Category Archives: Short Story

Looking for Clues

Looking for Clues

We sat in the dark waiting for the first actors to take the stage. As soon as he entered, I leaned over to my best friend, Giselle and whispered, “He’s dreamy.” I scanned my program like she did. Stewart Harriman; transferred from Syracuse U, theater major,  semester abroad at London’s Old Vic.

I leaned close to Giselle again. “Bet he’s gay.” Okay, I’d hoped he was.

“No way,” she whispered. “He’s straight.”

So, the bet was on. For the rest of  Charley’s Aunt, I scrutinized for lisps or limps, capes tossed with too much flourish, any other theatrical gesticulation that might suggest possibilities. Instead his performance was exquisite, nuanced with tinges of sensitivity, balanced by bravado. Not even an ounce of gay hope. Giselle and I sprinted to the green room afterwards, throngs of underclassmen surrounded him.

But it was Giselle who caught his eye. She was right, straight Stewart was, and straight into her bed he dove.

It was likely for the best, as I was transitioning through yet another fallout with Tom, Dick or Harry. At the ripe age of 21, I felt washed up, a senior who’d been ready to graduate as a freshman. Giselle met me at the Letchworth Diner for brunch.

“Why so glum?” she asked. Ordered an iced tea.

“Where do you want me to start?”

“You’ll be okay, Buzz.” She patted my arm.  “Are you still seeing Timmy?”

“You mean Tommy?” I shook my head no, sighed. “He wanted to see other people.” A plate of steaming french fries arrived. We always shared.

“Maybe you ought to try someone our age? What about Gary?”

“Nope.” I made a face. “Closet case.”

“Fair enough. Donald?”

“Get serious. He’s about twice my size.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know that mattered. Damn, these fries are good today.”

I huffed but I wasn’t really offended. Giselle was just trying to help. “How’s Stewart?” I tried to hide my jealousy.

“He’s fantastic. He drives me absolutely wild. ‘Course, I don’t see enough of him. He’s rehearsing for Gemini, so he leaves at some insane hour. It’s still dark out.”

I pretended to be happy. “That’s nice, I’m glad things are working out.”

“Me too,” Giselle said. She smiled at me. A little piece of french fry stuck in her gums and it made me feel slightly better.

Our senior year progressed, Giselle’s time divided by school and Stewart. They nearly moved in together for spring semester, but he got cold feet. Hmm. Turns out, Giselle told me, it was after he’d moved in with English girlfriend, Evelyn, that things took a drastic, irreparable turn. He didn’t want to repeat that with Giselle. Okay, so add smart to his resume.

I’d begun to hate them by the time spring finally rolled around. Not to mention that we’d done more than just a few theater projects together- all three in Dr. Cho’s Theater History class, as well as Scene Design 2. When Giselle’s lead actor bowed out of her senior project, Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down, I was shocked she asked me to take the lead role. We met that Sunday at the diner.

“Why didn’t you ask Stewart?”

“I did. He’s too busy with his own senior project,” she said.

Of course. “What play did he choose?”

“He doesn’t know yet.”

“When does he have to choose?”

“This weekend. But there’s something else I have to tell you.”

I was all ears. “What’s up?” Her face changed and she looked as if she might cry. “Giselle, what is it?”

“I’m fairly certain…” She looked down at her hands, then back into my eyes. “I’m pregnant.”

“Stewart’s?” I blurted, didn’t mean to. Of course it was him. I took her hand.

A tear slid down her face. “What am I gonna do?”

They’d placed us at a corner booth, so I slid closer to her. “How did this happen? You had a diaphragm, right? Did it break?” Truth was, I hadn’t even seen one before.

“No, it was about a month ago. Stewart was supposed to come over after the cast party for A Christmas Carol. He’d designed the lights, so he felt he had to go. It got late and I crashed. When I woke up around midnight, I was a little miffed because he’d said he would stop over by ten. The next thing I remember, there was pounding on my front door. He was drunk, apologized, then barged into my room. We barely discussed protection before he was…before it was too late.”

I didn’t know what to say. I could feel how upset she was, and for good reason. “I’ll help however I can.” Our waitress dropped off our fries. “What did Stewart say?”

“I haven’t told him yet.”

The Frog

The Frog

Marina Vista dropped by to visit her sister, Benecia Martinez. “I never get to see you anymore,” she said. “Where is Chilpanchango?”

“You know where he is.”

“In the woods?”

Benecia nodded, setting the fresh guacamole bowl on the dining room table. “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked you a cake.” She grabbed the tortilla chips, already in a colorful ceramic bowl.

Marina sat down. “This is more than enough. You didn’t have to fix lunch, honey.”

“No problemo, my sister.” Benecia kissed her cheek. “We need to do a little hair removal.” She pointed to a few straggly hairs near Marina’s lip.

“Oh please. Let’s not turn this into a spa day.” She crammed a chip into the guacomole and stuffed it into her mouth. “You look good, been jogging?”

“When I can.” Benecia chugged some Fresca. “Able to hang for a few hours?” She adjusted her bra underneath the fitting black tank top.

Marina nodded, scratching a mosquito bite on her back. “Mmm, these avocados are muy…” She searched for the word as she dipped a lavish amount on another chip.

The back door creaked open.

“Honey?” Benecia called. “Chilpanchango?”

“How can you even tell he’s in here? He’s like the wind, that one.”

Benecia placed her hand over Marina’s. “Shhh, he’ll hear you.”

The boy came to the doorway.

Marina Vista turned around, eyes narrowed. “Chilpanchango, where have you been?”

His huge eyes looked at his feet. “In the woods,” he whispered, his soprano voice wavered.

“And what do you do in those woods, honey?” Marina asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just play.”

She held her arms out. “Come over here and give your Auntie some sugar.”

He walked slowly toward her.

Benecia let out a scream. “Aye yi yi, Chilpanchango. What’s in your pocket?”

His shorts were stained a strange purplish- red color.

Marina Vista shrunk back horrified. “In the name of Christ Almighty-”

“Sis, shut it.” Benecia moved quickly toward Chilpanchango, escorting him out of the room. “Be right back,” she said over her shoulder.

Marina Vista had almost polished the entire batch of guacamole when Benecia returned.

“What happened?” Marina asked. “What was it?”

“Nothing. Just a frog he collected.” Benecia drank more Fresca.

“A frog he collected? You mean a frog he mangled? There was blood.”

“Don’t pick on him, Marina. He’s just a boy.”

Marina shook her head. “That boy of yours, he’s a piece of work.”

Hunting

Hunting

They were strapped to the roof of our car. Two bucks. Both shot first thing that morning; the first dawn of gun season. One by Uncle Dan, the other by dad. I thought I would like it, hunting. I carried around a twelve-gauge shotgun, an antique passed from gramps to dad to me, for the entire month of August, that late summer of 2006.

But the day finally arrived. We drove out among the hills of Bristol, the early turned red oak leaves fluttering in the sun. We set up camp, dad cooked, which he rarely did at home unless we grilled outdoors. They played poker, offering to teach me. Instead I read A Separate Peace and tried to relax about the big day tomorrow, but the smoke from their tiparillos’ caught in my throat.

Then, a sleepless night in a trailer with five snoring, whiskey filled men. I watched the moon, paralyzed cold, in my too thin sleeping bag, wondering if I’d have the balls to do it. If I’d be man enough to actually squeeze the trigger.  I’d never killed anything before, except ants once with a handheld mirror that I took from mom’s vanity, and forgot to return before she noticed it missing that evening. The same ants I put down Evan Cramer’s back that same summer for no apparent reason.

An alarm sounded, we dressed in pitch dark using kerosene lanterns.  While the men swilled down instant coffee, Dad showed me how to load my gun for the hundredth time. How to keep the safety off while we walked. Uncle Ron told me how most morons accidentally shoot themselves while they’re walking. I wondered if that was what happened to vice president Cheney, but I forgot to ask.

As we put on our hunting vests, Dad said, “Now, like I told ya, look for the rack. Don’t get trigger happy. We’ll leave you on Whiskey Rock and split into two groups, circle wide, then drive them toward you. All you have to do is pick the largest rack! But be patient.”

I nodded, licked my lips with excitement, my toes tingled in dad’s hand-me-down hunting boots.

Uncle Dan said, “If he shoots anything like you, Hank, we’ll have the first buck weighed in on opening day.”

We left camp single file, at the first crack of light on the horizon. No talking, and walking careful, like Indians. Dad had me practice that around the house, and I nearly scared mom half to death a couple times.  “Stop creeping up on me,” she’d say, when I’d finally mastered it. “That’s spooky.”

They dropped me off at Whiskey Rock. Dad nodded, pointed to the safety on his gun. Motioned me to settle down. I found a nook atop the mammoth rock, felt like I was nearly invisible. I could see how hidden I’d be, among the lowest branches of the closest trees. The moss on the rock smelled earthy, the dew felt wet enough to gradually come through the seat of my thick, camouflage trousers.

As the men faded from sight, Uncle Dan looked over his shoulder and gave me thumbs up. I began to feel strange. Alone in these alien woods I had only hiked once or twice, and always with my father. It was eerie, too quiet, I could hear my heartbeat. The tiniest sounds magnified. A squirrel running along a fallen beech. A hawk settled into a nearby douglas fir, its prey in its talons.  I looked down at the gun across my lap and for a split second thought what am I doing here?

Then I saw the most magnificent creature, probably a hundred yards away. A buck, I was certain from its size. It slowly moved my direction. I looked for a doe, figured she might be even closer. Dad taught me bucks often follow the dainty females. There she was! The doe came closer, twenty yards, then ten. I hunkered down even more, moving minutely, eyes frozen on the animal. I wondered how I would actually get my gun up to my shoulder, aim, and fire at the buck. I couldn’t scare the doe, surely; if she caught wind of the danger, or saw me, she’d bolt, as would her suitor.

Instead I sat like a statue, heart leaping while the gorgeous doe passed by on the very same trail beneath me.

Then the buck came into view less than two minutes later. He had one focus: her! I knew as soon as he looked squarely at me that I could never shoot him. There was a peacefulness as I realized this, combined with the disappointment that I would let dad down. And Uncle Dan. Even grandpa, whose dementia might make the blow easier.

I would see three more does and five other bucks from my vantage atop Whiskey Rock that morning. The largest buck had a twelve pointer. All passed readily by, none the wiser about a geeky hunting teen who chose only to admire their grace.

Sneezing

Sneezing

I love to sneeze. I’m old and it’s the closest thing I get to an orgasm anymore. Used to be I would visit my neighbor, Lois. Over a decade ago, after my wife Martha passed, I started dropping by at my neighbor’s. I know what yer thinking, of course it wasn’t the day after Martha’s funeral, But Lois had lost her husband to heart disease, too. And she was a looker. Not a hooker. I said, a looker. Five eight, auburn hair, probably dyed, but still caught my eye. And dainty, like that china we’d inherited from my Aunt Rita, used it twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oh, and I’m a sucker for big boobs. Lois was on the smallish side, but perky, responsive. Worked for me.

I started by shoveling her steps that winter of 2002. Snowstorms came early in December, one right after another. We were all buried. Was the least I could do when I saw her out there struggling one morning. She offered me a glass of water on Friday. A cup of hot chocolate the following Tuesday. I could feel her eyes on me, staring out those front windows.

After the third snowstorm, she asked me in. I stamped the wet snow from my Sorels, felt my heartbeat pounding. Took off my soggy gloves first.

“Thanks, Duff.” She pointed at my t-shirt after I’d tossed my winter jacket, sweater, hat and scarf on a bench by the door. “You poor thing. You’re soaked!”

“Yep,” I said. “I sweat a lot. Got a towel?”

She looked at me like it repulsed her. “Would you like a fresh shirt? I could get you one of Tom’s.” Handed me a dishtowel.

He was the dead husband, a real asshole. Sorry. I know he’s gone and all, but I saw how he’d mis-treated her, time and time again. She was captive. Shut down. Martha and I stopped socializing with Lois and Tom after the kids were born. Tom was just too, well, military for me. Plus, I didn’t like the way he’d ogle Martha when he thought I wasn’t looking.

“I live right next door, Lois, remember?”

“Yeah, smartie pants. But if you’d like to stay for coffee, I thought you might be more comfortable out of your wet clothes.”

I’d be a lot more comfortable out of any clothes, I thought. I wondered what would happen if I just dropped “trou” right there, in her kitchen. I saw that on a CSI show. But I had too much respect for Lois. Didn’t want to mess up the days it took to progress from her step shoveler to coffee buddy. “I’m okay,” I said. Besides, I’d used extra Aqua Velva before any trip to her house.

“I made fresh Christmas cookies yesterday. Sugar cookies, with the different flavored frosting.” And goddamn if she didn’t bring out a tin of them, stuffed full of santas, reindeer, stars, elves, topped in every color of the spectrum. The frosting looked glassy, the way snow looks after an ice storm.

“Wow.” I tried not to drool on the table. “I’m impressed.”

“Go ahead, have one. Have them all. Cream or sugar with your Sanka?”

“Nope, black.” I was tempted to add, ‘like my women,’ the way I did at those AA meetings. But with Lois, I was trying to be well behaved. And, I’d stopped going to AA anyhow. Too depressing after I’d kicked the alcohol. I picked an orange stocking cookie with sugar sprinkles, while Lois fixed her coffee then sat down opposite me. Her hair, those deep red locks, were piled on her head like a beehive. I smiled.

“Tom never liked Christmas cookies.” She sipped her Sanka, her fresh lipstick left a mark on her mug.

Ugh, Tom. “Do we have to talk about them?” I included Martha, just so it didn’t seem harsh. I bit the cookie, the orange flavor created a zing in my mouth.

“No,” Lois chuckled. I hope she felt relieved, not having to re-hash the past we really hadn’t shared anyhow. “I was wondering if you’d be up for something.” She was adorable, the way she sort of hid behind her coffee mug, a Budweiser stein.

“Try me, Lois. I’m pretty open.” I hoped to god it wasn’t bingo at that damn Grange Hall. I went once, years ago, for Mixer Madness. Torture. “Unless it’s my CSI night.”

“Oh, I can’t watch that show. Way too violent. I can’t even watch CNN.”

Yup, Martha re-visited. Which is why we got the second TV after the kids got through college. Didn’t think my last son was gonna make it. But Danny did, by the skin of his teeth, he finished. I swallowed some Sanka and tried not to grimace. It was foul. I’d been introduced to the whole Starbucks crap years ago. My grandkids. Too cheap to spend those kind of bucks, so I get my beans at Costco, that Kirkland brand. They’re tasty as hell. “So, what you wanna ask me, girl?” I had to admit, I was feeling more frisky than usual. Something about being alone with a woman like Lois made me feel like a teenager.

She pulled a paper out of her purse, handed it over. It was a flyer. I scanned it, said ballroom dancing lessons, and other information. I glanced at dates. Monday nights. CSI was Thursdays. I could barely walk let alone dance. I shrugged.

“Whaddya’ think?” She had the eagerness of a Labrador, practically wiggled.

“I think I can’t dance to save my life.” I felt a sneeze coming on.

“Who cares? It’ll be fun. You can’t be any worse than-”

The unmentionable. How could I resist? I whipped out my handkerchief. “Okay, you’re on.” I turned away. “Achooo.”

“Bless you!” She clapped her hands together. “More coffee?”

Jesus Votives

Jesus Votives

We’d met during the 4:40 showing of ‘Something About Mary.’ I was feeling really low at work, so I left early, ducking into the closest theater. There were only six other people in the Quad Cinema on 13th Street and she sat in the row directly behind me. When it got to the part where Cameron Diaz introduces her “special” brother to Matt Dillon, I heard her say, “Ohmigod! Goofy bastard!” And even though I was a little appalled, she leaned closer, and whispered in my left ear, “He looks just like my boss,” which raised my curiosity. I tried to figure out if she worked with special people, or meant Matt Dillon.

When the movie ended, she stood, held out her hand and said, “I’m Karla. I’m going to El Rey Del Sol for margaritas, wanna come?’ Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked away. I really didn’t make a choice, not then. I just followed until we were standing outside the theater.

She lit a cigarette. Her thick, blonde hair glistened in the setting sun, that slanting kind of autumn light that reminded me of bales of straw. “So, whaddya think?” She took a long drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth.

I shrugged. I often go to movies alone. I wasn’t used to discussing them. “It was a little, well…” I had trouble finding even one word to summarize it all.

“Goofy?” she asked, smiling a grin that made me smile back. “C’mon,” she said, linking her arm through mine. The impact of her movement carried us both forward, and I was swept toward 14th Street and El Rey Del Sol.

“Ever been here before?” Karla asked as we were led through the tiny restaurant to an even smaller patio in an alley behind the kitchen.

We sat, and I looked up at the various apartment buildings looming around us. “No, I live across town.”

“Brooklyn?” she said, with a faint air of disdain, like I was some piece of shit if I lived over a bridge or through a tunnel.

“No, the East Village.”

“Hmm.” She gave me a once over. “You don’t look the type.”

I sort of half-smiled. I’d heard this many times before: one version of it or another. You look like a Kennedy. Or, do you come from money? Women often tried to carve some myth out of my location. And who cares, right? I say let them!

Karla lit up again. “I like this place ’cause you can smoke. Even wacky weed. And the drinks come in these Jesus candles.” She demonstrated with her hands, but I was clueless.  “Ya don’t know Jesus candles?” She started listing off the most common margarita flavors. “Usually they’ve got cantaloupe, banana, pineapple, and coconut. Then there’s a flavor-of-the-day. What day is it, Thursday? Might be kiwi!”

I have to admit, her childish enthusiasm was amusing. Before our kiwi margarita’s had even arrived, I knew I was gonna get laid.

I told her I was an accountant, to which she added, “What a hoot!” I was somewhat afraid to ask what she did for work. When I did, she replied, “I book clowns.”

The drinks arrived.

“You…what?” I’d never heard of that before.

“Yeah, clowns, like Ronald McDonald? We have several professional clowns who do everything- entertain people at carnivals,  act on TV commercials, go to birthday parties. We keep them pretty busy.” She sipped her margarita. Well, more like gulped.

“And you’re their booker?”

She nodded. “It’s a cake job. I’ve been with the company since college. Just can’t leave. I’m too attached to those clowns.” She laughed, so I did, too. “I know, crazy isn’t it?”

“No.” I shook my head emphatically, trying not to think about my wife who’d left six months earlier. Karla’s inability to leave her clowns suddenly made her look like a prize to me. I smiled a big grin at this clown booker.

“You have any siblings?” I asked, wiping a dribble of kiwi juice from my mouth.

“Yeah, my older brother’s HIV positive. He owns a tattoo shop in the Mission.” Her voice got smaller. “San Francisco. That’s where we grew up.”

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what to else to say so I looked at my feet and wished I’d worn something other than my tasseled Cole-Haan loafers.

“Hey, man, no sweat. He’s a survivor. It’s been something like ten years since he was diagnosed.” She paused. “My little brother’s in the clinker.” She narrowed her already slanting eyes. “I know,” she snorted, “ya gotta wonder which is worse, huh?”

“Really? Gosh, Karla, I’m…”

“He fucked up. He got caught doing what lots of executives and presidents and all sorts of hoity- toity people do.”

I wondered what his crime was- murder? “What’s he in for?”

“He was working for the mob. An inside job. And they made him the fall guy, or at least that’s what he says. He wasn’t willing to blow the whistle on his loser buddies, so he got twenty years, booked for armed robbery with attempted murder.” She lit a cigarette, blew out the match. “Enough about me, how about you?”

I was reluctant to disclose any details about my family after that. “Well, I’ve only got one younger sister. She’s working on her master’s at Columbia. Journalism.”

“Wow, she must be smart. Smarter than you, I’ll bet!” she joked, and the pressure drained away. “Listen, you wanna get out of here?”

She’d already pounded her entire margarita, and I was only half finished with mine. But I had reason to think that something better was coming, so I said, “Sure.”

The Message from Ruben

The Message from Ruben

A stranger accidentally text-messaged me. Usually I’d press delete before reading any of the content. I’m quick that way, unless it’s a familiar name. I don’t have time for bullshit. But then, I read the beginning:

Hey sexy,

Bet you think you never here from me again?

Sexy? That wasn’t a word I’d use to describe me. And what about the bad spelling and grammar? Still I scrolled down to see if a name was included:

Ruben.

Did I know a Ruben? It’s not like Bob or Tom. I stared out the window of the café, watched the leaves catapulting from their trees. I tried to recall him, scanned through the file of various men. It wasn’t a vast one, believe me.

And then it registered. Ruben was a trainer I’d met at the Wisconsin Athletic Club. He’d spent two years in Nicaragua working for Habitat for Humanity. Before he left, we’d had a drink at Hi- Hat.

The place was dark, hazy with smoke. He sat at a table with high bar stools.

I sat opposite him, his grin lit up the entire room. My legs dangled in mid-air. “I feel like a doll on these seats.  Or a zoo animal. I’m too short to reach the ground.”

“I like you. You’re funny,” Ruben said. He sipped his cosmopolitan.

He’d ordered Chardonnay for me. I wondered how he knew white wine was my preference. “Thanks for the wine,” I said. “Cheers.” We clinked glasses.

I wasn’t sure he could understand me, but I didn’t care. “Really? You think I’m funny? I think I’m depressing,” I said, thinking we should have gone to my place. I wanted to tell him I was engaged to the wrong guy. Wanted to mention there was a strong possibility I was pregnant. But I didn’t. Just stared at his perfect eyebrows.

Now, married with two kids, and barreling toward divorce, I sighed. The wind had picked up outside, swirling the leaves up toward their former branches. I glanced back at his text, bit the inside of my lip. Should I delete it?

Triple P Party

Triple P Party

“You’ll never guess who I saw yesterday.”

She was chewing gum so loudly that I had a hard time understanding. This was nothing new; no one spoke more rapidly than my best friend, Audrey. Often I had to ask her to repeat herself, which she would, but only after a huge sigh.

“Who?” I moved the phone back to my right ear.

“You have to guess. You’re gonna flip out.”

Ugh. These games were only fun when she caught me during my shift at Café Rouge. On weekend nights, I was the first bartender on schedule. By 9:00, Jacques and Mimi, the owners, were downing their second or third bottle of Bordeaux. When Neena, the closing bartender would arrive, I’d normally be on my second or third phone call from Audrey. Neena called her “the wife.”

But, tonight was my only free night. I was home alone. “I don’t want to play.”

“Why not, Mr. Cranky. You’re gonna shit when you guess who it is.”

I thought about who would be the last person I’d want to see if I died crossing 2nd Avenue to pick up dinner at The Cauldron. “Um, Sylvester?”

“No. Omigod, what made you think of him?”

“I have no idea.” He was our drug connection in college. You could get almost anything from him: ludes, speed, joints.  Or through him. Or however those people work. I’d left a tab with him, and only on rare occasions had a pang of guilt about it.

“Nope, last I heard, Sylvester was still behind bars. You know, Nancy Reagan’s crackdown.”

“Just say no.” I thought about lighting up a joint. “What a crock.”

“Would’ve loved to be her, just for one day.” Audrey sighed.

“Oh, give me a break. She was an addict, too.” I lit up, took a huge hit, then held my breath. It was great tasting weed from Hawaii. Maui Wowee.

“I know, I know- you’ve said it a million times. Anti-depressants. I’d be on them too if I was married to that goon. Don’t try to change the subject. You’re not guessing.”

I blew out the smoke, and had the same endless thought: where did it all go? “Boy or girl?”

“Boy.”

At least that made the game more exciting. “Give me another clue.”

Without a second’s thought, “Lives in Jersey.” She was dexterous at games.

“That rules everyone out. The only person I know from Jersey is Debbie Lewis, and she joined the Peace Corps in 89.” I took another toke, felt the immediate flood… of what? Relief? Nah. Incapacitation? Maybe. I sunk further into my sofa.

“Really? What country?”

Exhaled a thin stream. “Liberia.”

“Huh. Okay, here’s another clue: double initials.” Now she was eating some noodle dish, I heard the slurping sounds and my stomach growled. Sammy’s Noodles. Mmm.

I closed my eyes and tried to remember anyone I knew with double initials, but only celebrities came to mind. Tina Turner. Matthew Modine. Then, as I took another drag, one of my favorite authors popped into my head. Audrey and I had met him at a 92nd Street Y book signing. “Was it Shel Silverstein?”

She giggled, then burped. “Sorry. No, silly; not even close.”

“Is he hot?”

There was a pause. “Very. Least we used to think so.”

I crushed out the joint and sat up. A deeper level of interest. “We, as in, you and me? Or the public at large?”

“C’mon, think. Okay, here’s a really huge clue. Worked with me at the radio station, same Saturday shift. Favorite band was Haircut One Hundred.”

The light clicked on. “No way.” I sat up. “Peter Pavia?”

“The one and only. Can you fucking believe it?”

My heart was pounding. Suddenly, I needed water. “Where? How?”

“I was at the Cloisters- ”

“Park or Café?”

“Slow down, mister, you’ll give yourself a heart attack. You need to be careful; your genes aren’t so great in that department.”

“Yeah, thanks for reminding me.” It was probably true. Dad dropped dead on the job, massive coronary. No signs, so the family story goes. He was 47. Now that 30 was approaching, I felt that number haunting my own future and could only wonder.

“Just looking out for you. So, I was at Cloisters cafe, having tea with Lenore, you know, ‘luscious Lenore,’ dances with the City Ballet. She pointed out some guy at the corner table on the patio. That gorgeous patio with the vines criss-crossing overhead, and that immense fish tank, and the creaky stone flooring.”

My impatience grew. “Audrey- get to the Peter part.”

“I’m there. It was him, in the corner, sitting alone. He was reading.”

“What. Reading what?” It was inconsequential, but it suddenly seemed important.

“An issue of The Paris Review.”

“Oh god.” I had dry mouth, chugged a huge glass of water.

“What?”

“Well, it’s not Kitty Kelley, is it?” Another double initial celebrity. And Reagan biographer. “What was he wearing?”

“Black leather bomber jacket. Like the ones that hang above the registers at Cheapie Eddie’s. Only nicer.”

“Uh huh.” I was already conjuring images of Tom Cruise: Top Gun. I’d be his Goose, his second in command, his…

“-recognized me right away.”

“What? Sorry, could you please repeat that?”

“He recognized me, and looked past where I was standing. He probably expected I’d be there with you.”

I jumped off the sofa, smiling. “What makes you say that?” I held the phone away so that Audrey wouldn’t hear me breathing harder, began pacing.

“Just an inkling.”

“Did you get his address?” Marriage proposals. Honeymoons. “A number?”

“Better, my dear. This Friday, we’re attending Peter Pavia’s party.”

The Triple P Party! “Omigod! What will I wear?”

The Story of V

These characters end up at the Vatican while the Pope is on vacation in Vietnam. In a haphazard way, they are drawn into a mysterious and bizarre science fiction drama. Virgil is posing as an American varsity scholar at Vassar who is visiting his Aunt Veronica in a nearby villa in Venice for the Vernal Equinox. In actuality, he is a visitor from the planet Vitkaan, in close proximity to Venus. These people are a highly evolved species, artistic and virile, vast in their knowledge and expression of feelings, lack of fear. No war. No violence. They, too, have a contagious virus, but unlike Aids, which houses the HIV, theirs is a positive, life sustaining virus called Verve, with the medical moniker LOV+. It must be administered to vestal virgins by loss of virginity and only a Vitkaan has the power to release the LOV+ into the bloodstream.

It just so happens, in the Vatican, the vicar is a present-day vampire (yes, right out of an Anne Rice novel) who feasts upon the blood of Virgins.

Meanwhile, Vaughn Vinaigrette and her escort, Vladimir Vilkowski have arrived from a long day at the Venice Film Festival where they met young Virgil (posing as the Vassar student). They offer him a ride to the Vatican. Vladimir is secretly a member of the K.V.B. (an off-shoot of the KGB). He’s on a secret assignment to arrest any foreign non-human intruders, but is posing as a ventriloquist. Vaughn Vinaigrette is a washed up Russian soap opera star who thinks she is Vetrushka, the 1960s fashion model. She suffers from vertigo and breaks into Wagner arias upon being revived.

Virgil has disappeared to view the Vatican, but really to find the virgin. We hear a Volvo crash, a scream, and in rush Vicky Van-Gogo and Vern Verlaine. They are both visibly shaken, and while Vaughn and Vladimir have run to the windows to look through the venetian blinds, Virgil sneaks the body of Virginia Vasquez, the virgin from Venezuela, into a corner divan, and departs. Vicky, Vern, Vladimir and Vaughn introduce themselves, get acquainted. But where did Virgil go? And who is the body lying on the divan? And where is the Vicar, who is supposedly the host in the absence of the pope?

Moving Out

Moving Out

Perhaps I should have prepared the girls more. Certainly they had experienced our disagreements, and through the years, our increasing family digressions, though we’d attempted to spare them of our devolving spiral toward divorce. I’m fairly certain they’d picked up certain cues. Bean commented about the chilly silences during dinner, attempted to embellish her school stories to fill the space. Ellie commented about the nights I’d slept on the sofa’s pullout bed, not buying that my insomnia was keeping Mommy awake.

Then New Year’s Day came, the day I was actually moving out. Martha had arranged for them to be with her, at her mothers. But, as if they’d anticipated the worst, Bean woke up that morning with a 103 degree fever. High enough for major concern. Martha’s pattern was to under-react to our children’s dilemma’s (Oh, she’ll be fine!) and medicate herself instead. But now this complication added a layer- could I actually leave with one of my own flesh and blood so ill? What was I doing anyway? All that went into defining who I am, what I’m about, the legacy, if you will, of my life seemed to be draining from my grasp. Each trip to the car became more difficult, harder to breathe.

“Don’t go, Daddy,” Ellie said. She’d followed me into the garage. I picked her up, her small frame collapsing against my beating heart.

“I’m not going anywhere sweetheart,” I said. I smelled her innocence, her pajamas designed with Winnie the Pooh and his buddies created lots of color against my drab gray jacket.

She picked at my buttons. “Then why are you loading all of those boxes in your car?”

I didn’t know where to start. So, I lied. I suppose to protect her, but the truth was that I didn’t have the balls to tell her what really happened. I’d fallen out of love with her mother. Long ago, possibly even before she was conceived.

Arrival

The bus ride seemed never-ending. Just the Texas portion seemed longer than his entire summer vacation. He fidgeted with the yo-yo in his pocket. The woman across the aisle smiled. She’d gotten on in Dallas. She looked sort-of like an old babysitter, Gail. Taught him how to cheat at poker by reading other people’s expressions.

“Cat got yer tongue?” she drawled. He shook his head, looked out the window. Tumbleweeds. Prairie dogs. What a shitty trip. His was sure his breath stunk, his swollen feet ached. Would his mother even be at the bus station. Or would he have to walk the mile or more to her apartment. He didn’t really want to see her.

“I’m Alice,” the woman tried again.

“Kurt,” he said self-consciously, a hand across his mouth.

She smiled. “Yer kinda young to be traveling alone, aren’t you?”

He shrugged, noticed her daisy dukes, and her velvety, smooth thighs. “I guess.” He picked at the shredding upholstery on the seat in front of him. “I’m meeting my mom in Tucson.”

“That’s nice.” She paused, bit her dry lips. “My mother died.”

“Oh, sorry.” He moved toward the window, didn’t mean to. He’d known a kid in fourth grade, Brad, who blurted similar things. Brad poisoned the cat, or his sister was in the hospital in a coma.

“It’s okay,” She said. “Mom wasn’t, I mean…she didn’t…”

Kurt was unsure what to say, so he watched the land zoom by, the empty, tawny landscape flying by, unraveling at seventy-five miles an hour. He wondered what happened to that Brad kid.

“She…killed herself.”

“Huh?” He’d lost track of what she’d been saying. He turned toward her.

She looked grim. “I’m headed to Los Angeles for her funeral.”

There was something about Alice, she seemed like a bird he once found with a broken neck. It had flown into their trailer’s kitchen window. He wanted to move toward Alice, maybe even sit beside her. Instead he stayed put.

“I don’t like funerals,” he added.

“No, me either.” Alice dabbed at a tear, but she didn’t make any crying noise.

“Hey, do you smoke?” he asked.

“Not supposed to,” she said, trying to smile. “On and off.”

“I think we have a stop coming up soon. I’ve been charting this trip on a map.” He flushed it out from his jacket pocket. “I stole it from the library.”

“Oh, that’s what it is. I saw you studying it when I chose this seat. Where’d your bus trip start?”

He showed her the map, relieved to change the subject. “Here,” he pointed to the Washington, D.C. area. She took the map.

“You poor thing, you’ve been traveling a long way.” She sighed, then handed it back to him. “What a huge country we live in.”

“You can say that again.” He looked across the aisle. She was fluffing her hair and putting on lip stuff. He wondered how old she was. “We’re supposed to stop next in Laredo. Wanna get off the bus and have a smoke with me?”

She looked up. “Sure, Kurt.” Nodded. “That’d be nice.”

“They’re Camels.” He showed her the pack. “It’s all I’ve got.”

“That’s fine.” She smiled again, her eyes sparkled. “Your company is a real treat. Yer a nice kid.”

He blushed, readjusted the yo-yo in his pocket. The bus driver announced the Laredo stop, arrival in ten minutes.