Author Archive

Sisters

October 27, 2009

My sister counted out the m&m’s and I just know she always gave herself a few more than she gave me. Particularly the red ones, which we licked and used to paint our lips like grown up women.  She was halfway between the world of ladies and little kids like me so maybe I can’t blame her for taking advantage of her position. Maybe–though I don’t think so–maybe I would have done the same thing to Felicia had she lived.

Audrey was eleven, I was seven, and Felicia was almost two that summer. We didn’t share candy with Felicia because my mother said she could choke on it and die. We didn’t care, it meant more for us and besides, she got lots of special treatment that we didn’t get because she was the baby so we figured it all evened out. Even in Audrey’s lopsided version of fair it worked out all right for everyone.

That summer, that Saturday when my mother went to the corner for eggs and left us alone with my dad for half an hour was when Felicia fell out the bedroom window and broke her skull on the sidewalk below. The worst part was probably the fact that my mother found her out there before any of us even knew she was missing. We lived on the second floor and our bedroom faced the street though Felicia’s crib was against an inside wall. Audrey’s bed and mine were on each side of a window. Later they figured that Felicia climbed up on Audrey’s bed and tried to reach the window and her weight pushed the screen out along with her. We never  heard Felicia but my mother’s screams still bounce through my brain sometimes.

My father was never the same after that, or maybe he was the same but was drunk all the time instead of just Friday nights. My mother wasn’t nice to him at all and I think she blamed him for Felicia’s death or on his drinking or maybe for both. Audrey and I never talked about it except when it came up a few weeks ago, decades after it happened and with my parents both dead. We were talking about the kids and how they were all in colleges or married and anyway, all scattered across the U.S. We complained to each other about the rare visits from them all and worried that we’d never get to really know our grandchildren. We showed each other the latest pictures we’d downloaded onto our laptops and I pointed out Greta, our oldest boy Rob’s little girl who looked just like I remembered Felicia.

Audrey got restless, said she had to get some things done and had better be going. It was after I washed out the glasses and emptied the nuts from the little crystal bowl back into the tin that I noticed all the filberts had been picked out.

The Joker

October 7, 2009

Everyone laughed when John told jokes. Some people just have the knack, you know? At the company picnic he went on for hours. People were sore from laughing and some finally reluctantly walked away because they hadn’t had a chance to eat any of the grilled burgers and dogs and completely missed out on the raw clams.

Three weeks after the picnic they were still recalling the best lines as they stood at the coffeemaker, grinning at each other as they passed in the halls, emailing friends and family who hadn’t had the opportunity to hear John tell these gems in person. By then John had already been circulating a whole new bunch of jokes and they laughed at these in fresh delight.

And then suddenly one Monday they heard John was dead. A heart attack on Saturday. He was home watching the ball game on TV and zap, just like that, he was gone.

At the wake his coworkers slowly filed by John in his casket. He had a slight smile on his face like he was about to deliver the punchline. The women all cried, the men all shook their heads in shock. If John, robustly healthy and life-loving and only fifty-two could die in the blink of an eye then they felt they were living on overtime. Worse, it would be somberly quiet without John and his arsenal of humor that could chop through the most boring and the most stressful of days. After the service they clustered in small groups, unwilling to leave and let go. They never spoke in such dismally hushed voices before. Overcast grey light sieved through the windows.

From the kitchen came a shriek that rattled the candles in the center of the buffet table. The crowd, momentarily startled into suspension, moved as one in a rush toward the source.

“And the priest said to the rabbi, …” John’s wife paused, holding that perfect three-second timing, then “But there aren’t 70,000 virgins in heaven!”

Gerald and The FBI

September 20, 2009

The problem was that old adage of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was not unusual for Gerald, he’d been there many times before. What made it different and much more serious was that he had mumbled, “all dead,” within earshot of an FBI agent crossing paths near the elevators on a White House visitors tour. Within minutes he was lifted off his feet by strong arms that floated him across the red plush carpet, down the stone steps and into a long black limousine that sped away down Pennsylvania Avenue towards jail.

Gerald had never been in trouble, managing to stumble through, over, and just out of reach of situations he obliviously never realized were there. His calm demeanor was out of the knowledge that he’d done nothing wrong. The FBI found his attitude cocky. Gerald asked repeatedly why he had been whisked away; the FBI found that to be obnoxiously rude. You can see why it wasn’t going to be a simple matter to clear up. When he finally answered most of their questions with some measure of respect they could feel comfortable about, they brought up the overheard “all dead.”

“Who were you referring to?” they asked.

‘No one,” he answered.

“Mr. Carroll, you were clearly heard by one of our agents saying, ‘all dead.’ You can understand our concern. We take this as a possible threat to the safety of the public or of our President.”

“I said that?” Gerald tried to think through his fluster back to the moment he was seized. “Ahah!” he said. “Batteries. My camera batteries were all dead. That’s what I said.”

“You were carrying a camera?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Where’s the camera, Mr. Carroll?”

“I think I dropped it when your men grabbed me. Or else it’s in your car. I don’t remember exactly when I didn’t have it.”

“Are you telling us you had a camera and now you do not have that camera?”

“Uh, yeah.”

The men went over to a corner and whispered. One man went out and came back in after a few minutes. They asked Gerald more questions about his job, his interests, and why he was taking the tour. Gerald asked for a coke.

“Would you mean a cola, a soda?”

“Uh, well yeah. Of course.” The two men looked at each other and back at Gerald. “Ginger ale is okay. Or iced tea,” he said. One of them left the room and came back with a root beer soda. He was also holding a camera.

“You found it!”

“Is this your camera Mr. Carroll?”

“Yes. That’s it. See, I told you and if you’ll try to take a picture, you’ll find that the batteries are dead. All dead, like I said.” Gerald took a long sip of the root beer though he hated it. He was terribly thirsty and was just happy that this had finally all been cleared up. He was also getting tired. He looked up at the two men expectantly.

“Mr. Carroll, are you aware you cannot bring a camera into the White House?”

Fall

September 12, 2009

Autumn blew through him with dry leaves that caught in his tangle of hair. He looked like an angry god come down from Mt. Olympus to do battle with mankind. He scowled his way down the sidewalk keeping away from people and people away from him. He was an astronaut down on his luck. He was an engineer replaced by computer. He was the husband who only produced female offspring. He was everyman.

When he arrived at his destination he waited while two others in line withdrew money. He stepped up and punched numbers into the machine and pulled out two ten dollar bills. This was his allowance for the week. A block down the street later he was beaten and robbed. The man cleaned himself up at the Y and ate evening meals at soup kitchens that week.

The following Monday he made the walk uptown to the bank. He grumbled and muttered to himself as he walked and the crowd parted in a wide swath and closed a few feet behind him. He nervously looked around him as he approached the machine and looked around him again before punching in the numbers. He pulled the two tens out and stuck them deep into his pocket. Then he continued uptown.

Downtown, the man waited for the man to come back from the bank. After several hours he gave up and went home where his daughter was dying. He sat down next to her on the riverbank, put his head down and he cried.

The following Monday the man who went to the bank for his twenty dollars went to the bank. By the river, the police zipped two bodies into black bags.

Counting on Numbers

September 11, 2009

It was one hundred and seventy three steps to the delicatessen if you were counting the stairs. It was three hundred sixty one to the church, just up to the inner doors of the foyer which is as far as Adele counted since she wasn’t always sure of getting to the same pew. Everything was counted, every step taken, every bite of food, every minute spent waiting or watching or going. It all had to count, don’t you see?

“There’s crazy Delly!” came the high pitched squeal of a child. Adele turned and glared. A group of children shrank into a tighter circle, then dissipated, disappeared into the brick walls that guarded the streets. Adele smiled and continued on home. It was the fifty-ninth time a child had made fun of her. This year.

She fed Shasta first. The grey striped tiger wound itself around her feet until she set his dish down on the mat. She stroked him as he ate, feeling the soft purring through his back, her bones tingling to the vibrations of the cat. She wondered if that’s what sex felt like. She imagined it was, as two creatures communicated through touch. She straightened up and turned on the oven, opened the freezer and took out a boxed dinner. She opened it and emptied out a salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, corn and a square of apple cobbler into a pan and put that in the oven. The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Adele Tomlinson?”

“Yes, who’s calling?”

“Adele, how’d you like to win a hundred thousand dollars?” The voice was exuberant, strong, and Adele thought, honest.

“How?” she asked.

She listened and answered his questions, gave him the information he needed. At one point he put her on hold and she counted to twenty-four. Then he came back on and gave her a name and a number to call to confirm that the money had been transferred from her account to the new one that already held the one hundred thousand dollars she’d won. “Yes, thank you, thank you,” she said. “Good  night to you, too.”

Adele got her dinner out of the oven and as she ate, with a pencil and paper and calculator, counted the rate her $122,463.00  would grow at an average interest rate of five percent per annum.