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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

Convenience

Convenience

by Vantucky Derby: Clint Williams and Vinnie Kinsella

It was almost 5:00 AM. Ashane looked out across the garish rows of magazines and snack foods to the glass-fronted refrigerators lining the back wall. A lone customer was poking through the selection of sport drinks. The radio station on the overhead speakers was airing an advertisement for something, but the volume was turned down too quietly to really understand the words. Ashane turned to look out the window behind the counter, noting that the neon Michelob sign which hung there was still glowing brightly against a black sky.

The customer, a stocky Mexican in Levi’s, cowboy boots, white T-shirt, and a Stetson, settled on an orange drink, grabbed a bag of pork rinds, and made his way up to the counter. Ashane could not understand the Mexican obsession with pork rinds. He didn’t know if this was a product all Mexicans enjoyed or just the ones who came into his store. He didn’t much care to find out.

The man set his food on the counter and pointed to the calling card display behind Ashane.

“You get me one of the international cards, man?”

Ashane answered in a thick, Sri Lankan accent. “Very good sir. Which one are you liking?”

“Uh, the green one there.”

“Oh, no good, no good. The Verizon is costing very high for minutes. You are wanting maybe this one. The ZapTel. Same price as Verizon, but almost twice minutes.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I use it to calling my family in Sri Lanka. I speak with lovely wife and all five children.”

“Five children? What, did you start having them when you were twelve? You can’t be older than twenty-five.”

“It is true we are marrying young in my country.”

The door sensor chimed as Dave, the Pepsi driver, came in pulling his first load of bottles on a hand truck. He looked at Ashane and nodded his hello. Ashane nodded back and continued his conversation.

“So will it be the ZapTel card for you?”

“I’m not sure. Verizon always has good reception. I just want to call my grandma in Tulancingo for a few minutes to wish her a happy birthday.”

“Not many people are knowing this, but ZapTel uses same network, and their minutes do not expire. I have never lost a call to delightful family.”

Dave was shaking his head and smiling as he stocked the refrigerator.

“So,” the customer asked, “your wife seriously lives in India?”

Sri Lanka, yes. I come to America for earning money to bring her and all our children to live. Especially my youngest, Kannan. His foot is badly crippled, and needing surgery to make strong.”

“Wow, that’s crazy. But I get it. My parents were migrant workers, but they met here. That must be tough to be that far apart. How long since you’ve seen her?”

“It is being three years, next week.”

“Three years! Man, I couldn’t do that. Not if she expected me to be faithful.”

“Oh,” he said with his hand on his chest, “but my wife is beautiful and delicate women, like a goddess. I have only to think of her, and I am satisfied. When it become tough for me, I have my work to staying busy.”

Dave bent over his hand truck, gripped with a fit of coughing. Several plastic bottles went rolling across the floor. “Nothing spilled,” he shouted. Ashane looked at the Mexican man and continued.

“Please to be trusting me on this one. ZapTel is the card for you.”

“Okay, man. Sounds good.”

After the cusotmer left, Dave sauntered up beside the counter, still grinning.

“What do you pull that stuff for, Shane?” he asked.

“Dude, what are you talking about?” Ashane asked, dropping his affected accent.

Dave put his hand to his heart and began imitating Ashane’s performance. “Oh, my beautiful wife. She is like Hindu goddess. I could never cheat on her.” He laughed at himself.

“It’s the boredom, man,” Ashane said, “it makes me crazy.”

“Well, maybe you should go do some real acting. Like professional. I think you’d be good.”

“Maybe. And dude, for the record my family is Buddhist, not Hindu. There’s a difference.”

“Yes, yes,” Dave said, “and you’re Sri Lankan, not Indian. I know.”

“You wouldn’t understand. You’re a Euro-mutt. A product of the melting pot. Your genes are contaminated and diluted.”

“Hey! I’m one-eighth Apache.”

“Well then, you’re more Indian than I am.”

Dave laughed. “I keep telling you,” he said as he walked out the front door to grab his second load of  drinks, “this little game of yours will bite you in the butt someday.”

Ashane reached up and drummed his hands on the cigarette bin above his head. The store had been relatively quite since he started his shift. It would stay that way until close to dawn. Most of the delivery guys had come and gone, as had most of the nightly regulars—guys like Officer Marlin who always came in around 3:30 for his mid-patrol coffee. Such was the excitement of working night shift.

Ashane laughed at that title: night shift. Technically, most of it encompassed the AM hours. He thought it would be better called the wee morning shift or even the sunrise shift. Not that he ever took note when sun came up. Every shift was the same for him: dark when he started work, light when he got off.

The highlight of his shift so far was when the new Wall Street Journal guy had tried to introduce himself. He was a gimpy old Mumbaikar who tried speaking Hindi to him. Ashane shrugged and responded in Sinhalese. When the man realized Ashane was Sri Lankan, embarrassment flooded his face.

Ashane wondered why his manager carried the Wall Street Journal in the first place. He was fairly certain they only sold one copy a day. Ashane never saw who bought that paper. He figured it was some broker or banker who stopped in after work or during his lunch break. It would have to be someone who came in during the day. The readership during Ashane’s shift was more into Playboy and Hot Rod Magazine.

About ten minutes later, Dave had finished carting in all of the day’s product, and was unhurriedly setting up a new display.

“You better shake a leg, dude. Don’t you still have five or six stops left?”

“Five, but they won’t take long. The displays are just for the Plaids. This is my last one.”

“Well then, you’ll be back home and in bed before my shift is even done.”

“I wish. I’m supposed to help chaperone my kid’s field trip to the zoo. My wife was going to do it, but she was able to pick up an extra shift at work, so I’m going to take her place with the rugrats. We could use the money.”

“You guys work too much.”

“We have medical bills to pay. Especially since my monkey of a son decided to take the quick way down from the last tree he climbed. Six fractures in his right arm and hand. He must have broke everything in there.”

“Well, considering that there are thirty bones in the arm, twenty seven of them in the hand and wrist alone, he probably could have done worse.”

Dave peeled the backing off a large decal. “Thanks for that, Dr. Shane.”

“Yeah, well, if you ask me, what you need is a nice night out. What are you doing on Saturday?”

“I’m going to my mother-in-law’s birthday thing. Why?”

“My cousin’s coming into town for a business trip. He wants me to go with him on Saturday night to The Bombay to watch the Sri Lanka versus India cricket game. You should come. It would be a cultural experience for you.”

“Cricket, huh? That sounds different. What time?”

“The game airs here in the States at midnight, ’cause of the time difference.”

“Well, the party will be long over by then. My wife might be cool with me going. I’ll see.”

“All right, but if you make it, you’ll have to cover up that tattoo.”

Dave looked down at the snarling tiger, seemingly ready to spring from his forearm.

“Why?”

“It wouldn’t go over well with the older Sri Lankan crowd. Trust me.”

Dave was about to press for more information when a young woman stepped through the front doors. Ashane watched with approval as she walked past the counter. She was slim and sporty looking, with a pony tail pulled back through a Nike cap. Dave smiled at Ashane and went back to work on the display. The woman wandered up and down a couple of aisles, hesitated, and then headed for the counter. Flashing a smile, she said, “Hi. Do you guys have any of that five-hour energy stuff?”

“You bet, it’s right here,” Ashane said, reaching around to the display. “Need anything else with that?”

“No, that’s perfect. Thank you.”

“All right, that’ll be $3.35. Long day ahead?”

“No, long night behind me,” she sighed. “I’m trying to finish a term paper. Almost there.”

“Oh, what school are you at?”

“Reed.” She handed him a five.

“Nice. I went there a few years ago.”

She looked at him with interest. “Really? What did you study?”

“Poetry. ‘For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’

“Wow, that’s beautiful.” She smiled warmly at him.

“John Greenleaf Whittier,” he said, handing her the change. “And by the way, you have cute dimples.”

Her smiled widened. “You know, I bet you could help me with the conclusion of my paper. It’s an examination of the sectarian inner-conflict of John Donne.”

“Oh yeah, John Donne was the man. I’ve read lots of his stuff. And,” he added, puffing out his chest, “aiding lovely damsels in distress is my specialty.”

She giggled, and Ashane noticed Dave rolling his eyes as he fiddled with the display.

“I’m Jen,” she said, offering her hand. She looked at his name, hesitant to try pronouncing what she read.

“It’s Ah-shaw-nay,” he said. “But you can call me Shane.”

Just then the door sensor chimed, and man came strolling in wearing paint-splattered coveralls. The guy was a regular. Ashane tensed up.

“Ashane! How are you?” asked the man, beaming. “Has your wife had the baby yet?”

Jen looked confused for a moment, then squinted at Ashane and recoiled.

“You’re married?”

She was out the door before he could think of any way to salvage the situation.

He sighed and flopped half-heartedly into character. “Yes Mr. Louis, sir. Very good sir. Will it be one or two powerball tickets for you this morning?”

In a few moments, the customer was on his way. Dave came back to the counter with an armful of cardboard debris. “Shane,” he said, looking both pained and amused.

“I know, I know,” said Ashane, shaking his head, “you don’t have to say it.”

“I thought your major was Economics.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“And I thought you went to Concordia.”

“I did…after I got kicked out of Reed.”

“You’re a crazy man,” said Dave. “With all that knowledge in your head, you ought to be on Jeopardy. When are you gonna use your brain cells for something worthwhile?”

Ashane shrugged. “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars?”

Dave gave a laugh, pushing out through the doors. “Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ashane serenaded his exit. “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius!”

***

The morning rush was close to beginning. The sky was turning from black to dark blue.

Malicia had been on shift for half an hour, but she had barely spoken to Ashane during that time. This wasn’t out of the norm, though. She was gothic to the core and not much for social interaction. Ashane figured she thrived on the mystery her disconnected nature afforded he. He also figured Malicia wasn’t her real name. For the first month that she worked with him, he called her Melissa just to get a response. She never got riled up about it. She would just say, “It’s Mal-ee-shuh,” in a monotone voice and refuse him the satisfaction of getting angry.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been getting a bit of color in your cheeks, Malicia,” he said after she finished ringing up a customer. “I found this in my car. I thought it might help.” He handed her a near-empty bottle of sunscreen.

Malicia sighed. “Very funny, Shane.”

Moments later, a dusky skinned man with a scraggly gray beard and a red tilaka on his forehead came through the door. He did so every Tuesday and Thursday.

As soon as Ashane saw him, he turned to Malicia and said, “I’ll be on my break if you need me.”

Malicia looked up to see the old man. She said nothing in response.

Ten minutes later, when the man was gone, Ashane returned to the register.

“I keep telling you,” Malicia said, “he’s not a terrorist.”

“Yes he is. I know it. He’s probably one of the SOBs who came after my Dad’s family.”

“That’s a pretty big indictment. And a pretty mean one, don’t you think?”

“Look, I keep telling you, he fits the profile. He’s got a Tamil accent. He’s missing, what, two fingers? And he’s got scars all over the place. He’s a freakin’ Tamil Tiger Terrorist. I don’t even want to think about how many innocent Sinahalese people he’s killed. Some of them were probably my relatives.”

Malicia shrugged. “That’s racial profiling. Do you see me freaking out every time some Middle Eastern guy comes in? Do you see me calling Homeland Security to tell them to put the country on amber alert?”

Ashane turned to her defensively.

“First off, amber alerts are for abducted children. Green, blue, yellow, orange, red: that’s how the Homeland Security codes go. Second, you have no idea what it’s like to live with terrorists in your backyard.”

“And you do? You grew up in San Jose, Shane.”

Ashane was about to speak further, but he decided to let it go. Malicia was right. His parents fled to California when the civil war broke out in 1983. He had no memories of Sri Lanka to call his own. All he had was stories.

***

Ashane looked at the clock. His had less than an hour left in his shift. This was the part of the morning when men and women in business suits made their way into the store. This was also the part of the morning when Ashane played with his British accent.

“Hello, chap,” he said to a tall man dressed in knock-off Dolce and Gabbana suit. “You look awfully dapper for a Tuesday morning.”

“Thank you. You have quite the accent. Are you from the UK?”

“Yes. Mancheter. Go United! Rooney’s a great striker, what?”

After Ashane’s performance was over, Malicia asked, “Why do you that? You sound like an idiot.”

“I’m just having fun, Mal-ee-shuh. It brightens other people’s days. But you wouldn’t understand that. You’re not into brightening anything.”

A businesswoman in his perpheral vision let out a chuckle. He didn’t see her enter the store.

“Oh, Shane,” she said as she approached the counter. “You’re still the same old joker.”

Ashane looked up in surprise. Did he know this woman?

“Aren’t you going to say hi to me?” she asked.

“Nicole? Whoa, look at you! Are you back in town? Why are you dressed like you’re someone’s boss?”

“Because I am someone’s boss. I’m the new regional director for Jarecki and Associates. So yes, I’m back in town.”

She gave him a mischevious smile, the same mischevious smile that lured hime into trouble many times in the past.

“For real? Wild Child Nicole is now a regional director? I never would have seen that coming.”

“Tell me about it. I woke up one morning feeling like an adult, so I ran with it. Don’t let the suit fool you, though. I’m still a wild child at heart. Especially on the weekends.”

Ashane walked out from behind the counter.

“You got a mintue?” he askded. “Let’s step out front.”

Nicole noddded. They were out the door before Malicia had a chace to protest.

“I was on my way to the office,” Nicole said. “I thought I saw your old Camry parked out front. I had to stop in and see if you were still working here. And look, you are!”

“Yup, I’m still here,” he said a bit sheepishly.

“I figured you’d be running some global enterprise by now. You were such a whiz when it came to all that business stuff.”

“Yeah, well, I got done with Concordia about the time the economy went down the toilet. No one’s really hiring, and besides, I’ve been thinking I should move back to California, so I didn’t want to settle her. It would be nice to be close to my family again.”

“Got done with Concordia? Don’t you mean graduated?”

“Nope. Got done.”

“I see. Well, we’re hiring over at Jarecki and Associates. If you’re interested, send me your resume.”

“That would make you my boss. Are you sure you’d want to be responsible for my actions?”

“Oh, I think I could manage. Although, you would be a difficult one to let go.”

She reached into her purse and pulle out a business card.

“If you don’t send me your resume, at least give me a call. My cell number is on the bottom. The Wild Child wouldn’t mind a weekend adventure now and then.”

Ashane held the card high and fanned it into the air.

“Look at you and your gold-embossed cards. So fancy.”

Nicole chuckled. “Same old Shane.”

She gave him a friendly hug. “I’ve got to get to the office.”

Ashane watched her get into her car and drive away. He stuffed his hands into his pockets.

The sun was up. He looked over at the band of light working its way down the side of the building across the street. He had missed another sunrise.

He turned Nicole’s business card over in his pocket, running a finger across the embossed type. The sound of tapping at the window interrupted his thoughts. He glanced over to see Malicia gesturing for him to get back inside. He squinted at the time on the clock.

“Mein Gott!” he cried. “Only fifteen minutes to practice my German!”

He clicked his heels together, turned, and went goosestepping back through the doors.

© 2010 Clint Williams and Vinnie Kinsella