Friday, April 27, 2018

Satan's Circus


The deck stood about twelve feet over the deep green, freshly mowed lawn.  White plastic furniture was tied to rails in anticipation of the coming storm.  Blake Robbins and his Weather Team 10,  had forecast the eye of the storm to blast right up the bay.  Hurricane Dawn was coming to town, and wiser men had fled to higher inland refuge.
     The sky overhead was split into two dramatic hues, one light cerulean summer, the other deep violet and foreboding.  Bobby wondered if maybe he should have gone upstream as well.  Hell, even the seagulls were gone.  The blinking lights at twin points of the bridge superstructure seemed overly bright.  The air felt heavy and wet.  While the true deluge was still south of Long Island Sound, there had been some portentous sprinkles.  The Weather Channel maps tracked the eye up the east coast and it was looking as thought good ol’ Blake was right, the joined mass of water known as Narragansett Bay and its sister Mount Hope would be hosting the first really powerful hurricane in over fifty years, and every one else had left, except for the two people standing on the unpainted deck at the very head of Mount Hope Bay.  The slider opened with a soft whoosh, and closed thudding against the frame.  Marian stepped beside her husband.
She looked into his worried gaze and he pulled her into a gentle, loving kiss.
"Think it’ll really come?”  Her voice was sweet, soft and only her husband could detect the sound of her concern.
"Startin’ to think so.”  Bobby answered with all sincerity.  “Old Poppy used to call these storms Satan’s Circus.  He’d say when Satan’s Circus comes to town, only the foolish pay for admission.”
"Poppy ever have a son die?”
"No.”
"Then he would never understand.”  She laced her fingers into his and squeezed.
         Bobby and Marian stood shoulder to shoulder as the purple clouds over ran the azure sky.  The power of the early afternoon sun became insignificant as the sky began to boil.  One last seagull, looking stark white, like a candle at midnight, flew toward the beaches up river as the first wave of large smacking raindrops began to fall.   Bobby just stood with his face into the breeze, allowing the raindrops to mix with the tears on his face.  Two days was just not enough time.
      "How high will the water rise?” she asked.
      "They say there’s a fifteen foot tidal surge.  We’re at seventeen feet here.  If it hits with the highest tide, this deck could be just above the waves.”  He thought it might even be just a bit under the waves.
        Over their heads the early flashes of lightning began to dance across the deepening colors of the stormy sky.  The roll of deep thunder began to echo along the shoreline.  Bobby felt that rumble vibrate his fractured heart.  He thought of the soft dirt above Robert’s grave, and wondered if the splintered remnants of his heart would completely shatter in the rumbling thunder.
         "Marian, I’m staying here until I can’t.  I’m facing this storm down.”  He looked into the eyes of his wife.  He could not see the tears on her face any better than she saw his.  Both were soaked in the infant rains of Hurricane Dawn.  He kissed her again, longer and deeper than last time.  “I can’t keep running.  I need to feel like I can do something.  I hate this helpless felling.”
          "There was a time I would have fought you, but I have only enough fight left to stand by you.  I know it was not your fault.”
           "Easy to say.  He was just a kid, my kid, and he needed me.”  The sound of the downpour should have drowned his words, but Marian’s heart heard every breath.
        They both had their hands on the rail of the deck and were leaning into the wind as it began gusting to near twenty-five knots.  The rain was warm and like his own shed tears, had a salty flavor to it.  The sky, nearly dark, still grew deeper.  The high grass and cattails along the shoreline began to bow down to the north.  Waves crashed into the old remnants of the pier Ol’ Pappy had built.  The sea spray drove nearly horizontally.
       The rain simply stopped.
       "Is there a switch somewhere?” Marian joked.
       "Ahh, just the first band.  The rain will come and go a few times, getting stronger with the winds.  The breaks will become shorter and before long everything around here will be zipping by.”
       "Are we doing the right thing?”
        "Who ever knows.  Last week we thought diving in the bay for quahogs was harmless enough.  All I know is that it’s right for me.  I need to do this.  I need to look right into Satan’s Circus and God help me for what I might see.”
From the street a police siren warbled intermittently.  Between the high-pitched electronic scream, an officer’s voice could be discerned,  “For your safety a mandatory evacuation has been ordered.  A shelter has been set up…”
        "That’s the fifth time they’ve been by.”
        "And they’ll continue to come by until the trees start falling or the street floods.”
     "What time did they come by here?”
     "Two-thirty.”
     "Was that the same guy?”
     "Yeah, that’s the fat bastard that kept glaring at me while my boy was wrapped up in a white sheet, and taken away.  The questions later nearly put me over the edge.”
Marian began to cry again.  Her tears were plain and unmasked.
     "Honey, it will be alright.”
     "I know, I trust you and love you.  I could never have gotten through this without you.”
     Bobby nearly choked on the irony.  Had he not turned his back on Robert, the boy would not have drowned, and she would not have had to go through any of this shit at all.  Payment was being made and soon the pain would stop.  Satan’s Circus was at hand, and he had bought tickets for the center ring.
     "There is hope, right? After, I mean.”
     "Marian, there is always hope.  I would not be standing here if I didn’t have hope.”
      Another spiraling band of rain led a stronger windstorm.  Gusts were now nearly fifty knots.  Smaller dry branches had begun to fly.  Loose lawn decorations tumbled along the beach.  The snapping of branches rivaled the rolling thunder and flashing lightning.  It would not be long before the power and phone was lost.  Bobby had charged up both cell phones, but doubted he would really use either one.
      He put his arm across Marian’s shoulder and leaned into the wind.  The push of the wind told him for sure, the power of this storm was heading up the twin bays.  He would not guess where the eye would fall, but doubted it was necessary to have a direct hit, although it did seem likely.  It might hurt a bit, in the beginning, but facing this storm was right for them both.  After, hopefully, the pain and the guilt would be gone and they could be happier, never happy.  Not without Robert, that had changed everything.
      Bobby looked into the house.  All of the lights were unplugged.  The television and appliances were pulled away from the walls and valuables had been boxed and stored in the center of the house and in the trunk of the car.  He knew he should have boarded up the sliders, but he knew in the end, it did not really matter.  The circus would play out in whatever randomness drove such things.  Bring it all on.  Gusts answered his silent call, nearly pushing him off his feet.  He held one hand more tightly to the rail.  The Eye of Dawn was now over Block Island with one hundred and fifteen knot winds.  The tropical rains were dumping four and three-quarter inches in just over an hour.  The tidal surge was riding the high tide at twenty feet above normal.  The Twin Bays were beginning to swell with a churning rolling current of five to nine foot rolling seas.  The sound of the increasing wind sounded like a dying man’s groan.
      Standing in the path of the eye of Hurricane Dawn, Bobby and Marian held fast to each other, the memory of their deceased fifteen year-old son and hoped for redemption.
      Two days were just not enough time to heal.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ghosts of the Great White Church

     The Great White Church was neither great nor white, not anymore.
     You could find it simply enough if you wanted to, though no one really wanted to, no one except Stevie Rego.  He had his reasons and they were good ones, but he was the only one to make the long trek down Blossom Road to the old church yard.
     The sun was bright in the clear blue spring sky.  It was one of those days when the sky truly felt endless.  There were no clouds, no entrails, no marks at all on the pristine blue.  The steeple of the church reached higher than the tree tops and power poles.  The poles themselves were bare.  No electrical wires, no phone or cable television wires either.  They stood in a stoic line, like sentries on guard duty.  What they were guarding against was the source of no minor speculation to the children in the city. 
     At the very top of the tall steeple, at the very tip of the point was a weathervane, not a cross as one would expect, but a fine black iron weather vane in the shape of a Rhode Island Red Rooster.  While the rooster no longer spun or pointed toward the wind, it grasped at the folded axis that once had reached into the sky.  The rooster, now lied on its side, as if dead, like the church itself, plainly wrecked by some violent act.  Stevie stood under the giant maple tree at the end of the main walkway.  He did as he always did, beginning with the rooster, he would gaze upon every inch of the steeple and work his way down toward the front entrance looking for a sign of any kind from her.
      Back in the 1920’s, the Great White Church was home to a healthy Catholic congregation.  Saint Marc of the Sea Church remained a committed member of the north eastern community.  Weddings, baptisms, funerals and sixty-five years of Sunday services, until Father Gomes was accused of fiddling the alter boys.  Some of the New England churches survived that scandal, but Saint Marc’s sank.  The hard core working class boys and men of the city wanted no part of that building after that.  Given the changes in the Church overall, the congregation moved on and the Catholics moved out.  The Great White Church was renamed just that by the artist who bought the building.
     Gary Kent, known to most as Grizzly Bear or simply Griz, turned the building into an artist cooperative gallery.  Fifteen artists showed their work, held openings, classes, and music events.  It was during this time that the rooster replaced the cross.  Despite being somewhat off any beaten path, the Great White Church Gallery was successful for over twenty-five years.  Griz passed away the summer he turned seventy-eight years old.  The cooperative sold the church to a fundamentalist Christian congregation.  They renamed the building, and their group to the Great White Church of our Lord Jesus.  They were an evangelical group dedicated as much to spreading good will as much as the good word.  Both the church and the congregation remained that way until two years ago.
     At the time, Stevie Rego was just thirteen, and desperately wrapped up in the throes of his first real love, that first love against all others would be measured.  Shawna Peters was a member of the Church.  Stevie had been considering joining the Church to spend more time with Shawna.  The way it turned out, he was lucky he had not yet decided, but he lost something he desperately wanted back.
Stevie had lost hope, and thirteen was way to young to lose hope.
     The boy, now fifteen stood quietly performing his ritualistic exam.  The stories all said the Great White Church was haunted with the spirits of those children taken to soon.  Stevie really wanted that to be so.  For two years, he came every Sunday, at the time of the fire to watch, to look and to search.  He needed to see her one more time.  He never got to tell her he loved her and that need hurt.
     The scorched paint above the windows was more gray than black, and the remaining white, in general, was a pale gray.  The church appeared as if in a fog, even on this clear spring morning.  Stevie took a long hard breath.  On the far side of the Great White Church, standing in a shadow that should not have been, was Big Jim.  He was known as Big Jim Meaner or Jim the Devil Man, and many others.  He watched Stevie, reveling in the boy’s loss and pain.  Big Jim was a legend in the city, a legend that was as old as the city itself.  Those who had seen Big Jim never lived much longer.  On this day, however, he simply watched as this tale unfolded, and a boy with a broken heart searched for a way to heal.  Big Jim had a hand in the fire that destroyed the Church and took those innocent lives.  Thirteen children and two adults.  He ended those stories before they had time to even begin. Big Jim’s tale however, is one for another day.
Stevie would not see Big Jim, not today, likely not ever if his luck prevailed.  He would, however, see the devil man’s work several times in his lifetime.  Big Jim was like that, never far from those in heartfelt pain.  He enjoyed their suffering.  
Stevie took three steps toward the blackened door to the church.  He could feel the energy exuding from within as if it were a very low bass vibration.  His heart sped up.  His eyes dried out and stung.  He rubbed at them.
     Shawna had been inside with her mom, her aunt and twelve small children learning Sunday School prayers.  Shawna wanted to help.  She thought she’d like being a teacher.  Mom thought this could be an internship of sorts.  There were all in the basement classroom.  This was the room that once held a kiln and shelves filled with cups, pots, bowls, and an assortment of imaginative vessels.  The cause of the fire remains undetermined.  But not to Big Jim.  He had made a deal.
     As he had with the Catholic priest and so many others, there was a deal to be had with the Evangelical Pastor with a fondness for very young ladies.  That fellows eyes had graced Shawna graceful beauty more than once, a lot more than once.  Her long jet black hair, the eyes like a Disney princess, those same eyes that had sparked Stevie’s imagination and heart, had lit a dark spot in the pastors secret desires.  It was all the opening Big Jim needed.
     Stevie took a few more steps.  It had to be this time, this day, right now.  Demolition had finally been scheduled.  The Great White Church was coming down for good.  If there were ghosts, he would never have another chance.  He used his imagination to see her.  The deep dark eyes, the long almost silver hair framing her face, the neat, precise smile and the laughter that accompanied that smile.  He closed in on the door.  The steeple towering over his head.  He thought it might be leaning to the left quite sharply.  He had never noticed that, but then this was the closest he had ever dared get.  His heart pounded. He stepped closer.  He said her name aloud.  He felt a rogue tear fall along his cheek.  His foot reached the bottom step.  
     His mind replayed the sounds of the firetrucks and ambulances racing toward the church.  Stevie thought he could hear their screams, their cries.  He could hear Shawna calling for her mom.
     Another step.
     The devil man tittered softly from his ambiguous shadow.
Stevie reached the burned door.  He raised his hand.  It felt warm.  He pushed it.
     Stevie, the boy with the broken heart, stepped into the darkness of the Great White Church for the first and last time.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Olie at Lunch


Part 2

       “Do you know what it’s like to have your whole life change in one stinkin’ night?"  She asked me this after she had taken three enormous bite of her “Bird Sandwich.”
I thought back to the night my own father was killed in a fire, started while as a boy, I tried to rescue my mother from that same man’s vile and violent abuse.  Yeah, I thought, one night can fuck it all up or fix it, depending on where you go next.  I had done both.  My mind traveled in time, and in between my next two breaths I became a boy again, in the dark, a step and a breath away from changing everything in his life.


***

        His mom, Alicia, licked at the barrel of the weapon.  It tasted as foul as the man holding it.  
        She darted her eyes around the room.  She was looking for a way to escape.  She knew it would have to be fast.  Escape would only come after the quickest decision of her life.  She looked toward the door to see if her path was clear.  Alicia saw her son.  He was bathed in the weak yellow light. His eyes were closed tightly, and his mouth was shaping soundless words, a prayer, she hoped.  She could not let Robbie see her son.  That would complicate things way too much.  To her left she saw the can.  It was a simple spray can, filled with furniture polish.  She had dusted earlier in the day.  Robbie had insisted.  She thought she might be able to blind him long enough to allow her to run out.  She looked at Kirby.  His eyes were still closed.  Her husband stood before her, his eyes seemed glazed.  They seemed to reflect light from a source Alicia could not find.  Those glazed eyes would make a nice target.
       “You know, Baby, this is as good for me as fuckin’ you any other way.  I think I’ll have me a smoke.  Fuckin’ you was always the best thing about, uh, fuckin’ you!”  He laughed to himself.  It was certainly not a happy laugh.  He pulled a cigarette from out of his breast pocket.  It was so much less menacing in his mouth than the pistol Alicia had to lick.  He reached into the pocket of his black, torn, greasy  jeans, and got his lighter out.  He had just filled it earlier that day.  He fumbled with the lighter for a second, and in the very long second that followed.
         Soundlessly, the flame burst from the little silver case.  The fire was too tall and nearly singed Robbie’s eyebrows.  In his surprise, he dropped the gun.  It fell from Alicia’s mouth and dropped to the floor.  She reached for, and got the aerosol can then sprayed.  Robbie never saw it coming.  She had only meant to blind him and run, but there were greater forces at work.  The spray ignited.  A great plume of flame burst forth, enveloping the man’s face.  No tiny feeding spark here, this flame was a rabid animal. Robbie’s hair and skin caught fire.  He started to burn. 
          Alicia saw Kirby burst into the room at full speed.  He slammed himself into the back of his father.  There was no recognition.  Kirby still had his eyes closed.  He reached for his mother’s hand and pulled her off of the couch and Robbie fell to the floor.  His head smacked on an end table.  Blood spilled from the new cut on his scalp, but it was unseen blood.  Robbie’s head was in full flame.  Kirby, with his eyes still tightly pressed together, pulled his mother from the room, and out into the night.  Robbie pounded his hand to his head, trying to extinguish the flames.  He left eye still worked.  Through that eye and the fire, he saw Big Jim Meaner, his own version of a devil, standing a few steps away.
         “Help me?”  Robbie asked.
         “No thanks.  We had a deal.”
         “You did come for my soul.”
         “Nah, you gave that up a long time ago.  You wanted to see fear in the eyes of your wife, and you did.  True, hard fear.  I just wanted to watch you burn, and I am.” 
         Kirby opened his eyes in time to see the flash of flame light up the inside of his home.  Neighbors were fleeing the building, answering Alicia’s calls and cries.  Kirby stepped away with a disbelieving gaze.  How had this happened?  His father was in there.  Alicia’s cries were clear about that.  No one made any heroic attempts, not even the firemen.  Half of the building burned to the ground.  Robbie had burned with it.  They found little, but enough, a gun, and a story.  Alicia all but accused her son of murder, but the police considered it a rescue.  Kirby had no memory of any of it.  Those memories came much later in his life.  He stepped away a bit further.  His mother was wearing a green vinyl jacket someone had given her.  Her hair and face betrayed a new dementia.  Kirby stepped further away.  If anyone had been closer, they would have heard the soft crack.  Ordinarily, the sound of a spirit being broken is nearly inaudible, but this time, that sound was louder than most.  There were no tears.  There was no hope.  Kirby had been told that he had killed a man that was his father.  He could not deny it.  He had no memory of the act. Alicia had said he came in as crazed as his own father had been.  Kirby had felt the crazed rage, but at this point, Kirby felt nothing.  He was closing doors, and running.  
        He was in full sprint too.  Gone was the peace he had felt with The Brookside Club.  Kirby now had the peace that only a numbed spirit can give.  Protected, sheltered, immune, but most simply, alone.  Death seemed everywhere.  Death seemed close.   Alone seemed good, even painless.  Kirby stepped even further away from the fire trucks, the lights, the disaster.  He stepped away from himself.  The future had started that night, and Kirby Rounds did not give a good shit about it.  All of the flames were eventually extinguished, and all Kirby had was a single white feather in his hand, and the comfort that it offered.


***

But that was years ago.  The kind of night that everything changes. Yeah I knew of those things.  I looked at the young woman before me. She sat placidly between bites.  I could almost hear her heart beating, she had a story to tell and I started to wonder how we had come together, here in this spot, as she readied herself to spill her tale.
        I looked at Olie and quietly said, “ Tell me, Olie,”
She looked at me.  Tears filled her eyes to the rims, ready to burst, but not quite yet.  She was beautiful.  Her eyes were vivid and sharp.  She had pulled her hair from the pony tail, hair that now framed her features.  She looked softer, more vulnerable that she had on the sidewalk.  She took another bit of a breath, swallowed some Troy City coffee, and finally took a deep breath.  It was time for Olie to tell a part of her tale.  I took a bite of my own bird sandwich, and listened as she let it go.


Parts of the above tayle were first told in the novel Turnstiles by C.R. Boucher


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Ali Awakened

Hydelands a Taylespun Blog 

     In college she was stunning.  She was the real deal.  Her long dark hair framed her face like a princess.  Her skin was smooth and creamy.  She tanned up in the summer, but just slightly, never overdone, never too dark.  She had long, thin fingers that held the charcoal stick with finesse.  Her figure studies were usually one of the top three or four in her classes, consistently, not occasionally.  She seemed on track to have a fine career illustrating novel covers or children’s books.  She had the potential to be more than special. 
     As we have all learned, potential and a five might get you a coffee and a small sandwich, but that’s about it. It was her smile that opened doors, but that smile had opened the wrong one.  Antone had been beyond the doorway.  Antone was his given name, Colossus is what most of his pals called him.  “Call me Col,” he had told her that first day.
     Ali sat on the stretcher at St. Anne’s Hospital, the one near the park in the south end, remembered how she felt that first day, seeing him fill that door frame.  The sheer bulk of him that had earned him his nick-name was impressive.  His voice smooth and familiar.  Col held out his hand, she smiled as he took hers, planted a delicate kiss on the back, and lit a new light in her life.  Her heart raced.  Her eyes dried up and the sweat in her palms made them almost slippery. Before too many sunsets had passed they had become an impressive couple.
      The noise in the ER became more sustained and clearer as the drugs wore off.  She had been in a fog, nearly out, maybe for good.  Col had carried her in.  He had slung her over his shoulder as he pulled her from the White Ford pick up he maneuvered around the city.  He didn’t rush, didn’t think that was necessary.  He did in fact keep his cool.
      The giant man remained calm as he told the triage nurse she had swallowed whatever had been in both of the bottles he handed to her.  “She has been down lately, but I never expected this.” He told her, with a slight waver to his voice.  “Don’t let her die on me,” he said. Catching the two words. “Not yet,” before they came out.  He was calm.  Too calm, the nurse thought.
     Ali watched the conversation from her diminishing fog.  She recognized the smile on her husband’s face.  It was the same as that first night, bringing the light.  The clenching fist at his side might be mistaken for nervous energy, but she saw it for what it was, and that fist brought the dark.  
     Where there is light, there is always dark.  
     She had not seen the darkness herself until nearly a year after their wedding.   She didn’t see what a powerful weapon it was until a few months after that.  It was nearly two years after their wedding before he had actually hit her and another year before he hit her again.  How many times had she said as a young girl, that she would never be a battered woman.  She would walk away. She would… la dee and then  da…  All bullshit.  At first Ali had felt responsible for the darkness, then scared and now just plain terrified.
     Those pills should have been her escape.  The only path to walking away had become the bottom of a bottle of mild tranquilizers and “a little something to help you sleep through the night.”  
     She watched her husband smooth talk the triage nurse, or at least try to.  That nurse looked wiser than most.  It was in her eyes.  Even at this distance and through her diminishing fog, she could hear his voice changing as he more desperately built the case of falsehoods and bullshit.
     “She fell before I could catch her.  I was walking her outside, trying to keep her awake and she just fell hard, right into a tree trunk.  Was gonna call 911, but thought I could get here quicker.  Don’t know what I would do with out her.”  Ali heard it all.  It was a well rehearsed package of bullshit.  He turned away from the nurse and walked through the managed chaos of the ER and came beside her.  He squeezed her broken arm.  Two places they had said.
     He had come into the bedroom right after she had swallowed the pills.  There weren’t enough, she was sort of sure, but at least, she thought it would get her into the system.  Someone would recognize her plight.  There might even be help.  She swallowed what she had with a quarter glass of Madeira.  He had come home too soon.  He walked into the bedroom, saw the empty vials and drew all the right conclusions.  She was just beginning to fade.  The lights were dimming, sound becoming unimportant.  She could see he was shouting, but heard nothing more than a whisper.  It felt pretty good.  He couldn’t reach her in here.  She allowed herself to fall deeper.  
     Colossus stepped up to the bed she was lying in, and gently took her hand, like the first time she thought.  I made him sad.  He picked her hand up and kissed it gently, then pulled it toward the night stand.  With her wrist resting on the small table that held the lamp and her Echo he took a long deep breath.  He pressed her arm tightly against the wood.
     "This will keep you awake, you stupid bitch.”
     He raised his other hand, already fisted and brought it down onto her extended forearm.  It snapped, yes, in two places.  She snapped awake, as she had again while he applied discreet pressure to the Nautilus Shell shaped bruising halfway between her wrist and elbow.  He had her attention.  Completely.  The nurse in the background seemed so unaware and in a different world.  The telephone at the side of her head had her full attention as she nodded it and turned away.
     "Honey, “ he said quietly, “you with me?”
     She slowly nodded.  Tears in the rims of her reddened eyes. One long drip followed the contours of her pale cheek toward he clenched jaw line.
     "I need to leave, something’s come up.”  He had a knowing sense the triage nurse saw through his bullshit.  Her eyes gave her away,  Her smile seemed just too phony, Her voice too gentle.  It was as if she were trying too hard to match his calm.
     "So, listen well, my once beautiful wife.  You say nothing.  I am going to visit your dear sister and her impotent husband.  We will wait for word of your recovery together.  You don’t get to die until I tell you you can die.  I will in fact help you to die when the time is right.  That won’t be for awhile sweetheart.  First you will watch as your family dies, one at a time.  Your impotent brother in-law sports writer first.  That way your sister suffers a bit with you, then her, and then, that sweet little niece of ours, Suzie.  Yeah, she reminds me of you.  How you must have been as a girl.  So sweet, so pretty.  So trusting.  So say anything and she is first. It is all in your hands.  Wake up, Ali.  Don’t fuck this up.  Their lives are in your hands now.  All of them.”
     The tears overflowed.  She could no longer keep them to herself.  How she wished she had taken more or stronger pills.  She never considered her choices to stay with him.  She understood on some level she had given him control of her life.  Now it seemed her’s was no longer enough.  Her family.  She began to sob.  Her heart and soul felt gone to her.
     Colossus said nothing more.  He released his grip.  Winked at her, smiled a sarcastic smirk, and turned away.  She watched every step as he blended into the crowd of  chaos.  She barely took a breath.  She felt the coolness of the soft grip on her good arm.  She turned to see the triage nurse standing beside her.
     "Honey, you are going to be okay.  I know what he did to you. I have seen that type bruise before.  Comes from the side of a man’s fist when he brings it down like a  hammer.  And his bullshit stories would not have convinced an nursing student.  Find your strength.  I have called the police, and you have a story to tell.”
     She looked at the nurse.  Those gentle eyes never broke focus.  Ali found comfort in that powerful gaze.
     "My family,” Ali started,  “he has threatened them.”
     "I’ve called your sister.  Her number was listed as your emergency contact.  Your family is on the way.  Tell them what you have held secret for so long.  I think you will be surprised to learn what they know.  Make today day one sweetie.  It is time to walk away from that beast and move on.”
     Ali laid in the gurney, her heart pounding, reaching for the strength she needed.
     Ali still simply wondered if she had it, if she could so it.
     Without warning, Suzy came to her side and started planting kisses on her aunts pale cheek.  Ali closed her eyes and accepted the pure, clean love those sweet kisses contained.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Olie on Second



Hydelands a Taylespun Blog

Olie wasn’t a junkie, at least I don’t believe she was, but what do I know.  She was walking along the sidewalk on Second street, behind the Crystal Palace that is the court house in the city, here.  She looked a bit disheveled as she took one slowly placed step after the other.  Each foot was planted with purpose.  The sun was high in the bright blue sky. The heat of the day yet to be enforced, but the small woman in from of me walked like the sun itself was her burden.
            I had jury duty on the second floor that day. We spent our morning waiting and waiting to be chosen or sent home.  I was chosen and then sent to lunch before the start of the trial, and that’s when I met Olie.  I was walking toward that little coffee shop, the one with the great cupcakes and chicken salad.  Not Willow Tree like the other shops in the area, this one, Troy City Coffee and Lunch, made their own.  They boiled chicken beasts in seasoned water every day for a fresh batch of the “Bird Salad” they offered on fresh baked deli rolls. So, it was toward Troy that I was walking when I saw her for the first time.
Olie wore a pair of black denim jeans.  They were torn in a few places.  She had on heavy black boots with white sting laces. The boots were speckled with red and yellow spray paint. Her hair, jet black and fine was pulled into a pony tail that started near the top of her head.  She slowed down, if that was possible, and I found I was right beside her within just a few steps.  I’m not sure why I remember this part, but she had on a white t-shirt with an image of the President doing unsubstantiated things. The caption stuck with me, it read, Orange is the New Crack. I smiled, almost burst into laughter.  She spoke. Softly, yet firmly, and directly at me.
“’t’s so fuckin’ funny?”
Took me a second to understand she was talking to me. I was absorbed in the moment and the politically themed comic on her shirt.
“Your t-shirt, I answered, fucking hilarious.”
“Ya think?”
“Yeah, I do, sorry to interrupt your thoughts, but it just caught my attention, really”
This tiny little woman, more girl still, maybe seventeen or eighteen, I guessed, had just intimidated me in so few words.  I really felt as though I had shamessly burst into her solitary world.  I took a long deep breath.  She stared at me.  I found it hard to break her gaze.  That’s why I never thought she was a drug user.  She held this powerfully independent gaze that looked as if she were reading my soul.  I stopped breathing.  Held my breath for a few seconds and then I was able to break that stare.
            I lowered my eyes and looked at her boots.  That’s when I saw the paint spray and white laces.  I found myself wondering what could cause that look, it seemed almost accidental, but it looked so free.
“Dude, you got a problem with me?” she said, no longer using that quiet, timid voice.
“No really, I just have jury duty, it’s lunch and I was going to Troy Coffee for a bite.”
“Then why you been eye-ballin’ me.  I look like I sell BJ’s or somethin’ you creep.”
“No, that never crossed my mind.”
“Always crosses a guy’s mind, ‘specially and old fat, white guy’s.”
“I’m not old.”  Yeah, but, fat and white I couldn’t deny.  Old I realize is always simply perspective.  “Look, Kid, I just liked the shirt.  I don’t want a BJ.  I just want lunch.”
“Lunch, now there is a concept.”
She seemed to soften with that sentence.  She became more of the young girl she should have been.  Her piercing glare shifted, and she looked to her own boots.  She began to step from side to side. And then suddenly she pivoted and began to step away. My heart sank.  I’ve been called a libtard, a snowflake and others I’ll not repeat. My esteem can only handle so much before I get pissed off.  What I am, you selfish pricks, is a fat, old, white guy that actually cares about people.
“You hungry, kid?” I asked in a soft voice, “Really, you hungry?”
“Always, but I got my dignity, not much else. I ain’t beggin’ or blowin’ for shit.”
“I didn’t ask for anything, I asked if you were hungry.  Coffee shop has great bird salad on a nice soft roll, and great coffee.  I’m looking for a bit of conversation to pass my lunch.  If you’re in, I an springing… Just one question.”
“Here we fucking go…” she took a long breath and another step.
“No, just your name.  I am offering you the respect of using your name, not calling you ‘kid.”
“Gimme yours first.”
“My…”
“Name you dense fuck!  I don’t eat with no dudes whose name I don’t fuckin’ know”
“I’m Kirby, Kirby Rounds.”
“I’m Olie, just Olie is all you get.”
“Fair enough. C’mon.”
She walked with me to Troy City Coffee and Lunch.  It was cool inside.  Smelled great.  The place was nearly empty.  We took a table near the front window where we could see the folks walking by and everyone could see us.  Olie was careful, always darting her eyes from face to face as folks walked by the other side of the window.  I brought two each Bird Salad sandwiches and tall iced coffees.
Olie proceeded to tell me a story that blew my mind.  I am still trying to process it and once I do… well, then I can continue.  Let’s just say, the trial over the next few days barely held my attention, and I thought about my daughter, Dawn, and how much different her life might have been with a few different friends and choices.  Sure, I knew already how thin our lives were, how fragile life is despite and outward illusion of strength, but Olie pulled aside that tattered old curtain for me, yet again.
Olie’s story remains a tale to be told, or rather shared.

Later.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Pickle

     

Hydelands a Taylespun Blog

     Mamma always said Carol was her pickle. From the time she was a baby, “She’s my pickle,” not my baby, but “my pickle.”  As time went on Mamma just called her Pickle. It stuck. Junior high was tough, before middle schools, they were called junior high schools, and all through fifth. sixth and seventh grade, Carol was called “Suck My” as in, yeah, you guessed it, “Suck my pickle.”
In high school it was different.  She tried to go by Carol, but Pickle had stuck.  It was who she had become, but, she was also becoming quite an athlete, her smarts were showing, and she was becoming very pretty, and respect, well, sort of, followed.  Her friends called her “Pick.” That stuck too. Pickle was younger than me, at least in years,  but she was older and wiser. I think it had something to do with being called Pickle. 
     There were five of us. Pickle was the best looking, cute turned to pretty, and then pretty became simple beauty, her dad was mixed race.  He was light skinned and straight haired, but somewhere in his past were African genes. Pickle came out the color of medium coffee.  Her skin was the color of a permanent tan, and her almond shaped eyes were entrancing.  You noticed I said her father, right.  Pickle was actually my half sister.  My brothers and sisters mostly all had different fathers.  Some were somewhat present, others skipped out as fast as they could.  Father of the year had a different meaning for us.  Five kids, four dads, and very little of anything but each other.
     We grew up in the system.  A small government check every month, subsidized rent, donated, what they called commodity foods, you know the score, cheese, peanut butter, powdered milk and eggs.  Don’t get me going on the canned soup with no labels.  There were soup names spelled out with permanent marker on the side. Those names were often wrong, so we took to calling it mystery soup, or simply soup d’jour.  
Cheese omelets were Pickles favorite, and then her specialty once she started cooking at nine years old. Momma had so many kids, because that meant more money, a higher rent allowance and even more powdered milk an eggs.  Pickle’s omelets were legendary in our funny little family. We all looked forward to them for the first week after our monthly allowances of food came in. even Momma, who mostly ran around trying to clean up after us, and trying to teach us a way to a better life.  Problem was, she didn’t really have a clue how to get to a better life. She thought it would be found bed hopping, and hoping something would stick. There is a pun there, but I will leave it alone, cause that’s Momma were are talking about.
     Momma was basically a good woman, just a lost woman, but the good part she passed along to Pickle. She said, “My Pickle has such a big heart, so full of love.  She sees the good of people, and the bad.   My girl can read people faster than she reads a haiku.”  Pickle would say back, “but I understand them less.”
I think, sometimes her big heart got in the way.  She needed to see the good, and turned from the bad.  Pickle was empathetic to a fault.  She forgave blindly, never holding a grudge.  When my brother stole her savings can to buy drugs, she forgave him.  When my other sister wrecked her almost new car, she forgave her.  She forgave me a time or two as well, and for that I am grateful, and in her debt.  And when her husband smacked her across her face on Christmas day, three weeks after they were married, she forgave him too.  
     She stayed with her man for a few more years, their daughter, Moffit was born before the next Christmas they shared.  Forgiveness goes along way, but sometimes it is not enough.
     Momma died along the way, so did two of my brothers and my sister.  That’s why I am here.  The anniversary of her death.
March is an odd month.  Winter and spring exist at the same time, life and death.  Rain soaked days can be depressing, not like the hope filled April rains, the ones that feed the daffodils and tulips.  It’s raining today, but I am here, ten years after her husband beat her to death.  I have tried to follow her example, but, I am not Pickle and I hope he rots in his cell.
     Moffit goes to college in September. She plans on studying social work.  She wants to help.  She has her mom’s eyes, and her mom’s heart.  She has not, however forgiven her father either.  She stands with me on that point.  I just hope it doesn’t eat at her in the ways it eats at me.  I hope she finds a productive helpful career and some good close friends.  
     The system took its time, even skipped a generation, but it worked.  Moffit and her cousins, my own brood of five, will never have to eat from unlabeled soup cans. More than one of which became pork and beans.  Very few were clam chowder.  Moffit is Pickle with hope.  My hope, her hope, Pickle’s hope and the hope that Momma shared with us all.
     Pickles stone stands alone near the back of the Old Grove cemetery. There are trees around, none with leaves, it’s only March.  There are soft shadows across the dormant lawns. They will be beautiful in the summer.  I feel stronger after our visits.  The ten years drift away and I see the wonder that Pickle held for the world.  I feel her strength and her love. 
     Her stone, stoic, strong and bold.  Ten years ago it was set with her remains resting below.  There is and image of an angel carved just under the gentle arc of granite, below the angel a single word, the one word that matters.



P i c k l e


     Below that are the dates of her living.  The time she marked along with our hearts.
From the beginning, Momma called her Pickle.  So did everyone else.  Some of us always will.







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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

502 Fourth

Hydelands a Taylespun Blog
           He felt uneasy all of the way here, heartburn, queasy, even just a bit of nausea.  Randy’s stomach was in turmoil, not just too many fucking fried clams for dinner, but too many coincidences.  He should have known better than to eat so much, especially on a work night, but his gastric unease did not matter.  Randy knew exactly what had to be done.  He grabbed at the ax and took his first steps toward the dark green front door.  He hoped it would be better this time, somehow all better.  He would make up to God for misguided choices.  Someday payment would be made in full, and his soul might be cleared of any debt, but for now he had only one thing in mind.  He hoisted the ax to his left shoulder as he had done many times before.

            She had come from within a swirling cloud of black smoke, her hair, only a shade or two darker than the midnight sky above their heads, hung nearly to her waist.  Her reddened eyes glared at him with rage.  Some wore terror on their faces while others painted the rage of reason across their features.  This one, wearing a simple white terrycloth robe, slightly tied and hardly covering her secrets, was really pissed.  Randy had no sense of her fear.  Before he took a swipe at the front door, she grabbed at his arm.
            “My boy,” she said, her eyes were flames.  “He’s on the third floor, please …” Her eyes, they would stay with him every step of the way.  “Go to him, help him.”
            “Tell the man by the truck I’m inside.” Randy swung the ax, crashing it into the door.  One powerful swing and the front door opened.  These tenement houses were never secure, and they burned so fucking fast.  He adjusted his air pack and stepped inside.  Flames were licking along the walls.  Thick black smoke, like angry thunderheads, billowed across the ceiling scorching the white to black.  Randy reached to his headlamp, turning the ineffective beacon on.  To his left, as usual, he found the first set of stairs.  He knew he should have waited for back up, or even a hose team.  But those eyes, he would see them until he died, he was sure, they more than begged, they commanded. 
He knew he needed to act fast to get to the boy.  How ironic that it was the same address, 502 Fourth. 
This house had been his first full fire six years ago, the reason he had to make amends.  His first casualty had been on the very same third floor.  Tonight he might rid himself of an old demon or two.  On the next level, second floor, the smoke was thicker and lower.  Randy was finding it more difficult to breath.  The house began to groan.  Poets speak of roaring fires and rolling flames, but every firefighter knows it is more violent than that.  The flames scratched and clawed, pulling at every stray strand and lifted corner.  As the building struggled back, it groaned.  He had never heard the roar of a fire so much as he heard the groans of pain, from the wallpaper, from the wood, from the melting copper and from the victims being carried out as the flesh peeled away from their bones, crispy and smoking like an overcooked slab bright pink salmon on a char-broil grill.  Pain had a peculiar sound and it scraped at his own soul.
            It had been like that since the first time and every time since, when the very, very, old woman was carried away in an unrecognizable lump of flayed, split charcoal.  He knew right then he could have done more.  His heart felt her agony.  His dreams carried her revenge.  He had frozen, he been scared.  He had stepped back down the stairs leaving her screaming soul to cry for both vengeance and pity.  She had gotten neither.  Survival never felt so selfish.  He lived with that conflict every day, and in every detailed nightmare, as though he had made an unspeakable bargain.
            Right now, away from that hideous memory, he was finally mounting the last flight.  There was a boy at the top.  There would be no turning back now. Not this time.  He was better trained, more professional and he had six years of vengeful nightmares under his belt.  Randy could feel the heat through his boots.  That was not a good sign at all.  His wits told him to turn back.  He fought every instinct to flee.
            "Not his time,” he told the clawing flames around his head, “It’s a young boy.  His mother begged me.  I have to do this.  I’m not a hero.  I’m just a man.  He’s just a boy.”
            Just three more steps to the top floor.  These buildings all had the vaulted ceilings on the top floor, hardly room for a man to stand in the center, let alone at the outside walls.  Randy pulled the ax around and swung, the first door pounded inward.  The bell on his air pack began to ding.  Only minutes of air left.  Next door.  Boom, a wall of flame exploded out toward him.  He had expected it and was behind the wall as the ax slid from his hand bouncing across the floor into the bathroom.  No kid.  He had time for just one more door.  Randy pounded at it.  It opened with a groan and a wave of slightly cooler air.
            There he was standing just to the left of the window, waving as if to his mother as she went off to Sunday marketing.  The flames and smoke seemed to be avoiding him.  He stood in a clear patch, almost safe from the conflagration around him.
            Randy’s bell pinged more slowly now.  Maybe a minute left.  He waved for the kid to come closer.  The boy simply waved at him.  He stood in the center of a circle that remained untouched by the ravages or their effects.  He smiled.  His red t-shirt, nearly as bright as the surrounding flames, bore the word Sabbath across his chest.  Randy waved again.
            “Not ready yet,” the boy whispered.
            “I should not be able to hear you,” Randy said as his lungs began to fight for more air.  He ripped the mask from his face.  The hot scorched air invaded his lungs with tenacious violence.  Like his first try at whisky, but more.  “C’mon,” he tried to yell.
            “No!”  The boy said, “You should remember this room.”
            Randy fell to one knee.
I do...” he coughed,  “my first casualty,” cough, cough, “this room …” Cough.
His eyes began to burn.  The heat dried all of the moisture from them.  His face was beginning to redden.  He had more than a sunburn on his cheeks, the image of the boy flickered.  Randy closed his eyes, the pain was growing and time was racing away.  Penance he thought.  Time to pay.  He opened his eyes and saw the old woman on the floor, her arms were again reaching for him as they had six years ago right here on 502 Fourth.
            “‘Help me’,” she had begged.
I couldn’t,” he whispered again.  Six years had gone by and now, he knew he could have.  “Couldn’t,” He lied.  Randy paused, then it spewed out like phlegm coughed from deep within his thumping heart. “She was old and I was so young and carrying her down might have killed us both.  I didn’t have the balls to risk it.  Six years of lying and hiding.  Six years of dreaming and screaming, I always knew that the only reasons I turned away were selfish ones.”
That old woman fried because she was old, and you did not want to risk your life.”
 “It was my very first fire, on my twenty-first birthday, and an old, old lady.”  Randy wheezed, his argument over.  He knew he had turned his back on her pleas, descending through the blaze.  The admission froze his rational thought.
The boy stood proudly in the circle of unscorched floor.
You know the really wicked part of all this is that you would have died, both of you, had you tried, but when you come right down to it, you sacrificed her, in trade for six more years.  If you had died that night there would be no debt, and no need for me.  It’s a special night for me too.”  He paused as Randy fell to the floor, his bewildered stare locked into the hardened gaze of the boy.  “If your lucky, you’ll pass out before the flames get really hungry.”
Outside as his brothers called out, looking for Randy, a woman in a bathrobe walked along the sidewalk approaching the front door.  No one seemed to care or notice the fourteen-year-old boy step unscathed from the billowing black clouds.  The smile on his face was ear to ear.
I can’t wait to show dad,” he said to the woman, “my first soul.”  He opened up the small sack.
Big Jim will be so proud,” she said peering at the soft light glowing inside the white bag.  Her red eyes shimmered with delight.  “The ones bearing guilt are always the best.  They are forever suspicious, very cautious and most difficult to trap.  This is a really good soul, so much more than just another debt paid,” she said closing the bag.  “That old woman’s wails and curses were not wasted.  Your father will be proud you’ve had such a rewarding night."
They stepped around the red truck pumping water into the triple decker.  Together they walked side by side into the enveloping darkness.




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