Destiny: Chapter 18 Excerpt

Best of the Boards
Mari Adkins


Sami sat at her desk trying to decide if she was in the right frame of mind to put up the Christmas tree and start decorating the house for Yule or if she could put it off another week. Chills danced across her shoulders as several car doors slammed shut in the driveway. Fear gripped her. She knew who was there without bothering to look through the dormer window.

Grasping her cellphone in one hand, she dialed emergency services on the desk telephone. When the dispatcher answered, she said clearly, “This is Samantha Devon Young on Ivy Hill. I’m calling to report a home invasion—”

“I’ll send someone right away. Are you able to stay on the line?”

“I shouldn’t.” Sami replaced the receiver into the cradle while dialing George’s number on her cellphone. “George!” she cried. “He’s here!” She felt her composure slipping away.

George asked, “Are you alone?”

“Yes, and it’s time for Destiny to be home from school!”

“I’m already on my way to your house. I’ll make some calls. Have you—”

“Yes.” She whispered, “George, I’m scared.”

“Don’t be,” he told her firmly. “I’ll have Derek meet Destiny at the school. I’m almost at the bottom of the hill. The dispatch call is out. I hear cars behind me. We’re coming.”

“Hurry,” she begged.

“Leave this line open. Put your cellphone in your pocket.”

She switched the cellphone to ‘speaker’ and dropped it into the front pocket of her pants. “Can you hear me, George?”

“Every word,” George replied. “Look, don’t go downstairs.”

“I won’t be made a prisoner in my own home!” A loud crash of glass and splintering wood came from downstairs. “They’re breaking down the front door.” Tears of rage pricked Sami’s eyes. She blinked them away.

She went down to the second floor. Squatting at the top of the stairs and peering through the banister, she confirmed that what she heard was the heavy front door separating from its hinges.

The sound of sirens came from the narrow road over the hill below the house.

“Samantha!” Daniel’s deep voice rumbled from the front hall. “Samantha! You can’t hide from me.”

Taking a deep breath, Sami crept down the back stairs and across the kitchen. She stopped near the table. Her heart pounded in her throat; her arms hung limply at her sides. Her blood turned to ice when Daniel turned and saw her. Her eyes narrowed. “What gives you the right to break into my house?” she asked through gritted teeth.

Daniel’s thin smile sent chills all over Sami. “I came to finish what I started.” He moved down the hall toward her.

Every instinct she had told her to turn and run; she could easily run into the back yard, but she had no idea what to do once she got there.

 

Outside, Destiny drove up the hill toward the house. She felt something was wrong, but told herself that she was being silly. When the house and the men standing in the yard came into view on the left over the gentle rise, she knew she should have listened to her intuition. Behind her, she heard sirens. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t keep driving—their house was near the end of the road, just three other houses, including the one where Toby and his parents used to live, stood between her and the tiny cul-de-sac at the top of the mountain. She pulled her car to the side of the road across from their house.

One of the men in the yard charged toward the car. As her hand came down on the switch to lock the car doors, the man yanked open the driver’s side door. Her mother screamed to her telepathically for her to run, but the warning came too late. The man wrangled her from the car. She screamed for her mother and fought to get away. The man who held her said, “I wouldn’t,” as he bodily dragged her toward the house, Destiny kicking his knees and shins mercilessly as they went.

 

You can get loose, Destiny! Run! Sami cried in her mind. Tears streaked her face. “Leave my daughter alone,” she said coldly, her hands balled into fists. A flame ignited in her veins.

A crooked smile crossed Daniel’s face. “Very fortuitous,” he leered, moving closer to Sami.

Such big words you have. Sami snorted. “You will not harm my daughter. Or me.” Her head jerked up as a cacophony of several police cars, private cars, and two ambulances pulled into the driveway and along the side of the road. “GEORGE!” she screamed. She dashed into the family room, evading Daniel as he reached to grab her arm.

Sami meant to keep running until she reached the front yard. Daniel growled her name behind her; his voice stopped her cold. She wheeled around to face him. He rushed toward her wielding the iron poker from the family room fireplace. She dodged him to run back toward the kitchen. “Let my daughter go, you bastard!” she yelled.

“Not a chance!” Daniel snarled as he ran after her.

Sami shocked both of them by stopping in the middle of the room. Rage danced in her grey eyes. “If I were you, I would leave. Now.”

The man dragging Destiny came into the living room. Destiny locked eyes with her mother. The man moved to shove the girl into an armchair, but she bucked, slamming the back of her head into his face. She heard and felt the crack as his nose broke. Sami yelled at her to run. Destiny didn’t; she jumped onto the hearth and took up a defensive pose. Still, Sami begged her to run.

Sami ignored Daniel’s demands to shut up one too many times. With an overhead swing, he heaved the poker toward her head. She lashed out, catching the would-be weapon in her left hand. Her shock at her own strength overshadowed the searing pain as the bones in her hand and fingers shattered under the impact. She moved her right hand to the poker to steady her grip. With all of her newfound strength, she wrenched the poker from Daniel’s grasp. “Now,” she said. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

Sami was momentarily distracted in the confusion of George and a number of other policemen storming into the house. Daniel tried to move behind her, but she swung the poker wide, striking him in the upper arm and knocking him to the floor.

“Sami!” George yelled. “Don’t move!”

All she wanted was to put down the poker—sit down and not move—even though fire still raced through her veins. She took a step forward, but Daniel reached out and forcefully grabbed her ankles. Unbalanced, she pitched forward. Her head struck the side of the coffee table as she fell.

“MOMMA!” Destiny screamed, poised to rush to her mother.

A policeman shouted, “Nobody move!”

Even so, Destiny’s attacker lunged toward her. He was caught by a policeman. Daniel staggered to his feet and ran, stepping on Sami’s broken hand. Two officers grabbed Daniel, handcuffed him, and took him outside. Another knelt to check on Sami; he immediately called for one of the medical teams.

George looked deeply into Destiny’s eyes. He implored her to please go to him. The girl shook in her shoes with anger and fear. “Destiny, come on now. It’s me. George,” he said.

Steve skidded into the living room. “Destiny!” he cried, running to her and pulling her into his arms.

“Momma’s hurt,” she stuttered against his chest.

He turned his head to George, who looked toward the family room. George said, “But I’m sure she’ll be just fine.”

“Are the men gone from the yard?” Destiny asked, clutching Steve.

“Yes, honey. They’re gone,” Steve said.

One of the medics looked up at Steve. He said, “We’re going to have to take her to the hospital. She’s unconscious.”

Destiny burst into tears when Steve moved away from her. “Destiny,” he told her firmly, “Stay here with George. I’m going with your mother.”

“You can’t leave me!” she yelled, grabbing at his arm.

“I’m not leaving you, Destiny.” Back at her side, he hugged her. “I’m not leaving you.” He kissed the top of her head. “George is here. And your father will be here shortly if he’s not here already.”

“Steve!” Tears spilled down her panic-stricken face. He picked her up, and she wound her legs around his waist, and they went outside with George where she saw Jeremy in the yard speaking with Derek. She jumped from Steve’s arms to run to her father.

Steve left with the ambulance.

George followed Destiny across the yard. Over her head, Jeremy asked George, “Well?”

“I can guarantee that Daniel and the fucker we took out of the house with him won’t be coming back out of the jailhouse,” George replied. “I’ll have to take a statement. Let me get my board.”

After Derek and George walked away, Jeremy asked Destiny what happened. She was unable to speak. “Oh, Destiny,” he said.

“Is Momma okay?” she murmured a few minutes later.

“I don’t know, honey. I don’t know what happened to her.”

“Her head hit the coffee table.”

“Fuck.” He took her hand. “Let’s talk to George and go to the hospital.”

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Mari Adkins grew up in the foothills of southeastern Kentucky. Her poetry and other writing has appeared in the e-zine “Whispers of a Stone Circle”, the e-zines associated with the Sacred Triskele network, and in Apex Digest online. Her first novel, Midnight, is currently available from 3Sides Publishing. Her second novel, Destiny, is nearing completion. Work has begun on the third novel in the “Harlan Vampire Trilogy”. Mari is a reviews editor for Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest. Mari maintains a writing blog and a personal blog. E-mail: mari.adkins[at]gmail.com.

A Day Like That

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Liz Law


On a day like that, the humidity forms mist instead of fog. If any rain falls your skin is already too damp to notice. The only color that is visible when the air is that dense is green. Mainly, a shade of dark green intense as deep, mournful grief. That’s how I remember her…

She smiles as she invades my meandering mind. Her cotton T-shirt grasping the curves and creases of her upper body, while her skirt clings so closely it may as well be a pair of slacks. “Fionula beware how you frolic, lest they think you’re one of them.” I think to her, as though she could hear me, as though it might make a difference, as if it were real again. She laughs and the vapor about her shimmers in response. I shake my head at the dirt smudged on her cheeks and mud kissing the skin between her toes. She was always beautiful, but on a day like that, she was ethereal.

Standing in the garden with ivy as her backdrop and lavender upstage, she holds me in awe. “Honey, I need a vase for these.” She points at the weeds she just pulled. “Can you get me one love, before they wilt?” I good-naturedly mutter something about silly girls who value weeds more than flowers and head into the house. As I’m filling the vase with water I lift the lace curtains to see what she’s up to and the vase falls from my suddenly limp fingers.

My hands shake; the sudden grip of fear is replaced by the all too familiar ache of loss. The garden is empty. She is gone again. All of my joy evaporates as the sun comes out and chases my memories away. She’s not here, she was never here, and she never will be here. I tuck my head down and my shoulders shake as I start to cry.

Eventually, I open my eyes again and through my tears, I see the vase. It has shattered into all shapes and sizes of disaster. I begin with the largest pieces. I must be ever mindful of the imperceptible slivers that will embed themselves in my skin if given the chance. Tediously, I start to gather the shards of my splintered life. Usually I do just fine, even my therapist agrees. But then I don’t tell him that she comes to visit on days like that.
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Liz Law (Lyzardly) is a glorified secretary for a glorified medical college in Manhattan. The only award she has ever received for her writing, was a “B” in her college creative writing class. E-mail: lyzardly[at]gmail.com.

Behind Closed Doors

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Trena Taylor


“Mr. Pollock has $421,646 waiting for you. What do you do?” Malcolm was leaning in far too close now, his odor a constant reminder of the latest diet fad, garlic smoothies.

Rosa leaned back and stood up abruptly to distance herself from him. Her reaction was far from subtle and yet he did not take offense. The relationship was purely professional and of necessity; they were not afraid to show their dislike of each other.

“I take it,” she answered him. “Ask questions later.”

“No!” Malcolm’s impatience was ill-concealed. “The deal’s for half a mill; that’s what we’re in for, that’s what we’re getting!” He held out the Ray Bans case to Rosa, his face set hard as cement, revealing nothing but his determination for this, his last hustle, to succeed.

She took the case. “So, you want me to stand there and, what, count the money? I don’t think so.” As she went on, the faint rattle of the diamonds inside could be heard. “If Pollock is shortchanging us, he’s hardly likely to tell me by how much. If he’s short and I’m really the naive mark we need him to think I am, then I can’t start questioning his honesty, can I?”

Rosa noticed Malcolm was tapping his heel on the floor. She nodded towards it and smiled. “Nervous much?” She would have added “big boy”, but felt it was best not to antagonize him any further.

His leg stilled in an instant and he looked up at her sharply before saying, almost too calmly, “Just get the money. You get the money and you wait for him to leave. Remember, he’s got to leave first. We don’t want pretty boy deciding to follow you back up.”

A red light flashed, and they both turned toward it. One of the small motion sensitive cameras hidden on the lower level had been activated. Malcolm saw the man himself on the monitor. “Right, this is it,” he said, hustling his accomplice out into the hallway. “We’re in this for the big money now, Rosa. Don’t screw it up.”

Malcolm closed the door and sighed a jagged and drawn out breath, evidencing both his relief and his anxiety. The plan was under way and there was no turning back. He flexed his ankle as he thought of the utility knife hidden in his boot. Once Rosa was in the elevator, Malcolm would run to the stairwell. He could only imagine how her face would register surprise at the unexpected attack in the dark, empty garage. If his aim was true, she would not even have time to cry out. But for now, he leaned his forehead against the door, one eye squinting, as he waited for the elevator to close behind her.

The door closed and Rosa drew a deep breath, smiled, and pressed the button to begin her descent to the lower level garage, where Mr. Pollock, her true accomplice, now waited. Knowing that Malcolm would be watching every moment of their exchange, she tried to clear her mind as much as possible, so that when Mr. Pollock punched her and escaped with the briefcase, as they had planned, her stunned reaction would appear genuine. She only hoped he could manage not to break her nose.

As Malcolm took the stairs two and three steps at a time, and Rosa stood in the elevator, staring blankly at the numbered lights counting down the floors, no one was in the room to observe the grey light of the monitor as Mr. Pollock briefly examined a small pistol and concealed it again within his jacket.

And with the sounding of a bell to announce its arrival, the elevator doors opened.
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Trena Taylor is a member of Zokutou, a writing group that formed during the 2002 NaNoWriMo in London. The group has produced several anthologies. Trena won bronze in the fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger contest. E-mail: tntaylor101[at]hotmail.com.

Did You Take These Women……

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Trena N. Taylor


Steven swayed and trembled in his ill-fitting tuxedo as the bridesmaids stepped in time down the makeshift aisle, his wife Anneke at the rear of their procession. All the expenses had been paid and this renewal of their vows was a lavish wedding ceremony, if a bit unconventional. Steven hoped it would make up for the hasty nuptials they had rushed through seven years ago. He tried to swallow, but the ashen lump in his throat would not shift, would not permit him to gulp the air he needed to draw another breath.

What a coincidence…

It was Sandy. Sandy whom he hadn’t seen since his stag party. The night Steven had not been at all sure that he could go through with marrying the girl he’d thought was the one of his dreams. On that evening, the word “Forever” had seemed to echo in his head as the music overwhelmed and his buddies slapped him on the back, egging him on as this Sandy, this bridesmaid walking not ten feet before of him, had pulled him up by his belt buckle and led him through the small crowd and out the back of the pub. He shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have let her do it, should have stopped her, but, at the time, Steven had been having unrelenting doubts about whether or not he was a “Forever” kind of man.

This can’t be right…

But, behind her… yes, it was Bea! Smiling serenely as she always had in the office, even after their tryst during the Christmas party, on the boss’s desk. His face now flushed a shade of deep pink that is the plague of all redheads, and the thin sheen of perspiration that had been accumulating on his brow began to bead.

This ain’t right…

Steven feared he would fall to the floor as Carole’s face came into focus next. With eyes as smoky as he’d remembered, they always seemed to hint and promise and suggest they could give him everything he’d ever wanted, and he had listened to them and, for one very brief evening five years ago, he had believed.

When Angela next appeared in the processional, Steven began to think, or at least to hope, that perhaps he was dreaming all of this. Perhaps there really was an ocean’s waves crashing nearby. Angela had certainly been one of his bigger mistakes. He’d been confused at the time, not knowing if he was satisfied with the way his life was going, wanting to make a change, to cause an effect, to do something to shake things up a little—take charge of his own life again.

Think… Must… think…

The fifth bridesmaid was Mindy. Steven had known she was there long before he saw her face. She had worn Tea Rose back then and she wore it now, that overpowering scent of roses permeating the room, even though gardenias filled the studio. He felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach, as she drew near, briefly recalling how upset he had been with Anneke for meeting his old college roommate for yet another lunch. And how he had inflamed that anger over vodka mixers. Until, of course, he’d discovered that Anneke’s lunch dates had merely been a cover to plan a surprise party for him. How could he have thought it was a good idea to hook up with Mindy? He had never felt so low, afterwards.

Keep smiling…

As if in a trance, Steven swayed gently from the waist as he recognized the penultimate bridesmaid, Adrienne. Adrienne, who had been underfoot the entirety of that fateful summer, two years ago. Adrienne, who Anneke had constantly left alone with him, practically on a silver plate. It was an inevitability, really. At least that’s how Steven had seen it, at the time, what he’d told himself again and again, afterwards.

Don’t look at the cameras…

And now Linda, who had been like a breath of fresh air—was it already a year ago?—when things had become so strained and difficult between Steven and Anneke. She had been the release he’d thought he’d needed and deserved.

Leave… Go… Run…

The rush in his ears had grown steadily and he now recognized it for what it was, as Anneke came into focus before him. Initially mistaking it for cheering, he now realized it was not. It was jeering.

Too late…

And in that moment, as Anneke stood before him and opened her mouth to speak, Steven knew he was a fool to have agreed to renew their vows on the Springer Show.

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Trena Taylor is a member of Zokutou, a writing group that formed during the 2002 NaNoWriMo in London. The group has produced several anthologies. She is currently editing her 2002 NaNo, “31,” with NaNoEdMo. Trena won bronze in the fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger contest. E-mail: tntaylor101[at]hotmail.com.

Sailor Take Warning

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Nyx


The sky was waiting for something. All day, it had been empty and open, an airy sea that held its breath and… waited. The captain of the small fishing boat felt cold when he looked into that blue abyss, colder than if he stared into a starless, moonless night. Darkness was meant to be feared. It was unknown. Bright and open, sunny and cloudless, this was a sky that hid its purpose behind beauty.

And Hank wasn’t the only one afraid. Along the docks, he saw the other boats pulling down sails, tying up, preparing for the worst, while puzzled people on shore shook their heads and scoffed.

“I have never seen anything so perfect, Dad,” said the boy at his side. “It’s unreal. It can’t be right, can it?”

The captain smiled.

“You are a sailor, son,” he said. “Only a man with saltwater in his veins knows enough to fear blue sky as much as black water. Go tell your mother. I’m not going anyplace but home today.”

The boy cast another glance at the horizon and hurried back down the dock. Hank’s eyes followed him until he disappeared around a dusty corner. A whistle caught his attention.

In the boat behind him, a young man was raising his sail and untying his boat, lips pursed and careless melody floating through the still air.

“Hey, buddy, I don’t mean to tell you your business, but you’re not thinking of going out in this, are you?”

The man looked up and grinned.

“God gave us great weather,” said the man as he opened a large metal case that resembled a tacklebox. “You sound as if you don’t trust him.”

Hank didn’t know what was in that box, but he was suddenly quite sure he didn’t want to know. “I’ve been fishing a long time. I know bait when I see it. My family’s not going to end up homeless ’cause I can’t see the hook for the worm.”

The man snapped the box shut and turned away.

“Ever have a fish take a worm right off your hook without tugging the line or bobbing the sinker?” Without waiting for an answer, he pushed off from the dock, heading for open water.
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E-mail: progressdownriver[at]hotmail.com.

Danny

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Robin Hillard


In her article on grammar, Beaver says that ‘anymore’ does not mean ‘nowadays’, so her friend should not have said, “Anymore I shop at the Pottery Barn.”

That made me think of one particular seaside holiday, and a child who made the same grammatical mistake.

*

“Anymore I can swim,” Danny said when we met on the beach, “and anymore I got a Batman shirt.”

I was not interested in talking to Danny; he was only a little kid. I went on making a sand tower, and when he could not get my attention he wandered off.

Our parents had rented a holiday house, and Danny’s mother lived next door. There were only the two of them and I wondered where his father had gone. Mum told me Mr. Chandler was away.

“Put away,” said Dad.

As I was going outside I heard Mum talking about “an unfortunate woman,” because someone called he would soon be “getting out.”

“They should have thrown away the key,” Dad growled.

I was not interested in grown-up conversation, and once we were I home forgot about the little boy.

Then, when it was nearly time for the next holiday, I saw him again. He had come to our school, and was in the babies’ class. The teachers called him “Ann”, and I might not have known him, in his pink dress if I had not heard his shrill little voice: “Anymore my Dad has a car.” And, in answer to a question, “Anymore we live here now.”

I only knew one child who talked like that, but when I called him he started to cry, and ran behind the shed. I did not bother to chase him. Who wanted to play with the babies? Not me.

I wanted to be with the big boys, Peter’s friends, but my brother always sent me away. “You’re too small,” he said. “And girls can’t play football.”

But things were different now. As soon as I saw Danny wearing his pink dress I knew what I was going to do. If Danny Chandler could turn into a girl, with pretty clothes, why shouldn’t I be a boy?

I did not make the change at once, because I was a fairy in our class play, and boys could only be trees, but I decided that after the concert I would play football. I was too excited to keep my plan to myself.

“Soon I’m going to be a boy,” I said at breakfast time, “so you’ll have to let me play with you.”

Peter spluttered into his milk. “Mum, Jandy’s going to turn into a boy, so she can play football. Jandy thinks she’s going to be a boy.”

He went on and on until I started to cry.

“I can be a boy,” I insisted. “Danny Chandler was a boy last year and now he’s a girl. I am so going to be a boy.”

“It’s very sad about Daniel,” Mum said. Then she went on with some silly stuff, talking as if Danny disappeared. As if he was lost. “I’m sure he’ll be all right,” she added, in the voice she uses when she’s not telling the truth.

“Of course he’s all right,” I was cross. All this fuss about a little kid, when I wanted to talk about me. “Danny’s here. At school. He’s in the babies’ class. And he’s a girl.” That was the important thing. “He has a pretty pink dress. And he cries a lot.”

Mum told me not to be silly, but Dad wanted to know about the little girl. “What makes you think she’s Dan?”

“He just is. ‘Anymore my Dad’s got a car’ and ‘Anymore I live here now.'” I copied Danny’s voice, running the words together like he did.

Dad said something quietly to Mum, and they sent me out to wait for the school bus.

My friend Maryanne had a new Barbie doll, so I did not think about Danny/Ann again, till, right in the middle of spelling, Dad came into the class, with a policeman and a nurse, both in their uniforms. They took me into the office and Dad made me tell them all about Danny.

“You should check it out,” he said, before sending me back to my room.

My desk was by the window, so I saw Danny with the nurse, getting into the policeman’s car. He did not come back to school again.

That night we had my favourite pudding, ice cream, and chocolate cake, and Mum kept saying how clever I was. She used a lot of words I did not understand—“kidnapping” and “custody”—so I had more pudding and let them to talk.

Then Peter wanted show me off to his friends. “She’s a real little policeman,” he said. But Maryanne was coming to Saturday lunch and I did not have time to play with the big boys.

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Robin Hillard has taught in Australia, England, and Canada. She has published a book of poetry and had stories and poems published in a number of print magazines and ezines. She now lives in Toowoomba, Queensland. E-mail: robinhillard[at]ozemail.com.au.

A Walk In Space

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Kathy Snyder


The thick door of the Moon Shot slammed on the blazing afternoon sun. Clear white spots drifted into her vision. Rochelle closed her eyes then opened them again, delaying the moment before she must locate her husband.

The cranky bar was just two blocks south of the Space Center. Three astronauts gathered at a back table. A live NASA transmission of a space walk beamed on a large screen over their heads. They critiqued it the way jocks picked apart a football game.

It was peculiar for her husband, Leonard to be here. Researchers rarely mingled with the fly boys—different temperaments. There he waited in an amber booth. The serious scientist in the midst of thick bar laughter. She made her way to him, crunching broken peanut shells under her boots.

“This is fun,” she said. After almost twelve years of marriage there seemed little need for salutations. She slid her bottom across the varnished bench. A pointed nail head caught the bias of her blue jean skirt. “Damn.”

Leonard ignored her remark and tightened his lips around the tip of a red striped straw. He blew a slight breath into his iced tea and scrutinized the foamy swirl.

“Interesting,” he said. That was her Leonard, always analyzing something.

“You called me to this rendezvous,” Rochelle said and tapped the side of his glass with her fingertip.

Just then a short, craggy faced waiter with greased black hair and a smudged apron tied around his waist appeared at their table. “Can I get y’all something?”

“What kind of Mexican beer do you have?” Leonard asked still staring at the glass. “Wait,” he raised his head. “Dos Equus, right? ” he said to Rochelle. “Get her one of those with a glass.” His gaze returned to the table.

Rochelle was twenty-two years younger than her rocket scientist husband and she liked it that way. No bothersome talks about starting a family. No insecure finances. He funded her artistic pursuits, and often complimented her abstract water color landscapes or patiently listened to long soulful poetry readings with his hands folded across his knee, gaze just to the left of her face. In return she played the charming wife at the various formal functions they attended around the capital area. At least that was her role back in Washington D.C. before his sudden transfer to Houston several months ago. She decided to make another stab at conversation.

“The sailboats from the Moonlight Regatta should be entering the bay tomorrow.” She tore off a small piece of the paper coaster and rolled it into a ball between her thumb and index finger. “I thought I’d leave in the morning to catch the moment.”

“Sounds like a good opportunity for some work,” he said with his head still down.

She found it charming the way he called her painting work, like it had an important value. A shock of gray hair fell out of place and landed on his temple. She acted upon a quick impulse to touch him just as the waiter returned and placed the cold beer between them on the table.

Leonard swirled the ice in his glass with a thick finger. Rochelle watched as several drips meandered down the side of her mug. They joined and formed an delicate web. Then a picture of Frank standing on the teakwood deck of his restored schooner, white smile, blue eyes, rugged tanned face, invaded her thoughts.

“There is something,” Leonard said. He raised his eyes and nailed her with a surgical stare as if he were trying to see through her head and out the other side. “Things haven’t been the same since we left Washington,” he added and pointed to the beer. “Drink up.”

“OK,” she said and raised the clumsy mug to her lips. She long ago accepted his dry logical ways. After a few years her fascination with his order and logic waned and Rochelle found herself with an unanswered emptiness. The move to Houston, this cowboy backwater excuse for a cosmopolitan city, only exasperated her loneliness.

“I said hey,” a pair of long legs wrapped in Wranglers paused at their table and a hand slapped Leonard on the back. “Dad gum, it’s Len from the lab.”

Rochelle mouthed the word “Len?” No one ever called him that. Her husband shrugged.

“Pardon me, Ma’am,” Trey took off his white straw cowboy hat and placed it over his heart. “Is this the little lady?” he stooped his well over six-foot frame a bit and smiled at Leonard who nodded. “Trey Scoats,” he stuck his sinuate hand in front of Rochelle. “Your husband here is going to help me get to Mars. In two-thousand ten. That’s the mission date. Until then I’ll amuse myself building the space station.”

Rochelle shook his hand and teased, “Didn’t your mama ever tell you it’s impolite to wear a hat indoors?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered. Then replaced the hat on his head with a wink. He hooked his thumb around a belt loop next to the most enormous brass buckle Rochelle had ever seen and lingered next to their table watching the space walk.

“Would you care to join us?” Leonard asked. Rochelle heard the well-known reluctance in his voice.

“Look at that. Look at that there,” he nudged Leonard with one hand while pointing towards the screen with the other.

Rochelle twisted her upper body around and checked out the broadcast. An astronaut floated in the dark space like a bulky ballerina. The two men watched with the fascination of a practiced eye as the space man tooled around with a Lego like machine three times his size. After a long minute, the entire bar erupted with applause.

“Mission accomplished,” Trey whooped with a toothsome grin.

Even Leonard allowed a smidge of a smile to bloom on his tight lips. His research team had developed a chemical mixture crucial to the success of this mission. An important step. “It’s good to see the fruits of your labor,” he said and drained his iced tea.

Despite having no idea what occurred, Rochelle joined in the infectious enthusiasm and caught Trey’s eye. “Have you gone up?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered. Rochelle studied his handsome face with the square jaw and chiseled features. Despite all the good ole boy jargon his countenance reflected that of a strong man with a distinct sense of purpose. A hero.

“What’s it like?” she asked. A slight tingle played at the end of her fingers.

“Like going into heaven,” he said. The intensity of his dark blue eyes lingered in her after his gaze returned to the space walk. “Like going into heaven,” he repeated and with a tip of his hat walked over to join the other astronauts gathered at the table in front of the screen.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Leonard stood up and patted his gut. “Too much iced tea.”

The last and only other time Leonard had summoned her for an afternoon meeting he announced his odd transfer to Houston. Rochelle wondered if Leonard was forming the habit of bad news accompanied by afternoon drinks. Maybe he knew about Frank. Nothing to know really. Just two friends enjoying their mutual interest in sailing and all things nautical. The hairs on her arms stood straight atop an array of white goose bumps. She sipped beer and imagined Frank taking a shower, the water pounding his muscular legs, the soap trailing down his back.

“It almost seems criminal to interrupt that thought,” Leonard said with no trace of mirth.

“Just picturing the horizon filled with billowing sails as the regatta arrives from Corpus,” she said. “It’s part of my work. I sometimes visualize a palette days before I paint.” Since when had lying become so natural?

“And such good work it is,” he answered with genuine pride. Several of her pieces had sold to private collectors. Another whoop rose from the astronaut table.

“You started to say something,” Rochelle prompted, ready to get on with it. She watched her husband make eye contact with Trey and lift his empty glass in mutual celebration.

“Oh yes,” he said. Just then, his text messenger trilled. An annoying interruption. “Excuse me.” He pulled his reading glasses from his sweater pocket and read the message.

Rochelle quelled the urge to lean over the table and peek. She diverted her eyes to the wall between the booth. It was decorated with an unimaginative grid of autographed mission crew pictures dating back to the Gemini program. Alan Shepherd, Neil Armstrong, the earnest faces of the Apollo 8 crew. Leonard punched buttons then dropped the text messenger.

Her insides tightened. She needed a break, a distraction from the oppressive humidity. She pulled a green compact from her purse and arranged her hair.

Leonard returned the device to his pocket and removed his glasses. “You look lovely,” he said and with that reached out and placed his hand on top of hers. “But something is missing.” She struggled to keep her fingers like stone. “You’ve changed since our move to Texas and I don’t like it.” He stretched out his leg and pulled four crisp one hundred dollar bills from his trouser pocket. “Buy a pretty dress, something formal. Not unlike the red dress you wore to the National Science Institute Ball in D.C.” He forced her fingers to close over the cash. “The Space Center is having their annual Starlight Fund Raiser in two weeks. I thought we’d attend.” He picked up his glass and swirled the melting ice. “Does this please you?”

“Yes.” She stuffed the money in her purse.

He paid the tab with a ten dollar bill and stood up. “I’ll be working late in the lab tonight.” He kissed the curve of her cheek. “Be careful.”

A sharp sliver of sunshine invaded the dim bar as he opened the door on his way out. Trey winked at her from the astronaut table. She checked her watch. Four thirty. Enough time for a sunset sail.

pencil

E-mail: Calmergirl[at]netscape.net.

Community Spirit

Best of the Boards
belwebb


Arthur picks up a three-week old copy of his local newspaper, already folded at the classifieds—the flats for rent page. He circles one of the ads with his small pen, just one of several pens collected from a few of his local betting shops. He pulls the small table on wheels with the phone on toward him, parking it by the side of the sofa. Picking up the handset he clears his throat, and savours the aftertaste of his earlier salmon and dill sandwich that he followed with a fresh melon medley. Arthur watched his diet; it wasn’t always easy on his state pension, but he believed he was what he ate.

He carefully dials the number in front of him saying each number out loud to himself, 5-9-4-2, and as he predicts, after a few rings it connects to the answering machine of what sounds like a young woman. He is gladdened by a chirpy and energetic voice.

“Sorry, I can’t take your call at the moment, please leave your message after the tone, thanks.”

Arthur waits for the beeps before speaking, “Have you got my medicine yet? I’m still waiting for me medicine, you know I can’t afford to be making calls out.”

He then hangs up, satisfied his message would be listened to. He picks up his copy of the latest Sporting Times and tries his hand at predicting the 2.40 Kempton Park race.

 

Lottie drops her two bags of shopping on the kitchen floor before taking off her coat. The red light of her answer machine beckons her attention but she kicks off her shoes and walks straight back into the kitchen, telling herself she will only sit down and relax for five minutes after she has put away her groceries. As soon as she diligently puts away the empty carrier bags into the already stuffed carrier bag drawer she eyes the cushions on the sofa and breathes a sigh of relief after what has been a heavy day at work. She presses the play button on the answer machine before collapsing on to the sofa.

‘You have 3 new messages’ — the robotic voice of her machine tells her.

“Hi Lottie, mum here, hope you’re settling in ok, let me know if you need anything, call me.”

“Hi Lot, Gemma’s arranging a surprise birthday party for Serena in two weeks time, we need your help, speak later.” Lottie smiles to herself as she hears her friend’s plans.

“Have you got me medicine yet? I’m still waiting for me medicine, you know I can’t afford to be making calls out.”

Lottie lifts her head from the plump cushions, trying to work out if she knows the shaky voice of what seems to be an old man from the last message. She reluctantly gets up from the sofa and standing by the answer machine, plays back the message.

Scratching her head, she wonders what to do. She quickly realises that he’s dialled the wrong number, but didn’t he hear her own voice at the end of the line? That’s old people though, she thinks, but maybe that didn’t register with him. Lottie hesitates before picking up the phone and dialling 1471. The familiar automated message comes on the line saying, ‘the last person to call was 7 495 4’, Lottie quickly reaches for a pencil and scribbles down the number onto the memo pad within reach at the side of the phone.

Lottie sits on her sofa, unable to relax until she works out what to do about the message. She justifies taking no immediate action by telling herself that surely the old man already realises he’s made a wrong call, surely he’s got through to the right person, surely he’s got his medicine by now, maybe he was trying to get through to his daughter, she would surely be checking on him on a regular basis. A hundred and one different scenarios race through Lottie’s mind, until she concludes it is quicker and easier to just call the man and let him know that he has mistakenly left a message on her answering machine.

Picking up the phone Lottie presses 14713 and immediately hears the dialling tone. The phone rings and rings but no answering machine. Lottie puts the phone down, telling herself that she has at least tried to get through to her last caller—the mystery medicine man.

 

Arthur laughs along to his favourite radio play, only slightly interrupted by the phone ringing. He knows who it is thanks to his old friend Hazel, who had been kind enough to buy him a large caller display. He also knew the caller would try again.

 

After a quick meal of supermarket ready-made curry Lottie settles down once again on the sofa with a glass of red wine and the remote control. She sighs as she flicks through the channels, her favourite programme not starting for another hour. The LCD on her DVD player flashes 9.01pm. She looks over at the phone and tells herself she should try again and so she gets up and presses the redial button. The phone rings and rings until she finally gives up, putting the phone down. 10pm arrives and Lottie settles down to her favourite programme, but is unable to enjoy it as much as she usually would.

 

Arthur pats Felix, his cat, as it jumps up on his bed. “My true little friend aren’t you Felix?” he says as the cat purrs from yet another good feed of chicken scraps. “Well, early to bed, early to rise.” And Arthur climbs into his warm bed, tired but satisfied of a productive day, but knowing he would need to be on top form tomorrow.

 

Lottie wakes at 6.30am after a fitful night’s sleep. She groans to herself as she realises she doesn’t need to be at work until 10am. Her thoughts wonders to her mystery caller, would he be ok, would he have had his medicine by now, she asks herself. Unable to relax into a couple of hours extra sleep, Lottie pushes back her duvet and gets out of bed. She picks up her cold cup of half drunk Horlicks from her bedside table and makes her way through to the kitchen. Her attention is once again drawn to the scribbled number on the memo pad by her phone. She puts her cup into the sink and then picks up the phone, dialling the number again. No answer. She then puts the phone back down before picking it up again and calling 192—directory enquiries.

 

Arthur finishes emptying Felix’s tray of gourmet cat food into his bowl. “There you are Felix, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, enjoy.” Arthur has already been awake for almost an hour when he hears the familiar ringing of the phone. He already knows who it is but makes sure by checking his trusted caller display once more. Yes, he’s right, yet again. Making sure all heating is off, he makes his way round the flat and opens all his windows. The cold morning air wafts through the flat, quickly sending a chill through every room. He then opens his fridge, glad that he at least had never believed in buying in bulk, satisfied that the shelves housed only basic provisions, margarine, half a pint of milk and a carton of yoghurt two weeks past its sell by date. It is always important to plan and think ahead, he tells himself as he takes a few clean plates and dirties them by smearing them with tomato ketchup and strategically places a piece of mouldy bread on the top plate, taken from his stash of old rotting groceries from the cupboard underneath the sink.

 

Lottie discovers the number isn’t ex-directory and in addition to her knowing from the first few digits of the phone number that the man must be local, she also manages to ascertain from the helpful operator that the number belongs to a basement flat on a street not far from her. She recognises the name of the street, St. Luke’s Avenue, as it is just a few streets away from her own, and she passes it twice daily on her way to and from the tube station, even though she’d only been making the journey for just over 2 weeks. After making a note of the address and putting the piece of paper in her bag she takes a quick shower and dresses.

 

After putting on his old and rather tattered and worn pyjamas Arthur, satisfied at the flat’s coldness, closes the windows and throws an old overcoat down by the front door before lifting the latch. He then stuffs away his deluxe duvet into the bottom of his wardrobe and replaces it on the bed with a few blankets and then jumps into bed.

 

Lottie stands at the top of St. Luke’s Avenue and counts down the houses until she comes across a tall house, and like most houses in the area, it has been converted into separate flats, displayed by the various bells. She walks down the side of the house and walks toward a front door with a cracked windowpane. As she approaches the front door she hesitates as she looks for a bell, but finds none. She goes to knock on the door but seeing it ever so slightly ajar she pushes, fearing the worst. As the door pushes back, she sees the old overcoat from behind it, there to keep the warmth in she thinks as the draught hits her as she enters the hallway. “Hello?” she shouts through to the living room.

Arthur lies in bed and hearing the overcoat being pushed back on the floor by the front door he calls in a low voice, “Hello?” He hears a young female voice, the same voice from the answering machine, shout through.

“Hello?” he replies, feigning an effort to get up from his bed as the young woman makes her way into his living room.

“Don’t get up,” Lottie says, rushing over to him, “Oh my God, are you ok?”

“Oh yes, perfectly ok my dear,” Arthur replies.

“But your door was open.”

“Yes, I’m afraid it’s a habit I’ve gotten into, Hazel used to run errands for me before she went to work in the mornings but it seems she has left the area as I haven’t seen her for a while.”

“You left a message on my answering machine and I worried, and traced your number through directory enquiries,” Lottie explained.

“Directory what?” Arthur asks, looking at her in mock confusion.

“Oh, never mind, erm, you said something about medicine, you not having your medicine?”

“Aah yes, now, let me think, I have a prescription that I need picking up from the chemists but am unable to get it myself…”

“Well, I’d be happy to collect it for you,” Lottie offers.

“Why, you must be wanting to get to work, a young girl like you must have a very busy life?”

“Well, yes, I do, but I only live around the corner and I’d be glad to help. Do you have family nearby?” Lottie asks.

“Family dear? Good grief no, they’re all far too busy.”

“Oh dear, do you really think you should be living alone?” Lottie asks, not sure how it would go down with him.

“My dear, all I have is my independence and the kindness of strangers—well that fades from time to time of course, people come and go but I shall never leave here, I shall never go into one of those homes you know.”

“No, of course not,” Lottie replies, having just that weekend watched a BBC documentary on the state of council run old people’s homes.

“The chemist is just at the bottom of the road my dear, oh, and if you wouldn’t mind picking up a few bits and bobs from the supermarket?” Arthur asks, physical weakness showing in his voice.

“Yes, of course,” Lottie replies, her conscience recovering from her hesitation of the evening before.

Lottie picks up Arthur’s little betting shop pen and an unused betting slip and makes a note of his grocery needs before, upon his instruction, she picks up his key and locks the door after her as she makes her way on what would now be a regular errand run.

Hearing the front door lock Arthur props himself up and picks up yesterday’s paper and sees he is only halfway through the crossword. He laughs as he reaches the clue for 7 down, helpful neighbour? 4, 9. He then fills in 9 down—The application of science to commercial objectives? 10. “Mmmm, let’s see, ah yes, technology,” he mutters to himself, “a most wonderful thing.”

He then turns to the back of the paper, and reaching the travel section plots his next holiday with the money he saved with the help of Hazel. After all he knows that Felix and the flat will be well taken care of while he gets a much-needed change of scenery for a while.

pencil

“Community Spirit” was first posted at Second-hand Dagger-proof Coat, Toasted Cheese’s mystery forum. E-mail: belwebb[at]hotmail.com

Tango Essay

Best of the Boards
waverly


We were sitting at the 74th Street Ale House, after a night of waltzing, when Bruce said that he loved dancing because of how much people revealed about who they truly were. “You can’t hide who you are, when you’re dancing,” he said.

I still remember the jolt of fear that ran through me at his words. I prided myself on maintaining a confident and pleasant façade that I hoped effectively concealed the insecurity and neediness I really felt. I had been training myself for years to hide my desperate longing to be loved, admired, even worshipped. Was it true that anyone could glimpse my longing by looking into my eyes on the dance floor?

Yet I know how transparent people are. In the opening class of a series of classes I teach for Center, a career development center, we play a game in which people make guesses about each other based solely on personal appearance. Last night I guessed just by body posture (perhaps it was the defeated hunch of her shoulders) that one woman had been doing care-taking for a long time. Indeed it turned out her Great Aunt for whom she had been caring for eleven years had died three months earlier. I also guessed that the one man in the room (was it the complacent way he held himself?) had gone to a large public university. “The biggest in the United States,” he told us with pride. “The University of Minnesota.”

So I know we give off myriads of signals that can be interpreted by those around us. And nowhere are we more vulnerable than when dancing, especially in the close embrace of tango.

I know which men are desperate just for the touch of a woman’s body, who long to clutch her soft flesh and dream just for a dance of possessing it. I recognize those men who need to control their partner, who want to make her swerve and swivel at their command.

Then there are the men who want everyone to watch them. They are not as obvious as the others, except for the way they flinch when you miss a step, or the way their neck flushes or their eyes flicker quickly to the sidelines to see if anyone noticed the mistake. I don’t like dancing with these men, the judgment conveyed by the raised head, the sneer, a slightly raised eyebrow. But it’s easy to get rid of them: just make several obvious mistakes and they will promptly usher you back to your seat at the end of the dance. I imagine them going back to their buddies, shaking their heads, just to make it clear that any errors were yours, not theirs.

I know which men live in their heads. The engineers, I sometimes call them, although not all of them are engineers—one is a physical therapist, another a professor at the university. But they all act like engineers, treating you as if you were a part in an engine which they are reassembling, which must be moved around until they figure out how it works. Once they’ve learned a step, they immediately like to try it backwards or reversed. They’re after perfection, duplication, the result of endless repetition.

But don’t get me wrong. I love dancing with these guys, even though I’m not the slightest bit interested in the physics of tango. Because after hours and hours of trying to figure it out intellectually, something clicks and suddenly they are beautiful dancers.

But the best of all, the men for whom I long, are the ones who dance with the music, who become the music. I don’t have to think, or even watch for the tiny movements that will cue my steps. All I have to do is enter the music myself and we will be in sync, floating always on the lines of the song, tapping out the rhythms with our feet.

I feel the music through his body, another instrument, providing that one element missing from the music, the temperature of his skin, the pressure of his hand on my back, the brush of his leg against mine, the way his neck smells.

I am aware of the whole field—the polished floor, the glittering lights, the gaze of the onlookers—but only as extensions of my experience. Lost in the music and the moment, I am all sensation. If a thought crosses my mind, if I identify a step—“That was an ocho cortado!” or acknowledge my pleasure—“Wow! This is great!—I lose the connection and the dance falters. Only this, only this, the moment, the music, although of course it doesn’t really require music, this dance which is the tracing of desire with bodies, the soft embrace of feet on the floor. One of my most memorable tango dances was a dance danced in silence after a class, folded into the arms of a man who smelled like vanilla and with whom I would have danced over the edge of the world.

Now when I dance with this man my dance is stiff, reserved. I am afraid of my own desire for him, afraid of revealing that on the dance floor. And without my willing compliance, his steps seem stiff, jerky and uncomfortable. Instead of gliding in harmony, we chafe against each other.

pencil

Waverly’s tango essay was first posted at What I Tell You Three Times Is True, Toasted Cheese’s non-fiction forum. E-mail: wavefitz[at]aol.com

The Mystic

Best of the Boards
Alvaro Alarcon


1

Alex was down on the bed, strapped in four-point restraint. Medical personnel surrounded him. One medical resident in fact got on top of him and injected him with something in the behind. Whatever it was, it made him fall asleep fast. He woke up again later, not knowing what time it was. He was in the hospital, again.

Those were the memories he had of being in the hospital in Montreal. Everything had turned out to be false, namely his involvement with the CIA and so forth, but the love he found in the hospital corridors turned out to be true. Her name was Sophie, and she had beautiful blond hair. She was a smoker, but that didn’t bother him. Another thing he loved were the tuna fish sandwiches his parents had brought him when they came to visit him in the ward. It was how the bread was toasted that made the sandwich so good.

That was 2001. Now it was 2003. Alex was no longer paranoid as he approached the confessional. He entered it and knelt down.

“Father, I have sinned,” Alex said.

“Yes, how?”

“I curse the Lord’s name.”

“That’s blasphemy,” the priest responded.

“I… I am not thankful for what the Lord has given me.”

Father issued no response, as if he was expecting Alex to say more.

Alex continued: “I don’t know whether to see an angel dressed in black is a good thing or a bad thing. My psychiatrist thinks it’s a bad thing. What would St. Joan of Arc think of it?”

“Well, I don’t know… is that all you have to confess?”

“Yes, I am not thankful for what the Lord has given me and my cursing of His name.”

“I give you a penance of an act of kindness.”

“Okay.”

The priest proceeded to minister Absolution to Alex.

After the rite was done, Alex said: “Good bye.”

Alex left the church, making the sign of the cross as he left the doors, and crossed the parking lot to his car. He was hungry for some fast-food and decided to go to a local burger joint, knowing that the quality of the food there was low but any repulsion he had for it was overwhelmed by a craving for fatty food. While in the car he kept on meditating on the meaning of the angel dressed in black. Could he really transcend the narrowness of modern psychiatric treatment and apply a spiritual dimension to what he saw?

He arrived at the burger joint and ate a hamburger. Once done with the French fries, he went back to the car and headed home. The late March air was warm, unseasonably warm. Once home he made himself a coffee, one of the good dark kinds that came out of one of the steel Italian stove top machines. With this coffee he sat down outside on the terrace with a piece of paper and a pen. He put the paper on a tray so he could write on a smooth surface, rather than the rough one of the table. It was time to write a letter to Sophie.

Sophie and Alex’s love did not last much longer than the hospital stay, but the friendship endured. They were bound by a common affliction, that of mental illness. As the sick and the injured, they got along well. Alex began to write.

Dear Sophie, March 28, 2003

I hope all is well in Montreal. I received your e-mail last week and for whatever reason decided to write to you in snail-mail, as they say in English. Today I went to confession. I know you are not religious; and I always marvel at the way the non-religious can perform good works better than the religious at times. My dad is like that. In any case, in regards to your question, I can go up to Montreal to visit you in two weeks, and yes, Isaac will come along.

In confession I discussed with the priest what I saw a few years ago. I remember seeing an angel in black keeping watch over me, observing me with neutral eyes. It is my goal in life to find out who this angel in black is and what he (or she) wants.

That was all Alex could write for now, even with the flow the caffeine through the fabric of his nerves. Sophie was a good friend of Alex, perhaps his best friend, and she would listen to whatever she had to say. Alex had been up to see her numerous times, and the last few times he had been up in Montreal with Isaac. Together all three of them were led on tours of the city by Sophie.

Alex was a student. He was six feet tall, had wavy brown hair with a reddish tint, had a few freckles on his face, and was lean, but not skinny. On the whole women found him attractive. Despite this, his relationship with Sophie was Platonic.

That evening, Isaac and Alex were in a bar. Heavy set, Isaac had blond hair and had played football in high school. He had been actually a star of the football team. He projected stoic resilience to the world, something that attracted the women. John, another friend of Isaac and Alex, decided that it was his attitude that turned off women. Either way, they were enjoying beers in the bar. The group of three sat at a table. It was 1 a.m. Saturday morning. The evening had been warm and pleasant, and Alex looked forward to the days when he could eat outside on his porch. The pleasantness of the evening ran away like mice caught in light when an old face appeared in the bar.

Or at least it appeared to be an old face. Alex had mistaken one man for another, possibly one saint for a sinner. No, that man in the corner was not Chad, the Chad the bully, drug dealer, and vagabond of Alex’s adolescence. He was merely a man who looked like him.

Soon Alex went home, walking to his house through a drizzling rain. He thought of his character. “That’s important, character that is,” he thought.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, when heading home from the college, that Alex thought of the angel. He did so while passing in the car the apartment of a friend. He was an older friend who went by the name of Bo. The weather had changed; it became cooler.

Alex parked the car. The temperature was cool and the sun was starting to come out of the clouds. He rang the doorbell of apartment 3B. Then came Bo to the front door. He was a tall, muscular, African-American man, a graduate of Harvard and a mystic of the Village School.

“Alex, ¿cómo va todo?” Bo asked jubilantly.

“Bien, bien,” responded Alex, who spoke much Spanish, which he learned at home from his dad. Bo too had taken some Spanish in college, enough to travel down to Mexico and take peyote.

“Come on in,” said Bo.

Alex went on in. The apartment was on the second floor and Alex had to go up a flight of stairs, poorly lit, to get there. Once on the second floor, Alex could hear music of some exotic country, he thought India perhaps, and the smell of incense.

“Come in, friend,” Bo said. He looked at Alex and smiled. Bo was dressed in jeans, which were quite large, and to use the vernacular, “baggy.” He wore an equally baggy sweatshirt. Bo had a shaven head.

Alex entered the living room. It too was poorly lit. The place smelled of a sweet incense. A plume of smoke came from an incense stick on the coffee table. The smoke seemed to get lost in the shadows of the room. The walls of the room were painted beige. In one corner of the living room there was a set of weights for muscle building. Near to the weights was a stereo. There was no T.V. Opposite the stereo by the other wall there was a couch. Next to the couch and by the window there was a set of low bookshelves, filled with books. The books were of all sorts, but there was a large section on mysticism and the occult.

Feelings of envy shot up in Alex’s worn-out soul. But they soon subsided.

“Would you like a drink?” Bo asked.

“Yes, please,” Alex responded.

“Of what, water, milk, orange juice, whiskey, beer?”

“A whiskey please, with ice.”

“A whiskey on the rocks it is,” said Bo.

Alex knew he shouldn’t drink, taking those damn pills day and night. But still, if the medication kept him okay, what fear need he have of alcohol? He’s not Muslim.

Alex had known Bo ever since high school. Bo was a few years older than Alex, but the two had gotten to know each other through intersecting social circles. Actually these social circles were different groups of pot smokers. Never underestimate the power of marijuana to bring people together in the spirit of pseudo-gregariousness. Alex had been off drugs for a while. Sex he preferred not talking about. Rock and roll he loved.

Bo also poured himself a whiskey. Alex was never sure how much Bo drank. He thought it was a small amount. Bo was in control. Bo had always seemed to be a man. He had a virility about him that was present wherever he went. Maybe it was the kicking the marijuana habit a few years ago and the beginning of the weight-lifting habit. Also, Bo had as a God-given gift a strong physique.

“So, you know I drink very rarely, and use drugs never,” Bo said.

“Yes, I know,” Alex responded.

“So what’s going on with you nowadays?”

Alex went right to the point: “I want to schedule a séance someday.”

“With Julia too?”

“Yes.”

“And who do you want to contact?”

“An angel. An angel dressed in black.”

“An angel…” Bo said, mulling the idea.

“Well we can do it.”

“Good. I want to see what I can learn…”

“I thought you were into all the rationalist ways of thinking…”

“What about being rationalist about the soul, the spirit? About the ways of the spirit? About God, has that been forgotten?”

Alex did not know what, or how he would confess the next time he saw the priest, Father Costello.

“Ahh, I see. What about your Catholicism? Won’t that keep you from using the séance as a tool?”

“I don’t know how, but ever since I saw that angel I’ve felt as if there is a riddle in my memory, a riddle that must be solved in order to get a greater understanding of the world…and also to have an easier time of my memories of the past, most of which are good you know.”

The conversation became quiet. Alex, at that very moment, felt as if he was far from becoming a Rotarian. Bo, his good friend, could never become one. Unorthodoxy felt good; it was the essence of life on this earth.

The next day the temperature spiked up into the 60s. Alex was walking through a forest, his dog by him. The sky above was a clear blue with quite a few clouds. It was 2 p.m., and Alex was happy that his afternoon class had been canceled for whatever reason. It was not the first time that semester that the professor had canceled class. Duchess, Alex’s dog, was a Black Lab, by all accounts amiable. The dog wasn’t on a leash, and appeared to relish being in the woods. Alex was using this time in the woods to think of how he could finish writing the letter to Sophie. By the time he arrived home, he was pretty much sure of what he wanted to write. He continued working on the same letter that he had begun on March 28th, just a few days ago.

In any case life does go on regardless of this riddle with the vision. I play around and I love life. No obstacle seems too great for me. I can conquer all challenges. I say this to tell you, to remind you that you too can be a conqueror of all in life. Have no fear Sophie, I as your friend will not let you down.

So soon I will visit you in Montreal. Isaac will come too, I’m sure. He always can. Maybe we’ll take the train, but that takes seven hours when by car it takes only four. I look forward to seeing you.

With good intentions,

Alex

Alex put the letter in the envelope, put the required amount of stamps on it, and placed it on the chest of drawers down by the entrance where all the outgoing mail in the family was placed. Alex S. was a happy man. This was in stark contrast to what he had been a few years ago, a man who had stood on the bridge crossing the Normanskill and looked down into the frigid January waters, which were partially frozen, entertaining grim suicidal impulses. “Oh how life changes, especially for the better!” thought Alex.

Oh, how Alex had changed… Emotions Anonymous had helped him change. He recalled reading the stories of survivors, survivors of emotional breakdowns, and how they had gone on to make better lives. In his room upstairs, in a private corner, he still kept his “Blue Book,” the handbook of Emotions Anonymous, which detailed every step of the program. By the grace of God he had stepped forward into a better world, one not fraught with tension. He had a little tension, but not so much. Emotions Anonymous, or EA as it was known to its members, was not a part of his life anymore. In its place he had developed an unsettled relationship with the Lord…

Perhaps he didn’t like EA anymore because of the man he met there, Brian, whom he had felt been a jerk. But the program was good, and it helped people put their problems in perspective. In any case, despite the riddle of the black angel, Alex felt that he had a serene place in the world, that he had peace of mind. Hemingway was right when he wrote in For Whom the Bell Tolls that the hero Robert Jordan was better off not worrying, that worrying got a man nowhere in life, that it was a waste of energy.

“Yeah,” Alex thought, “Hemingway would’ve been all right if he went easier on the liquor.”

 

pencil

“The Mystic” was first posted at Smiles and Soap, TC’s beginning writers board.
E-mail: alvaro.alarcon[at]lycos.com