The Fault of Yesterday
George always needed something else, something extra. Today was no different, tomorrow might be worse and yesterday, well yesterday, none of his needs were met, at least by his standards. The only difference was his realization of this fault, and why did this special realization happen today. Well, maybe it was the fault of yesterday.
He hadn’t meant to tell his wife of twenty some odd years how he really felt about her. He would have to confess about Aliss, his girlfriend. Aliss, Aliss sweet Aliss almost fulfilled him, even though it was evident that her own narcissism was greater than his.
“George, Georgie, I thought I’d wear this new shirt tomorrow night to the club. What do ya think, too much skin, do my boobs look too big?”
On the screen of his iPhone 7, face-timing the call from her, her whole body looked psycho-erotic, her big –girl status in full splendor, those dark-brown arms oozing in and out of the red satin cold-shoulder skin tight top. He was jealous of her over the top sex appeal.
“Sure, sure, go ahead and wear that and some skin tight black jeans. You’re always the star, baby girl and don’t I know it.” Well, Everybody knew it and when they hit the club they made it happen every Saturday night. Lately, she seemed to not need him as much. She dressed more provocatively than before and he sensed something was not quite right.
Aliss was just his Saturday night girlfriend, someone his wife was clueless about or even if she knew, he was clueless if she would actually care. Saturday nights for Merry were sacrosanct. Her life as a telepathic masseuse/naturopath was full of caring for others in need. By noon on Saturdays she was done with people and preferred to cut herself off from caring especially for him, from thinking about anyone else but Merry Darling. And yes that was her real name. The name helped her business. Just saying the words “Merry Darling,” made people feel good even before any treatments. The more popular she got the less attention George got and that too true fact was making him feel tossed aside.
“Georgie, you’ve got to understand.” Last week, she actually told him how she felt, something she rarely broached, and much less to him. He was touched as she said “It’s not that I don’t appreciate all that you have meant to me over the years but I just need… You know, right?”
Thinking about this today he felt touched but unfulfilled. His phone dinged an email message. It was Joycelyn, his art studio landlady. “George, just a reminder that your rent is way past due, actually 3 months this month. Not a good thing right now, really. Thought I’d send you a little reminder. TXT me ok.” Her usual Emoji’s followed: brown peace sign, smiley grin but only one big heart not three as usual.
“Oh shit.” George suddenly felt like a rat that couldn’t quite reach that Reese’s Peanut Butter piece in the trap and even though he couldn’t reach his “cheese,” he was still feeling trapped, caught and unfulfilled. He felt depressed and vulnerable. This wasn’t the first time he had been late but with everything else, this day was becoming unrelenting especially because he could usually talk to Joycelyn. She of all people appreciated his talent and had even before he had married Merry. Even though she was many years his senior, Joycelyn had been his lover and even in his married years a source of succor.
“Damn, I can’t afford to lose her patronage I’ll have to do something about this right away.” This Saturday morning was turning out bad. “My wife has dismissed me; my girlfriend is ready to conquer the word without me. My patroness best friend is ready to un-patronize me for a few bucks.”
George paced the floor of his room. It wasn’t even ten in the morning. He went so far as to prepare a bong with some of his heartier sativa strain, Tangie, but thought better of that. He thought about the bottle of emergency Hennessey stashed in the bottom drawer of his dresser thinking, “what the hell do I have to lose,” and did succumb to a full jigger, coughing after the hit.
George sat back against the headboard of his bed, kicked off his house shoes and crossed his pajamaed legs. He was worried, seriously worried. Nothing was going his way today. He usually kept a positive attitude but lately the charm wasn’t working.
The small buzz from the morning brandy really wasn’t pleasant in his stomach. He groaned and thought he might be sick. “I’d better take a toke, after all, what have I got to lose?” He fixed himself a huge bowl of different substances. In this new world of cannabis the connoisseur could enhance his high with a variety of gels, tinctures and oil derivatives.
He lit the bong with the extra special torch lighter and inhaled a huge hit. Outside the spring weather was roaring. Rain, hail and darkening clouds cast a spell over the room. He pulled the heavy duvet over his skinny, skinny but fit, body and closed his eyes allowing the heavy high to take him over.
The sound of the relentless rain provided a natural hypnotized state in George and sent him back in time. “Green-eyed greedy gut gonna eat the world up.” His two tormentors chanted as he ate his second ice cream sandwich. His mother always made sure he had extra money for treats since she felt so guilty leaving him with the neighbor until she got home from work.
He recalled that the two girls, Barbara and Carol, so skinny and so dark skinned, made it a point to tease his fair-skinned fatness with the mocking refrain “Georgie Porgie puddin and pie, kiss the girls and make them cry.” That would be the secret signal to chase him into the darkest corner of the cool garage. Their cruel game was to pinch his chubbiness and tickle him until he peed his pants. That was Barbara’s specialty. At the same time Carol would lay on top of him thrusting her narrow hipbones into his pelvis grunting “umph, umph, umph, umph.” They both worked him over until he was crying like a lost puppy.
George hadn’t thought about that particular incident since he swore to himself to bury that particularly cruel memory when he was all of fifteen years old.
Aided by the strong cannabis George drifted off into a deep sleep until a strong ray of sunlight caressing his face woke him. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and the pelting rain had been replaced by white clouds sailing on a brilliant blue sky.
He picked up his phone from the bedside table. No one had called, messaged or texted him in the past four hours. “That’s funny,” he said to himself “no one called me.”
He got up and went over to the full-length mirror, pulling up real close in order to look into his eyes, “That was some funny dream,” he said to his reflection. “I hadn’t thought about that little boy for years.” His light grey eyes squinted like he was trying to see his younger self in his present state.
Puzzled he sat back on the bed. That ancient memory slowly became an enormous revelation. All at once, George saw who he was and understood where he was coming from.
George showered and dressed. He knew what he had to do. “I guess I’d better start with Merry and then deal with the luscious Aliss and then get straight with Joycelyn,” he told his mirror image closing his bedroom door behind him.
Forward – by Dalmatia Flemming
Ellen took a sip of coffee. It was lukewarm. Instantaneously she was transported back to reality; this coffee tasted awful. She realized that her stomach was not feeling quite right, the coffee was making it acidic. Ellen thought she better eat something, that’s what the problem was. She had been anxious and it seemed to have dampened her appetite so she didn’t eat. Ellen opened her backpack and found some bland crackers. She ate some.
Ellen picked up her phone to text her husband. “Hi Mark. On second train now. I’m nervous! I’ll meet you at the restaurant around 7:30 for dinner. Have a fun day! Xo E”.
Ellen looked out the window of the train. The landscape looked familiar, yet different. It had been twenty years since she was last here and the circumstances were very different then. She heard that the compound in which she had grown up was now a nature preserve. This relieved her a little; maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to face her past after all. Perhaps all the bad cult mojo had been broken down to atomic particles, rearranged into goodness and consumed by beautiful plants … maybe?
Ellen nervously assembled her things in preparation to leave the train. She checked her phone for messages. Mark had answered back; “Hey E. You’ll be awesome. Remember what your counselor said. Now you can move forward. Xoxo M.”
The five minute warning whistle blew and people began to work their way towards the door. Ellen noticed three adults fussing over about thirty kids all about the same age. Ellen figured it must be a class field trip. The kids were cute, so innocent looking. Ellen thought back to when she was their age. Suddenly she was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.
The door to the train opened and everyone began to file out. Ellen held back a little and watched them all exit, watched the teachers gathering up the kids.
“Miss, is this your stop?” the steward asked.
“Um … yes it is. Thank you.”
Ellen exited the train. She turned and looked back at the steward. He gave her a big smile and waved. How nice to not be fearful, Ellen thought. She smiled and waved back. The train pulled away.
There was the entrance. It looked peaceful enough. Was it a trap? Ellen slowly walked forward. “One ticket please …. Thank you.” Ellen walked through the gate.
It was beautiful, so far anyway. The plantings were very lush, with blown glass sculptural forms artfully intermingled with the plants. Wow, Ellen thought. What a change. It was so sparse in the cult days.
Ellen picked up a trifold pamphlet and opened it. Inside was a map of the preserve. Ellen studied it. It looked as though most of the buildings were still intact, the same layout that Ellen remembered. It had been a school campus prior to being donated to the cult, so Ellen had been told. The map reflected that sort of arrangement and feeling. Ellen looked around. But the buildings looked different, they no longer looked like the bunkers of Ellen’s memory.
The current preserve café and gift shop was the former cult mess hall. Ellen’s mom had spent hours there preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for hundreds of cult members. Ellen’s former dormitory, the children were separated from their parents in the cult, was now a desert vivarium. Ellen decided she must at least go and see this.
The old dormitory was almost completely glass now, as much glass as was structurally possible and still be able to stand. Ellen could see cacti, some that looked familiar and some exotic looking ones she had never seen before. It reminded her of the area surrounding her current home in Southern California. Well, maybe she should go inside.
Upon entering, Ellen could feel the sudden change to arid air with her first breath. And the heat. It felt good on her skin. Ellen slowly began to walk through the displays. She saw some lizard-like creatures, some that reminded her of the ones at home and again, some exotic looking ones.
Was this the theme for the day? Maybe the theme for more than just this day? Everything was the same and different at the same time. She was the same person, but different after twenty years had passed. This place was the same and different compared to before. But truly better than before. The cult was gone, it was really gone and Ellen decided right then that the cult would no longer have a grip on her. She would be free of it.
Ellen saw the teachers and school children. She approached them and started up a conversation in their native language. She had learned a little as a child and completely mastered it while working as a hostess in a bar when she first escaped the cult.
Ellen pulled out her phone to text Mark; “Hey Mark. A-OK over here. Maybe I can meet you earlier. I think I’ll leave earlier. Check your phone. Xo E.”
This was worse than she had imagined
Dina watched her sister float down the aisle. Her shoulder blades poking out from the top of her strapless gown and her spine curving up to an engineering feat of curls, weaved in a curious Escher-like pattern. Dina was transfixed by the hair arrangement. Was there some structural support under the extraordinary bun/waterfall? What miraculous hairpins could hold hair like that? Rachel had asked Dina to help her prepare for the ceremony, but the dressing room had been crowded with sorority sisters and female members of the groom’s family, and Rachel had slipped out when the hairdresser arrived with her kit of curling and flat irons, shellacs and mousses and, apparently, magic.
It was dark in the church, despite the many candles and lanterns, and the white of Rachel’s dress made her glow. She was walking a little too quickly, not quite in time with the music (live, but with a tinny PA that belied the human musicians). Dina was willing her to slow down when Rachel tripped, a strappy sandal catching on the hem of her ridiculous train. Their father caught Rachel before she fell and he tried to steady her as she approached the steps to the altar. The minister made an off-color joke about the bride’s haste to get to her wedding night, and Rachel’s fiance, universally accepted as a decent guy, stood there grinning like a monkey. Dina wondered if the minister was a pedaphile, and if Rachel’s fiance had once been the object of his affections.
The ceremony was long and full of trite aphorisms and mild sexual innuendo.
“May your marriage be like a kitchen table…four bare legs and no drawers!”
Gina looked around at the young, smiling people in the pews, then back up at Rachel. She looked beautiful, but also a little too animated. She nodded her head enthusiastically at each of the minister’s comments and it looked to Gina that one of her false eyelashes had come loose. Gina wondered to herself if all the people here were part of the minister’s cult, and if Rachel were about to be initiated.
And then Rachel fell down the stairs.
No one moved for what seemed to be several minutes, and then Gina noticed herself sprinting up the aisle. Her patent leather pumps click-clacking on the slate floor.
“Get out of my way. That’s my sister! Out of the way, please!”
Gina ran past two 20-year olds in blazers and skinny jeans, pushing one into the other as they stepped forward to help.
“Don’t touch her!”
The minister was startled and pulled his hand back from Rachel’s collarbone, almost falling himself from his precarious perch on the last step.
“I thought I should check her pulse…” he mumbled.
Gina leaned over her sister, “Rachel, Rachel, can you hear me? RACHEL!!”
“Call an ambulance, can’t you?” she yelled up at the fiance, who had finally snapped out of shock and was fiddling with his phone.
Gina’s mom was at her side on the floor, holding Rachel’s hand.
“I think we should pray,” she said, tears streaming down her face, “please, Lord, this was going to be Rachel’s perfect day.”
“Shut up, Mom. She’s probably just fainted from how tight this dress is.”
“Oh, and I bet she hasn’t eaten today. I told her she needed to eat something. Oh Lord, please keep my baby safe!”
Gina couldn’t see her dad anywhere, or anyone who might help. With Rachel supine on the floor, her strapless dress had shifted sideways and Gina felt an overwhelming need to get her away from the minister’s gaze. Away from all of these people crowding around. Rachel’s chest moved ever so slightly as her lungs inflated.
“Back up, people. She needs air!”
Gina pulled the sequined cardigan sweater from her mom’s shoulders and wrapped it as best she could around Rachel. Then, after looking around once more for her father, she shoved her arms under Rachel’s torso and legs and stood up. Why was she wearing these ridiculous shoes? Gina kicked them off and started walking, barefoot and with Rachel in her arms, back down the aisle.
For some reason, the musicians deemed it appropriate to resume playing (were they high?) and Gina let the Pachelbel Canon guide her wobbly steps. Rachel was thinner but taller than Gina, and Gina wasn’t sure how far she could manage to carry her. But she kept walking, between the rows of pews and out through the narthex, the church doors, and into the cool night air.
“Gina, where are you going?”
“The ambulance is coming. They’ll be here soon!”
A Ford Torino pulled up just as Gina stepped off the sidewalk, and the passenger door swung open.
“Get in, quick,” said her father. “Let’s get Rachel the hell out of here.”
Terra’s lips felt weird. It was the first thing she noticed; before the dust, before the sirens, before the pain. Her lips were gritty and stiff and dry. Terra tried to lick them, but she couldn’t muster enough saliva to get through the thick coating of filth. She closed her mouth, counted to ten, licked her lips and opened her eyes.
She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. The air around her swirled brown and grey in puffs and filthy gusts. She rubbed her eyes in one of her first attempts to somehow clear her vision. Chunks of stone and dirt and bricks and mortar and a bunch of other stuff Terra had no interest in identifying were dropping all around her. She took a few panicked breaths, counted to ten, then sat up.
Everything around her was a swirling ball of chaos, but also strangely static. Terra grabbed the end of a twisted steel beam and pulled herself up to a standing position. The ground lurched and she gripped the beam tighter. She looked around and didn’t like what she saw. Just about every building in Pioneer Square was leveled or damn near leveled, like a bunch of deflated balloons. Well, it was old down here, she thought to herself, how could anyone expect anything else.
Terra looked north, up First Avenue, towards the big hotels and new office buildings. She almost smiled. The marvels of modern engineering. Ha. Although most of the buildings were still standing, the glass curtain walls were shattered, with gaping holes where floor-to-ceiling windows used to be. It reminded her of her smile when she was six, when she had lost four of her upper front teeth all at once. She looked the same, more or less, but there was something off if you looked long enough. Also, many of the buildings were in flames. A key difference.
A wave of nausea hit her, and she bent over and threw up. She steadied herself with the steel beam, idly wondering where it was from, until her head cleared. Her thigh throbbed. Terra looked down at herself and wondered how long she had been unconscious. Her jeans were covered in blood. She thought about how pissed off Ryan was when she first bought them and he caught her trying to sneak them into her closet so he wouldn’t notice.
“They’re jeans,” he said, shaking the receipt at her like it was a dirty pair of underwear she had left on the bathroom floor. “I don’t care of if they’re made in America and they’re organic and Carrie Brownstein wears them too. They’re JEANS.” He shook his head and tossed them on the bed. “When we’re trying to retire–I mean when I retire and you’re still working–I want you to remember where all your retirement funds went.”
She had always thought Ryan was being ridiculous, hoarding his funds away for some distant time in the future where they lived in a veritable Shangri-La with group of other old people who somehow managed to save for this middle-class dream future by denying themselves simple pleasures. At least she had been right; Terra excused all her extracurricular spending with the caveat “nothing is certain.” Look who was right now.
Terra’s head started clearing. Her thigh was throbbing, worse, so much worse now that she was standing up. The upside, if you could call it that, was that she wasn’t as groggy as when she first opened her eyes and stood up. She mentally thanked her injuries for that.
The downside was that she could feel her heart beat in her thigh where she was hurt the worst. She looked down at her bloody jeans again. There was a deep gouge on the top of her left thigh where denim and a fairly big chuck of flesh was supposed to be. Gouts of blood seeped out the hole in sync with her heartbeat. Terra stared for a while as the blood pulsed. She pulled off her belt and looped it around her thigh, pulling it tight. Another expensive item she’d have to throw out or give to Goodwill. Dammit.
She wondered where Ryan was right now. Maybe he was at home with their dog. Maybe he was trying to contact of her. Maybe he was hurt or maybe he was even dead. Terra’s heart beat faster and she felt sick again. What was happening, what the hell was going on, what did she have to do? She had to focus. Terra considered staying calm and carrying on was for fools and people who collected throw pillows. She was neither a fool or an expert at interior design. She just had to figure out how to turn this current screwed up situation to her advantage.
Terra ran through several scenarios in her head. Her anxiety kept her up at night; she always had several half- dozen worse case scenarios to ruminate about during sleepless nights. Was it an earthquake, the fabled “Big One” that occupied the imagination of so many local newscasters and most Pacific Northwest residents? Another 911, one more terrorist attack by jihadists? A bomb set off by a group of angry anarchists sick of Amazon techies and the desecration of the Comet Tavern? Terra had no idea. Whatever it was, it was worse than she imagined. She had always hoped any emergency would take place when she was on vacation.
What time was it? Terra freaked out and grabbed her phone. The shiny black screen was dead, reflecting only Terra’s dirty face. No time, no signal. No Facebook. She shook it hard, like maybe it would jerk back to life with a little movement. It didn’t. The last time she looked at a clock was when she glanced at the little read-out at the bottom right corner of her computer screen. She was at work. It was 2:09. Afternoon coffee time. She grabbed her purse and told her assistant she was going to Starbucks. It seemed like a long time ago.
The sky was different now, and it wasn’t just the dust and the smoke from the fires. It felt a lot later than that to her. The sun was in a different place, the light had changed from when she left the building and walked to her Starbucks. Before she went to sleep and woke up in someplace completely different. Her Rinpoche had urged her toward embracing a dreamlike state, a waking meditation. Terra found the notion ridiculous when she attended her weekly dharma studies. Now waking mediation seemed to be a competent defensive position.
Whatever happened, it was not what she expected for that day. She catalogued the day’s events. She didn’t think there was a warning. No big bang, no big blinding explosion. Nothing in the New York Times or on NPR that morning about Trump fucking things up that varied significantly from the day before. No amber alert. The birds weren’t acting weird before she blacked out. The only thing she knew for sure was that her jeans were ruined, everything had fallen down, her leg was hurt and she had no idea what to do next.
Her hearing came back in a sonic wave that left her dizzy again. Not that she had missed it. There was a little background noise for a while, maybe. But the noise hit her in an instant. Sirens and screaming. Some sort of message, a deep male voice repeating over and over again, “This is not a test.” Who in hell thought there would be a test on this type of situation, Terra thought. It seemed like an outdated luxury of the baby boomer era, all the drills and practicing for an emergency that would never come. Baby boomers, she thought. I hope they’re all fucked now.
Terra lurched forward away from the beam. She was going home. This was enough. She mentally made herself a promise never to complain about work again. Terra began walking south toward the iron pergola, the symbol of old Seattle. Remarkably, it was still standing. Even the glass lights at the top were intact. It was louder in the square, more activity. Terra had gotten used to her nook between the rubble pile and the iron beam. Things were a lot different out in the street.
As she walked down the middle of First Avenue, she once again admired the energy and tenacity of the city’s youth. Roving packs of young women and men, some obviously injured but operating on sheer adrenaline, were running through the streets bashing in windows of the retail stores and small plate restaurants, the essential components of Pioneer Square’s thriving tourist trade and hipster local scene.
Terra watched as a cop, in some seriously misguided adherence to the pre-situation old rules, pulled her gun and tried to stop 15 or 16 people from smashing in a toy store window and grabbing whatever they wanted. Terra wasn’t exactly critical; it was “being in the moment,” as Rinpoche would say.
Someone jumped the cop from behind, and the crowd pulled the cop to the ground with her bullet-proof vest. A couple kicks to the head, bricks smashed into her face, and the cop stopped screaming. Triumph, the crowd ran on in a joyful frenzy. Terra ran over and knelt down next to the injured officer. She brushed the cop’s hair away from her face. Only one green eye remained intact, the other clouded with blood and splintered bone. She moaned, twisting and turning, her mouth pulled over to the side in a left grimace.
Terra held her hand, glancing nervously around, watching chaos reign as the cop’s hand jerked clockwise in a semi-circle until she was still. Looking around one last time, Terra rooted through her clothes and pulled the cop’s gun free of its holster. It was a cheap Beretta, one of Terra’s least favorite guns. It would have to do. Terra rooted through the dead woman’s pockets and police-issued pleather fanny pack. No ammunition. Now what.
He was a needy child, maybe because his parents strictly controlled his drinking. They drank out every night–they had to in order to get through the weekend. On the weekends, they allowed the child to drink his fill. At home. No going out. They made that mistake once and the results were disastrous. His cravings had been so bad, he’d gotten away from them and drank just down the street from their home. They’d barely managed to explain that away. If it happened again, they would have to move–sooner than they usually did. The child’s drinking problem was their fault, but they never talked about what had happened, never mentioned it. What was done, was done, and couldn’t be changed. The alternative was inconceivable to them. They had never even brought it up. So they lived with the mistake they had made so many years ago now, and would for the rest of their lives…and his. It had been early on, in the first few months when they were young and inexperienced. Things had gotten out of control. THEY had gotten out of control. Transitioning to their new life had been difficult. They had only focused on the advantages and didn’t anticipate feeling the disgust doing what had to be done, didn’t anticipate the incredible NEED. The night it happened, they hadn’t had a drink for a week, and had resolved to go out that night after the child had his bath and was tucked in for the night. The father had forgotten to put away his razor before bath time and when the child mistook the razor for a bath toy, he grabbed it by the head, cutting his palm on the blade. It wasn’t a bad cut at all, just a little slice, just a little blood. The mother stared as a few drops fell to the white tile floor. Red, dark red, so beautiful. So thirsty… The father got to the bathroom just after the screaming had turned to muffled crying. From the doorway, he saw the mother cradling the child, his hand to her mouth. He had begun to speak, then stopped when the mother looked up from the child’s hand, a smear of red on her chin, eyes wide, black. Before he realized he’d moved, he was next to the mother and child, kneeling on the cold tile floor, pulling the child’s cut hand to his mouth. So thirsty… When they became aware again, aware of where they were, who they were, it was too late. Almost. No words were exchanged. The mother and father stared at the child, then at each other, then did the only thing they knew they could do. The alternative was inconceivable.
I knew it was a dream, and I was tired of it. I wanted to get out because it was upsetting. You know the feeling. The difference between a nightmare and just a bad dream. You are aware the bad dream is just that. I just kept looking at and talking to the big head and it kept talking back to me. Last night’s reality warped inside my subconscious.
I just want to leave.
Give me the passwords.
I just want to leave.
Give me the passwords.
We were down at the sculpture park, near the big head. There was some weird crew skipping and marching in a line. Big unkempt people. Several of the males in the group were wearing kilts – scottish “evocative” ones. Lots of hair and tattoos. The pallor of their skin said they had not been outside much of late. Pale video game junkie hippies? Perhaps they weren’t hippies, more like metalheads.
I like to think of myself as a whatever makes you happy kind of guy. But these folks were surreal and unattractive and unappetizing in a memorable way. They seemed to be on some weird self administered cross-fit ecstatic dancing melange train. The biggest person, a guy, led the line, running hand in hand with a large woman. They were running along, skipping mostly, exercising in worn out doc marten’s. Just looking at them move in them hurt my feet. Tattered. The heels were almost gone, worn and tilted.
Working out in work boots. Skipping in kilts. None of them looked healthy, all of them looked happy. They laughed as they skipped down the path, waving their arms, one of them would shriek, and they all would shriek in answer. Then laugh, stop for a group hug, and move on again at the urging of the big guy.
Strange, but they weren’t bothering anyone. They bothered me though, I was strangely revulsed. And in another layer, I was upset and disturbed again about being so judgmental. And this is what happened before the dream, before the whiskey.
I just want to leave.
The head answered me with my own words. I just want to leave.
This had been near sunset. Down on the bay by the big head. Sitting with two women, one with dyed hair. Couldn’t tell the true color of her hair. She had it bleached white and then it seemed blue/purple dye had been laid on top. Very pretty too, like she had stepped out of an anime or something. Her friend had dreads, tied at the ends with some kind of metal bolts. I thought she was a little old for that look. What were their names? Did Neal tell me?
They were friends of Neal and Roger. After delivering the files to Neal via a usb we had drinks in some hole in the wall near the Magnolia Bridge. Good working with Neal. Interesting, unorthodox, paid well, nothing dangerous, or so I thought. Server management, a data dump. Proxy servers and vpn. Neal was paranoid to a point, and not really up to anything that needed so much security as far as I could tell. He just did not want anybody poking in his business. At the same time it’s not like he tried to pay with bitcoin. Volatile digital currencies are a little out of my league. I am not working on that scale. Roger’s alright too, especially once you get to know him, gruff, but straight up.
He turned his head. It was still dark. Very dark. Just silliness. Nothing to worry about. Everything was alright. Right? Rowdy night. Too much to drink. He was falling back to sleep. Where am I though?
That stupid dream welled back up. One of those anxiety dreams, unconsciously trying to wake yourself up. Or all about frustration. Your phone and keys are gone. You’re about to get laid, but you can’t untie your shoelaces. Or the woman turns into a pelican. That’s when I wanted to bail. I was leaning in to kiss her, and next thing I know there’s this big beak. I’ll remember this dream.
I do not want to copulate with the pelican. Why does this stuff come out of my brain? Why is it in here?
Let me go. I need to escape.
A pelican. Not the pelican. Let go of me.
Not the pelican.
Then I was awake. My head hurt, it was terrible. The strands of a heavy coarse shipping blanket scraped my face, poked through my clothing. A clammy sweat covered me, still in all of my clothes. I could smell stale whiskey seeping from my pores, and as I first tried to roll over I upset a bottle and sent it noisily rolling, over a step or some kind of drop. The crash and the sound of the breaking glass made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I could make all that noise but I was not free to move. There was a weight on me. So hard to sit up I could hear noise in another room but moving was so difficult. Loud noises and laughter.
Where was I? Did somebody drug me? Was whiskey my only poison from last night?
I heard an old blues tune coming from the other room. A song about women and whiskey. But where was I? Who was playing the music?
My head hurts and all I want to do is brush my teeth and go home. My hand searched for my phone in step with the word “Uber” crossing my mind. This morning I do not care if they are a terrible company. I just want to go home.
My hands find my pockets. No phone, no wallet, no keys. My head seized in pain and the first effect of my new adrenaline rush was an overwhelming wave of nausea.
At least I managed to roll to one side as I retched, avoiding myself in the dark. The sound of my filth splattering on the floor curiously distinct despite my addled state..
A door opened on the other side of the room. The music grew louder, a burly figure clad in a kilt shaped shadow shined a light that crossed two body sized lumps on the floor to nearly blind me in the brightness. A dog ran across the floor to closely examine my leavings. Fortunately it did not pause to taste anything, and it largely ignored me as it examined the rest of the room.
“Hey Fred – hungry? Want another drink?” he laughed. “All I want is the key to unlock one of your phones. That’s all it will take. Fred? What do you say? Come on, let’s take a little walk, just you and me.”
Awake now, I was afraid. Last night was coming back to me.
“Come on, Fred, I insist.”
Tudi has her mid-morning break by herself at the back table of the office break room. She doesn’t feel like making small talk this morning. Hell, she doesn’t want to be at work this morning, but she is.
As she sips her vending-machine drip coffee with extra sugars, she decides it’s a good thing she can’t remember all of what happened to her that night. She knows her status in the office has been forever altered. She just hopes there won’t be any legal consequences.
What she does remember, in a hung over haze, is disjointed, a group of moments. She can’t remember what order in which they occurred, or even whether they all really happened or whether she later dreamed some of them.
What’s easy to remember is how it started.
Oh, she’d always known Mitzi and Magda had their cruel streaks about them. She was always hearing them say awful things about their co-workers, family, and “friends;” she’d long suspected they said things just as bad about her when she wasn’t in the room.
So, as the after-work party for her birthday wrapped up, and they suggested keeping the party going at another bar, she hesitated a bit, no a lot, before she said yes.
She knows the three of them went to another bar. At least three other bars; maybe more. That’s where the details and the timelines get jumbled up.
An early memory involves Mitzi and Magda vetoing Tudi’s drink order. She wanted a “celebration” cocktail, something with fancy flavors and happy colors. They yelled at the barmaid to get them all vodka shots, then Bourbon shots, then tequila shots. No, that might not have been the correct sequence, but it was something like that.
She remembers flagging down a waiter at another bar, trying to order food; only for the other two to get that changed into another round of drinks.
Other things she more or less, sort of, remembers:
- A series of toasts: to her, to them, to the company, to the upcoming retirement of a boss Mitzi and Magda particularly detest; to Magda’s ex moving to the other side of the country next month (at last); to the positive cancer diagnosis of Mitzi’s “wicked stepmother, except she’s my real mom”; to guys who meet what Mitzi calls “the highest ratio” of money spent on women vs. sex demanded from women; and probably others.
- Noticing the taste of the drinks less intensely as she has more of them.
- The three of them standing around in a crowded bar with loud oldies music on the PA. The other two chatting up a succession of men, looking for the one who’d be “the right birthday present for our friend here.”
- Similar scenes to the above, in at least two other bars. Either Mitzi and Magda were picky about potential “presents,’ or they were just joshing, or their attention spans were shrinking fast. She herself feeling relieved whenever she got to stop talking to any particular one of these men.
- The three of them crowded in the back seat of a Civic being used as a Lyft car; Mitzi whispering racist “jokes” about the driver.
- Going to the women’s room in one bar after Magda had left it; smelling a hint of vomit by the sinks; not asking about it afterwards.
- Being handed a straight Coca-Cola by a male bartender, who’d assumed she was the designated driver just because she was the only sane one in the trio. Her accepting it without complaint.
- Tudi insisting she won’t get into Magda’s car again; Magda insisting she’s just fine, as she almost trips over her own high heels.
- Coming back from the women’s room, overhearing the two saying brutal things (apparently) about her; the two giggling briefly just before they see her. Tudi feeling grateful that Magda’s wearing (at least some) underwear under her little black dress.
- The last (or was it?) place they were at together. A condo building, less than a block from the last bar they’d been at. Tudi herself saying repeatedly she wants to leave. Magda, still boistrous and laughing, saying no no no not yet. Mitzi starting to ramble, albeit incoherently, like a bitter old woman disgusted by her fate in life and by the whole world. Magda saying she knows just what they all need now. Tudi wondering what that could be. Pot? Pills? Blow? Still more booze? Some combo of the above? Now she really wanted out. So what was stopping her? Only her own rising sense of fatigue. That and a sense of “surrender.” Something she hadn’t felt in a long time, if ever. Surrender to the moment; to the mood.
- Awakening, very briefly, in a strange bed in a strange bedroom, vaguely aware of the sound of someone else’s breathing, re-closing her eyes without investigating.
- Awakening again in her own bed, alone, on top of the sheets, her shoes off but otherwise fully dressed, with a hangover headache, and no idea how she’d gotten home.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about being back in the condo, suddenly seeing a man starting to strip out of a fake pizza-delivery uniform, then strutting toward her. Her turning away as Mitzi, Magda, and perhaps several other women screamed “SUCK IT!” repeatedly at her. Her closing her eyes and the sounds almost immediately going away.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about kissing a male stranger, who may or may not have been the stripper. At one point she looks away and sees Mitzi and Magda gawking at them; at another point she looks away again and sees nobody.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about bopping Mitzi and Magda on the head with a cast iron skillet.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about suggesting running off with the stripper, only for him to tell her his husband wouldn’t like it.
As Tudi sips and tries to sort out the images in her head, she sees Magda entering the break room, with one of the other people from her division (and with a head looking un-bopped-on). She turns her back to them, hoping not to be noticed. She pulls out her phone, to have something to bury her face in.
As soon as she turns it on and enters her security code, she hears the familiar “new texts” sound. There are three of them: two from an unknown number, and one from Mitzi.
“Congrats. You passed the initiation. You’re one of us now.”
Tudi turns off her phone and buries her face in her hand.
The Coming Darkness
Hillary and Donald lay side-by-side.
“It’s too much,” she sighed.
She rolls on her front, pulling at the light blue nightie that is riding up her thigh.
“I mean, Bill deserves whatever anyone can dish out, but I thought we weren’t going to let this thing get so out of hand. The whole campaign has gotten too ugly. We’re making people depressed.”
He kisses her temple, and then her neck behind her ear, nudging the nightie back up her leg with his knee.
“I’m serious, Donald. You act like this is all fun and games, but the goal is for me to be president, not for us both to be excommunicated from the country.”
“That’s your goal, my darling. I have to say I’m having the time of my life. I get to use big words, I get to find out all of the shit people have on me – especially the shit that I didn’t make up. I get to take the names of all of those shriveling little republicans who didn’t have the balls to take me out in the first place and now I’ve got my middle finger up their assholes and they’re spinning like circus freaks. It’s delicious, my love. If you can’t take back congress after this…”
“I don’t know. I am THE MOST QUALIFIED candidate ever to run for this office. If this were a spelling bee, I could spell all of the words backwards while standing on my hands and juggling chainsaws with my feet. Instead, I’m struggling to beat you. Maybe I should’ve just run against a normal person. Not the crazy, racist, sexist clown man.”
“My dear, if the electorate weren’t so fucking stupid, that’s what would have happened. I didn’t intend to be debating you – nice touch to withhold the handshake tonight, BTW – I honestly can’t understand how this all happened. This was supposed to be funny, not the campaign from hell.”
Hillary coughs. Donald rolls over and pulls something out of the nightstand drawer.
“Here are these throat drops I got you. Supposed to be magic. That soprano at the Met swears by them.”
“Is that the same soprano they sent you with their last fundraising ask.”
“Yeah, yeah. Her. Baby, you know I don’t care about singers. She gives good advice about cough drops, though, trust me! Plus, I worry about you and all this coughing.”
“It’s nothing, I told you.”
Hillary pops a cough drop into her mouth and sucks for a while, lost in thought. Donald sits up and turns to her.
“I could drop out of the race.”
“Don’t be silly, Donald. That would leave poor Mike Pence, and voters are in such a crazed state now, he might actually get elected. He’d have to jump off a building or something. What would he do?”
“I know. I knew he was a poor choice from the beginning. But the logo thing with our initials was just too fun to pass up and I couldn’t find any other running mates with P names. Okay, if I’m not going to drop out of the race, why don’t we just go for broke.”
“What do you mean ‘go for broke’?”
“We could leak a sex tape of you and me.”
HIllary laughs and then almost chokes on her cough drop.
“I’m pretty sure no one wants to see either of us naked, but I like where you’re going with this.”
Hillary climbs on top of Donald and he grins. He grabs her ass.
“It would be incredible, right? Put the rest of this show to shame. I keep trying to figure out how I can up the ante, but it hadn’t occurred to me how hilarious it would be to become totally transparent.”
“Well, not the sister/brother thing. I would probably draw the line there.”
A ROSE AT PEARL MANOR
By K. Uffelman
Ned’s chin dropped to his chest and the sudden movement woke him with a start.
“Bored by the lunch? Yeah, the food’s not so good.”
Ned turned his head. Who is that guy? He must be new, thought Ned, although he looked strangely familiar.
“I’ve had worse,” Ned mumbled, trying to focus on the plate in front of him. Was it really that the food was so bad it was putting him to sleep? Looked like some kind of chicken and something else. Maybe hashbrowns? That couldn’t be right. Who serves hashbrowns with chicken?
“Feel like a game of cards after they clear away this mess?” asked the familiar stranger.
Ned directed his attention back to the speaker. Nobody talked this much at Pearl Manor. Ned shrugged. He tried to roll back from the table, he didn’t want to play cards. But someone had set the parking break on his wheelchair and he couldn’t remember where the release lever was. He was so sleepy.
When he next opened his eyes he was sitting in front of a large window with a blanket thrown over his lap. The sod of the suburban backyard was curiously green and he could make out the details of the sprinkler heads, poking up every so often in the grass. His cataract surgery had been a great success; his eyesight was better than it had been in years and he was still getting used to the crystal-clear picture he saw when he woke in the morning. It was the same now. He could see imperfections in the sheetrock and how the laminate flooring didn’t really look like wood at all. Pearl Manor had seemed so much nicer before they fixed his eyes.
“Hey, buddy, I think your girlfriend might make an appearance.”
Ned turned his head to see who was talking. It was his neighbor from lunch. Who was he? Ned couldn’t remember a name, or how long this man had been a resident, but his knowledge of Ned’s lovelife was disturbing.
“Hi Luba! How’s mom doing today?”
Ned could see Rose’s daughter-in-law walking down the hall, carrying some potted flowers. What was her name? Jen? Gina? Something like that.
“She slept through lunch. We didn’t wake her.” Luba stuck a bobby pin in the braid she had coiled at the base of her neck. Ned noticed she fussed with her hair a lot. Jen/Gina looked deflated.
“Was she up for breakfast? Has she been up today?”
Luba smiled apologetically.
“We gave Rose her morning medication with some toast, but then she wanted to lie down. I’m sure she’ll be so happy to see you!”
Jen/Gina looked around. Ned tried to see what she saw. A handful of ancient men napping in wheelchairs. And then the familiar stranger who looked a little too fit to be here. Or maybe fit was the wrong term. He was sporting a significant pot belly and wearing slippers, but he was energetic in a way that was out of place here. He made Ned feel nervous.
“Hi miss!” shrilled the familiar stranger, “How are you doing today? You look lovely as always!”
Jen/Gina actively ignored him, but brightened a little when she noticed Ned.
Ned nodded in her direction and tried to give her what he hoped was a smile.
“Your grandkids coming today?” She asked. Ned shrugged. He had no idea. He was worried about Jen/Gina holding that heavy pot of flowers. It looked heavy. He wished he could carry it for her, but all he could manage was a nod toward Rose’s room.
“Nice to see you, Ned.”
She was a good daughter-in-law, thought Ned. Cheerful. Ned would like a daugher-in-law like that.
“Do you want some help waking her, Jamie?” Luba asked.
Jamie. He must remember. Her name is Jamie.
Luba pushed open Rose’s door and said, too loudly in Ned’s opinion, “Rose, your daughter-in-law Jamie is here with some beautiful flowers! Wake up, Rose. Time to wake up!”
“Hi mom,” Jamie whispered.
Jamie hesitated for a moment, but then walked into Rose’s room. Luba clicked off down the hall, wearing heels instead of her usual nursing shoes. Was it Sunday? Was she dressed up for church, Ned wondered?
He noticed the familiar stranger was staring at Rose’s door. He didn’t like the intensity of the gaze or the agitated drumming of the stranger’s fingers on the arm of the sofa. He started to say something, but his eyelids slipped down, down and his head rolled back against the thick collar of his sweater.
When he next woke, it was to Rose laboring through a Bach minuet. He loved to hear her play, even when she struggled, and he secretly prayed through each piece that she wouldn’t give up mid-melody. He was disappointed that in his long, long life he had never made the effort to learn to play a musical instrument. It was so magical, that human hands could deliver such beautiful sound.
“Here mom, let’s play one of these. They’re simple duets…you can coach me.”
Jamie and Rose picked slowly through some Schubert. Ned rolled his wheelchair to the front sitting room to be closer to the music. Jamie and Rose were seated side by side at the piano in front of the window, and Ned rolled as close as he thought he could without disturbing them. Jamie managed the simple arrangement well enough, and the sound of the piano was a welcome relief to the news program blaring from the television in the other room. But it was the view of Rose’s back that really enchanted Ned. Her normally slumping shoulders straightened in the loveliest way. Although he couldn’t see from behind, he imagined her breast bone lifted and her lungs inflating fully as her arms and hands moved in tempo. He closed his eyes, but instead of giving in to drowsiness, it was to better conjure the pressure of Rose’s fingers, on the keys of the piano or maybe on the small of his back or the nape of his neck.
“Don’t fall asleep while your girlfriend’s playing, old man!” The stranger’s fingers replaced the thought of Rose’s, shaking Ned in a way that near choked him.
“I’m awake!” gasped Ned.
“Sure you are, sure you are.”
Jamie turned around and glared at the stranger. He smiled back at her in a way that Ned was sure she didn’t welcome.
“Beautiful playing,” Ned whispered.
Rose turned her head slightly and he caught her eye. At moments like these, he was sure she understood his admiration. She rarely looked his direction, and sometimes he was sure she didn’t remember who he was. Often, in fact. But right now, she knew.
“I think I need to lie down now, dear.”
“One more?” Ned asked, his whisper hanging in the air.
“Yeah, how about one more tune for the old boy!” the stranger’s voice hurt Ned’s ears, too close and too loud.
“I’m just so tired,” Rose said, to no one in particular. And then Jamie helped her to her feet, and they walked slowly back to her room.
Rose passed close by Ned’s wheelchair and her fingers brushed his forearm. He didn’t catch her eye a second time, but he had felt the faint warmth of her skin and that was enough. Ned’s arm tingled for a moment, but then his eyelids started to feel heavy again.
The room was suddenly empty.
What was wrong with him?
Mirage by Dalmatia Flemming
Dana was prepared this time. No more driving in concentric circles looking for a parking space only to find spaces big enough for a Smart Car, like what happened the last time she tried to park on Friday night. She went to the city’s department of transportation website and found the official parking map. It was difficult to read; the legend showed six parking categories, each a different color, six different sign types … more colors, three patterns for am/pm restrictions and another color for spaces temporarily out of commission.
Dana determined she would head straight for the peripheral area, park and then walk; should be no more than ten blocks. So that was the plan; so much better to drive straight there, park and walk instead of her previous infuriating Friday night parking experience. The goal was to meet Ellen for Happy Hour before the movie. She performed the math calculation to ensure she left on time.
But … wait … could it be?! A parking spot on the coveted single block of “Unrestricted” parking?! This single street in the heart of all the action becomes available for free parking at 6 pm. Daily, cars begin to jockey for position at 5:55, circling the block until 6 pm. It was now 6:30 pm. How could this space still be available?! Was this a mirage?
Dana snagged the spot. She relaxed back into her seat and feeling very self-satisfied, let out a gentle exhale and smiled.
So now she would be early!
Dana decided the additional vest layer she had decided to wear under her coat was excessive. Even though she was a pro at completely undressing in stages at stop signs without ever exposing herself while changing into her exercise clothes, for some unknown reason she decided to get out of the car to remove her coat and then the vest.
Standing close to the car so as not to get hit by traffic, Dana started to remove her coat. Exactly what happened next will never be known … did the site of oncoming traffic trigger a self-preservation instinct in her so that she closed the car door to move in closer and get away from traffic? Did parking on a slight incline cause the door to be overcome by the force of gravity, consequently closing it? All of a sudden Dana became aware that the car door was closed and her purse, phone and keys were inside. “No … no!” Dana dashed around the car checking each door. “Shit!”
The miracle parking experience was a miracle no more.
OK, now what. Dana decided this called for a Happy Hour prior to the arranged Happy Hour / movie. She walked into the nearest tavern, a mere 20 feet away, and sat down at the one available bar seat between a man and a woman.
Dana looked around. The woman sitting next to her was texting. “Excuse me” Dana said to the woman. “I don’t have my phone with me, could I make a quick call on your phone?”
“Sure, no problem … just let me finish this.” The woman handed Dana her phone.
Dana proceeded to call AAA. The man sitting next to her glanced her direction and was clearly listening in. Dana thanked the woman for the use of her phone.
“I can break in to your car for you” said the man sitting next to Dana.
“Thanks, but I just called AAA. Someone will be here within the hour … but …” Dana glanced around the bar looking for a clock on a wall … “I’ll probably be late to meet my friend.”
“Where are you parked?”
“Practically right outside the door.”
“Come on” the man said, while standing up and placing cash on the bar.
“Well, what about AAA? And how can you be so sure you can break into my car anyway?”
“Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“You used to work for AAA?”
“Would you like your car door to be open 5 minutes from right now?”
“Come on then” the man said as he headed for the door.”
“You have a Slim Jim in your pocket or something” Dana said as she scurried along behind him, not quite sure that this was a good idea.
The man looked at her car. “Piece of cake.”
The man pulled from his pocket something that was used as a Slim Jim is used, but it was clearly a make-shift tool. He proceeded to work on the door. Twenty seconds later, Dana’s car door was open.
“Wow” Dana said, trying to restrain herself from jumping up and down. She was ecstatic but also suspicious …. Oh, what the Hell. She gave the man a childlike bear hug, encircling his arms with hers so that he could barely move. “Thank you, thank you!”
“Uh … you’re welcome.”
Dana quickly let go of the man, stepped back and started blushing. “Thank you, thank you.”
“You can stop saying thank you now.”
“So, what about this appointment with your friend?”
“Oh, we’re meeting for Happy Hour and a movie … want to join us?” What on Earth have I just done thought Dana? I don’t even know this guy’s name and he might be a serial car thief! But he was cute … or was that just because he got her out of a jam. But then, he could be her Knight in Shining Armor.
“Mike”, he held out his hand.
Dana shook it. “Pleased to meet you Mike.”
Dana and Mike headed towards the arranged Happy Hour spot.
Forty five minutes later the AAA guy showed up.