Giving an old dog a new bone for Sadje’s photo prompt challenge. Woof!
“You mangy son on a bitch, get your ass off my lawn! Go on … get the hell outta here!”
That was Old Man Jenkins. He and his wife Harriet live next door to us and the source of his rage was none other than our pet French bulldog, Jacques. My husband Ted would run out of the house, apologizing profusely.
“Sorry, Mr. Jenkins! Jacques a handful but he’s just playing. He’s really lovable once you get to know him. Just look at that grin.”
“Get to know him!? Are you freaking nuts, Peterson? That bastard just crapped on my fruit trees!”
“Think of it as fertilizer, Mr. Jenkins” Ted suggested sheepishly and dragged Jacques away.
“FERTILIZER!?! I think you mean just plain shit!
“Hush now, Aaron!” chastised Harriet. “Using such language … why, there’s children next door!”
“Don’t hush me, Margaret! That damn dog’s a menace! If you can’t control your frigging mutt, Peterson, I’m gonna call the cops. Or maybe I’ll just put a bullet between his beady little eyes.”
And the kids started crying.
“Now, Mr. Jenkins, please don’t say things like that. You’re scaring my kids.”
“Well, that’s just too damn bad! You solve this problem or I will … permanently!”
Ted brought Jacques back inside, promising the kids everything was going to be ok, that Old Man Jenkins was just sputtering angry syllables he didn’t really mean.
The next few days we kept Jacques on a short leash. Old Man Jenkins seemed to calm down and busied himself with his fruit trees.
On Saturday morning Harriet Jenkins approached me in the grocery store. “Thank you, Alice, for keeping Jacques out of our yard. Now Aaron can care for his beloved fruit trees in peace. In fact, he’s been so preoccupied he hasn’t noticed the family of critters living in our wood pile. They’re just so darling, I even named them – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar!”
And off she went, chuckling suspiciously.
Sitting down to dinner later that day, we suddenly heard Old Man Jenkins yelling at the top of his lungs. We never heard him scream like that before so we knew it had to be something awful. Please … not Jacques! We raced outside, stopping dead in our tracks: there stood Old Man Jenkins, pricked by at least 100 porcupine quills.
So that was the “family of darling critters” Harriet was referring to!
“Excellent aim, my little darlings!” exclaimed Harriet. “Guess they know a prick when they see one, Aaron!”
He eyed her sipping her drink. She was glorious; he had to meet her but his timing had to be perfect. No impulsive actions this time. He wasn’t one who believed in love at first sight. No, it was more the way her finger toyed with that one loose strand of hair or the way she imperceptibly licked her lips before sipping her glass. When she looked his way, he waved slightly but she only had eyes for her approaching date.
With great aplomb, he ran his raised hand through his hair.
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 Barbara, the “Bitch of Brighton” 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 Barbara, 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.
Originally, the Chelsea Piers evening boat tour was scheduled to depart at 6:00 PM but was cancelled due to dense fog. Disappointed, Emma consulted her tour guidebook for something else to do. She read:
THE VORTEX. NOT YOUR FATHER’S WATERING HOLE. LOCATED AT 15 CHRISTOPHER STREET IN THE HEART OF CHELSEA. SMOKING PROHIBITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE NEW YORK CLEAN INDOOR AIR ACT. OTHER THAN THAT, ANYTHING GOES!
“Hmm. Now that’s intriguing” Emma thought “and it’s nearby.”
Just a short walk later and Emma arrived at The Vortex, a secluded and rather alluring place. Finding a seat at the bar, she ordered a dirty martini. Reflected in the mirror behind the bar was the image of a retro-looking poster. Sliding off her barstool, she casually walked up to the poster for a better look. She snapped a photo and returned to the bar.
More people were coming in now – an intriguing and diverse patchwork of ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. Emma found it all so exciting and very New York! When the bartender brought her drink, she commented on how electric yet relaxing the atmosphere was and asked “Can you tell me something about that poster?”
“Sure! It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” he replied. “The Vortex is an edgy and somewhat somber play written by the literary giant, Noël Coward. It premiered in London in 1924 garnering Coward great critical and financial success. It’s a story about a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son. Many thought the drug was a cover for homosexuality. As you can imagine, it was considered pretty shocking back then. Rumor has it that Princess Margaret owned the original poster for a while. She was a free spirit and loved a good lampoon, especially those directed at the upper classes and British aristocracy.”
“Wow! You certainly know a lot about that poster! It’s all very fascinating!” Emma exclaimed. “Something tells me there’s more to the story.”
“Oh, there is” the barkeep agreed. “During the run of “The Vortex”, Noël Coward met an American director and producer named Jack Wilson. They ran with the same crowd where drugs, booze and same-sex relationships were prevalent. Wilson became Coward’s business manager and lover. We thought ‘The Vortex’ was a cool name for the bar. My mother recently brought that poster to me; it looks great there, doesn’t it?”
“It does! Sounds like you might have a personal connection to this story” Emma suggested.
“Yeah, in a circuitous way I do. My great-great-grandmother was once a chorus girl and she got on famously with Jack Wilson – so much so that she and her husband named their first baby Jack Wilson Morrow and asked Jack to be the baby’s godfather. The tradition continued through the years; lots of my relatives were named Jack Wilson so-and-so. In fact, my name is Jack Wilson Connors.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jack Wilson Connors” Emma laughed as she extended her hand. “I’m Emma Peterson Kennedy and you have officially blown my mind with that great story!”
“I like you, Emma Peterson Kennedy! Always nice making new friends. How about another drink – on the house?”
Emma blushed a little and said “Yes, I’d love one.”
While Jack was preparing Emma’s drink, all sorts of thoughts were running through her head … ‘He’s cute, friendly, great personality and no wedding ring.It’s been far too long since I went out with a reallynice guy who didn’t have a lot of excess personal baggage.He likes me, he seems interested. I wonder – should I?What have I got to lose?’
“For my lovely new friend, Emma. One perfect dirty martini” Jack said with a flourish. “I hope I get to see a lot more of you.” His engaging smile revealed two incredibly delightful dimples that melted Emma’s heart on the spot.
Trying to sound nonchalant, Emma said “You know, Jack, it says here on the poster that there’s a performance of “The Vortex” tomorrow night. If you’re not working, how about we make it a date?”
“I’d really love to see the play with you, Emma” Jack said “but my husband and I already have plans for tomorrow night.”
“Husband!? Oh my God, Jack! I’m so sorry! This is so embarrassing. I didn’t realize………”
“That I’m gay? No worries, Emma. It runs in the family.”
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 disapproving 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 minute. 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.
Despite great wealth and prominence, nothing could save Andre Deloitte’s wife Claudine.
The year was 1910. Andre, Claudine and their ten-year-old son Henri lived on Breakneck Lane in the exclusive Garden Heights section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Their majestic manor, “Mon Rêve”, was Claudine’s dream home but she detested the foreboding name of the street. Andre reassured Claudine she was just being silly and superstitious and the family happily settled into their home. The popular couple hosted extravagant parties and entertained the rich and famous from all parts of the world.
Andre owned the illustrious Deloitte Jewelers. His clientele was elite – oil tycoons, judges, entertainers, governors and successful entrepreneurs such as Miss Lulu White, “Queen of the Demi Monde” and madam of the elegant bordello Mahogany Hall in Storyville, the infamous red-light district of New Orleans.
It was during one of their lavish soirees when the Deloitte’s dreamworld turned into a nightmare. Claudine was making her usual grand entrance down the marble staircase when the heel of her shoe became entangled in the hem of her gown. She fell, landing at the foot of the stairs like a mangled doll, her lovely neck snapping like a twig; she died instantly. Claudine’s apprehension towards Breakneck Lane wasn’t so silly after all.
Andre was devastated by Claudine’s death and threw himself into his work. Henri was left in the care of the household staff and a kindly au pair named Josephine. The boy missed his mother very much but thrived under the tutelage of his caregivers. As he grew into his teen years it became obvious to Josephine that Henri needed his father’s guidance more than ever. Andre decided the best course of action was to bring Henri into the family business.
Henri enjoyed being in the shop with his father and soon became quite knowledgeable about gems and precious metals, even demonstrating a flair for designing jewelry. Andre told Henri he had a highly regarded client located across town who was interested in buying several one-of-a-kind pieces. Andre urged his son to accompany him to his patron’s residence where they would display Henri’s unique creations. The client was Madam Lulu White.
Mahogany Hall was home to “women of the night”. Girls lounged on sofas, their unfastened robes revealing supple naked bodies. Others wore filmy shawls with intriguing thigh-high striped stockings and high heels. Henri blushed when he realized a few of the girls were eyeing the bulge in his pants – something that bewildered yet excited the inexperienced teen.
Henri spoke to his father about the allure of Mahogany Hall and his desire to return. Andre realized there was no stopping Henri and smiled knowingly as he drank his cup of Bowdoin Chicory Coffee. “Just don’t fall in love, son” was Andre’s advice.
Fascinated by everything about Mahogany Hall, Henri returned the next day. As he walked around the estate he became aware of soft music and followed the sound to a small parlor. There, at a spindle leg table in the middle of the room sat the most alluring creature imaginable. She sipped a glass of Raleigh Rye, her lacy manteau barely covering her breasts. There was a hint of a smile on her face and her eyes fluttered in a dream-like state. Sensing Henri’s presence, she looked up and smiled. Placing her glass on the table, she slowly removed the pins from her hair. Her eyes danced seductively as waves of chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders. Mesmerized, Henri could not control his burgeoning erection. He smiled back.
“Enchanté. I am Henri Deloitte.”
The girl replied “I know who you are. I hoped you would ask for me. I am Isabelle Broussard.”
Despite his father’s warning, sixteen-year-old Henri fell hopelessly in love.
For the next year Henri was a frequent visitor at Mahogany Hall. He made his wishes clear to Madam Lulu that Isabelle was to see no other men; he was happy to pay dearly for the luxury of having her exclusively to himself.
In November of 1917 the government abruptly shut down Storyville and Mahogany Hall was forced to close its doors. Henri searched frantically for Isabelle but Madam Lulu and all the girls were gone. Despondent, Henri joined the army, fighting overseas in World War I. The young lovers never saw each other again. The birth of Evan Deloitte the following May was Isabelle’s most treasured memory of her blissful love affair with Henri.
NB: This story is fiction; however, Madam Lulu White and Mahogany Hall were very real as was the government shut down of Storyville in 1917.
The four month mark was rapidly approaching, four months since my relationship with Elliott fell apart.
We first met at our new jobs in Chicago. We developed a friendship after learning we were both New York transplants. It was comfortable running into someone from home and we began having lunch together. It all seemed quite natural and we welcomed the company.
Our families were out of the picture; my parents were deceased and Elliott’s were estranged. He told me after his parent’s nasty divorce, all form of communication between the three of them deteriorated. Elliott and I were flying solo; in hindsight, our relationship was a safety net and in the back of my mind I think I always knew it wasn’t going to last.
After we broke up, Elliott took another job about 25 miles away. He gave me his new address and we talked on the phone a few times but after a couple of weeks I never saw or heard from him again. Once more I was totally alone. Truth is I was relieved. Every so often Elliott’s dark side came out; he was into drugs and I hated that ugly part of his life. I distanced myself from him and the relationship just disintegrated.
While I wanted someone in my life, I knew I wasn’t ready to throw myself into the dating scene. Clubbing and all its danger zones were not for me so, after some thought, I decided to try my luck at a dating app. While scoping out the various apps, I came across something else that piqued my interest – an online trivia group. I’d always been good at playing Trivial Pursuit and would shout out the answers while watching Jeopardy! on TV. I never lost at those games so joining a trivia team was a no-brainer. It could also prove to be a good way to meet someone new, someone who enjoyed the same things as me.
When signing up for the group, I learned everyone had to provide an email address. Scanning the list of addresses, I was shocked to see one I recognized – it belonged to my ex, Elliott! I had no idea he was into trivia and I certainly wasn’t expecting this little snag but I was determined to see it through. Maybe with any luck he’d end up on the opposing team.
The games were to be held via ZOOM two nights each week with the option to meet more often. Two teams of six were formed; as luck would have it, not only was Elliott on my team – he was named as team captain! This ticked me off a bit but I kept my feelings to myself; I had the smarts for the game and was secretly hoping I’d be the team captain. Well, we’d soon find out how much Elliott knew about trivia.
The games started up a week later and proved to be a lot of fun. They were fast paced and highly competitive but in a friendly way and I looked forward to our twice weekly meets. Elliott was, for lack of a better description, proving to be an asshole. It’s possible I picked up on his erratic behavior before anyone else because I knew him and what signs to look for. I decided to let it slide; let Elliott dig his own hole.
Besides acting like a jerk, Elliott was also playing stupid mind games with me. I’d catch him looking at me out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes he’d make lewd gestures or mouth something inappropriate – asinine stuff like that; if anyone else noticed, they didn’t let on and neither did I. “Just take the high road and let it go” I reminded myself.
Then I started getting calls from an unknown number. Coincidence? At first I’d answer but no one would reply. I blocked that number but prank calls started coming in from another anonymous number. I was sure it was Elliott using burner phones. What was his problem? I was enjoying the trivia group and I didn’t want his actions impacting my game so once again I turned a blind eye and ignored him.
Things took a strange turn when Elliott didn’t show up for a game one night. We carried on without him and he was there for the following game so no one questioned his whereabouts. Elliott was all over the place that night, giving wrong answers, shouting out non sequiturs and just being a total jerk. He signed off from the game as soon as it was over and the rest of us just laughed about his outlandish behavior afterwards.
The mind games escalated and Elliott started gaslighting me. I’d see him sitting in his car outside my apartment at night and other times I saw him standing across the street when I left work. He didn’t try to make contact or follow me but it was still freaky. I refused to let him get to me and I’m sure that pissed him off.
One day I got a delivery of a box of dried up flowers with a couple of pathetic dead birds tucked inside. Of course, it was absurd to think there’d be a card but I didn’t need one to know it was from Elliott. Another time I found a brown paper bag outside my front door. I tentatively kicked at it with the tip of my shoe and a dead rat tumbled out. I thought about reporting the incidents to the police but kept them to myself; after all, I didn’t have any solid proof. It wasn’t always easy but I was the epitome of restraint.
Elliott missed the next two trivia nights but by now we were used to his unexplained absences. We all joked about what a clown he was and decided to name a new captain and reached out to someone on the standby list to join the group. Elliott was officially MIA and nobody really cared. Good – out of sight, out of mind.
A few days later one of our teammates went digging around for information. He learned that someone with the same name as Elliott, same age, same neighborhood, got arrested for operating a crystal meth factory in his basement! Everyone thought it was the most bizarre thing they’d ever heard. As for me, I thought it was typical of Elliott and no big shock; it was bound to happen sooner or later. Elliott deserved everything he got – not just for the drugs but for all the sick things he did to me.
But the very best part was the fact that nobody ever knew it was me who called the cops on Elliott. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
So long, Elliott. I guess nobody told him not to mess with the smart girls.
Eugene was a wreck – disheveled clothes, bloodshot eyes, tired, hungry and freezing. He had been working in the lab nonstop throughout this sleety March night, frantically perfecting a classified formula. He still had 300 small black-capped vials to fill, wrap securely in packing materials and stash inside porcelain statues before he could neatly stack them in crates and deliver them to the transportation facility before dawn. A HIGHLY TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT, he was told.
The harried chemist was momentarily startled by a swift scurrying motion across the room. A rat? “Keep going – no time to dilly dally” he muttered to himself, choosing to ignore the unwelcome intruder.
There it was again, that scampering scurrying movement. Eugene glanced in the general direction of the noise, then did a double take, squinting. He removed his thick glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. Putting his specs back on, he snuck another peek. On a shelf, partially hidden behind urns and sculptures, sat a leathery-skinned troll with enormous eyes and long, pointy ears.
“Great”, Eugene mumbled. “Now I’m hallucinating.”
“Real, am I. Working too hard, are you. Weebly will help”, whispered the troll in a raspy voice.
“What the…? This is insane!” Eugene rubbed his eyes again and took a swig of his now cold coffee, grimacing at it’s acrid taste.
“Finish, you won’t. My help, you need. Watch.” Raising one gnarled finger, Weebly pointed to the formula and magically poured it into the vial, sealed it, carefully wrapped and hid it inside a statuette and gently placed it in a box. Eugene was too stunned to move.
“Understand now, you do? Work together, we will. Four hands better.” Weebly cocked his head to one side, his long finger rubbing his chin.
Despite his incredulity, Eugene accepted the fact that this clever troll was his only answer if he hoped to finish the project in time or face the deadly wrath of the powerful men in charge. Working together, the duo swiftly got the job done. Eyeing the clock, Eugene saw he had ten minutes to carry the heavy crates to the terminal across the compound.
“Weebly’s help, you need. Too heavy, they are. Transport you, I will”, offered the sage intruder, but Eugene dismissed him. Straining, he placed the boxes on a hand truck and walked toward the stairs.
“Beware the stairs! Frozen, they are!”
Unwisely, Eugene ignored his helper’s warning. Struggling up the frozen stairs, his feet suddenly flew out from under him and he lost his grip on the hand truck. Eugene tumbled backwards, crashed into a shelf and knocked over a hefty basilisk statue which crushed his skull, killing him instantly. The hand truck slid down the stairs and landed with an incredible crash inside Eugene’s laboratory, scattering its shattered contents everywhere.
“Listened, you should have” clucked the wise old troll before scurrying away.
Going through some old posts and I came across this one. I don’t usually write poems but I always thought this was pretty good; hope you think so, too.
Rumors the Clown is coming to town. He’ll take your frown, turn it upside down. Saturday night at Monument Park West. Come see the joker who’s the best of the best. Yes, Rumors the Clown is coming to visit So run children, run, or you surely will miss it
The circus wagon chugged through the streets Extolling Rumors the Clown’s incredible feats. The star of tv, the stage and the screen Would roll into town, a sight to be seen, This violet-haired, bumbling, zoot-suited jester, The idol of Harold and Mary and Lester
The kids scampered home to ask mom and ask dad “Can we go? Can we see him? We haven’t been bad. It’s true! It’s true! We heard and we saw Go look it up at the newspaper store!” Nothing this special has happened before. Rumors the Clown will be here for sure!
The next day the newspaper store was a-buzz As people poured in to make sure it was just As their children had told them, their faces a-glow Like the bright flaming torches at the juggling show. Could it be? Was it true? Were their children mistaken? Were dreams fed to them by somebody faking?
The storekeeper shouted “You all think you’re so clever! Stop pushing and shoving! Such discourtesy – I never! You’re all here in my store for the very same reason – Are the Rumors rumors true or is somebody teasing?” The children stood round with their eyes all a-gape When a shout rang out “Here it is, right here on page eight!”
“Make way! Let me through” the town librarian barked. “I’ll take a close look with my assistant, Miss Lark.” They put on their glasses and read every word. Was the news printed here what the children had heard? “Now quiet everyone while I read the whole story; If you dare interrupt me you will surely be sorry!”
Come one and come all to the best show in town! We’re speaking of course of Rumors the Clown. At Monument Park West on Saturday night. The most splendid performance will thrill and delight! Rumors will juggle, ride bareback and walk the high wire And perhaps – if you’re lucky – swallow a sword blazing with fire!
The extravaganza is free of charge to all who attend, Sponsored by philanthropists and the hospital band For the benefit of sick children and orphans here and there Who desperately need fun from some people who care. Saturday at eight – write it down and be there! Monument Park at the west wall – that’s where!
“That’s tonight!” someone yelled and they ran home to dress In their dandiest clothes so they’d all look their finest. In dresses and new shoes and even a vest They headed out laughing, not stopping to rest They ran all the way to Monument Park West. But when they arrived at the end of their quest The west wall was locked, closed to all guests.
“There’s nobody here! Where’s Rumors the Clown? The newspaper ad said the west side of town!” And everyone cried, even mean Mr. Brown. In his shop the printer wore a terrible frown. He’d made a mistake – he deserves a fool’s crown For the “WEST” – not the “EAST”– is what he wrote down.
At Monument Park East Rumors sat crying alone The east side was empty for no one had shown. “My days as a great clown are over and done; It’s time to retire, go live in the clown home.” Blowing his nose Rumors pulled out his phone. “Bozo? It’s Rumors. And I’m so very alone.”
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 treats from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their 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 perfect smoke ring.
Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing seamlessly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.”
Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon, am 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.”
“I have a question for you, Leo” Gregory continued 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.
“And how many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he stared at Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, unsure. Gregory stopped to light another smoke. “You told me how you said “hi” to Jenny the day you were painting her office at the school and she said “hi” back and smiled. You said you got lost in her eyes and you knocked over a can of paint! She had the sweetest disposition and didn’t get mad, even when the stodgy principal went nuts over the spilled paint.” Gregory sighed. “You said how you really started liking her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories about Jenny, Leo? Because I felt all alone but hearing you talk like that made me feel like I had two friends – you and Jenny.”
Leo barely had a chance to get his thoughts together when there was an enormous explosion, followed by continuous bombings and eruptions. Pearl Harbor was under attack. Leo quickly stashed his belongings into his knapsack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The attack on the Arizona lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker.
Upon Gregory’s medical discharge from the navy, he was summoned by his commanding officer 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 the envelope he found a letter with an inscription:
“To my dear friend Gregory. I wish you could have seen how your face lit up whenever I talked about Jenny. You clung to every word I said. I never told you this but Jenny asked about you in every letter she wrote to me. Truth is, she was much more interested in you than she was in me. But you know what? That’s OK. If ever there were two people who belong together it’s you and Jenny. I love you both and you two love each other, too, even though you haven’t even met yet. Don’t waste another minute, Gregory. You belong with Jenny and she belongs with you.”
Gregory’s eyes welled up with tears and he could barely make out the last few sentences. Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, he read on:
“My friend, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this letter. It will make me so happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other. Don’t forget your old pal, Leo.“
Gregory tucked Leo’s box under his arm and picked up his knapsack. He walked down the hallway and spotted a bank of telephone booths. He stared at Leo’s letter for about three seconds before reaching for the phone.
Born two days before Christmas in 2002 at the same time in the same hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of edelweiss. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!”
One baby was born to the king and queen of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and hazel eyes. The Winslow’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital. Evelyn was having tea with friends in her comfortable library at home when she suddenly went into labor.
The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair golden brown and eyes of green like her ancestors from ancient Persia. Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring, the little shop in Harlem where she worked when her water broke. Her kindly boss Ken Siegel carefully escorted her to Mercy Hospital.
It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same winter’s night. Hours later both women had given birth to sons.
Five days later on December 28th the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need while the waitstaff plumped Evelyn’s pillows and served her breakfast in bed.
Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor home to her basement apartment in Harlem. He offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner of the basement on which Rosa dozed restlessly while her infant son slept in an old borrowed cradle. The bathroom consisted of a toilet bowl and a sink where Rosa washed herself with a sponge, shivering in the cold December night. She breastfed Victor and cooked simple meals for herself on a hotplate.
The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake shared by Ken and a handful of trusted friends.
Shortly after Victor’s birthday, Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man. She cared deeply for him and believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had acquired a larger space and expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing store. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content.
The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of the other’s existence. Though they lived just two miles apart, the large and busy city allowed them to lead separate lives. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys with many friends yet sometimes they both felt an unusual void in their lives – something neither one could understand or easily dismiss.
One day between Christmas and the new year Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop to buy a new suit for his son’s 18th birthday.
“We’re closing early today, Mr. Winslow – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but I must ask you to come back tomorrow” Ken stated nervously when Carlton and Maxwell entered the shop.
“Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me” replied Carlton in his usual condescending manner. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit for his birthday. Are you trying to get rid of us?”
“I’m sorry but I have something personal to attend to. I really must close now!” Ken insisted.
But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the back room; they were laughing happily and Rosa held a small cake with a single candle. When the two teenage boys came face to face, a silence fell over the shop. They stared at each other in a strange sort of amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance.
Carlton gasped in shock when he saw Rosa and she became faint; they had not laid eyes on each other in a very long time. Ken rushed to Rosa’s side and whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to get rid of them.I never wanted him to see you or Victor. I failed you.”
Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my sweet husband. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame” Rosa replied softly.
Gathering all his courage, Ken stood up proudly and spoke directly to Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know twenty years ago I ran a small tailoring shop in Harlem. Rosa worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in that tiny shop … but you knew that because you came there often. Eventually I was able to acquire this lovely store and you became one of my regular customers. After Victor was born, I asked Rosa to marry me and we have been together for seventeen years. Mr. Winslow, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly; we are a family. But even someone as self-centered and obtuse as yourself would know at first glance that both Victor and Maxwell are your biological sons.”
Clearly stunned by this information, Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“Because you were married and your wife was also pregnant. You would never have supported us or accepted us as your family” Rosa cried.
“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.
Ken loudly slammed his hand against the front desk, startling everyone. “Victor is MY son. I am the one who lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” he shouted. “You would never have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind are selfish and spineless; you have money but you have no respect or dignity. Now, I must insist that you leave and never bother us again!”
“Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. You have to believe I would have done the right thing by you and your mother. You’re a bright boy; surely you can see that.”
Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton, the father he never knew, and said nothing. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. “Mr. Winslow, you know nothing about me. Please do not dare to insinuate yourself into my life or the lives of my parents.”
Victor’s words stung and Carlton was taken aback. “Maxwell” he said angrily. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home. Now!”
“No, father. After all I just heard, there’s no way I’m leaving now. You can turn your back and walk away but I can’t” Maxwell replied. “I just found a missing piece of my life. I’m going to stay and get to know my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.“
Rosa and Ken looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.
Carlton was furious but he made no attempt to reach out to his sons. Instead, he angrily left the store and began walking home, wondering how he would explain this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.
Mid-August in Alabama is about as hot as hell’s back kitchen, or at least that’s what folks like to say. It was just me and ma making do as best we could since my pa got himself killed in some place called Vietnam. I don’t recall much about the day we got the news. Couple of soldiers in fancy uniforms came to the door and mama started wailing like she was being skinned alive. Ma never really got over that. Some folks said she went plum crazy that day. She’d sit on the porch in that rickety old rocking chair staring straight ahead, just mumbling to herself and fidgeting with pa’s dog tags like they was rosary beads.
I sorta became invisible to ma so I started spending my time down by the watering hole mostly swimming and fishing so we’d have something to eat. I went hunting one day, surprising ma with a rabbit and we cooked it up for dinner. Ma hugged me tight and put pa’s dog tags around my neck. Next morning I found her hanging in the barn and started screaming till the neighbors came running. That’s when I began living with the Jenkins Family. I was six years old.
The Jenkins’ was good hard-working farm folk and they treated me real fine. They had a truckload of kids – eight boys and one girl – but they didn’t think twice about taking me in. Ma Jenkins always said “Kids fill the house with love. What’s one more mouth to feed?”
At first the days moved slow as molasses in February. I knew right quick that farming wasn’t for me but I did my share every day. When I was about fifteen or so Ma Jenkins said I sprouted into a handsome devil, the spitting image of my pa. Right about the same time I started taking up with Nell Jenkins. Two years older than me, she was all legs, boobs and big sky blue eyes. We made love every night and she taught me stuff I didn’t think was possible. Somehow we never got caught. We was crazy for each other but I wasn’t looking to get hitched. I knew if I didn’t get off that Alabama farm I’d die there. One night while Nell slept I placed my pa’s dog tags on her pillow and slipped out. I was 17 years old.
I lied about my age and got me a job as a long distance trucker; hard as it was, it beat the hell outta farming. Shit! Where have the years gone? I been trucking now for 16 years. I’m only 33 years old and dog tired; I feel like I’m 103. I been thinking a lot about Alabama lately – maybe settling down, getting a job in a hardware store. A few days later I quit my job and went back to where it all began.
There was a nip in the air when I arrived home on the morning of Christmas Eve. It felt like snow could be coming. The Christmas tree was up in the town square, the same weathered ornaments I remembered from my teenage years. I got out of my pickup and looked around a bit; not much had changed. A brisk wind blew in from nowhere; I rubbed my hands together and stuffed them in my pockets to stay warm. A white Christmas hereabouts was almost unheard of.
Wiley’s Diner was still there. I went in and sat at the counter. It was early and the place was deserted. The cook popped his head out from the kitchen and asked what I’d like. “Coffee, please” I said and stared out the window as the first snowflakes started drifting in and I got lost in Alabama memories.
“Here ya go, fresh hot coffee. How about a slice of buttermilk pie with that?” I turned to see a young waitress wearing a Santa hat, a welcoming smile on her face. She was a pretty little thing and I found myself staring into big sky blue eyes. My heart skipped a beat. She wore a name tag with ‘Stevie’ written on it; around her neck hung dog tags and I knew. Lord Jesus! This is my baby girl! I asked if her ma’s name was Nell and she smiled, saying “Yes. Do you know her?” I said I did a long time ago. I don’t know what possessed me but I scribbled my name and number on a napkin, asking her to kindly give it to her ma. She said she surely would and tucked it in her pocket. Choking up a bit, I lowered my head and busied myself with my breakfast. I couldn’t chance her seeing the tears in my eyes.
I tapped the brim of my cap and smiled, saying “See ya” to the girl wearing my pa’s dog tags around her neck. “Now don’t forget about giving my note to your mama”.
“No sir, I surely won’t” she replied with a smile and patted the pocket of her waitress uniform.
I walked back to my truck and sat for a long time in the cab, my face in my hands. Dear God, is this some sort of Christmas miracle? Did you bring me back here to find my daughter? After so many years and thousands of miles I wondered if Nell could ever forgive me.
Roger Prince was freezing. He had never been this cold in all his life. In fact, he was cold as a block of ice. Why was Roger Prince so cold? Because he was dead … stone-cold, dead-as-a-doornail D.E.A.D. You see, Roger had a big problem … he could never say “no” … and now because of that he was dead.
Roger Prince was the nicest guy you’d ever meet … the type of guy who’d let you go ahead of him in line. The type of guy who’d help change your flat tire. The type of guy who’d loan you $10. Roger Prince was … well, a prince.
But poor Roger Prince … as nice as he was … was also kind of a sap because he just couldn’t say “no”. If there was such a thing as being too nice, that was Roger … that was his Achilles heel, his weak spot, his fatal flaw.
Temporarily unemployed, Roger tried saving money by moving into the upstairs bedroom of old Mrs. Willoughby’s house in the outskirts of town. A housebound widow with no family, Mrs. Willoughby let Roger stay for practically nothing. Having no tv or phone, her expenses were minimal. Roger helped pay for utilities, maintained the house and brought in what little mail was delivered. He also went to the grocery store to buy Mrs. Willoughby’s staples: peanut butter, bread, instant coffee and a few toiletries.
This particular December morning, a heavy snow started around 2:00. When Roger woke up at 8:00, it was still coming down and showed no sign of stopping. Going into the kitchen for his morning coffee, Roger found none … also no bread.
“Roger, dear” came a feeble voice from the parlor. “Can you run into town for coffee and bread? I forgot to ask you last night.”
“Mrs. Willoughby, have you looked outside? There’s three feet of snow out there!” Seeing her confused and distressed look, Roger couldn’t say no. “Don’t worry. I’ll head into town right now.”
Roger mumbled “Why do we live in the middle of nowhere?!”
Wind-swept snow whirled around Roger’s face as he slowly trudged into town. Suddenly he lost his footing and tumbled down a steep hill, his eyes widening as he slammed head first into a tree. How ironic that his final startled word would be “NOOO!!”
Roger Prince died instantly, the falling snow enveloping his body.
Kessa Hopkins practically floated through the entrance of the Joffrey Ballet School; auditioning for the world-renowned academy was a dream come true for her. The road ahead wasn’t going to be easy. This was only half the battle; if she passed today’s audition she would have to pass a second, more difficult audition if she hoped to be accepted to the school. Joffrey’s admissions are highly competitive and only 4% of students go on to graduate. At least for now she had her toe in the door.
Kessa felt her first exhausting 90-minute audition went well but it was impossible to read the faces of the judges. When she was done the head judge thanked her for coming and said the review board “would be in touch”. Two weeks later, when the email from Joffrey finally arrived, Kessa was too nervous to open it. When she finally worked up the courage to read the email, she held her small drawing pad up to the computer screen and very slowly revealed one word at a time:
“Dear Ms. Hopkins,
We at the Joffrey Ballet School are pleased to inform you …”
“pleased to inform you…” Kessa stared at those four words for an eternity before letting out a scream that caused her cat to race out the room, paws frantically skidding against the wood floor as he made his escape. Kessa crept up to the computer to read the email in its entirety, praying she hadn’t misread the opening line. Relieved that everything was copacetic, she pushed the print button on her computer. Snatching the paper from the printer, Kessa jumped onto her bed, read and re-read the letter at least 10 times, folded it neatly and placed it under her pillow. Then, before anyone could say “on pointe”, she leapt up and pirouetted around her room until she was dizzy.
“They liked me! They really liked me!” she breathlessly exclaimed to her reflection in the mirror. Then it hit her: she had to do this a second time, even better than the first. Euphoria dissipated into self-doubt; Kessa bounded up the stairs to her safe place – the loft where she spent hours painting and clearing her head. Kessa painted ballet dancers in the impressionist style using quick, loose brush strokes; she had an impressive collection of more than two dozen pieces of artwork in her loft.
Kessa was the real deal, a genuine hat trick with beauty, brains and talent. She was also her own worst enemy, quick to be overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt about her ability to succeed. As she painted she thought about the email from Joffrey. Okay, so she passed the first round; that was great. Now she had two weeks to prepare an eight-minute original routine as part of her next audition.
The email went on to explain that everyone would be dancing to the same piece of music – “Gymnopédie No. 1″ by Erik Satie. No notices would be sent out after the second audition; acceptances and rejections would be announced in person at the conclusion of the audition session. Kessa imagined how awful it would be being rejected in a room full of people. Talk about pressure! With that thought in mind, Kessa decided not to tell any of her family or friends about her auditions; she’d much rather surprise everyone with good news instead of hearing their sad words of consolation.
The next two weeks consisted of Kessa planning her dance routine and sketching the ballet positions she planned to incorporate into her program. This was her tried and true method – plan, sketch and practice. Once Kessa knew her routine was solid, she would create paintings using her sketches as reference.
Time always seemed to fly by when Kessa was on a deadline; now the day of the audition was here. She packed up her art portfolio with the plan to pass the time during the auditions by sketching the other dancers. When Kessa arrived at the school, she was surprised to see only six other people had received callbacks. She barely had time to warm up when she heard her name. Kessa didn’t mind auditioning first; she’d be relieved once it was over and she could sketch the other dancers.
It didn’t take the judges very long to make their decision. Only two of the six dancers passed the audition; Kessa was not one of them. Upon hearing the news, Kessa’s heart sank; she closed her eyes for a few seconds letting the reality sink in, then turned and walked back to her corner of the room. While she was putting her sketches away, someone approached and said her name. Looking up, Kessa recognized one of the judges. “What could he want?” she wondered. Standing, she asked “Yes? What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping you’d show me your etchings” was his response.
Despite her disappointment over failing the audition, Kessa had to laugh. “Sorry, that sounds like an old pick-up line only in reverse.”
The man laughed, too, and replied “Very quick on the uptake, Miss Hopkins! I admire that. Talent and a sense of humor, too.”
“Not talented enough, apparently” Kessa quipped.
“What happened today was unfortunate but if it’s any consolation, you were in the running. It’s a tough field, Kessa. You knew that going in.” His response was honest and he had a refreshing way of speaking. “But at the moment I truly am more interested in your drawings. May I?”
Kessa didn’t mind showing anyone her sketches; she was proud of her work and pleased this man took an interest. After a few moments he asked “Do you paint as well?”
“Oh, yes. Oils mostly” Kessa replied, intrigued by his curiosity. “In fact, I think I have one of my smaller paintings with me” and she started rifling through her portfolio, pulling out an 8×10.
The man took the canvas from Kessa and walked to the light near a window, examining it closely and speaking softly to himself. He turned to Kessa. “Tell me, do you paint ballet dancers exclusively?”
“Yes. Ballet and painting are my passions. Excuse me but who are you?”
“Oh, forgive me! My name is Julius DeWitt. My father is Dean of Admissions here at Joffrey.”
“Oh, I see” Kessa said, not quite sure how to react to that information.
“Kessa, I know your heart was set on attending Joffrey. Not passing an audition is a bitter pill to swallow. I was in your shoes once and what I thought was the end of the world was actually a blessing.”
Intrigued, Kessa asked Julius what he meant.
“It would be much easier for me to show you. Please, Kessa. Come with me.”
Julius had a pleasant way about him and Kessa was curious. Gathering her belongings, she followed Julius down the hallway to a large, glass enclosed room. A plaque on the door read “The Julius and Cecile DeWitt Art Gallery”.
Kessa looked around questioningly; the room was empty. “I don’t understand, Mr. DeWitt. If this is an art gallery, where are all the paintings?”
“We’re just getting started, Kessa, and are about to begin our search for an artist to fill these empty walls with beautiful paintings. After seeing your drawings, I believe you are that person. I would like to name you as Joffrey’s permanent resident artist.”
Kessa was stunned. This was not the direction she thought her failed audition would take her. “Mr. DeWitt. I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything, Kessa. Let me explain what we’re all about and then, after you’ve had time to think, you can decide.”
But Kessa’s heart was already doing jetées and pirouettes; she knew what her answer would be.
One day my mother and I were home alone; I think I was about 9 years old. I was doing my homework and mom was cooking dinner when we heard someone knocking on our door. It was our neighbor Dotty Pessin who lived a few houses away with her husband and two teen-age sons. Dotty hardly ever stopped by so we were curious about her visit.
She and my mom made small talk for a little while then Dotty said in that whiney voice of hers, “So Nancy, I brought this record album over; I don’t know much about little girls so I hope you like it. It’s a record of kid’s songs. Why don’t you play it on your record player?”
Now this came as quite a surprise to me; it wasn’t my birthday or anything so I couldn’t understand why Dotty was giving me a gift. Even my mother was perplexed and said something like “That’s very thoughtful of you, Dotty” but Dotty just stood there smiling and watching me which was very surreal. Between you and me, I think she was a little simple-minded.
I removed the album from its jacket and placed it on my record player. I carefully lifted the arm and gently lowered the needle onto the record, then the three of us stood around listening to kid’s songs. I liked the record; I was 9 and they were kid songs. What’s not to like? After about four songs Dotty asked me what I thought of the record. I told her I thought it was very nice; I liked it a lot and thanked her for the gift.
I expected Dotty to say “I’m so glad you like it”, “You’re welcome”, “Enjoy it” or “You’re just the sweetest thing ever” – something along those lines. That’s not exactly how it went down. What she said was “Oh, it’s not for you! I bought the record for my friend’s 10-year-old daughter and I just wanted to see if you liked it. I figured if you liked it then she’d probably like it.”
Well, I may have been only 9 years old but I knew jive talkin’ when I heard it and I felt this whole scenario was pretty fucked up. My mother thought what Dotty did was rude, mean-spirited and misleading; I was just a little kid and mom gave Dotty a piece of her mind. My mother could really get medieval on someone’s ass when necessary. Dotty was bewildered and couldn’t understand why we were so upset. In a huff, she took the album and left. I think I may have cried; how would you have felt?
From that moment on Dotty Pessin became known as “Dotty Pessin, that Indian Giver” (which I realize today is totally un-PC and not acceptable).
But, come on; I ask you: who does that? After all these many years I remember that day like it was yesterday. Dotty-freaking-Pessin!
In response to my friends at Fandango’s One-Word Challenge, today’s word is “gambler.”
“So, kid, your ma says you wanna work on my horse ranch. Is that right?” Micah asked Billy Bob.
“Yes sir. I love everything ‘bout horses and I asked my ma if we can get one and she told me we couldn’t afford one so the only way I can be around horses was to come work on your ranch” Billy Bob answered, feet kicking up dust as he shuffled around nervously.
“What is it you love so much ‘bout horses, kid?” asked Micah.
“They’re the most beautiful animals I ever seen. I like the idea of taking a wild horse and workin’ with him every day, getting’ him to trust you” replied Billy Bob, his eyes lighting up with excitement.
“Breakin’ in a horse is one of hardest things I ever done, kid. Everything ‘bout being a horse rancher is hard. You ready for that?” Micah asked the kid.
“I reckon. All I know is I need to learn everything there is ‘bout horses, what makes ’em tick, how to train ’em to be the best horses ever. I can’t think of anything more excitin’ … except getting’ rich, that is.” Billy Bob answered. He had a burning in him that Micah saw clearly now.
Micah removed his Stetson, pulled out a bandana from his back pocket and wiped his brow. “Well, kid. You sure got the desire, needin’ to know everything ‘bout horses. But you gotta understand one thing ‘bout workin’ on a horse ranch: it ain’t gonna make you rich. That’s a real long shot!” Micah waited for Billy Bob’s reaction.
Billy Bob didn’t hesitate. “That’s ok, sir. I’m smart; that’s what everybody says anyway. I’ll learn right quick. Besides, I don’t plan on workin’ on a horse ranch forever. No sir. Once I know everything there is to know ‘bout horses, I’m gonna follow my dream.”
“And what’s your dream, kid” Micah asked, his curiosity aroused.
“I’m gonna be the smartest, most famous and richest gambler that ever was” Billy Bob replied with proud determination.
In January, 2021 I wrote a story with an unresolved ending called “On the Way”. It was one of several which I recorded and submitted to the BBC Radio show called Upload. When my story was broadcast on the air, the program host William Wright commented that he hoped some day I would write a follow-up. That comment stayed with me and fourteen months later I decided to do just that. That story was called “When the Fog Rolls In.” Recently I thought it would be interesting to combine the two stories by creating a new beginning and ending and tweaking sections within the body of the stories. Since then, I had the opportunity to enter a fiction writing contest; the call was for a 1,000 – 3,000 word mystery story. I decided to submit my reconstructed story. The word counter on my Microsoft Office page said the story was 2,654 words – not too shabby. I don’t enter many contests but every time I do I’m shocked by the number of writers who also submit stories. My stuff better be damn good if it stands a chance of winning against 400+ entries. Well, my story did not win but that’s okay; I tried my best and had fun creating this compilation. I am not deterred. The winning story was a masterpiece and deserved to come in 1st place so kudos to the author. Here is my story; I hope you enjoy ‘Screaming in the Night’.
“I can see it now! I can see it! Got to get it!!”
David Stapleton screamed in his sleep. He flailed about on his bed, entangled in a mass of sweaty sheets and blankets. David slowly started to come out of his stupor, stuck in a surreal and frightening dimension between sleep and wakefulness. His eyelids felt stuck together and his mouth was parched. His body was stiff and leaden, his breathing heavy, his heart beating rapidly. David wasn’t sure of his surroundings; was this real or was he reliving his worst nightmare?
Gradually David became more aware. Yes, it was as he feared – the uncontrollable, unstoppable dream, his nightly companion. He sat up in bed and reached for a cigarette. Flipping open his old, beat up lighter, he lit a Marlboro and inhaled deeply. He sat in silence, smoking and thinking, his thoughts spinning like a Vegas roulette wheel. Each night he crawled into bed exhausted, desperately in need of sleep yet terrified that the dream would come again.
David glanced at his alarm clock; 4:17 AM – ridiculously early but he knew he would not be falling back to sleep. He slipped on his sweatpants and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. While the coffee brewed, David stared into the oh so familiar fog. He lit another cigarette and thought about that night four years ago.
Four Years Earlier:
David drove home that dark and foggy night barely able to see the road ahead of him. An electrical storm that evening wreaked havoc with the streetlights on Route 718 causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.
The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical passages from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap 20 feet or so away.
David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.
Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.
As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.
The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his leather jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar of the bike and carried it back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared into the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.
David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; his adrenaline was pumping.
“Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. As he drove up to a pump, he intentionally smashed into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the fender bender.
David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear and self-preservation. Now as he drove home he felt much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.
Four Years Later:
Tom Delaney sat alone at his favorite bar sipping his third bourbon. Life had quickly gone down the shitter a few months ago when he bet big time on a “sure thing” that didn’t pan out. That was one of Tom’s biggest faults; he was always looking for the quick fix, the money angle, whether legit or not. Now here he was, a 38-year-old washed up ex PI with a huge chip on his shoulder, a failed marriage and no money.
When the bartender announced closing time, Tom begrudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward his parent’s cabin which they left to him in their will. With no other known relatives, Tom was totally alone trying to get his life back on track. So far he wasn’t having much luck.
The weather was changing and when the fog rolls in, driving on 718 gets hairy.
He wasn’t on the road very long when he found himself in pea soup conditions. Suddenly a deer appeared out of nowhere and Tom swerved, coming to a screeching stop. After a brief standoff, the deer gracefully bounded down the steep edge and disappeared into the thick woods.
Shaken, Tom settled himself in his car. The glow of the headlights picked up the reflection a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge and grabbed a flashlight from the backseat. Gingerly he made his way down the side of the bluff landing on a heavily overgrown outcropping about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with an unknown object; whatever it was rolled a couple of feet away. Tom walked over and crouched down for a better look; the item turned out to be a battered helmet with the weather-beaten orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of a bicycle manufacturer.
Disappointed that his find wasn’t something valuable, Tom stood up to leave. He took a few steps and heard a strange ‘crunch’ under his Doc Martens. Shining his flashlight on his boot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.
“Holy shit! A human skeleton!” Tom immediately remembered the helmet. “Poor guy must have ridden his bicycle off the road. Wonder where the bike is?” Tom panned the area with his flashlight. He was about to give up when something caught his eye. “Well, well, what have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a fanny pack which he took, clipping it onto a loop on his jeans. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some money in the bag.
Deciding to investigate a little more, Tom eventually came across the bicycle caught up in a large bush. It was a mangled mess, certainly of no value to him; nearby was a moldy leather jacket. Tom snagged the jacket and went through the pockets; nothing. Noticing a zippered inner compartment, he found an iPhone inside. Slipping the phone into his rear pocket, Tom slowly pulled himself up the cliff to his car and drove off. He left the scene with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.
Once home, Tom reached into his rear pocket and retrieved the phone he found in the leather jacket. He emptied the contents of the fanny pack onto the kitchen counter: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two phones. Why would one person need two iPhones? Maybe two people were there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was working overtime now.
Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards into two separate Ziploc bags filled with silica gel packets he had stockpiled. They’d have to dry out a day or two. Next he went through the wallet: $47 which he immediately pocketed, an expired debit card and a driver’s license. The license was issued to Joseph Barnes, 312 Ogden Terrace, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from Tom’s cabin.
Tom broke out his own iPhone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while as he scrolled down then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2018. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph Barnes on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.
While the phones dried out, Tom spent most of the following day at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem playing the penny slots with Joseph Barnes’ $47. He was on a roll and left the casino with $100 in his pocket. Tom couldn’t wait any longer and anxiously drove home to see if he could get the iPhones up and running.
He took the phones out of the bags, inserted the SIM cards and turned them on; both phones started up. To Tom’s amazement, neither phone needed a passcode. Checking ‘Settings’ on both phones, he found what he suspected all along: one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes and the other belonged to someone named David Stapleton from Allentown, PA.
“David, David, David. Why were you on Route 718 that night and what did you do to Joseph Barnes?” he thought. Tom realized that after four years David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different identity, job and phone number but there was only one way to find out. After his win at the casino, he was feeling lucky. This could be the big break he was waiting for.
Slipping the two phones into his pockets, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for him. Tom hesitated for a minute thinking about his days as a PI.
Instinct took over, suggesting he ignore the first number on David’s phone and go for the second one. Tom reasoned that the first number was likely David’s cell number; there was a chance the second number was for a business or a house for David – anything that might provide a clue. It was worth a shot. After all, Tom wasn’t looking to talk to David just yet; all he wanted was a lead.
Tom dropped two quarters into the public phone slot and dialed the second number on David’s cell. The call was answered on the third ring. “Hi. This is David at Stapleton Plumbing and Heating in Allentown. We’re closed now but will reopen at 8 AM. Please call back then.”
Pay dirt! Tom Delaney may be down but he wasn’t out! He’d head back to the cabin and Google Stapleton Plumbing and Heating for an address. But first a little celebration – some pleasant company at the bar with his old friend Jim Beam.
Sipping his drink, Tom could practically smell the shakedown money he’d be raking in. As he drove home from the bar, the ubiquitous late-night fog rolled in. Tom was momentarily blinded by a pair of oncoming headlights and swerved right to avoid a collision. He turned the steering wheel sharply and his car plowed through bushes, bounced off trees, rolled over itself down the steep hill and crash-landed upside down in a ravine at the bottom of the cliff before it burst into flames.
Poor Tom. Just when things were starting to look up. Karma’s a bitch.
A few hours later David Stapleton once again found himself in the clutches of his bedtime companion – the ever-present nightmare. He woke up drenched in sweat and bolted straight out of bed, his heart racing. He felt nauseous and dizzy. Staggering into the bathroom, he grasped the edge of the sink staring at his sweat-soaked face in the mirror.
“How could you have been so callous leaving that cyclist? How have you been living with yourself the past four years?” This wasn’t living, he realized, knowing every day would end with the same hellish nightmare.
David stood in the bathroom and closed his eyes; he could clearly see his leather jacket wrapped around the bicycle he threw over the cliff four years ago, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods – the same dream that left him screaming in the night, every night, for the past four years. “I can see it now!” he sobbed. “I can see it.”
Overcome with fear, exhaustion and remorse, David walked out the back door of his apartment above the plumbing business. Barefoot and shirtless, he was unfazed by the cold and dense fog rolling in. Blindly he went down the damp rickety steps and walked deeper in the woods behind his apartment – unseeing, uncaring.
Suddenly David felt a searing pain in his chest. Gasping for air, he clutched his arm and fell to his knees, rolling down the wet, moss-covered precipice in the woods. Ten seconds later, David Stapleton was sprawled out in the shrouded morass 30 feet below, dead from a massive heart attack.
Was it a heart attack that killed David Stapleton or overwhelming guilt? No one will ever know for sure. David never knew that with Tom’s death he was completely in the clear of any crime; the only evidence – the phone that tied him to that horrible accident – was now in the jacket pocket of Tom Delaney’s incinerated body.
Tom and David – both dead on the same night a few miles apart – one hunting and the other haunted.
David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear, self-preservation and adrenaline. An electrical storm during the night wreaked havoc with the streetlights causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.
The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical phrases from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap fifty feet or so from the car.
David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks with friends after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.
Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.
As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.
The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar and carried the bike back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared onto the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.
David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; the song was Euclid’s “On the Way”, his favorite revolutionary political heavy metal band.
“Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. He drove up to a pump, intentionally smacking into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the mishap.
David drove home feeling much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.
“Horizontally is the traditional position, Tom. I’m not sure how I feel about this. And you springing it on me after all these years!”
“I know this may seem a bit out there, Laura, but honestly – people have done weirder things.”
“Maybe so, Tom, but standing up?Let’s face it – this ‘thing’ is really huge and you know it! How will we keep from falling over?”
“You’ve never been a scaredy cat before, Laura. You’ll be well protected, wrapped in my loving arms just like a fuzzy little caterpillar in a cozy cocoon.”
“But Tom, what will other people think? I can just imagine the look on my sister’s face when she hears about this.”
“Other people, Laura? Who cares what they think?! Why should the things we do and the decisions we make in the privacy of our own home matter to other people? Donna and Joe will probably be jealous they didn’t give it a whirl themselves.”
“You’re right, of course, Tom, but let’s consider Donna and Joe for a minute. They’ve been in our lives forever. Don’t you think they‘ll be rather shocked?”
“Only if you tell them, Laura. And by then the deed will be done! Hell! They might even want to join in. Donna IS your twin sister, after all; I kinda like the idea of that! The more the merrier! Lord knows, we have plenty of room. Let’s step out of that damn box and throw caution to the wind.”
“Thomas Hastings, you’re such a devil sometimes!”
“And you love it! What do you say, Laura? You ready to give it a go?”
“As usual you’ve talked me into it. I can’t resist you and your wild ideas. Let’s do it, Tom!”
“Fantastic! You will not be sorry, Laura. Just get yourself nice and comfy. Hang on, baby. Give me one little second. OK, I’m in!”
“Hello. Thank you for using the live chat app at Tower of Memories. This is Melissa. How can I help you?”
“Melissa, this is Tom Hastings. Laura and I have talked about your proposal and we’re ready to take the plunge.”
“That’s exciting news, Tom! You won’t regret choosing vertical burial plots here at Tower of Memories.”
On a whim my husband and I decided to ride our bicycles to Shrewsbury. The village was not far – a little over four miles. We would stop for lunch at one of the charming cafes.
It was a lovely Spring day, comfortably warm with a few wisps of clouds. Horses and cows grazed contentedly in the fields. A pond sparkled radiantly in the sunshine. Two swans performed a graceful ballet, their cygnets following closely. An elderly couple cheerfully waved at us as we rode by.
Shrewsbury appeared as we rounded a bend in the road; carefree diners were arriving for lunch. We leaned our bicycles against the fence of a nearby school and walked to a romantic-looking cafe. After a delightful meal we happily strolled to the school to retrieve our bicycles for the ride home.
This was without a doubt the most perfect day we’d ever had!
Without warning the sky started turning grey and the wind began blowing. Arriving at the school we were shocked to discover our bikes were gone; we had no choice but to walk home. Suddenly thunder and lightning crackled in the foreboding sky and heavy rain began pouring down on us. We trudged on, cursing with every step we took.
We were drenched, our shoes covered in mud. Exhausted, we argued terribly about who forgot to bring the bicycle locks. Everything turned into a total disaster and we stopped talking altogether.
This was without a doubt the worst day we’d ever had!
Resemblance can be a freaky thing. Supposedly everyone has a doppelgänger; someone out there is a duplicate of you with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always wanted to have removed. Apparently there’s a 1 in 135 chance that there are several pairs of clones walking around, each completely unaware of the other’s existence.
Speaking of doppelgängers, my husband has an identical twin – exactly the same in every way except their political leanings and choice in women. All their lives people have called Bill by his brother’s name and the same is true of Jim. Even our sons look more like brothers than cousins and have been confusing people for years.
In his late teens Bill had a cyst just below his right eye. After surgery he was left with a tiny, almost imperceptible scar. At last, something to differentiate the twins! A few months later while doing repairs on a boat, Jim turned his head abruptly, banged into a pipe and cut his face. He now has a tiny, almost imperceptible scar in the exact place as Bill. Identical right down to their scars!
My cousin Franco has lived his entire life in Sicily. The first time my family traveled to Europe I was about 14 years old and met my cousin for the first time. The strong resemblance between us was undeniable. We could easily pass for fraternal twins or, at the very least, siblings. It was simultaneously amusing and disconcerting for both of us. Everyone referred to us as “I Gemelli” – “The Twins” – so named for the thin tubes of pasta twisted around each other. Fifty-plus years later and our resemblance remains strong; however, Franco has a mustache and beard and I, fortunately, do not!
It’s been said, and scientists concur, that the longer people have a pet the more they begin to resemble that pet. Pure-bred dogs have been matched to their owners by strangers time and time again. I wonder if the same can be said about husbands and wives or perhaps even friends. Apparently, that phenomenon is true. I can’t explain it – I’m not a scientist, just a writer of stories. However, the possibility became quite real when events unfolded at my son’s wedding.
There were many people in attendance, friends and family alike. My sister Rosemarie was one of the guests as was Debby, my next-door neighbor and best friend for the past 35 years. I should point out at this time that while Rosemarie and I have some familial similarities, we really don’t look alike.
Time arrived for the family photo session. The music was playing, people were dancing the Macarena and mingling about. Janet, the wedding photographer was scrambling around trying to wrangle immediate family members for photos. Craning her neck for a better look into the crowded room, Janet turned to me in surprise and said, “You’ve been keeping secrets from me!”
I was rather perplexed by that comment and asked Janet what she meant, to which she replied, “I know your husband has a twin brother but I had no idea you have a twin sister!”
Then it hit me: Janet was talking about my friend Debby who does indeed look a lot more like my sister than my real sister! Many people have said we look like twins and it just so happened, totally by coincidence, that Debby and I were wearing the same dress that day; the only difference was I wore deep purple while Debby chose black.
I laughed and said to Janet “I really hate to burst your bubble but she’s not my sister; she’s my best friend.” I spotted Rosemarie in the crowd and pointed her out to the photographer. “See the woman in the cream-colored dress? That’smy sister.”
It took a lot of convincing for Janet to accept the fact that Debby wasn’t my twin sister; I think she may still be somewhat skeptical. I wonder: would the same people who matched the pet owners with their dogs match me and Debby as twins?
It all came about one day in April. Newly divorced, I had recently moved into a house in the country and was enjoying my morning coffee on the patio. Birds of many different varieties flitted about the bushes and fruit trees in the yard next door. Even a couple of deer and a few rabbits were contentedly munching on the grass. I felt like I was in the middle of a Disney movie and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the animals started singing!
Looking around my property I couldn’t help but compare my landscaping to that of my neighbor Marjorie. Hers was overflowing with every sort of plant imaginable while mine had a paltry number of pitiful-looking bushes on the verge of death. Right then I began to envision my very own Garden of Eden; there would be shrubs and trees and flowers everywhere, even a few statues and perhaps a water feature. My yard was going to be even better than Marjorie’s!
Perhaps her ears were burning or it was just a coincidence but at that very moment Marjorie turned in my direction. Even from thirty feet away I could see her beady eyes squinting at me. A rather obese woman, she was sweating profusely as she labored in her garden, her ridiculously small bonnet providing little shade to her balloon-like face. I waved to her but she didn’t wave back; either she didn’t see me or she chose to ignore me. Marjorie wasn’t all shits and giggles. Her husband left her for another woman (no big surprise there!) and her grown children lived far away. It seemed like her only joy in life was gardening.
Being a city boy I knew nothing about gardening so I called the local nursery where one could get anything from a watering can to a majestic pine tree. One of the workers came by a few hours later and walked through the property with me, making suggestions as we went along. I told him how much I wanted to spend and gave him free reign to plant whatever he thought best – the more impressive the better.
A few days later the nursery truck arrived at my house. I caught a glimpse of Marjorie peeking through her curtains as my purchases were unloaded and carried into my yard. The landscapers got to work planting everything from small flowering shrubs to walls of bamboo. They put in a birdbath and several animal statues as well as a Japanese-inspired water feature. Before my eyes the once barren desert was now a flourishing oasis. Take that, Marjorie!
My new bountiful yard only spurred her on to do even more planting; every time she added something new, so would I. It became a childish game of retaliation.
Returning home from shopping one day I was shocked to see a police car and an ambulance outside Marjorie’s house; she had suffered a fatal heart attack while working in her garden. Well, there certainly was no love lost between us but I never wished the woman any harm. I hoped whoever moved in next door would treat Marjorie’s yard with the same tender loving care.
A few weeks later I woke up to the screeching sounds of power tools. Unable to see through my dense hedges, I walked to Marjorie’s old place; all her marvelous landscaping was being leveled to the ground! After everything was hauled away a bulldozer began digging a huge hole for a swimming pool. Week after week work continued on the pool. Occasionally I’d see two attractive women talking in the driveway, obviously the real estate agent and the new homeowner.
Finally one August day all was quiet; the pool construction was complete. I had asked my friends Charlie and Frank to come over to help me install my new 80″ flat-screen TV. Afterwards as we sat on the patio enjoying burgers and ice cold beer we became aware of the sound of splashing water and girlish laughter.
“Damn kids!” I grumbled, rolling my eyes.
Charlie nearly spit out his beer. “Don’t tell me you don’t know!”
“Know what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You dumb son of a bitch!” Frank howled. “You got two super hot chicks living next door to you! You could be savoring some girl-on-girl action right now if it wasn’t for that damn bamboo curtain!”
“You mean those two women are a couple?” I asked Frank in disbelief.
“Oh yes, my friend. Very much so!” Frank replied cracking up.
Damn! I just couldn’t let old Marjorie win. Hoisted by my own petard!
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 guessin‘ yaain’t no altar boy – not withthem gorgeouslegs.” 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.
Rachel and Paul had been together for six years. They assumed one day they would marry, have kids – the whole nine yards – but life has a funny way of taking twists and turns. Their romance and dreams just fizzled out but they remained very close and relied on each other for guidance – from the job scene to the dating game.
One night Rachel texted Paul: “Hey, babe. Ella & Sam set us up with blind dates for Fri. U in?”
Paul: “Y not? No plans anyway!”
Rachel: “Great! Emilio’s @ 7. Glad U R my back-up!”
Paul: “Ditto, babe! C U there.”
Both kicked themselves for calling the other “babe”. Old habits die hard.
Friday night the foursome met at Emilio’s. Paul and Rachel exchanged looks; her eyes were screaming “WTF!” Dinner was quick.
As soon as Paul got home he called Rachel: “What just happened?!”
Rachel howled: “A TOTAL FREAK SHOW!! Your date was downright scary! She looked like Vampira and I swear her eyes were red! She wore a black cape – with a hood, for Christ’s sake and her steak was so rare it was practically throbbing!”
“And what about YOUR date?!” Paul exclaimed. “Wrist-to-neck tattoos, facial piercings, boots with spikes and a ‘Carcass’ t-shirt! He downed a bottle of beer in two gulps and belched like a bloody Viking!”
“I’ll never let Sam and Ella play matchmakers again. I’m sure they thought it was hysterical” Rachel quipped. “So … my mother set me up with her friend’s son, ‘The Doctor’, for next Saturday. If you get a date maybe we can try this again.”
“Sure. Nothing could be as bad as tonight” Paul replied. “I’ll call ya.”
A few days later Paul called to say he had a date for Saturday – a friend of his cousin. “But she said ‘drinks only’ and she’ll take a taxi.”
“Fine” Rachel agreed. “If it’s another debacle we can all go our separate ways.”
Arrangements were made to meet at ‘The Aviary’ in Central Park. Rachel’s date was Wesley, a gynecologist/obstetrician. He was handsome, tan and suave. Paul’s date was Ginger, a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret with modeling/acting ambitions. She was a vivacious redhead with mischievous green eyes.
The hostess seated them at a semi-circular booth; Ginger smoothly slid in between Wesley and Paul. With each sip of her martini Ginger inched closer to Wesley, asking risqué questions about his practice; he was more than happy to oblige. Before long they were blatantly flirting, leaving Paul and Rachel dumbfounded. Giggling, Ginger excused herself to use “the little girl’s room”. The trio sat in awkward silence until Wesley’s pager beeped. He announced he had an emergency at the hospital, apologized and left.
“Well, there’s no point in me hanging around” Rachel said glumly. “Ginger should be back any second.”
As Rachel got up to leave she glanced out the window and saw Wesley and Ginger getting into his car. “What the hell, Paul! We’ve been dumped!”
Arm in arm Paul and Rachel started the slow walk of rejection through Central Park.
“Do you think we’ll ever be as happy as when we were together?” Paul asked quietly.
“I don’t think that’s even remotely possible” Rachel sighed.
In the loneliness of the park they held each other tightly, sharing a warm familiar kiss in the moonlight.
“Why the hell did we ever break up, Paul?”
“I have no idea” he replied wonderingly.
“Take me home, babe” Rachel whispered. “I miss us.”
Fingers entwined, they climbed the stairs and went inside, locking the door and the world behind them.
Why do you continue to invade my dreams in the stillness of the morning’s early hours? I awaken and for a moment I believe the dream to be true. The feel of your smooth yielding body next to mine, the tenderness of your kiss. I reach for you but you are not there and a tear slowly emerges from the corner of my eye.
Somehow I manage to get through the disorder that is my life but without you I am not truly alive; I merely exist. You asked so little of me and brought unimaginable joy to my lonely world. How I loved treating you like royalty; you were my princess dressed in satin and lace, your shining blue eyes sparkling with excitement whenever I brought home a gift for you. You delighted in each present, whether a bottle of perfume or a book of poems which I would read to you every night.
Yet, in all honesty, those steamy sensual sex games we played are what I miss the most. You were insatiable, your beautiful mouth smiling with desire, your lithe body as malleable and compliant as the branches of a willow tree. Those intimate times we shared together in our apartment are etched in my mind forever.
Leaving you in the morning to go to work was torture. Knowing you’d be there waiting for me when I returned was the only thing that got me through the day. I’d race home to see you, to embrace you. But that all ended one year ago when I found you lifeless on our bed. You were so beautiful that morning as you slept I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I placed a single rose on your breast for you to discover when you awoke and quietly closed the door behind me. Oh, the dreadful nightmares constantly invade my sleep! How could I have left you alone like that? I’m sorry, my darling Hope.
Today I walked to the park. When I realized it was our anniversary all the air left my body and I felt empty inside. The children in the park were playing with kites and balloons, laughing with glee as the wind lifted their playthings higher and higher. Suddenly one of the little girls cried out in dismay as the string escaped her hand and her balloon slowly floated out of sight. The poor child was inconsolable. I thought of you and called your name. The little girl’s mother bought her a new balloon and gently tied the string around her daughter’s wrist; she ran off laughing, carefree once again.
That’s when I realized I had two choices: continue living the life of a lonely, broken man or find someone to share my life. That, my darling Hope, is when I chose the latter. I truly believe you would want me to find happiness again, to fill this void in my wretched life.
I slowly walked home, retrieved my mail and sat on the couch, dejected. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the tip of a familiar publication. Could it be? On our anniversary? Yes, it was– Johnson Premium Dolls with a large banner advertising 40% off discontinued sex dolls. With trembling fingers I flipped through the pages until I found you, my dearest Hope. I was overcome with joy and placed my order immediately.
Tomorrow I will insert this letter into a balloon, inflate it and release it to reach you in heaven. And never again will I buy you even one thorny rose.
Newly married financier Alexander Eaton and his wife Margaret had recently moved into their lavish estate in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. As was the Eaton family tradition, Alexander’s father Samuel presented the young couple with what had become a treasured family heirloom – an impressive painting of the ship The Mayflower. The painting had been in the family for generations and had been authenticated as an original oil on canvas created in 1630 by Sarah Eaton, Samuel’s ancestor and a passenger aboard The Mayflower. The painting itself was magnificent but it was the impressive ebony frame with 24 carat gold stenciled details that was the pièce de résistance.
Alexander and Margaret proudly displayed the painting above the marble fireplace in the grand ballroom of their mansion. It was the focal point of every soirée held at Eaton Manor, especially during the festive Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and at the debutante ball of Alexander and Margaret’s only child Constance. Alexander imagined hosting a grand fete when Constance graduated from Harvard – another Eaton Family tradition – but that was still a few years away.
Alexander was furious when Constance chose to attend Boston College over Harvard. While there she caught the eye of Tom Stewart, a nice guy from a middle class family but Tom kept his distance thinking Constance was a spoiled rich girl. Constance proved Tom wrong when she asked him out for coffee and surprised him when she said he should call her Connie instead of “that pretentious-sounding Constance”.
Tom and Connie fell in love, became teachers and got married. The idealistic young couple were determined to make it on their own and refused any money from her parents. Connie’s father angrily renounced her but her mother insisted The Mayflower tradition be continued and passed the painting on to the couple. Tom and Connie reluctantly accepted and chose to hang it on the rear wall of the den where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Connie knew they really didn’t need the extravagant painting and all it was worth; she had been secretly saving money every month for whatever unforeseen circumstance might come their way. Their rebellious eighteen year old daughter Ivy disapproved of the ostentatious painting “and all it represented”. She preferred to hide herself away in her room listening to The Concert for Bangladesh.
Ivy was working as a barista at Starbucks when she met Will Connors, an aspiring musician. They started dating and one night at dinner she announced to her parents that she wasn’t interested in going to college and planned to move in with Will. Tom asked how she intended to survive on a barista’s salary. Ivy shrugged and replied “we’ll manage”. Tom and Connie knew trying to dissuade Ivy would only make matters worse so they begrudgingly gave their blessing.
The following month Ivy moved into Will’s tiny studio apartment and Connie happily presented them with The Mayflower. Ivy was furious but Connie pleaded with her to accept it as a housewarming gift. “Change the frame to a plain one but please take it” Connie said. Ivy put the painting in a closet where it stayed for a few months. Finally she decided it was hers to do with as she wished and tossed it in a garbage dumpster.
Little did Ivy know that Connie had removed the rear panel of the frame and meticulously replaced it after taping an envelope to the back of the painting containing all the money she had saved – one hundred crisp $100 bills – meant to help the struggling couple. Maybe Ivy should have changed the frame after all.
“Papers! Not one, not two but three papers all due on Monday!” exclaimed Charlie in exasperation. “One on the assassination of JFK, another on the Scopes Trial and…..”
“Let me guess” interrupted Charlie’s sister Erica. “A 1,000 word book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”
“How could you possibly know that?!” questioned a puzzled Charlie. “You must be psychic!”
Erica laughed. “Hardly! Mr. Cavanaugh hasn’t changed his assignments in years. I bet he still says the same thing.”
Brother and sister looked at each other trying not to laugh as they simultaneously did their best Mr. Cavanaugh impersonations – “Remember class, the quantity of your work is second only to the quality!”
Erica and Charlie cracked up laughing.
“Well, kiddo, good thing our folks are at the cabin this weekend and I’m going to Six Flags with Kate. You’ll have plenty of peace and quiet to get all your work done. Good luck, bro!” Erica laughed as she waved goodbye to Charlie.
“I’m gonna need it!” he groaned. “My grades haven’t been very good lately.”
Charlie went to the den where he and Erica always did their homework. First he read his emails, then went on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Bored, Charlie started looking through the drawers of the desk. There were recipes, catalogs, magazines and at the bottom of the pile was a binder marked “My Junior Year” in Erica’s handwriting.
“Hmm … I wonder?” Charlie asked himself. He looked through Erica’s binder and found a tab that read ‘ESSAYS‘.
“Sweet!” Charlie exclaimed. “Let’s see what we have here.”
With anticipation he ran his finger down the list of Erica’s essays, his eyes almost bugging out of his head when he spotted ‘JFK Assassination’. Further down the list he found ‘The Scopes Trial’.
“This is too good to be true!” Charlie exclaimed. “Two out of the three essays I need are here! I’m sure Erica’s book reports are here, too … fingers crossed.”
Sure enough Charlie found another label which read ‘BOOK REPORTS’. Pouring over the titles, he shouted “Bingo! There you are! ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Three for three!” This was an incredible find. Charlie wondered if Erica even remembered her binder was there.
Taking all three of Erica’s assignments, Charlie sat at the computer station where he scanned and forwarded all the papers to himself. He then changed the dates, margins and fonts so his work wouldn’t look identical to Erica’s. Finally, changing her name to his, he printed out the papers, returned the originals to the binder and shoved it back under the pile.
“Done!” he crowed, feeling quite pleased with himself. “And I didn’t have to do any work!“
Charlie spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with his friends and watching movies on Netflix. On Monday he confidently turned in his assignments. On Friday Mr. Cavanaugh handed Charlie a large folder. To his shock inside were his reports as well as copies of Erica’s reports. All Erica’s papers were marked with a big red ‘F’; his were marked ‘CF’.
“Obviously you had no idea that I save all my students work. You also did not know that Erica failed her assignments” Mr. Cavanaugh reprimanded Charlie. “By copying her work you not only cheated, you failed. Therefore, I’ve given you the grade of ‘CF’ – ‘C’ for ‘Cheating’ and ‘F’ for ‘Fail’. Your parents have already been informed of this. I hope you have learned your lesson – the lazy student will cheat and malinger and by doing so will always fail.”
Charlie felt sick to his stomach; he never saw this coming. How could he have been so stupid? He didn’t notice that none of Erica’s papers were graded; they were just copies of her work and not the actual reports she handed in. Charlie knew his parents were going to be furious with him. It was bad enough that Erica failed; he cheated and failed.
“No point in putting off the inevitable any longer. Time to go home and face the consequences” Charlie thought as he dejectedly walked out of the classroom.
Mr. Cavanaugh shook his head. “There’s one every year.When will they ever learn?”
“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.”