• Visit Indigo

    Sledgehammer is proudly presented by Indigo, which offers editing, design, and more to authors and publishers around the world.

    Visit us at www.indigoediting.com to learn more and to schedule a free sample edit and initial consultation.

    Indigo: editing, design,
    and more


    Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
  • Join Our Networks

  • Photo Gallery

    To view photos of Sledgehammers past, visit our Facebook photo albums!

    All photos property of Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Most photos copyright Doug Geisler.

The Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter

The Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter

by Erica Somes

We all have “that friend”. The friend who can’t seem to see the insane situation in which they are fully, inexplicably entrenched. I happened to be on the phone with that particular friend of mine, my BFF (Best Friend Forever) Kat, when I first heard about the Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter.

“Casey’s spending the night in a tree… trying to shoot a bear?” I thought it was a joke.

“Zoe, he’s spending the night in a treehouse, with his bow, waiting to shoot a bear. He put out a few of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store and is waiting for the bear to find them.”

“Oh, it’s all clear to me now. He’s chumming for bear, hunkered down in a treehouse, waiting for said bear to meander in for a dinner of rotisserie chicken, then he’s going to shoot the bear, with an arrow?

Can you even kill a bear with a bow and arrow? Don’t you need like, a machine type bazooka gun to kill a bear?”

“I don’t know. I don’t hunt. That’s just what his text said.”

“He’s texting you from a treehouse! That’s insane. You know that right?”

“Yes, Zoe, I know.”

“And you’re still wanting to date him?”

“Yes.”

Time for a topic change.

See, when a friend is in one of “those” relationships, where she has a boyfriend climbing into a tree to hunt a bear after graciously baiting it with store bought rotisserie chicken, well, you can only insinuate for so long, that the only person crazier than the hunter perched in a treehouse chumming bear with a bow, is in fact the person in a relationship with the crazy person, perched in a tree, chumming for bear with a bow.

“Do you want to go to the nude beach tomorrow? Josh and I are heading out in the morning. We’ll pick you up if you want to go.”

“Zoe, you want me to be naked on the beach, with you and your boyfriend and you think I’m crazy… ha!”

Kat did her best to sound appalled in order to challenge my accusation that she was off her rocker for dating Casey, the Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter.

“I’m just inviting you Kat, you don’t have to come.”

“Why would I want to go to a nude beach with you and the gym teacher?”

“He’s not a gym teacher. Josh is a professional educator specializing in Physical Education. And you always talk about how you wish Casey would take you, so I’m asking if you want to go with us.”

“Uh huh. Yeah, well, you and the gym teacher have a good time. I don’t want to be naked around your boyfriend and Casey just texted me from the tree again, I gotta go.”

The next day Josh picked me up and after a short drive we were hiking through mosquito infested trees that seemed to exist in their own sort of microclimate, to the beach of buck naked human beings, who relish flaunting their nakedness, like rich women who buy those ugly ass granny bags, that for some reason cost a huge amount of money.

The water lapped at the sandy beach as barges the size of city blocks slowly made their way up the river.

Josh and I thoroughly enjoyed frequenting the nude beach because we shared a perverted pleasure for pointing out things that were blatantly obvious to us and yet wholly invisible to those with a sliver of a moral compass.

Today, however, after 2 hours of blissful nudity and an appropriate number of people to make fun of walking by, Skinny-Bitch came into our world. Skinny-Bitch liked to order her boyfriend No-Backbone, around and moan about EVERYTHING in a high pitched, whiny voice. Skinny-Bitch of course, had No-Backbone, lay out their blanket near our blanket… just to be a bitch. Really annoying, bitchy girls are somehow magnetically attracted to girls like me, who hate most other girls, aside from my BFF, Kat.

Skinny-Bitch also happened to have a broken leg and be sporting a hot pink cast from her knee to her pedicured toes complete with matching hot pink toenail polish. This I’m sure propelled her whining to epic heights, even to No-Backbone. She also violated the one rule of the nude beach… complete nudity.

She removed her bikini top but left on her bikini bottom. Then proceeded to smoke a joint while No-Backbone applied sunscreen to her bare boobs.

“Josh are you staring at her boobs?”

“No, I’m staring at the guy rubbing sunscreen on her boobs… Yes, of course I’m staring at her boobs. We’re at a nude beach and I haven’t become immune to boobs yet. Boob immunity takes more like three or four hours.”

“Uh huh, well Kat called me last night and told me that Casey was spending the night in a treehouse waiting to try and kill a bear with a bow and arrow. Do you think that’s even possible? To kill a bear with an arrow?”

“No.”

“No… That’s it?”

“Is there really more of an answer required for that question?”

“I guess not.”

At that point I decided to let Josh ogle Skinny-Bitch’s boobs and call Kat.

Kat answered her cell with a “Hellooooooo!” to which I responded with an identical, “Hellooooooo!” to which Josh rolled his eyes and dropped his head in his hands in utter disgust at our middle school absurdity.

“Hey there BFF, how did Bear Hunter’s night in the tree go?”

“Well, he fell and broke his nose during one of his climbs in and out of the treehouse. Took a picture of his bloody face and clothes and sent it via text message this morning when there was enough light for a photo.”

“What the hell! Is he trying to make you worried or angry or is he just stupid?”

“Well, I texted him that he needed to leave the bear alone and come home. When he told me he was going to track the bear all day and camp again in the treehouse tonight I sunk into the black hole of feigning no cell signal… he’s texted seven times and I’ve ignored him. What are you up to?”

“Way to take a stand against testosterone inspired stupidity. Josh and I were here at the beach enjoying our nakedness until this half nude Skinny-Bitch ordered her No-Backbone boyfriend to setup camp right next to us and now Josh can’t seem to take his eyes off her obviously enhanced boobs.”

“Hold on a sec Zoe, there’s a delivery man at my door, he has flowers, oh my gosh, they’re from Casey. The card says he’s sorry to worry me and he loves me. Ahhh…”

“Oh my God Kat, you’re not buying that are you! He’s calling a florist from a treehouse? What the hell… he probably took ketchup packets into the treehouse to smear on himself after he supposedly broke his nose so he could make you worry about him. You see that right.”

“He sent me a dozen roses. You go back to Josh and distract him from his boob staring. I’m going to go buy some new lingerie for when Casey gets back from hunting.”

“Oh my god… really! Really! Are you serious? Oh my god you are hopeless… if you weren’t my BFF I would never talk to you again because I find you to be so unimaginably gullible where Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter is concerned… rather than new lingerie, you know what you need is a nice lobotomy to remove that part of your brain that finds Casey attractive and is susceptible to his lame and predictable manipulations and follow up cliche apology flowers.”

“Uh, huh, I love you too Zoe. I stopped listening a while ago. Have a good day, say hi to the gym teacher for me. Bye now.”

Kat hung up on me and I refocused my energy on my dislike for Skinny-Bitch and decided a bold move was required to regain the attention of Josh. I stood up, stretched and started walking down to the water… right past a group of frolicking college kids. I managed to pull the attention of enough of the boys to warrant Josh joining me in the water.

“How come you never send me flowers Josh…?”

“You mean overpriced flowers delivered to your door by an underpaid high school dropout? Gee, maybe because I know you’d rather receive a one pound box of Butterscotch Squares from See’s when I mess up.”

“Hmmpf. Well, I still like flowers even if I say they are ridiculous when Kat gets them from idiot boys.”

“Noted. Oh my God, there’s the Warrior! He’s here!”

The “Warrior” Josh was speaking of, was a man who embodied manliness like no other. He enjoyed strutting up and down the beach in calf height water, appropriately nude, skin shimmering with baby oil, long black hair flowing, necklace of white shark teeth around his neck and what appeared to be a third leg, swinging back and forth with every water parting step.

Josh was entranced by Warrior… He was wholeheartedly disappointed on days we came to the nude beach and didn’t get a chance to stare at his awesomeness as he patrolled the beach like some king surveying his kingdom.

“He’s mesmerizing isn’t he Zoe?”

“Yes Josh, he is beauty defined. I am once again feeling jealous of the man crush you have for Warrior. Why is it that both you and Kat are in love with these insanity inducing archetypes of masculinity?”

I stood next to Josh and watched Warrior parade by, took Josh’s hand and walked him back to our blankets to get dressed. Carefully avoiding eye contact with Skinny-Bitch, so as not to visibly grimace as the sound of the water behind me dissolved into her shrill voice.

“Let’s head back to town and get a margarita. After all this talk of Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunter sending flowers from a treehouse and feeling jealous of an overly tanned man wearing teeth around his neck, I feel the need for inebriation.”

“Inebriation of Zoe by Tequila and Triple Sec coming up…”

Yes, we all have at least one of “those friends” in our lives that make life interesting. Who makes us shake our heads and provide us all with unquestionable certainty that life is there in front of us, happening all the time. If we didn’t have “those people” in our lives, life would be so boring.

How could we exist without the Bow-Armed-Bear-Hunters and Warriors of this world?

I don’t ever want to know.

© 2010 Erica Somes

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

by Twins & Twins & Twins: Eliza Lane and Teresa Lane

Trevor shoved me into the passenger seat and turned up the CD player. Apocalyptic metal, hard and fast, deafened me. He mouthed something and peeled a donut over the curb and into his grandma’s rock garden, where an old cross marked the grave of Whitey, the black mouse we had accidently killed back in fourth grade. Trevor pulled back onto the driveway, killed the engine, and handed me the keys. “Don’t be afraid to put this baby up on the curb,” he repeated.

I spent the afternoon learning to drive stick shift in the red pickup that was usually parked outside the shop owned by my best friend’s dad. I’d finally picked up a job as their pizza delivery guy, my first job since I delivered newspapers in middle school. My friend Trevor had warned me that business was down, but if I was lucky I might “catch a babe or two.” He always called them babes.

It was the end of the summer before my senior year, when the leaves were still green but the grass was brittle. The neighbors were always outside: the one crazy lady who watered her driveway even in the rain, the three kids who were all different colors but were cared for by the same woman. My first evening on the job was steaming. The truck had a decent stereo, but no AC and I could feel the sweat trickling down my neck, past my chicken pox scar, and into my shirt. I pushed my long hair out of my eyes, and let out a sigh.

The last delivery of the night was scheduled for a two-storey house encased in huge trees, a rainforest canopy shading the front porch. I knocked on the door with my elbow, pizza in hand. It opened so slowly I imagined that it was a trap: the home of a serial killer, a cannibal or some kind of Buffalo Bill character. Finally, a kid about my age appeared, pale in the light of the streetlamp. He was fair, so much so that I could almost see the blood pumping blue beneath his skin. I knew the guy from school, but had never talked to him. I didn’t even know his name. He handed me a ten and a handful of change. Pizza delivery guys hate exact change. His hand trembled and all the pennies and nickels and dimes spilled onto the wooden porch. He knelt over, peered at the coins, and laughed nervously. “That was supposed to be your tip,” he said. “Just—uh—stay—no, come inside. I guess.”

I followed the kid into his house. An old woman was sitting upright on the floral loveseat in the living room. “Brian, who’s your friend?” she asked, not looking away from Wheel of Fortune. I was still carrying the pizza. He squinted at me and shrugged.

“Logan.”

“Well, you two boys have fun. You should go upstairs and play.”

Brian looked at me, unsure, and then motioned for me to follow him up the stairs. Trevor would be disappointed; this was no babe.

I knew I was breaking all of the delivery guy rules. I had come inside the house—with all my cash. The keys of the truck were still in the ignition. I didn’t know what, or who, was up these stairs.

“She stays here on the nights my mom’s at the hospital for work,” the kid explained, jerking his head towards the frumpy woman.  “My mom’s a nurse. She’s out of the house most nights, but she’s not a hooker.” I’d heard that rumor, and others, about this kid. People thought he was really weird, but his house looked pretty normal.

“I have a couple of dollars I can give you for a real tip. I’m sorry I dropped all the change.”

“Whatever.”

I glanced through the first doorway. The room was crowded: a bookshelf packed with textbooks, a well-used treadmill, a ping-pong table, and the most brutal stereo system I’d ever seen.

“You like music?”

The guy smiled. His lips cracked. He reminded me of summer camp and those kids who go home red and crispy. “For sure! I really like Duran Duran, Frankie, Tears for Fears, Eurythmics. Old school.”

“Oh, uh, cool, dude.” He could tell I wasn’t impressed and he looked a little hurt. I wanted to apologize; he seemed so weak. “So you’re a junior?”

“Yeah. And I take college classes online.”

Of course. He didn’t look like he got out of the house much. I set the pizza box on top of the bookshelf and flipped through some of the CDs. Nothing good. I turned back to Brian and picked up a ping-pong paddle. I knew I should get going, but he seemed really lonely. I thought I was tough, but I sure was a sucker for sad kids and baby animals.

I made a quick call back to the shop, telling Trevor that I had “met someone.” I’d make up a story about a hot girl tomorrow and he’d never know the difference.

Brian won the first game without any trouble, obviously in practice. I managed to fight back and the score of the second game was much closer, though I still lost. It was getting late and I knew I needed to get the pickup—and the pizza money—back to the store. I shifted my weight and put my hands in my pockets. I touched the keys to the truck and two tickets to the summer’s final show at the amphitheater. It started in less than an hour.

I pulled the tickets out of my pocket. “Hey, do you want to get out of here?”

He immediately looked concerned, disbelieving. His face scrunched and he nervously ran a hand through the straw of his hair. Downstairs the babysitter began to snore.

“Come on. When’s your mom get home?”

“Morning.”

“Does the babysitter check on you up here?”

“No, she never comes up.” He didn’t even protest the word babysitter.

“Okay, but where we’re going, you’ll need something else to wear.”

I could tell that he had mixed feelings. I did, too. This was stupid. I didn’t even know this kid, but I guessed it was better than going alone, since Trevor had bailed.

I followed Brian to his bedroom: another bookshelf, twin bed, desk, dresser. In one corner was a saltwater fish tank with crystal clear water. The purple anemone pulsed gently as two clown fish chased each other through a ceramic pirate ship.

“What should I wear?” he asked, opening his closet.

“Black.”

He pulled a pair of black slacks and a black short sleeved buttoned shirt off their hangers. He looked at me for approval. “Okay, I guess. Is that all you’ve got?” He pointed to a black ball cap on top of his dresser, next to a tube of SPF 90.

“Whoa, I didn’t know they made sunscreen that strong.”

“SPF 90 is an albino’s best friend.”

“Cool.” Honestly, I didn’t really know what to say. I was embarrassed; usually I try to be smoother than that. Brian, however, seemed unaware of my discomfort. In fact, he laughed a little.

“Just kidding. I’m not an albino. My mom‘s just a bit overprotective.”

I turned away from the closet while he changed out of his blue polo and plaid shorts. His window overlooked the side yard and I could just see the back end of my truck. The branch of one of those tall trees brushed the window.

“Logan, I don’t know what shoes to wear,” he said, interrupting my thoughts. “I have dress shoes for church and these same athletic shoes that I was wearing before.” He wagged the white running shoes in front of me, one in each hand.

“Just wear black.”

He laced the shiny black shoes and pulled the cap on. He looked like a demonic missionary. I smiled for the first time since getting out of the pizza truck.

“What you need is a nice pair of shades.”

He opened the top drawer of his dresser like a car model on The Price is Right. He was beginning to get into the spirit. Lined up in the shallow drawer were at least six pairs of sunglasses. “Sensitive eyes,” he explained. I stopped myself from saying “cool” and pointed at the pair he should choose.

“We’re going to have to go down the tree,” I told him. “Have you ever snuck out that way before?”

“No, I never sneak out.” I wasn’t surprised by his answer.

“This will be easy. That tree is made for climbing.”

He tucked his wallet into his back pocket and grabbed what looked like a yellow marker off the dresser. I raised an eyebrow.

“EpiPen. I’m allergic to bees.”

“It’s nighttime. You’ll be fine,” I told him, but he still put the EpiPen in his other pocket.

I opened the window and, one at a time, we reached for the closest branch, swung our legs over the sill and stepped onto the thicker branch just below. The final drop was no more than six feet.

Back at the pizza place, I quickly handed over the money pouch and the truck keys to Trevor’s dad. I knew that I was ninety minutes late, but I hadn’t missed any deliveries and the money was all there. He never ran the tightest ship anyway. We drove my Honda to the amphitheater just as the band started to play. My tickets got us through the gate with a half-assed pat-down. The crowd was already raging, surging like a wave of frantic animals in front of the stage.

“This is insane!” he screamed at me.  I pushed him deeper into the mass of bodies and we lost and found each other over and over in the pounding mosh. I felt like I was getting punched in the gut with every chord from the bass.

He was bright red and soaked with sweat when I led him to a clear space near the fence.  He had lost his hat in the pit, but his smile was like nothing I’d ever seen. He was an escapee from 80s pop, a newborn zealot for hard rock.

Staggering out of the crowd, directly at us, came two girls. One, with cropped red hair, supported her friend, who appeared to be in some trouble. Her breath came in short, harsh bursts and her skin, wet with perspiration, looked clammy. She sunk from her friend’s grasp, her long black hair falling over her face. She groaned.

Brian’s eyes went wide and he sprung to her side. “Are you having an anaphylactic reaction?” he shouted above the noise of the band. His hand was reaching for the pocket with the EpiPen.

She rolled her head to the side and I could see that she was pretty. She had a flat chest and baggy black cargo pants held to her hips by a wide red belt.

“A what?!”

“I have epinephrine if you need it.”

“I don’t do that—whatever it is,” she announced. We could both tell now that she was fully coherent, just winded from the wild mosh pit. Brian sat by her side and they were soon talking, screaming actually, the music nearly drowning their conversation. I wanted to make eye contact with the red haired girl, but she looked away, bored. The band played just one encore, their most thrashing song, and we all threw ourselves back into the human blender.

Back in the car, I nudged Brian hard in the shoulder. “Dude, did you at least get her name?”

“Ellie, no number. But her friend goes to my church.”

“Sweet, dude.”

I parked the Honda down the street from his house. I didn’t want to chance waking the babysitter before he could climb back up the tree and into his room. We hurried past the porch, light glinting off the scattered coins that still lay on the floorboards. Brian needed a boost to the lowest branch, but then scrambled up to the window next to his bed. He waved, smiling broadly. I turned and walked towards my car, softly humming Billy Idol’s Dancing with Myself.


© 2010 Eliza Lane and Teresa Lane

Migrating Crows

Migrating Crows

by Nick Powell

“I dated one boy before I met and married Oscar,” she said from her seat at the table as I pressed pasta sauce through a strainer, “And I was a complete bitch to him,” I laughed, “You laugh because you think I’m exaggerating. I was a shrew, and not for any good reason. He was a bossy know-it-all, but not a bad boy, and I would string him along like life was one big test he needed to pass to be in my presence. I’d wait days to call him back. If he even mentioned a bill I’d pull out a cigarette and go find a stranger to give me a light. I made him wait eleven dates before the first kiss, and from that point on I acted like a complete and total tramp until we reached the stoop of his dorm,” she began acting it out with a shaking hand, “And then I’d put a hand on his thigh, kiss him on the cheek, press myself against him, and then the second he started to put his arms around me I’d push myself away, thank him for the lovely night, and wiggle off into the night. A few of those and he just broke up with me. I was fine with it at the time because I convinced myself that I was a good Christian and I didn’t like him much anyways, but since then I’ve realized I acted like that because I liked him more than Oscar. I only got married to Oscar because he was so quiet and pleasant that I would’ve felt too awful to give him any grief, so we never argued. We just stayed together for so long that there became nothing for us to do but get married.”

I smiled, “You’re so mean to Oscar, Edi. The poor guy took you to Samoa.”

“Well, let’s not make much of that. It would be one thing to backpack through the Caucasus, or go to the Congo to perform reconstructive surgery on female genitals, or whatever. But a mission is just a place where … you’re in a strange place, yes … but you experience it all through the filter of your religion. And I love my religion, of course, but it was all rather like watching a movie directed by a soggy white Hollywood shut-in. I met many very nice savages.” She pointed at her head with a shivery gray finger, “But I remember them as characters in a mud-covered storybook.” She winced as she moved her hand back to her lap, “I remember Oscar as a mastiff. And I remember that first boy as a good time.”

“In today’s circles,” I said as I slid the drained chicken and tomato onto a plate, “It would take a lot more than that to qualify as a ‘good time’.”

She gave me a withering look, “Well now with homosexuals everywhere everything’s about hedonism,” she said. I’d mostly learned to ignore those remarks. “You’ve all become numb to the electricity of simple touching and the intimacy of conversation. Are you with a girl?”

“Yes.”

“I won’t ask about specifics because I’d be disappointed in you, but are you comfortable with her?”

“Yes.”

She nodded pleasantly, as though I’d just told her that cantaloupe was five cents off at the supermarket, “That’s nice.”

* * *

The pavement ended with two cement posts and a mass of shrubbery overrun by blackberry husks and English Ivy. All around were brown white-trimmed ramblers connected in pairs with identical squarish crew-cut lawns. There were no kids or cars or noise except for a blackbird shuffling across a chimney cap. I felt for a moment like a mannequin on a suburban mock-up lot built for an A-Bomb test in a New Mexico valley. Somewhere there was a lead-cased camera, waiting to watch my atoms swept away.

I parked my bike and undid the straps around the plywood black-painted crate on the trailer and removed the top, and left everything on the driveway. I picked out a pair of Tupperware containers, opened the front gate with my foot, and tip-toed through the overgrown walkway, wincing in anticipation of spiderwebs. I hit the doorbell with my elbow and waited all of three minutes for the door to open. For Howard that was prompt.

“Hello Mr. Compton!” I said, generally trying to channel my inner game show host as I slipped my sandals onto the door mat.

“Afternoon,” he said as he turned to shamble back to his bedroom, which was a slightly deeper shade of uniform beige than the rest of the condo. “Turn down your pant leg.”

My right jean leg was rolled up to my knee. I set the Tupperware on the coffee table and rolled it back into place. He was still only halfway there. “I thought we’d try something a bit different today. I baked you some cookies myself.” I leapt into his path and opened the container. They were beautiful, perfect circles (by virtue of an ice cream scoop), dense with half-molten chocolate chunks, dusted with maldon salt, and cleanly cracked like the surface of a parched mud lake.

He lowered his nose and sniffed. “You can keep them for yourself.”

I looked down at the cookies, looking for a bug or fungal growth. “But you could try them. I made them because it’s healthier and cheaper that way. Well, it’s cheaper for me because I have a friend who works at the dairy market and gets me free butter. But I just like to bake.”

He sniffed them again, “I think you should keep them for yourself, they look very rich.”

I tried to laugh casually, “I made way more than I could eat. How about I keep most of them but I leave a few with you after dinner. Just for a bite.”

“They look very rich. I like Pepperidge Farms, you should have brought me those,” He said, “You have friends to share with.” He said, and shuffled into his bedroom to wait for his weekday dinner: a medium egg on toast and a roasted chicken breast.

* * *

“Is this a federal crime?” I asked with my feet on the dash, “This is government property after all.”

“No, 9-4-5-6,” Miranda said, so I flipped through the envelopes in the bag on my lap and found the right wee bundle of grocery fliers and handed it to her, “But I think riding in anything without a seat belt is a felony these days,” she leapt out and threw the junk mail into its box and leapt back. We were in one of those ‘diverse’ neighborhoods on the edge of the city that most people ignored. There were no sidewalks, and half of the side-streets weren’t even paved.

“I’ve got inside connections,” I said with my right arm hanging out the side, “Just don’t take any sudden left turns. And besides, you’re not wearing a belt!”

“I’m a trained government operative,” she tipped her blue cap, “9-4-6-4. If I don’t have the ability to leap instantly from this truck, people will die.”

“So it’s like cops running red lights.”

“Exactly the same, except if cops weren’t sissies. 9-4-7-2. The other day I was driving down to my route along 82nd, and I spot one of my customers, this old man who has an insane crush on me, I see him standing on the very edge of the sidewalk, looking at something coming the opposite way, a bus!”

“Oh no!”

“9-4-8-0. I looked into this man’s face from 50 yards off, and saw, with my government training, the plaintive eyes of a lovelorn man intending to commit suicide in a desperate attempt to teach the woman he leaves how stupid she’s been for spurning him. 9-4-8-8. He wanted me to see it happen, from the inside of the very truck from which I’d rejected him so many times.”

“It’s exactly like a Poe poem.”

“So, without even bothering to stop, I leapt out of the truck and ran through two lanes of oncoming traffic! The very sight of me froze him in place. We looked at each other as the bus went past. In my eyes, my crystalline blue eyes, in whose depths I had never given him access before, because he’s a hideous little troll of a man, and in those eyes he was exposed to the deep truths of his own soul, and instantly abandoned his love for me, and realized that all this time he was meant for his snaggletoothed cousin Flora.”

“Wait a second … I don’t think I believe the part about the crystalline eyes.”

“In thanks, he gave me his suicide note. It was a thirty page calligraphied epic poem dedicated entirely to my chest.”

“Wow,” I said, “It’s like I don’t know who you are. Each bra I peel off reveals another more enigmatic layer than the last.”

“But you’re too deep to get out.”

“So, so deep. Never before had I imagined what it would be like to become involved with the hottest mail carrier on the east side.”

“Just hold on tight, Curtis. Hold on to something and don’t let go. 9-5-0-2.”

“Suicide sometimes sounds lovely to me.”

She groaned, “Oh, great, another one.”

“How many does that make for you?”

“Four men and one woman. 9-5-1-0.”

“I was actually talking about my clients. They’d love some good suicide. They’re such utterly miserable, sad, miserable people that they don’t even have the imagination to conceive the idea. But it’s just what they need: a nice big bottle of Tylenol.”

She groaned with actual disgust, “I’d rather be cooking for grumpy old people than this. 9-5-1-8.”

“Ms. Johannson, the former burlesque dancer? I tried to sneak her a homemade noodle and sausage casserole instead of her boxed Hamburger Helper. She ate half of her dish with a smile on her face. Then I dropped the bomb. She spit up a noodle onto her plate and pushed it away.” Miranda laughed, “It’s not funny! There’s not a goddamn neuron of sense in some of these people! I offered Mr. Compton some of my chocolate chip cookies the other day.”

“Ooh! The ones with the salt?”

Yes! He sniffed them and waved me away. The only one I like is Edi.”

“9-5-3-4. Is she the one who plays backgammon?”

“No, the missionary’s wife. She’s a hatchet-faced bat who, for some reason, moved here a year ago without any family in the area. She wears wide-brimmed feathered hats. She belongs on the porch of a Greek Revival being handed iced tea by slaves, but she loves my cooking. She thinks I’m some sort of wandering Mario Batali. She fantasizes that I tear through day-long cooking binges fueled by cocaine and Spanish coffee. She only wants to eat things she’s never eaten before and cleans her plate every time. Once I was flat broke and made a boiled potato stew which I reduced with some foraged sage leaves. I told her it was a traditional yucca dish made with ingredients I’d bought from a shady Ethiopian grocer. She loved it. Of course she’s a Republican. She blasts talk radio all day. I cook lunch while Sean Hannity tells me I hate my country.”

“9-5-5-0. The missionary thing should’ve tipped you off.”

“I guess if you spend twenty years of your life surrounded by brown people who, by the very definition of your presence, are inferior and need to be changed, it turns you into a bit of a … well, she’s not a skinhead, she’s just … withering. But she loves food, so she’s fine by me. She liked burgers and fries as a kid, found out that Pacific food was pretty good, and then realized that there’s probably a helluva lot of food elsewhere in the world that’s probably better.”

“What’s wrong with her? Oh … is it just age?”

“No, she’s only in her seventies, but her hands are crippled by arthritis, and her hips are giving out on her. So I guess I’m her ambassador, taking her on her own little world tour until she chokes on an anise seed.”

“That’s awful, Curtis.”

I slapped her knee, “Edi would want it that way.”

“9-5-6-6. So, you judge people entirely by whether or not they like your cooking, to the point where they should literally be happy to die consuming it.”

“… That wasn’t really the point I was getting at, but sure.”

* * *

“Don’t cook today, Curtis” Edi said, turning down the volume on the radio, “The apples on the tree in the back are too red. Go ahead and pick them, one for my lunch with nutella and that fig jam that’s almost gone, and then you can do what you wish with the rest. Ms. Abignail across the street has a large freezer, and I’m sure you have many friends to share the others with.”

I parted the blinds and looked out the back. I’d never gone back there. Edi never talked about it, and she certainly never went back there, her skin was the color of chicken fat. It must’ve been part of the groundskeepers’ rounds. Sitting in the middle of an austere lawn was a chubby apple tree bubbling with red.

“There must be four hundred apples on that!”

“Exactly, I won’t have them falling on the ground to be swept up and thrown out by the Mexicans, Curtis. It’s perfectly good food and I won’t have it wasted.”

I ignored the tempting argument and began calculating. How long would it take to pick them? Did I have any crates? The one on my bike trailer would probably carry only 50.

“And wear sunscreen.”

“It’s seventy out, and I’ll be under a tree.”

She shook her head, “Wear sunscreen. It is my tree and my house and you will wear sunscreen.”

* * *

I didn’t have a ladder or a picker. I had one black plywood crate (minus the room occupied by other deliveries), and the four immaculate unused bottles of sunscreen Edi kept in her closet. Within three days I’d ransacked the lower branches, with the spoils distributed between snacking (I like mine with camembert), two apple pies, and Miranda’s freezer. Edi instantly grew sick of them and refused to eat any beyond that first meal, but I believe this was partly due to the looks she kept sneaking through the blinds, seeing rotted apples piling up on the grass. Those wouldn’t have been a problem, but she explicitly told me to “let the Mexicans clean that up, it’s their job,” though I’m sure she was more concerned about her cook’s hands being soiled.

On the fourth day I leapt into the tree, hooking my foot into the joint where the trunk split, pulling myself up, ducking my head and contorting my body until I could poke above the canopy. I found a crook to set the crate. Hanging shiny in the sun was a cluster of apples so red and dense they looked like a bunch of unripe grapes. I wrapped one hand around a branch and leaned forward, but my sunscreen-greased hand almost slipped and I just barely caught myself. I changed tact, there was a stouter branch, sprouting from my feet towards the bunch of apples, which I centered my weight on as I leaned forward. I reached out, grabbed the smooth skin of a crimson apple, twisted, lifted up to snap the stem, and it came loose crisp and clean. Then the branch broke. Something smashed me in the face. I flailed out with an arm and it caught the ground first, bending in a very, very unnatural way.

* * *

Mr. Compton actually grinned when he saw the cast and my bandaged face. He demanded we sit down so that I could tell him the story in detail (though not before he could complain about the substitute cook, who always overcooked the egg and underpeppered the chicken), and laughed as much as his body would allow when I told it to him. I was annoyed until he told me his own quick story, which left him exhausted:

“In Korea … In Korea? Yes, Kujin. We had strapped down Gunny Bruce to a stretcher, and were carrying him back over the foothills to the M.A.S.H. unit because all the helicopters were busy. Bruce had been hit twice, in the stomach and the femur. He was dead, as far as we knew, except for the all the screaming, but we had to try. On the way, though, my mate, Slope … forgive the name, it was a different time, he had droopy eyes … slipped on some gravel on this steep path and snapped his arm at the elbow, just like that, except he only fell about three feet. Not sure how that’s possible. We changed his name to Bird Bones after that.”

“But he bucked up and carried the stretcher anyway?” I asked with rue.

“That would’ve been nice, but really I just took the front end of the thing and dragged Bruce another mile to camp while Slope bit his tongue. Couldn’t say a damn thing cause there was a man nearly dead right there in front of him, even with a bone nearly sticking out of his arm.”

“So I guess it’s a relief that you weren’t laughing at my incredible pain.”

“What? … Oh, no, I’m sorry son, I was laughing at life, I guess. And I’m laughing at the thought of you dealing with it.”

“Cause I’m one of these ‘sensitive’ types, I suppose.” Mr. Compton smiled weakly, “I had to borrow my sister’s car. I suppose I could still manage to ride a bike, but it just felt dangerous when I tried it. My girlfriend’s cooked a lot for me. She even went and picked apples from the tree I fell from.”

“Can you still cook?”

I lifted my arm and tried to flex my fingers, rimmed in plaster and frayed gauze, “I mean, mostly, but I can’t grip a pot. You’ll need to give me a quick hand when I fry the egg, I just need someone to hold the pan, and maybe a few other things.“

He smiled, “Go get started, huh? I need a minute to sit still first.”

* * *

“Have you ever broken a bone?”

Miranda sipped from her pint, “Yeah,” Miranda said, sipping from her pint. We were sitting in a booth in the back corner, the red leather split at almost every seam. The walls were covered in graffiti and vintage pornography. She was slumped with her legs up, which was pretty much her normal posture when she had a buzz. “I was eight, riding my bicycle alone through our neighborhood, and I was gonna cross the street, and I guess the guy in this truck couldn’t see me cause I was short and maybe my head didn’t come above this parked car I was riding in front of, so I just shot out into the street and his bumper plowed right into my leg. I also got a concussion and barely remember any of it. I remember sitting in a white booth after the doctor had given me some shot, and I was in so much pain that I was crying, and my mother was with me, looking very annoyed.”

I paused for a moment, considering whether to plow forward or not. “What’s the deal with your mom, I don’t know a thing about her.”

She took a long sip, “Family stuff. It’s very boring.”

At the jukebox, a tiny man with a mustache and a tall black girl were having an animated discussion about Michele Bachmann, which somehow required the tiny man to pantomime sexual positions. Miranda smiled at me and rolled her eyes. “My favorite dive for a reason.”

I draped an arm over her shoulder, “Miranda, all that family stuff may only be boring because you project it as boring. Every time I get a hint of your past I start to get the feeling that you’re actually a character in a Faulkner novel.”

“I don’t know Faulkner.”

“Jesus Christ,” I grabbed her pint and took a long drag off it, “Then Steinbeck … R.L. Stine maybe. It doesn’t matter, you know what I mean.”

“And you know what I mean.”

That sentence, as snippy as it sounded, was very comforting. It dissolved all my responsibility. Those are wonderful, exhilarating moments in relationships when you realize there’s less work to do. There’s one less game to play.

And yet …

I lowered my head onto her shoulder. “Can I ask you something?”

“Depends.”

“Why do I love it when you avoid confrontation?”

She put a hand on my leg, “Because you’re a sweet guy.”

It was a compliment. But at that moment, in the dark corner of a familiar bar, arm wrapped around a beautiful girl, it made me feel sick.

© 2010 Nick Powell

Master

Master

by Daniel Keppol

I sit.  Alone.  The musky smell of old leather around me as I lie motionless.  Trapped.  My tomb, the perfect sunblock to conceal my glistening body.  Smooth.  Cold.  Finely honed for the life I lead.

I wait.  Longing for your hand.  The touch of freedom.  The embrace that releases me from my prison.  The motion that tells me I’m alive.  I’m wanted.

I listen.  Patiently.  Listening for the sound.  Not of verbal communication.  But, of melded awareness.  The complete understanding of one.  The thoughts and motions of your body.    Silently, you tell me of the task.

I pray.  Elated. “What you need is a nice display.” The presence I’ve felt a hundred times.  The climax to steadfast obedience.  The knowing my duty is called upon again.

I plead.  Let me be free.  Let me prove you proud.  Let me climb the tree of my emptiness to view the world around us.  Let me feel the sun on my steel.  The glimmer of fear in our enemy.  Let me be your messenger.  Delivering the fate to our opposition.  I am your protector.

© 2010 Daniel Keppol

Untitled

Untitled

by Kim Crow

This is the story of a scoundrel, a trickster monkey and an Internet dating service. It will take us from the highest of heavens to the depths of modern day suburbia. It is a story of capitalism, wayward monasticism and redemption. But most importantly, this is a story of father who never stopped loving his daughter.

Xiao Yi, or “Little Yi,” was so named not for his diminutive stature (for he was of average height). Nor was he called little due to his for a slight frame (for he had always had enough to eat). He wasn’t even known as Xiao Yi because his father was also called Yi and therefore known as “Great Yi” or “Yi the Elder” for Xiao Yi was the only member of his family in any generation to carry the name Yi. Rather, he acquired this moniker based on his reputation for being a man of little moral fiber.

Xiao Yi was feared by fathers, scorned by mothers and generally avoided by young men with even a vague sense of right and wrong. Shopkeepers would close their doors as Xiao Yi walked down the road. Holy men who crossed his path muttered prayers under their breath so that his soul might someday be redeemed. Mapmakers would give him free maps that illustrated the quickest way out of town.

Even the kindest grandmother in Xiao Yi’s village had an unkind word to say about this dastardly fellow.  He had been called a cur, an asshole, a ne’er-do-well, and—believe me—he earned every single one of those insults.

Everyone in the village asked, “What has happened to make Xiao Yi such a nasty man? He steals. He drinks. He philanders. What mother could love such as son?”

“Not me,” proclaimed Yi’s mother. “I have tried everything, but this man is rotten to the bone. He has shamed our family and led his father to an early grave. He’s been intimate with the most unsavory ladies, and now he’s blighted the reputation of the purest and finest girl in our village.”

It was true.  Ladies had always fallen for the way Xiao Yi could roll a cigarette without taking his eyes off them. They were mesmerized by his crooked smile and the way he so freely laughed at their jokes. One by one then two by two, all the girls had fallen into Xiao Yi’s bed with one very noticeable exception.

For years, Xiao Yi had had his sights on Soo-An, the most beautiful treasure he had ever seen. And for almost as many years, she had resisted his advances.  This spring, during an unusually violent storm, Soo-An had taken shelter in Xiao Yi’s arms. And now it was obvious that Soo-An was expecting a child.

The town shook with fury at the very notion that Xiao Yi had taken away their fairest daughter. Soo-An’s now walked through the village with a heavy heart and eyes wet with tears. “Poor Soo-An,” said the villagers. “We did not protect you from the Evil Xiao Yi. How could we have failed you so?”  But Soo-An took no comfort from their words.

When he heard news of the pregnancy, Yi began to think about the wayward life he had led for so many of his days. He loved Soo-An and it pained him to see her tears. And so, Xiao Yi, vowed to make things right. “Please,” he begged to anyone who would listen, “I just need to go to the city to earn money for the baby. I will make my fortune and bring it back for Soo-An.”

At first, the townspeople scoffed at his request. But soon they had gathered a small fortune knowing full well that a man like Xiao Yi could not be changed. They presented Xiao Yi with the money for they knew he would be sucked into the depths of the city, never to return.

Soo-An prayed every day in hopes that they were wrong.

The earth rumbled and quaked the day Monkey was born. Indeed, it was the shaking that brought Monkey to life.

For nearly 100 years, an egg had been cradled against the side of the great mountain that is perched above a most ancient forest.  The egg was held fast in a nest of wood and wire and incubated by the heat of the fiery magma and sulfurous steam that poured from the mountain.

The mountain shook so violently that day that the egg pummeled down the side of the mountain. It cracked and shattered as it fell to the forest below, leaving fifty thousand eggshell gemstones in its wake. When the remnants of the egg finally came to rest on the forest floor, out popped a being nourished which was nourished by the elements for nearly a century.  This was no ordinary egg, for it contained no bird or lizard. It held a young Monkey.

Monkey grew to be wise and clever. He learned many lessons in the forest where he made his home, but there was one question that pestered him. It plagued his dreams and became his greatest obsession: What would make him live forever?

One day Monkey asked Rabbit, “Rabbit, do your children make it so that you live forever?”

“No,” said Rabbit. “Part of me may live on through my children’s children, but my life on this earth is very brief.”

Monkey sniffed, for this was not the answer he was hoping to hear.

“I’m afraid my little ones only make me very tired,” Rabbit yawned as four or five little ones clambered up her back. “Perhaps you should ask the Sequoia. She is the tallest tree in the forest and everyone knows that she has lived a long time.”

And so, Monkey clambered out to the very center of the forest where the tallest Sequoia had stood for many thousands of years.  Monkey sat in the hollow where a fire had burned.

“Sequoia, how is it that you can live forever?” asked Monkey.

“The creatures who call my branches home know that have stood here for many of their lifetimes. And though I am gnarled and burned and scarred, I will stand here for many more years to come.  But someday I will die.”

Monkey harrumphed, for he was growing impatient with his quest.

“Do not be discouraged, Monkey,” said the aged tree. “There are many things on this earth that have lived longer than me.  Why don’t you climb my branches to see if you can find someone else to ask?”

“Why yes, I think I will,” said Monkey as he began scaling the old tree’s textured bark and leaping upwards through her limbs.  Finally, when Monkey was high above the canopy of the other trees in the forest, he squinted and scanned the horizon for something more ancient than old Sequoia.

Perched high on the mountain that first gave life to Monkey, he saw a great boulder. “Ah ha!” said Monkey. “Stone is more ancient than a tree. This great rock can tell me what will make me live forever!”

It took many days for Monkey to reach the place where. “Great Stone, do you know the secret of immortality?” said Monkey as he pressed his ear against the hard rock so that he might hear the answer.

“Oh Monkey. I do not have an answer for you.  Some day a great flood will come. I will be washed away or carved to pieces. Even I cannot live forever.”

Monkey was growing impatient, “Stone. You have been around for a long time and have seen many living beings in the millions of years you have stood on this earth. Tell me who knows how I can live forever. I must speak to them!”

The Stone wondered how this impatient Monkey could endure an infinite lifetime. “The answer you are seeking must be answered by a most wise counselor. I once met a great Sage with a tremendous knowledge of the earth and heavens. If he does not have an answer to your question he will surely be able to prepare your mind so that you may find it yourself.”

“Who is this?” asked Monkey.

“But where do I find him?”

“He was headed towards the south-southwest, but I do not know where to find him. He is the wisest being I have encountered, and he can teach you many things.  But it will take a long time.”

“How will I know that I have found this wise teacher?”

“He stands 20 feet tall. Shimmering white, he glows like a fire but emits no heat. His brows and beard are blue with age and his face is wrinkled like a smiling prune.  He is called Subodhi.”

The stone called out, “Be patient. Having lived so many years, I can assure you that time is in no hurry.” But Monkey did not hear. He had already set off to find this wise prophet.

Xiao Yi did make a fortune in the city.  He labored for many months but he soon fell back into his old ways and squandered his entire fortune. “Please forgive me, Soo-An,” prayed Yi as he used the last of his money to buy a one-way bus ticket back to their village.

Yi arrived home penniless, though not empty handed. With difficulty, Xiao Yi had smuggled an unlikely prize won during his latest bout of gambling.  Thus, when Soo-An opened the door, she saw the Xiao Yi with his crooked smile and two baby bears in his arms.

Those familiar with the biodiversity of this region of China will note that acquiring one baby bear anywhere in the vicinity is about as likely as a monkey hatching from an egg.  Managing to get two baby bears in this corner of the world is almost as difficult as keeping two cubs tucked into the lining of a woolen coat for the duration of a six-hour bus journey. Yi knew that winning the bears was only going to be the first stroke of good fortune.

The shock of seeing her lover returned along with the woolly cubs was too much for Soo-An to bear. She doubled over in with the pains of labor, and, after much difficulty, Soo-An gave birth to a baby girl. The baby was beautiful and healthy. Yi and Soo-An called her Mei Yu.

But Xiao Yi, Soo-An and their new baby were not destined to live happily ever after. Soo-An became feverish.  She died just a few days later.

There were those who believed that she died of a broken heart. There were more still who believed that Yi returning empty handed had caused her to die of grief. And there were those who believed she died of septicemia. Xiao Yi did not have time to consider the reasons behind Soo-An’s death.  Yi was afraid.

So, for the first time in his life, Xiao Yi offered a sincere prayer to the heavens.  “I have let down everyone in this world and now the woman I love is dead and the child who I love more than life is motherless. I have three very hungry mouths to feed. I am scorned all throughout the village for bringing such misfortune to Soo-An. Help me, please.”

Yi’s second sincere prayer came many years later.

Xiao Yi’s life was so full that he had not even had time to offer thanks for the blessings he had been granted after his first prayer.  Through most of the year, he spent long days working to offer a good life to the kind and gentle daughter and two fully-grown brown bears. Every night he returned to a home filled with laughter as Mei Yu sang songs and told secrets to her two lifelong friends. When the winters came and the bears began their hibernation, Yi stayed with Mei Yu, tending to the every whim of his bright-eyed little girl. Though isolated from the rest of the village, this unusual family of four could not imagine a more suitable way of life.

The time had come for Mei Yu to go to school.  Yi held her hand as they walked down the road towards the schoolhouse.  Along the way he overheard the gossip and whispers of the townsfolk. Yi held on tightly to Mei Yu’s hand as she skipped down the lane, waving at all the people they passed.

“Do you see? It’s Xiao Yi and his little girl.”

“My, she is just the spitting image of her mother.”

“Such a shame for a beautiful girl to be raised by such a despicable man.”

Yi knelt down when they arrived at the schoolhouse and kissed Mei Yu on the cheek.  “My beautiful daughter,” he said. “I am very proud of you, and I know that you are excited to learn new things here at school. However, there may be people here that say unkind words to you because your father has not always been a very good man.”

“But you are good to me.”

“Mei Yu, you are the reason why I am good. Please do not let these unkind words hurt you because they are meant for me.”

Mei Yu replied, “If anyone is mean to me I will growl at them and show them my claws! Grrrr!”

Yi smiled and waved goodbye as he watched his little girl run towards the schoolroom door. As she turned and blew him one last kiss, Yi decided that is was not such a bad thing for a little girl to be raised by bears.

Later that day, Yi waited outside the schoolyard for Mei Yu.  He watched as families greeted each other in the warm September sun.  All the children poured out of the school and into the arms of their loved ones, but his beloved Mei Yu was nowhere to be seen. The school’s headmaster crossed toward him, “Sir, I will need to speak you in my office.” Yi felt his stomach drop.

In the headmaster’s office Yi was greeted by his smiling daughter and a very stern-faced man in a blue uniform.

“Daddy!” said Mei Yu, “This man says he is a Police Constable.”

“Yes, Mei Yu, I have met this man before.”

“Many, many times,” said the stone-faced Officer.

“Xiao Yi,” explained the Headmaster, “your daughter has brought to our attention some most unsettling information.”

“Oh?” asked Xiao Yi.

“She told her classmates that she lives with bears.”

“It’s true!” exclaimed Mei Yu.

“Ordinarily we would assume that a child her age was making up a story, but as you see, she has been quite insistent about the fact that she lives with two bears.”

“Nonsense,” said Yi.

“I thought so, too,” said the Police Constible, “but then I learned that you, Xiao Yi, are the girl’s father.”

“May I add that, Miss Mei Yu growled at the officer in a very menacing way,” quipped the Headmaster.

Based on the child’s behavior and your reputation, I have sent a team of officers to your home to investigate this girl’s claim.”

“No! You can’t do that!”

“It’s too late to protest now. My officers should be returning any moment now. And if there are bears in your home as your daughter claims, I will be forced to take you into custody for the reckless endangerment of a child.”

That night Xiao Yi made his second prayer from the cold concrete floor of his jail cell.  “Please,” wept Yi, “I must find a way to be with my daughter again. I will do anything to be back with Mei Yu. Grant me wisdom. Mei Yu, forgive me.”

Xiao Yi awoke to find that he was no longer lying on the unforgiving concrete in the holding cell. Instead, Yi was on the mossy floor of an ancient mangrove. An old man, perhaps 20 feet tall, with a flowing blue beard and bushy blue brows stood akimbo before him.  “Ah, Princess Sleepyhead finally wakes up!” said the old man.

“Who are you?”

“I am the answer to your prayers, dear sir.”

“God?”

“No. God looks more like Serge Gainsbourg.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I am Subohdi.”

“But you heard my prayer?”

“Ah, yes. If I remember to listen carefully, the universe will usually help me to find exactly what I need. Right now, dear sir, I am in need of someone like you.”

“Me?”

“Yes you. You will be working for me. And as payment for your services rendered, I will help you get back to your darling Mei Yu.”

Yi, stunned, was silent. “Ah, sir. You drive a hard bargain. I will grant you two favors, then. I’ll help you set up a good home for the bears.

“You would do that?” asked Yi.

“Well, I certainly don’t want to see them going to some bile factory where they’ll be abused, mangled and made retarded. Those are two of the finest, best-behaved bears I’ve ever seen. We’ve got some time for that. There’s a whole lot of red tape when it comes to using animals as evidence and the officers are all fighting for the privilege to sell them on the black market.”

“What do I need to do so that you can help me?”

“Well, I am in need of a special kind of messenger.”

“I can deliver a message. Tell me where to go. Tell me what to say.”

“See. It’s more complicated than that. I am in need of a delivery person who can courier things to me through both time and space.”

Yi was unsure of what he had just heard. How could this task be possible?

“There you go, freaking out about this already. Let me tell you, it’s no cakewalk, but it can be done if you are willing to learn. Your impending reunion with your daughter will motivate you, Yi.”

“When do I begin my first lesson?”

“Ah, patience. I thought that was a skill you had that Monkey lacked. Sit down. Relax. Have a snack.”

“But I’m not hungry. I need to learn so I can be with Mei Yu.”

“Nonsense. What you need is a nice Hostess Twinkie. It’s the only food that can travel through time and space. Monkey said they could last through what the Christians like to call, ‘Armageddon.’ Eat up. Our lessons begin tomorrow and you’ll need your energy.”

Yi woke early the next morning, eager to begin his quest. “Subodhi,” asked Yi. “I am ready to begin.”

“Ah yes. Your first lesson is to understand why I have chosen you to be my courier. The simplest answer is that I need you to help me pay off Buddha so he will release Monkey.”

“What?”

“Well, you’re about the same size and shape as Monkey. That means I don’t have to recalibrate my formulas for getting you to where I need you to go.  Monkey used to travel for me because, although he was a monkey and not a man, he fit in to society a little better than a giant glowing monk.”

“But who is this Monkey? Why is Buddha holding him prisoner?” asked Yi.

“Monkey is my pupil. Though Monkey was smart and clever, I have taught him a great deal about the powers of his mind and spirit.  He has learned many things from me, including the Art of Tao, 72 different polymorphic transformations, and time travel. After many hundreds of years under my tutelage, Monkey is a great warrior, and his powers have grown to match all but the mightiest and most enlightened Gods.

“Then why is Buddha holding him prisoner?”

“Alas, Monkey is proud and impatient. He’s also easily bored. One day, Monkey climbed up to heaven and learned of a Peach Blossom Banquet that was being held to honor the Queen Mother of Heaven on her birthday. When Monkey found out that he was not invited to the party, he became angry, and bribed the fairies so they would let him into the banquet hall.”

“What’s the big deal about crashing a party?”

“It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but monkey decided to eat the entire banquet of magical peaches by himself.  When the Queen Mother heard that her party was ruined, she sent her army to kill Monkey. This might have worked, since I have yet to teach Monkey the secrets of immortality, but the magical peaches gave him strength.  When Monkey was attacked he killed ten thousand heavenly guards.

Buddha was really pissed off when he heard of Monkey’s behavior. He’s kept Monkey trapped inside the clenched fist of one of his hands for the next 5,000 years.

Anyway, I was feeling a little guilty since I had not yet taught Monkey the secrets of eternal life and there is a small chance that Monkey won’t make it for the next 5000 years without that lesson. The secret of immortality is the carrot I dangled before Monkey so he would keep learning the primer lessons.  It’s the very reason he spent 500 years roaming the forest to seek me out as his great teacher. Now that he’s almost ready for the answer to his lifelong question he’s stuck in the hand of Buddha. So, I asked the Buddha what I could do and sort of hinted at the fact that I may be coming into a bunch of money.

“And now you need me to travel into the future to get you that money,” said Yi.

“Precisely. They may call you Little Yi, but you have a big amount of smarts for a mere mortal.”

“How am I supposed to find this money?

“As you well know, I am a firm believer in mutually beneficial relationships. I taught Monkey all that he knows about time travel, and as a thank you, Monkey taught me everything he knows about speculating in the NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange.”

“So I have to learn all of the lessons that you have taught to Monkey before I can go back to Mei Yu?”

“Don’t be foolish, Yi. You only have to learn everything there is to know about time travel and free market Capitalism.”

Yi was a quick study and soon was ready for his first journey in to the future.

“You have learned well, Yi. I am impressed, Big Guy.  Now it is time to learn of your tasks in this trip to the future. I am sending you to a suburban community outside of San Francisco. The year will be 1985. You will arrive sometime in the fall.  The most important thing to remember is to do follow every single direction to a tee. If you do not do this on your first mission, there will be no second and third mission and that means no reunion with Mei Yu.”

“Understood.”

“Now, when you materialize on the other side, do not be confused. All of the houses in this community look exactly the same and they are painted in 5 different shades of beige.  Look for the pinky beige house with the lucky red door.”

“I think I’m going to need to write this down.”

“Monkey has left a winning lotto ticket with numbers he selected based on some creative rearrangement of the time-space continuum on the dining room table. He also has left you five or six scratch-it lotto tickets so that it looks like you are stupid enough to play the lotto all the time.”

“How much is the prize?”

It is significant but it is nowhere near the amount of money I have promised to Buddha. Take your lotto tickets around the corner to a store called Wally World. Go to the cosmetics counter and ask for a girl named Po because she speaks real good Chinese.  Tell her you are Monkey’s cousin and ask her to help you claim the lotto ticket.  Then, solicit her help in opening up a series bank accounts that collect compound interest.  Give Po 10% of the lottery money for her assistance.  You may give her more if she tries to barter, but no more than 18% or we are ruined. Use some of the money to cover your living expenses and to subscribe to both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

“When am I supposed to come back here?”

“April, 1986. But don’t bother if you don’t manage to get in on the Microsoft IPO.”

“Right.”

“Oh, and if you have a chance, please bring me a poster of David Lee Roth, for he brings much happiness to my heart.”

Yi’s first journey to the future went according to plan. He was even pleased by the progress he had made in learning the English language. Before long even understood many of the jokes on TV programs like Cheers and The Cosby Show.

But as April neared, Yi grew sad, for he had now spent an entire year apart from his beloved Mei Yu and he missed her terribly.  He became restless and started to look for advice in women’s glossy magazines.

When Yi finally returned to the mangrove, he presented his wise counselor with two gifts: a life-size cut out of David Lee Roth and a bottle of Coppertone Sunscreen. “Teacher, I read about this lotion Ladies Home Journal. This ointment will protect your fair skin from the harmful UV rays produced by the sun.

“Ah, thank you, Yi. This will serve me well. And now, are you prepared for your next journey? For tonight you’re going to party like it’s 1999.”

But before Yi could answer, he was back in suburbs, holding a laundry list of to do items.

Yi’s second journey occurred without incident. He withdrew his lotto winnings from the bank and sold off his entire portfolio of Microsoft. Then, just as instructed, Yi used all of the profits from the now sizable fortune from his lotto winnings to invest in a young company called Google.

He crossed more items off the list by dating an “animal loving hippy woman” that he met on Craigslist. When said he was kind, but she thought of him more like a brother, he listed her as the trustee of his Living Will and asked that she take the money to begin a non-profit sanctuary for bears.

“Now, you have to make this quick because the IRS is looking for you. I’m pretty sure the accountant you hired hasn’t been all that the capital gains taxes after we bailed on Microsoft.”

Yi began to think that Sebohdi was angry about not getting a Sony Discman and a copy of the Titanic Soundtrack as he had requested. He began to apologize for his forgetfulness.

“Do not worry about the Album. Take this note and worry about your bears.”

In the blink of an eye, Yi and his two brown bears were standing on the sidewalk in front of his beige tract house with the lucky red door.

The note’s instructions were simple: SELL IT ALL AND GIVE THE BEARS TO YOUR HIPPIE EX-GIRLFRIEND. IT IS OCTOBER 31, 2007 AND GOOGLE IS OVER $700 PER SHARE! ROFLMAO!

“Rolfmao? What does that even mean?” Yi asked his hippie ex-girlfriend as he dropped of the bears in their new home on 500 sprawling acres of Kentucky grassland.

But Xiao Yi never heard her reply. He was already floating through the ether to a place many miles away and many years ago. Yi was finally on his way home to greet the young girl he loved so much on her very first day of school.

© 2010 Kim Crow

Possibilities . . .

Possibilities . . .

by Jacqui Pitt

But flying fish prefer oceanic waters, usually tropical or subtropical temperatures! These were the last words to flit through Jake Sinclair’s mind before another kind of flying fish, this one of the frozen supermarket genus aimed at his neighbor’s head by said neighbor’s wife, smacked the teen in the face and knocked him to the ground.

“Jake! Jake! Are you okay?”

Jake groaned.  Of course, he thought. The fish to the face had to be witnessed by Anastasia Rannen, the most beautiful girl in the school. Jake had nurtured a crush on her since that day in kindergarten when she loaned him the cerulean crayon that matched her eyes.

Animalia…Chordata…Beloniformes…Fodiator…wingspanicus?” Jake murmered as his eyes fluttered open to see the girl of his dreams bent over him, the frantic look in her eyes warming him. As soon as she saw he was awake, she sat back on her feet, and stared at him.

“What were you just saying?” Anastasia asked.

“It’s the Latin name for a weird type of flying fish,” Jake replied.  “I could have sworn…what happened?”

“You took a fish to the face,” Anastasia said simply.

“A what?” Jake asked.

“Mrs. Rasmutton threw a frozen fish at Mr. Rasmutton,” Anastasia explained, referring to their mutual neighbors. “Your face got in the way.”

“Why did she – you know what, never mind.” Jake used his arms to push himself to a sitting position. “I don’t want to know.”

“Um, Jake,” Anastasia began. “What’s that on your face?”

Jake reached up to his face, realizing why Anastasia was confused as soon as he touched his nose.  Taking his hand away, he looked at the bright white goo smeared on his fingers.

“It’s a new sunscreen I’m testing,” he told her.

“One of your experiments?” Anastasia asked.

“You know about those?” Jake asked, shocked that Anastasia knew anything about him.

“Sure,” she shrugged. “We’re neighbors and friends, right?” At Jake’s astonished nod, she continued, “Plus, I heard you talking to some of your geeks, erm, I mean friends at lunch.”

“It’s okay, Stasia, I know I’m a geek. I’m even thinking about calling the sunscreen ‘Geek in Sun’,” Jake laughed, then clutched his hands to his head on a moan.

“Jake! What’s wrong?” Anastasia exclaimed, her hands flitting as though they didn’t know where to go or what to do.

“Laughter. Bad. For. Fish-smacked head.” Jake gritted out carefully.

“Oh! We’d better get ice on your face,” Anastasia said, standing up. Bending over, she helped Jake stand carefully, then turned him toward her house, wrapping her arm around his waist in support.  “Let’s go have my mom take a look at your face and make sure nothing is broken.”

“Oh, I’ll be okay,” Jake halfheartedly protested as he carefully walked with her.  He definitely didn’t want to leave Stasia’s side, but hated the idea of looking like a wimp in front of her. “I’ll go home and ice my face until my parents get home.”

Anastasia stopped walking, turned, and gave him a Look. She had started liking Jake in kindergarten when she realized that his eyes were the same color as her favorite green apples.

“Jake Sinclair, cut it out!” She ordered him sternly. “I saw you get smacked in the face by a frozen fish. You were knocked out of your mind enough to speak Latin when you woke up. Don’t be a doofus. You are not going home to be alone when you can come over and let someone help you. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Jake sighed. “Got it.”  As Anastasia started them walking again, he quietly continued, “Stasia?”

“Yeah?” She asked.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

* * *

Inside the house, Anastasia led Jake to the kitchen where her mom was finishing frosting a chocolate cake.  Looking up as her daughter helped Jake settle into a chair, Mrs. Rannen set the frosting knife down and walked over to look at Jake’s face.

“What happened?” She asked, gently grasping Jake’s chin in her hand and tilting it slightly to take a better look at the shiner starting to appear starting at his left cheekbone.

“New migration patterns of Fodiator wingspanicus,” Anastasia grinned at Jake’s reply. Mrs. Rannen quirked an eyebrow at her daughter. “Translation?”

“Mrs. Rasmutton threw a frozen fish at Mr. Rasmutton as he ran away from her. Jake’s face got in the way,” Anastasie said, grinning at Jake.

“What’s that Fodiator wingspanicus bit?” Mrs. Rannen asked, probing at the swollen cheekbone carefully.

“The scientific name for frozen fish that come flying at my head,” Jake said. “Ow! That f-freaking hurts!”

“Well, get him an ice pack, dear,” Mrs. Rannen commented as she released Jake’s face.

“On it, Mom,” Anastasia replied as she opened the freezer.  Taking the frozen pack out, she wrapped it in a dish towel, then walked over to Jake and handed it to him. “He had the brilliant idea of going home by himself instead of coming here.”

“Oh, that’s not a good idea,” Mrs. Rannen told Jake. “You probably don’t have a concussion, but I’m not letting the child of my best friend be home by himself after taking frozen seafood to the face. Nope, not happening.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jake knew better than to protest or argue. “That’s what Stasia told me, too. She’s very…determined.” He settled for diplomacy as he carefully touched the cold pack to his face with a hiss of pain.

“Of course she is. Takes after me. Just ask your mom,” Mrs. Rannen said, taking plates and forks out. “When we were kids, she fell and hurt her leg while we were climbing trees, and wanted to limp home with blood running down her leg.”

“So, smarts run in their family then?” Anastasia asked, grinning at Jake’s glare.

“And excessive stubbornness in yours, goober,” Jake shot back. Paling, he turned back to Mrs Rannen.  “I’m sorry, I meant-”

“That my daughter comes by her stubbornness honestly?” Mrs. Rannen smiled at Jake as she sliced into the chocolate cake.

“Yes, m-,” Jake started. Breaking off, he looked at Mrs. Rannen consideringly. “Is there any possible way for me to answer that without sounding like a moron?”

“See, Mom?” Anastasia said. “Smart guy!”

Laughing, Mrs. Rannen placed a plate of cake in front of each of the teens and replied, “Good eye, dear.  Now, it’s obvious what you need is a nice quiet afternoon that involves chocolate cake.”

“Thanks, Mrs. R.” Jake smiled gratefully. Picking up his fork, he speared some cake and carefully bit in. When he didn’t feel any pain, he dug in to the moist dessert.

“Any loose teeth?” Mrs. Rannen asked, pouring milk and setting it in front of each teen.

“Don’t think so,” Jake said. Wanting the focus off of himself, he asked, “So, why were you and my mom climbing trees?”

“Whose story do you want?” Mrs. Rannen asked, laughing as she sat down with her own snack of cake and milk.

“Both!” Anastasia and Jake chorused.

“Well, according to your mom, she had spotted a monarch butterfly caterpillar that she wanted to collect and examine before releasing it into the patch of milkweed behind her house,” Mrs. Rannen said.

“But Danaus plexippus lays its eggs on milkweed, not in a tree,” Jake mused.

“Geek,” Anastasia commented, grinning as Jake stuck his tongue out at her.

“Exactly – the part about the egg laying,” Mrs. Rannen corrected herself.

“No, it’s okay,” Anastasia told her mom. “Jake admits he’s a geek.” She tossed a crumpled napkin at Jake.

“Careful, Obstinate One,” Jake countered. “Geeks rule the world!” He tossed the napkin back at her.

“Now, now, children!” Mrs. Rannen commented.  “Story time will end if you can’t behave.”

“Yes’m,” they replied, sticking tongues at each other from grinning mouths.

“As I was saying,” Mrs. Rannen continued, “Your mom claimed she had seen a monarch butterfly caterpillar on the apple tree next to my house, and climbed up to get it for ‘study before relocation’ – her words not mine, by the way.

“In truth, there was a boy who lived two streets over who delivered newspapers to the neighborhood. Your mom had a crush on him, but didn’t want him to see her, since she was so shy.”  Mrs. Rannen smiled at Jake. “So, when she saw the boy coming on his bike loaded with papers, she climbed up the tree as fast as she could go so he wouldn’t see her.”

“Mom says she was the terror of the neighborhood as a kid,” Jake said.

“That was later,” Mrs. Rannen told him.  “After she got over the shyness.”

“How did that happen?” Anastasia asked, leaning forward, her cake forgotten in her interest.

“You know I told you she climbed the tree as fast as possible, right?” Mrs. Rannen said.  At their nods, she continued,

“Well, she went up fast, but didn’t stay up long, and ended up coming down even faster.”

“She fell out of the tree?” Jake asked.

“Right onto the paperboy. Knocked him right off his bike,” Mrs. Rannen confirmed.

“Oh, poor Mrs. Sinclair!” Anastasia exclaimed.  “What happened then?”

“She jumped up, and started babbling about Danaus plexippus and apologizing like crazy. Then she started limping toward home, three houses down,” Mrs. Rannen answered.

“What did you do?” Jake asked, grinning.  “Besides not letting her, going by your daughter’s actions, that is.”

“I helped the paperboy up and we talked her into letting him wheel her home on his bike,” Mrs. Rannen replied. “He said he knew first aid and offered to help stop the bleeding. I, being the good friend I am, accepted on her behalf, of course.

“Then I took off for my house and got the first aid kit.”

“You left them alone?” Anastasia asked. “Good job, Mom!”

“Of course I did, dear,” her mom said. “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t put her in an uncomfortable situation with her crush who had offered to play knight in shining armor?”

“When I got to your mom’s house,” Mrs. Rannen told Jake, “Your mom was only red instead of bright red, and they were actually having a conversation.  So, I handed over the first aid kit and said something about having to go home before I skedaddled.”

“I wonder what happened after that,” Jake wondered.

“Well, from what I gather, good things,” Mrs. Rannen told him. “Five years later, after they had graduated from the same college, they got married.”

“My dad was the paperboy?” Jake asked, incredulous, trying to imagine his parents meeting that way.

“Probably, unless you know of some other guy your mom married,” Anastasia teased him.

“Yep, it was your dad,” Mrs. Rannen told Jake, smiling. “They never told you that story?”

“No!” Jake replied. “They just said they met on the sidewalk in the neighborhood where they lived during high school.”

“Well, they did,” Mrs Rannen told him, getting up when the phone rang in the next room.

“Yeah,” Anastasia added. “They met on the sidewalk when your mom fell into his arms from the tree!” She added a flair with her arms and fell dramatically to the floor.

“You are a doofus, you know that?” Jake asked.

“You’re the doofus, I’m the goober,” Anastasia told him, getting off the floor.  “Remember? Why do you call me that, anyway?”

“You ate peanuts as a snack every single day in kindergarten,” Jake replied.  “Goober is another word for peanut.”

“You call me peanut?” Anastasia asked indignantly.

“You’re not exactly huge, you know,” Jake told her. “And it’s a nickname, not an insult.”

“But, peanut?” Anastasia exclaimed.
“Would you prefer Arachis hypogaea?” Jake asked.

“Let me guess, scientific name?” Anastasia said.

“Yep!” Jake replied.

“I’ll stick with goober,” Anastasia said. “I can’t believe you remember what I had for snack in kindergarten.”

Jake blushed.  Opening his mouth to reply, he stopped cold as Mrs. Rannen returned and handed Anastasia some cash.

“That was your mom on the phone, Jake.  We’re going to grab some dinner out together and reminisce.” Mrs. Rannen told them. “I told her we had been talking about how she and your dad met, and we decided the four of us should go out like we used to…have grown-up time.

“The money’s for you two to order pizza, Anastasia,” Mrs. Rannen told her daughter, walking toward the door to the garage. “I’m going to pick up your dad now.  We’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Cool! Pizza night!” Anastasia exclaimed.  Turning to Jake, she asked, “You in?”

“Sure,” he said.  “My face hurts less, Mrs. R. Thanks for your help.”

“Oh, my pleasure dear,” Mrs. Rannen replied, smiling as she left the kitchen.  “Maybe today will be a story to tell your own children some day.”  She clicked the door shut behind her, leaving her words hanging in the air.

Cerulean eyes met apple green; possibilities filled the room.

© 2010 Jacqui Pitt

Creatures of Découpage

Creatures of Découpage

by Hunter and Bettina Gregg

His body sat slumped over her two front steps.  Both elbows he had folded across his bald knees, and in one hand he was gripping a small leather carrying case.  It was a nice case, perfect for a pair of reading glasses or perhaps a calligraphy pen, with an embossed horseshoe and a string of southwestern colors needle-pointed along the edges.

Dorothy Ulmer stretched her kitchen phone cord as far as it would allow.  Her peach blush smudged the handset, her black bouclé trousers pulled at the seams, but still there was no way to tell if the strange man at her door had his eyes open or shut.

“No, he’s not responding,” she affirmed while nudging his backside with the toe of her slip-on shoe.  “I hope he’s not sleeping.  And I would guess he’s not a drunk.”

This was not how Dorothy envisioned the start of her day.  After she hung up the phone she didn’t bother checking on the young man any further.  Help would be along shortly and besides, what more could she possibly do?  The front door she closed to a crack in the event he should awake and request a glass of water.  Just in case, she checked the icebox in the kitchen to make sure it was stocked.

She was on the dining room floor, measuring, when the telephone rang a few minutes later.  It was her son, Harold, whose early morning calls over the last year had amounted to little more than a broken marriage and a string of handouts.  She told him she couldn’t speak with him because a delivery man would be arriving shortly with the dining room table – any minute now – and she still needed to measure his grandmother’s hand-woven rug to make sure the dimensions were right.

“What table?” Harold had to ask.

“Harold, please!” she shouted into the phone.  “It’s the whole reason I went to the estate sale.”

“You bought Cheryl Pinkerton’s dining room table?”

“What choice did I have?  You should have seen those vultures.  A whole flock of them were hovering over her sterling flatware.”

“So what happened to your old table?  You didn’t get rid of it, did you?  I hope not.  That was a good table.  We could use a good table over here.”

Dorothy rechecked herself in the hallway mirror before opening the front door.  Her overblouse was wrinkled, her spiked pixie cut had lost its bounce, and the ambulance she could now hear blaring through the neighborhood.  Harold could hear the sirens too, but when he asked what was going on, his mother told him the garbage man had passed out on her front stoop – and then she hung up.

Outside, the late morning sun hammered down on the idling truck parked along the curb.  Mixed fumes from the exhaust and open tailgate floated a stench that reminded Dorothy of her mother’s spiced chutney.

She waited in the driveway for the ambulance to arrive, and when it did, two emergency technicians hopped out to greet her.  They snapped on their latex gloves and asked her a few questions, which she answered in a curt manner she knew didn’t help.

“There was a knock at the door,” she said, “and I was expecting my dining room table.  But instead I got him, so that’s when I called you.”

One technician checked for vitals while the other noticed the leather case now resting on the bottom step, under the patient’s unclenched hand.  He opened it up and showed the contents to his partner, who nodded and then pointed to one of the man’s tube socks pushed down around his ankle.

“He got stung,” the handsome technician later told Dorothy.  Forty-five minutes had passed since their arrival, during which time she had determined that the one, Harlan, was good-looking and the other, Ralph, was not.

Harlan now stood in the arched doorway of her dining room.  He had a black ponytail, rimless eyeglasses, and tattoos running up and down both forearms.

“We found one dose of epinephrine on him, which probably wouldn’t have been enough anyway.  Poor guy got blitzed.  Did you know you have a wasp’s nest in your elm tree?  It’s a big mother.  I know a guy who’ll climb up there and knock it out, if you want.”

“A wasp’s nest?  On my property?”  Dorothy got up off the floor with the measuring tape in her hand.  Here it was ten o’clock in the morning and already she wished she’d never woken up.  The dimensions of her mother’s hand-woven rug were completely wrong for the kind of table being delivered from Cheryl Pinkerton’s house, and if that weren’t enough, a man had died on her front steps.  God help me!  All because of a gang of garbage-eating wasps who happened to reside in a shady tree that she had long despised for killing most of her grass anyway.

“Oh well,” she huffed.  “I do have my chairs.”

She rolled her fingers across the seatback in front of her, as a way of drawing Harlan’s eyes to one of her more exquisite restorations – a set of stenciled 19th Century Sheraton painted fancy chairs, with of course, the original handgrip tops.

“Good enough,” he said, “we won’t be long now.  Once Ralph’s finished with the coroner, we’ll be out of your driveway in no time.  You did say you were expecting a dining room table to be delivered shortly?”

“That’s right, a Queen Anne, which obviously is not ideal for the kind of chairs I have.  But oh well, c’est la vie.”

Harlan looked down, scrunched his nose at the long painted table in front of him.  “What’s wrong with this one?  I’m no expert, but I’d say it goes pretty good with the rest of your furniture in this room.”

“Thank you, as do I.”  With pleasure she now accepted Harlan’s unspoken invitation to join with him in soaking up every ounce of her favorite room, a true one-of-a-kind, with walls papered in pink cherubs and green garlands, crown molding textured by way of gold leaf, and furniture handpicked and shipped from countries most could only read about.

“But,” she said with pouty lips, “this room and the objects inside it wouldn’t be worth all the tea in China without the love and admiration of those closest to me.  And Cheryl Pinkerton, as you can imagine, was a dear, dear friend.”

“I’m sorry to hear of your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“If it’s any consolation, I think you got awesome taste.”  He smiled, then turned to leave.

“Just one more question, Harlan?”  Dorothy directed his eyes to the giant bureau parked beyond the head of the table.  “Do you think you could help an old lady move a piece of furniture?”

“I’d be happy to.”  He took off his glasses.  “Where do you want it?”

The Italian secretary, as she called it, was much too large and cumbersome for anyplace other than one of the sidewalls, especially since Cheryl Pinkerton’s table was exactly three inches longer than the existing one and would thus encroach on the already limited backspace at the head of the table.

“Yeah, that’s no good,” Harlan agreed.

“Which brings us to the million dollar question,” she said.  “Where is the perfect spot?”

Dorothy folded both arms and Harlan rocked on his heels, both surveying the entire room.  Limited wall space, Harlan felt confident enough to say, narrowed their choices considerably.

“Either we put it here… or over there,” he said.  And then, taking a step back, he scratched at his chin.  “I think we should put it over there.”

“Agreed,” said Dorothy after some deliberation.

“Now for the heavy lifting part.”  Harlan took a deep breath, squatted low to protect his back and to maintain his balance.  Then, slowly, delicately, he pulled the secretary toward his body, away from the wall.

“This is one heavy mother,” he grunted.

“I could empty the drawers, if you’d like.”

“Nah, nah…” he said, holding back his breath, until the weight of the entire piece travelled down to his thighs and forced him to wheeze.

Across the room Harlan squat-walked with half his face and chest pressed against the wooden drawers.  His eyes were pointed, his cheeks were flush, specks of drool, casting upon every breath, sprayed the découpage drawers.  When at last he dropped the monster cabinet and pushed it into position, he let out a loud gratified groan.

“Yikes, that was heavier than I thought.”  He massaged the hurt in his hands, admiring the distance he had just travelled, during which point he noticed the picture on the floor, leaning against the wall.

“What’s this?” he said to Dorothy.  “Did you know this was behind here?”

Dorothy turned to where he was pointing, to where the secretary had been, and winced.  “Oh, I hate that photograph.  Pure exploitation… It was a retirement gift to my husband from a colleague at the Associated Press.”

Harlan tucked his chin and chewed his bottom lip.  He picked up the frame for a closer look.  “I think I’ve seen it before.  An original print, eh?”

“Oh yes, and quite famous.  My husband knew the photographer.  On occasion they would cross paths in their coverage of the Vietnam War.  There was much speculation as to whether the photographer had been tipped off, but Harry said that was ludicrous.  Every protest by suicide, he’d declare, has to be a matter of timing.”

“The man’s just sitting there…” said Harlan.

“… burning.”

“And look at everybody around him…”

“They’re all watching, I know.”  Dorothy turned back to the secretary and pulled out a drawer.  She checked the contents inside, reorganized them, then pushed the drawer shut.

She took the frame from Harlan.  “Why do you suppose they’ve never attacked me?  Clearly, the nest has been there for a while.  I walk back and forth under that tree every day to fetch the newspaper, to retrieve the mail.”

“Oh, it could be any number of things,” Harlan said.  “He could’ve stirred them up by accident.  It might’ve been the dark uniform or the coconut sunscreen he was wearing.  To be honest, he could’ve picked a more suitable job for his condition.  Can’t say I’ve ever run across a garbage man with a bee allergy before.”

The room fell silent until Harlan clapped his hands.  “Guess I’d better go check on things.”  Backing up, however, he closed one eye and stretched his hands in front of him – much like how Harry would frame a shot.

“You know what you need,” he said to Dorothy.  “What you need is a nice custom mirror.  One that accentuates the details of this room and draws you in.”

He nodded, she smiled, and then he walked away.

Dorothy sat down in one of the Sheratons and stayed there until well into the afternoon.  Around four o’clock, while she was enjoying a glass of Drambuie, the delivery man phoned to say he was running a few hours late.  By the time he did arrive at the house, the ambulance had left, the sun had dropped beyond the neighborhood pines, and the wasps in the elm tree had retreated for the night.

“I’m so sorry,” he said when she answered the door.  “They’ve been running my tail since the crack of dawn.  But I’m here now, and I’ve got your table in the back of my truck.  Just tell me where you want it.”

The man looked exhausted, dead tired.  He hiked up his pants and fixed his hat that was crooked.

“Oh dear,” Dorothy said.  She glanced down at the clipboard he was holding.  “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake, a terrible slip-up.”

“Sorry?”

“I specifically told the woman at the estate sale that the table was meant as a surprise for my son.  What on earth would I do with another dining room table?  I apologize for the misunderstanding.  Wait here a moment while I get you his address.”

She closed the door to a crack, and went to the kitchen to fetch a pen and paper.  On her way past the hallway she caught glimpse of her profile in the dining room mirror.

END

© 2010 Hunter and Bettina Gregg