Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, True Life Formula for True Love…Sorta

ONCE UPON A TIME in a not too distant land, in the not too distant past, a young woman or, perhaps, a young man – you really can’t tell anymore – clicks some keys on a computer.  In a similarly not too distant land – if it isn’t the same land – a message arrives on the desk of a young woman who, this time, actually is both young and female.  The message makes her smile.
           
Selene, the young woman with the juvenile smile and the warm flush, clicks back.  A friendship is begun - begins with a few brief keystrokes.  The conversation, however, is anything but brief.  They exchange messages, exchange the details of their lives, in a steady, almost unending stream of clicks and clacks.  The ping of Selene’s computer becomes a constant accompaniment to the sound of crickets and the creaks and moans of the old farmhouse she calls home.
           
Selene gets very little sleep.  Her friendship is most intense at night – at all hours of the night – but sleep is of little consequence.  Selene senses a growing affection for the friend she knows only as Hera2014; she pines for the day they will meet.
           
Before any such meeting can be arranged, the fates intervene.
           
Hera2014’s dog is killed trying to cross the railroad tracks that run near her home.  She complains that Noodles, her beloved childhood pet, a dachshund who has enjoyed an extraordinarily long life, never made it over the northbound line, lamenting that only the front half of the unlucky wiener dog managed to cross the rails. When found, Noodles was poised for a run across the pasture that separated the rail line from their home; the rear half of the old dog was, unfortunately, still sitting patiently between the tracks waiting its turn.

Needless to say, Hera2014 is overcome by grief.  She is devastated by the abrupt loss of her most constant and familiar companion.  Selene is deeply moved by her friend’s grief and begs to visit.  All she wants is to hug and console her friend, to hold her close and take away some of the pain, but her offer is rebuffed.  Hera2014 is not ready for company.  She needs some alone time with her memories – and a bejeweled collar she now wears as a bracelet.  Their visit, their first meeting, will have to wait for better times.
           
Better times should take about a week.
           
They both agree.
           
The week passes with tedious pauses in the conversation.  Slowly, Hera2014 starts texting again and soon she seems to be back to her vigorous, near persistent, self.  The messages fill the night once more and Selene grows excited and anxious; their meeting is finally getting closer.  She has been packed since Tuesday.
           
On Friday, Hera2014 attends a frat party at the local college.  She is not a student but friends are going and she decides to tag along.  It is not – by any measure – a good decision.  A frat brother, a guy famous for smashing empty beer cans against his ample forehead, takes advantage of her in the living room…over the back of a sofa…in front of everyone.  She is too drunk or too drugged to do more than mutter the occasional “Wee!” and maybe – possibly – puke on the back of some anonymous guy kissing her breast.  She remembers puking, anyway.
           
Needless to say, Hera2014 is an emotional train wreck (no pun intended).  She is embarrassed…mortified…humiliated…shamed…and disgraced – plus one or two other words listed in the thesaurus on her desk.  She locks herself in her room.  Sitting on the bed, clutching her knees beneath the homemade quilt she got when her grandmother died, Hera2014 texts that she will never go out again.  She will spend what is left of her life alone.
           
Once again, Selene asks to console her inconsolable friend.
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Once again, she is rebuffed.
           
Questions are asked.
           
Have you told your family?
           
My stepfather would kill me.
           
What about the police?
           
Are you crazy? My friends would never speak to me again.  Those boys are THEIR friends.
           
“I’ll talk to you,” Selena texts.
           
“Thanks,” Hera2014 replies, following that text with, “I know”.
           
Another week later, Hera2014 gets thirsty.  There is nothing in the house except milk and water.  Tap water.  Yuck!  Hera2014 walks to the grocery store down the block and across the street.  She is promptly struck by a speeding pickup that is literally falling apart; the driver doesn’t stop but the police find a cracked mirror, bits and pieces of rust and some mud smudges on the street.    Hera2014 is thrown a record fifty-seven feet through the air landing with a coma inducing thud!
           
Selene doesn’t hear about the accident from Hera2014.  She doesn’t hear much of anything for days – and days of texting – until a different voice messages her back from Hera2014’s computer.
           
The new voice is detailed but brusque.  It is Hera2014’s sister but there is nothing warm about her.  Nothing like Hera2014.  The information is more like reading a newspaper.  At times it is harsh.  After a while, the messages get even harsher.  All the warmth, all the affection she came to love and to need is missing from the computer.  It is like a file has been deleted, a file Selene cannot bear to lose.
           
Selene tells her brother what has happened.  She wants to commiserate, to share her pain with someone close to her but he is amused.  He says it sounds like a country song.  She gets mad when he laughs and slams her door.  She stays locked away in her room connected to the outside by nothing but her recalcitrant computer.

The news continues to get worse.
           
The family is thinking of pulling the plug.
           
She wouldn’t want to live like this.
           
“Can I see her,” Selena begs.  Privately she cries and when the ping comes back to her, she cries harder.
           
No.
           
That would not be a good idea right now.
           
In time, the messages no longer matter.  Hera2014 is dead.
           
Her account is silenced.
           
Selena tries to express her condolences…
           
I am sorry…
           
I don’t know what to say…
           
She was my best friend…
           
…but the computer remains silent.
           
As Selena sits on her bed scratching her wrist with the tip of the X-Acto knife she uses for art class, she tries one last message.
           
I can’t tell you how much I miss her…
           
She waits…
           
Makes a second scratch…
           
And waits some more.

She makes six new scratches before the computer finally sings again.
           
Sometimes the wrong person dies, don’t you think?
           
As Selene presses harder on the blade, Hera2014’s messages disappear.  All of them.
           
Hera2014 no longer exists.
           
It could just as easily have gone black…and does.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dan O'Brien's "Mobsters, Monsters & Nazis"




Well, the time has come to announce Dan O’Brien’s latest project: Mobsters, Monsters & Nazis: a collaboration between Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud, who illustrated Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army and the Loose Change Collection Agency. What I am revealing today is the sketches for some of the interior illustrations (which will be black and white) of the first issue. It will be released as six issues (eBooks) starting on Halloween. It is influenced by film noir, pulp comics, and an abiding love of Lovecraft. It is now available for pre-order and Dan will be promoting it heavily starting in the month of October. He would love to hear what you think of it so far! Visit him at: http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ or on Twitter, @AuthorDanOBrien













Friday, August 29, 2014

GETTING THINGS RIGHT, Part Two

Marty stands in the kitchen staring at the stove.  He hadn't thought about dinner, not when he put that bullet in Edith's head.  There were a lot of things he didn't think about.  Eating certainly topped the list.  Underwear came next.  Realizing that Edith wouldn't be doing laundry anytime soon, the idea of dirty boxers piling up - how many did he have, anyway? - caused an unpleasant itch in an area where boxers are generally most comfortable. 

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It is not that Marty misses Edith.  He clearly doesn't miss the sound of her.  Her voice.  All of those insipid questions.  He is glad to be done with all that but he might miss the convenience of  a wife.  She was good for thing or two.  She was especially good at two but he is sure that won't present a long-term  problem.  Some skills are more easily replaced than others.

He has time, at least, to think about what to do next.  He needs to plan.  It might have been interesting to leave the ex-Mrs. Santore sitting in his chair staring at the lake she always found so fascinating.  It was a good joke.  Thinking about it, he feels himself smile. Edith Santore staring blankly at ducks and sailboats. Not seeing shit.  He never understood all that natural wondercrap she blabbered about every time she looked out that damn window.  The only time anything interesting happened out there - if anyone asked Marty, that is - his neighbors decided to go skinny dipping and ended up getting some exercise au naturel on that rock ledge that sticks out over the water.  The one that kids jump off during the season but it was only springtime when they decided to frolic in the dirt and do all that outdoor shit;  Marty figures they didn't know anyone was around.  The guy certainly didn't but his wife...there was at least half a chance she looked his way while she was polishing the pine.  He really should find out what's up with that.  Always meant to, but...

He could now, of course.  No questions asked.

It is still the off season (fall this time) and that is a plus.  He could keep her where she is for the moment but it wasn't the best idea to leave a moldering corpse in the living room for more than a couple of days. She was a stanky bitch on a good day; Marty suspected she would raise more than a little stink if he let her.  Someone might notice.  Even off season. Eventually, anyway.

Marty is sure he doesn't want to drag her to the car and drive somewhere.  Even in November, there were risks.  Besides, the ex let herself go a little bit the last couple of years.  Dead weight had a bit more heft to it than - let's say - once upon a time.  He always waited too long to do what's necessary.  

The camp has a dirt floor in the basement.  That might present the best option.  How hard could it be to dig a hole?  

Marty doesn't get much further than that.  He doesn't get into thinking about the Adirondacks or about digging holes in the mountains.  Rocks.  Boulders.  Roots.  Big mother roots as thick as his arm.  None of that steps forward.  Not when the back door opens.  Not when a new and different problem decides to upend his day.  Seems like there's something new everyday.

Ginger, his daughter - their one and only child - walks in innocent as you please.  Ginger is a stupid name. The wife, his ex-wife, liked it before they were at the fuck no stage in their relationship but it never made much sense.  Ginger is not a ginger.  She was born with light blond hair that went a lifeless, dirty blond by the time she was four.  Only trouble is today she is definitely not any kind of blond.  Today she is purple.  Electric purple!

Marty's mind sees purple - that fucking electric purple with one hot pink strip down the right side of her head - and burns red.  He has gotten used to the hooker cut-offs and the band-aid bathing suits her mother let her buy, but this...this...NO FUCKING WAY...people will think she's some kinda hippie and if she's a hippie what does that make him.

He hears NO FUCKING WAY in his head and sort of feels a click.  He sees a third eye appear in the center of her forehead.  It must be some sort of genetic thing.  Her face looks almost like her mother's. Same forehead, anyway.

Marty is amazed that she doesn't fall.  Just stares at him with that gap-mouthed, empty expression that always drives him  nuts.  FUCKIN' NUTS.  But this time he just wants to laugh.  He thinks about the cartoons he used to watch as a kid.  Thinks if he went over an poked her in that third eye - like Moe in The Three Stooges - she'd just fall over.  Thinks he might just do that when Ginger finally gets the message and falls down on her own.

She was always a little slow!

Marty is in the middle of a debate between two holes or one large one when just a hint of movement catches his eye.  Mrs. MacGregor is standing on his lawn - with her little rat-dog doing  business she won't bother to collect - staring through his window.  Her eyes are wide and her hand is over her mouth but Marty knows those ancient, dried up, crone fingers won't hold back a scream for long. The gun is still in his hand feeling light and oh so natural; it comes up in one fluid movement.  The bullet punches a nice neat eye hole in the glass and a second later MacGregor goes down - but not before it tears a chunk of stupid, old-lady-blue-hair from her head.  Marty can't help laughing; he remembers all those divots he threw up at the golf course last Saturday.  That was a truly bad day.

Three!

Maybe I should rent a backhoe!

Marty is conflicted.  He doesn't know if he should drag the old lady into the backyard or shoot her fucking dog.  The damn thing won't stop yipping in that mind-ripping little dog voice.  Shooting it would be a service.  People should have real dogs.  When they bark it means something...

Some decisions have to wait.  Marty is standing over the body when a copmobile pulls up with a Hollywood screech and slide.  The cop looks at Marty sort of drop-jawed.  He is surprised by the gun - this is not that type of neighborhood - but manages to get out of the vehicle quickly his own gun drawn.

Marty thinks how many bullets does this thing hold and fires.

No third eye.

Not clod of turf spraying skyward.

A thin scratch appears on the officer's cheek.  Maybe a bit of ear lobe explodes.  A tiny rivulet of blood drips down his neck.  A kid on a bicycle peddling by watching the drama falls to the asphalt. He is not hit but his bike suffers a critical injury.

The cop will live to retire, in the very near future, on a work related, hearing disability but his close encounter with a bullet pulls his attention from Marty for a split second.  Long enough for Marty to retreat into the backyard.  The stockade fence gate swings closed with a loud clank.  The latch drops into place securing a barrier between Marty and a very pissed off cop.

Since they both hold guns and Marty has demonstrated a willingness to use his, the officer is forced to act prudently.  He wants to plow through that fence like a champion bull with a scorpion on his nuts, pistol whip the sonovabitch that scarred his near-perfect face then shove his entire clip right up the fucker's ass but the thought of a second bullet hiding just out of sight makes the patrolman think twice about waiting for backup.  All he can do is crouch and vent; the cop squats behind a shrub throwing threats and invectives over the fence.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, shooting at a cop?  You think you can get away with that. You think I'm gonna let that go? You are done.  I'm gonna take that gun away from you and kick your sorry balls until they pop out your mouth.  Then I'm gonna shoot ya.  I'm gonna shoot you with every fuckin' bullet I got.  Maybe I'll borrow some more from the other cops - when they get here - and shoot you again and no one is gonna say a word.  You are dead. You understand me.  You hang onto that gun and you're dead.  Period.  You wanna live - I'm still gonna kick your ass - you throw that gun over this fence...

"I'm sorry."  Marty's voice comes from the blind side of the fence.

"Not good enough," the cop shouts back, "Throw away the gun."

"I made a mistake."

"You fucking did make a mistake! Throw the gun away!"

"I hate mistakes."

"I don't give a SHIT..."

The explosion blows a ragged hole through the fence about a foot above the patrolman's head forcing him to dive face-first into the dirt.  Sonovabitch tried to kill me, the officer thinks.  The words shout in his head.  He listened to my voice! He tried to aim!  The cops hands are still over his head offering whatever protection he can find; the truth is still on the other side of the wall.

Marty sits with his back to the stockade fence.  He is dead.  The bullet has left a neat, proper hole in the center of his forehead.  The back of his skull is not as nice.  Gelatinous brain goo (and maybe a few bone fragments) follow a rain of pine splinters through the hole in the fence.  The officer's uniform will definitely be bagged as evidence.  

Marty's last moment was an act of utter certainty.  He held the gun to his head and simply pulled the trigger. He did not blubber, argue or debate.  There wasn't any doubt.  It had to be done.  Period. There was little need for conversation.  He muttered two words, his epitaph...

I missed

...and he was gone.  

If he had a final thought it was at least I don't have to dig a hole.


Monday, August 4, 2014

GETTING THINGS RIGHT, Part One

Edith Santore climbs into the front seat of her husband's Hummer and hands over a double scoop waffle cone.  Dark, rich chocolate.  Her husband's favorite.  

Marty Santore watched her on the line, impatiently tapping perfectly manicured nails on the window. Edith always picked the wrong line.  Always took too long.  Her line was always the one with mechanical problems or staff problems or idiot customer problems.  If some inconsiderate jerk wasn't ordering sundaes for an entire busload of chunky, pimply-faced campers - make sure that one doesn't have nuts...little Timmy has allergies - some old fart with no reason to still be living was paying for a baby cone with nickles and pennies, counting them out one at a time.  The line was long enough without the bullshit that followed Edith - normally Marty wouldn't have put up with the wait - but it was hot and he had a thing for chocolate.

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Edith is all smiles while she watches Marty lick deep into his cone. Her man is going to enjoy this.  He has been talking about ice cream all afternoon - they drove here especially for their hard pack, homemade chocolate ice cream - but her smile doesn't last.  Two strokes of his tongue is all it took for the good feelings that came with anticipation to evaporate.

"What is this?" he demands, pointing the open end of the cone at his wife.  Edith thinks he might push it onto her nose.

"Cho...colate...wa...ffle cone," Edith answers, desperate not to stammer.  Marty hates it when she stammers.  While she struggles to control her voice, she feels herself burrow into the seat back, to put some distance between herself and her husband.  Marty hates that, too.

"This is not goddamn chocolate," he snarls, his voice going up as his eyes harden.  They always went silver-grey when he got angry.

"It's Death by Chocolate.  They have a lot of different chocolates.  The man said if you like chocolate, this was the best..."  Edith blurts the words in one breath.

The man said...

The man said...

The words explode like kernels of popcorn in his brain.  

"Do they have "chocolate" on that menu board?  That's a question: Do they?  I can see it from here.  Look, dammit!  I asked for CHOCOLATE.  C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E..."

He points at each letter through the car windshield.

"Seems pretty simple to me.  That's what I asked for.  I did not ask for chocolate fudge, chocolate mocha, chocolate swirl, triple chocolate or fucking Death by Fucking Chocolate.  I did not...I do not...want nuts and chunks of mystery shit in my ice cream. I did not ask you to milk the fucking cow. I asked for chocolate. Why...please tell me...why was that so hard."

Marty is getting loud.  People will start to listen, to watch them.  That would be bad.  Marty hates people staring.  

You wanna take a picture!  

Edith watches his fist start to tighten around the waffle cone.  Soon the ice cream will tumble onto the seat. That would be very bad.  The Hummer is HIS car.  It would be her fault.  That would be worse.

"The man said it was the best. I wanted you to have the best.   I was trying to do something nice...for you...I'm sorry."

I'm sorry changes everything.  A switch flips and Marty stops.  Everything stops.  Edith can feel it. The heat stops.  The anger stops.  The tension stops.  She sees it; it leaves her husband in a long breath, a breath that just sort of leaks out of him.  Whatever was going to happen, wherever his anger was taking him, simply dissolves.  Even his eyes change.  They are blue again.  That pretty, endearing blue.  The blue that got her to marry him in the first place.

"It's only ice cream," he shrugs as he lowers his window and lets his Death by Chocolate waffle cone flop onto the blacktop.

"Counterboy can clean that up."

Marty's tone is very matter-of-fact. He slips the Hummer into gear and pulls out of the parking lot, turning left.  North.  Home is south.

Edith knows exactly where they are going. She doesn't ask why.  She is just happy the storm has passed and passed easily.  Sometimes, when Marty gets angry he goes a little crazy.  Nothing she says will matter.  Nothing she says will make it stop.  It stops when Marty says it should stop. Period.

Route 9 becomes Lakeshore Drive and Lakeshore becomes Coolidge Hill...  

They are going to the lake.

They haven't been to the lake in a while.  Not since last year.  The house is cool and a little damp from the winter thaw.  She can smell just a bit of mold; he will want her to bleach everything.

"Take the big chair..."

His chair!

"...I'll be right back," he adds, smiling and nodding in her direction before disappearing  into his study.  It is the one room in the house that she does not have to clean.  It is his man cave, his sanctum sanctorum.  His escape.  Edith has never been in the study.

"It has the better view.  We can share."

Edith settles into the big recliner.  It is old and threadbare - it smells of cigars and beer and something else she doesn't recognize - but it holds sentimental value for her husband.  It  was his grandfather's. Marty sat on the old man's lap to watch the Mets games.  When Pops died, Marty took the chair before anyone could throw it out.  It has followed him from his grandfather's house to his mother's, to his first apartment and then, finally, to the lake house.  

Edith rubs her finger aimlessly over a small tear she repaired three summers ago.  You can barely see the stitches.  It was a good job.

The lake, beyond their window, is calm.  A sheet of blue-grey glass.  She is watching a blue heron glide above the water when Marty steps in front of her, blocking her view.  He is very casual and relaxed.  Calm.  Smiling.

"I'm sorry about the chocolate..." she starts to stay but he stops her.

"It was only ice cream," Marty counters, flashing a large, ingratiating smile. "It was a mistake..."

Edith wants to say sorry - or thank you for understanding - but she doesn't get the chance.  The bullet stops her.  One shot.  One hole.  In the middle of her forehead.  A third eye oozing a small rivulet of blood that drips off the tip of her nose.

"I hate mistakes."

A flock of geese fly past the window following whatever course they normally follow.  

The Hummer backs out of the driveway.

Outside the window, a canoe glides by. The sun begins to set and bats take flight. Edith continues to stare blankly through the glass.  She looks bewildered.

If Marty thought of it, he would say she always looked that way...


[to be continued]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mirror...Mirror

The scenario goes something like this:

A couple, who have been dating for - let's say - two years, break up.  Let's also say that he is the breakee. She has accused him of sleeping around, stealing money from her purse for drugs and alcohol and just being one mean, unreliable son of a fuck-face.  Fuck-face is her word.  He tells her in a text that he's done.  He can't take the accusations. He can't take her voice and all the yelling.  He can't take her mouth.  Well, he likes her mouth but he doesn't like the way she uses it.  He just can't take it anymore.

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Within minutes, the status messages start to fly.  She tells the world that he is a two-timing lowlife.  Her case is bolstered by any number of colorful and explicit adjectives.  He tells the same world that she is a paranoid, overbearing, dominating succubus. He does not use the word succubus (he can't spell it) but uses a shorter word that isn't technically allowed on social media.  The closest he comes to succubus is cu...

One day in, he changes his relationship status. To Single! She is furious. Devastated.  Hurt.  Embarrassed.  Bereft of self-worth, even.  Is that all their relationship meant to him? One day. She could have changed her relationship status first - lots of guys would have liked her new status - but she thought maybe there was still hope for them.  Her ire - and, of course, her grief - spawns near endless messages dripping with despair and newfound fury.  Likes positively ding off the hook - to resurrect an arcane image; the latest adjectives are more colorful and more anatomically impossible than before.

Within two days the tone of the rhetoric changes.  He admits to some extracurricular sex but it, the sex, wasn't his fault.  The woman was nuts.  A certified and certifiable paranoid schizophrenic, a schizoid.  He was afraid to say  no.  You know those people...you never know what they will do.  She scared the shit out of him.  He was thinking of her - the girlfriend, that is - of what would happen if he said "no".  The police might have to be called (which would be bad - there was a lot of weed in his backpack); she might have to identify his body.  He was only thinking of her.

She cries.

He cries.

More messages find a voice.  The woman who fell ever so deliberately on her unwilling boyfriend's undulating (though unwilling) member is vilified and threatened with the worst kind of violence. Mention is made of her kid brother's new baseball bat and the alleged sluts patently unclean body parts.  Boyfriend and girlfriend are reunited without further mention of money, drugs or a somewhat lengthy history as a fuck-face...

This is not, I should mention a Lifetime movie.  No one will ultimately be murdered.  There won't be a lengthy trial (with a patently ridiculous verdict) to kill some time.  This drama is playing out on social media and I am on the computer because there is nothing left to watch.  Vikings is in hiatus.  I am up to date with Salem and I've managed to watch every episode of The Misfits (in just three days) and I cannot bring myself to watch one more re-run of Law and Order SVU.  What's left?

I do not understand why I keep reading these things.

I don't know why people keep posting them.

I should shut off the computer.  Maybe read a book.  I have two pages left to one of Dean Koontz's Odd books.  I have had two pages left for three weeks.

Do you really want to leave this page?

They always ask that.  Am I making a mistake?

Magnus Rex 321 is complaining about the bathroom at Starbucks.  He should try the stalls at Walmart but...but wait...which Starbucks?

This is stupid.

I should click yes.

Just one click.

This is really hard.

I'll get a cup of tea first. 

He got a vasectomy without telling her.  What if she wanted children?


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Excerpt from AUF WIEDERSEHEN, LAMPIONE

CHAPTER TWO
Portrait Of A Miscreant

I was a Catholic School brat.

My school, my elementary school, at least, had a strange look. It was a squat, four story, block-wide, brown brick building devoid of exterior ornamentations. It could very easily have been a factory or, if you believe those of us who went there, a prison. The school had two entrances, both double-wide steel gray doors. My entrance, the boy’s entrance, was through the back of the building. The girls entered through virtually identical double doors on the opposing side of the school; wooden crosses were affixed to their doors though I couldn’t say what they guarded against. None of the girls looked like vampires from a Peter Cushing film. There was never anything that exotic entering Our Lady of Perpetual Pain.

The girl’s portal opened onto the main office and the auditorium. More thought was given to design and appearance on this side of the building. This was the public face of the school. A half-story marble staircase rose to a wide landing. A Sacred Heart of Jesus statue commanded the landing and oversaw everyone entering the building.

There have been any number of movies featuring miscreant students kneeling before a statue with books balanced on upraised hands. They are all, with some variations, historically accurate. At my institution, we were not allowed to kneel. The good sisters were not about to allow any resting – even if only against the heels of our feet during brief, unsupervised moments. No, at Our Lady of Perpetual Pain, the offending student was required to stand before the statue. Feet together. Shoulders back. Arms extended forward in a supplicating posture. The Mother Superior or one of her minions drew a tight circle around our feet in chalk (similar to those chalk outlines on crime dramas); we were required to stay within that circle at all times. Two nuns then placed two old, heavy and fragile looking leather bound bibles on each outstretched hand. God help the student who dropped the word of God on the floor. There were always more creative ways to instruct a wayward soul. Thank you, Torquemada. 

On one occasion – there were several – when I found myself staring up into the mournful eyes of the Son of God, I had to pee. I have a medically-certified weak bladder. I was provided a note from a Board Certified member of the Urological Sciences after a series of seriously embarrassing tests involving an indeterminate length of hose and gallons of water. Said note was filed and forgotten as soon as it left my Mother’s hand. Straying from the path before lunch and getting caught was an unfortunate miscalculation. Lunch was our proscribed, pre-ordained, tolerated and permitted bathroom time. Anything else was covered by one of the seven deadly sins (Hubris and Sloth were probably inscribed on my permanent record) promising a discussion with the Mother Superior. Knowing that I could not leave the circle without permission – which might not be granted in any case – I kept to my post casually shifting my weight from one foot to the other, doing the pee-pee dance while I desperately prayed for salvation. Salvation was not forthcoming. I voided before the statue that greeted parents and bishops.

The urge to urinate is sort of like having an itch and trying not to scratch. As soon as I knew I had to go, my whole body began working against me. My casual soft shoe quickly became vigorous. I began bouncing from one foot to another – always keeping within the circle – at an increasingly frantic pace. I could not have moved faster had the nuns placed hot coals under my feet. To protect the bibles, I crossed my arms tightly clasping the awkward, unbalanced tomes to my chest. I began to pray.

Please, no…God, please, no…Oh, God, please, please God…Oh, Dear God, please not now…please…SHIT!

When it started, there was no stopping. I lacked the muscles or strength of will to simply leak, to dribble. My shame was abrupt and dynamic. My pants darkened from zipper to ankle. Water gushed over my sock and shoe and pooled around my feet. The urge to dance passed and I found myself standing before the Sacred Heart of Jesus, head back, eyes closed in reverie (there is a lot of relief when you really…really…oh dear God…really have to go); every drop held by my magically and miraculously bottomless bladder spilled onto the marble floor.

If Catholics do not believe in Karma, they should. As if on cue, Sister Magdalena appeared on the stairs. Her entrance was timed not only to witness my disgrace but to focus the attention of the entire school – and perhaps the universe – on my most spectacular indiscretion; within seconds, everyone knew of my personal oasis in the center of hell. Her first reaction was to scream. She could not have screamed louder had she stumbled upon Pope Paul VI and the convent’s ancient mastiff Domingo engaged in intense, interactive prayer.

“What in God’s holy name do you think you’re doing!!!” echoed up and down the stairwells and along each hallway.

Sister Magdalena was a thin, forty-five year old soprano. She spoke in that same screechy, high pitched whine whether giving a lesson, raising her voice during choir practice or chatting on the phone with a parent. The only reason no one laughed during class was that she taught religion. No one laughed during religion.

My heart nearly crashed into the Pearly Gates at the sound of her voice. The bibles tumbled from my arms. A disjointed attempt to catch them in mid-flight failed miserably. One landed with a splash, further parting the seas and increasing my shame and humiliation. Fear reached new levels. What was left for me? The sign they would hang around my neck this time was Heretic. They burned heretics once upon a time. Our Lady of Perpetual Pain had at least one nun old enough to remember the recipe.

I was not allowed to go home to change my clothes or to wear any of the castoffs that the school collected. My Mother was called. The situation – as it pertained to me – was explained with sincerest regrets. Mom was informed that they would call again when I was ready to go home. She should be ready to collect me then. I spent the rest of the school day balancing bibles – that sin had not been paid for yet – while my urine stained pants dried. After school, after the entire female student body got to walk past me towards the exit – making note of the unpleasant scent of sin – I was required to wash and dry the stairs from top to bottom. When I was done, Mother Superior had me place my nose on the cold marble and sniff. While I was bent low snorting damp stone, she informed me, in her standard monotone, that a clear thinking Christian boy would not have to be told what to do next. A good Christian soldier would do the right thing and make sure the steps were clean – for the glory of God. She obviously thought – and maybe knew – that I wouldn’t do the right thing. I was ordered to wash them again before I had a chance to answer.

Mom came to collect me when the job was done; not once did she protest my punishment.

*

There was a rumor – a Catholic School urban legend – that insisted sucking on a copper penny gave you a fever. It was a rumor I needed to be true. More than anything, I wanted to be sick. More than anything, I wanted to stay home and serve my time for a day or two – or even a week or two – in my room. I sucked on that penny all night. I slept with it under my tongue and spit it behind my bed in the morning. I complained about fever and begged to stay in bed tucked under the covers.

I was sent to school without as much as a cool hand on my allegedly enflamed cheek. Mom was not one to end punishment early. I guess time off for good behavior wasn’t Christian.

*

The Mother Superior’s office was to the right of the statue of Jesus just outside the auditorium. She spent her days behind a solid mahogany door that was never left open. A brass door handle, brass nameplate and a golden crucifix, symbols of her office, were all highly polished. A single, simple and uncomfortable (take it from me) chair sat to the side of her office door. Apparently couples were not expected or encouraged by the Mother Superior. Anyone who came in pairs – parents, for instance – had to stand.

Inside, the walls were lined with mahogany book shelves. The bibles were in there somewhere. Hiding. Waiting. The Mother Superior sat behind a suitably ornate, authoritative, mahogany desk. It is where visitors to the school stopped before being escorted anywhere else. I do not know what she did behind that door; every time I was sent to speak with Mother, her hands were clasped around her rosary. I had the impression that I disturbed her prayers a lot; every time she looked up there was a tired, forlorn look in her eyes.

Twin staircases rose from either side of the lobby toward the second floor. The marble ended at the top – just out of sight.

Mahogany was a theme throughout the building. It was dark and impenetrable. Very little light made it into Our Lady of Perpetual Pain.

*

The entrance on my side of the building, the boys’ entrance, opened onto a small foyer barely wider than the doors. Twin steel staircases scissored back and forth towards the upper floors. Hallways on each landing provided access to the classrooms on the second and third floors and the teacher’s rooms on the fourth. Unescorted students were never allowed on the top floor.

Since boys and girls shared these stairs and passageways to get around the building – the girls’ entrance was only used to enter the school – steel mesh walls, the same heavy gauge, heavily painted metal that covered the windows enclosed the stairwells and divided the halls, keeping the sexes apart on the stairs and in the classrooms. I have a habit of mentioning movies and television shows to describe everyday activities; navigating Our Lady of Perpetual Pain reminded me of Stalag 17.

In the third grade, I developed a crush on a fourth grader from the other side of the wire. Most of the time, when the girls walked the halls, they marched as if in a processional, eyes fixed on the shoulder blades of the girl directly ahead, faces either naturally blank or lost in introspection. Mary Ellen Coffey was different but I cannot define how. She walked, talked and acted like every other girl in her class. Shedidn’t wear her plaid uniform skirt shorter (or longer, for that matter) than anyone else. There was never an extra button undone on her blouse. Her pleats were always starched and perfect. I noticed both. The silver cross she wore around her neck was the prescribed length and worn in exactly the same way as every other girl.

Mary Ellen’s cross was always perfect. It was the ID badge it was intended to be. Mary Ellen was a poster child. On the surface. That’s what my brain kept telling me, anyway. When I was near her I felt it, like some sort of individuality pheromone she let escape or allowed to slip past the facade. The reality, maybe (or probably), was that I had discovered horny ahead of the curve.

The boys wore similar crosses through the boutonniere hole on their jacket collar. Mine was always twisted or turned upside down. Sometimes it fell off altogether. I was always being told to stop fidgeting when I tried to fix it. I was never going to be asked to pose for photos in The Tablet or for any of the pamphlets the school mailed to parents. Somehow I never fit in. The occasional growth spurt left my pants too short. My shirt tails never stayed properly tucked. I had a permanently wrinkled, permanently disheveled look (made worse by the fact that Mom was never good with an iron). My differences were always on display or made public knowledge by ever vigilant teachers; they repeatedly felt the need to correct my slovenly deficiencies through mindless, repetitive exercises and lengthy punishments publically administered. I was often called to the front of the class to read some specifically tailored exercise. Why God Cries When My Shirt Tails Flap in the Breeze? was a personal favorite. I read it as the opening act to one of Mother Superior’s assemblies.

On one occasion, when the entire school was heading towards the auditorium for an assembly, I saw Mary Ellen’s class approach from the opposite direction. I tried to catch her eye and caught a fleeting glimpse of a smile and, less probably, a wink. I stuck my fingers through the wire mesh and wiggled them. A little secretive wave at the enticing Mary Ellen. It was an action without thought – at least what the nuns would call Christian thought – but not without consequence. I was fixated on the fourth grade love of my life but failed to take note of her teacher; nuns travelled with every class. The ruler was as much a part of her uniform as was her floor-length black robes and her beads and it struck my intruding fingers with a force only an eighty pound, eighty year old Bride of Christ can produce. I withdrew my digits with a yelp – repressing more than a few tears – and fast-stepped after my class. I was removed from the assembly for a talk with the Mother Superior. It was not my first; in truth, I was a regular on that seat outside her door.

I never got to speak to Mary Ellen. With my fingers red and bruised, I headed home. A block from my house, and away from the watchful eyes of the Good Sisters of Perpetual Pain, Bill Coffey passed me a note from his sister. Bill was in my class. A fellow third grader. He was shorter, squatter and heavier than me. The note offered a little encouragement. You didn’t cry. Good for you. The note came with a PS. Bill delivered a quick, powerful sucker punch straight to the gut. It knocked the wind out of me and doubled me over. I would like to say that he caught me by surprise but, in truth, I was never athletic. The only muscles I owned were in a Charles Atlas exercise book under my bed.

While I was still spitting and gasping for air, Bill added his own brief warning.

“Stay away from my sister, wop!”

I watched Bill Coffey trot off without a care in the world. When he turned the corner, I cried. Third graders do cry…when they can get away with it. I stayed on the street until I could dry my eyes and headed home.

*

Mom greeted me with a swift, and firm, slap to the face as I walked through the door. It, too, was a sucker shot. The Mother Superior had called. It was the fourth time I was struck in just under three hours. Hand, belly and butt still hurt. My face stung and burned red. I was beginning to run out of body parts.

“Why can’t you just behave?” Mom asked in her shrill, no-nonsense voice.

I wanted to say I didn’t do anything wrong. I wanted to protest. All I did was wave at a girl, for Chrissakes, but I would never have added the Chrissakes! Mom’s second slap would have reverberated throughout the neighborhood. Sinning before the Mother Superior was one thing; sinning before the Son of God…fuck, I would have been lucky if they still burned sinners at the stake in our Brooklyn neighborhood. I wanted to tell my mother that I liked this girl. She was cute. Your little boy is growing up, but I never got the chance. First of all, guys don’t talk that way to their moms and secondly, it wouldn’t have mattered. Mom was already in full rant mode screaming about embarrassing the family.

“Do you have any idea what they think of us?”

No, I thought to myself, but you’ll tell me. You always do. I grabbed my bag, an imitation leather case that buckled across the top and headed up the stairs towards my bedroom. I left Mom’s tirade behind me.

“That’s right…go to your room…and stay there…stay there until your father comes home…I’m sure he’ll have something to say…”

They certainly would have something to say. Mom would still be angry when he got home and the speech would be revisited but not with me. Dad would think it was all silly. That would be the word he’d
use. Silly. He might even wonder what all the fuss was about: his son waved at a girl. So what. I didn’t think Dad would come up the stairs. Dad rarely reprimanded me – I had to really…really work hard to get his attention; I was capable but waving at Mary Ellen just wasn’t Dadworthy – and he never cared what they thought of us at the school.

I lay on my bed and waited for the pain to go away. I fell asleep before it did.

https://www.createspace.com/4671978

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE GOOD REVEREND DOCTOR PARKER

[excerpted from a larger work-in-progress, Revelations.]

...THE REVEREND ELLISON PARKER was everyone favorite pastor.  He offered the invocation at the beginning of every Town Board Meeting, sponsored teen nights in the church basement and gave the benediction at most community gatherings.  He officiated at weddings and funerals, was present for baptisms and stood in uniform and prayed every Memorial Day and every Veteran’s Day. He rolled up his sleeve and got dirty whenever Mother Nature or some less impressive human counterpart dealt injury to his flock.  At night, he knelt by his bedside and read from the bible before sliding under the covers for an evening of well-deserved, gratifying peace.

We later learned that the good reverend’s wife slept in the smaller bedroom down the hall. That didn’t matter to the Reverend Dr. Parker.  Every night, he pulled the covers high around his neck.  He lay on his side and spent a few minutes bending his knees just so and shifting his back and shoulders until he found that perfect place on the mattress.  It was old and all the dents and imperfections accepted his body perfectly.  When he was completely comfortable, his arm, the upper one, the right one, slipped across the body of his young daughter and pulled her to him.  She began sharing his bed when she was four; the practice continued until she was twelve years old. 

There was an early frost that October, but Ellison didn’t feel the cold.  He never felt cold at night.  What he felt instead were curves that weren’t there before.  When he touched her, he felt her breath hitch.  He heard, or imagined, the tiniest moan slipping past his daughter’s lips.  He felt her move, or thought he felt her move or envisioned his young daughter moving next to and against him and he was appalled.  This was not right.  This was sin.  Every evil ever visited upon men by women found entre into his bedchamber that evening.  The good Reverend Ellison Parker could not abide sin.  Sin had to be dispatched quickly.  Decisively.   And so, just one week before Halloween, in the nearly morning hours well before dawn, evil was quickly and quietly returned to the shadows.

The Reverend’s car ended up in Barker’s pond.  He sent it off the end of the pier and let it sink into the water and the mud.  Barker’s pond is not very deep but it was just deep enough to cover the trunk.  Only the red of the tail lights broke the surface of the water.

I was there when we opened that trunk.  Little, twelve year old Emily Parker, lay in that trunk stuffed behind the spare tire.  She was naked. And broken.  There were bruises on her thighs and her chest and her neck.  Her hands and her ankles and her mouth were taped.  Her eyes were wide open.  They were the biggest eyes I had ever seen and I was convinced that she saw everything when he carried her into that trunk.  In that desperate part of my mind, the part that now needed to retire, I believe she saw everything as we carried her to the ambulance.

The good reverend locked her in the trunk alive.  He let her die in the dark without a single creature comfort. He let the icy water bubble in and take her slowly.  The Most Reverend Doctor Parker left his daughter to the most sinister death imaginable.  There may be more evil ways to kill a person but when I stared into that trunk at the bloating body of young Emily Parker, I could not think of any.

When the car was removed from the murky waters, Ellison Parker was not behind the wheel.  The evidence suggested he slipped into the woods behind the pond and disappeared for a while. 

The Reverend never stood in a courtroom to answer for his crimes.  Rumor has it that he was shot trying to break into a barn.  It was December by then and he was probably trying to keep warm.  I do not know the circumstances.  I did not investigate Ellison Parker.  I am ashamed to say I put my papers in the morning after we opened that trunk; I left that duty to someone else but I was glad to know he was gone.  The bullet that took him was up close and personal.  It was the type of closure that comes from a trunk slamming shut.  That was enough.

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LCCN: 2014903373
ISBN-13: 978-1495959967