Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: Spring training is upon us!

Caught in the headlights...

Caught in the headlights...
The author of Mark's Work, at the botanical gardens inFort Bragg...

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock
I can climb up, but I could never climb back down...

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
C D B's... D B's R G's

Gluten-Free Mama and Ben-Jam-Man

Gluten-Free Mama and Ben-Jam-Man
Love is the greatest power.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Butterflies know what's up.

If you've seen one sunrise, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.

If you've seen one sunrise, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
Sunrise through the oaks...

Tulip

Tulip
April Madness

Green is the new sexy.

Green is the new sexy.
We have plenty of green.

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

markyboy1231@hotmail.com

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Under the Apple Tree


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is O for Overpass.

Under the Apple Tree

As she stood on the overpass, gazing downward, Harmony felt the despair washing over her again, insurmountable, overwhelming and irresistible.  The opening in the chain-link fence beckoned her, welcomed her, and embraced her, assuring her that the free flow of vehicles below her, would do the trick instantaneously.  All she had to do was to take that last step.

Who had cut the fence in the first place?  Harmony didn’t know and she didn’t care.  All she knew was that it would suffice.  All of her pain and all of her depression would be eliminated in an instant, and calm and serenity would descend upon her like a veil of fog.  A big-rig lumbered past, below her, vibrating the overpass, and once again she thought how quick and efficient the whole process would be.

She thought about the kid who probably had used the heavy-duty wire cutter to cut the aperture in the barrier.  Was it a prank?  Were they throwing oranges?  Were they having fun?  Did he have any idea that someone else might see the gap in the barricade as something other than a moment of excitement, an opportunity to entertain?  She doubted it.

For a moment she pondered the events leading up to this ultimate decision.  The breakup, the divorce, the heartache leading to her decision that she no longer cared enough to continue down the path of life by herself.  Her friends told her that there would be others; in her heart she felt they were wrong.  What she had lost was beyond description.  She had given her soul away; there was no regaining that.  There was nothing left for her, but to take that last step.

She stepped forward, positioned herself to take the fatal plunge, and stopped, suddenly aware that she was being joined on the overpass by a second person, a little girl skipping along merrily, alternately singing and humming a little ditty, that sounded vaguely familiar.  The little girl had appeared out of nowhere; the song she was singing was, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree [with Anyone Else but Me...].”

“Hi, what are you doing?”  The little girl, not more than third or fourth grade level, looked up at her with a rosy smile.

“I’m... nothing.  I’m just watching the traffic go by,” Harmony answered, automatically.  What was she supposed to tell this sweet little girl?  I’m going to kill myself?

“Do you like the song I’m singing?  ‘Don’t sit under the apple tree, with anyone else but me...anyone else but me, anyone else but me.  Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, till I come marching home.’  My mama used to sing that to me.”

“Oh.  Well, that’s nice.  Did she ever sit under the apple tree with you?”  Harmony could not ignore the little free-spirited sweetie.  The little girl had her hair in pig-tails, and her face was brushed with freckles, and she looked so happy with her beaming smile.  Oh, to be that carefree, again.

The little girl’s smile dimmed. “Yes, all the time.  We sat on the little bench that Daddy made for us.”

“That must have been nice.  I don’t have an apple tree handy.  I live in an apartment, by myself.”  Harmony reflected on the three weeks she had resided in her new apartment, devoid of any wall hangings, devoid of any life.

“We have an apple tree.  See it?  Over there where all that green is?  I wish I could sit under it again with my mama.”  A cloud passed over her face, rearranging her features, wiping out her smile.

“Why can’t you sit under the apple tree with your mama?”  Harmony was too caught up in her own world to see what was coming.

“My mama is up in heaven.  That’s what my daddy says.  But I shouldn’t be sad, because there was nothing we could do.”  The little girl came up to Harmony and held her hand out towards her.  “Will you come and sit with me?”  

And then Harmony knew that there was something she could do.  She could get the hell off that overpass, and sit under the apple tree, with someone who cared enough to invite her.  “Sure, Honey.  I’d love to sit under the apple tree with you, but only if you’ll sing your song again.”




Monday, April 29, 2013

Armed and Dangerous


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is N for Next Time.

Armed and Dangerous

Nora sat up with a start, her hands clammy, her nightshirt soaked in sweat.  The wail of a siren in the distance was not the reason she had awakened.  It was still black as charcoal, without a breath of air movement, even though she had left her bedroom window open.  The heat had been so oppressive last night that she had taken the extra step to open that second, little-used window, that looked out from the hallway at the dreariness behind her third floor apartment.  As she sat, hardly daring to breathe, Nora realized she was not alone.

There it was again.  The sound was distant, as though someone were flailing his arms in the air, creating a vibration, rather than actually producing that which could be picked up by her hearing.  Her long hair was strewn over her shoulders, and hanging every which way, as she leaned forward to better determine the source of her fear.  Her neck was beginning to ache, as she cocked her head to one side to allow the left ear better position to take in any sound.  Her left side was her dominant side, and she always deferred to it, but this time it did no good.

Her mind leaped backward, to that bulletin interrupting her television program last night, warning that there had been a breakout from the prison, located less than seven miles away, the one where repeat offenders were housed, the one that was supposedly inescapable.  She remembered the phrase “armed and considered dangerous” being repeated more than once.  But how would that have any effect on her? And did she dare flick on the light?  Not yet, she decided.  No sense in giving him any advantage.

After all, she was on the third floor, and she had double-bolted her front door.  She didn’t even have a back door; in order to get out of her apartment to the fire escape, she had to go out the one and only door at the front of her tiny quarters.  And yet, there was that sound again, this time almost loud enough to be described as a scratching or chafing. What unnerved her the most was that it was unmistakably emanating from within her room.  

WIthout warning, something brushed against her arm, which had been in the act of trying to gather some of her errant hair, to pull it back behind her.  Something had grazed that arm and it felt as though someone were walking across her grave.  She shuddered violently and involuntarily gasped.  She struck out with all of her strength with her left arm...and encountered nothing.  This was too much!  Too much fear, too much stress, and too much terror.  

Operating on sheer will power, she stood up, letting her hair fall, and dashed across the room to the door into the kitchen, where the only thing she could think of was to grab a broom.  Exactly what good that would do, was not even on the table for discussion.  She just knew that if there was going to be a confrontation-how could there not be?-she didn’t want to be empty-handed.

And then suddenly, something was in her hair, struggling, yanking terrifying her, as nothing had ever done.  Instinctively her hand went upward, and she shook her head violently, racing for the overhead light switch, and flipping it upward, just as whatever it was relinquished its hold, and sailed on its way.  Gasping, sobbing, trying to take in adequate air, Nora gripped her broom and swung it like a baseball bat, connecting solidly, and hitting the proverbial home run. 

The only sound she heard was a solid thud, as the missile sailed forth from her weapon and hit the wall.  Sucking in oxygen, she picked up a discarded washcloth and escorted her unwanted visitor out the same way it had entered her space, with a flick of her left wrist.  She made a mental note to acquire a fan, so that the next time it was hot, she would not have to open that seldom-used window, through which her assailant had entered.  Damn bat flying around her room!  Scared the crap out of her!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Unauthorized Pet

I am working on an A-Z challenge featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today's letter is M for mustache.  This short piece is an excerpt out of "Rat Fuzz," part of my "Military Madness" work.


The Unauthorized Pet

So it was that, when I went to have my picture taken for my military identification at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri, in 1972, I still had a mustache.  The guys clipping hair (actually they were shaving heads, and it took them all of about sixty seconds apiece)  were not paid to notice facial hair.   Since Drill Instructor Gaines had vacated the premises with his platoon in the interim I had been gone, there was no one who now seemed to care one way or another whether I had a mustache.  That was then, but the following morning, when we were at parade rest after having come from the chow hall, I drew the notice of Drill Instructor Stephen C. Fletcher, our junior drill instructor, who couldn't have been more than twenty-three.

DI Fletcher was not a big man, but his physique reflected the fact that he was in the best possible shape a guy could be in, an obvious result of working at a job which required tremendous physical stamina, and a tenacious approach to the habitually frigid environment in which we all existed.  He stood about six feet, and weighed around one eighty, with a compactness about him that suggested that in an endurance race, he would outlast anyone.  He was as light on his feet as Muhammad Ali, and his “Smokey the Bear” hat was tipped slightly forward in a jaunty sort of manner that belied his intensity. 

Stopping in mid-sentence of his outline for the day's agenda, he directed his gaze at me and stared.  His eyes widened and he extended his index finger and crooked it toward himself, in the unmistakable gesture that means, “Front and center, Trainee.” 

When I had scurried up to the front of formation, and positioned myself in front of him at attention, he stood transfixed and ogled my face.  
“What is that on your lip?”  
Uh-oh.  I  had a real bad feeling about my hasty decision to follow Drill Instructor Gaines's instructions so literally.  He had told me to shave the “rat fuzz” off of my chin, but had said nothing about my upper lip. “Nothing, Drill Instructor!”

His face began to turn pink.  “Nothing?  Are you telling me that there is nothing on your upper lip, except snot?”
“No Drill Instructor!”
“NO?” he bellowed.  “No?  Then, tell me Private O'Neill, is that a G*******ed caterpillar?  Do you have an unauthorized pet in my platoon, Private O'Neill?”  His face began to turn red.
“NO! Drill Instructor.”
“Well, now, I just think you do, because I can see it crawling there on your upper lip.”
“No Drill Instructor!”

“If that is not a caterpillar, what is it?”
“It is a mustache, Drill Instructor.”
“Were you issued that mustache, Private O'Neill?”  
All of this was happening at warp speed, and I never do well in the spotlight, but still I could see that DI Fletcher was enjoying himself.
“Yes, Drill Instructor.”

That wasn't in the script.  “Who issued you the mustache?”  Parry, thrust.
“Drill Instructor Gaines issued me the mustache, Drill Instructor Fletcher.”
DI Fletcher's eyes went from amused detachment, to amused interest.
“What do you mean Drill Instructor Gaines issued you a mustache?  That is a load of shark s**t.”

“I mean that DI Gaines specifically ordered me to shave the whiskers off my chin, but he did not order me to shave the whiskers off of my upper lip.  Drill Instructor!  According to the company clerk, once your military identification picture has been taken with the mustache, it's part of your I.D. and it can't be required that I shave it off.”  Ah, the perfect application of the nebulous passive voice.  Note that I didn't tell Drill Instructor Fletcher that he couldn't tell me to shave it off, only that I couldn't be told.

Yes, I was a smart-mouthed trainee, a slimy newcomer to his world, and a short-time visitor at that, but I had tickled his funny bone, and that was a key factor in determining the success or failure of any given day for DI Fletcher.  He liked humor, and he appreciated it when it was presented to him, as long as it was not perceived by the troops as humor.   It was important to him to have an appreciative audience for his wit.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, one that was to come into play a great deal in the following nine weeks.

“You are the one who came in with the beard,” he mused. Unconsciously, he brushed the fingers of one hand across the neatly trimmed mustache on his own face as he studied the razor cuts and burns on mine.  “How'd that work out for you?”
“Pretty well, Drill Instructor.  I got a mustache issued to me.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

Uncharted Waters


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is L for Luck.

Uncharted Waters

“Are you feeling lucky today?” asked Clint Eastwood, in one of his immortal lines.

“Luck is the lady that he loves the best...” was a line out of the introduction to the old TV series, Maverick, starring James Garner.

“With a little bit...with a little bit...with a little bit of blinking luck.”

Would you rather have luck or brains?  I like to think that I’ve been blessed with more than my share of both.  However, luck is a finicky lady, there one minute and gone the next.  Never was this truer than one dark December night, way back in the winter of 1972.  I was overseas in The Land of the Morning Calm, the Republic of South Korea, “defending my country on hostile shores.”

What could be more depressing than being away from home at Christmas time?  Yet, here I was, conscripted by the U. S. of A, trying to keep my head above water, and doing everything in my power to keep from sinking into the abyss that is depression.  Whereas many of the guys who served with me, found solace in the bars off-post, or in the arms of the business girls who occupied those bars, I preferred to chill in the hootch, as we called the barracks.

There were others who followed a similar path and we naturally sought each other out for moral support.  On this particular evening, having just gotten our paycheck (I earned $297.00 per month), it was determined that a poker game was in the cards for us, so we all convened to the south end of the hootch and gathered ‘round the oval table for a healthy exchange of currency.

The one thing that was different was that we had a new guy in the hootch, with whom we had never played poker, and we were anxious to introduce him to the subtleties of our poker style, which included fleecing all the newbies.  Richard was especially outspoken about his prowess at the card table, making us salivate all the more, our collective experience having informed us long ago that the more a guy bragged about what he could do, the less he was likely to succeed.

The one curve ball that Richard threw at us, was the introduction of a new game: acey-deucey.  It is a diabolically simple game, requiring that, after everyone playing the game antes up, in order to build a pot of money, the dealer then turns two cads face-up on the table, with the person whose turn it is, placing a bet as to whether or not the next card will fall numerically between the two face-up cards.  The bettor then places a bet from minimal to the whole pot.  If the next card falls between the two face-up cards, the bettor wins the amount wagered.  If the card falls outside the two face-up cards, the bettor must put into the pot, the amount wagered.  The caveat is that if the next card matches either one of the face-up cards, the bettor must double the amount bet.

So the best possible duo of face-up cards, would be a deuce (a two of any suit) and an ace (again, of any suit).  Any card from the three to the king being the next card turned up, will win the bettor his money.  But of course, should the next card be either an ace or a two, the bettor must double the amount wagered.  

I was due to return home on January eighth, for a thirty-day leave, during which time I was to be married.  Thus, I had been saving every available penny, knowing that the cost of the wedding and subsequent revelry, would not be trivial, and would require every cent I possessed. However, when it came to poker, I was not worried about losing, having been well-taught, from the time I was old enough to sit in on a game, without flapping my jaws.  My father, a veteran of WWII, had taught me and my brothers all that there was to know about the nuances of successful poker playing.  I had made good use of this knowledge, not by amassing a fortune, but by avoiding getting in over my head.

I saw no reason why this particular night would be any different.  Even when acey deucey was introduced into the mix, I was all about it.  As is my habit, I started off the evening in turbulent fashion, coming up on the short end of the stick several times.  I wasn’t worried, because experience taught me that patience was the key to success.  Sure enough, after a couple of hours, my fortunes turned the other direction, and I started hauling in the pots of money.  The deal rotated around the table, with the dealer choosing the game. Richard played acey-deiucey each time he got to deal, whereas the others at the table stuck to the more conventional games.

The time arrived soon enough, when Richard controlled the deck, and I was faced with a deuce and an ace.  “Pot!” I shouted out, amidst the groaning of the other players, who evidently felt the game was about to end.  The next card up was another deuce, and I was suddenly faced with the prospect having to count up the money in the pot, so that I could not just match it, but double it.  I dumped twenty bucks into the pot, bringing the total to thirty dollars.  I wasn’t worried, being up more than fifty at the time.  A minor setback, nothing mote, I mused to myself.

Wouldn’t you know it?  The very next time during the same game, that the deal came around to me, I got the same scenario: an deuce and an ace.  Well, I figured to myself, at least two aces are already out, and three deuces had presented themselves.  “Pot!” I hollered out, even more enthusiastically than the last time.  When that fourth deuce presented itself, I had to dump more than sixty bones into the pot, bringing the total to more than ninety dollars.  Now, today, ninety dollars represents about three hours of my time, working in the trades.  But back then, it was almost a third of my paycheck, for an entire month!  This was getting serious.

When it rains, it snows.  The very next time the deal came ‘round to me, I saw the third ace present itself, this time opposite a three.  With all of the deuces out, and at least three of the aces, I figured, what the hell?  Once more I bellowed out “Pot!” without so much as considering the damage that would occur, should that fourth ace materialize.  It did not; instead, to my utter horror, a three presented itself, and I was forced to put very close to two hundred dollars into the pot, in an unprecedented move.  I was in uncharted waters, having now dropped my entire paycheck, and incredibly looking at almost three hundred dollars in the center of the table.  Someone was going to rake in a small fortune.

Needless to say, the others at the table were enjoying my discomfort to the max.  It’s not that they were mean-far from it-it’s was just an entertaining bit of business, not to mention the fact that one of them (us) stood to gain quite handsomely.  Should no one win the pot before the cards run out, the rules call for the dealer to gather up all the cards, reshuffle them, and start a new round.  The only difference is, now all of the aces and deuces were once again available, so there was no use computing the odds of having some already in the discard pile.

Where had Lady Luck gone?  My confidence was shaken, if not shattered, and it seemed as though the poker gods were sitting around chortling at my discomfort.  Should I just bail out, and quit before I ended up dipping into my savings account?   Or should I try to recoup that which was staring at me from the center of the table?  The interesting thing was that the others at the table seemed as unwilling to tempt the gods as I was, having seen what my luck had brought me.  Thus, when the deal came around to me yet one more time, and that same scenario presented itself again, a deuce and an ace, I sank back in my chair and contemplated the universe.  If I bet pot, and lost it all, I could draw from my savings and meet my obligations.  However, I would also have some serious explaining to do, when I got off of that plane back in the world.

On the other hand, there was still time and means to rectify the whole nightmare, by simply going “Pot!” for what I hoped would be the last time.  What to do?  

Somehow the voice of reason whispered in my ear, and instead of betting the pot, I settled for a more moderate sum, and went for half the pot, or one hundred and fifty dollars.  When the next card up turned out to be a nine, I didn’t even regret not having bet the whole shooting match.  I took my one fifty  out of the pot, and retired from the game, having lost a total of around one hundred and fifty bucks.  I was shaken to the core of my poker playing shoes, and never wanted to play acey deucy again.

To this day, when the dealer calls for acey deucey, I smile benevolently, and go out to the kitchen for a drink or a snack.  One thing my father taught me was to recognize my limitations, and listen to the voice of reason, even if that seems impossible to do.  Acey deucey is not my game and playing it will not make it so. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just off the Boat


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is K for kick in the pants.

Just off the Boat

I sat in the pub, content to nurse my Jameson on ice, without giving so much as a single thought as to why I was here in the first place, especially at the ungodly hour of two in the afternoon.  I watched the other patrons of the club, as they chatted and guffawed their way into inebriation. The music was standard jukebox fare, and whereas I didn’t object to it, there was nothing about it that floated my boat, either.  When the door opened and the old man strolled in, I paid little to no attention to him.  He ordered a Guinness at the bar, looked around him, his eyes settling on me, and he moseyed over, asking if I minded him taking the seat across from me.

“You look like a man who could use some good news,” he said amiably.

“Really?  And why would that be?  More importantly, what’s the good news?”  Babble on, old geezer.

“Sure and you’re drinking by yourself, and though it be good whiskey, there’s plenty of lads and lasses in here that you could be prattling away with.”  He winked and took a large draw on his dark beer. His voice had the lilt of the old country, as though he’d just stepped off the boat.

“True enough,” I agreed.  “I’m not feeling particularly congenial, and that’s the long and the short of it.  If you were to ask me why, I’d say it was a long story, but I don’t want to be short with you, so I’ll give you the condensed version.”  What was I doing here, drinking by myself?  

“I have a friend-let’s call him an acquaintance-who has disappointed me greatly, but I’m not sure he did anything wrong,” I began.  Well, that was reasonably accurate.

“What’s the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?” he asked, nonchalantly.

“A friend is someone who wouldn’t stab you in the back; an acquaintance is someone who could become a friend, but has not yet done so.”  After all, David had not stabbed me in the back; he had just not been acting like a friend.

“I sense there is a woman involved,” he said, almost resignedly.

“Well, you figured that part out, all right.  She works in town, at the coffee shop where I eat my breakfast, most mornings.  I work in the trades, and I need a good bite in the morning, before I hit the road.”  I thought about Amy, her long black hair, twinkling eyes and merry laugh.  She was sweet, she was pretty and she was not attached.  I’d been fancying her for some time now.  She worked from seven in the morning to four, every day but Saturday and Sunday, which was all right because I didn’t work the weekends either.

“And there’s this friend/acquaintance who is trying to whisk her away from your fancy, and into his arms.  Go on.”

How’d he get there so fast?  “Actually, that’s just it.  He didn’t really do anything wrong.  He just didn’t do anything right.”  I’m making a mess of this story.

The old dude said nothing so I continued.  “Her name’s Amy and I thought she was keen on me, at least until this morning.  When I came in, my friend-or whatever he is-was already there, guzzling coffee, eating his bacon and eggs, and making with the palaver.  When he saw me, he didn’t seem to think it was any big deal, but he knows that I fancy her; we work together and I’ve told him.”

“So what you’re saying is that he was intruding on your space, going after your girl.”

“That’s just it-she’s not my girl-yet.  I haven’t done anything to make her my girl.”  I was beginning to see the problem.

“Faith and begorrah!  Now you’re getting to the bottom of the bottle.  What you need is a good swift kick in the arse.”  He was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“And I’m more mad at myself, than I am at Davey.  I’d better have another Jameson.”  

The old duffer looked sideways at me.  “What time did you say your lassie worked till?”

“Oh, damn!  She’s off in fifteen minutes.  I better get a move on.”

“Now you’re talking.  I’ll reserve that swift kick to your backside...for the moment.  You’ve got a job to do, and you don’t need any more Jameson to get it done.  Now, be off wit’ you!”

***
A week later, I stopped in to eat breakfast at my favorite coffee shop, served by my favorite girl.  As I came in the front door, I caught a glimpse of my old friend from the bar, scooting out the side door.  Surprised, I turned to Amy and asked, “Did you see that old coot, who just scuttled out the side door?”

She giggled and said, “Sure, and that old coot, as you refer to him, just so happens to be my grandfather.”

Was that a slight lilt I noticed in the way she said that?  “And a fine gentleman he is, at that.  I’d like to drink to his health, just about now.”

 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shall We?


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is J for Jeep.

Shall We?

“Will you look at that?  Where do these old guys get off, driving around in a Jeep?  Trying to recapture their youth, I’ll bet you anything.” The speaker was no spring chicken, himself, as he drove his three-quarter-ton Dodge Ram pickup, in the fast lane, while a Jeep merged onto the highway, picking up speed to match that of the flow of traffic.  It was impossible to see into the Jeep’s interior, due to the tinted glass.

“Now, Samuel, don’t be negative.  For all you know, it’s his grandson’s Jeep, and he is on his way home from dropping off the kid at school.”  Marsha, Samuel’s wife of thirty-five years, was used to his diatribes against any sort of vehicle, which didn’t match up to his idea of “appropriate.”

“School?  What kind of kid drives a Jeep and goes to school?  No, it’s some old goat who thinks he can get broads to look at him because he has a ‘free spirit.’  What a joke.”  He shook his head, again, carefully keeping one eye on his rear-view mirror, at the fire engine-red vehicle, which had incurred such disgust. 

“I fail to grasp the significance between the car one drives and the fact that he may-or may not-be going to school.”  Marsha kept her voice neutral, not wanting to be drawn into any long-winded debates with a man who would never give up until he had had the last word.

“Oh, come on.  If you drive a Jeep, you’re way too busy going to the beach, or the lake or a bar, to attend school.”  He pushed his foot a little harder down on the accelerator, to make it clear that he was not about to be passed by any bright red buggies.  They were now tooling along out on the open road, and there were few vehicles visible, other than the bright red, sporty Jeep.

“Oh, I see.  Guys who drive Jeeps don’t go to school, have jobs or do anything but cruise around looking for women-or I guess I should say chicks.  Is that it?”

“Well, that and hanging out with other dudes who drive Jeeps.”

“Brother...where do you get your ideas?”  Marsha finally had to ask.

Before he could answer, there was an explosive noise and the pickup truck rocked to the left, in the direction of the center divider, before careening back across the slow lane and onto the shoulder of the highway.  “Blowout!” was all he grunted.   Samuel instinctively knew better than to slam on the brakes, instead gripping the steering wheel, and riding it out, until they slowed sufficiently to guarantee he would remain in complete control.

Once the truck had come to a stop, he carefully opened the driver’s side door, and eased himself out to assess the damage.  Sure enough, the left front tire had a chunk missing out of it, and the rest looked like rubberized shredded cheese.

“Wouldn’t you know that my spare wouldn’t hold up long enough to get me across the county.”  Samuel was spiraling downward.

“This is your spare?” asked Marsha.  “Where’s the regular tire?”

“I got a flat the other day and put it in the shop.  I just forgot to go back and have it put back on.  Damn!”

Both Samuel and Marsha looked up and back, at the sound of brakes squeaking and gravel crunching, at the sparkling red Jeep pulling up behind them.  Out jumped a spry, middle-aged man, whose most distinguishing feature was the white collar which encircled his neck.  A conservatively dressed woman, of around the same age was climbing out of the passenger side door.

“Oh, dear,” she said.  “Looks like tire trouble.”

Samuel held his tongue at this rather astute observation, while the driver of the Jeep said, “Well, lucky for you we were right on the spot.  Where’s your spare?”

When Samuel explained the dilemma, the man said simply, “No problem.  Back in town at the garage?  We’re only five minutes out; hop in, both of you; it may not look like it, but this Jeep not only has a back seat, it’s pretty roomy.  My wife and I routinely give parishoners rides. We’ll get you back there in a jiffy, and get that spare.”

Marsha smiled sweetly.  “You’re not going to the beach or to a lake?” she asked innocently.

“Heavens no!  Way too busy for that,” answered the reverend.

“Well, that’s mighty neighborly of you.  I was just telling my wife how much I liked the look of your rig.  I said I ought to get one of them myself one of these days.  Didn’t I, Honey?”

“Of course, Dear.”  Marsha smiled sweetly.  “Shall we?”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Am I Invisible?


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is I for Invisible.

Am I Invisible?

“Watch out!”  Carrie ducked, instinctively, as the volleyball rocketed past her head, narrowly missing, as it hit the ground and bounced up against the wall of the gym.

“My bad!” shouted Kim, grinning over at Carrie, self-consciously.  “It sailed on me...”

“No problem,” countered Carrie.  “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”  They laughed together, recognizing that these things will occur on the court.

After practice, Carrie and Kim stood outside the gym, waiting for the other two members of their group to join them.  Carrie was in seventh grade, tall and slim, with straight blond hair, and a tendency to look preoccupied.  Kim was also in seventh grade, a compact girl, with black hair, with a perpetual grin on her face.  She enjoyed teasing others, and had a reputation for being mischievous.

“What’s taking them so long?” asked Kim, while scrutinizing her face in a little pocket-sized mirror.

“Well, Debbie does have to have that perfect look to her hair.  And Gretchen can’t go anywhere without Deb’s OK.  You ought to have figured that out by now,” responded Carrie.  

“Yeah, right.  I just forgot.  By the way, are you going to Jenna’s party Saturday?  Everyone’s going to be there.  By that, I mean Jeff and Gary are going.”  Kim looked expectantly at her.

“I guess.  I haven’t figured out my schedule for this weekend yet.”  Carrie yawned exaggeratedly.  “It’s so hard to make these kinds of decisions, without having examined all the options.”

“Oh, I so know it.  Here they come.  What took you guys so long?  Having a bad hair day?” Kim giggled.

“Never happen,” laughed Debbie.

“C’mon.  We’ll be late for class, and old Haggerty will jump in our stuff.  That’s all I need.  I’m barely hanging on to a “C” in his class,” said Kim.

“Well, it might help if you did your homework once in a while,” replied Deb.  “There are certain expectations in that department.”  Deb was the sole eighth grader amongst them, so she had the voice of experience.  It didn’t usually matter, until there was a decision to be made, and then she always took the lead.  She was cover girl-pretty, and more importantly, she’d be the first to point that out.  Gretchen was of medium height, with curly brown hair, and a myopic outlook on life.  She lived in the shadow of Debbie and accepted her leadership without question.

Kim arched her brows, saying frostily, “Yes, you should know about that.  Except that SOME of us get preferential treatment.”  She glanced sideways at her friend.  “I still don’t know how you pulled off that “B” last quarter.  Must have something to do with...well, never mind.”

Any response Debbie might have made was cut off when they heard the warning bell.  Afterwards, they could continue the discussion, but no one wanted to spend lunchtime in detention for being late.  There was too much happening in the quad to miss out.

The party that Saturday was sick-everything they had hoped for, and more.  Jeff and Gary did show up, shortly after the quartet of girls had arrived, and they all attributed that to living right.  Jeff was the primary attraction, tall and athletic, and an eighth grader to the max.  Gary was just window dressing, nothing to write home about.  

Debbie kept her eye peeled for the opportunity to chat with Jeff, sidling up at one point, alongside Carrie, to flirt shamelessly with him.  Though he was supposed to know that he should hang on Debbie’s every word, someone forgot to tell him that.  In all actuality, he was far more interested in Carrie.

At one point, when Debbie was off pursuing the rumor that there was alcohol to be had out back by the pool, Jeff and Carrie found themselves alone, in a sea of other kids.

“Whew, that friend of yours is really intense.  I thought she’d never let up,” he tossed out casually.

“That’s because she’s used to getting what she wants,” Carrie responded.

“What’s that got to do with me?” asked Jeff, jokingly, brushing his hand against Carrie’s arm, invitingly. 

“What Debbie wants, Debbie gets,” affirmed Carrie.  “She’s relentless.”

“Well, she’s going to be Jeff-less, if you get what I mean.  I don’t jump through hoops for anyone.  Unless I want to.”  He gazed at Carrie, meaningfully.

For her part, Carrie kept a low profile, going with the flow, and enjoying the current immensely.  Only when Debbie rejoined them, quite a while later, somewhat tipsily, did Carrie realize that trouble might be brewing.

“Hey, there’s rum out back.  Don’t you want any?” asked Debbie, while maneuvering her way to Jeff’s side.

“No way,” said Carrie.  “I can’t stand the way it tastes.  Besides, my mom will be waiting up for me and I don’t need that kind of grief.  You can have mine.”

“Well, who was talking to you?  Jeff?  You better get back there, if you want to take advantage of...circumstances.”

Looking embarrassed, Jeff glanced first at Carrie and then back at Deb.  “No, I’ll pass thanks, but you go ahead.  Doesn’t look like you need much encouraging.”

“What?  What’s that supposed to mean?”  Debbie looked seriously annoyed.

“It means exactly what you want it to mean.  Come on, Carrie, let’s go out front, where it’s not so noisy.”  Without a backwards glance, the two strolled out in the direction of the front door, heads close together, as if comparing notes.

Carrie was in seventh heaven, at least until the following Monday morning, when her heaven suddenly turned into hell.  Having been dropped off just before first period, she did not catch up with her three friends until break, when she saw them across the quad, at the student store.  Quickly scooting over to them, she said, “It must be Monday-there’s not much on the shelves.”

When no one responded, Carrie stopped, puzzled.  “What?  Are you still hung over from Saturday night?” she asked.  Debbie looked directly at Carrie, but spoke to Kim.  “Kimmie, are we still getting together at your house after practice?”

“Sure.  My mom won’t be home until nine, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.  If you see Carrie, don’t say a word.”  Kim kept her grin in place, but she only smiled with her lips.

“What?  What’s going on?  Don’t tell ME that you’re going to Kim’s?  Am I invisible?”  As the bell rang, the three girls moved off together, leaving Carrie standing by herself in the quad.

“What the hell?”  But Carrie found herself talking to the row of lockers.

A repeat of that morning’s snub occurred at lunchtime and Carrie began to get it.  She’d seen this sort of thing before, and she remembered an acquaintance of hers sobbing out the details of a similar experience, last year in the sixth grade.  When guys fight, it’s all about one dude hauling off and punching another in the face.  End of discussion; end of fight.  When girls fight, it’s all about the third degree, the cold shoulder.  Not much anyone could do about it, short of finding new friends.

Carrie understood, instinctively, that it was all about Jeff, and her own actions last Saturday night.  She knew that Debbie was angry with her.  But Kim?  And Gretchen?  She and Kim had been friends since the beginning of sixth grade.  Why would Kim side with Debbie?  And where had Jeff disappeared to?  When she tried talking to her mom about it that night, all her mom was able to do was sympathize, and that did not help the ache in her heart.

Sitting by herself in the school cafeteria on Tuesday, feeling as dejected as only a middle schooler can feel, she despaired of ever regaining her social status-at least in this environment.  She had no appetite, she had no desire to return to volleyball practice, and she had no interest in the other kids around her.  How was she ever going to get her head above water again?

And then, Jeff was sitting beside her, explaining that he had missed school the previous day, due to the flu, and how was she, anyway? 

A warm sensation flowed over her, and Carrie looked at Jeff with relief in her eyes.  “Have you ever been in a fight, and gotten smacked in the face?”

Jeff laughed and replied, “Well, who hasn’t?”

“Me,” said Carrie.  “But I understand what you mean.  And Jeff?  Thanks.  

“For what?  What did I do?”

“Nothing.  And everything.  Come on, let’s go out into the quad.  I want to sit in the sun.”  They left together, holding hands.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hello There


I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction.  Today’s letter is H for Hello.

Hello There

Dale walked the seven blocks to Golden Gate Park the same way he had walked every afternoon for the past two years.  He had made it a ritual of his to get at least a moderate amount of daily exercise, plus he enjoyed the feeling of being in an environment, in which others shared the need for getting out and about.  Instead of using the time to write or at least jot down notes for his current project, he sat on the park-bench, and reflected on the events of the past few days.  He never felt so alone in his entire life.

There was a heaviness to his heart and he wished that he could explain what had gone wrong between him and Terrie.  When she had first moved into the four-bedroom house, only a few blocks from the corner of Haight and Ashbury, it had seemed they had little in common.  After all, she was a waitress in a local coffee shop and he was in his last semester at UCSF, due to earn his masters in journalism, with the hope of being able to use his degree to attain a position in the world of publishing.  Terrie was as interested in school, as he was in waiting tables for minimum wage, plus tips.

But he had begun to frequent the little coffee shop, finding time at some point in Terrie’s shift, to drop by for either coffee or a sandwich, and they had eventually hit it off.  Terrie was outgoing and animated, and that complemented his own introverted personality, so that he felt more complete when he spent time with her.  When she had broken up with her long-standing boyfriend, he had asked her out and things had progressed nicely from there.  It was not long before they had made the transition from house-mates to roommates.  They joked about the empty room that now existed in the house being available for someone else, but there was no pressing reason to let the landlord know that that was the case.

In some ways they were so different, he being a meat and potatoes kind of guy, while she was a vegan.  Therefore, when he had begun sampling some of the many different ways she could prepare tofu, and actually started to enjoy a meal comprised solely of a big salad, he had seen that there were different ways to go about the business of eating.  Cheeseburgers gave way to veggie burgers, and French fries gave way to sweet potato fries.  This shift in paradigms was one of the things he liked best about his relationship with Terrie.  God, he felt so alone, so lost.

What had gone wrong?  He wished he knew.  The more time he spent with Terrie, the better he felt things had gone.  So when she started gradually withdrawing, he had just figured she needed a little space.  That was something with which he could identify.  After all, she had never shared his interest in walking or his desire to spend time in the park.  She just referred to it as his time, and she felt no need to interfere with it.

When she had announced that she was quitting her job, and moving down to SoCal, he was stunned.  What was in SoCal he had wanted to know?  Nothing, she had responded; she just needed a “change.”  What was she going to do, he had asked?  Nothing different than what she was doing now, she had replied. What did I do wrong, he had countered?  You didn’t do anything wrong; I just need a change.

So he sat on his bench, feeling as alone as he had ever felt, and pondered the mysteries of the female species.  If there had been some indication, if there had been some warning, if there were some sort of explanation, he would feel as though there was at least some hope.  As it was, he just felt abandoned.  Abandoned and alone.  Alone here in the park, even though he was surrounded by humanity.  He had his notebook out on his lap; he had his pen in his hand; there was nothing on the paper in front of him, that had not been there when he first sat down.

It had taken him eighteen months, from the time he had moved to San Francisco, to hook up with Terrie, and he could not stand the idea that he would have to start all over again.  How did one go about doing that?  What was the secret to finding true love?  Just thinking about it gave him a lump in his throat, and he feared he would start crying, right on the spot.

A figure appeared beside him, as unexpectedly as Terrie’s announcement that she was leaving, and paused for a moment.  “Hello there!  What are you writing?”

“Writing?  Not much,” he admitted.

“Is there room on your bench for me?” she asked.


“Yes,” he said, “there’s plenty of room on this bench.  Care to join me?”
 And then, suddenly, there were two people on the bench, and Dale felt his loneliness and solitude slip away from him, like a cloud uncovering the sun.