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Posts tagged ‘Saint Catherine’s Baby’

Connect the Stories


Some writing “experts” once told me that the best way to write a novel is to first write short stories. They said, “If you can write a good short story, with a beginning, middle, and end, then a novel will easily follow. All you have to do is use the same characters in one short story after another and string them together.” Turns out that they were right, in most respects, but not always.

From my experience, it is extremely difficult to write a good short story, and more difficult to string a number of them together for a book. I’ve had some success with shorts, with some of mine appearing in Go World Travel, Listen, Los Angeles Journal, Japan Airlines/Wingspan, Omega, Enigma, and the Roswell Literary Review. As you can see from the following description of my collection of short stories, Saint Catherine’s Baby, which was released 7 years ago, I hadn’t yet figured out how to keep the same characters and storyline for a novel.

Saint-Catherines-BabyAn eclectic collection of short stories that include Ruthie and her obstinate elderly student from Germany (The English Lesson); Stephanie, who waits for the unorthodox return of her deceased father (Dressed In Black); Walter O’Brien, who discovers a young couple and their child in an abandoned monastery on the West Coast of Ireland (St. Catherine’s Baby); Shannon, on the run at a shoe store in Chicago (Sizing Up Shannon); Jacque, meeting Rosalita’s shocked parents in New Mexico (Framed); and Joshua Johnson, a school custodian whose mother may have interfered in his love life for the last time (The Sweetest Man).

It still rings true,  writing a good short story is a great beginning for a novelist, and also some of the most difficult writing to do. Character and scene development, crisis, insight, and/or conclusions, must all be created within a limited number of words. Some writers can also write great books, without ever having written a short, and vice-a-versa. To this rule, if you choose to call it that, does not apply to everyone.

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Every Instinct

Beginning of Every Instinct. An excerpt from the short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby by Gabriel Constans. Complete story posted on Angie’s Diary.

Every Instinct

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!”

READ CONCLUSION AT ANGIE’S DIARY.

The Window Cleaner – Part 2

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

The Window Cleaner – Part 2 (Conclusion)

As Rob’s outrage about his mother’s cancer and subsequent death raged on, Steven waited for a pause, a cue, a sliver of an opening to address the pain that boiled below the surface. It came suddenly, when Rob abruptly stopped speaking, placed his hands on his knees and glared at Steven.

“Well?” Rob asked bitterly, “Now what?”

“I’m sorry you had to witness such suffering,” Steven said. “What an awful ordeal.” Rob waited. “You must love your mother very much.”

Every instinct of pride and privacy in Rob’s body strained to keep composure. It felt like his ligaments were tearing apart; his protective shell, of time and distance from his mother’s passing, stripped bare. Repressed liquids of loss and abandonment leaked like a broken faucet. He tried holding back the tears, by covering his runny eyes and nose with his hands, but it was as useless as trying to stop a tidal wave with a bucket. He felt dizzy, his cheeks burned and his stomach ached. He questioned his sanity and wondered how he had let his well-meaning wife convince him to attend this torture. “I must be a masochist or a nut case,” he reasoned.

Sure, he’d had some scattered days since his adoptive mother had passed on. “Who wouldn’t?” he figured. “She was only fifty-one.”

Her name was Nadine. She’d adopted him, as a single parent, when he was five years old. Everything he knew about love, security or life had come from her. She’d taken him on faith; not knowing what complications might arise as he got older. Her devotion ran deep. She had spoiled him with attention and confidence.

“How could she leave?!” his mind demanded, not able or willing to match the reality of her death with his belief in how the world should work.

He had admitted to his wife, Soledad, that he wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t feel like doing anything. “It doesn’t make sense; nothing matters anymore.”

Anxiety about the future knocked day and night. He frequently asked Soledad if they were OK; if she was sure she wanted to stay with him being so “messed up and all?” She’d smile reassuringly and tell him their love hadn’t changed since they’d met in high school. He was and always would be, “her man . . . her sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere.”

It was during one of these moments of insecurity that she suggested he call these people for help. She had promised that they wouldn’t do any touchy-feely, therapy kind of stuff on him. Now, here he was, wondering what kind of mess he was in. All he’d done so far was babble on about his private life and cry like a wet baby in front of a perfect stranger.

He should have seen the trap the minute he walked in the little claustrophobic compartment. Soft music; candles; a warm and friendly atmosphere – all there to seduce him into making a fool of himself! And there was something unnerving about this guy, like he could see right through you.

“It’s not fair!” Rob shouted, between chest splitting sobs, “Why’d she have to suffer; why not me?!”

Steven handed him some Kleenex from the conveniently placed box sitting on the glass table, waiting patiently to be of service and discarded. Rob wiped his contorted face.

“You’d want your mother to go through the pain your feeling?”

“No, but why; how could this happen?”

“Her dying or the emptiness you’re feeling?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.”

“Doesn’t make sense, does it?”

Rob nodded, blew his nose again and tossed the tissue towards the small plastic can peaking out from under the table.

Steven said, “It can be painful and confusing. The feelings are so overwhelming; it seems like you’re out of control; nothing fits together anymore.”

“That’s for sure.” Rob dabbed his wet cheeks with another willing tissue. “But why does it have to hurt so bad?” Salt water oozed from the corner of his eye and dripped on to the front of his pressed shirt.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the price we have to pay for loving somebody.”

“Pretty stiff price.”

“Sure is,” Steven leaned forward. “You’d have to be a masochist to choose this kind of pain.”

Rob nodded, “So why go through it?”

“Grief seems to be the one kind of pain that doesn’t change or go away, unless we let ourselves face it, feel it . . . almost embrace it. Most kinds of pain are good to get rid of; put a bandage on it, fix it or avoid it, right?” Rob’s river of tears trickled to a small brook as he threw his last drenched tissue toward the seemingly elusive wastebasket. “With grief there is no easy, quick fix; it’s not something you ‘get over’ or ‘recover from.’”

Steven wondered if Rob was making any connections. He was never sure. Even if the client said they understood, felt heard or thanked him for his time, there was no guarantee that his presence or words had any beneficial effect at all. There was no tangible, physical sign or material exchange, no finished product or sutured wound.

“But,” Steven emphasized, “if you allow yourself to experience it, with people you trust and at times and places that feel safe, it will lesson in duration and frequency.”
Rob shook his head in disbelief. Steven added, “Right now it doesn’t feel like it will ever change, right?”

“You got that right.”

Rob’s apprehension and anxiety flew around in his head like manic butterflies, while Steven, this quiet middle aged man with specs and out of date shoes, continued to provide his attention and seemingly sincere concern. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Rob’s fears subsided, as he realized he was safe and could allow his heart’s storms to rage.

He told Steven all about Nadine. He talked about their favorite holidays, Thanksgiving and Halloween; about where they had lived, in Providence; what she did for a living, working as a home care attendant; how he bought her a home, after working in real estate for several years. He told him about the difficult times they’d had when he was a teenager, when he was embarrassed to be around her; how he had pushed her away and his remorse at having done so. He talked about his wife Soledad; how she felt closer to his mother than to her own. He talked and talked and cried and cried and remembered.

As Rob told him about his mother, Steven thought fondly of his own. She’d had a heart attack and surgery about six years ago, coming precipitously close to death’s door. She was in her seventies now and doing well, but the thought of her dying still gave him the chills. It wasn’t like he was a stranger to loss. Various family members, friends and acquaintances had gasped their last breaths; but there was something about his mother, her solid, life-long presence and care, that struck close to the bone. The thought of her dying and disappearing from this material life, made him feel vulnerable and alone. He prayed it would never happen, knowing full well that such prayers were a futile exercise in self-delusion.

“Yeah, she was, I mean is, an amazing woman,” Rob concluded fondly, an imperceptible smile kissing his lips.

Hearing Rob pause and having a sense that their time was coming to a close, Steven asked Rob if they could meet again in a week or two. He noticed the strained expression, of someone trying to hold together a broken glass, had been replaced with a smile, a smile that said, “Thank God. I’m not going crazy. This is all to be expected. It will change. There is hope.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Rob replied. “Would you write down the time and date? I’ve been a little forgetful lately.”

“Sure.” He wrote down the appointment, as slowly and carefully as possible, so someone beside himself could read it and handed it to Rob.

Rob checked the time and date, then turned the card over. “Steven Rice, Ph.D.,” he read silently, “Bereavement Counselor.” He stuffed it in his front pocket, stood and firmly shook Steven’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I know this sounds crazy, but I think it helped.”

“I hope so,” Steven smiled. “I look forward to seeing you next week.”

Steven watched Robert walk down the red-stained ramp, back into his life, a life without the woman who had taught him how to live. He went over to the miniature desk, sat on the rolling office chair, took out a pink form that read, “Progress Note”, grabbed his pen and began to write.

The last hour was fresh in his memory as he looked out the dirty windowpane and felt the air through the screen cooling as the sun undressed to put on its nightgown of darkness. The old knotted pine trees stood gallantly in the gully, impervious to the suns disrobing. They stood without feelings of love, loss, joy or sorrow; without consciousness of there own existence or approaching demise.

Steven put on his alma mater’s long sleeve blue sweater and placed his notes in Mr. Hartman’s file. He put the file inside the four-foot high, rusted metal cabinet and attached the combination lock. Picking up his frayed, black-leather briefcase and bottled water, he looked outside once more, before turning off the light, radio and sound machine.

“I’ll have to wash that window tomorrow,” he said to himself. “It’s filthy.”

Steven Rice walked outside, closed the vacuum-sucking door with a bang, inserted his copper key and turned the latch. The flimsy box trailer and its precarious contents were safe for another day. He walked down the shaky ramp and wondered how we keep living with all our scars and open wounds.

THE END

PART 1

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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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The Barking Seal Admiration Society

Story from Saint Catherine’s Baby by Gabriel Constans

The Barking Seal Admiration Society – Part 1

My sister Joanne had come, for respite, from our hometown of Modesto, a land-locked metropolis eviscerated in the the scorching Sacramento Valley in Northern California. We were spending the afternoon on the wharf in Santa Cruz, a city on the edge of the Monterey Bay, just a touch south of San Francisco by way of Highway One; a scenic, precarious strip of pavement, hugging the coast like a black snake.

I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for twenty odd years, but you wouldn’t know it by the looks of me. My usual slacks, short-sleeved dress shirt and wide-brimmed Fedora, to cover my receding brown hair and shade my ever paling skin, stands in stark contrast to the shorts, wet suits, Hawaiian prints and Birkenstocks worn by most of the tanned, beach-faring home grown crowd. I don’t surf, the ocean’s much too cold for my liking; and I hate it when sand gets in my socks and shoes, grating roughly against my skin. To top off the oxymoron of my seaside existence, my work with an advertising agency in San Jose, though personally rewarding is not something I flaunt in this liberal college town.

Holding her floppy white straw hat, Joanne skipped down the old wooden peer, her right arm swinging freely. The pier stood on creaking stilts of old oak pylons that had been driven into the sea floor at the start of the last century. A space in the middle of the pier had been created for tourists to feed the seals. Joanne stopped at the railed opening to see the gluttonous sea creatures lounging on the braces below. As I caught up, she barked, clapped and laughed loudly, imitating the chubby, sumo-wrestling otters’ boisterous demands for food.

She was laughing like she had when we were two little toe heads. I remembered the times she interrupted my Lone Ranger play, as I made serious sound effects of guns firing and bullets ricocheting past my head. I wore my plastic red cowboy hat and holster and she’d be outfitted as a petite ballerina; her blond pigtails held to the side by bright pink, silk ribbons.

“Get out of the way!” I’d yell, pointing my six-shooter at the bad guys. She danced closer. “Stop it Jo!” I’d yelled again, using the form of Joanne she hated. She danced closer still, twirling, curtseying, falling and playing dead; her square-toed, laced ballet shoes sticking straight into the air. Everyone knows ballerinas and cowboys don’t mix, but she would keep jumping up and falling down, giggling and laughing, with total disregard for my need to save the land from desperados. Unable to keep a straight face, I’d holster my guns and clap at her performance, just like I’d seen our mother do before she’d died of cancer.

Joanne was still barking at the seals when a skinny woman wearing a blue-green scarf joined in. Momentarily startled, Joanne stopped and stared. Realizing the stranger wasn’t any crazier than herself; she smiled, laughed and resumed her barking and clapping. hey were like mimicking mimes imitating an innocent bystander.

The new addition to the barking seal admiration society turned and clapped towards Joanne, who eagerly returned her applause. They both bowed, barely avoiding knocking each other in the head. The woman’s scarf slipped forward and fell, revealing a shiny hairless scalp. She grabbed the cloth by the corner before it hit the pier. She stood grinning with the brilliance of a sparkler and quickly wrapped and tied her silk scarf. Joanne took off her hat and briskly rubbed her short soft brown curly tufts.

Feeling somehow drawn to this barking skeleton with no hair, I moved closer and listened to the enraptured duo, as the lady pointed at Joanne and said, “Chemo?”

Joanne nodded. They hollered, squealed and embraced; as if they were long lost sisters.

“Robin,” the woman exclaimed, bowing slightly.

“Joanne.” She curtsied.

They hugged again. Joanne, holding the sleeve of Robin’s full length, blue print dress, turned her in my direction. “This is my big brother Rueben; my great protector and occasional pain in the butt,” she snickered. “This is Rob . . .”

“Robin,” I interjected. “I heard.”

Dispensing with my usual reserve, I took Robin’s hand, knelt on the wood planks and kissed the back of her thin wrist. “It’s a pleasure, Ms. Robin.”

She bent her knees and bowed her head formally. “The pleasure is all mine Sir Rueben.”

I stood, offering my hands as their princely escort. Joanne, on my left, placed her right hand on mine, as Robin did the same on my right. With her free hand Robin lifted her dress a few inches, as Joanne pretended to do likewise, though she wore pants. We walked regally towards the bench at the end of the pier, with our noses turned theatrically skyward.

I brushed off the bench, pretended to place a cloth upon it and invited them to sit on their royal throne. They sat, squished comfortably together, as I descended onto the thick weathered wood next to Robin.

“Come closer,” she said, grabbing my pant leg and pulling. “It’s chilly out here.”

I snuggled closer. The waves thumped against the pilings below. We watched the surfers, as they drifted around the rising swells, waiting for the crest of a perfect wave. When their experienced eyes saw nature’s roller-coaster approaching, they began paddling and stood bravely on their miniscule pieces of wood; daring the foamy, curling blood of the sea to give them a thrill before extinguishing itself on the sandy shore. I thought about trying it once or twice, but the idea of swimming in freezing water, sharks, stinging salt-water in my eyes and the possibility of drowning; made my fledgling desire vanish faster than a crowd of punk rockers exiting the concert of a polka playing accordion band.

“Was it breast cancer?” Joanne asked, breaking the comfortable silence.

“Still is,” Robin said, matter-of-factly. “It’s such a happy camper, it’s decided to pitch tent.”

“I’m sorry,” Joanne said; her face transformed into a Japanese Kabuki mask of sorrow.

“Not your fault,” Robin replied dreamily, looking past the horizon. “Not anybody’s fault.”

“What a rotten deal,” I said.

“Yep, a rotten deal,” she said softly and exclaimed, “I’m starved.” She stood, took hold of our hands and tried pulling us off the bench. Her grip was surprisingly strong. “Sir Rueben,” she bowed. “Lady Joanne,” she bowed again, “Queen of the barking seals. Let us partake of some fine delicacies at the great dining hall of fish and chips.”

Turning our backs to the sea; Robin promenaded, with her two newly aggrieved squires, past the barking seals and tourists snapping pictures, towards the castle of greasy potatoes and dead fish meat.

After finishing a second order of fried breaded cod at Barcello’s Fish Fry and stacking the grease stained, white and red checkered throwaway containers in a heap; Robin grimaced and lurched forward.

“I think I’m going to be sick!” she covered her mouth.

The waitress behind the counter, who was as worn and painted over as the pier itself, noticed Robin’s distress and came as fast as her arthritic knees would allow.

“You OK?” she barked, with an urgency that implied, “You better be.”

Robin put her hand on the spotted Formica top and rolled her head from side to side. I placed my hand between her shoulder blades, moved my fingers up her spine and massaged her neck. Leaning closer, I heard her laughing under her breath. She looked at me and smiled, then jerked upright, “Just kidding!”

Joanne rolled her eyes with relief. The waitress was not amused. “Ha. Ha,” she scowled, lumbering back to the other end of the counter, muttering silent obscenities.

“Why’d you do that?” Joanne admonished, “It wasn’t funny.”

“Hey,” Robin replied, “When did you turn into the queen of pathos?”

Joanne’s frown turned into a smile, as she pushed Robin’s shoulder.

“Ouch!” Robin yelped, clasping her shoulder and grimacing with pain.

“Oh no,” Joanne’s face contorted once again. “I’m so sorry.” She looked at Robin with alarm. “Are you OK?”

Robin’s mischievous grin returned. She winked, letting Joanne know the joke was on her.

“Why . . . you!” Joanne waved Robin off good naturally and pushed her on the shoulder again as Robin renewed her painful grimace, then laughed hysterically, almost spitting with pleasure.

Robin turned discreetly in my direction and whispered, “I’ll act sick more often, if you promise to rub my back like that again.” I started to look away but couldn’t. She took my hand like a precious jewel and stroked it as gently as a soft kitten. “You have beautiful hands,” she purred. I glanced over her shoulder and saw Joanne watching out of the corner of her eye.

As we headed towards the car to pay the meter, not wanting to pay thirty-five dollars for a two-hour stroll, because of a parking ticket, it seemed as if the three of us had been together all day.

Reluctantly, we took our leave, as Joanne was driving back to Modesto that afternoon and offered Robin a ride.

“I’ll walk. Thanks,” she said, looking admiringly at the sky then back at me. “It’s such a beautiful day. I don’t live far.”

Joanne gave her a long hug. “Thank you,” she said.

“For what?” Robin asked.

“For reminding me how good it feels to laugh.”

“What else is there?”

They held each other’s hands, one on top of the other. Robin gently extracted her fingers from Joanne’s and turned her luminous eyes on mine. I wasn’t sure what to say or how. It felt like I’d known this woman all my life.

“Let’s go Rueben,” Joanne broke in. “I’ve got to get packed.”

My lips parted and crackled a stifled, “Goodbye.”

Robin stood quietly, nodding farewell. I started to walk away, when a desperate surge of adrenaline turned me around. Robin hadn’t budged. I hurried back.

“Could we . . . ah . . . get together sometime?” I said.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she smiled suggestively, reaching into her shimmering dress pocket and handing me a card.

Lowering my hat against the sun’s glare, I read. “Robin Magnolia. Consultant.”

“Consultant for what?” I wondered out loud.

“Surfing,” she replied, taking my hand in hers and kissing me on the cheek.

“Surfing?”

“Life surfing,” she whispered. Call me.”

“I will.”

Joanne shouted, “Come on Rueben! I’ve got to go.”

“See ya,” I said, letting her hand drop and heading towards the car. It took all my strength to not spin around and take her in my arms.

Part 2 (Conclusion) Tomorrow

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Land Minds – Part 3

Saint Catherine’s Baby (Excerpt) by Gabriel Constans

Land Minds – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Yosh watched in bewildered silence as Mark fought his way upstream, like a battered, dazed salmon, trying to jump one last time over the dammed waterway. He saw him floundering in unseen rapids then make a courageous ascent towards the pearly gates of luxury.

Mark reached the massive, brown, mahogany door, his chest heaving, as if he was preparing to give birth. His hand reached out between contractions, started to knock and froze in mid air. Whirling around like a drunk, he swayed towards the path, collapsed on the steps and screamed like a lanced bull. His glasses fell to the ground, cracking the right lens.

Yosh ran to his side at the same moment the monstrous door cracked open. A tiny woman in her early sixties, no taller than five feet and wearing a double-breasted blazer of black satin, stood her ground with a mixture of unabashed fear and annoyance. “What’s going on?”

Yosh answered nervously, not sure himself, “It’s um . . . it’s OK. He’ll be OK.”

She stared at these strange companions sprawled on her doorstep. “What do you want?!”

“We’re ah . . .,” Yosh stuttered. “It was a mistake; wrong house. Sorry. We’ll be going.” He tried to lift Mr. Keeler, whose head was buried between his knees.

“How . . . long . . . has she . . . lived here?” Mr. Keeler said between sobs. Yosh turned and asked.

The woman hesitated then replied, “About fourteen, fifteen years.”

Mr. Keeler lifted his throbbing head, wiped the liquids streaking his face and asked, “Who were the previous owners?”

“Wheeler or Bueller . . . something like that.”

“Why’d they sale?!” Mark shouted. “Where’d they go?!”

“How should I know? Listen, if you’re OK you better go or I’ll have to call . . .”

Mark raised his arms, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re going.” He began to rise and faltered. Yosh reached for his arm but had it pushed away. “Leave me alone.”

“Sorry. I just . . .” Mark was already half way down the path. Yosh turned and said, “Sorry to have caused you any trouble.”

By the time he picked up Mr. Keeler’s glasses and made it back to the car Mark was slumped in the front seat looking like a crushed can.

The can spoke, “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. Here’s your specks.”

Mark put on his glasses without noticing the damage. “I thought it would help. You know . . . face your fears . . . that kind of stuff.”

“You’re the Wheeler she was talking about, right?” Mark nodded. “You lived in this place alone?”

“No,” Mark whispered. “Can we go now?”

“Sure.”

Yosh pulled out of the driveway with an unintended lurch and headed downtown. When he passed 89th Ave. Mr. Keeler looked up.

“Have we passed 89th. yet?”

“Yeah, just now.”

“Damn! I’m sorry. Do you mind back tracking and taking 89th West?”

“No, I don’t mind. I’ve got a couple hours to kill.” He took the next exit, turned back North and veered off at 89th. “Where we headed Mr. Keeler?”

“Jasper Memorial.”

“You mean the graveyard?”

“Yes, the graveyard; the yard of graves; the grave . . .”

After a few bends and turns they arrived. The metal plated sign over the brass gate read JASPER MEMORIAL PARK – LAND OF REST.

Yosh didn’t feel very rested. “What the hell am I doing here?!” he wondered. “I hate these places.” The last time he’d been to a funeral was his grandfathers. They dressed up in ironed pressed suits on a sweltering hot summer day and listened to a bunch of Shinto Priests in stupid hats talking gibberish for over an hour. It had been unbearable.

Mark looked like a hunter scanning the horizon for prey. “There, by that big white cross!”

“Which one; they’re everywhere?”

“That one; next to the hedge of oleander.”

They parked, turned off the engine and disembarked.

“Please, wait here,” Mark said.

Yosh went back to the car, leaned against the side door and watched Mr. Keeler venture towards the hedge with his arms wrapped around his tightly packaged body, as if he was holding a large pillow to cushion some sudden charge or blow.

Mark was not aware of his spineless body heading towards oblivion. His mind swam with familiar fears as his gut plunged like a boulder falling over a waterfall towards sharp rocks below. His eyes were awash in a salt marsh of tears. He almost fell over Charlene’s headstone, bruising his knee. He knelt on the soft bosom of grass and begged to not see . . . to not see the blood . . . the mutilated bodies . . . the horror. He pleaded to view them before . . . before the insanity . . . before his nerves were injected with a murderous rage . . . before he became a walking corpse of memory. He reached out and felt the cold smooth stone of the adjoining marker. Through the blur he saw Jasmine’s name, as clean and fresh as if the engraver had just laid down their chisel.

“My sweet child . . . I’m so sorry.” The wildfire in his heart burned more acreage, jumping between his ventricles and valves like a flaming jackrabbit. A sudden snap and he swore a two-ton elephant had jumped on his chest. He keeled over, clutching at his lungs, gasping for oxygen and space.

Yosh sprinted to his side with the speed of the young.

“Mr. Keeler! Mr. Keeler!”

Mark squinted and felt air rushing back in to his lungs like a long lost child. He gulped in relief and languished in the momentary freedom from pain.

“You need a doctor!”

“I never felt better.”

“Mr. Keeler I . . .”

“Mark.”

“OK, Mark. Don’t fool around. You need medical attention and . . .”

“Look Yosh . . . it is Yosh?” Yosh nodded; shocked that Mr. Keeler remembered his name. “It’s just a little heart attack. Believe me, it’s nothing.”

“Nothing?! Look here Mr. . . . I mean Mark, this could be serious!”

“It would be a blessing. I’ve never had the guts to do it myself.”

This man once had everything he’d dreamed of. How could he talk about suicide? Then he saw the headstones and read, “Charlene Keeler. May 18, 1952 – February 10th, 1984. Beloved wife, mother, daughter and friend.” He turned and recited the eulogy on the matching stone. “Jasmine Keeler. November 27, 1977 – February 10th, 1984. Beloved Angel Child.”

Mark heard the words “Angel Child” and looked at Yosh’s clean-shaven face. His stunned silence begged an explanation. Mark swallowed, felt his Adam’s apple rise and fall, took hold of any remaining capacities within his possession and ran zigzag through the mind field of his memory.

“I got home from work around six in the evening.”

“Work?”

“I was vice-president of research at Lupin Technology.”

“Lupin? Oh yeah, satellites and stuff, right?”

“I got home around six, threw my bag on the chair and called out for Jasmine. She usually hid behind the sofa or curtain, waiting to pounce. She never thought I could hear her or see where she was. When she couldn’t stand waiting and jumped out, I always acted surprised. Then she’d throw her arms around my neck, give me a big hug and kiss and tell me all about her day. That evening I waited and waited, but nothing happened. No giggles, no movement, no sound. I called again, ‘Jasmine! Charlene!’ Nothing. Charlene’s Audi was in the driveway so I knew they were home. Then the adrenaline kicked in. I looked more closely and saw open drawers and broken glass. We’d been robbed. ‘OK,’ I thought, big deal, we’ve got insurance.’

I figured they must be in the back calling the police. I went to the kitchen, stepped on to the marble-colored tile floor and smelled Charlene’s perfume. It was a mixture of rose and sandalwood. She got it special made from some fragrance shop or aromatherapy place. Of course, when she wore the stuff it didn’t smell anything like it did from the bottle. It was sort of like . . .” his voice drifted off.

Yosh listened, as his composure crumbled like the wall of Jericho.

“I looked out the window, to see if they were in the garden, then went around the chopping block and stubbed my toe. I looked down and saw I was standing in a pool of blood.” Mark’s hands twitched. He stared through Yosh as if he was a cloud of vaporous gas. “It was Charlene. Her neck was cut in half. I moved backwards running into the wall, leaving a trail of bright red foot prints.”

Yosh sat down, as Mark’s description leveled his belief in humanity like a wrecking ball. “My God.”

“Then I saw Jasmine. Her skirt covered her pretty head, like she was trying to hide. I slipped on the blood, crawled to her side and uncovered her face, half-expecting her to yell ‘Surprise!’ Her eyes were plastered open in fright. I tried to lift her up and felt something warm and wet oozing from her chest. Her last ounce of blood covered my hands. I grabbed her arm, which was nearly severed and hung like a piece of string cheese.

“Please!” Yosh interjected. “That’s enough!”

“I must have screamed or yelled. Someone called the police. Somebody’s hands were pulling me away from Jasmine’s drenched little body. It was like being sick on a broken down carousel that kept going round and round and I couldn’t get off.
They caught the guy. There was a trial. He was sentenced. I asked a friend to sell the house and send my checks to my uncle’s old place in the mountains. I’ve been there since.”

Neither man moved. Shadows fell upon their faces and slithered into the undergrowth that covered hundreds of souls.

“Let’s go,” Yosh finally said. He helped Mark to his jellyfish feet.

“Where are we going?”

“To the doctor,” Yosh said, walking towards the car, their arms draped around one another like old war buddies.

“No thanks. Let’s go home.”

“Where’s that?”

“You know; that old place next to Mr. Matsuma and his sister,” Mark winked.

Yosh helped Mark into the silver Civic. Mark looked out the window, across the recently cut grass, his family’s death bed. A breeze drifted through the window carrying his dreams to their graves of dirt and dust. He kissed his palm and blew his heart in their direction. “If only the living was as easy as the dying,” he whispered.

Yosh turned onto the highway and headed towards the sanctuary of living trees and solid mountains of iron and granite. His city business could wait. He had to deliver Mr. Keeler, Mark, back to the woods . . . back to safety . . . back to his shattered life of fierce independence . . . of living out his days without interference, threat or judgment. He thought of his fiancée, Rosita, of how he would hold her, protect her and care for her with a new found fierceness she would never understand.

THE END

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