Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Angela

Text Curse

It starts the minute she opens her eyes and she immediately looks at her cell phone to see if the good morning text has arrived; it will be a fine day if it is there already, and if it is not, then the waiting begins before she is even out of the bed and she will try not to take the phone with her into the bathroom while she uses the toilet, showers, and brushes her teeth.

She will fail, and there she will stand with the phone in the bathroom, since she will be able to at least check to see if any message comes in, even though she cannot text back and attend to her basic needs at the same time – although she has tried before. It was clumsy and awkward, and the thought of him finding out what kinds of tasks she might be performing while communicating with him will make her nervous, even though she knows he would have no way of finding out.

Then, wondering why she keeps doing this day after day, she will stare into the mirror, and will think she does it because the good morning message has not come in yet, and she does not want to miss it. This is an answer to the smaller question of why she is doing this at this particular moment, but it does not address the larger question of why she is doing it over and over every day, and why she can’t just text him if she wants to, or dial the phone and speak to him, and hear his radio voice. This larger question echoes against the bathroom tiles and she will ignore it the same way every morning with lessening success.


She will glance frequently at the little screen while she brushes her teeth and pats herself dry and hates herself and questions how she became so woven into this thing that keeps her spun into a strange and tenderly angry fabric. In her worst nightmare it might all be a bluff at love. Then again, maybe it is love and she is just making it crazy with her thoughts, because maybe she does not even know how to recognize love, perhaps - but surely not; he says she is perfect for him.

© Angela 2011

Angela lives an outwardly quiet life in a small town that appreciates that kind of behavior. Inwardly, well, things are different.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

George Masters

The Monster (Concerto for Harp)

The monster entered our hotel room when I wasn’t looking. Anna, my new wife, was standing in front of the mirror admiring her wedding band. Seeing me in the mirror, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. Wearing black silk pajamas, lipstick and heels, she went back to brushing her hair. She was twenty years my junior and as I sat at the foot of the bed watching her, I had a problem believing in monsters.
She said, “Good evening, Mr. Harp.”
“Dearest Anna.”
“Can it always be like this?”
“Why not?”
“I mean really.”
Wearing black tuxedo trousers, shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tie untied, I nodded.
She said, “Mrs. Thomas Harp. God, I love my new name.”
“I like how it sounds when you say it.” I started to add something but stopped. Something about her and the room had suddenly caused me to change expression and mood. Perplexed, I leaned forward and blinked. Seeing Anna dressed that way, just then and a little out of focus, I found myself staring into the monster.
Beneath a jungle canopy, a monkey called, a bird cried, and nothing moved. After a long silence, an enemy patrol appeared. Clad in black pajamas and khakis, carrying weapons and supplies, they moved swiftly down a vine tangled trail. Appearing, disappearing with ghostly speed, one of them was briefly recognizable as female. The figure that was Anna and not Anna moved like black water. Never a clear picture but an old snapshot just the same. I shook it off.
“What?” she said and turned. Pajama top unbuttoned, she tried to smother concern with a smile. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was caught in the past and smelling it.
She ran a red thumbnail down along the fine embroidered collar. “You don’t like it?”
Above and to the left of the trail, Sgt. Mike Davis from Austin, Texas and I lay side by side. Concealed and camouflaged, our faces darkened by mud, we chewed gum, held our fire and observed.
Turning away from Anna, I looked back and saw two of her. I shook my head to clear it.
She said, “Are you all right?”
I tried to focus on her eyes. It wasn’t working. I tried her nose and that didn’t work either. I said, “I do, I do like it.”
In an October rain, tanks moved fast down a muddy road borded by rice paddies. In a ditch off the road, a woman wearing black silk pajamas and a cone straw hat stood next to her bicycle waiting for us to pass. Tanks bouncing, treads throwing mud, we grinded toward the fighting in the hills to the west, the distance wet and green. Riding on top of one of the tanks, I was soaked and hollow eyed. Cigar stump clamped between my teeth, rifle in one hand, I held on to the tank with the other and stared at the woman until I lost sight of her.
Uncertain if she should be hurt or angry, Anna pouted. “You don't like it, fine, I'll change.” Beginning to take off her silk top, I raised my hand and she stopped. She blinked rapidly. “Then what’s the matter?”
“You look terrific.”
“No I don’t.”
On a hot, dry afternoon in Happy Valley, The fire fight was over. Dirty and exhausted Marines, smoked, reloaded, pissed in the grass and checked their weapons. Drinking water, emptying canteens over bare heads and down our necks, we moved about the enemy corpses making sure they were just that. Helicopters circled overhead preparing to land. Green smoke from the LZ mixed with the patches of fire in the still burning grass. Occasional shots sounded in a tree line.
I stood above a dead young woman, my rifle pointed at her feet. Wearing black pajamas and crossed ammo belts, she curled on the ground, knees drawn up like my sister with a stomach ache. Tough, dirty bare feet, empty ammo pouches, the flies were starting to land in her hair. Shrapnel had punctured her neck and temple. The girl had lovely perfect teeth and an arm blown off at the shoulder.
Cocking her head, she took a step toward me. “Tom, what is it?”
My breathing was ragged. I was sweating and a ringing sounded in my ears. I found myself having to speak above the noise in my head. “Don’t ever wear a cone hat with that outfit.” My tone of voice surprised me and changed her eyes.
Anna took a step back. “A what?”
“Cone hat. Chinese, Vietnamese hat, looks like a lamp shade.”
She took another step back. “Okay.” She looked around the room and then down at herself before closing the black silk top with her hand. “I’m sorry, Tom. I mean I guess I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t be sorry.” My voice sounded like it was coming through a bad radio connection.
“I hoped you’d like it.”
I stood and with everything I had, I willed the war to depart. I cleared my throat. “I love your pajamas.” I saw she didn’t believe me. “Anna, you look sensational. Please, come here.”
“You sure?”
I went to her, and she didn’t run for the door. Holding her ground she gave me a suspicious look.
“Yes, Mrs. Harp, I’m sure.”
Then Anna did that thing with her eyes and mouth-- part smile and part mystery question, as if she knew the answer and wanted to see if maybe I did. It was a look that made me forget everything else in the room; in the world. She said, “How sure?”
I held my arms out.
“That much?”
“For starters.”
She raised an eyebrow. “For starters?” I nodded.
She came into my arms. “Then Kiss me, you fool.”
I did. And she kissed me back.

© George Masters 2011

George Masters was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Vietnam. After the Marine Corps he attended Georgetown University and began to write. He has recently completed the crime novel "Trouble Breathing" and is seeking a publisher. More of his work can be seen at www.georgeeyremasters.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bill Lapham

Appomattox Exodus

Jim Noah and James Dix were tending their generals’ horses outside Wilmer McLean’s red brick colonial in the village of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Jim looked neat in his best blue uniform, brass shined, leather polished, clean shave. James was a skinny man with long, scraggly blond hair and bright eyes. He was dressed in his best grey uniform, the one with patches in places. He wore dusty boots with holes in the soles and he was chewing tobacco. He spat some on the ground in Jim’s general direction, testing him. But Jim took no offense, he’d seen enough fighting.
“What’s his name?” Jim inquired of the gray horse James was grooming.
“This ‘ere is Traveller,” James said.
“This is Cincinnati.”
“Looks fast,” James said, not looking at the horse, but tending to his own chores.
“Is,” Jim said.
Jim tried to take advantage of the broken ice.
“My name’s Jim.”
“James.”
“I go by Jim.”
“I go by James,” he said, squinting one eye against the afternoon glare to see if the other kid got it. He did.
“Huh,” Jim grunted. “You figure the war’s over, James?”
James leant over and spat on a nearby rock, away from Jim this time.
“If Gen’l Lee says it is, it is,” he said.
“What if he says it ain’t?”
“Then I’ll shoot you.”
“Hell you say,” Jim said with a chuckle. “What if he says go home?”
“I’ll do whatever the Gen’l says to do.”
They worked on their horses as they waited for the generals to emerge from the house; each minute seemed to take an hour’s time. Jim wondered how such a big decision could be left to two mere mortal men. Maybe they were immortal, he thought. They were still alive, weren’t they?
“Where’s home?”
“Russell County, Alabama,” James said in his best southern drawl.
“What’d’ya do before the war?”
“You got a lotta questions, don’t you, Yank?”
“Jus’ curious, I guess.”
“I went to school, like you.”
They didn’t look very old, twenty, maybe twenty-one, Jim figured.
“How ‘bout y’all?”
“Small town in southern Indiana—on the river.”
“What river?”
“The Ohio.”
“What’s the name of the town?”
“Rising Sun.”
“Huh,” James grunted. “Sounds like an Injun name.”
“River runs north south there. Town’s on the west bank. Sun comes up over the river.”
“Sounds nice.”
“Is.”
The horses were still saddled because no one knew how long the generals would take. They ate from feed bags as the orderlies tended their duties.
Presently, they heard a loud southern voice.
“Orderly!”
“Oh shit, that’s Gen’l Lee.” James quickly removed the feed bag from Traveller’s nose and hustled the horse around front of the house.
“I’m headed back to camp, James.”
“Yes sir,” James replied. “Gen’l, sir?”
General Lee looked down from his mount, blinking back tears.
“Gen’l, is the war over?” James asked.
“It is for us, son,” he said, looking across the rolling countryside. “It is for us.”
James wasn’t sure if he was sad or relieved. He had survived his father who was killed at Second Manassas, early on. He was only sixteen at the time. Seemed like a century had passed since then. He wasn’t sure where his mother was, or if she was still alive. He’d heard stories of Sherman’s campaign in the South. Wasn’t sure if Opelika even existed anymore.
*     *     *
James rode into Opelika, Alabama five weeks after Appomattox. He had the horse at a slow walk as he looked around the ruined town. He saw a few women and children, some old men, but nobody his own age. He stopped at a saloon, lashed his horse to weather-beaten hitching fence and stepped inside.
The floorboards creaked as he walked to the bar. His spurs rattled. His visage in the mirror looked thinner than he remembered the last time he looked in a mirror. He asked the old man tending the bar for a drink of whiskey. The bartender wiped out a shot glass, set it in front of James and poured him a drink.
“Not many men around here your age, son,” the old man said.
James took a sip and felt the warm liquid slide down his throat. The burn felt good. A glow ignited in his belly.
“You know a lady named Annabelle Dix?” James asked.
“I might. Who’s askin’?”
“She’s my mother. I ain’t seen her since the war started.”
“You Philip’s boy?”
“Yes sir.”
“You know where he’s at?”
“Kill’t. At Second Manassas.”
“Huh.”
The old man was washing glasses, shining them with his bar rag while he tried to correlate similar dates with disparate events. Maybe some things were related, he figured.
“I ain’t seen Annabelle since around that time, I guess.”
“Any idea where she got off to?” James asked, finishing his drink and placing the glass on the bar.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Hmph.”
“You’d be James then?”
“That’s right.”
“I remember you boys running around town when you were youngsters, raising hell. Where you been?”
James had to think. Where hadn’t he been? The 15th Alabama had fought at Front Royal, Gaines Mill, Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Knoxville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and those were just the big ones. He couldn’t count the skirmishes in places with no names.
“I been wherever Gen’l Lee’s been.”
The old man gave a soft whistle.
“And you’re still alive?” the bartender said in a tone like he’d just entered a sacred tomb.
“Jus’ lucky, I guess. What happened here?” James asked.
“Yankees sacked the place last summer,” the old man replied, filling the boy’s glass again. “Most folks high-tailed it outta here ahead of ‘em.”
“But not you?”
“I’m old. I tend a bar. Shoot me,” he said. “They busted up the tracks for thirty miles east of town and burnt the warehouses.”
“Did many folks come back?”
“Some did. It’ll take some time, I reckon.”
James finished his drink and reached in his pocket for coinage.
“Drink’s on the house, James. Welcome home.”
“Think I’ll ride around some; see what I can see.”
“You do that. I’ll be here.”
James stepped back into the springtime sun. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, it felt good to be alive, to breathe warm southern air. He mounted the horse he called Bama and continued down Main Street. He made his way out of town and headed southeast toward Salem. His mother’s house was about halfway between the two towns.
Outside Opelika he passed the warehouses that before the war stored cotton awaiting shipment east and north by rail. During the war, the warehouses stored war materiel: bullets, bombs and blankets, everything an army needs to conduct offensive operations far afield. Now their roofs were caved in, timbers burnt black and sticking up at odd angles inside distressed brick walls. The fire was out and the smoke was gone but the ruins remained and probably would for foreseeable future. Who would have the confidence to rebuild them?
It took him the rest of the afternoon to reach his house, what was left of it. Somebody had torched it. It had not been far from the tracks that connected Montgomery to Atlanta, so he figured it was probably Yankees that did it. Safe assumption anyway. Not that it mattered. The house was gone, but they didn’t destroy the barn. Seemed odd. The fields where they grew vegetables had gone to seed and was overgrown with four years worth of thistle and assorted other weeds.
He dismounted Bama but held on to the reins. He stood for a moment, listening. There was a soft breeze blowing in the pines that reminded him of his childhood. It was dead quiet but for the pines. The sun hid dipped below the tops of the trees but it had not set. He led his horse around to the barn, slid open the door and released a flock of doves that scared the dickens out of him and riled Bama a little bit. He patted the horse’s neck and they both calmed down. He stepped inside and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
There were a few bales of hay laying around, farm implements in various stages of disintegration and rust. Dirt and dust and cobwebs. Tools lying under a blanket of dust. A familiar smell, too, the smell of something dead. Light leaked through the cracks between the boards. There were holes in the roof. He probably could have found a dry comfortable place to sleep but something didn’t feel right, a feeling of foreboding. Maybe it was the dead animal smell. At any rate, he was not comfortable inside the barn. They turned and went back outside. It didn’t look nor feel like rain was imminent, so he decided to spend the night where he had spent so many nights in the last four years, outside on the ground.
“C’mon, Bama. Let’s get us some’n to eat.”

© William Lapham 2011

Bill Lapham started writing a few years after he retired from the Navy. This is what came out last. You can find more of his stuff at Just a Pedestrian.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Gensle

Prey of a Grey Panther

With a wig that’s never quite straight on her broad head, she’s the elderly, heavily perfumed relative who kisses you on the mouth and transfuses enough Max Factor #16 Fiery Red to your oral area, in clown width, to rouge Warren Jeff’s entire family families.

Ger-Nads’ was our Aunt Gert’s nickname because of her old-lady mustache and to convey that what she dishes out is as bad, maybe worse, than you’d want from any man. Angry, she’s bristle ‘n gristle with laser sights on your every weakness. Aunt Gert redefines vitriol as the gasoline additive to fiery tempers that maul you by mouth. She creates fireworks of revenge that shoot straight at the gas tank of your life, and the chances of your survival are as good as hiding between the double-o in “moot.”

There are three things to remember about Gert’s revenge:
1. It’s worse than Montezuma’s;
2. The consequences are beyond unpleasant;
3. It’s multi-tiered.

I’m being too rough on her? Consider:

Aunt Gert took her bashed, battle-wagon of a car in for engine repairs. The estimate was $1,340. The next day, the garage owner called and told her the car had bigger problems. The estimate rose to $1900. She agreed to have the additional repairs done and was promised the car two days later.

Promptly two days later, she showed up at the garage and was waiting for her turn at the counter. There was one of those word processor-made signs on the wall behind the register that read:

The Only Checks We Accept Are Corn, Wheat or Rice.
So Snap-Crackle-Pop Your Credit Card or Cash.
Thank you.
Piedrum’s Garage


She got to the counter, stated her name and a man presented her repair ticket.
“Your car’s ready and the total came to $1,872.21,” and he excused himself to answer the phone. When he turned back to her, a check lay on the counter in the correct amount. He said, “We take a credit or debit cards or cash, Ma’am, no checks” using a thumb to gesture at the sign over his shoulder. (Aunt Gert seethes when people address her as ‘Ma’am’)

“You’ll take this check right now and give me my keys.”
“Ma’am? Ain’t happening, Ma‘am. There’s the sign. You see it. I’ve told you. No pay, no car.”
“Bruce--if that emblem’s really your name or did you grab the only shirt that didn’t stink--CAN YOU READ or are you as dumb as a greased rear-view mirror!!?” she bellowed.

He didn’t reply. She pointed to the imprinted, personal check.

“This says, “Gertrude Joetta Rice, with my address, and I have state-issued I.D. to match. Your own sign says you accept, quote, “Rice” checks! GIVE. ME. MY. KEYS YOU LUBE-GOOBER!” she roared, causing denture clack, using a tone that causes dogs to whimper and small children to paw at their mothers’ inner thighs seeking reentry into their wombs.

It sure wasn’t the good Lord who blessed her 166-pound frame with a Transformers-like mouth that converts her taste buds into verbal Slice ’n Dice machines.

“Ma’am, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Credit or cash is easy. The cops taking you out of here is hard… and, we still keep the car.”

Aunt Gert flipped-open her smart-phone, photographed the sign, and used her gum to stick her check to inner glass door’s upper pane. She photographed that, too, and left like a Brahma bull leaving a rodeo chute.

The next day, Mr. Piedrum called. They argued. She asserted they could now deliver the car. He countered: she could pay with cash or plastic like everybody else or he’d put a mechanic’s lien on the car, to which she agreed when she signed the original repair authorization. Aunt Gert snorted he best get her car into her driveway.

In the weeks that passed. I lost my part-time job stocking parts and cleaning up ...at Piedrum’s.

Sure as paper towels don’t tear on the perforations, the lien was executed by an angry Mr. Piedrum who left Aunt Gert a phone message: “We sold your car for $9,500, took our $1,872.21 for repairs, and another $600 for sixty days’ storage, and mailed you a check for $7,027.29.”

Just his word, “check,” set her off like a top fuel dragster. It was all-out war. “I’m on Piedrum like “Rice on white,” she shared with an evil grin as cockeyed as her wig. But the cell phone photos were straightforward and worthwhile.

She e-mailed General Mills and Kellogg’s, attaching the sign photo, with the query, ”Are these fellows making fun of my favorite cereal?” for which Aunt Gert received an envelope with a slew of coupons for free General Mills’ products and a thank you letter from their V.P of Consumer Relations, complemented by in-kind coupons from Kellogg’s.

The garage got two “Cease and Desist” orders from a judge, via complaints filed by General Mills and Kellogg’s legal departments. The local paper splashed the story with photos, citing Aunt Gert’s ‘elder abuse’ complaints and you can guess what that did for the number of customers bringing cars in for repairs and estimates.

She leveraged her age, sympathy and mechanics-are-thieves arguments to tip persuasion’s greed scale to land a lawyer. She sued and won. Her judgment against the garage paid for a car fancier than her last, and even covered the rental car.

The garage is now a pizza parlor, whose owner gave me a delivery job.

Every year, Clovis Piedrum gets a Christmas card signed “Miss G.J. Rice.” There’s always a personal check enclosed for $1, along with a coupon for breakfast cereal that caused us to replace her ‘Ger-Nads’ nickname with “Cereal Killer.”

We’d lie under oath before admitting it because we don’t want any of what Gert-the-Hurt dishes out when she‘s uncorking the devil’s own wrath, Hell bent for Sunday.

© Joe Gensle 2011

Joe Gensle lives in the Desert Southwest with his dog Coconut. He enjoys international travel, music composition, and is working on a novel. He frequently lurks at sixsentences.ning.com and at headseeds.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Deboleena Bose

Hazel Eyes

A quiet empty home. A resigned empty heart. And silenced emptiness within. Amidst them, Isabel and her defeated self struggled to strangle the turmoil within; fearful it might set itself free. Her once familiar space, the bathroom, reeked of an oddity, quite unknown to her senses. Cloistered, she could almost feel the weight of the barrenness that had engulfed her and her life. The walls around seemed disconcerted. Perhaps, they had sensed the disquiet brewing deep under her skin, she thought.

Isabel sat, all by herself, nursing a lesion she had long managed to hide from the world outside. In the gloom of her muted presence it had spread; a contagion that had left her with no hope of deliverance. Infected, she yearned to find solace in it. It, however, chose to devour her in return.

Unwrapping the past has never been easy, especially one wrought with fears, loneliness and heartaches. The wounds heal with time; their scars linger behind, unsullied and fresh. Isabel had always run away from her times of yore; she had run as fast as she could and as distant as she could get. Yet, they never ceased to chase her, irk her, breathe and grow with her. Like a shadow, she thought, they would follow her to her grave someday.

Though orphaned at birth, deep down in her heart Isabel had clung on to a sacred belief; an unwavering faith that became the center of her existence; her conviction that sooner or later, love would certainly come knocking at her door. A firm believer in ‘a happy ever after’, Isabel knew in her heart of hearts, that all she needed to do was await it; wait as tolerantly as she possibly could. And so, when love did touch her life one day, she embraced it with open arms and gave it all. Those hazel eyes and Evan came to mind.

Soaked in agony, and plagued by sharp jabs inside, Isabel cringed. Inundated in emotions that bore neither a name nor form, tears arose from the depths of her subconscious and began to flow. Warm and blissful, they brought along nothing; nothing except recollections of a history she had chosen to consciously forget. And then, without a sign, those derisive visions, ominous figures, trampled forms, those muffled voices, the mayhem and the paranoia - all came rushing back to her. A choked and breathless Isabel quivered at their retreat.

As she braced herself to revisit the past, Isabel comprehended despondently the severity of the collateral damage she had inflicted upon herself. With no turning back, running away was no longer even an option. Harrowed persistently to the point of no return, she had to make one absolutely frantic strive to face the demons of the portentous night. She had to walk through hell, yet again.

Shaken by the very thought of it, Isabel could feel the strong pounding of a wounded heart that beat inside her. Her fears and the familiar sinking feeling came riding back – the ill-fated night rose from the dead. Along came fiendish recollections of the car crash that had blown it all up. One turbulent night had robbed her of all she had held dear – her faith, her future and her love. The tempest had rocked her world and ripped her apart, crushing her and tender dreams, once and for all. When the dust settled, everything around had fallen silent. And contained in it was a shattered Isabel, her broken heart, and a motionless Evan. The night had taken him away; never to return to her again.

Isabel fell apart. And as she disintegrated, tears welled up her eyes. Realizing she had long lost the battle, a frail Isabel, all battered and bruised, decided to yield. It was time to let her guard down; time to let herself go. She heaved a sigh of relief. As she turned on the shower, water began to trickle down her bare flesh and every pore of her being seemed to respond to its warmth. A burden lifted off her chest, Isabel felt light and invigorated.

The foul taste of an abruptly ended nightmare still fresh in her mind, Isabel felt gratified to be jolted awake. Exhausted by the journey, nevertheless, she was content to be a part of the experience. The past though dead would evidently never be gone. Isabel and her world had been altered perpetually, destined never to reclaim their aboriginal dimensions again. An amicable coexistence with bygone times would make no difference to her existence, she discerned. What it could, however, do was lend some credence to her life and make living a lot more worthwhile; perhaps, hearten her some day, to see the world in a new light – through those hazel eyes.

© Deboleena Bose 2011

About the writer: Deboleena lives by the river Hudson.

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing by Michael D. Brown New beginnings are all very fine, but what happens when one starts having double vision? ...