Monthly Archives: November 2013
Writers and friends!
Shanna, Daniel and his wife Melanie, Anne, Ruth our leader, Frank in the back is a friend, Clark, Pandora, Jay husband of Ruth and Skyped in is Tina. I am taking the photo so no me, Elaine. We missed Tom and a few others! This is the end of our 2013 session. A new one starts in January. Our prompt for the New Year is to write something you’ve always wanted to write!
BLUE HAWAII – Daphne Bellflower
Tootie walked between the rows of display cases, making sure everything was in order. “That’s it Gail,” she said to her friend waiting at the front door.
“Do we need to stop at the store for anything?” Tootie asked. “Does Kay need nuts or candies?”
“I already asked,” Gail replied. “She has everything she needs for tonight’s game. Except she’s short two hands. That’s us.” She glanced out the storefront windows. “Tootie, it’s getting dark. Let’s go. Your antiques can take care of themselves for the night.”
Gail smiled at Tootie as she turned out the lights and locked her shop door. Tootie had always been a tad poky, and hadn’t changed for 50 years. But best friends can overlook little annoyances, and Tootie was the best bridge player in North Bend. “I’m ready, Gail,” Tootie said. “Let’s show these ladies how to play bridge.”
Bo Peep shook her blonde china curls and blinked her big blue eyes. She stretched, adjusted her bodice and petticoats. “Here Ess,” she called, “here Pee.” Her matching Westie and Scottie dogs scampered up to greet her, their paws making clicking sounds on the glass shelf. Like Bo Peep, they stood as still as they could manage all day and loved it when the lights went out and they were free to play.
Bo Peep looked at the display case across the aisle. “Hello Sparky,” she said to the clown cookie jar on the top shelf. “How was your day?” She smiled, her china cheeks turning pink.
Sparky, as usual, had a big smile on his face. “Well, I’m doing just fine Bo Peep,” he said. “I had a little scare today. A couple of kids wanted to buy me, but their mom doesn’t like clowns. Imagine that.” He laughed, making the big black buttons on his clown suit jiggle and his china neck ruff shake.
Bo Peep had fallen in love with Sparky the minute Tootie brought her to the store. Sparky immediately welcomed Bo Peep to the aisle, and asked her questions about her background. “I can’t believe you are over 90 years old,” he exclaimed when Bo Peep showed him her china stamp. “Why there isn’t a chip or nick on you.” Bo Peep loved his sense of humor and his kindness to everything, even the most snotty antiques. Sparky had been so nice and welcoming and the others followed suit. Bob Peep was happy living in the store.
The one thing keeping Bo Peep from complete happiness was Sparky’s girlfriend Joan, the sleekest, smoothest figurine in the store. Tall and slim, with raven hair and slightly parted red lips, Joan presided over the jewelry case with her long arms reaching out, waiting for necklaces and bracelets to be draped on them. Bo Peep liked Joan well enough, but she could never compete with her for Sparky’s affections. Joan was too beautiful and sophisticated, and Sparky was just too nice of a cookie jar.
There weren’t too many available men in the cases in Bo Peep’s aisle, with the exception of the newcomer shaped like a bottle. Tootie brought him in last week, and he hadn’t gone out of the way to be friendly to Bo Peep yet. His square base said JIM BEAM, but that wasn’t the first thing Bo Peep noticed. He carried a guitar and was clothed in a splendid white jumpsuit with a huge belt buckle, the initial “E” spelled out in rhinestones. He was handsome, with his shiny black pompadour and perpetual sneer on his face.
After lights out, Sparky welcomed the newcomer. “Hello friend,” he said. “Glad to have you here in our little store.”
The decanter looked around. “Thankyouverymuch,” he said. “Elvis is in the building.”
His looked at the others. His hooded eyes settled on Joan. “Howdy ma’am,” he said. “I’d like to get to know you a little better.” Joan batted her long lashes and smiled. “Slow down, stranger,” she purred.
Tonight Bo Peep let Ess and Pee run over to play with the Donny the Donkey and Sammy the Squirrel. “Be careful when you play,” she warned them. “Last time Donny broke his ear and Sammy cracked his walnut. Tootie doesn’t like using the Glue on us.” She smiled as they scampered away.
“Hey, Bo Peep. I have something to tell you.” Bo Peep looked around. Shirley Temple motioned her over, her perfect blond curls and white teeth glistening. Shirley Temple was one of Tootie’s treasures, her condition pristine, her price tag marked “Ask Owner.” Shirley Temple was a sweet girl, and one of Bo Peep’s best friends. She had an easy giggle and knew a lot of catchy songs.
“You know that new guy, the Elvis?” Shirley Temple asked. Bo Peep nodded. “Well, I think he’s sweet on Joan. I heard them talking today. Elvis said he’d buy Joan every piece of jewelry in the case.” Shirley paused and laughed, making her dimples show. “I think Joan is impressed. He’s pretty famous. I heard Elvis ask Joan to be his girlfriend.”
“You don’t think Sparky suspects, do you?” Bo Peep whispered, keeping her eyes on the smiling clown. “It would break his heart, if he had one. Does he have one?” she asked.
Shirley Temple shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she giggled. “There’s just a big empty space in there for cookies.” Both Bo Peep and Shirley Templed started laughing. Joan turned her head and stared at them, one painted eyebrow arched.
Joan glided over, her elegant green evening gown trailing behind. “What are you two girls whispering about?” she asked in her husky voice. “Some silly little bit of gossip? I heard the parrots and the stuffed monkeys are repeating stories again.”
“Joan, do you like Elvis now?” Bo Peep abruptly asked. “Sparky’s a great guy. He loves you. He said you’ve been together for over 20 years. Do you want to throw that away for some handsome stranger with long sideburns?”
“What business of that is yours?” purred Joan. “Sparky’s a grown cookie jar. And that’s a long time to be together. What if someone knocks me off my shelf tomorrow. I hit the floor, and it’s all over for me. I deserve to be happy. Sparky’s a great guy, but Elvis…” Joan paused and smiled. “Elvis is something else entirely. Sparky’s made for kids to stuff their hands into, but Elvis is made for grown ups. I’m going to tell Sparky about Elvis right now” Joan glided away towards Sparky, who was busy making all the Hummel children laugh at his antics.
“Poor Sparky,” whispered Shirley Temple. “He never could give Joan any of that jewelry.”
Bo Peep watched Joan whisper in Sparky’s ear, and then turn around and glide back toward Elvis. Sparky was still smiling. That was the one bad thing about having a painted-on smile. Sparky couldn’t cry even though his insides were breaking. He sighed, and his neck ruff drooped. He looked around and saw Bo Peep looking at him, a worried look on her dainty face.
“It’s fine Bo Peep,” Sparky said. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. Joan was always too fancy for me.”
“She’s awfully pretty and sophisticated,” said Bo Peep. “I can see why you love her.”
Sparky looked at her, his smile wide. “Bo Peep, you’re just as pretty as Joan,” he said. “And you’re really sweet too. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing after all. It gives us the chance to get to know each other better.”
Bo Peep’s cheeks turned a little pinker and she looked down at her shiny black shoes. She was so happy that she didn’t know what to do. She moved a little closer to Sparky. Shirley Temple smiled.
Tootie unlocked the antique store door, her arms full of the items bought at an estate sale in Snoqualmie last weekend. “Gail,” she called, “will you help me bring in the rest of the stuff?”
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Gail said. She was carrying a huge oil painting of a tropical paradise in a gold frame. “Where should I put it?”
“On that,” Tootie said, pointing at the ornately carved fireplace mantel.
Gail set the picture down, and stepped back to look at it. “Looks a little bare,” Gail said. “Maybe you should set up some figurines in front.”
Tootie looked at the painting, with its blue water, golden sand, and swaying palm tress. “I’ve got it,” she said. “Where’s that Jim Beam decanter I bought last week. It will be just the thing.”
Gail grabbed Elvis and set him down in front of the painting. “Perfect,” she said, “except for one thing. Elvis needs a girlfriend.” She looked around and spotted the jewelry holder. “She’s just perfect for him, Tootie,” as she set Joan next to Elvis. “Don’t they look great together?”
Tootie looked at the china couple and smiled. “They look good, Gail. As good as your card playing last night. Those girls had better brush up on their bidding.” They both laughed.
“I have to dust before I open,” Tootie said. “I don’t know how everything gets so darn dusty every night.” She looked at the clown cookie jar. “Gail, did you move the my shepherdess next to the cookie jar? I could have sworn she was in the case across the aisle.” She stared, a puzzled look on her face.
“Oh well, they look cute together,” Tootie said. “I think I’m going to leave them just like this.”
I came downstairs at 3am. My mind was racing. The usual stuff of insomnia: bills, money, the kids, what we were going to do with my aging mother, who had even less than we did, and was beginning act like she couldn’t remember things. The wife got uptight when I joking said we could put her in the basement.
“We’re already cramming the kids into one room and they’re not going to stay small enough for that to work for long,” She admonished me when I’d mentioned moving mom in.
“Well, we’re going to have to do something soon,” was all I could muster in response.
I felt the jab of wishing Jesse were still around.
Jesse was my older brother. He’d died 15 years ago. We were Irish twins, he was only 11 months older than me, but he was my big brother in every way. He was bigger than me, braver than me, more popular than me. Hell, he was even better looking than me. But he always looked out for us, especially since dad had split the scene when were kids. He’d stepped into the role of being the “man of the house” without ever even having had a good role model. Dad was a drunk and never had his shit together. So Jesse took over when he finally disappeared from our lives. Even when we started getting into trouble as teenagers, Jesse had it together. We’d come home after being out drinking all night, and he’d somehow still have a 10 spot to give to mom for groceries. She’d never even have to ask. She just smiled and folded up the money into her robe pocket as she turned to the stove to make Jesse some eggs. I’d always come skulking in after him feeling like hell warmed over and then feel the extra guilt of knowing I’d spent my every last dime on cheap beer and cigarettes. There were times when Jesse would disappear for days at a time and mom would worry.
“Why doesn’t he call?” she’d ask me as I sat on the couch watching tv.
“How the hell should I know?” I felt left out and left behind whenever he would go awol. But he always came back with stories of debauchery that made me look up to him even more. And he’d always have a few extra bucks for mom.
So tonight I came downstairs with all this on my mind and turned on the tv just to numb it all out. And I swear to god, it’s Jesse on the tv! Its some old movie called Rumble Fish from the 80’s about two brothers and how the younger brother wants to be like his older brother, but the older brother tries to warn the younger brother not to be like him. And in the end the older brother dies and the younger one has to go on without him. It was so strange to watch a movie that was like the story of my life. And it made me remember what I always tried to forget.
The night Jesse died was supposed to be his last in Seattle. He’d been asked by a local up and coming band to be their roadie for a US tour. It was Jesse’s break to make it out of town. And what I didn’t realize then was it might have been his chance to escape the life that was waiting for kid’s like us: a life of blue collar jobs, of never having enough money and of dreams left unrealized. He saw his chance to escape and he reached out to take it.
“Might be gone awhile. I’ll swing by to say goodbye to mom and we can go grab some beers after.” He’d had the confidence that he’d always had.
We’d sat waiting for him in the kitchen until well past midnight. Mom finally got up to go to bed.
“I’m covering the morning rush, so I’d better get some sleep. Tell Jesse to send a postcard home when he makes it to California. Always wanted to see the beaches down there.”
I’d gone out looking for him. He wasn’t in any of the usual places. The next morning the band guys were calling our house.
“Dude. What the fuck? Is your brother there? We gotta hit the road and he isn’t here to help load the gear.”
I’d told them Jesse didn’t show up at home last night at all.
“Well you can tell him he’s fired when he does show up!”
I was still holding onto the phone when the police called. They’d found him down by the railroad tracks. A train conductor had called it in. Saw the body but couldn’t stop the train. The coroner thought he’d probably been walking along the tracks and fallen and hit his head. That was it. No mysterious strangers, no drugs in his system. Just fell and hit his head.
Sitting in the dark, at 4 in the morning, watching a movie from the 80s, I lamented my brother’s death like I never had been able to in 15 years. It was time to let him go. I’d call mom about moving in once the sun came up.
It is not fair to a trip really. They never get over what is at their root and it is not their fault. The responsibility for a misshapen nature belongs to the idea in the mind of the traveler who sets all this in motion. It would be easy to extend this view further, to all the people and forces that make, shall we say, such a trip possible. And it is not fair to the place to hold it responsible for the events of a wretched evening. Perhaps it is in a certain group ethos we possess, us, children of Long Island and the 70s and 80s. More particularly, the South Shore, and Islip town in particular.
In search of a certain economy, a necessity really, I had booked the red eye from Seattle to JFK. And keeping with the mood of my return to Suffolk County I had prepared for departure with a couple of shots of Tequila while making my way to the train and the plane.
The night had been uneventful enough, aside from a nightmare – I think it was a nightmare – which I woke from, forgetting I had the red-eye eye mask on, terrified of what I was buried in. Peeling the mask away and feeling incredibly parched and dismally aware that I had only succeeded in sleeping for forty five minutes. I spent the next few hours staring, hopelessly awake, at the screen in front of me. The only thing truly unbearable was the commercials, which I refused to watch, flicking endlessly away from them made sure I ended up watching nothing at all.
Next thing I knew I was shaving in the bathroom at the Jet Blue terminal in JFK, standing next to the man with the huge head who I had roused from sleep at the gate. Without me he might not have made it. I waited for a stall so I could change my clothes in a membrane of privacy. From there a couple of trains left me standing on a corner outside the train station in Islip.
There I was, in all my glory, ready to celebrate the life of our old friend Billy Sheehan, a neighborhood icon who had helped inaugurate us into adult life, via jobs on the Irish pub circuit, and making sure that none of us ever got carded at his bar. All of that was long ago. Half of the old crew had been through rehab, several of them twice, and those of us who hadn’t had wised up a bit, at least enough to have us somewhat functional and healthy at this point in our lives.
Billy had lived a full life and we were all gathering for the funeral before he was shipped home to be buried at the cemetery in Milltown.
Niall and Liam pulled up to give me a ride home to their mom’s, and would in all likelihood be driving me around from event to bar to event until my flight left on Sunday morning. They felt it a shame that I had missed the wake of the previous evening. I let them know that the flight had left me feeling like I had been at a wake. They seemed to be getting along just fine.
The two of them were born fighters. But one of them had grown up and settled down while the other was leading a poisonous life marching from hangover to hangover, leaving behind his boyhood good looks. Niall looked forty five, maybe even fifty, but he was still in his mid-thirties. His formerly handsome face did not tell a goodnight story. Liam was the opposite: a settled businessman who knew how to have fun, work hard, and be a good spouse and dad. And that drove Niall crazy. The thing that Niall hated most about Liam wasn’t just Liam’s success but his generosity. Or you could say just his plain old happiness.
Another way to put it was the things that make most people happy, especially when their youth is behind them, did not make Niall happy. He had been a ladies man. Had had more than one good job. No shortage of chances. His family had picked him up after so many problems. The most recent his oxy habit, which everyone spoke openly about. And according to all of them, was behind him now. Most of all, Liam didn’t judge Niall. He was there for him: no nonsense, but not giving up either. Liam was steady, that’s what he did.
The funeral went off, no big deal. It was a day like the old days, where you felt like you did not come to life until mass was over, night had fallen, and you were sipping on a pint. We had a roaring time, singing old tunes and new – from a Soldier’s Song to Galway Girl. It was lovely to see them all. I was chastised for not having the whole family with me and teased for my increased girth. Half of the group couldn’t believe I was not planning to move back.
The real trouble began to express itself with whiskeys that started being ordered around midnight. Everything had gone famously until then. For me personally I was now fully aware that I was a mess. Still smart enough to be relieved to know that I could walk back to the couch at Mrs. Flaherty’s. I caught sight of Niall standing, red faced, yelling something about “not taking shit like that from his baby brother.” Liam looked like he was ready for him, and they made towards the door, painfully, to take it outside.
Now, I’d seen the two of them fight before, but not in twenty years. In their youth Niall had been the better fighter: he certainly had more experience. But Liam was nobody’s baby now, and had a couple of inches and twenty pounds on his big brother.
Perhaps it would have all been postponed if the whiskey had not started to flow. Perhaps it would have been worse if it was postponed any further. It seemed then like they had always been destined to have it out. But the bouncer at Lily’s did not see it that way. And unfortunately Niall had a bottle in has hand when he went outside. Liam never had to hit anyone. But he did get to see his windshield smashed. And saw the remains of the bottle hurled at him, missing, and cracking the beautiful painted window at Lily’s.
Fortunately the bouncer had a sense of restraint, and Niall only had to take one to the gut, and one to the face before he was under control. As we all know, or should guess, getting arrested is, at the least, an administrative nightmare. And a party killer.
We walked home to Mrs. Flaherty’s, quietly. There were some somber drinks in the dining room, and then I took my rest on the couch. I was several minutes awake before it all came back to me. Hungover and sad at the relief I felt to be going home. A carb heavy breakfast and I was back on the train. Before I knew it I was standing in personal haze outside the Jamaica station hailing a gypsy cab for JFK.
I put my faith in the driver. I did not know the way to the airport.
The gentleman returned and poured them each a generous measure to which he added a splash from a blue bottle of mineral water. “Opens it up just a bit, you know.”
“You’re not a bartender, are you? You’re an American and I’ll wager you’re from First Class as well.”
“Very astute, lad. And I’ll guess from your accent that you’re from the Midlands or there about.”
“Well, close. From the Lake District and from Second Class.”
“Ah, beautiful country.” He held up his glass, paused, and said, “A toast, perhaps. To the continued excellence of the White Star Line?”
They clinked glasses and drank deeply and then stood silently regarding each other for several minutes. The ship groaned. Strange sounds emanated from the bilge.
Reginald said, “I was asleep. I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Well, lad. It didn’t make much noise. I was playing bridge. It was more a shudder. We thought little of it until a man came through the saloon and told us there was ice on the fore deck.”
“Why didn’t you get in one of the lifeboats?”
“Well, I didn’t wish to be parted from my dear wife.”
“Where is she?”
“She is resting comfortably in the hold.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We’ve been abroad for some time. We were to return home for Christmas, but she took ill while we were in Paris. She died in March. I was taking her home.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Reginald eyes welled and he turned away. His shoulders hunched.
The gentleman cocked his head to one side and then reached over and pulled Reginald to his side in a tight one-armed embrace. “There, there, lad. Death comes for us all.”
Reginald opened the hinged silver frames and said, “My own wife died last summer in childbirth.”
The gentleman pulled out his spectacles and put them on just as the lights went out. He struck a match, found a bottle of brandy, filled an ashtray and set it alight. It burned with a blue, uneven ethereal flame. He took the frames and admired the photographs of a young woman and an infant. “A son?”
Reginald nodded as the gentleman poured more Scotch. He held his glass aloft and offered a silent toast. It was no longer possible to stand without support.
The gentleman said, “One hand for your drink and one hand for the boat.”
Reginald said, “This ship is going to sink. Isn’t it?”
“Of course it is.”
“But they said that could never happen.”
“They say many things, don’t they?”
“I’m not ready to die.”
“Few ever are.”
“How can you be so sanguine about the matter?”
“Lad, death took my breath away when I still just a boy. I saw Chickamauga Creek run red. I’ve never been sure I didn’t die right there. I still smell that war every day of my life. Death is the only certain thing in this world.”
“I need another drink.”
“Well said, lad!”
The lights came back. The ship groaned. They held up their newly filled glasses and Reginald said, “To absent friends.”
“To absent friends!”
“I think I’m getting drunk.”
“You’re a fine lad!”
“We should go look at the stars.”
“A sterling proposition. I found Champagne back there.”
They set their glasses down. The gentleman poured the rest of the brandy on the bar, tipped the still flaming ashtray, and set it all on fire. They each took a bottle of Champagne and began picking their way through a kitchen clanging with shifting metal objects. The climb was steep and deck was slick.
They made it through a doorway and several yards into a long corridor which they saw as steep ramp leading uphill. There was a shift and everything tilted as they slid feet first against the bulkhead on either side of the doorway. The gentleman smiled at Reginald and began twisting the wire at the bottleneck. The cork popped and the lights were gone again. There was another pop in the darkness. The gentleman struck another match. They clinked the bottles and drank.
“That is so good.”
They remained like that in the dark for some indeterminate interval. A series of enormous booms crashed through the blackness surrounding them.
Reginald asked, “What could that be?”
“That could have been the boilers breaking free.”
“It sounded like cannon fire.”
“No. No. It really did not.”
The gentleman struck two more matches and let them burn down. Now came a tortuous, wrenching, Judgment Day sort of eruption, which Reginald felt in his chest, as the forward section of the vessel tore away. Then, in the roaring silence that followed, they found they could stand on the bulkhead without leaning against the deck. It felt good to stand upright again. Reginald felt the gentleman’s right hand on his own right shoulder before it slid down his arm and grasped his hand. They shook hands.
“I’m glad I met you, sir.’
“Yes, this has been a happy association.”
Reginald dropped his empty bottle through the now horizontal doorway between them. He heard the splash just before he felt his stomach rise as the bulkhead dropped and he fell screaming into thirty degree saltwater that instantly filled his lungs and the marrow of his bones and his mind and every cell in his body.
He felt all of that. He thought, “So damned cold – Thousands of ice picks – I wonder if
I am Rachel
My name is Rachel McGlesson Brooks. I thought I should write down my history for you children before I die. I learned to write when you children were learning to write because I didn’t want to be illiterate and most importantly, being able to read and write has helped me survive all these years especially after your daddy died.
I hope dear ones that this will help explain why you are how you are and how you should you never be ashamed of your heritage but be proud that we have all survived in pretty good condition.
Here we are today at the start of a new century, one I never thought I’d see much less be sitting here in my own house sipping my own whiskey that I made writing on a table under the light of a good kerosene lamp warmed by the fire in a hearth that doesn’t smoke and stain everything with soot.
As far back as I can remember I’ve had to work. The first plantation that I remember belonged to master Settle here at Gainsboro. My mammy Mariah and probably her mammy were brought to the land of the free from Africa as well as my father Willie.
None of this I really know for sure, I can only speculate about their hard lives and the constant days of hard labor it took in order to tame this unknown territory. I do know that they, just like we do now, lived when all people, whites and blacks toiled together. The only difference was that the masters could rest while my forefathers had to keep working until being allowed moments of sleep as the word relaxing didn’t exist.
I figure my grandparents or the generation before must have walked in from the seacoast. Like I said, I was separated from my mother when I was all of fifteen. They must have walked south into the Eden that we now call Tennessee. I heard tales that a man named Daniel Boone was the first white man to hunt this lush farm full of every kind of game: elk, deer, turkeys, beaver and geese like the Indians did before they arrived.
The land, riddled with rivers teeming with fish, provided a rich farmland and a perfect climate full of unspoiled swaths of trees and wild flowers that the Cherokee and Chickasaw had for centuries used for hunting and gathering in God’s own larder.
This land was settled by the white man greedy for a better life, who discovered that in this fertility he could grow corn and cotton and tobacco and easily survive off of raising big fat cattle rich with meat and milk, fueled by sour mash whiskey.
As this valley was planted and re-planted more workers were needed and those workers were slaves, a commodity that was plentiful in America and could be easily replenished.
At first everyone worked together getting the land plowed, the crops planted and harvested, animals killed and smoked for the cold winters. Sheep had to be sheared and the wool carded and spun to be woven for clothes. By the time my mammy and pappy were pressed into slavery the white settlers had more time and money to build fine houses and import luxuries like silk and fine wool to be sewn into fine clothes for their large families.
My mammy was, so I’ve been told, was one of the best seamstresses in Jackson County and her sewing ability and physical beauty made it possible for her to escape the harsher existence of her fellow slaves.
Around the time I was born us slaves saw a change in their status as more wealth poured into the county. When once slaves were valued as a commodity worth protecting we were now suspect. Some didn’t want us to have personal freedoms like traveling, or hunting or just gathering.
There were rumors of Quaker folk wanting to free the slaves, forming meetings and causing a stir but this anti-slavery antic was quickly put down. Buy that time, my mammy and I were sold to Mrs. McGlasson for a huge sum of seven hundred and eight dollars. We worked for her until I was sold when I was just fifteen to a man who would become my man and the father of all you children.
Richard Preston Brooks, your father, we all call Dick Brooks, was such a powerful creature. You all know this as he has been in your lives since you were born until the day he died almost twenty years ago. He was handsome as the devil and as bad as old Satan himself.
I was just a girl of fifteen, a girl on the verge of womanhood that New Year’s Day sixty years ago when Master Dick Brooks took me for his own. His wife Miz Mary was a good god-fearing woman and had already borne him ten children in all, but she was plum worn out. Ever since they married way back in 1823 she had been pregnant every few years or so whether she liked it or not.
Like all of the women we had a hard life. Work around the farm was a tremendous responsibility and Gainsboro was just a village. Some of you have moved to Nashville and know how different it is there. You have stores. You can buy soap already made. You have paved roads and fine clothes. Your children go to school and have nice leather shoes not glorified moccasins. Your world is as different from how I was raised as my mother’s was from her African ancestors.
Miz Mary took me into the house when Master Dick brought me home but as soon as I was showing that I was with child, that would be your oldest brother Lud, she couldn’t put up with him and me being together.
I was still a girl. Even though I knew about the birds and bees, I was raised on the farm, I just didn’t know what to expect with this turn of events. Master Dick decided that I should have my own place and set me up in this house here. Oh at first it was just a little hut but he soon fixed it up to be comfortable for me and my growing brood. Donnie, you were next you came into this world a year later. Vernie, you were the last for a couple of years.
Times in our beautiful green Eden were changing fast. Gainsboro was now a port city close to the mighty Cumberland and steamships plied it’s curves carrying our best goods, tobacco and whiskey, to the world or at least as far away as New Orleans.
The most unbelievable thing happened in the sixties. Now they call it the Civil War. Our lands were run over by all types of wildness. Dick protected all of us, his white children and his mulatto children, from the bands of cutthroats that invaded our little county. He joined the Rebels and became a Colonel and didn’t get killed so I would say all of us were lucky.
The Sixties were also lucky for me because during the turmoil Kizzie, Booker, Lizzie and Mollie were born. We were all happy in our little home. I took in extra work by being a seamstress like my mammy before me so we were pretty well off. After the war Dick enlarged the house so it became what you see today.
Again things changed with the coming of the railroad and the end of slavery. Life was confusing at times but I sure enjoyed being a free woman. Well, I was not free in a sense. I had a whole bunch of children, a man who was here but not here. A well respected man whom the town of Gainsboro had elected Judge and at times sheriff. Dick was a man who stayed close to his wife and his first family but also loyal to all our children and me.
He was everything to me and I am proud to say that he picked me and stuck with me. We had the last three of you children Matthew, Lena and Albert and then he died in 1881. It’s funny how Miss Mary died that same year. He left the bulk of his property to be split up between his six remaining children by Miss Mary and left me this land and house providing that I put aside a part of this place for a Brook’s cemetery.
Here is where he is buried and that way I will always have him close to me. Well, that’s all I have to say right now. I wish you all a very Merry New Year. I am so blessed to be able to be here in this great country in the place of my birth surrounded by all of my children and grandchildren. I do think 1900 will be a wonderful year.
Marshall Ayres has been up since 5:45. It’s now 7:10. He’s had his morning mini-workout (the short version for the starts of long days). He’s had his shower and his deluxe brush shave and his doses of fine grooming products. It is the start of a health-food and energy-drink powered full day of Winning.
As his raspberry and peach smoothie with protein powder comes into being in the blender, Marshall picks up his phone and clicks past each item on the day’s calendar app. Mostly the usual assortment of conferences and meetings with the toadies, contracts to be signed, underlings to be motivated, chastized, exhorted. Competitors to be smothered flat. Victories to be toasted. Defeats to be avenged. A meeting with the legal department to determine how to countersue that leech of an ex employee who’d spread such disrespectful things about him to the media.
And it’s all in the name of “being Social.” For that is the marketing angle behind his latest venture. Harnessing the power of social media to share all media formats, via triple-anonymized cloud servers, to mobile devices of all platforms and screen sizes, with minimized redundancy and cross-synergization, and also robust path-masking that optimizes deniability against IP legal actions.
Copyrights, though not software patents, are among the “dinosaurs” of society that Marshall will help to disrupt.
He likes that word, “disruption.” He likes being a rising star in a movement that’s changing the world. Destroying tired old industries and ways of doing things. Forging new paths, new efficiencies. Flattening centuries of useless bloat. The inefficient, the parasitic, the wasteful—all will soon be gone.
In the place of all that, a rationalized order to everything, managed by intelligent cloud based Big Data and supervised by rock star code warriors such as himself.
He hears a familiar buzz from his phone. It’s time for his morning meditation. He turns off the blender, picks up a tall glass from the cupboard, sees a speck of dish soap on it, sets it aside, reminds himself to tell the maid’s interpreter about it, picks up a second glass, finds it acceptable, pours the smoothie into it, sets the opened blender carafe down on the granite countertop, and takes himself, his glass, and his phone into the study.
He sits before his genuine reproduction rolltop desk. He un-sleeps his three-monitored PC (real antique desks don’t have the room for three flatscreen monitors but this deluxe tribute model does), clicks on his customized meditation app, and dons the Shure headphones that are always connected to the PC.
In the headphones, he hears the familiar soothing, yet stimulating, sound of the binaural white noise, scientifically engineered to reach the most receptive parts of his brain.
Within seconds, all three screens bear a CGI animation of a tropical beach, followed by a succession of video and still images. A CGI Earth spins slowly in space. The image zooms in, passing through the clouds, closing in on the North American continent, then on his city.
The image dissolves to a still of his dream home. It is a magnificent estate situated on the shore of a tranquil lake. It contains, as depicted in further images, indoor and outdoor pools, a home theater with a curved 4K screen, a rec room with a genuine vintage Bugatti roadster parked in the center, a slate pool table, a two-lane bowling alley, four marble-walled bathrooms, a commercial-sized kitchen with a walk-in freezer, an eight-car garage filled with a dark green Lamborghini and other luxury imports (and maybe one fully restored 1950s pickup), a sunken living room with a wet bar and a video wall, three guest bedrooms, a master suite with a mirrored ceiling, a walk-in closet filled with custom tailored Italian suits and silk ties, a 24-hour staff (including at least three live-in mistresses), and, at the center of it all, at the center of the world, an even taller, more muscular, more perfected version of his self.
And there’s travel too, represented by images of a private jet, a 100-foot yacht, a private space shuttle, and the Earth’s most scenic destinations, ranging from the top of Mount Everest to the shores of Bimini.
The next images depict future news website headlines (print newspapers being among his definition of obsolete “dinosaurs”). The headlines all shout about the onderfulness of Marshall Ayres, the single wealthiest and most important man the world has ever known. Photoshopped stills depict major world leaders genuflecting at his brilliance (politicians, as a class, being another category of “dinosaurs” to him). Self help book covers ask “What Would Marshall Ayres Do?” and offer “The Marshall Ayres Plan to a Perfect You.”
Marshall Ayres is the lord of all he surveys, and Marshall Ayres finds it all to be excellent.
Marshall Ayres is late, as he returns to the plane of reality.
He re-ties his genuine leather shoes. He looks at the cuffs on his well-pressed white shirt. He decides he’ll get a Rolex, even though he has his phone to tell him the time; it just makes the whole look come together.
Where is that car service? Why is it always late when he needs to be always the first one in the office and usually the last one out? He has to set an example for the rest of the office, to separate the loyalists from the Leechers.
While he waits for that unreliable car service (he vows he WILL have his own driver and soon), and because he believes in NEVER letting a moment go to waste, he stars to type notes into his personal journal app; all keyworded for instant retrieval when it comes time to write the story of his success. (He’s already been looking up ghostwriting services In India.)
He writes about his own neat and simple division of the people of the world into three classes. It’s going to be part of his bestselling book. He hasn’t come up with the right terms for them yet (the mark of a True Winner: never satisfied, not even with himself). His current names for his trichotomy:
• The Leaders (a.k.a. Level 1, the primaries, the Winners, and the True Winners; i.e., people such as himself);
• The Followers (a.k.a. Level 2, the secondaries, those who contribute and kowtow in wise deference to the Leaders);
• The Leechers (a.k.a. Level 3, the tertiaries, those who do not deserve to live, those who should be sent off on an ice floe, the losers, the sheeple, the parasites).
There are, of course gradations within and cusps between these levels.
David Carstairs, the local old school developer who got in way over his pay grade, whom Marshall had to buy out at pennies on the dollar, was once a Level 2, tried and failed to become a Level 1 (the poor twerp just didn’t have it in him), and busted himself down to a “high functioning” Level 3.
It’s because of Carstairs that he bought two tickets to the big show by some two bit hippie dippie circus acts. Acts that Carstairs wants to evict for that other, remaining, development project of his. That man, Marshall decides, needs more than one lesson. And Marshall is just the one to give it to him.
Marshall doesn’t particularly like alternative circus acts, not that he knows anything about them beyond the bigtime touring outfit from Canada. And he doesn’t much care for alternative burlesque acts either, with their cleaning up of what had originally been the sort of dirty, sleazy sexiness he likes.
But the burlesque promised for this show. sounds a little intriguing. He likes real nudity almost as much as he likes real sex. The ruder and cruder the better. And he likes danger, since he’s the sort of guy who makes risky deals all day long.
And he likes how the Architect, even though he revised her work on Ayres Colonnade Tower I, is willing to work with him again, once he lands the financing for Ayres Colonnade Tower II. He thinks it shows she’s got a good sense of submission. Not the kind of dainty lie down and think of England submission, but the kind that shows a woman or man accedes to what’s good for them. Which in her case is him.
He’s got a whole Theory of Sex, another part of the grand philosophy that will go into the “What Would Marshall Ayres Do?” bestselling book. The gist of it is that people are naturally sexually attracted to others on the same level of this hierarchy of humanity. But, also, that people with aspirations to rise in the hierarchy are appropriately sexually attracted to people the next level up.
In the case of himself, of course, the only way up for him would be to a more advanced level within Level 1; this architect lady is clearly a Level 2, but potentially a good lay. Someone who knows she needs to learn from a man such as himself, in and out of the sack.
For this particular event, his date will be someone named Sheila.
He’d met her at some big noisy bar on First. He was out drinking and snorting with the usual gang of his fellow code ninjas. Suddenly he heard some chick who was yelling louder than he and all of his compadres put together. He just had to find her. When he did, there was no one else near her. She had climbed onto a table and begun a mean impromptu striptease. One smokin’ bod, though the tits could use a little something more. Barmaids yelled at her to get dressed and get down, threatening to kick her out. She rightfully and truthfully yelled back that they were going to kick her out anyway. He stood directly in front of her and immediately offered to take her away from all this. She climbed down from the table into his arms. He picked up her top from the floor. They stayed in there just barely long enough for him to pay both of their tabs. They walked out into the early autumn night, her booblets still pointing the way. The miniskirted Asian women walking outside the bars, clip clopping out of rhythm in their high heels, stopped and stared in disgust and/or awe.
Marshall admired Sheila’s ability to be Disruptive. Greatly.
Her only demand was that they go to her place. Even though he told her how nice his place was. And even though she turned out to have no cats, dogs, or kids to feed. But she insisted.
She was a dynamite lay. The best he’d never had to pay for. She ave head like there was a miracle cure for all known diseases in his jizz. And she fucked like a wildcat, a regular wildcat.
Then in the morning, she was like some totally different woman had showed up and taken her place. She clutched her bathrobe, as if he hadn’t already pawed and licked every inch of her. She spoke quietly, almost mumbling, and wouldn’t look him in the eye.
This was definitely a chick he had to meet again, he writes just as the phone call comes in from the car service (shitty traffic blah blah blah).
Survival of the Fittest – by Dalmatia Flemming
Albert arrived at work. He headed for the fridge and opened it. Out tumbled a plastic grocery bag with its handles tied in a knot. “JW” was written on the outside with an indelible marker. ….Humph… must belong to Jordan Albert thought. Albert picked it up, carefully put it back in and crammed his lunch in front closing the door as quickly as one can close a refrigerator door. He was not in a very good mood. But he tried to focus on his goal which was to get a promotion by the end of the year. He had four months to go.
The promotion was perfectly feasible. Albert had delivered on his latest project. There was one organization unhappy with the results, only because the project’s closing recommendations was to decrease widespread usage of one specific tool, and this particular organization was funding the tool. But this would save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Who could argue with that?
Albert felt there was only one obstacle that could get in the way of his promotion. Jordan. Albert was pretty sure his department could only finance one promotion this year. Yeah, Jordan was competent and had produced some good work, but he hadn’t paid his dues. Albert had.
Jordan was one of those “perfect people”. He had one of those “J” names as well. It seemed all the cool dudes had a “J” name. Albert was born just prior to the “J” name phenomenon, when classic names were popular. Jordan liked team sports, both to watch and as a participant. He was a good athlete. He liked beer and he liked to go out to happy hour with the work group. The ladies seemed to think Jordan was attractive as well. Chancey was quite flirtatious with him at happy hour last week much to Albert’s dismay.
Ahhh … Chancy … the Devine Goddess. One time she talked to Albert. What did she say … who knows, but she was talking to him … that voice … like a perfect sonata … and that perfect mouth … ahhh …
Albert on the other hand, didn’t really like team sports as a spectator or a participant. He played the violin all through high school and college, so he wasn’t even in the marching band. Which is not the same thing as playing sports, but at least the marching band was regularly attending the football games and after parties.
Albert was in the company’s orchestra as well. The Whozit Corporation was so big that it had a volunteer orchestra. They would go around and play for senior homes and other places. Sometimes orchestra practice conflicted with happy hour, but Albert forced himself to make happy hour with the work group once a week. He had to ensure he was seen there, or he would be a total outsider. He was not a big fan of beer, and the bar food made it hard for him to stick to his diet; he was trying to lose 30 pounds.
Next task, get a cup of coffee on the way to his cube …ah crap… coffee spill on the shirt … and Albert has a key meeting with his boss today. Well, let’s just drench it with water and maybe no one will notice after it dries.
This meeting might be “the promotion announcement meeting” Albert thought. He usually met with his manager for a “one on one” meeting once a month for half an hour. But this was an additional meeting. Albert had been practicing his “thank you” speech.
Albert fired up his computer and opened his email. What’s this … a meeting cancelation notice? Which meeting … the “promotion announcement meeting” with his boss? …crap… Albert immediately opened up his boss’s on-line calendar … what’s this … a new meeting in its place … what’s it called … “Progress report and acknowledgement” … what’s that mean … who’s it with … Jordan!
Albert accidentally inhaled his coffee and choked …crap… more coffee on the shirt. What on Earth could this mean?! His manager didn’t even bother to reschedule his meeting with Albert, he just canceled it. Then there’s some stupid “acknowledgement” meeting with Jordan in its place?! Albert decided to find an excuse to loiter in the vicinity of his boss’s cubical. Maybe he could eavesdrop a little.
Albert’s manager and Jordan were yucking it up. Then, they put on their coats and it appeared that they were leaving for lunch together. Albert was infuriated. This is what Albert hated most about Jordan, he was a real schmoozer.
Albert sighed silently to himself and went over to the fridge to get his lunch. He opened the door. Out tumbled his lunch. It looked as though it had been used in a game of “Kick the Can”. And there was the lunch with “JW” inscribed on it, looking as pristine as ever.
Reginald had retired to his cabin early in the evening and, after reading in his bunk for an hour, had put out the light and fallen into a deep slumber from which he gradually surfaced, sometime well after midnight, due to the persistence of increasingly excited voices in the corridor outside his door. He ignored the periodic disturbances with the hope that they would eventually subside, but he abandoned that dream when someone rapped on the door and shouted some sort of instructions. The only part of these he understood were the words “to the boat deck.” He clicked the light and stared at the overhead with a sense of exasperation mingled with mild curiosity about what had transpired while he’d slept.
His determination to go back to sleep evaporated with two nearly simultaneous realizations. First, he felt a certain uncanny stillness. The quality of complicated ambient noise associated with the forward momentum of the ship had simplified. Second, he felt certain that his feet were now just slightly, but perceptibly, higher than his head.
He climbed down and put on fresh stockings and the shoes he had worn to dinner. He wrapped a white silk muffler around his neck and put on his heavy coat over his pajamas. He looked around the cabin, put his watch and chain in one pocket and the book he was reading the other, and opened the door which surprised him by falling open and banging against the bulkhead. He stepped into the now empty corridor and climbed the inclined deck to the nearest stairway.
The canted stair treads induced a most unfamiliar sense of vertigo. He felt as if he might just pitch backwards, so he gripped the handrails on both sides and hauled himself up to the next flight which, as it faced the bow, made him feel he might fall onto his face. He continued climbing without encountering anyone else. A roaring rush of noise grew louder as he got closer to the upper decks and, by the time he stepped outside into the frigid embrace of the night, it was deafening.
He looked up at the clouds of steam blasting out of the funnels and, despite his rising apprehension, smiled at the black sky full of stars so bright and numerous that they seemed close. Somewhat reluctantly, he lowered his gaze and scanned the crowded deck where people stood calmly murmuring in small groups, some solitary figures seemed frozen while others, mostly men, strode purposefully past empty lifeboat davits. Some people stood at the rails looking down. There was no moon and no wind.
Reginald walked downhill, as it were, on the wooden deck for several hundred feet until it sloped into green water well short of the bow. The sight of deck lights glowing beneath the surface unnerved him. For the first time he felt fear. Those lights shining underwater seemed distinctly ominous. He turned and walked back uphill until he reached crowds of passengers most of whom were now moving up towards the stern. Few remained calm. He wondered at his failure to don a hat. He heard his own voice. He said, “I might die tonight.”
He wanted to be away from all these people before him so he climbed, with difficulty, down two decks and made his way through a large dining room where light fixtures hung at odd angles from the ceiling. A baby grand piano pivoted on its rear legs and the keyboard swung so that it faced downhill. The lights flickered. Reginald entered some sort of service bar filled with many bottles of liquor behind rails that prevented most of them from crashing to the floor. Some bottles had broken and the air swirled with a strange elixir of mixed vapors. He closed his eyes and deeply inhaled the exotic alcoholic perfume. The idea of a strong drink held seductive appeal. The chiming impact of the piano at it crashed into a bulkhead in the next room brought his eyes open and he exclaimed “WAH !” as he spotted a dapper, bewhiskered older gentleman standing behind the bar. The gentleman replied, “What will you have, lad?”
Reginald said, “All the boats are gone.”
“That’s true, but I think we still have sufficient time to enjoy a few drinks.”
“The word I get is that we struck ice.”
“An iceberg? In the middle of the Atlantic? How could that even happen?”
“Well, I surmise it was an exercise in very poor judgment.”
“Oh my God.”
“Indeed. Now then I suggest brandy would be just the thing at this juncture. I happen to have come across a reasonably good example here. I’m afraid I must report that I have begun without you.”
“That sounds perfect. May I have a double?”
“Very good, sir.” (TO BE CONTINUED)
Deep Sleep by Shanna
The thing that Albert hated most about Jordan wasn’t the fact that
Jordan would leave his dirty clothes in the middle of the floor of
their dorm room. After all, it wasn’t like Albert had never seen a
pair of dirty boxers before. It wasn’t that Jordan would blast his
music when Albert was trying to study. Albert enjoyed a good concert
every once in a while. It wasn’t even that Jordan would “borrow”
Albert’s bike to get to class when he was running late, which seemed
to happen a lot. Albert had 4 younger siblings so he was used to his
things being borrowed.
No, the thing that Albert hated most about Jordan was the wheezing and
whistling noise Jordan made when he was sleeping. Just about every
night Albert was woken up by the hissing and breathing sounds coming
from his roommate’s nose. Even though Albert wasn’t an only child, he
never had to share a room when he was growing up, so he had never
experienced the disoriented feeling of waking up from a sound sleep
because your roommate was snoring.
The first time it happened, Albert didn’t understand what was
occurring. One minute he was deep asleep, dreaming of Rachel from his
Communications class, her long blonde hair and bright red lips, the
way she seemed to always be winking at him, and how suddenly she had
begun doing a strip tease in the middle of class. She had just taken
off her shirt when Albert was rudely awakened and found himself
staring at his dark ceiling instead of Rachel’s honey skin.
What?, he thought, disoriented. Where did Rachel go and what was that
noise? He rolled over and checked his phone in case the alarm was
going off but he had another 4 hours until he was due to wake up. He
pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked out the window, in case
it was coming from outside, but all was still on campus and so dark he
could barely see the trees across the way. He slid out of bed and
crept to the door, silently opening it, and stuck his head out into
the bright hall but the hall was silent and empty and no one was
He shut the door quietly and turned around, pensive. It was then that
Albert realized the noise was coming from his roommate’s bed. He edged
up close to Jordan and watched in the dark, fascinated, as Jordan’s
nose flared in time with the whistling.
Albert was stunned. On one hand, he didn’t realize the human body
could make such a noise. On the other hand, Albert was really tired
and just wanted to go back to sleep. He crawled back to his bed, got
under his covers, and closed his eyes. He willed himself to go back to
sleep and to Rachel, but he couldn’t get the whistling out of his
ears. He traced random patterns on the ceiling as he lay there,
occasionally nodding off when he got tired enough, only to be jolted
awake by the wheezing sounds from his roommate.
After an agitated night of semi-sleep, Albert woke bleary eyed the
next morning. He looked over at Jordan who was stretching as he got
out of bed, no signs of a restless night in his eyes.
Albert frowned and asked him,”Hey, did you hear that weird noise last night?”
Jordan looked at him. “No man,” he said, “I’m such a deep sleeper, a
bull dozer could come through here and I would sleep right through
“Oh, that’s great,” Albert said weakly. He suddenly had a horrible
feeling that he was never going to be able to sleep again.
“Yeah,” replied Jordan. “I must have gotten the good sleep gene.
Everyone in my family is always talking about how they can never get a
good night’s sleep. I can sleep through anything.” Jordan grabbed his
towel and made his way to the bathroom.
Albert slumped onto his bed. What was he going to do, he thought. If
he had to go through the next 10 months with that noise, every night,
Albert knew there was a slim chance that he would make it. He sighed,
grabbed his towel, and followed Jordan to the bathroom. He needed to
think up a strategy and he needed to think of it quick.
Albert soon came up with many ways of dealing with Jordan’s problem.
At first, he tried earplugs and headphones to block out the noise, but
all that did was prevent him from hearing his alarm and made Albert
late for many of his classes.
After that, he started keeping a pile of projectile objects next to
his bed, things like shoes, bath products, anything he could use to
throw at Jordan. Albert had learned that if Jordan were pelted with
something, something that would cause him to flinch or move, that
Jordan would stop snoring, at least for a little while. Unfortunately,
Albert was only able to use this method for a short while; Jordan had
gotten progressively agitated when he would wake up with mysterious
bruises all along his arms and chest.
Albert made sure that Jordan drank a lot of fluids, in the hopes that
if Jordan were well hydrated, this might help him stop snoring. But
all this caused Jordan to do was to get up and go to the bathroom
multiple times a night, causing Albert to wake up every time Jordan
opened and closed the door. Albert then tried getting Jordan extremely
drunk, in the hopes that Jordan would just pass out for the night.
That was a terrible night, Albert thought. Jordan’s snoring had been
the worse ever and Albert swore to never let him drink again.
Albert hounded the message boards online, looking for cures for
snoring. He joined support groups and subscribed to newsletters. He
started reading medical and reference books, devouring them in the
hopes that if he learned enough about why Jordan snored, that this
could help him figure out how to get Jordan to stop snoring.
As the year went on though, Albert started to notice something. He
realized that he was sleeping through the night more and that Jordan’s
whistling was waking him up less often. Albert began to eat more and
started to put on weight that he had lost. He began to think more
clearly, since he was sleeping more, and his grades went up. Albert
realized that he was slowly becoming immune to the wheezing and in
fact, when he went home for spring break, he couldn’t sleep because
his room, nestled in the back of his parent’s house, was too quiet. He
missed the hissing. He missed the whistling that seemed to creep
through the dorm room in the middle of the night.
Albert smiled at Jordan when he returned to campus after break. He
still hated Jordan’s snoring, but he hated it a little less now. Plus,
with all the medical research he had done, Albert was seriously
considering changing his major to pre-med.