Molly and Me

I’m not sure how much I actually saw Molly before I moved in. Memories of her darting out of the room as I entered are about it. I still don’t remember seeing her much even after I moved in.

She began to come out more after Electra (the other cat) died, but she was still very hesitant to remain in any room I entered.

Slowly that changed.  She would stay in the room. She would allow me to pet her.

And one day, when I was reading in the front room, she gently scratched at my arm.

“Pet me.”

I did.

This became a regular thing.

One day she actually climbed into my lap.

“Pet me”

I did.

After a while she climbed down. She never climbed into my lap again.

Often when I was working in the middle room she would gently scratch at my arm.

“Pet me”

I did.

She would almost always collapse on her side but would always curl away if I tried to rub her tummy.

Sometimes when I was in the media room she would creep in, climb up on the table on the right of the couch, and look at me.  Once or twice she walked onto the couch.

She wouldn’t sit.

She’d just stand there for a bit then jump down and quietly leave the room.

And then came the day that she got sick. We had a few days of worry and hurt. Then we knew we’d have to say good bye.

We said good bye to her late on a Tuesday night.

I held her for the last time. I petted her for the last time. I looked into her beautiful green eyes for the last time.

“Remember me”

I will.

molly

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Incident on a Dark Summer Night

 

Charles Abraham emptied the china plates from the dishwasher and set them on the kitchen counter.  He quickly checked each one; front/back and then placed them carefully in the open cupboard.  There was a sharp twinge of electric pain in his right shoulder as he reached to place the large yellow platter on a high shelf.  He carefully situated the platter in its holder, adjusting it so that the fine hand painted surface was displayed properly.  He brought his right arm down and rubbed his shoulder, easing the pain away.  “Hello middle age” he thought.  He closed the doors to the cupboard and stepped back from the counter.  He visually scanned the kitchen, making sure it was in its normal spotless state.  Then he walked to the doorway to the living room and turned out the kitchen light.

He sat back in his favorite wing chair, hearing the squeaks, crackles, and pops of the soft leather as his body settled in.  He laid his head back, closed his eyes, and savored the heavy, rich smell of the Jambalaya and cornbread he had made for dinner.

A worried thought intruded on his reverie. “Andy should’ve been here,” he quickly chased the idea away. He sighed, rose, and crossed to the small liquor cabinet, and looked among the few bottles for the expensive Scotch he occasionally allowed himself. “Not here,” he thought.  Again the worry; “Andrew,” his mind using the full name as if to underline the offense. He shook his head and walked back to his chair.  He sat, laid his head back, closed his eyes, and tried to wash the worry and growing anger away with the warm memory food smells.  He dozed.

He was asleep and dreaming in the chair when familiar sounds stirred him awake.  He heard the lock of the front door turning, the door opening, the heavy, erratic thumps of someone stumbling in, and then the front door carefully and quietly closing.  He opened his eyes to see his son, Andy leaning against the door, his forehead touching the leaded glass.

Charles cleared his throat.  Andy whipped around so fast that he nearly lost his balance.  He righted himself and stood up straight, swaying only slightly. His face broke into a wide smile. “Hey Dad!”

“Hey Andy,” Charles said.  His mind demanded “Ask him about the Scotch!” He cocked his head slightly to the right as if to shoo the worry away. “You eat yet?”

Andy nodded.  “Me and the guys got something.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in through is nose. “Man!  Sure smells good!  You make Jambalaya?”

“And cornbread. Sorry you missed it. Maybe you can have it tomorrow.”

“Sure” he said and then sharply turned around, listening.

“What wrong?” Charles said, some new worry.

Andy shook his head and turned back.  “Nuthin.  Rico had to see his—,“ his addled mind searched for a more appropriate word than “hoe”.  “—girlfriend.”  He’ll be back by.

Charles frowned, realized the room was dark, reached to the lamp next to the chair, and turned it on. “You’re goin’ back out? What time is it?” he said, looking at his watch.  The watch showed 11:30.

“Not that late. ‘Round eleven” Andy’s smile faded away.

Charles looked down, shook his head and rose from his chair.  He walked over to Andy, who took a step back. “You’re going back out with Rico and that other one?” He tried hard to keep the angry accusing tone from his voice.

“Rico and Shaz.  They’re my friends.  Yeah, we’re just  be gonna hang out,” his tone careful yet defensive.

“Andy – I really don’t mean to nag at you.  But we’ve talked about this.  I thought you said—“

“No, YOU SAID—YOU SAID!” Andy spat, pushing off from the door to stand upright, nose to nose with his father, who quickly backed up.  “I NEVER AGREED TO STOP SEEING THEM!” The words shouted with a conviction fueled by anger and alcohol.

“I’m sorry – I’m sorry” Charles said, backing up even more. “I misunderstood.” He took a breath, and then took one careful step forward. “Son, all I’m saying is that I worry about you and those boys.  I hear things in the neighborhood about them.  And they’re not good things. You know what I’m saying?” Charles struggled to keep his voice even and low.  He fought against the always-present frustration, worry, and anger.

Andy did not back away. “You hear anything about me?” He said.  “These neighborhood people tell you anything about me?” His eyes glaring directly into his father’s.

Charles took one step back and looked down. “No – nobody said anything about you.”

“Ok then.  I’ll see you later. I’ll wait outside” his words with sharp and tense.  He opened the front door and want outside.

Charles stood there for a moment looking at the front door.  He took a breath and turned, and walked to his chair.  He dropped himself into the chair, ignoring the leather’s sharp complaints. He closed his eyes, put his head in his hands, and shook it slowly. Tears began to form and run down his face.  “Oh Charise – Charise – where’d I go wrong?” He wept quietly for awhile and suddenly sat up straight, wiping his eyes and taking a deep breath.  He looked to his left at the picture on the wall.  Even in the dim light he could make out every trivial detail of the picture, his memory filling in what his eyes could not actually see.

It was the last family photo they had taken, the last one before his beloved Charise was taken and the kids all went on to their own lives.  All except Andy. He looked at the picture and felt so many things, fierce love and loss for his Charise, such pride and love for Eddie, Clarisse, Janet, Martha, Grace, and Andrew.  “Six kids” he thought, “Six kids raised up good and solid.   “Except for Andrew –Except for Andrew,” he looked back to the front door.

Outside, Andy sat on the porch and ran the conversation around in his head. “You know he’s just looking out for you!” the internal voice said. He listened and realized it was her voice, his mother’s voice. A burning wave of emotional pain, the loss of losing her flooded over him.  He shook his head to clear it.  Another voice, this one his own but louder, meaner spoke in his head. “He had no right. You’re not a boy.  You’re a man.  Twenty years old. Twenty years old and your own man.  He’s got to understand that!” He nodded in agreement but the other voice persisted.  The internal voices railed at each other.

In frustration he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a silver flask, a gift for passing one of Rico’s tests tonight. He smiled when he saw his initials “AFD” engraved in script on the silver surface, the light from the porch outlining the letters in shadow. He smiled, opened the flask, and took several burning gulps.  He brought it away and coughed a few times as the harsh, woody whiskey burned its way down.  He leaned back against the fence and closed his eyes. The air was dry, unmoving, and hot against the skin of his face.  A small bead of sweat formed on his forehead and rolled down the side of his face. He smiled as the vague heat of the whiskey seemed to drown out the pleading internal voice of his mother, leaving only his own proud angry self. He took another long pull on the flask and returned it to his jacket.  Then he reached into his other pocket and pulled out the other gift Rico had given him.  He smiled, feeling the cool metal, the lethal hard weight of the handgun in his hand. He could feel the compressed unflinching power of the gun and it made him feel good, powerful, – important.

He jumped up and nearly fell, steadying himself against the fence. He strutted into the dark street.  All the houses were dark, asleep.  He looked one way then the next.  The streetlamp nearest his house was out and the light from the other one cast long shadows.  He stood in the middle of the street and turned to look at his shadow, a dark giant in the dim light. He raised the gun to wonder at its dark menacing shadow.

He heard a noise behind him, engineless rubber on the road.  He turned to see a dark, low shape gliding towards him, a hunched figure on two wheels.  Someone on a bicycle, someone really pumping. It was closing on him fast and showed no sign of slowing or swerving.  He yelled “Hey!” and jumped aside.  The rider’s head sprang up and the bike swerved away from him.  Andy watched it glide away.  The rider, now dark from Andy’s shadow, turned and yelled “Watch where you’re standing asshole!” Then turned and speed on, nearing the dark end of the street.

Andy was enraged, and without a thought brought the gun up and fired three times at the speeding shape.

Charles was again awakened by noise.  “Gunshots,” he thought “Three of them.”  Now fully awake and alert, he wondered if they had been real.  He listened carefully. A few seconds passed and then there were two more shots, but different.  The first three had been close, right outside his front door.  These two had come from down the street.

He jumped from the chair, crossed to the front door, fumbled it open, and looked into the street.  He squinted and scanned the scene but saw nothing, no, there was something; a still shadow lying in the street.  He rushed to it but was stopped by another shape; a man approaching from the dark end of the street, a man with a gun.

Forty-Five Minutes Earlier

“One hundred” said Dan Barron as he finished the sit ups.  Controlling his breathing to a regular, easy pace, he allowed himself to rest for exactly thirty seconds.  Then he jumped up and went through a comprehensive and painful routine of stretching exercises.  When he had finished his heart rate was its normal 30 beats per minute. He breathed deeply and evenly, in through his nose and out through his mouth for one minute, then relaxed.  He looked at the clock: eleven on the dot.  “Too late to ride,” he thought.

Then he felt the tightness, the tension in his neck. He rolled his head around but knew the best thing, the only thing that would wash away the tension was a nice long bike ride.  He nodded and went to the bedroom to change.

He pulled off his Sunday workout clothes and dropped them in the hamper.  He opened the closet to retrieve his Sunday riding attire.  He placed the garments on the bed and began to dress.  He paused as he saw the pale puckered skin of the bullet scar in his right shoulder.  “Ancient,” he thought “twenty years ago.” He raised his right arm and winced and the sudden pain. “Fucking middle age,” he thought and continued to dress.

Before leaving the bedroom, he looked around.  Four bare walls except for one picture, an 8 by 10 centered in the wall opposite his bed; a small boy, smiling. “Danny, ” he thought, and smiled “Danny, ten years old,” his smile faded as a shadowy panorama of painful memories crawled through his head. “Before the bad time – the dark time. Before you went away.” His face was blank as he left the room.

The streets were empty and he pushed himself till his leg muscles complained with a wash of throbbing, burning pain. Despite that, his mind gradually escaped to the peaceful, empty world of hard exercise.  He made the next to last turn, onto the street with the broken streetlamp at the end. Assuming another empty street, he kept his head down and thrust his screaming legs on.

He heard a noise, human, male, in front of him. It caused him to pop his head up and become fully alert. Someone in the middle of the road!  He swerved away from the stumbling form and fought to keep the bike upright.  His body flooded with adrenaline and pain, his mind angry and racing.  He turned back and shouted at the form outlined in the street.  Then he turned back around.

Three pops, unmistakable gunshots, and simultaneously the high-pitched, all-too-familiar “zip” of bullets caroming off asphalt.  He quickly laid the bike down, slid to a stop, pulled out his weapon, and sighted the figure in.  Two controlled squeezes, two loud reports, and the figure shook twice and collapsed, a broken scarecrow.

Dan worked to control his breathing and slow his racing heart.  He felt a leaden coldness creeping into his limbs. He rose and walked towards the fallen shape.

As he neared, the front door of the house beside the figure burst open and an older man rushed out.  Dan raised the gun to cover the man, but quickly evaluated the threat to be negligent and lowered the weapon.  The old man looked at him blankly and then down to the fallen figure.  He dropped to his knees and gently cradled the still figure in his arms.  “Andrew – Andrew” he said softly.

Dan looked at the scene before him for a moment. Then he holstered his weapon, pulled his phone from his pocket, and dialed 911.  He answered the questions slowly and carefully, glancing at the house for the street number.  He ended the call and returned the phone to his pocket.  He carefully knelt beside the old, weeping man.

“Is this your son sir?” Dan asked softly.  As the word “son” left his lips, he felt the same, intense, pain\guilt\horror slash though him.  He pushed it away. The old man looked up to him blankly and nodded.

Dan felt the simple nod as if it were a wrecking ball smashing its way through his chest. He struggled with the words he had to say. They came out choppy, uneven, and interrupted by his sobs. “Sir, I’m very sorry to say that I think I killed your son.”

The night swallowed the three figures up and the only sounds were the soft cries of the two men sobbing, broken minutes later by the wailing of the approaching vehicles.

 

 

Fred and the Negotiation Prep

 

(A short skit I wrote for a friend. Please excuse the formatting issues. )

CHARACTERS:

Randa – An intelligent, perceptive, and literate woman.

Fred – An extremely intelligent, apparently humanoid alien with little to no knowledge or experience with human culture.

Admiral Davis – (voice) Randa’s immediate supervisor.

The Crags – (No scripted dialogue) Two or three alien ambassadors.

SETTING:         A rectangular table with three chairs on either side.

AT RISE:          Randa is seated, looking over some papers and making notes.

SFX:                 A buzz, ring, or tone to indicate an incoming message.  This may be from an apparent communication device worn by Randa or from a box on the table.

RANDA: (Activating the communication device) Randa here.

DAVIS: (voice) Davis here. Hows the negotiation prep going?

RANDA: Pretty good.  I’ve gone over their requests and don’t see any big issues.  It should go pretty smoothly.

DAVIS: Good good.  You understand why I might be a little concerned. After that debacle with the Phenobobs.

RANDA: Sir I understand your concern.  I can guarantee that nothing like that will happen again.

DAVIS: I hope not!  As you certainly can remember, that one didn’t go too well.

RANDA: I remember sir. I was there.

DAVIS: As I recall, the talks were going really well until you stubbornly refused a simple, reasonable request from the Phenobob ambassador. You also became quite angry and your sudden outburst completely ended any possibility of the negotiations continuing.

RANDA: Begging your pardon sir, but I was there and the request was not simple and certainly not reasonable. Do you recall the exact nature of the request?

DAVIS: Well not exactly, but I’m sure…

RANDA: The ambassador did not request but demanded that I dance on the table.

DAVIS: Well that’s not so bad…

RANDA: Naked.

DAVIS:             It was a very important…

RANDA: With my hair on fire.

DAVIS: Oh…. I don’t think I remembered that.

RANDA: I do sir.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

DAVIS: I guess that was a bit unreasonable.

RANDA: A bit sir.  I have to say, that considering how badly that turned out, I was a little surprised when you asked me to conduct this negotiation.  I really appreciate being given a second chance.

DAVIS: Not a problem, not a problem.  I believe in second chances.  And you have some particular attributes that might….well , never mind about that.

RANDA            : Well in any case sir, I just want to assure you that I will do my very best to achieve a favorable outcome in this particular negotiation.

DAVIS: I’m sure you will.  By the way, about that, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to add another person.  Someone to help you in this endeavor.

RANDA: That sounds fine sir.  Anyone I know?

DAVIS: I don’t think so.  He’s a member of the Polonian embassy staff.  He’s working with us as part of a cultural exchange program.  You know, help us to understand each other’s cultures better. Are you familiar with the Polonian people?

RANDA: I’m not sir.

DAVIS: Good good, anyway he’s extremely intelligent and has been studying human culture for the last few weeks.  I’m sure he’ll be a real asset in this negotiation.  He has years of experience.  Anyway, he should be there shortly.

RANDA: I’m sure he will sir. What’s his name?

DAVIS: That’s a very good question and one I can’t answer.  There seems to be some difficulty in translating their names into our language.  I’m sure he’ll tell you his name when he arrives.

RANDA: Understood sir.

DAVIS: Very well, Good luck Randa!  Davis out.

RANDA: Oh boy….   (Fred enters. He stands for a moment then begins to nod his head repeatedly,  extends his right hand straight out and crosses to Randa.)

FRED: Hello!  I believe you are known as Randa!  Hello! It is very nice to meet you!  Hello!  ( Randa extends her hand.  He takes it and shakes it briskly.)

RANDA: It’s very nice to meet you too.  And your name is…

FRED: Ah yes!  My name…my name.  Well… you see.. my name is… my name is a bit of a pickle.

RANDA: Soooooo, you are a bit of a pickle?

FRED: Oh no!  Oh how humorous!  My name!  A bit of a pickle!  You thought, because of my clumsy and inaccurate phrasing that I was saying that my name was actually a bit of a pickle!  How humorous!  How humorous!  I had no idea humans were so very humorous!  I praise you Randa!  I praise you and your immaculate humor!  Your humor is most immaculate!  Most immaculate indeed! My name!  My name is a bit of a pickle!  How very humorous.  I must relate that to my fellow Polonian’s very soon.  They will also praise your immaculate humor as I have!

RANDA: It is pretty funny….

FRED: FUNNY! YES!  That is the word!  Your somewhat casual and familiar word for humorous.  Funny!  Yes!  That you erroneously thought my name to be a bit of a pickle is very funny!  Very funny indeed!  I am still laughing!  Ho ho ho!  Hear me still laughing!   Ho ho ho!

RANDA            : Right… really funny.  Now, if I may ask, what is your name?

FRED: Ah yes!  An excellent and immaculate question. An immaculate question indeed! You see, when I said that my name was a bit of a  pickle, what I meant to say, what I meant to convey, you see, the meaning that I meant to convey is that the complete and accurate translation of my name to your language is difficult and cumbersome. Do you know anything of Polonian names?

RANDA: I’m sorry to say that I don’t.

FRED: Very well.  You see unlike your culture, where you have a first name, sometimes referred to as a Christian name, a name that is somewhat individual to you, and a surname or last name that indicates your family.  We only have one name; one single name.  But this name, this single name, conveys the entire history or our family, up to and inclusive of the details of our birth.  And as our culture is nearly forty two thousand Earth years old, these names can be quite extensive.  For example, my family’s history dates back thirty five thousand Earth years. Therefore my name conveys thirty five thousand years family history.

RANDA: That sounds incredible!

FRED: Oh no!  It is very credible!  I am not fabricating in any way!  Have I misspoken? Have I done something in my cultural ignorance to indicate that I was fabricating or attempting to deceive you?  If so, please tell me in what way I have failed to convey the credible nature of my meaning. Please!

RANDA: Oh no!  I didn’t mean that I didn’t believe what you were saying.  Generally when we use the word “incredible” we mean something amazing.

FRED: I see. So in common use, the word incredible, which strictly speaking, conveys something that can not under any circumstances be believed, is at least sometimes synonymous with amazing.  Is that correct?

RANDA: Yes.  I think you stated that very well.

FRED: I see.  So am I to infer that many of your words and expressions are not, strictly speaking, completely and comprehensively accurate, that there is some flexibility in their use and meaning?

RANDA            : Yeah, I think that’s a fair thing to say.

FRED: Very well.  Please elaborate on any and all words and expressions in your language that have multiple or flexible meanings and usage.  Please do this now.

RANDA: Ummm, that might take a bit of time…Please continue explaining your name.

FRED: Ah!  Of course!  My name.  Forgive me for becoming sidetracked on the very interesting nature of your language. I will now continue to explain my name.  As I have said, my name, in my language is quite long and elaborate.  However the compressed and efficient nature of our language allows us to convey a great deal of information in very few characters or letters.  For instance, the entire history of our race, our culture, can be expressed completely and comprehensively in a single phrase only twenty two words long.

RANDA: That’s amazing!

FRED: Thank you!  Would you like to hear our great and glorious history in our native language?

RANDA: Yes!  Please do!

FRED: Very well! As you say, Here goes! (He begins to apparently speak in an extremely animated and excited manner, moving about the stage with over the top gestures. Yet he does not actually make any sound, at least any audible sound until the very end.) BUUUUURP! There!  That is the great and glorious story of my people!  I hope you enjoyed it!

RANDA            : Ummm, actually..I didn’t hear anything except that last part at the end.

FRED: You heard nothing else? How odd.  I don’t …. Ahh yes!  I am so very sorry!  I forgot that your range of hearing is much more limited than ours.  I’m afraid that much of our native language is conveyed in a register that is far beyond what you can hear.  I am so very sorry.

RANDA: It’s no problem Let’s get back to your name.

FRED: Of course!  Again I allow my great love an appreciation of your culture and mine to sidetrack my in an inaccurate and clumsily not immaculate way.  Forgive me please!  My name…. as I said, my name encompasses a great deal of information.

RANDA: I understand.

FRED: If I were to translate my name completely and directly into your language..

RANDA: I that even possible?

FRED: Of course!  I have done so! I undertook this effort when I was first stationed here.  I thought it important to convey my name in a manner that would also convey the history of my family.  I am very happy to say that I was able to do so successfully.

RANDA            : Excellent Please share it me!

FRED: Very well…(he takes a deep breath and starts to speak) You do realize that the complete and accurate pronunciation of my name will take some time.

RANDA: How long?

FRED: Ummm, about two hours and twenty seven minutes, depending on how often I have to stop for air.

RANDA: Right, uhhhh

FRED: I’ve found that using my name in it’s entirety tends to slow down conversation quite a bit.

RANDA: I can imagine.  Is there any way you could shorten it?

FRED: I don’t understand.

RANDA: shorten it to just the very first or last part. Could you that?

FRED: Interesting!  I suppose I could.  Let me think. (thinks) If I were to use only the very first part, that would say nothing that was actually about me.  So I think it would be best if I shorten it to the very last part. (thinking) Yes!  I can do it!  I have done it!  I have shortened my name.

RANDA            : Great! (No one speaks for a bit) Sooo…

FRED: Oh!  Of course!  How inaccurate and non-immaculate of me!  You want to HEAR my shortened name!  You want me to SPEAK it!

RANDA            : Yes please!

FRED: My name!  My shortened name… is Fred.

RANDA            : Fred?

FRED: Fred is my name.  My shortened name.

RANDA: Fred!

FRED: That is correct.  My name is Fred. Now that I have established my name, let us begin again so that our relationship based on mutual cultural sharing, exploration, and understanding can begin in a most immaculate and efficient manner.  I will leave and come in again. (He stands and briskly exits.  Fred returns, stands nodding, then raises his right arm, and crosses to Randa, who meets his hand with her own. Fred briskly shakes her hand .) Hello!  I am Fred!  You must be Randa!  Hello!  I am Fred!  Hello! It is very nice to meet you Randa! I am Fred! Hello!

RANDA: Hello Fred!  It’s very nice to meet you too!

RANDA: Hello Fred! Very nice to meet you too! (Fred abruptly drops Randa’s hand and steps to behind the center chair.)

FRED: Now that we are formally and immaculately introduced, shall we begin to prepare for the Adonarian negotiation? (Fred steps behind the chair to his left and pulls it out.) Randa, please allow me. ( He nods to her.  She smiles, nods, and sits.)

RANDA: Thank you very much Fred. (Fred slides her chair in.)

FRED: You are very welcome Randa.  (He crosses behind the center chair, nods to Randa and sits himself.) Now we are ready to begin the preparation. Let me begin by saying I have studied Adonarian culture quite extensively. They have much in common with your culture.  Their race is humanoid, very similar to yours.  Anatomically they are practically identical to humans, in that they have male and female sexes like humans.

RANDA: Not to interrupt, but is it true that the Polonians have only one sex?

FRED: That is correct.  We do not have two similar sexes with differing yet complementary sex organs. Actually we have no external sex organs of any kind.

RANDA: Well…I don’t want to be rude, but how do you reproduce?

FRED: I take no offense at all Randa.  I appreciate the opportunity to share our culture.  As I said, we have no external sex organs.  Our reproductive organs are all internal. Each of us has the ability to produce a thick gelatinous substance that contains the necessary elements to fertilize and stimulate the birth modules, what you might call eggs, in another Polonian.

RANDA: Facinating!  And you have the ability to produce this substance at will?

FRED: No.  It’s production is stimulated by our partner who performs a ritualistic dance.  It’s quite a beautiful process, on which, much of our art is based.

RANDA: Can you describe the dance?

FRED: Certainly.  The dancing partner disrobes in a brilliantly seductive and compelling manner while ascending onto an altar or table. They then use ritualistic small torches to light their hair on fire.  I must say just thinking about the dance is very stimulating.

RANDA            : Really? Fred, does your race have any similarities with the Phenobob race?

FRED: Why yes!  How perceptive of you!  The Phenobob race is actually comprised of a group of Polonians who colonized another star system many thousands of years ago. How did you know that?

RANDA            : Just a lucky guess.

FRED: If you are interested in the reproductive process I’d be happy to demonstrate. (he stands) Please remove your clothing and ascend the table. (He pushes papers aside.) I think we’ll forgo the setting your hair on fire.  I don’t think human scalps are quite and fireproof as Polonians.

RANDA            : I really don’t think so…

FRED: You don’t wish to participate?  Very well, I think I can quite effectively imagine what you would look like naked and dancing on the table.  (He closes his eyes and concentrates.)

RANDA            : Really, I’d rather not…

FRED: Oh Yes!  (he begins to retch.) HURRRRK! That’s working very nicely!  HUUUUURK!  HURRRRK! (He leans over the table)

RANDA            : (Standing) PLEASE STOP!  I’M BEGGING YOU TO STOP!

FRED: HUUURRRK! I’M SORRY RANDA, ONCE THE PROCESS HAS BEEN STARTED THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NO WAY TO STOP IT!  HUUUUUURK!  HUUUUURRRK!

RANDA            : OK, I DON’T MEAN TO BE RUDE. BUT IF I SEE ONE DROP OF THAT CRAP COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH, I’M GOING TO RIP OFF YOUR ARM AND SHOVE IT DOWN YOUR THROAT!

FRED: (Abruptly stops) Amazing!  You instinctively understood that the only way to stop the process was to effectively threaten my life.  You are an amazing person Randa!

RANDA            : Well thank you.  I do what I can.  And I really didn’t mean to..

FRED: Please don’t worry!  I found it both stimulating, terrifying, and exciting!  Was it good for you!

RANDA            : Yeah, let’s get back to the negotiation. (They sit.)

FRED: Randa, I am correct in assuming that you are a female human?

RANDA            : That’s right.

FRED: Ahh yes!  I assumed that because of your breasts. I am correct in assuming that the semi-globular appendages on your chest are breasts?

RANDA            : I’ve heard them referred to in that particular manner but yes, they are.

FRED:   And they are used to sexually stimulate both yourself and your sex partner as well as producing sustenance for your offspring?

RANDA            : Correct.

FRED: I see.  If I may say, your breasts appear to be excellent!  I’ve seen many pictures and video of human female breasts and yours appear to have all the characteristics generally recognized as desirable.

RANDA            : Well thank you very much.

FRED: Would it be acceptable if I were to…(He reaches both hands as if to squeeze Randa’s breasts.  She diverts his hands away.)

RANDA            : No offense but I don’t think so.

FRED: Completely understood.  As a human female, you also have a vagina, is that correct?

RANDA            : That’s correct.

FRED: Would it be acceptable if I were to..(he leans forward with his hands under the table.  She raises her hand from under the table, holding his hand and placing it on the table.)

RANDA            : Again, no offense but no.

FRED: Again I understand.  And please let me apologize for offending you in any way.  I am merely trying to understand…

RANDA: It’s quite all right. You’re trying to learn our culture.  I completely understand.

FRED: I greatly appreciate your understanding.  Is there anything I can tell you about our culture?

RANDA            : Actually yes, you said that when you initiate reproduction, one partner produces the gelatinous fertilization material.  Does the other partner then ingest the material?

FRED: That’s correct.  We produce the material, as you call it, into a ceremonial bowl, some are thousands of years old, and the other partner ingests it.  The entire process is a very beautiful and moving ceremony.

RANDA: Fascinating!  So the other partner drinks the material?

FRED: Not so much drinks as absorbs.  Another difference between our two races is the tongue.  As I understand it the human tongue is fundamentally a wide flat muscle about 4 to six inches long.  Is that correct?

RANDA: That sounds about right.

FRED: The Polonian tongue is similar yet quite different. In the ingestion process, the tongue expands to a length of up to seventeen inches.  It does this in order to absorb or ingest every trace of the fertilization material.

RANDA            : Let me get this straight.  You have a seventeen inch tongue?

FRED: Well there are of course, differences.  Some are smaller and some are larger.  Mine is actually twenty two inches when fully expanded. In that state, it’s most effective in absorbing the fertilization material.

RANDA            : I see.

FRED: Of course it’s not just the length that helps to absorb the material.  It’s also capable of a very intense movement or vibration.  This helps to break down the material for better ingestion.

RANDA            : Just to be clear…. You have a twenty two inch vibrating tongue.  Is that right? Do I have that right?

FRED: Yes, but if we are to be completely and immaculately accurate, it would be best described as a twenty two inch, vibrating, prehensile tongue. I think that would be the best way to describe.

RANDA            : Right…right.  I understand. (She closes her eyes and smiles.  Both are silent for a few beats.)

FRED: Randa, have I said or done something wrong?  If so I am very sorry, I would be glad to…

RANDA            : (Eyes opening) No!  Of course not! I just want to (eyes closing again and the smile) think about your…. Your reproductive process for a bit.  Just a bit…

FRED: Oh!  Well I must say I greatly appreciate your interest in our culture.

RANDA            : (sighing) Sure.  (eyes opening) sure.  It’s just such a fascinating subject!  (She leans toward him and takes one of his hands.) Listen, about earlier. When you were asking about my breasts and vagina.

FRED: I do hope I didn’t offend you too greatly.  It’s just that I am so interested..

RANDA: Of course you are!  Of course you are!  That’s perfectly natural and understandable!  It was silly of me to behave in such a puritanical manner!  You’re interested in us!  We’re interested in you!  I’m actually VERY interested in you!

FRED: I’m so glad to hear you say that!  I believe our two races have much to learn from each other!

RANDA            : Yeah!  Much to learn.  Right.  So… I was thinking that I was really out of line in my reaction to your interest in my… ummm.. attributes.

FRED: You mean when I requested the opportunity to examine your breasts and vagina?

RANDA            : Exactly!  I think I overreacted just a little.

FRED: You have reconsidered?  I may examine them now! Excellent! (he moves his hands towards her breasts.  She stops his hands but clasps them in hers.)

RANDA            : Right now is probably not quite the right time.  How about we postpone our mutual interest in each other’s….attributes until after the negotiation is completed.  Say we have dinner and then back to my place. I think that’s the best time and place for a long and thorough exchange of information.  Don’t you?

FRED: I do!  I do!  I am actually quivering in anticipation! (she let’s go of his hands)

RANDA            : Yeah, quivering.  (she takes a deep breath) Ok… ok Randa. Focus…focus.

FRED: You are of course correct.  We must now focus on the negotiation.

RANDA            : Right, the negotiation.  They should be getting here shortly.

FRED: Correct. There is one thing about which I wished to speak with you.

RANDA: What’s that?

FRED: I assume you’ve researched the specific territorial demands that the Adonarian people are making?

RANDA            : I have.  We have some interest in those sectors but I expect we can easily come to terms of use even if we allow the Adonarian’s sovereignty.

FRED: I agree.  For the most part, the negotiation should proceed smoothly. But the Adonarian people are regarded as the most difficult and demanding negotiators in the known universe.  Were you aware of that?

RANDA            : I am aware of that.

FRED: I’ve researched hundreds of past negotiations with them and discovered one method that seems to, in every instance, expedite and smooth relations to a favorable outcome in every case.

RANDA            : And what method is that?

FRED: It is a method called sweetening the deal.

RANDA            : Ok, I’m at least generally familiar with that concept.

FRED: Excellent!  In this case, there is one thing in particular that, if used to sweeten the deal, would almost guarantee that we can complete this negotiation to a more than favorable result for the humans in nearly record time.

RANDA            : And what would that one thing be?

FRED: I’m glad you asked. It’s your vagina.

RANDA            : (a beat) I don’t think I heard you right.  I could have sworn you said my vagina.

FRED: Oh no!  I did not say my vagina.  As you know, I don’t actually have a vagina.  If I did, it would make it much simpler.  I said…

RANDA            : So you did say your vagina, which means my vagina.  Is that correct?

FRED: That is correct!  You do understand!  Excellent!  That will make this entire process so much easier.  So I may assume that you agree to…

RANDA            : Wait a minute cowboy.  Let’s slow down a bit.  I don’t really understand, and in all honesty I don’t think I WANT to understand, how my vagina is the pivotal element in this negotiation.  Against my better judgment, please explain that to me.

FRED: Very well.  As I said earlier, the Adonarian race is very similar to the human race.  They like you, have male and female genders.

RANDA            : I understand that.

FRED: Adonarian anatomy is almost identical to human anatomy.  For this reason, Adonarian males have, in the past, had sexual relations with human females.

RANDA            : That’s fascinating! I was not aware of that at all.

FRED: That’s not surprising.  These encounters have, almost always, occurred on the outer edges of human space. You see the Adonarian males, generally speaking; place an extremely high premium on human females as sexual partners.

RANDA            : I see.

FRED: Yes, what you may not know is that the Adonarian team sent to participate in this negotiation is entirely comprised of Andonarian males. And they value one thing, one human thing, more highly than any star system, sector, mineral, or strategic area, and that thing is…

RANDA            : My vagina.

FRED: Well, strictly speaking, not your vagina in particular, but human vagina’s in general.  And since you and your vagina are here, and Admiral Davis suggested that you would be amenable to allowing the Adonarian embassy members free use and access to your vagina…

RANDA            : He said what?

FRED: Oh!  Oh!  I forgot, admiral Davis asked me not to mention that particular aspect to you.  I am sorry.  I will also have to apologize to the admiral.

RANDA            : That son of a bitch!

FRED: I am sorry if this presents a problem for you.  But as you can see, your vagina is almost certainly a very important, if not critical part of this negotiation.

RANDA            : Ok…Ok.  I understand.  But let me make one thing perfectly clear.

FRED: Very well.  I am listening.

RANDA            : I understand how valuable my vagina may be to this negotiation.

FRED: That is good.

RANDA            : But under no circumstances is my vagina to have any part of this negotiation, unless of course I have to go to the bathroom.

FRED: What?  I don’t understand.

RANDA            : Skip it.  What I’m saying, is that we may have to use every resource available to us to secure a positive outcome of this proceeding.  I understand that.  But one thing is nonnegotiable. And that one thing is my vagina.

FRED: I see. So just to be clear, your vagina is nonnegotiable?

RANDA            : That is correct.

FRED: I understand.

RANDA            : Good, so. We can..

FRED: I must say though that as your vagina has value, particularly to the Andonarian delegation, it should be on the table. I’m just saying that your vagina should be on the table.

RANDA            : I understand that, but let me make one thing perfectly clear, my vagina is not on the table. Is that clear.

FRED: Regrettably yes.  I understand.

RANDA: Right, so let’s proceed to…

SFX:                 A buzz, ring, or tone to indicate an incoming message.  This may be from an apparent communication device worn by Randa or from a box on the table.

RANDA            : Randa here.

DAVIS: (voice)Randa, the Adonarian delegation is here.  Should I send them in or…

RANDA            : (looks to Fred) Are you ready?

FRED: I am ready.

RANDA            : We’re ready admiral.  Please send them in. Randa out. (looks to Fred) Ok, do you want me to start or..

FRED: I’ve prepared an opening statement.  If you will allow I will….

RANDA            : That’s fine with me… (the Adonarian delegation enters, Randa and Fred rise)

FRED: On behalf of the human and Polonial alliance, let me extend our great thanks, admiration, and appreciation on your honoring us with your presence and consideration. Please believe and understand that we place the highest priority on entering into a mutually beneficial agreement for both of our great endeavors.  Gentlemen, simply put, thank you for your presence and participation in this first, great, effort in the greatest possible cultural exchange between our two great peoples. Thank you !  Thank you! (favorable  mumblings from the Adonarians) Gentlemen, please sit and enjoy our hospitality. (the Adonarian’s sit. Fred indicates to Randa that she should sit. She does.) Before we formally being these proceedings I must beg your indulgence in one small matter.  In the negotiations in which we are about to undertake, I must make crystal clear one important point: that point being: Ambassador Randa’s vagina will NOT be on the table.  I do hope you understand and appreciate that.

 

END

Crimson Cotton (Version 2)

 

David Kuval, my boss, stood slowly, and leaned forward towards me putting his hands on his desk. “The question you have to ask yourself Payne, is do you really want to be the homicide department head.” He said the words with a serious, concerned tone that made me want to laugh.  I’m not sure why.  Truth is just about everything most people say makes me want to laugh.  Go figure.

He was serious and concerned today because I had apparently screwed up his plans to ascend the Richardson Police Department food chain to the exalted throne of Police Commissioner by not “cooperating in a full and open manner” with the vice department, commonly referred to as “the asshole department.”

“This is about me stonewalling the asshole department, isn’t it?”

He looked down at his desk, took in a deep, slow breath and exhaled as he sat back down.  His eyes looked tired as he raised his gaze from the desk. “Yes Nick, it is. And I have to say I’m very happy to hear you admit to it. Can you explain to me just why you did it?”

Cue heavy sigh from me. “Sure… here’s what happened. Last Monday morning, right after shift change, I’m at my desk, trying to achieve consciousness when Mike’s phone rings.” Mike’s my partner. His desk sits face-to-face with mine. “So Mike picks it up and has one of his Mike conversations, he’s like ‘yeah…yeah…yeah…right’ and hangs up.  Then he looks at me and starts to chuckle.” Kuval frowns as I continue to talk. “So he’s just sitting there, looking at me and chuckling and not saying shit.  So I ask him ‘What’s funny?’ and he says ‘That was Peterson’ and I say ‘Peterson from the asshole department’ and he nods and says ‘he says you need to drop what you’re doing and bring him everything you have on the Williamson case..’ Now picture this, Mike’s chuckling, like he just heard a joke that’s a little funny but not so funny that you actually bust out laughing, but then he starts to really get into it, he starts laughing so hard I swear he was tearing up a little.  And then he says ‘Peterson says he needs it… On The Double’ and Mike just fucking loses it. He’s laughing like I’ve never seen him laugh.  I mean people are looking at him.”

“Peterson actually said ‘On The Double’?” Kuval’s frown somehow gets frownier.”

I raise my hand to continue the story. “That’s what I asked, I mean after waiting for Mike to finish his laughing fit, which lasted like two plus minutes.  Hell, I could’ve gone for coffee. Anyway, Mike nods and says ‘that is EXACTLY what he said.’ So I say ‘huh’ and start to think about it.”

“What’s there to think about?” Kuval says, shaking his head.

“There’s actually quite a lot to think about.  I mean, just what does ‘On The Double’ mean?”

“What are you talking about? It means fast.  Peterson wanted the file fast.”

“Ok I get that, but just how fast?” Kuval opens his mouth but my raised hand stops him. “See, my question, the big question in my mind, is this: does ‘On The Double’ mean faster than ‘ASAP’ or not as fast? That’s the big question in my mind.”

He stares at me for what seemed like a very long time.  Then he looked down and shook his head.  “So what happened then?”

“Then I call Peterson.”

“To ask him that question?” Kuval looks back up. His face is a little tight, like he’s afraid to hear my answer.

“A couple questions actually.  So I call him up and I say ‘this is Payne. I got a couple questions for you,’” Kuval’s face goes frowny again. “First, why did you call Mike if you wanted something from me? And second, does ‘On The Double’ mean faster than ‘ASAP’ or not as fast?”

Again Kuval looks at me for a long time before speaking. “What did he say?”

“Nothing. He hung up on me. Then I’m guessing he called Felton, his boss to tattle on me. Right?”

Kuval closed his eyes and nodded. “Right. And then Felton called somebody.”

“You?”

He shook his head and gave me a flat look. “He called Shambly.”

Hearing the name “Shambly” actually shocked me. He was the current commissioner who was about to vacate the office to run for governor. “Well shit.”

“Funny, that was my reaction when Shambly called me.” His face was a little sad, disappointed.

“Dave I’m sorry.” He nodded. “I’ll get the files to Peterson.” It was very, very hard not to say “On The Double”.

He nodded.  “What else?” His look was serious and for some reason I felt no desire to laugh.

“I’ll apologize.”

“Thank you.” He nods.  I start to leave when he starts talking again. “We’re not done.” He jerks his head towards the open door as I turn back into the room. “Close the door.”

And I’m scared.  I close the door and sit down.  My smart mouth suddenly does not feel too smart.

“Do you know why this upsets me so much?

I shrugged. “It makes you look bad to the commissioner?”

He shook his head. “Not really. Shambly knows the score. He actually thought it was kind of funny,” he took a long breath. “Just between you and me, I’m not worried about getting the commissioner job.  That’s pretty much a lock.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem is, who replaces me?” He looked at me and clearly expected an answer.

“I don’t know Dave.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Just that, I don’t know.”

His open hand slams down on the desk hard enough to rattle the office windows. “Jesus Payne!  I do not understand you! Are you familiar with your stats?” He stood and started to pace behind his desk.

“My stats?” I now knew exactly where this was going.

He was gesturing with his hands as he spoke. “Your stats.  You’ve got the highest closure rate in the city, maybe in the county.” I actually have the highest closure rates in the city, the county, and was second in the state. “Imagine if you headed the department and could teach just a few of the other homicide detective your stuff.” His voice was hard, serious and a little angry. The thing is I had imagined it.  And imagining it made me both excited and really scared.  Because what if I couldn’t?  What if all the things that made me a great detective made me a really lousy department head?  Could I live with that?  I knew that I couldn’t. His voice shocked me away from my doubts. “So what will it take for you to know?  What will it take for you to be sure?”

“I don’t know!  Do you need and answer today?  Right now?”

He sat down and sighed. “Not today. But soon.”

“Well just how fucking…” my question was cut off by a knock on the window of the door. I looked around to see Mike then back at Dave.  He jerked his head and Mike opened the door.

Mike’s face was blank and serious as he spoke.

“Sorry to butt in..Nick, you’ve got a call,” there was an odd formality in his tone that was not like him.

“Can you take a message?”

He shook his head. “You need to take it.  It’s your cousin Teresa.” He took a breath.  “I think it’s about your dad.”

 

 

 

Conversation With A Non-Existent God

NEG: So you had some questions?

Me: I did.

NEG: Go ahead.

Me: Umm, it would help if I could see you.

NEG: I don’t generally do visibility.

Me: Why?

NEG: Seeing me tends to fuck people up.

Me: Wow! Can’t believe you said that.

NEG: What?

Me: You know…the “F” word.

NEG: You mean fuck?

Me: Well yeah.

NEG: It’s just a word.

Me: Well… lots of people think you.. I mean people in general shouldn’t use that word in polite company.

NEG: Why?

Me: It’s considered a profane word.

NEG: Really?

Me: Yeah.

NEG: You know what words are really profane?  Words like..

Me: I don’t mean to interrupt, but are you gonna go down the whole “nigger, jew, war, poverty, etc” road?

NEG: Well yeah, I was.

Me: Don’t you think that’s kind of tired?

NEG: I hadn’t really thought about it.

Me: Well it is just bit cliché.

NEG: Look, when you’ve been around as long have, it’s hard to not be cliché.

Me: I guess I get that. So I can’t see you?

NEG: I guess I could manifest myself in a form that might not fuck you up.

Me: That would be great!

NEG: How’s this?

Me: Umm… you look just like me.

NEG: I thought looking just like you would be less upsetting.

Me: Uhh… I appreciate the effort but it’s still a little creepy.

NEG: Ok, how about this?

Me: Oh My God!  Wow! Sorry!

NEG: (Chuckling) It’s no problem.

Me: You look and sound just like Doris Day when I was a kid.

NEG: She was your first crush, wasn’t she?

Me: Well yeah.

NEG: So you like it?

Me: It’s cool. Man, it’s amazing!

NEG: Thought you’d like it. (reaches out to touch my leg) You know, if you’d like we could…

Me: We could what?

NEG: You know…. Fuck.

Me: (Slaps hand away) OH MY FUCKING GOD! DON’T EVEN SUGGEST THAT!

NEG: Why not? It’s always been your fantasy?

Me: BUT YOU’RE GOD!  YOU’RE FUCKING GOD!

NEG: Right now I’m fucking Doris Day in her prime. Or more to the point, YOU could be fucking Doris Day in her prime.

Me: But you’re not Doris Day, you’re God!

NEG: I’m a lot of things.  Right now I’m an attractive woman who would be more than happy to fuck you.

Me: I couldn’t!

NEG: Why not?  It’s not like she hasn’t done it before.  She’s no virgin.

Me: OF COURSE DORIS DAY IS A VIRGIN!

NEG: Sorry to burst you’re bubble.  Of course I can be a virgin if you like…

Me: NO! NO!  NO FUCKING!

NEG: (Laughing) I was just fucking with you.. I mean.. you know what I mean.

Me: Whew!  That was weird.

NEG: You’re way too uptight.

Me: I’m sorry but I wasn’t ready for that.

NEG: How about this?

Me: Wow!  Now you look just like Captain Picard!

NEG: Thought you’d like this better.

Me: Just don’t offer to fuck me.

NEG: Your loss.  So this is better?

Me: Much better.  It’s perfect.

NEG: Ok, so what questions did you have?

Me: Well…shit, I’ve forgotten them all.

NEG: Told you, seeing me tends to fuck people up.

Me: I had no idea.

NEG: So no questions?

Me: I can’t think of a single one.

NEG: No sweat, if you remember, you know how to reach me?

Me: Sure, just dial “Non Existent God” on the Batphone.

NEG: You got it.  Later  (beams out)

Me: Ok, that was cool!

NEG: (voice) thought you’d like it.

END

 

Crimson Cotton (Version 1)

(This is one of my many attempts to start\write a mystery that’s been knocking around in my head for thirty years.)

The air was cool and still when Wilson stepped out of the house into the morning darkness. He paused for moment and breathed deeply, taking the heavy rain smell deep into his lungs. “Shit” he said, shaking his head, and continued to walk to his truck.  “Just plain shit.” He got in the truck, started it, backed into the empty street, and drove through the dark and quiet town. He turned the radio on, hoping to get a weather report. The drone of country music filled the truck.  The music stopped and an announcer started in on the news. His attention drifted until he heard the magic words “And the now panhandle weather..” He turned the volume up.  “We should see clear sky’s today with a high around 65 and a low of around 50.  Forecasters have put the chance of rain at 30 per cent.” Shit, he thought and turned off the radio.

At the farm he pulled into the packed dirt turnabout, killed the engine, and got out of the truck.  He looked up into the clear night sky. “No clouds.  Nothing.” He thought, seeing the broad umbrella of stars overhead. But the smell of rain seemed even heavier here. The full moon was low in the sky and illuminated the colorless land like a pale sun. He walked to the tractor and climbed inside the cab.  He started it and the sound of Jazz filled the cab. Flicking the lights on, he put the tractor in gear and steered towards the first row of cotton. He lined the tractor’s stripping chutes with the cotton rows, engaged the stripping mechanism, and moved forward into the field.  The gentle shake of the tractor and the smooth melody of the music lulled him into a hazy relaxed state. Off in the distance he saw vague flashes of illuminated clouds.  He counted out loud. “Twenty one…twenty two…twenty three…” The low rumbling of distant thunder echoed through the cab as he counted twenty nine.  “About two miles.” He thought, and hoped it was moving away. He turned his attention back to the cotton.

Fifteen minutes later he saw the clouds flash again and started to count. He had only counted to twenty four before hearing the thunder’s rumble. “Shit” He said.  “Getting closer”. Turning his gaze back from the clouds he squinted at something ahead in the cotton. The cotton was high enough so that he couldn’t see what it was, only the depression it made among the closely planted rows, and a vague white shape. He slowed, and then stopped the tractor till the huge headlights bathed the depression in harsh white light.

“An animal.” He thought, part of him knowing the white shape on the ground was not an animal. He killed the engine, opened the door of the cab, and stepped down to the cotton. The plants had grown high, just above his hips.  A slight breeze waved and rippled the cotton stalks as he walked slowly towards the strange white shape outlined in dark green.

His mind blanked and his mouth went dry as he stared at the impossible thing lying in the green waving stalks.  It was a naked, sheet-white body lying face down.  “Not face down.” He thought. “Not really”. He thought this as there was no face.  No face, no head, no hands, and no feet.  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath of the heavy morning air, and held it. After a few moments he slowly breathed out and opened his eyes.  The body was still there. Still real.

Wilson shook his head and reached into his jacket pocket for his phone.  A cool breeze seemed to float through the cotton, causing it to whisper in the night air.  A flash of nearby lightning froze the whispering cotton and the white body in harsh light and was followed almost immediately by the crack of thunder. He heard the soft sound of heavy raindrops on the cotton and on the tractor and felt the splashes of wet cold against his skin. He climbed inside the cab of the tractor and dialed a familiar number. He heard the low ring and then the sleepy voice on the other end. “Wellington Police department. Is this an emergency?” the words were spoken in a rote and mechanical manner.

“Frank.  This is Wilson.  Wilson Porter.  I’m at the farm.” He closed his eyes and tried to find the right words for the impossible situation.

The voice on the phone immediately became real and animated with concern. “Wilson!?  You ok? What’s wrong?”

“I’m ok. I was stripping. Trying to get it done before the rain.  There’s something here in the field.  A body.  A man I think.  It’s naked and… Oh sweet Jesus Frank someone’s cut off his head, his hands, and his feet. Please get someone out here….I… “ his voice trailed off.

The distant voice on the phone stammered instructions and assurances.  People would be there soon. Wilson nodded, as if Frank could see him, broke the connection, and put the phone back in his jacket pocket. He closed his eyes and several more deep breaths.

The rain began to fall heavily, an insistent tapping on the tractor’s cab. Opening his eyes he looked out over the field.  His brow furrowed and he turned on the rain wipers to clear the front window. The depression made by the body was the only disturbance in the vast cotton field.  There were no tracks of any kind.  He wondered. “Whatever had brought the body here had dropped it out of the night sky.”

It was morning, a wet, rainy daylight vaguely filtered through the dark clouds when the first car arrived, the sheriff, Dan Perkins.  Wilson had donned a yellow rain slicker he kept in the tractor cab and watched as the car came to a stop on the dirt path.  Perkins, wearing his own yellow rain slicker, an ancient Stetson, and mud boots made his way towards Wilson.

Perkins was a tall lanky man with a relaxed easy stride. “Hey Wilson” he said as he approached. Wilson nodded, heard tinny voices, and saw the portable radio in the sheriff’s left hand. The man brought the radio up to his face as he walked.  “Yeah.  I’m here.” An intelligible burst of chatter. “Don’t know yet. Haven’t see it. Gimme a bit.” Dan barked lowly and lowered the radio.  He stuck out his right hand, Wilson met it with his own, and they shook hands. Wilson started to pull away but the sheriff held firm.  Wilson looked up into the man’s dark clear eyes underneath the brim of the Stetson. The concern there was real and it made Wilson feel a little better. “You ok?” Dan said softly.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Wilson said, nodding. “It’s just a hellulva thing.” Perkins nodded, gave Wilson’s hand a quick squeeze, before letting go.  He looked over towards the dark indention in the cotton and jerked his head. “Well.  Let’s take a look” The big man turned and started walking towards the body. Wilson turned but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to look again.” Wilson shook his head. “It’s ok. I’ve seen it.  Can’t be any worse that the first time. Perkins nodded and they walked on.

They came to the edge of the cotton and both looked down at the body. Perkin’s gaze tracked around the perimeter of the body, then from one end to the other.  Finally he shook his head. “Jesus….sweet baby Jesus.” He muttered.  “Never seen anything like this.” His voice was low and breathy. “I been doing this thirty years and nothing like this.” Wilson nodded.

“That makes two of us.” He said, nearly whispering, as if afraid to frighten the corn. Perkins looked at him.

“Even in Dallas?” he asked. Wilson shook his head.

“I saw plenty of bodies.  People killed in all kinds of different ways.  But nothing like this.” Wilson said. Perkins shook his head and looked back to the body. He cleared his throat and turned to face Wilson.

“I gotta ask you, you know how it is. Did you touch anything? Move anything?” he said, shaking his head, knowing the answer.

Wilson shook his head. “No. I saw it while I was stripping.” He said looking back to the tractor, shielding his eyes from the bright floodlights. “I couldn’t see it that clearly from the cab.” He said and shook his head again. “Or maybe I could and just didn’t want to believe it.” He said, turning back to Perkins.

Perkins nodded and turned back to the body. He raised his gaze to look out over the cotton.  He looked all around the cotton.  “No tracks. Not from a vehicle anyway.” He turned to Wilson. “No tracks coming up the row you were stripping I guess.”

Wilson shook his head. “Nothing. Just like the rest of the cotton. If someone dumped it  here they didn’t use a vehicle.” He looked to Perkins. “At least…” he looked down.

“What?” Perkins asked.

“At least not a ground vehicle.” Wilson said, looking into the cloudy morning sky.

Perkins looked up.  Water poured off the back of the Stetson. “Shit.” He spat. “Helicopter.” He cursed, shook his head, and looked back to Wilson. “A fucking helicopter.” He turned away, started walking away from the body, and brought the radio up. “Frank. You there?” He barked loudly with some anger. There was a burst of intelligible chatter from the radio as Wilson turned to follow. The dirt in the field, now mud, sucked at his boots, and made walking difficult. He trudged on following Perkins.

“Call Harris in Amarillo. We need to get the state team on this.” Perkins barked. More chatter from the radio. Wilson smiled.  He couldn’t make out the words but could hear the all-too-familiar argumentative tone in Frank’s voice. Perkins stopped, looked up, again causing a minor cascade of water from his hat, and dropped the radio to his side.  “God damn Frank. Not now. Not fucking now.” He brought the radio back up. Wilson stopped, knowing Dan would appreciate as much privacy as he could get. He could hear the effort in the big man’s voice to control his frustration. The big man’s words and tone were careful and controlled.

“Frank.  Please listen carefully…” Another protracted burst of animated and somewhat loud chatter from the radio.  Dan took a deep breath and continued. “Frank. Please.  I’m trying here. We’ve got a body here and…” More radio chatter.  “Yeah, it’s just like he said. A naked body, probably a man, no head, hands, or feet. You get it?  This is too much for us.  We can’t take the chance of somebody fucking it up.” More loud animated chatter from the radio.  Dan dropped the radio to his side and jerked his head as he spoke. “Shit!” He took a deep breath and brought the radio back up. “No Frank, I didn’t mean you.  I didn’t mean anyone in particular. I just want to make sure this is done right. You can understand that, can’t you?” The radio chatter again but the tone was lower and even. “Thank you Frank.  I’ll be in shortly.” He dropped the radio to his side, looked down, and then turned to Wilson and smiled.

“Dan, that was one impressive display of composure.” Said Wilson, smiling as he trudged up to the big man’s side and slapped him on the shoulder. “Remind me again why you made Frank a deputy and gave him the run of the county jail?” He said, unable to contain his laughter.

Perkins smiled as he answered. “Hell Wilson, he’s your best friend. You know him better than I do.”

“Which is exactly my point. I love Frank like a brother, but deputy?  And running the county jail? Really Dan?” he said, nearly choking on his own laughter.

Dan looked away, shook his head, and chuckled as he turned back. “Well… I guess I figured it’d be better for him if he was a deputy and running the jail.  Give him something constructive to do with his time.  Otherwise he’d probably spend all his time in the jail. This way at least he can draw a paycheck.” He said, laughing. “I mean you know him.  There’s not a mean bone in him.  He’s not the brightest bulb, but he’s… he’d dependable.  You know what I mean?”

Wilson nodded. “I do. I could always depend on Frank. To get me in trouble. To give me terrible advice and to try to steal my girlfriend.  I could always depend on him for those things.”

Dan nodded. “Well, that’s something.” His laughter died out and the smile faded as he looked back into the cotton. Wilson looked back as well and cleared his throat. The body wasn’t visible but the memory of what he had seen was fresh and heavy on his mind.

“Funny how you can turn it off when you need to.” Dan said, his face solemn. He turned to Wilson.

“I’d forgotten how easy it is to forget something like that.” Wilson said, his voice low, almost a whisper. He raised his gaze to Dan. “Been awhile since I needed to.”

Dan looked down at his mud covered boots then back up. “Yeah. Listen, why don’t you go home and get some rest.” He looked back towards the cotton.  It’ll be a couple hours before the Amarillo boys get here.  They won’t need you. I’ll get Frank to call some boys over to watch till Amarillo gets here.” He looked back to Wilson. “You can come into town later to make a statement. Lunch maybe?” He said nodding.

“Sure.” Wilson said looking towards the cotton, then back at Dan. “I guess we’ll need to talk more, won’t we?” He asked.

Perkins turned and looked at the cotton for a long time. Finally he turned back.  He smiled, but his eyes were serious. “Yeah. We will.”

Wilson opened the back door and there was his wife, Shirley. She was glaring at him, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, hands on her hips. Her expression was not happy.

“Wilson Porter. You are not tracking mud all over my kitchen.” Her voice was strong, loud, and very direct.  She had taken one hand off it’s respective hip and was pointing to his feet, accentuating every salient word with another deliberate point. He felt a small, but significant terror, the same one he had felt as a little boy when his mother had chided him.  He had long experience in not thinking too much about the similarity in those two relationships.

“Yes maam.” He went back outside, removed his boots, and returned.  As he stepped inside Shirley met him at the door and embraced him.  She hugged him hard and he reciprocated.  As always when they embraced, he felt something deep inside telling him everything would be ok.  She pulled away, kissed him, and looked into his eyes.

“Are you ok hon?” she said, her voice now soft.

“Oh yeah.  It was…” he shook his head, searching for the right words.  “It was just so unexpected.  You know?” She nodded, pulled away from him, and crossed the kitchen.

“I made a coffee.  You want some?” She said, turning her head back to him.

“Please.” He said as he crossed to the kitchen table to sit. She poured two cups and brought them to the table to join him.

“Donna called about an hour ago.” She said.  She didn’t need to say that Donna, the jail’s unofficial den mother and Frank’s on-again, off-again girlfriend had pried every iota of information from Frank with the efficiency of a CIA interrogator and then (probably) informed every other member of the town, or at least the ones with whom she was still speaking.

“Shit!” he said. “Do you know if she…” Shirley cut him off with raised hand.

“Frank told her to keep it to herself.  She interpreted that to mean she could only tell me, seeing as you were going to tell me anyway.” She said, a slight mischievous smile growing on her lips.

“Oh I was, was I?” he said, trying hard to sound indignant and doing a pretty poor job of it. The grin on Shirley’s face grew into a full smile and she raised her hand to her mouth to contain her growing laughter. “Oh hell.  I guess that’s about right.  You would have wormed it out of me anyway.” He said, through his own laughter.

His face grew more serious. “What’d she tell you?” he said. Shirley nodded and reeled off the information flatly, as if relaying points on a power point presentation. Wilson nodded when she finished.

“Hell, you know as much as I do.” He said.

“You ok to talk about it?” she asked.

“Sure, Dan didn’t say not to.  Not yet anyway.” He said.

“What was the skin color like?  I mean it was white, is that right?” she said, her voice now curious and questioning.

“Yeah, it was white.  The body looked really white…pale.” He said, looking into his coffee as if the memory lay there.

“Was there any blood?” she said.

“I didn’t see any.” He said, looking up.

“The hands and feet…” she said, letting the words hang.

“No blood there either.” He said.

She turned her eyes away and began to tap the tips of her fingers against her lips.

“Humph.” She said, her eyes distant and unfocussed. “No tracks?” she asked, not turning back to him.

“Nope. Nothing” he said.

“Helicopter.” She said, a statement, not a question.

“Yeah, that’s what I figure.” He said. She turned back to him.

“Who around here owns a helicopter?” she said.

“No body that I know of.” He said. She turned away again.

“Yeah.  Me neither.” She said. She looked back to Wilson. “You have to make a statement?”

“Yeah.  Dan asked me to come back into town after while.  The Amarillo guys won’t be here for another hour or so.” He said.  She nodded and looked away again.  She sighed and looked back to him.

“Well, nothing to do till then.” She smiled, reached over, and squeezed his hand. She pulled back and took a long sip of coffee. “Still raining?” she said, looking to the back door.

“Yeah. Coming down in sheets.” He spat, disgusted.

“Heard a weather report on the radio.  It’s supposed to rain off and on for the next couple days.” She said and reached out to touch his hand. “I guess that means no more stripping.”

“Yeah.” He said, his voice dejected and defeated. “No more stripping.”

The Rocking Horse Café sat at the north edge of town on a lot that had been a cotton field.  It was part of the “New Money” that come into Wellington over the last five or so years. Like the other “New Money” additions, it was just a bit too big and fancy for the small, formerly rustic town, like a diamond tennis bracelet carefully placed among ancient, worn, and broken costume jewelry.

Wilson walked in and saw Dan waving from a back booth. As he walked, he nodded at, and otherwise greeted familiar faces around the room.

“Hey Wil.  Thanks for coming by.” He said, popping a french fry in his mouth.

“Sure.” Wilson said, sitting down, and picking up a menu.

“You eaten here yet?” Dan said before popping another fry into his mouth.

“Couple times.” He said, looking at the menu.  “What do you like?”

“BLT’s good.” Dan said, nodding at his nearly empty plate. Wilson skimmed the menu for the BLT.

“It’s also cheap.” Wilson said, smiling at Dan.

“Well hell!” Dan said, smiling. “Cheap and good! Sounds like a winning combination to me!” Wilson smiled and nodded.  The waitress came and took his order. She then turned to Dan.

“You need a refill Dan?” she said, smiling her young and just slightly flirtatious smile.

“No thanks Loretta.  I’m good.” He said, returning her beaming smile. She nodded and walked away. Dan watched her walk away, tossed his napkin onto the plate, and turned back to Wilson.  The smile left his face. He retrieved a small digital audio recorder from a jacket pocket, switched it on and set it down on the table.

“Ok. Wil.  Let’s get this part done…” he asked the same questions he had asked earlier and Wilson gave the same answers.  Before Wilson knew it they were done and Dan had picked the recorder up, turned it off, and returned it to his pocket. He leaned forward, his elbows down on the table and spoke in a low voice. “And that pretty much concludes my official involvement or responsibility in this matter.” His tone was final, but there was something in his eyes that practically begged more questions.

“Just what exactly does that mean?” Wilson said, matching his low tone and trying hard to keep the confusion and rising frustration out of his voice.

“Just that.  I’m no longer the lead on this particular case.” He said.

“Well then who the hell is?” Wilson said, struggling to keep his voice low.

“Interesting story there..” he said, leaning back as if to start a long tale.

“Dan.. don’t you..” Wilson’s objection was cut short by Dan’s raised hand.

“I’ll keep it short. About an hour after I got back to the office I got a phone call…” he said.

“Before the Amarillo crew arrived?” Wilson’s question cut Dan off.

“Before the Amarillo crew arrived.  That’s correct.” Dan answered.

“From whom? The phone call I mean.” Wilson said.

“The phone call was from special agent Walter Henderson of the F. B. I.” Dan pronounced the three letters slowly and with special emphasis. “Special agent Henderson thanked me very kindly for the work I’d done on the case..”

“Which added up to jack squat.” Wilson spat.

“Which added up to jack squat and said he would be assuming all responsibility for the case effective immediately.” Said Dan, his smile fading just enough for Wilson to see the hint of outrage in the man’s eyes.

“And that’s that?” Wilson said.

“That’s that.  End of story as far as far as the Wellington Sherriff’s department is concerned and as far as I’m concerned.” Dan said, fixing Wilson with a peculiar stare. His emphasis on the work “I’m” begged Wilson’s question.

“As far as you’re concerned…just what the hell does that mean?” There was an angry edge to Wilson’s question.

“Just what I said.  We’re out of it. Done with it.  Special agent Henderson is in charge.” Dan said.  He cocked his head slightly to one side and squinted slightly.

“Well that doesn’t to make any sense at all.  Why would they…” He was cut off by Dan’s raised hand.

“To radically change the subject… do you remember that Thompson your dad sold me?” Dan said.

Wilson’s mind reeled slightly at the sudden change of direction. “Sure. I remember.  He let me shoot it a few times before you bought it.” Wilson said.

“I’m having a little problem with it.  Wondered if you’d come out and take a look.” Dan said.

“I’m not a gunsmith Dan. I wouldn’t know…” Wilson said.  Again he was cut off by Dan’s raised hand.

“I know, I know, but I’m sure you’ll be able to help.” He said flatly, his eyes staring through Wilson.

“Well sure.  I’ll take a look. Do you want to bring it by my place?” he said.

“Be better if you come by my place.  How around eight tonight? That work for you?” Dan said, smiling and nodding.

Wilson nodded as he replied. “Sure.  I’ll be there.” He said, the confusion evident in his voice.

“ I appreciate it.” Dan said.  His face brightened as he looked up slightly and to his right, just over Wilson’s shoulder. “Why hello Miss Renee.  Always nice to see you.” The man’s voice was warm as he beamed a wide smile at the approaching woman.

Wilson turned his head slightly to his left and watched as the tall woman walked easily to Dan, putting her hand on his shoulder.

“Dan, Wilson” She said turning her full attention to Wilson as she spoke. “Mind if I join you?” she said, directing the question to Wilson.

He started to answer but was cut off by Dan. “I’m just leaving.” Dan rose and held his chair out for the woman who sat and glanced up at him with a warm smile.

“Thanks Dan.” She said, turning her attention to Wilson.  She leaned forward on her elbows and rested her chin on her hands.

“I’ll see you later Wilson.  Don’t forget.” Dan said tapping Wilson’s shoulder as he passed.

“Hello Mr. Porter.” She said, cocking nodding her head slightly forward and smiling.

Wilson found himself returning the nod and smile. “Mrs. Madison” he said, trying not to smile too big.

She clocked her head to the right and nodded again, correcting him. “It’s Miss Sommers now. Shirley not keeping you up with the latest gossip?” She said, teasing him.

Wilson stammered his response and took a good look at the woman.  They had attended the then small Wellington schools together from first grade through high school graduation.  She had always been tall and athletic, with a smooth easy way about her, not walking or moving so much as gliding.  He had always thought of her as some enticingly dangerous feline, specifically a Jaguar.  He wondered if she growled in bed and then immediately wondered from where that thought had originated.

“Haven’t seen much of you since you got back into town. Yall been back..what, six months now?” she said.

Wilson nodded.  “Little over eight. I’ve been busy with the farm.” He said running out of words.

Renee nodded. “I see Shirley from time to time shopping.  She’s so sweet.” Her way of saying “sweet” made it sound positively horrific, like a dread disease she could never think of catching. She glanced outside, nodded at the clouds and spitting rain. “Guess you won’t be doing any stripping till it dries up a bit.” She suddenly looked back to him, a concerned look on her face. “I forgot all about this morning.  What happened I mean.  Sorry.” Her turn to run out of words.

Wilson looked down and shook his head. “Thanks.  Hell of a thing.” He looked up at her. “I guess Donna filled you in on all the details. “ook on her facain. ”

m time to time shopping.  She’iding.  He had always thought o

Renee chuckled and shook her head. “She’s the town crier, I guess.” She was interrupted by Loretta returning with Wilson’s order.

“Hey Renee.” Loretta shot her a quick smile while setting the food down.

“Hey Loretta” Renee said, smiling.

“What can I get you honey?”  Loretta said. Renee ordered, Loretta nodded and walked away.

“What do you think of all this?” Renee said, waving her hand around, indicating the café. “You ever think Wellington would have a place like this?”

Wilson shook his head.  “Nope.  When I left for school it was.. well you know what it was like.” He said.

“I remember.” She said, sighing and looking around the room.  “When we graduated high school in 2004 Wellington was 2500 people and dying a slow death. I couldn’t get out fast enough.” She said.

“Same with me. “ he said looking down at his food. “Do you mind?  I haven’t eaten since breakfast and..” he said.

“Oh go ahead honey.” She said, waving at his food. Wilson began to eat. “You went to Abilene Christian right?” She said.

“Right.” He spoke between bites. “I got a BS in Criminal Justice.”

“Then you moved to Dallas?” she said.

He nodded. “Yeah.  Well, I met Shirley at school.  We got married right after graduating and then we moved to Dallas.” He said.

“Why Dallas?” she said. His answer was interrupted by the arrival of Loretta and Renee’s order.

“That’s where Shirley from and I’ve always liked Dallas.” He said.

“You worked with the Dallas police?” she said.

Wilson shook his head. “Richardson.  It’s a suburb to the north. I’d heard it was a better place to work than Dallas. The degree put me on the fast track to detective. I liked it.” He paused and smiled at her. “Most of the time.”

“What made you come back? She said, her eyes curious.

He chuckled before speaking. “Huh. You get right to it, don’t you?” She answered with a smile and a shrug. He shook his head. “ Well  when dad got sick…” His words trailed off.

“I’m sorry Wilson.  I didn’t think.” Her voice was soft as she reached over to touch his arm.

“It’s ok.  Anyway..we came back to see to him and  of course saw how Wellington had changed.” He looked around the care. “It really is like a different town.” He said.

“It really is. I felt the same way when I came back.” She said, looking around.

“How about you?  You went to Tech didn’t you?” he said.

She nodded. “Yeah.  A bunch of the old gang went there.” She said.

“What did you study?” he said.

“Mostly beer and boys.” She said with a mischievous grin. “Actually, I graduated with a degree in interior design.” She shook her head.  “Didn’t do much with it.  But my house looks real nice.” She said with a laugh.

“You met your husband..sorry, EX-husband there?” He said.

“Tommy Madison.  Yeah, I did.” She said, her voice flat. “He was studying oil and gas or something like that.  His dad was real big in that.  We got married after graduation and lived in Lubbock for about a year and then his dad wanted him in Austin so there we went.” Her voice had the hollowness of a very old bitterness.

“Ausitin’s a pretty good place.” Wilson said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Oh yeah.  I loved living there.” She said smiling back at him. “Tommy’s dad wanted him to be a lobbyist and that basically meant Tommy got to do what he did best..party.” the smile had faded from her face.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

She sighed and smiled at him. “Me too.  He was really a very sweet man when he wasn’t drunk or coked out of his head.” Her smiled turned sad. “But those times just seemed to go away.” She sighed and took a deep breath, as if blowing away the bad memories. “On the bright side, he was very rich so the divorce settlement was very generous. “

“And you came back to Wellington? About two years ago?” he said

“More like three.  I liked Austin but it seemed to sour a little after the divorce. It felt right coming home.  Especially when it’s a new and improved home.” She said smiling.

He shook his head.  “I still don’t quite understand what changed.  I mean how big is Wellington now, ten thousand?” he said.

“More like fifteen, I think.” She said, looking around.  “I don’t quite understand either. About five years ago ..” She paused and leaned in towards him, her voice low. “Now don’t quote me on this, this is what I heard.”

Wilson leaned in slightly too and matched her low tone. “Donna?” he said with a hint of a smile.

She smiled and replied. “right.  Donna. Anyway, about five years ago a man called Wilbur Jenson moved to town. He bought up a lot of the land east of town.  You remember where the old Lancaster wrecking yard was?” He nodded.  “He built a huge battery manufacturing plant and hired just about everyone in town who wasn’t already working.”

“Battery plant?” Wilson said.

She shook her head. “Not like the kind of batteries you put in stuff.. electric car batteries.”

Wilson nodded.  “How many people work there?” he said.

“I think like a thousand people work there now.  It’s grown some.” She said. “Then about four months later, another new guy moves into town.  Don’t ask me his name, I don’t know it.

Lakehouse Surprise

 

The heavy rain sheeted across the windshield, causing Erika to switch the wipers to their highest setting.  The rhythmic slap of the wipers allowed only momentary peeks onto the empty and dark two-lane road.

“She’s at the lake house.” Her dad had said.  “We weren’t expecting you till..” his voice abruptly cut off.

“Daddy?  Daddy are you there?” His voice, choppy and indistinct finally solidified.

“I’m here.  You’re driving I guess.  We didn’t…” She cut him off, not wanting to lose him again.

“I know you weren’t expecting me.  I wanted to surprise her.  For her birthday.” Her voice was not loud, but firm and just a little too calm.

“Sure.  That’s a great idea.  She’ll like that.  I’m sure she will.” His voice was flat and unconvincing.  “She’s at the lake house with the girls. Her friends.  ” his voice again flat.  “I think she said she’d be back sometime Monday.”

“Ok Daddy.  I’ll let you go now.  It’s starting to rain and I…” she heard the line drop and tried to get him back without success.  “Shit!” she spat, tossing the phone into the passenger seat.

The rain eased up and she saw the familiar road sign; Pilot Point 15 miles. She’d be at the lake house soon.  A glance to the wrapped gift in the passenger seat and all of the feelings, old and new, flooded through her mind; hope, fear, the yearning for acceptance, for something like peace.  “The book will help.” she thought, hoping.  “It will pull us together.”

“It worked wonders with my mom.” Her roommate had gushed. “We get along better than we ever have.  It really helped.” Joanie had said.

Erika had nodded and wanted so very much to believe.  She had wanted to press the questions that rang through her heart and demanded to be asked.  “Where you a disappointment too?   Did you never measure up to her friends, to her sisters, to other daughters?”  She kept them to herself.

“This will be different.” She thought.  “I’ll be honest and I’ll ask her to be honest.” Her internal voice rang hollow and she struggled to find the courage to believe her own thoughts.

Her mind was cluttered with worry and doubt, she nearly missed the turn off and braked hard, causing the car to slide slightly on the wet road.

Her heart was hammering.  She checked the rearview mirror; no cars in sight.  Closing her eyes, she took a single deep breath in and out.  She opened her eyes and steered into the lane.

Five minutes later she stood before the front door of the lake house.  The porch light was on and she tried to find the courage to knock.  Ringing the doorbell would be wrong, too formal.  They had been coming to this lake house since she was little.  She’d knock.  Soon she would knock.  She took one last long breath and knocked.

Time slowed down and she found herself hoping the door would somehow never open, that the situation would never be resolved.  The hope, the fleeting, immaterial and vague hope would become eternal.  She would at least have the hope. Her hopes were dashed as she heard the muffled thumps of approaching footsteps.

The door opened, a widening crack revealing cautious eyes that quickly gave way to confused surprise.  Her mother quickly and in one continuous motion opened the storm door, stepped out, and closed the front door to stand smiling blankly at Erika.

“Hello mother!  Happy Birthday!  I thought I would…” Her speech, composed and written over long, painful hours to say just the right thing, to have just the right mix of daughterly love, correct grammar, and firm, clear thought faded from her lips as her mind absorbed the condition of her mother.

Her hair, eternally perfect was in total, impossible disarray. She wore an old white cotton robe, firmly held together by the white-knuckled fist of her right hand. She was barefoot and her makeup was smudged.  Erika’s eyes seemed to lock on the bright red lipstick, very badly smudged, only half covering her lips. It was several seconds before she realized her mother had begun to speak.

“..expecting you.  I…really had no idea you would…  Why didn’t you call?  I…” her mother stammered. Her eyes darting like cornered, frightened animals.

Erika turned her eyes to meet her mothers and offered the wrapped gift.  “Happy Birthday mother.  I’ll see you soon.” She said, her voice flat and mechanical, and she turned away, not hearing the continued chatter behind her.

As she walked to the car, she heard the door close behind her, like the sound in some half-remembered movie, playing in another room.

“She’s the one who made the mistake, who didn’t measure up.  This time.” She thought,  A grim smile growing on her lips as she clicked the car remote.

A flash of lightning exploded silently above, causing her to stop and look up.  The rain came immediately along with the booming thunder.  The cold raindrops splashed onto her upturned face and mixed with the hot tears flowing from her eyes.