I am a Starship

I have strolled around this town

sixty years now, nothing new.

No friends to count, just a few.

Doesn’t matter really, friends do

what friends do, sorry if it saddens you.

Sadness gripped me like a vice

as a child after my father’s death, never letting go.

Don’t get this wrong. I found love, adventure,

fatherhood, husbandry, education, and the likes.

Now I have aged, sickened. I now a scavagenger

for words, reasons, logic, philosophy. Deeper

diggings you know. My worries lean towards

Jung, Rogers, presidential follies, hate, love,

things which only made road blocks to youth.

Never went to war. Vietnam spat me out.

That’s okay with me. Didn’t need a Purple Heart,

my pink one is just fine. I have accepted

my final meal, bitter as it may be, but a spoonful

of living will help me fly above the stars.

Going down is okay. I am, as Pink Floyd

so aptly sang “I have become comfortably numb.”

Mary and I

We lay naked in our hovel

near the Sea called Galilee

I stroked your ink dark hair

as you pressed against my chest

you with child

I with a world so set on hate.

How could I know hate yet I did

it crawled between each pebbled

heart like sand fleas in spring

Still, hate is the grit in every man’s

mind which begs to be released on someone

or some idea. I’ve been chosen

to hang for man’s heresy

God? God is not I nor is He them.

If only I could teach truth without hate.

It is a crime of all mankind,

to hate without understanding

to know without understanding

to kill and die without reason.

Atheist’s Creed

A friend of mine died today, passed

to a better place some people say.

I guess if six feet of mud is a better place

those folks are right on.

I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been dead

no one has that lived and told about it.

If there is a garden party after death where butterflies

flutter with golden hummingbirds

press against flowers from on high, I don’t want to go.

Too many Christians claim

it’s their home away from home.

I know too many hypocrites who will turn to bone

just like me when the end visits.

Don’t send me to some mythical heaven.

I just want to be a tree.

Dancer

A naked blonde girl named Helga danced to the nocturnes of Chopin.  Her small budding breasts were crowned with muted pink nipples.  They barely moved as she pirouetted across the darkened stage with glowing stars.  Her small mound of cornstalk pubic hair was barely noticeable to the audience as she swept her arms and hands grandiosely towards the homemade moon.  The most fabulous set of buttocks and thighs I’ve ever viewed tortured men and caused women to gasp.  If perfect could exist Helga was nearly there.

 

She was young I say but what do I know, old, gray, and optically impaired.  I’m sure she was thirty maybe more, but her moves were young, oh so young.  I’m sure many young men have stiffened for her and as I watch I think maybe many old men have tried their best to stiffen for her.  Where the mind is willing the body is unable to follow suit.

 

As often happens the dancing of this golden butterfly caused my mind to drift to another day, and another time, my mind wandered into the back alleys of Tokyo. Her name wasn’t Helga and she wasn’t blonde.  Her name was Midori.  The named meant “beautiful branch.”  I remember this vividly for this woman indeed was a beautiful branch from a tree of equal beauty.  Her mother was a lovely woman who lost her husband in World War II.  He flew his plane into an American Naval Destroyer with obvious results, death and destruction of the pilot and his plane.  The ship was undisturbed.

 

Midori was the exact opposite of Helga, darker and more mystical.  She danced but it was the dance of the ancients, Mai, a dance performed usually in the privacy of a home or in our case a hotel room.  Midori danced in her tight silk dress slowly and methodically taking my mind into a hyper state of arousal.  I remember smoking a joint which enhanced the entire process.  We floated together in orgasm like a low hanging cloud of fog crossing the Yokohama harbor.

 

I never thought about it until this moment watching the young Helga undulating in a strange sexual ballet act.  No doubt my beloved Midori would wheeze at such a display.  I left Tokyo in the late sixties vowing to return to my beautiful lover, but things got in the way.  Life got in the way and I never returned.  I thought about it now and Helga’s nakedly fair body brought the memory back.  Her small pert breasts, short blonde hair, and the mystical spot of every woman’s beauty brought Midori back to me for a moment, a fleeting moment.

 

Do we not live life in a series of fleeting moments?  We never seem to grasp the now.  The worth of our lives is measured only by the history for what we did even one minute ago.  History will never be given back, a no-return policy.  Hence, today it our life and tomorrow will never happen.  The only tomorrow we have is the brick wall of death.  Like a speeding bullet we will inevitably be halted by that unsolvable finish line.  It is every human’s fear spoken or unspoken, pretentious or self-effacing.  The unknowable is of course the ultimate fear for us all, even Helga’s.  She dances and dances and the world continues on its path to perpetuity.

Tales from the Red Shoe Diner

Tales from the Red Shoe Diner

The Walk In

Mary Gershwin stepped out her limousine like she just slipped out of a nightgown. A classy lady like her knew how to move. Born of wealth and grace she flaunted her rank of high priestess of Brooklyn to the waiting hoard of cameramen. “Mrs. Gershwin is it true that you are going to star in Gutenberg’s next film and if you are will you be in lead?” She saw the small man asking the question and chose to ignore him. What and who was he to ask such a question? The small man asked again. “Is it true?”

She made a dusting-off gesture to the man and said nothing. For God’s sake she was simply going for dinner. It wasn’t as if she strolled down the red carpet with a low cut gown. She smiled at her own loathing of the man, Fuck off. Yes indeed she thought, Fuck off. The driver escorted her to the double doors of the Red Shoe Restaurant, a large structure freshly sandblasted by dirty men and nowadays who knows maybe dirty women.

Mary handed Fredrick a twenty and swept away from him like royalty. Fredrick wore proper clothes and always bathed, a dirty man he was not. She felt a fondness for the man but not much. He came from a Hispanic background which somehow felt dirty, not like the sandblasters, a different kind of dirty. Sexual, it was a sexual dirtiness, Mary felt certain he screwed dirty women from the Bronx. The thought sent an ever so slightly feeling of revulsion. The Bronx, she thought, the sewer of New York.

The tall and handsome concierge knew her and smiled “Madam Gershwin, your table awaits.”

“Is it the right table?” She waited for the wrong answer and was disappointed when he gave the correct answer.

“Yes my lady the absolutely correct table.”

She laughed quietly and patted the concierge on his broad shoulders. “My lady, where on earth did you come up with that dramatic line?”

He said nothing.

Mary was a tall lady, silky white hair, and a Bacall style. Only Mrs. Gershwin owned a more fragile look like a stick at an age to be broken, not Bacall. Bacall, now there was a lady, perhaps the epitome of lady. Casablanca moved me so much that I dreamed Bacall dreams for years after I sneaked into the theatre as a kid back in the late forties.

***

My name is Marty Robertson and I own the Red Shoe Diner and all the greasy bastards that work here. I don’t really own the bastards. I just pay them and they go home. No small talk just work that’s my mantra not that such a mantra would be recommended by a Buddhist monk. I don’t know any Buddhist monks so I don’t give a shit.

Mary is one of the many crazies stopping by this hole in the wall. I always play the doorman game. It makes her happy and she always spends a buck or two for coffee and a donut. Hell, what’s it hurt. Barry Templeton comes in every morning and insists on inspecting the kitchen for FBI agents. I make a buck, what the hell?

Mary always sits in the third booth from the front doors next to the window. Her eyes glazed by a regimen of psychotropic medications drift off into another world, another life perhaps. Who am I to trespass into her thoughts?

***

Mary stared out the window. Her thoughts drifted to the days when her father would come home hot and sweaty from the steel mills and kiss her on the forehead. Morey Gershwin was a kind man, a good and decent man who took his wife, Lacy and their lanky daughter to the movies every Sunday afternoon. She remembered her father calling them the talkies. Her mom would tell him, “Morey they’re just movies. People don’t call them talkies anymore.”

“Talkies, movies, what’s the difference,” He would snap indignantly. “Ya know people never used to talk. The big boys that made the movies didn’t know how to make voices, now they do so what the hell?”

“Morey don’t say such words in front of our precious.”

Mary continued to stare as the clouds began to darken in the sky. Oh how she wished she could be a kid again. Thunder rumbled outside of the diner and splotches of rain began tapping at the window. Her thoughts went back to Teddy Barlow her first love, her only love she guessed. She let him tap her virginity, something she didn’t take lightly. She trusted him but he didn’t trust her enough to marry her so off he went to the Army never to be seen again. After that she allowed many men to take her, but he was the first and the first is always the most important.

Soon the rain came down in slices like ocean waves falling out of the sky. Mary didn’t notice the ragged and dirty customer who came out of the storm with a dollar in his hand. “What can I get for a buck?” He asked.

***

“Coffee and a donut,” I say to him. I’ve never noticed the guy before today. He wears an old Yankee baseball cap and a full length black wool coat. The coat is as ragged looking as the man. “Haven’t noticed you around before, new in the neighborhood?” I noticed a pungent odor emanating from him. I know the smell…sweat and weeks of it. His beard and hair grew into each other like some kind of werewolf with body odor.

“I’m the new count,” He said.

“New count, I didn’t know we had an old one.”

He made an indignant huffing sound like maybe my instincts were correct. Maybe he is a werewolf. “I am Count Jesus of Cuba.”

“So should I call you Count or Jesus?”

“Mike would be good.” I wanted to laugh at the incongruent faux pas but didn’t know this guy well enough. He could be carrying as far as I know.

“Okay Mike, you want a coffee and a donut?”

“You got jelly-filled?”

“Just powder, sorry.”

“Sounds okay.” Mike scans the diner and I notice he hones in on Mary. “Who’s the babe?”

Again I couldn’t allow myself to laugh. This haggard and dirty visitor thinks Mary Gershwin’s a babe. What in hell is going on? So far I have a diner full of escapees from a mental institute and I am their gatekeeper, their donut and coffee server. Jesus, how could this get any worse? Sheila is due in at anytime now. She will take care of the customers if indeed that’s what they are. She’s been my night waitress for five years and practically runs the place without me. Hell, maybe she runs the place better than me. I stare up at the clock. Sheila should be…

“Marty, I see we have a house full.” Sheila shakes her umbrella all over counter. “I’ll clean that up later.” I didn’t let on like it but I was damn glad to see her. She glanced at my face. “You look like shit Marty, you see a ghost or somethin’?”

“Yeah, something, not sure what though.” I motioned to her to go back to the kitchen with me. She followed obediently. “Listen Sheila, something is going on here. “We know Mary right?”

“Sure we do.”

“Well the bum over there called himself Count Jesus of Cuba and there’re a couple of girls in the corner booth with their tongues stuck together like a couple of toilet plungers. It’s pretty damn strange don’t you think?”

Sheila roared with laughter. I placed my finger over my mouth to hush her, but she laughed even louder. “Marty,” She says, “Marty the nut factory’s only five blocks away. You should be used to them by now.”

“This is different.”

“How so?”

I gestured for her to scan the diner. There was Mary, Jesus, the tongue girls, and Frank Ledbetter a regular. “That’s how so.” Just then I heard the door open. I swear I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their fucking sockets. In comes a white haired old man with nothing but a robe on, hair drenched and carrying a purse or maybe it was belly pack “I suppose this is another Jesus, Marty?” Sheila scurried out of the kitchen area to wait on the new freak.

I hear her talking to him. “Have a seat sir I’ll fetch ya a glass of water. Ya wanna menu?”

The man in the robe is sopping wet. His hair dark and curly is dripping water onto his ears slowly making its way to the counter. He spins on the swivel stool like a kid waiting for a chocolate milkshake. “No, just coffee for me thanks. He spins some more. “Is there someone named Mary in here?”

Immaculate Conception

Mary turns quickly at the man’s voice. “I’m Mary,” She says to the guy in a robe. “Are you looking for me?”

“Too old.” The robed man scanned the tongue lashers. “Hey is one of you named Mary?” They paid no attention to him. By now they were rubbing each other’s breasts and sweat was glistening on their foreheads.

Sheila brought the man a cup of coffee. “That’s Butch and Hoffa,” Jerking her head in the direction of the two wonton women in the booth.

“How’s a woman gotta name like Hoffa?”

“Swears she’s Jimmy Hoffa’s daughter.” Sheila sits the coffee in front of him. “How’s come you have a robe on?”

“Mary.”

“She your girlfriend?”

“No, she’s a fucking hooker. She took me for fifty bucks and never gave me a blow job. Her pimp pulled a gun out and ordered her into a fancy car. He took my shoes.”

“So you wear a robe all the time?”

“Only when I’m fucking, I live down the alley and I was doin’ her against a building next to my pad.”

“Pad?” Mary spoke up.

“Yeah, you know the place I eat and sleep.”

“So you were doin’ her outside of your pad. That’s kinda strange.” Sheila jumped in.

“Yeah I know but she was all creeped out about goin’ into my pad.”

***

Mary didn’t want to hear any more bullshit from the creep in the robe and she couldn’t stomach the two chicks humping each other. By now they were straddling each other with hands where they shouldn’t be.

She once again escaped into her blank world, blank because the medicine made her blank. She saw only a darkening world outside the window and rain that now came down in the form of black beetles swarming, waiting for her to go home. Where is home? The Chapel of Light Mission Home always kept a room nice and warm for her. They’ve been doing so for forty years now ever since the passing of Bogie.

The rattling window startled her. The wind began whipping the beetles against the window so violently Mary thought the glass would crack.

“Getting pretty nasty out there isn’t it Mary?” Sheila saw the elderly lady jump when the window rattled. “October is always windy around here.” No one listened to her. She felt like going over and grabbing the two camels in the corner booth mating like dog on dog. Marty should do it. He let people take advantage of the joint. Hell, it wasn’t a whorehouse, but she needed to fill the salt and pepper shakers so the humpers would have to wait.

Mary went back to her blankness only it wasn’t really blankness. The thoughts of her childhood were not blank. They were real. Some nights her father Morey would come home drunk and beat the livin’ shit out of her mother. One time he beat her until she was bloody and unconscious. After that he came quietly into her room. Mary could smell the beer on his breath. She tried to fight him off but he was too strong even in his drunkenness.

Morey crawled on top of her nearly suffocating her. He unzipped his pants and ripped her panties off. She tried to scream but she could barely breathe. That’s when he entered her and started humping like the girls in the corner booth. He was like a jack rabbit and finished quickly with a slight whimper exhaled with a touch of beer breath. It was over as fast as it had begun. Her father left stuff inside of her. She felt it. She could feel it now oozing out of the place fathers’ should not be.

Morey Gershwin died ten years after the event. Lacy Gershwin died long before Mary’s father making Mary the housekeeper and chief. They were wicked years, so wicked and so very sick. It was soon after her father’s death that Mary took a much needed vacation in the world of psychosis. They labeled her bipolar as in severe mood changes ranging between being manic and super depressed. Mary was most generally super depressed unless she was dining at the Red Shoe Lounge with her best gown on.

Noah Stops By

“Everybody out of here!” The man shouts. He was dressed in a leather coat and wearing a cowboy hat. “We’re getting forty days and forty nights of rain.”

I ran over to him and suggested that he quiet down. I smelled booze immediately. “Can I get you something to eat cowboy?”

“Don’t call me cowboy, name’s James Hillary the Second.”

“Is there a first?” I ask.

“You some kind of smartass?”

“Just asking.”

The cowboy glared and started shouting again. “We must build an ark! We must build an ark!”

Sheila stood silent with her jaw hanging slack at the sight of this strange experience. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, what in God’s name is happening around here Marty?”

“I have to be in a dream.” It had to be a dream because something this strange could not or does not happen in the real world of consciousness. “It’s surreal,” I said and meant every word of it.

“Let’s close up shop and get everyone out of here.” Sheila held a look of horror. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I scuffed into the middle of the diner and grabbed a spoon and hammered it on the counter. “We’re closing up everyone. You’ve got to get home or wherever you’re going after being here.” I was met with no response. No one was leaving.

The cowboy strolled up to me like he was going to throw a saddle on me. “It’s your dream Marty. Just wake up and we’ll see you again tomorrow night.

The alarm clock was chirping and I immediately sat up. Sheila was still asleep. I rolled off the bed and padded over to the window. The rain was falling sideways and the dark skies made it seem like night, and the wind, the terrible wind. Rain flew horizontally and I shivered involuntarily and decided to go back to bed. Tomorrow is another day at the diner and I am certain the same players will be visiting.

Another Day in Paradise

I opened the diner door and silence greeted me. It would be the only silence until closing time. I had to cover the entire night because Sheila needed a night off to go to her nephew’s piano recital. Hell, I didn’t know she had a nephew especially one that could play a piano. I stereotyped Sheila as being a lonely middle aged woman with nothing to do but hang out at bars when she wasn’t working at the Red Shoe. I guess that’s what I get for prejudging people.

My first customer was Lawrence Tabler. I’ve known Lawrence for years. In fact, he just might have been my first customer when we first started the diner. “Morning Lawrence.”

“Morning.” He was not a man of many words, at least not in public. Hell, maybe he talked the ears off of his wife when he was at home away from the bustle of New York. “Regular crowd coming in today?” He left the question floating in the air until silence once again returned.

“Suppose so.” I said with little emotion. I was slowly getting tired of the business. The regular crowd generally included every walk of deviant life in Brooklyn. Mary Gershwin, Butch, Hoffa, and the rest of the “regulars” drank coffee and occasionally split for a donut. I made little money from them. They were becoming my entertainment and my billfold couldn’t afford the civic players much longer but they paid, at least they paid.

A stranger stepped through the door, that is, a stranger to the diner. He dressed in black all the way from his leather newspaper boy’s hat to his shoes. All leather, the guy must have spit a few bucks out for the outfit. He made himself comfortable at the distal booth where lovers go to get a hand job or whatever. I brought a glass of water and a menu. “Good morning,” I gave my best smile which isn’t sincere. “Can I bring you a cup of coffee?”

“Yeah, can you put some milk in it for me?”

“I’ll bring the creamer and let you measure your own if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

Before I turned to go he grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me to the floor. My head hit the back of one of the tables and for a moment I blacked out, just a moment. A gun appeared in his hand in a split second. “What the hell?” I shouted the question but already knew the answer.

“Get your ass to the cash register and empty all the money into a sack!” He ordered. I obeyed.

Still dazed I shoved myself off the floor and scuffed to the register and opened it. I always started the day with two hundred bucks. There was no more than that because Lawrence didn’t pay for his coffee yet. I dumped the drawer out into a paper bag and reached across the counter and handed it to him. My hands shook.

“Now empty your pockets!” He demanded and turned quickly to Lawrence, “You too old man.”

“Fuck you!” Lawrence shouted. “I aint giving you a fucking penny.”

“Are you shitting me?” The thug looked sincerely shocked. “Tell me you didn’t say that.”

“Fuck you.”

I forced myself not to laugh at Lawrence even though the robber pointed a gun at the old man and his life was truly in peril. “You old sonofabitch I ought to waste you here and now. Get down on the floor!” He waved the gun at the floor like he was training a dog to sit. “Did you hear me you old fuck?”

“I heard ya but you can go fuck yourself as far as I give a shit. Shoot me you bastard. I aint got shit to lose in case you haven’t noticed.”

The guy moved towards Lawrence and without a thought I jumped on the man’s back and the force and surprise knocked the gun out of his hand and knocked him to the floor. For being old Lawrence exhibited some fancy moves. He grabbed the gun and rolled across the floor and lying on his side he shot the guy. “Lawrence, what the fuck did you do?”

“That’s a dumbass question. I shot him. He’s still alive look at him.” Now Lawrence was waving the pistol. Sure enough the man dressed in black leather was rolling around like a penguin at a fish farm.

I didn’t have to call the police. They heard the shots on their way in for their morning donuts. James and Dawson made a regular run here before heading out on their beats. “You guys okay?” James the older of the two asked.

“Yeah we’re okay. The bastard took the diner’s money and Lawrence and I wrestled him to the floor. Lawrence got the bastard’s gun and when the creep went after him he shot him. Lawrence saved both our lives.” Of course I stretched the story and I’m sticking with it. It’s not like this is a high profile deal. Who’s going to give a shit? It’s the bad guy’s word against two old farts.

Dawson called for an ambulance as the would-be crook moaned in agony. I think Lawrence shot him in the nuts. James smiled and acted as if nothing had just gone down around him, “You got any of those jellies today?”

“Sure do, fresh made today.” I winked at him. “For you guys they’re on the house.” I glanced quickly at Lawrence. He was being uncomfortably animated with Dawson. I prayed I would hear no “fuck you,” I didn’t. The officer wrote something on a notepad and patted the old man on the back. Lawrence wasted no time he left a couple of bucks on the counter and shuffled quickly out of the building. I saw him turn his head and make eye contact with a crooked smirk on his face. That being the case I think it would be safe to say that it’s the first time I’ve ever observed any perceptible humor on the face of Lawrence Tabler.

***

The day went well after my scrape with a man with a gun, and quite possibly death. That’s my story and I’m not budging. Tonight I’m going to insist on a blow job from my wife Margie. She of course will refuse and the lights go out as usual. The usual customers came and left and for the first time in months I left the diner feeling exhilarated. I’m still alive and damn glad of it.

Margie greeted me with her usual cheek kiss and that is okay. Do you hear what I’m saying? It is okay. I’m alive and not in a crematorium burning for dollars. I told Margie the entire story of the day’s events. She reacted perfectly but did not give me a blow job or night of hiding the kielbasa. She’s funny that way, has been for the past ten years. Sex is only for celebrations. If she gets enough Tequila in her I will occasionally score the big one, but not tonight. The celebration of my continued ability to breathe just didn’t do it for her. The night was a bit chilly on the couch but the electric blanket helped.

The Final Curtain

After I sold the diner I felt empty like a dark chunk of the universe fell out of me. I made money it’s true, not a lot, but the whole thing was so much more than that. It was the living that made it all worthwhile. It somehow defined me instead of the other way around. I became the diner, a living creature that soaked in all of the moisture of the humanity coming and going through the front door. It was Mary Gershwin, Tempest, Tommy Hand, and all the others. They were the motivators, the reason I woke up every morning sunshine or rain. They were my lungs, my heart, and my mind. I was the clay, they the molders.

The day I handed the keys over to the new owner Joey Jacoby was the end of my growth. I had been molded into the finished product of me. I’d like to say that I crossed paths with some of the old customers but I never did and now a year later I am alone. My marvelous wife Margie of thirty years passed on to wherever people pass on to once they’ve taken their last breath. I miss her. Not quite right, I missed us. I am alone with my only companion, my memories. Memories are more priceless than gold and diamonds. Memories are the sum of our life, the essence of our being. There is nothing more.

On the days my arthritis isn’t biting at my hips and joints I manage to pass the old diner but have never gone in. It would be wrong for me like breaking some kind of self-made commandment. I didn’t want to disturb my memories so I left it behind and soon I will leave this life behind. I now head over to Ditch’s Grill for an occasional coffee and donut. The workers are friendly and the clientele are about my age so we talk about the old days and how fucking bad we had it as kids. Regular conversations with regular folks, if only they knew that just a few blocks away at the Red Shoe Diner there are conversations that only God understands.

Hence, the curtain is drawn and life goes on. The customers I loved so dearly, some alive and some not, go on their separate paths to separate realities and I’m okay with that.

The End

Tempest

Tempest couldn’t see the man walking behind her; she could only feel him. She felt the coldness in his heart, the buffered anger begging to burst from his mind. He was behind her flirting with each shadow made by trees and buildings. He was skipping to the jingle of October wind chimes and to the wind muffled sounds made by crowds of pigeons waiting for the city to evacuate its bowels impacted with humans. He was a mad man. Tempest knew him.

She walked faster, carrying herself closer to the subway. Once on her car, she would dare to look back. He would be there, watching. He never missed a day. His dark hat and black wool three-quarter-length coat gave him away. His yellowed stained grin gave him away. She knew him. He had become a brother to her, a kindred spirit filled with evil. He would point his gun at her and grin with a devil beside him. The man she knew only as Ducante would pull the trigger and she would fall to the floor of the subway car, blood pulsing and flooding the dirty, grease covered floor. Her neck would open itself to her fellow passengers showing the sinew and gray ripped artery feeding her brain. The passengers would look at her with terror as she gulped her last thin breath of stale subway air.

Time was on her side though. Tempest began running. She could beat him to the subway; beat his finger to the trigger mechanism. She would sit next to someone; the man wouldn’t find a clear shot. He wouldn’t get a chance to complete his grim mission. She would win over Ducante. She would win this battle between her purity and his evilness. Tempest began to laugh. She ran faster and laughed harder. Insanity had taken command. Fear had taken its toll, ripping what little logic was left in Tempest’s way of thinking. By god she would martyr herself if necessary. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t. Not necessary, she knew he was behind her exhaling his death stench with every quickened step. Tempest could hear his laughter, hyena-like and just as deadly. His smell of rotting flesh filtered through her nostrils making her gag with each of her hysteric giggles. She didn’t think about the incongruence. She had no time. Her car was pulling up and emptying its contents. She flashed her pass and clumsily crossed the turnstile. Refusing to look back, Tempest bumped and dodged her way onto the car, number eight westbound.

She found one empty seat. An older man occupied the space next to her, newspaper pressed against his face like a blanket. The smell of alcohol and stale tobacco oozed from his ragged clothing. A raspy, “Hi, sweet one,” fell from the man’s jagged teeth, more of a snake’s hiss than a voice. “Been around here long?” A strange question asked by a strange old drunk. She wouldn’t look at him, too worried about Ducante’s bullet. “Can’t you talk little one?” He pressed. Tempest would have no part of it.

Tempest worked up the courage to look out the graying car window. He wasn’t there. Ducante had not caught up with her. She smiled and relaxed enough to look at the old man, who wasn’t the old man at all. Ducante sat next to her with a crooked smile pasted on his lips. “Been here long?” He asked cynically. “What took you so long?” His laughter echoed off the subway car’s roof. Tempest jumped when he pulled his pistol out of his coat pocket. “I know you’ve been wanting this.” The voice sounded far away, like the sound of a television playing in someone’s room across the hall, her hall, her room.

Tempest stood up, Ducante only smiled. He made no move towards her. His pistol’s stare steadied upon her. She ran as fast as she could through the car’s corridor, shoving faces and bodies aside, until she reached the metal double doors separating cars. She attempted to open the doors. They wouldn’t budge. Tempest began screaming, “Ducante, you bastard!” She slammed her body against the doors and they begrudgingly opened to a black night filled with all the smells of depravity found in a tunnel of paranoia, of insanity. Her head hit the hardened steel rails. At that moment, Tempest Garner’s nightmares ceased.

***

“Doctor Ducante,” asked Janet Landis casually, “will five milligrams be enough to hold her?” Four exhausted attendants watched curiously as he floor nurse pulled the needle out of Tempest’s hip. “Don’t just stand there guys. Let’s get her into isolation.”

Roy Ducante smiled with his eyes glued on the nurse’s ass. “I think five will do just fine.”

The train rumbled by the state hospital on its way to Chicago. It was the Broadway Limited, a train carrying no celebrities or businessmen, just old men with black umbrellas and old ladies with holes in their dreams. Tempest never rode the train to her hometown and never would.

The End

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Sitting on a street corner on the outskirts of Altoona, Pennsylvania in front of a junk food gas station combination, I was stranded with nowhere to go. My life lost in the maze created by a bad marriage, a lost job, and homelessness. I sit on the curb and cried like a mad man certain passersby thought I was a total loser with no modesty.

Those anonymous passersby would no doubt be correct in their impression of a thirty-seven year old man crying like a baby as he sits on a yellow painted curb. I have no modesty when I am so impassioned about a life gone sour. I’m not afraid of what people might think of my oddness or emotional state. Nevertheless I sat for a long time before I decided crying wouldn’t get me a room for the night or a meal. I had all of ten bucks and ten bucks won’t take you far. I bought a hamburger, soft drink, and a pack of smokes. After my feast I wandered by a darkened bar which had an aging sign in their window advertising rooms to rent for the night, four bucks. I drifted into the cool, dark, and smelly establishment. I ordered a beer on tap and handed the barkeep a quarter. “I need a room,” I said flatly.

“Got one upstairs, gotta share the bathroom.”

“Not a problem.”

He handed me a key, I drank my beer, and made my way to the stairs. There was a cockroach party going on when I found my room, #206. They greeted me with scraping noises on the ceiling and walls and some whispered noises as they scrambled beneath my nice sweat-colored pillows. Perhaps the foulest display of all time was the two brown mice fighting over a cheese cracker that had been left in the trashcan. The can tipped over but the mice were not deterred from their fist fight. I threw an empty cigarette pack at them hoping to stop the war. Instead they peeked up at me for only a moment and continued their conflict. Things are just wrong when a mouse doesn’t run from a human who is a thousand times bigger than it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, but I was in no mood for lessons.

A thought came quickly, lightning fast, I got the hell out of the room and trampled down the dirty steps and barged into the barroom. With my best pissed-off voice I gave the vacant-faced bartender the key. “I aint sleeping with your Smithsonian insect collection up there, what kind of shit is that? I want my money back.”

“I’m sorry,” He snickered, “I didn’t hear you asking me for the fucking honeymoon suite.” I heard snickers and giggles behind me but I didn’t give them the honor of turning around.

“I didn’t ask you to sleep in a fucking terrarium either.”

“I can’t give you a return,” He spat, “but I can repay you with a pint of Jack.”

My eyes didn’t leave his. “Just what I need a flea market swap?”

“Take it or leave it.”

I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and tromped out of the dingy dump more pissed off than the fighting mice in the trashcan. I figured if I finished the bottle I wouldn’t give a shit where I slept. Hell the Juniata Bridge would be a good bedroom after an empty bottle of Jack and a half a pack of smokes.

I decided to find myself a spot near the railroad tracks next to the bridge, but just out of sight of authorities. All I needed was some crazy vagrant charges trumped up by an overzealous cop. I brought my duffle bag which I had left in an alley behind the cockroach hotel. I managed to squeeze a pillow and a blanket in it just for this moment. I knew this moment would come but my hope was that it would come later and not sooner, so much for hope. If anyone reads this drivel they probably would like to know something about me, but I really don’t want to discuss my fucked up marriage and the fact that my wife was sharing spit with the contractor working on our roof. Suffice it to say that I’m near thirty-five, I have dark beady eyes, and my black hair has some snow gathering on my sideburns. That’s it I’ll admit nothing else except perhaps the fact that I’m a pathetic loser. By now you have already figured that one out.

Unscrewing the bottle of fine whiskey I took a draw and felt the burn all the way down to my stomach. I had a couple of small packs of beef jerky which I unwrapped and began feasting. This could be my last meal. Where my next meal would come from I hadn’t a clue. Once again I swigged another measure of liquid gold. This draw wasn’t as bad as the first one. In fact I felt no after burn during my ritual of emptying the bottle. As I suppose many drunks do in this situation I calmly and without fanfare passed out cold.

***

I awoke to the clacking sounds of a freight train, a freight train on which I apparently was a passenger. My head felt a little foggy and when I tried to move I discovered that I had been tethered to a large fifty-five gallon barrel containing I don’t know what. “I see you’re awake, Tommy boy.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Where am I and why have you tied me up like this? You have no right.”

“Just where do you think you’re at? You’re on a train, a very important passenger.” The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it with a name. “Sorry about the rope but you kept trying to climb out of the boxcar which would have been certain…death.” Did I note a hint of cynicism when the man said “death?”

“How did I get here?”

“You jumped on just as we passed beneath the old bridge.”

“I couldn’t have.” If my mind serves me right I was passed out and couldn’t have moved if a train was headed straight on. I turned my attention to the voice, nothing seemed to make sense. “Who are you?” My suspicions were blinking like red lights on a cop car. My gut was on high alert. This voice without a body was acting just a bit too casual. The current situation did not require casual, things were fucked up, placing things at a very minimal perspective.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“I can’t see you.”

“You can hear me can’t you? Surely your ears still work.”

“John Shackler, you’re John Shackler. But you can’t be John Shackler because you’re dead.” The thought brought an unwelcome chill to my spine. You sound like him but you’re not. So who are you really?”

“You’ve worked with me for what, nine years?”

“No, I worked with John Shackler for nine years, not you.” My mind was swimming either from the alcohol I drank or from my state of complete confusion. “What direction is this train heading?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends where we are going.”

I was getting pissed off at this guy. “What the hell does that mean? You’re talking nonsense.”

“Nonsense is what nonsense is.”

“How prophetic,” I sneered.

For what seemed to be hours the man and I stopped talking. There were no more questions to ask. His answers were always nonsensical and ambiguous. He sounded like John. That was the catch. He sounded just like him, right down to the husky nicotine saturated sounds John made during lunch breaks. Of course it could just be a coincidence, but I don’t believe in coincidences. The train’s sudden movement brought me out of my reverie. It was slowing down.

I heard the man shuffling around the boxcar but he was only a silhouette in the darkness. Another voice became apparent, an unknown voice. It only filtered through the clacking of the wheels as a mumble, but the silhouette seemed to be engaged with the other voice. Soon the train stopped. “This is where I get off Tommy boy. Apparently there’s another destination for you.” With that the silhouette slipped out of the door into the dark night.

It was the ghost of John Shackler. Had to be, what other explanation could there be? Ghosts were not allowed into my brain, they don’t exist at least not until this moment. Someone else is here. I shivered with uncertainty, what is happening to me? The silhouette spoke to someone, someone else is in the boxcar. I spoke into the rumbling darkness. “Who are you?”

Only silence returned. I fell silent for several minutes maybe more. Time is an unknown quantity in a pitch black boxcar and I didn’t have a glow-lit watch. I heard a shrill sound, a voice but a voice that was almost beyond the human hearing range. What I saw next made me want to vomit, but I was fairly sure my stomach was empty, growling its discontent with my current behavior.

Before me stood a creature, my entire body quaked at the sight. It was dark and I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing but I’m damn sure it wasn’t human. If the ugly looking thing could see me in the blackness it would see my mouth hanging open like a door without a latch. The critter in question was a cockroach the size of a six or seven year old child, I tried to stifle a gasp but it had already left the station. It came out as a hideous scream which oddly terrified me of my own horror. A shrill voice escaped the creature’s mouth, if cockroaches have mouths. “Name’s Gus, I rented a room to you. You do remember that don’t you?”

He was the bartender that I gave a bunch of shit about the mice and cockroaches in my four-dollar room. I spit a muffled answer, “I remember.” I wanted to ask if this was some kind of joke, but no one would play a joke like this. It had to be a nightmare. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“What am I doing? You’re just going for a little ride on a train, that’s all. Simple isn’t it?”

I ignored Gus’s squealing sarcasm. “Where is this train taking me?”

The laughter was hideous even higher pitched than his conversational tone. “You won’t like it Tommy.” Several of Gus’s legs stretched out with some kind of gesture I didn’t understand. “Wait for it,” He paused, “Wait for it.” He screeched, “You’re going to hell.” The laughter was maddening. “And it’s filled with cockroaches, rats, and your very favorite furry little friends the ever popular mice.” Again the sonic laughter, how much more of this shit could I take? My world in a matter of…hell I don’t know, my life became an insane asylum.

***

The train’s movement shifted. It was slowing down. The cockroach known as Gus the barkeep began making a buzzing sound like a mad hornet. Once the train jolted to a halt Gus began scuffling around the boxcar like a cornered cat. I could only see his outline against the darkness but I could definitely hear him buzzing and shuffling. I heard something else climbing inside the car. The climbing sounds came from all around the darkened freight car. My eyes saw movement. It was a swarm of darkness. That’s the only way I can describe it, darkness within darkness. There were thousands if not millions of small black insect-sized creatures hitting the sides of the car. Soon they came through the huge opening in the side of the car. I braced myself for a horrific attack, but it never came.

Instead, the swarm moved rapidly towards Gus covering his body entirely. His desperate squealing could have broken my eardrums but it stopped almost immediately. The black swarm had either eaten him or dissolved him. I couldn’t tell. I only know that they left as hurriedly as they had entered. During the bizarre train ride I had been teasing the rope binding my hands until I finally managed to loosen one hand and then the other. I then untied my legs and managed to get to the door. It slammed shut in front of me. I pushed, pulled, and tugged, but the door would not budge. I was trapped as the train began moving again. Was I going to hell? I don’t think so for surely I had already experienced the place.

Something happened soon after the car door slammed shut. Though I felt the train moving I could no longer hear the wheels meeting the rail or the clacking sounds that freight trains make when passing a crossing. The only sound I could discern was wind, a soft whimpering wind. The train was climbing. My ears popped and breathing became more difficult. What was happening couldn’t be happening. The train was floating or flying and I had to go wherever it decided to travel. I was trapped inside of a ghost train, a train heading for my final destination.

***

Officers Joe Bricker and Nolan Garogiolla were assigned to police the main line of the Norfolk Railroad. It was an area of high crime and vandalism. It was their unpleasant task to round up drifters and sometimes criminals hiding in the thickets along the line. They drove blue and white ATVs with red swirling lights shining. On most days they found no one, captured no one, and the only time they used their pistols was for their annual weapons’ test. Today would be different.

Joe noticed the body first and gave a whistle to his partner. “Get the fuck over here Nolan. We got ourselves a dead one.”

Nolan let out a gasp, “Holy Mother of God.”

“Yeah that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Look at him. Shit there’s every kind of insect and rodent crawling over this guy.” Joe turned away from the corpse and emptied his stomach of the bacon, eggs, and toast he had for breakfast at Irene’s Breakfast Club. “Nolan, call this in.” After giving the creosol soaked ground the contents of his stomach he made the mistake of turning to look at the body again. “Christ, Nolan look at that.” He pointed to one of the rodents that was making a feast out of the corpse’s jellylike eyes. A cockroach climbed out of the victim’s mouth. “Make that call,” He insisted.

“Just did, they’re sending an ambulance.”

“Wonder what happened?”

Nolan checked around the body and discovered a business card, Gus’s Bar and Grill. He stuffed the card in his pocket and forgot about it.

Joe was kicking at the cockroaches, but they paid little attention to him. The body was like a magnet to the insects. The hair on Joe’s back bristled with a combination of awe and revulsion, He was certain he could hear a buzzing sound made by the insects. Joe turned away from the dead man. He would never look at the body again

The End

Vaginas

An aging ghost of a little man worked in the rice paddies in Vietnam, a father, grandfather, and devoted husband. He never lived to see his great grandchildren. The gunner’s bullets sprayed the workers in the paddy, all dead except for a baby hugging his mother’s body as she fell, bloody and vacant. They were ants in the gunner’s eyes, nonexistent enemies…just target practice.

***

A drone flies silently above the clouds and sees movement in the hidden mountains below it, computers can do wonders. With a push of a button the operator miles away tells the airplane to release its missiles. Twelve children eating bread and insipid soup during their school lunch are no longer learning about life. Education terminated captain, over and out.

What a great world we live in. Just die at the push of a button…isn’t it great?

***

A big man with a suit and tie wants to own all of the vaginas in the world, the “great vagina king” he will be called when he reaches his destination after death. His God will say job well done Senator. “Do you love your children?”

Scratching his head he puzzled, “Can’t remember but their vaginas will always remember me.”

“Please enter through the jaws of heaven and welcome. We have lots of vaginas here just for you to rule.”

The man in the suit thought something might be wrong when God’s face turned sour and cynicism found voice. “I have a very large vagina just for you.” Snapping her fingers she sent him to Vagina Hell where vaginas eat assholes like him for breakfast.

Dancer

A naked blonde girl named Helga danced to the nocturnes of Chopin. Her small budding breasts were crowned with muted pink nipples. They barely moved as she pirouetted across the darkened stage with glowing stars. Her small mound of cornstalk pubic hair was barely noticeable to the audience as she swept her arms and hands grandiosely towards the homemade moon. The most fabulous set of buttocks and thighs I’ve ever viewed tortured men and caused women to gasp. If perfect could exist Helga was nearly there.

She was young I say but what do I know, old, gray, and optically impaired. I’m sure she was thirty maybe more, but her moves were young, oh so young. I’m sure many young men have stiffened for her and as I watch I think maybe many old men have tried their best to stiffen for her. Where the mind is willing the body is unable to follow suit.

As often happens the dancing of this golden butterfly caused my mind to drift to another day, and another time, my mind wandered into the back alleys of Tokyo. Her name wasn’t Helga and she wasn’t blonde. Her name was Midori. The named meant “beautiful branch.” I remember this vividly for this woman indeed was a beautiful branch from a tree of equal beauty. Her mother was a lovely woman who lost her husband in World War II. He flew his plane into an American Naval Destroyer with obvious results, death and destruction of the pilot and his plane. The ship was undisturbed.

Midori was the exact opposite of Helga, darker and more mystical. She danced but it was the dance of the ancients, Mai, a dance performed usually in the privacy of a home or in our case a hotel room. Midori danced in her tight silk dress slowly and methodically taking my mind into a hyper state of arousal. I remember smoking a joint which enhanced the entire process. We floated together in orgasm like a low hanging cloud of fog crossing the Yokohama harbor.

I never thought about it until this moment watching the young Helga undulating in a strange sexual ballet act. No doubt my beloved Midori would wheeze at such a display. I left Tokyo in the late sixties vowing to return to my beautiful lover, but things got in the way. Life got in the way and I never returned. I thought about it now and Helga’s nakedly fair body brought the memory back. Her small pert breasts, short blonde hair, and the mystical spot of every woman’s beauty brought Midori back to me for a moment, a fleeting moment.

Do we not live life in a series of fleeting moments? We never seem to grasp the now. The worth of our lives is measured only by the history for what we did even one minute ago. History will never be given back, a no-return policy. Hence, today it our life and tomorrow will never happen. The only tomorrow we have is the brick wall of death. Like a speeding bullet we will inevitably be halted by that unsolvable finish line. It is every human’s fear spoken or unspoken, pretentious or self-effacing. The unknowable is of course the ultimate fear for us all, even Helga’s. She dances and dances and the world continues on its path to perpetuity.

Poetry

Funeral Song

If you planted a tree for me

I would be happy

send you rain to make it grow

like trees should

with lonesome groans so quiet

not even earth could hear

such natural industry.

If you planted a garden

I would be so happy

I’d sing with thunder

and dance like lightening.

I’d visit with humming bird

silence and together with winged vibrato

we could sing the hungry masses.

If you had a baby I would sing

hosanna to a god of your choosing

give you a silver hammer to swing,

to praise the pope or Malcolm X.

Let me be your silent servant,

your communist lover

Sieg Heil sweety and party on.

You Can

You see it’s not the end which bothers me

death is a moment, a comma in a sentence.

no the end is inevitable like a tree never to be moved.

It’s the twists, the turns, the babbling of human brooks,

but most of all it’s those youthful sprints we make

the hurried need, the biting words, and inbred fear

we see in others and the prejudice nooses we make.

Sadness starts with fear of the inevitable tree

Yet we can if we only try soar above the poplars,

maples, oaks, and redwoods. Just strengthen your wings

and fly without prejudice or malice into the universe

waiting with mirrored stars to watch yourself soar

above the fray of unkindness, bigotry, and manmade fear.

Life in the Dead Lane

It’s a lovely day in my hometown

think I’ll take a walk across the Jordon

walk on water for awhile, heal a leper

and bend the rules of Jesus

for just an hour maybe two

I am God and no one knows it

the soil of it all wipes clean

my miseries and unclean fantasies.

Plunge my nakedness into the river

deep and pungent the smell of man

never leaves the swirling slicks

oil of our fathers and their fathers

Mother Mary stopped by in her Vera Wang

fresh off the hangers at Saks on Fifth

snug yet quite revealing

the cross of her father.

City lights burn yellow in darkness

the lights leave but not the yellow

LA my kind of town

pimps and whores and rock n roll

designer jeans for short fat men

like me and my uncle

he’s dead now

I’m next.

Mice

Mice scurry across a dank mausoleum

musty years of death breathe in silence

in respect for hushed residents

the mice show no deference

their hurried pilgrimage unstoppable

by even the mouse god

hedonistic little bastards.

We are mice.

A Glass of Wine and a Bible

Someone gave me a wafer

the body of Christ they said

1994 Merlot his blood

I ate the wafer, got drunk

hung all night on a toilet bowl

puking all my sins away.

Confess cried the faceless pope

on your knees face in the pillow pray

God loves you but not today

so pray and pray

until the pillow goes away

Jesus always wins the games we play.

Sitting in a jail cell I wonder

what the hell can I tell

Jonah and his favorite whale?

It is time for morning prayer

no food until Jesus blows his whistle

I’m running the outside track to hell.

Don’t follow me follow you

your dreams much better than mine

soon you will grow

powerful in the Lord’s eye

not a silver thread through the needle’s eye

will pass his bloodshot eyes.

Inevitable

I can’t remember why

those days so coarse

so unheavenly

weigh like the world

on my shoulders

Doesn’t matter I guess

bubble gum dreams

burst through my life

and time wore them thin

it’s not worth remembering.

Somehow I aged like

swamp wood sinking

Into oblivion

each day aging closer

into a brindled secretariat.

So we live and die

mummified furniture

for the patio

but I love you

more than a rainy day

Without a beach ball.

Moniker Betrayal

Jaypo she said to me.

My rubber band eyes snap

Jaypo no I say with daggered tongue

tears inside a name flood

blood through my vocal chords.

What is it about a name?

Cardboard brains create our names

Jaypo is not mine to hear

Play another day another yard

The name Ace is in my cards.

Oleander

I crawl backwards into this cave

afraid of my age, my time on earth

keeps receding like low tide

I wait for a full moon and a virus

to still my craving heart

beeping green on black screens.

I’m happiest after black girls

change and clean me rapping

to a phantom song unknown

I love them because

their brains are pure

tablar rasa and excited to live.

I dream not of golden streets

yet dusty roads fill my thoughts

ones I’ve traveled through blankly

regretting now for never pausing

to smell wild basil and lemon

and pick Queen Ann’s lace.

I say there’s a time in life

dreams remain dreams

as I listen to heart sounds

digital madness and realize

time is now and I smell the ugly

cleansing of what’s left of me.

Many say there’s more

I say it is only peace

crawling its way into my mind

where once again I can become

at peace with Mother Earth and feed

sweet Oleander lovely poison of death.

Sunday Morning

The sky, overcoat gray

with spider legs of sun

greets me with a day.

The mirror shows me old

bulging with beer

bulging with shame

of loving you.

My cat stares patiently

at her empty bowl.

I have nothing to give her.

The same hollow pain

repeats itself

as I dress in faded jeans

looking for a remnant of you

to wrap around my chest.

I stare patiently at the cat

and an empty bowl.

Repose

There is something about seeing you there

draped in white with red roses bleeding.

Death is such a morbid farewell

not recognition of eternal sleep

yet softly we sleep next to our manmade tombs

unwholesomely relieved of our duties

death gives us a final answer

to questions eternally unanswerable.

Tunnel Vision

There are no divisions

in tunnel vision

no television

just monotonic love

no stereo sound

no venus mound

just turnaround

catch the next wave

ride the pipeline

of tunnel vision

eyes ahead

don’t look at the dead

no room for poetry

just keep your eyes ahead.

Blue Velvet

Six white crosses on a highway curve

forgotten memoriam

forgotten family of six

dirt filled mouth and noses

no seatbelt laws in sixty-four

blue velvet seats fifty-seven Chevy

I can hear the screeching tires

see children flying in the air

with the greatest of ease

as a gnarled Oak opened its arms to greet

a heavy smile in its crotch

six more visitors this night

a long, long time ago

six white cross turning sallow.

Boot Camp

Eighteen,

hot summer in Kentucky

we marched the hills

like soldiers do

counting cadence

counting days

counting ways to kill

shouting ways to kill

eighteen is young

shaved head and black boots

spit shined like a mirror

Vietnam in front of us

high school prom behind us

kill little men in pajamas

screamed the big black sergeant

never seen one before

I trembled

that hot summer day

been trembling ever since.

The Lonely Shepherd

Where the mountain dumps

its lava lipped edges

into behemoth bulbous warships

floating just beyond the reach of man,

a man of stone sleeps.

A shepherd lost for centuries

with vacant eyes dead

yet see he does more than I.

Leonardo robe ragged now

propelled by a painted wind

Sistine quiet he is the incense of history

if only I could know his story

for he surely knows mine.

Destiny

Prom night and the stars glowed just for us

We danced to music we’ve forgotten now

I grew to be a killer of men, you a healer

Neither could heal the wounds of battle

Life battle where blood flows in jungles,

Deserts, mountains, Chicago streets and back alleys.

Seems no one can control their trigger fingers

Their lust for satisfaction

Our children like dry sticks break beneath black boots

Swastika loving boys, bald and dumb.

Now destiny is a dry urn and a clean blanket

For the final sleeping, sweet final sleep.

Epilogue

There is little to say at the end of a small offering of stories like this one. My stories and poems are simply snapshots made of words, snapshots of thoughts swiped out of my mind like sage brush in a dust storm. Do I think such odd and strange things occur in our lives, absolutely? I stare sometimes into a starry night and I swear I can see forever. I can see broken children of the Holocaust, the Black slaves being tossed off slave ships into a watery death. Sometimes I see my brother, eyeless, and destroyed by the insidious effects of diabetes. My father visits me in the pitched night and wants to know how life is going after his death fifty years ago. The mind works is strange ways.

What keeps an old depressed man going? My wife of nearly twenty years, Debbie, has been my rock and I would take a bullet for her. I would crawl through broken shards of glass for her as she would for me. We are tied to the same rope, the same love we’ve had since our chance encounter. For me, life is serendipitous. I see no God reaching his finger down and stopping the slaughter of children, the rape of women, and the unspeakable collective Catholic molestations. If ever there was a God he’s skipped town and is now living on an island paradise as a sea turtle. Sea turtles are smart and non-aggressive. The earth is my home and always will be until my body is purified by the crematorium fire. My ashes will be blown in the wind whipping through Cape Hatteras for I am a fish and I must return from whence I came.

Table of Contents

The Walk In

Immaculate Conception

Noah Stops By

Another Day in Paradise

Tempest

The Final Curtain

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Vaginas

Dancer

Poetry

Epilogue

Tales from the Red Shoe Diner

The Walk In

Mary Gershwin stepped out her limousine like she just slipped out of a nightgown. A classy lady like her knew how to move. Born of wealth and grace she flaunted her rank of high priestess of Brooklyn to the waiting hoard of cameramen. “Mrs. Gershwin is it true that you are going to star in Gutenberg’s next film and if you are will you be in lead?” She saw the small man asking the question and chose to ignore him. What and who was he to ask such a question? The small man asked again. “Is it true?”

She made a dusting-off gesture to the man and said nothing. For God’s sake she was simply going for dinner. It wasn’t as if she strolled down the red carpet with a low cut gown. She smiled at her own loathing of the man, Fuck off. Yes indeed she thought, Fuck off. The driver escorted her to the double doors of the Red Shoe Restaurant, a large structure freshly sandblasted by dirty men and nowadays who knows maybe dirty women.

Mary handed Fredrick a twenty and swept away from him like royalty. Fredrick wore proper clothes and always bathed, a dirty man he was not. She felt a fondness for the man but not much. He came from a Hispanic background which somehow felt dirty, not like the sandblasters, a different kind of dirty. Sexual, it was a sexual dirtiness, Mary felt certain he screwed dirty women from the Bronx. The thought sent an ever so slightly feeling of revulsion. The Bronx, she thought, the sewer of New York.

The tall and handsome concierge knew her and smiled “Madam Gershwin, your table awaits.”

“Is it the right table?” She waited for the wrong answer and was disappointed when he gave the correct answer.

“Yes my lady the absolutely correct table.”

She laughed quietly and patted the concierge on his broad shoulders. “My lady, where on earth did you come up with that dramatic line?”

He said nothing.

Mary was a tall lady, silky white hair, and a Bacall style. Only Mrs. Gershwin owned a more fragile look like a stick at an age to be broken, not Bacall. Bacall, now there was a lady, perhaps the epitome of lady. Casablanca moved me so much that I dreamed Bacall dreams for years after I sneaked into the theatre as a kid back in the late forties.

***

My name is Marty Robertson and I own the Red Shoe Diner and all the greasy bastards that work here. I don’t really own the bastards. I just pay them and they go home. No small talk just work that’s my mantra not that such a mantra would be recommended by a Buddhist monk. I don’t know any Buddhist monks so I don’t give a shit.

Mary is one of the many crazies stopping by this hole in the wall. I always play the doorman game. It makes her happy and she always spends a buck or two for coffee and a donut. Hell, what’s it hurt. Barry Templeton comes in every morning and insists on inspecting the kitchen for FBI agents. I make a buck, what the hell?

Mary always sits in the third booth from the front doors next to the window. Her eyes glazed by a regimen of psychotropic medications drift off into another world, another life perhaps. Who am I to trespass into her thoughts?

***

Mary stared out the window. Her thoughts drifted to the days when her father would come home hot and sweaty from the steel mills and kiss her on the forehead. Morey Gershwin was a kind man, a good and decent man who took his wife, Lacy and their lanky daughter to the movies every Sunday afternoon. She remembered her father calling them the talkies. Her mom would tell him, “Morey they’re just movies. People don’t call them talkies anymore.”

“Talkies, movies, what’s the difference,” He would snap indignantly. “Ya know people never used to talk. The big boys that made the movies didn’t know how to make voices, now they do so what the hell?”

“Morey don’t say such words in front of our precious.”

Mary continued to stare as the clouds began to darken in the sky. Oh how she wished she could be a kid again. Thunder rumbled outside of the diner and splotches of rain began tapping at the window. Her thoughts went back to Teddy Barlow her first love, her only love she guessed. She let him tap her virginity, something she didn’t take lightly. She trusted him but he didn’t trust her enough to marry her so off he went to the Army never to be seen again. After that she allowed many men to take her, but he was the first and the first is always the most important.

Soon the rain came down in slices like ocean waves falling out of the sky. Mary didn’t notice the ragged and dirty customer who came out of the storm with a dollar in his hand. “What can I get for a buck?” He asked.

***

“Coffee and a donut,” I say to him. I’ve never noticed the guy before today. He wears an old Yankee baseball cap and a full length black wool coat. The coat is as ragged looking as the man. “Haven’t noticed you around before, new in the neighborhood?” I noticed a pungent odor emanating from him. I know the smell…sweat and weeks of it. His beard and hair grew into each other like some kind of werewolf with body odor.

“I’m the new count,” He said.

“New count, I didn’t know we had an old one.”

He made an indignant huffing sound like maybe my instincts were correct. Maybe he is a werewolf. “I am Count Jesus of Cuba.”

“So should I call you Count or Jesus?”

“Mike would be good.” I wanted to laugh at the incongruent faux pas but didn’t know this guy well enough. He could be carrying as far as I know.

“Okay Mike, you want a coffee and a donut?”

“You got jelly-filled?”

“Just powder, sorry.”

“Sounds okay.” Mike scans the diner and I notice he hones in on Mary. “Who’s the babe?”

Again I couldn’t allow myself to laugh. This haggard and dirty visitor thinks Mary Gershwin’s a babe. What in hell is going on? So far I have a diner full of escapees from a mental institute and I am their gatekeeper, their donut and coffee server. Jesus, how could this get any worse? Sheila is due in at anytime now. She will take care of the customers if indeed that’s what they are. She’s been my night waitress for five years and practically runs the place without me. Hell, maybe she runs the place better than me. I stare up at the clock. Sheila should be…

“Marty, I see we have a house full.” Sheila shakes her umbrella all over counter. “I’ll clean that up later.” I didn’t let on like it but I was damn glad to see her. She glanced at my face. “You look like shit Marty, you see a ghost or somethin’?”

“Yeah, something, not sure what though.” I motioned to her to go back to the kitchen with me. She followed obediently. “Listen Sheila, something is going on here. “We know Mary right?”

“Sure we do.”

“Well the bum over there called himself Count Jesus of Cuba and there’re a couple of girls in the corner booth with their tongues stuck together like a couple of toilet plungers. It’s pretty damn strange don’t you think?”

Sheila roared with laughter. I placed my finger over my mouth to hush her, but she laughed even louder. “Marty,” She says, “Marty the nut factory’s only five blocks away. You should be used to them by now.”

“This is different.”

“How so?”

I gestured for her to scan the diner. There was Mary, Jesus, the tongue girls, and Frank Ledbetter a regular. “That’s how so.” Just then I heard the door open. I swear I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their fucking sockets. In comes a white haired old man with nothing but a robe on, hair drenched and carrying a purse or maybe it was belly pack “I suppose this is another Jesus, Marty?” Sheila scurried out of the kitchen area to wait on the new freak.

I hear her talking to him. “Have a seat sir I’ll fetch ya a glass of water. Ya wanna menu?”

The man in the robe is sopping wet. His hair dark and curly is dripping water onto his ears slowly making its way to the counter. He spins on the swivel stool like a kid waiting for a chocolate milkshake. “No, just coffee for me thanks. He spins some more. “Is there someone named Mary in here?”

Immaculate Conception

Mary turns quickly at the man’s voice. “I’m Mary,” She says to the guy in a robe. “Are you looking for me?”

“Too old.” The robed man scanned the tongue lashers. “Hey is one of you named Mary?” They paid no attention to him. By now they were rubbing each other’s breasts and sweat was glistening on their foreheads.

Sheila brought the man a cup of coffee. “That’s Butch and Hoffa,” Jerking her head in the direction of the two wonton women in the booth.

“How’s a woman gotta name like Hoffa?”

“Swears she’s Jimmy Hoffa’s daughter.” Sheila sits the coffee in front of him. “How’s come you have a robe on?”

“Mary.”

“She your girlfriend?”

“No, she’s a fucking hooker. She took me for fifty bucks and never gave me a blow job. Her pimp pulled a gun out and ordered her into a fancy car. He took my shoes.”

“So you wear a robe all the time?”

“Only when I’m fucking, I live down the alley and I was doin’ her against a building next to my pad.”

“Pad?” Mary spoke up.

“Yeah, you know the place I eat and sleep.”

“So you were doin’ her outside of your pad. That’s kinda strange.” Sheila jumped in.

“Yeah I know but she was all creeped out about goin’ into my pad.”

***

Mary didn’t want to hear any more bullshit from the creep in the robe and she couldn’t stomach the two chicks humping each other. By now they were straddling each other with hands where they shouldn’t be.

She once again escaped into her blank world, blank because the medicine made her blank. She saw only a darkening world outside the window and rain that now came down in the form of black beetles swarming, waiting for her to go home. Where is home? The Chapel of Light Mission Home always kept a room nice and warm for her. They’ve been doing so for forty years now ever since the passing of Bogie.

The rattling window startled her. The wind began whipping the beetles against the window so violently Mary thought the glass would crack.

“Getting pretty nasty out there isn’t it Mary?” Sheila saw the elderly lady jump when the window rattled. “October is always windy around here.” No one listened to her. She felt like going over and grabbing the two camels in the corner booth mating like dog on dog. Marty should do it. He let people take advantage of the joint. Hell, it wasn’t a whorehouse, but she needed to fill the salt and pepper shakers so the humpers would have to wait.

Mary went back to her blankness only it wasn’t really blankness. The thoughts of her childhood were not blank. They were real. Some nights her father Morey would come home drunk and beat the livin’ shit out of her mother. One time he beat her until she was bloody and unconscious. After that he came quietly into her room. Mary could smell the beer on his breath. She tried to fight him off but he was too strong even in his drunkenness.

Morey crawled on top of her nearly suffocating her. He unzipped his pants and ripped her panties off. She tried to scream but she could barely breathe. That’s when he entered her and started humping like the girls in the corner booth. He was like a jack rabbit and finished quickly with a slight whimper exhaled with a touch of beer breath. It was over as fast as it had begun. Her father left stuff inside of her. She felt it. She could feel it now oozing out of the place fathers’ should not be.

Morey Gershwin died ten years after the event. Lacy Gershwin died long before Mary’s father making Mary the housekeeper and chief. They were wicked years, so wicked and so very sick. It was soon after her father’s death that Mary took a much needed vacation in the world of psychosis. They labeled her bipolar as in severe mood changes ranging between being manic and super depressed. Mary was most generally super depressed unless she was dining at the Red Shoe Lounge with her best gown on.

Noah Stops By

“Everybody out of here!” The man shouts. He was dressed in a leather coat and wearing a cowboy hat. “We’re getting forty days and forty nights of rain.”

I ran over to him and suggested that he quiet down. I smelled booze immediately. “Can I get you something to eat cowboy?”

“Don’t call me cowboy, name’s James Hillary the Second.”

“Is there a first?” I ask.

“You some kind of smartass?”

“Just asking.”

The cowboy glared and started shouting again. “We must build an ark! We must build an ark!”

Sheila stood silent with her jaw hanging slack at the sight of this strange experience. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, what in God’s name is happening around here Marty?”

“I have to be in a dream.” It had to be a dream because something this strange could not or does not happen in the real world of consciousness. “It’s surreal,” I said and meant every word of it.

“Let’s close up shop and get everyone out of here.” Sheila held a look of horror. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I scuffed into the middle of the diner and grabbed a spoon and hammered it on the counter. “We’re closing up everyone. You’ve got to get home or wherever you’re going after being here.” I was met with no response. No one was leaving.

The cowboy strolled up to me like he was going to throw a saddle on me. “It’s your dream Marty. Just wake up and we’ll see you again tomorrow night.

The alarm clock was chirping and I immediately sat up. Sheila was still asleep. I rolled off the bed and padded over to the window. The rain was falling sideways and the dark skies made it seem like night, and the wind, the terrible wind. Rain flew horizontally and I shivered involuntarily and decided to go back to bed. Tomorrow is another day at the diner and I am certain the same players will be visiting.

Another Day in Paradise

I opened the diner door and silence greeted me. It would be the only silence until closing time. I had to cover the entire night because Sheila needed a night off to go to her nephew’s piano recital. Hell, I didn’t know she had a nephew especially one that could play a piano. I stereotyped Sheila as being a lonely middle aged woman with nothing to do but hang out at bars when she wasn’t working at the Red Shoe. I guess that’s what I get for prejudging people.

My first customer was Lawrence Tabler. I’ve known Lawrence for years. In fact, he just might have been my first customer when we first started the diner. “Morning Lawrence.”

“Morning.” He was not a man of many words, at least not in public. Hell, maybe he talked the ears off of his wife when he was at home away from the bustle of New York. “Regular crowd coming in today?” He left the question floating in the air until silence once again returned.

“Suppose so.” I said with little emotion. I was slowly getting tired of the business. The regular crowd generally included every walk of deviant life in Brooklyn. Mary Gershwin, Butch, Hoffa, and the rest of the “regulars” drank coffee and occasionally split for a donut. I made little money from them. They were becoming my entertainment and my billfold couldn’t afford the civic players much longer but they paid, at least they paid.

A stranger stepped through the door, that is, a stranger to the diner. He dressed in black all the way from his leather newspaper boy’s hat to his shoes. All leather, the guy must have spit a few bucks out for the outfit. He made himself comfortable at the distal booth where lovers go to get a hand job or whatever. I brought a glass of water and a menu. “Good morning,” I gave my best smile which isn’t sincere. “Can I bring you a cup of coffee?”

“Yeah, can you put some milk in it for me?”

“I’ll bring the creamer and let you measure your own if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

Before I turned to go he grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me to the floor. My head hit the back of one of the tables and for a moment I blacked out, just a moment. A gun appeared in his hand in a split second. “What the hell?” I shouted the question but already knew the answer.

“Get your ass to the cash register and empty all the money into a sack!” He ordered. I obeyed.

Still dazed I shoved myself off the floor and scuffed to the register and opened it. I always started the day with two hundred bucks. There was no more than that because Lawrence didn’t pay for his coffee yet. I dumped the drawer out into a paper bag and reached across the counter and handed it to him. My hands shook.

“Now empty your pockets!” He demanded and turned quickly to Lawrence, “You too old man.”

“Fuck you!” Lawrence shouted. “I aint giving you a fucking penny.”

“Are you shitting me?” The thug looked sincerely shocked. “Tell me you didn’t say that.”

“Fuck you.”

I forced myself not to laugh at Lawrence even though the robber pointed a gun at the old man and his life was truly in peril. “You old sonofabitch I ought to waste you here and now. Get down on the floor!” He waved the gun at the floor like he was training a dog to sit. “Did you hear me you old fuck?”

“I heard ya but you can go fuck yourself as far as I give a shit. Shoot me you bastard. I aint got shit to lose in case you haven’t noticed.”

The guy moved towards Lawrence and without a thought I jumped on the man’s back and the force and surprise knocked the gun out of his hand and knocked him to the floor. For being old Lawrence exhibited some fancy moves. He grabbed the gun and rolled across the floor and lying on his side he shot the guy. “Lawrence, what the fuck did you do?”

“That’s a dumbass question. I shot him. He’s still alive look at him.” Now Lawrence was waving the pistol. Sure enough the man dressed in black leather was rolling around like a penguin at a fish farm.

I didn’t have to call the police. They heard the shots on their way in for their morning donuts. James and Dawson made a regular run here before heading out on their beats. “You guys okay?” James the older of the two asked.

“Yeah we’re okay. The bastard took the diner’s money and Lawrence and I wrestled him to the floor. Lawrence got the bastard’s gun and when the creep went after him he shot him. Lawrence saved both our lives.” Of course I stretched the story and I’m sticking with it. It’s not like this is a high profile deal. Who’s going to give a shit? It’s the bad guy’s word against two old farts.

Dawson called for an ambulance as the would-be crook moaned in agony. I think Lawrence shot him in the nuts. James smiled and acted as if nothing had just gone down around him, “You got any of those jellies today?”

“Sure do, fresh made today.” I winked at him. “For you guys they’re on the house.” I glanced quickly at Lawrence. He was being uncomfortably animated with Dawson. I prayed I would hear no “fuck you,” I didn’t. The officer wrote something on a notepad and patted the old man on the back. Lawrence wasted no time he left a couple of bucks on the counter and shuffled quickly out of the building. I saw him turn his head and make eye contact with a crooked smirk on his face. That being the case I think it would be safe to say that it’s the first time I’ve ever observed any perceptible humor on the face of Lawrence Tabler.

***

The day went well after my scrape with a man with a gun, and quite possibly death. That’s my story and I’m not budging. Tonight I’m going to insist on a blow job from my wife Margie. She of course will refuse and the lights go out as usual. The usual customers came and left and for the first time in months I left the diner feeling exhilarated. I’m still alive and damn glad of it.

Margie greeted me with her usual cheek kiss and that is okay. Do you hear what I’m saying? It is okay. I’m alive and not in a crematorium burning for dollars. I told Margie the entire story of the day’s events. She reacted perfectly but did not give me a blow job or night of hiding the kielbasa. She’s funny that way, has been for the past ten years. Sex is only for celebrations. If she gets enough Tequila in her I will occasionally score the big one, but not tonight. The celebration of my continued ability to breathe just didn’t do it for her. The night was a bit chilly on the couch but the electric blanket helped.

The Final Curtain

After I sold the diner I felt empty like a dark chunk of the universe fell out of me. I made money it’s true, not a lot, but the whole thing was so much more than that. It was the living that made it all worthwhile. It somehow defined me instead of the other way around. I became the diner, a living creature that soaked in all of the moisture of the humanity coming and going through the front door. It was Mary Gershwin, Tempest, Tommy Hand, and all the others. They were the motivators, the reason I woke up every morning sunshine or rain. They were my lungs, my heart, and my mind. I was the clay, they the molders.

The day I handed the keys over to the new owner Joey Jacoby was the end of my growth. I had been molded into the finished product of me. I’d like to say that I crossed paths with some of the old customers but I never did and now a year later I am alone. My marvelous wife Margie of thirty years passed on to wherever people pass on to once they’ve taken their last breath. I miss her. Not quite right, I missed us. I am alone with my only companion, my memories. Memories are more priceless than gold and diamonds. Memories are the sum of our life, the essence of our being. There is nothing more.

On the days my arthritis isn’t biting at my hips and joints I manage to pass the old diner but have never gone in. It would be wrong for me like breaking some kind of self-made commandment. I didn’t want to disturb my memories so I left it behind and soon I will leave this life behind. I now head over to Ditch’s Grill for an occasional coffee and donut. The workers are friendly and the clientele are about my age so we talk about the old days and how fucking bad we had it as kids. Regular conversations with regular folks, if only they knew that just a few blocks away at the Red Shoe Diner there are conversations that only God understands.

Hence, the curtain is drawn and life goes on. The customers I loved so dearly, some alive and some not, go on their separate paths to separate realities and I’m okay with that.

The End

Tempest

Tempest couldn’t see the man walking behind her; she could only feel him. She felt the coldness in his heart, the buffered anger begging to burst from his mind. He was behind her flirting with each shadow made by trees and buildings. He was skipping to the jingle of October wind chimes and to the wind muffled sounds made by crowds of pigeons waiting for the city to evacuate its bowels impacted with humans. He was a mad man. Tempest knew him.

She walked faster, carrying herself closer to the subway. Once on her car, she would dare to look back. He would be there, watching. He never missed a day. His dark hat and black wool three-quarter-length coat gave him away. His yellowed stained grin gave him away. She knew him. He had become a brother to her, a kindred spirit filled with evil. He would point his gun at her and grin with a devil beside him. The man she knew only as Ducante would pull the trigger and she would fall to the floor of the subway car, blood pulsing and flooding the dirty, grease covered floor. Her neck would open itself to her fellow passengers showing the sinew and gray ripped artery feeding her brain. The passengers would look at her with terror as she gulped her last thin breath of stale subway air.

Time was on her side though. Tempest began running. She could beat him to the subway; beat his finger to the trigger mechanism. She would sit next to someone; the man wouldn’t find a clear shot. He wouldn’t get a chance to complete his grim mission. She would win over Ducante. She would win this battle between her purity and his evilness. Tempest began to laugh. She ran faster and laughed harder. Insanity had taken command. Fear had taken its toll, ripping what little logic was left in Tempest’s way of thinking. By god she would martyr herself if necessary. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t. Not necessary, she knew he was behind her exhaling his death stench with every quickened step. Tempest could hear his laughter, hyena-like and just as deadly. His smell of rotting flesh filtered through her nostrils making her gag with each of her hysteric giggles. She didn’t think about the incongruence. She had no time. Her car was pulling up and emptying its contents. She flashed her pass and clumsily crossed the turnstile. Refusing to look back, Tempest bumped and dodged her way onto the car, number eight westbound.

She found one empty seat. An older man occupied the space next to her, newspaper pressed against his face like a blanket. The smell of alcohol and stale tobacco oozed from his ragged clothing. A raspy, “Hi, sweet one,” fell from the man’s jagged teeth, more of a snake’s hiss than a voice. “Been around here long?” A strange question asked by a strange old drunk. She wouldn’t look at him, too worried about Ducante’s bullet. “Can’t you talk little one?” He pressed. Tempest would have no part of it.

Tempest worked up the courage to look out the graying car window. He wasn’t there. Ducante had not caught up with her. She smiled and relaxed enough to look at the old man, who wasn’t the old man at all. Ducante sat next to her with a crooked smile pasted on his lips. “Been here long?” He asked cynically. “What took you so long?” His laughter echoed off the subway car’s roof. Tempest jumped when he pulled his pistol out of his coat pocket. “I know you’ve been wanting this.” The voice sounded far away, like the sound of a television playing in someone’s room across the hall, her hall, her room.

Tempest stood up, Ducante only smiled. He made no move towards her. His pistol’s stare steadied upon her. She ran as fast as she could through the car’s corridor, shoving faces and bodies aside, until she reached the metal double doors separating cars. She attempted to open the doors. They wouldn’t budge. Tempest began screaming, “Ducante, you bastard!” She slammed her body against the doors and they begrudgingly opened to a black night filled with all the smells of depravity found in a tunnel of paranoia, of insanity. Her head hit the hardened steel rails. At that moment, Tempest Garner’s nightmares ceased.

***

“Doctor Ducante,” asked Janet Landis casually, “will five milligrams be enough to hold her?” Four exhausted attendants watched curiously as he floor nurse pulled the needle out of Tempest’s hip. “Don’t just stand there guys. Let’s get her into isolation.”

Roy Ducante smiled with his eyes glued on the nurse’s ass. “I think five will do just fine.”

The train rumbled by the state hospital on its way to Chicago. It was the Broadway Limited, a train carrying no celebrities or businessmen, just old men with black umbrellas and old ladies with holes in their dreams. Tempest never rode the train to her hometown and never would.

The End

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Sitting on a street corner on the outskirts of Altoona, Pennsylvania in front of a junk food gas station combination, I was stranded with nowhere to go. My life lost in the maze created by a bad marriage, a lost job, and homelessness. I sit on the curb and cried like a mad man certain passersby thought I was a total loser with no modesty.

Those anonymous passersby would no doubt be correct in their impression of a thirty-seven year old man crying like a baby as he sits on a yellow painted curb. I have no modesty when I am so impassioned about a life gone sour. I’m not afraid of what people might think of my oddness or emotional state. Nevertheless I sat for a long time before I decided crying wouldn’t get me a room for the night or a meal. I had all of ten bucks and ten bucks won’t take you far. I bought a hamburger, soft drink, and a pack of smokes. After my feast I wandered by a darkened bar which had an aging sign in their window advertising rooms to rent for the night, four bucks. I drifted into the cool, dark, and smelly establishment. I ordered a beer on tap and handed the barkeep a quarter. “I need a room,” I said flatly.

“Got one upstairs, gotta share the bathroom.”

“Not a problem.”

He handed me a key, I drank my beer, and made my way to the stairs. There was a cockroach party going on when I found my room, #206. They greeted me with scraping noises on the ceiling and walls and some whispered noises as they scrambled beneath my nice sweat-colored pillows. Perhaps the foulest display of all time was the two brown mice fighting over a cheese cracker that had been left in the trashcan. The can tipped over but the mice were not deterred from their fist fight. I threw an empty cigarette pack at them hoping to stop the war. Instead they peeked up at me for only a moment and continued their conflict. Things are just wrong when a mouse doesn’t run from a human who is a thousand times bigger than it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, but I was in no mood for lessons.

A thought came quickly, lightning fast, I got the hell out of the room and trampled down the dirty steps and barged into the barroom. With my best pissed-off voice I gave the vacant-faced bartender the key. “I aint sleeping with your Smithsonian insect collection up there, what kind of shit is that? I want my money back.”

“I’m sorry,” He snickered, “I didn’t hear you asking me for the fucking honeymoon suite.” I heard snickers and giggles behind me but I didn’t give them the honor of turning around.

“I didn’t ask you to sleep in a fucking terrarium either.”

“I can’t give you a return,” He spat, “but I can repay you with a pint of Jack.”

My eyes didn’t leave his. “Just what I need a flea market swap?”

“Take it or leave it.”

I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and tromped out of the dingy dump more pissed off than the fighting mice in the trashcan. I figured if I finished the bottle I wouldn’t give a shit where I slept. Hell the Juniata Bridge would be a good bedroom after an empty bottle of Jack and a half a pack of smokes.

I decided to find myself a spot near the railroad tracks next to the bridge, but just out of sight of authorities. All I needed was some crazy vagrant charges trumped up by an overzealous cop. I brought my duffle bag which I had left in an alley behind the cockroach hotel. I managed to squeeze a pillow and a blanket in it just for this moment. I knew this moment would come but my hope was that it would come later and not sooner, so much for hope. If anyone reads this drivel they probably would like to know something about me, but I really don’t want to discuss my fucked up marriage and the fact that my wife was sharing spit with the contractor working on our roof. Suffice it to say that I’m near thirty-five, I have dark beady eyes, and my black hair has some snow gathering on my sideburns. That’s it I’ll admit nothing else except perhaps the fact that I’m a pathetic loser. By now you have already figured that one out.

Unscrewing the bottle of fine whiskey I took a draw and felt the burn all the way down to my stomach. I had a couple of small packs of beef jerky which I unwrapped and began feasting. This could be my last meal. Where my next meal would come from I hadn’t a clue. Once again I swigged another measure of liquid gold. This draw wasn’t as bad as the first one. In fact I felt no after burn during my ritual of emptying the bottle. As I suppose many drunks do in this situation I calmly and without fanfare passed out cold.

***

I awoke to the clacking sounds of a freight train, a freight train on which I apparently was a passenger. My head felt a little foggy and when I tried to move I discovered that I had been tethered to a large fifty-five gallon barrel containing I don’t know what. “I see you’re awake, Tommy boy.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Where am I and why have you tied me up like this? You have no right.”

“Just where do you think you’re at? You’re on a train, a very important passenger.” The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it with a name. “Sorry about the rope but you kept trying to climb out of the boxcar which would have been certain…death.” Did I note a hint of cynicism when the man said “death?”

“How did I get here?”

“You jumped on just as we passed beneath the old bridge.”

“I couldn’t have.” If my mind serves me right I was passed out and couldn’t have moved if a train was headed straight on. I turned my attention to the voice, nothing seemed to make sense. “Who are you?” My suspicions were blinking like red lights on a cop car. My gut was on high alert. This voice without a body was acting just a bit too casual. The current situation did not require casual, things were fucked up, placing things at a very minimal perspective.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“I can’t see you.”

“You can hear me can’t you? Surely your ears still work.”

“John Shackler, you’re John Shackler. But you can’t be John Shackler because you’re dead.” The thought brought an unwelcome chill to my spine. You sound like him but you’re not. So who are you really?”

“You’ve worked with me for what, nine years?”

“No, I worked with John Shackler for nine years, not you.” My mind was swimming either from the alcohol I drank or from my state of complete confusion. “What direction is this train heading?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends where we are going.”

I was getting pissed off at this guy. “What the hell does that mean? You’re talking nonsense.”

“Nonsense is what nonsense is.”

“How prophetic,” I sneered.

For what seemed to be hours the man and I stopped talking. There were no more questions to ask. His answers were always nonsensical and ambiguous. He sounded like John. That was the catch. He sounded just like him, right down to the husky nicotine saturated sounds John made during lunch breaks. Of course it could just be a coincidence, but I don’t believe in coincidences. The train’s sudden movement brought me out of my reverie. It was slowing down.

I heard the man shuffling around the boxcar but he was only a silhouette in the darkness. Another voice became apparent, an unknown voice. It only filtered through the clacking of the wheels as a mumble, but the silhouette seemed to be engaged with the other voice. Soon the train stopped. “This is where I get off Tommy boy. Apparently there’s another destination for you.” With that the silhouette slipped out of the door into the dark night.

It was the ghost of John Shackler. Had to be, what other explanation could there be? Ghosts were not allowed into my brain, they don’t exist at least not until this moment. Someone else is here. I shivered with uncertainty, what is happening to me? The silhouette spoke to someone, someone else is in the boxcar. I spoke into the rumbling darkness. “Who are you?”

Only silence returned. I fell silent for several minutes maybe more. Time is an unknown quantity in a pitch black boxcar and I didn’t have a glow-lit watch. I heard a shrill sound, a voice but a voice that was almost beyond the human hearing range. What I saw next made me want to vomit, but I was fairly sure my stomach was empty, growling its discontent with my current behavior.

Before me stood a creature, my entire body quaked at the sight. It was dark and I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing but I’m damn sure it wasn’t human. If the ugly looking thing could see me in the blackness it would see my mouth hanging open like a door without a latch. The critter in question was a cockroach the size of a six or seven year old child, I tried to stifle a gasp but it had already left the station. It came out as a hideous scream which oddly terrified me of my own horror. A shrill voice escaped the creature’s mouth, if cockroaches have mouths. “Name’s Gus, I rented a room to you. You do remember that don’t you?”

He was the bartender that I gave a bunch of shit about the mice and cockroaches in my four-dollar room. I spit a muffled answer, “I remember.” I wanted to ask if this was some kind of joke, but no one would play a joke like this. It had to be a nightmare. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“What am I doing? You’re just going for a little ride on a train, that’s all. Simple isn’t it?”

I ignored Gus’s squealing sarcasm. “Where is this train taking me?”

The laughter was hideous even higher pitched than his conversational tone. “You won’t like it Tommy.” Several of Gus’s legs stretched out with some kind of gesture I didn’t understand. “Wait for it,” He paused, “Wait for it.” He screeched, “You’re going to hell.” The laughter was maddening. “And it’s filled with cockroaches, rats, and your very favorite furry little friends the ever popular mice.” Again the sonic laughter, how much more of this shit could I take? My world in a matter of…hell I don’t know, my life became an insane asylum.

***

The train’s movement shifted. It was slowing down. The cockroach known as Gus the barkeep began making a buzzing sound like a mad hornet. Once the train jolted to a halt Gus began scuffling around the boxcar like a cornered cat. I could only see his outline against the darkness but I could definitely hear him buzzing and shuffling. I heard something else climbing inside the car. The climbing sounds came from all around the darkened freight car. My eyes saw movement. It was a swarm of darkness. That’s the only way I can describe it, darkness within darkness. There were thousands if not millions of small black insect-sized creatures hitting the sides of the car. Soon they came through the huge opening in the side of the car. I braced myself for a horrific attack, but it never came.

Instead, the swarm moved rapidly towards Gus covering his body entirely. His desperate squealing could have broken my eardrums but it stopped almost immediately. The black swarm had either eaten him or dissolved him. I couldn’t tell. I only know that they left as hurriedly as they had entered. During the bizarre train ride I had been teasing the rope binding my hands until I finally managed to loosen one hand and then the other. I then untied my legs and managed to get to the door. It slammed shut in front of me. I pushed, pulled, and tugged, but the door would not budge. I was trapped as the train began moving again. Was I going to hell? I don’t think so for surely I had already experienced the place.

Something happened soon after the car door slammed shut. Though I felt the train moving I could no longer hear the wheels meeting the rail or the clacking sounds that freight trains make when passing a crossing. The only sound I could discern was wind, a soft whimpering wind. The train was climbing. My ears popped and breathing became more difficult. What was happening couldn’t be happening. The train was floating or flying and I had to go wherever it decided to travel. I was trapped inside of a ghost train, a train heading for my final destination.

***

Officers Joe Bricker and Nolan Garogiolla were assigned to police the main line of the Norfolk Railroad. It was an area of high crime and vandalism. It was their unpleasant task to round up drifters and sometimes criminals hiding in the thickets along the line. They drove blue and white ATVs with red swirling lights shining. On most days they found no one, captured no one, and the only time they used their pistols was for their annual weapons’ test. Today would be different.

Joe noticed the body first and gave a whistle to his partner. “Get the fuck over here Nolan. We got ourselves a dead one.”

Nolan let out a gasp, “Holy Mother of God.”

“Yeah that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Look at him. Shit there’s every kind of insect and rodent crawling over this guy.” Joe turned away from the corpse and emptied his stomach of the bacon, eggs, and toast he had for breakfast at Irene’s Breakfast Club. “Nolan, call this in.” After giving the creosol soaked ground the contents of his stomach he made the mistake of turning to look at the body again. “Christ, Nolan look at that.” He pointed to one of the rodents that was making a feast out of the corpse’s jellylike eyes. A cockroach climbed out of the victim’s mouth. “Make that call,” He insisted.

“Just did, they’re sending an ambulance.”

“Wonder what happened?”

Nolan checked around the body and discovered a business card, Gus’s Bar and Grill. He stuffed the card in his pocket and forgot about it.

Joe was kicking at the cockroaches, but they paid little attention to him. The body was like a magnet to the insects. The hair on Joe’s back bristled with a combination of awe and revulsion, He was certain he could hear a buzzing sound made by the insects. Joe turned away from the dead man. He would never look at the body again

The End

Vaginas

An aging ghost of a little man worked in the rice paddies in Vietnam, a father, grandfather, and devoted husband. He never lived to see his great grandchildren. The gunner’s bullets sprayed the workers in the paddy, all dead except for a baby hugging his mother’s body as she fell, bloody and vacant. They were ants in the gunner’s eyes, nonexistent enemies…just target practice.

***

A drone flies silently above the clouds and sees movement in the hidden mountains below it, computers can do wonders. With a push of a button the operator miles away tells the airplane to release its missiles. Twelve children eating bread and insipid soup during their school lunch are no longer learning about life. Education terminated captain, over and out.

What a great world we live in. Just die at the push of a button…isn’t it great?

***

A big man with a suit and tie wants to own all of the vaginas in the world, the “great vagina king” he will be called when he reaches his destination after death. His God will say job well done Senator. “Do you love your children?”

Scratching his head he puzzled, “Can’t remember but their vaginas will always remember me.”

“Please enter through the jaws of heaven and welcome. We have lots of vaginas here just for you to rule.”

The man in the suit thought something might be wrong when God’s face turned sour and cynicism found voice. “I have a very large vagina just for you.” Snapping her fingers she sent him to Vagina Hell where vaginas eat assholes like him for breakfast.

Dancer

A naked blonde girl named Helga danced to the nocturnes of Chopin. Her small budding breasts were crowned with muted pink nipples. They barely moved as she pirouetted across the darkened stage with glowing stars. Her small mound of cornstalk pubic hair was barely noticeable to the audience as she swept her arms and hands grandiosely towards the homemade moon. The most fabulous set of buttocks and thighs I’ve ever viewed tortured men and caused women to gasp. If perfect could exist Helga was nearly there.

She was young I say but what do I know, old, gray, and optically impaired. I’m sure she was thirty maybe more, but her moves were young, oh so young. I’m sure many young men have stiffened for her and as I watch I think maybe many old men have tried their best to stiffen for her. Where the mind is willing the body is unable to follow suit.

As often happens the dancing of this golden butterfly caused my mind to drift to another day, and another time, my mind wandered into the back alleys of Tokyo. Her name wasn’t Helga and she wasn’t blonde. Her name was Midori. The named meant “beautiful branch.” I remember this vividly for this woman indeed was a beautiful branch from a tree of equal beauty. Her mother was a lovely woman who lost her husband in World War II. He flew his plane into an American Naval Destroyer with obvious results, death and destruction of the pilot and his plane. The ship was undisturbed.

Midori was the exact opposite of Helga, darker and more mystical. She danced but it was the dance of the ancients, Mai, a dance performed usually in the privacy of a home or in our case a hotel room. Midori danced in her tight silk dress slowly and methodically taking my mind into a hyper state of arousal. I remember smoking a joint which enhanced the entire process. We floated together in orgasm like a low hanging cloud of fog crossing the Yokohama harbor.

I never thought about it until this moment watching the young Helga undulating in a strange sexual ballet act. No doubt my beloved Midori would wheeze at such a display. I left Tokyo in the late sixties vowing to return to my beautiful lover, but things got in the way. Life got in the way and I never returned. I thought about it now and Helga’s nakedly fair body brought the memory back. Her small pert breasts, short blonde hair, and the mystical spot of every woman’s beauty brought Midori back to me for a moment, a fleeting moment.

Do we not live life in a series of fleeting moments? We never seem to grasp the now. The worth of our lives is measured only by the history for what we did even one minute ago. History will never be given back, a no-return policy. Hence, today it our life and tomorrow will never happen. The only tomorrow we have is the brick wall of death. Like a speeding bullet we will inevitably be halted by that unsolvable finish line. It is every human’s fear spoken or unspoken, pretentious or self-effacing. The unknowable is of course the ultimate fear for us all, even Helga’s. She dances and dances and the world continues on its path to perpetuity.

Poetry

Funeral Song

If you planted a tree for me

I would be happy

send you rain to make it grow

like trees should

with lonesome groans so quiet

not even earth could hear

such natural industry.

If you planted a garden

I would be so happy

I’d sing with thunder

and dance like lightening.

I’d visit with humming bird

silence and together with winged vibrato

we could sing the hungry masses.

If you had a baby I would sing

hosanna to a god of your choosing

give you a silver hammer to swing,

to praise the pope or Malcolm X.

Let me be your silent servant,

your communist lover

Sieg Heil sweety and party on.

You Can

You see it’s not the end which bothers me

death is a moment, a comma in a sentence.

no the end is inevitable like a tree never to be moved.

It’s the twists, the turns, the babbling of human brooks,

but most of all it’s those youthful sprints we make

the hurried need, the biting words, and inbred fear

we see in others and the prejudice nooses we make.

Sadness starts with fear of the inevitable tree

Yet we can if we only try soar above the poplars,

maples, oaks, and redwoods. Just strengthen your wings

and fly without prejudice or malice into the universe

waiting with mirrored stars to watch yourself soar

above the fray of unkindness, bigotry, and manmade fear.

Life in the Dead Lane

It’s a lovely day in my hometown

think I’ll take a walk across the Jordon

walk on water for awhile, heal a leper

and bend the rules of Jesus

for just an hour maybe two

I am God and no one knows it

the soil of it all wipes clean

my miseries and unclean fantasies.

Plunge my nakedness into the river

deep and pungent the smell of man

never leaves the swirling slicks

oil of our fathers and their fathers

Mother Mary stopped by in her Vera Wang

fresh off the hangers at Saks on Fifth

snug yet quite revealing

the cross of her father.

City lights burn yellow in darkness

the lights leave but not the yellow

LA my kind of town

pimps and whores and rock n roll

designer jeans for short fat men

like me and my uncle

he’s dead now

I’m next.

Mice

Mice scurry across a dank mausoleum

musty years of death breathe in silence

in respect for hushed residents

the mice show no deference

their hurried pilgrimage unstoppable

by even the mouse god

hedonistic little bastards.

We are mice.

A Glass of Wine and a Bible

Someone gave me a wafer

the body of Christ they said

1994 Merlot his blood

I ate the wafer, got drunk

hung all night on a toilet bowl

puking all my sins away.

Confess cried the faceless pope

on your knees face in the pillow pray

God loves you but not today

so pray and pray

until the pillow goes away

Jesus always wins the games we play.

Sitting in a jail cell I wonder

what the hell can I tell

Jonah and his favorite whale?

It is time for morning prayer

no food until Jesus blows his whistle

I’m running the outside track to hell.

Don’t follow me follow you

your dreams much better than mine

soon you will grow

powerful in the Lord’s eye

not a silver thread through the needle’s eye

will pass his bloodshot eyes.

Inevitable

I can’t remember why

those days so coarse

so unheavenly

weigh like the world

on my shoulders

Doesn’t matter I guess

bubble gum dreams

burst through my life

and time wore them thin

it’s not worth remembering.

Somehow I aged like

swamp wood sinking

Into oblivion

each day aging closer

into a brindled secretariat.

So we live and die

mummified furniture

for the patio

but I love you

more than a rainy day

Without a beach ball.

Moniker Betrayal

Jaypo she said to me.

My rubber band eyes snap

Jaypo no I say with daggered tongue

tears inside a name flood

blood through my vocal chords.

What is it about a name?

Cardboard brains create our names

Jaypo is not mine to hear

Play another day another yard

The name Ace is in my cards.

Oleander

I crawl backwards into this cave

afraid of my age, my time on earth

keeps receding like low tide

I wait for a full moon and a virus

to still my craving heart

beeping green on black screens.

I’m happiest after black girls

change and clean me rapping

to a phantom song unknown

I love them because

their brains are pure

tablar rasa and excited to live.

I dream not of golden streets

yet dusty roads fill my thoughts

ones I’ve traveled through blankly

regretting now for never pausing

to smell wild basil and lemon

and pick Queen Ann’s lace.

I say there’s a time in life

dreams remain dreams

as I listen to heart sounds

digital madness and realize

time is now and I smell the ugly

cleansing of what’s left of me.

Many say there’s more

I say it is only peace

crawling its way into my mind

where once again I can become

at peace with Mother Earth and feed

sweet Oleander lovely poison of death.

Sunday Morning

The sky, overcoat gray

with spider legs of sun

greets me with a day.

The mirror shows me old

bulging with beer

bulging with shame

of loving you.

My cat stares patiently

at her empty bowl.

I have nothing to give her.

The same hollow pain

repeats itself

as I dress in faded jeans

looking for a remnant of you

to wrap around my chest.

I stare patiently at the cat

and an empty bowl.

Repose

There is something about seeing you there

draped in white with red roses bleeding.

Death is such a morbid farewell

not recognition of eternal sleep

yet softly we sleep next to our manmade tombs

unwholesomely relieved of our duties

death gives us a final answer

to questions eternally unanswerable.

Tunnel Vision

There are no divisions

in tunnel vision

no television

just monotonic love

no stereo sound

no venus mound

just turnaround

catch the next wave

ride the pipeline

of tunnel vision

eyes ahead

don’t look at the dead

no room for poetry

just keep your eyes ahead.

Blue Velvet

Six white crosses on a highway curve

forgotten memoriam

forgotten family of six

dirt filled mouth and noses

no seatbelt laws in sixty-four

blue velvet seats fifty-seven Chevy

I can hear the screeching tires

see children flying in the air

with the greatest of ease

as a gnarled Oak opened its arms to greet

a heavy smile in its crotch

six more visitors this night

a long, long time ago

six white cross turning sallow.

Boot Camp

Eighteen,

hot summer in Kentucky

we marched the hills

like soldiers do

counting cadence

counting days

counting ways to kill

shouting ways to kill

eighteen is young

shaved head and black boots

spit shined like a mirror

Vietnam in front of us

high school prom behind us

kill little men in pajamas

screamed the big black sergeant

never seen one before

I trembled

that hot summer day

been trembling ever since.

The Lonely Shepherd

Where the mountain dumps

its lava lipped edges

into behemoth bulbous warships

floating just beyond the reach of man,

a man of stone sleeps.

A shepherd lost for centuries

with vacant eyes dead

yet see he does more than I.

Leonardo robe ragged now

propelled by a painted wind

Sistine quiet he is the incense of history

if only I could know his story

for he surely knows mine.

Destiny

Prom night and the stars glowed just for us

We danced to music we’ve forgotten now

I grew to be a killer of men, you a healer

Neither could heal the wounds of battle

Life battle where blood flows in jungles,

Deserts, mountains, Chicago streets and back alleys.

Seems no one can control their trigger fingers

Their lust for satisfaction

Our children like dry sticks break beneath black boots

Swastika loving boys, bald and dumb.

Now destiny is a dry urn and a clean blanket

For the final sleeping, sweet final sleep.

Epilogue

There is little to say at the end of a small offering of stories like this one. My stories and poems are simply snapshots made of words, snapshots of thoughts swiped out of my mind like sage brush in a dust storm. Do I think such odd and strange things occur in our lives, absolutely? I stare sometimes into a starry night and I swear I can see forever. I can see broken children of the Holocaust, the Black slaves being tossed off slave ships into a watery death. Sometimes I see my brother, eyeless, and destroyed by the insidious effects of diabetes. My father visits me in the pitched night and wants to know how life is going after his death fifty years ago. The mind works is strange ways.

What keeps an old depressed man going? My wife of nearly twenty years, Debbie, has been my rock and I would take a bullet for her. I would crawl through broken shards of glass for her as she would for me. We are tied to the same rope, the same love we’ve had since our chance encounter. For me, life is serendipitous. I see no God reaching his finger down and stopping the slaughter of children, the rape of women, and the unspeakable collective Catholic molestations. If ever there was a God he’s skipped town and is now living on an island paradise as a sea turtle. Sea turtles are smart and non-aggressive. The earth is my home and always will be until my body is purified by the crematorium fire. My ashes will be blown in the wind whipping through Cape Hatteras for I am a fish and I must return from whence I came.

Table of Contents

The Walk In

Immaculate Conception

Noah Stops By

Another Day in Paradise

Tempest

The Final Curtain

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Vaginas

Dancer

Poetry

Epilogue

Tales from the Red Shoe Diner

The Walk In

Mary Gershwin stepped out her limousine like she just slipped out of a nightgown. A classy lady like her knew how to move. Born of wealth and grace she flaunted her rank of high priestess of Brooklyn to the waiting hoard of cameramen. “Mrs. Gershwin is it true that you are going to star in Gutenberg’s next film and if you are will you be in lead?” She saw the small man asking the question and chose to ignore him. What and who was he to ask such a question? The small man asked again. “Is it true?”

She made a dusting-off gesture to the man and said nothing. For God’s sake she was simply going for dinner. It wasn’t as if she strolled down the red carpet with a low cut gown. She smiled at her own loathing of the man, Fuck off. Yes indeed she thought, Fuck off. The driver escorted her to the double doors of the Red Shoe Restaurant, a large structure freshly sandblasted by dirty men and nowadays who knows maybe dirty women.

Mary handed Fredrick a twenty and swept away from him like royalty. Fredrick wore proper clothes and always bathed, a dirty man he was not. She felt a fondness for the man but not much. He came from a Hispanic background which somehow felt dirty, not like the sandblasters, a different kind of dirty. Sexual, it was a sexual dirtiness, Mary felt certain he screwed dirty women from the Bronx. The thought sent an ever so slightly feeling of revulsion. The Bronx, she thought, the sewer of New York.

The tall and handsome concierge knew her and smiled “Madam Gershwin, your table awaits.”

“Is it the right table?” She waited for the wrong answer and was disappointed when he gave the correct answer.

“Yes my lady the absolutely correct table.”

She laughed quietly and patted the concierge on his broad shoulders. “My lady, where on earth did you come up with that dramatic line?”

He said nothing.

Mary was a tall lady, silky white hair, and a Bacall style. Only Mrs. Gershwin owned a more fragile look like a stick at an age to be broken, not Bacall. Bacall, now there was a lady, perhaps the epitome of lady. Casablanca moved me so much that I dreamed Bacall dreams for years after I sneaked into the theatre as a kid back in the late forties.

***

My name is Marty Robertson and I own the Red Shoe Diner and all the greasy bastards that work here. I don’t really own the bastards. I just pay them and they go home. No small talk just work that’s my mantra not that such a mantra would be recommended by a Buddhist monk. I don’t know any Buddhist monks so I don’t give a shit.

Mary is one of the many crazies stopping by this hole in the wall. I always play the doorman game. It makes her happy and she always spends a buck or two for coffee and a donut. Hell, what’s it hurt. Barry Templeton comes in every morning and insists on inspecting the kitchen for FBI agents. I make a buck, what the hell?

Mary always sits in the third booth from the front doors next to the window. Her eyes glazed by a regimen of psychotropic medications drift off into another world, another life perhaps. Who am I to trespass into her thoughts?

***

Mary stared out the window. Her thoughts drifted to the days when her father would come home hot and sweaty from the steel mills and kiss her on the forehead. Morey Gershwin was a kind man, a good and decent man who took his wife, Lacy and their lanky daughter to the movies every Sunday afternoon. She remembered her father calling them the talkies. Her mom would tell him, “Morey they’re just movies. People don’t call them talkies anymore.”

“Talkies, movies, what’s the difference,” He would snap indignantly. “Ya know people never used to talk. The big boys that made the movies didn’t know how to make voices, now they do so what the hell?”

“Morey don’t say such words in front of our precious.”

Mary continued to stare as the clouds began to darken in the sky. Oh how she wished she could be a kid again. Thunder rumbled outside of the diner and splotches of rain began tapping at the window. Her thoughts went back to Teddy Barlow her first love, her only love she guessed. She let him tap her virginity, something she didn’t take lightly. She trusted him but he didn’t trust her enough to marry her so off he went to the Army never to be seen again. After that she allowed many men to take her, but he was the first and the first is always the most important.

Soon the rain came down in slices like ocean waves falling out of the sky. Mary didn’t notice the ragged and dirty customer who came out of the storm with a dollar in his hand. “What can I get for a buck?” He asked.

***

“Coffee and a donut,” I say to him. I’ve never noticed the guy before today. He wears an old Yankee baseball cap and a full length black wool coat. The coat is as ragged looking as the man. “Haven’t noticed you around before, new in the neighborhood?” I noticed a pungent odor emanating from him. I know the smell…sweat and weeks of it. His beard and hair grew into each other like some kind of werewolf with body odor.

“I’m the new count,” He said.

“New count, I didn’t know we had an old one.”

He made an indignant huffing sound like maybe my instincts were correct. Maybe he is a werewolf. “I am Count Jesus of Cuba.”

“So should I call you Count or Jesus?”

“Mike would be good.” I wanted to laugh at the incongruent faux pas but didn’t know this guy well enough. He could be carrying as far as I know.

“Okay Mike, you want a coffee and a donut?”

“You got jelly-filled?”

“Just powder, sorry.”

“Sounds okay.” Mike scans the diner and I notice he hones in on Mary. “Who’s the babe?”

Again I couldn’t allow myself to laugh. This haggard and dirty visitor thinks Mary Gershwin’s a babe. What in hell is going on? So far I have a diner full of escapees from a mental institute and I am their gatekeeper, their donut and coffee server. Jesus, how could this get any worse? Sheila is due in at anytime now. She will take care of the customers if indeed that’s what they are. She’s been my night waitress for five years and practically runs the place without me. Hell, maybe she runs the place better than me. I stare up at the clock. Sheila should be…

“Marty, I see we have a house full.” Sheila shakes her umbrella all over counter. “I’ll clean that up later.” I didn’t let on like it but I was damn glad to see her. She glanced at my face. “You look like shit Marty, you see a ghost or somethin’?”

“Yeah, something, not sure what though.” I motioned to her to go back to the kitchen with me. She followed obediently. “Listen Sheila, something is going on here. “We know Mary right?”

“Sure we do.”

“Well the bum over there called himself Count Jesus of Cuba and there’re a couple of girls in the corner booth with their tongues stuck together like a couple of toilet plungers. It’s pretty damn strange don’t you think?”

Sheila roared with laughter. I placed my finger over my mouth to hush her, but she laughed even louder. “Marty,” She says, “Marty the nut factory’s only five blocks away. You should be used to them by now.”

“This is different.”

“How so?”

I gestured for her to scan the diner. There was Mary, Jesus, the tongue girls, and Frank Ledbetter a regular. “That’s how so.” Just then I heard the door open. I swear I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their fucking sockets. In comes a white haired old man with nothing but a robe on, hair drenched and carrying a purse or maybe it was belly pack “I suppose this is another Jesus, Marty?” Sheila scurried out of the kitchen area to wait on the new freak.

I hear her talking to him. “Have a seat sir I’ll fetch ya a glass of water. Ya wanna menu?”

The man in the robe is sopping wet. His hair dark and curly is dripping water onto his ears slowly making its way to the counter. He spins on the swivel stool like a kid waiting for a chocolate milkshake. “No, just coffee for me thanks. He spins some more. “Is there someone named Mary in here?”

Immaculate Conception

Mary turns quickly at the man’s voice. “I’m Mary,” She says to the guy in a robe. “Are you looking for me?”

“Too old.” The robed man scanned the tongue lashers. “Hey is one of you named Mary?” They paid no attention to him. By now they were rubbing each other’s breasts and sweat was glistening on their foreheads.

Sheila brought the man a cup of coffee. “That’s Butch and Hoffa,” Jerking her head in the direction of the two wonton women in the booth.

“How’s a woman gotta name like Hoffa?”

“Swears she’s Jimmy Hoffa’s daughter.” Sheila sits the coffee in front of him. “How’s come you have a robe on?”

“Mary.”

“She your girlfriend?”

“No, she’s a fucking hooker. She took me for fifty bucks and never gave me a blow job. Her pimp pulled a gun out and ordered her into a fancy car. He took my shoes.”

“So you wear a robe all the time?”

“Only when I’m fucking, I live down the alley and I was doin’ her against a building next to my pad.”

“Pad?” Mary spoke up.

“Yeah, you know the place I eat and sleep.”

“So you were doin’ her outside of your pad. That’s kinda strange.” Sheila jumped in.

“Yeah I know but she was all creeped out about goin’ into my pad.”

***

Mary didn’t want to hear any more bullshit from the creep in the robe and she couldn’t stomach the two chicks humping each other. By now they were straddling each other with hands where they shouldn’t be.

She once again escaped into her blank world, blank because the medicine made her blank. She saw only a darkening world outside the window and rain that now came down in the form of black beetles swarming, waiting for her to go home. Where is home? The Chapel of Light Mission Home always kept a room nice and warm for her. They’ve been doing so for forty years now ever since the passing of Bogie.

The rattling window startled her. The wind began whipping the beetles against the window so violently Mary thought the glass would crack.

“Getting pretty nasty out there isn’t it Mary?” Sheila saw the elderly lady jump when the window rattled. “October is always windy around here.” No one listened to her. She felt like going over and grabbing the two camels in the corner booth mating like dog on dog. Marty should do it. He let people take advantage of the joint. Hell, it wasn’t a whorehouse, but she needed to fill the salt and pepper shakers so the humpers would have to wait.

Mary went back to her blankness only it wasn’t really blankness. The thoughts of her childhood were not blank. They were real. Some nights her father Morey would come home drunk and beat the livin’ shit out of her mother. One time he beat her until she was bloody and unconscious. After that he came quietly into her room. Mary could smell the beer on his breath. She tried to fight him off but he was too strong even in his drunkenness.

Morey crawled on top of her nearly suffocating her. He unzipped his pants and ripped her panties off. She tried to scream but she could barely breathe. That’s when he entered her and started humping like the girls in the corner booth. He was like a jack rabbit and finished quickly with a slight whimper exhaled with a touch of beer breath. It was over as fast as it had begun. Her father left stuff inside of her. She felt it. She could feel it now oozing out of the place fathers’ should not be.

Morey Gershwin died ten years after the event. Lacy Gershwin died long before Mary’s father making Mary the housekeeper and chief. They were wicked years, so wicked and so very sick. It was soon after her father’s death that Mary took a much needed vacation in the world of psychosis. They labeled her bipolar as in severe mood changes ranging between being manic and super depressed. Mary was most generally super depressed unless she was dining at the Red Shoe Lounge with her best gown on.

Noah Stops By

“Everybody out of here!” The man shouts. He was dressed in a leather coat and wearing a cowboy hat. “We’re getting forty days and forty nights of rain.”

I ran over to him and suggested that he quiet down. I smelled booze immediately. “Can I get you something to eat cowboy?”

“Don’t call me cowboy, name’s James Hillary the Second.”

“Is there a first?” I ask.

“You some kind of smartass?”

“Just asking.”

The cowboy glared and started shouting again. “We must build an ark! We must build an ark!”

Sheila stood silent with her jaw hanging slack at the sight of this strange experience. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, what in God’s name is happening around here Marty?”

“I have to be in a dream.” It had to be a dream because something this strange could not or does not happen in the real world of consciousness. “It’s surreal,” I said and meant every word of it.

“Let’s close up shop and get everyone out of here.” Sheila held a look of horror. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I scuffed into the middle of the diner and grabbed a spoon and hammered it on the counter. “We’re closing up everyone. You’ve got to get home or wherever you’re going after being here.” I was met with no response. No one was leaving.

The cowboy strolled up to me like he was going to throw a saddle on me. “It’s your dream Marty. Just wake up and we’ll see you again tomorrow night.

The alarm clock was chirping and I immediately sat up. Sheila was still asleep. I rolled off the bed and padded over to the window. The rain was falling sideways and the dark skies made it seem like night, and the wind, the terrible wind. Rain flew horizontally and I shivered involuntarily and decided to go back to bed. Tomorrow is another day at the diner and I am certain the same players will be visiting.

Another Day in Paradise

I opened the diner door and silence greeted me. It would be the only silence until closing time. I had to cover the entire night because Sheila needed a night off to go to her nephew’s piano recital. Hell, I didn’t know she had a nephew especially one that could play a piano. I stereotyped Sheila as being a lonely middle aged woman with nothing to do but hang out at bars when she wasn’t working at the Red Shoe. I guess that’s what I get for prejudging people.

My first customer was Lawrence Tabler. I’ve known Lawrence for years. In fact, he just might have been my first customer when we first started the diner. “Morning Lawrence.”

“Morning.” He was not a man of many words, at least not in public. Hell, maybe he talked the ears off of his wife when he was at home away from the bustle of New York. “Regular crowd coming in today?” He left the question floating in the air until silence once again returned.

“Suppose so.” I said with little emotion. I was slowly getting tired of the business. The regular crowd generally included every walk of deviant life in Brooklyn. Mary Gershwin, Butch, Hoffa, and the rest of the “regulars” drank coffee and occasionally split for a donut. I made little money from them. They were becoming my entertainment and my billfold couldn’t afford the civic players much longer but they paid, at least they paid.

A stranger stepped through the door, that is, a stranger to the diner. He dressed in black all the way from his leather newspaper boy’s hat to his shoes. All leather, the guy must have spit a few bucks out for the outfit. He made himself comfortable at the distal booth where lovers go to get a hand job or whatever. I brought a glass of water and a menu. “Good morning,” I gave my best smile which isn’t sincere. “Can I bring you a cup of coffee?”

“Yeah, can you put some milk in it for me?”

“I’ll bring the creamer and let you measure your own if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

Before I turned to go he grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me to the floor. My head hit the back of one of the tables and for a moment I blacked out, just a moment. A gun appeared in his hand in a split second. “What the hell?” I shouted the question but already knew the answer.

“Get your ass to the cash register and empty all the money into a sack!” He ordered. I obeyed.

Still dazed I shoved myself off the floor and scuffed to the register and opened it. I always started the day with two hundred bucks. There was no more than that because Lawrence didn’t pay for his coffee yet. I dumped the drawer out into a paper bag and reached across the counter and handed it to him. My hands shook.

“Now empty your pockets!” He demanded and turned quickly to Lawrence, “You too old man.”

“Fuck you!” Lawrence shouted. “I aint giving you a fucking penny.”

“Are you shitting me?” The thug looked sincerely shocked. “Tell me you didn’t say that.”

“Fuck you.”

I forced myself not to laugh at Lawrence even though the robber pointed a gun at the old man and his life was truly in peril. “You old sonofabitch I ought to waste you here and now. Get down on the floor!” He waved the gun at the floor like he was training a dog to sit. “Did you hear me you old fuck?”

“I heard ya but you can go fuck yourself as far as I give a shit. Shoot me you bastard. I aint got shit to lose in case you haven’t noticed.”

The guy moved towards Lawrence and without a thought I jumped on the man’s back and the force and surprise knocked the gun out of his hand and knocked him to the floor. For being old Lawrence exhibited some fancy moves. He grabbed the gun and rolled across the floor and lying on his side he shot the guy. “Lawrence, what the fuck did you do?”

“That’s a dumbass question. I shot him. He’s still alive look at him.” Now Lawrence was waving the pistol. Sure enough the man dressed in black leather was rolling around like a penguin at a fish farm.

I didn’t have to call the police. They heard the shots on their way in for their morning donuts. James and Dawson made a regular run here before heading out on their beats. “You guys okay?” James the older of the two asked.

“Yeah we’re okay. The bastard took the diner’s money and Lawrence and I wrestled him to the floor. Lawrence got the bastard’s gun and when the creep went after him he shot him. Lawrence saved both our lives.” Of course I stretched the story and I’m sticking with it. It’s not like this is a high profile deal. Who’s going to give a shit? It’s the bad guy’s word against two old farts.

Dawson called for an ambulance as the would-be crook moaned in agony. I think Lawrence shot him in the nuts. James smiled and acted as if nothing had just gone down around him, “You got any of those jellies today?”

“Sure do, fresh made today.” I winked at him. “For you guys they’re on the house.” I glanced quickly at Lawrence. He was being uncomfortably animated with Dawson. I prayed I would hear no “fuck you,” I didn’t. The officer wrote something on a notepad and patted the old man on the back. Lawrence wasted no time he left a couple of bucks on the counter and shuffled quickly out of the building. I saw him turn his head and make eye contact with a crooked smirk on his face. That being the case I think it would be safe to say that it’s the first time I’ve ever observed any perceptible humor on the face of Lawrence Tabler.

***

The day went well after my scrape with a man with a gun, and quite possibly death. That’s my story and I’m not budging. Tonight I’m going to insist on a blow job from my wife Margie. She of course will refuse and the lights go out as usual. The usual customers came and left and for the first time in months I left the diner feeling exhilarated. I’m still alive and damn glad of it.

Margie greeted me with her usual cheek kiss and that is okay. Do you hear what I’m saying? It is okay. I’m alive and not in a crematorium burning for dollars. I told Margie the entire story of the day’s events. She reacted perfectly but did not give me a blow job or night of hiding the kielbasa. She’s funny that way, has been for the past ten years. Sex is only for celebrations. If she gets enough Tequila in her I will occasionally score the big one, but not tonight. The celebration of my continued ability to breathe just didn’t do it for her. The night was a bit chilly on the couch but the electric blanket helped.

The Final Curtain

After I sold the diner I felt empty like a dark chunk of the universe fell out of me. I made money it’s true, not a lot, but the whole thing was so much more than that. It was the living that made it all worthwhile. It somehow defined me instead of the other way around. I became the diner, a living creature that soaked in all of the moisture of the humanity coming and going through the front door. It was Mary Gershwin, Tempest, Tommy Hand, and all the others. They were the motivators, the reason I woke up every morning sunshine or rain. They were my lungs, my heart, and my mind. I was the clay, they the molders.

The day I handed the keys over to the new owner Joey Jacoby was the end of my growth. I had been molded into the finished product of me. I’d like to say that I crossed paths with some of the old customers but I never did and now a year later I am alone. My marvelous wife Margie of thirty years passed on to wherever people pass on to once they’ve taken their last breath. I miss her. Not quite right, I missed us. I am alone with my only companion, my memories. Memories are more priceless than gold and diamonds. Memories are the sum of our life, the essence of our being. There is nothing more.

On the days my arthritis isn’t biting at my hips and joints I manage to pass the old diner but have never gone in. It would be wrong for me like breaking some kind of self-made commandment. I didn’t want to disturb my memories so I left it behind and soon I will leave this life behind. I now head over to Ditch’s Grill for an occasional coffee and donut. The workers are friendly and the clientele are about my age so we talk about the old days and how fucking bad we had it as kids. Regular conversations with regular folks, if only they knew that just a few blocks away at the Red Shoe Diner there are conversations that only God understands.

Hence, the curtain is drawn and life goes on. The customers I loved so dearly, some alive and some not, go on their separate paths to separate realities and I’m okay with that.

The End

Tempest

Tempest couldn’t see the man walking behind her; she could only feel him. She felt the coldness in his heart, the buffered anger begging to burst from his mind. He was behind her flirting with each shadow made by trees and buildings. He was skipping to the jingle of October wind chimes and to the wind muffled sounds made by crowds of pigeons waiting for the city to evacuate its bowels impacted with humans. He was a mad man. Tempest knew him.

She walked faster, carrying herself closer to the subway. Once on her car, she would dare to look back. He would be there, watching. He never missed a day. His dark hat and black wool three-quarter-length coat gave him away. His yellowed stained grin gave him away. She knew him. He had become a brother to her, a kindred spirit filled with evil. He would point his gun at her and grin with a devil beside him. The man she knew only as Ducante would pull the trigger and she would fall to the floor of the subway car, blood pulsing and flooding the dirty, grease covered floor. Her neck would open itself to her fellow passengers showing the sinew and gray ripped artery feeding her brain. The passengers would look at her with terror as she gulped her last thin breath of stale subway air.

Time was on her side though. Tempest began running. She could beat him to the subway; beat his finger to the trigger mechanism. She would sit next to someone; the man wouldn’t find a clear shot. He wouldn’t get a chance to complete his grim mission. She would win over Ducante. She would win this battle between her purity and his evilness. Tempest began to laugh. She ran faster and laughed harder. Insanity had taken command. Fear had taken its toll, ripping what little logic was left in Tempest’s way of thinking. By god she would martyr herself if necessary. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t. Not necessary, she knew he was behind her exhaling his death stench with every quickened step. Tempest could hear his laughter, hyena-like and just as deadly. His smell of rotting flesh filtered through her nostrils making her gag with each of her hysteric giggles. She didn’t think about the incongruence. She had no time. Her car was pulling up and emptying its contents. She flashed her pass and clumsily crossed the turnstile. Refusing to look back, Tempest bumped and dodged her way onto the car, number eight westbound.

She found one empty seat. An older man occupied the space next to her, newspaper pressed against his face like a blanket. The smell of alcohol and stale tobacco oozed from his ragged clothing. A raspy, “Hi, sweet one,” fell from the man’s jagged teeth, more of a snake’s hiss than a voice. “Been around here long?” A strange question asked by a strange old drunk. She wouldn’t look at him, too worried about Ducante’s bullet. “Can’t you talk little one?” He pressed. Tempest would have no part of it.

Tempest worked up the courage to look out the graying car window. He wasn’t there. Ducante had not caught up with her. She smiled and relaxed enough to look at the old man, who wasn’t the old man at all. Ducante sat next to her with a crooked smile pasted on his lips. “Been here long?” He asked cynically. “What took you so long?” His laughter echoed off the subway car’s roof. Tempest jumped when he pulled his pistol out of his coat pocket. “I know you’ve been wanting this.” The voice sounded far away, like the sound of a television playing in someone’s room across the hall, her hall, her room.

Tempest stood up, Ducante only smiled. He made no move towards her. His pistol’s stare steadied upon her. She ran as fast as she could through the car’s corridor, shoving faces and bodies aside, until she reached the metal double doors separating cars. She attempted to open the doors. They wouldn’t budge. Tempest began screaming, “Ducante, you bastard!” She slammed her body against the doors and they begrudgingly opened to a black night filled with all the smells of depravity found in a tunnel of paranoia, of insanity. Her head hit the hardened steel rails. At that moment, Tempest Garner’s nightmares ceased.

***

“Doctor Ducante,” asked Janet Landis casually, “will five milligrams be enough to hold her?” Four exhausted attendants watched curiously as he floor nurse pulled the needle out of Tempest’s hip. “Don’t just stand there guys. Let’s get her into isolation.”

Roy Ducante smiled with his eyes glued on the nurse’s ass. “I think five will do just fine.”

The train rumbled by the state hospital on its way to Chicago. It was the Broadway Limited, a train carrying no celebrities or businessmen, just old men with black umbrellas and old ladies with holes in their dreams. Tempest never rode the train to her hometown and never would.

The End

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Sitting on a street corner on the outskirts of Altoona, Pennsylvania in front of a junk food gas station combination, I was stranded with nowhere to go. My life lost in the maze created by a bad marriage, a lost job, and homelessness. I sit on the curb and cried like a mad man certain passersby thought I was a total loser with no modesty.

Those anonymous passersby would no doubt be correct in their impression of a thirty-seven year old man crying like a baby as he sits on a yellow painted curb. I have no modesty when I am so impassioned about a life gone sour. I’m not afraid of what people might think of my oddness or emotional state. Nevertheless I sat for a long time before I decided crying wouldn’t get me a room for the night or a meal. I had all of ten bucks and ten bucks won’t take you far. I bought a hamburger, soft drink, and a pack of smokes. After my feast I wandered by a darkened bar which had an aging sign in their window advertising rooms to rent for the night, four bucks. I drifted into the cool, dark, and smelly establishment. I ordered a beer on tap and handed the barkeep a quarter. “I need a room,” I said flatly.

“Got one upstairs, gotta share the bathroom.”

“Not a problem.”

He handed me a key, I drank my beer, and made my way to the stairs. There was a cockroach party going on when I found my room, #206. They greeted me with scraping noises on the ceiling and walls and some whispered noises as they scrambled beneath my nice sweat-colored pillows. Perhaps the foulest display of all time was the two brown mice fighting over a cheese cracker that had been left in the trashcan. The can tipped over but the mice were not deterred from their fist fight. I threw an empty cigarette pack at them hoping to stop the war. Instead they peeked up at me for only a moment and continued their conflict. Things are just wrong when a mouse doesn’t run from a human who is a thousand times bigger than it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, but I was in no mood for lessons.

A thought came quickly, lightning fast, I got the hell out of the room and trampled down the dirty steps and barged into the barroom. With my best pissed-off voice I gave the vacant-faced bartender the key. “I aint sleeping with your Smithsonian insect collection up there, what kind of shit is that? I want my money back.”

“I’m sorry,” He snickered, “I didn’t hear you asking me for the fucking honeymoon suite.” I heard snickers and giggles behind me but I didn’t give them the honor of turning around.

“I didn’t ask you to sleep in a fucking terrarium either.”

“I can’t give you a return,” He spat, “but I can repay you with a pint of Jack.”

My eyes didn’t leave his. “Just what I need a flea market swap?”

“Take it or leave it.”

I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and tromped out of the dingy dump more pissed off than the fighting mice in the trashcan. I figured if I finished the bottle I wouldn’t give a shit where I slept. Hell the Juniata Bridge would be a good bedroom after an empty bottle of Jack and a half a pack of smokes.

I decided to find myself a spot near the railroad tracks next to the bridge, but just out of sight of authorities. All I needed was some crazy vagrant charges trumped up by an overzealous cop. I brought my duffle bag which I had left in an alley behind the cockroach hotel. I managed to squeeze a pillow and a blanket in it just for this moment. I knew this moment would come but my hope was that it would come later and not sooner, so much for hope. If anyone reads this drivel they probably would like to know something about me, but I really don’t want to discuss my fucked up marriage and the fact that my wife was sharing spit with the contractor working on our roof. Suffice it to say that I’m near thirty-five, I have dark beady eyes, and my black hair has some snow gathering on my sideburns. That’s it I’ll admit nothing else except perhaps the fact that I’m a pathetic loser. By now you have already figured that one out.

Unscrewing the bottle of fine whiskey I took a draw and felt the burn all the way down to my stomach. I had a couple of small packs of beef jerky which I unwrapped and began feasting. This could be my last meal. Where my next meal would come from I hadn’t a clue. Once again I swigged another measure of liquid gold. This draw wasn’t as bad as the first one. In fact I felt no after burn during my ritual of emptying the bottle. As I suppose many drunks do in this situation I calmly and without fanfare passed out cold.

***

I awoke to the clacking sounds of a freight train, a freight train on which I apparently was a passenger. My head felt a little foggy and when I tried to move I discovered that I had been tethered to a large fifty-five gallon barrel containing I don’t know what. “I see you’re awake, Tommy boy.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Where am I and why have you tied me up like this? You have no right.”

“Just where do you think you’re at? You’re on a train, a very important passenger.” The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it with a name. “Sorry about the rope but you kept trying to climb out of the boxcar which would have been certain…death.” Did I note a hint of cynicism when the man said “death?”

“How did I get here?”

“You jumped on just as we passed beneath the old bridge.”

“I couldn’t have.” If my mind serves me right I was passed out and couldn’t have moved if a train was headed straight on. I turned my attention to the voice, nothing seemed to make sense. “Who are you?” My suspicions were blinking like red lights on a cop car. My gut was on high alert. This voice without a body was acting just a bit too casual. The current situation did not require casual, things were fucked up, placing things at a very minimal perspective.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“I can’t see you.”

“You can hear me can’t you? Surely your ears still work.”

“John Shackler, you’re John Shackler. But you can’t be John Shackler because you’re dead.” The thought brought an unwelcome chill to my spine. You sound like him but you’re not. So who are you really?”

“You’ve worked with me for what, nine years?”

“No, I worked with John Shackler for nine years, not you.” My mind was swimming either from the alcohol I drank or from my state of complete confusion. “What direction is this train heading?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends where we are going.”

I was getting pissed off at this guy. “What the hell does that mean? You’re talking nonsense.”

“Nonsense is what nonsense is.”

“How prophetic,” I sneered.

For what seemed to be hours the man and I stopped talking. There were no more questions to ask. His answers were always nonsensical and ambiguous. He sounded like John. That was the catch. He sounded just like him, right down to the husky nicotine saturated sounds John made during lunch breaks. Of course it could just be a coincidence, but I don’t believe in coincidences. The train’s sudden movement brought me out of my reverie. It was slowing down.

I heard the man shuffling around the boxcar but he was only a silhouette in the darkness. Another voice became apparent, an unknown voice. It only filtered through the clacking of the wheels as a mumble, but the silhouette seemed to be engaged with the other voice. Soon the train stopped. “This is where I get off Tommy boy. Apparently there’s another destination for you.” With that the silhouette slipped out of the door into the dark night.

It was the ghost of John Shackler. Had to be, what other explanation could there be? Ghosts were not allowed into my brain, they don’t exist at least not until this moment. Someone else is here. I shivered with uncertainty, what is happening to me? The silhouette spoke to someone, someone else is in the boxcar. I spoke into the rumbling darkness. “Who are you?”

Only silence returned. I fell silent for several minutes maybe more. Time is an unknown quantity in a pitch black boxcar and I didn’t have a glow-lit watch. I heard a shrill sound, a voice but a voice that was almost beyond the human hearing range. What I saw next made me want to vomit, but I was fairly sure my stomach was empty, growling its discontent with my current behavior.

Before me stood a creature, my entire body quaked at the sight. It was dark and I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing but I’m damn sure it wasn’t human. If the ugly looking thing could see me in the blackness it would see my mouth hanging open like a door without a latch. The critter in question was a cockroach the size of a six or seven year old child, I tried to stifle a gasp but it had already left the station. It came out as a hideous scream which oddly terrified me of my own horror. A shrill voice escaped the creature’s mouth, if cockroaches have mouths. “Name’s Gus, I rented a room to you. You do remember that don’t you?”

He was the bartender that I gave a bunch of shit about the mice and cockroaches in my four-dollar room. I spit a muffled answer, “I remember.” I wanted to ask if this was some kind of joke, but no one would play a joke like this. It had to be a nightmare. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“What am I doing? You’re just going for a little ride on a train, that’s all. Simple isn’t it?”

I ignored Gus’s squealing sarcasm. “Where is this train taking me?”

The laughter was hideous even higher pitched than his conversational tone. “You won’t like it Tommy.” Several of Gus’s legs stretched out with some kind of gesture I didn’t understand. “Wait for it,” He paused, “Wait for it.” He screeched, “You’re going to hell.” The laughter was maddening. “And it’s filled with cockroaches, rats, and your very favorite furry little friends the ever popular mice.” Again the sonic laughter, how much more of this shit could I take? My world in a matter of…hell I don’t know, my life became an insane asylum.

***

The train’s movement shifted. It was slowing down. The cockroach known as Gus the barkeep began making a buzzing sound like a mad hornet. Once the train jolted to a halt Gus began scuffling around the boxcar like a cornered cat. I could only see his outline against the darkness but I could definitely hear him buzzing and shuffling. I heard something else climbing inside the car. The climbing sounds came from all around the darkened freight car. My eyes saw movement. It was a swarm of darkness. That’s the only way I can describe it, darkness within darkness. There were thousands if not millions of small black insect-sized creatures hitting the sides of the car. Soon they came through the huge opening in the side of the car. I braced myself for a horrific attack, but it never came.

Instead, the swarm moved rapidly towards Gus covering his body entirely. His desperate squealing could have broken my eardrums but it stopped almost immediately. The black swarm had either eaten him or dissolved him. I couldn’t tell. I only know that they left as hurriedly as they had entered. During the bizarre train ride I had been teasing the rope binding my hands until I finally managed to loosen one hand and then the other. I then untied my legs and managed to get to the door. It slammed shut in front of me. I pushed, pulled, and tugged, but the door would not budge. I was trapped as the train began moving again. Was I going to hell? I don’t think so for surely I had already experienced the place.

Something happened soon after the car door slammed shut. Though I felt the train moving I could no longer hear the wheels meeting the rail or the clacking sounds that freight trains make when passing a crossing. The only sound I could discern was wind, a soft whimpering wind. The train was climbing. My ears popped and breathing became more difficult. What was happening couldn’t be happening. The train was floating or flying and I had to go wherever it decided to travel. I was trapped inside of a ghost train, a train heading for my final destination.

***

Officers Joe Bricker and Nolan Garogiolla were assigned to police the main line of the Norfolk Railroad. It was an area of high crime and vandalism. It was their unpleasant task to round up drifters and sometimes criminals hiding in the thickets along the line. They drove blue and white ATVs with red swirling lights shining. On most days they found no one, captured no one, and the only time they used their pistols was for their annual weapons’ test. Today would be different.

Joe noticed the body first and gave a whistle to his partner. “Get the fuck over here Nolan. We got ourselves a dead one.”

Nolan let out a gasp, “Holy Mother of God.”

“Yeah that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Look at him. Shit there’s every kind of insect and rodent crawling over this guy.” Joe turned away from the corpse and emptied his stomach of the bacon, eggs, and toast he had for breakfast at Irene’s Breakfast Club. “Nolan, call this in.” After giving the creosol soaked ground the contents of his stomach he made the mistake of turning to look at the body again. “Christ, Nolan look at that.” He pointed to one of the rodents that was making a feast out of the corpse’s jellylike eyes. A cockroach climbed out of the victim’s mouth. “Make that call,” He insisted.

“Just did, they’re sending an ambulance.”

“Wonder what happened?”

Nolan checked around the body and discovered a business card, Gus’s Bar and Grill. He stuffed the card in his pocket and forgot about it.

Joe was kicking at the cockroaches, but they paid little attention to him. The body was like a magnet to the insects. The hair on Joe’s back bristled with a combination of awe and revulsion, He was certain he could hear a buzzing sound made by the insects. Joe turned away from the dead man. He would never look at the body again

The End

Vaginas

An aging ghost of a little man worked in the rice paddies in Vietnam, a father, grandfather, and devoted husband. He never lived to see his great grandchildren. The gunner’s bullets sprayed the workers in the paddy, all dead except for a baby hugging his mother’s body as she fell, bloody and vacant. They were ants in the gunner’s eyes, nonexistent enemies…just target practice.

***

A drone flies silently above the clouds and sees movement in the hidden mountains below it, computers can do wonders. With a push of a button the operator miles away tells the airplane to release its missiles. Twelve children eating bread and insipid soup during their school lunch are no longer learning about life. Education terminated captain, over and out.

What a great world we live in. Just die at the push of a button…isn’t it great?

***

A big man with a suit and tie wants to own all of the vaginas in the world, the “great vagina king” he will be called when he reaches his destination after death. His God will say job well done Senator. “Do you love your children?”

Scratching his head he puzzled, “Can’t remember but their vaginas will always remember me.”

“Please enter through the jaws of heaven and welcome. We have lots of vaginas here just for you to rule.”

The man in the suit thought something might be wrong when God’s face turned sour and cynicism found voice. “I have a very large vagina just for you.” Snapping her fingers she sent him to Vagina Hell where vaginas eat assholes like him for breakfast.

Dancer

A naked blonde girl named Helga danced to the nocturnes of Chopin. Her small budding breasts were crowned with muted pink nipples. They barely moved as she pirouetted across the darkened stage with glowing stars. Her small mound of cornstalk pubic hair was barely noticeable to the audience as she swept her arms and hands grandiosely towards the homemade moon. The most fabulous set of buttocks and thighs I’ve ever viewed tortured men and caused women to gasp. If perfect could exist Helga was nearly there.

She was young I say but what do I know, old, gray, and optically impaired. I’m sure she was thirty maybe more, but her moves were young, oh so young. I’m sure many young men have stiffened for her and as I watch I think maybe many old men have tried their best to stiffen for her. Where the mind is willing the body is unable to follow suit.

As often happens the dancing of this golden butterfly caused my mind to drift to another day, and another time, my mind wandered into the back alleys of Tokyo. Her name wasn’t Helga and she wasn’t blonde. Her name was Midori. The named meant “beautiful branch.” I remember this vividly for this woman indeed was a beautiful branch from a tree of equal beauty. Her mother was a lovely woman who lost her husband in World War II. He flew his plane into an American Naval Destroyer with obvious results, death and destruction of the pilot and his plane. The ship was undisturbed.

Midori was the exact opposite of Helga, darker and more mystical. She danced but it was the dance of the ancients, Mai, a dance performed usually in the privacy of a home or in our case a hotel room. Midori danced in her tight silk dress slowly and methodically taking my mind into a hyper state of arousal. I remember smoking a joint which enhanced the entire process. We floated together in orgasm like a low hanging cloud of fog crossing the Yokohama harbor.

I never thought about it until this moment watching the young Helga undulating in a strange sexual ballet act. No doubt my beloved Midori would wheeze at such a display. I left Tokyo in the late sixties vowing to return to my beautiful lover, but things got in the way. Life got in the way and I never returned. I thought about it now and Helga’s nakedly fair body brought the memory back. Her small pert breasts, short blonde hair, and the mystical spot of every woman’s beauty brought Midori back to me for a moment, a fleeting moment.

Do we not live life in a series of fleeting moments? We never seem to grasp the now. The worth of our lives is measured only by the history for what we did even one minute ago. History will never be given back, a no-return policy. Hence, today it our life and tomorrow will never happen. The only tomorrow we have is the brick wall of death. Like a speeding bullet we will inevitably be halted by that unsolvable finish line. It is every human’s fear spoken or unspoken, pretentious or self-effacing. The unknowable is of course the ultimate fear for us all, even Helga’s. She dances and dances and the world continues on its path to perpetuity.

Poetry

Funeral Song

If you planted a tree for me

I would be happy

send you rain to make it grow

like trees should

with lonesome groans so quiet

not even earth could hear

such natural industry.

If you planted a garden

I would be so happy

I’d sing with thunder

and dance like lightening.

I’d visit with humming bird

silence and together with winged vibrato

we could sing the hungry masses.

If you had a baby I would sing

hosanna to a god of your choosing

give you a silver hammer to swing,

to praise the pope or Malcolm X.

Let me be your silent servant,

your communist lover

Sieg Heil sweety and party on.

You Can

You see it’s not the end which bothers me

death is a moment, a comma in a sentence.

no the end is inevitable like a tree never to be moved.

It’s the twists, the turns, the babbling of human brooks,

but most of all it’s those youthful sprints we make

the hurried need, the biting words, and inbred fear

we see in others and the prejudice nooses we make.

Sadness starts with fear of the inevitable tree

Yet we can if we only try soar above the poplars,

maples, oaks, and redwoods. Just strengthen your wings

and fly without prejudice or malice into the universe

waiting with mirrored stars to watch yourself soar

above the fray of unkindness, bigotry, and manmade fear.

Life in the Dead Lane

It’s a lovely day in my hometown

think I’ll take a walk across the Jordon

walk on water for awhile, heal a leper

and bend the rules of Jesus

for just an hour maybe two

I am God and no one knows it

the soil of it all wipes clean

my miseries and unclean fantasies.

Plunge my nakedness into the river

deep and pungent the smell of man

never leaves the swirling slicks

oil of our fathers and their fathers

Mother Mary stopped by in her Vera Wang

fresh off the hangers at Saks on Fifth

snug yet quite revealing

the cross of her father.

City lights burn yellow in darkness

the lights leave but not the yellow

LA my kind of town

pimps and whores and rock n roll

designer jeans for short fat men

like me and my uncle

he’s dead now

I’m next.

Mice

Mice scurry across a dank mausoleum

musty years of death breathe in silence

in respect for hushed residents

the mice show no deference

their hurried pilgrimage unstoppable

by even the mouse god

hedonistic little bastards.

We are mice.

A Glass of Wine and a Bible

Someone gave me a wafer

the body of Christ they said

1994 Merlot his blood

I ate the wafer, got drunk

hung all night on a toilet bowl

puking all my sins away.

Confess cried the faceless pope

on your knees face in the pillow pray

God loves you but not today

so pray and pray

until the pillow goes away

Jesus always wins the games we play.

Sitting in a jail cell I wonder

what the hell can I tell

Jonah and his favorite whale?

It is time for morning prayer

no food until Jesus blows his whistle

I’m running the outside track to hell.

Don’t follow me follow you

your dreams much better than mine

soon you will grow

powerful in the Lord’s eye

not a silver thread through the needle’s eye

will pass his bloodshot eyes.

Inevitable

I can’t remember why

those days so coarse

so unheavenly

weigh like the world

on my shoulders

Doesn’t matter I guess

bubble gum dreams

burst through my life

and time wore them thin

it’s not worth remembering.

Somehow I aged like

swamp wood sinking

Into oblivion

each day aging closer

into a brindled secretariat.

So we live and die

mummified furniture

for the patio

but I love you

more than a rainy day

Without a beach ball.

Moniker Betrayal

Jaypo she said to me.

My rubber band eyes snap

Jaypo no I say with daggered tongue

tears inside a name flood

blood through my vocal chords.

What is it about a name?

Cardboard brains create our names

Jaypo is not mine to hear

Play another day another yard

The name Ace is in my cards.

Oleander

I crawl backwards into this cave

afraid of my age, my time on earth

keeps receding like low tide

I wait for a full moon and a virus

to still my craving heart

beeping green on black screens.

I’m happiest after black girls

change and clean me rapping

to a phantom song unknown

I love them because

their brains are pure

tablar rasa and excited to live.

I dream not of golden streets

yet dusty roads fill my thoughts

ones I’ve traveled through blankly

regretting now for never pausing

to smell wild basil and lemon

and pick Queen Ann’s lace.

I say there’s a time in life

dreams remain dreams

as I listen to heart sounds

digital madness and realize

time is now and I smell the ugly

cleansing of what’s left of me.

Many say there’s more

I say it is only peace

crawling its way into my mind

where once again I can become

at peace with Mother Earth and feed

sweet Oleander lovely poison of death.

Sunday Morning

The sky, overcoat gray

with spider legs of sun

greets me with a day.

The mirror shows me old

bulging with beer

bulging with shame

of loving you.

My cat stares patiently

at her empty bowl.

I have nothing to give her.

The same hollow pain

repeats itself

as I dress in faded jeans

looking for a remnant of you

to wrap around my chest.

I stare patiently at the cat

and an empty bowl.

Repose

There is something about seeing you there

draped in white with red roses bleeding.

Death is such a morbid farewell

not recognition of eternal sleep

yet softly we sleep next to our manmade tombs

unwholesomely relieved of our duties

death gives us a final answer

to questions eternally unanswerable.

Tunnel Vision

There are no divisions

in tunnel vision

no television

just monotonic love

no stereo sound

no venus mound

just turnaround

catch the next wave

ride the pipeline

of tunnel vision

eyes ahead

don’t look at the dead

no room for poetry

just keep your eyes ahead.

Blue Velvet

Six white crosses on a highway curve

forgotten memoriam

forgotten family of six

dirt filled mouth and noses

no seatbelt laws in sixty-four

blue velvet seats fifty-seven Chevy

I can hear the screeching tires

see children flying in the air

with the greatest of ease

as a gnarled Oak opened its arms to greet

a heavy smile in its crotch

six more visitors this night

a long, long time ago

six white cross turning sallow.

Boot Camp

Eighteen,

hot summer in Kentucky

we marched the hills

like soldiers do

counting cadence

counting days

counting ways to kill

shouting ways to kill

eighteen is young

shaved head and black boots

spit shined like a mirror

Vietnam in front of us

high school prom behind us

kill little men in pajamas

screamed the big black sergeant

never seen one before

I trembled

that hot summer day

been trembling ever since.

The Lonely Shepherd

Where the mountain dumps

its lava lipped edges

into behemoth bulbous warships

floating just beyond the reach of man,

a man of stone sleeps.

A shepherd lost for centuries

with vacant eyes dead

yet see he does more than I.

Leonardo robe ragged now

propelled by a painted wind

Sistine quiet he is the incense of history

if only I could know his story

for he surely knows mine.

Destiny

Prom night and the stars glowed just for us

We danced to music we’ve forgotten now

I grew to be a killer of men, you a healer

Neither could heal the wounds of battle

Life battle where blood flows in jungles,

Deserts, mountains, Chicago streets and back alleys.

Seems no one can control their trigger fingers

Their lust for satisfaction

Our children like dry sticks break beneath black boots

Swastika loving boys, bald and dumb.

Now destiny is a dry urn and a clean blanket

For the final sleeping, sweet final sleep.

Epilogue

There is little to say at the end of a small offering of stories like this one. My stories and poems are simply snapshots made of words, snapshots of thoughts swiped out of my mind like sage brush in a dust storm. Do I think such odd and strange things occur in our lives, absolutely? I stare sometimes into a starry night and I swear I can see forever. I can see broken children of the Holocaust, the Black slaves being tossed off slave ships into a watery death. Sometimes I see my brother, eyeless, and destroyed by the insidious effects of diabetes. My father visits me in the pitched night and wants to know how life is going after his death fifty years ago. The mind works is strange ways.

What keeps an old depressed man going? My wife of nearly twenty years, Debbie, has been my rock and I would take a bullet for her. I would crawl through broken shards of glass for her as she would for me. We are tied to the same rope, the same love we’ve had since our chance encounter. For me, life is serendipitous. I see no God reaching his finger down and stopping the slaughter of children, the rape of women, and the unspeakable collective Catholic molestations. If ever there was a God he’s skipped town and is now living on an island paradise as a sea turtle. Sea turtles are smart and non-aggressive. The earth is my home and always will be until my body is purified by the crematorium fire. My ashes will be blown in the wind whipping through Cape Hatteras for I am a fish and I must return from whence I came.

Table of Contents

The Walk In

Immaculate Conception

Noah Stops By

Another Day in Paradise

Tempest

The Final Curtain

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Vaginas

Dancer

Poetry

Epilogue

Tales from the Red Shoe Diner

The Walk In

Mary Gershwin stepped out her limousine like she just slipped out of a nightgown. A classy lady like her knew how to move. Born of wealth and grace she flaunted her rank of high priestess of Brooklyn to the waiting hoard of cameramen. “Mrs. Gershwin is it true that you are going to star in Gutenberg’s next film and if you are will you be in lead?” She saw the small man asking the question and chose to ignore him. What and who was he to ask such a question? The small man asked again. “Is it true?”

She made a dusting-off gesture to the man and said nothing. For God’s sake she was simply going for dinner. It wasn’t as if she strolled down the red carpet with a low cut gown. She smiled at her own loathing of the man, Fuck off. Yes indeed she thought, Fuck off. The driver escorted her to the double doors of the Red Shoe Restaurant, a large structure freshly sandblasted by dirty men and nowadays who knows maybe dirty women.

Mary handed Fredrick a twenty and swept away from him like royalty. Fredrick wore proper clothes and always bathed, a dirty man he was not. She felt a fondness for the man but not much. He came from a Hispanic background which somehow felt dirty, not like the sandblasters, a different kind of dirty. Sexual, it was a sexual dirtiness, Mary felt certain he screwed dirty women from the Bronx. The thought sent an ever so slightly feeling of revulsion. The Bronx, she thought, the sewer of New York.

The tall and handsome concierge knew her and smiled “Madam Gershwin, your table awaits.”

“Is it the right table?” She waited for the wrong answer and was disappointed when he gave the correct answer.

“Yes my lady the absolutely correct table.”

She laughed quietly and patted the concierge on his broad shoulders. “My lady, where on earth did you come up with that dramatic line?”

He said nothing.

Mary was a tall lady, silky white hair, and a Bacall style. Only Mrs. Gershwin owned a more fragile look like a stick at an age to be broken, not Bacall. Bacall, now there was a lady, perhaps the epitome of lady. Casablanca moved me so much that I dreamed Bacall dreams for years after I sneaked into the theatre as a kid back in the late forties.

***

My name is Marty Robertson and I own the Red Shoe Diner and all the greasy bastards that work here. I don’t really own the bastards. I just pay them and they go home. No small talk just work that’s my mantra not that such a mantra would be recommended by a Buddhist monk. I don’t know any Buddhist monks so I don’t give a shit.

Mary is one of the many crazies stopping by this hole in the wall. I always play the doorman game. It makes her happy and she always spends a buck or two for coffee and a donut. Hell, what’s it hurt. Barry Templeton comes in every morning and insists on inspecting the kitchen for FBI agents. I make a buck, what the hell?

Mary always sits in the third booth from the front doors next to the window. Her eyes glazed by a regimen of psychotropic medications drift off into another world, another life perhaps. Who am I to trespass into her thoughts?

***

Mary stared out the window. Her thoughts drifted to the days when her father would come home hot and sweaty from the steel mills and kiss her on the forehead. Morey Gershwin was a kind man, a good and decent man who took his wife, Lacy and their lanky daughter to the movies every Sunday afternoon. She remembered her father calling them the talkies. Her mom would tell him, “Morey they’re just movies. People don’t call them talkies anymore.”

“Talkies, movies, what’s the difference,” He would snap indignantly. “Ya know people never used to talk. The big boys that made the movies didn’t know how to make voices, now they do so what the hell?”

“Morey don’t say such words in front of our precious.”

Mary continued to stare as the clouds began to darken in the sky. Oh how she wished she could be a kid again. Thunder rumbled outside of the diner and splotches of rain began tapping at the window. Her thoughts went back to Teddy Barlow her first love, her only love she guessed. She let him tap her virginity, something she didn’t take lightly. She trusted him but he didn’t trust her enough to marry her so off he went to the Army never to be seen again. After that she allowed many men to take her, but he was the first and the first is always the most important.

Soon the rain came down in slices like ocean waves falling out of the sky. Mary didn’t notice the ragged and dirty customer who came out of the storm with a dollar in his hand. “What can I get for a buck?” He asked.

***

“Coffee and a donut,” I say to him. I’ve never noticed the guy before today. He wears an old Yankee baseball cap and a full length black wool coat. The coat is as ragged looking as the man. “Haven’t noticed you around before, new in the neighborhood?” I noticed a pungent odor emanating from him. I know the smell…sweat and weeks of it. His beard and hair grew into each other like some kind of werewolf with body odor.

“I’m the new count,” He said.

“New count, I didn’t know we had an old one.”

He made an indignant huffing sound like maybe my instincts were correct. Maybe he is a werewolf. “I am Count Jesus of Cuba.”

“So should I call you Count or Jesus?”

“Mike would be good.” I wanted to laugh at the incongruent faux pas but didn’t know this guy well enough. He could be carrying as far as I know.

“Okay Mike, you want a coffee and a donut?”

“You got jelly-filled?”

“Just powder, sorry.”

“Sounds okay.” Mike scans the diner and I notice he hones in on Mary. “Who’s the babe?”

Again I couldn’t allow myself to laugh. This haggard and dirty visitor thinks Mary Gershwin’s a babe. What in hell is going on? So far I have a diner full of escapees from a mental institute and I am their gatekeeper, their donut and coffee server. Jesus, how could this get any worse? Sheila is due in at anytime now. She will take care of the customers if indeed that’s what they are. She’s been my night waitress for five years and practically runs the place without me. Hell, maybe she runs the place better than me. I stare up at the clock. Sheila should be…

“Marty, I see we have a house full.” Sheila shakes her umbrella all over counter. “I’ll clean that up later.” I didn’t let on like it but I was damn glad to see her. She glanced at my face. “You look like shit Marty, you see a ghost or somethin’?”

“Yeah, something, not sure what though.” I motioned to her to go back to the kitchen with me. She followed obediently. “Listen Sheila, something is going on here. “We know Mary right?”

“Sure we do.”

“Well the bum over there called himself Count Jesus of Cuba and there’re a couple of girls in the corner booth with their tongues stuck together like a couple of toilet plungers. It’s pretty damn strange don’t you think?”

Sheila roared with laughter. I placed my finger over my mouth to hush her, but she laughed even louder. “Marty,” She says, “Marty the nut factory’s only five blocks away. You should be used to them by now.”

“This is different.”

“How so?”

I gestured for her to scan the diner. There was Mary, Jesus, the tongue girls, and Frank Ledbetter a regular. “That’s how so.” Just then I heard the door open. I swear I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their fucking sockets. In comes a white haired old man with nothing but a robe on, hair drenched and carrying a purse or maybe it was belly pack “I suppose this is another Jesus, Marty?” Sheila scurried out of the kitchen area to wait on the new freak.

I hear her talking to him. “Have a seat sir I’ll fetch ya a glass of water. Ya wanna menu?”

The man in the robe is sopping wet. His hair dark and curly is dripping water onto his ears slowly making its way to the counter. He spins on the swivel stool like a kid waiting for a chocolate milkshake. “No, just coffee for me thanks. He spins some more. “Is there someone named Mary in here?”

Immaculate Conception

Mary turns quickly at the man’s voice. “I’m Mary,” She says to the guy in a robe. “Are you looking for me?”

“Too old.” The robed man scanned the tongue lashers. “Hey is one of you named Mary?” They paid no attention to him. By now they were rubbing each other’s breasts and sweat was glistening on their foreheads.

Sheila brought the man a cup of coffee. “That’s Butch and Hoffa,” Jerking her head in the direction of the two wonton women in the booth.

“How’s a woman gotta name like Hoffa?”

“Swears she’s Jimmy Hoffa’s daughter.” Sheila sits the coffee in front of him. “How’s come you have a robe on?”

“Mary.”

“She your girlfriend?”

“No, she’s a fucking hooker. She took me for fifty bucks and never gave me a blow job. Her pimp pulled a gun out and ordered her into a fancy car. He took my shoes.”

“So you wear a robe all the time?”

“Only when I’m fucking, I live down the alley and I was doin’ her against a building next to my pad.”

“Pad?” Mary spoke up.

“Yeah, you know the place I eat and sleep.”

“So you were doin’ her outside of your pad. That’s kinda strange.” Sheila jumped in.

“Yeah I know but she was all creeped out about goin’ into my pad.”

***

Mary didn’t want to hear any more bullshit from the creep in the robe and she couldn’t stomach the two chicks humping each other. By now they were straddling each other with hands where they shouldn’t be.

She once again escaped into her blank world, blank because the medicine made her blank. She saw only a darkening world outside the window and rain that now came down in the form of black beetles swarming, waiting for her to go home. Where is home? The Chapel of Light Mission Home always kept a room nice and warm for her. They’ve been doing so for forty years now ever since the passing of Bogie.

The rattling window startled her. The wind began whipping the beetles against the window so violently Mary thought the glass would crack.

“Getting pretty nasty out there isn’t it Mary?” Sheila saw the elderly lady jump when the window rattled. “October is always windy around here.” No one listened to her. She felt like going over and grabbing the two camels in the corner booth mating like dog on dog. Marty should do it. He let people take advantage of the joint. Hell, it wasn’t a whorehouse, but she needed to fill the salt and pepper shakers so the humpers would have to wait.

Mary went back to her blankness only it wasn’t really blankness. The thoughts of her childhood were not blank. They were real. Some nights her father Morey would come home drunk and beat the livin’ shit out of her mother. One time he beat her until she was bloody and unconscious. After that he came quietly into her room. Mary could smell the beer on his breath. She tried to fight him off but he was too strong even in his drunkenness.

Morey crawled on top of her nearly suffocating her. He unzipped his pants and ripped her panties off. She tried to scream but she could barely breathe. That’s when he entered her and started humping like the girls in the corner booth. He was like a jack rabbit and finished quickly with a slight whimper exhaled with a touch of beer breath. It was over as fast as it had begun. Her father left stuff inside of her. She felt it. She could feel it now oozing out of the place fathers’ should not be.

Morey Gershwin died ten years after the event. Lacy Gershwin died long before Mary’s father making Mary the housekeeper and chief. They were wicked years, so wicked and so very sick. It was soon after her father’s death that Mary took a much needed vacation in the world of psychosis. They labeled her bipolar as in severe mood changes ranging between being manic and super depressed. Mary was most generally super depressed unless she was dining at the Red Shoe Lounge with her best gown on.

Noah Stops By

“Everybody out of here!” The man shouts. He was dressed in a leather coat and wearing a cowboy hat. “We’re getting forty days and forty nights of rain.”

I ran over to him and suggested that he quiet down. I smelled booze immediately. “Can I get you something to eat cowboy?”

“Don’t call me cowboy, name’s James Hillary the Second.”

“Is there a first?” I ask.

“You some kind of smartass?”

“Just asking.”

The cowboy glared and started shouting again. “We must build an ark! We must build an ark!”

Sheila stood silent with her jaw hanging slack at the sight of this strange experience. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, what in God’s name is happening around here Marty?”

“I have to be in a dream.” It had to be a dream because something this strange could not or does not happen in the real world of consciousness. “It’s surreal,” I said and meant every word of it.

“Let’s close up shop and get everyone out of here.” Sheila held a look of horror. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I scuffed into the middle of the diner and grabbed a spoon and hammered it on the counter. “We’re closing up everyone. You’ve got to get home or wherever you’re going after being here.” I was met with no response. No one was leaving.

The cowboy strolled up to me like he was going to throw a saddle on me. “It’s your dream Marty. Just wake up and we’ll see you again tomorrow night.

The alarm clock was chirping and I immediately sat up. Sheila was still asleep. I rolled off the bed and padded over to the window. The rain was falling sideways and the dark skies made it seem like night, and the wind, the terrible wind. Rain flew horizontally and I shivered involuntarily and decided to go back to bed. Tomorrow is another day at the diner and I am certain the same players will be visiting.

Another Day in Paradise

I opened the diner door and silence greeted me. It would be the only silence until closing time. I had to cover the entire night because Sheila needed a night off to go to her nephew’s piano recital. Hell, I didn’t know she had a nephew especially one that could play a piano. I stereotyped Sheila as being a lonely middle aged woman with nothing to do but hang out at bars when she wasn’t working at the Red Shoe. I guess that’s what I get for prejudging people.

My first customer was Lawrence Tabler. I’ve known Lawrence for years. In fact, he just might have been my first customer when we first started the diner. “Morning Lawrence.”

“Morning.” He was not a man of many words, at least not in public. Hell, maybe he talked the ears off of his wife when he was at home away from the bustle of New York. “Regular crowd coming in today?” He left the question floating in the air until silence once again returned.

“Suppose so.” I said with little emotion. I was slowly getting tired of the business. The regular crowd generally included every walk of deviant life in Brooklyn. Mary Gershwin, Butch, Hoffa, and the rest of the “regulars” drank coffee and occasionally split for a donut. I made little money from them. They were becoming my entertainment and my billfold couldn’t afford the civic players much longer but they paid, at least they paid.

A stranger stepped through the door, that is, a stranger to the diner. He dressed in black all the way from his leather newspaper boy’s hat to his shoes. All leather, the guy must have spit a few bucks out for the outfit. He made himself comfortable at the distal booth where lovers go to get a hand job or whatever. I brought a glass of water and a menu. “Good morning,” I gave my best smile which isn’t sincere. “Can I bring you a cup of coffee?”

“Yeah, can you put some milk in it for me?”

“I’ll bring the creamer and let you measure your own if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

Before I turned to go he grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me to the floor. My head hit the back of one of the tables and for a moment I blacked out, just a moment. A gun appeared in his hand in a split second. “What the hell?” I shouted the question but already knew the answer.

“Get your ass to the cash register and empty all the money into a sack!” He ordered. I obeyed.

Still dazed I shoved myself off the floor and scuffed to the register and opened it. I always started the day with two hundred bucks. There was no more than that because Lawrence didn’t pay for his coffee yet. I dumped the drawer out into a paper bag and reached across the counter and handed it to him. My hands shook.

“Now empty your pockets!” He demanded and turned quickly to Lawrence, “You too old man.”

“Fuck you!” Lawrence shouted. “I aint giving you a fucking penny.”

“Are you shitting me?” The thug looked sincerely shocked. “Tell me you didn’t say that.”

“Fuck you.”

I forced myself not to laugh at Lawrence even though the robber pointed a gun at the old man and his life was truly in peril. “You old sonofabitch I ought to waste you here and now. Get down on the floor!” He waved the gun at the floor like he was training a dog to sit. “Did you hear me you old fuck?”

“I heard ya but you can go fuck yourself as far as I give a shit. Shoot me you bastard. I aint got shit to lose in case you haven’t noticed.”

The guy moved towards Lawrence and without a thought I jumped on the man’s back and the force and surprise knocked the gun out of his hand and knocked him to the floor. For being old Lawrence exhibited some fancy moves. He grabbed the gun and rolled across the floor and lying on his side he shot the guy. “Lawrence, what the fuck did you do?”

“That’s a dumbass question. I shot him. He’s still alive look at him.” Now Lawrence was waving the pistol. Sure enough the man dressed in black leather was rolling around like a penguin at a fish farm.

I didn’t have to call the police. They heard the shots on their way in for their morning donuts. James and Dawson made a regular run here before heading out on their beats. “You guys okay?” James the older of the two asked.

“Yeah we’re okay. The bastard took the diner’s money and Lawrence and I wrestled him to the floor. Lawrence got the bastard’s gun and when the creep went after him he shot him. Lawrence saved both our lives.” Of course I stretched the story and I’m sticking with it. It’s not like this is a high profile deal. Who’s going to give a shit? It’s the bad guy’s word against two old farts.

Dawson called for an ambulance as the would-be crook moaned in agony. I think Lawrence shot him in the nuts. James smiled and acted as if nothing had just gone down around him, “You got any of those jellies today?”

“Sure do, fresh made today.” I winked at him. “For you guys they’re on the house.” I glanced quickly at Lawrence. He was being uncomfortably animated with Dawson. I prayed I would hear no “fuck you,” I didn’t. The officer wrote something on a notepad and patted the old man on the back. Lawrence wasted no time he left a couple of bucks on the counter and shuffled quickly out of the building. I saw him turn his head and make eye contact with a crooked smirk on his face. That being the case I think it would be safe to say that it’s the first time I’ve ever observed any perceptible humor on the face of Lawrence Tabler.

***

The day went well after my scrape with a man with a gun, and quite possibly death. That’s my story and I’m not budging. Tonight I’m going to insist on a blow job from my wife Margie. She of course will refuse and the lights go out as usual. The usual customers came and left and for the first time in months I left the diner feeling exhilarated. I’m still alive and damn glad of it.

Margie greeted me with her usual cheek kiss and that is okay. Do you hear what I’m saying? It is okay. I’m alive and not in a crematorium burning for dollars. I told Margie the entire story of the day’s events. She reacted perfectly but did not give me a blow job or night of hiding the kielbasa. She’s funny that way, has been for the past ten years. Sex is only for celebrations. If she gets enough Tequila in her I will occasionally score the big one, but not tonight. The celebration of my continued ability to breathe just didn’t do it for her. The night was a bit chilly on the couch but the electric blanket helped.

The Final Curtain

After I sold the diner I felt empty like a dark chunk of the universe fell out of me. I made money it’s true, not a lot, but the whole thing was so much more than that. It was the living that made it all worthwhile. It somehow defined me instead of the other way around. I became the diner, a living creature that soaked in all of the moisture of the humanity coming and going through the front door. It was Mary Gershwin, Tempest, Tommy Hand, and all the others. They were the motivators, the reason I woke up every morning sunshine or rain. They were my lungs, my heart, and my mind. I was the clay, they the molders.

The day I handed the keys over to the new owner Joey Jacoby was the end of my growth. I had been molded into the finished product of me. I’d like to say that I crossed paths with some of the old customers but I never did and now a year later I am alone. My marvelous wife Margie of thirty years passed on to wherever people pass on to once they’ve taken their last breath. I miss her. Not quite right, I missed us. I am alone with my only companion, my memories. Memories are more priceless than gold and diamonds. Memories are the sum of our life, the essence of our being. There is nothing more.

On the days my arthritis isn’t biting at my hips and joints I manage to pass the old diner but have never gone in. It would be wrong for me like breaking some kind of self-made commandment. I didn’t want to disturb my memories so I left it behind and soon I will leave this life behind. I now head over to Ditch’s Grill for an occasional coffee and donut. The workers are friendly and the clientele are about my age so we talk about the old days and how fucking bad we had it as kids. Regular conversations with regular folks, if only they knew that just a few blocks away at the Red Shoe Diner there are conversations that only God understands.

Hence, the curtain is drawn and life goes on. The customers I loved so dearly, some alive and some not, go on their separate paths to separate realities and I’m okay with that.

The End

Tempest

Tempest couldn’t see the man walking behind her; she could only feel him. She felt the coldness in his heart, the buffered anger begging to burst from his mind. He was behind her flirting with each shadow made by trees and buildings. He was skipping to the jingle of October wind chimes and to the wind muffled sounds made by crowds of pigeons waiting for the city to evacuate its bowels impacted with humans. He was a mad man. Tempest knew him.

She walked faster, carrying herself closer to the subway. Once on her car, she would dare to look back. He would be there, watching. He never missed a day. His dark hat and black wool three-quarter-length coat gave him away. His yellowed stained grin gave him away. She knew him. He had become a brother to her, a kindred spirit filled with evil. He would point his gun at her and grin with a devil beside him. The man she knew only as Ducante would pull the trigger and she would fall to the floor of the subway car, blood pulsing and flooding the dirty, grease covered floor. Her neck would open itself to her fellow passengers showing the sinew and gray ripped artery feeding her brain. The passengers would look at her with terror as she gulped her last thin breath of stale subway air.

Time was on her side though. Tempest began running. She could beat him to the subway; beat his finger to the trigger mechanism. She would sit next to someone; the man wouldn’t find a clear shot. He wouldn’t get a chance to complete his grim mission. She would win over Ducante. She would win this battle between her purity and his evilness. Tempest began to laugh. She ran faster and laughed harder. Insanity had taken command. Fear had taken its toll, ripping what little logic was left in Tempest’s way of thinking. By god she would martyr herself if necessary. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t. Not necessary, she knew he was behind her exhaling his death stench with every quickened step. Tempest could hear his laughter, hyena-like and just as deadly. His smell of rotting flesh filtered through her nostrils making her gag with each of her hysteric giggles. She didn’t think about the incongruence. She had no time. Her car was pulling up and emptying its contents. She flashed her pass and clumsily crossed the turnstile. Refusing to look back, Tempest bumped and dodged her way onto the car, number eight westbound.

She found one empty seat. An older man occupied the space next to her, newspaper pressed against his face like a blanket. The smell of alcohol and stale tobacco oozed from his ragged clothing. A raspy, “Hi, sweet one,” fell from the man’s jagged teeth, more of a snake’s hiss than a voice. “Been around here long?” A strange question asked by a strange old drunk. She wouldn’t look at him, too worried about Ducante’s bullet. “Can’t you talk little one?” He pressed. Tempest would have no part of it.

Tempest worked up the courage to look out the graying car window. He wasn’t there. Ducante had not caught up with her. She smiled and relaxed enough to look at the old man, who wasn’t the old man at all. Ducante sat next to her with a crooked smile pasted on his lips. “Been here long?” He asked cynically. “What took you so long?” His laughter echoed off the subway car’s roof. Tempest jumped when he pulled his pistol out of his coat pocket. “I know you’ve been wanting this.” The voice sounded far away, like the sound of a television playing in someone’s room across the hall, her hall, her room.

Tempest stood up, Ducante only smiled. He made no move towards her. His pistol’s stare steadied upon her. She ran as fast as she could through the car’s corridor, shoving faces and bodies aside, until she reached the metal double doors separating cars. She attempted to open the doors. They wouldn’t budge. Tempest began screaming, “Ducante, you bastard!” She slammed her body against the doors and they begrudgingly opened to a black night filled with all the smells of depravity found in a tunnel of paranoia, of insanity. Her head hit the hardened steel rails. At that moment, Tempest Garner’s nightmares ceased.

***

“Doctor Ducante,” asked Janet Landis casually, “will five milligrams be enough to hold her?” Four exhausted attendants watched curiously as he floor nurse pulled the needle out of Tempest’s hip. “Don’t just stand there guys. Let’s get her into isolation.”

Roy Ducante smiled with his eyes glued on the nurse’s ass. “I think five will do just fine.”

The train rumbled by the state hospital on its way to Chicago. It was the Broadway Limited, a train carrying no celebrities or businessmen, just old men with black umbrellas and old ladies with holes in their dreams. Tempest never rode the train to her hometown and never would.

The End

Cockroaches and Mice Oh My

Sitting on a street corner on the outskirts of Altoona, Pennsylvania in front of a junk food gas station combination, I was stranded with nowhere to go. My life lost in the maze created by a bad marriage, a lost job, and homelessness. I sit on the curb and cried like a mad man certain passersby thought I was a total loser with no modesty.

Those anonymous passersby would no doubt be correct in their impression of a thirty-seven year old man crying like a baby as he sits on a yellow painted curb. I have no modesty when I am so impassioned about a life gone sour. I’m not afraid of what people might think of my oddness or emotional state. Nevertheless I sat for a long time before I decided crying wouldn’t get me a room for the night or a meal. I had all of ten bucks and ten bucks won’t take you far. I bought a hamburger, soft drink, and a pack of smokes. After my feast I wandered by a darkened bar which had an aging sign in their window advertising rooms to rent for the night, four bucks. I drifted into the cool, dark, and smelly establishment. I ordered a beer on tap and handed the barkeep a quarter. “I need a room,” I said flatly.

“Got one upstairs, gotta share the bathroom.”

“Not a problem.”

He handed me a key, I drank my beer, and made my way to the stairs. There was a cockroach party going on when I found my room, #206. They greeted me with scraping noises on the ceiling and walls and some whispered noises as they scrambled beneath my nice sweat-colored pillows. Perhaps the foulest display of all time was the two brown mice fighting over a cheese cracker that had been left in the trashcan. The can tipped over but the mice were not deterred from their fist fight. I threw an empty cigarette pack at them hoping to stop the war. Instead they peeked up at me for only a moment and continued their conflict. Things are just wrong when a mouse doesn’t run from a human who is a thousand times bigger than it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, but I was in no mood for lessons.

A thought came quickly, lightning fast, I got the hell out of the room and trampled down the dirty steps and barged into the barroom. With my best pissed-off voice I gave the vacant-faced bartender the key. “I aint sleeping with your Smithsonian insect collection up there, what kind of shit is that? I want my money back.”

“I’m sorry,” He snickered, “I didn’t hear you asking me for the fucking honeymoon suite.” I heard snickers and giggles behind me but I didn’t give them the honor of turning around.

“I didn’t ask you to sleep in a fucking terrarium either.”

“I can’t give you a return,” He spat, “but I can repay you with a pint of Jack.”

My eyes didn’t leave his. “Just what I need a flea market swap?”

“Take it or leave it.”

I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and tromped out of the dingy dump more pissed off than the fighting mice in the trashcan. I figured if I finished the bottle I wouldn’t give a shit where I slept. Hell the Juniata Bridge would be a good bedroom after an empty bottle of Jack and a half a pack of smokes.

I decided to find myself a spot near the railroad tracks next to the bridge, but just out of sight of authorities. All I needed was some crazy vagrant charges trumped up by an overzealous cop. I brought my duffle bag which I had left in an alley behind the cockroach hotel. I managed to squeeze a pillow and a blanket in it just for this moment. I knew this moment would come but my hope was that it would come later and not sooner, so much for hope. If anyone reads this drivel they probably would like to know something about me, but I really don’t want to discuss my fucked up marriage and the fact that my wife was sharing spit with the contractor working on our roof. Suffice it to say that I’m near thirty-five, I have dark beady eyes, and my black hair has some snow gathering on my sideburns. That’s it I’ll admit nothing else except perhaps the fact that I’m a pathetic loser. By now you have already figured that one out.

Unscrewing the bottle of fine whiskey I took a draw and felt the burn all the way down to my stomach. I had a couple of small packs of beef jerky which I unwrapped and began feasting. This could be my last meal. Where my next meal would come from I hadn’t a clue. Once again I swigged another measure of liquid gold. This draw wasn’t as bad as the first one. In fact I felt no after burn during my ritual of emptying the bottle. As I suppose many drunks do in this situation I calmly and without fanfare passed out cold.

***

I awoke to the clacking sounds of a freight train, a freight train on which I apparently was a passenger. My head felt a little foggy and when I tried to move I discovered that I had been tethered to a large fifty-five gallon barrel containing I don’t know what. “I see you’re awake, Tommy boy.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Where am I and why have you tied me up like this? You have no right.”

“Just where do you think you’re at? You’re on a train, a very important passenger.” The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it with a name. “Sorry about the rope but you kept trying to climb out of the boxcar which would have been certain…death.” Did I note a hint of cynicism when the man said “death?”

“How did I get here?”

“You jumped on just as we passed beneath the old bridge.”

“I couldn’t have.” If my mind serves me right I was passed out and couldn’t have moved if a train was headed straight on. I turned my attention to the voice, nothing seemed to make sense. “Who are you?” My suspicions were blinking like red lights on a cop car. My gut was on high alert. This voice without a body was acting just a bit too casual. The current situation did not require casual, things were fucked up, placing things at a very minimal perspective.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“I can’t see you.”

“You can hear me can’t you? Surely your ears still work.”

“John Shackler, you’re John Shackler. But you can’t be John Shackler because you’re dead.” The thought brought an unwelcome chill to my spine. You sound like him but you’re not. So who are you really?”

“You’ve worked with me for what, nine years?”

“No, I worked with John Shackler for nine years, not you.” My mind was swimming either from the alcohol I drank or from my state of complete confusion. “What direction is this train heading?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends where we are going.”

I was getting pissed off at this guy. “What the hell does that mean? You’re talking nonsense.”

“Nonsense is what nonsense is.”

“How prophetic,” I sneered.

For what seemed to be hours the man and I stopped talking. There were no more questions to ask. His answers were always nonsensical and ambiguous. He sounded like John. That was the catch. He sounded just like him, right down to the husky nicotine saturated sounds John made during lunch breaks. Of course it could just be a coincidence, but I don’t believe in coincidences. The train’s sudden movement brought me out of my reverie. It was slowing down.

I heard the man shuffling around the boxcar but he was only a silhouette in the darkness. Another voice became apparent, an unknown voice. It only filtered through the clacking of the wheels as a mumble, but the silhouette seemed to be engaged with the other voice. Soon the train stopped. “This is where I get off Tommy boy. Apparently there’s another destination for you.” With that the silhouette slipped out of the door into the dark night.

It was the ghost of John Shackler. Had to be, what other explanation could there be? Ghosts were not allowed into my brain, they don’t exist at least not until this moment. Someone else is here. I shivered with uncertainty, what is happening to me? The silhouette spoke to someone, someone else is in the boxcar. I spoke into the rumbling darkness. “Who are you?”

Only silence returned. I fell silent for several minutes maybe more. Time is an unknown quantity in a pitch black boxcar and I didn’t have a glow-lit watch. I heard a shrill sound, a voice but a voice that was almost beyond the human hearing range. What I saw next made me want to vomit, but I was fairly sure my stomach was empty, growling its discontent with my current behavior.

Before me stood a creature, my entire body quaked at the sight. It was dark and I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing but I’m damn sure it wasn’t human. If the ugly looking thing could see me in the blackness it would see my mouth hanging open like a door without a latch. The critter in question was a cockroach the size of a six or seven year old child, I tried to stifle a gasp but it had already left the station. It came out as a hideous scream which oddly terrified me of my own horror. A shrill voice escaped the creature’s mouth, if cockroaches have mouths. “Name’s Gus, I rented a room to you. You do remember that don’t you?”

He was the bartender that I gave a bunch of shit about the mice and cockroaches in my four-dollar room. I spit a muffled answer, “I remember.” I wanted to ask if this was some kind of joke, but no one would play a joke like this. It had to be a nightmare. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“What am I doing? You’re just going for a little ride on a train, that’s all. Simple isn’t it?”

I ignored Gus’s squealing sarcasm. “Where is this train taking me?”

The laughter was hideous even higher pitched than his conversational tone. “You won’t like it Tommy.” Several of Gus’s legs stretched out with some kind of gesture I didn’t understand. “Wait for it,” He paused, “Wait for it.” He screeched, “You’re going to hell.” The laughter was maddening. “And it’s filled with cockroaches, rats, and your very favorite furry little friends the ever popular mice.” Again the sonic laughter, how much more of this shit could I take? My world in a matter of…hell I don’t know, my life became an insane asylum.

***

The train’s movement shifted. It was slowing down. The cockroach known as Gus the barkeep began making a buzzing sound like a mad hornet. Once the train jolted to a halt Gus began scuffling around the boxcar like a cornered cat. I could only see his outline against the darkness but I could definitely hear him buzzing and shuffling. I heard something else climbing inside the car. The climbing sounds came from all around the darkened freight car. My eyes saw movement. It was a swarm of darkness. That’s the only way I can describe it, darkness within darkness. There were thousands if not millions of small black insect-sized creatures hitting the sides of the car. Soon they came through the huge opening in the side of the car. I braced myself for a horrific attack, but it never came.

Instead, the swarm moved rapidly towards Gus covering his body entirely. His desperate squealing could have broken my eardrums but it stopped almost immediately. The black swarm had either eaten him or dissolved him. I couldn’t tell. I only know that they left as hurriedly as they had entered. During the bizarre train ride I had been teasing the rope binding my hands until I finally managed to loosen one hand and then the other. I then untied my legs and managed to get to the door. It slammed shut in front of me. I pushed, pulled, and tugged, but the door would not budge. I was trapped as the train began moving again. Was I going to hell? I don’t think so for surely I had already experienced the place.

Something happened soon after the car door slammed shut. Though I felt the train moving I could no longer hear the wheels meeting the rail or the clacking sounds that freight trains make when passing a crossing. The only sound I could discern was wind, a soft whimpering wind. The train was climbing. My ears popped and breathing became more difficult. What was happening couldn’t be happening. The train was floating or flying and I had to go wherever it decided to travel. I was trapped inside of a ghost train, a train heading for my final destination.

***

Officers Joe Bricker and Nolan Garogiolla were assigned to police the main line of the Norfolk Railroad. It was an area of high crime and vandalism. It was their unpleasant task to round up drifters and sometimes criminals hiding in the thickets along the line. They drove blue and white ATVs with red swirling lights shining. On most days they found no one, captured no one, and the only time they used their pistols was for their annual weapons’ test. Today would be different.

Joe noticed the body first and gave a whistle to his partner. “Get the fuck over here Nolan. We got ourselves a dead one.”

Nolan let out a gasp, “Holy Mother of God.”

“Yeah that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Look at him. Shit there’s every kind of insect and rodent crawling over this guy.” Joe turned away from the corpse and emptied his stomach of the bacon, eggs, and toast he had for breakfast at Irene’s Breakfast Club. “Nolan, call this in.” After giving the creosol soaked ground the contents of his stomach he made the mistake of turning to look at the body again. “Christ, Nolan look at that.” He pointed to one of the rodents that was making a feast out of the corpse’s jellylike eyes. A cockroach climbed out of the victim’s mouth. “Make that call,” He insisted.

“Just did, they’re sending an ambulance.”

“Wonder what happened?”

Nolan checked around the body and discovered a business card, Gus’s Bar and Grill. He stuffed the card in his pocket and forgot about it.

Joe was kicking at the cockroaches, but they paid little attention to him. The body was like a magnet to the insects. The hair on Joe’s back bristled with a combination of awe and revulsion, He was certain he could hear a buzzing sound made by the insects. Joe turned away from the dead man. He would never look at the body again

The End

Vaginas

An aging ghost of a little man worked in the rice paddies in Vietnam, a father, grandfather, and devoted husband. He never lived to see his great grandchildren. The gunner’s bullets sprayed the workers in the paddy, all dead except for a baby hugging his mother’s body as she fell, bloody and vacant. They were ants in the gunner’s eyes, nonexistent enemies…just target practice.

***

A drone flies silently above the clouds and sees movement in the hidden mountains below it, computers can do wonders. With a push of a button the operator miles away tells the airplane to release its missiles. Twelve children eating bread and insipid soup during their school lunch are no longer learning about life. Education terminated captain, over and out.

What a great world we live in. Just die at the push of a button…isn’t it great?

***

A big man with a suit and tie wants to own all of the vaginas in the world, the “great vagina king” he will be called when he reaches his destination after death. His God will say job well done Senator. “Do you love your children?”

Scratching his head he puzzled, “Can’t remember but their vaginas will always remember me.”

“Please enter through the jaws of heaven and welcome. We have lots of vaginas here just for you to rule.”

The man in the suit thought something might be wrong when God’s face turned sour and cynicism found voice. “I have a very large vagina just for you.” Snapping her fingers she sent him to Vagina Hell where vaginas eat assholes like him for breakfast.

Dancer

A naked blonde girl named Helga danced to the nocturnes of Chopin. Her small budding breasts were crowned with muted pink nipples. They barely moved as she pirouetted across the darkened stage with glowing stars. Her small mound of cornstalk pubic hair was barely noticeable to the audience as she swept her arms and hands grandiosely towards the homemade moon. The most fabulous set of buttocks and thighs I’ve ever viewed tortured men and caused women to gasp. If perfect could exist Helga was nearly there.

She was young I say but what do I know, old, gray, and optically impaired. I’m sure she was thirty maybe more, but her moves were young, oh so young. I’m sure many young men have stiffened for her and as I watch I think maybe many old men have tried their best to stiffen for her. Where the mind is willing the body is unable to follow suit.

As often happens the dancing of this golden butterfly caused my mind to drift to another day, and another time, my mind wandered into the back alleys of Tokyo. Her name wasn’t Helga and she wasn’t blonde. Her name was Midori. The named meant “beautiful branch.” I remember this vividly for this woman indeed was a beautiful branch from a tree of equal beauty. Her mother was a lovely woman who lost her husband in World War II. He flew his plane into an American Naval Destroyer with obvious results, death and destruction of the pilot and his plane. The ship was undisturbed.

Midori was the exact opposite of Helga, darker and more mystical. She danced but it was the dance of the ancients, Mai, a dance performed usually in the privacy of a home or in our case a hotel room. Midori danced in her tight silk dress slowly and methodically taking my mind into a hyper state of arousal. I remember smoking a joint which enhanced the entire process. We floated together in orgasm like a low hanging cloud of fog crossing the Yokohama harbor.

I never thought about it until this moment watching the young Helga undulating in a strange sexual ballet act. No doubt my beloved Midori would wheeze at such a display. I left Tokyo in the late sixties vowing to return to my beautiful lover, but things got in the way. Life got in the way and I never returned. I thought about it now and Helga’s nakedly fair body brought the memory back. Her small pert breasts, short blonde hair, and the mystical spot of every woman’s beauty brought Midori back to me for a moment, a fleeting moment.

Do we not live life in a series of fleeting moments? We never seem to grasp the now. The worth of our lives is measured only by the history for what we did even one minute ago. History will never be given back, a no-return policy. Hence, today it our life and tomorrow will never happen. The only tomorrow we have is the brick wall of death. Like a speeding bullet we will inevitably be halted by that unsolvable finish line. It is every human’s fear spoken or unspoken, pretentious or self-effacing. The unknowable is of course the ultimate fear for us all, even Helga’s. She dances and dances and the world continues on its path to perpetuity.

Poetry

Funeral Song

If you planted a tree for me

I would be happy

send you rain to make it grow

like trees should

with lonesome groans so quiet

not even earth could hear

such natural industry.

If you planted a garden

I would be so happy

I’d sing with thunder

and dance like lightening.

I’d visit with humming bird

silence and together with winged vibrato

we could sing the hungry masses.

If you had a baby I would sing

hosanna to a god of your choosing

give you a silver hammer to swing,

to praise the pope or Malcolm X.

Let me be your silent servant,

your communist lover

Sieg Heil sweety and party on.

You Can

You see it’s not the end which bothers me

death is a moment, a comma in a sentence.

no the end is inevitable like a tree never to be moved.

It’s the twists, the turns, the babbling of human brooks,

but most of all it’s those youthful sprints we make

the hurried need, the biting words, and inbred fear

we see in others and the prejudice nooses we make.

Sadness starts with fear of the inevitable tree

Yet we can if we only try soar above the poplars,

maples, oaks, and redwoods. Just strengthen your wings

and fly without prejudice or malice into the universe

waiting with mirrored stars to watch yourself soar

above the fray of unkindness, bigotry, and manmade fear.

Life in the Dead Lane

It’s a lovely day in my hometown

think I’ll take a walk across the Jordon

walk on water for awhile, heal a leper

and bend the rules of Jesus

for just an hour maybe two

I am God and no one knows it

the soil of it all wipes clean

my miseries and unclean fantasies.

Plunge my nakedness into the river

deep and pungent the smell of man

never leaves the swirling slicks

oil of our fathers and their fathers

Mother Mary stopped by in her Vera Wang

fresh off the hangers at Saks on Fifth

snug yet quite revealing

the cross of her father.

City lights burn yellow in darkness

the lights leave but not the yellow

LA my kind of town

pimps and whores and rock n roll

designer jeans for short fat men

like me and my uncle

he’s dead now

I’m next.

Mice

Mice scurry across a dank mausoleum

musty years of death breathe in silence

in respect for hushed residents

the mice show no deference

their hurried pilgrimage unstoppable

by even the mouse god

hedonistic little bastards.

We are mice.

A Glass of Wine and a Bible

Someone gave me a wafer

the body of Christ they said

1994 Merlot his blood

I ate the wafer, got drunk

hung all night on a toilet bowl

puking all my sins away.

Confess cried the faceless pope

on your knees face in the pillow pray

God loves you but not today

so pray and pray

until the pillow goes away

Jesus always wins the games we play.

Sitting in a jail cell I wonder

what the hell can I tell

Jonah and his favorite whale?

It is time for morning prayer

no food until Jesus blows his whistle

I’m running the outside track to hell.

Don’t follow me follow you

your dreams much better than mine

soon you will grow

powerful in the Lord’s eye

not a silver thread through the needle’s eye

will pass his bloodshot eyes.

Inevitable

I can’t remember why

those days so coarse

so unheavenly

weigh like the world

on my shoulders

Doesn’t matter I guess

bubble gum dreams

burst through my life

and time wore them thin

it’s not worth remembering.

Somehow I aged like

swamp wood sinking

Into oblivion

each day aging closer

into a brindled secretariat.

So we live and die

mummified furniture

for the patio

but I love you

more than a rainy day

Without a beach ball.

Moniker Betrayal

Jaypo she said to me.

My rubber band eyes snap

Jaypo no I say with daggered tongue

tears inside a name flood

blood through my vocal chords.

What is it about a name?

Cardboard brains create our names

Jaypo is not mine to hear

Play another day another yard

The name Ace is in my cards.

Oleander

I crawl backwards into this cave

afraid of my age, my time on earth

keeps receding like low tide

I wait for a full moon and a virus

to still my craving heart

beeping green on black screens.

I’m happiest after black girls

change and clean me rapping

to a phantom song unknown

I love them because

their brains are pure

tablar rasa and excited to live.

I dream not of golden streets

yet dusty roads fill my thoughts

ones I’ve traveled through blankly

regretting now for never pausing

to smell wild basil and lemon

and pick Queen Ann’s lace.

I say there’s a time in life

dreams remain dreams

as I listen to heart sounds

digital madness and realize

time is now and I smell the ugly

cleansing of what’s left of me.

Many say there’s more

I say it is only peace

crawling its way into my mind

where once again I can become

at peace with Mother Earth and feed

sweet Oleander lovely poison of death.

Sunday Morning

The sky, overcoat gray

with spider legs of sun

greets me with a day.

The mirror shows me old

bulging with beer

bulging with shame

of loving you.

My cat stares patiently

at her empty bowl.

I have nothing to give her.

The same hollow pain

repeats itself

as I dress in faded jeans

looking for a remnant of you

to wrap around my chest.

I stare patiently at the cat

and an empty bowl.

Repose

There is something about seeing you there

draped in white with red roses bleeding.

Death is such a morbid farewell

not recognition of eternal sleep

yet softly we sleep next to our manmade tombs

unwholesomely relieved of our duties

death gives us a final answer

to questions eternally unanswerable.

Tunnel Vision

There are no divisions

in tunnel vision

no television

just monotonic love

no stereo sound

no venus mound

just turnaround

catch the next wave

ride the pipeline

of tunnel vision

eyes ahead

don’t look at the dead

no room for poetry

just keep your eyes ahead.

Blue Velvet

Six white crosses on a highway curve

forgotten memoriam

forgotten family of six

dirt filled mouth and noses

no seatbelt laws in sixty-four

blue velvet seats fifty-seven Chevy

I can hear the screeching tires

see children flying in the air

with the greatest of ease

as a gnarled Oak opened its arms to greet

a heavy smile in its crotch

six more visitors this night

a long, long time ago

six white cross turning sallow.

Boot Camp

Eighteen,

hot summer in Kentucky

we marched the hills

like soldiers do

counting cadence

counting days

counting ways to kill

shouting ways to kill

eighteen is young

shaved head and black boots

spit shined like a mirror

Vietnam in front of us

high school prom behind us

kill little men in pajamas

screamed the big black sergeant

never seen one before

I trembled

that hot summer day

been trembling ever since.

The Lonely Shepherd

Where the mountain dumps

its lava lipped edges

into behemoth bulbous warships

floating just beyond the reach of man,

a man of stone sleeps.

A shepherd lost for centuries

with vacant eyes dead

yet see he does more than I.

Leonardo robe ragged now

propelled by a painted wind

Sistine quiet he is the incense of history

if only I could know his story

for he surely knows mine.

Destiny

Prom night and the stars glowed just for us

We danced to music we’ve forgotten now

I grew to be a killer of men, you a healer

Neither could heal the wounds of battle

Life battle where blood flows in jungles,

Deserts, mountains, Chicago streets and back alleys.

Seems no one can control their trigger fingers

Their lust for satisfaction

Our children like dry sticks break beneath black boots

Swastika loving boys, bald and dumb.

Now destiny is a dry urn and a clean blanket

For the final sleeping, sweet final sleep.

Epilogue

There is little to say at the end of a small offering of stories like this one. My stories and poems are simply snapshots made of words, snapshots of thoughts swiped out of my mind like sage brush in a dust storm. Do I think such odd and strange things occur in our lives, absolutely? I stare sometimes into a starry night and I swear I can see forever. I can see broken children of the Holocaust, the Black slaves being tossed off slave ships into a watery death. Sometimes I see my brother, eyeless, and destroyed by the insidious effects of diabetes. My father visits me in the pitched night and wants to know how life is going after his death fifty years ago. The mind works is strange ways.

What keeps an old depressed man going? My wife of nearly twenty years, Debbie, has been my rock and I would take a bullet for her. I would crawl through broken shards of glass for her as she would for me. We are tied to the same rope, the same love we’ve had since our chance encounter. For me, life is serendipitous. I see no God reaching his finger down and stopping the slaughter of children, the rape of women, and the unspeakable collective Catholic molestations. If ever there was a God he’s skipped town and is now living on an island paradise as a sea turtle. Sea turtles are smart and non-aggressive. The earth is my home and always will be until my body is purified by the crematorium fire. My ashes will be blown in the wind whipping through Cape Hatteras for I am a fish and I must return from whence I came.

Night Ride

Windless night greet me old friend

like friends should

smile before going into a world

without hope or mutterings of daylight

you the blackest of stallions

galloping through my dreams

boldly running through washes long forgotten

old memories return riding

roughshod for daylight

your wicked grin chagrins

even the pinkest streaks of twilight.

In The Beginning

Isn’t that how it starts, the Bible, every word of it? In the beginning like there was never anything before the words were created, but who wrote them? Somebody must have been there with their Kodak camera or their sharpened pencil. Maybe they were like war correspondents. I don’t know, do you? It has been explained to me by some of the finest ministers I’ve ever known that Genesis and other books of the Old Testament were simply verbal folklore passed from one generation to another which makes the stories a little sketchy.

I guess sketchy works for religion. It works well for UFO and Bigfoot sightings too and perhaps just as dependable. This small book of suffering contains purely my sufferings with truth. I don’t understand the same truth as many religionists. My truth doesn’t coincide or correspond with theirs. It seems to me that each sect of religion interprets their book of rules differently, Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever. Different sects read their own belief system from the same set of rules, kind of like politicians.

My truth? My truth is what I see and what I see are a bunch of people who hate each other but believe in a loving God. Now what is that about? Your God tells you to love one another, not just someone who sits next to you at church. Yet you continuously disobey the suggestions made by God. Someone explain this to me because I’m lost.
Allah tells you to love and be kind. Instead you wrap a stupid bomb around yourselves and blow a marketplace up. I’m lost which means you’re lost. If two plus two makes four.Your actions only make three out of the math problems, doesn’t work.  I have so many questions and no answers. Maybe you can help me answer the questions. Maybe you have the same questions. Maybe you have thought of possibilities. You know the “what ifs” of this life often unanswered, perhaps unimaginable. I do hope you enjoy the trip. Don’t count the stripes on the highway just close your eyes and enjoy. Oh, I forgot you can’t close your eyes. Keep them open so you can read

Wake Up Maggie

My friend lay alone with violin

pressed against his lifeless chest.

Folks gathered saying the things

people say to the dead.

Doesn’t he look nice,

he’s in a better place,

whose idea the violin, nice touch.

I’ve known him for so many years.

I would’ve liked to seen

that burled oak fiddle pressed against his chin

playing “Amazing Grace” or some lonesome

Neil Young or Willie Nelson.

I’d preferred to see his crooked smile

laughing at his sour B flat.

I know him.

Instead of a funeral dirge

Alison Krauss would make us all sing.

Dolly Parton might have made him

rise from the casket to do the jitterbug.

Oh hell, even Susan Tedschi and the Truckee Band

could have rocked those stiffs staring up to heaven.

Heaven?

That aint for me

I’m thinking I’ll find John and George

chilling at some eternal beach

Gin and Tonic for me,

Brandy for the boys

with their best friend Maggie McGee.

Eleanor’s Naked Again

Outside my window

a murder of crows

wasting time cawing

when they could be flying

with the wind, Joe Cocker

Doris Day, and my old friend Leonard.

What the hell are they thinking

Edgar’s not around this little town?

He died once and never more

will he touch that wood bark whiskey

or sneak a peek at his neighbor’s wife,

Eleanor Snodbutter.

Angry Fredrick called out,

“Edgar go to sleep and look away.

Katy’s Sepulcher keeps pawing

at your eyes.” He screamed so loud

the crows cawed like Nirvana

caught in a bloodbuzz Ohio breeze.