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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sunday, May 26, 2019

stung

The woman picked the screaming child up from the grass and a black and red wasp drifted away from them in lazy loops. The baby batted the air with her already swollen hand. The wasp took another close pass and the woman smacked it away. She carried the child into the cool and dark of her kitchen and sat her on the drainboard with her dirty, bare feet in the sink on the cool porcelain.

"Shhh, shh, baby girl you splitting my head. Here. Busy your mouth." She put a cookie in the girl's mouth and the audible caterwauling ceased. The psychic screeching notched back to moaning as Tam put a piece of ice in the swollen palm and wrapped a dishtowel around it, then even the moaning stopped.

The sudden silence was a relief to both of them. She ran some warm water over the child's feet and soaped them massaging out the morning's dirt.

'You know when dis happens, fast, sharp things like this? It's the loas telling you to pay attention to the now." She snapped her wet fingers, "Now is all we have, breath to breath, no? And you need to mind it close, lessons for you, messages 'atween the seconds. Aye. You'll remember him, that wasp."
Absorbed by the tone of her aunt's monologue, the little girl bent over to watch the foot-washing and dirt swirling.

 "He in your history now. The past has its place. The truth in history can't change and even you can't change it. And the future will come for you no matter what. He's the one you want to worry about the least. Time tends itself. Them wasps now, you learned him, right?" She nodded her head up and down and the child echoed the motion perfectly.

 The little girl sobbed around a hitched breath and Tam gave her another ginger snap.

"Shh. Hand better, right? See? Time passed, the body took care. We jes help it along. Come." She hefted the child onto her hip and wiped her feet dry with her grubby apron. "We hang out in the hammock a bit, wait on the old man, then have us some lunch, okay?

Annabea sniffled, nodded, and plugged her sore thumb into her mouth.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Thresholds

"Prophets Tango"

1   Thresholds


  For the lucky living, the night was ripe. 1974 was the year of the Tiger—Nixon was running scared, Ted Bundy was just getting started, and the tallest buildings in the world had opened down on Wall Street. Everyone who was underage in Connecticut was welcome in New York. All the doors of the Stateline bar were open wide to the night, and the place was packed. 
The smoke-laden air inside the joint pulsed out into the heat and humidity of the fecund darkness and flowed back inside with a heavy tinge of marijuana. There was a furtive commotion in a dark corner of the parking lot. Fighting or fucking, it didn’t matter. April was in a hot hurry to be July.
The amplified sounds of a rock band complete with horns hushed all the night creatures around the ramshackle country bar for a quarter-mile in every direction. The music held sway over all, from those in worn, holey denim to the spandex and polyester crowd up from the city. The band—consummate crowd-pleasers—smoothly moved from rock to disco, to funk and blues with occasional stops at country and doo-wop along the way and none could resist the urge to move to the beat.
Tonight, the revelers would include a woman with no heart, a man with no soul, and a pair of hapless spirits on assignment.

Anna perched on a stool at the bar working at drinking herself into a state of safety, insulating herself from the rioting mental scatter of the other patrons. While fishing for money in the depths of her purse, she found a dusty, travel-worn pill. Small, greenish, its embossed markings illegible, she shrugged and washed it down with the last swallow of her third tequila sunrise. Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡. 
A syrupy warmth flooded her body, the noise and jagged energy of the crowd receded, and she took a long, deep breath that lifted her taller in her seat, her guarded cynicism spinning away like a bad dream. Thirsty with the sudden heat, she scanned the top-shelf liquor.
Wary of the change in her demeanor, the bartender said, “Honey, if you’re gonna be sick, take it outside.” 
Anna smiled in slow motion, licked her lips, and focused on him with devilish intensity. “Thanks for the concern, Sal, but I’ve never felt better.” She held her glass up like Lady Liberty’s torch, “Another one of your masterpieces will crown my evening if you don’t mind. Double the cherries and,” she spread her last ten-dollar bill across the sticky bar top, “keep the change.”  
Gina stood beside Anna with her back to the bar watching the crowd of dancers drifting back to their tables. She spoke over her shoulder to the bartender. “Go ahead. Blitz her. Looks like I’m driving tonight, anyway.” 


At a crowded table on the far side of the room, Jack had grown bored with the rowdy conversation and laughter. He tilted his chair back on its hind legs, idly testing to see if, after hours of partying, he could still duel with gravity and win. 
The trick, he’d learned from a circus tightrope walker, was to relax from the center of your being outward. Quiet your mind, and your body would find the way. For a string of enchanted seconds, Jack floated, arms spread at the perfect point of balance. He was ready to flap his wings and fly when the band started back up, drums and guitars grabbing his pulse, his focus. His chair wobbled and one of the girls shrieked, “Jack! You’re gonna break your ass!” 
Over the music, he heard the intimate whisper and felt the invisible caress that had lately been pulling him back from the edge, back to life. 


When she was alive, Hope had been a lady of the night. Tall and elegant, she was beautiful, self-educated, and wise beyond the narrow scope of her world in New Orleans. She’d lived after the Great War but before the depression brought the country to its knees. She was born to the trade and thought well of herself and her sisterhood. She never questioned why her spirit lingered after her body had failed - she was on a mission.
Samuel Archer Fortune had been an apprentice woodsman from western Massachusetts. He was only seventeen when he’d been killed wondering ‘Why?’ when everyone else was yelling: “Run!” It happened his last day felling trees for the railroad in New York State after which he’d intended on enlisting with the Union Army. His mother was grateful to know he’d been buried decently where he’d died. In time, she could rebury him in the family plot with the rest of the ancestors. Many of the local boys who’d gone to the fight would never come home, bodies left where they fell, lost in the maw of war forever.
Death had taken Hope and Sam by surprise when both were young and still optimistic. The two spirits stood in the bar’s open side door, shoulder-to-shoulder, oblivious of the patrons who, equally unaware, passed through them with the drifts of smoke. Although Hope stood a head taller, Sam was a formidable presence, dense with unused physical strength. 
So far, Hope had no way of knowing if Jack‒Jackson Jude Bell, ladies’ man, hooligan, drug dealer, and holy assassin—would be her last connection with the living, or not. What was clear to her was, that as spirits go, Sam was as green as new grass.
“Are you telling me she’s your first assignment?”
“I don’t even know what you mean by that,” Sam replied.
“Her,” She pointed her sharp chin towards the bar. “Over on the end stool. She with the big caboose.” 
Sam studied Anna like he was appraising a heifer at an auction. She shimmered in the light of his gaze. 
“I have an affinity for her that I don’t understand,” he said wistfully. Then he shook himself, “Is this what being dead is all about? Am I a peeping ghost? What happened to my eternal rest?”
“Oh, child.” Hope looked beseechingly at the ceiling, “What ice house have they kept you in?” She closed her eyes and tried to come up with the most basic explanation for him. “Yes, this is your job now. Can you read?”
“Of course,” he said, folding his muscular arms across his chest. He was dressed in heavy brogans, wool trousers, and a rumpled brown linen shirt. His thick, blond hair looked goat-chewed rather than barbered,“Just because I’m a provincial don’t make me illiterate.” 
Hope stifled a smirk. “Easy, easy brother. I was just thinking about something I read on a sign somewhere, ‘Protect and Serve’. Well, that’s what we’re here for, but I’ll warn you, it’s no easy job when they pay so little attention. Looks to me like your girl is as dumb as a post as far as you’re concerned.” She thought about how long it had taken her to get Jack’s attention, and he how still ignored her half the time.
Sam squinted across the room to see Anna raise her empty glass to the bartender. He scowled. 
“She’s inebriated. They all are! These times are steeped in sin. This must be my punishment,” he said, hanging his shaggy head. 
Hope almost felt sorry for him. “You’ll have to get over passing judgment. Not your place, you know.”
“Can they even hear us?” 
“Sometimes, but not with their ears. We have to open their eyes, their hearts. Make them see what holds weight. I’m Hope, by the way. Looks like I’ll be showing you the ropes.” She heaved a sigh. A woman’s work was truly never done. 
Sam looked Hope up and down. Everything about her‒her cropped hair, the flimsy dress that exposed her arms and legs, her world-weariness, shouted: “sinner.” As inexperienced as he was, he knew a harlot when he saw one.
“And just how is it you know so much, pray tell?” he sniffed. 
Hope looked at him like he’d grown a third eye. “God, but you’re a rube. Where did you say you were from?”
“Danford, Massachusetts,” he replied as if it was someplace that mattered.
“Never heard of it.” She sniffed and tossed her shawl higher up on her shoulder. “Well, never you mind about my business. Men and boys like you paid big money for my time.” It dawned on her that Sam had no idea what she was talking about. He’d surely been a virgin when that widow-maker stove in his head, likely only rarely acquainted with his right hand, sin that it was and all. His blue eyes, wide in his snubbed-nosed, ruddy face, were tracking every pretty girl in sight, but the tracks all led back to Anna.
Hope watched him out of the corner of her eye. Is he lying to me or is he really in the dark about her? She only had bits and pieces of Anna’s story. Had she caught him in a lie or the true bliss of ignorance?
“It was you with her in Boston, am I right? Then again outside that juke joint?” 
Sam blushed and looked down at his feet, but his gaze shifted back to Anna with a fierceness that surprised Hope. 
“I was glad to do it. She needed me.” His voice softened. “She knew me. I thought…I thought I was dreaming.”
So that’s it then. He’s in love with her. No wonder she’s so screwed up. Hope understood the problem all too well and wouldn’t take her new partner to task over matters of the heart. Being dead was tough enough on the soul. The music began and she elbowed Sam gently. 
“Pay attention now, it’s time. You just watch. Let her fall into it.” It was not the most auspicious moment, but Hope took what she could get, knowing she had no say over scheduling. 


Perfectly high, a little drunk, and no longer concerned about the border between the two conditions, Jack drifted away from the loud conversations overlapping around the table full of acquaintances and customers. Hope glided up beside him, leaned a long thigh against his upper arm, and rested her hand on his bare shoulder. 
Come on, Jack. Heed me now. She breathed a chill sigh onto his gold earring. He turned his head toward the cool wisp of contact and saw Anna sitting at the bar, her backside to him, her hair tumbling down her back in an unfashionable horsetail, sandals shucked to the floor under the stool. 
Hope whispered to Jack from her heart hoping he would hear her this time. 
That’s right, cher, there she is. Go on now. Go get her.  Hope stood tall, let her gaze linger on Jack’s face for a moment, then glided back through the crowd on the dance floor to stand beside Sam.
Sam asked, “It’s that simple?”
Hope snorted and shrugged. “This part, maybe. That boy thinks with his dick. But then what boy don’t?” She laughed and jabbed Sam in the chest with a sharp elbow. 
He blushed deeply but gathered his dignity as best he could. “Madam, I’m happy you find fun mocking me, but I was preserving my purity for my future wife as the Scriptures instruct.”
“More’s the pity,” she said, dryly. “Now I know why they gave you this job.”
“First of all, who are they?” he shouted. “Are we agents of the Devil or the Lord? I’m so confused.” 
Hope shoved him. “Shush with your questions for now. This ain’t about you tonight. Or me. It’s about them.” They watched Jack come up behind Anna, hesitate, then cup his large hand under her elbow and bring his mouth close to her ear. She leaned back into him to listen. 
“She seems to like him, but I can’t fathom it,” Sam said, disapproval carving a groove between his eyes. “He looks to be a lout and a pirate.” 
“He’s all that and worse, but be grateful she’s willing. This could go quicker than I thought. She’s as much a savage as he is. Maybe more.” Hope shifted her attention to Sam who was biting his lower lip as Jack put his hands on Anna and led her to the dance floor.
“You better get over that jealousy, Sam. That’s not going to help matters, especially when he talks her out of her panties.” Knowing Jack as she did, she figured ‘round midnight.
Sam said, “Out of her what?”
“Never mind, cher.” She sighed, knowing she’d have to hold him back herself when the time came.
From what she could tell so far, their mission, whether Sam liked it or not, was to make the match between Anna and Jack. Why was Sam being so obtuse? And her big question, why did the Powers That Be want Anna and Jack to find each other? Matchmaking, if that’s what this was, had not been a part of her experience, before or after she was dead. How could she get things done right with only slivers of information and roadblocks like Sam? She began to get the feeling that she’d been slipped into a management position without being told.





Sunday, October 28, 2018

the end, my friend.

I'm coming up on the end of the first hard edit and it's giving me the willies. I'm asking myself if I were watching this on Netflix, would I scream at the TV or go down on one knee and say "yesss" with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

Am I there yet?

Nope.



Monday, July 2, 2018

the pitch

"A drug-dealing ladies man and part-time assassin with psychic skills meets the woman he'll mend most of his ways for. A new age con artist herself, she's got her own brand of psychic ability and a troubling history of being on hand for untimely deaths. 

When they meet, he’s on the lam from the life and she's married to a gangster wannabe who's blackmailing her to keep her in line. Cosmic lust comes before trust, but they must learn to work together if they hope to thwart her husband's plans to sell her and her secrets to settle a deadly debt."

       
         “So, just how do we turn this darkness into light?" she said and shuffled the cards. The deck was old and soft and made a purring sound in her hands. He picked up her thick braid, squeezed it gently and whispered in her ear,  
         "One well-deserving motherfucker at a time.” Then he wrapped the braid around her neck, tilted her head back and kissed her between the eyes.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Till then...(retreat prompt: fountain)

The last hurricane left the great fountain in Audubon Park filled with brackish water and, unaccountably, a dead three-foot long sand shark. The fish had putrefied in the heat and when the power came back on and the fountain started up, the whole east end was bathed in the gag-worthy perfume of rotting magnolias and liquefied fish.

Tilla had left all the window to her apartment open to help dry the floors. She had been lucky. Home at the time of the tide-driven surge, only mere inches of dirty sewer and seawater had made its way over the top step into her place. She'd had time to get things up off the carpet. Pulled all the books from the bottom shelves to the top. Picked up all her shoes and Kip's bedding, piling everything on the dining room table. The carpet, which was shitty in the first place, was doomed, as was the couch and love seat. The frilly plaid skirts carrying the rank water up into the padding. She was sick of that old shit anyway.

Kip whined behind her on the stairs where she sat and smoked her last Kool. "You can sleep on my bed tonight. I'll be up a minute." There was nothing else to do until daylight.

The stench woke her. Kip would roll in dead fish any chance he got so she rarely let him run off leash, at least in the park. Kids would catch catfish or bream and leave them dead in the grass. The mutt acted like the corruption was manna from heaven and would drop his body on the oozing carcasses and roll, gumming up his white fur with fish scales and rotted flesh. Then he'd rush her and jump into her arms as if he was bestowing heaven's blessings.

Now he was jumping around on the bed, his leash in his mouth. "Relax, relax. I'm coming. Lemme pee first or we'll be fighting over the first hydrant we come to. She threw on shorts - it was already hot out - and a tank top. "What is that fucking smell?" she yelled as if she expected Kip to confess to something gross.

At the top of the stairs, she remembered the mess waiting for her down in the living room and kitchen. The filthy carpet had lifted off the floor and appeared to be floating a few inches below the last step. The cheap, vinyl kitchen tiles were all curled up on the corners, the points sticking out of the muck. She dug her rubber boots out of the closet, shook them out for scorpions and crammed her bare feet in. Kip was dancing from one foot to another by this time.

He nearly knocked her down the stairs and she gave up any hope of leashing him as he dashed out the open front door, dog-knee deep in filthy water. "Fuck me!" Tilla cried. She'd forgotten her briefcase on the floor beside the couch.
It was floating in the middle of the living room, barely breaking the water, the bloated leather shiny and dark. Her cell phone and charger were in there.Two mice rode calmly on the leather island but abandoned ship as she splashed across the room to see if she could salvage any of the contents. She could barely lift it onto the couch it was so sodden and didn't even bother opening it. She sighed and headed for the door. Kip could be on his way to the next county by now.

Her neighbors across the way had fared no better. Thier basement apartment was mostly underwater, but they had rented a U-haul the day before and moved just about everything they owned into the 24-foot box. The water in the street was to the wheel rims. Rupp and Martin were sitting on their kitchen chairs in at the back of the open box, tuning up. Rupp played the cello and Martin the viola.

"Humidity will be raising hell with your instruments, boys!" Tilla snarked. Crazy assholes played at all hours of the night with little regard for the neighbors. She didn't care if it was fuckin' Chopin or Mozart, they woke her up whenever they got a craving to saw and she suffered for it the next day. At least, now, it looked like they would be moving out and taking the noise with them.

"Rentals!" Rupp crowed. We put the real ones in dry storage at Marty's mom's place last week. Already got an insurance claim in on the poor darlings, lost in the storm they were." He rolled his eyes and bowed a few out of tune bars of the funeral march on the much-abused instrument, his gift still shining through, and Marty took up the dirge.
Tilla didn't bring up their impending move, just in case her mentioning it might encourage them to feats of heroics about saving their place. They were committed, the truck packed full. All that shit and no place to go.
"Have you seen Kip? He took off a few minutes ago."
Marty pointed down the block with his bow. "White dog on the full-tilt boogie for points east."
"Thanks". Kip was headed to higher ground, straight for dead-fish heaven in Audobon Park.

As she trudged through the water, Tilla was intrigued by the detritus that had made its way out of homes and cars in the hours since the flooding peaked. Unopened bottles of beer, a clear plastic bag with what might be a pound of weed inside, A plastic tube filled with sneakers. Trash and treasure. Discerning pickers with trash bags were already making their way down the block taking the best and leaving the rest.
She thought about the open door to her place and decided that the presence of Ruff and Martin would be enough of a deterrent to anyone bound on thievery. Besides, they'd take one look around at her place and pass. She didn't have shit worth taking anymore. She'd gotten rid of most everything in anticipation of her move uptown. Now, she'd have a truly fresh start even if meant sitting on the bare floor in the new place until she could afford some furniture. Tilla always found a way to make lemonade out of whatever shit fell from life's tree.

That awful smell was getting stronger and she recognized death as a base note. She picked up her pace and made her way through the arched gates. In the distance, she could hear Kip barking. It was his "Hosannah on the Highest! here's a roast beef sandwich with nobody looking" bark and she smiled. He wasn't one to go looking for trouble and was never aggressive with strangers. A good dog. The fountain was going, arcs of yellow-green water blowing out across the stone plaza unevenly, as if the jets were clogged with something. There was Kip running in circles around the fountain. He had something in his mouth, a rubbery-looking log or something. He stopped to shake it like an old sneaker and chunks flew off.

"Kip!" she shouted "c'mere boy. What you got? Gimme, gimme!" Her enthusiasm fired his and Kip chased his tail in circles for a minute then headed her way at a lope, dragging the item now. It was bigger than she first thought. Heavier.
The big dog rushed her, his fur greenish with the tainted water that still sprayed through the air all around them. He dropped the log across her feet, a true honorarium. The hand was missing a few fingers. They had flown off with Kip's last vigorous shake, but there was no mistaking it. It was a big powerful, male arm, hacked off below the shoulder by something brutal, the grayish flesh marked with a series of strange tattoos, all in blue, not colors. Symbols and ciphers Tilla had never seen, dead or alive. A hairy sonovabitch too. The wristwatch was a bad Rolex knockoff stopped at 130 am. She didn't want to touch it. It was evidence, after all, but Kip made like he was going to take it back and run. Till stepped on the fleshy palm and it squished under her boot. "Christ on a crutch, Kip. Thanks a bunch."

Every day in her job at the city morgue she saw death in all its guises. This was her damned day off and she was sure she'd be seeing the rest of this guy before many more days passed and so far, it wasn't looking like natural causes. She only hoped the power was on at the city office and that she's backed up her laptop at some point before quitting time on Friday. The boss was not going to be happy about all that wet paperwork and she was looking at a lifetime of overtime. Why not, she had no life.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

the pitch remains the same.

(I wrote this back in January, 2016.  It still stands and the story stands closer to it.)


"A drug dealing ladies man and part-time assassin with psychic skills meets the woman he'll mend most of his ways for. A new age con artist herself, she's got her own brand of psychic ability and a troubling history of being on hand for untimely deaths. 

When they meet, he’s on the lam from the life and she's married to a gangster wannabe who's blackmailing her to keep her in line. Cosmic lust comes before trust, but they must learn to work together if they hope to thwart her husband's plans to sell her and her secrets to settle a deadly debt."

       
         “So, just how do we turn this darkness into light?" she said and shuffled the cards. The deck was old and soft and made a purring sound in her hands. He picked up her thick braid, squeezed it gently and whispered in her ear,  
         "One well-deserving motherfucker at a time.” Then he wrapped the braid around her neck, tilted her head back and kissed her between the eyes.