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Lingering Memories

© — Sandra Glassman


Not a cloud visible on the horizon. I had prayed this would be the case, for this special occasion. The flowers arrived, the catering service needs my assistance everything is moving at lightning speed. This long awaited unique day, the day my younger sister Starr becomes a bride. Planning for the wedding has been both a drama and healing process for me. My husband suggested the wedding should take place at our home. It's an old converted barn, surrounded by breath taking scenery. The house overlooks a serene lake with a view to gaze and experience the wonder of nature.


My sister and I are extremely close even with a seven-year age difference. I hope nothing will mar the excitement I feel. I cross my fingers behind my back, then slump my old bones onto the couch and in two seconds I've drifted into a light sleep. All at once Starr and I are children again.


I have never been able to forget that tragic event so long ago. The event that turned my family’s life upside down. Mom was doing laundry; Starr was peacefully sleeping in her white wicker crib. She was eight months old, I was six. I was playing in our room with my favorite curly red headed doll. Suddenly Starr was crying events happened so fast from there. Mom wasn't around so I went over to her crib and attempted to lift her out. She was wet from crying and so heavy I had to stand on tip toes to reach her. Gathering up all my strength I tried with all my might to hold on to her. I still cringe as I relive this. What happens next remains a blur. Mom came in a flash. She lifted Starr off the floor, ordered me to call Dr. James. My hands were shaking but somehow I did as I was told. I stood in our room, the room Starr and I slept in afraid mom would scream at me. She gave me a sad gaze.


The diagnosis was severe and devastating. Starr would be deaf and therefore unable to speak for the rest of her life. For me it meant knowing and living with the knowledge I alone was responsible. As time passed it became harder to answer the inevitable questions from my friends. Being six years old, this was a heavy burden. I included Starr in all my play activities. Even with a handicap she seemed happy. Going to special schools. Starr taught sign speaking she excelled at her studies. Sign language was her only way to communicate. She went to college studied hard and became a teacher for hearing impaired children.


Starr met Lee, the man who is about to become her husband at the school where they were both instructors. Lee wasn't hearing impaired, and shortly after meeting her became smitten with her inner beauty and outside glow. He knew she was really special and didn't want her to get away. She resisted his proposal for a long time. Finally, she agreed that June tenth 2006 would be the day they would exchange vows.


I myself had to begin therapy to accept the fact I was a young child and this was just a horrible accident. I carry this guilt always.


Starr has been a powerful influence and positive role model for me as I raise my two daughters. All at once there is a gentle tap on my shoulder. My husband Matt is standing near the couch with a grin on his face. My mind jolts back to the reality of this wonderful day. Still groggy I lift myself off the couch. The guests have begun to arrive. Everywhere wall to wall people. Upstairs in our mother's house, yes that same bedroom we shared, that room so filled with memories, sits my dear selfless kindest, most beautiful bride ever. She will probably cry as she walks down the aisle I will also. Her name suits her perfectly for she is truly luminescent, my one in a million sister Starr.



American

© — Dale W. Davis


Let's try to uphold the middle class through good work and belonging to a good union. At the same tune making sure the work place is a safe place, whether union or not. Which means on your part to be the best American you can. Start with being sure to have proper and safe tools and equipment to work with. If you work in a factory, be sure the air is safe. Are there hazardous vapors of some kind? Has there been proper safety equipment provided? I don't mean that if you're a tall big muscular guy they can't give you the proper protection because of your size, and you have to wear whatever size they give you, so you are still to an extent are exposed to toxic vapors, and therefore to keep a good paying job, you may bear with unsafe working conditions. Please don't be a foolish one, request for the record, proper safety equipment that fits!


By your not speaking up for safety equipment that should properly fit you, such as a gas mask or some other type of proper protection in order to have proper protection, you're also hurting your family, whatever size it may be, financially, as you allow yourself to work in dangerous health conditions, and by not saying anything about them, when you should. But when you do, note in your mind the day, year, time, and the name of the proper person you've told, and record it in writing when you get home, and also record as to any witnesses to your conversation, in case you need to go to court, or to apply for disability, or if you've need for special doctors for your health condition.


It takes all kinds of jobs to make America to survive, from the fireman, policeman, the utility worker digging, or working from a bucket lift on a truck. The bucket as I call it being on the other end of a long metal arm attached to the truck, which is controlled from inside the bucket. The bucket can be positioned at a height the worker desires in order for him to repair your phone line or that of a high powered voltage line.


Even the CEO in a high rise hi New York City contributes to the American dream, and he as well has a dream to have a bigger home, and to put his children through college, and one perhaps being a lawyer or a doctor. We cannot forget the smaller shops that weld, and the factory workers sorting and packing our fruit, and other factory workers of all kinds doing their part of keeping the American dream alive. Don't forget the hard working farmers who may get up before the sun does in the morning to get started for the day, while others wake up later on, or are retired and sleep in as we depend on them for milk, beef, eggs, vegetables, and other food items that we buy and partake of daily.


We've educated ourselves to be part of the American dream of success. Some of us succeeded in our dreams of success, while others have failed, but, at least we tried. In failure we learn from the bad experiences. Then perhaps trying it all over again, and knowing the second time what bumps there are in the road of life to beware of. Later now in time you feel you have a better grasp. Now you're proud having tried the second time, because in: your heart and mind you feel like you can now say: "I did it! I did it!"


Yes, it takes long hours of work to succeed, and they're not going to come knocking on your door with a big check as you sit there in your lounge chair watching TV. There are even those who are disabled that have found a part in the American dream.


I feel as long as you're capable, you too can be a part of the American dream and never to give up, but to keep on creating that special invention, that special robot of the future, that special serum that will saved thousands of lives. Again I say, don't give up. Keep on fighting to have your own American dream to come true. Learn by others experiences, if possible getting additional education to help you with your American dream.


I for one even while at the age of 65 should have took courses for to be a CAD Operator. That is a person who draws by the use of a computer. 10 to 15 years ago my position would've been referred to as an Architectural Draftsman, and I would've been working on a drafting board. After the year of 20001 was very gradually phased out as a Architectural Draftsman, but yet still staying on as to printing engineering drawings and to scan drawings onto a hard drive for future retrieval.


Computers and monitors now take the place of the old fashion drafting boards where I was employed for over 39 years. They are connected to the inner office network which is also connected to other computers throughout the office, as well to the printing machine so all works together, even to the photo copiers. It then came time at the end of 2006, since I wasn't a CAD Operator, that my old position was then eliminated, and it was time for me to say good bye to my close friends and coworkers and to retire.


After the death of Sara my girlfriend of over 25 years, who died of cancer in December 2005, my days of retirement still at times seems very lonely without her. I think it would be nice if Jesus provided me with another person to truly love for the other years of my life, in having a loving and a special understanding lady like Sara.


I now know what grief widowers go through when the one they've married and held true to has died. Sara and I never married, but because of her many health conditions we did not, but, we held true to each other.


Since my retirement I've had many projects to try to get off the back burner and to try to finish. In fact, I may've not worked on this piece, if I was still employed. Perhaps God has given me more time to work for him, as to work on creative Christian writings for Him.


My personal American dream at 66 still is to be achieved, which is twofold. One, is to have at least one of my three songs that I had the lyrics set to music and sung, to be recorded by a pro and marketed so that I can receive royalties. The second is to find an agent to handle my Christian writings such as for the current Christian book that I'm trying to finish. Right now as I write this in September of 2007 it seems the agencies I've asked, do not want to handle it because of being not of a sufficient amount of pages. So I need to keep on trying to find an agent as well to keep on with my writings, agent or no agent.


As we succeed in our American dream, don't please take things, nor people who help you for granted. God has placed them in your life for a reason. Be kind to them. Don't abuse them. Be true to your word. If you say you'll do it, do it!


Our Lord God moves in mysterious ways, and provides, but when He provides do you over spend? Do you sit down and actually figure out a budget how much you're allowing yourself each month, and yes, how much are you allowing for Him, to a Christian ministry of your choice?


We as individuals want this and that from big brother the government, and only so much is done, or really should we expect more? It seems the government wants to spent money for wars, and for projects that money is not needed for, but could very well be spent on health care to start with. It just appears that whatever measures as to having watch dogs per say, to look out as to how the government spends its money, being your money and mine, it just still doesn't happen, so how can we control such excessive and wrongful spending?


We need now funds for those parents having children who do not have insurance coverage. Even as a senior citizen I would like to see better health care benefits for the older generation. We need to start to reassign billions like yesterday, to different areas to where it matters most for keeping the U.S.A. in better heath. Yes, there has been programs on TV discussing a national insurance program for the U.S.A., but there are very serious pro and con points to be taken into consideration.


We've spent billions on war, all right, now let's take some of that "kill money" still to be spent and put a little of it into the Social Security Program, say a billion or so. If, the government can find money to kill with, why can't they find money to replenish the Social Security Program? Next let's try using billions for protection with orbital killer satellites. War is hell, and especially on a budget that requires killing other mortals because they want to kill you for your land, or because of your religion. There are spies willing to give their lives to disrupt our American way of life.


Let's quit messing around with valuable lives of our sons and daughters who may well have a family and sending them into war to be possibly be killed. It may sound like fiction today as you read this, but in time robots will be programmed to kill for us. Is that what you and I want? I would like to see it happen, but programmed robots could get messed up, and the tables turned back on the one who has programmed them.


Would you if you had the power to do so, what choice would you pick today if you could? Would you send a robot, or would you prefer to send your son, or daughter into war? If your answer is a robot, then write or call your congressman and senator and state what your feelings are on war with others using human lives, but that you're for a better mechanical technology so that human lives can be spared.


There will be rumors of war, there will be earthquakes, and time is coming for the antichrist. Whether you're a Christian or not, please read slowly the words given in the book of Revelation in the King James Version Bible. If you don't have one, borrow one, but get one, and open your eyes as to what is happening now in your lifetime as to the coming of the antichrist. There will be a antichrist that will offer world peace, which will be for a brief time. Real world peace will not come until the one called Jesus Christ comes to reign on this planet.


Please pray this prayer: God protect my homeland the United States of America. God protect my family. God grant I too may have an American dream, or be, part of one. God protect this planet Earth that you have allowed your Son Jesus Christ to come and to communicate your words of love and peace. God direct my path of life to benefit mankind and, to find inner peace. Amen.



Prove Murder

© — Don Peyer


Landswell was bored with the choice of movies on television, and went to bed early.  An hour later, the phone rang.  He stumbled out of the store room where he now slept after giving up his apartment for financial reasons and he sat in the big office chair that still required a few payments before it was his.


"Landswell, P. I. You don't know me. but we need you here," said a woman's voice.


The woman called herself Anna Ackerman and she lived two towns away in Lordsville, a dying town by passed by the new interstate.


"Wait a minute, slow down," Landswell said when her words were coming at him so fast it was impossible to assemble them into anything that made sense.  "Is it an emergency?" he asked.


"No.  It happened a couple of weeks ago, and they aren't doing anything about it."


"What happened, and who isn't doing anything about it?"


"It's my brother, Champ Ackerman, who was shot, and the "they" are the sheriff and the medical examiner who aren't doing anything about it."


Landswell wrote the man's name down.  "So they aren't investigating it? How did it happen?"


"They are calling it suicide but I know it was murder."


"Tell me what happened and tell me what you want me to do."


"I want you to prove murder and I'll tell you the whole story when you get here."


"But I don't know if I can help without knowing more about—"


"A hundred dollars a day and expenses," she said.


He had always hated to discuss charges, and   the pay offered was adequate and welcome.  Things had been slim for him.  Work around Dryden was hard to come by and he was lucky to get the office rent paid with an unexpected job at the end of last month, Ernie, his landlord, who ran a bar below his office wasn't happy about him sleeping in the storeroom behind his office, So Landswell said to the lady, "Okay.  How about tomorrow morning at eight A.M.?"


"Here at my place in Lordsville, 400 Oak Street, on the corner."


Landswell went to the refrigerator and ate the last of the bread and cheese before he went back to bed.  There would be a full refrigerator again if he took this job.


He was up at seven and on his way at seven-thirty, without breakfast.  Ben Blakely, the sheriff, wouldn't be happy with Landswell butting in again.  It had happened once before when the sheriff was guilty of a sloppy investigation and now he imagined the look on Blakely's face when he found out.


He arrived in Lordsville a few minutes early and stopped at the Saunter Inn for a cup of coffee.  Ginny, the pretty but saucy morning waitress, recognized him.  "Here on the Ackerman case?" she asked.


"Maybe.  What's your feeling about what happened?"


"Murder. No doubt about it," she said. She leaned on the counter right in front of him. "How come there has to be a tragedy for you to come around?"


"What makes you think it was murder?" he said, trying to ignore her passionate gaze.


"Call it a woman's intuition, or whatever.  I'm not the only one."


"Intuition doesn't cut it with me," he said.  "What I need is hard, cold facts, Just the facts, lady,"


 She leaned closer, intimately.  "There's these two guys, Marvin Weeks and Rory Peterman.  Both are sweet on Anna Ackerman, But Peterman hasn't been seen since it happened, which seems pretty suspicious to me. Both might bear looking into."


The Ackerman address was on a quiet street lined with giant oak trees.  The house was large and old.  When Anna Ackerman opened the door, he liked what he saw.  Still, a good looking woman was bound to mean trouble.  The blue jeans were snug on a small body, the white shirt a couple sizes too large.  She was medium height, with gray eyes, ash blonde hair and creamy skin, yet her whole being and manner exuded class.


"Start at the beginning," he said when he had eased himself into a large chair in the spacious living room.


"All I know is that Champ, he's my brother, he couldn't have done it, kill himself I mean.  He was an upbeat sort of person, always happy,"


"Then, as you see it, he had no motive or reason to do away with himself. You sure there isn't something? Fight with a girl friend? Financial problems? Maybe somebody who wanted him dead?"


"Nothing.  His last girlfriend got tired of waiting for him to pop the question and moved back East.  He didn't seem to care.  Financially, Champ never made much at fighting.  State championships don't count for much, but our folks left us enough, including this house free of debt. Champ didn't require much, so we were comfortable between this and our work.  We own a shoe store with a guy named Marvin Weeks.  He and Marvin ran it and they got along just fine.   I'm just a silent partner in that and have my own little beauty parlor business."


"You still didn't tell me how it happened, the death I mean."


"In the shoe store.  It was his late night.  He didn't come home.  I went down there when I couldn't reach him by phone.  He was in the stock room with a strange gun next to him, shot through the heart.  Champ was never into guns.  I didn't touch anything and I asked them to check the gun for prints, but they said any prints that were on it were smeared and that they seldom got good prints that way.  It was like they made up their minds and didn't want to change them. "It's got to be suicide, they said."


"Anything else?"


"Nothing."


"Anybody else Champ knew who might have had a reason, even if you don't know of a reason now?"  He was trying to draw out the name of Rory Peterman without tipping his hand about the disappearance.


She shook her head.  "Maybe it was a robber.  That's what I want you to find out,"                                                               


The shoe shop was on Main Street and Landswell decided to go there first. He'd talk to Marvin Weeks and look over the the scene where the event took place. Later, he'd need to look into the strange disappearance of Rory Peterman, whoever he was,


Marvin Weeks was busy with customers, and had little time now that Champ was gone.  He was in a white shirt, blue club tie, blue trousers, and oozed confidence and efficiency.  He was cooperative, but said he went home early the night it happened.  He could offer no alibi other than being home alone where he made a light dinner for himself and went to bed early.  Champ and Anna were owners of half of the shop.  Weeks owned the other half.  Presumably, Anna now would be sole owner of the Ackerman half interest.


"Do you think it was suicide?" Landswell asked bluntly.


"Yeah.  I do.  I don't know if it means anything, but Champ was always disillusioned because he didn't go farther with his boxing career.  He was bored with the shoe store.  There isn't much money in it for two guys."


"But, a steady income," said Landswell.  "No financial trouble or anything like that?"


"No," Weeks agreed.  "He had his other money, you know, the family fortune."


Fortunes do have their way of entering in, thought Landswell.  "Do you know a guy named Rory Peterman?" he asked, and noted that Weeks face reddened.


"Everybody knows Rory Peterman.  Why are you interested in him?"


"I heard he's disappeared.  Know anything about that?"


"You don't say.  That's news to me.  Are you thinking he had something to do with Champs death?"


Was Weeks suggesting something? Landswell did wonder, but right now it was a puzzle.  One man was dead, another had disappeared.  Was it coincidence, guilt, or something else that precipitated the disappearance of Peterman? But before going further along that line he decided to look at the death certificate.


Sheriff Blakely wasn't happy to see him.  He shoved the death certificate and the police report at him.  There was no autopsy.  In fact there was nothing but simple suicide listed as the cause of death.


"Why you doing this?" asked the sheriff.


"Miss Ackerman wants me to check a few things," said Landswell, He felt a certain joy in irritating the sheriff who still had not gotten over their last encounter which had put his methods in a bad light.


"You won't be so lucky this time," he said with a sneer.


"Who knows?"  Landswell threw the papers back on the counter.  He hadn't expected to be enlightened, and he wasn't, except for some data on the gun, which was a German Mauser automatic, probably a relic of some war.  He'd have to look that up.


It was lunch time and it felt like his naval was gnawing on his backbone.  The Saunter Inn was crowded but there was a place at the end of the counter.  Ginny's face lit up.  "Doing any good?" she asked.


"Maybe," he answered, “When you off work?"


"At two.  Do we have a date?"


"Maybe."


"Only maybe? What do I have to do to get you alone?"


"Maybe we can sit and talk in my car."


She looked disappointed.  "If we could go for a drive, I might make it worth your while."


"We'll go for a drive," he said.  "At two." He ordered a meatball sandwich and a small salad.  Afterward, he parked in the shade of the large pepper tree in the gravel lot and waited, making some notes in his notebook.


She surprised him when he had dozed off for some minutes.  He saw that she had changed from her uniform to jeans and a blouse.


"Let's take a drive," she said.  "I'll show you where Rory Peterman lives, or I should say lived.  Drive until I tell you to turn."


"How long did you say he has been gone?"


"I haven't seen him since Champ passed on, I may as well tell you, I was hot for him, but he dropped me when he hooked onto Anna, she had money and I didn’t, By the way, this made Weeks angry because he and Anna had been going together.  I don't know if that means anything."


"You think that she was serious, that it was a serious affair?"


"Definitely.  Really, he wasn't much good at working, or keeping a job.  But he was so good looking.  He could drive you crazy - that is if you were a girl.  You could forget that he didn't have any money, and that he probably would never have any."


He wondered why Anna hadn't said anything, yet why should she?


She directed him to the outskirts of town, which took only a minute. They stopped in front of a small green house with an apartment over the garage.  "His mother lives in the house.  He lives in the garage apartment," she said.


He went alone to the door.  Mrs. Peterman was worried about her son, but she couldn't tell Landswell where he was.  He had never gone off like that before.  He was a good son and had never been in trouble.  She hadn't reported him missing, perhaps, she admitted, because she feared the worst.  No, she couldn't imagine there being any connection between Champ Ackerman's suicide and Rory's disappearance.  Yes, he had gone off without taking any clothing or personal effects with him.


Back in the car, Ginny did not press him for information, but when Landswell asked her why she had mentioned Rory's name earlier, she said she had a feeling.  She still loved him and she was jealous of Anna. And she hoped nothing bad had happened to him.


"Tell me about Weeks," he said.


"Slimy and cheap," she said.  "He liked Anna, but she dumped him cold when Rory went for her.  I guess if she was going to keep a looser, it might as well be a charmer like Rory,"


"Do you think there is a triangle there?"


"Maybe.  Two guys and one girl.  Somehow I think it ties into what happened to Champ.  It could be four with me, except I'm an outsider."


"Why Champ?  He's outside the triangle."  Landswell said, mostly to himself.  As far as his next move, he did not know where to go next. There was nothing to go on.  Eventually, he would want to go through Rory's apartment for evidence, and through Champ's belongings.  Perhaps nothing would ever be solved.  Rory would return with a plausible explanation for his absence, and other evidence could show that Champ was depressed by something that might or might not have been enough to force suicide.


"While you're thinking, drive me to Marston," Ginny said. "You could think along the way, and we could have dinner out.  I'm so tired of never going anywhere.  Also, Rory Peterman hung out there a lot."


Landswell thought about it, and decided there could be no harm in that.  He hadn't been out with a woman in ages, mostly because he couldn't afford to.  But Anna had handed him an envelope which contained his advance, and he needed some diversion.


Ginny talked all the way to Marston, but Albert Landswell barely heard a word of it.  He was trying to figure his next move, which was not going to be easy without cooperation from the sheriff.  He wasn't even sure there was a crime here.  That was the worst part.  Nothing like beating your brains out over something that wasn't there.


While Ginny shopped for some cosmetics at the department store, it seemed that was part of her agenda, Landswell nosed about the town. Ginny's comments about Rory convinced him that what most needed investigation was the disappearance of Rory Peterman.  Any discovery here could either eliminate or admit him as a factor in Champ's death. He looked for Ginny at the department store.  Did she have a picture of Rory, and would she loan it to him, she had one in her purse, a keepsake of better times.  Landswell knew chances were slim, but he checked gas stations, the theatre, Frederick's Bar, and the Lake Motel.  He showed them the picture, but nobody had seen Rory in their town recently.  The man at the gas station knew Rory, but said he hadn't been in for a while.


Ginny was waiting for him when he finished.  They ended up at Ben's Steak House because Ginny said Rory liked to go there.


"Tell me everything about Rory," he said to Ginny.  "Where he likes to eat, what kind of car he drives, what he likes to do."


Their waitress approached and he showed her the picture.  "Oh, yes," the waitress said.  "All the waitresses here know Rory.  He was here not more than a couple weeks ago, and it was strange because he usually brought a woman, but this time he was here with a man.  But I don't remember the other man, I guess because I'd never seen him before.


Afterward, Ginny shrugged. "This is the only place he brought me in Marston. I know he sometimes stopped at Frederick's Bar, but never with me. He liked to play pool there, and I never played pool."


It was dusk when they left the steak house.  Landswell drove about the town slowly, not knowing why, but feeling that he had struck upon something that held him here.  He headed for the highway past a grassy lot with a few junk cars on it.


Suddenly, Ginny was pointing at the cars.  "That's Rory’s car," she said, pointing at a clump of cars.  "The green one.  I'd know it anywhere with that crazy sticker on the back bumper.


Landswell stopped.  The sticker read, "I brake for women.  If you are a woman, give me a break." The doors were unlocked, the keys in the ignition.  The odor of something dead was present about the car.  They opened the trunk, and curled up inside was the decaying body of what must have been Rory Peterman.  Ginny started to cry.


The owner of the lot, who operated a small garage nearby, said he did not know where the car came from.  He had meant to report it as an abandoned car, but was hoping someone would claim it.  The other cars were a source of spare parts for his garage business.  A call was made to Sheriff Blakely in Lordsville by a local deputy.  While they waited, Landswell took a quick look at the crime scene, but there was nothing to be seen without disturbing the body, except for some tire tracks in the soft earth, indicating that the car was parked there during or right after a rain, the ground being quite hard now.  No foot prints were visible, probably due to the thick grass surrounding the car.  The garage owner did not remember how long the car had been there, maybe a couple weeks, but Ginny remembered that the last rain happened a couple days before Champ died.


"Rory was in the Saunter Inn for breakfast while it was raining.  I kidded him about the red umbrella, and afterward I thought it might be Anna's, forgotten in his car from the night before when the rain started," Ginny said, “She's got one of those circular driveways with a car port shelter in front of the front steps."


"I know," Landswell said.  He had seen the umbrella in the front seat of the car.  But he was trying to visualize happenings before the car entered the lot.


Blakely and the medical examiner arrived and ran the bystanders off. "That means you too," he told Landswell.


Landswell took Ginny home and drove back to Dryden.  On the way he was thinking of how Rory's death had to have something to do with Champ. The next morning, he asked for a copy of the police report.


"What are you doing now, investigating this case too?" Blakely asked with another one of his sneers.


"I think there's a connection with Champ Ackerman's murder," Landswell said. Might as well give Blakely something to chew on, he thought.


Rory died of a bullet wound to the chest.  It was homicide, no weapon was found.  Landswell was forming some ideas.  He drove to Marston and found a waitress who verified that Weeks and Peterman were at the restaurant together on a rainy night, and seemed to be arguing about something.  They ordered food but did not eat it.  The waitress, Carla French, heard a car backfire in the lot when they left, at least she thought it was a backfire. Landswell thought it was a shot.


The next day was Sunday. The shoe store was closed. Weeks was not home, and the police station had a sign on the door listing an emergency number. Landswell took the rest of the day off, except for writing up the facts as he knew them, and then creating scenarios for what had happened. He was at the shoe store when it opened on Monday morning. There was a customer so he looked around at the shoes, noting that most were not his style. He hated anything far out in mens' clothing, and looked down with satisfaction at his own scuffed wingtips with their thick soles which were hardly different from those worn by his father. Then his mind turned toward motives and possibilities. The killer would be someone known to this circle of people, known to the victims. Robbery seemed out. Wallets were not taken from either. Nothing was said in the reports about any missing receipts when Champ died. Perhaps that lent credence to the suicide theory.


"I thought this business with Champ was over," Weeks said when the shop was empty.


"I'm not so sure. It could just look like suicide." He said nothing about the Peterman murder. He kept to himself the testimony of the waitress, Carla French. He thought about telling Carla to go to the sheriff with her story to see if it would prod Blakely into some action. He was certain that Blakely wouldn't listen to him if he went to him with the story. Still, he could drop a hint.


Blakely wasn't in, but one of the sergeants was. The slug from Peterman's body had been recovered from the upholstery of Peterman's car. It appeared to be of similar size and composition as the slug recovered from the rubber heel of one of the shoes in the stockroom where Champ was shot. Each of the slugs passed through each victim's body cleanly, and they were largely intact.


The sergeant placed them on the counter. "Probably due to the metal jackets of the ammunition used in Mauser automatics," Landswell said.


"I know," said the sergeant.


"That could mean they were both shot with the same gun, and that Peterman was shot first which would account for the decayed body."


Blakely entered as the last sentence was uttered. He glared at Landswell. "I swear," he shouted. "Are you still nosing around? With no thanks to you, we've got this thing all sewed up. Champ Ackerman killed Rory Peterman for messing around with his sister, and then killed himself. Now, you might as well go home to Dryden where you belong." He looked at the sergeant, "And don't tell this snoop anything more. It's none of his business."


Landswell called on Anna. She had heard the story from the sheriff. "What do you want me to do," Landswell asked.


"Prove murder," she said. "I've lost a brother, and now a friend." She emphasized the word friend "Do you think for one minute that I believe the sheriff?"


He respected her faith in her brother. Besides, there was the matter of Carla French. So, he headed for Lordsville.


Carla had second thoughts about getting involved but said she would testify if asked. She remembered the date of the encounter with Peterman and Weeks. There was the red umbrella, the argument, the loud noise that at the time she thought was the backfire of the car, and it had rained all that day. Add to that, the Mauser. Landswell thought he had it figured out, except that all of these things were circumstantial. He had no absolute proof, and no clear motive for a crime. The sheriff had established motive for his own theory, and made it fit his own scenario, no matter how improbable it seemed to Landswell. He told Carla to wait for his call, he would bring her to Lordsville at the right time, after checking out a few other things.


He did not know what other things to check out. He drove back to Marston and to the Saunter Inn, it was late afternoon and he hadn't eaten all day. Ginny was on duty, and the restaurant was empty except for a couple coffee drinkers in a back booth.


She sat on the stool next to him. "How is it going?"


"Good, and not so good. I need a motive."


"To prove that Marvin Weeks killed Rory Peterman in an argument over Anna, and when Champ found out about it, Weeks killed him to keep him quiet?"


Landswell's mouth dropped open. "I can't believe it. You actually figured that out, and we have a sheriff who's supposed to figure things and he's got it all wrong. I think you'd make a good sheriff, Ginny."


"Remember. I have the benefit of intuition."


Landswell filled her in with the latest happenings, "Now. How can I put it over?" he asked. He actually didn't expect her to give him an answer, but talking about it might help. She had already helped him during their little drive the other day.


"Have you looked further into the gun, the Mauser? It looks like he might have used it twice. Where did it come from?"


"I thought of that. The sheriff is holding the gun."


"What about the Week's cleaning lady, Mrs. Fierst? Talk to her. Maybe she knew if he owned a gun like that."


"Damn," Landswell said, snapping his fingers. "Why didn't I think of that?"


Landswell waited in his car for Mrs. Fierst to come home after Mr. Fierst said she was out on a job. He identified himself as the investigator in the death of Champ Ackerman. She was reticent, but Mr. Fierst was not. "You may as well tell the man what you know," he said to her.


She invited him in, and the three of them sat in the small living room. "Go ahead," said Mr. Fierst to his wife.


"We are honest people and we want to do right," she said. "We've been arguing about this since yesterday," at which she nodded at her husband. "I didn't want to get involved, and he said the information I have should be told." Landswell was sitting on the edge of his seat. No one spoke so she cleared her throat and went on. "Mr. Weeks owned a Mauser which he kept in a locked drawer in his bedroom, A strange looking thing, not like your ordinary gun. He was cleaning it one day a while back and told me that it was a war souvenir brought home by his father. At the same time, I noticed that he kept the key for the drawer on a high shelf in the bookcase. When I heard about the gun that killed Champ Ackerman, I immediately thought about the Mauser in Mr. Weeks possession, so yesterday when I cleaned his house, I took the key and looked for the gun. It was missing, but three or four bullets were still there. I must confess that I searched the bedroom thoroughly before I would believe what the gun might have been used for."


When Landswell went to the police station and presented the evidence he had uncovered, Blakely castigated him for jumping to conclusions, "I can bring in witnesses," he told the sheriff.


It was seven o'clock. Blakely called Weeks at home, "Come on down here," he said. "We need to ask some questions about - about a Mauser you owned, and about something that happened at Ben's Steak House."


Why didn't you tell him everything, Landswell thought? He could hear Weeks at the other end, and he seemed excited.


"No. Not later. Come right now," Blakely said before he hung up, He sat at his desk, glaring at Landswell. "This better be good," he said.


Thirty minutes passed. Landswell was looking at a tattered magazine left on the waiting room bench. Blakely got up and went into the back rooms. A police car went by the window, headed into the night, more time went by, Blakely came out looking for the sergeant. Then there was a commotion at the door as the sergeant brought a hand-cuffed Weeks inside.


Blakely stared. "What the - is that why I couldn't find you?"


"He was all packed," said the sergeant. "I caught him putting two suitcases in the trunk of his car. Another two minutes and whoee — he's gone."


Weeks stared at everyone. "It was that nosey cleaning lady, wasn't it. She never did put things back where they belonged.  I know it was her. She put the key back on the wrong shelf."


"Did you read him his rights?" Blakely asked the sergeant.


"Yep, Right after he ran and I caught him. Then I told him we had him dead to rights. We knew it was his gun that killed Champ. Champ saw the gun that day, and he also knew that Weeks was having a showdown with Peterman over his sister. When Peterman disappeared, Champ was asking too many questions and was about to go to the police."


"He said that?" Blakely asked.


"Not in so many words. But he's guilty all right. I caught him with his suitcases out in the car. That's admission of guilt right there.  I don't think he'll need them for a while." The sergeant reached into his packets and produced three steel jacketed bullets. "Here. He threw these into the grass when he saw me drive up."


Landswell went to Anna's to give her the news. Yes, she knew that Champ was suspicious of Weeks, she didn't mention it because she had heard that he, Landswell, was a guy who could figure things out on his own. But she would testify to it if asked.


He was sorry to be out of work again, but she gave him a bonus on top of his fee. "Why don't I see you more often. Come around some time," she said. "Maybe we can do lunch, or dinner."


"We'll see," he said, He didn't mean it. She hadn't been too straight with him about either Weeks or Peterman, left him to figure out too much on his own. Yet, he couldn't wait to make another stop before going home. He owed some thanks to Ginny, Yes, he told himself, he could use somebody like her on some of his cases. He decided that he ought to get to know her better.




Amy!

© — Bobbye Read


Large snowflakes were falling outside Amy's window as she sat in her high-backed rocker in the early Spring. Her white hair was slightly curled around her face. This would probably be the last snowfall of the season, for soon spring with all of its warmth would come and melt the remaining snow. Amy gathered her shawl around her shoulders and watched as the snow piled high upon her windowsill. She saw a little red bird eagerly eating berries from the tree.


"Good morning, Mr. Pete." "Amos, are you dressed warmly enough?" She like to greet her boarders as they ambled around the house. They both spoke to her cheerfully. Most of them had been with her for many years. Mr. Pete used a cane and grumbled a lot. His wife died a long time ago and since then he had lived at the boarding house. He had a daughter who lived in Boston, but she rarely came to see her father. Amy tried to be his friend.


Amos Hacker had a room upstairs and was too quiet for the neighbors. They all suspected he had something to hide as he seldom left his room except at night. He would leave at dusk and return sometime after midnight.


Wiley was the wild one. He whistled as he shaved in the morning and kept everyone laughing at the breakfast table. Wiley worked down at the mill and spent most of his earning at the town bar. At heart, he was a kind and gentle man.


Rosie lived down the street and always managed to stop by on her way to the post office each morning. Amy looked up just in time to see Rosie, her hair piled high on her head and shining like a new penny, rushing up the porch steps. "Amy, Amy, are you there?" (now where else would I be?) "Yes, I'm coming, what's wrong?" "Have you heard the news?" Her eyes wide with excitement, and her body trembling. "Tell me, Rosie, and stop shaking." Calming down just a bit, she caught her breath and said, "Old man Penton was found dead this morning behind the stable. His pockets were empty and his watch was missing." Amy felt a twinge of fear. Strange things had been happening lately.


The days went by and no one knew what really happened to Mr. Penton. The young people met at the town hall and decided they had better keep a sharp eye for strangers in this part of town.


A week later, the snow had melted and slush had taken the place of the beautiful fluffy snow that had been a part of the long winter. The news about Mr. Penton had died down, what with Mrs. Satcher's new arrival, the death was almost forgotten.


Amy had moved here to Hudson Falls when news reached her that her sweetheart had been killed nearly forty years ago. KILLED IN ACTION, the telegram said. She never really recovered from the shock. She couldn't stay in that town where they had shared so many memories, so she changed her name to try to start a new life. At difficult times, when the heartache was too hard to bear, she took out the little silver box which was a gift from her father.


It held all that was left of the wonderful relationship between her and the only man she had loved. Her most treasured keepsake was a small photograph that was taken just before he went off to war. And the ring! It was John's Mother's ring. He had placed it on her finger one night just as the moon appeared over the lake all shimmering like crystal. These two cherished gifts were locked away for only her eyes to behold. She had not waited for John's funeral. She had closed her heart to the whole world.


Amy never let anyone get so close to her because she was afraid of being hurt again. Even though several men tried to get really close to her but she had kept them at a distance. She would not even allow women to become too close either. She knew how friendships can be wonderful, but also hurtful.


Amos appeared in the doorway just as she closed the silver box. Had he been watching her? She shrugged away the leery feeling and rose to go plant some spring flowers against the white fence. This was her favorite spot in the yard where it was quiet and a swing hung from the old Oak tree. The pink rambling rose needed tending and her red petunia were beginning to push their little heads through the moist earth.


Amy had noticed that Amos was wearing a new work shirt and a pair of new shoes. She wondered where he obtained the money to buy them since he could not pay this month's rent. She was too polite to pry, so they busied themselves digging, weeding and cutting away the briars.


"Nellie is dead! Nellie is dead!" It was Rosie again, and she came crashing through the garden with the news. Amy could always depend on her to bring any kind of news or gossip going around.


Nellie was a shy young girl that everyone liked. Her Mother died a few years ago and she took care of her father. What would become of him now? Is it possible that someone in the area was doing all of these awful deeds?


Amy picked up the tools and sent Amos to put them away. Amy did not pursue the matter. Strangers were drifting into town and every boarding house was filled. This kept the town busy for a while getting ready for the 4th of July Celebration. They lived in a Historical part of the country and had a re-enactment each year of some of the Historical events that had taken place there many years ago. Booths were set up, canned goods were displayed, along with handmade tablecloths and newly sewn aprons bright with color were displayed. Amy always carried her crocheted tablecloths and scarves she had made during the long winter months.


Amy could not forget Amos's new clothes and the odd hours he kept. Late that afternoon, Mrs. Satcher had begun a conversation with him, but when she asked about family and where he came from, he seemed upset and walked away.


Once the sheriff came by asking questions if anyone had seen anything unusual the night Mr. Penton died or the night Nellie was found dead. No one could give him any information. Amos was not present.


Each of the boarders kept a close watch on Amos's comings and goings. Another murder happened that weekend. But this one was across town, not even near the boarding house. Promptly, the next day, Amos paid up his rent and even paid an extra month ahead. Something he had never done before.


Needing extra linens and coverlets from the attic for new boarders that would be coming in for the 4th of July Celebration, Amy climbed the rickety stairs, seldom used, to secure the things long packed away. Spider webs adorned the attic and sunlight glittered like a string of diamonds upon the webs. Making her way through the storage boxes, she selected the supplies and started down the stairs. As she stepped on the third step, she tripped and stumbled down the long flight of stairs, broken with age.


Stunned, she tried to pull herself up. She could not. She had something broken . . . her leg? Or her foot? Surely not her hip? She wasn't sure, but a call for help brought Mr. Pete. He ran back for Rosie and the doctor. Wiley heard the noise and hurried to find out what happened.


Wiley lifted the small woman and laid her gently on her bed where Rosie had quickly turned back the cover. The doctor found Amy's leg was broken and since there was no hospital nearby, he applied a cast. Also, she would have to be in bed for the next few weeks, because she had fractured two ribs. Rosie, friend that she was, moved into the room next to Amy's and with an adjoining door, preceded to take care of her. Rosie would get to boss the boarders who came to ask about Amy.


For the first few days Rosie was the only one to sit with her and since Amy had a cook to feed the boarders, Rosie did not have to fix their meals. Quite a few new boarders had arrived and that kept Rosie busy, too. So some of the boarders were asked to sit with her at times. One of the new boarders was a man called John. No one really knew anything about him except that he was there for the Celebration.


Amy did not read the newspaper that week, she had been too sick. But Rosie and the other boarders had seen the headlines in the area paper. One of the policemen had seen Amos coming from the stable the night Mr. Penton had died. Further investigation revealed that he had also been seen talking to Nellie shortly before her body was found. The policemen had noticed Amos with the new clothes and had checked the local store where he purchased them. He had a check that belonged to the man across town who had been murdered. All of the evidence had pointed to Amos and he was arrested. He was in the county jail, but no one mentioned this to Amy. No cause to worry her.


The new boarder took turns sitting with Amy as the others did, reading Poetry to her. His voice was calm and seemed to soothe her. Once, Rosie exclaimed, "My, isn't he refined?" it was in the late afternoon and the sun was hot. The bees buzzed around the flowers that Amy and Amos had so carefully planted that spring. She called Wiley to help her pull Amy's bed close to the window so she could see the beautiful array of blooms. The colors were even more beautiful against the white fence by the swing.


When Rosie noticed Amy's face looking more flushed than usual, she summoned the doctor. Her leg was not healing as it should and he would give her something for infection. Days passed and the doctor made another trip to see Amy and this time he told Rosie she had pneumonia. The medicine had done nothing to help the infection and he could do no more.


Rosie stood in the doorway and watched as she slept. Wiley had brought some white Mums and placed them near her bed so that she could see them. Mr. Pete had gathered some of the flowers from the bed she and Amos planted. He put them in the window so the afternoon sun turned them a golden hue.


Amy seemed to grow more pale each day, even under the wonderful care of Rosie. It was so sad. She had no family except for a niece that Amy sometimes mentioned and had not seen in about forty years, since she came to the Valley. Rosie didn't even know her name or where she lived.


Her condition worsened and someone had to sit with her at all times. They took turns as before and Wiley still sang softly to her. Rosie brought her meals to her, but now she had to feed her as she was so weak. The new man John seemed to be good for her as he told stories of his travels and of the different countries he had visited. Mr. Pete kept her up to date with the town folks and he just liked being near her. Rosie tended her, fed her, worried about her, and knelt beside her bed every night and asked God to hold her close and give her Peace . . . and asked for her recovery.


As she grew weaker, she spoke of her empty life without her sweetheart and how she had always been faithful to his memory. On occasion, she would ask for the little silver box. Carefully, she would lift out the picture of her sweetheart. The man she loved so deeply all these years. But she always managed to close it before anyone saw it.


Without Amy's soft voice and laughter, the house seemed too quiet and empty. The boarders walked around without talking to themselves at all. Their thoughts were on Amy's illness and they also prayed for her.


Amy's breath was shallow, just as the sun topped the trees. The air was warm and all of her flowers seemed to be putting on a show all their own. Quietly, Amy slipped away, early in the Spring, when Roses bloomed!



Searching for a name and address of her niece, Rosie opened Amy's Bible and read the name: Cynthia Lowery. She wondered if this might be her niece. Then she noticed the birth date, and it was the same as Amy's.


The little Silver Box lay beneath the frail fingers upon the coverlet. It fell open as Rosie pick it up . . . spilling the contents. John, bending down to pick it up, handing it to Rosie, gazed into the face of the young man in the photograph. It was his own . . . He was a young man when it was taken, but there was no mistake! The ring! It was his mother's that he had given to his childhood sweetheart, the only woman he had ever loved. How could this be? Then Rosie showed him the Bible! He had looked for Cynthia all these forty years.


He was captured, not killed in the war and unable to locate her when he was released and came home. Now, he had found her too late! He stooped over, slid one arm under her and held her close. He laid his cheek upon hers, kissed it, closed the little silver box, and slowly walked away, leaving the ring inside!




The Writing Life

© — Susan C. Barto


Suzanne hit New York on the run hoping to find fame, fortune, and to hitch her wagon to a star. She'd been writing all her life, but felt she could not jump start herself into the success she wished for unless she moved to New York—the Big Apple and where the action is. She managed to snag an apartment on the fringes of the Village through an ad she saw on the bulletin board in the super market. "Wanted a roommate for an apartment share."


Suzanne telephoned immediately and rushed over to check out the apartment and her potential roommate. Gabrielle turned out to be charming—she hailed from New Jersey and wanted to be an actress. The apartment looked quaint, but small and lacking all the comforts with which she's grown up including a bath tub. The apartment did, however, sport a shower, and a working stove. "Are you going to interview and screen me, Gabrielle?" she queried.


"I trust my first impressions," Gabrielle said. "Call me Gabby, roomie."


"Call me Sue."


Suzanne moved in that very evening. She only owned one suitcase and a carry-on travel bag jammed with make-up. She had a feeling that books would comprise her first purchase along with a computer for her writing. She had mastered word processing. "I guess I will have to look for a paying job and write in my free time."


"Yes, you sure will. I am a waitress between acting jobs."


"But what could I do? I think I'll apply at Barnes & Noble or Borders first. That way I can get discounts on the books I read to survive."


"There's a Barnes & Noble on the next block. Why don't you hit the pavement tomorrow?"


The next morning dawned bright and sunny. With the first of the lemon yellow rays Suzanne dressed herself in her most conservative black suit, gulped a cup of coffee and headed over to the Barnes & Noble. After casing the store and drinking a large cup of black coffee, she headed toward the offices in the back of the store. She inquired of the first person she met back there as to whether or not they needed help.

"Coffee shop or bookstore?"



"Bookstore, please."


"Selling or information desk?"


"Either or both would be fine."


"Good, sometimes we switch the employees back and forth to and fro from selling to information desk,"


By the time an hour had passed, Suzanne had the new job and planned to begin the following morning. She then treated herself to a browsing hour in the store and purchased a couple of classic paperbacks—buy two get the third free. This way she could try to duplicate her classics collection and have reading matter galore for her free time should she be fortunate enough to have any. She then hit the stores to buy a new outfit for her first day on the job—she shopped conservatively both in dress and price. Time enough to splurge when she received her paycheck.


Now I have a temporary job, an idea for my novel, what I want now is a boyfriend with whom to share my life. "Suzanne, you'll meet lots of men at Barnes & Noble. If you do not, then I'll have a party and invite all the bachelors in my crowd." Suzanne thought Gabrielle lucky as she had a steady guy. A guy who according to Gabrielle had some handsome, eligible friends. She felt nervous—actually scared—when she reached Barnes & Noble early enough to grab a Starbuck's coffee from the coffee bar. Delighted to discover that she could get discount Starbuck's, Suzanne felt fortified for anything that might be waiting in the wings.


They placed her at a sales counter saying, "You need some experience before you can take a shift at the information desk."


She found the day to fly by—the crowds of readers lining up lasted for her whole shift. She met many interesting, friendly people but so far no bachelors. She shopped for ingredients to cook her first dinner for herself and Gabrielle. She decided upon hamburger casserole until she found herself in possession of a paycheck. Time enough then to splurge on steak for the two of them. Hamburger casserole, her own invention, would do nicely. She set the table as instructed by her proper mother, and she put a rose that she bought in the supermarket in a bud vase in the center. "How great, you cooked dinner and set the table. What a nice welcome home," Gabrielle trilled when she came through the door.


The week commenced in the same pleasant fashion, and finally on Saturday afternoon just before her shift ended a gorgeous hunk of a blond Viking came to her station arms laden with books. "Do you recommend any of these?" he asked.


Fortunately, Suzanne had read all of them. "The Stephen King is great—all his books are. He is so underrated. I think he could write the great American novel if he wanted to. The Philip Roth book is his masterpiece, and of course the Mary Higgins Clark mysteries move right along."


"Thank you. Do you want to have dinner with me, and review the books?"


"I don't know you well enough to have dinner with you. How about we grab a cup of Starbuck's at the cafe on my break in fifteen minutes?"


"Super. I'll head over there and peruse my books while I wait for you."


Suzanne hummed through the final fifteen minutes till her break, fluffed her hair, and sprayed on some Chanel #5. She didn't reapply her lipstick as she did not want it to smear all over her coffee mug. She joined him at the table in the cafe, and they spent the ensuing fifteen minutes of her break discussing their lives and likes. She felt reluctant to leave him when her time was up.


"Do you know me well enough to have dinner with me tonight now?" the man, whose name turned out to be Steve asked her.


"I guess so. However, I want to go home and change and shower first. Do you want me to meet you at the restaurant?'


"No, I would be happy to pick you up if you are not afraid of my doing so." Suzanne laughed. "I have a tough roommate."


Suzanne sped through the rest of her shift, raced home, showered and dressed in her finest apparel. She chose a black turtle neck and her trusty leather skirt and blazer. She knew that she looked up to the minute at least if not perfect. At the last second she put her boots on. She took some precious minutes applying her make-up and jewelry. She always felt that make-up and accessories made all the difference. When Gabby got home she said as she entered the bedroom, "What, did lightning strike or did we have robbers? The room is wrecked."


"No, Gabby, I have a dinner date. I had to blitz through the dressing. I'll pick up the bedroom as soon as I return from dinner."


"Heck, I was only kidding. We can tidy it together right now. It will only take a sec."


Just as they finished, the doorbell rang, and flustered but well dressed, Suzanne answered the bell. "Hi, Steve. Good to see you. Come in and meet Gabby."


Steve entered and proceeded to be charming to Gabby, who for some reason did not seem to respond to his banter. Suzanne felt far too excited over her date to worry about this and decided to think about it tomorrow like Scarlett. The evening did not disappoint, the dinner tasted succulent, the show he took her to engaged her attention, and the kissing afterward put the cream in the coffee. Suzanne wondered how soon they might bed. She couldn't wait to share the details of her date with Gabby. She raced in after one final kiss, and yelled as she charged down the hall, "Hey, Gabby. Didn't I tell you? Is not he gorgeous? Is he not a hunk?"


"Quiet, Sue, you'd wake the dead, “Gabrielle growled. "Yes, he's a hunk all right—a hunk of trouble and sorrow."


"Pardon me, Gabby?"


"He not only looks too handsome to be nice or sincere, but he will probably try to control your life. He's a power nut—a control freak."


"You could tell all that in an instant?"


"Suzanne, I am warning you. If you hook up with him you'll never write your novel. He will sabotage you."


"Well, Gabby, you must be quite the fortune teller. Did you read his palm in the five minutes you spent with him?"


"One look at him proved to be enough. I hate handsome men. They just keep preening and looking like they are thinking "I am too gorgeous for my jeans."


"Well, we sure have different takes on Steve. Don't worry. He is my problem, and he is a problem I will not have to solve."


"Whatever. Just don't blame me. I warned you."


As the weeks rolled by, Suzanne felt content—she earned enough to buy a computer and begin the novel she'd been writing in her head her whole life. She and Steve remained an item, albeit Gabby's disapproval that did not wane. Steve behaved in such an attentive fashion, sending flowers, bringing over wine and presents of jewelry for no reason, that Gabby kept saying, "See, Sue, all signs of a control freak. Mark my words marry him and not only will you never finish your novel, he'll probably keep you a prisoner in an ivory tower if he doesn't control you by beating you up."


Suzanne wondered what had made Gabby so suspicious of men. She seemed to have a good relationship with her own steady. She wavered from time to time in her support of Steve thinking that maybe he was too good to be true as were many potential wife beaters. She began to think that maybe Gabby would prove to be right as Steve never questioned Suzanne about her writing life. Why, she asked herself, doesn't he ask me how my novel is coming? He knows I am writing one.


One Saturday night just before Valentine's Day, Steve proposed to Suzanne over a glass of champagne. She discovered the ring beneath the bubbles in the champagne glass. Her first reaction was joy. Then Gabby's warnings rang in her ears. "Steve, why didn't you let me pick out my own ring?"                                                                      


"I thought this would be more romantic. I kept track of the ones you admired on your friends and when we window shopped in jewelry stores. Don't you like it?"



"Actually, Steve, I love it—it is just the one I would have chosen even down to the yellow gold and the Tiffany setting."


Steve said, "Do you have an answer for me? Do you want to think it over?"


"I am just so overwhelmed. My first reaction is shock mingled with joy and love."


"That sounds like good news? Suzanne, would you want to continue working or stay at home and be a housewife?"


"Steve, staying at home being a housewife sounds horrible. Don't tell me Gabby was right about you and you do want to put me in a cage like a canary bird?"


"Sue, I only wanted to give you the choice. If you had opted to stay home, I would have had a study built so that you could work on your novel."


"Steve, speaking of my novel —why don't you ever ask me how that's going?"


"I don't want to pressure you in case you have writer's block. I myself hate to be asked how my writing is going. If I'm blocked I cannot talk about it."


Happiness slowly washed over Suzanne like a summer shower. She felt newly alive and could almost smell lilacs. "Steve, I love you. I will marry you. God Bless you, Gabby, I love you, too, but you have rocks in your head. Worry about your own boyfriend as a potential husband."


Steve appeared to ignore her last words. Instead, he reached over the table, grabbed her hand, and placed the ring on her finger. Then he jumped up, went over to Suzanne and enfolded her in his arms. For Suzanne time stopped and all possibilities opened up before her. A successful novel, a happy marriage, a long life with children all seemed within her reach. She blessed the fates and whispered "Thank you, God."




MURDER AND MAYHEM

© — Susan C. Barto


   When Susannah first heard that Carol—the prime suspect in her husband's murder—spent the night in jail she threw herself into action to help. As she considered Carol her best friend and felt sure that Carol could never hurt anyone most especially Craig, she mustered all her forces and energies in obtaining a criminal lawyer to bail Carol out of jail immediately. Her sister-in-law, Mary Ellen, a top New York City Wall Street lawyer gave her a name, and Susannah contacted him post haste. His fees seemed horrible and impossibly high, but Susannah figured she could enlist all her friends who comprised the group she and Carol belonged to, to chip in to get Carol out of jail, on bail, and hopefully home to stay with the aid of this top notch lawyer. The lawyer told Susannah on the phone, "She seems to be the major suspect as it appears that Craig was having an affair with his secretary. Did you and your social group know about this? Even more importantly, did Carol tell you about it. Do you know whether or not she had knowledge of this affair?"


   "She would have told me if she suspected foul play on Craig's part. So far as I knew they

enjoyed a happy marriage. We went out to dinner with them last Saturday night, and we all went dancing afterward. They looked pretty romantic to me."


   "Thank you, Susannah, this will help her case. I'll get her out on bail, and keep you posted. Can you bring her some clothes to the County jail house?"


   Susannah raced to pack a bag for Carol and on her way to the jailhouse she stopped at Dunkin Donuts to fetch a latté and doughnut for Carol who must be starving as she probably couldn't have eaten the jailhouse food. She managed to bring the clothes and food to Carol who looked completely undone and frightened out of her wits. Carol sipped the coffee as though it were a life raft. "Susannah, I don't know when a cup of coffee tasted so good. It's like manna from Heaven, and so are you."


   "Carol, what on earth happened?"


   "God only knows. When I arrived home from work last night Craig lay on the floor with blood all around him and his gun lying near him. I didn't know what took place—an intruder, suicide. I did not even know whether or not he still breathed so I knelt down next to him to find out. When I discovered that he did not seem to be breathing, I tried to give him CPR."


   "Did you call the police?"

  "Of course. As soon as I realized that he was dead."

  "But why did they arrest you?"

  "I have no idea. They seemed suspicious of me right away. Don't they always look to the spouse first?"


   "Did you know whether he might have been having an affair," Susannah asked carefully.

  "No, the lawyer you hired told me this morning first thing that he was, and that that was why they thought I had committed the murder. If he really was, I knew nothing about it. I did not even know he had a secretary. For years he has had to share one, but he recently got a promotion. Maybe the secretary came with the job. I guess she came with benefits."

  "Oh, Carol, this is so much for you to handle. His death, your arrest, and now the news of a possible affair. How are you holding it together?"

  "The blows are so tremendous that I am in shock. I feel numb. I feel nothing."


   "Well, the lawyer we all hired for you should be able to get you out on bail today as you have never committed a crime before. We have to make sure you stay out of jail for good. If he is not the best lawyer, we'll hire the best."


   "How are you paying for it?"


   "We all chipped in—all your friends. You would have done the same for me. I just wish that I were Nancy Drew—I could solve this mess for you."


   "Susannah, don't get involved. Lord only knows. You get in trouble with the police or be jeopardized by the real murderer. Whoever he or she may be."


   "Oh, Susannah, who would have wanted to kill Craig?"


   "That is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, and we have to make sure that the police concentrate on finding the killer instead of focusing on you as the prime suspect."


   "From your mouth to God's ear."

  "Speaking of God, the Priest at your Church called, and everyone is praying for you."

  "Well, I can use all the help I can get."


   "I am leaving you now for the moment. I'll see you at your house this afternoon after you have been bailed out of jail. Right now I am heading for the police station to straighten them out."


   "Susannah, I really don't want you involved."

  True to her word, Susannah headed straight for the police station after leaving Carol. When she arrived she requested a word with whoever would be in charge of Carol's case and Craig's murder. "Why, do you want to see him? Have you any relevant information?"


   "I am Carol's best friend, and I just hired her a criminal lawyer."


   With that the person who had questioned Susannah left to get someone higher. Soon a rugged, handsome but rather crude man appeared at her shoulder. "How can I help you?"


   "Oh, detective, you can take my word for it that Carol never murdered Craig. You need to be focusing on finding the real killer before he or she kills again or causes any more mayhem."

  "Oh, do you think we don't know how to perform our duties?"


   "I think something is amiss if you suspect Carol of having had anything whatsoever to do with the murder—that's just insane."

  "Lady, believe me, the police department will get to the bottom of this mess and find the murderer. Now please stay out of our business—you will just cause trouble for your friend Carol if you remain involved."

  "Is that a threat?"

  "No, lady, just a warning."


   "How on earth could my interest and concern hurt Carol?"


   "If you mess in this, you will complicate the situation and perhaps put yourself in jeopardy if there is indeed a killer out there. Don't give the police department more work than we already have."

  When Susannah left the police station she felt more determined than ever to do something and not just stay inert. She knew she would poke around and try to discover more about what really happened to Craig. Who I wonder would want to kill him and why? Did he have enemies at work? Did he owe money to any one? If so, maybe the mob would want him killed. She decided to discover who that secretary of his was and try to arrange for an interview with her. Maybe she knew something that might shed light on this tangled web.


   As soon as she got home she called the firm where Craig worked and obtained the name of his secretary. She planned on calling the woman and inviting her to lunch and try a little fishing exhibition. Maybe over a glass of Merlot she might spill something pertaining to Craig's murder. She discovered from the receptionist that the secretary's name was Rita and obtained Rita's extension. She dialed before she could lose her courage. When Rita answered the phone Susannah said, "Hi, I am a friend of Craig's wife. As you must know by now Craig was murdered last night, and I would like to have lunch and a glass of wine with you so we could talk about what might have happened."


   I don't know you. Why should I have lunch with you?"


   "I think it could benefit both of us." I am trying to help Carol, and maybe I can help you before the Police involve you."


   "Me. why would I be involved?"


   "The Police seem to think you and Craig were having an affair. It is no business of mine and we do not have to discuss it."


   "It is ridiculous, and we certainly will not discuss it. Yes, I'll meet you for lunch. I guess I need to find out as much information as possible."


   "Can you meet me today? My treat—at the Villa on Main Street."


   "I'll be there at noon. I am not happy about this."


   Susannah hurried home to change for lunch. She knew lunch was important, however, she wanted to make it quick in order to be available for Carol as soon as she got sprung from jail. She immediately called the lawyer to find out the latest, and he informed her that Carol would be released by 3 p.m. Perfect. She could lunch and meet Carol at the jail and bring her home. She felt nervous about this approaching lunch date. Now Susannah came to a sudden halt in her thinking. What could she do to jump start her investigation into the murder? Who, if anyone could shed light on the situation? Who or what could aid her in solving this mess and helping Carol. She felt like she had hit an impasse. However, meeting with Rita could prove to be a baby step.


   Rita looked as unfriendly as she had sounded on the phone. She had jet black hair, and black mysterious eyes, and she seemed unlikely to drop any hints that might help Susannah. Indeed, she appeared hostile if not threatening. She also appeared to be unaccountably nervous. She kept darting her eyes about the room and playing with her food. While she drank two martinis, she ate no solid food. She insisted that she had had none but business contact with Craig, but she shed no light on the situation. She seemed to dislike Susannah intensely and even said, "I think you should butt out of this mess for your own good."


   "Rita are you threatening me?"


   "Of course not. Why would I do that?"


   When the lunch finally ended and the interview terminated, Susannah felt a tingle at her spine and a jumpy sensation fluttering in her stomach. Why had Rita threatened her? Did Rita know something about the murder she was not telling? Could Rita know who did it? Had Susannah gotten any closer to a solution by this lunch date, or had she put herself unknowingly into danger. If so, why? Could she have stumbled onto something? Might Rita be involved. If so. why?

  Susannah, as Nancy Drew, had more investigating to do. She determined to find out from someone who knew about the affair if indeed Rita had had an affair with Craig. She knew_a receptionist at Craig's firm, and she planned to telephone her after she met with Carol. After she greeted Carol, Susannah tried to pump Carol about Rita's history with Craig and the firm. However, Carol knew little about Craig's office life, and had never met Rita. She stated that Craig had never talked about Rita either for or against her. Susannah felt back at ground zero. As soon as she left Carol to take a hot bath and grab some rest after her horrible night in jail, Susannah went home and telephoned the receptionist. The receptionist had a little trouble remembering who Susannah was, but once she had identified her seemed willing to gab about the murder. "Isn't it something? Do you. think his wife really killed him?"


   "I don't know who killed him, but I would bet my last dollar that it wasn't Carol."


   When Susannah asked about Rita, the receptionist said, "We all hate her. She is cold and rotten. We think she was sleeping with Craig to advance up the ladder, but if so it had failed to He was, according to gossip, about to drop her and fire her as well. She was not in a good place at the time of the murder."


   This spilled a little lighter on the problem for Susannah. Could Rita have shot Craig in revenge and to stop him from firing her? If so, I could she Susannah be in danger? Would Rita think she knew too much and should stop snooping? She planned to try to distance herself from Rita and not get together with her at least alone in the future. Should she take her suspicions to the police? Before she could formulate her thoughts, her cell phone rang. To her dismay, the caller proved to be Rita and too late Susannah remembered that she had given her number to Rita so that she could call her if she received any clues. Rita asked if she could stop bv her house that evening with some important information. Susannah tried to demur, but Rita insisted and Susannah faced a crisis. She couldn't bother the police with unfounded suspicions. She felt glad on one hand that her husband would be on the premises and worried on the other hand for his safety.


   Susannah told her husband. Bob, about her investigation into Craig's murder so far. "You are really crazy to have gotten involved. Now both of us have to fear for our lives. Don't let her know I am home, and I can watch over you from the den. I have a gun there should I need it. Susannah shivered—this gun comprised a sore point between them. She disapproved of its being in the house-even though they had no children as yet. Bob insisted "People kill, not guns." However, she felt that having a gun made murder and mayhem too easy.


   Rita arrived right on time. She was prompt if nothing else, Susannah thought with a twist of irony. Her stomach felt twisted too. Rita entered the house, reached into her purse, and she removed a small gun that she pointed at Susannah. "You had no business to interfere. I don't want to kill you, but it is you or me." Susannah prayed that Bob could do something to stop this before Rita fired the gun. She heard a shot ring out and for a moment expected to fall over in pain and shock. However, Rita fell instead and Bob came rushing to her side. He checked out Rita who had only a slight flesh wound, picked up the phone and called 911. "We were lucky, Susannah. It looks as though you may be a hero in spite of yourself. Nancy Drew."


   "Yes, that's who I modeled myself after. I figured if a mere teenaged brat could solve murders for the fun of it. I could help Carol. Thank God. I did."




THE ART OF DROOLING

© — Roger D. Coleman


   Some people realize the act of drooling ailment is associated with the nasopharyngeal tract, or adjacent sinuses, or a condition producing drainage.


   The presence of depression and little weight loss in spite of relatively long history of drooling suggests psychogenic activity. Dizziness and ringing of the ears indicates the possibility of condition in the middle ear.


   The principle symptoms are drool—unbeknownst to the regenerator. A sliver of saliva escapes and runs down the chin to the embarrassment of the patient. This drool frequently has a chronic condition and often has a definite periodic sequence, especially in times of stress.


   Other sources of stimuli, in addition to the parotid gland, may play a role in the production of drooling. Any trauma, psychogenic stress, viruses, bacteria, autoimmune reaction, endocrine dysfunction, and allergy all play a role in drooling. Any reaction may be painful enough, any area of mucus membranes undoubtedly contributes to the syndrome of drooling.

  We've sometimes experienced the dripping for moist nose when we drink hot coffee. Since my stroke I get a stimulus to produce more to my salivary glands. With no motivation at all the nose starts running clear secretions when I bend over. Regularly the nose drips with cold cereal or no prodding at all—particularly my left nostril. There is a cross-wire in my brain in the last mini-stroke that incites the production of nasal fluids. I conclude from this experience, there is copious drool available in my case.


   This drool frequently has a chronic character and often has a definite periodic sequence, especially in times of stress. There are three types of drooling. The number one cause of drooling is what is called senile drooling. We've all seen patients in the rest home, sitting alongside of the halls in wheelchairs, that are tied in the chair to be erect, yet slump over the restraints, appear glassy-eyed and drool copiously. They unconsciously dribble saliva from the corners of their mouth.


   Then there are the number two drooler's. This is where the patient who frankly drools on rare occasions. He's usually conciseness of it and wipes away the fluid as soon as he can—to his embarrassment.

  Oh, I know we occasionally drivel throughout life on special circumstances, stimulated no doubt by the sight of a favorite food and in the anticipation of the joy of having it in the mouth. Numbers 1 and 2 are understandable, physiologically you can understand why.


   There is the number three of the free-flowers or splutters. This is the group I want to talk about This occurs when the patient experiences a mini-stroke with minor dysfunction. The patient is not disfigured, such as one half of the body lies paralyzed. These people usually drag one foot or one half the mouth has a permanently turn down.


   The number three patients have some function that's not working normally or at the fullest capacity. Speech, smell, eyesight and hearing are the usual functions impaired—or sometimes all of the above. This where the art of drooling comes in to play with alacrity and function.


   Say one slips and a trickle of juice escapes the corner of your mouth. You slyly wipe your chin and cough slightly and cover your mouth with your handkerchief. If the spluttering happens when you walk—on the street somewhere, you can cover the embarrassment by relying on some malfunction of clothing. You can always adjust your garter-belt or jockey shorts with a gesture that includes wiping the corner of your mouth with your thumb. You then wipe your digit surreptitiously on your pants as you adjust the underclothing.


   Or you are at a dinner party. Have your napkin at the ready. Dab the cloth at the corner of your mouth then wipe off the offending liquid.

  Suppose you’re playing tennis. A little drool won't be noticed with all the sweat on your face and brow. Wipe your chin on your sleeve. Your sports gear usually doesn't have the Napoleon row of buttons on the sleeve.

  The Art of Drooling, as you practice it, will be enhanced with more skill than you thought. You can adjust to your circumstances, I'm sure, with a little practice. You can do it with perseverance and face the future. You can be artful and dexterous as you rehearse—unless you are on your way— out of it—on your way to the No:.l patient-senility.




GHOSTS

© — Bobbye Read


   Who believes in Ghosts? Do you? Well, maybe you didn't a long time ago, but now......?

  In 1974, I lost my husband, Thurman Read. In 1975, I married Eddie Cockrell and moved to Sylvarena, into a home that belonged to his family. That is where my husband grew up.

  My son, Johnny, and my oldest daughter, Sherry, were married, but my youngest, Marsha was still in high school and lived with us.

  I think my daughter; Marsha was the first one to notice that things were disappearing. Other things were just being moved around. We gradually realized that we were not responsible. We would notice things moved from one room to another.

  My husband didn't believe we really knew things were moving all by themselves until one night, we were watching T V, I heard a door close. When I asked him to follow me down the hall, I would leave the back bedroom door open and I wanted him to listen to it close. It did! Of course, he thought it was a draft in the house. But when he went to check on it. He opened and closed it.... leaving it closed.

  When we came back to our bedroom, he heard the door knob turning and it opened!!! He never doubted anymore. He knew there was a Ghost!

  When Marsha would complain and get angry at the Ghost for moving things, the doors would begin to slam all over the house.

  Once, when my Mom came to visit, he went home with her. The next morning, she called and asked me to come get him. She said he flushed her commode, keeping her awake all night. About a half-hour later, she drove up and when she got out of the car, she opened the back door and said, "Now, get out!" I knew she had brought home our Ghost.


   We found we could blame most anything that happened on him and get a good laugh. Marsha and I enjoyed him; he was a friendly Ghost and we were never afraid. We felt he was abiding time until he would someday be allowed to have peace and a place where his Soul could rest.


   One spring morning, I walked out into the yard where my roses were and saw one beautiful white rose bud. I cut it and carried it into the breakfast table. As I laid it down, I noticed one just like it. Already on the table. The bush only had one on it.


   Mary Walters, a friend from Petal, MS. Spent many weekends with us and on one occasion, she came to our bedroom and called Eddie's name. This was in the middle of the night. She asked if he had called her. She awoke hearing someone call her name. That someone had pulled the cover off the bed and it was on the floor in the corner of the room.


   He had not called anyone, he was asleep! It happened to be wintertime and was it cold!!! Pecans seemed to be his favorite passion. Many times we found pecans in strange places. Mary wore ankle boots with her blue jeans and always put them under the edge of the bed at night. Each morning, they would be filled with pecans. Sometimes they would be scattered in dresser drawers.


   One of Marsha's friends, Tammy, and her little boy spent the night with us when the weather was dreadfully cold. While she was giving her little boy a bath, I lit the butane heater in the bedroom where Mary always slept. That night, it would be Tammy and her baby in there. A couple of times, I went into the room to check on the heater. Everything was fine. Shortly afterward, Tammy came out of the bathroom and screamed for me when she interred the room. When I got to the door, I saw smoke and flames reaching above the Mantel. Hurriedly, I turned off the heater, but the flames kept coming. My husband, Eddie, went out to the butane tank and turned off the gas coming into the house. Still, the flames burned, looking at the heater, I thought something must be inside that kept burning. Getting a pan and something to lift out the radian’s, I found the reason...


   Underneath the Radiant's, was a row of pecans, still burning. I lifted each pecan out and carried them outside. Someone said, oh, it was a mouse that carried them under there. Unless the mouse could lift out the radiant's, there is no way. The Ghost...? Well, what do you think?


   Needless to say, Tammy and her son slept in another room. That one was filled smoke and had to be cleaned.


   At times, we glimpsed the figure, even enough to see the clothes he wore. Always the same. Tan pants with pleats and a light blue turtle neck sweater. The clothes of the 50's.


   I had back surgery in 1979, and when I needed a jar of canned fruits or vegetables, Eddie would lift the other cases from the top if I needed one below. For want of a better place to store the canned jars, we stacked them on top of one another and I put a table cloth over them, with a lamp on top and we had another lamp table. (In the back bedroom)


   Once when I needed some tomatoes, he lifted of three cases, down to the tomatoes. One jar was missing . . . do you know what was in its place? You are right, pecans!


   My daughter, Sherry, had just had a baby girl, and Eddie went by the house to see the baby on his way to work. Later, she called me and asked if I would call him on his C.B. and tell him to come back by on his way home and pick up the Ghost? Michele was only three years old and she was on the couch where she could see down the hallway in the bedroom. She said, "Mama, there is a man in your bedroom!" Yes, Sherry knew who it was! A child is much more adequate in seeing things and adults would sometimes brush off things by saying, I didn't really see that! Eddie went back by her house and brought him home.


   There was one window in the back room that was always open. We could close it, but it would be open when we went back in there. Sometimes we could hear it being raised. Seems like he likes fresh air.


   Some of the kids, in the neighborhood, now grown, would come by on Sunday afternoon to find out what "Casper" had done. That is what they called him. We would sit on the big front porch, some sitting on the steps and some sitting in the swing, and talk about Casper. I wonder if they still remember him. I think I will ask Terry James, J.C. Ducksworth and Mike Ishee if they remember Casper. Maybe others would, too.

  We often found pecans scattered on the closet shelves among the clothes folded there.

  Jean Currie spent a week with me after Eddie passed away and every night we set the table for breakfast the next morning, turning the cups upside down. The next morning, there would be pecans under the cups.

  There was always a presence about the house, like it was alive. We never seemed to be alone. There were something moving about or windows being raised when no one was in the room. Noises that made us wonder what he was up to at the moment. A presence that never seemed to be content. I hope by now "Cotton Top" is somewhere in the Universe where his soul is at Peace. After all, this is the home where he grew up and the backroom was "the boys" bedroom!




TESSA'S DECISION

© — Sandee Glassman


   Am I Thinking clearly? Did I make a wise choice? Its Friday morning another day another dollar. I am running slightly late to my mundane job. Standing in the shower lost in thought I think my cell phone is ringing. Momentarily startled I grab a towel wrap it around my still soapy body. Droplets of water drip from my long blond hair forming puddles onto my blue bath mat. Naturally I didn't answer the phone before the message went on. Do I want to access the message that's there? Pressing the red blinking button, a pleasant female voice informs that my appearance is necessary this afternoon no later than four p.m. Not paying to much attention I don't digest everything she says.


   By accepting the invitation to come to the local television studio, I've already made a commitment. The bank where I've been head teller {note the reference to money} is located nearby my small but cozy abode. I've lived in Ohio for twelve years. My dream after graduating college was to open a glitzy jewelry boutique. My degree in fashion design fueled the desire even more.  Lacking money for this enterprise, I took the job at the bank to earn money also the hours were good. I yearned to change vocations sooner but that was put on the back burner.


   While still deep in meditative mode, the telephone rings again. Wrong number. Time is ticking away, if I don't hassle my butt faster I'll be so late for work. Panic sets in. With haste I throw on a newly purchased pink silk blouse, black mini skirt black fishnet pantyhose, and low heel pink shoes, {whoops] I almost forget to apply blush and lipstick. Heading for the front door, my eyes locate the car keys and purse on the coffee table.  I am so distracted this morning.   Finally, ready I lock the front door and slide into my red Rav4 truck. Did I neglect to mention my name, which is Tessa Marie Gallaway.


   I'm thirty-four, never married, been engaged three times. At this point you’re probably wondering is there something wrong with her?  My coworkers at the bank entered my name in a " Win a date contest". Need I interject without my okay. It seems my relatives and friends share concerns over my being single and almost thirty-five. Do I have a delusion that prince charming will come and sweep me off my feet?


   My love life up until now has been a disaster. Three great guys, three lovely rings, promises not kept.

  After getting cold feet as the wedding days approached, combined with hot sweaty palms, and an attack of the blemish brigade, and uncontrolled urge for munchies chances are my agreeing to appear on a dating television show certainly was not my style.

  Every Friday before work my best pal Lucy meets me at the coffee cafe called "Java Jolt". We work side by side at the same bank. Lucy is keenly aware what today means for me. I arrive at the cafe, we spot each other.  Lucy has a puzzled expression on her face. You look so frazzled what's up? Lucy is a fashion rebel. She has no lack of clothes. Today she resembles a Goth girl dressed completely in black. Her hair has new red highlights and her finger nails are painted black. She has five tattoos or body art as she refers to call it.


   I marvel that she is so comfortable in her skin and remains charming and appealing.   Sitting down for some decaf coffee Lucy smiles and bursts into questions for me. Are you excited about the TV show today? You look very nice I hesitate to answer.


   Fast forward to four o'clock. Here I am, perched on a shiny chrome stool with a tuffed gray seat. Two young men enter this room which I am informed is the fix up shop for the studio. My attention is drawn to two horny females. From the chatter going on I feel like I'm at a cattle auction.

  Searching around the room my gaze devours these gals. All seem to have a special glow, small waists, lovely faces and give off snooty vibes. Why didn't I decline the invite?


   I believe advice is freely given by those who are likely miserable themselves. Time for me to take charge. The makeup man strolls over in my direction. No! No I voiced with authority, put away the scissors, blow dryer, and makeup tray. Let the chips fall where they may. The male contestants chosen for me to question and date will have a woman who was engaged three times. Obviously three is not my lucky number. I can't say anything bad about my previous boyfriends. Perhaps I'm afraid of making permanent relationships.   Maybe my perception of a life's mate is off balance. I am determined today to begin a new chapter. All my boyfriends had three letter names.

  In the rule of baseball three strikes you’re out. Yet with romance anyone can acquire many chances at the plate.

  I have a positive attitude, maybe today I'll find my soul mate.   Possibly I'll capture the brass ring so to speak. Got to go, my segment is about to happen. I feel lucky!!!!




DANCING BUCKET

© — Gerald Heyder


  "O' what fire i the soul mind nor tongue knows not!"

  Autism! What a strange mental and emotional realm for someone to be in. Not being able to fir into society on the same plane of existence as those not afflicted by such condition. To be in a state of subnormal consciousness compared to what is expected and accepted as perfectly normal and balanced livelihood must be an experience beyond comprehension of non-autistic homo sapiens. I for one am not "hairy chested" enough to trade places and find out!


   It is an established, well documented fact that many autistic people, beyond any known reason, are gifted to an incredible degree with various talents. This has been proven academically as well as artistically. The scientific and medical world has long been baffled by feats and accomplishments performed by autistic's. Mathematics, music. literary recitations, are tip of the iceberg examples showing excellence by individuals who exist in the mental and emotional confinement part of prison the rest of us know nothing of. Imagine performing classical music on a concert piano without having any comprehensive knowledge of what music truly is. This should be sufficient picture replacing a thousand words of explanation.


   Meet Waldo Paxton, a case in point. Waldo is thirty-one years of age physically, but mentally and emotionally he hasn't reached teenage status as determined by the medical profession. He plays with toys, watches cartoons and exists according to a childlike state of mind. He recoils from strangers as well as strange surroundings he is unaccustomed to. He believes cartoon characters are real live beings. He has been known to seemingly communicate with Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd. His reading and writing proficiency is no higher than fifth grade level. He is quite simply an adult body existing in a perpetual state of adolescence. Pity is worthless, but understanding and compassion are necessary according to medical experts as well as theologians to boot.


   Waldo is endowed with a literary gift. He writes poetry, but only induced through observation of a particular object at a particular time. Psychology cannot explain it, but just be aware of it, is the consensus of opinion. Waldo's talent for verse far exceeds and transcends the childish nonsense associated with nursery rhymes, limericks, etc. Indeed, his skill with words, inexplicable as it is, would turn many aspiring poets green with envy. Hop aboard for muse full train ride beginning with illustration based on Waldo's observance of broken glass as catalyst for verse. In an apparent mystical mood, he penned the following lyrical dissertation, the title of which is "House of Glass!"


"Goodness is not always obvious; neither is evil!"


Like whisper of wind of melted snow,

I quickly disappear darting shadow!

I like suspended by silken strand

I separate swiftly like severance of hand!


As razor removes beard from skin

life can vanish from body we're in!

I shudder to think mere second of breath

is only difference twixt life 'n death!

We're nothing more than house of glass

cracked 'n shattered to ground we crash!

We're only moments from burial 'neath sod

by words we utter twixt Satan and God!


   One day Waldo commented to a visitor saying "The wind sure did knock over that bucket and is rolling it around on the ground" subsequently taking pen in hand and authoring the following verse titled "Dancing Bucket."


"Thy deed is cast in stone thy name written in sand!"


We know not the road we travel

nor the scars we seek

we know not the steps we take

leading us to destiny!

Deeds we cast are set in stone,

our names must fade thru' time;

footprints that we set in snow

vanish when sun doth shine!

Wind rustle's leaves on trees

as nature crooks its song

clouds come then surely go

for nowhere do they belong!

We are but dancing bucket

the wind doth toss about

craving voice soft 'n sweet

to purge hell's howling shout!

We know not the deck of cards

from which our hand is dealt,

we are born of innocence

to die thru' jaded quilt!

We know not from womb to grave

what fate will be our lot;

we are but dancing bucket

the wind doth toss about!


   What think you so far of Shakespearian style sentiments engraved on parchment by author who doubtfully knows how to use a dictionary? If you are not yet convinced by talent from dimension unknown, perhaps the following will tip the scale in Waldso's favor. It's titled “Stay The Dragon's Reach" and based on something not revealed by wordsmith prior to it being inked onto paper.


There comes a time in human course

of faith 'n hope that died!

Silent heart knows lonely tears

find a path to flow

same as hunter in the dell

tracking thru' the snow

Amnesia fade away the pain

heart can't seem to quell

embers swirling in the brain

conjured up from hell!

Shame fails to douse the flame

of corpse on vanity pyre,

lost sweet innocence of youth

thru' flesh's impassioned desire!

Return again those tales once told

that stay the dragon's reach

by crossing bridge to safe haven

over meat the beast can't breach!

We must hear the trail we go

tho' route may be obscure

to find the spiral staircase wrought

by temperance in this world!


   No doubt by now many of you are puzzled and attempting to ponder the enigmatic revelation presented to you. You are probably wondering how can something of this nature be and what is the reason, perhaps purpose of such a phenomenon to exist?

  What we have is the proverbial sixty-four-dollar question with thirty-two-dollar answer at best. Perhaps the reason of cause of Waldo's condition may be a matter of genetics as is generally embraced by the medical profession. As to the purpose of autism, despite tentacles of unexplained talents and abilities, perhaps the reason can only be answered in the realm of divinity. A human aberration once told an audience "I exist to make you realize what you have that has been denied to me!" Touch and Amen!

  Perhaps a fitting tribute to Waldo, if appropriate, are two lines from an obscure poem which simply says:

  "The heart is lonely hunter and poet a lonely pen!"

  Is it possible that we all have, subconsciously, a wee bit of Waldo deep within us but we simply don't realize it? Who can say?! Only the fox knows which hen house he intends to raid!


"I cried because I had no shoes 'til I met a man who had no feet!"

<— Old Proverb —>




PARISIAN NIGHT

© — Marion H. Youngquist


   Ah, Paris—the City of Light and Romance! Howie tucked Jeanette’s hand into his right arm and strolled along the Champs Elysee, ignoring his tired legs and sore feet. Both were signs that he was no longer young, but not old, either. After all, they should be in the prime of life. They were still healthy and the kids were gone. Jeanette didn’t have too many gray hairs. Anyway, she covered them with an ash-blonde rinse. There wasn’t much Howie could do for his balding head. He felt that was a sure sign of aging, too.

  For a week they’d explored the city’s charms. When they attended Notre Dame Cathedral on Sunday, Howie stretched his legs and dozed.

  “You did well,” Jeanette laughed after they left the cathedral, “for being a stiff-necked Protestant—well, not so stiff-necked, just simple.” She added, “You must admit it was thrilling to worship in such a historic building. I almost looked for the Hunchback in the tower.” She had a vivid imagination and Howie was glad for her wide-eyed pleasure.

  For Jeanette everything was a thrill. On the first morning, they took a city tour. The next two days they went on to Giverny and Versailles. Both had glorious gardens, yet something was missing. He hid his disappointment with feigned enthusiasm—comments like, “That is really something!” and “How unusual!” He had consented to the Paris trip because it had been Jeanette’s lifelong dream. One time she told him that if she hadn’t married him after college, she would have pursued a degree in French at the Sorbonne. He thought Jeanette deserved Paris as a belated twenty-fifth wedding anniversary present, although he would always prefer a north woods fishing trip anytime over old stone buildings.

  He recalled when they took their three kids to Washington D.C. during a spring break, Buddy and Kari developed colds and Jeanette was up all night with Gayle, the youngest, who tended to become asthmatic whenever she got excited. The cherry blossoms had fallen in the rain and nothing about the trip was quite as they imagined. However, Buddy remembered the airplanes in the Smithsonian for a long time and Kari thought the First Ladies gowns were “awesome”. Every Christmas, they pulled out the old video and the family giggled at his amateur and awkward photography, so that trip to the nation’s capital was worth it. Maybe he would feel that way about Paris in the future.


   That night Howie and Jeanette promised themselves they’d take it easier tomorrow and slept with pillows under their legs to prevent cramping.


   Next day they faced rainy weather which meant wet shoes and a possible cold. Jeanette bought a plastic rain bonnet. Howie buttoned his tan raincoat and hoped she wouldn’t want another morning at the Louvre and its endless galleries. A person could live in Paris for a year and miss important pictures. The Louvre’s glass entrance was impressive and he had already paced the building with a critical eye. Architect Pei and builders had done well. It was imaginative and striking—not always seen in municipal buildings.


   Howie thought they’d seen a lot and said so as they walked arm-in-arm through the Luxembourg Gardens. The rain fell softly and he held the umbrella so Jeanette was close to him. It was rather romantic, he admitted to himself, but he wished he had his old Brewers cap to cover his balding head. Jeanette took out her Paris guidebook. “We’ve got ride the funicular to Montmontre sometime,” She squeezed his arm. “It’s supposed to be so romantic up there at night—looking at the city lights below.”


   So that evening, they strolled past the cafes on Montmartre and heard the disco bands and their blaring music. Howie studied the lights of Paris below while    Jeanette took her time choosing a small watercolor from a street artist. He watched for pickpockets and kept his wallet inside his zippered jacket.


   “See—,” Jeanette said, “we haven’t bought any picture like this before.” She held out a small painting as if it were from the Louvre. “It will look great above the desk.”

  “I’m sure that’s painted by a future Monet,” growled Howie. Her choice wasn’t much different from a dozen others displayed for purchase, but he didn’t add that. The scene seemed expensive and it wasn’t even framed, but he wouldn’t spoil Jeanette’s pleasure.

  “Now we should see the city lights from the Eiffel Tower, too,” Jeanette suggested. “We can’t miss that.” She looked at Howie with narrowed eyes, and hoped he was having a good time. Everything was great, but something wasn’t quite right.

  “It’s too far to go tonight,” Howie countered. “The Eiffel Tower looks quite lovely lighted at night. Let’s enjoy this scene.” He didn’t like heights and he had made an excuse each time Jeanette hinted about taking the Tower ride. The Montmartre was fine, and anyway, one view of Paris was enough.


   “Surely, there’s something more that you’d like to see,” Jeanette whispered in low voice.  “I don’t want you to be disappointed when the trip is over.”


   Howie shrugged, “We’ve seen a lot. Maybe a ride on the Seine tomorrow night--that’s supposed to be special,” he added.


   “That’s a wonderful idea,” Jeanette rubbed her head affectionately against his sleeve, glad that her husband had made one suggestion and not left everything to her.


   For Howie, a boat ride seemed a lot better than more walking. The Louvre had endless galleries and Montmartre seemed to have as many streets. He would be glad when this trip ended. All this history had been fine for Jeanette, but somehow, Paris was not what he expected.


   The next night they boarded a Seine river boat and traveled through the darkened waterway. Occasionally, two lovers would be locked in an embrace beneath the trees. Beyond, lights glazed the historic stone buildings with a golden glow. The ride seemed more special than Howie had expected. Maybe Paris was working its magic on him after all.


   When they docked, Jeanette suggested that they have coffee at a corner café, not far from their hotel. Howie didn’t resist, seeing her expectant look. In two days, they would fly home. She would return to hospital nursing and he’d be back at the water department. He was tired of valves and pipes and gauges, keeping things working efficiently. What would he remember as special about Paris that would give him pleasure on a dull day? Sore feet? An empty wallet? Hardly.

  As the garcon served them café-au-lait, Howie noticed a petite woman softly slide onto a small raised stage reserved for soloists. She carried a worn violin case and she was older than her youthful pony tail, tied with an emerald scarf. Her face was heavily powdered to hide the webbed wrinkles and pouches beneath her tired eyes. How old was she? How many tears had she shed in rough years?


   Her dress was of cheap brown burlap with odd symbols sewn in garish gold, green and scarlet. Did the figures represent pagan gods or were they leftover scraps from some craft project? Anklets of tiny brass bells tinkled as she stamped her little feet, shod in worn black sandals with stiletto heels. Had she once worn them to a masquerade ball?

  She flung out a wide paper banner that read, “Ukrainian Suite” and passed among the closest patrons with her tin cup. Howie, fascinated by her appearance, expected a brilliant solo and virtuoso cadenza. He generously dropped several Euros into her container.


   Jeanette, surprised, leaned over, “You haven’t heard her. How do you know she’s that good?”


   Howie smiled, “This is Paris! She’s Parisian, isn’t she? You tell me that everything is quite wonderful in Paris.”

  With a flare, the woman lifted a pointed bow, circling her head with a wide flourish as if she were a fencing master. She finely tuned the strings, listening carefully with her left ear. She began her solo, dramatically sawing the bow back and forth, back and forth. It made a dull scraping sound with prolonged squawks and screeches—up and down, up and down--a progression of strange tones, soft then loud—more than the standard twelve-note scale. Swaying, she played away, gliding and dancing with her scratched instrument nestled on her shoulder.


   Howie sat entranced. The violinist, if that’s what she could be called, combined Piaf’s pain, Colette’s cleverness, Chanel’s charm, plus a dash of Bernhardt’s bravado and, somehow, embodied Paris in a way that he had hoped to find, but had missed among the tourist sites and historic buildings. The artist continued, flinging out different titles, but playing with the same shrill sounds.

  Jeanette pushed away her coffee cup. “I’ve had enough of her. I’m tired. Let’s go back to the hotel.” She reached for Howie’s hand.

  Before they left the café, Howie took one backward glance at the violinist, smiling to himself. He would remember her for a long time. This night would not end when he and Jeanette reached their room. After all, they were in Paris, a city of Light and Romance. He knew that now.





BROKEN RAINBOW

© — Peggy Boogaard Kennedy


 I worked through high school towards the dream of college. At last I was going, my parents even sold some property so that they could afford to send me. Then the Dream took a terrible twist. My father had cancer, and had to have an operation. My dependable father lost his life after the operation, he could not hold anything down.


 That year the friends that I had made were seniors. They graduated and began or continued working. I spent as much time as I could afford at their place. One night I walked into a surprise they had concocted for another friend that was an ex-nun. They brought up the old house next door and how they would like to see inside. We agreed, and then they said, “lets get Nancy.” So Alice ran down to the basement floor. When she came back she said that she was not home, so we went next door and entered the base­ment which was open. We went through the two upper stories. When we came back to the front room Alice said. "Let's see what's in the seat." She opened it, and sticking out from newspapers was a foot in a tennis shoe.


 "I saw a shoe!" I exclaimed.


 "You did?' cried Alice McCormick, “let's see."


 She opened the seat again, and there was a leg sticking out barely illuminated in light of our one flashlight. Everyone but Marie seemed much too calm. They were obviously trying to scare us. I ran to the front door, but could not pull it open as it was warped closed. I ran into the kitchen with Marie and pretended I could not find the door to the cellar because I did not have the light. Marie was not going to fool around, she ran back to the front door and with one pull jerked it open. Fear had given her super strength. The other girls were laughing, and Nancy climbed out of the seat. After we left the house I tried to close the door, but it would not even close it was so warped. Marie was slightly built, and only about five feet six in height. She must have been about one hundred thirty pounds. Alice gloated about running down the stairs and just giving her friend the signal, they had planned this.


 "I didn't think that you would be as scared as Marie. She was really scared," Nancy told me, "I was really satisfied when I gave Nancy the high sign."


 I have never liked practical jokes since then, and I never will, but I will always like sales. I was shopping one time and found the food specialty department. I decided to buy a can of turtle soup to try out. Once I bought a brand new dress at Rexal drugstore for twenty-five cents. It had nothing wrong with it except that it was red. I always felt that red makes you look bigger. It was the hippy era and I bought a sheath dress with a lot of printed jewelry on it, but I had got back into the clothes I had made in size twelve.


 One day I decided to walk to the Space Needle. I followed it until I got down from Queen Anne's hill, then I could not see it. I just kept heading toward where I had seen it, and came to a freeway. There was no foot overpass, so I would have to cross it. Since I was a good runner then, I just waited for a break in traffic and ran across. That was not smart in high heels, but I never bought more than an inch-high heel.


 Once I was there I had something to eat, then I bought a Spanish pin to go with my collection. I had a windmill that turned, a knife that came out of its sheath, an anchor that I pinned on my brown beret. I had bought all of these for just one dollar each, so no one was making a lot of money on these enamels, which were amazing works of art. The Space Needle was still an exhilarating climb and view.


   When my drill team toured the World's Fair, there was a dive that was open across the street, and sailor's had run over to try to pick a girl up at the restaurant when they saw us in our Air Force uni­forms. I was with the Civil Air Patrol cadets, but when you turn 18 you have to leave, and can join the adult core. They were amazed that Colleen Beausoleil was so young. Colleen later entered the Miss America pageant in Ketchikan at 17, but lost to a girl who was not nearly as pretty. I had gained weight again, and was size 14, so did not enter.


 I did enter a beauty competition at Seattle University, but the results were taken from clapping, and I had no one there. It was not Miss America, but for best dressed. If I had made something I think I would have taken it. I had invested my baby-sitting money in clothes and material, but since I could get into the ones that I had already made, and used for one year, I did not sew too much for myself, but embroidered a tablecloth for a missionary which the church supported.


 I had been busy in the church since we got to the city of Ketchikan, (which is the first city in Alaska) and again in Seattle. In Seattle I went to an Assembly of God church (which relocated when 99 was being built.) While I was there they put up a huge light so that the church could be seen from the freeway, and took out a painting of Jesus and lambs to put in a modern piece in red and blue. All the seats were recovered in red, and red car­pets were installed. I've never been happier in a church.

  I would like to see my friends — we are all in our 60’s. I want to know if they are still pulling practical jokes.




FRIENDSHIP PERHAPS ROMANCE

© — Susan C. Barto


 Sandy met him a church at an evening get together. She smiled at him when he entered looking kind of lost and lonely and offered to get him a cup of coffee. He acquiesced with an endearing smile, and they commenced talking and tentatively finding out about each other. He shared with her that he hoped this group would not have to sit in that circle of chairs he spied and talk about themselves. "I have no problem one to one or at work, but that sitting around a circle stuff freezes me."  Sandy who attended 11:00 Mass felt disappointed to learn that because he worked most Sundays that he attended Mass at 8 a.m. 8 a.m. was possible but not too doable. When the strange, but disarmingly handsome man discovered that the group would be chatting together sharing histories he bade Sandy a fond farewell and said he hoped he'd see her at Mass. Sandy felt sad.


 That she felt was that. Indeed, she did not encounter him again for about three or four months. One Sunday morning after a bout with insomnia she rose early and attended 8 a.m. Mass and to her delight found him sitting in the next to last row. She went over and felt pleased when he said, "I have thought about you often and hoped I would see you again." Sandy confessed she felt the same and introduced herself. He offered that his name was Jim. After Mass they chatted, and he said he could sometimes make 9:30 Mass if she preferred. Sandy wanted to handle this gently. She knew that most unmarried and uncommitted men were either commitment phobic or hated women.  She just said that she would see him soon at Church, and did not take it a step further by promising to come the following Sunday at either 8:00 or 9:30.


 Two Sundays later she did meet him again at 8:00 Mass. This time they exchanged e-mail addresses. That week they began to e-mail. This e-mailing stuff still seemed a little silly to Sandy who grew up with letters and telephones, but in some ways it seemed the best of both in that you could express yourself more personally than you can on the phone or face to face. Sandy found in her experience that many people could write emotions that they could not verbalize, and e-mail helped make this possible.  The role a woman should play in a relationship confused Sandy in today's world. She had last been involved in the dating game in her teens and married at 18. After a long successful marriage, she now found herself a widow with no up-to-date dating skills.


 In addition to e-mailing they planned to join a book group together and work in the church's soup kitchen on Friday nights. A friendship was forming, and Sandy felt you can't have enough friends. Sometimes friendship could be better than romance— friendships last a lot longer than most affairs. Jim's looks reminded Sandy of a movie star— the rugged rather than matinee idol star. This puzzled her even further as to why he remained single. However, since they had just met she didn't know whether or not he might be divorced. He did tell her that he had a twin sister, and Sandy loved this as her mother had a twin sister, too.  Sandy made the decision not to push this friendship, but to just enjoy it. They continued to e-mail and she went to 8:00 a.m. Mass once in a while. The last time she went they decided to go to brunch after Church the next time they met at Mass, and the ball was in her court. Sandy loved the beginning of the adventure. She felt hesitant about an actual date, but excited, too. Sometimes, she did not know what she really wanted. Romance, yes— marriage probably no— sex yes but that carried the religious taboos, and in today's world danger. At this stage a friendship and flirtation filled the bill. Just having a new friend seemed enough at the moment with the delicious possibility of something else down the line.





LILLE

A Story of the South

© — Ken Gillespie


 "Lille, come over heah an' bring dat flea-smitten dog haired thing wit cha.  You been down thar on de Tishorninga hadn't ya?  An ‘I done told ya once child dat I's gonna whip ya fer shor if'n I catch ya down ther again without cha pappy." 0l’ Luther's whiskers twitched when he talked.  Somehow it made things more interesting.   Not that he never said something a mite interesting every once in a while, it's just that some things are more interesting than others—especially when ya whiskers twitch.   And when he giggled his ears wiggled.  And when he got excited, well, thar's no tellin' what he might do! Cause I tell you one thing:  Down on that thar creek he fought wit Forrest!  And he done told me all about it—more than once. And Luther, well he practically won the whole battle, if'n ya listen real close to his part in it.


 Lille and her daddy, 0l' Luther Potts, had the best farm down abouts here than just about anybody else, 'bout a hunerd acres a hot scrub dirt pressed into gentle roll in' hills and deep gullies right North a Guntown, or maybe it was South, one gits a mite turned round down hea, ceptin' Forrest a corse. Yep, mostly scrub farm and gullies, but it was theirs—that is, what had survived the illegal Yankee phoney taxation of the Reconstruction.  It was once a large farm.  Now poverty.


 Poor? Yeah, they was poor alright, but ya couldn't tell it by their faces.   They were too busy being happy, or too busy working their poor heads plum off.  I guess happiness and hard work go together.


 "Come eah Tobey, come oah boy!"  Tobey galloped up all regal-like, his chest pouched out.  "Where you been? Down on dat creek bed chasin ‘skunks an' peering into fire ant holes, haddn' ya?" Tobey was a Shid Zu, I think.  I don't know what he thought.  He could do ‘bout jus’ anything he set his mind to.  He once disappeared for two weeks!  We thought he'd been et by sumpin.  But best of all was his rare ability to "point" ants, FIRE ants that is, AND attack them at will! Why he would frontal assault them ants and envelope them all at once with the precision of a major general.   At one time we called him "General"—but it sounded too highfrlootin'.  He was a military dog, guess cause he was owned by a military man.  He also weighed 190 lbs—bier fer the Shid Zu variety I hear.


 Lille, that dapple-down, all tangled blond haired, browned skin always dirty child, ran toward the Tishominga as fast as her pretty little feet, barefoot as they was, could carry her.  Her pure bred mut,-Tobey Ching, ran after her with the ferocious, adventuresome smile that always seemed to cover his no-nose face. He was a happy dog, well cared for, and she was a happy child. The child of- her culture, a child of the South—the rural, non-yankee South, that is.  She was an honest, intelligent, God fearing, Sunday morning go to worship child.   A Cracker if there ever was, she wasn't a foul mouthed child like the scalawag children over in Tupelo, or the carpetbagger hoodlums up in Memphis.  She was no government school child of the federals from up in Washington City. Nope, she had real Southern culture, even wrote poetry.


 Lille ran towards Tobey.  He was onto something. Her plaid skirt, she always seemed to wear the same dress, untied in the back, flowed through the air as her little body barely touched the ground.  A look of mischief sparkled on her face.  Tobey's too!


 Was it a rabbit? Or was it an escaped Negro from over at the work farm? Maybe it was a still alive invadin’ yankee that done been hid in1 in them bottoms all these heah years, afraid ta come out cause he thought ol' Forrest might still be abouts ready to skin him alive fer shor!


 Lille's little brown eyes caught the glimmer of something standing out of the tall grass.  It was sharp, sorta, and pointing toward the wide curve of the upper orb.  "Look Tobey!" He obeyed somehow or other.  He was certainly an intelligent dog. Maybe he saw it too!    But he ran anyway, through the tall grass and the cane by the sandy creek bed, the soft soil parting beneath his giant paws.  His furry ears were a flappin' with sweat poppin1 out on his dark black nose and foam pourin* from his grizzly mouth! He bounded toward, the gleaming sprig o' steel pointing, it seemed, toward his happy heart.  But, just before he got to the point of no return, a hill, oh 'bout three feet high—which seemed to be movin'—caught his attention.  Biggest fire ant, hill he'd ever seen. "Must have bigger fire ants!" he no doubt reasoned.  It also caught the immediate attention of Lille cause she had just put her tender, lilly white, but muddy foot sauare into the proverbial hill(I ben to da mountain! Like some firey phoney civil rights preacher, they scream and burn and then them and the whole community need medication! She came out a yelpin’ worse than ol' Tobey when he'd ben treed by an especially rampukcious coon.


 "Oh, Tobey, oh, Tobey, HELP ME, HELP ME!  They's a stinging my foot off!" The fire ants WERE bigger than usual, maybe a new kind, but real powerful.  It was a good thing they couldn’t fly!  Oh Lille and Tobey were happy 'bout that.  They was sure

big- uns though—and with a powerful stinger, longer than the

nail on yor thumb!  And maybe they had three eyes, and three stingers!


 Ol' Tobey, with a fear upon his angered face far-greater than all the combined fear of all the yankees dat Forrest done chased outta de South, and dats a mite heavy hunk a fear, JUMPED A FLYIN’ (Tobey COULD fly) right into the midst of the fire ants, which done went splatterin ever which way in big wholesome globs!  It was scarry, far scarier than some movie film over in Tupelo, and real too!  I am tellin* you the truth! Would I lie to yor carpetbaggin' hide?  Naw, course not.


 "My foots caught, Tobey!  Somethin1 is a pullin' on my foot and it won't let go!  Maybe it's some dem yankees dat ben buried shallow and they's grabbin at my soul!  Oh, Tobey, help me!"  Her voice died down a mite into a suppressed impassioned request, like Tobey really understood.


 Well, Tobey knew no specific theology, exceptin method ist.  He'd been to at least twenty tent revivals.  Yeah, twas a day when men feared and reverenced God, and kept the Sabbath! Even ol' Tobey done been to camp meeting more times than the scalawags and carpetbaggers.  Although some did go on Saturdays.


 Tobey was a scrappin and a chewin and a yelpin all at one time.  Overcoming his fear he charged ahead.  They all wore blue to him and Tobey knew his limits.  He was a veteran.  He'd done been to war once already rite heah at Brice's Crossroads.  He'd chewed the rifle right outta some Cincinatti clerk boy's hand—then bit his head clean off!  Dat boy shoulda stayed home in his own state and kept outta the South!


 At about that time, whatever let loose a Lille's leg" LET GO!  And the inquisitive Tobey tumbled head long down into the pit on whose side the deep fire ants’ village had been built. He screamed!  Lille screamed!  "Tobey, Tobey, don't let that yankee grab ya! “ His tail was a flappin like a signal flag in the deepest point of distress, he barked something out in code that jus couldn't be deciphered.  Lille could jus see that mean ol' yankee a pullin’ at tother end, Tobey covered head to tail with fire ants—he's bein et alive!


 "Oh, Tobey!" she cried, then all was still, like rite before a twister ...  She couldn't hear him breathing. Suddenly his tail disappeared into the darkness.  He was gone to China!   For a long time, it was quiet again.  Then a shaking of the ground and a rumblin’ like a thousand horses beating on the hills! Was it Forrest returned to save the South?  Twigs was snapping in midair, pine cones was fallin and bounceing back up higher than the trees!  Birds was flying upsidedown (well, maybe not) but they was fluttering everywhere!  Then a small earthquake happened and ol' Tobey’s head appeared faster than speeding minie balls.  He breeches!!!


 First the nose, then the head with closed, eyes, then the torso, then the tail all covered with swarming, creeping, roving in mass fire ants—and a shred of blue uniform was tucked betwixted Tobey's sharp claws.    He bounded screaming and a yelping toward the Tishominga.


 Luther had out a cane pole for bream which split into as Tobey careened through it grabbling for air and water and all wrapped up in Luther's line and tackle.   Shortly behind this fiasco came little Lille all a shouting 'bout fire ants and dead yankees.  It done revived Luther Potts to the degree that he grabbed his well-oiled six shooters—usually reserved for snakes and vermine and scallawags and began shootin' in the air.  Somehow all three came to be entangled at the bottom of the swollen Tish.   They came up laughing—yeah even

poor ol' Tobey had a broad smile as he spits out water'n ants drowndin1 the pesky critters en masse.


 "What's gotten in ta ya child?" Luther shouted while spittin1 out minnows.


 "No SIR," answered Lille, "It ain't what's gotten out, it's what's gotten off!"


 "Yeah," said Luther, "Looks like Tobey done got heah fastest -wit de mostest—ants that is."


 "I'm soaked, and so's Tobey."


 "Yeah, let's git up heah on de creek bank child."



 "Are you gonna whip me daddy?" asked Lille.


 "No honey," replied Luther with a twitch to his whiskers, "I knows you in de Tish—but you wit me child!"


 Ol' Tobey let em lift em outta de creek and Luther began to dry him off wit his shirt tail.


 "What's dis heah piece a blue cloth in his paw child?" he asked with a look of puzzlement.


 "Why pa, that's where Tobey done pushed that yankee down a little deeper in his grave."


 "Come show me child."  Luther had a serious look.


 With a tinge of fear Lille asked, "Do we HAVE to go back to that spot?"


 Luther found the shallow grave of one of Boston's Blacks. He'd been buried with his "No Quarter For The White Man" patch still on.   "Well lands ta Goshen, you shor found a real one!" Luther said in genuine amazement, "Go fetch my Bible and a shovel." They buried that young black boy rite on that same spot with all the honors that Luther could remember—this time a little deeper.”


FINI


POSTSCRIPT


 Oh yeah, I ben meanin' ta tell ya.  My name's Paul Potts, Lille's brother.  Old Tobey finally died.  We loved him dearly and buried him overlookin' HIS famous battle.  We put up this heah marker that says these words:


  The earth is heaviest o'er the

  Grave where my dear Toby lays.


 And I mite add, it was my battle too.  I'm the one that shot that Yankee.  He had his sights bearing down rite on my daddy. I never told ol' Luther 'bout it.






MONA

© — Roger D. Coleman


 Weeks later, Angel came through her mother's open door.


 "Come in, Angel."  Mona's eyes brightened at the thought of her daughter seeking her out.


 "I'm so glad you're here, Mona," Angel said. "Y' knows, we have a system here now. If the door is open, it means anyone can come in . . .we'd like some company. Closed, means we want to be alone."


 "Great idea. I'm glad my door remained open," Mona smiled. "What's on your mind, darling?" Mona gestured to a chair for Angel.


 "The way you help out now, Mona, it makes it all so comfortable."


 Angel took a serious look, “You and your husband Paddy had a pretty good life together."


 Mona leaned back on the bed, smiled.  "Paddy was a remarkable man." She smiled, reminisced back on their good times. "We were a weird, suited yet unmatched, self-centered and aggressive couple.  He from the poverty of Ireland and me from fatigue of the local strip joint.


 "At eighteen, Paddy started as a handyman for the County in an equipment maintenance yard.  He appeared bright, despite his meager grammar school education.  I moved in with Paddy when my pregnancy began to show.  My career as a stripper became diminished at the time anyway, what with putting on weight.  My legs began to show cellulite; my noteworthy bosoms became pendulous.

 Still, I had good proportions, somewhat zoftig, dimpled perhaps, but on the long-legged side.  A pretty face with hardline make-up.


 "Paddy would be called handsome with dense black hair, cut

unfashionably close for the times but striking, and fair, pink skin.  His six-foot frame carried comfortably a muscular body.


 "He took me in and cared for us, me and you—the Angel—rather tenderly."


 Mona had tried to be a good mother and wife but missed the mark.  She also missed the vapid adulation she became accustomed to from the raucous voyeurs at the runway.  She felt inept in other ways and straight off conceived again. The twins, Dexter and Levy were beyond her cope threshold.


 "I know two young 'uns under a year old are a handful," Paddy said, "but you could at least tidy up a bit, mind you. I'm buying all those disposable nappies and a-spending all me free time feeding and changing, y' know."


 They hired live-in help and when the twins were nine years old, Angel, now an eager-to-please, plumpy child of ten, assumed more and more of the household chores.  Paddy in his thoughtful, caring way encouraged her.  He assisted in the preparation of meals and the care of Dexter and Levy, the twin boys.


 "Your mother isn't a lazy, lay-about, y' know Angel," Paddy said. "She's disorganized.  She's no idea of neatness. Nothing ever gets put back in its proper place."


 "Yes, I know, Paddy."  Angel always called Paddy by his first name.


 Mona encouraged this . . . made her feel younger.  It sounded more as if she were still a headliner on the stage.


 "Mona doesn't see how much time she's a wastin'. She spends hours on her make-up then dithers away time in front of the telly watching the soaps," he said.


 As Angel's competence improved in the household functions, Paddy remarked, "You are proper named, Angel.  Life would be unbearable without you."


 As the years unfolded Paddy gradually left more of the home chores to Angel.  Mona helped with the home procedures in her own time-constricted, incompetent way.  Angel enjoyed the feeling of responsibility and Mona gave her all she could absorb.


 Early on Paddy discovered the local library and started stopping off on his way home. His reading skills improved rapidly and he read all he could find about the construction vehicles associated with his job.  He came home one evening, proud as a peacock, he was, “The boss gave me a promotion.  Put me in charge of inventory control.  More pay too.  I know every piece of our equipment."


 In the library he also caught a glimpse into the field of psychology and philosophy.  Fascinated and delighted with his new discoveries he broadened his horizons.  "I always knew there was more to life than a Matterhorn of stenchful Buggies," he said.


 He soon spent most of his free time at the County Library until one of his co-workers at the maintenance yard invited him to a local saloon after work. A beer-and-wine only bar that reminded him of the neighborhood pub back home. The people were friendly and relaxed, the cost reasonable and Paddy recognized another oasis from the tedium of household disorganization and clutter.


 Paddy explained to his new friends.  "I'm not lookin' for another woman.  My wife's a fine specimen and is never cross or mean.  She's just agonizingly inept."


 "I think you're plain bored, pal." One of the bar flies retorted.


 Paddy hadn't thought of it that way before.  "Not really," he

studiously denied, "there's so much interesting stuff in the world beyond food, clothing and a house."


 He confided to his foreman at the yard. "Why go home at night?  I have this lack of desire for Mona now anyway.  I read in one of them psychology magazines that it's probably an impotence that's all mental."


 "Well, can you make it with other women?" the foreman asked.


 "I should think so, me health is good," Paddy said, "I seen a lot of trade-offs in the marriages around me.  Rich women marrying handsome men often younger than themselves and I see old geezers snagging beautiful young ladies who'll accept them because they like the old boy's position or money. They're after power.


 "I think Mona married me because I looked like a good meal ticket.  But I can't complain, I got me a home and someone to care for.  So with no education I guess I'd best settle for what I got.  Unlikely that I could have married a rich bird with important connections, but I'd be pleased with a woman who is less attractive but mentally stimulating. Mona's so disorganized ... a terrible mother . . . she needs a full time mother for herself."


 Paddy spent his time between the library where he pursued the meaning of life and the saloon where he became the local pundit.  He met people from different walks of life and felt strengthened and reinforced.  He joined in the hi-jinks of the local beer-guzzling crowd.


 "Come on, Paddy, it's St. Patrick's Day," one of the bar crowd said, "we're going to celebrate by mooning the L. A. to San Diego train when it slows for the San Juan Capistrano station."


 Several patrons rushed out the front door and sat on the railing parallel to the tracks.  Each lowered their pants and sat on the low fence as the train passed. Pictures of their bare bottoms hung like banners over the bar.


 "That's me, last but one on the right," Paddy bragged.


 "I'd know you anywhere, " a patron commented, "you harps is all got rosy cheeks."


 He responded at a different level, "The Mugs Away Saloon is an escape, as good as the library sometimes, but here me problems do get fogged over a bit. "


 Having lunch one day at the old strip joint.  Mona said, "I went on a crash diet.  My legs aren't what they used to be. I lost weight except my chest's still too big.


 "Ain't no way as boobs can be too big," said Joe the Boss.  For emphasis he took the cigar out of his mouth and cast a brown pearl in the direction of the spittoon.


 Mona, however, felt cosmetic surgery could give her a more sensuous figure.


 "Paddy, Dr. Culler says he'll do a breast reduction for $600."


 "Six hundred dollars!"  Paddy exploded.  "That imported Indian quack is a crook.  I wouldn't go to him with a hangnail."


 Mona undeterred, made an appointment with Dr. Guller.  Had the breast reduction.  One mammary gland developed an infection, while Angel bore the brunt of mothering.  She attended Mona as the MRSA infection progressed on the left side.  Mona recovered in several weeks, but lost over fifty pounds.


 "Just look at my figure," she complained, "I'm spindle-shanked and flat chested and droopy.  I guess the doctor took off too much."


 "No, that quack did a rotten job and you got an infection."  Paddy grumbled, wrote the check for the bill.


 Mona plunged into a vigorous put-on-the-weight program. The increase in calories and food volume worked wonders for everyone except Mona.


 "I've put on weight but my chest is still saggy."  Mona indulged herself in a few choice expletives.


 Paddy shook his head and thought what in thunderation is next. To Paddy's dismay, Dr. Guller gave Mona silicone implants and Paddy another bill for $600.


 "I wouldn't trust that foreign sawbones with the prickly heat," Paddy railed.


 The library didn't even get a thought that night.  Paddy took the off-ramp straight away from the freeway and went up along the railroad tracks on Camino Capistrano to the 'Mugs Away Saloon' where there were people who understood this disjointed world.


 Mona, pleased with her new 36-24-36 figure.  Not too bad for an old bag she thought.  Joe the Man at the White Dove bar and Grill said Mona could work part time.


 Angel adjusted, as time passed, and became, essentially, and full time assistant mother.


 Paddy remarked, "I'm spending more time away from home and when I do talk to the Mona it usually ends up in an argument.  'Pick up this . . . Tidy up here . . . Give Angel more help.'"


 The younger girls at the White Dove Bar and Grill got the best working hours. Mona still stripped if the patrons were not too picky, but her varicose veins limited her career advancement. Then she developed a venereal wart which at first she covered with make-up, as it enlarged she made it a beauty spot. Soon it became too big for even a "happy face".


 Before long it turned brown, crenated and pendulous.  Cosmetic surgery only slightly delayed her retirement. At this time the infection appeared again in the beast. She became ill and her temperature rose.


 It did not respond to antibiotics and finally Dr. Culler did a lumpectomy. It came back from the pathologist there was more cancer tissue. Mona had to have the breast removed. Mona did not look at it as saving her life, instead she looked at it as ending her career. She became depressed and moped around the house. She refused to get a prosthesis—just went around with one ample silicone breast. She regarded as a fake boob. "To hell with them."


 Mona was not bitter but she had been bitter. Bitterness fades like weak short waves signals, and Mona became left with static she had to tune out to stay sane. She tried the Church but came away feeling empty.


 Mona decided to take a class in accounting at the local community college. She found it interesting and thrived on it. After several more classes in related subjects she realized she would set up a billing service. She calculated then she could work from home and she set up physician's billing program—to hell with her looks. The doctors did not want to get in the accounting business—what with the complications of Medicare.


 Soon, she had several customers and began a successful business. She paid her bills and contributed to family financially while Angel ran the household. She now regarded the prosthesis as a possibility—could be more presentable when hustling for business.


 Because of her new education, Mona moved up into new, more genteel and spacious territory. The prosthesis was a great idea. She could wear a business suit—no remarks about her appearance. She had new prospectus—she had hope.





WILL'S PLACE

© — Ken Gillespie



 Climbing into the high country on Will's Place in North Mississippi is certainly something he could have done a hundred times a day when he was a youngen.   But as Luther passed the first deer stand at 497 feet above sea level he wished he'd brung his oxygen.   Another 150 feet and he was in "high country"—the rollin' hills of North Mississippi, no place better for man or beast, burial place for a hundred million yankee lootin' invaders who got, some say, their jus' deserts.


 On this particular day Luther was armed with one SKS, one World War II Army carbine and one Army Colt .45 government issue.   He never said where he got it. Five clips for the pistole with one in the handle, nothing in the chamber (Luther never kept a live round in the chamber due to a former gun accident) and fifty rounds for each rifle seemed compatible to his weight and physical wellbeing.   Luther Potts aint no giant you know. Smaller men is harder to hit in the boonies—especially when theys runnin'. Doudin' matter if they're runnin' forward or backward, retreating or charging-jus' keep moving! Across his back in one large plastic bag hung the unsuspectin' enemy; Seventy-five assorted cans, all empty a course! Moose Ear Beer (Luther don't drink) cola-every kind imaginable, root beer-exotic brands, most collector items.   He had all the popular brands, but none would come back alive today.   His orders were clear, concise: All cans must be killed, wounded, or captured.


 The climb was rough. No lie. I’ll admit at forty a two-mile hike uphill all the way ain't no middle aged man's cup a tea! Don't talk to me 'bout joggers and physical fitness enthusiastics fanatics! Why, I remember when I could run around a small sized lake three or four times and not even be winded.   I sailed with the wind through the leaves of fall—thick fallen leaves—and nary a one titched my face.   Oh, ain't no use talkin' 'Bout that.   Now-a-days I walk.   Now, my dog, he be a mite smarter, if’n you know what I mean.   I got me one of them fereign dogs from China, a Shih tzu, a monster of a dog with a killer instinct.   They're natural! bomb hunters. They served for hundreds of years in the Imperial Palaces of the Great Khans killin' the Imperial rats.   Man, they hate skunks, squirrels, rabbits, CATS especially, and all manner of urban socialite liberal vermine. They never vote democratic. Smart dogs, shucks, I trained mine to hunt bar. Yep, real smart eleck dogs, mine stayed in the air conditioning last hunt to watch TV. Tobey Ching, that's his name. He just loves Chinese cooking shows, I think he can really smell what's cooking. He hates cats and rock 'n roll—in that order," Luther could go on and on and on.


 Tobey Ching is the best fed dog in the world. When Luther eats steak, the dog eats steak. He eats pie, Ching eats pie.   Likes Karo Pecan with a scoop of ice cream on the side.


 "Give me a dog any day that hates cats and I'll feed him French quesine—if’n he wants it.   Not me jack, I like peas, purple hull, and fried okra," Luther said licking his lips and brushing spit from his beard.   He had a bad habit of collecting various brands of tobacci juice in his graying beard.   Luther always washed it on Saturdays.


 "I have to keep my mind on shootin'," said Luther in deep concentration, kinda like a college professor over at Ox Ford right after he picks his nose. "There ain't enough stumps up here for 75 cans so I had to cut some trees down last time. I know that that makes the bleeding heart liberals hearts bleed, but that's that. They be my trees jack, so what chu think a that?"


 Luther always named his stumps after great conservationists and yankee presidents so if’n he missed the can he could hit the jerk.  "I'm a practical man," he would always say," and I believe in a practical, no nonsense, logical conservationism—not the hogwash liberal variety you get on TV and over in the library at Ox Ford!" Luther's best argument would usually follow, "The conservationism I like best is the Conservation of Matter. Dispute that one in yor gowns and funny hats.   Really," he would add, "I love flowers and trees. And I only cut down the trees I need for firewood. I was jus kiddin' about the rest."    But you know, as much as Luther likes flowers and trees, I don't think he can name nary a one of them.   He'd say, "I mean, I know some is different from others~but beats me which one is which one. Now, my daddy is a different story, he knows them all.   But I do plant a few flowers and trees sometimes myself and name them after local Methodist preachers.   I plants ol’ Hezekia Smith 'bout 20 years ago around here someplace, a poplar tree a course.   And he's my favorite, was my favorite preacher until he went liberal.    That ol' tree grew so high that planes flying twixt Atlanta and Memphis had to be routed around it!"

 Now if n it was strange to name the trees and stumps and things after presidents and such, he also named the cans after famous yankee generals. So, with all the yankees on line he began to let lead fly! Anzio and the Battle of Heglioland Blight all dumped into one couldn't have been louder and more confusing.


 Then it was, with just two clips left for the .45, the SKS empty, and two clips left for the carbine, that Ol' Luther spotted the first wild hop about twenty meters outta his left eyes comer zooming in at thirty knots air speed, his feet hardly touching the ground. Luther turned with the instant instinct only a man of his caliber has and fired 10 rounds from the carbine—leaving one heap of smoking bar-b-q.     Now that was stupid, he knew, cause only a man of his caliber would know something like that.  At shell 19 or tharabouts he mustave realized that whar there's one wild piggie-there's a mess of 'em.    And true to ol' Luther Pott's sayings, he has a book by that title, one came tearing through the buss at his hind side.  Why he jus ducked betwixted his legs and shot him straight betwix the eyes.   You know, the others weren't just dumb ol' pigs. They seen from afar what Luther done, and he was a hollering to beat Dixie's rebel yell. Well he did that not cause he was scared or nothing, but rather to scare the rest of the pig herd. They heard him!   They went a runnin' away at about 200 meters silhouetted over a rise against the sunset and so Luther shot the leader betwix the eyes (he had turned to give a victory snort). Well, that was the end of that, with Luther all outta breath and most outta ammo.


 All that motion or commotion is surely what aroused the bar! He came a charging from his hiding place at 60 knots and grabbed Luther's rifle right outta his hand. He tried first off to fit his paw into the trigger housing fixing certainly to blow Ol' Luther away, but his mangy paw wouldn't fit, so he chunked the rifle over a tree. Now you tell anybody that that wasn't a bit shockin'. Now you try and persuade anybody that this wasn't a wee bit odd to boot. Luther was later to comment' "I never seen nothing this strange ceptin' on ‘Sadly and Stacey’." Those women cops runnin' around with their guns and tits high in the air always gave Luther a chuckle.   But, you think about it, since there was no bayonet on the rifle it probably saved Luther's life! That bar would 'ave bayonetted him right on the spot! So when the bar tossed, Luther bolted.   Firing one clip over his head, now mind you, he wasn't shooting high or anything like that, like he was scared or something. Men of Luther's caliber don't ever get scarred. He'd been in possibly worst places than this, surely.   But half way up the tree, Hezekiah Smith presumably, Luther dropped his other clips. Well sure, you know what happened—the bar come up the ree too! It's lonely at the top, and dizzy. Trees SWAY.   Luther had never thought a that. Oh, we've all heard about those tall buildings in Memphis, but most thought it was that way cause they'd been built by cheap, carpetbaggin no account yankees!


 Up the tree that bar came at Luther, growlin' and snortin' and spittin all the way to the tippy top where Luther was aperched for dear life swayin' and swirlin' and gettin' a mite drunk. So Luther just reached slowly down with the muzzle of his empty .45 whilst the bar hung on wonderin' what was a happening with both paws attached. They don't make stupid bars in North Mississippi. This was a two paw job.


 Well, you know, that bar began to get a mite dizzy too and so Luther graspin' on the situation began to tickle his wiskers.  That bar began to laughin' so hard that he fell plum outta that tree.    He was so embarrassed he ran away!


 By the time Luther came down there was at least fifty farmers all gathered 'round him. Wouldn't listen to him for nothin' 'bout what had transpired. Nope they jus run 'im off that hill.   They don't make no stupid farmers in North Mississippi either.   Well, as expected Luther gathered up the surviving cans and went home to Tobey Ching who was still watching ‘The Price Is Correct’ when Luther got there.   He tried once or twice to tell Ching what happened, but he just walked outta the room. "Someday I'm a gonna write this story down.”





GOOD OMENS

© — Don Peyer


 Jeff Dibois got in his car and started to drive just to get away from his problems. He headed toward the edge of town where a plan took over his whole being. Beyond was the desert and a range of barren mountains, a good place to end it all. He knew a place on the road, steep and devoid of railings, where a car might drop a thousand feet and cause a quick death to the occupant. It would be an ignominious ending for a thirty-eight-year-old man who could have had a great life ahead of him if he hadn't made the wrong choices.


 That's what he wanted, death to end it all and to kill the pain. After all the thinking, that was the only way out. He wouldn't have to face his friends, his family, the people he owed or worst of all the loss of an opulent life style he had become used to. There was nothing left to salvage. He saw no way out of the dilemma. Even his car, a top of the line BMW, was worthless to him now that more was owed on it than it was worth as was his million-dollar house which had dropped in value. He had borrowed from his friends until they avoided him. His investment business was so bad he had staved off investors demanding their money by paying them off with new investors money. His ex-wife had taken him to court and got a judgment for support that he had no way of paying even though she had her own wealth that was safe in her family business. He didn't see bankruptcy as an out because that wouldn't help his life style. He had promised himself that he would not live poorly or grub for a living as he called it. Anything was better than that.


 The road wound upward and grew steeper. The scanty vegetation diminished and only rock and dirt covered the sides of the road. He saw the spot ahead across the ravine. He had thought it all out and at the spot he turned the wheels and gunned the engine. The car went over the side and stopped abruptly, the front wheels spinning with the power of the engine. Something, maybe a large rock held the car in place. He opened the door and saw that he was hung up, the undercarriage was resting on some rocks. He tried rocking the car but it was solidly in place and going nowhere. He slipped and fell, tearing his suit coat and scraping a knee. He limped to the other side of the car but the car wouldn't budge.


 At first he thought of it as an omen but quickly dismissed that idea. It was bad luck like all the other bad things that had happened to him. He couldn't even pull off his own demise and be successful. He would have jumped but there were clumps of dry brush a few feet below and he couldn't think of landing in them injured and trying to explain why.


 Just then a pickup truck rounded the bend from below. The truck stopped and elderly man and a young woman got out.


 "How'd that happen," asked the man.


 "Don't know. Guess I lost control," said Jeff.


 "I have a heavy chain and I could pull you back on the road?"


 "That would be fine. Think you can do it?" Jeff wasn't sure. It might damage his car. Then he thought, who cares? He had nothing to lose and maybe he would be successful at another spot.

“I'm Joe and this is Natalie," the old man said. The old man got in his truck, turned around and backed up to the stuck car. He took one end of a heavy chain, got down on the ground and hooked it to the BMW. "Still can't figure how you did this," he said as he hooked the other end to the back of his truck. Natalie was smiling at Jeff and he noticed her for the first time. She was in her thirties, he thought, and the crinkles on the sides of her eyes seemed to add to her classic beauty. Her short brown hair was blowing in the wind. He was drawn to her. Then, what are you thinking, he thought. Things were over with. There isn't any future. The burden was too great. He had played a dangerous game and lost.


 "Get in your car," said Joe. "Take it out of gear and apply the brake when she comes off whatever is hanging her up.


 The car came off its precarious perch with a thump, facing uphill. Jeff offered to pay. "What do I owe you?"


 "Nothing. Just pass it on," the old man said with a smile.

Jeff was relieved. His wallet was pretty flat.


 "Tell you what. I'm crossing over the mountain. I'll follow and make sure your car makes it all right. Might have been some damage underneath."


 Just what I need Jeff thought. Now what do I do? "How far are you going?" He asked.


 "We're from Pearblossom. That's where we're headed now." Jeff thought a minute. "I'm headed for Victorville so I'll be taking Pearblossom Highway across. If I make it to there I'll be all right." Then he thought. I'll have to find another place. This is harder than I thought. The girl smiled at him when she climbed into the truck but he pretended not to notice. He was not devoid of good looks either and he felt she was also attracted to him.


 "You can call from our place if you have trouble," Joe called out to him.


 The BMW climbed but before long a whining noise drowned out the sound of the motor. Let this heap last until I'm able to shake them, he thought. He floored the accelerator and roared up the mountain, leaving the red truck behind. The noise got louder and he noticed clouds of smoke in the rear view mirror. Suddenly there was no power, the car slowed. He was passing through a deep cut with no chance to drive off the road. He coasted to a stop in a cloud of black smoke. The car was on fire. He grabbed his briefcase and leaped out. Why he brought the briefcase he didn't know. He threw it back into the car.


 The red truck caught up and stopped a safe distance behind. Joe attacked the fire with a small fire extinguisher but the flames were too much. "I'm afraid she's a goner," he said. "I shouldn't have tried to move her."


 Jeff shook his head. "You were only trying to help. Don't give it a second thought." To himself he was laughing. The BMW was one less worry now.


 "Get in," Joe said. "I'll take you to our place and you can get help from there."


 The red truck was of ancient vintage with a bench seat where three could sit abreast in close quarters. Jeff had almost forgotten that such vehicles existed. It was a tight squeeze. They were going down the mountain now, rounding hairpin curves and dodging small boulders that had bounced down from above. Steep ravines yawned below and rocky cliffs towered above them. Natalie clutched Jeff's arm on one such turn and then apologized.


 "Sorry," she said, and then, "Slow down, Gramps, your scaring us."


 The road leveled out and a collection of buildings appeared. Joe's place was a small stucco house in the middle of an acre of sandy land on the edge of town.


 "Natalie lives with me," Joe said. "Her folks died in an auto accident in the mountains."


 Jeff pretended to call someone and asked Joe if there was a motel or hotel in town where he could stay the night. A friend would pick him up in the morning.


 "Stay here if you like," said Joe. "We have a guest room.""


 "No, a motel is good. He might come early in the morning."


 "As you say," said Joe. He called the motel and made a reservation for Jeff. Jeff pretended to call again and to tell someone where he would be.


 Joe insisted Jeff have supper with them and then he would drive him to the motel.


 Jeff was amazed that these ordinary people were so good to him. The people he knew weren't like that. Natalie made hash brown potatoes, steak and eggs. Joe brought out a bottle of wine.

Joe dropped Jeff off at the motel. Inside, Jeff offered his credit card but it was rejected.


 "You got another card?" asked the clerk. "Or maybe cash?"


 "Forget it," said Jeff. He walked down the main drag heading out of town in the direction of Victorville and stuck out his thumb. Was this just one more omen that he would not be able to accomplish his goal. And why was he going to Victorville when he didn't know anyone there. To get away from these people who were trying to help him, he thought.


 Suddenly the red truck pulled up alongside. Natalie was driving. The clerk at the motel, a friend of Joe's, had called and told them what had happened.


 "Get in," she said. "You can stay with us tonight."


 It was confession time. He told them the story of his life and about his goal at which he was also a failure. "So you see. I'm no good. I'm not worth bothering about. Nobody will even miss me. I can't face it."


 "I suspected you were in some kind of trouble," said Joe. "You've gotta go and face the music and start over. Your whole life is ahead of you man. It'll be worth it. You'll see."


 Natalie was staring at him. "I'll help," she said. "We'll help." She was blushing.


 And right then Jeff decided that he no longer wanted to die.

Natalie worked at the dental office. She drove Jeff back to Los Angeles on her day off and he started the procedure of setting things right. The bank took his million-dollar house. He went to court and then to jail for a few months.  His business was in bankruptcy and the creditors received a good part of their money back when the market rebounded by the time all was settled. When he was let out of jail early for good behavior he took it as another good omen. He was getting the breaks and he was surprised further when his former wife withdrew her judgment when her attorney went against the traditional grasping ways of his profession and told her to give the guy a break.


 "Let's not be mean," he told Jeff's Ex. "Jeff is trying to right past wrongs and neither do you need his money nor do I need another fee in view of our own coming marriage to each other." The Ex, having mellowed a bit, agreed.


 Jeff took a job in Pearblossom as a night clerk at the motel. He went on a cash basis and started to pay off his credit card debt. His time was spent between the motel and Natalie and Joe's. The simple life was agreeing with him. Being with Natalie agreed with him. He started to pay off the people who were once his friends and cut himself off from all of his past acquaintances. He bought a second hand Chevrolet and realized that being poor was not so bad after all, especially after discovering the friendliness of small town people as opposed to the phony world he came from. He became one of them.


 Natalie, who also came from a failed marriage, saw a chance for a new life. Jeff asked Joe for her hand. They married and together they bought the motel from the owner who wanted to retire. Natalie kept her day job and Jeff ran the motel with a maximum measure of financial efficiency, building it up into a going business. Joe ran the house as long as he was able. The couple were successful in their second attempt at life.


 "I think some good omens led the way," said Jeff.


 "Definitely!" Natalie agreed.  





COOKED GOOSE AFTER MIDNIGHT

© — Gerald Heyder


 It’s not his fault he’s arriving home so late, trying his best to convince himself that’s the case. Glancing at his watch to check the time, the hands do their utmost to make him feel guilty by revealing a reading of 2:55 AM.


 “I better take off my shoes and hope I don’t wake Millie” he mutters just above a whisper “cuz; she’ll kill me for coming in at this unholy hour!”


 Norbert P. Broomfield gropes through the darkness unaware that a chair is directly in his path. Colliding with it head-on sends him sprawling to the floor: “Damn! It slipped my mind that she changed the furniture around the other day” Norby grumbles in a controlled tone of voice continuing with “if this noise doesn’t wake her up, I don’t know what will!”


 Back on his feet again, he stumbles forward only to meet a picture covered wall resulting in several frames banging against the smooth plaster surface. At this point our two legged wall bouncer cusses forth such language, to hear it would grow hair on a cue ball. As a general rule Norby’s not a staunch advocate favoring foul verbiage, but tonight he’s breaking his puritan record quite handily.


 Being peeved at having to move around in the dark is suddenly intensified by a low muffled sound emanating from the rear of the dwelling. Norby surmises Millie is still in bed upstairs, so what is going on here?


 “Good Lord, don’t tell me there’s a burglar in the house” he mutters in dismay as he reaches for and latches onto the nearest object at hand to serve as potential weapon for self-defense. Hastily raising the heavy round glass bowl into the air makes him realize too late, the lethal piece he’s clutching so dearly is nothing less than the gold fish bowl containing a half dozen gold speckled inhabitants. The poor creatures are darting about in panic, to be sure.


 “Okay mister intruder. How about eating some fresh fish the hard way” comes the facetious comment uttered in a feathery light whisper.


 Of course inevitability ordains that Norby’s nervous state causes him to lose his grip resulting in the bowl crashing around his feet. Obviously the little water dwellers can be heard flipping and flopping around the hard linoleum surface of the kitchen floor. To add to his already miserable misadventure, he steps on a chunk of broken glass that makes him jump like a kangaroo only to land on another piece, forcing the repetition of his jumping exhibition.


 By this time, it’s a no mind bender to assume Norby’s vile language has ceased. It is now replaced by shrieks of agony sounding like something coming from a butchered hemorrhoid without benefit of any anesthetic. (could you ever imagine such a thing as that?)


 Due to his horrible frustration he temporarily forgets about the suspected burglar. Suddenly there can be heard footsteps coming directly towards him. At this point the kitchen light comes on and guess who the intrepid intruder turns out to be? Now don’t any of you strain your brain to brink of inducing a hernia. It’s none other than ‘Little Miss Breaking and Entering’ herself — Millie!


 “What in the purple halo of insanity possesses you to be thrashing about at this hour of the night, ah morning, anyhow?!! I’m scared out of my wet white panties turned brown, thinking you’re a burglar or some such maniac!!!”


 “Oh! So you thought I was a burglar, did you?!”


 Feigning indignation in a feeble attempt to cast aside inquisition regarding his late entry dilemma, he presses on further with, “and who did you think I thought you were? ‘Little Miss Muffet’ porking down her curds and whey?!”


 “Oh, really?! And pray tell why are you fully dressed at this devils happy hour? Did you brush your teeth, comb your hair and put on a suit to greet your burglar with a bowl of fish as a welcoming party?!” a slight pause and then “knowing you as the nutburger you are, that’s entirely possible I guess” comes the flaming arrow of sarcasm!


 “That’s right! Why don’t you just keep on digging your spurs into me until the day comes when I jump the coral fence and gallop off into the sunset for good!”


 The bantering tirade continues on for a spell before the bickering love birds settle into their conjugal nest for the duration of the wee hours of the morning.


 So to all you fellows out there I guess the lesson to be learned from Norby’s escapade gone awry is simply this: when you come home at an ungodly hour and don’t want to face the ire of your mate sleep on the couch. It’s a much better alternative than removing glass from your feet and giving last rights to dead fish on their way to eternity, via the bathroom disposal bowl. (Watching the Super Bowl is better than being in the stupid Bowl!)


 It is a sad commentary to report, but Millie discovered incriminating evidence as a result of Norby’s night out. A long strand of silky blonde hair on his sports jacket and the proverbial deep red lipstick smudge on his shirt collar. Millie has short brown hair and is allergic to lipstick. I attended Norby’s funeral. He was dispatched by a bullet from an unknown gun. Millie was never charged for her husband’s untimely demise. No murder weapon, no witnesses and a questionable alibi I would not bet my life on.


 I contend that said missing weapon is safely tucked away somewhere in the coffin. After all, the grieving (?) widow did specifically request a brief span of total privacy with the body of her husband just prior to the closing up and sealing of the casket. But what the hell do I know anyway. So sue me for not being a super sleuth created by Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


 As for you. Norbert P. Broomfield, I hope you’re resting in peace. If not, it’s your own fault. You cooked your goose by coming home late after “spooning your ladle in the wrong sauce”!


 The reason I can narrate the events that occurred is simple. Norby related to me in vivid detail, everything that transpired just before he expired.


 Who am I? Just let me say that I’m the poor ‘boob’ who inadvertently introduced the deceased to the ‘femme fatale’ with the ruby red lipstick, long blond hair, and long shapely legs as well, I might add. Ah, yes! She’s another tale (tail?) to tell . . . Maybe someday!





KITTENS AND ROMANCE

© — Susan C. Barto


 How Ellen hated taking Rocky to the Vet. His little body trembled all over, and he cried the whole time sending chills up her spine. And what about catching him and trapping him in the carrying case? That constituted a job and a half, and Ellen had to go into rehearsal mode and practice opening and shutting the difficult latch on the carrying case or else she'd finally get Rocky trapped, and he would escape while she fiddled with the latch. However, his cough that had always been chronic got worse, and she feared for his health. She bit the bullet, called the Vet, and commenced the practice opening and shutting of the complicated latch. She called the Vet and asked, "May I bring him a little early or late depending on whether or not I can trap him?"


 "You may bring him early, but if you are late you might miss your appointment."


 That left Ellen no choice but to try a little early to trap Rocky giving herself leeway. Therefore, on this bright sunny Fall day Ellen found herself and a protesting Rocky in the carrying case sitting in the Vet's waiting room a half an hour early, and Rocky continued to howl. Not an attractive scenario, and certainly not the setting for a budding romance. But Cupid slings tricks with his arrows. As she sat there trembling, and just wishing for her and Rocky’s ordeal to be over, a handsome, silver-haired gentleman asked her, "Why such a big carrying case for such a small cat?"

It was easier to get him into it, but I think he might have felt more secure in the small case with a towel and one of his toys. Maybe a catnip mouse."


 "Don't worry. He'll be fine. He is a good actor, and he is trying to get your attention by crying."


 "Well, if he is he got it, and the attention of the whole reception room as well" she said laughing.


 The handsome gentleman laughed as well, and introduced his dog, who seemed like the size of a horse to Ellen. "This is Pumpkin," he said in a friendly tone.


 "My husband took charge of capturing the cats when we had to visit the Vet," Ellen said remembering.


 "I like cats myself, but they spooked my wife. She loved dogs, but hated cats. Now, I guess I could add a cat and start a zoo."

Ellen laughed. "My husband died a few years ago. When did you lose your wife?"


 "Janice died two years ago, but I still have not adjusted."

"It is hard, isn't it? Thankfully, I still feel as though Harry is with me, and watches over me."

 

 "Good. I am still going through anger and denial."


 "Oh, I understand about the anger. I used to be so angry with God. Fortunately, now I am back in Church and communing with God again."


 "You know logically that God didn't cause your pain, but you have no one else to blame," he agreed.


 The Vet came out and called for Pumpkin, so the silver haired gentleman bade Ellen a goodbye. He added over his shoulder, "Would you like to have a cup of coffee after we leave here. We could go to Starbucks and drink it in our cars so as not to abandon the animals. You could bring yourself and the cat carrier with Rocky to my care, and maybe we can continue our conversation. I think we may have a lot in common."


 "I would love that. I'll see you in the parking lot after Rocky's appointment."


 Ellen felt relief when she got pills for Rocky's cough and learned that he was not seriously ill. She also felt a sense of hope about her coffee date and her new acquaintance. A new friendship that could lead to romance. Why not? Maybe she and Rocky, too, had a second chance at happiness.




BROKEN RAINBOW

© — Peggy Boogaard Kennedy


 I worked through high school towards the dream of college. At last I was going, my parents even sold some property so that they could afford to send me. Then the Dream took a terrible twist. My father had cancer, and had to have an operation. My dependable father lost his life after the operation, he could not hold anything down.


 That year the friends that I had made were seniors. They graduated and began or continued working. I spent as much time as I could afford at their place. One night I walked into a surprise they had concocted for another friend that was an ex-nun. They brought up the old house next door and how they would like to see inside. We agreed, and then they said, “let’s get Nancy.” So Alice ran down to the basement floor. When she came back she said that she was not home, so we went next door and entered the base­ment which was open. We went through the two upper stories. When we came back to the front room Alice said. "Let's see what's in the seat." She opened it, and sticking out from newspapers was a foot in a tennis shoe.


 "I saw a shoe!" I exclaimed.


 "You did?' cried Alice McCormick, “let's see."


 She opened the seat again, and there was a leg sticking out barely illuminated in light of our one flashlight. Everyone but Marie seemed much too calm. They were obviously trying to scare us. I ran to the front door, but could not pull it open as it was warped closed. I ran into the kitchen with Marie and pretended I could not find the door to the cellar because I did not have the light. Marie was not going to fool around, she ran back to the front door and with one pull jerked it open. Fear had given her super strength. The other girls were laughing, and Nancy climbed out of the seat. After we left the house I tried to close the door, but it would not even close it was so warped. Marie was slightly built, and only about five feet six in height. She must have been about one hundred thirty pounds. Alice gloated about running down the stairs and just giving her friend the signal, they had planned this.


 "I didn't think that you would be as scared as Marie. She was really scared," Nancy told me, "I was really satisfied when I gave Nancy the high sign."


 I have never liked practical jokes since then, and I never will, but I will always like sales. I was shopping one time and found the food specialty department. I decided to buy a can of turtle soup to try out. Once I bought a brand new dress at Rexal drugstore for twenty-five cents. It had nothing wrong with it except that it was red. I always felt that red makes you look bigger. It was the hippy era and I bought a sheath dress with a lot of printed jewelry on it, but I had got back into the clothes I had made in size twelve.


 One day I decided to walk to the Space Needle. I followed it until I got down from Queen Anne's hill, then I could not see it. I just kept heading toward where I had seen it, and came to a freeway. There was no foot overpass, so I would have to cross it. Since I was a good runner then, I just waited for a break in traffic and ran across. That was not smart in high heels, but I never bought more than an inch-high heel.


 Once I was there I had something to eat, then I bought a Spanish pin to go with my collection. I had a windmill that turned, a knife that came out of its sheath, an anchor that I pinned on my brown beret. I had bought all of these for just one dollar each, so no one was making a lot of money on these enamels, which were amazing works of art. The Space Needle was still an exhilarating climb and view.


   When my drill team toured the World's Fair, there was a dive that was open across the street, and sailor's had run over to try to pick a girl up at the restaurant when they saw us in our Air Force uni­forms. I was with the Civil Air Patrol cadets, but when you turn 18 you have to leave, and can join the adult core. They were amazed that Colleen Beausoleil was so young. Colleen later entered the Miss America pageant in Ketchikan at 17, but lost to a girl who was not nearly as pretty. I had gained weight again, and was size 14, so did not enter.


 I did enter a beauty competition at Seattle University, but the results were taken from clapping, and I had no one there. It was not Miss America, but for best dressed. If I had made something I think I would have taken it. I had invested my baby-sitting money in clothes and material, but since I could get into the ones that I had already made, and used for one year, I did not sew too much for myself, but embroidered a tablecloth for a missionary which the church supported.


 I had been busy in the church since we got to the city of Ketchikan, (which is the first city in Alaska) and again in Seattle. In Seattle I went to an Assembly of God church (which relocated when 99 was being built.) While I was there they put up a huge light so that the church could be seen from the freeway, and took out a painting of Jesus and lambs to put in a modern piece in red and blue. All the seats were recovered in red, and red car­pets were installed. I've never been happier in a church.

  I would like to see my friends — we are all in our 60’s. I want to know if they are still pulling practical jokes.



Insert A160-A169




The Forever Life in the Rocking Chair
Where the Wind Blows Free


© — Juliet Rhodes Lynch


 The winds of the moist hot summer, blows only steamy wisps of heated breath that fills you with a weakness of not wanting do do anything. The big front porch that the old people called the veranda and the old rocking chair sitting near the screened door, is full of the forever lives of people who have lived in the house, come to visit, or who have waited for others to gather for meetings, parties or even weddings or wakes/funerals, or dinners on the ground.  


 The rocking chair has a life of its own.  It speaks with the ghostly whispers of the past.  Long ago people who have passed on, but have left their essence upon the rocking chairs — breeze. The voices that echo in the winds, as they blow free upon the country side and it farmland, pinewood forests, and the blue azure lake in the distance.


 As I sit in the big ole cherry rocking chair, that my grandfather made.   I can hear the words of my grandfather in his deep voice.  Juliet, who was also my Grandmother’s name, "come out to the veranda with some lemonade and chocolate chip cookies.’’  The Buckners   from out Dawson’s Creek are coming up the ole Peterson’s Rd. to visit.  Juliet my grandmother, was a very modern person in her day.  She died in 1940, the same year I was born.  Oh, the chair rocks and the winds of summer blows. The whisper voice can be heard singing softly an old Negro spiritual.  The chair rocks and a baby cries in its mother’s arms, then quietly you can hear the suckling noise as it breasts feeds…The chair rocks, the wind blows and the season changes to colors of all hues, autumn and warmth of summer’s heat, but the coolness of autumns frost, and slow blasts of cooling air, from the lakes. Grandmother and my mother come out on the porch with their aprons and old crocheted shawls around their shoulders. There are apple and cherry pies cooling, on the side boards of the windows of the kitchen. The air is crisp and the old mama cat lays tucked up in a ball under the hanging swing.  She has her last litter of kittens, scattering around the porch. “Big Dog Major “, as they called him, comes out from under the green lattice, that runs the length of the underneath veranda. The lattice was put there to keep the skunks, rabbits, and possums, from making their nests or homes under the veranda.  Major is a mixed breed, but has some Collie in him and rounds up anything that he can, including the children, farm hands and people coming to visit.


 The winds blow and the falling leaves of autumn sprinkle the dust of decaying leaves.  The nuts from the walnut trees and wormy chestnuts, and acorns are upon the mossy ground.  Some broken limbs have fallen from the apple and cherry trees, where the big mama bear and her two cubs have climbed them to shake the top most branches, to get the last of the apples and cherries to fall to the ground below.


 The winds blow and the life of the rocking chair begins to rock again. There is a fresh falling snow and the flicker of the kerosene lanterns coming from the barn. It is granddad and Major who have just helped to give Betsy the cow a big surprise of twin calves.  The snow begins to fall in large heavier flakes. The lights from the farm house and the veranda give shadows of lights and diamond sparkles upon the snow.


 I, know that as the rocking chair begins to rock, there is a story that is going to be told in the distant years, of a child born to a woman, who was not the mother on the porch, but to a biological mom. The cold winds blew, and the snow blew in snow drifts. The buckboard that the mother rode, from a similar farm, brought my mother with me in her womb, to a place where I would be born.  There was a rocking chair, a fierce cold wind and the birth, my birth. The rocking chair had been bought at an old country store and put upon the buckboard and removed, and taken to the place I was born. My mother birthed me. Two and half hours later she passed away, in a rocking chair, as she rocked me and kissed my forehead. Could there have been a connection to the old rocking chair? Could the rocking chair have been the rocking chair off the veranda of my adopted grandparents and adopted parents?  Probably not, but God moves in mysterious ways.  Here I am writing about a rocking chair that I was rocked in, and that eventually was sold. Later my adoptive grandfather had an Insurance office in a small town, and he rocked for 50 years as an Insurance agent and Mayor, in a rocking chair like I now own.  Across the miles and the span of time, almost anything is possible including the fact that the mother that birthed me never knew the other people …. And the fact that 43 years after my birth I found my biological family, again no connection the people on the farm……  But that’s another story!! THE FOREVER LIFE IN THE ROCKING CHAIR, AND THE WIND BLOWS FREE…Only God knows the mysteries of each person’s life. We are the chapters in His book of life. The wind that blows free will lift us up to heaven, where we will know the answers to many of our questions. Meanwhile, I can sit in a rocker and rock with the freedom of the winds, and passage of time, and whispers within my writings.





Together at Lunch


© — Marion H. Youngquist



 As he shaved himself that morning, Howie felt he’d been a very good boy (as his aunt teased him when he was young) for a very long time. Two years ago he’d been involved with a summer intern at Marshland Industries where he worked. He’d almost been caught in a smarmy situation. What was the girl’s name? Alex? No, Allie. She’d scared him that last week in July.

They stood at the water cooler. She narrowed her eyes and announced, “I think I’m pregnant”.

Howie’s hands shook and some water splashed down his shirt. “What’s that to do with me?” He knew very well what she meant.

“What’s with you?” Allie’s voice grew tense. “Remember—your wife’s been gone since June. She took your kids up north to their grandparents’ cabin. I’ve spent more than one night with you!”

He swallowed hard. “Are-are you sure?”

“Yeah! I only played around with you because my boyfriend’s in Europe this summer.” Angrily, Allie stomped back to the Accounting Department.



 Howie knew he must decide something—do something. After work, he waited outside the glass and steel building. Allie brushed past him so quickly that he stood there confused. Brad from Strategic Planning saw him and suggested they have a Scotch together before the commuter trains pulled out for their respective suburbs. Howie didn’t listen as Brad fanned out pictures of his six-month old son. He realized Brad wanted the drinks in order to brag about the kid. Family pictures bored him. He sure didn’t want any kid with Allie. What was he to do?


 Howie spent a nervous week-end. He called his wife Candace and told her to take their two kids, Tina and Taylor, out to dinner and a movie. On Sunday afternoon, he moved the lawn.


 His neighbor asked, “Are you ill—cutting grass in all this heat? You’re dripping with sweat. Maybe, you’ll come down with summer flu. Be careful. Rest.”


 Howie gritted his teeth. How could he rest now? His world was falling down around him.



 Late afternoon, Howie did lie in the porch swing. He stared up through the green maple leaves at an unclouded sky. His own thoughts swirled with future problems.


 On Monday morning, Allie stopped at his cubicle. “You’re off the hook,” she said. “I’m not pregnant after all.”


 “Well, that’s a relief—.”  He wanted to add for both of us. However, he saw the mistrust in Allie’s angry stare. “I don’t know what to say.”


 Allie’s eyes blazed. “Don’t call me again. You’re incredibly stupid for an old guy!”


 Old? Howie wanted to yell he wouldn’t be forty until November. He looked hard at Allie with her beige mini-skirt that showed thickened upper legs. Her too-tight coral tee-shirt plunged down to a deep V, showing her cleavage. Her crimped stringy hair had blonde streaks. She was just a trashy girl from Laramie or Denver—or wherever?


 “Oh, grow up!” Howie muttered.


 But Allie had already left.



 On the following Friday, Howie left work early; and drove for five hours to reach Candace and the kids at Sand Lake. He was a devoted husband and father that weekend. He even took the family to a nearby water park. When he returned to work on Monday, he felt absolved of any lingering guilt. He was sure that he’d learned a valuable lesson. Don’t get involved with summer interns, he told himself.


 Allie never spoke to him again. She left in mid-August to return to the University. Howie had carefully avoided any new involvement, although he did take Sheila, a recent divorcee, to dinner while the kids and Candace spent Labor Day weekend at a family retreat. He’d begged off since it was the end summer and reports were due on Monday.


 That next week, Sheila announced that she was moving to Memphis to start a new life with a guy she’d met on an internet dating service. Her departure was a relief, too.


 As Howie combed his hair, he dismissed any memories of him and Sheila. He studied his thinning hair and smoothed it carefully over his bald spot. Maybe he should ask Ernesto at the salon about a transplant. Baldness went with aging, just like his thicker waistline. If he spent an extra fifteen minutes daily on the spa’s treadmill, he could tighten his paunchy stomach. He vowed that he would exercise every morning before work and cut out desserts, although it was hard not to order a hot-fudge sundae on special occasions like Tina’s fourteenth birthday. With teen-age kids, people might realize that he was near forty. Why did time go so fast? He ignored his own birthday at work.

 He didn’t tell people either that he’d divorced his first wife to marry Candace. None of their business.  He studied his round moon face in the mirror, sure that he looked about thirty. Or maybe thirty-two. He paused when he saw faint crow’s feet around his eyes. His jaw was also fleshy. Would a Botox shot help that?

     


 Howie first saw Elena as she entered the elevator on a June Monday morning. He stood in the rear when she slipped into the crowd just as the door closed. She was dark-haired with a deep tan complexion that complemented her perfect oval face. Probably of mixed parentage—and bronzed all over like a swimsuit model in a sports magazine.


 The young woman’s dark eyes flashed a greeting to Milly, a middle-aged receptionist who leaned against the walnut paneling. The girl stood poised with a slightly elegant air.


 Howie rode to the twenty-second floor and followed behind the two women as people headed for their corporate offices. He noticed the new girl’s cream-colored suit and matching low-heeled pumps. Classy—real classy. He headed for his gray cubicle that felt like a cell. He sat there, fiddling with a pencil and indecision. He knew he shouldn’t get involved with an intern again, but then Candace and the kids were away at Sand Lake. Next year, Tina might get a summer job and then the family would be around. He wouldn’t be free anymore. The thought depressed him.



 No doubt their young elevator companion was another intern—so fresh and new—like a rosebud ready to bloom. The young woman might value his experience with Marshland Industries. He could tell her about the merger last spring—but not how he barely managed to hang on to his job. Yes, he could really help her understand the corporate world. He convinced himself that his insight was absolutely necessary to the girl’s summer success.

 



 He approached Milly. “That girl who rode the elevator this morning—is she new?”


 Milly gave him a stern look. “Her name is Elena. She’s from San Antonio. Here for the summer. Leave her alone.”


 “I have an aunt in San Antonio,” Howie lied. “They might be neighbors.”


 “How convenient!” Milly snapped. “Look, Elena’s not an average intern. She’s a senior at Rice University. I think her Dad’s in banking and some other stuff. Don’t get Marshland Industries in trouble,” Milly warned.


 “Trust me—I don’t have a hidden agenda. Merely curious,” Howie smiled.


 He sat at his desk, reading a report. After an hour, he realized that for all his effort, he didn’t know a thing it said. Howie walked to the water cooler, hoping that Elena would show up. She didn’t. Howie read computer files and waited for the afternoon conference.




 When Howie walked into the department meeting, he saw Elena sitting near Brad who was showing her a blue folder filled with more paper. Brad bent his head and whispered to Elena who gave him a perfect smile with her luscious lips.

Howie came up behind them. “Don’t believe a word that Brad says. He exaggerates our dismal earnings,” he grinned. He bent toward Elena’s upturned face. “I’m Howie, and you are—?” He offered his hand.

“—Elena,” she answered in a warm melodious voice, lifting her hand in return.


 Howie held her hand a moment.  It was warm and soft, a well-cared for hand. No doubt, the best creams and lotions kept it that way. There was nothing cheap or hurried about Elena. She sat there—slightly tall and confident—in her simple summer outfit. “Well, we hope that you’ll enjoy your experience at Marshland. I’ve been with the company for thirteen years. That goes back before the merger. If I can help in any way, let me know.”


 He moved on and sat where he could watch her. He planned his next move while the chairman droned on about lower corporate earnings.



 At noon, people hurried away for lunch. Howie moved along with the crowd, following Elena and several young people from his floor. Evidently, they didn’t mind the summer heat which blasted them from the sun above and the hot cement sidewalk below. Howie wiped his face frequently and hoped the others weren’t going too far. It was hard to keep up with the younger crowd as he followed them for four blocks.


 They turned into Bennie’s, a delicatessen famous for corned beef sandwiches and sun chips. He pushed in front of an older lady to position himself directly behind the others.


 Elena turned around and saw him. “Hi!” she smiled.


 “What a surprise!” Howie replied. “Mind if I join you?”


 Her companions shrugged and Elena nodded. “—Fine with us.”



 Howie didn’t want corned beef, but he ordered it anyway, so he could quickly join the others at their round table. It was crowded and he pushed a chair in beside Elena. For a moment his leg rubbed against hers. She smiled and moved closer to another girl to give him more room. Yeah, Elena had class. It was only a matter of time until they would lunch together alone. And who knew where that would lead? Elena appeared savvy and sophisticated. She might want a little fling before she returned to her senior studies—so far away in Texas. He must be very careful this time.


 Elena ate a chicken salad sandwich. As she held it, Howie noticed her nails beautifully groomed with the palest pink polish. No rings. Not engaged. A good sign. No boyfriend to fly in on the week-end.


 “How’s your sandwich?” Howie asked.


 “Okay,” Elena shrugged. “I’ve had better.”


 “There’s a really good restaurant about a mile south of here. It’s called The Crab House. I’ll treat you to lunch sometime.”


 Elena’s eyes widened. “Oh, that would be great. How nice you are! I love crab cakes—even better than chicken salad.”


 “—As good as done!” Howie replied smoothly. He wouldn’t rush things. Let her wait and anticipate their lunch together.



 Howie finished his sandwich and walked back to the office with the others. He didn’t want to appear winded, but it was hard to keep up with them. Sweat poured off his brow in little driblets. He turned away to wipe his face. When he got to his office, he sat quietly, put his feet up on his desk and napped for a few minutes until his phone rang. A shipment hadn’t arrived in Atlanta. Where was it? He fumbled through some papers and punched numbers into his computer. He knew he must appear as savvy as young Randall who was hired in March. That guy could compete because he was young and smart.   


 Howie wondered, how come I don’t appear that way, too? I’m not forty yet.



 That night Howie sat in his backyard and looked at the stars. He relaxed. If he succeeded with Elena, life would be better than ever. The evening air was balmy and the silence calmed him. With his family away, he enjoyed the stillness. He planned how he would take Elena to lunch and lengthen the afternoon with her. She was under Brad’s direction. That was no problem. He would ask Brad to lunch, but make sure it was on the day when Brad flew to Toronto. Then Elena could take Brad’s place.



 Two weeks later Howie sat with Elena at a corner table in The Crab House. It was as beautiful as it was expensive. A single red rose in a crystal vase centered each table. The water goblets held forest green napkins which snapped crisply as the waiter placed them across their laps.


 A wine steward came for their order. Elena hesitated.


 “Let’s celebrate your summer with Marshland,” Howie said grandly. He didn’t want to think about what their meal might cost. The place would charge too much for a glass of wine, but Elena was worth it. It was only a matter of time until he could hold her hand over dessert and hint that maybe they could spend Saturday night together. Take in a movie. Enjoy a summer concert. It would get late. He knew the move to get her to a motel.


 “White Zinfandel,” Elena responded.


 “—Also for me,” echoed Howie.


 Slowly, over wine, Elena told him about her childhood summers at camp. Her semester abroad in London. Her college classes in marketing.


 When the ala carte menu was presented, Elena was enthusiastic. “I’ll have the crab cakes.”

     


 Elena’s dark eyes ran across the menu. “Oh yes—and add a white asparagus and hearts-of-palm salad.” She handed the menu back to the waiter.


 Howie tried to keep his voice very genial, as if he ordered ala carte every day. If this was so pricey, he might as well ignore the bill and order the same thing, although he didn’t like crab and asparagus always seemed so bland. “Double that,” he said and handed back the menu.


 He leaned back against his chair and thought how young he must look with Elena across from him. He felt young today. They were like any other young affluent couple—enjoying the good life.


 The waiter brought a basket of small caramel rolls and French croissants. Whenever any crumbs fell on the table, a bus boy was there with a silver scraper. Elena murmured a Thank you to the kid. No doubt she was used to servants. Howie was sure that her banker-father hired excellent help.


 When their meal came, it was elegant—fitting for Elena. The salad arrangement resembled a calla lily. Against the cream china circled by a forest green-and-gold band, the entrée presentation was impeccable. Chef Marguerite’s crab cakes were nestled on baby greens with a julienne of red peppers. They were warm, crispy, and golden. A small silver pitcher held a smooth creamy orange-ginger mayonnaise sauce.


 Howie enjoyed the delicious cuisine and the intimate setting. To hell with the bill.


 “Tell me about your family,” Howie said. He loved how Elena carefully took small unhurried bites, lifting them to her lovely lips. Oh, how sweet it would be to kiss those lips—a small thank-you kiss on her cheek when they parted later. He’d add a quick caress across her lips, too. He wanted to hold her hand, too, but it was too soon for that.


 Elena told him about her Mom who as a very good tennis player. Her younger sister was a violinist—First Chair—with a high school symphony. Her older brother had finished his MBA at Wharton.


 Elena declined dessert, but did order a demitasse. Howie sighed with his good luck. The luncheon had been perfect—worth the big tab. He felt very generous. He would leave a twenty-five percent tip for the waiter.


 “I haven’t heard anything about your Dad,” Howie said. “He must be a remarkable man to have a daughter like you.”


 “I’m very close to him,” Elena answered warmly. “In fact, I felt drawn to you when I first met you.”


 “Really?” Howie was pleased. This was even better than he imagined.


 “In fact, you’re a lot alike,” she smiled. “Dad keeps fit on the treadmill as he’s a little paunchy, too. It’s hard to fight that—don’t you think?”


 Howie swallowed and nodded with a small smile. “It certainly is a challenge.” He tried to tighten his stomach muscles, but it didn’t work


 Elena continued, “Dad also has a little bald spot like yours. He gets a color job, too. He has to look younger for business reasons. You know how it is.”


 Howie sat very still and thought, Yes, I know how it is. He said nothing.


 “Dad owns several funeral parlors,” Elena smiled. “You don’t dare look old if you’re an undertaker.” She sipped her coffee again. “It’s remarkable how his cosmetic attendants can make a dead guy look peaceful. Stuff their cheeks with cotton and they look healthy, even if they’ve been dying for a couple of years.” She sounded practical, businesslike— cool and objective about death.


 Howie winced. “I thought your Dad was in banking.”


 “That, too, and investments. I intend to focus on marketing funeral services.” She lifted her right forefinger for emphasis. “We’ve got to provide new ways to stay competitive. If we expand our sites, we can call them Celebration Centers. Everything could be held on the premises—the service, food, wine—the works.”


 Howie didn’t want to listen. Death scared him. It sounded so final. He’d heard stories about how some dying patients linger for months, fed by tubes and soothed with morphine shots. Didn’t people just die anymore?      


 Howie was quiet. He wondered, will people care if I die? Who will come to my funeral? The company sends a bouquet and card to the spouse. No one ever leaves work for a funeral.


 Elena brightened, “Dad wants to install big screens in our present chapels. If churches can go big screen, why not funeral homes?”


Why not indeed? Howie wondered. Angrily he mused to himself, why not hire a blues combo and stomp out New Orleans jazz? Thoughtfully, he studied Elena. Some day she would be a hard-driving business woman with an iron fist in her velvet glove.


 He didn’t want to talk about death. He hoped someone might regret his death, but he wasn’t sure anymore. People were concerned about other things, not him. Candace whined about redoing the living room. Tina pouted and slammed a door if she had a curfew. And Taylor was off in a world of electronic games. Would they even miss him?


 He realized that Elena was staring at him. He tried to look interested. “Big screens? That’s a most creative approach.”


 “Can you grasp the possibilities?” she asked. “With plan-ahead funerals, our client can record a final message. We’ll call it The Resurrection Moment.”


 Howie squirmed, afraid that Elena might talk about religion. He didn’t go to church, but he sure didn’t want to admit it.


 She paused. “What would you say? What would be your one last word to your family?”


 Howie bit his lip. Did he have anything important to say to anyone? “I dunno.” Would his kids even listen? They didn’t listen to him now. He’d tell everyone to go to you-know-where, especially Candace with her stupid collection of salt-and-pepper shakers. He’d like to smash the chubby bear set from Yellowstone.


 Elena was steely eyed and confident. “A grieving family will get a lot of comfort from a Resurrection Moment. People don’t care about Salvation anymore, because it takes too much effort to clean up their act. But everyone wants a Resurrection with a big family party in heaven. Our Resurrection Moment has all kinds of marketing possibilities.”


 Howie’s hands trembled. He wanted a drink, but he didn’t dare reach for his goblet. Quickly, he responded, “It sounds like you and your Dad have big plans. Will he retire after you graduate and let you manage the business?”


 “He can retire anytime, but he likes to work.” She sipped her coffee.  “You’re close to his age. How soon will you retire?”


 Howie was taken aback. He had almost two decades before Social Security would kick in. He hedged, “Well, I haven’t decided exactly—.”


 “Don’t wait too long,” Elena offered. “My Mom is really anxious. She wants to travel—maybe cruise around the world. She says too many people drop dead before they can enjoy life.” Elena paused. “Think of something you really want to do. Then do it!”


 What did he want to do? Hold on. Hold on to life. Hold on to someone beautiful.


 “I suppose my wife and I will travel too,” Howie said lamely. “—Maybe to the Orient.” It was the only place that popped into his mind because Marshland planned to open a plant in Taiwan next year.


 Elena looked at her watch. “We’ve taken too long. I hope this won’t be recorded on my evaluation.”


 Howie gave her small nod. “I’ll take care of that. I’ll say the taxi got caught in traffic.” He’d lied to himself about a lot of things. One more lie didn’t make any difference now.


 When they return to their offices, Elena turned to Howie and smiled. “I’m so glad we’re acquainted. I’ll call my Dad and tell him that I found an older father-figure here—a real mentor. I enjoyed our conversation. That was a perfect luncheon, too.” She whirled around and headed for Marketing without even looking back at him.


 In his office, Howie strung together one paper clip after another until he had a long chain. He threw it on his desk. He braced his chin with arched fingers. He thought about the delicious meal and Elena, his perfect guest. There was only one thing wrong. She thought he looked almost as old as her father. He’d never get a second glance from her. She deserved a young man across the restaurant table. Howie knew he would always be a father-figure to Elena.


 Howie also realized that he was nothing but a slightly paunchy guy with bald spot and a dye job. And aging fast. A guy who cheated on his wife and kids when they were gone. He felt a terrible sadness—a tearing at his chest. Maybe he would have a heart attack and die right there—right there on Marshland’s dull gray carpet.


 Would anyone celebrate his life? Who really cared about him?


 He tore the Visa receipt in half and rolled it in his palm. He tossed a high arc and the paper wad fell into the wastebasket. He wanted to forget that perfect luncheon. Oh, how he wanted to forget everything.


 As he pondered his life, a tear rolled down his cheek. Then he buried his head in his hands and cried. He decided to go home early.


 When he passed Milly, the receptionist saw his reddened eyes and asked, “Are you ill?”

 “—Just a summer cold coming on. I’m going home,” Howie lied.

     

 Outside, Howie watched people hurry along the sidewalk, going somewhere. No one even glanced at him. He leaned against Marshland’s hard stone façade and wished he were going somewhere, too. Some place—where someone would care about him. Love him. Was there such a place? How could he find it?


THE END


 “Luncheon at The Crab House” is from “Out to Lunch”, a collection of unpublished short stories by the author. Recipes from each story are included in the book.


Chef Marguerite’s Crab Cakes


16 oz.  fresh lump crab meat

1 c.   fresh white bread crumbs

1    large egg, lightly beaten

2 T.     chopped fresh parsley

½ c.     mayonnaise

 Generous dash of Worcestershire sauce

 Dash of liquid hot sauce

 Squeeze of lemon juice

2 T.   grainy French mustard


 Thoroughly mix crabmeat, breadcrumbs, egg, mayonnaise, and parsley.

 In another bowl, mix remaining seasonings and combine with crabmeat mixture.

 Shape mixture into 8 cakes and set on a plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate several hours.

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter a baking dish large enough to hold crab cakes.

 Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

 Place on a bed of greens and serve with Orange-Ginger Mayonnaise Sauce.


Orange-Ginger Mayonnaise Sauce


3 T.   frozen orange juice concentrate, slightly thawed.

2 T.   orange marmalade

¼ tsp.   chopped fresh ginger root

1½ c.    mayonnaise


 In a bowl, whisk together ingredients. When the sauce is smooth, cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate for several hours. Serve with crab cakes.





On the Anniversary of Your Deaths


© — Susan C. Barto


 Hi, Angels. Bill, it's been eleven years since I last saw your face, and Harry, love, it's been ten years since I saw your face. Angels, you had glorious faces—Bill and Harry my blond angels—my blond boys. Our Lord sent us Hurricane Irene this weekend, and all my plans went smashing down—the best laid plans of mice and men...


 My Angels, God interrupted your plans, and made His. I know that you are happy in the Mansions in Heaven. Look down from above on me, protect me, and send the showers of your love. Dr. Len said that I am in a good place and ready to die to be with you,my Angels. Love flying up towards you as I lift my face to receive your love raining down. Be happy in Heaven till I see you again.







Thursday Bob, All Day


© — Susan C. Barto



 Thursday, Bob, all day today. I'll see you at noon in Church and we'll go to Dunkin Donuts for coffee. Yesterday as we sat together in the lovely, but waning, summer day 1 felt glad for our romance. May we grow old together, stay together always, enjoy the sunset of our lives and even the ends of the summers together.

 





Molly Meets Michael


© — Susan C. Barto



 Molly longed to meet a man to love and hopefully marry. Her parents enjoyed a long and happy marriage, and Molly felt that her birthright entitled her to the same kind of bliss. Molly, although just nineteen years old, thought that time could be running out. She kept herself open to possibilities of love. She went to parties, blind dates, and even considered turning to computer dating. She meandered through Barnes and Noble with her eyes and antenna open, but all the men there seemed to be with women. She took comfort from the notion that love always hits you when you least expect it, and that cheered her on.


 One Sunday in Church she sat next to a gorgeous man with arms and shoulders to die for. She gave a furtive glance at his left hand to check for a ring, and felt glad when she saw no ring. He smiled at her, held her hand during the Lord's Prayer, and told her to have a Happy Day after the Mass ended. Molly vowed to attend Church each Sunday in the hopes of seeing him again, and she cursed herself for not having asked him his name. The next two Sundays she attended Mass at the same time, but failed to spot the handsome man. The third Sunday lo and behold he appeared and slid into the seat next to her filling Molly with joy. Following him was a beautiful redhead who spoiled Molly's Sunday by sitting next to the man of Molly's feverish dreams of the last three weeks. For a tortured hour, Molly sat squirming, wondering, and fretting until the exchange of peace when the cute guy kissed her cheek, told her his name was Michael, and introduced his sister, Sally.


 "Your sister? But I don't even know your name."


 "Michael."


 "I love that name. It means God Protector." "Yes it does. How do you know?"


 "I read about it in a book of names. I discovered that my middle name, Susan, means Lily in Hebrew."


 "Yes, names are interesting. Today we name people with last names and their mother's maiden names. There are few normal names left."


 "that is so true—what happened to Jane, Janet, and Jean?"


 "I guess they have gone out of fashion."


 "After Mass do you want to go to the Spinning Wheel Diner with Sally and me?"


 Was the Pope Catholic? "I would like that very much. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."


 After the last hymn Molly hurried to her car and drove to the Diner. She wished that Sally were not along, and then realized that that was an uncharitable thought. Sally seemed to be very nice. Molly, however, would rather be alone with Michael. Well, she mused, all the better for the time when we are alone. All good things are worth the wait. She could wait to be alone with Michael. After what seemed to be an eternity, Michael and Sally entered the Diner.

 




Come Saturday Morning


© — Susan C. Barto



 Come Saturday morning I'm going away with my friend. We'll Saturday spend for the rest of the day. Remember Saturdays guys. Harry, you slept until sometimes noon maybe even later. I jumped out of bed early and commenced studying for my college literature class. Bill got up a short time later and began watching Saturday morning cartoons that went on all morning and ended with The Milton the Monster Show at 1 p.m., during which we ate lunch. Breakfast on Saturdays consisted of chocolate-either doughnuts, or brownies, or devil dogs. We counted ourselves lucky if Georgette had hot broken into the chocolate package of goodies before we could.


 After you were up, Harry I usually had to prepare for the trip to the hairdresser, Bill kept his Saturday play dates and you accompanied me to the beauty parlor. After my hair we Saturday spent by going out to an early Chinese dinner. In the early years it was always Chinese or Italian, but in later years when we had moved to Lebanon and Bill had outgrown Saturday morning cartoons, the dinner took place at our favorite Japanese restaurant where Bill indulged in Saki. I always opted for a martini, as did you if you didn't opt for beer and in the later years nonalcoholic beer.


 Saturday nights we shared TV. Bill remember Saturday nights with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett—your favorite. I even got you an autographed picture and her charwoman hat from an auction at the Catholic Church. Nowadays Turner Classic Movies offers a classic movie on Saturday nights—so they are still special. And we will remember long after Saturday's gone. Your Saturdays on earth are gone, but I bet in Heaven Carol Burnett still sings and performs her antics. I bet there is popcorn galore, and Harry you can drink beer and martinis again if you so desire. Here on earth I watch movies and remember Saturday mornings, afternoons and evenings with you guys.




 

Skunk Juice


© — Ken Gillespie



 A tall tale of North Mississippi or regions thereabout Coming out of Hollysprings on old highway 7, after reaching the 32nd curve, over to the right through the ancient, tall pines one sees reflected a small lake. The new highway cuts a straight path of little or no discernment, boring, without character whatsoever. Probably the old highway was an old Indian trail. But back to Holly Springs. One must wonder where such a place would get such a name. Oddly enough it has nothing to do with the thousands of springs that just seem to pop up out of the ground and make graceful lakes and moss covered ponds all over the place. It actually got its name from Prince Madoc, the Welsh explorer who came through this area on his way to meet his destiny in the old stone forts near Manchester, Tennessee. They have a cul de sac which Indians didn't build, unless of course the Welsh taught them how. Well anyway, bringing with him small holly trees from his native land, he planted them all along his route, so that it might easily be traced from Mobile Bay to Holly Springs. Sorta of a Mobile Trace like the Natchez Trace. Seems that whenever and wherever he planted one of those dogone trees in the state of Northern Mississippi, water came up. Being well watered they grew in profusion and would have taken over the entire state had it not been for Kudzu, which is another story.


  I just wrote this story maily to tell you about my uncle by marriage, Aubry, a veteran of the Great War to make the world safe for something or other. It wasn't very safe for him, to be sure. Being gassed at Chateau Terrie (or something French. I know that aint spelt right) he really never got over it. And to cure the whispy feeling of always seeming to float about with a dazed look, he went to drink. Sad to say, he couldn't afford store bought liquor, so he began to make his own.

Thinking 'bout Hollysprings is kinda like leafing back through the pages of an old book you've already read a long time ago. You know each page intimately, so you stop here and there to relive this or that moment. I guess today I will relive the story of Uncle Aubry's still.


 "Girl. Catch up!" he hollered to his cousin, short and thin like a hitchin' post, she usually outran him.


 "I'm coming, don't get chur dander up. But we better slow down and start creeping if we're gona get close to the still without being run off."


 "Yeah, I want to taste some . . . "


 "No, you don't!" she interrupted. "It's a foul and stinky mess and it'll make you sick and vomit and blind ta boot."


 Then tell me this cousin, why do people buy it by the jar day and night?"


 "Billy, Billy, Billy," She always repeated his name when she wanted to make a point, "People are craazy, and that's that. So, shut up sos we don't get caught."


 They crept up to the still, finally in sight with apparently no one around until they saw Uncle Aubry, all mashed out plumb drunker than a skunk. "See, what'd I tell ya, he stinks and floating thar in his own vomit. Billy. Billy, Billy, that ain’t no pretty picture postcard to send Aunt Mary in yankeeland."


 "Ooh, cousin Jessie, I think you're right. Soooo let's get sum and test it on that old coon we caught yesterday. We still got 'im back at the cabin.


 Now, the cabins by the lake by the old Indian trail which became old highway 7 are reputed to be older than the state. Possibly they were built by Prince Madoc's men who, documents prove, at the Courthouse a course, were out looking for Uncle Aubry's still . . . "


 "OK, good idea. Billy, Billy...."


 "Would you please just stop it, OK? Just say 'Billy' once."


 "OK, Billy Once, you get the jar and let's run for it!"


 The ruckus in leaving made a pile of jars fall againt a stack of pans, which Knocked over some bigger jars and that knocked over a barrel which exploded into Uncle Aubry's cookin fire with a whoosh and a ka-bang. He just slept through it. Didn't make a move.


 Back at the cabin they got ready for the experimentation. "Before we do the coon, let's do the old tractor, the one that won't start and sits thar in that heap a rust."


 "Good idea, Billy Once," she said with a faint up-turned smirk of a smile.


 "I can still whip you." he said with the same faint up-turned smirk of a smile.


 They both, at age ten, were deeply, madly in love. So, to fulfill their passion they would arm wrestle. "OK, Billy darlin, AFTER we get the coon drunk.


 "But first the tractor."


 "Right."


 Standing beside the tractor, of which they knew nothing about, certainly never educated into the realm of operating heavy machinery (nor was Uncle Aubry) they finally figured out that they would pour the nasty concoction into the first opening they found, which they did.


 And what happened was beyond belief! That old tractor seemed to come to life. The rust fell off. It cranked itself, put itself in gear and began to chase those two starry eyed lovers all over the place. "Where's mama?" Jessie screamed. "They all gone ta town!" Billy hollered, already outta breath. "Quick! Run to the minnow ponds."


 "No, Billy, Billy, Billy! We done already blown up the still and that's his only way a paying installment on the tractor, selling those minnows run in different directions!"


 So they split up at the spillway to the lake, Billy, Billy running towards the minnow ponds, his original idea, and Jessie running down the dam road, or, we should say,'road along the dam.' The tractor chose Billy, Billy. As he reached the minnow ponds, all moccasins aside, he just dove in.


 The minnow ponds had been thar fer centuries. They say that the original holes had been dug to bury some of the crew of Madoc's ships who died in the crossing from eating bad fish, or possibly later from drinking the skung juice. I get my dates mixed up. Those holes were Uncle Aubry's pride and joy. And a nice 'front' for his illegal whisky business. People would come from miles around just a buy a dozen minnows, leave and never go fishing. They'd throw out the poor minnows and drink the minnow water! Skunk Juice.


 But as Billy flew through the air in slow motion it seemed, outta the corner of his right eye he could see Uncle Aubry in his World War I uniform rinning toward him with Jessie under his right arm and hollering like a wild cat. As Billy came up. The tractor entered in with a loud splash, and almost immediately all the minnows floated to the top belly up-thousands of em. I guess it was the bad whisky. "Wow," Billy said, slightly stunned."Just think what it's gonna do to the coon."


 But Uncle Aubry had other ideas. "I'll learn ya what's up when you mess wit my skunk juice." He had em both under his arms and was heading for one of the old cabins that dotted the landscape.

 "I gots me a razor strap in thar used by ol' Madoc hisself. And I'm gona use it on you two til you're black and blue."


 Uncle Aubry tied em up to a beam running across the ceiling, their little wrists burning from the rope. "Now, where'd I put that strap. Oh dogone it." He looked up outta the window and saw his still was still on fire and the fire heading for the timber. " Oh dogone it, I need that timber to sell to get more holes dug to raise more minnows to sell to make more skunk juice." It was a profit rich environment. 01' Aubry was sure a Capitalist! Out he ran leaving the two poor children just 'hanging around.' In fact, that's where the term comes from. Billy and Jessie invented it back on a hot July day in 1952.


  The folks came home and found them after hearing the hollering, and they cut em down. "How'd the dogone tractor get in the minnow pond?" Aunt Willie asked. "And what's that smell? Smells like burning skuck juice. Where's Aubry?


 Billy and Jessie just shrugged with faint up-turned smiles of deep devotion.





Angel of Darkness


© — Mark Stoll



 Hello, planet Earth. I am the Angel of Darkness, better known at Satan, Lucifer, or the devil. I am trying to destroy everything and everybody on planet Earth. Why am I doing this? Because I got kicked out of Heaven, and now my blood is boiling. So, I am out to retaliate. I want to make your life as miserable as I can, and I will stop at nothing to accomplish that.


 I have a thousand tricks up my sleeve. I want to destroy your home life. I want to destroy your family. I want to destroy your marriage. I want to destroy your job and your business. I want to rob you of your good mental and physical health. I am trying to darken your soul. I am trying to make your aura turn pitch black. I hope you stumble. I hope you fall. I hope you can't get back up. I hope you stay down for the count forever. I hope you end up in divorce court. I hope you become addicted to something.


 The rumor is that time is running out for me, so I am doing all I can to capture as many souls as I can in these last days. I am doing all I can to make it rough for you. I am working harder than ever to destroy you. I am using every tool I can to accomplish that. I can, because I am very clever. And you think you are safe, just because you go to church, but you are not. I have distorted the Good Book, and I have denominations fighting with other denominations. I even have people within the same denomination fighting amongst each other. Heresy is one of my favorite tools to use on people. Why do you think the deceit is so rampant right now? It is because I caused it to be that way. I want you to be so confused that you cannot stand it. I hope that you never find the Truth. The last thing I want is for you to be with your Maker when you leave this world. I want you to visit me and be miserable, just like me.


 I love it when someone is sick. I love it when someone has to declare bankruptcy. I love it when someone is depressed. I love it when someone gives up. I love it when someone takes their own life. I love it when someone gets fired, framed, or evicted. I love it when someone has emotional problems. I love it when someone has a substance abuse problem. I love it when someone is in doubt. I love it when someone is frustrated. I love it when someone has anger management issues. I love it when someone refuses to forgive. I love it when someone is bigoted. I love it when things are going terrible for you. I hope you are weak enough and stupid enough to follow me, as I am out to deceive, steal, and murder. Why? Because I am the Angel of Darkness.