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The Window Cleaner – Part 1

From Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories. By Gabriel Constans.

The Window Cleaner – Part 1

A warm breeze squeezed through the holes in the window screen of the small box trailer, caressing the hair on Steven Rice’s arm. He stopped writing his notes on the pink paper and looked out the spotted, streaked window, at the old trees, vines and plants rooted in the lush green gully bordering the backyard. He wondered how this small land of wood and greenery had flourished so bountifully, while trapped between residential asphalt and city streets of noise, grime and drifting exhaust.

“The stories they could tell,” he thought, staring at the knotted oaks, “hot, cold, dry, wet; season after season; change after change.”

Mr. Rice had survived a few blustery seasons of his own. Surgical intrusions, vandalistic relationships, precarious illnesses and winds of death had blown through the canyons of his life, leaving crevasses and jagged scars on the landscape of his soul. His receding, graying hairline and scarred, wrinkled skin, were testament to his growth and decay. Wire-rimmed spectacles framed his large protruding nose, providing an exclamation point to his tall, skinny frame. A light blue dress shirt and beige, corduroy slacks covered him modestly. They were just right for his kind of work: not too shabby, not to fancy or extreme.

Steven watched a brown, orange-bellied feathered friend jump from one of the trees to the soft green grass below the window. He wasn’t sure if it was a dull robin or a bright male sparrow. The sound machine hummed and the violins, emanating from the radio playing in the adjoining room, traveled through the thin plywood walls. They used the machine and classical music, to drone out their confidential conversations and keep the words, sounds and cries from reaching beyond the small, fern-potted cubicle they used for their private, intimate encounters with mortality.

There were two stout chairs with short, wide backs and legs; that looked like they had been dropped from a tall building and compressed on impact. An acrylic-padded office chair had been rolled under the insignificant, almost nonexistent, desk facing the dirty window. Fresh cut flowers, a miniature digital clock, some calligraphic business cards and a blue lit candle, graced the small glass table situated between the flattened chairs. The wall was adorned with two of his wife’s framed photos. One displayed a sensuous purple orchid in full bloom. The other contained a golden-orange poppy poking its head through the crevice of an intimidating mountain of cold, gray granite.

His wife, Jillian, was an excellent photographer, but hadn’t practiced her craft for years. Children, a job with the city planning department and various environmental causes had limited her photographic pursuits. Now, with the kids in their twenties, she and Steven had more free time for their individual passions and pursuits. Steven planned on taking up hang gliding, running off the tops of mountains and floating above earth like a bird. Some mornings he awoke with delight and told her about a flying dream.

Steven had been twice married before taking his vows with Jillian. The first mishap was as a young man of eighteen, when he had mistaken lust for love and connected with a warm, loving woman named Yolanda. There union lasted but a short two years; neither knowing who they were or what they wanted; both believing freedom equaled zero responsibility and no commitment.

The second marriage, to Peggy, had matched all the images in Steven’s head of “settling down”; but other than producing two beautiful children, the relationship was awash in misunderstanding and contrary ambitions. Everyone but he and his wife saw the mismatch from the start. They relinquished their individuality and personal boundaries to try to meet the others perceived needs or desires. They mistook control, security and acquiescence for love.

Jillian was the first to believe in Steven, to love him without an unconscious, unspoken need to control or manipulate his behavior. He had returned her respect and care in kind. The magnetic current that had originally attracted them upon first sight had done nothing but increase in intensity and strength.

The candle’s lavender aroma and the scarlet scents of spring, mingled conspiratorially, as Steven redirected his attention to the form under his hand and scribbled, in his disjointed, undecipherable hand writing, the words which best captured the last hours drama. The documentation was tedious, at best; but the lives and stories of those with whom he crossed paths, were anything but.

As he put the pink pages back in their vanilla envelope and placed it in the drawer, he felt the familiar vibration of footsteps on the wooden ramp. The ramp, made out of plywood and two-by-fours, had been hastily installed for wheel chair access, after the temporary trailers had been placed on their cement blocks.

The outer door to the middle office opened suddenly, sucking sound and air into the self-contained unit like a surfacing diver gasping for breath. Someone entered, knocked on the open hollow door to Steven’s little cubicle and peered around the corner.

“Mr. Rice?”

“Yes,” Steven replied, standing and holding out his hand. “Please, call me Steven.” He was forty-nine years old, had accumulated a number of advanced degrees and training, but still felt strange when somebody called him Mister or Doctor. The formal titles carried too much weight; too many expectations and implications of difference and separation. It made him feel old, defined and limited.

The gentleman clasped Steven’s hand cautiously, as if he could be infected with suffering by mere association.

“Mr. Hartman?” Steven asked.

“Rob,” Mr. Hartman nodded warily. “Rob is fine.”

“So . . . you found us OK?”

“I’ve seen the sign whenever I drove by, but never had any reason to . . . you know . . . stop in.”

Steven nodded.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Actually, you’re right on time,” he said, closing the door. “Please, have a seat.”

Steven took the opposite chair and handed Mr. Hartman a clear clipboard with a form and pen attached. “A brief formality; we don’t want there to be any surprises or misconceptions.”

“Of course,” Mr. Hartman replied calmly, while his instincts told him to drop the damn form and run for his life.

“Whatever you tell me is confidential.”

Rob nodded, glancing over the printed page. His jaw was clamped tight as a pressure-cooker, the corners of his mouth descending, searching for something solid; some anchor to latch on to. His dark black hair was combed neatly in place, his striped sport shirt was buttoned to the collar and his cuffed slacks nicely pressed. Steven noticed a slight shaking of the fingers, as Rob signed and returned the form, carefully avoiding any eye contact.

Rob tried smiling as he handed over the clipboard, but it got stuck in his throat like a chicken bone before reaching his dry lips.

“Thank you,” Steven said, placing the “formality” on top of the desk. “Thank you for coming. I know this is hard.”

Rob nodded, rubbing his hands on the wooden rests of the armchair and looking at the floor. He cleared his throat several times, as if he was going to speak, but decided against it.

“He knows how hard it is?” Rob said to himself. “I doubt it.”

“When you called,” Steven interjected, “you didn’t say how your mother died. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Man!” Rob thought, his adrenaline pumping. “I barely hit the cushion before this guy is asking me how she died!”

Steven saw Rob flinch.

“She . . . she . . . I don’t . . .”

Rob braced himself, counted to three and turned an inner, emotional valve, squeezing off the pain that was about to blow his boiler. He reverted to his mind for expediency and safety, uncrossed his arms and went on a litany of chronological events leading up to his mother’s death. The room swam with details, accusations, judgments, blame and anger. He talked animatedly about doctors, nurses, relatives, family members and friends; his hands gesticulating freely, framing his words with emphatic motion. He told a long, labored story of the medical community and their assault upon his mother; of relatives who “never helped” and others who “always interfered.”

PART 2 (CONCLUSION) TOMORROW

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The Barking Seal Admiration Society – Part 2

From short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby by Gabriel Constans

The Barking Seal Admiration Society – Part 2 (Conclusion)

Joanne put her bag in the trunk of her partially rusted Volvo station wagon and closed the beige trunk with a thud; sealing the contents for a safe trip home. She’d just called her husband and kids to let them know she was on her way.

“Drive careful little Sis,” I said sarcastically, both of us knowing she was probably the safest driver in North America. I used to tell her she drove like an old granny when we were teenagers. She’d sit at a four way stop, for what seemed like hours, making sure there weren’t any cars approaching within a hundred miles!

“You big Dufus,” she grinned. “Have I ever been in an accident?”

“No.”

“Have I ever gotten a ticket in my whole life?”

“No.”

“Then shut up already and give me a hug.” She grabbed my arm, pulled me close, put her arms around my back and squeezed hard. I squeezed back. She squeezed harder, as did I, until it felt like she’d break my back.

“OK! OK!” I gasped, pretending to be out of breath. “Man! You’ve gotten strong in your old age!”

“And don’t you forget it!” she teased, as she got in the car, closed the door, strapped herself in, adjusted her mirrors and rolled down the window.

I leaned in and kissed her. “Love ya. Take care.”

“Likewise.” She kissed me back.

“Remember,” I kidded, “it doesn’t matter how you feel as long . . .”

She shook her head, having shared this joke a hundred times. “Yeah, yeah,” she completed the line, “as long as you look good.”

I jerked my finger, like shooting a gun and blew away the smoke, completing our leave taking ritual. She waved and rolled up the window, then suddenly rolled it back down. I leaned in.

“Call her,” she said.

“What?”

“Call her tonight.”

“Who?” We’d been talking about Robin every since we’d left the beach.

“I mean it Rueben. There’s something between you two, something special.”

I’d planned on calling the minute Joanne was out of sight.

“Sure,” I grinned.

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said and crossed my heart.

She rolled up the window, checked for oncoming cars, for what seemed like an hour, then slowly eased onto the highway. She looked in her rear-view mirror and waved one last time.

I stood and waved to my beautiful little sister. As she drove away, I remembered telling her once, after she’d interrupted my cowboy game once to often, “Leave me alone! I wish you were dead!” The memory filled me with shame.

“Hellooo stranger,” Robin answered, with a seductive, languid drawl.

“Is this Robin?” I asked, “The surfing consultant?”

“Rueben! I knew you’d call.” Without skipping a beat she said, “Can you come over tonight?”

“Tonight?” I think . . .”

“Think!” she interjected. “There’s no time to think.”

“Well . . . sure.”

“Can you pick up some wine and flowers? I was thinking about you all the way home and plum forgot to . . . oh yeah! Make sure they’re . . .”

“Fresh cut,” I finished her sentence, “right?”

“You devil. How’d you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“That place next to . . .”

“Shopper’s Corner,” I surmised. No problem. It’s right on the way.”

“You sure?”

“No problem, I’d love too.”

“Love too,” she repeated. “Isn’t that a great word – love?”

“Yeah, it’s a great word, but don’t you think we’re moving a little fast here?”

“Fast?! Are you going to wimp out on me before we even get started?” She quietly added, “We’re mates and you know it.”

“Mates?”

“I may not know a lot, but I know when I’ve been thrown a pearl.”

“A pearl?”

“This kind of thing is rare,” she went on. “Some people don’t know when it’s come up and bit them in the bud and others keep thinking it’s somewhere they’re not.”

“That may be true, but . . .”

“I’ve only felt this way once before,” she said. “I may be about to die, maybe not; but I’m not about to let your fear screw things up.”

She got that right. I’d been burned before. In my early twenties I’d fallen in love with a slim, nineteen-year-old redhead named Francine. We were stupid enough to get married. It lasted about a year. I was so dependent on her approval I would have leapt off a cliff if she’d asked. She had to literally jump in bed with my best friend before I crashed and burned. That experience had embedded its tentacles deep under my skin and been tediously removed, one by one, year after year.

“You’re right,” I said. “I felt that way before and this feels like the real thing, but…”

“No buts about it. The only butt I want to see is yours.”

I don’t know where she got the courage to be so blatant, but she was right on the button. Something in my chest had been cracked open like a safe and she had the combination.

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

“One more thing,” she said. “I love you.”

“Likewise.”

“Likewise?” she teased. Is that the best you can do?”

“Robin,” I paused, “what can I say? I love you too. Be there soon.”

“Not soon enough,” she whispered.

I started to hang up, then quickly brought the phone back to my ear. “Robin! Robin!”

“I’m right here,” she replied calmly. “It would help if you had my address, right?”

“Yeah.”

“6427D South Cliff Drive. You know where that walkway is by the harbor?”

“Sure.”

“A half mile from there, off Seabright, take a left on Surry.”

“Got it.”

“You got it all right; you got it all.”

“See ya.”

“See ya?!” she protested. “I hope you’ll do more than that.”

“You know what I . . .”

“Of course,” she interrupted. “And you know what I mean.”

“Sure do,” I said, twisting the smooth phone cord tightly around my index finger.

Beyond all logic, the magic continued. We spent days and nights “being in our skin”, as Robin would say; listening to the rhythms of the world; the sensations of our bodies; touching, sensing, smelling, gazing upon one another’s human form, with mournfully explicit awe and delight.

Entering her small, cozy apartment by the sea; felt like committing myself to a religious sanctuary where all our prayers were offered and received.
She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved here mother, her brother, her nieces, her eighty-year-old grandmother and her friends and colleagues. She’d worked in public relations for the Santa Cruz Visitor’s Bureau for over fifteen years and was missed by her peers, who often stopped to visit. Indeed, public relations, was an apt description. She had an uncanny ability to put people at ease.

Her best friend, Bessie, told me about a bigoted movie producer visiting from Los Angeles, who’d locked horns with Robin’s supervisor, Mary Lou, a tall, intelligent woman, who’d been born and raised in Texas. During a meeting with Robin, Mary Lou and Bessie, the movie producer had made a snide remark about cowboys and rednecks all being “stupid hicks.” “Mary Lou’s cheeks turned fire red,” Bessie explained. “Her jaw was tighter than a vice. If this guys company shot their film here it would bring the city a couple million bucks. Mary Lou was just about to let the jerk have it when Robin smiled and said, ‘You’re right. There are some stupid cowboys.’”

“Well,” Bessie continued, “Mary Lou and I gasped and stared at Robin in disbelief; until she added, ‘There’s idiots everywhere, aren’t there?’ ‘You got that right,” the producer said, shaking his head. ‘I must say’, Robin continued, ‘I’ve said some pretty stupid things my self. I bet there’s a lot of lame producer’s in Hollywood.’ “The producer jumped right in and said, ‘You have no idea,’ and started telling us about one ‘incompetent ass’ after another.”

“Needless to say,” Bessie concluded, “we made the deal.”

Robin’s charm remained intact in the midst of purgatory. You name it, she tried it: medications, transfusions, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxifications, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormones, prayer, meditation, visualization . . . but the cancer kept chipping away.

The last weeks found me sinking, looking for a branch to hold onto. I was being pulled under by emotional quicksand. There was nothing solid to stand on. Her face had turned black, blue and yellow, as if she’d been in a bar room brawl. Her skin was translucent, stretched over her frame like a sheet of white plastic; her arms as thin as straws. She struggled to take in a full breath. The body I loved was disintegrating like melting snow.

“I hope I’ve made a difference,” she said softly, one gusty morning.

“Without a doubt,” I assured, with a lump like a clod of dirt stuck in my throat. “You’ve given so much love.”

“Yes, I have.” She stroked my cheek. “That’s been the best part.”

“What now?”

She turned away, looked out her large window and watched a mother and daughter lean against the cliff side railing, their hair being blown by the wind.

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“What do I think?” I wanted to run, jump off the earth, find a black hole and hide. “I don’t know, but you can’t leave.”

“Nice thought, but just a wee bit unrealistic.” She rolled her eyes and grinned at my naivety.

“It’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” I struggled to find the right words. “How do you keep this up?”

“I have no choice,” she said, without hesitation.

“I know we don’t always have a choice,” I blundered, my mind racing with useless, crazy thoughts. “If it was me, I’d be screaming and yelling.”

“I don’t have a choice,” she reiterated. “This is who I am.”

We heard someone knocking. Our intimacy departed, as we turned our heads. The door flew open, pushed by gusts of cold air and Robin’s mother, who entered the tiny living room with the electric hospital bed looming in the center. She struggled to close the door behind her, pushing against the tenacious wind and patting down her gnarled hair. She took off her floor-length wool coat and placed it on the corner chair. With a forced cheerfulness that belied her dread, she exclaimed, “There’s my girl.”

“Hi Mom,” Robin smiled, holding out her shaking arms.

Joanne was making a return visit in a few days. We’d kept in touch. She knew the story. I wish she was here. She’d know what to do. She’d help her big brother learn how to say goodbye to the Barking Seal Societies lifetime member. She would know how to say “I love you” without clinging to hope. She and Robin understand life from a place I do not know. They know that “take one day at a time” and “seize the day” are not cliches; they’re the essence of our reality.

If only Joanne was here and Robin wasn’t leaving. If only . . .

THE END

Part 1

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Land Minds – Part 1

Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories (Excerpt) by Gabriel Constans

Land Minds – Part 1

He was savagely independent, having lived in the small, rugged, mountain community for more than a decade of self-imposed isolation and breathtaking loneliness. His earthly abode stretched a thousand meager yards from the nearest neighbor, who he avoided like diseased rats. The term neighbor implied a false familiarity, an acknowledgment of another’s existence, of weight upon the earth. The tenants who filtered through the adjoining rental property quickly learned to not ask questions or “nose around.” It didn’t take long until they treated him as part of the landscape, like a dried clump of gray-white bird droppings splattered over decaying leaves.

His makeshift home was a fading, moldy red barn, built in the late forties. It had gaping holes covered with black, dirty, torn plastic that had been nailed on in a haphazard frenzy of urgent necessity. There was no intention or inclination to give a damn about its looks. An outhouse supplied the necessary hole for elimination. An old, creaky, barely functional water tower kept his body and wrinkled clothes free of grit and grime.

To reach his dwelling involved a precarious path through an obstacle course of poison oak, prickly blackberry bushes and a six-foot deep, quarter mile fissure of eroded, hard red clay.

His only contact with beings human was a weekly visit to Frank and Stella’s Market, after having cashed his check at the bank. When he’d first arrived in town, Frank and his wife Stella, had inquired about his line of work. Their questions had been met with forceful silence and a souring scowl. Alice, who worked at Community Bank, told Stella that even she, “If anybody should know, it would be me.” didn’t have a clue about where he was from or what he did. All she knew was that the check he cashed was made out to Mark Keeler.

Mark Keeler didn’t know if he was fifty yet. He hadn’t thought much about it since his wife had thrown the mother of all surprise parties when he’d turned thirty-five. Old school mates, employees, best friends and beautiful seven-year-old daughter, all yelled “Happy Birthday!” showering him with flowers and popcorn as he’d walked in the front door.

His wife, Charlene, had kept it under wraps for a month of delicious anticipation. She, with her short auburn hair, teased and permed for the occasion, was wearing his favorite dress – the long, light blue, lotus-patterned one they’d bought in Bali on their honeymoon. Her grin had stretched with satisfied pleasure, from one soft earlobe to the other, as the party progressed.

Yes indeed, she’d pulled out all the stops! Pictures of him as a kid, pants half down, in his cowboy suit; tales from his father about his son’s “wild” days; and “secret” information thrown in from friends like Kurt Frazier, who recalled the time he and Mark were found in the girl’s bathroom in junior high, sabotaging the toilets. His daughter, Jasmine, who had been allowed to stay up past her bedtime, smothered herself with laughter when hearing of her father’s exploits. “Daddy was in the girl’s bathroom?!” She was flabbergasted. Her reaction sent the whole room into a crescendo of chuckles and belly laughs.

“Yes indeed, that was a hell of a party,” Mark recalled, as he put away the groceries he’d picked up at the market. “When was that . . . fifteen . . . sixteen years?” he wondered.

His callused, once long and smooth hands put the last box of chemical free, organic cereal on the top shelf. He pushed up his thick-lensed, dark-framed glasses and glanced at the label on the soy milk carton sitting next to the cereal. It read, “Safe to drink until Jan. 2012.”

“Safe my ass!” he blurted. “Nothing’s safe.”

Looking past the carton, between the warped wallboard’s, he saw the ageless trees shifting their feet. He reached up with his hand and scratched the flaky scalp which had been tauntingly gaining ground on his receding hairline. After drifting from one rambling boxcar of thought to another, he disengaged his overloaded, freight train brain and finished stocking the sparse cupboard with his weekly supplies.

Locking the cupboard and turning to go relieve his bladder, he carelessly stepped on his sleeping mat and allowed his eyes to glimpse the muted, color photograph permanently placed on the orange crate he’d transformed into a nightstand. Barking orders at his mind to disregard the sudden, splitting images of brutality and butchery that appeared without invitation, he wrestled himself out the door and collapsed. He looked at the bright, blue canopy and saw only a soiled sky of torn memories and violent dreams. The fluids that pumped through his veins turned into a slimy run-off of emotional grease and sludge, making his heart wince and stutter like a clogged drain.

He tried to forget by building miles of paths, stone walls and chopping wood until his hands’ were an ocean of draining blisters. Once he thought he’d lost his marbles and ran wild through the woods, growling and panting like a rabid dog, but even the comfort of sweet insanity had eluded his grasp.

That afternoon, as he lay on the decomposing earth, remembering the unmemorable, something inside churned and twisted with nauseating persistence. His gut belched with inquisition.

“No!” he said out loud. “I can’t!”

“You must!” his conscience protested.

His hands clamped tightly on to his contorted face, pushing his square glasses into his round eye sockets.

“No!” he screamed.

A belligerent typhoon of insistence rocked him from head to toe. His body shook with involuntary seizures of dread. He gasped then sighed as his tear-drenched palms fell away. A small clear hole of light broke through the blood stained clouds.

END OF PART 1 (CONTINUED TOMORROW)

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Moving Up – Part 2

Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories (Excerpt)

Moving Up – Part 2 (Conclusion)

There I was with my stuffed dog and my mother’s eyes. The neighbor’s door slammed and the TV in the apartment below squawked like a rap song on downers. The water in the pot I’d put on the stove was boiling, the shrieking whistle increasing in velocity. I looked in those eyes, saw my reflection and wondered out loud, “Why did you leave? Where did you go?”

I went to the stove, turned off the kettle and poured what little water was left over my oolong tea. I turned up the volume on the radio, which I must have left on went to work. The announcer said the guy playing the violin had once played for change on the streets of Paris and now graced the stages of concert halls around the world.

I returned to the recliner, put the dog in my lap and hugged its neck. I closed my eyes and drifted off, as my reassuring nightmare gracefully returned.

The snake-eyed woman oozed out of the festering sore, her hands and bony fingers reaching for my throat. She whispers, “Die my love. Die a slow death. There is nothing but pain and sadness.” Her cold fingertips tighten on my Adam’s apple, as I flail with clenched fists to beat my way free, my knuckles smashing into her skeletal face without any impact. Her face changes into a tornado, sucking me in and spitting me out between her thighs. My heart muscle has been shredded into little pieces and is being flushed down the sewer.

My hand slid off the armrest and hit the floor. I found myself sitting in a chair, holding a stuffed dog with marble eyes. The phone was ringing again. I answered.

“What? Oh, hi Annie.”

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Where were you? I called earlier.”

“I must have been in the shower.” I lied.

“How’s your new job?” she asked, disdain seeping through her cheerful “everything is always great” voice.

“OK, I guess. I found the coolest dog.”

“A dog?!” her voice raised an octave. “I thought animals weren’t allowed . . .”

“No, they aren’t allowed here. Not a dog dog . . . it’s a stuffed dog. It’s in great shape. I can’t believe somebody threw it away. And it’s big. I mean really big! If I stand on end it almost reaches my head. And the coolest part is its eyes. They don’t look normal. They’re all glassy, deep black and vacant like. They remind me of . . . well . . . they’re very cool. You’ve got to see it.”

“I’ve got Springer,” she replied, “a real dog. Why on earth would I care about a fake one from the dump?”

“Well, no. I guess you wouldn’t.”

“You could have a real dog,” she pleaded, “if you weren’t so stubborn and moved out here.”

“Well . . . I’ll just have to enjoy my ‘pretend’ dog by my old stubborn self.”

“Don’t go all sad and sorry for yourself on me. You know what I mean.’

“Yeah, I know. Grow up, right?”

“You said it, not me,” she laughed.

She always wanted me to be someone or somewhere different, but she kept calling and seeing me anyway. If I could mint how many times she’d said, “Grow up.” I’d be a billionaire. I have grown up! I like my life just fine. It’s safe, secure and pathetically terminal . . . except for my nightmares. They may leave me sweating in terror, but they’re consistent, predictable and more painfully present then anybody I’ve known dead or alive. She keeps hoping I’ll change. She’s like that, full of faith and seeing the good in people. Some folks can’t help it.

“Why don’t you come stay with me this weekend? We could take Springer to the lake, go fishing and camp out at Crescent Cove.”

“Sure, but I’ve got to work Saturday morning. I’ll drive out in the afternoon. Maybe we could get in a little hook and sinker Sunday morning.”

“I guess that will have to do. See you then.”

“Later,” I said and hung up.

The truth be known, I could only handle being with Annie for a day, two max. Something about her always made me feel inadequate, like I was lacking some prime ingredient for her stew.

I looked at the chair and saw the dog had fallen on the floor. I picked it up, brushed it off and found myself staring at those eyes again. They held me like a voodoo curse. I shook myself free and placed it by the wall, under the window with the dirty blinds I never open.

***

It’s been a year since I started working at the dump. Annie finally got smart and left me alone. I heard she’s hooked up with some organic strawberry farmer who loves the country and has lots of “real” dogs. I’m still living in the same immaculately disastrous apartment, enjoying a Sunday to myself and reading the paper. The stuffed dog I found last year is still lying under the window, sagging a little more in the midriff, obediently collecting dust. I pick it up now and then, whenever I need a good shot of collected misery.

I put down my cup of cold coffee and am drawn to an interesting add.

WANTED. NIGHT DRIVERS. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. WILL TRAIN. REFERENCES REQUIRED. CALL SEASON’S MORTUARY. 639-4518.

“Well now,” I say out loud, “talk about a dream job. I think I’ll call them first thing in the morning.”

THE END

Part 1

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 3

His Mother’s Arms. Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 3 (Conclusion)

When Jon and his mother made their return visit to the hospital, Jon let slip a comment about his mother’s headaches. The doctor, a young, auburn-haired woman, named Sally Shapiro, quickly questioned Clarisa. “When did she first have these headaches? What was their frequency and how long did they last? What was the pain like? Were there any stressful events in her life? Did anyone in her family history have similar ailments?” The last question unloaded the cart.

To her surprise, Clarisa found the attention comforting and was relieved to finally reveal her private world of apprehension and fear. She made an appointment with Dr. Choate for tests the following week. To her delighted and infinite surprise, the tests discovered nothing other than high blood pressure, which was successfully treated with medication and a change in diet.

Jon’s feet pushed hard on the rubber pedals of his new used bike. He broke free down the straightaway and didn’t let up rounding the corner towards home. His mother was in the front yard with Grace and little Mary playing in the flowerbed. Clarisa was planting spring bulbs and chatting away when she heard a holler.

“Hey, Mom! Look!” Jon yelled with delight. He felt like the sky had lifted him from gravity’s grip and pulled him, flying, up the driveway. He skidded to a stop and stood beaming like sunlight. His mother clapped her dirt-covered hands and ran to his side. She gave him a long hug, pulling his head to her tummy and exclaimed, “That was fantastic! You’ve gotten so good! Your father will be very proud.”

Unfastening the strap to his helmet, Jon unconsciously felt above his eyebrow, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and basked in his mother’s presence and praise.

THE END

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Leave Some for Me

Excerpt from The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales

Leave Some for Me as told by NSHINIYIMANA Dativa (10 years old) at the ROP Center for Street Children (Rwandan Orphan’s Project)

There was a young couple that had a child called Imanway. The couple had a field of maize next to their home. When the father found the maize was ripe, he brought it to his wife who cooked a delicious meal.

Her husband said, “I am full. That was wonderful. It is so wonderful, I don’t want this feeling to go away. Maybe, if you wrap me in a mattress (a traditional mat made out of reeds), give me some more food and carry me to the forest, this feeling will remain.”

His wife and child wrapped him in a mattress and left him in the forest with his food.

It wasn’t long until an animal and her animal children came upon the man and his food.

“You are alone in the forest with all this food. I am going to get some of my friends to come eat the food you have,” said the animal. She told her children to stay with the man, but after she left, the man dropped his mattress and ran away with the food.

When the mother animal came back with her friends, she found that the human had run away. She asked her children, “Why did you let that man with the mattress and food go? Now we will have to eat you instead.”

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