite some time. He finally started seeing a psychiatrist who’s helping him tremendously. He’s on medication and skips lunch twice a week to see his doctor.” 

“And you believe him?” 

I do” Claire replied, uncomfortable with his skepticism. 

Did Jeremy happen to mention his psychiatrist’s name?” 

Feeling rather nonplussed she replied “No, he didn’t and I didn’t ask. That would be prying and information I didn’t need to know. Now I really must get going. It’s our wedding anniversary and I have plans to make.” 

“Good luck, Claire. Ever vigilant!” he called after her. 

When Claire stepped outside there was a chill in the air and leaves were swirling about. That session unnerved her and she lingered for a while smoking a cigarette wondering what Dr. Brink meant when he said “Ever vigilant.” Muttering “shrinks!”, she wrapped her coat tightly around herself and quickly walked to Brooks Brothers. She chose a pair of monogrammed cuff links; they were elegant and ridiculously expensive but Claire wanted Jeremy to know how proud she was of him. 

Leaving the store Claire decided to go across the street to their favorite French restaurant and arrange for a special anniversary dinner to be delivered to their apartment. Looking up Claire’s heart skipped a beat and she felt dizzy. 

Exiting the restaurant was Jeremy, his arm around a captivating young woman. They were laughing, embracing and kissing as they walked. 

Disheartened and furious, Claire threw the cuff links into a trash can and hailed a taxi. 

“Where to, your highness?” The driver was uncouth with a big mouth, both physically and metaphorically. He chomped noisily on cigar and Claire could smell his disgusting breath from the back seat. But he probably never cheated on his wife, she thought. 

Just drive” was all she said and he smiled greedily as he flipped the meter. 

NAR © 2019

Originally written in 2019 and revised on 9/6/22 for Fandango’s Story Starter #62.

ISN’T IT A PITY?

“Christ. Jesus Christ. You may have heard of me. 

Born in Bethlehem, mother was Mary, father was Joseph. Well, let the record show he was actually my ‘foster father’’.  My real father is the big man upstairs. Crazy, right? What with Him and me and the Holy Spirit being Three in One,  It’s complicated – kinda like the Fab Four only not. Damn, those boys are good. People say they’re even bigger than me. 

Oh, please, no need to introduce yourselves. I’ve known you since you were in your mother’s womb. Actually, since before that. Again – it’s complicated. 

I’d like to address a few things. That ‘questionable relationship’’ between Mary Magdalene and me? Yeah, it happened and let me tell you – once you’ve had your feet washed by Mary’s tears and dried by her long brown hair, there’s no going back. But I digress. 

Do you people think I really wanted to come to earth, take on human form, and die for your sorry asses? You know Matthew quoted me as saying ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ You all saw the picture of me in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was sweating blood. Hell, I was crying blood. 

I never asked for it – roaming the desert, preaching, choosing my disciples, performing miracles, being adored on Palm Sunday [ok, I have to admit the miracles and adoration were pretty cool] but the tempers that raged? No piece of cake. 

The denials and betrayals by those I loved most. The badgering  by Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. The humiliation by the Roman soldiers. My unimaginably agonizing crucifixion – looking down from the cross to see my mother a broken woman. 

And for what?! Look at you! Have you learned nothing in two thousand years? Oh, there are some good ones among you, thank God, but most of you make me sad, regret giving up my life so that you could be saved. Eternal life! How many of you deserve eternal life? 

Let’s take a quick look around. The deceit, corruption, lies, immorality, hatred, killings, greed, war, the democrats, the republicans, the Arabs and Jews (still!), Brexit, Russia, China, COVID, quarantine, vaccines, anti-vaxxers, the WORLD!

What have you done to this perfect Garden of Eden my Father created? Our collective trio of hearts is breaking.

As my sweet George likes to say:

‘Isn’t it a pity?

Isn’t it a shame

How we break each others hearts

And cause each other pain?

How we take each others love

Without thinking anymore

Forgetting to give back

Isn’t it a pity? 

Some things take so long

But how can I explain

When not too very many people

Can see we’re all the same

And because of all their fears

Their eyes can’t hope to see

All the beauty that surrounds them

Lord, isn’t it a pity?’

Get your acts together, people, before it’s too late. Love one another as I have loved you. And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. 

Remember – I’ll be back.”

NAR © 2019

PS – Just a few months after this post, we were in the throes of the COVID pandemic. Perhaps The Father, Son and Holy Ghost were on to something. NAR 2021

A PIG IN A POKE

As soon as Briana Jeffries woke up she knew her AC had broken down. Her townhouse was like a sauna. She called the landlord then got ready for work. Stepping outside, she was enveloped in a cloud of oppressive heat. 

Briana’s townhouse didn’t have a garage – only street parking. Slipping off her suit jacket, she adjusted her shoulder bag and began walking to her car. With every step a bead of sweat rippled down her neck and back until her blouse clung to her drenched body. She cursed her high heels and pantyhose but the real estate agency where she worked demanded appropriate attire. 

I really should switch to McConnell Realty. They’re much more casual than Dalton & Banks” she thought as she got into her car and switched on the AC. Sure, the commission she earned was great but she wasn’t truly happy. And dealing with that smarmy, perpetually tanned Joe DelVecchio was nauseating.

First on the agenda was the Monday meeting, then Briana’s client at 10:30. With six houses to show, it was going to be a long day. As soon as she entered the office, Joe was all over her. “Looking steamy, Briana. Nice lipstick. Looks all pouty. I’m gonna call you BJ. Know what that means?” 

What a dick. The only reason Joe was tolerated here was the older female clients adored him and he could charm the panties off them – and probably did if it meant making a sale. Ignoring him, Briana sat at the mahogany table between Grace and Harold. 

Attention!” Charlotte Dalton announced. “We have a large number of elderly couples today. Briana and Joe, I want you working together. 

By day’s end Briana was sick of Joe but he insisted on walking her to her car. “Let’s get a drink, moisten that beautiful BJ mouth”. Involuntarily Briana licked her lips;  Joe moaned. 

“No, Joe! I just want to go home, take a shower and go to bed.” She immediately regretted her choice of words. Joe pressed Briana against her car whispering “You read my mind” and she felt his clammy hand between her legs. Calling him a “disgusting pig”, she shoved him away and drove off. It was at that moment she decided today was her last day at Dalton & Banks. 

Unlocking her front door, Briana was thrilled to find the AC working and the house delightfully cool. Locking the door, she kicked off her shoes, peeled off her damp clothes and headed for the shower. Closing the bathroom door, Briana entered the shower and stood under the cool water, relaxing, unthinking.  Suddenly she heard a noise outside the bathroom. She listened intently; there it was again. SOMEONE WAS IN HER HOUSE!! Without even turning off the shower, Briana lunged to lock the bathroom door just as Joe DelVecchio burst in, knocking her backwards into the shower. Slamming the tiles, Briana’s head cracked open, blood swirling down the drain. 

Briana was right. That was her last day at Dalton & Banks. 

NAR © 2019

EYES WIDE SHUT

Pamela sat huddled in the corner of the school office, her hands tightly clutching the sweater of her school uniform around her. The button of her blouse was undone and the sleeve was torn at the shoulder. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes swollen from crying and she chewed her bottom lip nervously. No one paid any attention except to toss an occasional accusatory glance her way. 

She ran her fingers through her dark hair, realizing her pony tail had come undone. She sniffled and wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweater. Staring down at her penny loafers, she was startled by the sudden shrill ringing of the phone on the secretary’s desk. 

Yes, sir. Right away, sir” the secretary said into the phone, then hung up and called out “Pamela, Principal Hoffman will see you now.”

Pamela rose slowly and gathered her school books, still clutching her sweater. “Quickly, Pamela! You mustn’t keep Principal Hoffman waiting!” the secretary snapped at her. 

Pamela entered the principal’s office and was was shocked to see the drama coach Mr. Booker there. She quickly looked away, her face turning crimson. She felt naked standing there before them, their lecherous eyes staring at her. 

“Well, Pamela, do you know why you’re here?” asked Principal Hoffman. 

Pamela looked down at the floor shaking her head ‘no’. 

“Look at me and answer the question, you insolent little slut!” yelled the principal, excited by his increasing erection. 

Tears ran down her cheeks as she looked at both men, the expression on Mr. Booker’s face filling her with dread. 

He slowly walked up to Pamela saying “You little liar. You know why you’re here. You came to me behind the curtain after play rehearsal, rubbed up against me and tried to kiss me.” He reached out and grabbed her chin. “Admit it now before you get in more trouble!” and his filthy mind thought of all the things he’d like to do to her. 

Pushing his hand off her face, Pamela cried out “No! I didn’t do anything! You did! You’re the liar!” 

Booker raised his hand to slap her but Principal Hoffman banged his fist on the desk. “Pamela, this is a Christian school and we do not tell lies nor do we act in promiscuous ways. Now admit what Mr. Booker said is true.” 

She remained silent and shook her head in defiance.

“Fine, Pamela. You’re dismissed. We will be calling your parents this evening to discuss your behavior.” 

Pamela left the office and ran home. She knew her parents wouldn’t return from work for another few hours. She threw some clothes in a suitcase and called her older sister. “Mia” she cried into the phone. 

“Pammy, what’s wrong?” Mia asked. 

All Pamela said was “Mr. Booker.” 

“Listen, Pammy” Mia said. “Mom and Dad didn’t believe me and they won’t believe you. Take the bus to Paramus and I’ll pick you up. You’ll be safe with me.” 

Pamela left her house and never looked back. 

NAR © 2019

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER

As we drove down the gravel road to our summer house, I opened the car window and inhaled deeply. Mixed with the salty scent of the ocean was the fragrance of lilacs and honeysuckle – the delicious aroma I missed last year. The pool was still beyond our sight but I saw it clearly in my mind … our private haven … the sensation of floating, feeling all stress evaporate, stillness interrupted only by an occasional breeze. 

Our house is large with floor-to-ceiling windows affording us spectacular views of the distant ocean. Located on a cul-de-sac, there is no traffic and we are invisible from the street.

Last year was the first time we didn’t make it to our sanctuary. 

It all started on June 3rd when Bill fell off a ladder. I was sitting in our den overlooking the backyard and saw him fall. In the seconds it took me to reach him, he was sprawled on the deck, barely conscious, a lump on his forehead the size of a peach. But it was the sickening angle of his leg that made me realize this was serious. 

I called 911, then our kids and we followed the ambulance to the hospital.  Bill had a badly broken femur. Surgery was done that night which would be followed by a lengthy hospital stay and rehabilitation. We all realized our long-anticipated vacation scheduled for June 30th would be cancelled. Priorities. 

Surgery went well and I visited Bill every day, staying all day. At night when I closed my eyes I saw him falling off the ladder. Stress took its toll on me, my arthritic knees screamed in agony and my back began to spasm.

Compounded with Bill’s physical pain was his guilt over “ruining our vacation”. He felt far worse for me, our kids and grandkids, convinced that we were too disappointed to forgive him. Again, priorities.

As Bill began to improve, I thought I would also but my pain became excruciating and I began a months-long regimen of spinal injections to relieve the torment in my legs and back. 

And the year from hell ravaged us, bringing with it more hardship and tragedy than we could imagine – all difficult, some almost unbearable. The most crushing of all was the overdose death of our dear nephew – ripped so cruelly from our lives. We cried in pain, sobbed in anguish. We woke every morning of that hellish year, putting one foot in front of the other, somehow managing to go on. A missed vacation paled in comparison.

Now rebirth … another summer. Driving down the gravel road to our vacation house all I can think about is floating in the pool with Bill, the sun shining down on our battered bodies. The unpacking and settling-in will get done soon enough but right now the warm blue water of the pool and the smell of honeysuckle and lilacs is all we need.

NAR © 2018

A LIVING NIGHTMARE

Covered by what felt like a plastic tarp, Stanley Collins tried desperately to figure out where he was and what had happened. All he knew at this moment in time was that he felt colder than ever before. It was claustrophobic and there was something dangling from his toe. But, perhaps the most terrifying realization of all was the fact that he was completely paralyzed. Even his eyes and mouth refused to open but his mind raced on.

Gotta think, gotta think! Why am I here and how did I get here?” 

Suddenly he heard a voice. Was it real or in his head? Stanley’s brain strained to hear – “Ok, let’s see who we have here. A John Doe and Stanley Collins, both for tonight. Damn! Two autopsies. Looks like I’ll be getting home late again. Let’s start with our John Doe.”  

Stanley’s brain screamed frantically “Autopsy?? Wait, I’m alive, I’m alive!!” 

“Think, you fucking jerk!” Stanley’s brain admonished him. “Just calm down, count to ten and think.” Some thoughts starting wriggling around his brain. He remembered working for a used car dealership. What a laugh that was! The entire time he worked there, he never sold a single car and jokingly called himself “the non-commissioned salesman”. Of course, he was fired. 

After that he applied for a job at a casino. He had no experience so the only job he could get was sitting in a back room sorting poker chips by denomination. That turned into a fiasco, too, when he was caught pocketing a couple of $100 chips. “You asshole!” his brained screamed. Fired again AND he had to return the chips! 

Two jobs down the toilet. His wife Betty called him a loser and she was right. 

“But what happened  after that? How did I end up in a refrigerated morgue drawer awaiting an autopsy … and I’m not even dead?! Think, Stanley, think! “  Stanley’s brain raced inside his unmoving, unfeeling head. 

“Wait a second. I remember! Betty kicked me out. I couldn’t get a job. I had no money. I had nothing … nothing but my house key. So while Betty was out I went to the house. All the furniture gone, my clothes weren’t there and all Betty’s things were boxed up. There wasn’t even anything I could pawn! I walked into the kitchen, turned on the gas stove and knelt down, resting my head in the oven. And that’s how Betty found me … dead from gas inhalation. Only I wasn’t dead! The mother of all fuck ups, I couldn’t even do a good job killing myself!”  

Just then Stanley’s drawer was pulled open. He was wheeled to an ice cold metal table, all the while his brain screaming “Wait! Stop! I’m not dead! Can’t you hear me?? “ 

Suddenly the screeching sound of an electric saw jolted Stanley’s brain. He screamed in agony as the saw tore through his chest. Was it his brain screaming? Was he screaming? Could anyone hear him? 

The only sound was the piercing squeal of the saw.  

NAR © 2018

A BLOODY MESS

He hadn’t realized that he had past the point of no return until he found himself frantically searching the house for anything that would remove blood stains.

“Remove impossible stains .. wine, grease .. even blood. I found it!“ shouted Robert from the kitchen. Walking back into the parlor, his brother Daniel was still standing over the body of Stuart Barclay, Daniel’s business partner. 

“Great! Gimme that. We need to get this blood stain out of Meryl’s Persian rug before she gets back from her spa weekend. This is her favorite rug; it cost a fortune! 

“Danny, I think you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than your wife’s rug” replied Robert. “Stuart’s dead! I saw the whole thing. He lunged at you and hit his head on the mantle. It was an accident. Why don’t you just call the police?” 

“I can’t! It’s not that simple. He had evidence against me.” 

“Meaning?” 

“Stuart proved months ago that I was embezzling, forging last wills and testaments, other legal documents and he was gonna turn me in. He confronted me and I couldn’t let that happen!”  Daniel ran his hands through his hair.  “Listen, I knew he was having an affair so I had him followed. I have photos. I suggested he come over tonight so we could talk. It got heated and he came at me. You saw it with your own eyes, Bobby. Stuart and I reign over every other estate lawyer out there and this will ruin me. Now let’s just clean this rug and get rid of  Stuart’s body.” 

“What the fuck, Danny! How could you be so stupid?” exclaimed Robert. “Ok, don’t worry. We got thisI’ll scrub the rug and you look for a tarp in the basement. I have an idea. We’ll wrap Stuart in the tarp, put him in his car and you drive it down the back roads. I’ll drive my car down the main road and we’ll meet up near that ditch at Route 9. All we have to do is get him out of the tarp, place him behind the driver’s seat of his car and push it down the ditch. It’ll look like an accident. Then we’ll drive back here in my car. And Danny .. grab some rubber gloves, too.” 

When Daniel returned with the tarp and gloves, the rug was clean. “Good as new!” Robert declared. “Ok, bro. Let’s do this!” 

The brothers met at Route 9. Wearing rubber gloves, they removed the tarp, put Stuart in the driver’s seat of his car making sure the gear was in ‘DRIVE’, then pushed it down the ditch, watching it crash into a tree. On the way home, Robert tossed the tarp and gloves into an incinerator behind a condominium on Route 9. Everything went off without a hitch. 

As they drove back to Daniel’s, Robert cautioned his brother to speak to no one. As if! 

The next day the police discovered Stuart’s car in the ditch but there was no body to be found. 

That evening Daniel got a call. “Hey, partner. You’re a bigger loser than I thought! We’ve got some unfinished business to discuss.” 

Daniel turned white as a ghost. The caller was Stuart, the man he thought killed. 

NAR © 2018

#FSS

THE IMMIGRANTS

Francesco Amato glanced down from his perch 60 stories above the streets of New York City. As he ate lunch, he talked casually to his friend, Giuseppe, who sat across from him about four feet away. Francesco lit a Camel cigarette, tossed the box of matches to Giuseppe and both men lounged on their beds of steel. Keeping his eyes open to maintain his balance on the 18 inch wide metal plank, Francesco took a long drag on his cigarette. Then the whistle blew; lunchtime was over. 

Giuseppe pitched the matches back to Francesco. They rose to their feet, now old pros at this daily death-defying balancing act. Just then a gust of wind came out of nowhere, scooped up the wrappings from lunch and swirled them about before they slowly drifted out of sight. Both men held on to a nearby vertical beam until the wind stilled.

Looking below at the large wind flag, the men saw that it was still white .. safe conditions. Yellow meant proceed with caution while red indicated dangerous work environments. The crew worked throughout the year, but if a red flag was up, no one climbed the beams. 

There were no harnesses to prevent a deadly fall, no safety nets should someone slip ..  nothing to protect them, save them. All they had to help them scale the beams were ropes dangling from above, good balance and guts. 

Calmness restored, the men strapped on their tool belts containing welder’s gloves, hammers and tongs. A rudimentary pulley system was used to hoist the beams and buckets filled with iron rivets in white hot coals. Using their tongs, the men removed rivets from the coals, inserted them into pre-drilled holes in the beams and hammered them into place. After every hole was filled, the men climbed up to the next level and repeated the process. 

When the end-of-work whistle blew, Giuseppe stretched for the rope to begin the long, slow descent to solid ground. Suddenly he lost his footing and slid off the beam. Francesco yelled out in horror “No, Giuseppe, no!!” as he tried in vain to grab his friend’s arm. The crew watched in stunned disbelief as Giuseppe tumbled down, his screams echoing throughout the beams. 

Francesco sat slumped over, unable to move, silently crying as a single mournful thought invaded his mind: he didn’t even know Giuseppe’s last name. 

NAR © 2018