Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Alex Xavier

An excerpt from my new novel:


We got to the church and it was startin' to fill up. Grandma found a seat in the first row and saved space for me and Momma. Momma was sweatin' real bad. She wiped her forehead with a handkerchief. We sat down next to Grandma. Momma wiped her face again.
The organ player was a fat man with a gheri curl. He was smilin' real hard and sweatin' even harder. He was bangin' out the sounds and people was standin' up swayin', wavin' they hands and sayin' "yes, Lord!"
Grandma was tappin' her foot. She had on a small blue hat with lace around it. I had never seen it before and started to wonder where she kept it. It was nice. The choir started singin' and it was like heaven opened right up. The singin' was loud, real loud, and the sound from the speakers on the stage went right through our bodies. We could feel they praise. One young girl in the choir, she was probably my age, started singin' this song, "Oh Happy Day." She let out that voice and the people started shoutin' louder. They was tappin' they feet. Some stood up and shouted, yellin’ for her to go on. A couple people was even dancin' in the aisles. The young girl was usin' her whole body to get the words out. It was like she was vibratin’. I looked over at Momma and it looked like she was cryin'. Although she could have just been sweatin’. She wiped her eyes. Grandma was singin' along. I hadn't heard her sing since I was a real little kid, and I forgot she had a good singin' voice. She sounded real good.
The new pastor of the church came from around back and walked to the podium. He had on a dark gray suit with a bright yellow tie. He was young with a mustache and slicked back hair. The young girl was just finishin’ the song. The people was full of energy and smilin' and cryin' and fannin’ themselves. They was clappin’ and clappin’. The young girl smiled and moved back to her place in the choir.

"Let the church say Amen," the pastor said.

"Amen," the church said.

"God has truly blessed us with the voices of angels. Amen?"

"Amen," the church said.

"Lord said, seek me, and you shall find me. And church, I see some of y’all are seekin’. Amen."

"Amen."

"Yes, Lord," one woman said behind us. I looked back and saw she was wearin’ a big pink hat.

"But church, there are many out there, many sheep, who have strayed from the flock. Amen."

"Amen."

"And church, these sheep, these sheep who have strayed, church, they've found other things to sustain them. They're not sustained by the Word! Church, they're not sustained by the Lord! Amen."
"Amen."
"No church, they have found gangs, and, and drugs. They're not sustained by the risen Christ. Now, now, Jesus said, judge not, lest ye be judged. So church, don't get me wrong today. Don't get me wrong.”
Some people chuckled.

"I don't want to judge the sheep who are grazin’ on the food of gang bangin’ and drugs. No, church. I want to steer these lost sheep back to the flock! I want them to be sustained by the Word of Christ. Can the church say Amen?"
"Amen!" the church said. He went on some more about the evil of gangs and drugs. I thought about some crackheads and boofers in our neighborhood. I wondered if they thought drugs was evil. The preacher went on some more and after a few minutes the choir started singin' again. After hearin’ a song I never heard before, the young girl came back to the front of the stage and started singin' again. "Sinner pleeeeaaaasse!" she called out. It sent chills through the church. Her voice, and those words, sent an energy through everybody. All of a sudden it was like she was a lot older than me, at least like 50 years old, and had a long, hard life. Like she had been through things that grown ups go through. She wasn’t a little kid like me. Not right now. Not while she was singin’ this song. I could feel it. Seemed like everybody else could, too.

“Sinner, pleeeeaaase don’t let this harvest pass,” she sang. “And die and lose your soul at last.”

I looked over at Momma and she was definitely cryin’ this time. But she was also smilin’.
“You okay, Momma?” I asked.

She just nodded. I looked at Grandma and she was just tappin’ her foot with no look on her face.

“See where Christ has died for you and me,” the girl went on. “My God is a mighty man of war.”
She sang some more and it was like the Holy Ghost, whatever the Holy Ghost was, was right there with us. There was so much energy, smilin’, cryin’, dancin’, wavin’ and faintin’. After the song ended everyone clapped. The old woman who was singin’ was now a young girl again, walkin’ back to her place in the choir.

The pastor came back to the stage and preached some more about sinners and acceptin’ them, not judgin’ them. I found a loose thread on my shirt and started to play with it. I didn’t hear much more after that. Church ended a while later and Momma and Grandma didn't say nothin'. We got up and walked out the buildin’. We started walkin’ home. Grandma was already a few steps ahead of us.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Helios

At some point this was for sell. Oh well. Enjoy...



The Barn


Every so often in the rural lands, in between the blurs of fields of waist-high golden reeds, slicing into the wide tranquility of a picture-perfect baby blue sky, there can a conspicuous and welcomed sign of life. 

Sometimes, her grandeur juts out of the ground into the air for 30 or 40 feet. She’s bedecked in the color of a Catholic cardinal’s biretta, or that of a waning rose whose fragrance has pleased to the fullest extent; having served its purpose it can simply do no more. She is trimmed in what resembles the brilliant gleam of a south Pacific pearl, crafted by similar fashions that require care and diligence. Her heart is a huge doorway, permitting the passage of tenderness.

She is staunch but doting. Built firmly to withstand the strongest storm but sheltering enough to accommodate the softest down. Inside you might find enthusiastic youth zealous at existence and prancing about to prove it. Or you may come across aged wisdom that has seen and done it all, now satisfied to simply enjoy the gentle breeze and the bounty of the earth, taking the wondrous star-filled night for granted.

There are chambers inside that each hold something special. Sectioned off and protected, the things that dwell here know they are cherished. At her apex, where beds of blond silky hairs lay, is often where dreams are hatched and wishes realized. Yes, her presence in the countryside can be reassuring.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been to the countryside in quite some time.  And this great form that I’m thinking of that juts into the big beautiful blue will one day no longer contain youthful zeal. The pearly gleam will one day be more of an ecru, a worn egg-shell type of hue. The deep crimson that once encircled her will be faded by burdens and time. She will be more the tone of fresh clay, much like soil that no longer yields ripe fruit. Her gated heart will be imperfectly slanted, cracked and splintered.  Her strong facade will be leaning remnants of inert pine with huge cavities and wide gaps. One day she will represent the last of her kind. This amazing form may one day be surrounded by new luster and new elements that tower above her. Do not fear it. It is the natural order of things.


And yet, the youth that once lived there will grow to be wise. The contents she once cherished will be cherished by the world. The stars that lovingly winked at her will wink at us! Her crimson coat will exist more gloriously in the hearts and minds of those who loved her than it ever did in life. Hold fast to the comfort and protection she provided when the rain was falling and the hail was crashing.


Yes. Some day from now, the time for cranberry-colored sanctuaries with floors of satiny hair the color of sunshine will pass. She can do no more. It will be up to those whom she touched, to savor her sweet memory. This they must do, to the fullest extent.

 

 

 

In D’oh We Pray


            Scott tossed and turned. He fidgeted with this hair. He groaned. He lay in his bed looking at the ceiling, blankets covered him from head to toe. Tomorrow he would take part in his D’oh of Passage. Upon reaching the age of 13 every boy and girl in his church was required to undergo the D’oh as a display of their dedication and devotion to the Church of Homer Simpson. When he was younger he had witnessed the ceremony in awe. He always looked forward to the night when he would do it: the first Tuesday after the thirteenth year when the season’s first reruns were scheduled to air (usually in March). Even though he often dreamt of his special night, he was very anxious.


            “What if I get the prayer wrong? What if I forget a word? You know you have to have it memorized??”


            “Chill out, bro. You’ll be fine. When I did it three years ago, I was nervous, too. But I was able to calm down and get the words right and then eat the sacred Donut. You’ll be okay.”


            “Yeah? Maybe you’re right. It should be okay.”


            “Trust me, little brother. Just pray to Homer. That’s what I did. Say a prayer to Lord Homer and all the Springfieldian Saints.”


            “You’re right.”


            “I know. May Homer be with you.”
 

            “Thanks, bro. And also with you.”

 
Deacon got up to leave his brother’s room but he suddenly paused.
 

            “You know, Scott, dad would be proud of you. I just wanted to tell you that.”

 

            Scott smiled.

 

            “You think so?”

 

            “I know so. If he hadn’t drowned in that giant vat of bacon fat, he would be right there with you, sipping the sacred Duff beer and eating mountains of deep fried Ho Hos.”

 

            “Thanks, Deacon. That means a lot to me.”

 

            “No problem, dude. Now come down to breakfast. You’ll need some energy for school today. Plus mom is making your favorite.”

 

            “Double refried ham sandwiches?!”

 

            “Yep! With grape jelly!”

 

            “Cowabunga, dude!”

 


            The kitchen was messy and filled with the air fried treats. Spilled flour and cooking utensils covered the countertops.

 

            “Good morning, son. Glad you could make it down for breakfast.”

 

            “Hey, mom.”

 

            “Little guy here is nervous, mom, but I told him it’ll be okay. I went through the same thing.”

 

            Mrs. Sizlak smiled. She was a devoted and loving mother. She wore her hair eighteen inches straight up, as was tradition for women in the Church of Homer.

 

            “Yes, it’ll be fine Scott. Are you hungry? Have a seat at the table. And since tomorrow is your big day, you can lead us in prayer.”

 

            Scott was pleased at the opportunity to lead his family in breakfast prayers. Meals were probably the most important part of life in the Church of Homer.

 

            “Homer is good, Homer is the best,” his voice was a bit shaky. Deacon tapped his shoulder and gave him a reassuring look. Scott grinned and started over. “Homer is good, Homer is the best. May our donuts be jelly-filled, and our chicken only breast. May our bacon be sweet and greasy, and our lives, slow and easy. To Homer we pray, D’oh!”

 

            “Good, job, son.”

 

            “Way to go, little bro.”

 

            Scott beamed. He knew tomorrow would be the best day of his life.

 

            “Mom, these double refried ham sandwiches look awesome! Can you please pass the honey and the powdered sugar?”

 

            Mrs. Sizlak slid the condiments over.

 

            “Sure thing, hon. I understand you have a big quiz today at school. Did you study?”

 

            “Of course, mom. I’m prepared.”

 

            “Excellent. That’s what I like to hear.”

 
            Scott was the first one in his seat when the bell rang for class. He had done well in all his courses, straight As, in fact. His first course of the day nearly didn’t happen, though. It was a controversial topic at the school board two years ago. Should religion be taught at public schools? was what repeatedly came up. But the board eventually approved the school’s curriculum with a slim vote of 4 to 3. The one caveat was that the core course must be inclusive, not just based on one religion, and today’s quiz was reflective of that.

 

            Question 1.


            True or False


            The Sect of Lisa is fundamentally opposed to teachings held by the Church of Homer.

 
            Scott thought for a minute. Was this a trick question? He only personally knew one member of the Sect of Lisa, Charla, who sat directly across from him, although there were probably a few dozen members throughout the school. She wore the traditional spiky hair and fake pearls, and often found it her obligation to correct her male counterparts on nearly everything they said.

 
            Scott thought, the Sect of Lisa stood for women’s rights, the right to education, and the right to balanced meals. He figured the answer was True, but just to be sure, he glanced over at Charla’s paper. The T was circled. Sweet D’oh, he thought.


            Question 2.


            It is a commonly held belief in the Sect of Lisa that Homer is not a god, but a drunken prophet hell-bent on destroying the world with nuclear power.


            Something in Scott’s stomach felt uneasy. His God? Destroying the world? The question seemed to cross a line. Scott was offended. He looked around the room. All the other seventh graders were simply taking their tests. They seemed unfazed by the second question on the sheet, but Scott felt he had to say something. He felt compelled. Tomorrow he would profess his faith in Homer to the world, and at this moment, a passion began to swell in his chest.


            “Mr. Flanders, I have a concern about question number two.”


Several of the students looked up, including Charla.


“Yes, Scott. What is it?” Mr. Flanders tried to whisper.


Scott looked over at Charla. She was eyeing him intensely.


“Well, sir, I think it goes too far. In fact, I know it does. I’m offended by the question, sir.”


“Scott,” Mr. Flanders started. “We have to keep an open mind—”
 

“Look, Scott,” Charla jumped in. “Your Homer is a drunken prophet. This question shouldn’t offend you. It should enlighten you. Lisa is the one true God.”


Scott was blown away.


“What? How? Are you kidding me, Charla?”


“It’s true. I’ve studied your First Book of Moe. Read the last verse. It says it all. ‘And Lo, Homer drank the Duff beer and saw that it was good, real good.’ ”


Scott was furious by now.
 

“How could you, Charla? I wish the wrath of Homer and his vengeful Power Plant on you! May all the blasphemous followers of Lisa be struck down into the fiery pit of Monty Burns!”
 

Mr. Flanders had heard enough.


“Scott! Charla! That’s enough. Either get back to your tests or report to the principal’s office.”


The students calmed themselves and went back to the papers on their desks: Scott angrily answered True for the second question.
 

At lunch Scott sat with a group of his Church of Homer friends. There was Apu, the transfer student from Sweden; Lenny and Carl, twins who were both world record holders at darts; and two kids named Bart. They were both “slow” and took remedial classes.


“Scott, we heard about what happened in your World Religions class,” Apu was the most devout church member Scott had ever met. He had taken part in his D’oh of Passage only two weeks ago and he already knew he wanted to be a Homerian Priest.


“Yea, Charla’s crazy. I couldn’t believe she would say those things. I still wish the fiery torment of Monty Burns upon her.”


He glanced over at Charla’s table. She sat with four girls and one boy, all of the Sect of Lisa. They delicately ate their carrot sticks and celery stalks. The sight sickened Scott.


“Gross. How can they eat that crap?”


Apu and the Barts laughed. Lenny and Carl were arguing about which ice cream flavor was the best.


“Guys, help us settle this. Which flavor is better, butter pecan pork? Or rocky road turkey giblet?”


“Wow. That’s a tough one,” Apu thought a moment. “I’m going to go with butter pecan pork.”


“Not me,” Scott weighed in. “Give me rocky road turkey giblet. With extra gravy sprinkles.”


The Barts agreed.


They went back to their lunches of grilled cheese and syrup sandwiches, but Apu couldn’t seem to let the Charla thing go.


“We should kill them all.” The other boys froze. Apu continued. “The Sect of Lisa is nothing but liars and infidels. They curse our mighty Homer and the Holy D’oh. I wish I could unleash upon them all the nuclear power in the world. One more word out of that Charla and—”


“Apu, dude, chill,” Scott looked worried. “Dude, calm down. It’s not that serious. Tomorrow is my big night. Let’s forget about those Lisa weirdoes. Are you going to be able to make it tomorrow?”
 

            Apu softened.


            “Of course I’ll be there, dude. I wouldn’t miss it.”


            “Cool, man. May Homer be with you.”
 

            “And also with you.”


The next day Scott found himself looking joyfully in the mirror. His ceremonial white collared shirt and blue pants fit him nicely. They were Deacon’s and before that their father’s. Scott rubbed his small belly, imagining the day when it would be a fully grown gut worthy of praise. 


 “Lookin’ good, bro. Your belly’s still a bit smallish, but you’re getting there.” Deacon rubbed his round stomach. “Are you ready? Mom wants to see you.”


“I’m ready. I’m so excited, Deacon. I can feel the D’oh flowing through my veins.”


“I know, Scotty. I know the feeling. You’ll also get a really bad bout of gas, but that too shall pass. Get it? Pass?”


Scott laughed.


“You’re so stupid, Deacon.”
 

“Scott! Come down here. I want to see you.” Mrs. Sizlak was so proud of her son. She dug out the camera and readied herself at the base of the stairs. Scott emerged from his room grinning ear to ear. Deacon chuckled a few steps away.


“What’s so funny, Deacon?”


“Nothin’, bro. Go ahead. Mom is waiting for you.”


Scott began to head down the stairs when Deacon suddenly placed a skateboard in front of him. Scott took one step and his foot landed directly on the skateboard, causing him to lose his balance and tumble clumsily down the stairs like a chubby crash dummy.


“Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh!” Scott professed on every step.


Mrs. Sizlak snapped photos with each of her son’s awkward positions. When Scott finally reached the bottom his head was spinning and his clothes were wrinkled.


“Ouch. My head. Deacon! Why the heck did you do that?”


Deacon and his mother laughed. Her skyward hair was elegantly styled with a tiara of old Duff cans, which was customary garb for this day.


“It’s tradition, little bro. Every generation must take the Sacred Stumble before the D’oh of Passage.”


“Yes, Scott,” Mrs. Sizlak added. “I was there the night your father took his Stumble, and when Deacon took his as well. You’re almost a man now. In a few minutes from now you will start your journey to full enlightenment in your quest to know our god, Homer J. Simpson. Doh!”


Scott stopped rubbing his head.

 
“I understand, mom. Thank you, too, Deacon. I don’t know what I would do without you.”


“No problem, dude.”


When they arrived at the church Scott could see all his friends and family filing in. Apu was there, so were the Barts and Lenny and Carl, who would be undergoing their ceremony next week. The September sun was bright and warm.


“Scott! Scotty boy! Come give your grandpa a hug!”


Scott embraced the old man. He was folds upon folds of flesh, like a shar-pei that could talk.
 

“Your dad would be proud, even if he was my illegitimate son. You know he was born out of wedlock?”


Scott looked surprised. He shook his head.


“Yea, well it’s true. His mother was a lesbian river dancer with one leg. She wasn’t very good. Cute though. She only had sex with me because she was drunk on Day-Quill and Tylenol 3s.”
 

“Wow, grandpa. I never knew that.”


“Yea, well, don’t get all gay on me. Just go in there today and be a man. Say the sacred prayer then shut your pie hole so we can all get drunk on Duff beer. Then we’ll remember the days when we were single and free and we didn’t have you crumb snatching rug rats begging us for expensive things like bread and shoes.”


“Uh, okay, grandpa.”


“I love you, kid! Your dad would be proud.”

 
“Thanks again, grandpa.”


 “Sure thing. Can you loan me five dollars?”


“I don’t have any money with me, grandpa. Maybe Deacon—”


“You freaks don’t love me! I’m going home to watch the Angela Lansbury Sex Chronicles.”


Scott, Deacon and their mother watched as the old man got on a moped and rode on the sidewalk, nearly killing an old woman with a walker.


“Your grandpa hasn’t changed a bit. Let’s go, son. Everyone is waiting.”


Scott walked up the gleaming stairs to the pink and yellow house-like Church. It was one of seventeen traditionally built Churches of Homer in the continental United States (eighteen if you counted Guam). Deacon and his mother had taken their seats when Scott began to make the ritual entrance into the church. Everyone gathered stood.


“Doh. Doh! Doh, doh. Doh! Doh. Doh, doh. Doh! Doh! Doh, doh! Doh. Doh, doh doh. Doh, doh!

Those seated at the edge of the rows tossed powered donuts and hot bacon on Scott’s head. By church doctrine he was required to eat all that touched him or the ground, hence he had to eat all of it. Mrs. Sizlak wiped away her tears with a handkerchief. Deacon struggled to fight back his tears.
 
Scott reached the podium and stood before his family and friends and greeted them. “May Homer be with you."

“And also with you,” they said in unison before sitting.


“Today I take my D’oh of Passage. Today I become one step closer to knowing the one true god. Homer J. Simpson.”


“D’oh!” The church said in unison.


“Thank you. Please bow your heads.”
 

Everyone bowed their heads. Scott eyed the Sacred Donut. It sat upon a golden saucer. It looked so sweet. He could see a dab of raspberry jelly peeking out. His mouth watered. He then started the ancient prayer.


“Heavenly and obese Homer, you are the greatest dude ever. Your fat belly is a sign of wealth and prosperity. Your bald head is a sign of wisdom and an absence of vanity. You are the keeper of the great D’oh, and we ask that you give us strength against the temptations of the world. Lead us not to lose weight or exercise. Let us not work too hard at our jobs, oh Homer. Let us enjoy the great Duff beer, which you have provided for us. Let us walk around in our undergarments and wish not for the finer things in life. Let us not bathe, unless forced to. In Homer’s name we pray, D’oh!”


“D’oh!” the church again repeated before lifting their heads.


Scott looked around the congregation and suddenly noticed a face. Charla? What was she doing there? She slowly walked through the doors. Scott thought she looked strange, chubby.


“You infidels!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. Everyone in the church turned in her direction. Her spikey hair was dyed black. Her once white pearls were now black as coal. “Lisa is the only one true god! You wretched infidels!”


She swiftly removed her jacket and revealed a saxophone packed with dynamite strapped to her midsection. Apu shot out of his seat to grab Charla but he was too late.
 

“For Lisa! For the true religion of the world! Oh merciful Lord Lisa!”
 

A huge explosion like a radiant sunrise rocked the church and dust and debris and heat flew in all directions. A smoky cloud obscured everything. There was mass confusion as people coughed and choked, gasping for air. Blood and body parts were strewn all about. The force of the blast had knocked Scott down. He struggled back to feet. Darkness filled the room. He could only make out what seemed to be random bodies squirming. He couldn’t see his mother or his brother. Where they wear seated was now a pile of rubble. Where Charla stood was now a carved out pit of rocks and chunks of charred meat.


Lenny lay lifeless on the floor. The Barts, Carl and Apu were nowhere to be seen. Several people had managed to gather themselves and they staggered out of the church. Others were checking on loved ones, checking their pulses and calling their names. Scott was in shock.


“Why, dear Lord Homer? Why?”

 
 

 

 

The Boar King

 
He grumbled under his snout. The dust from the road, miniscule fragments of gray rock and dirt and dead skin, made it hard for him to see. He limped along, bruised; his ego and his body. He had been double crossed. Humans, he thought. He had been walking for days, now, back on all fours. He’d been had.

 

            “I will show them,” he griped. His hind legs ached for months of walking on them. His forelegs were weak from lack of use. The hot sun above was merciless, turning his coral-colored skin to a rosy crimson, nearly cerise. He could taste the chalky dirt in his mouth. He stopped every so often to nibble on scraps. Apple cores. Crusts of bread. The dry earth cracked under his hooves. He was a far cry from the lavish life he’d created for himself. Only the verdurous leaves of the summer trees left him with any sense of comfort.

 

            “I will show them.”

 

 

 

            An old truck barreled down the country highway. Youthful energy beamed from the passenger side. She was elated. Ecstatic, even; blond locks springing in the arid breeze. She clutched a prized possession: a handsome little bundle of joy named Wilbur. He seemed to emanate the same energy as he lay in a content position like a family’s first born son. Had the child been older she would have surely been passing out cigars to family and friends while she puffed one herself all the while aglow with new life.

 

            Wilbur had endured a troublesome bout of stomach problems, so intense that it required a trip into town to see Doctor Baxter, the local veterinarian.

 

            “Give him two drops of this each day for two days,” Dr. Baxter instructed as he adjusted his eyeglasses. The girl’s father stood close by, hands in his coveralls, but he allowed her the privilege of being almost an adult. She nodded serenely in acknowledgement of what she would need to do to nurse her dearest back to health.

 

            The old Chevy spit rocks and left an earthy plume as the threesome neared the farm. The town had been abuzz for quite some time after Wilbur’s arrival. It seemed that mysterious messages had been appearing in a barn cobweb, all silky and perplexing. Just like the rest of the town, Fern, too, was mystified by the writing in the web; but she found the words to be proper and true.

 

             At that moment, to the right of the road, out of the corner of her eye, through the film that covered the windshield, Fern spotted a thing. It was low to the ground, pinkish and dirty, a blob of slow movement. The crackling of the rocks beneath the truck’s tires made it hard for her father to hear.

 

            “Papa! Papa, slow down! Do you see that?”

 

            Mr. Arable glanced over at his daughter, then his eyes followed her outstretched finger to the strange thing walking, pained, it seemed, on the side of the road.

 

            It was hard to make out. Was it a dog? A fox that had been injured in a trap, but was somehow able to free itself? Did it gnaw off its own paw?

 

            He’d heard the truck, though he paid it no mind. Several cars, trucks and tractor trailers had passed him in his days of walking and surviving. But when the crunching of the gravel slowed and then stopped, and he heard the syrupy voice of a child, he was titillated. He played on it.

 

            “Oh! Look, papa! He’s been hurt. Poor thing can barely move. We need to get him home. Or maybe to Dr. Baxter’s?”

 

            Mr. Arable climbed from the cab and ambled over. Fern was already kneeling near the injured creature. Wilbur lay resting on the front seat.

 

            “What is it, Fern? A dog? Is that Mr. Anderson’s dachshund? Buddy, I think’s his name.”

 

            “No, papa. It’s a pig. Like Wilbur. Only he looks older, and I think he may be hurt. We have to get back to Dr. Baxter’s right away!”

 

            Fern tried to lift the pig but he was heavy. He whimpered a little bit, like every touch by her diminutive hands hurt him so.

 

            “Now Fern, we have to be getting you ready for supper. We’ve been gone a long time and your mother I’m sure is missing you. Besides, I think Dr. Baxter has closed his place down for the night.”

 

            As he said this, as if on cue, the sun lowered its place in the sky and descended behind the ridge, darkening the quiet countryside.

 

            “Best be leaving that pig out here. He may be rabid or something and you don’t want the other animals on the farm to come down with nothin’,” Mr. Arable licked his dry lips. “It’s probably for the best, Fern.”

 

            “But papa! We can’t just leave him out here like that! Please! I won’t do it, papa. I just won’t.”

 

            Mr. Arable could have demanded it, but it had been a long day and he was hungry for his supper. Mrs. Arable had promised healthy portions of meatloaf and potatoes au gratin.

 

            “Ok, then.”

 

            He bent down and lifted the hog, which was quite heavier than he looked. The sun was down and lighting bugs flashed their radiance as the Arables made their way home, now, with two pigs instead of one.

 

            When they reached the farm Fern gently carried Wilbur to his pen. Mr. Arable lugged the other pig a few steps behind her. The geese, horses, and sheep, having been anxious all day due to Wilbur’s illness, were forced to hide their excitement upon his return. Only Templeton scoffed at the piglet’s arrival.

 

            “Thought you would have been bacon by now, kid.”

 

Wilbur cozied himself on a bed of hay and closed his eyes for a night of rest. It had been a long day. The crowds had just left the barn and he was exhausted. On the other side of the pen, away from the others, the new pig, having waited for the throng to leave, investigated the barn and its inhabitants.

 

            “Hello. You look like you’ve been hurt,” the goose said.  “Are you okay? By the way, my name is Gussy. What’s your name?”

 

            The pig snorted in her direction, startling Gussy. She flapped her wings and several feathers left her, afloat and drifting toward the barn floor.

 

            “My word!” she said as she made her way back to her nest.

 

            The scents were familiar. The sound of the horses’ tails flicking the flies. The familiar rustle of wings and the clapping of webbed feet. The mesmerizing hum of sleeping sheep.

 

            “And who might you be?” He spoke for the first time. She intrigued him immensely.

 

            “My name is Charlotte.”

 

            “Charlotte. What a lovely name for such a lovely creature. You’re a spider, are you not?”

 

            “Yes. Yes, I am. You have to forgive me. No one has ever called me lovely. And by this hour most of the barn animals are asleep. I spend much of my time alone.”

 

            The pig edged closer, looking up at Charlotte, whose web was suspended high into the barn’s loft. She had dismantled this day’s glorious word for Wilbur – “Stupendous” - and had begun spinning a new web.

 

            “Well, Charlotte, I am honored to be the first. You are indeed quite lovely. You will learn that I’m not like the other barn animals you have met. No. In fact, I would venture to say that I am unlike any barn animal you have ever met.”

 

            “Oh. I see. Are you a pig, like Wilbur?”

 

            He glanced over at the sleeping piglet.

 

            “Yes. I am in fact a pig, but I’m not like Wilbur, my dear.”

 

            “I see. And what is your name, mysterious pig?”

 

He edged even closer. Charlotte could nearly feel the heat from his breath.

 

“My name is Napoleon, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Napoleon? I’ve never heard that name before. It must be a special name.”

 

“Oh, my dear,” the pig smiled. “It is a special name. Just as special as you and I.”

 

Charlotte blushed.

 

“I’m not so special, Napoleon. I’m just a simple spider. I make webs. I catch food, and I spend time talking to Wilbur and the other animals. Nothing really special about that.”

 

Charlotte released more webbing from her abdomen and put the finishing touches on her silky net.

 

“Well, Charlotte, I won’t keep you any longer. It’s getting late and I assume you’ll have a busy night catching your supper,” Napoleon turned to walk away. “I think we will become friends, you and I. Good friends.”

 

 “I hope so, Napoleon,” Charlotte smiled. “Have a good night.”

 

“Good night, my dear.” Napoleon made his way to an empty patch in the back of the barn. The other animals were sound asleep. He gave the barn one last glance and saw Wilbur’s hind leg kicking as the piglet slept. Napoleon smiled and closed his eyes.

 

Later that night, Wilbur had a dream. All around him people were gathered and talking and cheering. They were praising him.

 

“That’s some pig!” one said.

 

“That pig is downright amazing!” another shouted.

 

Wilbur basked in their praise. On his head was a crown of jewels and gold. He loved every moment of his new status. The words and affection of the townspeople felt wonderful. And for the rest of the night, lying peacefully, Wilbur enjoyed his dream.

 

The next day Wilbur was to be taken into town for judging in the county fair. The fair was the biggest event of the year and Fern wore her best summer dress. Red with white polka dots, it matched perfectly with the red silk ribbon in her hair. She had awakened before everyone else in the house and started her day early by washing Wilbur in a pan of sweet-smelling soap bubbles. Wilbur was now fresh and gleaming, ready to prance for the judges. He appeared fully recovered from his illness and Fern was delighted.

 

“Wilbur’s looking great, papa. The medicine that Dr. Baxter gave him must’ve done the trick!”

 

Mr. Arable dusted a few crumbs from his chin. His breakfast of biscuits and gravy warmed his belly and made him smack his lips as the sun beat down on his tanned skin.

 

“I guess so, Fern. Ya’ll ready to go to town?”

 

“You bet!”

 

The Arables loaded up the truck with Wilbur tucked safely in a pen on the flatbed. Gravel crunched as the truck sped out the drive and toward the road into town. A plume of dust filled the air.

 


Back inside the barn the animals were awake. Mr. Arable had filled their trough and bowls and bags with enough feed to last them through the day. The geese pecked at the seeds while the horses munched at their oats. The sheep grazed nearby. Templeton popped out of his den for a morning stretch. He took a deep breath.

 

“Ah! I love the farm life.” He sniffed at the humid air then began nosing about, searching around for edible scraps. That’s when he smelled it. A look of surprise painted his whiskered face.

 

“What is that god-awful stench?” he asked himself. He followed the trail. No, it wasn’t the horses. Nope, not the sheep either. Then he saw it. A dirty scarlet color. A heaving mass of hardened meat. Templeton jumped at the sight. He scurried over to Gussy.

 

“Gussy. Gussy!”

 

“Yes, Templeton?” she asked with a mouthful of seed.

 

“What is that?” he pointed in the direction of the pink mound.

 

“That is a new pig. Napoleon.”

 

Templeton frowned. He sniffed the air again. He edged closer to the dark pink mass. It was still sleeping. He edged closer, still, mesmerized by this new scent, this new thing.

 

“Can I help you?”

 

Templeton shrieked.

 

“Holy smokes! You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

 

Napoleon turned his huge head. Strands of straw stuck to his snout.

 

“Do you always sneak up on people when they’re asleep?”

 

“Uh, yeah. I mean, no! I mean—”

 

“Do me favor, rat. Find me some food. Not the bits and pieces you eat, but real food.”

 

“Real food?” Templeton slyly stepped away. “Sure. Sure! I’ll find you some real food!”

 

“Thank you. And don’t dawdle.”

 

Templeton raced away in a frenzy sniffing and searching about the barnyard. Meanwhile, high above the barn, in the blue sky, three geese soared near the clouds.

 

“Oh, look, Bess, isn’t that the Arable farm? Where your cousin Gussy lives?”

 

“Why, yes, Gertrude. It is.”

 

“Let’s pay her a visit, shall we?” Mirabelle added.

 

“Let’s!”

 

They swooped down and landed upon the fence. They could see the sheep grazing in the field. They could see a little black rat racing about frantically. They could also see Gussy, who was dutifully pruning her feathers.

 

“Gussy! Oh, Gussy!”

 

Gussy looked up and saw her cousin, Bess. She hadn’t seen her in quite some time and she was pleased by her visit. She flapped over to the three travelers.

 

“Hello, Bess, Gertrude, Mirabelle. What brings you ladies to the Arable Farm?”

 

“Well, we’re actually headed north. Can you imagine?” Bess said. “This heat has been unbearable. Gertrude has some family along the coast and we’re hopeful we can find some relief there. They’ve had hatchlings and the farm is all abuzz.”

 

Gussy and Bess went on talking with Mirabelle occasionally chiming in. Gertrude was becoming bored with the conversation and the seed below was looking quite tempting.  She decided to hop down for a few kernels. She ate a few, wandering further and further into the barn. Templeton passed her with a slice of old bread in his mouth. Gertrude wondered where he was going in such a hurry, so she followed him into the barn, deep into the shadows. Within seconds Gertrude became incredibly flustered. She shot out of the barn.

 

“Girls! Girls!”

 

Bess and the others stopped talking and turned to Gertrude.

 

“We have to leave at once. Gussy, do you know who that is?”

 

“Who?” Gertrude was now anxious herself.

 

“That pig. His name is Napoleon. He’s a monster! He cannot be trusted!”

 

Gertrude turned to Bess and Mirabelle.

 

“Let’s go, girls.” All three immediately took flight. “Be careful, Gussy!” Gertrude’s voice was becoming distant. “He’s a monster! A true monster…”

 

The sun was hanging low in the sky now and an orange hue captured the horizon. Gussy was terrified. Napoleon laid in the back of the barn the entire day eating the morsels that Templeton ferried to him. Gussy wanted to tell the other barn animals what she had heard. They had to be warned. She decided she would wait until nightfall, when the notorious pig would be asleep.

 

The Arables had since returned from town and Wilbur wore a striking blue sash that named him “Best Pig” in the county. Weeks of Charlotte’s beautiful writing in her web had truly won the judges over. Fern brought Wilbur back to the barnyard. Though he was tired, Wilbur was still excited from his remarkable win at the fair so he lay on his hay bed, unable to fall asleep. All of the other animals, with the exception of Gussy, were now in deep in their dreams.

 

“Wilbur. Wilbur,” Gussy whispered.

 

“Yes. Is that you, Gussy? Why are you whispering?”

 

“I have something to tell you, Wilbur. You’ll have to help me tell the rest of the animals as well.”

 

As Gussy began to tell Wilbur what she had heard, there was a rustle a few steps behind her. She quickly turned her long neck and found herself looking eye-to-eye with Napoleon.

 

“Do tell, Gussy. What have you learned today?”

 

Gussy froze with panic.

 

“Tell us, you fat duck. Have you heard something about me?” Napoleon turned to Wilbur. “Hello, son. I’m afraid we haven’t met. My name is Napoleon. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Wilbur stared at Napoleon. He was at least five times his size. His skin looked hardened, like crimson concrete.

 

“Hello, sir. Uh, Mr. Napoleon. My name is Wilbur.”

 

Gussy stood there motionless. Her heart quickened. Her feathers quivered in the night breeze.

 

“Wilbur. That is such a fine sash you’re wearing. Best in the county? Superb, son. Simply superb.”

 

Napoleon turned to face Gussy. “Wilbur, do me a favor, please? Will you please fetch me an ear of corn? I am surely famished.”

 

Wilbur nodded and dashed off to the trough were Mr. Arable dished out his eats. There was usually at least one ear of corn, maybe two. When the piglet got there it was dark and he had to search through the slop for the crisp, yellow ear. He shoveled the dark goop with his snout until after some time he nuzzled a long firm ear. Got it!  He quickly scooped it in his mouth and retuned to where Napoleon and Gussy had been standing.

 

Wilbur looked around but Napoleon and the goose were nowhere in sight. All he could see were two or three feathers floating softly to the ground. Napoleon suddenly appeared from the rear of the barn. His skin now had a darker tone to it and his brow was drenched with sweat.

 

 “Where’s Gussy?”

 

“Oh, Gussy? I’m afraid she’s flown off. She mentioned something about being with her cousin, heading north, I believe.”

 

Wilbur quickly looked up to see if he could catch a trace of Gussy in the sky.

 

“She flew off? But her family is here. All of her friends are here.”

 

“I know,” Napoleon sighed. “But sometimes, my dear boy, people do strange things. Animals do even stranger things. Let me ask you something, Wilbur. Do you like being an animal?”

 

Wilbur was confused.

 

“What do you mean? I’m a pig, just like you, Napoleon. We’re both animals, aren’t we?”

 

Napoleon smiled. A white feather blew near him and he promptly mashed it into the soil with his hoof.

 

“My son, what if I told you that we did not have to be animals? That we did not have to behave like animals. Like pigs. Would you like that?”

 

Wilbur was silent. The full moon shone brightly over his shoulder.

 

“I don’t know,” Wilbur murmured.

 

“Well then, observe, my son.”

 

Napoleon leaned on his hind legs and grimaced. He placed all of his weight on his back legs then thrust himself straight up. Bones in his lower back cracked and he frowned from the pain.

 

“Look, boy. Look at what a pig can become.”

 

Pure wonder filled Wilbur’s face.

 

“You can walk?! Like the farmer? And like Fern? But how? How is that possible?”

 

Napoleon strutted toward Wilbur with pep in his step.

 

“You must understand, Wilbur. I am not your average pig. And my boy, you are not either. Do you want to be more than just the best pig in the county?”

 

Wilbur thought for a moment. He immediately remembered the dream he had the night before. All the praise. All the adulation. He had never experienced such joy. Such power.

 

“Yes,” he answered with confidence. At that moment Charlotte emerged to build her web for the night.

 

“Hello, Napoleon. Hello, Wilbur.”

 

“Good evening, my dear,” Napoleon called out to Charlotte, who was high above the barn door. He lowered himself back to all fours and turned to Wilbur.

 

“My son, stick with me and you will be the finest pig in the world. Second finest, if you will.”

 

            Wilbur nodded.

 

            “Oh, Charlotte? Charlotte, darling? I have a request for your lovely web this evening.”

 

            “Oh, Napoleon? I should be able to help you with that. What would you like it to say?”

 

            Napoleon thought a moment, until a grin crept into his cheeks with a sinister permanence.

 

            “My dear, it should read: The large pig is God.”

 

 

Workload

“Hey look fellas, here comes his Majesty,” a crewmember joked as he removed his dust-covered hard hat and curtsied in Juan’s direction. All the guys laughed, the August humidity baking them in the Virginia oven.

 

Juan ignored them today as he always did, slowly walking over to the tool shed where their equipment was kept.

 

“Hey, Juan, you gonna do some real work today?” the jackhammer operator asked, cracking a sly smile while tugging his wide jeans back towards his big belly.

 

Juan looked through the sweltering shed for the lightest sledgehammer he could find. He didn’t want anything that would be too heavy. He grabbed a wooden handle and gave it a couple quick tugs. It was sort of light. It would have to do.

 

Juan made his way over to the area he was assigned, walking as slow as grass grows. It was his way. With every other step, his mind would involuntarily switch to another time and another place. The guys would notice this.

 

“Man, JB says he thinks Juan is mentally retarded, or something,” Aaron whispered to Petey. The sun roasted their flesh. Sun-dried tomatoes.

 

Petey looked as if he was considering JB’s assessment, and then shunned it.

 

“Naw. He’s just quiet. Kinda slow and goofy. But mostly quiet, I think.”

 

Juan mustered up his strength to take the first swipe at the remaining drywall. His crew was tasked with demolishing specific quarters of a stately manner just off the west bank of the Potomac Rover. Off white chips slapped his U.S.A. T-shirt and awkwardly fitting Levi’s as the sledgehammer drove into the wall. The shock waves reverberated throughout his body and he frowned in discomfort.

 

Sweat trickled down his brow as he slowly worked the wall. In his heart he knew he really didn’t want to be there. The sun rose higher in the sky and hours had passed. The other men in the crew had finished their early morning tasks and were now enjoying lunches of homemade bologna sandwiches and potato chips.

 

“Look at that. Ya’ll see that? Any of us could have finished that wall in about 30 fuckin’ minutes,” JB whispers, throwing up his hand in disgust. The men peer over at Juan from their shady haven under a mammoth tree.

 

“And he can’t blame it on age. He’s what? 26? Tops. He’s just a lazy bastard,” the foreman whips. His skin stop-sign red from the summer blaze.

 

“Shit. Why don’t you just fire him? If that was me, you’d fire me. He does this shit everyday, man.” Tyrone states, plucking on his Washington Redskins T-shirt in an attempt to cool off. Sweat poured down his face. All the while Juan plugged at the wall, occasionally taking a break to wipe the waterfalls from his bearded face and catch a breath.

 

“Are you kidding me? I fire him for being slower than everybody else and I get the EEOC all over my ass for racial discrimination. This job pays me $25 an hour. I’m not about to risk it because some Mexican day dreams or whatever the hell his problem is,” the foreman rants. “Matter fact, breaks over. Let’s get back to work.”

 

The guys groan for a second then get back to their tasks. The day’s duties soon end and everyone places their tools and equipment in the shed so it can be locked up overnight.

 

“Juan! Let’s go,” the foreman yells. “It’s quitin’ time.”

 

Juan looks up from his labor and notices everyone is packing up, so he stops and begins the 50-yard walk back to the tool shed.

 

“Sure thing, boss,” Juan yells out. His voice is light and airy.

 

“Yea I knew you’d like the sound of that,” the foreman grumbles under his breath.

 

All the guys have gone and the sun begins to set by the time Juan has locked away the sledgehammer. He makes it home about an hour later and is greeted by the sweet aroma of sizzling beef.

 

“How was work today?” His wife asks, smiling.

 

“The same,” Juan states. He passes by a glass book case decorated with United States flags and photos of him looking younger and fresher. In many of the photos he’s clean-shaven. Focused.

 

“Just the same?” His wife probes. She sprinkles paprika on the dish.

 

“Yep.” Juan softly responds. He slowly eases into the living and frowns when he bends to sit on the sofa. He removes his grimy work boots and places them to the side.

 

Slowly, he rolls up his right pants leg, meticulously cuffing each inch all the way up to the knee.  His wife moves from the stove in the kitchen and the light she blocked now freely illuminates his shiny metal leg. Juan removes a latch and gives his plastic and metal appendage a stern tug and it pops off from the knee down. He grabs the crutches tucked behind the sofa and makes his way towards the kitchen, again passing his basic training photos and Medals of Valor.

 

“I don’t know. Just seems like you would want to tell people about Iraq, and what it was like” She pauses. “I know you wish you could be back with your old squad.”

 

She looks up and throws a bright smile at him. He returns a slight grin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childhood memory

 
 

My big sister is yelling. She’s telling me to hurry up. I’m trying. The stupid loops on my boots are being stupid. They won’t tie! In, around, and then pull the bunny ears. That’s what momma told me. I think I can do this.


 They said it’s cold outside, so I have to wear these big stupid boots. I want to wear my tennis shoes, but I know Mo-Mo won’t let me. She’ll tell momma if I don’t listen to her. Bend the bunny ear, loop it, and then pull. I got it! I got it! Mo-Mo! I got it!


 “Good! Now come on!” She says, kinda mean. I pick up my mittens off the floor and my coat off the floor. I want to put it on both arms at the same time but it’s not working. Stupid coat! 

 

 “What you doing, Che?”  Mo-Mo sounds mad. “We’re going to miss the bus!”

 

 I can’t put my coat on. Maybe I’m getting big! Stupid coat. I hate this coat. 

 

 “Will you just come on?!” Mo-Mo sounds like momma. She helps put one arm in at a time. She did a good job. 

 

 She picks up her backpack and scarf from the kitchen. It smells like coffee. I follow her.

 

 “Why are you walking so close to me?” I don’t say anything. I lift my shoulders. “Come on, boy!”

 

 She opens the door and it’s cold. Very cold. The wind blows in our face. It kinda hurts. We walk out on the sidewalk and it’s really snowy. We can’t really see. We can’t even see the 7-11 sign up the big hill. My face kinda hurts. 

 

Mo-Mo is walking fast. She’s almost down the big hill. She’s almost down to where the bus comes. I wish I had a sled. That would be so cool! I’d sled right past Mo-Mo and I wouldn’t even let her get on. My feet are cold. These stupid boots are not warm, like momma said. Momma don’t know. She can’t even fit them. With her big feet. Momma’s toes look funny too. It’s so cold out here.

 

Mo-Mo! Wait for me!

 

“Come on, Che!” She sounds mad. Plus I can’t really hear her that good. My hood is on my head and her scarf is covering her mouth. I wish I had my scarf. I think momma said it’s going to be below. Below is bad. It’s very cold. I want to go back home.

 

Mo-Mo! She’s not even listening! I hate her! My toes are very cold. And my face hurts bad. “Look, the bus should be here in a couple minutes.” Her voice sounds funny. But it’s so cold. My feet hurt. My hands hurt. My face really hurts. Mo-Mo, I’m cold.

 

She looks at me like momma does sometimes. Like on my birthday or when I tell her good morning. Mo-Mo unravels her big fluffy green scarf and wraps it around my face. It smells like her Strawberry Shortcake doll.

 

It’s so warm. It feels like when I’m hiding under the covers. It’s so warm. The wind is blowing harder now. Oh! I see the bus. Mo-Mo! There’s the bus! But Mo-Mo doesn’t say anything. I think she kinda smiled, but the wind is so cold. The bus door opens and Mo-Mo wants me to go first. Her scarf is so warm.

 

It’s funny. My mother used to remind me of that incident over and over again. You see, when we got older, my sister and I would constantly argue and fight. Not physical quarrels, primarily just shouting matches. It was mostly because I was an elementary school pest six years her junior, and she was a cute little teenager with her own agenda. My mother would say it also had an astrological basis. My sister Ali, pronounced with a long A, is a Leo. I’m a Virgo. Apparently Leo’s are headstrong and like to take charge, and who wants to deal with that crap, especially coming from an older sister?

 

But by reminding me of the frigid day, my mother would hope to remind us, really me, of how important family is. She really wanted to let know me how much my sister Monique loved me. (Monique is her middle name, hence the loving moniker Mo-Mo.)

 

Growing up she was the closest in age to me, therefore she got the brunt of my super annoying behavior. I can admit that now. I could be overly playful, extra silly, and completely goofy.

 

Mo-Mo always had a big heart, even when she was in the sixth grade. To this day she’d give you the warm scarf off her neck, even if it is cold as hell outside and her scarf is 100 percent pure cashmere from Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Purchased at full price.

 

I remember the house we lived in in those days. I believe it was a townhouse. I can recall that the very next year, when I just in first grade, I would begin taking the bus alone. The house key was tied around my neck, dangling from a dirty sneaker shoestring. You can actually see the gray tinged off-white string in that year’s school picture. Funny.

 

I remember sitting on the bed watching Popeye. I had a big curly mane and the slightest little sound would give me chills. The sounds always seemed to come from the kitchen, which was out the bedroom door and down the hall to the right. I was the youngest of four, and my siblings would always try to scare me. They really enjoyed it. The ghost stories they told me would flood back when I heard a creak or a strange tap.

 

Looking back at what happened with my sister and I, I mean God, what little kid knows so much about self sacrifice? The type of kid I was, I know I didn’t appreciate the love Mo-Mo exhibited on an arctic Missouri morning. I went back to that part of town a few years ago. That big hill isn’t so big.  Even the coldest weather is not as cold as it seemed on that day.

 

In light of it all, I suppose my mother’s work situation contributed to this amazing event and what has become a defining recollection. I don’t argue with my sister anymore. It’s been a while since we argued about anything. Now she lives 1,000 miles away in the Midwest, where it still gets cold and the temperature regularly dips below zero in the wintertime.

 

A lot of things have changed. We both have families now and kids who we must remind to grab their gloves and hats. I guess it is interesting to look back and reflect on memorable days in our lives. Funny. Monique’s scarves may have changed, but I know her heart has stayed the same.

 

                                                                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


Insalubrious Trinket

 
Captain’s Log

 

11/14/07

 

Today we were able to secure the necessary supplies - rope, canteens, insect repellant (it is ungodly hot here), and condoms (you never know) – from the local shopkeeper. Once informed of our mission, the natives have been scarce. It was quite a task to interest our guide in embarking on our expedition. Wannagrabsumazz is several miles to the south of the Forbidden Zone. I have assured Mr. Sternforce that we will have his precious talisman within 72 hours. The natives have been abuzz with their folklore and tales of doom. Rumor has it that those who venture to the Forbidden Zone never return. Unfortunately for myself and my crew, Mr. Sternforce could care less about the superstitions of savages.

 

 

11/15/07

 

We have traversed a deep and thick ravine and established a base camp. The moon and stars and shining brightly tonight. The jungle sounds are wild and ubiquitous. The insect repellent (actually a local concoction of berries and monkey spit) has proven to be ineffective against the ravenous mosquitoes, who are tapping into our flesh with surgical precision. Ringo took an amazing barrage to his man sack. The poor fellow’s tea bags were swollen like diseased oranges. Navel oranges. (Lefty and James continue to insist that Ringo ventured to a solitary patch here in the jungle and attempted to pleasure himself with maple syrup. Those winged vampires had a field day!). Ringo will be escorted out of the jungle on mule back. I pray the best for his ball sack.

 

 

11/16/07

 

We crossed a treacherous river today. Angry rain pelted us like wet missiles. Jacob, a good kid from Iowa, foolishly stuck his hand in the murky river. He let out a terrible shriek and withdrew his arm only to find a bloody stump where his hand used to be. Doc fashioned a fine wrapping and was able to stop the bleeding with a combination of goat dung and York Peppermint Patties. Although Jake is understandably distraught over the loss of his hand, Doc believes he will survive without infection. I guess I have to hand it to him. Poor choice of words. The captain is tired.

 

 

11/17/07

 

Today has been disastrous. In attempting to cross a strange and dark swamp, we were separated from the supply caravan. I have sent out two search parties and the only trace of them was a condom found in the muck. It had been used. Giorgio volunteered to examine the contents further but I informed him it was not necessary. He was adamant. I was forced to further insist and he subsequently dropped his request. The condom and its contents, however, have gone missing.


 

We have now been forced to take drastic measures to survive. Several groups have been formed to scour this woeful bog for vegetation. It seems nothing but moss and algae live here. Sadly, one of my men seems to have gone delirious. Woods. Just moments ago he began ranting about food and what he saw as a certain, looming starvation. He was later caught trying to eat his own ass. It was a ghastly sight. Smith and Doc were able to bind his arms with vines of the swamp. Though he is no longer a threat to himself or others, I fear Woods may succumb to an infection: Doc refused to treat his assy wound. It is now night and the cold has settled upon us. We will attempt to make fire and rudimentary shelter to protect us from the elements. Damn Sternforce and his blasted bauble! May God watch over us tonight.

 

 

11/18/07

 

We are just 100 meters from the Forbidden Zone and the mountaintop where the talisman is rumored to rest in a deep cavern. There are many strange flora and winged insects the size of birds. No humans live here. Our feeble guide has given in to his foolish beliefs and has abandoned us. He took with him a man’s boots and my last remaining condom. Damn him! There are now just five men remaining and we have yet to enter this god-forsaken Forbidden Zone. We are hungry, tired, and our morale is low. In addition to that I am extremely horny and in need of a good whacking. I pray that Giorgio steers clear of me.

 


11/19/07

 

We are now just 25 meters from the cave opening. We are a day behind schedule and I suspect Sternforce has already attempted to contact our liaison back in Wannagrabsumazz. No doubt some form of threat was issued. I have instructed the men that I will enter the cave alone, as was Sternforce’s wish, so that I may retrieve his sad trinket and return it safely without the prying eyes of desperate men. Smith discovered a fine fruit that is palatable and we have subsisted on it henceforth. Poor Doc, he was found weeping behind a large spruce. This fruit, not unlike a kiwi, has given him the runs something terrible. I believe explosive would be the most accurate word to describe the pain his sphincter is enduring. We have truly angered God.

 

11/20/07

 
The Forbidden Zone is hell on Earth. I am now alone. I pray to God that these words will again be seen by human eyes. I am perched at the mouth of the cave. I will retrieve this cursed talisman for Sternforce. During the chilly wet night we were attacked by the most ravenous beasts I am certain man has ever encountered: a lost tribe of Bill O’Reilly clones. Oh, the horror. They pelted us with questions that had no answers and spittle that must have come from Satan’s anus. The bloviating and posturing was unbearable. We were defenseless. I am now nursing my left leg and a gash above my eye. During the commotion we were separated. I fear I am the only survivor. This journal is my only remnant. I now enter this dark and evil cave, fearful of the unknown, but in great need of finality.

 


11/22/07

 

I write now from a quaint inn and saloon of sorts in Wannagrabsumazz. This will be my last entry. In that dark and miserable cave there was a mysterious ornament. Smooth, heavy to the touch. I instantly felt…. enlightenment, rejuvenation. I do not know the source of the talisman’s power nor do I wish to pursue it. I have since bundled the thing and shipped it at once to Sternforce. No doubt he will find a way to extract the power of the talisman and amass ever more riches, selling its energy-giving properties to Japanese businessmen, Olympic athletes and same sex couples. I am the lone survivor of this doomed expedition. Many fine men lost their lives.

 

I sit here now drinking a cold beer the locals make from tree bark and bat sweat. It’s an acquired taste but it packs a punch no less.

 

Several times now, I have caught the bar maiden staring wantonly at my crotch. I cannot blame her. My crotch is impressive.

 

In a moment I will offer to buy her a beer. Damn Giorgio and that simple guide! I have no condoms. I am afraid I will have to experience her unsheathed. God help us all.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Known Teeth Kingz


Corporal Sanchez wiped the sweat from his brow. Just one hundred kilometers from their rendezvous, his company hunkered down for the night, bringing an end to the day’s long march. The humidity quilted them.

 

            “Sanchez. Yo, Sanchez! You still have that extra water ration? I’ll give you double what you were asking for earlier.”

 

            Rodriguez was always thirsty, more so than the others. In boot camp he would drink his canteen dry and offer to do KP duty for extra rations. They said he never got adjusted to the new way of things. For Rodriguez, today was nearly unbearable, and he wasn’t the only one: several men had already been visited by the medic for severe dehydration.

 

            “Man, J-Rod, no can do. Already got double from Jackson. Next time act. Be decisive. Be a Marine!”

 

            “Ooh-rah,” a chorus erupted. Troops milled about, pulling rocks from their boots, clearing the sand and dust from their weapons. Some thought about their girlfriends at home. Others jacked off in their sleeping bags with whatever remaining strength they had left.

 

            “Jackson, let me get a sip of that H20?” Rodriguez edged closer to Jackson’s tent, resting this foreman at the apex of the triangle.

 

            “Fuck off, Rod man. Maybe after I drink this cube you can suck my dick and extract the water from my tea bags.”

 

            Sanchez and Nguyen laughed. Their tents were just a few steps away.

 

“A, Nguyen. Nguyen!” Jackson called out.

 

“Que paso, my brotha’?” Nguyen had a straight row of pearly white teeth.

 

“Man what the fuck was that bitch yelling about in that village? Crazy dumb ass bitch.”

 

“I do not know, my brotha’. I speak Vietnamese, not Hanyu, or Mandarin, for that matter.”

 

“Yea well that screechy chicken talk was driving me crazy! We should have smoked her and that retarded kid of hers. Would have saved both them a lifetime of heartache. Well, at least a few more weeks at the way shit is going now. Won’t be much longer till we smoke all these gooks. I mean chinks. My bad, Nguyen.”

 

“Hey, no problem, my brotha’.” Nguyen took a deep breath and blew the dust and sand from his helmet and wiped it with a rag. “I’m an American. Fuck ‘em all.”

 

“Ooh-rah,” Jackson flashed a smile and reached for his ear buds.

 

            Sanchez rolled out his sleeping bag and lay on his back, looking up at the colorless night sky. They had humped all day until they reached the village of Ltasa in the arid Quixwuan Province. It was suspected that the Chinese military, thwarted in the far eastern coastal cities, had regrouped and fortified the area villages with troops and artillery. When Echo Company reached Ltasa, all they found were old men with paper thin skin and old women with gray hair. One or two sympathizers mouthed out. That was enough for all the men in the village to be executed. The few younger ones who still possessed vitality were gunned down as they ran for the mountains.

 

            “You guys think we’re going to win?”

 

            Nguyen looked up from his wiping. Rodriquez glanced over from the rock he was sitting on. He had managed to score a ration of water for triple what Sanchez had originally asked.

 

“Sanchez, you starting that shit again?” Rodriguez shook his head. “Yo, Jackson! Yo, you black bastard! Sanny is talking that dumb shit, again.”

 

Jackson yanked the buds from his ears.

 

“Can’t you dumb motherfuckers see I’m trying to listen to my fucking music? Comprende?”

 

“Man just tell your boy Sanny that we’re going to win.”

 

Jackson frowned. The camp lights struck the sweat on his forearm and illuminated the defined muscles that ran from his wrist to his elbow.

 

“Fucking right we’re going to win, J-Rod. Sanchez. Ain’t that right, Nguyen?”

 

Nguyen went back to wiping his helmet. A dry gale traipsed across the sandy plateau.

 

“I’m just saying. We’ve been in this shithole country for five months.” Sanchez flicked an insect from his neck.

 

“Well, don’t you worry about that, Sanny ole boy. You see that over there?” Jackson pointed to the snowcapped peaks in the distance. “That’s home, baby. That’s what we came for. Almost there now, Sanny ole boy. Almost there.”

 

“Yea I know. But fuck, did all those fucking villagers have to die? I mean, they were probably going to die in the next few weeks, but—”

 

“But nothin’, Sanny. Fuck them goddamn chinks. Like I said, we did them fucks a favor. You’ve seen how those fuckers look when they go from the dry. The dry is a horrible fucking way to go. We ending their miserable lives with honor. It’s a goddamn honor to meet God with a Marine round in your fucking head.”

 

“Ain’t that the truth,” Rodriquez knocked off the rest of his water and tossed the plastic cube to the sand. “We’re Americans, Sanny. You know how we do it. We don’t ask nobody for shit. We take it.”

 

“You goddamn right, tell your boy, J-Rod,” Jackson leaned forward and the rage in his eyes smoldered by the camp light.

 

“If those fucking chinks didn’t walk out on us and the rest of the fucking world at the International Water Summit we wouldn’t be here putting American boots up their asses!”

 

“Amen to that,” Rodriquez smirked. Jackson again reclined in his tent.

 

“I know about the goddamn summit, asshole. Okay? I don’t need a fucking history lesson,” Sanchez was now leaning toward Rodriguez. Nguyen and Jackson seemed uninterested. “All I’m saying is that we could have been more diplomatic. We could have tried to bring them back to the table.”

 

“Please. Don’t kid yourself,” Rodriquez said. “They saw what we did in Eastern Europe, in Central Africa. We don’t negotiate. We decapitate.”

 

Sanchez waved a lazy hand at Rodriguez as if shooing another annoying insect.

 

“Look, fuck face, you want to sit around and negotiate while your mother and sister are dying from the dry? You want to sit around while their fucking eyeballs sink into their skulls and mangy dogs gnaw at them while they’re still alive? In case you didn’t know it, asshole, we’re at war.”

 

“Yea a war we started.”

 

“Wise the fuck up! The freshening don’t give a fuck what flag you fly. We’re all dead meat, eventually.” Rodriguez slapped Sanchez’s boot and stormed off to another group that was playing dominos a few meters away.

 

“The freshening,” Sanchez sighed.

 

“That’s right, fuck boy. Good ole global warming,” Jackson propped his elbow up and rested his weight on it. “Those goddamn polar caps melted and blam! Too much fresh water in the ocean.”

 

Nguyen placed his helmet in the tent and sat out in the sand listening to Jackson.

 

“Those suits knew it was coming,” Jackson laughed. “Now we’re all meteorology scientists in this bitch. Too much fresh in salt means flooded coasts, monster hurricanes and baby halleluiah send in the Marines!”

 

“And so now it’s China’s turn to burn?”

 

“You goddamn right. Those dumb fucks agreed to dump their nukes. So now it’s time for an old fashioned Marine ass kickin’. We meet up with Delta Company at the Szinwuan Pass one hundred kilometers from here and it’s half a day’s hump up to the base of the Himalayas. After that, it’s General Kwinluan’s last stand. He better bring all he’s got, because Mama Marine wants her fresh motherfuckin’ water. His ass is going to fall like those fucks at Kilamajaro, and those weak fucks in the Alps. We kick ass and take names.”

 

Rodriquez returned to this hutch just as fast as he left it (that quickly he had lost two weeks pay playing mahjong). Deflated, he cracked open an old book; an ancient tale of war and strategy and of life. He had heard it was a tale chock full of uplifting shit. He needed that. He picked up where he left off.

 

“I just wish there was another way.” Sanchez kicked a pebble with this boot and stared at his rifle, dusty and yet to be cleaned.

 

“Please. No venga with that bullshit. When we get to the top of that peak, I’m goin’ to mash my boot in Kwinluan’s ass and crush that snow in my hand and take a long, long drink.”

 

“Li! Li!” Rodriquez read. Li had always been a precocious and curious child, and his intellect often found him in trouble’s way. Glossy black hair covered his head. Mischief was his occasional cohort. His mother called for him.

 

“Li! Your father and I need you to travel to the market,” Xuwaun called. “We are in need of twine to bundle our catches from the sea.” Xuwaun was a fastidious and square-built woman. She demanded much and doted little on Li, her only child.

 

The boy had heard her words, but the strange and wondrous countryside of the western province had always enthralled him. During lessons at the schoolhouse he would daydream about the ants that marched in systematic rows, following tiny, well-worn paths. He would imagine being their size, exploring their tunnels and homes undetected, discovering the hidden delicacies the ants may have collected and stored during one of their many raids.

 

This afternoon Li was following the flight of a dragonfly. Long, stick-like, its iridescent wings sliced the prism of the sunlight. He was quite far from home. Leaving the comfort and lushness of the valley where his family had lived for many centuries, his journey had taken him to the edge of where the grasses hue became golden, then all but within a shade of pale yellow. His mother was nearly out of breath when her voice finally reached his ears.

 

“Li! I will have your father take a reed to you! Come now and do this chore!”

 

Li’s hypnotic gaze was broken.

 

“Yes, mother!”

 

“Li, my son, look at me, this is very important,” Li’s father counseled. Chiwong was a thoughtful and hard-working man with rough hands and tanned skin. His family had worked as fishermen and sea trappers in the nearby bay for as long as men had lived in the province. Chiwong’s family, much like many in the village, lived by modest means. Their thatch hut contained only two woven mats and a large pot used for cooking.

 

“Li, the sea has not been as kind to us in the last few outings. We cannot afford to lose one fish, nor a single eel. Visit Won Si at the market’s center to purchase the twine. He has the very best twine in the province. Do you understand?”

 

The boy’s eyes were aimed skyward. He was fixated on a cloud he thought resembled his good friend, Lon Wi, fat and puffy.

 

“Li! Are you listening to your father?” his mother scolded while stirring herbs into the pot, now filled with boiling water.

 

“Yes, I am, mother. I am sorry. I am listening.”

 

“Li, this is very important for our family,” Chiwong continued. “Take this coral as payment for Won Si. He is a collector and will appreciate adding such a lovely piece to his collection.

 

Li fingered the jagged coral. He thought resembled the evening sky moments before the sunset. Or perhaps it was like salmon’s flesh? One of many sea creatures he was not fond of but was forced to eat nonetheless.

 

“Go now, Li . And hurry back,” Chiwong said. “We must tie up our catch before night fall and recast our baskets before the moon reaches its height in the sky.”

 

Li held the coral tightly as ran through his village, passing friends, neighbors, and Szu Chi, the bully who pushed him into a puddle two days ago. The odor of fish entrails filled the air. There was a mood of anxiety amongst the small fishing community, Li could feel it as he raced through. Long faces, low eyes and haggard steps dogged many of the villagers.

 

“I will not let my family down,” Li vowed.

 

Li ran for more than two hours, stopping only once to sip water from a quiet stream, before reaching the bustling market.  Men yelled out prices and bartered and bickered with other men for all sorts of unusual goods. One man had a shawl of silky black and brown furs, another a basket of bear’s claws (Li pondered wildly how the man secured those!).

 

Squids hung from hooks and old women cackled, toothless and very wrinkled. Li had never been to the market alone. He clung tightly to the coral, which was about the size of a large star fruit. Strange spices filled his nose, pungent. Everywhere he looked people were talking, yelling, moving, exchanging, laughing, trading, and watching.

 

“Boy!” a skinny man with a long beard called out. “What do you have there?”

 

Li squeezed the coral and darted into the market’s crowd, the rough edges nearly pierced his supple palms. Mules with packs of dried seahorses and headless ducks clogged the busy roadway. He inspected every hut and shop, but there was no sign of Won Si’s tannery. A painful ailing suddenly struck Li’s stomach. He clutched at it and winced. His father had not given him any goods to trade for food, and his long run to the market had left him starved and in need of something to eat. Carts loaded down with plants and filthy children brushed past him as he looked for where he might carefully secure a bite to eat.  To his left he saw large portions of raw tuna, sliced longwise and displayed to show their freshness. No way, he thought. He had eaten sea things everyday of his life, and no matter his hunger today, he would opt for something else… anything else!

 

He took a few more steps, vigilantly avoided a steaming pile of dung and a group of rowdy boys shoving each other, before he noticed a gleaming fruit stand. Bread fruit, cactus pears, natal plums and leechee lined the table. A thunderous rumble took hold in Li’s belly when he took sight of the sweet delectables on the table. I’ll just grab one, he thought, to satisfy my hunger, then I will find Won Si and leave this awful place. He had not felt safe in the market from the moment he got there.

 

He edged closer the table where the glistening fruit lay, like beautiful mermaids sunning themselves on a soft-sand beach. Merchants and traders buzzed about exchanging barbs and babbling in strange dialects. Li tightly cradled the coral in his left arm, then as fast as a humming bird reached up with his right hand and snatched a shiny plum.

 

“Thief! Thief!” the shopkeeper screamed, pointing a long dark finger in Li’s direction. Li ran as fast as he could, cutting between carts and donkeys and ragged men and scandalous women. How could he have seen me?, Li asked himself. His heart pounded so hard his chest ached.

 

Li finally came to a stop with hands on his knees. He took one look back, saw no one following, and took a bite of his plunder. Juices ran down his chin; their sweet and acidic qualities coated his empty stomach and quieted the storm that had been brewing there. Li felt it was the best thing he had ever eaten.

 

He devoured the plum in three bites and tossed the pit onto the road. Li stared at it momentarily, thinking some panhandler or other riffraff would try to sell it, probably as a talisman to cure swollen feet or something to ward off evil wives.

 

Li looked around to regain his bearings when he noticed dried skins and straps of leather hanging from a long post. Won Si’s!

 

“Excuse me, sir,” Li approached the shopkeeper, who was busy haggling with a man over the price of a walnut brown water bladder.

 

“This is by far the finest water bladder you will find this side of the Red River, I assure you.” Won Si was a tall man with a fine demeanor. His black hair was neatly coifed, resembling a raven on a branch. Li liked him instantly.

 

The man refused to accept Won Si’s price and he walked away without saying a word. Li saw his chance.

 

“Sir, excuse me. Are you Won Si?” Won Si placed the bladder back in its proper place.

 

“Yes I am, boy. Who are you? I have no food or items to give out today. I’m sorry.”

 

“No. I am not here for that, sir. My name is Li. I come from the western province. My father is Chiwong. He sent me here to get twine from you. He said you have the finest twine and that I must bring it back so that my family can secure their catches from sea. I have brought coral to you as payment.”

 

Won Si was impressed.

 

“I do know your father, Chiwong. He is an honorable man.” Won Si stopped. He noticed faint, violet trails on Li’s chin. “Tell me, Li, son of Chiwong, did your father send you on your travel with foods to eat?”

 

Li was confused.

 

“No, he did not.”

 

“And what of your mother? Did she?”

 

Again, Li answered with the truth.

 

“I see. So you have fed yourself by wayward means today?”

 

Li was startled and ashamed. All around the fuss of the market seemed at once quiet. The rickety creak of wooden wheels and the barks of dogs were dimmed by the silence of his own conscience.

 

“Come here, Li.” Won Si led Li to the back of his shop. Hides of all colors and textures covered the floor. “Grab that… yes, the scroll.”

 

Li knelt down and pulled an aged scrolled from a satchel.

 

“Open it.”

 

Li unrolled the scroll. Light passed through the thin papyrus.

 

“Read it. I have customers to tend to. But read that, Li. I will return when you have finished.”

 

Li sat on a high stack of bear and tiger hides and began reading the scroll. It read thusly:

 

In the beginning of time, the great turtle emerged from a hot volcano. He carried the world on his back. Smoke clouded his eyes but the great turtle was unfazed. He knew all mankind rested on his shoulders, so he went on.

 

The universe was a cold and violent place. The great turtle called to the winds and calmed them. Then the great turtle, with his mighty claws, crushed the vile beasts that roamed the universe unchecked. Mankind must find safety in his new life, the great turtle thought.

 

After some time all the weight of the world began to weaken the great turtle. Though his shell was strong and impenetrable, the great turtle could only do so much.

 

“I will find man a place where he will be safe to grow and prosper. Where his numbers will multiply and he will live out his days in peace,” the great turtle said.

 

It was then that the great turtle created the Earth as we know it and all its inhabitants. He made the trees tall and green and the oceans wide and filled with life. He made the sky blue as the ocean and stars glimmering like diamonds.

 

“Mankind, I give this gift to you. Care for the Earth, as you care for yourselves,” the great turtle said. “Find joy and comfort by the sun at day, and rest and love by the moon at night.”

 

And all the men of the earth rejoiced with their new humanity.

 

“Find peace, live honestly in your ways, and keep peace all of the days of your lives. For if you are not with peace, then war shall find you. And if war shall find you, then your days, and your lives, shall be no more.”

 

And with that the great turtle took the world off his back, slid into the deep blue sea, and peacefully and quietly, fell into a deep slumber and died.

 

 


When It Rains
 
 
The blanket curled and contorted. The rainbows and stars that covered it dipped and peaked as the tiny legs kicked and the thin arms flailed beneath. Just last month the little girl began sleeping in her own room. She usually slept with her mother or her big sister. It was now not possible for her to sleep her big sister. The mother was exhausted and justly required her own space. It was not an easy transition for the child. She had made excuses. The room was too dark. The bed was too hard. The crickets outside were too loud. All of which were addressed. And yet tonight, her sleep remained restless. Then a scream. Jacinda was a light sleeper, and the thought of her youngest being in pain immediately woke her and she ran down the hall to Kiara’s room.

 

“Hey, honey. Hey, there. It’s okay. I’m here. Mommy’s here. Don’t cry, baby.”

 

 “I had a bad dream.” Stars and comets wrinkled her pajamas.

 

“Oh, no. It’s okay, Ki Ki,” Jacinda whispered and rocked Kiara in her arms. “It’s okay. I’m here. It was only a dream.”

 

Kiara sat up in her mother’s arms. Her brown eyes were swollen and streaks like chalk ran down her face.

 

“No. It seemed real. It was scary.”

 

“It was scary? It’s okay. It’s okay. It was only a dream, baby.”

 

“No, mommy. I dreamed Thalia was dead.”

 

Jacinda slowed her rocking at looked at her daughter with tenderness. The nighttime darkness filled the house.

 

“No, baby. It was only a dream. Thalia will be okay. Your big sister will be fine. It was only a dream.”

 

Jacinda pulled the blanket back and helped the little girl shimmy tightly under the covers.

 

“But mommy, the doctors said there was, she was incoperable. You said--”

 

“It’s okay, Ki Ki. It will be okay. God will make a way.”

 
 

The next day Jacinda placed the breakfast dishes in the sink then scrambled to find Kiara’s left shoe so the little one could catch her school bus in time. Thalia, pale with dry cracked lips, lay in her bed awaiting Megan’s arrival, the home health aide. Megan was never late and Thalia became accustomed to her daily greeting of a fortune cookie fortune and a warm smile. Thalia thought Megan always smelled like cinnamon.

 

Jacinda spotted the small patent leather shoe under the living room’s reupholstered red sofa. She knelt down and stretched out for it.

 

“Got it! Come on, Kiara! Come put your shoes on!” Kiara bounded in bright with her hair neatly separated in braids. She had seemed to forget about last night’s unpleasant dream. Her mother began to pull up the little girl’s tights. In the background the morning news ran unnoticed.

 

“While area meteorologists did note a strange upper level pattern in the jet stream state biologists remain baffled. One Native American community in this small Kansas town says it has the answer. They’re crediting Simon Whiteflower, a local shaman, or medicine man, if you will, for helping to conjure the spot shower that produced the amazing crops you see growing behind me. Locals say just hours after the downpour, vegetation could be seen sprouting from the soil…”

 

The doorbell rang.

 

“Thalia! I think Megan is here!” Kiara shouted as she grabbed her pink backpack. Jacinda hurriedly stepped to Thalia’s room. The air was stale. Drafts from the air conditioning or from an open window chilled her to the bone, so she lay under several layers of blankets and sheets in the sour, musty room. An army of tan and white bottles, over the counter elixirs, creams, and ointments lined the nightstand next to her bed.

 

“Good morning, honey. I think Megan is here. How do you feel today?”

 

“I’m okay.” Her words were as dry as the air she breathed.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Thalia nodded.

 

“Okay. I’ll be back at noon, okay? To check on you like I always do. See you then. I love you so much.” Jacinda kissed her on the forehead.

 

“I love you too, mom.”

 

Jacinda smiled and slowly rose to leave the room before stopping.

 

“I can stay if you want me to. It would be okay if you want me to stay.”

 

Thalia coughed harshly and shook her head; her lungs and throat grinding.

 

“It’s okay, mom. You say that everyday, and everyday I say it’s okay. I’ll see you at noon.”

 

Jacinda smiled.

 

“Okay.”

 

She left the room and put her watch on, grabbing a jumbled stack of papers stuffed in a manila folder. She heard the door open and Kiara giggle.

 

“Hey, Megan,” Jacinda slipped on her pumps and fumbled with the folder.

 

“Hey, Mrs.--.” She caught herself. “Ms.  Hampton.”

 

Jacinda glanced over at Megan, not with an eye of anger or annoyance but with an eye more of emptiness.

 

“I’m sorry. Force of habit.”

 

Jacinda quickly took one last look at the mirror over the table in the foyer.

 

“How is she today?”

 

“The same, Megan. Unfortunately, the same. I’ll see you at noon.”

 
 

Jacinda made it into the office at Goldstein and Jerrell at her usual time: A few minutes late. She swiped her badge and the machine read the time. She would have to take her lunch, then come back early and stay later to get the additional overtime she needed. Thalia’s medical needs had just last month exhausted her health savings fund and she was about the start paying the fees out of pocket. Megan’s portion was the most expensive, but Jacinda knew she couldn’t function without the girl’s assistance.

 

“Hey Jacinda, did you have your coffee for today? You wana’ come get a cup with me?”

 

Jacinda and Peggy chatted everyday, but never about anything too serious. Jacinda didn’t like co-workers knowing her personal affairs.

 

“Sure thing, Peggy. I could use a cup.”

 

Peggy grabbed two paper cups and searched the drawers and the cabinets of the break room for creamer.

 

“I have to tell you, I was talking to Rose the other day and you know our annual evaluations are coming up? Well, she heard that Mr. Goldstein is going to talk to you about your tardiness, maybe even issue you a written warning.”

 

Jacinda sighed, took a seat at the table and ran her fingers through her hair.

 

“Yea I know, sucks. They’re supposed to give you a verbal warning first, but I guess they just want to get to the point. You know lawyers. Hey, did you catch that story this morning on the news? I think it was channel four.”

 

“No. It was on but I wasn’t paying attention.”

 

“Yea it was pretty crazy. Some Indian in Kansas prayed to God for rain and it fucking rained. Unbelievable. How much sugar you want?”

 

“Really?” Jacinda looked up but wasn’t too interested. “I’ll take two. Splenda.”

 

“We’re out of Splenda.” Peggy stirred in the creamer.

 

“Uh, the blue one, was is that, Equal?”

 

“Ok. Coming right up.”

 

Peggy took a seat next to Jacinda and they both stirred their coffee.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“No problem.”

 

Steam arose from the cups in smoky swirls and wafted away like tiny ghosts.

 

“So you think it’s real?”

 

“What?” Peggy blew on her coffee and took a small sip.

 

“The news story. With the Indian.” Jacinda took a sip and frowned. Still not sweet enough.

 

“Who knows? I doubt it. But, then again, you never know. They say God works in mysterious ways.”

 

Jacinda breathed on her coffee again.

 

“Yes they do.” She took a slow sip. “Yes they do.”

 

Horns blared and fingers and shouts of protests filled the streets as Jacinda raced in her Toyota Corolla to meet Kiara at her bus stop. Lunch went well. She spoke with Megan and had a simple meal of salad and soup with Thalia, who took only a few bites before she became nauseous and was unable to eat more. Megan had pulled her to the side and whispered that Thalia didn’t look good today, more so than on days previous. She didn’t even smile when her fortune was read: You will receive a special gift today. Megan seemed overly concerned, but Jacinda didn’t want to hear it.

 

Now, sitting at the red light at least ten cars back from a  mangled pile up, Jacinda anxiously stared at the clock on her dashboard and frantically shook her steering wheel.

 
            “Goddamn it! I’m going to be late. Damn it!”

            She quickly riffled through her purse to find her cell phone. She would call Megan and have her ask the next door neighbor to meet Kiara since Megan couldn’t leave Thalia and Jacinda didn’t have the neighbor’s phone number. Only she couldn’t do even that when she looked at her phone and saw that the battery was dead.

            “Goddamn it. Goddamn it!”

            The blowing horns got louder and more irritating and Jacinda began to cry. Tears rolled down her face as she thought about the two little girls that needed her.

 

            “Why, God? Why? Why me? I’m a good person. I go to church when I can. I pay my tithes. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs I take care of my girls I pray everyday I don’t lie I don’t steal I don’t cheat people I always try to do the right thing I know I’m a good person I know I’m a good mother I know I’m a good mother I know I’m a good mother!”

 

            Jacinda wiped her face and refocused her attention on the road. The cars in front of her hadn’t budged an inch. She felt disheartened. A sad clown in the world’s worst circus.

 

 

“Why me? Why can’t I get help for my children? Why is Thalia’s father dead? Why did he get gunned down like a dog? Why is Kiara’s father is jail what was I thinking why did I have kids so young why didn’t anybody teach me to love myself why didn’t my mother teach me these things where the hell was my father? Why might I lose my job? Why is my baby dying from cancer, God? Why is my baby dying, God?! My beautiful little baby! Why, God? Why can’t I save my baby?? Why, God? Why?”

 

            She again looked up and again there was a sea of metal and car parts with the deafening blaze of car horns wailing.

 

            Jacinda wiped her face again. The sitting and waiting was killing her. She decided she needed a diversion so she reached over and turned the radio on. She hated the radio, with its annoying disc jockeys and disrespectful and senseless music, but she needed something to pass the time. All she could think about was her six-year-old first grader getting off the bus stop alone and scared.

 

            “That’s been all the talk on the Kansas side of the state line. Meteorologists think they’ve spotted a similar jet stream pattern to the one that some say was the answer to farmers’ prayers out in Peoria. Get this people, these farmers were facing a failing crop, some on the verge of bankruptcy, when a storm, some are using the term miraculous to describe the rain shower, but a storm swept through and only hours later crops began to grow. Unbelievable, folks. Another story coming in, this one has not been confirmed, though, I want to make that clear, but another story coming in is that there was a little boy dying from a congenital heart defect and somehow, today, this little boy is fine. There’s nothing wrong with this heart.”

 

            In her drunken sadness Jacinda heard the DJ’s words but was unsure if she heard them clearly. She turned the volume up.

 

“Again, that story has not been confirmed, but at least one caller who claims to know the family stated that this boy got caught in the rain with this grandfather last night and today he’s healthy, strong and doing well. Now, we don’t want to send the wrong message here, folks, but KCTV meteorologists claim that a similar storm appears to be forming over the south side of the city and it should begin raining in about thirty minutes.”

 

A thousand thoughts quickly shot through Jacinda’s mind like a panicked horde of moths around an evening night lamp. Maybe I can pray for money and dollars would rain on me? Maybe I can pray for Kiara’s father to come home and the vindicating proof will fall from heaven? Or maybe, just maybe, I can take my beautiful Thalia to lie just under that amazing rain cloud and she will be made whole again, healthy again.

 

 “They say the last storm lasted between one to two minutes. That’s what they’re claiming out in Peoria. Now folks, I don’t claim to be a religious man, but if I didn’t have to be in the studio talking to you nice people, I might be out there on the Missouri side of the state line in that rain.”

 

Jacinda jumped out of her car as fast as she could and ran down the street. Horns honked and blared even louder. Her skirt fluttered in the wind as she ran with desperation. She made it to a street corner with sweat running down her back and checked her watch. Five thirty-nine. The rain would fall at exactly six o’clock.

 

“Taxi! Taxi!”

 

            By the time Jacinda reached Kiara’s bus stop there wasn’t a child in sight. She swirled in all directions looking for her daughter as if her body was a top spinning out of control. Only cottage houses and shrubs and trees met her eyes, along with the desolate hum of Midwestern life. Jacinda took a deep, deep cleansing breath.

 

            “Jesus. Dear, Jesus. Please let my baby be okay.”

 

            Jacinda was panting heavily by the time she reached her house. Both three-inch pumps lay somewhere in the neighborhood and there were now ragged holes where pantyhose once covered her feet. The incessant clacking and pain became too much to bear.

 

            “Kiara! Megan!” Jacinda burst through the door a wild caricature of how she looked earlier that day. “Megan! Kiara!”

 

            “Yes, Ms. Hampton?” Megan came from the long hall that adjoined the living room to the bedrooms carrying a hamper of used Kleenex and soiled linens. “Is everything okay?”

 

            “Megan, have you seen Ki Ki? I was late and didn’t see her at the bus stop.”

 

            “No, Ms. Hampton. I thought she was with you,” Megan sat the hamper down and ran her dusty hair back behind her ear. “I figured you would have called.” She lowered her voice and stepped closer.  “I have to let you know, Ms. Hampton, Thalia isn’t doing too well. Not well at all. I think maybe we should call her doctor, or… or maybe just take her to the hospital.”

 

            “No, Megan.” Jacinda’s voice was a low murmur. “No, Megan. Not now. Not today.”

 

            The hardwood floor felt like concrete when Jacinda hit it.

 

“Ms. Hampton! Oh my— Ms. Hampton! It will be all right. Can I get you some water?”

 

 “Mommy?” The front door closed behind her. Jacinda lifted her heavy head. The voice was received like Christmas Day. “Why are you crying, mommy?”

 

“Oh, no reason, baby,” Jacinda cracked a faint smile and wiped her tears. “I’m so sorry I was late. Where were you, Ki? I was worried about you.”

 

“It’s okay, mommy.” Kiara took off her backpack and knelt next to her mother. “I walked with Emily. Her mommy just dropped me off.”

 

Jacinda smiled. She went to hug Kiara just as thunder barreled outside in the heavens. She suddenly remembered the rain shower. The miracles. Thalia’s chance. She checked her watch: five minutes.

 

“Oh my, God. Come on, baby! Megan! Put Thalia in her wheelchair.”

 

“Why? What’s going on Ms. H?”

 

“Just do it. Is your car outside?”

 

“Yes. Of course. But what’s going--”

 

“Megan. Please trust me.”

 

Megan’s pulse quickened.

 

“Okay.”

 
Jacinda, Kiara, Megan and Thalia sped to where the rain was predicted to fall, just ten city blocks from their home. The long arm on Jacinda’s watch struck the appointed time and as if on queue they could all see the rain falling in the distance. It was a single gray cloud, lower than the others. Water poured in even sheets over an empty field of dying grass the color of old gold.

 

“It’s started! Stop the car, Megan.”

 

“But we’re almost there. It’s only about three blocks away.”

 

“I know but we’ll never get close enough with all this traffic. I’ll have to carry Thalia.”

 

“Are you sure? We’re almost-”

 

“Yes, Megan! They say the rain only lasts about a minute! I know it’s crazy, but this may be my baby’s only chance. Come on, Thalia.”

 

Jacinda opened the door and held the sickly teenager like she was again a newborn. She was nearly weightless and cool to the touch.

 

“Mommy has to run, baby. Hold on, okay?”

 

Jacinda increased her pace and weaved in and out of the many cars that had also heard about the coming of the miraculous cloud. She exhaled and inhaled in heaving bursts.

 

“It’s okay, baby. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it.”

 

Thalia opened her eyes. They seemed to be sealed with melted wax.

 

“Why are you running, mommy?”

 

“Because, baby.” Jacinda took a deep breath. Her bare feet bled from running on the asphalt. “Mommy loves you, and this is special rain, baby. They say it has power to heal things, baby.”

 

Thalia’s head bounced in her mom’s arms. The sheet that covered her became unwrapped in the dash to the field. All around them people were running and trying to catch the rain. Old women with walkers, teenagers with torn ligaments hoping to play college ball, greedy financiers who prayed for more money, poor families with no food to eat, homeless men and women with no where to lay their heads, con artists and snake oils salesmen hoping to bottle the rain and sell it at astronomical prices, and single moms with dying children. All around people flocked to the rain.

 

Sweat covered Jacinda’s face and ran down her back and inner thighs. The humidity was unforgiving.

 

“Almost there, baby. We’re almost there.” Jacinda could see people dancing in the rain. Rejoicing! Something must be happening!”

 

The soft grass was the first blessing, Her feet no longer throbbed from the pain of the concrete.

 

“Almost there, Thalia. Almost there.”

 

Jacinda slowed her pace.

 

“Thalia? We’re almost there, baby. Thalia?”

 

She stopped walking and looked down. The sheet slightly obscured the girl’s face.

 

“Thalia, baby? We’re almost there.”

 

Jacinda pulled the sheet from her daughter’s face and it was colorless. Her eyes were firmly shut now. She was lifeless, a blank canvas. 

 

  “God,” Jacinda mumbled before dropped to both knees. The rain suddenly stopped and the cloud was gone just as fast. Some people shouted and released tears of joy. Others cursed God and heaven because they missed it. They swore and yelled out in pain.

 

Jacinda just sat there in the grass, holding the dead body of her first born child.

 

“Dear, God. We were so close, baby,” She ran her fingers over the girl’s cold face. “We were so close, baby. I’m sorry. Mommy’s sorry, baby. I’m so, so sorry.”

 

Sweat covered Jacinda’s face and ran down her back and inner thighs. The humidity was unforgiving.

 

“Almost there, baby. We’re almost there.” Jacinda could see people dancing in the rain. Rejoicing! Something must be happening!”

 

The soft grass was the first blessing, Her feet no longer throbbed from the pain of the concrete.

 

“Almost there, Thalia. Almost there.”

 

When the water struck them it felt like a million butterflies fluttering in and out of their bodies, their skin, their souls, their pores, and their very essence. No more blood flowed from Jacinda’s feet. Thalia opened her eyes wide and smiled brightly, as if she had tasted life for the first time, smelled the zest of grass for the first time, sampled the beauty of an evening sunset for the first time.

 

“Momma, I can stand. You can put me down.”

 

Jacinda glowed as she lowered Thalia to her feet. Men, women and children danced and celebrated all about them, holding hands, praying, weeping with joy.

 

Thalia stood and towered above her mother. The girl lay bedridden for so long Jacinda forgot how long and lean her lovely daughter was. They’re clothes were soaked in a glorious torrent of healing.

 

“Thank you, momma. Thank you for believing.”

 

Jacinda beamed. Mascara ran down her face. Her white silk blouse lay drenched tightly to her skin. She stuck her tongue out and tasted the water. It was sweet. Thalia edged closer and embraced her mother.

 

“I love you so much, momma. Thank you for never losing faith.”

 

Jacinda hugged her daughter as if her life, Jacinda’s life, depended on it.

 

“Baby, believing is all I had left. Believe me. It was all I had left.”