Tuesday, May 29, 2012


             “What was that you said? Did you say to turn and look down the street?
Why are there so many people here? I can’t see what all the fuss is about.
Did some one bump into you? People can be so rude.
Why are you pushing me, I don’t like crowds…”
It is the beginning of a really hot day. We are walking to work and the mob envelops us. We cannot get out of the crowd as they move us along the sidewalk I am feeling claustrophobic as the bodies press in against me. Everyone smells of soap and shampoo as the freshly showered and shaved make their way to work.
I can hear the subway screeching to a stop below, and then the doors opening. I stand expectantly in the street, knowing that that great hole will disgorge more eager people. Some people come out of the subway expectantly, knowing that today would be the day that the sun will rise exactly down the street. Some, like Fred and me, have no clue what is going on.
The crowd grows silent as the sky turns from night into day, orange, pink, yellow. There is a hint of purple and then the corona of the sun peeks over the horizon. The silence envelops us. A hush hangs in the air like a stage curtain, as the sun slowly rises above the horizon. Streaks of sunshine inch down the sides of the massive buildings, coming closer to us with each second. Looking down the street I am suddenly blinded as the sun lies fully on its belly, above the horizon. The trees above explode in sound as the birds chant in unison; the sun has risen for another day.
And today, it rose at the end of the street, and I am here to see it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why did we Bring Him?

Why Did we Bring Him?
It was supposed to be a great week-end with the family. She hadn’t seen any of that side of the family for many years. It would be great to see Aunt Mona and Uncle Max. Mona and Max had 4 kids, the youngest were twin boys. Now Cousin Shane was getting married.
They climbed into the car, a thousand miles to their destination. They were excited to be going on a road trip, even though it was winter. The baby, Benny, was sound asleep in the back seat; the sound of the car was soothing to him. These are the times when breast feeding can come in really handy, no worrying about formula or bottles; milk, supplied at the right temperature, in convenient reusable packaging. Caroline relaxed, Benny would awaken and nurse. The car would continue to roll down the highway. Horace would be satisfied.
Night came, it got dark. Something changed after the last stop. Benny would not settle like he usually did. Caroline put him to the breast, and still Benny would not settle, crying like a chorus of fussy babies. “Horace, stop the car!” Caroline said, trying to be heard over the din of the crying baby. Horace didn’t like to stop; keep rolling, get to the destination.  “No. You just nurse him, He’ll quiet down.” ordered Horace. “He isn’t settling. Stop the car!”  Horace ignored Caroline. The car rolled down the highway. Horace found a rock and roll station on the radio, and turned up the volume enough to drown out the crying baby. Benny cried. Soon Caroline was crying too. The car echoed with the sounds of the Rolling Stones and the crying baby. And the mother, begging; “Horace – Stop the car, please!”
Horace turned and looked at Caroline. The tears in her eyes, and the moon glow coming through the window behind her warmed his heart. At the next rest stop, he pulled over. Caroline crawled out, then reached back in the car to retrieve her warm coat and hat, ensured that Benny was wrapped warmly, and carefully lifted him into her strong arms.  The smell of the pending snow sparkled in the air. She held him to her heart, and hummed a gentle tune. Slowly, she walked up and down along the edge of the highway. Eighteen wheelers were roaring past, creating a wind vortex, drawing everything into the path of the next speeding vehicle. The first snowflakes swirled. Caroline walked and hummed, gently soothing the baby, their eyes met, and she let him know that everything would be all right.
From the darkness came Horace’s voice, piercing the night; “Come on now. Get back into the car. We have to get going. We should be there in a couple more hours.” Caroline looked down at Benny, then looked back up the road at Horace, tears rolled from her eyes as she thought; “What have I gotten myself into? Why did we bring him?”
The wedding was the next day.  They awoke in a small room, with a new layer of snow making everything quiet and soft, like the earth had been put to bed, hushed and snug.. The foot prints in the snow, marched from the car to the room, Horace’s large prints, and Caroline’s smaller prints. You could see several tracks, as each went back and forth, retrieving what they would need for a sound sleep.
Horace turned on the TV; he said that he wanted to catch up on the news. He kept the volume low enough so that Caroline could coo to Benny, as he has his took first feeding in this strange place.  They still had a distance to travel. Caroline resigned to that. The snow had slowed their progress; they still had several hours to drive on the treacherous highways The Wedding would be missed as they crawled down the highway on the unplowed white expanse. She hoped that someone would have been out earlier, forging a track through the snow, so that they would be able to see the edges of the road.
She called Aunt Mona; “Aunt Mona, I am so sorry that we won’t be able to make it to the ceremony. “ We spent the night in Clear Lake, and won’t get there until after noon.“ “Don’t worry about that dear,” said Aunt Mona. “You take your time. The reception isn’t until 7 tonight. You can join us then.” Caroline sighed; she knew that Mona would understand. “Thanks, I’m so glad that you understand. Give my best wishes to Shane and Marian.” “I will dear, now tell Horace to drive carefully.” “I will Aunt Mona. We’ll see you soon.” Caroline hung up the phone. She looked at Horace, then at Benny. Was she crazy to make this trip in winter?
Ten hours later, their car arrived at the Chateau d’Arval: such a beautiful spot on the lake. The Chateau was built in the late 1800’s and spoke of opulence. A valet helped them into the Chateau, then parked their car. They stood in the Foyer, looking around for some signal which way to go, where to turn. The room was immense.  They noticed a sign propped on the floor indicating that the “Harris Wedding Reception” was in room III. They followed the signs.
As receptions go, this one was pretty special, fancy room, nice food, good company. The main problem was the music. DISCO! And extremely loud! Anyone who was watching would have noticed the look on Caroline’s face as the DJ spun the first tune; shock and disgust.  Benny had been sleeping. He had a nice snack in the women’s rest room, and Caroline put him into the car seat, and there he snoozed.  That is until the music started.
With the first chorus, there was a faint whimper coming from the car seat. With each song, louder and louder, the whimper matched it; swelling in volume, until Benny was crying, crying, crying, rising to a crescendo; “Wah- Wah- Wah.”
Caroline looked around. Horace was out there dancing, dancing with all the bride’s maids, dancing like he knew what he was doing; hearing only the disco beat. Caroline picked up Benny, and went into the Ladies room again. She sat on that uncomfortable stool, and put Benny to the breast. Benny suckled; the breast filled and emptied of milk in a moment. Benny continued to suck; the vigor was going out of it though.  Soon, Benny was calm. The disco beat throbbed through the washroom door. Caroline waited; Benny finally fell off to sleep. Caroline got up, and peeked through the door. There was no sign of Horace. Didn’t he notice that she was gone? Didn’t he even notice?
One of the other guests was in the washroom. Caroline asked her to go get Horace. A while later Horace knocked on the washroom door. He was visibly drunk. Caroline looked at him, she looked at Benny. She said; “Can you take him for a while, so I can spend some time with the family?”  Horace looked into the washroom, and saw his son dozing on the floor in his car seat. Horace said “What did we bring him for?” Caroline shrugged.
Horace took the sleeping baby back into the reception room, and slid the sleeping baby and the car seat under the table. Horace sat down, and had another glass of champagne. He watched the dancers, he tapped his foot. He stood up and asked Aunt Mona to dance. Caroline watched Horace lead Mona on to the dance floor; she watched him swirl her around the floor. She remembered when he used to dance with her like that. Now, she had Benny. And Benny was waking again, and crying again. Caroline didn’t see him, she heard him through the din of the constant beats. She listened, and soon followed the sound under the table, to her unhappy baby. She reached under the table, and dragged the baby seat to her side. “I will take care of you dear Benny. Come on. Let’s go back into the Ladies room.”
It was a long stressful night for Caroline; Horace dancing, Benny sleeping, sucking and crying; and poor Caroline just barely coping. She called a cab, and while Horace learned how to do the Electric Slide, Caroline took Benny and walked out the main entrance into the waiting cab. As they drove off, she looked at the beautiful Chateau, the small corsage on her shoulder, the ring on her finger, and the baby in her arms: tears came into her eyes.
“Why did we bring him?”

Betty's coming out Party

Betty’s Coming Out Party
His eyes eased open to see the smiling face of his grand-daughter, Devi, a beautiful young woman, born on Sauria, when his ship was stationed there. Bill had had a woman in every system of the UI Nation. Devi’s mom was his eldest daughter, she had decided to stay on Sauria, when Bill returned to his home planet, Earth; sweet blue Earth. He had been a Captain of freighters, moving fuel from the planets that had it, to those which didn’t. After the battles of the Insurrection, he had decided to stay on Earth, to end his days, and to fulfill his final fantasy. The PTSD had left him emotionally scarred, and he seldom socialized, except in his fantasy. He found his friends in the books on his shelves. His family understood. They didn’t know the whole story, though.  What would they think?
He sat up on the edge of his bed; nostrils flaring at the smell the coffee brewing. He was ready for the day; ready to celebrate. Devi greeted him with a big smile and a warm hug, saying enthusiastically: “Happy Birthday, Grandpa!”
Bill replied: “Thank you so much Sweetie, I am sure that it will be a great day with you here.”
“I am turning 78 today.” Bill thought, as he looked back on the years spent moving around the Nation. He thought back to the women he had loved, the children he had fathered, and his beautiful grandchildren; dotted around the Nation. He followed a regular route, and was able to return to each woman, each love, each set of circumstances, and still have love. “I have been pretty blessed.” He thought, “How did I get to be so lucky? I started with the Nation when I was 28, then off I went into the unknown, to seek my fortune, and fortune I found. I did pretty well. I was so proud when they promoted me to Admiral. Good thing that they never knew my secret. Hell, I never realized myself what was going on until I met that woman in Daria. She showed me how to do it. I was delivering fuel around the Nation; I was carefree, since I had family around the Nation. I always had a warm place to rest my head. What more could a man ask, except for Betty?”
Bill still looked like he did before the insurrection; except his beard was gone and his hair a little longer. There was a little salt and pepper in his hair, which he wore in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. His smooth dark skin showed no wrinkles, the boyish twinkle in his eyes still sparkled like diamonds; his smile was still warm and loving.  This warm loving look belied the darkness within. He was tortured with anguish from his memories of battle; the noise, the fear, the anger; flashbacks when there is lightening; nightmares most nights. One night he awoke, and found that he was assaulting his wife. That was the last night that he allowed himself to dream; he allowed only day dreams.
This day was his birthday, though, and he was going to dress up, and he was going to celebrate.
“Coffee’s almost ready,” chimed Devi, returning to the kitchen. “Do you want bacon and eggs, or a smoothie today?”
Devi had been Bill’s companion for the past 5 years, ever since he decided to return to Earth. She hesitated at first, she had known about those days on Daria, and Betty, but when Bill offered to pay her 3000 Amber beads per month, a good wage even in the remote planet systems, she decided that he could use her assistance, and persistence. She so wanted Bill to be at ease; at ease with being a retired Admiral, at ease with being a veteran, at ease with being a man, back on Earth, living with his granddaughter, having put the past and all the daydreams behind him.
“I’ll have a smoothie today; I would like to keep it light.” Bill called from the bedroom.
 “Are you getting ready for the big celebration tonight? Usually a surprise party surprises the guest of honor, not everyone else. Leave it do you to do everything backwards.” Devi teased.
Devi busied herself with the coffee. She liked to make a ritual out of the simple things in life. She thought ritual injected special meaning into the mundane.  That day she chose the cups from her home planet, made from the blue clay, so unique to Sauria, and shining with the diamond glaze that she loved so much.  The coffee, a fine medium roast from Hawaii, was just finishing brewing, she paused a moment to enjoy the aroma of that lovingly brewed nectar and to get the last few drips into the Carafe.
“Grandpa, what are you doing in there? The coffee is ready. Will you be out soon?” she asked.
Bill was starting to prepare for his day. He would lay out the clothes that he would consider wearing; checking each seam to ensure that there are no hanging threads; checking the front of the shirts for stains, he tended to spill more and more on his shirt as he aged. He would check the shoes, are they just right, do they match the rest of the outfit? He would hold up each item that he would consider wearing, survey it from top to bottom, inside and out, “Are there wrinkles? Does it still fit?” He was as meticulous about his clothes as he was about his manner. One outfit, then another, he sat on the edge of his bed, closed his eyes, and thought, “How will I dress? Who will I be?”
He called back to Devi: “I’ll be right out; I’m just planning what to wear.”
“Come on Grandpa; get out of that darned closet! Your coffee is getting cold!”
Devi shuttered as she thought about Grandpa’s wardrobe.  Inside his huge closet, he had clothes from Gaia, Sauria, robes from Dune, with the built in filters, thigh high boots from when he was on Pampas, Pirate costumes from Earth, custom fitted uniforms and the ornate formal attire required by his rank, and that special section, at the back of the closet. But, what would he choose for the party that night?
As he sat down to his coffee and smoothie Bill assessed his choices. He had lain out the uniform, no, too military. He had lain out the Pirates costume, no, too silly. He had lain out the outfit he had bought for Betty, exquisite! He visualized how he would look in each outfit for his birthday celebration.
“Have you decided what you want to wear tonight?” Devi asked.
Bill paused for a moment, “I’m not sure. I thought of several ideas, none seemed just right, except, I’m pretty sure that I’ll go with Betty.
Devi looked at Bill, she nodded her head. She went into Bill’s room, and surveyed the clothes, carefully lying out on the bed. She liked the Admiral’s Uniform of the Nation’s Merchant Marines. He looked so distinguished in that. With those spit polished shoes, he certainly made an outstanding statement. She laid that on the top of the pile. She was very proud of her Grandfather, the Admiral.
Bill came into the room, looked at the bed, and said “I decided to wear that wonderful outfit created by that design house on Sauria, Holley’s.  Their careful beadwork will make an astonishing splash of color on my jacket.”
Bill felt elated as the morning passed. The despair in his heart was melting away, as he anticipated the looks on his family’s faces. What would they think? Would they still love and accept him?
His hair would be neatly styled, hanging around his shoulders. His makeup would be just so. Even though Devi would prefer that he go without, she would apply the colors and scents that would transform his burly face into that of a very distinguished woman, and help him transform into Betty. He would wear diamonds everywhere, earrings, necklace and tiara. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” was Betty’s credo. Tonight, he would introduce his family to his alter-ego, the woman of his fantasy, Betty.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gone, a suspense story.

          In the distance they could see her. She looked like a tiny spot, rising and falling; on the crest of one wave, and disappearing in the trough behind the next. As they sailed closer, they could make out what it was. It was a dory. On the transom was written “Mary Celeste.” There was no one on board.
          No one had heard from the Mary Celeste for many years, and now this dory appears. They hauled her aboard and headed back to dock. They’ll never know the story I can tell.
          We were thirteen days out of New York, somewhere south of Bermuda. Yeah, that’s right, the Bermuda Triangle. There were 10 on board, 8 crew and 2 passengers. We should never have taken on those passengers.
          It came like a ghost from the north, white squall. The seas picked up in a heart beat; 40 to 60 feet. They came at us from all directions! We were rolling like a top that has lost its spin. The cargo shifted. We were listing badly. The Captain knew that we were gonna capsize and called “Abandon ship.”
          I scrambled to the life boats, pushing to get in front of everyone else for a chance to board. Suddenly the ship lurched to leeward, heavy seas washed the decks, dories crashed over each other and into the sea. I heard the wrench of wood splitting as our hopes of survival turned into kindling. All but one disappeared under the waves. [1]
          The passengers were terrified, scraming to be heard over the din, “Help Me!” The crew knew what to do. I couldn’t swim, no one could. I looked around for something that would float, anything.  I grabbed an empty keg and over the side I went.
          Down into the cold water I sank; down, down, down, clawing at the seas, clawing for air; losing grip of the hope that I carried from the ship. My face broke the surface and I inhaled a lung full of spray as I tried to cling to  that bit of life that I still had. Groping for that keg, my fingers pushed it further away as my hands swept the murky water in front of me.
          The dory was empty, the wind was carrying it away across the waves. Men were watching it recede in terror. Suddenly a face appeared out of the water, coming up from the bottom. Was he one of the passengers? He seemed to appear from the sea. No one had seen him before. He grabbed me by the collar and dragged me toward the fleeing dory.
          When I finally clambered into the dory, there were 5 men already on board.  That passenger was a young fella, about my age. That made 7 in a dory big enough for two fishermen.  We were cramped like bodies thrown into a pit, sitting on top of  each other, getting washed by the cole, salty seas crashing over the gunnels. It was pitch dark. I couldn’t see the sky. The North Star wasn’t there. I never knew where I was, or where I was going. I never guessed that I was going to hell.
          I forgot to bring either food or water. There was only the harpoon. I thought that I might catch enough to stay alive. I couldn’t.  It turned out that the harpoon was used for something much more sinister.
          The days passed. The sun burned my skin,  my eyes started to protrude from my head as dehydration took hold. I looked like death. I was wondering who would be the first to die. Starvation is not a pretty way to go. I had seen it before. No rations, no hope, except... fish and birds would have to suffice for now, if I could catch any.
          The rising and falling of the seas had a sedating effect on me, and I would drift in and out of consciousness. Sometimes I would spy a fish, and I’d grab the harpoon, throwing it madly at any target, hoping to get some food. Sometimes the harpoon would find it’s target, staining the sea red with blood, I would eat for a while. With my belly full, I would plan what I would do when I returned to New York; plan the wonderful feast that would be waiting for me. After a few days the stench of the drying meat turned what little I had into chum, as I retched any morsels that entered my stomach.
          Up and down, awake, asleep; dreaming, always dreaming. Dreaming of roast beef, of kegs of ale, of warm sheets; dreaming of someone standing over me with the harpoon pointed at my heart; waking up with my heart pounding so hard it would choke me.
          That young fella spoke only to me. He’d lean over and whisper in my ear,  “That man over there, the one with the mustache, he’s evil. He gonna kill you tonight when you’re sleepin. Then he’s gonna eat you. You have to do somethin before he kills us all.“ I looked at him, I could see myself reflected in his eyes. I scowled at him, and turned toward the horizon, looking for something that might bring hope, looking for something...
          The men were splayed about in the boat. No one spoke. We each looked at the other, like they might to be our next dinner. “Come on Luc, see if you can catch us somethin else to eat.”
          The weakness went into my bones. Dazed. Longing for an end to this torture. I could see people walking toward the boat. Were they walking on the water? How could they do that? Were they carrying the carcass of a hog, or was it something else?
          One night, I rolled on to the harpoon. It stuck me in the leg. I could see my blood starting to stain my pants. How much blood could I lose before I would die? Everyone else was asleep. I decided. I started with the oldest fisherman. I knew he wouldn’t survive. At least that is what I thought. I grabbed the harpoon. It was quick, in the heart, then cut off the flesh and throw the carcass overboard. The fish went crazy eating that old guy. The others said nothing when they woke up. I laid the meat all over the boat, letting it dry in the sun. When I got hungry, I just had to reach for a slice, and chew.           I cut up his clothes to make line, and tied bits on the harpoon for bait. I used him for about 8 days. Everyone ate. Then the starving began again.
          I don’t know what was worse, the thirst, the hunger, or thinking that the other guys are looking at you; wondering if they were thinking the same thing I was. I knew what I had to do to stay alive. Draw Straws! I shaved sticks off the gunnel. I picked one. I was safe, so was that passenger. The others weren’t. We ate again. The crew got fewer.
          Nights the passenger would sit beside me. He and I would take turns sleeping; keeping watch on our hide, keeping the harpoon in easy reach.
          The days and nights rolled across the sky, the stars appeared to dance around. Polaris would be at the bow one day, and at the stern another. There would be wild winds and calm days, for days and days. I tied a shirt to the shaft of the harpoon to try to catch some wind. I was too emaciated to hold it up. Time to eat again. There were only two left, me and the passenger.
          At night, I would look at the stars. He would look into the water. He said that the others were following us, that he coud see them in the water, that their bones were caught on the hull of the dory, and it was slowing us down. Neither of us could sleep. There was no trust. He looked at me, I looked at him. I no longer spoke, I no longer planned who would be next. There was no planning. It was certainty. It was just us.
          I held fast to the harpoon. I knew that if I could hold on to the harpoon, that he wouldn’t kill me. I was not going to be anyone’s filet. I dozed.
          He was coming toward me, fire in his eyes. I looked into his eyes, and saw insanity. I knew that he was going to kill me. We fought for the harpoon, and it flew over the side. We both reached for it. I fell in. I grabbed him. He laughed and said, “So, you think you finally got me. I’ll see you in hell!”
          I grabbed the harpoon. I stabbed him. He held on to me as the life seeped out of him. I was dying too. How did I get this wound?  I couldn’t get free of his grasp. Slowly I sank to the bottom. There was no other. There was only me and the devil.      

[1] Dories will still be strapped to the decks of freighters and fishing boats to be used in case of emergency. They are still the finest seaboats ever built they ranged in size from 12 to 28 feet. The most common was the 12 foot Bank’s Dory that held to fishermen and all their gear. This same boat was also roomy enough to hold their catch of fish. The 12 foot Dory at all other dories had their lengths measured by the length of their bottoms. The 12 footer was actually 15′6″ overall length. The other most popular away for a Dory was the so-called Newfoundland Dory that measured 15 feet on their bottom.