Posted tagged ‘Michelle J. Brewer’

Democrats, Republicans, or Americans

November 20, 2015

“That’s how many kids you’re inviting?” Anna’s mom asked, brushing the hair from her eyes and glancing at her daughter. They’d spent the better part of an hour comprising a list of children’s names from her fifth grade class to come to her party. But they still had one spot left to make it an even dozen.

“Yep, ten. But counting me, it’s eleven.”

“We’re paying for twelve at the pizza parlor. Are you sure you don’t want to invite anyone else?” Her mother thinks for a second, and when the light bulb goes off her finger shoots into the air. “I’ve got it. How about that girl Marti who was playing soccer with you that one day? Remember, the one who looks like she should be in seventh grade?”

“She’s supposed to be in eighth.” The anger brews in Anna’s cheeks and her teeth clench. “And she wasn’t playing soccer with me, she was kicking the ball away from me. She always does that because she’s a bully.”

Her mom gives her a squeeze and leans back examining her daughter. “Okay, you don’t need to have an even dozen. Maybe you’ll think of someone from church or from the playgroup. Hey, I know…”

Anna’s mouth twists up and her eyes roll toward the ceiling before she gives her blond shoulder-length hair a shake. “No one.”

“Well, you never can tell. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and think of someone before the weekend.” With a pat on her backside, her mother says, “Let’s get you off to school. We’ve been so busy, I almost made you late.”

Throwing their jackets on, Anna snags her backpack and follows her mother into the garage, slamming the door behind her.

********************************************************

“Mommy, you’ll never guess what happened at school today!” Anna came barreling into the kitchen where her mother slouched over the computer at the table. A stack of envelopes to the side, made out with stamps on the corners. One lone invitation set apart from the others.

“What happened, my little munchkin?” She opens her arms and tugs her little girl up against her, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“I made a new friend today!”

“Really? Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Anna repeated. She set her backpack down on the floor and unzipped the opening, pulling out a picture she’d drawn and holding it up for her mother to take in. There were two little heads, one with yellow straight-lined hair and the other with brown loops for hair. The brown-headed one had big dark eyes contrasting with the blonde’s blue ones. Both of the faces had smiles and a big red heart hovered between their foreheads.

“Oh my goodness!” Her mother stretches her mouth and eyes wide open. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such curly hair. Is this a kid in your class?”

“Yep!” Anna said with pride.

Her mother nods and adds, “Does your friend have a name?”

“Bana.”

“Wow!” Her mother tilts her head, peering at her from the corner of her eye. “I’ve never heard of that name before. Is it a girl?”

“Yes, and she’s so smart.” Her eyes squint hard at her mother. “Doesn’t my picture look like a girl? That’s me.” She indicates the likeness with a jab of her finger and then turns the paper around to scrutinize it.

“I could tell that was you, but sometimes boys can have long hair.” She pulls the edge of the paper down, peeking over the top. “Oh, I didn’t see her eyelashes. Of course, now I can tell it’s a girl. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay.” Her shoulders rise and fall as if preparing for a big announcement. “She sits next to me. And when Mrs. Coates was calling out our names to line up for lunch, she called Bana and then my name.” She giggles. “All the kids laughed at that, even Marti.”

“Why were the kids laughing?”

“Because Mrs. Coates said, ‘Bana, Anna,’ right after each other. That’s pretty funny, right? So we sort of knew right away we were meant to be friends.” The cozy assuredness on Anna’s face gleamed. “At first the other kids acted sort of weird around her, but I told them about all the great things I learned from her in one day. She’s very smart. I think she might be the president some day.”

Her mom laughs and strokes her daughter’s hair. Pressing her forehead against her daughter’s, she said, “Yeah, I think you’ve established you think she’s smart. Is that who you want to address your final invitation to?”

Anna’s head wobbled up and down like the bobble head in the front of her grandpa’s truck. “Yes, please.” She snatched the pen from the table and addressed the letter herself, writing slowly and methodically in ink and then reciting it aloud. “Bana.”

About a month later, Mrs. Coates had to leave the state to care for her sick mother. A substitute surprised Anna with a gruff introduction. She waited outside the classroom for the kids to enter, like Mrs. Coates always did, but she didn’t smile at all or speak. Her arms crossed in front of her, Anna thought she was copying the mean teachers from when her mom was a kid.

Anna sat tall in her chair and waited for Bana.

The bell rang and Bana wasn’t in her seat. But as soon as the substitute rubbed her name “Mrs. Evans” on the board, Bana popped through the door.

“Bana!” Anna called out, waving her arm in the air as if she hadn’t seen her for a week. “Hurry and come—“

“Excuse me,” the teacher interrupted saying. “The bell has rung. Class is in session, and all eyes should be on me.” Her glare shot out at Anna. “1-2-3, eyes on me. Have you heard that before?”

“1-2, eyes on you!” the class chimed in, and Anna sank into her chair. Bana slowly settled into her own seat. For a moment, Mrs. Evans smirked.

“Do you have an excuse for being tardy?” Mrs. Evans spit out the question.

“Yes, my dad had problems getting the car started this morning and—“

The teacher sighed heavily, exaggerating with slumped shoulders. “That isn’t what I meant,” she said, “Do you have a piece of paper from the office with a signed statement explaining why you’re interrupting the class?” The teacher’s corners of her mouth drooped even lower. “Even now you’re taking up twenty-two kids’ learning time by being tardy. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Mrs. Evans.” The teacher reminded her.

“Excuse me?”

“My name is Mrs. Evans. When you address an adult, you should say her name. ‘Yes, Mrs. Evans’.”

A peculiar silence sucked all the positive energy from the classroom. Anna could only hear her heart beating. Not a kid moved.

“Yes, Mrs. Evans. I’ll get a note from the office.” Bana’s head was down. Anna noticed her fingers twisted in front of her indicating discomfort.

Mrs. Evans playfully lunged at Bana, nearly causing her to fall back as she staggered into her desk. “Go then.” She whispered. “And hurry back. You have five minutes, but don’t run. No running allowed in the halls.”

Bana stole a glance at Anna over her shoulder before shuffling toward the door. “You’d better go faster than that. You only have four minutes left,” Mrs. Evans said, chuckling afterwards.

The door closed, and the classroom remained shocked while Mrs. Evans strolled to the board and picked up a yardstick lying across the top. With a whacking noise, she brought it down several times in the palm of her hand. “One thing I will make exceedingly clear to this classroom is that while your teacher—whatever her name is—is gone, everyone of you will follow my rules as if I was your original teacher.” Her eyes shift and land on Jaxyn, who scrunches down in his seat, eyes averted. “No exceptions. Is that clear?”

The entire class nodded their heads and a few voices muttered their approval. “Good. Let’s start then.” Her head craned up to the wall beside the door. “Uh oh, I believe we’ll have to make…”

The classroom door popped open and Bana rushes in, handing a slip of paper to the substitute teacher. The teacher pulls the note arm’s length away and squints her eyes to make out the words. “There’s no date on this note,” she said. “Where’s the date?”

Bewildered, the class watched in morbid silence as the teacher crumpled up the note and threw it into the garbage can stationed by the desk. “Never mind, I’ve wasted enough time trying to coerce you into cooperating. Go sit down.” Her long thin finger pointed at the lone chair to the side of the room, under the light switch, segregated from the rest of the class.

“But her chair is right here beside me.” Anna let the words spill before stopping herself, and her arm jolted out indicating the empty desk.

The teacher took long deliberate strides in front of the blond and bent down. She leaned over and whispered, her breath forced the blond locks lying against Anna’s jaw to bow in as she spoke. “Without implications, I believe I was quite clear with my demonstration in substantiating that I make the rules. I’m the queen of the classroom and you, my dear, are the serving drones who should consider themselves lucky. By the time your teacher returns, she won’t know what hit her.”

Pulling back and straightening up, she smiles a raw and treacherous grin, as if the earth of a graveyard were opening wide to swallow the headstones it had housed for so long. “Understand?” Her head swayed a bit as a punctuation mark at the end, but nobody moved an eyelash.

­­The lesson droned on as Mrs. Evans snapped the book shut, uncrossing her thin cricket-like legs and slid off the desk. Shifting the notebook toward her, she flipped it open to the roll. “Gabrielle, tell me what the author meant when he wrote about the sound of a scorpion.”

The class snickered. No one answered, even though her eyes pierced through Gabe’s face like a laser through a piece of tissue paper. “Don’t you know the answer? Weren’t you listening to a word I said?”

“Yes, ma’am.” His green eyes dulled and he shrinked in his chair.

“Then why don’t you answer me?” Mrs. Evans hovered over Gabe the way bad news hovers over an envelope from the IRS.

Frightened beyond words, Gabe whispers something inaudible.

“What did you say?”

“My name is Gabriel, but my friends call me Gabe.” He winces and his eyes shift away for a second. “Not Gabrielle, ma’am.”

Brock Turner leaps from his desk with his finger extended forward pointing at the front of Gabe’s pants. “He peed his pants. OMG, he freakin’ peed right there on the floor. Pathetic!”

The class bursts in mixed reactions, some of them sneer in revulsion while others cringe in angst, as if the situation happened to them. Mrs. Evans’ body straightens tall and she sniffs the air. With lowered glowering lids, her chin lifted and she said, “You, Gabriel, piddled your britches as a scorned puppy, refusing to be housebroken. I simply don’t know what to do with you.”

Gabe’s lower lip quivers and he ducks his head in shame.

“You need to leave him alone,” Bana said, rising from her desk and pounding it with her little fists. “You’re a bully and you’ve probably always been a bully, even in school. You probably have to be a substitute because no one else wants you.”

The entire class stared at Bana with their mouths hanging down to their chests in complete and utter awe. “Just who do you think you are?” The teacher spat at her, bending over to plant her hands firmly on the desk in front of Bana.

“My name is Bana Baz, and I come from a country where we were beaten and slain for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the right time. My mother and baby brother were shot in front of my father and me. I still remember everyone screaming and running away. Everyone but me. I knelt down beside my mother, her mouth opened, but no words came out. Still, I knew she pleading for me to save my brother, but he was dead too. I started to cry. My father scooped me into his arms and dived into a shelter, saving my life. That was before we came here to the Land of the Free. The land where everyone pulls together. Not just Republican or Democratic, but humanity as a whole. The country of God. The country of love.”

For a brief moment, Mrs. Evans stood in silence, gaining her composure and preparing for her own mass destruction. “So, you are a refugee? I should have known by the way you behave so defiantly. A troublemaker…”

A pencil flew across the room and bounced off the rude teacher’s shoulder. Before Anna could determine what was happening, the majority of the class scooted out of their seats approaching the front of the room like a junior mob.

The teacher took a couple of steps back. “Get in your seats right now,” she said, although the curtness was missing. There was a sense of uneasiness surrounding what she said as her fingers clawed the air, reaching behind her for the jacket draped on the back of her chair. Curling her fingers around the coat she gave it a yank, removing it easily, and staggered toward the door. “You are a group of ungrateful curs,” she said before Marti lunged at her, giving her a shove and slamming the door closed behind her.

Standing alone in the classroom amongst the chairs, Gabriel’s head hung low and tears dripped from his eyes. “Don’t worry. You can call your mom and have her bring you some clean pants,” Anna said to him, draping an arm around his shoulders and giving them a hearty squeeze.

“It’s not that as much as what my father said this morning at the breakfast table. He said the refugees coming into our country were going to ruin it.” His tear-stained cheeks reflected the fluorescent lights from above. “But Bana is a refugee, and I think she may help save the country by reminding us who we are.”

Bana stood with a smile and threw an arm around Anna’s shoulders. “With Bana-Anna in this country, we can do anything.”

 

 

Japetoneda, (Jan. 2, 2009) God Bless America – American Flag with M4A1 Rifle and Dollar sign, Flickr

 

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They call me “Dr. Fine”

July 3, 2012

The pain is so excruciating that even getting out of bed in the morning is a task, much less bathing her son or doing easily manageable tasks such as vacuuming the floor.  Krista can feel the walls closing in on her very sanity as she struggles to meet the next day.

“I’m hungry,” her son whines at her, “I want something to eat.  Can I have a sandwich, please?”

“Just let me lie down for a minute,” she pleads, “For just a minute, and then I will get you something to eat.”  But she knows that as soon as she lies back in her chair, sleep will have its way with her, as always.  The pain is so tremendous that at times her brain ceases to function properly, making her forgetful and frustrated. 

Instead of lying down, she grabs her cane and shuffles to her purse in her slippers.   Krista calls her little boy over to her, “Let’s go to the store and buy some bread.”

Little three-year-old Benny jumps up and down clapping his hands, “Can we get the kind with the balloons on it?  I like that one.”

“We’ll see,” she says as she opens her purse to count the coins inside, ensuring she has enough before they get there.  She’s done it before, getting to the checkout counter and not having enough change for a gallon of milk.  It’s so embarrassing.   

Placing Benny in his car seat, she realizes he doesn’t have shoes on.  He giggles as his little piggies wiggle at her, and she can’t help but laugh back, grabbing them and tickling until he begs her to stop.  She looks to her front door, considering making a trek to get the shoes, but it seems so far away.   He’ll be okay, she thinks, I’ll just need to be tough for a couple of seconds to put him in the cart and take him out.  She knows it will hurt, but it’s a procrastination of pain for her, so she gives in. 

Tossing her cane to the passenger side, she plops into her seat, starting the car up.  The gas light begins to blink, “We’ll have to make the bread last this time.”  Her cane rattles against the inside of the car door when she turns the corner and she can hear her son cheering in the back, “Wheeeee!”  He’s always liked the corners and makes a game of leaning the opposite direction.

The light ahead is green, and Krista finds a pang of memory at every intersection she comes to, especially on green lights.  She habitually brakes and checks the intersection, certain that some idiot driver, not paying attention will nail her again.  If her situation gets any worse, she doesn’t know who will take care of little Benny.

The parking lot is virtually empty, but that’s because it’s early in the day.  It guarantees her a shorter walking distance when she comes at this hour, and she’s found the best time to shop is early morning, or late at night hours.  Of course, shopping after 9 pm is difficult with a toddler who is usually asleep by then. 

As she pushes Benny from the car to the store, a man in a business suit approaches her. “Ma’am,” he begins, “I can’t help but notice the unbearable pain you are in while picking up your child.  Let me introduce myself.  My name is Mort, and I can help you.”

Never having anyone ask about her pain, other than a paid physician, Krista is not expecting anyone to approach her like this.  “Excuse me?” she breathes, trying to speak ‘normally’ while she clenches her teeth in pain.  Her breath catches in her throat.

“I said that I can tell you are having piercing pains,” his smile never faltering from his lips, as a good salesman does.  “I have something to alleviate the extreme pain for you.”

Krista can’t help but chuckle.  “Listen, I have just enough money for a loaf of bread,” she looks at her son who seems unusually drawn to the man, “But if I did had money, I’d have legal medication by now.”

“That’s why I’m here!” his cheerfulness never pauses and Krista feels a small prick in her arm, followed by a burning sensation.  Her eyebrows frown as she looks down toward her right bicep where he is removing a hypodermic needle.  A tiny spot of blood emerges and he wipes it off with a tissue.

“Ouch!” she yelps, “You didn’t have permission to do that!  Who do you work for anyway?”  Without waiting for a reply, she ignores his rhetoric and moves quickly into the electronic doors, seeking a customer service person. 

The only person she can see is the young girl at the checkout, helping a customer.  There are several people in line, but the hour is so early, the store is prepared for a limited amount of traffic.  She waits for a while, but determines to go to the management office instead.

Benny happily kicks his feet in the cart as she scrambles toward the office.  Just as she reaches the door, a woman is exiting and holds it open for her.  “Hello, may I help you?” a woman has her back to her, with a plume of smoke rising from her.

“I’d –I’d–I’d like to report someone distributing drugs in front of your store,” she manages to stammer out.

The woman rotates to display a cigar between her fingers and a heavily made-up face.  She produces a form and a pen, placing them on the counter in front of her, “I just need you to fill out this report.”  Krista notices the artificial smile on the woman’s face, causing her to resemble a Stepford Clown and begins to giggle nervously.

Who is this woman and why is it important to give her name?  Regaining her composure she states, “It is the man outside who’s breaking the law, not me!  His name is Mort.”

“Just to verify everything,” the woman explains, “You know to alleviate pranks, false accusations, and the like.  If you will just fill this out, we’ll have security go out and check on it right away.”

“But ‘right away’ is now, not in five minutes after I fill out your form,” Krista argues.

“Policy,” is all the woman offers before Krista rotates to stumble out of the office.

The walls are beginning to melt as Krista leaves the office and makes her way toward the back of the store, toward the milk.  She looks at her son who is curiously staring at her.  “Stop it, Benny,” she laughs, “Stop it!”  But he continues staring and saying he wants the bread with balloons on the outside.  His expression is one of concern, which she never sees on his face.  It causes her to become uneasy and uncomfortable. 

“This is weird,” she says, holding her hand up in front of her face, “But my back is no longer in pain!”  Her fingers stretch to be twice the length they were before and they change–they become talons, as she opens and closes her claws before grabbing onto the handle of the cart.

Benny begins to whine a little, as he examines his mother.  “I’m getting your balloons, Benny,” she offers, “Just a minute and let me find them.  I promise we won’t leave until we get a whole bunch of pretty balloons for my little Benny.”

Walking down the aisle, she sees the shelves lined with boxes and boxes of cereal.  At his wit’s end, Benny begins to cry.  Krista weaves the cart back and forth in an effort to entertain him and runs into the shelves a couple of times, knocking boxes off.  “Clean up on aisle seven,” she sings as she pulls away to run into the boxes on the opposite side. 

Grabbing the Trix off the shelf, she sees the round and colorful cereals on the package, “Here you go, bud!” she chirps, handing him the box and giving him a vivacious pat on the head.

“Balloons!” Benny argues, “No, no!  Balloons!”  He throws it on the floor and she grabs another box, tossing it into the cart.

“I know baby, but we’re here for food,” she strokes his hair and tries to calm him down, “This cereal looks like tiny balloons, see?”  He doesn’t understand, and continues to cry.

“You know, I feel pretty great,” she admits, “I should get this guy’s name before I forget.”  She definitely needs to find the salesman and get his information.   ‘No pain’ has never felt so good as it does, and she feels like she could run a marathon now.  Even with it being a drug, she’ll be okay as long as she keeps in moderation without overdoing it.  Whatever the price is, she’ll figure out some way to get the money.  She hurries toward the door, pushing the cart as quickly as she can.

When she reaches the door, she crosses the pad and the door pops open, signaling an alarm.  Without paying mind, she begins to look for the miracle man who’s given her a new lease on life.  But from out of nowhere, two larger-than-life security men stop her.  One snatches her cart and the other clenches her by the arm.  “What’s the big idea?” she cries as they drag her back into the store.

“We want to ask you a couple of questions,” the monotone voice sounds like a machine as she notices they are no longer men, but robots.  “Where is my son?” she screeches, noticing he is no longer in the cart, “What did you do with my baby?”

One robot jerks the cart out of her hands and she sees several boxes of Trix fall off the top of her piled high cart.  “Where is my son?” she screams even louder this time, tears streaming down her face as she pulls and tugs, desperate to get away from the robots and locate her baby.

An ambulance pulls up in front of the store, accompanied by police officers and a medical team in white coats.  “The baby is in the restroom,” the woman she was speaking to earlier announces, “We haven’t touched anything.”  Her face is drained white, despite the heavy make-up on it.  The clown suddenly isn’t very happy.

“I need my baby!” Krista screams, frantically, “Where is my baby?”

The two men hold her while the stretcher wheels in and they forcibly strap her down to it.  She isn’t feeling as strong now, but they can’t keep her from telling the world about her abduction.  The people and workers stare at her accusingly as they complete the task of confining her.  “Got it?” one man asks another who nods as they begin pushing the stretcher toward the door.

Finally, they place her in the ambulance and prepare to close the doors.  “Hi,” the doctor announces, “They call me Dr. Fine.” He climbs in, to check her over. 

“I remember you.”  She does remember him from somewhere, but she can’t be sure where.  She desperately searches her memory.  For some reason her mind keeps juggling Trix with slices of bread, but she can’t hold a single thought very long.

“Mort?” she finally manages to spit out, “Are you Mort?”

“Yes,” he says, “That’s correct, Dr. Mort Fine.  I’m going to make you all better.”  He inserts a tube into her arm and picks up a hypodermic needle to fill it and give it a couple of flicks before inserting the liquid into the tube.

“What about little Benny?” she asks sleepily, feeling a numbness and warmth shoot up her arm.  The heat travels immediately up the back of her neck to fill the rear of her head, causing a loss of consciousness.

“Now don’t you worry about him,” Dr. Fine warmly smiles, “You’ll never have to worry about him ever again.”

The ambulance begins to move and the sirens begin screaming, blurting out the woman’s cries for help.

Howling in the Night

July 2, 2012

The howling is driving him crazy as Brian clutches the pillow around his head for the fourth night in a row.  “Somebody shoot the damned dog,” he yells as he throws his pillow, knocking a lamp off the desk. 

Brian stumbles across the room in the dark.  He trips on the clothing bundled on the floor he discarded last night and stubs his toe on the wall.  The lights flip on and he crosses to the window, opening the small crevasse to allow a gust of wind.  He pushes the blinds up and stares into the night.  His goal is to find the culprit of the voice so dry and cracked it sounds like an old nun trying to sing while chewing on The Daily News.  But the night yields no one and nothing as he peers deeply, leaning out the window. 

Just as his hands claps the blinds to bring them down, the crying begins again.  This time when he gapes, across the street beneath him, he spots a dog attached to a tree with a rope in front of the apartments.  The dog is large and its fur, probably white at one time, is matted.  Frankly, Brian cannot imagine anyone laying claim to it enough to keep it tied up.  “Just another mouth to feed,” Brian mutters as he rotates from the window, closing it tightly this time, hoping to halt the racket.

The noise quickly commences again as he leaves the window, allowing the blinds to drop.  He scans his room and finds his Red Ryder BB gun sitting atop of his bookshelf.  His junior high friend had been over a few days ago and they had been talking about the days they used to shoot together.  Although Brian hasn’t used the gun since he was a kid, this seems to be the perfect opportunity to bring it back from the dead.

Taking the gun in one hand and flipping the light off with the other, he hurries over to the window and pulls the blinds up again.  The dim lights of the street spray down on the pathetic mutt.  Paper scraps float through the air when a bolt of lightning streaks across the sky, warning of coming showers.  Seconds later, the earth grumbles its discontent.

The pitiable animal whines, squeaking and whistling at ear-shattering pitches until the rain begins to pour in buckets.  As if it can hide from the rain as it pours down, it huddles dismally under the tree.  Brian drops to his knee and sticks the barrel of the gun out the window.  Certain the rain will conceal the racket he takes aim.

The lightning flashes brightly and Brian releases the first shot.  No sound at all flashes from the gun, but it seems to have hit its mark, as the yelps echo through the night air.  The dog sounds like a wailing baby as it hobbles desperately around the tree, proving the hit is in the hindquarter.   “Shut up, or the other side is going to match,” Brian growls through clenched teeth, but the dog continues as he waits for the lightning to strike again.

This time when Brian takes aim, his finger prepares to pull the trigger, focused in on the dog’s face.   A bright light envelopes him and knocks him across the jaw, stunning him. The voyage from the window to the ground takes a fraction of a second, but seems like an eternity as his hip and shoulder slam into the concrete sidewalk.  Pain shoots up and down the length of his spine and he’s afraid to move.  But he needs to get help from somebody–anyone really.  He really needs to get back to his apartment.

Forcing himself to a standing position, his legs are barely able to hold him up, but he staggers toward the apartment building.  He needs to get out of this chilling moisture to warm up before he gets sick on top of being a cripple.   But as he begins his trek to the door, he stops abruptly as something pulls hard at his neck.   His head rotates around to find out what the problem is and he realizes a rope is linking his head to a tree.  Confusion is high, but doesn’t cease as he tries to unfasten it and realizes he has no hands, but tangled hairy paws.

Shaking and frightened, he knows he is alone with no one to explain his situation to, as he feels something odd rumbling in his stomach.  Brian wonders if he’s going to throw up, and tries to prepare, but when he spreads his front legs and points his nose to the ground, the reverberation strengthens deep in his gut.

“Ooooh, owwwwwww!” shoots from the back of his throat, repeatedly.  Having no control, only the gut-retching spasms, he attempts to close his jaw against nature but loses.  “Ow, owwwwwww!” he continues.

From in the distance, he can hear someone moving.  At last, someone who can help him!  He lifts his head and sees a light come on in the distance.  Taking a deep breath, he begins to howl….

Justine Case You Didn’t Know

June 28, 2012

The three girls board the bus wearing tight tank tops and tiny short while they chew noisily on their gum.   Their hair is a tangled hair spray mess, and they giggle as they walk past.  One of them gives her a cynical look before sitting in the seat across from her in the front row.  Violet knows what they’re thinking–she’s been here before.

“Finish your green beans before you leave the table, Violet,” her mother looks at her knowingly, “You know the rules.”  But as soon as her mother turns around, she tucks them into a napkin on her lap, where she can dispose of them undetected. 

A knock at the back door alerts them as her mother stops washing dishes, “Come on in, Barbara and Patrice, she’s almost finished.”  Violet hurries to scrape her plate into the garbage as her mother peers gingerly over her shoulder to ensure all the vegetables are gone.  Watching her exit the back door, she hollers at her as the screen door swings shut, “Make sure you’re back by eight!”

The three are off to see a matinee, it’s a big production about New York’s entertainers.  They’ve seen it before, but it’s a great escape from their families and it only costs a few cents.  The pennies the mothers usually opt to sacrifice in exchange from having to host all three girls, in case their house is the choice for the gathering.

“I like movies about dancers because I’m going to be one when I grow up,” Patrice says with conviction.

Barbara offers her input, “I am going to own a huge department store like Nordstrom, and I’ll be in charge of everything!”

Patrice pauses and asks, “What are you going to do, Violet?  I’ll bet you would make a great clothing designer.”

The truth is, Violet has no idea what she wants to be, so she changes the subject.   “I got the popcorn this go round.”  She hurries into the theater and her friends are close behind.

What the mothers don’t buy is the soda and popcorn so the girls usually pool their pennies together and share the treats.  While they count their change, one of the girls from school comes in with her mother.  Justine Case has unusually green eyes, stringy hair, and her legs are so thin a gentle breeze could break them.   Her mother has the same coloring, but is physically the opposite; everything petite on her daughter is colossal on her.  The only thing the two of them have in common is the stringy black hair dingy with dirt, and the ratty clothing probably coming from the same homeless bin. The larger-than-large woman is so fat she uses a walker to help her get around. The girls nudge each other and point as the woman attempts to carry the small box of popcorn and use her walker at the same time.

“Hey, Justine!” Violet calls to her classmate with her hands cupped around her mouth, “Help your mom get to her seat so she doesn’t starve to death!”

“Yeah,” Barbara adds, “If she falls down you’ll have to drop the food in her mouth!”  Patrice chuckles and carries on by imitating her, squishing her cheeks with her hands.

“I’m chubby, my mama’s chubby and my mama’s chubby.  One day my mama took me for a ride and I screamed, ‘Slow down mama, slow down’!”  Pulling her cheeks back as hard as she can, her mouth stretches tight like a thick rubber band across her face.  Her friends break out in uncontrollable laughter.

Noticeably embarrassed, Justine bows her head in shame and leads her mother down the corridor.  “Hold on there, sweetie!” her mother calls, “You’re gonna cause me to trip and fall!”

Quickly, Barbara squats and covers her head, “Earthquake!” she squeals.  Her friends join her as passersby look quizzically before walking around them while they all laugh hysterically, “Earthquake, earthquake!”

They skip into the theater and Patrice nudges Violet when their eyes adjust, pointing out the humongous woman squeezed into the seat by the aisle.  Justine is sitting next to her, craning her neck around to watch the girls come in, knowing there is nowhere to hide. 

Violet sees her and waves, grasping the hand of Barbara with one hand and holding her popcorn in the other.  She tugs her friends along as Patrice follows them behind Justine and her mother. 

“Hi, Justine!” Violet smiles, “Glad we found you.  We’ve been watching for you and your…”

Her mother turns her chubby cheek toward her as much as she can, rotating her head as far as she can.  “Justine, you didn’t tell me you have friends at school,” she smiles, her cheeks bunching up over her collar, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to them?”

Mortification wins as a blushing Justine raises her head, “Momma, this is Violet, Patrice, and Barbara.  They’re in my class at school.”

“Oh, well as pretty as they are, I don’t understand why you never mentioned them to me before,” she sweetly adds.  “How come you never told me, honey?”  Justine is quiet for a second and the lights dim down, with the speakers blaring music indicating the beginning of the show.  Relief sweeps over her as she revolves in her seat to see the show.

Throughout the movie, the three continue to giggle, blow their cheeks out and make fun of Justine’s mother who either doesn’t notice, or is so accustomed to it she tunes them out. 

When the show is over and the lights come back on, Justine’s eyes are puffy and red.  She wipes at them with her hand and her mother soothingly puts her meaty arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “Honey, that was a happy ending.  Let me explain …” 

Struggling to get out of her seat and hold onto the walker for support, she begins at the beginning of the movie, explaining each scene.  Justine doesn’t see the girls making jokes, but her ears focus on their cruel words as her mother’s voice drones on.  All that keeps ringing in her ears is ‘stupid, retard, loser, and fat ass.’

“Time to pull the big trucks in and open the double doors, boys!” Violet shouts.  The joyful cheers resume as the people file out of the theater.

The next day at school, it didn’t stop.  If anything, matters got worse for Justine as the girls begin following her around the playground.  They are pushing their stomachs out as far as possible and telling her biscuits and grits were ready for her at home. 

It isn’t long before Justine refuses going onto the playground.  Instead, she sits in the pea rocks and scrapes at the dirt with a stick.  Sometimes other kids would come and taunt her, throwing handfuls of grass or dry crumpled leaves in her hair. One day a boy found dog feces on the lawn, picked it up with a leaf and flipped it at her, laughing with the rest of them.  Every recess the same thing happens until one day it stops.

The children in the classroom didn’t seem to notice until the teacher announced Justine felt unwelcome and left.  On the playground, Patrice runs over to Barbara and Violet, “Did you hear what happened?”  The two girls stop jumping rope when their friend approaches them, grinning from ear to ear with pride.

  “What are you talking about?” Barbara asks, standing with her hand on her hip. Violet is standing behind her with an identical expression of impatience. 

Violet hates it when Patrice knows something first because she makes such a big deal about it.  But the truth is she can hardly stand it as she leans in close.   “That girl we were teasing, Justine, killed herself,” she blurts out, “Can you believe it?” Her friends stare in disbelief.  “We’re powerful!”

“What do you mean?” Violet asks, “She killed herself because of us?”  She anticipates Barbara stepping in behind her and reflecting the shock she is feeling, but that doesn’t happen.

Barbara brushes her hands together as if she’s just thrown something dirty away, “That’s less trash we’ll need to worry about next year, right?  We’ll just need to keep up the good work now, so we don’t let our public down.”

Barbara and Patrice snigger as they put their heads together, but Violet doesn’t know how she feels.  Before she has a chance to say anything, the bell rings to go inside.

As the bell rings in her memory, the bus chord rings and the doors flip open to let a man get out.  The three girls sitting across from Violet are checking him out and smiling a Hollywood cage as the next group of people begins to enter.

The trio points and laughs while they gesture all sorts of rude hand signals.  The last person to enter is a woman appearing to be a bit younger than Violet.   Her lustrous black hair flows down her back, stopping at her shapely waist as it reflects a silky shine.  Since the bus is full and begins to move, she takes the seat on the far side of Violet, next to the window.

When her stop is in view, Violet reaches her arm toward the side to hit the buzzer, but can’t quite reach it.  “Here, let me help you,” the woman says, her clear green eyes shadowed by thick lashes, as she pulls the chord.   Her gaze careens around Violet, concerned, “Do you have help at home?”

“That’s sort of personal,” Violet states matter-of-factly for she hates it when people get into her business.  When people feign interest, there’s always a buck changing hands somewhere, and it generally turns out of her pocket.  Grabbing the post next to her, she pulls herself to her feet and the bus driver sets the brake before heading out the door to the front of the bus.

People throughout the bus begin to grumble and the three girls snicker as they indicate the driver setting up the wheelchair.  One of the girls cracks up, “Transfer!” while she nudges her friend.

“Wide load coming through!” another yells as Violet struggles to get to the door, losing her balance and nearly taking out a passenger seated to the side.  A couple of young men at the back begin to yell about being on a schedule and having places to be, heightening her uneasiness.  A sweat breaks out on her forehead and she can feel it trickling down her neck as her legs are barely able to hold her upright.  The railing seems so far away until the young woman stands to escort her.

Climbing out of the bus, she assists Violet into her chair and pats her hands with a smile.  “I’m leaving, miss,” he says as he climbs into his seat, “you coming?”

“One moment, please.”  The woman reaches into her purse, pulls out a business card and hands it to Violet.  Looking at it, Violet sees Dis your Disability and chuckles.  But then she sees the name and almost passes out in her chair Justine Thyme.  Her bladder almost gives beneath her when she manages the courage to speak.

“I used to know someone named Justine years ago,” Violet pauses, feeling the guilt seep in about someone she and her friends enjoyed making miserable.  “Her name was Justine Case.  Sort of funny when you think about you having the same first name.”

“Now,” the stranger smiles, “It’s Justine Thyme.  Hello, Violet.”  Although her words could have had an ‘I told you so’ ring to them, they did not.  Justine seems sincere.

The bus driver honks the horn and shouts, “Miss, you need to get on, the bus is leaving the station!”

“Let’s just say I like to help wherever I’m needed,” Justine smiles as she turns to get onto the bus.

“Thank you,” Violet says, her eyes welling with tears, “I’m so sorry.  I thought you were dead.”

“My mother said she couldn’t handle it anymore after that day at the theater.  You see, she knew, Violet.  That’s what made it so hard for me.  She knew everyone was talking and pointing at her, making fun.  What’s more, teasing her daughter because of her disability.  No one could guess she had been a blond knock-out once.  She was a physically fit marathon runner when after a race,  a drunk swerved over the sidewalk and hit her.  She was in traction for months, and it was right after I was born.  My dad left and she raised me on her own, refusing to quit.”

The horn honks, impatiently, and the driver motions to Justine to get on.

Dumbfounded, Violet watches the nimble woman board the bus and put the window down, “Just call me, Violet.  I think we can help each other now.”  And then the bus drives away.

Of all the days in Violet’s life, this day is the most thought-provocative of them all, and now she finally has a purpose; not a dancer, a retail owner, or even a clothing designer.  “That would have been too easy,” she smiles into the heavens.

Birth of a Savage Garden

June 19, 2012

Salt Lake City was never like this when he was a kid; people bustling about, practically driving over pedestrians in an effort to escape the TRAX train impeding traffic.   The radio is blasting as Bristol Kirkland’s Jeep moves with the other cars until it comes to an abrupt halt.  The car in front of him has a bumper sticker ironically stating, “The only reason I’m speeding is that I really need to poop”. 

Bristol was born and raised here, watching the quaint town boom into the metropolis it is, and knows the people haven’t finished yet.  The goal seems to be to grow into another New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and it’s definitely happening.

The only difference seems to be the fault line that plows through the eastern side of the state.  It has always had him alert and prepared, plus the entire scout training he’s had growing up.  But no amount of training could prepare him thoroughly for the future, without the help of a psychic or seer.  Then again, he knows the mystery of the planet is nature and Mother Nature is as unpredictable as any other female expected to make up her mind.

Now that he’s an adult, a week never goes by that he doesn’t shake off the madness with his girlfriend, Scarlet, in exhilarating activities such as biking or hiking somewhere.  They know the mountain ranges like the backs of their hands, keeping track of the seasons and weather patterns in journals.   Being prepared is what Bristol focuses on in everything he does. He has no doubt this is the ultimate key to his survival.

When traffic comes to a halt, Bristol puts his window down and turns the radio off.  Groups of people stop to observe the numerous televisions sets in a shop window.  He listens to try to determine what is going on.  Suddenly someone yells, “We got eight minutes, just eight minutes and twenty seconds!”  A large portion of the crowd takes off running, another stands in disbelief, and a third stands disoriented in awe.

Horns begin to honk and people are chaotically thinning out.  An impatient driver decides not to wait, and goes careening through the crowd of people on the sidewalk, laying on the horn all the way.  Pure insanity.  Nevertheless, other cars follow and the people scatter like a colony of ants in a sudden rainstorm.  Apparently, they’ve all heard the news as well.

As if it will help him escape the chaos, Bristol puts his window up while he draws his own conclusion.  Sitting in relative quietness, aside from the occasional holler, he watches as the people move about him in a slow and unmethodical motion.  Desperation is everywhere. 

Flipping the radio back on, the music is blaring as he abruptly flips the station to the broadcast channel.  The announcer’s voice sounds urgent, “I repeat; we’ve got a little over eight minutes before the earth will be in absolute darkness as you heard Dr. Alan Nesh, one of NASA’s top astronomers, proclaim.  Is it the end of the world? Some would say…”  Bristol changes the channel while he steers his car into a neighborhood; his neighborhood to be more precise, and pulls into his driveway.  According to his watch, and everyone else, he has about five minutes before his world will go through an inevitable change. 

The cell phone feels warm in his hand as he dials his girlfriend Scarlet’s number.  She picks up almost immediately.  “Hey… I know, I know. Settle down and listen. Get your camping gear, flashlight and as many batteries as you can find,” he instructs her, “Just do what I said. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” 

After hanging up, he turns the television on to listen to while he gathers his belongings.  Finding a channel with a live broadcast is difficult, as most channels are producing a recorded announcement. “I hope you’ve all been keeping your food storage up-to-date, because no one knows how long we will be without sunlight,” the man chuckles uneasily on the set, “for some of us darkness might be a good thing.  My wife quit wearing make-up a long time ago.”  The canned laughter dwindles as Bristol hurries to the stairway.

Heading into the basement storage area, Bristol grabs his camping gear.  A curiously large spider scurries out from beneath the backpack and he steps on it, slinging the pack over his shoulder.  His other hand snatches the cooler’s handle and he totes them to the kitchen.  Making his way back upstairs into his bedroom, he grabs his coat, cash out of his top drawer and baseball cap, pulling it onto his head. 

Back in the kitchen, he packs the cooler with chocolate bars, fruit and bottled water.  Then he tugs everything into the garage to grab his emergency food supply consisting of dry goods in mini packets, a large container of jerky, freeze-dried raspberries, powdered eggs, a whole bunch of Ramen Noodles, and canned tuna and chicken.  Peering inside, he ensures he has two can-openers, in case one breaks.

Everything fits snugly into the back of his Jeep as he opens the garage door.  As the door rolls up, he can hear the neighborhood going crazy as if it is a henhouse upset by a fox, and they appear as much.  Children are crying, women are trying to guarantee they have everything, and the men are yelling at everyone to hurry up.  It’s amazing at how everything has changed in only a few minutes.   However, as he notices these changes, the light evaporates as instantly as someone closing the refrigerator door.  For a split second, silence envelopes the world until the birth of a savage garden arrives.

Blood-curdling screams ring out as he turns his headlights on to witness his neighbor’s attack by a couple of men.  Her face, etched into his mind, searches for help as hespeeds away striving to save his own girlfriend.  Time is of the essence and he knows that every second counts if they are going to escape safely.  In his mind, or perhaps in reality, he can hear his neighbor shriek again, but this time it stops suddenly in midair.  Suddenly thoughts of Scarlet needing his help drown out any sounds he hears as he speeds up in the chaos.  Tunnel vision takes over and the remainder of the journey is a blur.

Pulling into the driveway, Bristol sees the beam of a flashlight come bounding out the front door.  Scarlet’s duffle bag and backpack over one shoulder, holding the flashlight in one hand; and Maximus attached at the end of a leash.  He should have known she was going to bring him, even though they really couldn’t spare the room in the restrained area of the vehicle.  Her duffle bag and backpack are small in comparison to the size of the dog food bag she totes under one arm.  Despite the extenuating circumstances, he finds himself smiling.

“All ready?” he calls to her, flashing his light at her so she can see where she is going as he climbs out to help.  The Border Collie makes seeing where she’s going a difficult task, but with Bristol’s help, she manages to get into the passenger seat.  The dog jumps into the back, on top of their belongings.  The driver’s door pops open and a man begins to climb in as Bristol clutches his shoulder with one hand and hits him with the flashlight with the other.  He quickly knocks him to the ground. 

Maximus begins to lunge at the stranger and Scarlet lends a restraining hand, “Stay.”  Bristol steps over the man, granting him a kick him to his gut before he climbs in and slams the door.

“Now are we ready?” he asks.  Maximus barks and the Jeep starts up, squealing out of the driveway as they take off.  They can see the lights bouncing around as people are fighting amongst themselves.  He wonders if they’ll ever be back.  If so, the neighborhood will most definitely be different.

Zipping along the back roads, he is heading for the freeway when he recognizes the traffic stopping at the bottom of the entrance ramp.  The Jeep slows to a stop when a man jumps from his vehicle ahead of them.  In the array of headlights, he pulls a gun from his waistband.  He walks to a vehicle stopped in front of him and aims his gun.  He begins to fire while shouts and yelping ensue, similar to that of an out-of-control dog pound.  The gunman systematically follows up the line of cars, one after another, until someone returns the favor with a perfect shot to the head.  His body flies back to the car behind him and he crumples to the ground.

 There is nothing to say at this point, only securing their safety as much as possible, as Bristol makes a U-turn.  The situation is becoming even more dire as he drives against traffic down the outer edge of the ramp.  Scarlet leans over, as the tires hit the main road, and puts an old Sammy Hagar song playing, Three Lock Box in the stereo.

The Jeep rumbles along the Wasatch Front, coming up the River’s Edge resorts and east toward Bristol’s cabin, tucked away from the rest of civilization.   When his father died and left him the property, he kept it for the purpose of childhood memories, but never thought the purpose would be to hide from civilization.  With the insanity he’s been seeing, he’s relieved that it is so far away from populated areas.

The scene welcoming him gives him an immediate sense of security as he drives into the clearing off a familiar dirt road.  Bumping through the trees, he drives up to a two-story cabin.  Definitely not something the Hiltons would live in, but it is all his and paid for.  A wave of relief swathes him as the headlights shine on the front door and he cuts the engine to hear the sweet sound of nothing. 

“Here we are,” he breathes, “We’ll be safe here until this crazy crap blows over.”

“How long do you think it will take,” Scarlet asks with concern burning the back of her throat, “days, weeks, or months?”

“That isn’t my department,” he jokes, climbing out to begin to grab some gear, “I work in the science field, not disasters.  And this is a disaster.” 

“Fair enough,” Scarlet gets out and takes Maximus with her.  She grabs his dog food and kicks the door closed.  It takes several trips for the two of them to completely unload the vehicle, but when they are finished, they know they can finally relax.

When everything is empty and they have the kerosene lamps burning, a fire going and hot coffee, the mood is more than surreal.  It’s inviting.  “If I didn’t know better,” Bristol teases as he drapes his arm around her shoulders, “I’d think this was some scatterbrained idea to get me alone.”

“Maybe it is!” she laughs as she cuddles up and plants a long and inviting kiss on his mouth.

The scratching noise awakens Maximus who scrambles from his spot at the foot of the bed.  His hard nails tap across the floor as he trots down the wooden stairs.  The clattering stirs Scarlet awake as she sits up in bed and listens for any disturbance, hoping he hears the wind stirring tree branches against the window.  Those thoughts dash away as she hears her dog growl and begin to bark in an alerting manner.

A scuffle ensues, by the sounds of it, and she can hear thrashing noises of disrupted furniture, a couple of lamps crashing and a few thuds.  “Bristol!   Bristol,” she whispers as quietly as she can while maintaining urgency for his attention.

“What?” he stirs, rolling over toward her, but then she can feel him sit up when he hears the commotion.  The dog continues to snarl and rumble until he unexpectedly becomes silent.   The eerie and turbulent hush physically creep up the stairway toward their bedroom doorway. 

Within a fraction of a second, Scarlet can hear the nightstand slide open beside the bed before Bristol jumps from the bed and hustles behind the door.  A slow creaking reveals the door opening on its hinges.  Scarlet is finally relieved that Bristol hasn’t oiled them, despite her constant nagging. 

The pitch darkness doesn’t allow her to feel comfort in knowing that Bristol is behind the door, so she flips on her flashlight to shine its beam directly into the eyes of the perpetrator.  Startled, he screams and throws his arm up in front of his eyes, dropping his flashlight.   Bristol knocks his hands away from his face and pepper sprays him.  The perpetrator falls to the floor, wailing as Bristol begins to violently kick him until he stops fighting and ceases to move. 

A second intruder enters and Bristol turns to clock him in the jaw with his elbow, and then turns to spray him as well.  The man tumbles over his friend’s body and clambers to the floor where Scarlet shines the light on him and screams.  When he raises his head, Scarlet can see this one must have been the one that Maximus attacked moments earlier.  He has open wounds on his face where blood is dripping and if he could see his own face, he would be screaming too.  Baring his teeth, he lunges from the floor toward Scarlet.  The flashlight in Bristol’s hand crashes down on the back of her head and back several times.  When the man rolls away from Scarlet, Bristol sprays the cuts on his face with the pepper spray. 

The noise of his screaming is deafening as the man runs about the room, crashing into the walls until a shattering of glass his heard.  The flashlights in unison reveal the delinquent has fallen through the bedroom window as the country-made curtains flutter in the cool, dark air.

Scarlet clamors to the light switch and flips it on to see a bloodied knife, which was undeniably intended to be her fate.  She releases a breath of liberation as Bristol runs over to her and pulls her close while she sobs with relief. 

After Scarlet gathers herself together, she agrees to stay put until Bristol can take an inventory of the situation and pull the stranger’s body out of the bedroom.  The thudding on the stairwell does little to appease her fears.  She sits nervously on the bed waiting for Bristol to return.  Her cell phone sits on the bureau and she snaps it up to call the police.  The phone service is available and her phone is charged, but there is no answer at the 911 station. 

The sound of dragging weight, doors banging, and footsteps sound in the quiet night above the sinister hush.  “Ugh, damn!” Bristol scowls as he lurches over the body of his girlfriend’s dog, Maximus, hitting the floor on all fours. 

Afraid of luring wild animals to the property, or more would-be thieves and killers, he pulls the bodies into the trees toward the cliff.  Using all his strength, he pushes them over the edge, one at a time.  This feat takes a long time because without any light, whatsoever, stepping too quickly could happen once too often.  He’s grateful he is so familiar with this territory and feels as if he could complete this task blindfolded.

Bristol wipes his nose with his arm.  He props himself up on his thighs with his hands and takes in a couple of deep breaths.  Spent, he doesn’t feel as if he has any oomph left at all for anything but sleep. 

Returning to the cabin, he enters to the safety of a lighted room.  He latches the door, stopping to wonder if he had done so earlier.  He decides to leave Maximus and the mess here until morning.  At least the men are gone.  He’s exhausted and certain he’ll be up way before Scarlet to get rid of it then.  Nevertheless, he needs to ensure he has his gun ready from now on. 

Bristol looks across the room to the gun cabinet.  He opens the kitchen drawer to remove the keys from their nestled spot in the back.  The gun cabinet is one his father’s friend had constructed many years before.  The front of the oak cabinet resembles any other found in a sporting goods store, but the hidden drawer at the base of the cabinet holds a few “extra” handguns and ammunition. 

Although Scarlet feels as if she is strong, and she is for a female, Bristol feels uneasy about giving her a gun that could cause her harm, so he picks up a 350 caliber, loads it and stuffs it into his waistband.  Next to that gun, he finds a 22 pistol he deems appropriate for Scarlet.  Briefly, his memory takes him to the first time he had ever fired a gun, and this was what his father referred to as “the instructor.”  The bullets are sitting in the back of the drawer and he shoves a few into the gun.  He fills his pockets with more ammo and heads back upstairs. 

“It’s okay, Scarlet,” he announces to ensure her security, “It’s only me so you can chilax, baby.  It’s over.”

The room is quiet as he approaches, the flashlight in his hand, and he sees the door is partially closed.  A strange numbness lingers in the air, causing him to pause.  He listens and doesn’t hear anything, which doesn’t signify anything as Scarlet is probably shaking like a leaf in anticipation of his return.

“Scarlet?” he listens closely as he gently pushes the door open with his foot.  The door swings open, bounces and returns.  His vision skims across the blood-covered bed where his girlfriend is lying on her back.  Her dark hair splays down the side as her head dangles off the edge of the bed, eyes wide open as she stares through him.  The presence of another person nearby strikes him as he spins to see a face glowering down at him.

The rest happens slowly and surreal as his contender emerges.  His face is also sporting some signs of earlier turbulence with an animal, probably Maximus.  But none of that matters now as he feels a poke and something sharp glide out from between his ribs.  The sound of the knife sliding against the bone is unmistakable as he feels it go back in.  Blood is bubbling up his throat and out his mouth, rupturing from his lips.  The flashlight tumbles from his hand, and he raises the pistol to shoot his assailant’s throat.  Bristol feels is pop, but doesn’t see it happen for his world goes just as dark as his surroundings have been for the past sixteen hours.

A warm kiss on his lips awakens him as his eyes flutter open to see Scarlet leaning over him, her hair tied back is in a bandanna and she has on cut-off shorts and a tank top. The sun is brightly shining through the windows.  She crosses the room to push it open, allowing the singing birds to join in the day’s celebration.  “I’ve made you breakfast as a lure to get your butt in gear, Mr. Kirkland,” she croons, twirling about the cabin’s bedroom in her sing-song voice.  “C’mon, let’s go soldier!”

Bristol pulls himself up in the bed and runs his hands through his sweaty hair, “Did we have anything to drink last night?”

Her head flings back, showing her smooth neckline and the floating heart necklace he gave her for her birthday as she laughs heartily.  “No alcohol, if that’s what you mean,” she says, “but I believe you were intoxicated with love, if you felt anything like I did.” 

Opening his bureau, she removes a pair of his boxers, a simple shirt, shorts and socks, tossing them onto the bed before disappearing down the stairs.  Her voice is melodic as she hums loudly and he realizes he can smell freshly brewed coffee, eggs and bacon. 

After he finishes getting dressed, he energetically scopes out the stairway and floorboards, searching for damages but not finding any.  The radio sitting on the counter is playing old rock and roll as she sings along, jumping when she hears him talk.  “Where is Maximus?” he inquires as he enters the kitchen to watch her. 

Scarlet laughs, “Maximus is with my sister, where we always leave him when we come up here.”  Her voice lowers, “You said you can’t stand him watching us.  When we tried closing him out of the room he howled the whole time, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he agrees, turning to see her putting water into the pans she is no longer using.  Bristol crosses the room and wraps his arms around her waist, giving her a gentle squeeze.  Leaving the water running, she turns to him and puts her wet hands around his neck giggling.  He chuckles a bit himself as droplets of water trickle down his back, wetting his shirt.

The radio is playing “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” by Savage Garden and the couple begins to sway to the music, kissing deeply.  Partially through the song the music ceases playing and the emergency alert system begins blaring loudly, causing the couple to stop abruptly.  They rotate toward the radio, as if lips were going to move on the speaker, addressing them.

“We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast,” the recording states, “to bring you this emergency message.”  Afterwards the speaker is the regularly scheduled deejay, Justin Case, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am required to relay a message from the president of the United States.  NASA has reported a large hole in the ozone layer growing at an increasingly rapid pace.  We have been instructed to prepare immediately…”

The Reflection of Delaney Weis

June 13, 2012

“The jerk had nothing to say to me, he just sat there like an idiot,” Delaney pours out over her beer, between sobs as the bartender patiently listens.

“Considering you walked in on him and the other woman was still there, what’s there to say?” he offers his candid words to her, knowing she won’t hear him.  “He’d already made an ass of himself,” he shrugs, “What could he possibly say?”

A woman rushes in and taps Delaney on the shoulder before taking the stool next to her at the bar, “Sorry, I rushed here as soon as I could but that meeting dragged on and on!  You know how long-winded Spartan can be.”

Delaney’s face plants in the beer stein, leaving nothing exposed but her forehead and red scraggly hair, hanging dankly to her shoulders.  “What can I get you?” the bartender asks as he does a million times a day, and sounds as much.

Samantha points to the beer in Delaney’s fist as the bartender nods and gets to work filling a mug.  “Tell me what’s going on,” she urges her to recant the horrible details, but this time to someone who isn’t dishing out idol talk.

The final swig goes down smooth and cold as Delaney shudders in response, “There isn’t much to say other than I just walked in on my husband screwing some other bitch.  Right in my own bed!  Where am I going to sleep now?  Certainly not with Brian!”  Her shoulders begin to shake uncontrollably as she breaks down sobbing as if her world is crashing in around her. 

The bartender sets the mug down in front of Samantha and she takes an appreciative swallow.  “That’s good, thanks,” her attention goes back to her girlfriend who is staring at the counter like a zombie.  No expression on her face, which Samantha has come to realize is a sign of shock; the reality isn’t really soaking in all the way yet.

“What can I do?” she offers as she sets her hand on her friend’s back, playing with the locks of wet hair, “And how did you get wet?”

Setting her beer on the counter for the first time since Samantha showed up, she begins to laugh, but it cut short by coughing and choking.  Beer sprays over the counter and onto the bowl of pretzels sitting nearby.  “Are you okay?” the bartender asks, grabbing a towel to wipe the beer off the counter.   The women look at him and he quickly removes the pretzels and goes to the other end.

“I got wet when he followed me outside and we started talking,” she begins.

“Talking?”

“Yes, just before I pushed him,” her voice gets quiet before she finishes, “and he shoved me back– into the pool.”

Not being able to prevent herself from laughing hysterically, Samantha throws her arm around her friend’s shoulders, “Let’s go to my place.  We’ve got to get you into something that won’t give you pneumonia.”

 

The street is bustling with people when Delaney stops suddenly.  “Are you okay?” her eyes are directed across the street.  Propped up against a dilapidated building is a sign that reads Mystical Tarot and Palm.

 “Let’s try that,” without awaiting a response, Delaney’s crossing the street.  A car honks at her and she receives the finger as she continues her journey unfazed.  Samantha jogs after her arriving breathless.

“Are you kidding?” she breathes, “Please tell me you’re kidding!”  The wind blows her dark hair across her face as she catches her breath.

“What have I got to lose?” Delaney can’t help but laugh as she smoothes her hair with her hands before opening the old door, paint peeling around the glass windows and a squeak that could shatter a dog’s eardrums.  Cobwebs float past them as they enter the shop.  Red and black cotton cloth drape across the walls with stickpins at the top. 

“Did I ever tell you your taste is awful?” Samantha nudges her, whispering.

“No,” the giggled reply returns, “Maybe my bad taste is what’s wrong with me.  A real friend would say something.”

“I’m just teasing you,” Samantha exclaims, “You know my world revolves around your needs and whims!”  Both women are laughing when the curtains at the back open and an old woman appears.  A dark lacey shawl embraces her shoulders and her curly black hair tucks behind her ears, exposing her dangling gold earrings. 

“She’s a hundred years if she’s a day,” Samantha whispers, “at least you look better than she does.  That’s a bright side.” 

Embarrassed, Delaney gives her a little shove as if to quiet her, but the woman doesn’t seem to hear.  As she emerges from the shadows, her appearance is even older, but her voice is smooth and sweet.  “Why do you come here today?” she asks, peering into each of the middle-aged women’s eyes.

But Delaney doesn’t know why she is here.  Perhaps to hear that the dirty secret she’s uncovered is not true.  Her shoulders sink and so does her gaze, right to the floor.  At this response, the old woman holds out her hand and says, “Come with me and let us see what we can do for the pain.”  The hallway behind the curtain is long and has a variety of articles stacked against the shelves from books, to trinkets, and even voodoo dolls.

Stephanie pauses to take in the effects as she gingerly reaches out to touch one of the dolls.  Without turning to acknowledge her, the woman warns, “Be careful back there.”  The guilt overcomes her as she drops her hands to her sides and does a double step to catch up. 

The room they stop in is dark blue and bare, other than a small table in the middle with one chair on one side and two on the other.  “Please, have a seat,” she croons to them as she sits herself, adjusting her skirt around her legs.

“I don’t know if we can afford this, really,” Stephanie starts up, “We don’t even know how much it is.”

Raven’s eyes peer at her from across the table, wise, old and untrusting, “The cost is $25 for half an hour.”

“Can you squeeze it into a half-hour?” Stephanie teases her friend who replies, “I only have one question. And that is, is my husband ever coming back to me?”

The gypsy’s eyes become dark caverns on each side of her long, straight nose and her mouth tightens into a line.  “No, he will never be yours.  Only a fool tries to control another, when she can only control herself.”

The silence is deafening as Delaney stares at her hands in her lap. They nervously wrinkle up a tissue she has taken out of her purse.  “It’s because I’m old and ugly now, isn’t it?”The emotions are too strong as she finally breaks down and blubbers like a baby.  “I’m useless!” she wails pathetically, not sounding at all as the mature woman she is supposed to be.

“No,” her friend rests her arm across her shoulders, “You’re just too good for him, that’s all.”

“That is what we always say when we don’t fit the bill, isn’t it?” the old woman contributes, receiving admonishing glances from both before muttering, “I just say it how I see it, that’s all.”

“This obviously isn’t a good time to be here,” Samantha says, spinning toward the door, “C’mon Del, we’ll come back after we get you cleaned up.  That’ll make you feel better anyway.”  With that, she heads through the doorway out of the room and into the store.

“Wait,” the old woman sings handing Delaney a petite hand mirror.  Delaney holds it up and admires the bone-cut flowers and the ebony finish as she twists it around to see the face.  Black streaks of mascara stream down her cheeks over her splotchy make-up.  She looks utterly disgusting.

“Thanks, I needed that,” the sarcasm drips from her lips as she tries to hand it back, “Besides, I couldn’t afford it anyway.”

“This is not a mirror of what is, but a mirror of what can be,” the woman begins to hum and pulls an envelope from her pocket, handing it to her.  “The instructions are here, but you must read them privately,” she motions with her hands, “All of this is private.  Understand?”

“I’m not so sure I do,” she begins but is cut off by Samantha calling her name from the other room.

“Go,” she repeats, “Go be jaw-dropping and eye-popping now.”

Without looking back, Delaney hustles to join her friend as she nears the door to exit.

“She is too weird for me,” Samantha tosses over her shoulder as she leads the way out of the store, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” she quickly tucks the mirror into her purse she’s been hiding casually beside her leg.

 

The drive is quiet before Samantha reaches over to turn the radio on, hoping the music will at least pad the tension, when suddenly Delaney shouts, “Oh my God, that’s her!”  Her eyes are glued to a woman entering a corporate center in business attire, she’s speaking on the phone and laughing.  “Let me out here.”

“What?  You can’t be serious!”

“I am not kidding,” and her hand on the door handle says she’s very serious as the door pops open before the car even stops.  Running as fast as she can, she falls in behind the woman and walks briskly, following her inside.  A few minutes later, she reappears, smugly beaming as she lifts her sunglasses up to wink at her friend before climbing into the car.

“What was that about?” confusion is evident as her friend pulls away from the curb.

“Nothing,” she tries to straighten her hair with her fingers, “I just wanted to see where she works, that’s all.”

 

When they arrive at Samantha’s apartment, she gives the rundown, “Okay, you can stay here as long as you want, so never feel rushed, okay?”  The door opens and the lights come on as Delaney breathes a sigh of relief.  Tossing the keys they jingle as they bounce across the counter and Samantha heads to the bedroom.  “I’ll get you some clothes to change into and you can go ahead and use the shower, but I don’t need to tell you that.”

When the bedroom door closes, Delaney moves out to the balcony to have a glimpse of the city.  The cars move smoothly below and the airplanes are just as smooth overhead, while the birds make up the middle.  Her girlfriend comes out of the bedroom in a pair of scrubs and a tunic, and hands her a pair as well, “Figured we’ll be in for the rest of the night, so got you some comfy clothes.”

“Thanks,” she takes the clothes and heads into the bathroom.  With the door closed behind her, she sets her purse on the counter and removes her clothes.  Her purse is open and she sees the envelope the strange woman gave her sticking out of the top.  The envelope feels cool to the touch as she removes it and peels it open, taking the paper out and unfolding it.

It’s a notice stating that the rightful owner of the mirror is the one in possession of it and that no one else is ever to attempt the use of it–the consequences will be deadly.  Whatever that means, Delaney thinks as she smiles, a mirror threatening death.   She continues as she quietly reads the rest of the note;

                Whereupon the first light hits following a cleansing

                The mirror reflects a whole new you whose life is n’er ending.

                Use the mirror sparingly to make a blossom flaunt

                To be too young and beautiful will only come to haunt.

Not knowing what that could possibly mean, she glimpses at herself briefly in the ebony mirror and sees a Delaney from about a decade ago.  But the bathroom mirror reflects the tear-stained face of a desperate woman as she sighs and climbs into the shower, wishing she could repeat the trick mirror’s revelation.  It isn’t long before she exits the shower feeling rejuvenated.

The terry cloth wrap smells fresh and clean, allowing her to feel revitalized.  Delaney puts on the scrubs and she wipes the mirror off with a towel, hoping her face appears as fresh as she feels. 

“You okay in there?” Samantha raps at the bathroom door, and it pops open, “Wanted to make sure you don’t need—” The sentence stops mid-air, just as her jaw does for even shaking her head and blinking her eyes doesn’t change what she’s witnessing.  “My God, you look great!” she exclaims.

“Do I?” cocking her head in sarcastic disbelief, she feels mischievous.  “Can I borrow your car tomorrow?”

“My car?” she asks and is given an awkward silence to which she counters, “Of course, but why can’t you use yours?”

“You can use mine, if you want to,” Delaney offers, “I won’t be that long and I’ll make sure to fill your gas tank before I bring it back.”  She pauses before adding, “Free tank of gas!”

“Okay,” she gives in, “I’m sure I don’t want to know what you’re doing, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Brian, does it?” 

“Brian?” she smirks, “Why would I want to see that jerk?”

 

The following day with Samantha gone to work, Delaney steps into the restroom, looks into the little mirror and takes an invigorating shower.  She imagines she’ll look better when she gets out, but she is stunned at how breathtakingly stunning she is.  From the original forty that she was yesterday, she looks to be in her late twenties now. 

Arriving at Kauffman and Law, the office she visited the day before, she strolls in wearing a classy outfit from her friend’s closet. “Hello,” she approaches the receptionist, “I’m looking for Kitty Allen, is she here?”

“Um, you mean Katrina Allen?” is the response, “Can I tell her who is calling?”

“Of course,” she casually tosses her hair back over her shoulder, “Dee-Dee.  She’ll know who I am.”

The receptionist picks up the phone and announces who is calling and after a moment, “I’ll send her right in.”   Setting the phone down in its cradle she smiles, “You can go into that door on the right.”

Clearing her throat, she pauses as she approaches the door and then enters.  “Hello, Ms. Allen,” she greets her target with a widespread grin.

 

 

 

 

“How did your day go?” Samantha asks as she sets her purse down on the end table and heads into the kitchen.  There’s a clattering of dishes as she unloads the dishwasher.

“Oh, it was okay…” and her cell phone interrupts before she rummages through her purse to grab it.  Glancing at it for a second, she says, “Excuse me,” and moves out to the balcony closing the door. 

After a few moments, she returns and cheerfully grins, “I have a date!”

“A date?  Are you crazy?” Samantha stares hard at Delaney as she rushes past her into the bedroom to grab an outfit before slipping into the bathroom.  Shortly after, Samantha hears the water come on and Delaney mumbling and laughing.  Straining with her ear against the door, she cannot determine what she is able to pick up, so she decides to make dinner for one.

When the door opens and the steam comes rolling out, Samantha is indulging in her movie and doesn’t remove her eyes from the screen.  Her bowl of macaroni in hand she asks, “Leaving?”

“Yes, I’ll be back before you know it,” and the waft of perfume follows her out the door in the brief moment it takes her to disappear.

 

The black Mustang pulls to the side of the road, half a block from her house and she walks to her house, her keys in hand.  She wants to be prepared to unlock the door as soon as she gets there.  There on the couch is her husband, Brian, sitting with a fire going and a glass of wine in his hand.  There’s a glass on the table half-full of wine as well and the house is remarkably clean.  Rare, considering she hasn’t been home for a couple of days.

“Hello, Brian,” she announces herself from the doorway positioned behind the couch he’s sitting on.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, irritably without giving her the courtesy of a glance, “I told you I have plans this evening when I called you, specifically telling you not to come home.”

“She isn’t coming,” she laughs, rounding the couch to position herself in front of him, “Well, she won’t be here either.”

“What do you mean?” he lifts his eyes from the wine and allows them to land on her, “And what the hell happened to you?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she pauses, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, “Do you like?”

 It seems like it’s been forever since she’s felt as young and vibrant as she does now, with her twenty-year-old body that she rotates around for him to get a better look.  It’s apparent he’s definitely interested as he watches and his eyes scan up and down on her firm buttocks, high and tight breasts and sculpted waistline.  “You think I’m jaw-dropping and eye-popping, don’t you?”

Without a moment to spare, he sets the wine glass down and stands to rise above her.  Delaney grins with the feeling of just winning Prom Queen until she realizes he’s passing her and approaching the front door.  “Are we going out?” hope glazes her words as they fall from her full lips and she licks them for extra effect.

“I’m not, but you are,” and with a single motion he opens the door and pauses before going out and quickly closing it behind him.  This sudden change in venue perplexes Delaney as she stops to listen for an indication of what could be happening.  

The voices she hears pique her curiosity and she stumbles to the window to see who his guest of honor with bad timing is.  Sure enough, it’s his stupid little Kitty Kat, the big-shot executive at thirty-something.  Straining she can hear the kitty becoming upset because he’s actually turning her away, but he doesn’t give her a reason, he just says he’ll call her.  Perhaps he is considering kissing up after all, she supposes with a devious chuckle.  Let the games begin!  And her suspicions seem reality as Kitty stomps back to her car, licking her wounds before backing out of the driveway.  Delaney is relieved she parked down the street, but has no idea where she got the notion.

Quickly, she bounces onto the couch as the front door opens and Brian comes back into the room.  “That seems to have gone well, don’t you think?” she giggles, patting the couch next to her for him to sit down.

“You need to leave,” sternly he stands with his hands on his hips, “I’ve got some sorting to do.”

“Sorting?” sarcastic disbelief enters her voice, “What type of sorting, you spineless worm?  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  I’m the one you married and as far as the body goes…”  Her hand smoothes down her leg, emphasizing it before she giggles.  “There should be no contest, Brian.  It’s a no-brainer, dear.”

“You aren’t getting any bonus points for the crap you’re pulling now, I suggest you get your purse and get out before I lose my cool and toss you out.”

Delaney snatches her purse off the floor and strides to the door, casually, even though the static is thick enough to stop a big rig at freeway speeds.  The smile never falters as she turns to face him at the door, “You know you want me, Brian. Both of us do.  Besides, this is my house too and I guarantee if I walk out that door tonight, you aren’t going to have a place to entertain your girlfriends.” 

Reaching past her, he seizes the doorknob and as he begins to turn the handle, she grabs him and begins to kiss him.  At first, he allows her to kiss him before she reaches down and begins to tug at his zipper.  This agitates him as he struggles pushing her away.  “Delaney, you have changed and I don’t like it.”

A cloud moves in to hover above her head, eyes flashing as she firmly jerks her knee up as hard as she can.  Grasping his crotch, he doubles over.  As his head comes down, her knee comes up and nails him in the nose, causing blood to explode from his face as he topples over backwards.  Before she realizes what she is doing, Delaney loses control.  She pushes her body down on his dazed body and straddles his shoulders, laying into him.  Even when he loses consciousness, she continues.

 

“Hey, how did it go?” Samantha asks as she hears the door open from the kitchen.

“It went,” Delaney’s voice drones in a non-emotional tone.

The dish in her hands drops, crashing to the floor in a million pieces as she circles around to see her friend.  Delaney is standing with messy hair, a bloody face and red-spotted clothes.  “Oh my God,” she blurts out, “Are you okay?”  The distance between them seems larger than it is as she runs over to give her friend a hug, but she doesn’t see her friend’s wry sneer.

“I’m okay,” Delaney informs her with the same passion as before.  Samantha moves into the kitchen to gather paper towels in bundles.  She turns on the water and drenchesthem before returning to aid her friend.  Delaney sits motionless, gaping at the sliding door that leads to the balcony.

The blood comes off quite easily, except for the clothing that needs to be thrown away.  “You probably should hop into the shower for the rest,” she suggests, “Will you be okay?”

“Yes,” she replies, “I will be back in a second to tell you what happened.”  The guest remains in the restroom for the next half hour.  When she returns to the living room, she is very fresh and of course, appearing as young adult.

“Wow,” Samantha responds with astonishment, “What is going on with you?”

“Whatever can you mean?” her shock seems to have worn off and sarcastic humor replaces it.  “Could you be talking about the new and improved Delaney?”

“You don’t look like a forty-something anymore, but someone who can’t see an R-rated movie without a parent’s permission.”

“Oh that!” she rotates to give her friend a clear impression of focus, “It’s a surprise!”

“Go sit down and I’ll get us something cool to drink,” Samantha instructs her as she returns to the fridge to grab a couple of beers.  But then she glances at her friend and exchanges them for bottled lemonade.

“Okay, what is it?” she takes the cap off and takes a swig, “How are you doing it and what happened today?  Was it some bizarre party or something?”

The silence is what one would hear in the middle of a desert with the warm air beating down and the wind turned down low.  “He’s dead.”

The bottle barely makes it out of her mouth as Samantha chokes a bit before wiping it with her hand. “Who?  How? What are you talking about?”

“Brian.  He’s dead,” she takes a drink and swallows for several gulps before lowering her bottle.  “I killed him.”

“You what?” in resounding disbelief, her eyes open wide in horror as she watches her friend raise the bottle again.  “Why?”

“An urge,” her head cocks a bit, “Although I’m not really sure why I had the urge.”

Samantha rises from the couch, unsure of whom she’s dealing with or if there is room for discussion.  “I think you need to leave now.”  She walks toward the hallway.

“Why?  We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“I love you, or at least the old Delaney I’ve grown up with, but it’s only been a few days since I’ve seen her and I don’t know who you are.  I think this breakup must have set you back somehow.”  Backing toward her bedroom door, she goes inside and says, “You need to leave now because I can’t help you anymore.”  The door closes and a voice seeps through it, “You need to leave, Delaney, please.”

After a few moments of thought, Delaney sets her lemonade bottle down and rises to walk down the hall.  Hesitating for a moment, she knocks and says, “I need to tell you something.  It’s a secret, but have to tell someone.  It’s about getting younger.  And it’s why Brian’s dead.  If you can’t help me, no one can help me.  You’re the only one I have right now, Sam.”

The door creeps open and Samantha slowly emerges, following to the couch before sitting a safe distance away.  Her instincts are alert as she searches the room for anything she can use as defense, until Delaney takes a mirror out of her purse.  “The old lady we talked to the other day gave this to me so I could be young again,” she holds it out, but when Samantha goes to take it she pulls it away again.  “I’m sorry, I can’t let you hold it or something bad will happen.”

“Something bad will happen?” she repeats, chuckling uneasily, “Hasn’t something bad already happened?”

“Yes, that’s why I need your help,” she replaces the mirror in her purse, and zips it securely, “I don’t know what to do with it.”

“What comes to mind for me is starting at the beginning by taking the mirror back,” she offers, “Perhaps if she truly is magic, she can undo what has been done, right?”

Delaney’s mouth twists to one side and her eyes look up to the ceiling, “You mean bring Brian back like I never killed him?”

“Yes,” she smiles, feeling reassurance, “And then change you back too, so your thinking is clear again.”

“You mean change me back the way I was, all old and everything?”

“There is a price to pay for our wisdom, right?” a grin spreads across her face as she scoots closer to Delaney, taking her hand in her own.

“I suppose you’re right.  Let’s go!” Delaney pulls her hand away and stands up.

 

The car is moving at a reasonably good pace when Delaney announces she’s not feeling well. “Can you pull over for a second, please?” she asks.  “I feel nauseous.”

Without a word, Samantha pulls to the side of the road and Delaney high-tails it over the embankment.  Her friend watches her disappear into a thicket of trees at the base.  The radio is a nice deterrent to the day’s events as she turns it up to sing along with the upbeat tunes.  Several songs later, she realizes she is still alone and her friend is nowhere around.  Flipping the button to lower the windows, she leans across the car and yells out the window, “Delaney!  C’mon, let’s go!” 

The woods are quiet and the only sound is the cars passing by them on occasion until Samantha puts the windows up, turns the car off, and tucks the keys in her pocket to search for her friend.  “Delaney,” she continues to holler for her, “Delaney, come on!”  The trees swallow her up, leaving her car abandoned–for now.

 

The drive back to the apartment is a short one with the radio blaring and the windows down.  Delaney adjusts the mirrors as she drives down the road and the seat suits her height.  She takes the elevator up to the floor of the apartment and inserts her late girlfriend’s key, admitting herself inside.  She’s as giddy as a schoolgirl, but her thoughts are not as innocent. Making her way inside to safety from the eyes of the world, she hums.

The lights come on to reveal the contents of the apartment and for the first time, she sees the lamps and knick-knacks positioned around the living room.  Not just sees them with her eyes, but also really notices them in detail.  The lampshade’s intricately detailed trim of gold resembling a mountain range and the post is shapely, like a young woman’s body.  The energy running through her body is extreme as she holds up her hands to look at them clearly defining each crack and wrinkle, each cuticle and hangnail.

The small crevice and every minute detail of hair follicles seep into her eyes while she rolls them over to see the palms.  The red blood is drying now and turning a crusty dark brown she notes.  What she needs is to take a shower and rid herself of the stink and grime of the past hour.

The bathroom mirror reveals a girl, no longer a sexy and attractive woman full of estrogen, but a young high school girl, preparing for womanhood.  Her hair streams down her back, to her waistline in riveting reddish-gold streaks, shining as bright as a new penny.  Her eyes are bright green and huge, like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse, and her smile is warm as it invites someone to educate her. 

The closet has a plethora of clothes for her to wear, sexy and inviting, but too large to fit her tiny body.  Her attention settles on a T-shirt and a skirt with an elastic waist.   Not the sharpest attire, she notes, but they will keep her from being naked.   Tying the shirt up in a knot above her navel, she decides it at least looks better that way.

When she closes the closet door, she sees something that makes her heart skip a beat.  On Samantha’s dresser is a conglomeration of photographs in a variety of frames.  Delaney strolls over to take in the details of each one and sees Sam’s mom and dad smiling at the camera with the ocean behind them as they stand on their boat.  But then she sees one of Samantha and her, arm in arm on their wine tasting tour in California last year.  Another one of the two of them together at last year’s marathon.  That was a trial, she remembers as she smiles. Her memory kicks in, flooding her with more memories of her and her friend, her and Brian, and her family as she grows up.   Shaking her head, to dismiss the joyful laughter of her friend, she tips over onto the bed, but it will not go away.

The laughter continues to get louder as she begins to scream, holding her ears and standing to fall into walls running down the hallway.  She searches for her purse, holding her ears even tighter and screaming to drown out the noise.   She knows what is necessary to stop the madness.

 

The police officers arrive outside the apartment’s door, “Is this the place?”  The other officer looks at the notepad in his hand and nods, before knocking.

They pause and the first one says, “I don’t hear anything.”  They knock again and command the door open by the people inside, but this receives no response.  Drawing his gun, the second one motions the other to stand back and prepares to kick the door.

“Hold on,” the first officer tells him and reaches over to try the knob.  Surprisingly the door swings easily open on its hinges to a quietly abandoned room.  Nothing is out of place in the living room and the kitchen is clean.  They do their routine check throughout the place and finally the first officer calls to his partner, “Jepson, come here quick!”

When the second officer arrives he cannot move, much less talk, as he drops his gun to his side with knees so weak he fears he will collapse.  On the bed is a body in a T-shirt with a knot at the waistline, and a skirt wrapping around two wrinkly legs resembling dehydrated jerky.  Her face shows two empty eye sockets and a gaping chasm where her mouth should be.  The nose is barely there and the arms are just as lacking of moisture, resembling cold French fries from yesterday.  One officer squints to see the long gray hair sticking out from under the decomposing body like discarded straw.

“What do you make of this?”  the first officer asks as he bends over to pick up a shard of glass from the floor among many splinters.  A rounded handle is nearby, black and shiny with pieces of bone scattered among the carpet strands.

“I’m not sure what to make of it, but we’ll have a heck of a time identifying the body with fingerprints.”

 

The Birthday Curse – a slice of heaven

June 10, 2012

At the age of fifty-five, Benny drives home from his birthday party at Reyna’s Rules, a local comedy club.  Now that he’s a year older….nothing has changed.  Everything is exactly the same as yesterday, but he’s certain his wrinkles are microscopically deeper, a couple more hairs are grayer, and he’s a little closer to death. 

The girl next to him doesn’t seem to notice his age, even though she’s less than half of it with her taut young body and plunging neckline to prove it, as if anyone has any doubts.  Her blond hair hangs loosely around her bare shoulders and he imagines the tresses must be tickling her back around the halter. He wonders if she likes that, or if she even notices.

The next streetlight is red as he sees a man jump from the curbside, a bucket and sponge in hand, “Need a wash sir?”  Before he has a chance to accept or deny, the old man is busy washing the glass with dirty, dull water and a dilapidated sponge.

“Get off my car, you old coot!” Benny screams at him, laying on the horn.  It’s amazing the fool even considered approaching the Mercedes in the first place, much less beginning work without approval.

The old man flies across the hood of the car, almost as if he’s run across an electric circuit with his wet hands.  His back hits hard against the curb, taking his grungy clothes, scraggly hair and tattered beard with him into the ditch.  The blond laughs before removing her gum and tossing it out her window to bounce off the dirty asphalt next to him.

The changing light signals Benny to step on it, which he gladly does, peering into his rearview mirror at the vagrant.  He can see the elderly man struggling to get to his feet, his lips moving and his hands gesturing wildly in the air.   Of course, he’s much too far away to hear the infuriated cursing of the gypsy.

The three-thousand square foot penthouse welcomes the couple as they exit the elevator.  “Wow, you really live here?” the woman questions in awe, her thick southern accent nearly drowning her words.

“No, I got the key from the beggar back there,” without a glimpse of humor, but a shrug of his shoulders, “He’s letting me borrow it for the night.” Benny isn’t really shocked when he hears her response. 

“Really?” she allows her eyes to drift over the awards on his mantle before spinning around, “If that were true, you’ve either been lying about your name or you’ve put your awards and medical certificates on someone else’s wall.”

Bringing a couple of glasses with him and a bottle of Chardonnay, he takes a seat on the sofa.  “Nothing gets past you, I see.  Come and have a drink with me and we can toast my birthday again, um…”

“My name is Kristi,” she tells him casually, as if no one ever remembers what to call her.

“Right, Kristi.”

As the cork pops out, the aroma is oak and melon Benny notes, closing his eyes and drifting, if only for a second.  Opening them again, he pours each glass half full and prepares to take a swallow.  “Wait!” she interjects, “Have you even made a birthday wish yet?”

“No, I thought that’s what you were here for,” he raises his eyebrows, “to make my wish come true, baby.”

Her head lulls back and she laughs aloud, reminding Benny of the sound a very loud chicken might make, “I’m serious!”

“So was I,” he adds, “Now let’s celebrate my birthday.”

“Okay,” her serious tone comes back.  She holds her hand up in a motion to stop him, “But back home we always have three wishes for a birthday.  So, you have to tell me yours.”

The expression is priceless until he realizes the only way to overcome this obstacle is by giving in a little.  Besides, looking at those long and nimble legs, paired with that full breast, three wishes should be easy to come up with.  “Okay, okay,” he says allowing his gaze to wander into the night sky through the window reflecting the city lights below.

After a spell, he gets an idea, “I wish to become wealthy.”

“That’s it?” her eyes narrow as she shakes her head, tucking a curl behind her ear,”Everyone always wishes for that.  Besides, you already are, aren’t you?  I mean, I don’t know of any doctors who are poor.”

He laughs, “You’d be surprised!  Ever hung out at a golf course and really listened to…”  But then he stops because clearly this girl wouldn’t know which end of the club to hit the ball with, much less the difference between a driver and a putter.  A golf course is probably the last place you’d find this type of woman.  “Yes,” he finishes, “I would want to be so well-off that I wouldn’t know what to do with the money.”

“Hmm,” she says, eyeing the wine as she loops her arm around his with her wine glass.  “What’s your second wish?”

“I guess it could be the answer for the first wish,” he thinks aloud as he speaks, “I’d like to find the cure for everything.”

“Everything?  Isn’t that a whole bunch of cures?”

“No, I mean one cure for any ailment,” he sits forward in anticipation of the drink.  “You know, a medicine that can cure anything!”

“Okay, like some miracle drug, right?”

“Sure,” his wheels are turning, “a miracle drug…”

“Great,” and her voice becomes deep and sultry, “and lastly, your third wish?”

“My third wish would be for someone to love me, unconditionally.”  The words sound like a stranger saying them through his head, but not him at all.  Still being his third wish,  that the game is over with and he can finally collect what he’s been anticipating for the past two hours.

“That sounds like something a woman would say, ‘unconditional love’,” she makes her voice low and drawn out for the ‘unconditional love’ part.

“Yeah, whatever,” he chuckles, “Let’s celebrate!”

They celebrate, celebrate, and Oh!  Celebrate!

The next morning, Kristi is making coffee and has the television on when Benny wanders into the room.  “Hate to make you rush, but I’ve got a few things to do today.  I’ll have coffee, but we gotta hurry.”  He sits down at the table and grabs the newspaper sitting to the side, opening it in front of him.

The smile manages to hold its place on her face, despite her disappointment and she approaches his cup with the pot of coffee.  “I heard them deliver the paper, so I brought it to the table for you,” she offers, but gets no reaction.

“Oh my God!” he murmurs, getting louder, “Oh my good God! I won!”  He jumps from his seat and runs to the coat rack, removing his jacket.  He immediately rummages through the pockets.  Withdrawing a piece of paper, he clambers over to Kristi, hands shaking and legs jumping, “Look at this, one of my wishes is coming friggin’ true already!”

Kristi looks at the numbers and crosses to the table to read the winning numbers, and sure enough, they match.  Benny is now a multi-millionaire.  “That’s amazing!” she adds before he takes a drink of his coffee to calm him down and bring him back to reality.  “I wonder if the other wishes will come true.”

Without taking the time to listen to her, he snatches her purse, thrusting it into her arms and pushes her to the elevator, despite protests.  “Wait, wait,” she cries as the doors close and she disappears from his life.

Despite feeling like the richest man at the office, Benny needs to wait until the funds come in.  Even when he receives the money, he will not be finished with his work.  He determines he’s going to make his other wishes come true.

Over the following month, he goes over the experiment he’s been working on.  The goal is to find an antidote for the onset of life-threatening diseases, stabilizing the first symptoms, making the secondary and more life-altering symptoms obsolete.  He believes this is the secret to identifying the cause and eventual cure of the illnesses. 

“Perhaps,” he suggests aloud, “tapping into the human mind’s psyche is the secret to reversing any negativity due to the activity of the brain.  There’s got to be a way to reverse the brain, while still permitting brainwaves to continue normal functionality, the cure for everything!”

The cell phone ringing interrupts his thoughts and he dashes to the phone.  When he looks at the screen, he doesn’t recognize the number and wonders if the bank is calling to notify him the money has arrived.  Taking a deep breath, he says, “Hello?”

The other end of the phone remains silent before a southern woman answers, “Hello, Benny?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“Kristi,” she clears her throat, “Kristi Marcus, but you don’t know my last name.”

“Kristi?” he repeats, “I don’t know anyone named Kristi.”

“Remember your birthday last month?”   The dead silence reflects his memory of the drunken evening where he recited his wishes.  He never could remember that girl’s name, but here she is now nonetheless. 

“Listen,” he tells her, “I don’t even have the money yet, so whatever hare-brained scheme you have for cashing in on my winnings, forget it, blondie.”

“I think you’re going to be a father.”  There is nothing more as the phone drops to the floor and he collapses.

The light is so bright when his eyes open, it takes him a moment to recall what happened.  The operating table lights are even more intense than he could imagine, as he squints his eyes to see the doctors and nurses.  But there are no doctors or nurses here.  Only plumes of drifting mist for as far as the eye can see. 

“Where am I?” he asks himself, sitting up, and it echoes as if he’s screamed it at the top of his lungs.  In the distance, he can hear the tap-tapping of shoes as he sees a small man, hair parted neatly on the side and cut short, approaching him.  His suit is obviously tailor-made, with his silky black tie lying neatly on his chest.  The thin mouth cracks a diminutive smile while he pushes his black glasses up onto his bridge and pulls a tri-folded slip of paper out of his breast pocket.

“Clearly, the question you ask is rhetorical,” the man suggests, “as I don’t know how it can be any more obvious to you that you’re dead.”

The reality takes a minute to clear the fog in his head, as it seems as thick as the fog surrounding him now.  “Dead?” he questions, and then chuckles, “I can’t be dead.”

“On the contrary, you certainly are dead,” the man argues, “and you brought it on yourself, understandably, through your own ignorance.”

“I don’t get it,” Benny pinches his bridge and squints his eyes again, but the chap remains, even closer now.

Shaking the paper open, the man extends it toward Benny so he can have a look and what it reveals. The list is nothing more than the numbers one, two and three down the left margin of the page.  “Sometimes when dealing with the simple-minded folks, I find it takes me a bit longer to explain,” he begins, “Generally speaking, the simple-minded folks are the ones who think they are better, faster, or smarter than the average person.”  And then he whispers, ” In a word, you.”

“This is a dream,” Benny exclaims as he laughs, pinching himself quite hard on his arm several times.

“No, although it probably would be better for you if it was only a dream,” the courier stifles a giggle, “but on your birthday you made three wishes.  And those wishes have been granted.”

“Why would that be a bad thing?” Benny inquires, “All of the wishes I made were good wishes, right?”

“Well, normally that might be so, but you made them directly after nearly running over a gypsy.  The gypsy who, by the guided hand,” he motions upward, following with his eyes, “was doing his best to live an honest life.”

“So there’s a catch, big deal,” he climbs to his feet in front of the man who he recognizes is a third less taller than himself.  He puffs out his chest and for the first time notices himself wearing a dull cotton tunic and pants, as if he were at a hospital, less the vibrant colors.  “I’ll still take my wishes.”

The man empties his throat and looks at the list.  “First, you wished to become wealthy, is this not true?”  His eyes peer over the paper as he momentarily lowers his glasses.

“Yes, doesn’t everyone?” Benny is proud of himself, despite the gentleman replacing his glasses and lifting the paper back up.

“You won the lottery with those little numbers you picked, did you not?” the man lifts his chin as if he has just proven a point that’s not up for argument.

Receiving no answer, he continues, “The second wish was to discover a mystery cure for every ailment, correct?”

As if it was a trick of some sort, Benny ponders before answering this time, “Yes, I was just about to make the greatest discovery of all time which, by the way, would make me even wealthier still, right?  But I was interrupted!”  Benny’s anger is evident by now.

The man falls into hysterics before straightening up again, “No, silly.  The cure for every illness is death, and everyone discovers it eventually.”

Reality checks in with Benny and then he stops for he cannot remember what his third wish was, but surely after death, there can’t be anything more.  It is as if the little business man is reading his mind because he continues without being egged on, “You did have one more wish, did you not?”

“Yeah,” he slowly replies, “One more wish…”

“It was to be loved ‘unconditionally,’ wasn’t it?” the man presses his lips together as if he’s secretly proud of himself for making Benny uncomfortable.

Recognition envelops him, “Yes, I’ve never been loved unconditionally.  So it appears as if there’s been a misunderstanding.  If you could return me back to earth to finish my strange quest, I would certainly appreciate it.”  His swollen pride returns as he smoothes his shirt down with his hands.

“You are loved unconditionally,” the messenger delivers, “the baby, whom you fathered on your birthday will always be grateful to you for bringing him into existence.  He’ll be grateful for the talents he’s inherited, and he will love you for all the things you were attempting to do for mankind before you died.”

“But the baby isn’t born yet so there’s no way to claim me as his father,” comes the smug reply.

At this, the messenger laughs uncontrollably.  “You were a scientist with your DNA scattered about the place, were you not?  You died immediately following the announcement you were to be a father, so in order to prove it for her son, Kristi needed to do so immediately–and she did.  Besides, you’ve been here for a long time now.  The time difference is quicker here and your son is now in school.”  He motions toward a window that mysteriously appears behind him.

Walking with laden feet, Benny strolls over to the window to peer through and sees a young man, who is the spitting image of himself.   “Wow,” he murmurs, “wishes really do come true.”

“You are now the proud dead father of a very rich heir.  Congratulations!”