The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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Blackstone Circular

The following body of unedited work is a digital representation of the Blackstone Circular Anthology (c) published by Linda Rogers in 1997, who has given permission to reprint it here.

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The Blackstone Circular Anthology
The Blackstone Press
Toms River, NJ
Linda Rogers, Publisher
Copyright (c) 1997 by Linda Rogers
All rights reserved

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 Table of Contents

1.      THE RETURN OF THE RAVEN by Richard Riedinger

2.      ANNIE PALMER by Guy Roig

3.      PROGRESS? by Linda Rogers

4.      MAN IN THE VATICAN by Timothy Hodor

5.      A DEPARTURE FROM SOLIDITY by Timothy Hodor

6.    STRANGERS IN THE MORNING by Roy L. Pickering, Jr.

7.    WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER by Walt Whitman

8.      SOUNDBITES by Linda Rogers

9.      RECONCILIATION by Walt Whitman

10.  THE DECISION by Eric Maxim Henning

11.  A VERY SPECIAL PERSON by Roberta F. Bernice

12.  THE HOUSE OF DEATH by Zephyr Mika

13.  MO AND MR. MOON by Ruth Latta

14.  THE PRINT by Linda Rogers

15.  BURTON SOUND BYTE VIII by David Ian

16.  BURNT SIENNA by James Calandrillo

17.  VOICES CHANTING by Mary Waters

18.  I NEVER REALLY LIKED HEMINGWAY by Ray Johnson

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THE RETURN  OF THE RAVEN

(In Memory of Edgar Allan Poe)

by Mr. Richard Riedinger

Once upon a weekend, dank and dreary, while seeking literary inquiries, I chanced to cast a glance upon that, which was my well-used oaken floor, Perhaps I gazed upon it too strangely, or perhaps not, for it plainly, Cast its own uneasy shadows that entertained me, this, and nothing more.

As I pondered literature myself, I also cast a glance upon my bookshelf, Where volumes of forgotten books cast dusting shadows, from their cores, Around me the silence offered no suggestions, as to my poetic questions, Concerning how to create more lasting images in my leisure, or explore,

The vastness of this silence resounding, so that only my heart's pounding, And my breathing were the rhythms caught between the present time and yore, And if composing new poetic lines, would help me fill the silence, or find, A way to contact my lost love, whom the angels still call fair Lenore.

Now this entirely solitary scene, resembled one of my old Gothic schemes, As something crossed my mind's eye, something met with, but long before, And before I could command my pen this night, the revelation came as night, Leaving my thoughts where they were, as my mind hummed a haunting score.

In such visions of life and death, I am told, that my former images sold, But then there was that feathered incubus, who once sat at my chamber door, And so with my will power itself sleeping, and the deadly silence deepening, I thought I heard that mocking echo of my poetic past, singing "Nevermore!"

As time melted beyond human contrition, and I sought out all inscriptions, Which would allow me to touch the infinite, before the coming of dawn, Now that night was steeling in, and the incubus had not come to begin, Its taunting phrase, my fears of the evening were once more fully shorn.

Going about my business I avoided tappings, strange noises, or rapping, That would distract me from my work; but lo! the bird itself did return! Though I had shut the window tight, the door, now ajar, let in some light, And my black nemesis strolled casually in, without any degree of concern.

"Back again!" I screamed, and it went reeling to the rafters of the ceiling, "Why have you returned again?" I yelled, as if an answer            I would implore, "Tell me foul bird and fiend!" Once more my phrases all simply careened, Beyond reason and sanity, until the raven spoke its one word of "Evermore!"

"Evermore?" Had I now heard right, perhaps-it was the silence of the night, That had somehow altered the acoustics, now far from the Plutonian shore, Descending to the famous bust of Pallas, it perched there, and with malice, Sat staring at me repeating its new word, not the well-known "Nevermore!"

Sitting behind my desk dazed and puzzled, all I desired was an avian muzzle, To silence this incessant "Evermore!" and bring about some nightly peace, Still concerned about my heart's desires, and not quenching creative fires, I sought to confront the bird, but still, this "Evermore' never ceased!

And as the minutes themselves changed hands with hours, and eternity devoure, The time between the night and daylight, I sought less of it, not more, Still my winged guest sat perched, and through ancient books I searched, Seeking the spell to rid me of this devil, taking up my chamber and decor.

Now distracted from my former demands, I sought the solution time demands, When reaching beyond hope, so I asked it about my long lost love Lenore, Like a schoolboy avoiding a bad test, I sought an answer, never a quest, But it mattered not, for all my efforts were met with the same "Evermore!"

"Can you find Lenore?" this I did say, in hopes that it would just go away, And seek the night skies for those whose paradise lies beyond mortal hope, Though this act was sheer vanity, I was now on the verge of poetic sanity, Seeking answer, the answer was the same, crashing through the night's scope.

When this last question flew through the air, reaching it, sitting, there, My heart felt the blackness that reigns in places where emotions do encores, But, with each try-and-reach sentence, there was no hint of any repentance, Nor any human understanding, only the same thing over and over--nothing more

Now as the silence was thick enough to swirl, and the night able to curl, Around human dreams and human anticipation, but beyond this morbid theme, As the battle raged with species in kind, all other thoughts left behind, The one chance to breach the silence and the despair, lingering between,

Then the raven spoke, perhaps in half-jest, perhaps even just to test, The limits of such intrusions, and whatever had already gone here before, "Look, pal, we're arguing with one another, just like you did to my brother, The last time he was here, and you've got the same old wooden worn floor!"

"Brother!" Again I screamed seeking an answer, but, like a tired dancer, The words just faded from my lips, never to mingle with the poetic sublime, Enraged, I yelled back, "There are two of you, when only one raven will do!" In reply I was told that's the way things happen to Gothic poets, sometimes.

As my sighs of anguish touched the near-silence, and I reached for defiance, Swearing I would stop at nothing to rid myself of the raven: it was war! "Relax, calm down," it said, as if offering a truce, "Don't be so obtuse, Besides, if you play your poetic cards right, I'll help you find Lenore!"

On it went: "You see my brother or raven-relation, is taking his vacation, Never mind where or why, that part is of no concern to you, it's a real bore! Suffice it to say, Mr. Poe, if you think yourself clever, then you must never Never try anything rash, like throwing me out, for I'll just call the law!

You see, as far back as I can remember, I think it was maybe, last December, My brother and I joined The Audubon Society; after that, all officials saw, That we were both treated fair and never hard; I'll show you my Audubon card We get special care, so no one messes with us, be it feather or be it claw!

As for my brother, he'll be back next December, after all the autumn embers, In the meantime he sent me as his replacement, now, about this loser Lenore, Forget her, pal, join the current trends, and we too can become good friends, And while we're at it, pal, let's do something about this musty old decor!"

So spoke this black fiend, as if possessed, by something other than stress, Not even in my wildest plots could something like this ever be undertaken, Though the shreds of my sanity would listen, my inner thoughts were wishing, That my feathered 'guest' would promptly leave, now that peace was shaken.

But, brother raven calmly perches or sits, and sometimes throws in tidbits, Of literary wit and wisdom: I myself seek to get rid of this avian pest, If one raven is a literary nightmare, how can anyone hope to ever share,

The nightly stillness with two of them? And I have to deal with second-best!

The new raven even demands three square meals, all efforts and all appeals, To leave my chamber have been rejected, avian harassment, being the score, And so, as I search in vain for my lost sanity, brother raven flaunts vanity, Waving his Audubon card at me, will he remain here long? You guessed it: Evermore!

THE END

Return to Table of Contents

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 ANNIE PALMER

by Guy Roig

Annie Palmer leaned forward against the weathered wooden fence with her back to the late summer corn. She watched as the afternoon mail train pulled the sunset across the sky, and wondered why the earth was so darn flat. It's such a big place, she thought, as her eyes placed the open land before her. Poppa said you could drive four days in Uncle Charlie's automobile and still see our house in the distance. Somewhere a cicada called out, the sound drifting alone with the wind. It was long and forlorn, and it echoed in Annie's head long after it had ended. The mail train passed, and the sun slipped quickly over the horizon. In the distance, the dinner bell was ringing. It was kind of nice, she thought.

Aunt Katie would be here for at least another month, so Annie could enjoy the long summer nights without having to strain at her work. Poppa had not yelled at her for idleness. Indeed, Poppa had said hardly a word since the funeral the week before.

Annie lingered at the fence, until the first star appeared in the night sky. The dust and heat of the day began to settle now. It seemed to form a skin on her, something that could be rubbed off, but would repeatedly return. Poppa had this skin on him as well. He hadn't mentioned it, but she knew that he, too, felt it. Poppa didn't say much these days. He just went about his business, feeding the chickens, and mending the barn door that had come down in the spring, the same kinds of things he had always done--only now they seemed different.

She had overheard him talking to Doc Hargrove on the telephone the other night, about when he was young and had lived in the city; how things were then, and how things were going to be now. She remembered thinking of Momma and feeling lonely, and then Aunt Kate shooing her back to bed. Poppa's voice, echoing up the 'stairs, sang her to sleep, and in the morning, she remembered nothing of the conversation.

Aunt Katie's voice came drifting up through the corn field to her. She had better go, she thought, and headed down the nearest row. The corn was high this year. It would be a good crop. Poppa always said that to get a good crop, you had to sacrifice and work hard. Annie di.dn't give a damn for corn that year. She had sacrificed, and there wasn't corn enough in the world to fill the loneliness she held in her heart that late summer night.

The inside of the farmhouse was lit brightly, and she squinted her eyes as she entered the dining room. Poppa sat at the end of the long wooden table. Her older brother, Paul, sat to the side of the father. She took her usual place across the table from Paul, and pulled the napkin to her lap.

"God, girl," Paul said out loud, "you look like you just woke up!"

She squinted up at him but did not answer. Aunt Kate entered the room carrying a plate of squash, and sat down at the other end of the table. Annie looked at her father, but he said nothing.

THE END

Return to Table of Contents

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 PROGRESS?

by Linda Rogers


SETTING: The admissions office of a music school. There's a desk downstage right, a settee downstage left, a coffee table in front of the settee, and a door upstage center.

AT RISE: Miss Barbelle, the secretary, is sitting at her desk, typing. The telephone rings.

BARBELLE

             (picking up the receiver)

Lowde Conservatory, may I help you?

(ALICE, a prospective student, and her girlfriend, ELLA, enter and sit down. ALICE picks up a course catalogue and the two read it)

BARBELLE

Just one moment, please.

(SHE rings the intercom and then waits. SHE rings again, waits, and then hangs up the receiver and exits through the upstage center door to the director's office)

ALICE

(to ELLA)

Wow, look at this, they teach singing, drums, guitar, synthesizer

ELLA

(pointing at the page)

Look, they've got screaming, special effects, banging, noodling recording and mixing bars of music off of a compact disk ...

ALICE

(turning the page)

And, look, they teach you how to write songs.

ELLA

(reading)

"Learn to compose by applying monotony to all eight notes of the scale."

ALICE

They'll even teach you how to sing with a southern accent.

ELLA

Just think, when screetch-thunk first started, guys like Jim Grim and Stone Groan learned this stuff without ever going to school.

BARBELLE

(offstage, shouting)

I said, Judy's on the phone!

DIRECTOR

(offstage)

Oh!

(BARBELLE enters, sits at her desk and writes)

ALICE

Hey, look at this, "Learn to cut corners on your costumes."

ELLA

Here's another one: "Build a body that sells."

ALICE

Just think, we'll be stars ... like Mozart and Bobcat.

ELLA

What group was Mozart with?

(the telephone rings)

BARBELLE

(picking up the receiver)

Lowde Conservatory of Music ...

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 MAN IN THE VATICAN

by Timothy Hodor

(reprinted from Commonweal)

Like Michelangelo,

In the Sistine Chapel,

I lie on my back,

Trying to connect God to man:

Sometimes I feel an arm's length from God,

Yet, my scaffolding's shaky. One day,

I paint smooth strokes of religion and afterlife;

The next, my tools undergo transformations.

I lose hold of faith and the future,

But continue to work--to paint over

Or to touch up my beliefs.

My whole life, I've drained myself,

Reaching to unite human fingers of concrete

To immortal palms of abstraction.

I turn away from the ceiling.

My mind conceives a picture on the wall:

It's the Last Judgment.

God has already dug

His fingers through my soul.

My face hangs like tattered dough.


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 A DEPARTURE FROM SOLIDITY

Timothy Hodor

(reprinted from Blue Unicorn)

 Railroad tracks were different

When I was young. I used to like

To balance myself on them.

When I couldn't do that, I stood back and watched

The trains go by.

I never knew where they were going.

Today I find that I know

Too much about destinations. All the things

Pointing towards the future Seem to have an end;

And the infinity

I thought I once played on

Was a childhood

I had to walk away from.

I remember now

The time I had to leave

The iron tightrope behind.


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 STRANGERS IN THE MORNING
by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

 My perception of beauty has been forever altered, for she is by all standards of critique known to mankind the most stunning woman walking this earth.

Her legs rise gracefully from dainty feet and continue into the stratosphere. Her body's sultry,

dangerous curves take the mind's eye on a journey it will not soon forget. An auburn mane frames her magnificent visage, then sprawls across bare velvet shoulders. Her eyes are a color I have never seen, though possibly once dreamt of as a child. She looks so good it hurts to gaze upon her, but it is infinitely more painful to look away.

There is a simultaneous burning in my heart, gut, and crotch. I know, as I have never known anything before, that she is the one.

Who am I kidding? What chance in hell do I have with someone like her? This is the kind of woman you see in magazines, attached to the arm of a billionaire or rock star. Certainly a regular guy like me has no chance.

My reality break is a brief one. The goddess re-crosses her legs, giving me a glimpse of inner thigh--the road to paradise.

I would slay a dragon for her. I would swim the Pacific, climb Mt. Everest, hike across the Sahara. All of this I would do, simply to hear her say my name. Check that, to scream it in a fit of passion and ecstacy. I must have her, or die trying.

Now, how am I supposed to go about this? By saying something to.her, I guess. But what?

This is a deceptively difficult question to answer. A woman like her has surely heard every line in the book. If it sounds like a manufactured dime-a-dozen come-on, she won't even acknowledge my presence. I will have to come up with something original and witty. And it must sound sincere. Delivery is key. I must be charming in an effortless way. This of course will take much preparation. Unfortunately, time is not on my side.

She looks at me. She glances up, and for a millisecond our eyes meet. I think my heart has stopped beating. Lord, I know I don't do this very often, but I'm doing it now. Give me this and I'll be the best Christian You ever saw.

And if You won't help me out, how about you, Satan? My soul is yours, just as long as I get to keep my heart for her. I'll toss in my baseball autographed by Thurman Munson, too. Even my dog, if that's what it will take. Just please let me have this.

She has to have a boyfriend who, of course, she's madly in love with. Or better yet, she's just broken up with someone, and can't bear the thought of being with another man. She decided just last week to become a lesbian. Or perhaps, she's just left her doctor's office after finding out she has a scorching case of herpes. There will be some impenetrable barrier prohibiting me from being with her. There always is.

I consider myself to be an intelligent, adequately attractive guy, with a good sense of humor and a decent heart. Maybe I won't replace John-John on the list of New York's most eligible bachelors, but when I look around, I see plenty of guys a lot worse than me. Of course, this is the subway so that isn't saying much.

My bad luck with women is legendary. It's always the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong something. No matter how promising my romantic ventures initially appear, the cookie inevitably manages to crumble.

But this would more than make up for everything. She's my every fantasy, with a couple of attractions I wasn't creative enough to dream up.

Did that happen? Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Maybe her beauty has intoxicated me so much that I can't tell what's real anymore. But I could have sworn she looked at me. It was only for a flash, and it's possible she simply felt like looking ahead, and I happened to fall in her line of view. I'll wait and see if she looks my way again. If she does, I'll drop to my knees and beg for her hand in marriage.

She has taken a magazine from her purse and is leafing through it. Something she reads amuses her. I thought nothing in the world could possibly improve her appearance; then she smiles and makes me realize I was wrong, that I would do anything to be. the reason for the next one.

The train pulls into Grand Central Station. I am so transfixed by her gracefulness, as she rises and walks toward the doors, that I don't realize she is exiting from the train. I leap from my seat and spring through the closing doors.

For five terrifying seconds I cannot find her. She has gotten lost in the crowd, could have gone in any direction.

Then I see her.

"Excuse me, sir. Pardon me, ma'am." I weave in and out of the masses, doing everything possible to keep her in my sight. I feel like a C.I.A. agent on the trail of a spy. It dawns on me that I have gotten off the train at the wrong stop. I am supposed to be on my way to work. But what is another dreary day of labor compared to meeting the woman with whom I plan to spend the rest of my days?

She gets onto a train headed for Queens, and I faithfully shadow her. It is too crowded for either of us to get a seat, so we stand, our bodies only a foot apart. The amalgamation of her perfume and shampoo invade my nostrils. The train unexpectedly jerks, our shoulders briefly touch, a wave of liquid heat blazes down my arm. She clears her throat. A chorus of angels could not have made a more glorious sound.

For twenty minutes, we are side by side. In that time I steal countless glances. She seems to sneak a few peeps in my direction as well, but whenever I try to meet her gaze, she is looking away.

And then it happens. Our eyes lock in an embrace more intensely erotic than any sexual experience I have ever known. This is followed by something wonderful, something miraculous: she smiles, and this time the smile is for me.

I'm bedazzled, and once again, she nearly slips my net. I squeeze through the subway doors and continue pursuit.

Heading down the stairs that lead to the sidewalk, I begin wracking my brain for the perfect opening. Chances are she will reach her destination at any moment.

I quicken my pace to get within striking distance. My heart matches my feet. I am now only a few steps behind. To get her attention, I need do no more than reach out and tap her shoulder. I decide to play it by ear. No prepared lines can do justice to the way I feel. This isn't a movie where, in one short scene, the dashing hero captures the heart of the beautiful leading lady. This is real life. I'm just plain old Lloyd Briscol. As I see it, my only chance lies in speaking from the gut. I will proclaim that as soon as I first laid eyes on her, I knew it was love. It doesn't matter that I don't know her. I know how I feel. She is the one I want to grow old with, the woman destined to bear my children.

Up until today, I have led a simple, mundane existence, accomplishing not a single thing that truly mattered. In college, a few more hours of studying per week could have changed my C's into A's, and those A's could have put me into medical school. But I could never find the drive to put in that extra time. A few more hours of overtime and a bit of kissing up to my boss would be all I'd need to accelerate my career. Once again, I come up short on motivation. I do not attribute my lack of aggressiveness to laziness. It is simply my opinion that the only things worth fully pursuing are those which you want with all your heart. And until I fortuitously looked up from my newspaper on the subway this morning, life had supplied me with the minimum of such items.

With this woman by my side, I know I can conquer the world. All I need is the opportunity to make her feel for me as I do for her.

She turns suddenly and heads toward the entrance of an office building. I have to do something. I must speak now, or forever hold my tongue. My mouth opens, but nothing comes out.

Perhaps she is reading my thoughts or absorbing my vibe. Is it possible that all along she has sensed my longing? Could it be that either God or Satan is answering my prayers? Whatever the explanation, she stops. She looks directly at me. It's as if a spotlight is beaming upon us. We are the only two people in the world. I inhale deeply. The moment has arrived.

"Have a nice day."

For the very last time she smiles at me. Then she opens the door and is gone.

Oh, sure, I could have said something wonderfully clever. I could have had her in a second, but what would be the point? She could never live up to the fantasy.

THE END

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 WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN'D ASTRONOMER
by Walt Whitman


When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged
          in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,
         divide, and measure them,
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer where he lectured
         with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

*    *    *    *    *

 SOUND BITES
by Linda Rogers

Setting: A television studio during a news broadcast.

At Rise: Ima Peece, broadcast journalist, is moderating a discussion. We have just tuned in.

 PEECE

Professor Blank, tell us, if you will, what in your opinion is the best approach towards this problem.

 BLANK

Well, as I see it, the best approach is to stand firm with our consciences and hold the line against creeping domination by those who succumb to pressure.

 PEECE

Umm, hmm. And what is your view, Senator Squash?

 SQUASH

Well, I disagree entirely. The current situation demands a new thrust, a War on Words.

PEECE

Professor Blank, do you see a threat to family values here?

 BLANK

Absolutely. I think we've gotta work harder than ever. Not since the Red Menace has there been so much relativism.

 PEECE

What do you think of Representative Sloth's efforts to try to get somewhere on this? That's to either of you gentlemen.

 SQUASH

I think we can all commend Representative Sloth for her patience and determination.

 PEECE

Unfortunately, our time is up. Thank you, gentlemen. And now, here's Bill.

 BILL

And we go to Joyce, with a report on hatred. Joyce?

 JOYCE

Thank you, Bill. Hatred is on the rise, according to a study by the Institute for Garbled Research. Dr. Gobbledygook, head of this latest study, said today that more people hate each other than ever before. On a "Peeved/Livid" scale of 1 to 10, 3,749 subjects surveyed scored 5 or better, a rise from 2,678 five years ago, when the last study was performed.

 BILL

Great, Joyce. I wonder, what kind of questions did they ask on this survey?

 JOYCE

That's a good question, Bill. They asked questions such as: "Which would you rather do, wash your car or beat your wife?"

 BILL

Uh, but where does the scale come in?

 JOYCE

Well, the next question would be, on a scale of 1 to 10, how hard would you like to hit her?

 BILL

Oh, I see. That way they get a measure of the intensity ..

 JOYCE

Right, right.

 BILL

Thank you, Joyce, for that in-depth analysis.

 (Fast music plays as we fade into a commercial.)

 THE END


*    *    *    *    *
 RECONCILIATION
by Walt Whitman

 Word over all, beautiful as the sky,

Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must

in time be utterly lost,

That the hands of the sisters, Death and Night, incessantly

softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world;

For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,

I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin-

I draw near,

Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face

in the coffin.
*    *    *    *    *
 THE DECISION
by Eric Maxim Henning

 She studied the menu. "I can't decide."

Charles stared over the top of his reading glasses. "All right," he sighed, and waived the waiter away. "Take your time. Take all the time you need."

It was spring, and the whole day Marcia's mind had wandered. Through the rest of the year she could keep house for two adolescents who took all devotion for granted, and earn a living collating data that meant nothing to her. But every April brought a day when new buds began to swell, and the thin, chilly air softened in the sunshine. Suddenly, everything that Marcia had and did seemed inadequate. "It's not a life," she thought. "I just go from day to day. Surviving, that's all. And it'll go on like this, right to the end, if something doesn't change."

Daffodils arose out of brown lawns still matted from the snow. Breathing deeply, they blossomed brilliant yellow. Marcia's discontent grew as well. She had trouble sleeping. Odd notions possessed her, and she occasionally did inexplicable things. Last year, at about this time, she began seeing Charles.

 "A professor?" her daughter had said. "Yuck!" And Charles was fifty-two. "Well, you know," Marcia had replied, "I'm almost forty".

 She did admit that at times Charles could seem a little stuffy. "But that's because of his job," she had explained, "and because he doesn't know you yet. Men like that, intellectual men, are usually a little shy. He's better when we're alone."

 Months later, Marcia had still believed that a single mother her age could easily do worse. Now, she wondered. She wondered in a vague, uncertain way. At the office, her desk sat in a quiet corner with a view of what used to be woods. There was one small patch still standing on the edge of the parking lot. Isolated and forlorn, those few remaining trees confronted the hard, shiny, vehicles that advanced upon them, row after row. One day, men with chain saws would come, the trees would topple, and there would be a bit more room to park. Till then, Marcia would interrupt her work to gaze upon their long, delicately fingered branches, their graceful trunks that gently swayed, variously clothed and unclothed by the seasons.

 Her heart went out to those trees, doomed companions beyond the glass. They were so different, so radically unlike the fuming massed ranks of painted steel and noise, the statistical reports, and flimsy, yet hard-driven, cubicles that surrounded them and her.

 Different, she thought. I want something different, not this. She looked around. Not this at all. Then what? I just want to be happy. She smiled. But how? A new job with better pay? Her pay wasn't bad, and she'd had other jobs. They were all pretty much the same after awhile. Well, there was romance: to love and be loved in return. Marcia gazed at the distant trees. That would be nice, she thought. Ah, but would it? Was it ever? She frowned. Not after awhile. The nice part never lasted. Yet, maybe this time with Charles, if she really tried ... She pondered. Dammit, girl! You're hopeless, she told herself. That's the problem. You don't know what you want!

 "So, how about dinner tonight?" Charles had asked. He had an important meeting at 4:30, but would stop by afterwards. They'd go to a new place he'd heard of.

 "Okay," she'd said, "but I've got to feed my kids first."

 "Nonsense. They can fend for themselves. Call and leave a message. They'll find all they need in the refrigerator, I'm sure."

 Marcia wasn't sure, but that never mattered to Charles. He was accustomed to dealing with people who knew and understood much less than he did. He, accordingly, had great confidence in his own judgment, as much as any man Marcia had known.

 Charles was somewhat taken aback, then, when the restaurant he'd chosen turned out to be located in a shopping mall, one that had glass skylights, exotic greenery, and fountains at every turn.

 "Oh, dear!" was all he could say, and he said it more than once while walking among the suburban shoppers like a being from another world. Marcia had tried to keep his hopes alive. "Maybe it won't be so bad inside," she'd ventured. But Charles had stared ruefully at the restaurant's highly polished wooden doors, with their big wrought iron handles and gaudy stained glass.

 Inside, a waiter in formal attire had bowed from the waist and led them to the dining area, classical music playing in the background. (Vivaldi, Charles had observed, Concerto in C for Mandolin.) Hanging plants were everywhere. Flames were dancing in large amber globes on the wall and in smaller globes on every table. Sine it was a weekday, only one table was occupied, nearby. An elderly couple was sitting there, conversing in animated tones with a young woman wearing a blazer, who smiled and answered from time to time: their daughter, probably. It had seemed, in any case, to be a family celebration.

 "Kitschy," Charles had said, looking about, "but perhaps the food will be tolerable." He had said no more until their drinks had arrived. Then he had launched into an account of his meeting with the school's academic vice-president. "Futile, simply futile. The man is an utter blockhead, a paper-pusher who doesn't know Montaigne from Montesquieu and doesn't think it matters."

 "Really?"

 "That's precisely what happens when you hire people with nothing but a degree in public administration." Charles had pursed his lips in disdain. "They just do not understand what real education is all about. Nor do they care to learn. All that concerns them is their precious budget." He had fairly spat the word out. "Their budget, and whatever bears upon it most: enrollment figures, grant proposals, salaries, that sort of thing. The entire administration is stuffed with Philistines who don't give a damn about our cultural heritage and the necessity of imparting its fruits to the best among the coming generation."

 "Does that mean you won't be made Dean?"

 "Out of the question. Parker never said so, of course, but it was clear enough to me. We're not cut from the same cloth, he and I, not by a far cry. He'll want someone like himself in that position. Fine. That's appropriate. He deserves no more. Indeed, I should refuse if the job were offered. To accept would be disastrous for a man of my sort. No doubt of that."

 Marcia had had no intention of doubting. Things that concerned him had always been perfectly clear to Charles.

 She had merely nodded and allowed him to explain, once again, all that was wrong with our system of education, how it had declined shamefully, was headed for ruin, needed a complete overhaul, and so forth.

 As he talked, Marcia studied his face. It had once seemed distinguished, even imposing, with a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, aquiline nose, and lofty brow.

 Now she saw that his brow was sallow and furrowed, that there were circles beneath his small, puffy eyes, loose skin hanging about his neck, and jowls. She knew now the flabby bulk of the body that sat there, encased in English tweed, knew the clammy feel of it pressing down upon her, the odd tufts of hair scattered across his pimply back. With a shudder, she looked past him at the next table. How happy the elderly couple seemed! Happy with one another and therefore with life, the way we all should be. Their daughter, however, had brought no one along. Maybe she too was alone in life? Not likely. For although she wore no makeup, she had lovely large eyes that shone with intelligence and warmth, above clear cheeks tinged with a natural rosy hue. Close-cropped brown hair fell casually onto her forehead. Her full lips bore a kind, though faintly ironic, smile that suggested indulgence, rather than whole- hearted enjoyment of her parents' company. Marcia recalled her own children and the sort of companionship they provided. You can, after all, be lonely without being alone.

 At that moment, quite unexpectedly, the young woman shifted her lovely eyes to meet and hold, just for a moment, Marcia's unprotected gaze. Both looked away. A bit later, however, when Marcia again looked over, the woman's eyes were already fixed upon her, and this time they did not look away.

 To Marcia, the words written on the dessert menu made no sense at all. Nor did it make sense that she felt flushed and hoped that no one would notice. Then the group at the next table got up and left. At the cashier, the young woman turned and looked directly back at Marcia.

 "So," said Charles, "have you decided what you want?" Startled, Marcia began again to consider.

"Shall I choose for you?"

 "No, I'll do it. It's just that there's more on the menu than I expected."

 "Well, make up your mind. It's getting late."

THE END

*    *    *    *    *
 A VERY SPECIAL PERSON
By Roberta F. Bernice

To Become a Very Special Person, you must learn to give--to give your understanding, love, kindness, sympathy, and forgiveness to your neighbor; your energy, ideas, purpose, plans and principles to your work; your time, inspiration, encouragement, and devotion to your country: to give of yourself. You must learn to think for yourself, weighing the evidence, seeking the truth, and then building your life upon that truth; to develop maturity without losing simplicity; to realize that, "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." You must learn to meet failure and resolve that if you fail, you will fail while trying to succeed; to realize that you cannot always control what happens but you can control your response to it; to remember that as long as you keep your faith in God and in yourself, nothing can permanently defeat you. You must learn to be a friend--to go more than halfway with others; to practice the companionship of silence as well as the magic of words; to realize that the way to acquire a person's friendship is to be a friend. You must learn to dream--to be unafraid of new ideas, new fields, new problems; to be willing to try new ways of thinking and living; to keep young at heart and your expectations high ... and above all, never allow your dreams to die.

*    *    *    *    *
 THE HOUSE OF DEATH
by Zephyr Mika

 "Are you ready?" my girlfriend said. She was standing outside on the Welcome mat that was plagued with fading sunflowers. "Grandma Hazel will be waiting for us."

 "I'm as ready as a person preparing to look at death can be," I answered, slowly and anxiously. She let the screen door bounce back into place, and I returned to my book; but through the nervously humid air, the words were nothing more than an incomprehensible blur. I couldn't concentrate. The flower-shaped wind chimes above me made nary a sound. My hands were moist and cold, despite the blazing tranquil sun, when I picked up my glass and sipped over-sweet, just-addwater lemonade. The air smelled of summer shade and warm grass. As I stared off into myself, a slow, fat pickup truck labored by, both close and distant. Its wrinkled, overalled driver watched me curiously, and gave a jerking nod of the head with a smile of neither the eyes nor the lips.

 It would have been awkward enough if I'd been preparing to visit a convalescent relative of my own, but going to see someone else's was the most unsavory experience I could imagine. After all, old people in houses of death are just like dogs under a Kansas porch, waiting for the inevitable to quell the lump in their hearts. I took another sip of lemonade, in a futile attempt to quell the dry lump in my throat.

 Upon entry, the House of Death appeared to be the Ritz Carlton. There was a grand piano, with a newly-waxed luster, in the corner of the lobby, and overstuffed pastel blue easy chairs with a matching sofa that fairly screamed coziness and comfort. There was oak siding on all of the doors and window sills, and deep sea blue carpeting that perfectly complimented the easy chairs.

The place was decorated in shades of "orgasm", the look exuding pleasure and contentment. One could imagine room service, cloth napkins, and cool drinks with sexy names and flashy parasols, served on the beach by beautiful waitresses. However, the smell gave it all away. A powerful stench permeated the white corridor, making the whole place seem exquisite in only a very plastic manner. Perhaps it was easy to fool the residents with the deceptive appearance of this establishment, but I saw the irony of the situation as soon as we traded the radiantly moist blanket of Kansas warmth for that clammy, refrigerated interior.

 The odor was a menagerie of ammonia, lemon-scented cleanser, freshly-opened Band-Aids, and overcooked kidney beans. It was the smell of human beings who were slowly rotting alive, on whom mercy ought to have been taken decades ago. It indicated a haphazard attempt to clean up a mess that was, ultimately, uncleanable.

 We strolled through the corridors, surrounded by the cataract stares of relics--reflections of past, living human beings. The look in their eyes was the most frightening part of the entire experience, I realized later.

 One man, who was wearing a powder-blue hospital shirt beneath his tattered overalls, was slumped sideways in his wheelchair peering into an aviary. Someone proudly informed us that this was a new attachment in the lounge area, funded by the will of a freshly deceased, local corn farmer. The man was staring at the birds, either because they intrigued him or, more likely, because someone had positioned him there. To this day, I am not sure whether he was talking to the birds or to me, but it's what he was mumbling that really matters.

 In a tortured, pleading moan he half-whispered, half-shrieked, "Nails in my head. They put nails in my head. I want it all to end. Someone ... Oh, help me die!" As far as I could tell, no one paid him any mind, except myself. They just passed by as if nothing of any significance was occurring, so I did the same. I was quickly learning•"rest home etiquette". It's ironic the way a body will stop working, but unfortunately for its owner, the mind inside keeps trooping on.      

 We continued  on down the hall to Grandma Hazel's pen, and I wondered what she would be like. I had never seen her before, and if she was as intimidating as the rest of these vestiges, I wanted to escape into the solacing scent of freshly-mowed grass.

 All very suddenly, I had some hunchbacked museum of elderliness hooked into my arm as if I had just invited her out to the symphony; she would wear a brand new, formfitting, black cocktail dress with her hospital slippers, and we would paint the town red. I smiled pleasantly as if I were used to this sort of thing, as the withered old lady grinned toothlessly up at me, as if I were her great-grandson of whom she was the proudest lady on earth. She began to ramble in a language only understandable to those who have taken the time and put in the meticulous exertion required to learn it. I tried my best to look jovial, as if I thought it was cute, all the while wondering what the proper etiquette was in this sort of engagement.

 A male attendant came along and shifted her feeble weight from me to him, with an apologetic smile, and steered her back down the hall. "You've gotta quit doing this, Gertie," he said, through a condescending grin. I surprised myself when I felt a bolt of jealousy upon learning that I wasn't her only beau. I had the same feeling you feel when someone takes a cat from you: left with a slightly cold lap, but relieved that the claws are no longer digging about the area of your groin. I was just happy that I was no longer obligated to go out and buy her a corsage.

 Grandma Hazel had been in the House of Death for 45 years, which was slightly shocking, considering she had only been a living being for 40 years before her transfer to that place. Her family never spoke of the conditions under which Hazel had been institutionalized; they only stated with an averted gaze and ventriloquist's manner that she had had a "rough life".

 "Grandpa", Hazel's son, was already with her. He visited at least once a week, bringing Pepsi soda and Mounds candy bars. She gummed at the Mounds until the melted chocolate escaped and trickled down her chin. Then she washed it down with a shot of Pepsi, from a floral print Dixie cup, not too much at once, so the chocolate on her chin would have no company. With these delicacies accomplished, Grandpa began the introductions. Hazel had used up all of her hearing earlier in life, so Grandpa was forced to speak on paper with a fat, black, felt-tip marker in triple-sized capital letters. She was introduced to me, told who my girlfriend was (Hazel hadn't seen her great-granddaughter since childhood), and reminded of who Grandpa's wife was. She was happy to see us all.

 She sat in her wheelchair, with her stick-like left leg folded over her bony right knee, and leaned on her right elbow. Her head flopped over to one side and rested ponderously in her right hand. Her skin hung shabbily on her bones, like a ragged old tent that someone had hastily abandoned in the wilderness, loosely over its bended poles. Every now and then Grandpa said something funny to amuse her. For instance, he made a joke about finding her a job at a "girly" show at the county fiar, and her eyes laughed hysterically, although her stroke-frozen scowl remained firmly intact. After she was finished with her brief stint of amusement, her head would frustratedly nod back down to rest in her bony-knuckled hand.

 When she tried to speak, it was like listening to a child who hasn't yet learned to form words and only its mother can understand, as if by clairvoyance. How ironic that her son was the only one who could comprehend what she meant and interpret! While Grandma Hazel's snack digested, they shared jokes with inside meanings and were updated on the medical episodes of her week. She received only a painless bruise, she assured us, when sliding from the toilet to the floor yesterday morning. She muttered about someone having entered her room and stolen her stuffed animals and quarters for the Pepsi machine, but both were quickly found in plain view on her closet shelf.

 I soon became bored with all of the chatter and noticed that Grandpa, who was wearing turquoise cotton shorts, had pretty nice legs for a man over 60. They were very tan and toned, not flabby at all, and devoid of the varicose veins so popular among other victims of that age range.

 Grandpa informed Grandma Hazel that it was time to go. She quickly apprised him that she saw absolutely no reason that we would need to be leaving. Grandpa ignored her request to prolong the visit, so I assumed that every week's rendezvous ended in this manner.

 We all rose to say farewell. Everyone leaned down to give Gandma Hazel a hug and let her kiss them on the cheek. I spoke slowly and sincerely when I told her that I was very happy to have met her, and as I was doing so, she puckered up. I realized what was expected of me. When I bent over to give a squeeze to an old woman whom,I had just met, I understood that it was not my cheek she intended to kiss, but my lips! I obliged, surprised at their satin softness.

 An exceptionally wise and sparkling set of eyes, fixed in a time-worn and dilapidated frame, shone into my own. I could still see them when I stepped out of the House of Life and closed my eyes to inhale the soothing summer breeze that somehow seemed much hotter than before.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *
 MO AND MR. MOON
by Ruth Latta

 Jane snuggled against her mother in the big bed. The wind howled outside. The room was as dark as the black velvet ribbons she sometimes wore in her hair. Mr. Moon must be hiding behind a cloud, she thought. But she didn't worry. Mother's solid warm form was beside her. Soon morning would come, and Mother would get up and start the fire in the cookstove. The crackling battery radio would give forth music when she coaxed the dials. The announcer's cheery voice would report road conditions in the town 25 miles away. Not that Jane was going to school yet, though sometimes she and Mother played school, using her sisters' books and singing songs they had taught her. When day came, maybe Jane and Mother would feed the blue jays and chickadees, or slide on the big hill down to the frozen lake. For now, though, Jane was content to draw near, absorbing Mother's heat, listening to her regular breathing. She dozed.

 Then she blinked. The window, a rectangle of light, promised morning, but it was on the wrong side of the room. Though she was in bed, it was not the iron-framed one of olden days. The warm bundle beside her wasn't Mother. It was small and purred. She shook her head to clear it. Mo, her cat, was soft, comforting, warm, but a part of the present day. Jane had been lost in a dream of innocence.

Where was Jack? His pillow was dented, but his side of the bed was deserted. Then, downstairs, the T.V. came on and footsteps sounded in the kitchen. Another day. Up home, Mother was in the hospital, fighting for breath. Her last day? Down the hall, a door closed and shower water gushed. Jack's sister, Lana, here for a weeklong conference, was preparing for her important day.

 Oh, Mother, why are you so old, so sick? thought Jane. Those days of being protected are long gone. If only we could go back. If only you could be transformed into the woman you were when young. That stout heart, filled with so much love, that heart which had circulated Jane's blood too, before her birth, wasn't working properly. If you go, Jane sobbed to herself, who will love me? Who will admire my paintings? Jack? Maybe. Definitely not Lana.

 Mo stirred, rose, braced her legs, stretched until she was a giant gray puffball, then climbed heavily onto Jane's chest. Purring loudly, she crawled up Jane's body until her head was an inch from Jane's face. Then she leaned forward and butted her head against Jane's chin, looking steadily into her eyes, as if to say, "Buck up. I'm here." Freeing her arms from the blankets, Jane stroked the furry body, as Mo intensified her purring. Jane couldn't help but smile, remembering how much Mo had amused Mother on her visit last summer. Mo was stirring now. She jumped off the bed, ran to the bedroom door, then looked back.

 "Aren't you coming?" said her stare. "I need food." Jane swung her legs out of bed, reaching for her robe. How was Jack. feeling? she wondered. A cold had descended upon him yesterday, after picking up Lana at the airport. Downstairs, Jane intended to set the table, play hostess, serve Jack and Larva a full breakfast. Then later, alone in the house, she would phone the hospital up north and see how Mother was. Never mind that it was a long distance call during the day. She couldn't wait.

 "Stable," the head nurse reported. No better. No worse. Jane dialed her sister, Faith. Another daytime long distance call, but who cared? Mother lived with Faith these days. The log house by the lake had become the family cottage. Though Faith had once vowed never to settle outside a city, she had long ago settled with her husband in a big house on a wooded lot near the river, a mile outside of town. Her husband still taught school; Faith had retired. Imagine, a sister being old enough to retire! Faith was 13 years Jane's senior. The year Jane was five--the year Jane had dreamt about--Faith was at teachers' college, while Pam, the whiz kid, only 17, was at university.

 "I don't know, Janie." Faith sounded worried. Janie. The old childhood nickname. Mother and Pam were the only other people on earth who called Jane "Janie".

 "Should I come up?"

 "There's nothing you can do. It's all in the hands of the medical staff--and God. Mother would like to see you, of course, but she doesn't lack company. We go in every day, and so do the kids. But maybe you should pack a suitcase, just in case she takes a turn for the worse. At her age, who knows?"

 "O.K. Keep in touch."

 Hanging up, Jane thought of her nieces and nephews, all young adults now, living near their parents. In the past, as Jane had driven away with her mother in the car, heading for a two-week visit together, Faith's kids had clustered in a picture window, waving, hating to see Grandma go. No one wanted to see Grandma go.

 The cat rubbed against Jane's legs, tilting her head toward the stairs as if to say, "Aren't you going to paint this morning?" Fighting back tears, Jane picked up the animal. Mo allowed herself to be cuddled for a couple of minutes, then squirmed. Once on her own feet again, she bounded up the stairs ahead of Jane to the attic workroom. There, Jane set to work on a city scene, a Victorian house, slightly romanticized.

 "It's amazing how many people like representational art." Larva's voice dripped incredulity as she surveyed Jane's art room. Jack wanted her to see the skylight he had put in. "Will that affect the resale value of the house?" Larva asked. In the past, before Mother's current heart problems, Jane would have phoned her to complain about condescending inlaws. Mother always said something to make her feel better. The cat, now on the window seat, stared at Jane. Just then, she heard her mother's voice in her head say, "Pay no attention to Larva. Her taste is all in her mouth."

 Mo turned, surveying one of the five pictures Jane intended for the-art show. Influenced by Cornelius Kreighoff, she had painted the old log house in the moonlight. The three birches gleamed slender and white against a dark warm pine. During the past few weeks, a thought had crossed Jane's mind as she worked on the painting: Mother will like this. Then had come the thought: Mother may never see it.

 Last night, Lana had peered at the picture. "Your girlhood home?" Jane had nodded. "Imagine being raised in a log cabin in the bush. And your sisters are so much older than you are. Tell me again about your unusual family."

 "There's nothing to tell, really." Jane had led the way downstairs. "It wasn't as if we were raised by wolves." She had summarized her early life. Mother had married Faith and Pam's father, but the marriage had ended in divorce. Then Mummy had met Mel, Jane's father, whom Jane hardly remembered. A naturalist, Mel and his ready-made family had spent the months from April to October in the log house by a northern lake.

 Jane had dim but happy memories of being piggybacked by Pam or Faith through nature trails, swimming with them in the lake, hating the way the worms wiggled on the hooks. Her elder sisters watched out for her, but teased her, calling her "Plain Jane" and "Calamity Jane".

 "Be kind to Janie," Mother would say. "She's just a little girl, and she gets tired faster than you do."

 All had been idyllic until one day when Mel was out on the lake during a thunderstorm. His canoe capsized. Divers retrieved his body. To everyone's surprise, Mother stayed on at the lake. The two older girls pursued their education in the city, near their father and his new wife. "We've had such good times here," Mother told anyone who asked why she stayed. "I never want to live anywhere else."

 The first winter, with the girls and Daddy gone, was uneasy but never terrifying, for Mother kept things going. Her strong singing voice travelled to all the corners of the house, dispelling loneliness. Later, Mother went back into nursing and rented an apartment in town. Still, the log house remained a cherished part of Jane's life. So was her connection to Mother, born of the years when they two had been alone together. Sometimes Jane visualized that bond between them, not as an apron string, but as a velvet ribbon which Mother used to fasten in her hair.

 Putting down her paint brush, Jane seized a clean cloth and dabbed at her eyes. She sank onto the old beanbag chair, a discard. Mo opened one eye, hopped down from her cushion on the window sill, and climbed onto Jane's lap. She shoved her head aggressively into Jane's hand, demanding to be stroked. Jane gulped, then smiled. The cat's decisive manner reminded her of Mother. As a child, misbehaving or heading for a fall, she often found, herself swept into her mother's arms and held close. Jane stroked the animal's head.

 "Let's go downstairs," she said. "How about some salmon?" Mo jumped down and led the way. When the cat was occupied at its food dish in the kitchen, Jane stole over to the closet and removed her suitcase. Mo got upset when bags were packed. On one occasion, after Jane had departed with her suitcase, Jack had seen the cat deliberately go upstairs and pee on a pile of sketches left on the floor. When both Jane and Jack were away, Mo sometimes boarded at the vet, where the attendants reported that she was a joy to all. Incredible, considering she had wailed like a banshee whenever she was carried from the house to the car. Once in the cage, though, lulled by the motion of the car, she quieted down. Knowing that cats were territorial, Jane preferred to leave Mo alone in the house, with a neighbor dropping in to feed her. "Bring her!" Faith always said, but Jane never had.

 After packing, Jane watched comedies with Mo on her knee. As she peeled carrots for supper, Pam phoned.

 "I'm driving up this weekend," she said. "I haven't seen Mother since Christmas. Are you going too?"

 "I'm ready, but I have a guest and an art show, and Jack has a nasty cough."

 "Well, if you come, maybe we could stay at the old house," Pam continued. "Faith's place is pretty crowded, and some of my happiest times were at the lake. Oh, Jane, I hate to see her go!" Pam's sobs were somehow soothing. As Jane's eyes filled with tears, the cat rubbed against her ankles.

 At the dinner table, Jack had a sneezing fit.

 "I'm glad you made an appointment with an allergist," Lana remarked, as he fumbled for his handkerchief.

 "It's the craziest thing," he answered. "I've been fine for months, then it came on again yesterday. It isn't even hay fever season yet."

 "Do you think it might be the cat?" Lana sounded sincere, but the curve of her lips told Jane that her question contained a wish.

 Jack shrugged. "Hard to say."

 "When you see the doctor, don't forget to mention the cat," Lana persisted.

 From her chair, Jane could see into the living room, where Mo dozed on a pillow at one end of the sofa. When Mother visited, she napped in the same spot. Jane turned to Jack.

 "You should also mention the ventilation problems at the lab," she said.

 She suspected his cough was work-related, either the ventilation or his supervisor. His boss reminded Jane of Lana. Both women had been promoted to their administrative positions when affirmative action was fashionable. Yet both believed they had made it on their own. In fairness, Jane had no idea whether Lana worked hard, or whether, like Jack's supervisor, she simply held down a job. For years, Jane had listened to Jack's complaints about last-minute project changes, rush jobs, and borrowed experiment results that were never acknowledged. He had applied for a transfer, but it would be awhile in coming. His situation was a perpetual guilt source for Jane, particularly with Lana present. A successful career woman could encourage a husband to quit, offering to carry the household. But Jane, Calamity Jane, had missed the affirmative action boat, quitting her job to paint and teach art.

 As Jane mulled over these gloomy facts, Lana changed the subject to investment plans and mutual funds, another area which left Jane out in the cold. When the phone rang, her heart lurched. But it was only the organizer of the exhibition, inquiring about her paintings.

 "I have five," Jane said. The Victorian house was nowhere near finished. Better not to count it in. "But I'm not sure I'll be there. My mother's sick." The coordinator listened kindly and offered to pick up the paintings, if necessary.

 At the table, Jack cast Jane a questioning, sympathetic glance.

 "It was the art exhibit," she replied.

 "Have you heard anything about your mum today?" he asked.

 Jane repeated the results of her morning phone call. "How old did you say your mother was?" asked Lana. "Eighty-five."

 "Imagine, that old! You know, Jane,'sometimes when they reach such an advanced age, it's kinder just to let them go." Jane was speechless. Just wait 'til it's your mother, she thought. Jack stared at his sister.

 "Excuse me." As Jane left the table, Mo's ears pricked up. She followed Jane upstairs and lay at her feet as she called the organizer and said she would bring the paintings over now, if that was all right. The cat watched as she packed up the paintings. She gazed at the log house for awhile, but in the end, left it on the easel. Jane whiled away two hours drinking coffee and discussing the art show. It was 9:30 in the evening when she returned home. Opening the door, she found Mo in the entryway. Sometimes the cat lay at the long windows on either side of the door to survey the passing scene. Tonight, with a greateful meow, she bounded to the kitchen to her dish. Had someone shut her in?

 In the living room Lana was speaking. "I definitely wouldn't allow it in the bedroom at night ..." She broke off as Jane entered.

 "Did anyone call?" Jack shook his head. "I'm going up to bed," Jane announced. "Good night." Mo padded softly after her, settling near her feet at the foot of the bed. An hour later, Jack appeared.

 "By way of experiment," he said, "let's put the cat out of the bedroom tonight."

 Jane Shrugged. Lana had evidently convinced him that the cat was the cause of his cough. Whether the cat slept on the bed or elsewhere seemed to have little bearing. When Jack was off from work, on vacation, the cough cleared up. She was sure it was stress-related. She felt a pang of loneliness as Jack carried Mo into the hall and closed the door behind her.

 Jane and Jack lay entwined in each other's arms for awhile, but anxiety eroded passion, and the atmosphere was further spoiled by Lana's presence down the hall. Soon Jack rolled over, facing his side of the bed. He turned into a warm log, breathing evenly. Jane tossed and turned. 'Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake ...' If Mother should die before I wake. Tears stung her eyelids. Then she heard a soft mewing, a faint scratching. Mo was out in the hall, keeping watch.

 Quietly, Jane rose and pulled on some clothes. In the hall, Mo rubbed against her legs, then stared confusedly as Jane tiptoed upstairs to her attic. She wrapped the house picture and put it into her suitcase. Donwstairs, Mo's carrier was in the hall closet, up high and out of sight, to save the cat aggravation. On tiptoe again, Jane got it down.

 "Come one, Mo," she whispered. "I can't leave you with Lana. Shh!"

 Quietly, Mo crept into the cage and looked mutely up at Jane.

 Can opener, cat food, dish, shopping bag ... "Dear Jack, I really want to be with Mother ..."

 The car purred along the deserted streets. Mo gazed out of the window at Mr. Moon.

 "Maybe he's shining through Mother's hospital window,"

Jane said. He would light their way down the dark ribbon of highway, over the hills, around the lakes, all the way home.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *
 THE PRINT
by Linda Rogers

 It was a normal, if not routine day. The morning news had reported a rapist on the loose downtown, and Mr. Caan, the history teacher, had told a lie about world War II that everyone would have to memorize for the regents exam. Two students had frightened Claire by screaming suddenly as she turned a corner in the hallway. All students had gotten off from high school an hour early because a fire alarm went off in the building. A thousand of them had been led out and left standing on the busy street until it was nearly time to go home, as firefighters searched for the cause. Then the students had been dismissed, and Claire had set out crosstown to window shop on Madison Avenue.

 She tried to forget, to forget everything that was wrong with the world, as she stopped at an art gallery, with prints hanging in the window and oil paintings that stood on easels as if to brag about how good they were. Claire didn't have a dime in her pocketbook, but decided to pretent that she did and went inside. The clerk stared dubiously at her three quarter socks and oxfords, shook his head, and intoned wearily: "May I help you?"

 "No, thanks. Just looking," Claire replied, trying to sound casual, serious and mature all at the same time. He moved on to another customer, and Claire drifted to an untidy corner in the back, where she was sure that no one would bother her. There she spied a print that James, the dealer, had gotten for a song from an old lady who had wandered in the day before looking for rent money. The old lady came there regularly, and James indulged his charitable bent by purchasing whatever she brought, if he thought it would sell. Her work was reliable. Somehow, there was always a buyer for one of her prints, for reasons James couldn't guess at, yet could predict. So it was this time, but he paid no attention to Claire when he emerged from the storeroom and saw her idling nearby.

 Claire stared intently at the print. It was textured with black and gray around the edges, like smoke in a dark sky. The gray feathered upward, rather like the greenish black leaves on stems that played into it from tufts of lavendar berries. The texture of these berries was full and varied; blue, white and red highlights deepened it to a cotton-like fluff, with smooth, wet surfaces. Painted on the white porcelain vase that held the berries, were bluish ink stains of Genghis Khan and his men galloping to victory over the wives and daughters of a vanquished enemy. And standing next to this holy scene was another vase filled with geraniums and covered by the turquoise blue of a lagoon with orange fish; purple eel; and yellow, green and red jellyfish. Finally, on the lower edge of the print, stood a pink planter with yellow and white roses spilling out, its warmth vying for prominence with the cold steel of Khan's warriors.

 I'd like to live right there, thought Claire, where nastiness is contained on a vase, nestled among the flowers: tiny, in a vast hall of color. I'd like to go back, she thought, to the days when I didn't know anything, when I made life up as I went along, when I sat upon mushrooms and trekked through jungles of parsley: when a daisy looked like a tree.

 "You like primitive art?" asked a deep voice, suddenly from behind her. Claire was startled.

 "I don't know what you mean," she replied. "I was looking at this print, here."

 "Oh, that," said James, as if he hadn't known, "an opera of color! Would you like to buy it?"

 "No, thank you," answered Claire. "I'm not in a buying mood, today."

 And with that, she went out into the late afternoon, hoping to steal another hour of safety.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *

 BURTON SOUND BYTE VIII: PRIVATEERING PROBLEMS
by David Ian

 Burton Sound Byte was skimming between systems with his crew aboard the Main Event Horizon, his quasar ion light star cruiser, recalling the mind-numbing beauty of the Reflecting Pool Twilight Park at the triple-silvery-mooned planet, Swoon III, known for its perpetual sunsets. He had spent precious shore-leave with a time-surfer girl who was/is/will be named Trish, gazing at her astral windswept hair and glowing solarflare tan, when he had asked her, with great emotion, if she would be his new chief mechanic.

 Softly, with a whispering fondness, she had replied:

 "Like, thanks, Burty, I know how much that means to you, commitment-wise, but, um, I gotta, like, catch the next time-wave outta here, you know? Besides, like, I don't think, like, our time lines are/were/will be, you know, like, compatible. I mean, you're, you know, the Year of the Phase Tiger, and I'm like, the Year of the Sugar Cookie--are you catching my wave?"

 Yeah, he had caught her wave all right. Now there was nothing for Burton, adventurer, explorer, and seven-time Rononia Jump-Speed Sprints Champion to do but jam his cruiser into overdrive and buzz the Crab Nebula to (like) get her the hell out of his system.

 "Er, Captain." The opts officer broke through Burton's self-absorption. "Rather large, possibly hostile, thing off our starboard bow."

 "Very well, O'Donnell, scan for HELLO!"

 Officer O'Donnell had demonstrated, once again, his gift for understatement, as a huge supernova class imperial battlestopper blotted out three quadrants of the surround screen; its name, "Star Zenith", emblazoned on the forward ports, loomed menacingly at them on the center screen.

 "Engines up, evasive ... oh, nevermind, what's the point? All stop."

 Burton gathered himself together.

 "Ensign Murphy, scan me their combat capabilities." "Er," Murphy replied.

 "They won't jam us, Mister. A ship like that wants, us to know exactly how many times over they can snuff us from the stars. Do it."

 "Aye, Sir."

 "Officer O'Donnell, open communications. Let's find out who's piloting that tub."

 A face appeared on the forward screen that Burton would rather have met in a reversed situation. As it was, he began calculating the odds of amnesia striking its owner.

 "Burton Sound Byte," the heavily uniformed figure said, pointedly not breaking out into a congenial smile. No luck with the amnesia.

 "Greetings, Commodore Hrothgar," Burton beamed back.

 "We're not on opposite sides of a gaming table, but it's been a long time."

 "Too long, and not long enough," said the figure, barely moving his thin lips.

 "And how's that, Sir?" Burton ventured.

 "Too long, for the debt is overdue, but not long enough for me to have forgotten you entirely. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't blast your existence out of the cosmos right now."

 "Think of the paperwork, Hrothgar!" Burton returned, cheerfully. "You can't run a tight ship when you're filling out all those electronic triplicates. Oh, you'll have to excuse me, the signal is breaking up, Commodore." Burton began gesturing to O'Donnell. "We'll try to re-establish contact when we can" The screen went blank at the flip of a switch.

 "Are you into him from gambling, Captain?"

 "No, Murphy, he owes me. It's a long story. All right, since we're all quite likely to buy it right here, at least I owe it to you to tell you why. He lost continually gambling with me, despite my protestations that we stop. In the end he owed me a huge sum and couldn't pay. He was about to sell his commission for cash when I forgave the entire debt. Ever since, he has tried to either forget about me, or kill me." The crew exchanged bewildered looks.

 Burton shrugged. "He has a twisted sense of honor." "Sir, that report you wanted on their combat capabilities?"

 "Give me the worst, Ensign."

 "Hyper-accelerated quark battle drive, improved impenetrashield with booster back-up, standard atom disrupter banks, repeater neo-howitzers, anti-matter ballistae, wolfdog long-range drone tracking rockets with retro warheads, proton pulse cannon, neutrino shield perforator and electron ram." Silence settled over the bridge.

 "We're toast!"

 "Nonsense. Ensign, power us up! I want everything we got in one burst. O'Donnell, ready a boarding party, download these instructions."

 "You intend to board an imperial battlestopper?"

 "Would you expect it, Mister? Move!" "They're powering up their weapons, Sir!"

 "Ignore it, Ensign. If they wanted to blast us we'd be vaporized by now. They're only flexing their muscles to try to scare the dark matter out of us."

 "And doing a darned good job of it, too."

 "Belay that attitude, Murphy, or get off my bridge! Mr. O'Donnell, all shields to the nose of our ship, we're going to ram her."

 "But Sir, if we get hit by so much as kitchen debris on the unprotected part of the ship ... "

 "Then we're space cookie crumbs, I know."

 "Um, Sir, I'm reading a power spike."

 "Ramming speed, Mr. Murphy! Punch it!"

 The Main Event Horizon cut underneath the electric death that the imperial ship had unleashed, plowed into the space behemoth amidships, and remained there hard and fast. The com screen came on again.

 "Well, Captain Sound Byte, I see you have saved us the trouble of a tractor beam." Hrothgar's voice was slightly higher in tone; Burton guessed he was surpressing a smile. A signal appeared on Burton's console.

 "You never did understand why you lost at chutkpahw,did you, Commodore?

 Hrothgar blinked. Burton stood up and addressed the screen.

 "Commodore Hrothgar of the Star Zenith, this is Captain Burton Sound Byte of the Main Event Horizon. Prepare to stand down, heave to and surrender!"

 "You must be joking, Burton," answered the Commodore, this time with the slightest movement of surprise on his lips.

"I'm deadly serious, Hrothgar! Even now my boarding party has disabled your ship."

 "Nice bluff, Captain, but you are mistaken. My readouts for offensive, defensive, and maneuvering systems all show green."

 "But I have plundered your replicating system, Hrothgar. Not the entire system, mind you, but as of now you have absolutely no means to produce coffee aboard your ship, and you are two months away from space dock. I expect you have a crew of at least 5,000, Commodore. A week without coffee? Two? Discipline will crumble, they'll frenzy, and you'll hang from the highest yardarm. Think about it, Hrothgar."

 Burton settled back with a playful smile. Confusion turned to panic on the Commodore's face; the full implication of Burton's remarks hit him like a comet out of a black hole.

 "What are your demands?" he muttered, his face a picture of defeat.

 "This time, Commodore, I want your commission and your ship. You work for me, now."

 Burton brought a mug of steaming java to his lips and savored his victory. It tasted so good.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *
 BURNT SIENNA
by James Calandrillo

 I awaken from the coma craving crayons. Crayolas, to be exact.' I say craving as in hunger, as though I desperately need some missing nutrient found only in their waxy colors. I can smell them all around me, when I open my eyes for the first time. I feel like a child whose fever has just broken, whose mother has placed the large green and tan box on his night table as a symbol of an anticipated joyful recovery. I see them in my mind's eye, 48 magic colors, crayon points facing Heaven. I want to reach and pry loose magenta or burnt sienna or midnight blue from the open box and place the crayon tip to my lips the way some men would savor a cigarette--the aroma, the taste--my body chemistry greedy for what it wants.

 "I need the crayons," I whisper, because I can't shout, my mind merging with the dimmer awareness of place and situation, the surgical ward staff hovering over me, taking vital signs. And far away in the distance, my wife, Miriam, strokes my brow like an actress in some tragic grade-B movie.

 "Cliff, I love you." The rest is said with tears. Only she sounds like she's saying it through a kazoo, the tinny vibration of her voice irritating me. I feel as though I'm looking up from the bottom of a murky pond, dim light far above me, and the blurry outline of Miriam, or perhaps a nurse, verifying my existence.

 Miriam cries and tightly holds my hand, neither of us seeing clearly for the moment. I have to close my eyes. My brain is calling me inward again, only this time to a level far above the border of coma and death. When I close my eyes, I see in vivid images.

 First, my cousin Frankie holds my hand, only he is six years old and I am nine. He pulls me up. Startled, I open my eyes to an athletic nurse pushing me back down on the bed calling for "Straps, STAT!"

 Frank calls me within again, and I gladly shut my eyes to clear my vision.

 "Put down the crayons, Cliff," he says. "But I just started to color."

 "Not now. Don't you hear the gong?" I listen and I do hear it.,

 "But it can't be happening this soon." I'd just left Frankie and Cousin Roy ten minutes ago. We'd formed The Bicycle and Wagon Brigade, hitching wagons to our bikes with silver pails placed next to them to be filled with water. We are an auxiliary fire team ready to go at a moment's notice in case of a blaze on First or Second Street--an allvolunteer fire group like our fathers and uncles in Engine Company Number One. Frankie, Roy, and I will help them handle only the nearby infernos because we can't cross Lanza Avenue with our bikes.

 Frankie and I run through our relatives' yards, our short cut from my house on Midland Lane to Cousin Frank's garage on First Street, headquarters for our little engine company. I feel as though the Angelus has rung, and we are answering with our mission.

 Roy is furiously banging our fire alarm (a garbage can cover strung up with his sister's jump rope) as Frankie and I approach--me without shoes, curling my toes to keep my bedroom slippers from falling off as I run.

 "It's Casey's house, I think." Roy summons us, angry because we took so long. "Frank, get the hose! Cliff, get the pails! I'll make sure the wagons are ready."

 We rush about frenzied, as we hear Engine Company One's siren coming closer, headed for the corner of First and Lanza.

 "Let's go!" Roy waves us to move faster. The full pails are heavy. Neither Frank nor I can lift them. We drag them by the rims, spilling most of the precious water. Roy screams at us, runs, and grabs the hose, filling not only our pails again but four more. Red-faced, cursing us, he lifts five of them onto the wagons by himself, as Frankie and I struggle with the last one, painfully slow getting it to the wagon and at last hauling the bucket up on the count of three. Roy has already mounted his bike on the run, straining to pull the water wagon down the driveway. He moves forward in inches. I can push the pedals around only once. Frankie has trouble balancing on a stalled bike and falls crying, more out of frustration than injury.

 Stuck where we are, we can see the firemen, all of whom we know, rush into Casey's house. Roy gets off his bike and kicks it because it won't move. Frank and I pull a bucket out of my wagon, each holding one side of the handle, beseeching Roy to join us as we run toward Casey's house. We three cousins finally get to the fire as my Uncle John, Harry Evans, and Ned LoSapio come out Casey's back door.

 "Just a stove fire, kids. Hey, thanks anyway for the extra buckets." The men laugh gently as we empty the pails in the gutter and head back to Frankie's garage.

 "It's lucky for us it wasn't a bad one," Roy says.

 "It's lucky you're still alive." Miriam's voice startles me, my eyes quickly open. "It's a miracle you're alive, Cliff." She still holds my hand. I can hear her rhythmic breathing. I wish I wore glasses so I could ask for them to help focus the blur. I have no recollection of anything miraculous.

 Then I feel the pain in my abdomen. "Why does it hurt so much here?"

 "That's where the knife wound is."

 "Miriam, what knife wound?" I feel adrenalin pump through my stomach. My eyes clear briefly, and I see Miriam's pallor, dark circles, and deep caring. I feel like a wounded soldier attended by my own Nightingale. My eyes sting with pain, fogging over again. I have to shut them so I won't pass out.        .

 I rest in clarity, reviewing those young days when Frankie's mother let us run through the sprinkler because June had finally turned warm enough. Or when we cousins three became bomber pilots riding the backyard swings high into the air, driving down towards the ground, swooping our planes up high again, then cascading backwards down toward the ground in reverse only to swerve up again to repeat the cycle. Or the summer days when we walked to Kugler's for a lemon ice or when we'd exhausted hide and seek and kick ball and we'd link up our bikes and wagons again, this time to hold a funeral for a dead lady bug, burying her near my aunt's bleeding hearts.

 "The bleeding's finally stopped." Miriam moves her hand over the aura of my wound as a psychic healer might, soothing the relentless throbbing in my side.

 "I'm so thirsty," I say. Miriam places ice chips against my lips. I can taste the chlorine in the city water.

 "Cliff?" Miriam stops me from closing my eyes again. "Cliff, do you know where you are?"

 "Where I am?"

 "Which hospital, I mean."

 "Must be St. Michael's. I can smell the incense."

 "Sweetheart, you're at Auburn General."

 "Sorry, love." I close my eyes again this time to midnight mass Christmas '51, we cousins sitting next to each other in the pew, impatiently awaiting the end of the service so we can go home to sleep and know the joy to follow in the morning.

 "Cliff?" Miriam applies a deeper pressure to my shoulder. "You've lost eight days. But you'll be okay. I'm here to help you. Stay with me awhile."

 I want to, but the backward tug grips me. I think I see Frankie or Roy waving to me as I sit on the porch. Only this time, it isn't either of my cousins, but my son, Alec-playing alone, pretending to be shot, falling, mimicking the ungodly gurgle of the dying wounded. Then he's up again, wielding his play knife, cutting to size unending enemies.

 "Alec, you're too close to the street!" I rise in terror as a sand truck nearly clips him. "I told you, not past that willow."

 "But Dad, how can I chase O.J. away, if I can't ... " "That's a real knife! Where'd you get it? From the kitchen?" I'm about to bolt after him.

 "Chill, Dad. It's the one Mom bought me at Toys 'R Us."

 "Damn, that looks real." I sit down again, exhausted from fear, while Alec fiercely charges another villain.

 "Enough!" I catch my breath. "Alec, come here."

 "Dad, I'm a Black Ninja. I can't stop now."

 "He does that all day long. His teacher even noticed and commented," Miriam says, only I can't tell if it's Miriam past or present. But my eyes are shut, and we are both on the porch talking, watching Alec roll around shooting, stabbing, punching. Occasionally, he checks to see if we are watching, staying now within the area of the willow tree.

 "Well, at least he's outside in the fresh air," I say.

 "Only because I've smashed the TV. It's Saturday, Cliff. Do you remember where you were supposed to be with your kid?"

 I know there is some reason not to sleep in. Fishing! We were going fishing at dawn and I blew it. "Shit!" I say. Next time wake me up."

 "You are awake." Miriam present is talking.

 "But I don't want to be awake. This thing hurts so much." "I know, but you've had eight day's sleep and an eternity of it to come--sometime in the far future, I hope." She fakes a laugh, but obviously it is the first release she's had in over a week.

 The overpowering smell of Crayolas, like smelling salts held to my nose, keeps me awake now, gripping Miriam's wrist. "Easy, Cliff. It's all right."

 "Where are they? Why did you bring me crayons?" "Cliff, easy. Take it slow."

 "I just want to touch one. Miriam, please."

 "Forget the crayons for now. I can understand why you might ... "

 "Maybe if I close my eyes, the craving will go away." But it doesn't. And this time, my inner vision is less clear, as though my brain is trying to get my sense of time back into sync.

 "He needs a hobby, Cliff." Miriam, past, in the middle of one of our concerned conversations, one we had not long ago.

 Now I'm talking to Alec, but my inner vision, my virtual reality is getting as cloudy as when my eyes are open. "No, Alec, we are not going to the arcade today."

 "Whys"

 "No 'why's'. Just NO. You need something to do when you're not fishing, something to think about and keep busy with when you're not watching TV."

 "Like what?"

 "You like to draw, don't you? We'll go to The Mart and buy you an artist's set. The biggest one they have."

 We are in the store, and Alec is a whirl of energy. The fluorescent light is blinding me.

 "I think the art supplies are down this aisle."

 "Dad, I'm going to check out the guns and rifles." Alec turns the corner to the next aisle. For a second, I debate whether to reel him in or not. I stop a moment at the artist's boxes. I open the black lid to the array of pencils, pads, pastels, water colors, and crayons. Inhaling deeply, I smell the Crayolas.

 "Dad!" I hear Alec's terrified voice quickly silenced.

 I turn to his aisle, having trouble focusing my eyes. I see kids ahead of me. I bump into a group of them. I think I see Alec. I call to him. He's running ahead, only when I catch up he's a little girl who screames when I pull on her shirt. Her mother is right there confronting me.

 "Alec!" I am shouting now. Alec doesn't answer. I see more clearly again. I check out everyone nearby. I look down the aisle and catch a quick glimpse of a man in a khaki jacket picking up my son and clearing the exit.

 "Alec!" I am running, knocking over shoppers, children, display signs. A Mart clerk tries to block me. I throw him against a wall of toy machine guns in bright boxes.

 Once outside, I see Alec struggling not to be shoved into a maroon Cutlass. I run faster, push forward like the Starship Enterprise at the speed of light.

 I am aware of tackling my son's abductor. I see Alec in slow motion now fall to the pavement. I am locked in combat, Alec watching me fight the real thing as I had earlier watched him wrestle with his imaginary enemy. My vision is 20/20. The man in the G.I. jacket and dark blue woolen cap is strong, merciless.

 "A knife, Dad!" is all I hear Alec say before I feel the puncture of my skin and the ripple inside. I am falling, the child thief standing between me and my son who are both wounded on the ground.

 My vision blurs in that world. As my eyes open, I am again a unified blip traveling the time line. My vision is clear in the hospital bed. I am fighting the restraints, the shackles, not only those the hospital has imposed but the ones I fear fate may also have slipped around me.

 I dare not ask. Miriam unloosens the straps and lays her head on my chest. The smell of Crayolas floods the room.

 "He's all right." Miriam places her hand over my mouth, open but unable to shout. She calms me with the gentle pressure of her body and the power of her love. She calls to our son, who's seated on the other side of the room on an orange visitor's chair.

 "It's okay to come over now." Miriam signals him and smiles.

 Alec puts down the burnt sienna crayon, stopping work on the sketch that could have been of his daddy's corpse. He climbs on the bed next to me and gives me a hug. From this moment, I vow to fight for what I didn't have the guts to fight for before--the soul of my son.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *

VOICES  CHANTING
by Mary Waters

 "Hiro-chan," my grandmother's flustered voice called from the T.V. room. "Ne, the priest's coming in two hours. We have to hurry, eat breakfast. Are the ammonia and towels ready for him? The new ones. Take off the price tags, ne?"

 "Hai, hai," my mother replied easily. She had just come indoors from watering the potted chrysanthemums, sliding the wooden door shut behind her with a garrulous roll. "Melichan?" she prompted me, as she shook off her sandals and stepped up onto the tatami floor.

 "All ready. On top of the washing machine," I answered.

 I was engrossed in setting the table. Bowls for rice. Bowls for clear soup. Bowls for condiments. Bowls for tea. At Grandmother's house here in Japan, the dishes were varied and lovely: rustic ceramics glazed with bitter hues of autumn, paper-thin porcelains etched with a delicate bamboo branch upon a faint mist of lime. It was a delightful change from the plain white Corelle back home in northern California. This morning, because the priest was coming so early, there were mostly cold leftovers for breakfast; even so, it all looked delicious. To go with the hot rice, there were black beans sticky with sweet sauce, my favorite dry flaky salmon baked with a heavy sprinkling of salt, and wrinkled sour plums tangled in soft purple shreds of shiso leaves.

 Twice a year, priests from the nearby Daitokuji Temple underwent an exercise in earthly humility by approaching the neighborhood residents with requests to clean their bathrooms. The priests returned the next day and humbled themselves over dozens of toilets and tiled floors which had all been scrubbed, polished, and deodorized the night before.

 "Ara!" exclaimed Grandmother, bursting into the dining room. "Hiro-chan! Look at you! Doing nothing while a teenager does all the work! Ara, ara! What are you eating?"

 Mother looked up with a guilty grin from the floor, where she sat sprawled reading the Asahi newspaper and nibbling natto beans. "I couldn't wait to eat natto again like in the old days," she protested weakly. Grandmother laughed and rapped her gently on the head.

 "Such a bad girl," she scolded, making a stern face. "Always worrying about your weight and then you go and snack, snack, all the time."

 I watched the scene in embarrassed fascination.

 Whenever we left the U.S. to visit Grandmother, Mother always changed into a different person. Back home, she never snacked between meals and rarely even rested. The skin on her chapped hands often split open in deep raw cracks from her scrubbing, gardening, and hand laundering. Above all, she never showed personal weakness or allowed me to get away with nonsense. Even her English, though heavily accented and somewhat halting, was painstakingly correct and dignified. She swept up her hair in a strict French twist. Only occasionally at bedtime had I seen it undone at shoulder length, making her face seem round and girlish as the dark strands floated loosely around it.

 In Japan, however, she giggled and snacked indiscriminately and visited neighbors. Grandmother would give her a purse full of money for her vacation allowance. "Use it all up here, Hiro-chan," she would say. "I'll give you more to take back to America with you." Mother used that money to take me with her all around Kyoto. We swayed together in crowded bus aisles on our way to the temples and museums of her childhood. We ate at expensive European coffee houses downtown, as well as at streetside ramen noodle stands in weavers' districts where entire streets continuously resounded with the hollow wooden kot-ton, kot-ton kot-ton of old-fashioned household looms. We strolled through huge open-air food markets.

 "I haven't eaten this since I was a little girl," she'd exclaim before a confectionary stall. "Do you know what this is? Sure, it's yokan, but I bet you never had any with chestnuts in it!"

 "Get it, get it," I'd beg, reaching for the heavy rectangular block wrapped in delicate rice paper and marked with elegant wisps of brush writing. And of course she would. We were on a holiday. She was a child once again with her mother waiting at home, and I was her docile little sister. Even her name for me changed from plain Mary to Meli-chan; "chan" meant "darling" or "cute" and was often tacked on after a child's name.

 As I went through day-to-day life with only a fourthgrader's knowledge of Japanese, my speech and thoughts reverted accordingly from those of a cocky sixteen-year old to those of a little girl. Here I was no longer capable of talking back to her with the cold contemptuous finess I used at home, wielding difficult English phrases like scalpels. I was at a loss in this Japanese world of strange customs and words, and I clung to her for everything. Sometimes she took advantage of this and held my hand, right in public. As she strode along beside me, she seemed much taller than five feet two inches. Here, neighbor women did not tell me, "Your mother is just darling!" When she conversed with grown-ups, her sentences flowed sinuously, with nuances of silver and light, like a strong fish gliding through Kamo River.

 Several times a week for as long as I could remember, Mother had been receiving the familiar pale blue aerogram addressed in Grandmother's careful English penmanship. And yet, during our biennial visits to Grandmother's house, those two talked ceaselessly as if there had been no contact of any kind since their last visit. One night, I heard them meet each other in the middle of the night on their way to the bathroom. "You too?" Grandmother laughed, then exclaimed, "Oh! I forgot to tell you! Your Aunt Hako brought over some old kimonos for you--very good quality! I'll show you tomorrow." Whereupon Mother cried,."Oh, Mother, let me just have a peek! She has such good taste ... 11        Through the paper sliding door, I heard the crackling of wrapping paper and muffled thumps of heavy silks being unfolded onto the floor.

 "This pink is a young girl's color," Grandmother said, disapprovingly.

 "This isn't pink," Mother insisted. "This is a sophisticated kind of salmon. See? Hold it up to the light.

 Look at the grey tints."

 "Maybe with a dark subdued sash," Grandmother conceded doubtfully, as I faded back into sleep.

 They talked constantly during the day, nibbling on tiny dried fish dipped in sauce, or sampling the merits of a neighbor's pickled shallots ("She never keeps them in the vinegar long enough, Mama; she's always in such a hurry.").

 "I still remember your Kyoto University entrance exams," Grandmother remembered once, nodding her head slightly. "I was so nervous, I kept ironing the pleats in your skirt over and over--oh, I cried when I saw your name up there on the list, I was so proud ... "

 "All those late nights studying," Mother remembered dreamily. "And you'd stay up because I was staying up, and bring me trays with tea and snacks late at night ... "

 "Meli-chan, you should be proud of your mother," Grandmother had told me. "Everybody in the neighborhood knows. I meet them in the street and they praise her, all the time. Always at the head of her class, they say. Such a good koto player. How's she doing in America? And Toruchan--oh, Hiro-chan, remember Toru-chan? He's manager at Kansai Bank now over on Kawaramachi Street! He still remembers third grade, when you ran after that boy that picked on him. 'Boy, Mrs. Uemura, she could sure run fast!' he told me just the other day." They were silent.

 "Look, Meli-chan," my mother said. "See how the sunlight comes down through the leaves on the maple tree? That's exactly how it used to look when I was your age."

 "Aaa," Grandmother agreed.

 Ours was an old Japanese neighborhood steeped in religious tradition. Daitokuji priests often walked through the neighborhood in groups of 20 or so early in the morning, practicing their chanting exercises. It was crucial for Buddhist priests to hone their deep resonant voices and develop the stamina required to perform long sutra chants. Their monotone drone would rise faintly from a distance-eeeeeeeeh ooooooooo nyaaaaaaa suuuuuuuu. As the priests approached our street, the deep bass notes resounded in our ears as powerfully as if we had been standing inside a heavy vibrating temple gong. The long vowels arced through the air in circles of eternity that were terrible in their vastness. They filled me with a primitive rapture; I would roll open the door a crack. and watch them file past, one blue shaven head after another, dignified and austere in their dark tasseled robes. The house would seem lonely after the notes faded away, its silence broken only by the occasional coos of earthbound pigeons.

 Grandmother was a Zen Buddhist and therefore kept an ancestor shrine in her house. This was a black lacquered wooden box about double the height and width of a filing cabinet drawer. Its doors swung open like a cupboard. Inside, like miniature headstones in a cemetery, stood black lacquered wooden tablets inscribed with gold brush writing. There was one for my grandfather, who had died when I was little, and two for his parents. The remaining two dozen or so belonged to the deceased from earlier generations, the tablets passed down from son to son. Each morning, Grandmother would open the doors of the box and offer a tiny eggcup of freshly cooked rice and another eggcup of water. She would light incense, strike the miniature gong three times ("to wake them up!") and pray. Each evening, she said another prayer and closed the doors. It was important that the tablet box be kept in the T.V. room which, though the shabbiest room in the house, was the center of all cozy gossip and significant talks.

 When I was a little child, this box had been a source of annoyance. If Aunt Nobuko, who lived across the street, dropped by on the way home from shopping with an especially nice box of cream puffs, no one could touch them until one or two had been placed on a dainty plate and offered to the tablets for at least ten minutes. If my cousins and I spent the afternoon drawing Hello Kitty cartoons and ran to the grown-ups to show off our work, we were immediately told to show it to "them" as well. "Don't leave them out. They want to see too," the grown-ups would say. My mother's and aunts' report cards had been offered as well, when the grades were good enough not to shame the ancestors.

 Most of this tradition was meaningless to me, however, until the year I turned 20. It all started at home in California in the grey hush of a November afternoon. While I clipped my toenails in my room and sang along with the Beatles, my mother collapsed alone in a parking lot, spilling her bag of groceries, and died instantly from an unexpected heart attack.

 "Open suitcase, preaz," the dour middle-aged Japanese customs officer said. "What in box?"

 I hesitated. "Cremains" was such a harsh word; I picked the gentler Japanese word "okotsu". He took the wooden box from me, no doubt oily from being held in my hands during the ten-hour flight, and examined the Japanese passport taped to it. He looked back at me, curiously. "Your mother?" I nodded.

 "Ah. 'Is that so? Go ahead," he told me gently, waving aside the unopened suitcase.

 Mother's cremains and framed photograph sat atop a low table covered with a white cloth, enveloped in a cloud of incense and surrounded by flowers and exotic fruits from friends and neighbors. In Japan, Grandmother told me, dead people didn't reach heaven right away; it took 49 days. The funeral and burial would not take place until the end of that period. Dead people wore white robes and used long staffs to climb a mountain until they reached the place of rest. This was a dangerous period; it was so easy for them to get discouraged from-the difficult climb, the fear, the loneliness, and to stray from the narrow path. This often happened to orphans who had no loved ones to urge them on with prayers; they ended up as ghosts, forever wandering through mists in the bleak rocky netherland between earth and sky

 "I chant these sutras out of the book twice a day," Grandmother told me. "But in between, I walk to her and I say: 'Little Hiro-chan, I know you're tired, but you've got to keep climbing. Don't stop. Just a little more, then you can rest. Ne, ne. Now become good friends with your grandparents and your father once you get there. Mama's right here behind you, we'll be together later; Hiro-chan, don't be sad.'"

 I watched her chanting the Lotus Sutra, sitting hunched over with her legs folded under her on the flat cushion, as pitiful and fragile as a curled-up dead sparrow. She rolled prayer beads back and forth between gnarled hands in time with each syllable, rocking back and forth as if to give each utterance greater strength. I understood none of these archaic words; to me they were an endless singsong drone. Her voice cracked and quavered. Yet its tenderness coursed through me warmly, making painful images expand like sponges in water: Mother's still, blue face with parted lips; her stiff legs on an emergency room table still encased in classic brown leather heels; her quiet expressions of hurt through the years. They pushed up inexorably to my throat. And my tears spilled hot down my cheeks and neck.

 After 49 days, a Buddhist priest gave Mother her last rites at the temple. He sat before a large altar rising in magnificent planes of black lacquer and brass. Our family sat in a row behind him, staring dully at his robed back as he chanted on and on, signalling the end of each sutra by striking a huge gong on his right side. My folded legs grew so numb, I could no longer wiggle my toes, and the crash of the gong shattered every coherent train of thought. Only the slow pulse of the chanting was real. All our jumbled sorrows and memories and tenderness found expression in the priest's voice which rose up powerfully in sonorous richness, above our cramped bodies and above the noisy streets, to give Mother the final push to the top of her mountain.

 The following spring, Grandmother and I visited Mother's grave. It was in the Uemura family plot surrounded by numerous markers belonging to Grandfather's ancestors. The train left the city and wound for an hour through peaceful rice paddies bordered by dirt roads and lush green weeds. Occasionally there were somber brown farmhouses festooned with lines of flapping laundry and guarded by rusty tricycles and tractors.

 "Ara, just like your mother!" Grandmother suddenly exclaimed in a low voice.

 "Hmm?" I turned from the window, my reverie broken. I had almost been lulled to sleep by the steady gat-tan gat-tan gat-tan of the train. "How?"

 "Look!" she said, pointing at my left hand resting on my lap. "What?" I asked.

 "Your thumb--where it joins the rest of your hand," she explained. Just like your mother. All this time I never noticed it!" She snatched my hand betweeen both of hers, turning it back and forth to inspect it at all angles.

 "How's it different from other people's?" I asked doubtfully. Grandmother, excited by her new discovery, must not have heard me. "The exact image of your mother!" she pronounced.

 That afternoon, we sat next to the grave under the plum tree, which was shedding petals of fluffy pink bloom, and shared our rice balls with Mother. "Salted just right," I told Grandmother, biting hungrily through the crisp seaweed wrapping to the sticky rice and sour plum inside.

 "You should make these when you get back to America," Gandmother told me. "They're so easy. You can make a lot at once and they make a good snack right when you come home from work."

 The afternoon sun was low. I gazed down the hill at a wide expanse of young green rice shoots ruffling in the breeze. We had once sat here during harvest time, the three of us, and watched straw hats bobbing sporadically atop a golden sea of stalks bent in graceful waves from the weight of their grain. Now, sitting here with Grandmother, words I had once read long ago floated to my mind: We die like the grass in the fields, never to be seen again.

 The emptiness of it ...

 I rummage through my suitcase in Grandmother's parlor, looking for clean underwear and pajamas. I've just arrived for another biennial visit; I am now almost 30. The futons are laid out invitingly on the floor, high chunky mats covered with fluffy red silk coverlets. But Grandmother and I won't be sleeping much tonight; we can never stop talking on my first night back.

 Through the closed paper door, I hear the kitchen door roll open--like an old man clearing his throat--and Aunt Nobuko's soft voice calls, "Is she here?"

 "Come up, come up," Grandmother exclaims, her feet pattering over the tatami floor.

 "It's almost winter now," Aunt Nobuko says, triumphantly. "The takoyaki man just opened his nightstand tonight by the shrine gate."

 "Aaa, aaa." Grandmother breathes in satisfaction. "Just perfect timing!" Then, loudly, "Meli-chan! It's Aunt Nobuko! There's hot takoyaki!"

 "Coming!" I call back, hopping on one foot and pulling on my underwear.

 "She's changing her clothes," Grandmother explains.

 "She'll be so glad. She and her mother never had any judgement when it came to eating that stuff." There is a double patter of feet across the floor into the T.V, room. I catch a faint whiff of the tangy dark sauce on the octopus dumplings, and my mouth waters sharply for the first time in months.

 "Hai, Hiro-chan," Grandmother's voice chatters amidst little clinks of dishes and the hurried "shhha" of a match struck for incense. "I know you've been waiting all year for the day when they start selling takovaki!" Now there are hollow wooden clunks as she tries to squeeze an oversized dish among the tablets in the box. "No-chap just brought you a whole lot!"

 "She's probably looking at it and saying she'll get fat." Aunt Nobuko giggles.

 "Doesn't matter now," quips Gandmother. "Here you go, Hiro-chan--eat as much as you like!" Their clear laughter floats through the house.

 On my way to join them, I see kitchen light spilling out from the window onto the night garden, a small hopeful square of golden light. It glows warm and bright on the soil, holding back the ancient blackness. Beyond in the dark, where I cannot see, the wild moon grasses are sighing in the cold autumn wind.

 THE END

*    *    *    *    *
 I NEVER REALLY LIKED HEMINGWAY
by Ray Johnson

 I actually wanted to purchase a Pontiac Firehawk with a 5.7-liter V8 engine, six-speed manual transmission, sun roof, the works. Instead, I ended up with a Volvo 850 four-door. Darleene had said that the Pontiac would be a gas hog and I should think of the environment first, myself second. So I bought the Volvo, which made Darleene happy and Standard Oil miserable.

 Now I was staring at my new car. Two very tough-looking young men were sitting on the fenders of my Swedish safety machine. Another young man had his foot on the front bumper, and the fourth inconsiderate was leaning against the driver's door. Darleene and I were just returning from an avant-garde movie. Unfortunately, avant-garde movies are usually shown in avant-garde theaters, which tend to be located in avantgarde sections of the city. The small, somewhat seedy theater had no real parking lot, so we had been forced to park almost two blocks away. The area had looked forbidding, and that was during the day. Now, approaching midnight, it seemed truly deserted and forlorn. There was a dispirited streetlight burning, but it was on the other side of the street, almost half a block away from my Volvo, which was being violated. How in God's name did I get here anyway?

 Now I remember. I had suggested that we go see a new movie at the Multi-Plex, whose parking lot was not only safe, but well-lit. Darleene had nixed the idea because the movie starred an actor who had recently been arrested for biting a dog. I honestly could not see what biting a dog had to do with the way he acted in a movie about fighting drug dealers in Colombia, but I gave way, as always. She had read somewhere that a Czech movie was playing in the Mission District. The idea sounded bad from the start. Her apartment was located in the Castro District and she often chided me for condemning the area. She had picked her neighborhood well, though; the Castro was safe. Five blocks east of there, things changed dramatically. She prided herself on being able to tell her friends that she lived close to the Mission District, and volunteered for two hours of service there on Free Food Day.

 At the moment, I wished I had some of those donated cans of tomato sauce to throw at the four villains who were sitting on my Volvo. Didn't they know that I had a $396 car payment? Plus the insurance. We were still too far away to see their eyes, but I knew these midnight bandits were lurking like vultures, waiting to pick clean the bones of whoever had been stupid enough to park in this area. To make matters worse, I'd hated the movie we had just seen. The subtitles looked like they had been written by the fourth grade class at Jefferson Elementary.

 "Are you willing to die for freedom, Pazderova?"

 What an idiotic question. If you're dead, you have no freedom. Had the question been, "Are you willing to live for freedom, Pazderova?" then I would have understood and answered "yes". To compound my misery, Darleene loved the disjointed movie. And to further vex the logical, the subtitles were not aligned with the actors' lips. There seemed to be a perpetual four-second delay between when the actor said something and when the subtitle appeared on the screen. Worst of all, it was made during the Cold War and nothing was relevant. The Czechs and the Russians are now good buddies, selling each other weapons and oil.

 I would have to keep quiet about this movie misadventure because my colleagues at work would die laughing at me for being dumb enough to see it in the first place, and even dumber for parking my car where I did. I honestly had the feeling that the theater had rented the film from the foreign movie section at Blockbuster for $2 and then soaked me $14 to see it.

 The reason I gave way so soon on the movie was that Darleene and I had had a small spat earlier in the day. We were at the Academy of Sciences, in the African exhibit hall, when the tiff started. Africa made her think of wild animals, and animals made her think about hunting. Next thing I knew, she was grumbling about men who hunt animals for sport. Before I could derail her, she was onto Hemingway. I think it was the lion display that set her off. The lion exhibit at the Academy is magnificent, with a powerful male, black mane bristling, three sleek lionesses, and a bunch of cubs, all staring out over the Serengeti. I think she was secretly angry with the male lion for having so many wives, as she liked to call them. Anyway, the big male made her think of the Hemingway story where the white hunter has to save the cowardly husband from the wounded lion. Darleene was furious with everyone involved, but mostly Hemingway. She railed against the hunter, who had turned and run when the lion charged.

 "But, he wounded the lion to begin with and ... "

 "He should never even have been there!" she snapped. "No one has the right to harm an animal, any animal, including humans."

 Darleene is both humanitarian and vegetarian, which somewhat limits where we can go when dining out. I pretend that I'm a vegetarian also, to keep peace. Sometimes I grab a Whopper or a double cheeseburger at lunch, but who's to know?

 Now I was close enough to see the quartet of miscreants clearly. All four of them were staring at us like hungry jackals. They were wearing black and silver football jackets. Darleene hates football. I'm a 49ers fan.

 "I think we have a problem." I lowered my voice, trying to sound profound.

 "Never judge a book by its cover," she scolded.

 "I try not to, but this doesn't look good."

 Darleene attempts to find some good in everyone, except Hemingway. Earlier I had tried to explain that the characater in Hemingway's story had been devastated by his own cowardice, only to be rejuvenated when he rediscovered his courage.

 "At the expense of a poor, defenseless buffalo," she had countered. By then, she was seething. "Real courage would have been to dismiss the white hunter immediately, renounce hunting altogether, and try to understand his wife."

 I had had to be cautious in how I responded. I was in no position to rile her. We were sleeping together, but not on a regular basis. She felt that if we spent too much time together, I would begin to encroach upon her space. So we went together, but not exclusively. She pretended that she did not see other men, but I knew better. Whenever I could not reach her, she would explain that she had been out shopping or off visiting a sick friend. Unfortunately, these shopping sprees and errands of mercy tended to take place on weekend evenings.

 Tonight was one of those rare times when I was going to be allowed to stay over. These benefactions were infrequent; the last thing I needed was to confront her over some ridiculous story that was fiction to begin with. I secretly admired Macomber for having overcome his fears and stood firm against a marauding Cape buffalo. He had faced it down and recovered his shattered manhood. Bravo.

 I often envisioned myself wearing an L.L. Bean bush jacket, Weatherby .460 Magnun in hand, facing down a charging black rhino. My gun bearer would flinch at the sight: 2,000 pounds of death bearing down upon us. Thundering hoofbeats would rumble the arid ground beneath our feet, terrifying my bearer. But my calm and steady voice would give him courage.

 "Hold fast, Ngono. I'll stop him," I would say, in a resolute voice. "Keep the .378 backup at the ready."

 "Yes, Bwana." His trepidations now washed away.

 I chamber the belted .460 cartridge, the nine locking lugs of the rifle bolt sounding like a bank vault closing. The rhino's beady little eyes are glaring at me, demanding, "Who is this arrogant human who dares to invade my territory?"

 Dust is flying up from his pounding hoofs. He snorts like an enraged dragon as he closes the distance between us. Tick birds jump from his shuddering back like rats deserting a sinking ship. The other animals on the plain freeze in terror, knowing that the grim reaper will be coming for one of us. I can hear my bearer sucking in breath behind me. He sounds like an old steam engine trying to negotiate a steep grade

 Once again I steady him. "Easy there, Ngono. I have him right where I want him."

 "Please, Bwana, may your aim be true. I have wife and babies."

 "No need to fear." I'm as steady as Gibraltar.

 The rhino snorts out his rage, furious that I have not turned and dashed away in cowardice. Slowly I take the slack out of the single-stage trigger. I. take 3 1/2 pounds of pull on the 3 3/4 pound trigger. Only an angel's breath keeps the firing pin from driving forward, striking the primer and exploding the powder, sending the bullet on a deadly trajectory. Just as I'm ready to squeeze ...

"Are you daydreaming again?" Darleene sounded irritated.

 "I ... I must have been. I guess I was thinking about the animals."

 "I sincerely hope you were not woolgathering about that insidious Hemingway story. It makes me angry just thinking about it."

 "No, no, of course not. I was just wondering how they did such a marvelous job on these displays." A magnificent lie. The displays were well lit, but the museum itself was rather shadowy, shielding my lying eyes. I had absolutely no desire to jeopardize what I hoped would be a banner evening.

 I found myself staring at the four hoodlums. The two on the fenders were holding knives, razor-sharp blades glistening in the shallow light.

 "Darling, I ... I think we should turn around and try to find a taxi instead." I did my best to sound confident, yet prudent.

 "Nonsense. They're just harmless young men. If we prejudge them, just because they're minority, then we're no better than someone who listens to those terrible radio talk shows." Her voice was cheerful, very self-assured.

 "My pet, they really don't look too friendly. Perhaps they've been unduly set upon by society and are ... are looking to wreak vengeance upon anyone of another ilk."

 "Don't jump to conclusions. They probably discovered something about your car that you failed to notice and are merely waiting to tell you about it." She was dauntless.

 As always, she strode purposefully in her sensible pumps. Normally, I had to hurry to keep up. Tonight was even worse because my brain was telling my legs to slow down. It was screaming out the warning.

 Boom!

 The roar from the .460 Weatherby Magnum was terrifying. Birds exploded from the acacia trees, and hundreds of Thompson gazelles bolted as one. Wildebeests and zebras shot forward, terrified by the thunder stick. The ferocious rhino slowed, but did not go down. He continued coming at me like a runaway freight train. My formerly faithful bearer threw the expensive .378 rifle into the air and scampered for his life. Unfortunately, he ran headlong into a wart hog that had been spooked by the roar of the powerful .460. It was a boar wart hog, and we were right in the middle of rutting season. I could not stop to help Ngono because I had my hands full with the killer rhino. The sounds from behind me were incredible. Never had I heard such screaming and grunting. Ngono was bellowing at the top of his lungs in Swahili, and the wart hog was grunting out sounds that only another wart hogg could appreciate. I had no time for playful games. The rampaging rhino was almost upon me, with fire blazing from those pygmy eyes. I took careful aim.

 Boom!

One of the assassins pounded on the hood of my Volvo. Darlene touched my arm to calm me. "Don't get excited. They're probably just trying to see if the car is as sturdy as the ads say it is." The two on the hood slipped menacingly to the ground. The one by the driver's door joined them. The loser with his foot on the bumper turned to face us. By now-we were close enough to see the determined looks in their evil eyes. I mustered my courage and demanded, "What do .., do you want, fellahs?"

 They looked to be in their late teens, a dangerous age when out at midnight on a dark and deserted street. Their leader may have been 20; it was difficult to tell in the poor light. A shade taller than the rest, he said in a thievish voice, "We want your money, your watch, and ...      He hesitated, seemingly for effect. "And your woman." He eased out a wicked-looking Buck knife from an ankle sheath to emphasize his sincerity. All of them glared at Darleene, with lust burning in their depraved eyes. Darleene was mortified. "I ... I volunteer at the free clinic on Ashbury on alternating Tuesdays," she offered. This artless revelation invoked a chuckle from the menacing quartet.

 The moment of truth had arrived. I was alone. No Weatherby Magnum rifle to down the rogues in front of me. No faithful bearer with a backup weapon. No white hunter to back me up with his Rigby .500 Nitro Express. It was just me and four young assholes. I was alone in the chilled night, armed only with Nike Air Max trainers, with synthetic leather and breathable upper mesh. What would Macomber do?

 The windshield of my Volvo now had three gaping holes in the safety glass. Both right windows were completely broken out. The left front window was cracked, and the rear window was gone, vanished. The headlights, as well as the tailights, were broken. The driver's door was kicked in, and all four tires were flat--slashed by finely honed knives.

 I made my decision in a heartbeat. Macomber was right the first time. That damn lion had big teeth. I bolted for safety, but not before shouting to Darleene. The shortest of the villains had just grabbed her by the wrist, and she was screeching some obscenity at either him or me, I wasn't quite sure which.

 "Be brave, my darling. I'm going for help." I tried to sound reassuring. My shouting required a great deal of dexterity. Rather than do it over my shoulder, I ran backwards, yelling as I ran--a feat in itself.

 "Fight them off, sugarplum. I'll be back with the police in no time." I flung my words over her like a protective shield.

 I heard her snarl, "I'll kill you for this, you bastard!" Obviously she was screaming at her young assailant. Two of the ass-breath gangbangers started after me, and I was forced to stop shouting my words of encouragement. I heard one of the pursuers yell, "Get him, Ruhulio. I want them shoes." I ran faster.

 My right arm was broken in two places. Not compound breaks, thank God, but still it was in a cast. Two knuckles were cracked on my left hand. My nose was broken, and I had three large knots on my skull. I had numerous welts on both legs and a broken big toe on my right foot. Other than that, I was in relatively good shape.

 Darleene caught me just as I stepped off the elevator at work on the eighth floor. She had been lurking behind a huge potted palm and jumped me like a hungry cheetah going after a springbok. She had one of those little wooden bats that parents buy for their children when they're too young for a real one. The damn thing must have been made of hickory, because it refused to break. She was pounding away with a vengeance when Bryce and Justin tried to pull her off. They said that she turned on them, screaming something about a cowardly white hunter who had run away and left his client facing a pack of wild hyenas. Obviously, they were mystified. She continued pummeling until security arrived and dragged her off me. I never hurt so much in my entire life. She was screaming that she was going to castrate me, and the two security guards were doing their best to restrain her. Their hats were cocked off to the side, and they were both panting heavily, winded from the battle. Rather than her usual stylish pumps, she wore spike heels, to better stomp me. When I thought they had a firm grip on her, I asked, "Darling does this mean we're not going to the Exploratorium on Saturday?" For some unknown reason, my innocent query set her off. She broke free from the guards and started beating on me all over again. My co-workers jumped into the fray, and six of them finally subdued her.

 The doctor says that I'll be as good as new in another five or six weeks. Aparently there was no lasting damage done to my testicles. My Volvo is now serviceable, but the insurance company canceled my policy. Darleene sued them as a co-principal to assault and attempted rape and stung them a good one.

 That Macomber fellow got me into a world of trouble. I swear, I'll never read Hemingway again.

 THE END

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