Monthly Archives: November 2014
Elinor looked shocked at her own self. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Well, what did you mean to say?”
“It’s just that I was a psychic. I’m not any more. I gave it up. I mean I’m suppose to give it up. There’s too much for me to deal with right now.”
“Well, perhaps we all need to turn in now anyway,” Bob said graciously. “I know, after all that hybrid strong, strong herb we need something to take the edge off. I’ll be right back.”
The Oberon’s were showing signs of being absolutely stoned. “I guess I should have warned you guys that this particular strain is guaranteed to warp your brain.” Steve was lying in his hammock, the others instilled in tableau.
“I have never ever been stoned.” Annie said sitting in full lotus in a corner of the floor. “But after this I think I will do it again.”
Aiden put on his shades and reclined on the sofa. “Elinore, I hope you will read Steve’s cards. I have an affinity for the occult.” His honest declaration regrouped the tribe. “Come on Elinor, you know we all just starting to be friends now. We’re not going to judge you harshly. We want to get to know you better.”
Penny chimed in, “it was really hard for me to confess to all you complete strangers. But now I feel trust in each and every one of you.”
“Well, I feel like a real dork. My stupid problems seem so trivial, my pot habits and me thinking that I am all that, that I hsve some special ear to god, so whatever you do is all good with me. I love you guys, I really mean it.”
Bob arrived carrying a tray laden with mugs, which smelled like hot chocolate. He knew some of them had different tolerances to milky substances he thoughtfully catered to the intolerant amongst them. He made the [i]hot chocolate with hemp milk and in honor of the stoned amongst them. There was also a heaping plate of triangular cinnamon toasts of caramelized sweet goodness.
“Oh my, this is just like what my mother made when I was a child.” Elinor was smiling now. “How did you know Bob?”
The group ate and drank the bedtime treats. There was no new talk of goals or lost illusions and soon as one human organism they tumbled off to bed and a trippy dreamland.
Bob tidied up and went outside in the cool night air. As he looked up into the black night he thought to himself, ”Oh yes my little chickens, you are now creating new lives for yourselves, making new connections, creating new friends.” He sat thinking quietly to himself until sleep itself called.
The next morning Elinor was the first one up except for Bob who was in the kitchen or the galley as he called it fixing a late breakfast. She was wearing an elaborate emerald green gown. Her boa, made out of silk ivy leaves, swirled around her neck. Her golden braids were piled atop her head. She was barefoot and carried a staff topped with a pinecone. She looked like a princess of an ancient tribe.
“Good morning Bob,” she shouted “I am ready to start the new day.”
One by one the Oberon’s emerged. As if they got the same message each was dressed in what could be called finery, an extension of their stories, of themselves. Steve dug out one of his favorite Rock and Roll outfits tight bell bottoms, ruffled shirt and loads of jewelry. Aiden had on a beautifully tailored suit, pale yellow with an equally pale blue shirt and a white fedora. Penny wore a red ruffled miniskirt and thigh high red patent leather boots.
Bob came out to announce, “Breakfast is ready children.” He never changed his outfit, loose pants and shirt obscured by his apron with his name embroidered on the bib in black cursive. “ We’re having an old fashioned southern breakfast today kids: Grits swimming in butter and cream, three different kinds of fake sausage, scrambled eggs with chives and home made biscuits with butter and honey. Strong coffee is in order after last night’s perfect pot party.”
“Miss Elinor, I thought after we eat you could tell us your story. We only have a short drive to our next camp so we won’t leave here until late afternoon.”
Elinor took the stage about noon. The blue skies had disappeared and a curtain of grey hung in the air. “I was a professional psychic in LA for many years. This is only one of many of my outfits. I won’t tell you my stage name but I was very popular with a certain clientele.
Most of the psychics out there are fakes you know, phonies but I seemed to have a gift. I didn’t let anyone know especially the other psychics. I just kept it a secret. Well, for a while I worked for this company who did parties for the high-rollers, you know the one’s that lived, as they used to say the ”Lifestyle Of The Rich And Famous.”
I got involved in a twisted plot, I won’t go into details but this one man, I just knew he was going to die. The cards never lied to me. I knew when, where and how. It is a terrible thing to see this. I knew how to turn off my gift if I needed to, but this image kept pushing through. I told him he was going to die and then nothing happened .The day and time passed and nothing. Finally he destroyed my career and ruined my reputation because he was still alive.”
The Oberon’s were silent mulling over this recitation. “But wasn’t he happy that he was still alive. I know I would be jumping for joy.” Steve said.
“See the funny thing is this. I haven’t had the gift return for the past five or six years now. It had always been with me and then, POOF, nothing, no signs, no visions, no ghosts, nada. I decided I’d better to get rid of this burden so I came on this pilgrimage to let go of those cards.”
“Do you have them with you now?” Penny asked. “I believe in the cards.”
“Last night, I promised I’d read Steve’s cards and I will do that, just to see if I am under some kind of spell. I mean when you work in this business you develop all sorts of rituals to make the magic work, even the biggest fakes, con men, magicians, circus people, gypsies have ritual. “
Elinor asked Bob to put a CD in the system. Beautifully strange music flutes, cymbals and small drums beat a rhythm. Elinor twirled the ivy boa floating around her face and neck. She beat the stick in time to the music and sang I—O—E—V—O, I—O—E—V—O, I—O—E—V—O. There was a cloth wrapped package in her left hand. She shook her head so hard forward and back, forward and back until it seemed that her head would pop right off her ivy strangled neck.
The music came to an end and Elinor, who seemed to be in a trance, sat at the table where Bob had set two candles. They could hear a soft rain outside the RV. She unwrapped the cloth and slowly shuffled the cards.
Aiden stood up suddenly and cried out. “Oh please Elinor, Steve let her read my cards. I would give anything to have her read my cards. Please guys.”
[i] Recipe #6 –Hot Chocolate and Cinnamon toast
LA CUESTA – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Eva woke to the sound of laughter. She rolled over and put a pillow over her head to muffle the noise. The pillow was too heavy, and her air supply was gone within a minute. She kicked off her comforter and pushed the pillow to the side. It was already getting hot. She rolled over on her back and stretched. “Time,” she said.
“It’s 8:22 Eva,” whispered the clock in the smooth, masculine voice she loved. “Do you want to get up now or do you want to go back to sleep?”
Eva opened her eyes. Her room was dark, but she could see streaks of sun on the granite floor. “Shades,” she said. The shades rolled up into a neat little tube, flooding her room with sunlight. She sat up in bed and stared at Los Angeles spread out before her. She had lived in the Hollywood Hills for 20 years, but she still marveled at view. Her clear blue pool sparkled outside her bedroom door. “I’m getting up,” she said to the camera on the ceiling.
She got out of bed and put on her new robe. It was black silk, embroidered in turquoise, green and gold peacock feathers, with gold fringe on the sleeves. Eva loved it, like she loved all things soft and beautiful. She slipped in on and admired herself in the full length mirror. She rubbed the smooth black sleeve across her cheek, smiled, and went to investigate the source of laughter.
Harold and Kai were in the kitchen drinking coffee. “Good morning, boys,” she said. “You look happy this morning.” She smiled at them and poured herself a cup. “I like happy” she said. “Any almond milk left?” Kai shook his head. “We’re out of almond, goat, and soy,” he said. “But it’s on the list. We thought we’d make a grocery run today. Laurel Canyon’s getting a delivery at ten, so Harold and I thought we’d get up early to get in line.”
“Good thinking Kai,” Eva said, rubbing his neck and shoulders. “You’re certainly resourceful. I like that” She studied his current outfit. Today he had his hair in a topknot, his beard was perfectly groomed and he was wearing tight skinny jeans and a vintage Black Keys tee shirt. Harold was also sporting skinny jeans and a wool plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off. Like a weathervane, the tips of his waxed mustache pointed due east and west.
“Are all the interns still addicted to ‘Girls’,” Eva asked, a slight smile on her lips. “You know, there are a lot of good new shows out there. Why is everybody obsessed with TV and movies from the depression? People dressed like that back then because they couldn’t afford anything nice.” She poured herself another cup of coffee. “I hated the teens. I got out of college up to my ass in debt and had to move back into my parents’ house in Long Beach.” Eva sipped her coffee and watched Kai and Harold exchange grins.
“I get it, way, way back in the ancient Long Beach days,” Eva said. “Before the earthquake and the ocean did everyone in LA County a favor and got rid of that dump. And now you don’t have to drive so far to the airport.”
“But wasn’t Malibu cool,” asked Harold. “And Santa Monica too? I heard Malibu was the greatest, the best waves, the best break, and it had all the cool houses. Didn’t everybody want to live there?”
Eva shook her head. “Harold, nostalgia will not get you anywhere. Trust me.” She walked out onto the terrace with her coffee. Harold and Kai followed. Eva turned around and smiled at them. “If I can teach you one thing, impart one bit of wisdom to you both today, it’s this: look forward, not back. Always move straight ahead. You can’t repeat the past.” She sipped her coffee, looking at them intently.
“Also, Malibu wasn’t that cool,” she added. “I was there. The waves were flat, the locals were assholes, and the PCH was a nightmare. Two hours to go five miles if you were lucky.” She set her coffee cup down and turned around to observe the house back-up system. “Let’s see what’s going here back here. I can still smell smoke. The Valley must be on fire again.”
Eva walked around the pool toward the stainless steel cistern that towered over the house. “Level,” she said. “37 percent,” the cistern murmured. Eva looked up at the trio of wind turbines mounted to the roof. Two were whirling, humming furiously, but the middle one was still, blade limp. Eva stared at Kai and Harold. “So what’s up?” she asked. “Looks like were running low on water and one of the machines isn’t working.”
“Santa Anas are blowing again today,” Harold said. “I called the turbine guys. I figured with the wind we’d have enough power until that one got fixed. I don’t think it’s a big deal, the blade isn’t talking to the motherboard. Easy fix.” Harold watched Eva’s face. “But the water level’s something else.”
Eva turned and looked at her neighbor’s house next door. It was a sleek iron and glass structure cantilevered over out the dry hillside. Poinsettias and gardenias bloomed red and white, and bright yellow lemons dotted the squat branches. “When did the Garcias get water?” she asked the boys. “I haven’t seen a truck up here in a while. I thought there wasn’t supposed to be a municipal water delivery until next week. ”
“Private delivery. Helicopter drop,” Kai said, nodding toward the concrete pad on the Garcia’s roof. “The last time you were in Detroit. I haven’t seen these guys before. Never heard of the company.”
“It was GNWS,” Harold interrupted. “Computer said it was Great Northwest Water Solutions. It was pretty expensive, a lot of money for one bladder. Supposedly from lake or a river, that’s what the delivery guy told me.”
Eva laughed. “Oh, from a lake or river, sure it is,” she said. “That’s some great marketing. Everyone else in California has been drinking their own piss for years.” She looked at the lemons and the flowers. “Except for the Garcias. Only the plants get grey water over there.” She stared at sun reflecting off the steel beams. “It’s getting hot already.” She turned and looked at Harold and Kai, both pale and squinting in the bright sun. “Are you both wearing sunscreen? I can’t take anymore interns with skin cancer.”
She went back into the kitchen, Kai and Harold on her heels. Eva rinsed out her cup and set it on the counter. “When do think everybody wants to get up?” she asked.
“Well, we binge-watched ‘Girls’ till late last night,” Kai said. “So everybody was still sleeping when we got up.” He looked at Eva. “What time do you want us all up here?” he asked her.
Eva thought a minute. Before she met with the interns, she wanted to shower, get dressed, then conference in with the Detroit office. “Time,” she said, stroking her black silk robe. “It’s 9:11 Eva,” said the clock.
“God I love that voice,” she said, smiling at Harold and Kai. “It’s Khan’s. I still miss him. He was one of my best interns.” She looked intently at Kai and Harold. “Maybe one of you will take his place. It’ll get you out of the dorm.” Eva grabbed Harold’s hand and kissed his palm. “Tell everybody to meet me on the patio at 10:30.” She smiled and walked toward her bedroom.
Her intern’s lives were pretty good, Eva mused. They had it a hell of a lot better than she did when she graduated from college. Back when she was in school the colleges were either public – funded by the taxpayers – or private – funded by wealthy donors. Both public and private institutions made students pay outrageous amounts in tuition. Students were expected to come up with the tuition any way they could. If a student was short, it was easy to get loans with ridiculous interest rates. Eva, like the majority of college graduates in those days, left college with over $55,000 in debt. She had a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but she was broke.
It wasn’t just the student loan problem. Job prospects for graduates in the teens were bleak. The unemployment rates and student debt was so high that the entire country breathed a sigh of relief when the corporations finally got involved. Eva remembered working a couple of jobs after she graduated, but the pay was so low that she finally broke down and moved back in with her parents until she got into grad school.
Eva entered grad school the same year President Obama left the White House. Although she would never admit this to her associates, she remembered him fondly, an intelligent man with a beautiful family. A Harvard Law School graduate. Everybody was so naive back then, all hope this and change that. It turned out to be a complete load of crap. The country didn’t want some nebulous philosophy, some Xanadu with citizen participation and universal healthcare. America wanted success.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Eva. As part of an experiment to reduce student debt, it was the year Pfizer took over operations at UCLA. Pfizer began managing everything from admissions to professor tenure to career counseling; UCLA was now run like a business. Majors considered useless to obtain gainful employment after college were eliminated. Pfizer expanded the lucrative departments like the medical school, law school, and business school, and consolidated the liberal arts into one department called simply “Non-Compulsory.”
Eva met with a Pfizer consultant on her second day at UCLA, a tall blonde woman with grey eyes. “I’m Lauren. Sit down,” she said, motioning Eva toward a small plastic chair. “I’ve been through your resume,” she said with a slight frown. “Philosophy? What were you thinking,” she asked, crossing her legs. “It was a mistake,” Eva said eagerly, “but I can learn from my mistakes. I’m here to get a degree in marketing.”
“That’s why we’re meeting,” Lauren said. “We want our students to get off on the right foot, so to speak. I’m here to show you how to choose the correct career path.” She handed Eva a package. “Here’s a way for you to get out of debt and to be successful. It’s an application for Pfizer. Every class you take will prepare you for working at Pfizer, for your life after grad school.” She looked at Lauren. “You’re here so you can get a job, right?” Eva nodded her head. “Good,” Lauren said. “We don’t want you to waste your time and our money.”
Just like Lauren promised, Eva went straight from grad school into a lucrative career for Pfizer. Her specialty was product branding, creating a name and image for the hundreds of new medications Pfizer released every year. It was one of the few accomplishments of the Obama administration, mandating health insurance for everyone. Business boomed. Demand for new medication, doctors, hospital equipment, and medical malpractice attorneys soared.
Eva signed a contract with Pfizer to be an intern for seven years after she graduated. Pfizer paid for her grad school tuition, room and board in exchange for her contractual services as an intern. Eva excelled in that environment; she was now one of Pfizer’s top marketing operatives with her own group of interns. The UCLA experiment proved to be successful and corporations now ran the majority of the colleges based on a simple philosophy: the only rational reason to go to school was to immediately obtain a corporate job.
Eva dropped her new robe on the bathroom floor and stepped into her glass-walled shower. “Water,” she said. “Three minutes,” barked her tiny shower head. Droplets of water popped and fizzed through the pinholes in the nozzle. Eva wrinkled her nose at the smell, a combination of the municipal chemical mix and good old chlorine. She hurriedly washed and rinsed her body. She had barely rinsed the conditioner from her hair when the water sputtered and stopped.
“Three minutes is bullshit,” Eva muttered, stepping out of the shower and reaching for a towel. She rubbed herself dry, tossed the towel on the counter, and studied the jars of scented creme. Eva reached for the tall blue crystal bottle, the one with the long neck and elaborate stopper. She opened it and sniffed. “Costa Rican Waterfall,” Eva laughed as she rubbed the lotion on her legs. “Not even close.”
TO BE CONTINUED….
What if? – Dalmatia Flemming
“Hi Carol, Chancy here.”
…”Oh … hi Chancy, I haven’t heard from you in a long time. How are you? ”
“Yeah, I know. I’m fine. How are you?”
“Oh good, I’m so glad to hear that…. So, I was wondering if you’d like to go out to dinner with me sometime soon and catch-up.” I remember that you always liked Italian food and there’s this great new Italian restaurant about a mile from your house. I’ve been there and I think the food is really good. What do you think?”
…”YOU’VE been THERE?”
“Yeah it’s good.”
“Oh… well I’m supper swamped right now. Just crazy busy for the next three weeks. Why don’t I call you after things calm down and I’m sure we can come up with a date and time that works?”
“How about if I call you back in three weeks then.”
“Yeah, that would be great. Nice to hear from you. I’m looking forward to it.”
Chancy looked hard at the photo of her and Jordan on their wedding day on the table by her side. She picked it up and turned it face down, then stared out into the nicely appointed living room of her gorgeous house in the city’s best neighborhood. She took her glasses off and set them down, rubbed her eyes and sighed. Here she was, freshly divorced from Jordan, ready to celebrate her new found freedom and to start a new life, and she had no girlfriends left to celebrate with.
Chancy thought back to that first time she and Jordan met. It was at work. She clearly remembered that day; it was etched into her brain…
… On the first day of her new job, Chancy’s manager led her around and introduced her to everyone in the work group. Her head was spinning with faces and names; how could she possibly remember all of them. It took a few weeks to get it right. But there was one person whose name and face she remembered immediately…Jordan.
He was so handsome! She was immediately attracted to him and it seemed as though he was attracted to her as well. The sparks flew as they shook hands, made eye contact and smiled at one another.
Chancy was excited to discover that the work group made a habit of patronizing the Taco Tuesday happy hour at the restaurant across the street. She went her first Tuesday on the job. Jordan was there.
They immediately hit it off. They became work friends but both wanted more. Chancy insisted they take it slowly.
As the weeks passed, Chancy observed that Jordan was destined for greatness, a real up and comer. Three months after Chancy was hired, Jordan took a job as a manager in another department. Now that they were no longer in the same work group, their relationship quickly advanced. A year after that, Jordan was promoted to senior manager. That’s when he proposed.
All of Chancy’s close friends – Shannon, Sue and Carol – thought she had found the true “Prince Charming”. Of course, they were so excited and happy for her, but a little jealous and afraid that they would lose their dear friend; that she would soon be out of their league.
The perfect wedding and honeymoon ensued. Jordan was made an executive. They moved to a very upscale neighborhood.
Chancy was now spending her days “doing lunch”, shopping and frequenting Pilates and yoga classes while the nanny took care of the kids. She had a whole new circle of friends, women who spent their days the same way. Chancy would send Shannon, Sue and Carol annual family updates at Christmas time, but she rarely saw them or even talked to them on the phone. Chancy’s life was so different from theirs now…
Chancy got up, and walked down the long hallway to the library. She found her high school yearbooks and began to thumb through them. A smile came over her face, but after a while she just closed the books and stared off into space. Then her eyes began to slowly trace the room, stopping to focus momentarily on one beautiful object and then moving to another.
How did this happen? How did her life turn out this way? Her priorities were the complete opposite of what they should be. And it had to be Jordan’s fault. He was always so eager to keep up with the Jones. Chancy told him exactly that many times for the first three years of their marriage. Then she sort of got used to all of these beautiful things and wanted more herself. She became completely removed from her former life and dear friends. Now she just had these sorry-excuse-for-a-friend “friends”. Chancy didn’t even like them. Come to think of it, she didn’t even like herself.
Poor Little Rich Girl, friendless, with self-centered kids off in prestigious colleges and no husband. Well, the no husband part was good. Jordan was an asshole…
…Chancy thought back again to that first day of work 26 years ago. She replayed the whole thing in her mind in slow motion, straining to make herself see the faces and remember the names.
A slow smile came over her face as she remembered one pleasantly peculiar young man, just a tad on the chubby side. He always had coffee stains on his shirt. He used to occasionally bring her a piece of fruit for no reason. He always brought the same thing to the group potlucks … brownies … and he made them himself from scratch … and they were very good. He was kind of funny; he would say awkward things at group meetings and everyone would laugh hysterically, then he’d blush. She thinks he used to go to happy hour with the group. What was his name… Albert … that was it! Chancy always had the feeling that Albert had a crush on her…
… What would her life have been like had she married Albert instead of Jordan? Certainly not the train wreck it was now Chancy mused.
by K. Uffelman
“Hi there, Owen. How are we doing today? Do you want to sit in the big
The three year-old crossed his arms and began to wail, shaking his head
violently back and forth. It appeared that he might give himself whiplash.
Dr. Mack looked at the child’s mother and laughed nervously.
“Nobody loves a dentist!”
The mother didn’t return Dr. Mack’s smile, but she did try to cajole the
sobbing Owen into the chair.
“C’mon, honey, remember I said we could go to the toy store if you can be
good for Dr. Mack. I promise I won’t let him hurt you.”
It was always like this. Every work day he had to face them…child after
child that cried in his presence, begging not to be left alone with him.
Even when he was a kid himself, Benny Mack had a hard time getting along
with other children. He was socially awkward, a little too smart,
desperate for acceptance. And now, that familiar dislike was coupled with
terror. It really was too much to bear.
When he returned from lunch later that day (the sandwich made by his wife
eaten as slowly as possible in the fourth floor lounge), his assistant,
Mandy, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Only a few more Dr. Mack.
We’re almost done for the day.” Benny was embarrassed by how visible his
fear and loathing must be. But also grateful for Mandy’s understanding.
They were almost done. And then he would be on the bus and then he would
be home. Safe, at home.
“Darling, who did you see today? Did the twins come?” Benny’s wife, Evelyn,
sat across the table, pouring wine into his glass. She was still so
beautiful after all of these years, he thought. She looked up at him and
his stomach twisted slightly.
“Well, I saw Owen this morning for a check-up. You, know, the Pickerel’s
three year-old. And then Bonnie Habney to fill two cavities. Josie and
Maisie were in before lunchtime…they’re getting very tall. Maisie’s still
sucking her thumb and her mother wants me to prescribe a palatal crib. I
told her I think those devices are barbaric, but she read about them on
the internet and was quite insistent.”
“How’s little Owen doing? I haven’t seen him since he was a baby. Was he
“Yeah…I mean, he’s at that cute age, right?”
“Did he cry?”
“You know, only a little.”
Evelyn reached across the table and refilled Benny’s wine glass. Then she
put her hand on his forearm.
“I love how you take care of all those little children. I know some days
it’s probably hard work, but it makes me so happy to think of you
reassuring them, patting their little hands, giving them treats for being
Benny smiled back at Evelyn.
“I know it makes you happy, I know.”
His stomach twisted a little more.
“How was Bonnie Habney? She’s what, six now?”
“Well, she wasn’t very excited about getting her cavities filled. She
needs better dental hygiene. I think her parents let her eat candy until
bedtime and then she falls asleep without brushing her teeth. She’s a
little wild, actually.” Benny didn’t mention that Bonnie Habney had bitten
him. Bitten him hard. He’d had to interrupt his drilling and have Mandy dress
the wound on his hand. He’d almost walked out of the office, never to
return, but you can’t really leave a six year-old in the dentist’s chair
with a half-drilled-out tooth. And so he gulped down his terror and
returned to finish the job. He slid his bandaged hand under the table.
“She’s got those crazy curls, doesn’t she?” Evelyn smoothed her own hair
behind an ear, “She’s such a beautiful child. I wonder if she’d like to
take piano lessons. I should talk to Mrs. Habney and see if they’ve
thought about it.”
Benny knew that Evelyn would never talk to Mrs. Habney about lessons for
Bonnie. Benny and Evenly had met when they were both music majors in
college. Evelyn was a piano performance major and Benny played French horn
and planned to be a professional musician, his career in pediatric
dentistry the result of an unlikely detour. Evelyn was a piano teacher now
–– but she only took adult students. She played music for the
both of them, and for the both of them he spent his days with children.
“I think that would be great if you gave lessons to little Bonnie. You’d
have a good time with her, and music study would probably be a helpful
discipline.” Benny drained his wine glass, wondering if Bonnie would hate
him less as the husband of her piano teacher. If she saw him outside of
the dentist office, maybe she would be less inclined to attack him. Maybe
she would treat him like any other adult, instead of an ogre.
“Yes, you’re right – I’ll talk to Mrs. Habney. It could be fun.”
To be cont’d…
Annabeth’s posture was perfect, as always. Spine up, back straight, shoulders out, tummy in, she strode through the Empire Tavern and Sports Bar. With absolutely no wasted motion, she scooped up empties with one hand and toweled-off the table tops with the other. The crusty old regulars, some of whom had probably not had sex since Y2K, followed Annabeth’s every move, turning their heads in unison. She remained oblivious, as always.
Annabeth returned to her spot behind the bar, a spot she had had specially lit in the otherwise dim room to give her a subtle, soft-focus spotlight. (She had explained to the electrician that she needed more light to ensure accurate transactions without needing to wear reading glasses.) She placed the bottles and cans in the recycling bins, the glasses in the dishwasher, and the napkins (one lipstick-smeared) in the trash. In the far corner, some man at the juke box had punched up a particularly irritating “classic rock” song. Annabeth silently reminded herself to ask the juke box man to remove it next time.
She turned to her POS terminal to track tonight’s sales. The numbers confirmed to her that business had been steady but light. It was late autumn/early winter. An early-week night. TV sports were sparse this time of year except for football. Baseball was over; college basketball hadn’t begun. Some of her regulars wouldn’t get their Social Security checks for another two weeks; others wouldn’t get their unemployment checks for three days. Annabeth silently thanked the Universe that she hadn’t scheduled anyone else to work this shift with her.
The terminal sounded its regular chiming sound, which meant it was time for Annabeth to make her regular cash drop. The thought came to her that since the previous chime, she had not spoken a word to anyone outside of the perfunctory exercises of greeting, taking drink orders, and accepting money. It could be lonely without Ginny around to listen to her, to compliment her good taste in clothes and in everything else. A shame, Annabeth thought, that she was close to firing Ginny, so young, so perky, so deft at deflecting the old men’s creaky come-on lines. But business was business, and Annabeth was determined this particular business would change.
She locked up the cash-drop box and lifted it from its shelf beneath the POS terminal (lifting from the legs, as always). As she arose, she took a quick look. Nobody was going to demand anything from her for at least the next half minute. She turned around, catching another glimpse out into the room (and at her perfectly made-up face) from the security mirror. She smiled to herself.
As she stepped into the barely desk-sized office closet, the motion-sensor-triggered light came on. This allowed her to keep both hands on the cash box as she neared the wall safe. She gently set the box down on the desk. She got close to the safe’s combination lock, keeping her torso in between it and any potentially spying customers out in the main room. A few twists and it was open. She efficiently stuck the whole unopened box inside and closed the safe door. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done, she silently “sang” to herself.
She turned to face the old institutional steel desk, where a fresh, empty cash box awaited her grasp. How it had ever been gotten into this tiny room through the narrow door was just one of the mysteries of this bar that she had obtained through a fortuitous combination of divorce and inheritance. After five years, the place still bore many such mysteries.
Annabeth looked up to the wall segment just behind the desk. There, as always, hung three framed images. Two of them were the front and back of a mockup menu she’d had designed for her several years before. They bore the name THE GREEN PEAHEN, and a logo Annabeth had paid good money to have designed, back when she still had at least some good money.
The center of the three frames on the wall contained an architectural-style drawing of the outside of this building, all redone and revitalized as Annabeth’s dream gourmet bistro. As she did every time she passed it, she paused to stare into the image. She closed her eyes. She visualized the Green Peahen as a living, thriving concern, with herself in full command, checking each day’s deliveries for freshness, devising daily specials, writing personal thank-you notes to each of her better customers, modestly blushing yet grinning upon receiving yet another glowing review.
Annabeth then visualized that it will take to make her vision become real. She envisions seeing the magic number in her bank account, the number that will allow her to renovate the building, to support herself without current income during the renovation, to restart with a whole new concept, and to slowly build a whole new clientele. Because of the location, she would have to promote it as a “destination” place, at least for the first year or two.
A noise out in the main room brought her attention back into the present. She opened her eyes, picked up the fresh cash box, and strode back out to behind the bar to learn what had just happened. She wasn’t afraid of fights or holdups as much as she was of one of the obese geezers keeling over.
(TO BE CONTINUED, MOST LIKELY.)
When it was all over, the thing she regretted most was…hitting the reset button on her iPhone. It felt like the world suddenly stopped and she was floating in outer space, cut off from all communication. Her phone had been acting strange since returning from a trip the night before. Then, in the morning, came the update notice. iOs 8.1 update. “What the hell?” She said to herself, “I already did the earlier total fuck up of an update. This must be the fix.” And with a single press of a button, POOF! All gone.
All her photos from her recent trip to Iceland were lost somewhere in the ether. As were photos from the last 6 months of her life, which was when she did the last back up. Her recent contacts, just made in a country where the language was impossible to recreate, were now officially lost to the ages. And it left her feeling hollow and ashamed that so much of her identity was tied up in a small device that fit in the back pocket of her jeans. But she still despaired at the loss of so much data that was specific and perfectly her. It was as if some dystopian myth of our overdependence on technology had suddenly become reality and she realized she was one of the phone zombies. But she mourned.
She mourned the death of Steve Jobs because when he was alive this kind of shit didn’t happen. Or if something did go wrong, he would force his thousands of Apple minions to stay up all night (hell all weekend!) in order to fix it fast and fix it right. He’s probably rolling over in his grave, she thought to herself staring at the blank phone screen. Or was he cremated? She wondered, recalling some of Jobs’s pseudo-Buddhist tendencies. Hell, he even looked like a monk with that baldhead and black turtleneck. But boy, she sure did miss him.
But wait, what’s this? Suddenly, a message appears: To restore iPhone settings from the iCloud press here. Joy fills her chest. All is not lost. Maybe he’s up there, watching over all of us, she thinks, smiling.
Penny’s confession shocked everyone into silence. Bob had driven the RV to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. He told them that this place was a secret, very private spot. The summer afternoon was beautiful with crystal clear blue skies and very warm air something that was treasured in the Northwest.
There was a mild breeze and protected enough that all the Oberon tribe changed into shorts slathered on sunscreen and lay out on the colorful Indian bedspreads Bob spread out for them. He was now in the kitchen preparing that day’s feast.
Tonight’s dinner would veer away from the past days vegan strictness to south of the border cuisine. [i]Mission style burritos filled with sautéed and spiced onions, zucchini and peppers oozing with cheese, swimming in a home made tomato sauce. His sides were Spanish rice, freshly cooked pinto beans, guacamole and home made tortilla chips.
Bob learned how to make home-style Mexican cooking when he was stationed in Ensenada from Senora Chavez. There would be drinks tonight, Margaritas with or without Patron Tequila. For dessert he thought a classic custard Flan and a rich dark chocolate cake would be a nice touch.
While Bob was busy the tribe attempted to come to grips with Penny’s near murder. “I know I shocked everyone but I promised myself I would tell the truth about this. I am not proud I’ve never confessed this except to my priest. I tried to make up for my horrible plan, although it will never fix what I have done. I have spent a fortune donating to AIDS research and actually through my donations I think we will find an almost cure for the disease. I hope in time to save that man’s life.”
“That’s good.” Elinor said, “I mean we are not your judge and jury. And sometimes we all do things or we will do things in this life we are deeply ashamed of.”
“Right, and that’s why we are on this voyage so as we can become better people.” Steve said. “I hope my story won’t seem so trivial. It’s not about life and death.”
“Or make us hate each other.” Aiden said. “I know I don’t hate you Penny. In fact I am amazed that the intensity of your powers of love drove you to act in such an extreme manner.”
“Thank you, thank you my new friends I am truly grateful.” Penny smiled under the bright blue umbrella as she sat, trying to keep the hot reflective sun off her delicate skin.
“Well, I think we should all touch the waters, don’t you?” Steve rose and ran towards the crashing waves. “And that means you too Penny, it’s time you felt more of the real world. The water will be cold but feel exotically wonderful.”
The gang made their way thru the dunes admiring and commenting on all the different grasses and stunted shrubs that grew in the sand. They turned as one when they heard and then spotted a deer close to them in a thicket. Finally they reached the long expanse of beach and trodded ponderously in the soft sand until the sand hardened near the surf.
They walked and played for a few hours until exhausted and headed back to the RV in the late twilight after watching the sun sink below the never-ending horizon. “Great you guys found your way back just in time for dinner. Go ahead shower quickly and change. We are ready to eat.” Bob smiled at his little tribe now sun kissed and sea sprayed, more at ease with themselves and each other.
Bob had built the bonfire in a designated place clear of vegetation. There was now a picnic table and benches. “Ooh,” and “Aah,” and “How lovely,” escaped from their mouths at the sight of this simple bench festooned with colorful sari scarves and tall Hurricane lamps.
Everyone agreed that the food was “delicioso, muy delicioso,” and after dessert Bob directed the action,” Now ladies and gentlemen, it is time for part deux of our voyage of tales. I will clear this up quickly and then we’ll return to the ship and listen to Steve’s story.”
About a half an hour later everyone was settled comfortably in the cozy RV. “I hope no one minds but I would like to smoke some herb tonight. Steve filled his glass bong and passed it from left to right. “I can’t believe it that you are all going to smoke with me. This is great.”
As the smoke settled Steve began, “Just like each of us, I have a reason for this journey. As you can see I am or look like a hipster with all my tattoos. It’s just that I like to fit in. Right now I work as a doorman at a rock and roll club in the city.”
“See I told you guys he looked a little Rock to me.”
“Well, yes you are right Elinor. I actually was in a big rock band when I was younger. I’ll see if anyone can guess which one later, but right now, you see, I feel that I am at a crossroad in my life. I have a wife and three kids who put up with me but another part of me wants to get away from it all. Like being in the old rock and roll life but not like that really. I mean I only got married because she was pressuring me to settle down but I was always on the road. Plus I was sorta embarrassed about being in the business.”
“What do you mean, embarrassed? Sounds like a great life to me.” Bob sat back and chuckled. “Go ahead and tell us more.”
Steve took another bong hit. “The music business gets all tired and shit. You just end up acting like a trained monkey.”
“But you get hella paid. I don’t mean to sound like an idiot but you should have gotten out of the business if you felt like that.”
“Oh I did that, Aiden. I married Jan, We have beautiful talented kids and I thought I was a happy man until I started smoking more and more pot every day, from morning to night.”
The Oberon’s all laughed except for Steve who stood up gesticulating those tattoos into the air. “Guys, guys, when I smoke pot I get such deep thoughts. I just go off into my own world. I like to study and think. I have been writing a novel. I want to escape from my life. That’s why I’m in such a quandary. It’s like I smoke and I become someone else entirely and that has changed my relationships. Do I leave what I know and love, give up the herb or just go ape shit?”
“Do you mean follow your bliss?”
“Or tune in, turn on, drop out.”
“Well don’t go overboard like I did. Maybe you need a psychic?
“I have to do something. I am tired of being a depressed asshole one moment and the stoned hermit the next. My wife left me six months ago. I am miserable.”
Elinor stood up and faced the group, “Children, friends please listen. I am a psychic. I’ll read his cards, maybe for the last time.”
[i] Recipe #5
The newly formed tribe settled in for their first night. They talked excitedly among themselves after deciding who was sleeping where. Bob cooked an exquisite vegan meal that night:[i] Black-eyed peas, cornbread, and a mess of turnip greens with caramelized garlic. There were pickled beets and a green salad on the side. Bob announced the menu in a professional tone all dressed in white his name embroidered on the spotless apron.
His desserts were also vegan: pumpkin tarts and almond cookies. There was a fine selection of wine and beer consumed in moderate quantity. After dinner Bob led them on a brisk walk into the dense national park.
The gang decided that they needed a tribal name and when they returned to the RV held a spirited discussion and in the pale light of a mid-summers eve became Tribe Oberon in honor of Shakespeare’s mid-summer play and all slept that night enchanted by trance music from Bob’s IPod.
The next morning after showers Bob served them a traditional Japanese breakfast. It had taken him a few months to get accustom to the non-western breakfast, that he ate in Japan. He served them:[ii] steamed rice, miso soup studded with tofu morsels, spinach salad with sesame sauce, umeboshi plums and for the more adventuresome, the strange fermented soybeans called natto.
Surprisingly, the newly formed tribe tried everything even if eating the natto required a dare and some monetary bets because of the foul smell and gelatinous texture of that traditional dish.
Before we set off I passed around a hat that contained four folded pieces of Origami paper. “Here’s how we will decide the order of our personal presentations. You will find numbers from one to four. A very simple solution n’est ce pas?” The hat was passed from right to left. “Ok, open them at the same time one-two-three.”
“I have number three,” said Elinore, dressed for today’s adventure in a brightly patterned Dashiki, her amber braids cascading down her back.
“Well, I am number one.” Penny chimed in. She was a very petite Asian woman with the body of a dancer or at least a dancers outfit, complete with leg warmers, her hair wound into a thick bum.
“I guess that’s great Penny because I’m not quite ready.” Aiden said. “ I have number four and that is fine with me.” Aiden a tall thin young man sat with his legs tucked under him. His fair hair was dyed silver. He was very flamboyantly dressed in a white suit and pink shirt. He looked like a refuge from Gatsby’s estate.
Everyone looked over at Steve. Penny said, “I guess you have number two Steve. You’ll be after me.” Steve was a bit of an enigma. He was quiet and looked like he could have been in a band, his black sleeveless tee shirt and black jeans framed his deeply tattooed arms.
“That’s fine with me.” Steve said shaking his head from side to side. “I just hope you won’t be bored out by my tale of woe.”
That statement made everyone quiet for a long moment, the first embarrassed pause of the trip but that soon dissipated like the ripple of the leaves along the tree lined old highway as they travelled merrily along.
Penny stood up and struck a dramatic pose, a dancers stance. “Here ye, here ye, I am happy to be the first one to tell all of you about me and my reasons for seeking The Gathering, but first I have to change.
The rest of the Oberon’s settled themselves comfortably in their cocoon like berths anticipating Penny’s show. Bob had brewed some [iii]Caffe Vita Queen City coffee and a pot of Green Dragon tea stored in stainless steel thermoses. There was a tray of tropical fruit and a stack of lovely tea sandwiches: watercress and butter, pimento cheese and avocado tofutti.
The music surprised them. It was a waltz. Bon recognized it immediately. “It’s Chopin, it’s the music Robbins used for the ballet ‘Dances At A Gathering,’ how profound!”
Penny emerged in a very sheer, pale lilac flowing gown. She wore dazzling silver ballroom dance shoes with four-inch heels. Her sleek black hair was piled on to of her head with realistic lilies of the valley cascading from the bun. She looked almost six feel tall. Everyone gasped and words like: “Oh my, my goodness, holy cow and beautiful, you look just like a princess.” Punctuated the bus.
“I’ve always loved to dance. Since I was very little. It seems like I was born to dance. My mom took me to all kinds of dance lessons, ballet, tap, lyrical, jazz and traditional. I wanted so much to be a professional ballet dancer and even studied in Chicago, but they said I was to small and too Asian to be a soloist or even a corps de ballet girl, you know one of those thirty-two girls all dancing and looking alike in Swan lake.
So I gave up for a while. I went to college and got a very good job in Hong Kong where I was born.”
“I figured that you were Asian,” said Elinore. “I was dying to ask you if you were Chinese or Korean, but I didn’t want to seem stupid and rude.”
“That’s ok, I understand. I have lived here for many years now since my exit from Hong Kong. This is what happened to me.”
The Oberon’s settled down and Bob kept his eyes on the slow country road.
“As I said, I was born in Hong Kong. After I gave up on becoming a professional western dancer I returned to my home country to take care of my parents. After my father died I was left with his huge fortune. I never married. I wanted to be married but none of my suitors were rich enough. I started taking ballroom dance classes and found that I loved this form of dance. The best thing about ballroom dancing is having a great partner.
I found my best partner when I started specializing in the waltz. I felt like Princess Grace Kelly or Cyd Charisse. My life was complete. His name was Alistar Chen. He was so tall and such a good dancer. He had also studied ballet in the west in San Francisco. We spoke the same language, the language of dance.”
Penny stopped and showed the onlookers how to do a simple waltz. “One-two-three, One-two-three. “ Aiden tried to join her but she was too quick, too light on her feet.
“I must admit, I fell deeply in love with him. He was so handsome. We fit together so well. I wanted him but in truth he was homosexual. That small aspect didn’t stop me from wanting him. I already paid him to teach me, to dance with me. I could afford it. My mother also passed away and my investments just made me more and more money. I could afford to travel anywhere to meet anyone but I just wanted my Alistar.”
The music and the vision of a fairy princess looking for her Prince Charming kept her audience’s attention.
“I offered him more and more money. I sent him elaborate gifts. I insisted that he have no other partners but me. He promised me he would give up teaching others and he even kept me hoping he would renounce men by kissing me secretly every once in a while keeping me on tether hooks.
I was more and more jealous and hired a detective to follow him. The video recordings were devastating for me. The detective had photos of Alistar kissing other men and even worse than that. There were photos of him dancing with other women. I confronted him with this evidence. He laughed in my face.”
“You bitch,” he shouted the last time I saw him. “You think you can just buy me, that you can just buy love. You are a pathetic excuse for a woman; you with all your dollars can’t buy me anymore. I am finished with you and I’ll make sure no one will ever dance with you again.”
The Oberon’s all sat with their mouths agape. Elinor had tears in her eyes. “That bastard. How could he say such mean things to a beautiful person like you Penny?”
Steve shook his head, ‘That’s so wrong Penny, what he said to you, but you were wrong you know.”
“Yeah, Even if he was gay he shouldn’t have led you on. Being gay and kissing a girl is ok if you are bi but leading you on and taking your money. Oh hells no.” Aiden said.
“I know the whole story is wrong but what was worse is how I got my revenge.”
The gang wasn’t prepared for this revelation and everyone turned toward Penny. Bob was so intrigued that he pulled the RV into a clearing and stopped. “I have to hear this,” he said. “In fact maybe we should find a place for the night and hear the end of this tale. They rode for another hour everyone reflecting on Penny’s story wondering and speculating how Penny got her revenge. She looked too fragile to actually physically do something to Alistar. She couldn’t break his legs, or crush his skull with some outrageous Kung Fu.
Finally (and it seemed like and eternity) Bob pulled off the road. “Should I cook dinner first and then hear the end of Penny’s story or should we get to the end of the story now and discuss after.”
A show of hands and an exciting murmur decided that Penny had to finish her story and then food.
“Alright, alright. I get it. Now people I am not proud of what I did to Alistar but at the time I was a broken woman. First I decided to get out of Hong Kong and that’s when I came to the Northwest. I was patient and reinvented myself as a widow from Vancouver BC. I became Penny Kwan. You don’t need to know my past name.
My patience was rewarded one day a couple of years later. I was able to fix his dancing career to make sure he wouldn’t dance again. I hired a man to infect him with the HIV virus, a particular heinous strain. It worked. He was stricken. At first it took away his looks and then his strength. He couldn’t stand much less dance ever again. It didn’t kill him. He is still in a nursing facility where he may eventually die.
I am going to The Gathering to burn my shoes and to burn my shame. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.”
[i] Recipe #2
[ii] Recipe #3
[iii] Recipe #4
DESERT BLOOM – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Lily drove east on I-15. The sun was low in the sky, just about to set. This was Lily’s favorite time of the day in the Mojave, when she missed it the most. The sun beat mercilessly down on the landscape all day, turning the dirt, the rocks, and the scrub brush the same dusty light brown. But as the sun set, the drab landscape exploded into color, glowing red, orange, yellow and green. She smiled as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the colors fading into a cool blue.
She glanced at the clock on her dash. It was 7:27. Lily figured she had about fifteen minutes to go. She could see Barstow’s lights glow in the distance, a lot brighter than she remembered. Barstow’s population had practically doubled since she was a kid. Lily turned her radio on and jabbed the buttons until she found a station without static. For the fourth time in two hours, Lily listened to Taylor Swift sing “I shake it, I shake it off,” in her ridiculously perky voice.
Lily had a happy/sad relationship with Barstow, probably because of that jealous thing that happened back in ’91. She tried not to dwell on it, but it came to her unbidden when she least expected it. Lily was happy she grew up in Barstow and loved visiting her family. But invariably she was unable to repress the bad memory as she made her way through town.
As she neared her childhood home, Lily passed The Station, one of the few tourist attractions in Barstow. The gas station and the little store were still there, next to the train car that used to be a diner and was now a MacDonalds. She averted her eyes from the Route 66 Motel, and turned right on Manzanita Drive. She pulled into the driveway and turned off the lights. Lily sat quietly for a few minutes, got out of the car and unlocked the front door. “Mom, I’m home,” she said.
After Lily graduated from high school in 1991, she didn’t have a clue about what to do next. Her mom wanted her to get a job. “You’re 18 now Lily, and you need to make some money,” her Mom said. “You aren’t a kid anymore. You have to start thinking about your adult life.” Lily didn’t respond.
They ate breakfast in silence. Lily thought about getting a job. Anything would be better than high school. Barstow was right in the middle between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so Lily could move east or west to a city. She couldn’t decide which direction to choose. She would get a job, save up some money, and wait until the summer was over. Maybe she could decide then.
Lily applied for a job at the gas station store. The manager hired her on the spot. Instead of getting up in the morning to go to school, Lily got up in the afternoon to go to work. It was an easy job. Lily rang up purchases for a non-stop procession of humanity that streamed The Station every day. Families, couples, kids, and everything in between. People on their way to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. Tourists on the way to Death Valley. Soldiers from the nearby army base. Truck drivers. People driving Route 66 to Los Angeles. Buses full of senior citizens. Desert enthusiasts. Train enthusiasts. Gambling enthusiasts.
Lily was amazed at the variety of things people bought; junk food, pop, and trinkets to relieve the monotony and heat of the drive. Key chains, cans of Coke, commemorative silver dollars, Cheetos, baseball hats, Hershey Bars, miniature trains, coffee spoons, plastic cowboys and Indians, Life Savers, cactus refrigerator magnets, gum, beer, 7-Up, plastic covered wagons, Route 66 bumper stickers, cigarettes, pepperoni and beef jerky. If it was for sale, somebody would by it.
Lily was constantly busy. After the first hour, Lily’s shoulders would tense up and mouth was frozen into a rictus she hoped would pass as a smile. She hated talking to customers, they would ask her stupid questions, make silly jokes, or get mad if the line was too long and they had to wait.
Sometimes men would flirt with Lily and ask her out. Lily’s mother warned her about talking to strangers, so Lily always said no. She wondered how she would meet someone who hadn’t grown up in Barstow. She went out with boys she knew from high school, but the town was so small that she had already dated boys she was interested in. Like the decision to move east or west, Lily decided to give the dating situation a break until the end of the summer.
At the end of a long day in mid-July, Lily was waiting for her relieve clerk Tom to show up so she could go home. July had been hotter than usual, and it was still in the 90s even though it was 10:00 at night. The front door bell jingled. “Tom, why are you so damn late,” Lily said. “I’ve been waiting to go home.”
She turned around. He stood there smiling, his arms crossed. “I’ts not Tom,” he said. “I’m Jim.” He leaned over the counter toward her and looked at her name tag. “Nice to meet you, Lily.”
“What can I get you?” she asked. He was handsome, tall with light brown hair and clear blue eyes. He looked like he was from the city, Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Nobody Lily knew wore khakis and a pink Polo shirt with the collar flipped up. She smiled at him and blushed.
“I need to get gas,” he said, motioning to the red Miata parked outside. “Hot night. Glad I have a convertible.”
Tom arrived, panting. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “My car broke down again. My brother had to drive me in.” He looked at Lily and the man in the pink shirt. “Go ahead and leave. I’ll take over.”
Lily and Jim walked outside. She watched him as he filled the car with gas. “Your car’s cute,” Lily said. “I’ve always wanted a sports car.”
Jim smiled at her as he screwed the gas cap back on. “Why don’t you get one,” he asked. “You should always try to get what you want.”
“I’m saving up for a car,” she said. “That’s why I work here. I’m saving for a car and for college.” She watched him open the car door. “You don’t live around here,” she said. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from San Bernardino,” he said. “I’ve got business in Las Vegas. My company’s building houses. Lot of people in Vegas want new houses.” Jim laughed. “I don’t know how the hell anyone lives in the desert.” He looked at Lily. “Do you like it here? In the desert?’
“It’s OK, I guess,” Lily said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, so I don’t know what it’s like anywhere else.” She looked at her watch. “I have to get home,” she said. “My mom’s waiting for me.” Lily stared at him. She thought he was the best looking man she had ever seen in person, not counting people on TV.
“Do you have a curfew, Lily?’ he asked. “I’m staying a couple of blocks from here, at the Route 66 Hotel.” He got in the car, leaned over and opened the passenger door. “Get in. I have some Bacardi back in my room. We can have Bacardi and Coke.” He motioned her toward his car. “Just one. Have one drink with me.”
Lily walked toward his car, and hesitated. She looked at him. He didn’t look like a serial killer or a rapist. He just looked like a regular guy to her. The kind of guy with a job and a cute car.
“Come on, Lily. Just one drink,” he said, smiling at her. “I’m harmless. Just one drink. Then you can go home to your mom.”
Lily got in silently, suddenly shy again. He was older than anyone she knew so she didn’t know what to say to him. He drove a couple of blocks and pulled over at the hotel. The Route 66 Hotel parking lot was full of gas station and car memorabilia, old gas pumps, rusty car parts. A red neon Pegasus loomed over the motel office, blinking on and off. MOBILGAS.
She followed Jim to his room. He fumbled with the key, got the door open, and flipped on the lights. Lily looked around at the spartan furnishings and the double bed. Jim’s suitcase was open, clothes neatly folded. She could see the bathroom beyond the double bed. Jim handed Lily a bucket. “Can you get some ice for the drinks,” he asked. “The machine’s around the corner.”
Lily watched the ice cascade into the plastic bucket. She wondered if she was crazy as she returned to his room. “Shut the door,” he said to her. “The air conditioning will work better.” He motioned to the bed. “Sit down,” he said. She perched on the edge of the bed, back rigid, legs still. She watched him pour a can of Coke and some Barcardi into two amber glasses. He turned around and handed her a drink. “Cheers,” he said, clicking his glass with hers.
Lily took a big sip of her drink. It was strong and sweet. He watched her as she drank. “You’re pretty,” he said. “It’s the first thing I noticed about you, how pretty you were.” Lily felt her face get hot. She smiled and stared at the worn carpet. She didn’t want to look at him.
He hopped up and paced around the room. “I’m glad we met,” he said. “I travel through here once a week, and it gets boring. I don’t have anyone to talk to. I got lucky, because tonight I have you.” He sipped his drink. “A pretty girl to talk to.”
Lily finished her drink. She began to feel more relaxed around him, less self-counscious. “Want another?” he asked.
“One more,” Lily said. “One more, then I have to go home.” He handed her a drink and sat down beside her on the bed. He brushed her hair away from her neck and kissed her cheek. “Are you married?” she asked, kissing him back.
“Yes,” he said. “Do you care?”
Lily thought about it for a few minutes. “No,” she said. She thought she should care, but couldn’t remember why. “I don’t think I do,” she said as he unbuttoned her dress. She took another drink and helped him unhook her bra. Jim leaned over and switched off the light on the small table next to the bed.
After that night, Lily began seeing Jim once a week as he drove back and forth to Las Vegas. She started paying more attention to her clothes, buying things she thought he might like. He began buying her bras and underwear for her to wear when they were together, and other things Lily liked like silver bracelets and matching earrings.
She looked forward to seeing him on Sunday nights. He would leave San Bernardino after dinner and arrive in Barstow a few hours later. Lily would dress up for her shift at the gas station store. By seven, Lily would have a stomach ache from the anticipation of seeing him. He would pull up in his little red car, get gas and pick up some Coke. After Tom arrived, Lily would leave thought the back door and walk to the Route 66 Hotel on the side streets so nobody would see her.
Lily was so happy she met Jim. She knew he was the best thing that ever happened to her. She forgot how bored she was, and put off all decisions about her future. The only thing Lily planned for was the next time she would see Jim. He never called her and it never occurred to her to call him. She would just wait for Sunday night when he arrived. Lily thought he was the smartest, funniest, handsomest person she ever met. She liked everything about him, his teasing, he talking about all the problems he had at work, the way he kissed her when he was undressing her to have sex.
At the end of of August, Lily got ready for her shift. She put on the white dress Jim liked, and the necklace and earrings he gave her a few weeks ago that he had bought in Las Vegas. The hours dragged as Lily waited for Jim to arrive. Tom relieved her at 8:00. Jim hadn’t showed up. Lily wondered if anything was wrong. She waited at the gas station until 9:00, then decided to go to the hotel to see if he had arrived and she missed him drive by.
When she got to the hotel parking lot, Lily saw the Miata parked in front of Jim’s regular room. She was relieved that nothing had happened to him. Lily knocked and Jim opened the door with the chain still on. “Jim, who is it?” Lily heard a woman call from the bathroom. Jim shook his head and motioned Lily away. “Wrong room,” Jim responded, slamming the door.
Lily ran from the hotel to her house as fast as she could. Tears ran down her face as she fumbled with her keys. “Lily, is that you,” she heard her mom ask from the living room. “You’re home early.”
“I’m not feeling good, Mom,” Lily said. “I think I’m getting sick. I’m going to lay down in my room for a while.”
The Guest – Dalmatia Flemming
Michele relaxed into the oversized, overstuffed chair, released a self-satisfied sigh and began to sip her glass of wine. She was excitedly anticipating the arrival of her husband Dan’s ex-wife, Sarah. Sarah, the mother of Danny Jr., would be staying with them around the time of his high school graduation, June of ‘94.
It hadn’t always been this way. Michele had been very stressed out by the situation just a few months ago. In January, Dan informed her that Sarah had asked to stay with them during this time and that he had told her yes. What… he didn’t even have the decency to consult with her first? Michele was furious. How dare he!
But the more time she had to think about it, the more she began to realize that everything would be just fine. Who knows, perhaps after this visit Sarah would never ask to stay with them again.
Twirling a lock of hair between her fingers, Michele took another sip of wine. She mentally acknowledged her Inspirator; a genius, no other came close. A little smile came over her face as she replayed various well thought out scenarios in her head. Should she choose just one or plan for all three?
Of course, it would all start with Michele being an absolute dream hostess, the most welcoming one could ever hope for. She would strike the perfect balance between tending to Sarah’s every whim and in creating an atmosphere of complete autonomy for Sarah to move throughout the house and do as she pleased. This is the only way it could work.
There would be the time that, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Sarah would decide to make herself lunch. After all, Michele would have told her that she had spent that last 2 weeks cooking from scratch and had placed many tasty morsels in the freezer for Sarah to enjoy any time she felt like it. “Please, just help yourself and make yourself at home” Michele would have said. Then, when Sarah opened the freezer, she would find various shapes and sizes of aluminum foil wrapped goodies with labels such as “Bob – heart”, “Sue – eyes” or “Paul – tongue”. Michele smiled and took another sip of wine, imagining what Sarah’s expression might be at the sight of this.
Or, after leaving a little comment here and another little comment there, all in good taste of course, Michele would create intense curiosity as to what went on behind the closed doors of Dan and Michele’s bedroom. With the circumstances just right, Michele, who always left their bedroom door open when the room was unoccupied, would leave a drawer or two open in their dresser, maybe with something silky flowing out just beyond the drawer’s edge. Sarah, overcome with curiosity, would decide to discretely peek into these drawers and would find hard core dominatrix paraphernalia; cuffs, whips and the like. Michele took another sip of wine and audibly giggled at the thought.
Now, this next one just might be too over the top. This one could send Sarah running out of the house screaming. Granted, it would be doubtful that Sarah would ever stay with them again, but Michele was thinking the more subtle previous scenarios might be a better approach.
Upon Sarah’s arrival, Michele would lead her upstairs and give her the lay of the land; there’s our bedroom, here’s the bathroom and here’s your room. Upon entering Sarah’s room, Michele would open the closet door revealing 2 large vats marked “Lye” and 3 skeletons hanging in the closet. Then Michele would say something very causal like, “Oh dear, I forgot to clean out the closet after our last guest’s visit. Why don’t you go downstairs and relax after your long journey and I’ll just tidy this up a bit”.
Michele chortled, raised her glass of wine and made an imaginary toast to her Inspirator, Jeffery Dahmer.