JUST DESSERTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

LOCK IT UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering he currently had no income, Omar accepted.

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

+ + + + + + + +

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2020

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS

Papers and leaves were snatched by the gusty autumn wind and scattered about the street like so many pieces of flotsam and jetsam.  It was getting dark and Frederick knew he had to find his wife Helene before something bad happened, before she hurt herself – or worse. Helene had been terribly distraught this morning – more so than usual – and judging by the quantity of bourbon missing from the bottle, she was also probably quite drunk. Another horrible fight with his mother, Frederick assumed. 

Shoving his hands into his coat pockets, Frederick hunched his shoulders against the cold harsh wind. As he searched the streets for Helene his mind began to wander back to a time years ago when things were better, back to when Helene was whole. How happy they had been, just the two of them so in love. They bought a cute brownstone soon after getting married, living there blissfully by themselves, making plans for the future. 

When Helene learned she was pregnant they were ecstatic; she even began knitting a baby blanket. Then the miscarriage happened, followed by three more. Four babies lost and a multitude of dreams crumbled and forgotten. Helene had to have a hysterectomy and fell into a depression. No babies ever for the young couple – only the two of them alone in a sad empty house. Frederick urged Helene to consider adoption, but she refused and her depression deepened. How could one woman bear a sorrow so heavy?  

A few months later Frederick’s father committed suicide, due in no small part to his mother’s constant badgering and belittling. Not wanting his mother to be alone and despite Helene’s protests, Frederick moved his mother in with them. He thought Helene and his mother might provide some companionship for each other but the two women soon began arguing. Helene could do nothing right in Frederick’s mother’s eyes. She even went so far as to flaunt Helene’s inability to have a baby, goading her on by calling her a dried up empty vessel, a disappointing failure. 

As Frederick walked rapidly through the streets, he tried to figure out what had happened earlier. He had arrived home from work to find the door wide open and the house in disarray. Dishes were shattered on the kitchen floor. The phonograph had been knocked over, his mother’s favorite record in smithereens. Frederick had called out but no one answered. He’d frantically raced through the house, stopping at the entrance to his mother’s room; her door was slightly open and he could see she was asleep, curled up in her bed. Helene’s coat and purse were hanging on a rack by the front door but she was nowhere in sight. 

Suddenly Frederick snapped back to the present as he spied Helene at the train station; she was standing perilously close to the edge of the platform. Cautiously he walked toward her and whispered her name. Helene whirled around and Frederick was shocked to see the crazed look in her eyes and the cuts on her face. Helene tried to run but Frederick caught her. He cradled her in his arms as they walked home. 

When they reached the house, Helene began giggling like a little girl and told Frederick she had a surprise for him. Bewildered, he followed her up the stairs to his mother’s room. Helene motioned for Frederick to be quiet as she tip-toed to the bed. She threw back the covers, revealing his mother’s bloody body, knitting needles deeply embedded in her neck. Frederick recoiled in horror. Helene grabbed her knitting needles and lunged at him, stabbing him repeatedly while screaming maniacally “This is your fault! You brought her here! This is all your fault! ALL YOUR FAULT!!” 

Frederick collapsed to the floor in a bloody heap. The last thing he saw was Helene plunging out the bedroom window.

NAR © 2019

WHEN GYPSIES CRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2019

BEYOND THE SEA

We were at our yearly reunion in Montauk – three college friends and me on a break from our husbands and kids. 

My friends wanted to take the ferry from Montauk to Block Island and return the next day. I’d been there before and it was exactly like Montauk. I suggested we do something different like rent a sailboat or go hang gliding but I was vetoed.    

“This is great!” I thought, relishing the idea of being able to do something by myself. 

After lunch I decided to take our inflatable raft down to the water – spend some time working on my tan then check out that new restaurant in town. The raft was no frills – a nylon ladder, a paddle and a 15 foot docking rope.    

As I paddled out of the harbor, people waved to me from nearby waterfront restaurants and fishing boats. Clearing the jetty, I stopped paddling and let the ocean swells carry me out to sea. I stretched out as the sun danced off the water and the waves lulled me to sleep. 

When I awoke I was surrounded by a darkness so pitch black I couldn’t see a thing, not even my hand in front of my face. There was no moon or stars and I had no idea where I was. The sea was relatively calm and I thought perhaps I could try to paddle the raft until I caught a glimpse of light but the darkness was so intense I was afraid to move. My skin felt burned and my mouth was incredibly parched. 

I heard it before I felt it – a surging rush of water quickly approaching me. I blindly searched for and found the inner ropes of the raft and held on tightly. Then it was upon me – a huge wave heaving me forward and pulling me back again. I have no idea how long the surges continued – hours, perhaps only minutes of being tossed about like a rag doll – but I managed to keep my grip and stayed afloat in the raft. 

Just as the waters calmed I became aware of something butting the side of the raft. There it was again! I felt it half in the raft, large and slimy, and I instinctively reached for the paddle which was secured in place. Blindly I swung at whatever this creature was until I finally made contact. Somehow it made its way into the raft and I pounded it repeatedly until I knew it was dead. I scampered as far away as I could and curled myself into a ball. 

“Ahoy!” I squinted in the sun at a nearby fishing boat. Ahoy! Do you need help?” 

“Yes! Can you give me a tow?”

“Sure but it would be easier if we untangled your raft from this pier and you paddled to the beach 100 feet away. By the way, sure looks like that inflatable dolphin got some beating!” the fishing boat captain chuckled.   

Mortified, I paddled away to peals of laughter. 

NAR © 2019

SCARY HOUR

We woke to a muggy summer day. My husband Bill was away on business so it was just me and our two rambunctious boys – Billy, who was four years old and David, two. 

At 6:00 AM on the dot the boys came racing into my room, screaming their usual “Mommy! Wake up! We want breakfast!” 

“No way!” and I greeted them with big hugs. “You should make breakfast for me!” They jumped on the bed laughing. “That’s silly! We don’t know how to cook!” 

The boys ran to flip on Sesame Street while I made pancakes. Billy asked if we could go to the beach. 

You know, I think the beach is gonna be really crowded today. How about we plan our own beach in the backyard with the the sandbox, pool, and lots of toys to play with … and we can even have a picnic! Sound good?” And they nodded approvingly. 

Around noon we headed out to our make-believe beach, carrying a basket of PB&J sandwiches. The boys played all day getting sufficient filthy. Before dinner we hosed off and ran inside to the bathroom for a proper washing. Billy showered while I bathed David in the attached tub. Grabbing a towel, Billy ran to his bedroom. 

Mommy, there’s a spider in here” Billy called out. 

“Buddy, I’m busy with David. Get a tissue and squash it’ I answered. 

“But it’s really big!!”

Thinking I better go in and check things out, I wrapped David in a towel and went into the bedroom where Billy was in his tent. 

“Where’s Spidey?” I asked. Billy pointed to his bed. 

Placing David with Billy I examined the bedspread until I spotted it – a brown recluse! Using my ‘Mommy Voice’, I told the kids to “stay put”. I raced to the kitchen, grabbed an empty mason jar, removing the cover and lid on the way back. I braced myself, then in one fell swoop I covered the spider with the jar. Reaching for the thin lid, I gently slid it between the bedspread and the jar, praying the spider would oblige and crawl down the jar. IT DID!! Placing my palm on the bottom of the jar, I carefully eased my other hand between the bedspread and the lid, turning the jar upright. I grabbed the screw-on cover, trapping the spider. 

Grasping the jar I slumped to the floor just as Bill returned home. “Where is everyone?” he called from downstairs. 

“Up here, Daddy! Mommy’s Wonder Woman!” 

“Is that so?” Bill asked

“Say ’hello’ to my little friend” I said as I raised the jar for Bill to see.  

Later we talked about how that brown recluse could have found its way to our Manhattan house. Then I said “Didn’t Jim borrow our suitcase when he went to Arizona? The little bugger must have crawled in while he packed for home.” 

“That suitcase is safely locked in the storage closet” replied Bill. “It better not have brought its family along for the ride! Tomorrow Jim’s gonna have some serious cleaning out to do.” 

.

NAR © 2019

A PITIFUL MYSTERY

Within the four walls of a hut in Wingdale, NY there once resided a couple, recluses who kept to themselves. It’s said that everyone has a story and this couple was no exception. 

Many years ago as young newlyweds they longed for a child but were not able to conceive. They sought the advice of seers, gypsies, magicians and an astronomer. They were given advice, told to try this method and that, including eating a stew made with boiled lentils, cows liver and tomatoes and a tea made with the branches of the nettle plant. 

The couple tried for years without success when suddenly the wife, now middle-aged, found she was pregnant. The thrilled couple consulted the seers, gypsies, magicians and astronomers who told them the wife was too old and the babe would not survive. But survive it did and grew inside its mother, causing her great discomfort, malformation and pain. Finally the time arrived for the birth and the midwife was called. 

The wife labored for hours and the baby’s head finally began to crown. As more of the head began to emerge, the midwife screamed in terror and ran from the hut, leaving the couple alone to deliver their baby.

Trepidatiously, the husband took the midwife’s place and immediately recoiled in fear and disgust. The wife pleaded for her husband to pull the baby from her body but the babe was so repugnant, he refused. Reaching down between her legs, the wife grabbed hold and her eyes filled with fear as her hands touched the baby’s body for the first time. When her next contraction came she pulled until the babe was finally free. Asking her husband to bring the lantern closer so she could see the infant, the new mother gasped and cried out in horror and sorrow. 

The poor babe was grotesque for directly on the top of his forehead grew a large second head. The eyes were fused closed and the mouth was a mere slit. Oddly enough, the boy’s ‘normal’ head was beautifully shaped with extremely handsome features. 

“Toss it into the hearth” the husband demanded “and we will say he died at birth.” 

“I will not” exclaimed the wife. 

Her husband stared at the floor, then without looking back, he left the hut, heading to the tavern to drown his sorrows. Word of the birth had already reached the town but the father informed everyone that the baby had died. After a few hours and filled with remorse, he returned to the hut only to find his wife and baby gone. In the morning he went searching for his wife and baby but never found them. Eventually he died, a broken man. 

No trace was ever found of the mother or baby. Possibly they died. Maybe they were befriended by a traveling circus. Perhaps they were apprehended and brought to the Wingdale Psychiatric Hospital. To this day the life of the pitiful and mysterious family remains just that – a pitiful mystery. 

NAR © 2019

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

Invisible in the temporary blackness of the night, the trio of soldiers separated from their regiment crept silently through the rain-soaked jungle. One had an injured leg as the result of a skirmish and was in excruciating pain. He knew his injury would impede their progress and he pleaded with his comrades to leave him to die alone with dignity, as was their ancestral custom. The steadfast friends were adamant and refused to abandon him in the middle of enemy territory. Instead they worked in tandem to  carry their wounded brother – a selfless act that did indeed slow them down but they would have it no other way and refused to discuss the topic any further. 

Exhausted and frightened, they persevered through the seemingly endless night, scrambling for cover as quickly and quietly as physically possible whenever they spied the opposition or heard murmurings in the darkness. Soon the slowly rising first light would inevitably dispel their cover and finding shelter for the day would become a priority. Looking around they took stock of their surroundings – trees, bushes, and marshlands – none of which would provide adequate  concealment or refuge. 

Walking on, the soldiers spotted a huge boulder in the distance and as they drew nearer they noticed a small aperture. The decision was agreed upon that one would investigate the opening while the other two hid beneath the shelter of the low hanging branches of a weeping willow tree. After a while the scout returned with good news – there was a small cave inside the rock with room enough for the three of them to take shelter. Painstakingly, one soldier carried his injured brother on his back and squeezed through the crevice while the third searched for something for them to eat. Finally for the first time in hours the exhausted trio was able to get some rest. Huddled together, they eventually drifted off to a fitful sleep. 

After a few hours, the wounded soldier awoke with a fever, his leg swollen and throbbing. Since it was now midday, it was too risky to leave the cave. Outside was sweltering and humid and the chance of them being caught, especially hindered by a wounded friend, would be great. No … they would stay where they were until it was safe to venture out. To pass the time they talked about life back in their village and the family members awaiting them. All they knew was army life, following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. It was not an easy life and they were in constant peril but they soldiered on. 

Suddenly their wounded brother heaved a ragged breath and died. Saddened yet aware they must move on, the soldiers covered him with rocks and began the slow crawl out. Without warning the long sticky tongue of a giant anteater slithered through the crack and swallowed the startled army ants. They struggled bravely, as courageous ants are wont to do, but in the end they could not prevail. 

Poor little buggers. 

NAR © 2019

A BLOODY MESS

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

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

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

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

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

“Meaning?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAR © 2018

#FSS

SWEET LITTLE MAGGIE

“Welcome, friends. You’re listening to Dr. Grey, ‘The Night Owl’. Let’s talk about what’s keeping you up at night. Caller, are you there?” 

Yes, I’m here and I feel a little foolish calling you about my problem. It happened so long ago.” 

“Let me assure you, caller, there’s no reason to feel foolish. Obviously whatever happened is still haunting you. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Whenever you feel comfortable, I’m here to listen.” 

“Ok .. here goes nothing. You see, I was born deformed. Growing up in a small Midwest town, I was teased mercilessly, especially by the other boys.” 

“I can see how painful that must have been for you. Please continue.” 

“High school was a living hell. There was a group of guys who beat me up every day. The only friend I had was a sweet girl who wasn’t disgusted by my deformity. It was real easy to fall in love with her. But she had a boyfriend .. the guy who treated me the worst. How I hated him! I started thinking of ways I could hurt him like he was hurting me.” 

“Caller, I can only imagine your pain. May I ask .. have you called in before? There’s something familiar about your plight. Please, go on.” 

“No, I’ve never called before, Chief.” 

“What did you just call me?” 

“Oh, did that nickname ring a bell, Chief? Yeah, big man on campus back in Madison, Indiana. It was you, Chief, who made my life a living hell, you who tormented me every chance you had and eventually turned my only friend against me .. my sweet Maggie. Do you have any idea how much I hate you? “ 

“Oh my God! Fred Waldron! Fred, I’m unbelievably sorry for all the pain I caused you. I was an idiot with a big mouth. But now we have a chance to….” 

“To what? Talk it out? Forgive and forget? I don’t think so. Too late, Chief. See, I’m dying. That’s right. My deformed body is riddled with cancer. I had one last thing to do before I die and believe me, it wasn’t to hear you apologize. It was to hurt you in the worst possible way.” 

“Fred, what do you mean?” 

“You’ll see. When we hang up I’m gonna put a bullet in my brain. And you? You should go home and check on your sweet little Maggie.” 

CLICK.

NAR © 2018

THE TENDER TRAP

The south side of Chicago is a dangerous place. Dingy bars, seedy hotels and strip joints are scattered throughout the city. Gordon Peters had a taste for all of them .. along with bourbon, brunettes and black silk stockings. 

Most nights Gordon would slither into his favorite bar, The Tender Trap, jacket collar turned up and hat low on his forehead.  He’d sit on the end barstool, order a bourbon and case the joint .. just the usual losers. But Gordon had patience. He’d nurse his bourbon, smoke his Marlboro’s and sooner or later she’d walk in .. maybe a secretary working overtime or a bored and lonely housewife. 

After about 45 minutes, she ran in from the rain, shook her damp dark brown hair, headed to the bar and ordered a martini. Glancing around the room, her eyes landed on Gordon, then looked away. He walked over and, removing his hat, asked if he could join her. She was startled to see how handsome he was – a regular George Clooney. 

Making himself comfortable, Gordon motioned for another round. They talked for a while; her name was Christine and she had recently taken a job as Pathologist at Chicago General.  He asked if she’d like to get a bite to eat and she agreed. After dinner, Gordon was ready to make his move. 

“Look, it’s stopped raining. Let’s take a walk.” Strolling the dimly-lit streets, he suddenly pulled her into a dark alley, pinning her against the wall. She could feel his hardness against her belly and forced herself to remain calm. Slowly he pulled a black silk stocking from his pocket and, wrapping it around her neck, began strangling her. The wetness in his pants and bourbon breath repulsed her. Gagging, struggling, her eyes bulged and she slipped to the ground. Removing the stocking, he placed it across her face snarling  “Courtesy of Gordon Peters“, and ran off. 

But Christine was smart. Being an M.E., she knew exactly how to feign death. She didn’t move until she felt safe, then ran to the nearest police station and reported the attack. The police said their detectives had been looking for this guy after four women were found strangled by black silk stockings. Now, thanks to Christine, they had his name and the name of the bar. 

The next night as Gordon left The Tender Trap he was surrounded by cops. Case closed. 

NAR © 2018

IN THE KEY OF GEORGE

With exactly 67¢ in his pocket, George Adams made his trek for a morning cup of coffee. He would walk from his rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment, buy his coffee and sip it while flipping though his beloved book, “The Complete Organ Method”. 

On this particular morning, he trudged through the slush in his beat-up boots, 67¢ jingling in his pocket. Placing the coins on the counter, he ordered his usual.

“Sorry” said the girl behind the counter. “The price is now 69¢.” 

Befuddled, he exclaimed “I’ve been a patron here for years. The price is always 67¢!” 

Apologizing, the girl explained that she didn’t set the prices. George scooped up his 67¢  muttering “oughta be some laws” and trudged back home. 

George was, to put it nicely, frugal. He grew up during The Depression and knew how difficult his parent’s life was. His father’s last words were Never trust banks!” Fortunately George was an excellent student, earning a scholarship to college and a grant to continue his studies, receiving a Doctorate in Music. 

His first job was assistant organist at Trinity Church. The following year the organist retired. George replaced him and began teaching organ lessons. He made a good salary yet continued his frugal lifestyle by eating canned soup, buying used clothing and drinking 67¢ coffee. 

George’s favorite student was Brad Ridgeway; he reminded George of a young version of himself. Brad worked in the mailroom at Dun & Bradstreet; his salary was so meager the only place he could afford to live was at the YMCA. He was determined to become a great organist some day but music school was beyond his budget. Brad’s parents worked for Walmart back in Ohio and he wouldn’t dream of asking them for money. Times were tough but he just kept on trudging through one day at a time. His only real friend was George; Brad didn’t realize it at the time but George felt the same way about him.

One day at his lesson Brad noticed that George was coughing more than usual and not looking well at all. He asked George if everything was alright, if there was anything he could do. George just shrugged it off, mumbling something about the long-term effects of a case of childhood tuberculosis. At the end of the lesson George handed Brad a small sealed envelope and whispered “Son, if anything should happen to me, I want you to open this. Keep it safe and don’t tell anyone. It’s for your eyes only.” Brad slipped the mysterious enveloped into his pocket, knowing better than to ask any questions. If George wanted him to know more, he’d tell him.

Uncharacteristically, George missed Brad’s next lesson. Brad waited at the church for about fifteen minutes then went to George’s apartment to check on him. The landlord informed him that “the old guy” had passed away in his sleep three days earlier. Crushed, Brad slowly walked home. Suddenly he remembered the envelope. Reaching into his threadbare pocket, he opened it finding a note with a key taped to it and the inscription “For Brad: G.C.S. #520”.

Everyone living in Manhattan knows “G.C.S.” stands for Grand Central Station and the key was obviously for a locker. Brad raced there, found locker #520 and with trembling fingers unlocked it to discover at least fifty paper bags stuffed with $100 bills! Scrawled on each bag was “NEVER TRUST BANKS!”

Dumbstruck, Brad slowly closed the locker and with tears in his eyes, he looked heavenward whispering “Thank you, my dear George!”  

NAR © 2018