Before the truck stopped I was out and running, the passenger side door yawning open behind me.
"Hold on," Ben was shouting, "That thing could explode!"
It could, I knew that. After rolling end over end the car had landed upright, but the engine was on fire. I could see the rain steam wherever it touched metal. There was no helping the driver, his brain was on the dashboard, but the girl in the passenger seat was screaming, her face torn up by broken glass.
"Help me! Help! Oh, God!"
Ben turned back to the truck while I pulled at the door handle in vain. "I've got a crowbar in the truck. That thing's not opening on its own."
"No time, Ben." I clamped my hands onto the door and the frame of the car. The metal was hot to the touch, I ignored the broken glass scraping my palm. I pulled as hard as I could, but the metal groaned and stayed put.
"Help, please." She touched my hand, her eyes were desperate. I braced again and pulled. The heat seared the sole of my foot through my shoe, worn thin from walking.
With a screech, agony, the door gave. "Hurry up, man!" Ben threw down the crowbar and ran to us. I tossed aside the scrap and scooped up the girl. The tank caught as I walked away, I could feel the heat on my back through my threadbare jacket, my hair buzzing and burning as I shielded her as best I could from the flying, burning debris. A bit of shrapnel flew past my ear, humming like a bee. I was on my knees when Ben reached us, stumbling over the uneven ground.
Other cars had stopped by now. I could see the flashing lights of an ambulance or a police car down the road, still a mile or so off on the long, straight Midwestern highway.
"Come on, Ben," I said, as I laid the girl down by the side of the road, "there's nothing left to do here."
Ben looked at the passenger lying there, bloody and torn, gasping for breath in the grass on the roadside. Alive, though. Another motorist was already kneeling down next to her. "Really? You're sure?"
"Hey!" A young man stepped between me and the truck. "I'm with the Trib', can I ask you some questions?"
"The Tribune. Local paper, no big deal. Did you see the car go off the road? What's your name?"
"No, I didn't." I pushed him aside.
"But, your name?"
"I don't have a name. I'm a golem."
"Gollum? Like in the Lord of the..."
"No," I climbed up into Ben's rig. "Nothing like that."
"Can I have a number to reach you? I have questions."
"No. I'm just passing through." I slammed the door in the reporter's face. "Let's go, Ben."
I hoped the silence would last, but it didn't. "No offense, stranger, but what's your deal?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I find you walking down the road in the rain, not even looking for a ride. You rip that car apart like a beer can, who cares that it's about to explode. You're a hero, but you just blow off that reporter. You're not looking out for yourself, and I can't figure out what you're doing. Are you secretly a serial killer or something, on the run from the law?"
"No. I just do what I must."
"You told that kid you're a golem. You mean the kind created by a wizard from clay, right?"
"And you weren't afraid that the car would blow up because you're not alive and you can't get hurt." I held up my palms, dirty but unmarked by the heat and glass.
"Well, that's something. Tell you what, though: you're either telling the truth or you're lying and you're going to kill me. I'm dying anyway, though, so I might as well pretend like you're telling the truth, since it's not going to make me any more dead."
"Cancer. It's why I shave my head. I stopped the chemo, though. Figured I might as well die on my feet like a man. Nobody to draw things out for a few more months for, no sense being sick all the time."
"Can I ask you another question?"
"Yes, of course."
"Why Cairo? Lots of places with more going on than Cairo. I can't think of anything a golem might want to do there."
"I don't know. I just know that I have to get there."
"Okay. So that's your purpose, the reason you were created, right?"
"Something like that, yes."
"So, why did you help the girl? You don't seem like the emotional type, and it didn't help you get to Cairo."
"I don't know that either. I just knew that I had to do it, had to help. I do what I have to do. That's all."
"Fair enough, I guess even a golem can have a sense of duty. Hell, it's probably all you've got. That aside, do golems eat or sleep? Whether you'll admit it or not, you did something heroic. Seems the least I could do for a hero is buy you dinner and let you sleep in my motel room for the night."
"I don't eat or sleep very much, but I do. I can accept your offer."
"Good. Let's just hope that reporter kid doesn't find us, right?" A few minutes later Ben pulled into a parking lot. "This is my favourite place to stop in this little town. There's always an empty room, they have a decent steak and the coffee's alright. Can't ask for more than that, can you? You go sit down in the diner, I'll be right there."
Alberto was snoring when Esperanza crept out of bed and into the shower. She her took time to dress and prepare for work. As lead secretary for Torres Accounting Services, she represented the first point of contact for each customer. She dressed professionally even when she felt like blue jeans.
Esperanza appraised herself in the mirror. Clothes were especially important for women who are not blessed with natural beauty. Uneven teeth, a large nose and a head full of unconquerable raven hair reminded her that Alberto was probably the best she could hope to find. There were many adjectives to describe her figure-portly, rotund and full-figured. Worn properly, clothes camouflaged many shortcomings.
Alberto's mouth jutted open and animal sounds escaped. They had shared the same studio apartment for three years. She had learned to sleep through the nightly cacophony the way you get used to jets if you live beneath a flight pattern. Yet, in the quiet morning it was possible to reflect and easier to suffer resentment.
In addition to her job, Mexican tradition foisted most domestic responsibilities on her as well. She stoically accepted-cooking, cleaning, laundry-sex.
Alberto couldn't even boil beans, she reflected. At the Volkswagen plant, cutbacks had reduced him to a twenty-hour workweek, thus adding to her obligations. With more time on his hands, he created more for her to clean up after. Alberto didn't stir-even when she broke a juice glass in the sink as she was washing her breakfast dishes.
Esperanza adjusted the red beret on her head. It was late December and Puebla had been chilly lately, especially in the mornings. The red beret kept her head warm without mussing her unruly hair, which was swept back and tamed with hair clips.
The accounting office was a half-hour stroll from the apartment. The morning walk was her favorite part of day. On the street you never knew what you might find.
She checked her makeup once more and glanced at Alberto. He dreamed of women, she guessed. Sometimes he moaned in his sleep and she felt his erection grinding against her like a dog. She looked at her watch. He would get up to pee in an hour, return to bed-wake up late to watch television. Eventually he would shower, eat the lunch she prepared and catch a bus to the plant. That evening they would have dinner, watch television and perhaps fuck-which was as exciting as licking bathroom tile.
She knew about gender bias. In Mexico, women were measured by appearance rather than skills-paid less to work more-required to perform above and beyond what was listed on the job description. She had two friends that were pregnant as a result.
Esperanza shook her head knowing that hotheaded Señor Torres would never be evaluated for the way he dressed or how he styled what was left of his thinning hair. The junior accountants in the office were mostly considerate. The usual sexual bantering that accompanied male workspaces was dissipated by Torres' belief-time was money. That was just fine with her-she had no desire to become a fringe benefit.
As she reached for her purse on the nightstand, Alberto flipped to his stomach, groaned and humped a phantom.
"Ay, díos mío," she murmured.
Esperanza's path took her down quiet side streets. For three years she had created stories of the people who lived and worked on these streets.
Sitting on the balcony above the shoe repair shop was an old woman sitting in a metal chair imperiously sipping coffee. She smiled down at Esperanza each morning as she walked passed. Esperanza imagined that she lived with her son and his wife. The daughter-in-law was jealous because the son is devoted to his mother as most Mexican men are. The old woman probably thought, why shouldn't he love her more than the barren wife-what had she accomplished? No grandchildren, and she can't even make mole.
Esperanza walked past the bakery. A woman is scrubbing the sidewalk in front. Alejandra is the name Esperanza gave this woman. Alejandra worked for the bakery owner and he let her live in the tiny apartment above. Rent is not extracted from Alejandra's pathetic wages. The daughters are too young to understand why they must play in the street each day when the owner visits their mother.
There are houses on this street that belong to the rich-walls topped with imbedded shards of glass to protect property. Sometimes the gate opened when Esperanza passed by, and an SUV rushed into the street. The occupants were encapsulated in steel-protected from the likes of her. These Mexicans have no name and no face in her stories. They are separated from reality by wealth. Esperanza reflected that she probably would never own a car or a home with a beautiful garden-but at least she had a face.
Two blocks from the office was a small park where she enjoyed taking her half-hour lunch break. There were always beggars there, so Esperanza kept small change on hand. She reminded herself that her name meant hope-that is what she offered others less fortunate whenever possible.
Sometimes Esperanza left the apartment early just to sit in the park and dream. Her dreams were never about money. Lately she didn't like the sentiments she'd been having. She recalled a field trip to the Wild Animal Adventure Park when she was in primary school. The bus drove through the savanna and wild beasts roamed as if they were free. Yet she knew they were fed by keepers and separated from true liberty by fences. That is how she felt.
As she walked, a loud whistle attracted her to an open apartment window-a tune whistled by lurid men. A second whistle followed her down the street.
These are great noir stories, with a very intelligent self-awareness that makes them existentially perplexing and entertaining at the same time. Kind of a guilty pleasure, wry darkness.
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The Boulevard Trial
by Stephanie Laterza
The Boulevard Trial is the story of three women who face a guilty past during a New York prostitution case. It is a story of lawyers and clients, mothers and daughters and the redeeming power of unconditional love. When attorney Helena's Partner boss discovers a secret from her law school days, she realizes she may lose her job or worse. Before then, she will continue defending prostitute Francesca after a police raid. When Helena's adversary Alexandra, a powerhouse prosecutor, hints that she also knows Helena's secret, Helena must decide whether to expose Alexandra's German, post-war past to save her client and herself.
By John Tavares
Ross had another birthday gift for his twin brother's birthday, their father's retirement watch. He found the handsome timepiece while he searched for the property deed and insurance documents for the house they shared. A Portuguese immigrant from the Acores, their father blended in easily with the large aboriginal population in the town of Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario. Like his brothers, Francisco found work on the railroad as a laborer for Canadian National Railways. The twins' mother was indigenous, an Ojibwa born and raised on the nearby reserve of Lac Seul. She worked as a cook in the hospital in Sioux Lookout.
When Raven gave birth to Ross and his fraternal twin, she thought she understood why her belly was so huge. Their mother also felt overwhelmed: nature gave her two babies to care for instead of a single offspring. When she was well enough to leave her hospital bed and maternity ward room, she took a painful stroll with Francisco at her side down the corridor. Francisco insisted on her resting and led her to the patient and visitor lounge. Wincing in pain, Raven sat down in the reclining chair. The twins' father, who couldn't read English and was barely literate in Portuguese, handed her a copy of the Guinness Books of World Records. Laughing, flipping through the pages of the Guinness Books of World Records, Raven said there was no entry for the world's oldest virgin. After he died, Raven told the twins their father was a virgin when she first met him in the basement bar of the Sioux Hotel: he was fifty-one; she was twenty-four. Until she met Francisco in the bar of the Sioux Hotel, his mother later revealed, she considered herself strictly a lesbian and, occasionally, a friend with benefits. She joked and kidded with Francisco, who could barely speak a word of English, about the enormous size of her friend's breasts and her bra size. He replied he thought she was "bonito, o lindo," in Portuguese.
"What does that mean?"
Uncle Manuel translated his brother's Portuguese to English, explaining it meant Francisco thought she was beautiful. From that moment, Raven was hooked. Raven had just received her first paycheck as a cook at the Indian Affairs Zone Hospital in Sioux Lookout. She kept buying Francisco, who usually only drank cheap table wine with Sunday meals, rye-and-ginger ale. Francisco didn't want to be rude, particularly towards a woman, since he never met a woman who bought him drinks, so he kept sipping the rye-and-ginger-ales, nursing the drinks she handed him, until he was drunk. They ended up having a one night stand-his first. Four weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant.
The new mother browsed through the index of the Guinness Book of World Records and found remarkable entries about twins, triplets, and quadruplets. Then she looked at the introduction to the record book and perused the short biographies of the authors and editors: Ross and Norris McWirther were identical twins. She told Ross later she knew she didn't want to give her fraternal twins Portuguese names or Ojibwa names, but solid Anglo-Saxon names. So she named her twins Ross and Norris and even gave them the middle name of McWirther. Their autistic brother, born a few years later, was named for their Portuguese uncle Manuel, who introduced the couple. Shortly afterwards, he drowned during the spring thaw in Lake of the Woods, when he went swimming during coffee break from his work as a track maintainer for Canadian National Railways. Manuel was shocked by how cold the lake felt to his exposed flesh. He panicked and flailed helplessly in the cold water. To this day Ross hears his Portuguese uncles at family reunions argue whether Manuel died from hypothermia or drowning.
Ross asked his twin brother to take a swim at Second Sandy Beach, where he planned to give him their father's waterproof, shatterproof watch for his birthday. He remembered the last time his twin brother interrupted his swim at Second Sandy Beach on Pelican Lake. Shortly after their mother's death, their younger brother developed a life threatening fever. Later, CAT scans at the regional hospital in Thunder Bay revealed Manuel somehow mysteriously developed a cerebral inflammation. The neurologist and infectious disease specialist later determined the brain abscess was caused by an immune suppressant drug the doctor had prescribed for him for his ankylosing spondylitis. Manuel required transport by air ambulance to the regional hospital in Thunder Bay. In a mad rush from a meeting with doctors at the hospital, Norris cycled to the beach, waded into the water, and swam after him. He pleaded with him, saying doctors needed somebody to escort Manuel, to the regional hospital in Thunder Bay. The worried nurses and doctors thought he needed a patient escort because not only was he was critically ill patient, but he was disabled. Ross had been in the middle of preparing to move to Toronto to attend York University. Caught in the middle of a swim, uncertain what to expect, he volunteered impulsively. Then he found his life disrupted as he escorted his groggy and insentient middle brother abroad an air ambulance to Thunder Bay. For two weeks, Ross stayed at their disabled brother's bedside, helping him communicate with nurses, providing doctors and specialists with his medical and social history, while he recovered from neurosurgery and his severe brain infection and the accompanying surgical complications and original illness, which still threatened his life. His disabled brother made an incredible recovery, and his strength and resilience inspired him, helping him make a final decision about school.
Nobody else in his family had ever attended college or university, but Ross decided to attend York University in Toronto. Three years later, after nine straight semesters, with no summer breaks, he graduated with an honors bachelor's degree in economics and received a diploma suitable for framing and a handshake from the former premier of the province of Ontario. Then, after Ross e-mailed and hand delivered his cover letter, resume, and job application forms to dozens of businesses and organizations, he discovered he couldn't find a job in Toronto with a plain degree in economics. His twin brother joked he didn't have the right references, didn't sleep with the right women, or drink with the right college classmates. His brother also complained he was a loner because he didn't drink beer or liquor. He drank only coffee and espresso in cafes when he was reading academic texts and working on college assignment, essays, and papers. Meanwhile, York University, a place difficult to escape a sense of depersonalization, was so huge and impersonal Ross never had the opportunity to become acquainted with any professors.
Bill Garnett leaned forward and shouted to Allen, "There it is down there, Allen. See it out your window?"
Allen, who was seated in the next row, took the chewed pencil from his teeth, squinted out his window, and shouted back over the buzzing roar of the turboprop engines. "That speck of sand is Tern Island? How do the monk seals ever find it?"
"One of the mysteries of nature, I guess. See those other specks? Those are the other islands in the French Frigate Shoals. Tern is the only one big enough for an airstrip."
Allen pressed his face to the window and nodded. He leaned back and turned to Bill. "Is it true that these monk seals are the only species of earless seals that inhabits the tropics?"
"That's right. And there are fewer and fewer of them. Not a good sign. You and I are to take the first stab at figuring out what the problem is. Their sister species in the Mediterranean has been on the verge of going extinct for a long time."
Bill continued. "But it looks like they may be coming back. Maybe we can help their Pacific cousins come back, too."
The plane banked to the right and started its approach. Bill put away his Agatha Christie novel and other loose items to get ready for the landing. Allen chewed on his pencil again and finished the last page in the chapter on diving physiology before he stashed his book in his carry-on bag.
Bill had brought along the basic paraphernalia for field records plus equipment to take tissue and other samples from dead seals for his toxicology and parasite analyses. He also brought along Allen Noyce, who was doing a summer internship following his sophomore year at college. The supply plane from Honolulu was dropping them off in the afternoon along with supplies for the two resident-employees on the island, Jerome Skinner and Ed Maynard.
The two came out to meet Bill and Allen as they climbed from the aircraft. Ed extended a beefy palm. A wide grin spread across his round face. "Hey, Billy," he said. "Haven't seen you in a while. We heard you were coming, but we still couldn't talk any dancing girls into coming here to party with us."
Bill chuckled and grabbed Ed's hand. "You look as healthy as ever." Bill tapped a finger on Ed's expansive belly.
"No need to change when you're perfect." They grinned at each other.
Bill shook hands with Jerome. "Hey, Jerome. How ya doin'?"
Jerome bent his lean frame forward and smiled through his dark beard. "Fine. Good to see you, Bill. You should come out here more often. Get away from all that city noise and clutter." He nodded toward Allen. "Who's your sidekick?"
Bill introduced Allen. They chatted a bit about the flight and the weather while they loaded their bags and supplies onto the little flatbed truck. With Ed and Bill sitting on the bed, they headed to the lone building on the island. It was what the government calls a temporary building, but it sat on a concrete slab foundation and had a steel frame and walls. It looked like a warehouse with windows, and was built to withstand the storms that occasionally blew through. One end of it housed generators and other equipment, the other, people and operations.
Bill and Allen got separate, but small, rooms reserved for visitors. Bill tossed his personal gear on the bed and looked for an outlet for his nightlight. Finding one, he plugged in his light and tested it. Then he joined Allen for a walk to survey the beaches and the monk seals.
They waved to Ed as they started down the airstrip. Ed smiled to himself as he watched the pair walk side by side. Bill, a few inches over six feet, no longer carried the lean frame of his youth. His reddish brown hair curled down his neck and accentuated his receding hairline. Allen was a few inches short of six feet and wore his thick black hair cut close. He was bowlegged. They both wore shorts and T-shirts, and in the bright sunlight their arms and legs, coated by sunblock, seemed almost luminous. Allen's T-shirt was a plain faded green. Bill's was beige with a picture of a bearded man and the words, "Fidel's Cigar Bar. We'll smuggle your butts in." Bill's limp had not improved over the years.
The men stopped frequently as Bill pointed out various details about the seals scattered along the beach. With short fore-flippers, folded rear flippers, and no external ears, they looked like fat sausages covered with soft beige velvet. They basked in the sun, some watching the two intruders, others sleeping. Even with their frequent stops and slow pace, Bill and Allen's survey trip took hardly more than an hour.
That evening while Ed tossed some thawed steaks on the barbecue, Bill walked out of his room with two bottles of wine. "Ed, Jerome, I brought you some Christmas presents. I thought you might like to have something different for your taste buds."
Ed inspected the two bottles. "Whoooee! Jerome, he brought the good stuff. This wine is in bottles with corks instead of that stuff in cardboard boxes we usually have." Everyone laughed.
After dinner, they sat around finishing off the wine and smoking some cigars that Bill also brought. Ed, relaxed and cheery, leaned toward Allen and said, "You know, pay attention to what Billy tells you. It will be more valuable than you expect." Then he sat back and, in a louder voice, proclaimed, "That guy saved my ass once." He pointed at Bill.
Allen's eyes got big. "Really? What happened?"
"Well, we had just gotten back to Pearl from a collecting cruise. It was late and raining. I was driving us from the dock to our offices to get our cars, and I crashed the truck. My head hit the steering wheel" Ed struck his forehead with the heel of his palm for emphasis "and I was dazed, but Billy over there was okay. He smelled gas leaking, and pulled me out of the truck just before it exploded in a big ball of fire just like in the movies. Actually, he saved our data first, and then pulled me out of the truck."
Bill chuckled. "I know what's important. I just threw my briefcase with our notebooks in it out the window."
"Jeez. I think I'd be too freaked out to do anything useful," Allen joked.
"You just have to focus on what's important," Bill said. "And there's more to the story. We were in a Navy truck because we were on a Navy project. And, believe it or not, they filed charges against Ed for torching the truck."
The renowned mercenary, Lord William, is hired to kill the Lord of Wildenham, but delays his obligation after encountering the lord's beautiful daughter, Lady Christine. Meanwhile, Harlan is given the task of killing Wildenham's lord. He demands Lady Christine's hand in marriage as payment. As the race against time begins, who will kill the Lord of Wildenham and claim Lady Christine for their own?
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by Michael Philip Kashgarian
This is the story of a boy in search of meaning - of the f-word. It's an endearing story of adventure, coming of age, humor, relationships, suspense and collective lexistigmatosis. Guaranteed to entertain or your freedom back. Ordering information: This book is available for free through Smashwords, Barnes &Noble, and Kobo.
All Is Peaceful, All Is Quiet
By Emily Rems
Jacob wasn't sure exactly why his brother Ethan had decided to stop speaking to him. He knew Ethan had been pissed off for a while after his wedding. (When it came time for Jacob to give his Best Man toast, he was nowhere to be found. Later, he was discovered face down under the sinks in the men's room, suffering the ill effects of a mixture of Champagne and Xanax.) But that was years ago.
Maybe it had something to do with this past Fourth of July. All of the New York cousins had gotten together for a rooftop barbecue over in Greenpoint. Jacob had arrived four hours late with a date he had picked up that afternoon, and on their way to the keg, he introduced her to Ethan and Ethan's very pregnant wife Caroline. They all stood around, making the kind of awkward conversation that often plagues people who are supposed to be close but aren't. After they had exhausted the subjects of how much the city had reportedly spent on fireworks that year, and whether or not it was a waste of taxpayer money, especially considering how fucked up the trains out to Brooklyn were over the holiday weekend, the foursome hit a lull and then they were all just staring at each other. To fill the awkward gap, Jacob chimed in with a news story that he had recently read online that had totally creeped him out.
Apparently, a woman was seen at dusk pushing her toddler in a swing in a park in Baltimore. Neighbors reported seeing her pushing the child in the swing well past nightfall. And when witnesses saw that the woman was still pushing the child in the swing at dawn, someone called the cops. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered the child in the swing was deceased. When they tried to question the woman about what had happened to her child, she was unresponsive. So they carted her off to the state hospital pending the results of an autopsy. "I just can't stop thinking about it," Jacob remarked, slurping the foam off the top of the solo cup his date had acquired for him. "The unbreakable focus of the mother, keeping her dead kid in motion like that, hour after hour. It's as if she thought she could somehow stop time from moving forward. Like, she knew on the other side of that moment on the swing, a world where her kid no longer existed was waiting for her. So she stretched that final moment into hours. I wonder how long she would have kept it up if someone hadn't called the cops on her." Jacob had mostly been addressing the story to his date, a purple-haired bartender whose name he no longer remembered. He didn't even notice that Caroline had started to cry until Ethan slammed down his bottle of O'Doul's, shouted "Jesus, Jacob!" and stormed off toward the elevator with Caroline weepily waddling after him.
That had been over seven months ago. Jacob knew he was now an uncle, since carefully posed, softly lit portraits of his new nephew Preston had been making the rounds on Facebook. But Jacob hadn't heard one word from Ethan. He had tried reaching out; a congratulatory text once the first baby pictures had surfaced online, followed by an email suggesting they get together, and then a comment beneath an Instagram post of Preston's first Christmas in which Jacob asked publicly "When can I meet the little guy?"
At this rate, Preston would be attending an elite boarding school by the time Jacob got to meet him. Which sucked, because when he had found out the baby was coming, he had dropped a bundle on a fancy baby monitor. It was the kind where you placed a high tech HD camera near the crib, and then you could log in with an iPhone app and spy on your kid anywhere, any time.
Jacob had been trying to impress the salesgirl at Babies 'R' Us with the extravagant purchase. But the more it sat on his shelf, the more resentful he got that he had not been invited over so he could hand it graciously to the new parents. After all, his few transgressions against Ethan and Caroline had been thoughtless, yes, but not malicious. Surely nothing so major that he should be totally shut out of their lives.
At least that was his rationale when he showed up at their apartment building near Columbia University with the dusty baby monitor box tucked under his arm. "I know who you are!" the doorman exclaimed as soon as Jacob entered the marbled lobby. Considering his shaky standing with Ethan, the greeting made Jacob's stomach flip. But when he saw the doorman was smiling, he realized it was probably another shocked observation of his resemblance to Ethan. They weren't twins, but they had been born less than a year apart. Their similarity to each other was so striking, friends and family often commented that they looked like the good and evil siblings in an afternoon soap opera. But to Jacob, the fact that he and Ethan looked practically interchangeable felt more like a cosmic joke.
"I'm here to drop off a present for the baby," Jacob responded casually. "OK if I go upstairs?"
"They're not home right now," the doorman said, his smile fading. "It's just Dominique up there watching Preston. Were they expecting you?"
Jacob nodded as if he and Dominique were already old friends, then reached into the pocket of his distressed Levi's and palmed two 20s. "I know they're not in," he said, lowering his voice as he approached the doorman's podium. "Dominique is expecting me. I'm here to install this baby monitor as a surprise for Ethan and Caroline." Jacob held up the box. The package was decorated with the photo of a perfectly round, pink child in bed. In an adjacent panel, the kid's mother took a break from doing dishes to lovingly check him out on her smartphone. Jacob nudged the two bills out toward the doorman.
I wasn't ready for any of it. The hurricane snuck up on me the way it did most people, so by the weekend, we knew it was on its way and could do nothing but ride it out, wait and see what would happen. Having spent my first thirty years in Chicago, I'd never given hurricanes much thought. They were someone else's problems, things I might hear about on the news and feel bad about, but I didn't care about them. Then I moved to Mississippi for reasons that no longer matter, and during my first two years there, I experienced nothing worse than heavy rains, the remnants of hurricanes that had fallen apart before making landfall. Here though-suddenly, it seemed-we had a Cat Five sitting in the Gulf gaining strength enough to threaten even those of us seventy miles inland, and a part of me wanted to be part of it for no reason other than to say I'd been part of it.
By the time I woke up Monday morning, the sky, I saw through the kitchen window as I stood at the sink waiting on my last pot of coffee, was a sickly green. The rain came down in small bursts like someone splashing bucket after bucket against the back door. I didn't feel like rushing, although I'd promised Dana I'd be at her house by seven. I'd wanted this to happen, and now that it was happening, I didn't know how to deal with it. I didn't know what to do. Only now was I realizing this thing could kill me. I turned on the radio and poured a cup of coffee. The hurricane was making landfall east of New Orleans.
After a quick shower, I drove to Dana's with five used candles, a book I'd been meaning to read, two jugs of water, a roll of duct tape, and all my perishables, which didn't amount to much. She lived six blocks from me, and I usually walked, but the rain and the wind had picked up; trees were bending; dead branches were falling. I didn't want to become the guy who died before the hurricane.
Becky opened the door for me, her little hands wrapped around the doorknob. She had on a Kermit the Frog tank top that, when worn by her mother, looked very sexy. "Mama says we're all going to die," she told me. Dana, standing behind her and talking on the phone, pointed at the phone and shrugged her shoulders. She could do so to most anything, I was learning, shrug it off, smile her big smile, and move on to the next thing. She didn't waste time worrying about what might happen or what she might have done. We handled things differently.
I stepped inside with my box of useless supplies and kicked the door shut. "Then who will eat all these pickles?" I asked. I'd never felt comfortable around kids: I couldn't make them giggle with a simple look or a silly story, so I settled for confusing them.
When I first fell for her, I didn't know about Dana's marriage or her separation or her four year old. I knew nothing except that she had wonderfully angular shoulders and curvy hips and a lovely wide mouth that became even wider when she smiled. It was a Friday night; we were both looking for videos to rent; instead, we went across the street for coffee. Half an hour later, when she told me everything she thought I should know, I was too busy enjoying the sound of her mellow, twangy voice and the way she, more often than not, used insults as terms of endearment to care about any of it. She and her husband Gary had separated a month before that night. A month after it, the divorce was final and she was talking about long range plans. And two months after that, I was standing in her kitchen watching the pine trees in her yard sway more than any tree should be allowed to sway.
"Mama says hello," she said when she hung up the phone. I started to load my supplies into her overstocked refrigerator; she, to fill hurricane lamps with oil. I hadn't yet met her mother but only because I'd begged out of going to Baton Rouge for the Fourth of July. While inviting me, Dana had explained that no less than thirty family members would attend, so I, overwhelmed, had told her I had too much work to do, then spent the day working in my yard to validate the excuse. "She's glad you're with us."
I turned while leaning into the refrigerator. Dana wiped up spilled oil with a paper towel. I couldn't tell if she'd taken a shower. She always wore her short hair messy. When Dana wanted to look beautiful, she looked gorgeous. The rest of the time, even just out of bed, she settled for pretty. I didn't care either way, which had surprised me and made me think something had happened, that this was something more than a few months of fun like my previous relationships. I didn't care if her hair stuck out in random directions or if a sleep crease ran across her face or if the lids of her dark eyes were puffy. I didn't care that she was divorced or that she came with forty pounds of baggage. I just liked looking at her whenever I could.
She caught me staring, the refrigerator door hanging open, and tossed the oily paper towel wad at me. "You're wasting my electricity, dumdum."
No good at snappy comebacks, I said, "You look tired."
"I stayed up talking to Julie and Claire." Her sisters lived in Metairie, outside New Orleans. The whole family lived within a radius of a hundred and fifty miles, but they talked to one another every day. "I'll make up for it when we go to bed at eight."
"That bad?" We had the radio on to some statewide coverage only covering the coast. No one knew what was happening down there, but the reporters made it sound as if the world's longest manmade beach no longer existed. Having achieved apparent coastal erasure, the storm was heading up the Pearl River. I knew only enough local geography to know that the thrill-seeking side of me was getting what it wanted: bad news for us. The Pearl River was a few miles west.
What if Hitler had been stopped early on? Is history the story of what was or what could have been? Does art reflect the ideal or the real? Explore these thoughts in a page-turner set in Berlin in the 1930's. Beautifully written the text will transport you to that time -- in a parallel universe.
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by Alice Baburek
What if one day you woke up with someone else's memories? Remembering and recognizing people's names and faces who don't even know you exist. Dr. Suzanne Evans and Dr. Oliver Lange have crossed the fine line between right and wrong. Extracting memories from cadavers and implanting them inside the minds of comatose patients. A must read!
By Fred Skolnik
Neither first in nor last out, neither out far nor in deep, he held the middle ground in the games boys played. When they chose up sides, Eddie picked Chris and Tommy picked Jay, then Billy, then Jimmy, then Paul, then Ray. When he heard his name it was with a feeling of relief. Relegated to some inconspicuous spot, shunted aside while the true stars took things in hand and shone with their special light, he was nonetheless glad to have played at all and went home dreaming of better days. This consoled him, but it wasn't easy to be himself. Sometimes, when he thought he had something interesting or important to say he'd raise his voice to get people's attention, but no one really listened, and sometimes, sulking and wishing to make his presence felt, at least by his absence, he'd fall behind his friends and linger in the street, but no one really noticed. The only time he really felt a part of things was when they were teasing the wino who sometimes showed up on the block. He knew it was wrong but went along.
John lived in a narrow house with rooms like railroad cars and a little yard in the back blocked off by a slatted wooden fence where his father barbecued steaks from time to time. His father was a factory hand but somehow managed to meet the mortgage payments and the installment payments and the doctor bills and the grocery bills, while his mother kept house in a lackadaisical sort of way, seeming to daydream as she drifted through the rooms, though John could not imagine what she dreamed about. His father, on the other hand, had both feet on the ground and did things with gusto. He ate his meat and potatoes with gusto and drank his beer with gusto and once in a while swatted John with gusto when the boy was out of line. John looked up to his father, thinking he was a real man, and dreamed of being just like him one day.
John had a room upstairs next to his sister's. He was always teasing her and when she ran at him in the narrow hall dodged her artfully as he would have liked to dodge tacklers on a football field. But the moves that worked on her fooled no one at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, when they were on good terms, he dressed her up in his football helmet and shoulder pads and had her run at him in earnest, calling off signals in a deep-throated, professional way. "On three," he'd say to her, and then: "Down, set, uh-one, uh-two ..."
When they got their first TV they watched wrestling mostly and argued about whether it was real or not. Then the baseball games came on and he and his father watched them intently and silently in their small, dark living room. Sometimes a plane coming over their house with its distant drone high up in the summer sky would come over the ballpark too and the camera would pick it up and he would wonder at this unexpected unity and coincidence of things tying him to a larger world. In those years John grew at an average rate. No one could complain about him. He didn't curse much, was polite to his elders and kept his room reasonably clean. But when his parents went out they had a girl babysit and then John got wild, trying to get her to notice him. He was not yet ten but he was already starting to think about girls in an innocent way. He imagined himself being watched from far away. It was that Captain Video thing. There'd be this machine that got into people's houses and you'd be observed in your secret, solitary moments on a screen. So John played for a while at being watched when he was alone. He moved with a certain heaviness as though great things were on his mind, he tried to look grave and pensive, he rubbed his chin and took to carrying a toy gun. He imagined that all the girls in his class were watching him.
Once his father took them to the beach and he watched a girl daintily eating an ice cream pop. First she nibbled off the chocolate coating and then she worked the ice cream into a perfect oval shape. John wanted it but his mother told him he would have to do his own, and he almost cried because he knew he couldn't. Afterwards he looked out at the sea and dreamed about sailing beyond the horizon to some enchanted isle.
His best friend, Jimmy Foyle, lived down the block in a house just like his. Sometimes they would sit on Jimmy's stoop, sometimes on John's, guessing the makes of the cars that came by, or flipping cards on the sidewalk, or shooting marbles in the street. John kept his marbles in a cigar box which he didn't let his sister touch. He kept his baseball cards in the drawer where he kept his more personal things: a pocketknife, a rabbit's foot, a few dollars he'd saved. He used the money mostly to buy the packages of gum that contained the cards, so that he was able to maintain a satisfying balance between income and outgo as it were. Aside from buying baseball cards he used his allowance to go to the movies on Saturdays with Jimmy and some of the other kids. For ten cents you'd get three features, a serial or two and maybe twenty cartoons, not to mention the coming attractions. There too he'd sometimes get wild; but that was rare. Usually he sat perfectly still, enthralled by the exciting world revealing itself on the screen: swashbucklers and ladies in distress, cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, shining knights doing daring deeds and passing tests to win their true loves' hands. He'd leave these shows in an afterglow.
He tore the page off the desk calendar. It was no longer October twenty-fourth. His pale fingers crumpled the paper into a ball. He switched on the overhead lamp. A circled red "X" was written on the next date.
He looked up. "What?"
Gladys stood beside him her heavy speckled arms folded across her chest. She cracked her chewing gum. "I have been standing here for five minutes. Are you asleep? Joy, tell him how long I been standing here."
Joy shut the file cabinet and laughed, her eyes crinkling in her brown face. "I wouldn't know." She lowered herself into a swivel chair and shook her head.
Gladys sighed. "Here's the checks for Mr. Fleigler to sign. God only knows," she muttered as she passed the other woman, "what he does behind that desk."
He raised his blotter and withdrew a pamphlet labeled BASIC NUTRITION REQUIREMENTS. He examined the contents as he munched a doughnut.
"Mr. Burke! Your PHONE IS RINGING!" Gladys sang above the clatter of the typewriters.
"Where?" he asked.
"On your DESK," she responded. "Looks like Christmas is early this year, Joy. Sanny Claus brought us a real fruitcake."
He picked up the receiver. "Yes, sir," he said. "Right away, Mr. Fleigler. I'll be right in." He gathered the checks. Refolding the pamphlet, he placed it under a calculator. He leaned forward on his toes and clasped his hands as he walked past the office machines and personnel.
"Wowee," Gladys cried. "What a loser! Is he or is he not a case? Tell me."
He ground his heels into the orange carpet. "Mr. Fleigler, I'm leaving."
Mr. Fleigler peered over the rims of his glasses. "But Burke, Meyer, you're my Accounts Receivable. What's the matter? Haven't we treated you nice?"
"I'm leaving. Sir."
"But why, Meyer?"
"I'm leaving, today, Mr. Fleigler. Sir."
Mr. Fleigler put his party on hold and his cigar in his ashtray. Leaning back in his leather chair, he hooked his thumbs in his vest pockets. "Leaving? No. You're not leaving, no. You, Burke, are not leaving. YOU'RE GETTING KICKED OUT. YOU'RE FIRED! GET OUT! GET OUT!"
Meyer told no one of his impending departure. At noon, when most of the staff had gone to lunch, he taped a list of departmental operating instructions to the calendar and then clipped grocery coupons from a newspaper. He left the office as they were returning. Children ran back and forth along the cobbled streets, fighting playing, shouting. He wondered why they were not in school. All children should be in school, he thought. He entered an A&P supermarket. Its windows were boarded and bricked, its doors reinforced with steel bars. "Love... " a voice trilled over the store intercom "Is A Many Splendored Thing". He rolled a cart down the aisle. Berry, apple, cherry. He gathered the pies in his arms. He picked up a carton of ice-cream.
"Mister! Would yuh look out for crissakes?"
Meyer disentangled his cart and pushed on. Rolls. Raisins. Crackers. Cookies.
He completed his shopping. Carbohydrates, he had read, consist of sugars and starches, Starches become sugars. Unused sugars, fat. It was simple. Consume carbohydrates, conserve energy, cultivate fat. He handed the cashier his money.
The iridescent traveling clock on the coffee table ticked rhythmically. Meyer lay down on a plastic covered sofa beneath a set of lacquered portraits. He lived alone in three small rooms in one of the buildings of a government built complex called "the projects". The buildings were identical. The only differences among them were the alternating olive green and pink colors of the interior hallways.
Meyer's apartment was adjacent to the incinerator. Its proximity would help. He removed his shoes and placed them in the closet in his bedroom. An empty birdcage was perched on a stack of magazines beside his bed. The bird had helped him, too. Each day he had fed it more and more grain, added supplements to its food, left treats hanging on its wooden perch. One morning he awoke to find the bird dead. The glass water cups in the cage glistened. He reached inside and pushed the swing. The kettle whistled in the kitchen. He rose and closed the blinds.
He made an entry in his log under the heading "Week One".
In upright letters linked by crescent strokes, he wrote "Approximate Gain Over Actual Gain".
A unique gathering of stories and poetry that offers an insightful look at life in all of its highs and its lows, its joys and grief.
The poems were compiled especially for this book from handwritten journals I've kept over the years. They balance the stories and help explore the realities of life we all face, from hope and happiness to the inevitable suffering that must accompany the good. These are tales of love, and loss, hope, strength, acceptance and the courage to carry on, with a greater understanding and appreciation for the good in life. There is sadness in these vignettes, but woven through them all is hope in the redeeming goodness of life. Wander into this book and you're sure to find something you forgot, something you care about.
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by Lorne Patterson
The man his fellow patients call 'The Professor' has been kept locked away in the high security unit of a mental hospital for a long time. Insane or not - it is hard to tell after all his years of incarceration - The Professor believes a psychiatric hospital should serve the best interests of its constituents. However, he has grown increasingly disturbed by what he sees: shock therapies, psycho-surgery, toxic and addictive medicines, an ever-shifting line on what is 'illness' and what is 'treatment'. Seriously disturbed. Something needs to be done and The Professor is just the lunatic to try…
By Mara Buck
I lie on my bed. My silk pajamas are charmeuse, unbearably soft, shockingly expensive, an extravagance in designer mauve, clinging to my body as eloquently as if created for me alone. A subtle breeze caresses from the open window and the silk moves along my leg, delicate as the touch of a courting lover.
Two ruby specks bloom on the silk. Tiny puncture wounds. Pinpricks. I feel giddy, dizzy, muzzy-headed. My brain a-fizz with champagne bubbles is not an unpleasant sensation.
She appears. Confident.
Arachnid eyes never blink. How does she see me? Surely not as I view her. I smile down at her, a smile unreturned, yet we are connected in the greatest intimacy.
I lie here as the room spins and she spins and I am wrapped and I find that I no longer care in the slightest, for I am swathed in silk.
Of Ice and Remembrance
By Mara Buck
A white fox stands in arctic snow, the full moon alert above his shoulder, and I see only his eyes, onyx jewels reflecting my image. We stare and my own eyes adjust and details appear, blue shadows on the snow, a tinge of umber on his underbelly, the hint of dried blood on his muzzle, forepaws --- or maybe I'm mistaken. I lie here naked, pale skin paler by cold, my blood retreated into my core, my hair (whitened by time) whispering about my ears in the windchill, my eyes faded by age and misuse. Is their light too dimmed for reflection? Does the fox see himself in me as I in him? On my person there is no clue of a final meal, no remnants of activity, and my feet have left no footprints on this frozen world. I can only wait.
He stares into my eyes, fascinated by his own perfection. He approaches with the halting grace of a Nureyev and he closes his teeth over my ankle. His teeth break into a cacophony of tinkling ivory because I am frozen solid as marble.
By Ty Spencer Vossler
"Come on, it's the 2080's," I reasoned, "lots of people are doing it."
"People with a lot more money than us," she sipped her wine.
"Its like sky surfing," I fumbled, "remember the first time?"
"There's a slight difference, in case you hadn't noticed?"
"What about that guy at the conference?"
"I should never have told you about that."
"You said that just knowing he wanted you was exciting."
"At least he was human."
"My point exactly-you would have felt guilty if you had fucked him."
"I'm Latina-we feel guilty for everything."
"I read that you can't tell the difference between-
"I seriously doubt that-a woman can tell when something is real or not."
"I'll get the article."
"You shoved it in my face last week while I was cooking dinner, remember?"
"So, what did you think?"
"Can't we just rent one to take home for a night?"
"They don't do business that way. Come on, what do you say?"
"Ay yi-yi," she grinned sheepishly, "it's way out of our price range."
"Your birthday is right around the corner."
"Listen, I don't know about you, but I'm okay with our sex life."
"Sweetheart, this isn't about that-it's about trying something different."
"Sky surfing," she breathed a sigh of resignation. "I guess it won't hurt to ask."
Having anticipated Elena's answer, I handed her a checklist to choose characteristics she favored in a lover. She locked herself in the office and emailed her response to RepliCan, the name of the company that offered this unique experience. When she came out, I pounced.
"Can I have a look?"
"Nope, you'll just have to wait."
Just the idea of Elena checking her preferences made me dizzy with wanting her. At that moment, she still had the glazed look of passion in her eyes and I knew that her imagination was carrying her further than the checklist.
Elena is petite, yet stocky throughout the thighs. Her ass is generously curved and her tits are small, topped with large, mocha nipples. Her short-cropped black hair accentuates her large, almond-shaped brown eyes. Red lipstick is all that's necessary to complete the look. She has what the French refer to as, je nais se quoi-that something that makes some women the object of desire.
We took the rest of the bottle into the bedroom.
Of course during our seven years of marriage Elena and I had played fantasy games-every couple we knew did. We experimented with toys, halotaped us doing it, and even discussed swinging. There was a guy at the gym that asked me if we were into sharing. Admittedly the thought was a turn-on, yet when I really thought about it, a lump formed in my throat. I never told Elena about his query.
10:30 PM-research claims that it's the preferred hour for fucking. A recent rain had freshened the night air. We took a Driverless across town and arrived to RepliCan. The outside was a plain brown paper bag affair, yet inside-vaulted ceilings were painted with classic Kama Sutra murals-glass walls were filled with tiny neon fish-flowers overflowed from planters and perfumed the lobby area. The tile floor echoed crisply as we walked to the reception desk. A beautiful Asian woman greeted us.
"You must be Mr. and Mrs. Dunlovy. Welcome to Replican. Elena-you are in 4B and your husband is right next door in A."
Peeling Oranges tells the story of how Derek Foley, while sifting through his late father's diaries and his mother's correspondence with an IRA man, discovers that Patrick Foley, a diplomat in Franco's Spain, was not really his father. Derek's mother, who is ailing, is unwilling to discuss the past, forcing her son on a quest that will plunge him into the early history of Irish diplomacy, taking him to Spain and later to Northern Ireland, until he discovers who his real father was—with tragic consequences. Peeling Oranges is a novel full of personal and political intrigue, fraught with ideology, as it intersects the histories of two emergent nations—Ireland and Spain. It is also a beautiful and lyrically written love story of childhood sweethearts—the apolitical Derek and the passionate nationalist, Sinéad Ní Shúilleabháin.