For the first time in more than five years, Lydia was beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. After struggling through a failed business venture and the misery of a toxic marriage, she was back on her feet and ready to start over. But first a little R&R was in order.
Lydia’s longtime friend and former business colleague offered her the use of her vacation house in Punta Cana. Having never been to the Dominican Republic, she jumped at the opportunity to get away to a place where she was anonymous; it would be the refuge she needed to relax and reflect on getting her life back.
The house was tiny and secluded – perfect for Lydia. Her plan was to shut out the world and do nothing but eat, sleep and swim in the large pool which took up most of the back yard. With the exception of a tall locked wrought iron gate in the front of the house, the property was totally surrounded by a high, impassable bamboo fence. Lydia felt very safe alone in the house.
After breakfast on her first day, Lydia grabbed a towel, a book and a bottle of water and headed out to the pool. The day was glorious with brilliant sunshine and she sat under a thatched umbrella reading her book. The sound of the water swirling around the pool was too inviting and Lydia could resist no longer. Spying a nearby float, she waded into the pool and gingerly climbed on.
“Ah” Lydia sighed. “I’m never getting off this thing.”
The only sounds were the gentle splashing of the pool’s mini waterfall and an occasional bird calling out to its mate in the dense gardens beyond the house. It was idyllic and Lydia silently blessed her friend for the use of her home.
After about 20 minutes of bliss, Lydia’s reverie was interrupted by the barking of a dog; however, it sounded far enough away for her not to be terribly put off. The barking stopped for a while and Lydia relaxed but it started up again. This time the dog was closer and a little more persistent. “Great” Lydia murmured under her breath. “Just what I need. Maybe he’ll go away and stay away.”
But the dog did not go away and Lydia quickly became impatient and annoyed by the intrusion. “Excuse me” she called out to no one in particular. “Can you please bring your dog inside?”
No response and the dog kept barking. It got closer and louder and Lydia became increasingly pissed off. “Hola! Please take the dog inside!” she yelled, a little more forcefully.
Again, no response. By now the dog was barking and growling with a vengeance. Lydia was fed up and she lost her cool.
“Hey!! Shut your dog the fuck up!” she shouted in the direction of the barking. Soon after Lydia heard a man yelling in the distance: “Perro! Ven aquí!”
The dog barked once in response, his yelps becoming more and more distant. At last, peace had been restored.
Lydia must have dozed off on the float. Rubbing her tired eyes, she became aware of deep-throated growling sounds on the other side of the fence. The dog was back but this time he wasn’t barking. It was impossible to tell through the thick bamboo but it sounded like he had a bone or a chew toy and was gnawing away. Well, at least he wasn’t barking; she could live with the gnawing.
Lydia was lost in her thoughts for the future, the dog next door forgotten, when she was startled by aggressive scratching and burrowing noises near the fence. She glanced over and noticed the bamboo was shaking. She looked down and froze. Her blood ran cold and the little hairs on her arms stood straight up.
Panic set in as she saw the dog’s nose break through the bottom of the fence. Suddenly a huge, drooling mouth with razor-sharp fangs became visible. In the next second the lupine-like dog crashed through the bamboo barrier, heading straight for the pool.
Lydia let out a blood-curdling scream and flailed frantically in the water but she couldn’t get out of the pool fast enough. She was no match for the hungry wolf dog. The image of huge teeth and piercing yellow eyes inches from her face was the last thing she saw.
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.
Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Free love and hooking up. No strings, no regrets, no jealousy – just consenting adults getting stoned and getting it on. There was a clear understanding: never get romantically involved with someone else’s spouse.
The year was 1973.
Four young friends, Nathan and Brooke and Michael and April, lived in an apartment building in Riverdale. The girls were sexy and fashionable in their halter tops, tight low-rise jeans and platform shoes. The guys were good-looking and cool in their faded jeans, crisp white t-shirts and leather blazers. They had many similar interests and traveled in the same circle of friends.
Brooke and Michael broke all the rules. Their attraction was instantaneous. Everyone else was so out of it they never noticed that the duo always ended up together.
Brooke was one of those girls who was innately sensual and completely oblivious to the power she had over men. She was electric. Michael was handsome, smart, funny, sexy and vain, confident and fully aware of the effect he had on women.
Michael was a photographer; Brooke taught piano. They had the luxury of working locally while their spouses April and Nathan worked in Manhattan. It was very convenient for Brooke and Michael to get together whenever they wanted. He loved taking photos of her – hundreds of erotic nudes. He even let her take one of him, something he never let anyone do. She kept the photo tucked away in an inconspicuous compartment in her wallet.
For April’s 25th birthday she and Michael had a party with a lot of guests which gave Michael the opportunity to display his new photographs. One piece was an intriguing black and copper image on glossy Mylar poster paper. As Nathan and Brooke admired the print, Michael sidled up to her and whispered “That’s you.” She stared intently, tilting her head a bit. Then she saw it – the sultry vision of a face and woman’s body! Brooke was annoyed that Michael would display something so personal but also felt a rush; only they knew about the image hidden on the Mylar.
Time passed as it always does, lifestyles changed and the four friends slowly drifted apart. Brooke got pregnant and she and Nathan moved to Connecticut. Michael and April got divorced. Out of the blue one night Nathan and Brooke got a call from April: Michael was dead; he crashed his Corvette into a tree, dying on impact. The news was devastating, especially for Brooke. She barely slept that night thinking of all the times she shared with Michael.
A few days later Brooke received a package in the mail; a neatly typed address label was attached. Removing the wrapping, she was shocked to see Michael’s Mylar poster and the image of her naked body. Taped to the back of the poster was a large manila envelope full of Brooke’s nude photos and a note: “Consider this a gift; the negatives come with a price. Imagine Nathan’s reaction.”
The note freaked her out. Who sent this? There was no return address but the postmark read “Riverdale”. Brooke immediately thought of April and knew she had to get the negatives from her, regardless the cost. Nathan could never find out.
Brooke gathered everything, grabbed her purse and started driving towards Riverdale, towards April. All she could think about was Nathan and getting the negatives back. Michael promised he would destroy everything and she couldn’t believe he would lie to her. April must have known found the photos while going through Michael’s belongings or she knew about Brooke and Michael’s affair all along. Her mind on the past, Brooke almost missed the Riverdale exit and swerved erratically back onto the highway. She never saw the oncoming truck; Brooke died instantly in the crash.
At that exact moment Nathan sat in his Manhattan office opening a large manila envelope with a neatly typed address label. Stuffed inside were hundreds of negatives.
One must wonder which was more devastating for unsuspecting Nathan – the shocking news of his wife’s death or the gut-wrenching revelation of her infidelity?
Death was on Julia Rubino’s mind a lot during 1976.
Automatic nagative thoughts (or ANTS as she called them) started entering her brain months go when she first heard about the mysterious murders in New York City.
The killer openly taunted the police. Seeking misplaced attention and public veneration, he wrote rambling and ambiguous letters to journalist Jimmy Breslin who printed them in his column in The Daily News. In his letters the murderer sometimes referenced a cult, hinting that the killings were a rite of passage. Other times he claimed a demonic dog owned by his neighbor Sam spoke to him demanding the blood of pretty young girls.
All the victims were females with long dark hair; as a college student with shoulder-length brunette curls, Julia felt particularly vulnerable. When she told her parents she wanted to cut her hair and dye it blonde they said she was over-reacting. Julia’s boyfriend Steve told her she was being ridiculous, that there was nothing to worry about. He said they were safe in their little town of New Rochelle. Violent crimes like that only happened in dangerous urban locations, not quiet Westchester County.
At night Julia and Steve often drove to the Glen Island Beach parking lot in New Rochelle; it was a popular make-out place and the police very rarely patrolled the area. When Julia told Steve she didn’t want to go parking any more, he got pissed off. Tearfully she reminded him that the killings always involved two victims – young women and their boyfriends parked in cars. She couldn’t shake the idea that something terrible was going to happen to them. Steve argued that they had no other choice if they wanted to be alone. They had no privacy living at home with their parents and Julia felt going to a motel was sleazy. Frustrated, Steve yelled at her to calm down and get a grip. Afraid of losing him, Julia begrudgingly chose to give in.
On July 29 things took an unexpected and shocking turn; the first murders in Westchester County occurred. This time the killer’s MO was different and left the police wondering if the shootings were done by the same individual or a copy-cat killer. The victims were two girls sitting in a car in a well-lit area – not a girl and her boyfriend in a darkened parking lot. The two women were nurses Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria. They had been sitting in Jody’s double-parked Oldsmobile outside Donna’s house talking about their night at a New Rochelle disco. When Donna opened the car door to leave a man suddenly approached. Pulling out a gun, he crouched down and opened fire. Donna was killed instantly but Jody survived. The attack happened quickly however Jody was able to give a description of the assailant; it matched that of the shooter of the previous killings.
Westchester County residents were panic-stricken, especially Julia. Police urged everyone to stay vigilant and refrain from sitting in parked cars. Julia considered dropping out of college and hiding in her house until the murderous madman was caught; her parents convinced her it was irrational to completely cut oneself off from the world.
For more than a year the killer held the citizens of New York captive but on the night of August 10, 1977 the state of terror finally ended. After a tense shootout the murderer was apprehended at his Yonkers apartment – ironically within earshot of Westchester Community College where Julia was a student.
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of that historic arrest. The notorious killer was David Berkowitz, known around the world as Son of Sam.
Exactly ten years ago to the day. Berkowitz pled guilty to all the shootings and is currently serving six life sentences in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.
Authors note: With the exception of Julia Rubino, her boyfriend Steve and her parents, everyone and everything in this story is factual.
It was a blazing hot day in August of 1971. Sweaty air conditioners were working overtime, filling the streets of Manhattan with an unrelenting drone. I was in the elevator of my apartment building having just returned from physical therapy. There were four other people in the elevator – an exterminator, a mid-twenties hippie chick I knew only as “Rain”, elderly and bitter Abe Samuelson and a very pregnant Asian woman I didn’t know. Abe made a point of moving away from the Asian woman, spitting out the words “savage gooks!” Abe usually wisecracked about my missing arm but today his vitriol was directed elsewhere. Ignorant man.
The doors closed and we began our slow ascent. Old buildings, temperamental elevators and a heatwave – a bad combination. Somewhere between floors 3 and 4 the elevator jolted to a stop. Before Abe could utter a curse word the elevator churned back to life, coughed a bit and stopped again with an ominous screech. Except for a few groans no one said anything. I pushed the alarm button and reached for the elevator’s emergency phone. Halfway through my call the electricity went out, the AC shut off and my phone connection died. Blackness engulfed us and it started getting uncomfortably warm.
Abe started cursing and banging the walls, all the while ranting “goddamn fucking dinks – I hate them!” The exterminator was praying in what sounded like Haitian Creole and Rain softly hummed “Let It Be”. I tried unsuccessfully to pry open the doors and reminded everyone that at least part of our emergency call went through so help had to be coming. It was then that I became aware of low guttural moans coming from the Asian woman and in Vietnamese she gasped that the baby was coming.
I asked exterminator man if he had a flashlight, which he did. Turning it on he handed it to me and everyone calmed down a bit. Amazing what a little ray of light can do. The pregnant woman eased herself onto the floor; I told her I understood Vietnamese from my days as a medic in Nam. I said my name was Jack; her name was Thanh. We talked softly as Abe carried on about his son who died in Vietnam – “And for what?? This slant??” he screamed. The exterminator became more agitated and Rain sat by him holding his hand.
Thanh told me she married an American soldier in early November 1970 and he brought her back to live in the U.S. with his parents. After two weeks he returned to Vietnam; he was killed November 21st in Operation Ivory Coast. Thanh soon learned she was pregnant. Relations with her in-laws became strained and she moved in here with her cousin. As we sat quietly I thought of that November day. I remembered a soldier flung himself on me as I worked in the MASH unit. He was blown to bits while I only lost my arm. Could that have been Thanh’s husband?
Suddenly Abe stood up and screamed racial slurs at Thanh. The exterminator sobbed while Rain sang to calm him. I yelled for everyone to “shut up!” And that’s when we heard faint voices.
“Anyone in there?”
“Roger that! We’re down here!” I shouted and was rewarded with a resounding “HUA!”
Haltingly the doors were pried open and a rescue ladder was lowered into the elevator. Abe headed straight for the ladder; I blocked the selfish bastard’s way.
“The pregnant lady first.”
Gingerly Thanh made her way up the ladder and was rushed to the hospital. The rest of us climbed to safety.
Call it crazy intuition but I had to get to Tranh.
The scream of the alarm clock jolted Tia from a deep sleep. With eyes closed, she reached over and smacked the off button. Slowly rolling her head, she glanced at her dozing boyfriend Andrew.
Feeling her eyes on him, Andrew peeked at Tia and whispered a groggy “morning already?”
“Uh-hum. 6:15” Tia murmured as she snuggled closer. “Plenty of time to…….”
“Fuck!!” yelled Andrew as he bolted from their bed. “I’ve got a 7:00 Caesarian and patients all day!”
Disappointed, Tia went into the kitchen to brew some coffee. When she returned to the bedroom, Andrew was dressed and ready to go. He rushed by her, not even stopping to take the coffee and muffin she prepared for him.
“Gotta run, T” Andrew called over his shoulder. “Catch ya later!” And he was gone. Tia picked at a muffin thinking how mornings like this were becoming more and more frequent.
They met in college and fell in love, sharing their dreams – she becoming a fashion designer and he a doctor. Tia had been accepted to the Fashion Institute of Paris but Andrew begged her not to go until he was in med school. She agreed with the idea and found work dressing bridal shop windows. The job was ok but it was unfulfilling and every time she mentioned studying in Paris, Andrew reminded her of their plans. Now he was a busy doctor and she was still at the bridal salon.
On the way to work she heard that George Harrison song with the line “And if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”. She couldn’t get that line out of her head and the road not taken – the road to Paris. She truly loved Andrew and made many sacrifices for his career. Now it was her turn.
That evening when Andrew got home from work Tia told him they needed to talk. “Let me grab a shower first and I’m all yours” he replied.
When Andrew returned he went to the fridge and poured them both a glass of wine. “Listen T, I known you want to talk but I have something to say. Can I go first?” Tia nodded.
“After all our plans and promises, our dreams have finally come true but there’s still something missing in my life. I love you, Tia. Marry me.
Tia was floored. “Drew, I love you, too, and want to marry you but there’s something missing in my life. What about my dream to be a designer? What about Paris?”
“Paris!? Not that foolishness again! T, forget that road, stay here and marry me.”
“Foolishness, Drew? Foolishness!? You begged me to wait for you while you pursued your dream. If you truly love me you’ll wait while I follow my dream.”
As they stared at each other, Andrew’s pager beeped. He glanced at it. “My patient’s in labor. I gotta go. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
As soon as Briana Jeffries woke up she knew her AC had broken down. Her townhouse was like a sauna. She called the landlord to report the malfunction, then got ready for work. Stepping outside, she was enveloped in a cloud of oppressive heat.
Briana’s townhouse didn’t have a garage – only street parking was available. Slipping off her suit jacket, she adjusted her shoulder bag and began walking to her car. With every step she took, a bead of sweat rippled down her neck and back until her blouse clung to her drenched body. She cursed her high heels and pantyhose but the real estate agency where she worked demanded appropriate attire at all times.
“I really should switch to McConnell Realty. They’re much more casual than Dalton & Banks” she thought as she got into her car and switched on the AC. Sure, the commission she earned was great but she wasn’t truly happy. And dealing with that smarmy, perpetually tanned Joe del Vecchio was nauseating.
First on the agenda was the Monday meeting, then Briana’s client at 10:30. With six houses to show, it was going to be a long day. As soon as she entered the office, Joe was all over her. “Looking hot, Briana. Nice lipstick. Looks all pouty. I’m gonna call you BJ. Know what that means?” She always hated her initials.
What a dick. The only reason Joe was tolerated at the agency was the older female clients adored him and he could charm the panties off them – and probably did if it meant making a sale. Ignoring him, Briana sat at the mahogany table between two colleagues.
“Attention!” Charlotte Dalton announced. “Wehave a large number of retired couples today who want to see penthouses. Briana and Joe, I want you working together.” Briana sighed in exasperation, already defeated knowing she’d be with Joe all day. Joe grinned and winked across the big conference table, chewing on his pen.
“What a Neanderthal” Briana thought.
By day’s end Briana was sick of Joe and couldn’t wait to be rid of him but he insisted on walking her to her car. “Let’s get a drink, moisten that luscious BJ mouth”. Involuntarily Briana licked her lips; Joe leaned in for a kiss as Briana slid into her car.
“Stop it, Joe! I just want to go home, take a shower and go to bed.” She immediately regretted her choice of words. Joe bent down and whispered in Briana’s ear. “You read my mind, baby”, his fingers playing with the delicate chain that dangled between Briana’s breasts. She pushed his hand away and drove off, nearly knocking him off his feet. It was at that moment she decided that was her last day at Dalton & Banks.
Arriving back at home, Briana was thrilled to find the AC working and the house delightfully cool. Locking the door, she kicked off her shoes, peeled off her damp clothes and headed for the bathroom. Closing the door, Briana stepped into the shower and stood under the cool water, relaxing, unthinking. She was just so grateful to be home.
Funny how your mind plays tricks on you sometimes. Eyes closed, Briana thought she heard a noise outside the bathroom. She stood still, listening; nothing. Reaching for the shampoo, Brianna thought she heard a noise again. She listened intently; this time she was sure. SOMEONE WAS IN HER HOUSE!!
Instinct kicked in and Briana lunged from the shower to lock the bathroom door just as Joe del Vecchio burst in, knocking her backwards into the shower. Briana’s head slammed into the tiles; blood tricked down her face and into her eyes. As she began losing consciousness, she slid down the shower wall and barely made out the image of Joe running from her bathroom. She fell face down onto the shower floor, blood swirling down the drain. Clutched in her hand was Joe’s monogrammed pocket square.
Briana was right. That was her last day at Dalton & Banks.
“Confusion, Jesse? What confusion? We have plans. What’s going on?” Mia stood impatiently tapping her toe.
“That’s just it, Mia. I don’t know what’s going on. We really need to talk about our wedding.” Jesse paced back and forth, hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets.
“Hold it right there, cowboy! Are you calling off our wedding?” Mia’s eyes grew dark and angry.
“No, Mia, I’m not. But I’ve been thinking – I don’t want this elaborate wedding we have planned.”
Mia’s face flushed. “Well, this is a fine time to tell me! Our wedding is one month away and everything is ready. My dress, the venue, the caterers, our honeymoon. Even the name cards for the tables have been printed!”
“I know. I just didn’t have the guts to say what was on my mind. Mia, I don’t want our wedding to be a circus with a cast of characters I don’t even know! I don’t need a six figure salary or a penthouse apartment to be happy. Your dad’s a great guy and making me a partner in his firm was extremely generous but I never wanted a rat race, cutthroat job and I certainly don’t want to be the boss’s son-in-law!
I grew up on a farm, Mia. My parents are simple people. The smell of the earth, working with my hands, tending to the animals – that’s what I know and love. I always dreamed of having my own farm some day, waking up before the roosters and working in the fields until the aroma of bacon and eggs lured me home to you cooking breakfast. I dream of shoeing horses and mending fences, four or five barefoot kids running around the house, family barbecues with homemade apple pie for dessert. I dream of making love to you as the moonlight dances off our bedroom ceiling. I’m an uncomplicated guy, Mia. All I want is us, a family and a farm.”
“Jesse, I have dreams, too. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of marrying a man as rich and handsome as my father, having a huge wedding in the Waldorf, cruising around the world. Now you’re asking me to give it all up for a bunch of brats and a barn in Nebraska?! You can’t be serious, especially after all my father has done for you.”
“Mia, I never asked your father for anything. All I did was fall in love with you that rainy day we shared a taxi.”
“Jesse, you’re not thinking straight. Do you really believe you’ll be happy spending the rest of your life milking cows and going to state fairs or whatever the ‘simple people’ of Nebraska do?”
“You know what, Mia? You’re right. I wouldn’t be happy – at least not with you.” Jesse walked to the door, then turned. “I’m sure some day you’ll meet a guy as shallow as you. Bye, Mia, and thanks for keeping me from making a huge mistake.”
Other is a word that rhymes with mother, which also happens to rhyme with smother. Which begs the question: “Am I a dreadful person for wanting to smother my mother ?”
Mother wasn’t a bad person; there was no physical abuse – just a major lack of tenderness which can leave greater, more permanent scars. She was a perfectionist who found it very difficult to show warmth or affection, even to her children. She was also “a classic crazy maker”.
I don’t remember her saying “I love you”, tickling me till I squealed or reading bedtime stories. What I do remember is proudly showing her a drawing I made in school with the inscription “Skyscrapers scrape the sky while butterflies flutter by”.My teacher called it “highly imaginative”; mother said it was foolishness – butterflies can’t fly that high.
As a teenager I was forbidden to shave my legs but did anyway. Not wanting my secret revealed, I wore jeans all the time, even to the beach in the middle of summer! I also used a self-tanner which turned my skin orange! Mother watched as I scrubbed in water mixed with bleach – a humiliating experience. It was at that time she discovered my shaved legs, causing her to erupt like a gas explosion. I was probably grounded but it was worth it.
Many days after arriving home from school I would find the contents of my dresser drawers dumped on my bed, simply because mother didn’t approve of how my clothes were folded. If I wanted to sleep that night, I’d have to put all my things away (or push them to the floor, which I often did!) I’d get hell the next day but it was a trip seeing her bulging veins and bugged-out eyes.
Years later when I had kids, mother would pop in unannounced and examine my house like the “White-Glove Lady” checking for dust. If my oven didn’t meet her standards of cleanliness, she would clean it! Well, pardon my mess; I have two little ones who are more important to me than a spotless house. Still, when she did that it drove me crazy. Never once did she play with my kids.
Lately I’ve been having a recurring dream about smothering mother with a pillow. When I wake up, I’m smiling. I guess my earlier question bears repeating: “Does that make me a dreadful person?”
If you are reading this, I am no longer with you. There’s so much I wanted to tell you when I was alive, so many things I needed to explain but the words failed me. Now I find myself in the early stages of dementia and know this is my last chance to say the words you needed to hear.
You know my life was not an easy one and I learned at an early age to keep my emotions in check. I was always the practical one .. doing my duty for the family. How I now regret those missed mother/daughter times – never reading bedtime stories, going to the playground or snuggling with you on the couch. I was too embarrassed to tell you the facts of life and can only imagine the horror you felt waking up with your first period and thinking you were bleeding to death.
I never worried about you because you were the defiant and rebellious daughter, unlike your sister who is too much like me. I think I always knew you would become your own woman, doing everything you could to be nothing like me. Having seen you with your own children, I know I’m right.
Please know I did the best I could. I loved you even though I never could bring myself to say it. I hope you can forgive me.
Love – Mom
August 18, 2009
Dear Mom –
I’m writing this letter knowing it will never be sent. You’re gone now so who can I send it to? But some words need to be said. It was rough growing up thinking I was unloved and there were times I hated you for that. For a long time I thought it was something I had done.
My teens years were the turning point for me because I got out of the house and away from you. You know my mother-in-law was very different than you; we formed a bond and I found in her a mother’s love I desperately needed.
How I resented you and your aloofness! What a shame … so many years wasted. Now as I look back I feel sorry for you. Deep down I believe you loved us. You just didn’t know how to show it. I forgive you, Mom, and I’m happy I didn’t turn out like you. Rest In peace.
It was the night of the office Christmas party and I was dreading it. I knew Kevin was going to be there. After our breakup, I couldn’t stand being around him. I thought he was a great guy; I was wrong. He was only interested in sex. Kevin never missed a party, a chance to get drunk and hit on me. I wasn’t there long before he spotted me. I turned and headed for the restroom. When I came out, Kevin was waiting…..drunk, leaning against the wall, drink in hand. He stumbled towards me slurring “hey, baby”, pushing the drink in my face. I walked past him but he grabbed my arm and dragged me into the supply room. He spun me around, smashing his lips against mine, tearing at the buttons on my blouse and shoving his hand up my skirt. Somehow I managed to push him off me. Kevin was so drunk, he stumbled and fell backwards. I ran out into the street, gasping as the cold rain washed my body of Kevin’s stink. I couldn’t go to my apartment. Hailing a cab, I fled to the safety of my parents house…..safe from Kevin.
It was the night of the office Christmas party and I was dreading it. I knew Rita was going to be there. We had a ‘thing’ once which ended badly….for her. These parties…..I only go to them because it’s expected but they really aren’t my thing. I pop in, make the rounds and take off. I was set to leave when Rita snuck up behind me at the coat closet. Wrapping her arms around my waist, she tongued my ear whispering incoherently. When I turned around to free myself, she pulled me into the closet, fumbling with my belt buckle. Rita was grinding against me, her dress riding up to her waist. I was trapped by a drunken sex machine reeking of cheap perfume and bourbon. This is not how I like being with a woman and I was disgusted. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Suddenly Rita went limp in my arms and crumbled onto a pile of coats. I grabbed my jacket and made a beeline for the door. The air was cold but I knew it would clear the smell of Rita from my clothes and out of my head.