Friday, March 30, 2012

Epic Fail


Chris and Lilly had promised their mother that they would stay in the house if she agreed to let them stay home alone after school while she took their grandfather to his doctor’s appointment.   Chris couldn’t understand what his mother thought could possibly happen to them; after all she’d only be gone for an hour and a half. 

He stood at the window and watched his mother back the Camry out of the driveway and disappear down the street.  

“What do you want to do?” he asked his sister.

Lilly shrugged, “eat a toaster strudel and do my homework.”

Chris smirked and looked down at his very new and very white Air Jordan’s.  “That’s laaaaaaame.  I have homework too, but I’m gonna to do it later. Let’s go to the 7-Eleven and get Slurpees.”

Lilly looked horrified.  “No. Mom told us to stay in the house.  If we go out and get caught, she’ll never let us stay home alone again. I’m going to do my homework.”

Chris looked down at his feet and turning his ankle in and out, checked out the appearance of his Air Jordan’s at various angles.  Bouncing his head to an imaginary beat, he pursed his lips and began to strut around the living room.  He checked out his look in the hall mirror and taking a $5 bill from the cookie jar, turned to his sister and said “Well, you can do what you want. I’m going to get a Slurpee.”

Lilly looked down at her Algebra book and thought about how a smooth frozen Slurpee would feel sliding down her throat. “Do you have any money?”

Chris smiled broadly and pulled the $5 bill from his back pocket.  He held it between his two hands and snapped it tightly.    

Lilly thought about the Slurpee for another three seconds.  “Okay.”  She closed the book and followed her brother out the door. As Chris locked the back gate, Lilly noticed his sneakers. 

“Oh mom told you not to wear those outside yet.  If Dad says no then she has to take them back to the store.”
Chris scowled at his sister.  “Dad’s not going to say no.  Besides, they’re not going to get dirty.  We’re just going a few blocks and back.”

Lilly shrugged “you’re an idiot, but whatever.”

With the 7-Eleven in sight, Lilly stopped suddenly and grabbed Chris’ arm. “What if someone sees us?”

“Lilly you’re such a wuss!  No one’s going to see us.  Who do we know goes to the 7-Eleven at four o’clock in the afternoon?”

Just about everyone, Lilly thought as she let go of her brother’s arm.

“See, no one saw us and nothing happened” Chris held the door to the store open for his sister.  The store seemed oddly quiet for this time in the afternoon. The clerk standing behind the counter turned his head quickly at the sound of the bell jingling on the door.  Chris, presenting his best gansta expression, nodded to him and ambled over to the Slurpee machine.  

“What are you getting?” Chris’s eyes scanned the flavor selections and holding his cup firmly in one hand grasped the lever under the Coke sticker with the other and pulled.  He watched the frozen cola fill up half the cup, then switched over to Mountain Dew until the cup was filled.  

“That disgusting.” Lilly grimaced at the sight of her brother’s undrinkable concoction.  She filled her own cup with 7 UP, slid the straw in and took a long sip, forgetting about the inevitable brain freeze.  

The two walked past the clerk, who was making tiny hand gestures, accompanied by a sort of neurotic chirping sound, as his eyes which were now slightly bulged, followed the brother and sister.

Chris turned the corner of the magazine isle and quickly stopped dead in his tracks.  Staring wide eyed, with his mouth hanging wide open, he dropped the Slurpee, his jeans and sneakers absorbing most of the splash.  Standing before him in the center of the isle were two police officers with their guns drawn and pointing at a young man lying on the dirty tile.  The teenager laid spread eagled on the ground, head turned to the side, arms extended, his right hand just inches from a revolver lying in front of a Good Housekeeping magazine with Sandra Bullock smiling on the cover.  

Chris backed up slowly until he felt his foot step on that of his sister’s. 

“Watch it stupid!” Lilly gave her brother a slight shove and then noticed the activity going on in front of him.  She did a perfect imitation of her brother’s reaction right down to the dropping of the Slurpee.

Chris grabbed his sister by the shoulders and yelled “Run!”  The two ploughed through the door and took off down the sidewalk running as fast as their soaking wet feet would take them.  Once they were a few blocks away, Chris slowed down.  

“I told you we should have stayed home.”

Chris nodded, leaning over to catch his breath. “You’re right.”

Lilly looked at her brothers legs, “you have Slurpee all over your pants, and look at your sneakers.”
Chris looked down at his clothes. “Crap!”  The Slurpee which was no longer cold had splashed all over his jeans and had stained his white Air Jordan’s.

Chris nodded toward his sister’s pants, “you too.”  Lilly looked down at her legs.  Her jeans were wet as well, but not stained like her brother’s.

“Come on, let’s get home and change.”  The two jogged the rest of the way home.  When they were a few houses away from their house, they stopped abruptly as they watched their mother’s car pull into the driveway. 

Chris grabbed his sisters shoulder “Oh no, come on.”

They took a detour through the back yard of their neighbor’s house.  As they entered their own yard, Chris managed to get the key out of his jeans in order to save time.  Just as he reached the top step, Lilly tripped and knocked him over, sending the key flying out of his hand and through the gate, where it lay just out of reach.  

The two stood and looked sadly at the key as heard the front door open.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Martine


Martine sat staring at the fish pond.  Over the sounds of grown up conversations, tinkling silverware and light chamber music which drifted out through the open doors of the dining room, she pondered the water and its lily pad tenants.  The sun felt very good on her back and just as it began to verge on being too warm, was cooled by an occasional breeze. 

She was enjoying the sight of the dragon flies as they flitted from pad to pad.  Every so often a carp would make a slight ripple on the surface of the water.  He’s probably looking for a fly or mosquito to eat for lunch she thought.  Martine watched a small yellow finch land on the Hazel which grew in the garden.  She loved Finches.  Their bright yellow feathers were so pretty and were often the only thing she could see as they zipped about the garden like tiny kamikazes.

This is a nice place to be right now she thought, but just as she was beginning to settle down, she remembered why she was sitting alone on the steps, while everyone was inside enjoying their post baptism luncheon.  She scowled at the memory of her mother quietly scolding her, while Gabriella swept up the mess.  While she adored her new little brother, she could not for the life her understand why everyone made such a fuss over him.

She folded her hands in her lap and tilted her head up to catch the rays of the sun, as she had seen her Aunt Celeste do whenever she sat outside on the patio.  Celeste was much younger than her sisters and was always given a glass of sparkling cider, which closely resembled the grown up drinks that her older aunts enjoyed.  Celeste was beautiful and sweet and always told Martine to call her Celeste instead of Aunt because she didn’t feel ready to be called Aunt yet.  Martine liked this because it made Celeste seem more like a cousin than an Aunt.  Cousins were people that you could have fun with.  Aunts were not.  Right now Celeste was inside, probably eating her shrimp salad and behaving appropriately.  Even Jacques, Martine’s Scottish terrier had deserted her for the cool of the kitchen and the possibility of Gabriella rewarding his patience with a piece of ham.

Well that is okay I suppose, she thought as she listened to the bees buzzing about in the honeysuckle.  The sun was beginning to feel too hot on her face, so she put her head down for a moment.  She thought about going back inside and apologizing, but then another breeze came through, cooling her off, and strengthening her resolve.  Maybe I was right to drop the china bowl on the floor after all, and God is making me feel happy and quiet out here on the steps, away from the grown-ups.  Martine knew that was not the case, but the thought did give her some comfort, if only for a moment or two.

She continued to listen to the sounds of the outdoors and decided that the buzzing of the bees went very nicely with the different conversations going on inside and the occasional ‘ting’ of a fork tine hitting a plate was a nice accent.  Adding to this quiet little musical interlude was the growling of her stomach which would rumble now and then.  I am hungry she thought as she visualized the cool gazpacho she had seen earlier in the refrigerator and the shrimp salad being placed on the plates with the tiny little grape tomatoes that she loved and slices of avocado. 

Once again Martine considered going back inside and offering an apology for her behavior.  She was about to get up when she heard the all too familiar “oohs” and “aahs” coming from the dining room and knew that  Christian had awoken from his nap and was once again being presented to the guests.    

Martine stood up and straightened out her dress, but rather than go back into the house, she walked determinedly toward the lily pond, where she proceeded to jump right in, shoes and all.  She splashed around excitedly, making as much noise as possible.  Two little finches that were nesting nearby in the hazel took note and flew off in search of quieter surroundings.  Martine rolled around in the pond, which was only two feet deep, but she was careful to make sure that every inch of her body was covered in pond scum and mud.  It only took a few seconds of her aquatic frolic to bring her parents and most of the guests out onto the terrace. 

One look at the expressions on her mother and father’s faces told her that she had gone too far this time.  Uh-oh she thought, until she noticed Christian, who in the arms of Celeste, appeared to be giggling as he waved his chubby little arms and reached out to his older sister.   

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blue Notes


Ray Donovan sat in the parked car and watched the passersby on the sidewalk.  Every few seconds he turned on the ignition and the wipers in order to get a better look.  Four bodies in the last six months and not a single clue to be had.  Well that is except for the marks on the necks – the press was guessing piano wire. 

Ray was pretty sure about where the bad boy was coming from.  In fact he’d followed him from Broadway for the last three nights.  Tonight he’d decided to wait for him instead.  The guy was pretty consistent, leaving the Alvin Theater shortly after intermission and making his way over to the jazz clubs on 52nd. Donovan was getting tired of Jazz.  He just wasn’t able to get his head around it - too much smoke and too many pauses.  How the hell do you even dance with someone with that stuff playing?  I guess somebody likes it though; the clubs are packed every damn night. 

He turned his head and watched a cab pull up in front of the 3 deuces.  A sharp dressed guy and rich from the looks of it stepped out of the cab.  He took a wallet from his jacket and snatched a few bills from it which he threw through the passenger’s window.  Tossing his cigarette into the gutter, he buttoned his coat and headed into the club. 

Donovan looked in his rear view mirror and seeing the sidewalk empty, closed his eyes for moment.  He opened one eye when he heard the sound of a woman’s laughter.  She was tottering her way up the sidewalk on a pair of black stilettos, hanging on to some guy who was just as tanked as she was.  They were hanging on to each other pretty tight, as they staggered up the sidewalk.  The guy pulled her in for a kiss which she didn’t seem to object to.  The two lingered alongside Donovan’s car, eventually leaning against it as things heated up.  Shit, Donovan thought as he turned on the ignition and revved the engine.  He smiled and raised an eyebrow as the two stumbled off of the car.

“Sorry bud” said the guy as the two continued on their way.  

The sound coming from the clubs could be heard up and down the street and through the closed windows of Donovan’s car.  Ray watched as a couple of teenage boys ambled up the street, their eyes looking from the parked cars to the row of clubs just starting to hit their stride.  Probably checking to see which one offered them their best chance of getting in.  Oops well they seem to have gotten lucky he thought as he watched the two boys walk into the Club Carousel. 

Donovan looked in the driver’s side mirror and watched as a black and white cruised slowly down the street.  It stopped for a few seconds about block away from where he was parked and then continued.  The door to the club opened and one of the teenagers walked out in the company of a woman most mothers wouldn’t care to see their sons with.  She was putting the cash in her purse and he was grinning like an idiot as they passed by the car on their way to the nearest dark corner for some schooling. 

Donovan had foolishly drunk too much coffee before setting out tonight and was feeling the need to relieve himself.  He looked around the car for a jar – anything to empty his bladder into, which by now was beginning to thump louder than the trash coming from the clubs.  Stupid, he thought as he stepped out of the car, closed the door and looked up and down the street before walking down the sidewalk in search of an alley.  He passed one which was being used by the teenager and his new best friend and continued down the sidewalk a ways until he found one behind a restaurant.  He walked back into the dark and away from the music and relieved himself of a pint of caffeine.  He zipped himself up and was about to turn around when he heard a piece of gravel crunch under foot. 

“You waiting for me Ray?”

Donovan turned his head just in time to feel the wire dig into his neck.   

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


A Guide for the Newly Married Debuts at #1 on The New York Times Bestseller List

By Lisa Penniman

Kennebunkport, ME – Newlywed Kimmy Pemberly attempts the exercises shown in Chapter Four of local writer Buffy Fitzpahtee’s latest book Marital Harmony From This Day Forward.  The chapter entitled “Ways to Sooth Your Man” helps newlyweds effectively deal with those new and often raw emotions that can arise from such things as “I Just Had to Have It,” “Adventures in Third World Cooking,” and “How I Learned to Love the Junior League.”

Kimmy especially likes the photographs and easy to read diagrams that accompany each chapter.  “Pictures make it fun!” she says.
 
Here’s Kimmy following the steps to sooth her man as he recovers from a recent altercation with a local fisherman.  Jeffrey, calmer this time as a result of Kimmy’s ministrations, examines the statement which arrived in the morning mail itemizing last month’s lobster dinner for forty-eight of his wife’s sorority sisters.

Kimmy, with her elbow firmly planted directly into the soft spot above Jeffrey’s collar bone, gently holds her husband’s head while singing a soothing African song, known among the natives to calm area wildlife after being shot at by tourists.

That a girl Kimmy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Fixer

London 1894
Herbert, or ‘Bertie’ as he was known to his friends and numerous mistresses, had just received another rejection letter from a publisher. Well, that really pops my pudding he thought to himself as he sat tapping his fingers on the desk. Having one’s work rejected was one thing, but to be constantly referred to as ‘the poor man’s Jules Verne’ well, that was just the last straw. He looked across the room at the machine which he had sworn never to operate again. He bit his lip, grabbed his coat and pen, and headed off to the French West Indies to settle the Verne matter once and for all.

Haiti 1869
On a break from his writing, Monsieur Verne had decided to take a long walk on the beach and had thus developed a nagging thirst in addition to a slight case of heat stroke. He had nearly made it back to the hotel, when he noticed a small edifice built just inside the trees lining the perimeter of the beach. Upon further scrutiny, he discovered that the structure was in fact a bar, furnished with a few tables and chairs set out on a lovely shaded verandah. Verne stood for a moment and squinted at the building when he noticed a young gentleman sitting at one of the tables. The man looked quite comfortable, despite the heat. In fact upon closer inspection, Verne noticed the man’s hair gently blowing despite no discernible breeze from the ocean. Odd he thought to himself as he approached the bar. He felt the breeze as soon as he mounted the steps, and looking up to find its source, was surprised to discover an object hanging from the ceiling. The machine appeared to have been constructed of paddles and seemed to rotate slowly of their own accord.

Unbeknownst to Monsieur Verne, upon his arrival in the Greater Antilles, not only had Bertie managed to rig up a spot of electricity (courtesy of an earlier, terrifying machine-powered excursion involving a gentleman named Edison) but he had also quickly assembled a ceiling fan (design borrowed from Phillip Diehl during a vacation to New Jersey in 1882). Aware that his opportunity had arrived and eager to knock the fondant from the Frenchman’s cupcake, Bertie introduced himself as an inventor of mechanical things, invited him into his beach side establishment, and offered him a very large Rum Swizzle (Bermuda, 1914 - delightful, but capable of delivering the most potent of hangovers), and the comfort of his cool surroundings.

In a short time Bertie had managed to impress the author considerably, gaining both his trust and admiration, and the two spent a delightful afternoon together on the Tiki bar’s porch – Bertie gaining a good deal of valuable information. After a few hours, Bertie stood up and excused himself, explaining that he had letters to write before dinner that evening. As he stepped off of the porch, he nodded to the young boy manning the levers which made the paddles go round and round.

“More air Monsieur?” the boy asked.

“Oui Marcel” responded Verne as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the breeze blowing down upon his head.

Bertie quickly ran through the trees along the beach and slipped into the hotel. Once inside Verne’s room, he found the manuscript and read through the critical passages absorbing as much as he could. He returned to his own room and began to write at a speedy pace. He smiled as the words poured forth from his pen and onto the paper. Imitating Verne’s handwriting had been a simple matter as Verne had been taught penmanship by the same nun who had instructed Maria Montessori, who had also been Bertie’s father’s cricket coach back in the days he spent at the convent school.

The next afternoon, he slipped the pages into his jacket and headed off to the bar to wait for his chance. Sure enough, the Frenchman sauntered up the beach at 2:00, climbed the steps and sat himself down at a table in the bar. He smiled at the Englishman with whom he had spent such a wonderful afternoon the day before, sitting at one of the small wicker tables.

Marcel, he of the magic levers, was nowhere in sight. This caused Verne a moment of concern, but was quickly remedied by another gentleman who appeared to be in charge of the levers in addition to the libations. The author was about to open his mouth and order a drink, when the gentleman behind the bar placed a large Rum Swizzle before him.

Verne smiled broadly at his new acquaintance and said “Ah Monsieur Wells, do join me for another afternoon discussion.” Bertie smiled, picked up his glass and joined the man at his table. Six more Rum Swizzle’s followed, and a short time later found Monsieur Verne sleeping happily below the cooling breeze of the rotating paddles.

Bertie laughed quietly, and headed off to the hotel where he managed to replace the pages of Verne’s work, with his own. He exited the hotel and after having a quick pee (the machine had operated flawlessly so far, but one just never knew with these things) made his way into the trees where he had stashed the vehicle. As he closed the door and turned the key, he felt a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that his books would never again be compared to any of those written by Monsieur Verne.

London, 2012
The tall man with the wavy hair and gray beard approached the slatted blinds and peered through them. He shook his head as the guide called out to him “Sir please if you will, the museum asks that you not touch the displays.”

The man nodded and stepped off of the podium, passing the sign which said “A replica of Jules Verne’s submarine ‘The Nautilus.’ The author, believed to have been suffering from the effects of rum poisoning during his stay in the Caribbean, ignored the advice of his literary agent and insisted on creating an underwater vessel fashioned in the shape of a shell and made entirely from teak blinds.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Denied

School had ended for the day, and sister’s Lottie and Eva Shtupenhausen were finally free of their academic confines. The two had been hard pressed to sit still throughout the course of the day, requiring their teacher Miss Rhody to separate them on three different occasions. The first time had been when Eva had leaned out of her chair and smacked Lottie across the ankle with her ruler. Eva was a brilliant tactician and knew that Lottie had a spectacular blister fussing inside of her boot. One hard, well aimed smack delivered to the outside of Lottie’s boot would slow her down just as effectively as a glass of prune juice consumed prior to a trip across state lines.

Upon receipt of the ruler’s smack, Lottie had quickly shoved her fist into her mouth in an effort to stifle the scream which had forced its way up her throat and into the dark caverns of her maw. She looked at her sister from the corner of her eye and made it clear that retribution would be swift and painful.

Eva didn’t care in the least. She was determined to do whatever it took to disrupt the long effortless strides of her older sister. Lottie’s legs were six months in to a gargantuan growth spurt and were capable of out running her even while suffering the effects of an angry blister being rubbed raw by poorly tanned leather.

The girls had jogged home, keeping pace with one another until the moment their house came into view, at which point they broke into an all out sprint. Lottie, having been forced to a slower pace by the aggravated blister, sought to level the playing field by reaching out and grabbing Eva’s shoulder, twisting her dress as she pulled her backwards, gaining the lead. Undeterred, Eva grabbed a hold of Lottie’s wrist and twisted as she worked to break free of her sister’s grasp.

The two were neck and neck as they stormed up the front steps of their house. Lottie grabbed a hold of the door and yanked it with all of her mite. Fearing her sister’s victory, Eva reached forward and pulled on Lottie’s braid, causing her to lose her grip on the door’s handle, but not before pulling it free from two of its three hinges. Unable to fight the momentum created by her own strength, Eva found herself falling backward off of the porch, while bringing Lottie along with her.

Lottie, who had landed on top of Eva, was the first to get up and on the way, managed to grab a handful of dirt which she threw into Eva’s eyes. She made her way confidently up the front steps, but forgetting that her younger sister was made of extremely stern stuff, had slowed her pace considerably. Wiping dirt from her stinging eyes, Eva ran blindly past her sister where she collapsed on the floor, just inside the door. She felt around the floor frantically in her blind state until she found that which she was looking for. Dirty tears streamed down her cheeks as she grabbed the book and began to pull it into her chest.

Eva sat on the floor desperately trying to wipe the dirt from her eyes with one hand, all the while hanging onto the book with the other. Lottie pretended to have given up and began to turn her back on her sister. Feeling that success was finally within her grasp, Eva relaxed her grip on the book for a moment which was just enough time for Lottie to continue her rotation and tear the book from her sister’s hand.

“I had it first” screamed Eva kicking her feet against the wooden floor.”

“Too bad” laughed Lottie as she balanced the book on her arm and began rifling quickly through the pages, looking intently at each one before turning to the next.

By now Eva had recovered her vision and stood over her sister’s shoulder watching the pages fly by.

A grin of excitement began to form on Lottie’s face as she got closer to the page she sought. The corners of her mouth had started to curve upward, and small beads of perspiration had begun to form over her upper lip. Her hand slapped at the pages as she turned them faster and faster. Suddenly her smile disappeared completely as she looked down at the spot where the sheet should have been. Instead, all that remained was the tattered edges of a page that was no longer attached to the book’s spine. The girls stared at the book in complete horror.

Suddenly their anguish was interrupted by the sound of a quiet snickering. The two sisters looked up to discover their mother standing in the door way to the kitchen. She stood before them, her hair pulled back in a tight bun, sleeves rolled up neatly and her apron tied firmly around her waist. She smiled at the girls, while in her hand she held up a sheet of paper which had until recently been attached to the very book that Lottie held clasped to her chest.

Eva’s hands flew to her ears as if she were in the throes of an excruciating headache, while next to her, a solitary cry issued slowly from her sister’s mouth. Their mother raised her eyebrows as she held before them a page torn from the latest Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogue.

Displayed in the picture, standing for all to see was the Prince of Prairie Town, none other than local male model Jesse Taylor, decked out in the store’s latest frontier apparel. The caption below read “No girl can resist the supple leather wrist lets and elegant chaps made from Alpine goat fur worn by a rough and tumble snake hunter.”


The girls sighed as they watched their mother fold up the picture and stuff it into her linen chemise, forced to wait an entire year for their next opportunity.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The World Trade Center Remembered

For anyone who happened to grow up in New York and later settled in the D.C. metropolitan area (and there are many others beside myself), September 11th packs a double whammy. The images of the burning towers, the obscene hole gaping from the side of the Pentagon, and the enormous smoldering crater in Shanksville, PA are everywhere this weekend. The power of these images is indisputable, and difficult to erase. For my children, they have become the ultimate symbol of the deeds of evil men, replacing those images from my own childhood of the Holocaust and town lynchings.

Fortunately having grown up in New York, I had visited the World Trade Center many times and have many happy memories of the buildings prior to 9/11. Still, I was surprised to find one such memory surface the other night, while watching the nightly news, when my daughter commented that she hadn’t known that there was a subway that ran underneath the WTC.

My former sister-in-law, like nearly everyone who has worked in the financial markets in New York, had at one time, worked in the World Trade Center. Having worked in Manhattan for nearly 30 years she has seen and experienced her share of the bizarre. One day, as was her routine, she left her office at rush hour and headed to the subway located at 5 WTC. The human traffic on the platform was moving at a considerably slower pace than usual. My sister-in-law (let’s just drop the ‘former’ for style purposes) who stands about 5’3 in heels was unable to see over the heads of the other commuters and was therefore incapable of determining the exact cause of the bottle neck. She inched her way along with the rest of the exhausted people trying to get home, until she finally came upon the problem – in fact she nearly tripped over it. Moving slowly along the platform was a tiny, elderly woman. She was well dressed and did not appear to be homeless or suffering from dementia. Attached to the woman’s hand was a leash. Curious to see what kind of dog was being dragged through the WTC subway at rush hour, my sister-in-law looked down to find at the end of the leash, not a dog, but an enormous, white rabbit.


The image was certainly bizarre, but what struck my sister-in-law as being even more remarkable was the fact that everyone on the platform gave her the space that she and her four legged friend required. No one bothered the woman with a dirty look, an unkind word or an offer to shove her onto the track. Commuters simply went around her in the same way that they would have gone around a broken piece of machinery or a large crack in the pavement. For someone who grew up reading A LOT of Beatrix Potter, this is a powerful image – stunning!

And so for now I’ve chosen to keep this image of the World Trade Center front and center in my mind, for it truly is a thing of beauty. A mass of tired, stressed out New Yorkers, schlepping along the subway platform, ties askew, briefcases weighing heavily in their hands, blisters no doubt forming on the back of the feet from their high heels, patiently moving around an elderly woman and her rabbit.

I’ll continue to pray for those souls lost on September 11th and I’ll thank God (anyone’s God) for the people on that train platform who exhibited such beautiful peace and grace at the end of hard day.

This is how I will remember the World Trade Center.