The Diner

Mary Gershwin stepped out of 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 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 his 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 says 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?  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.  “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.

 

The End

 

Fake News

God loves nothing better than a freshly painted barn,

fresh concrete at the front door, and a Rhode Island Red.

Nice quaffed hair on a virgin girl and a sacred boy with clean hands.

Thou shall not touch thyself, smell the scent of temptation,

or harden at the sight of skin, bare flesh is for cat testosterone.

I wrote it in a book some call the Bible, others call it fake news.

Five Mile

Five Mile

 

Introduction

 

My pen name is Kip Caller.  I’ve used it so much that it has become a permanent fixture.  My friends know me as Kip.  Chase my canine partner still knows me as Steve Simpson.  Not that Chase’s opinion counts in the real world outside of our little white country cottage, he is just a dog.  He is much more than that to me.  One slurping wet kiss from him helps me face the morning and I hate the morning and the twenty-four hours following.  My age?  Let’s say too old to understand the complexities of rap music, yet I do remember the Vietnam War first hand.

 

I say that my friends call me Kip but I should clarify the statement.  My circle of friends include Frank Young who lives a mile down the road from me and stops by once a week to drink beer and watch sports.  The rest of my inner circle of friends includes my agent, my editor, and my thirty year old son who thinks of me as an asshole but does call me once in awhile to make sure I’m still alive.  It worries me slightly that he is so concerned about my breathing or not breathing.  Perhaps my will is in the forethoughts of his concern.

 

The fact is I have contempt for life, my ex wife, and the phony workers at the utility company.  I write, not a great writer, just a writer.  You won’t see me on the front page of Time nor will you see a film clip of me shaking hands with some great dignitary as I am accepting a Pulitzer Prize.  Nope, I am the writer with just enough creative juices to puke up a mediocre novel that people buy randomly because the name Kip Caller appeals to them or the book cover graphics are cool.  My books help fill the many pages of internet book discounters, a filler, just an extra in a great cinematic burlesque.

 

I made enough money to keep making my house payment, eating, and paying the bills.  Fans, do I have fans?  Not as many as Dean Koontz or James Patterson.  However, occasionally someone recognizes me from a photograph they saw on my Amazon author’s page, otherwise, I remain anonymous.  I prefer it.  That’s why I live out on the scuffed and loosely graded gravel road known simply as River Road.  Traffic is a rare commodity out here.  Farmers, fishermen, rubber rafters, and an occasional rowdy group of drunken kids or even younger lovers drive by slowly.  A speed of over forty miles an hour will cause tires to lose footing on the gravel thus leaving drivers helpless to steer their vehicles.

 

The winter is rough.  Snow and ice storms will often shut our power down and close our road.  The rule along this little stretch of wilderness is to own a generator and plenty of gasoline.  Every resident owns an all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile.  The closest gas and grocery store is Gobles about five miles north in a small river village called aptly Five Mile.  All two hundred citizens of Five Mile are either retired or make a living at the small butchering plant two miles further north of the town’s limits.

 

In mid October I decided to fire up my old Honda Accord and drive to Five Mile to do some preparation shopping.  About this time every year for the past ten years I would shop the small town to gather staples for winter.  I needed gasoline, extra food, and booze, mostly booze.  Winters are difficult to endure without the dark yellow healing powers of tequila and cheap scotch.  This day generally excited me, not sure why.  Maybe the idea of complete solitude afforded by winter’s crass behavior invigorated me.  However this day turned out to be a deadly one not soon to be forgotten.

 

***

 

Goble’s Gas and Go stood on the main drag of Five Mile, actually the only drag in the town.  Today there were few customers.  Mike Goble owned the place and how he could afford to keep the lights on stood beyond my imagination.  Some days he probably would be better served by staying home and selling junk on E Bay.  I filled up my reserve tanks for the generator and topped off the tank of my car.  The sky began swelling up for a cold October rain storm so I scurried into the station to pay for my gas.  Nothing stirred or should I say no one stirred?  The old desk fan Mike kept running year around hummed and oscillated to keep Mike cool.  Only there was no Mike.  I scanned the convenience gas station and saw no one, but I could hear something beneath the humming of the fan, a groan.

 

Not a normal groan, it sounded more like a groan made by an animal, like a pig or wild boar.  No, it was too rhythmic to be an animal. Something told me I didn’t want to visit the place from which this sound emanated yet it drew me in like a magnet to steel.  My mind began arguing with itself.  The logical section, wherever that might be, told me that Mike and the sound were one in the same and the reason for that could not be a good thing.  The illogical side of my argument told me to check it out.  After all, Mike is a good guy and wouldn’t harm a flea.  He drank beer with me over at Saunders’ Bar and Grill.  Mike loved to talk about his son who made it through the rigors of medical school started practicing medicine at some high and mighty hospital in Chicago.  “Mike isn’t going to hurt you.”

 

Unfortunately for me the illogical side of the argument prevailed so I cautiously walked in the direction of the sound, no longer a groan.  I padded as quietly as I could through the most distal aisle from the checkout.  I turned the corner of a row of crowded shelves and my body literally jerked with revulsion when I saw the creature writhing in agony on the floor.  The creature Mike screeched in agony.  I say creature Mike because the thing carried Mike’s face but contorted like the old fun mirrors at a carnival.  One mirror distorted your head and made it look three times bigger than normal another would distorted your body so it looked like a pear.  This is no mirror.  This is creature Mike with pleading eyes.  I knew the odor from a chemistry class I took as a youngster, hydrochloric acid.

 

I could expect a thirty minute wait if I called the sheriff’s office.  They would need to stop for a couple of glazed before coming to visit Mike’s new insane asylum.  Torn between just running the hell away from the gas station and attempting to help Mike, I did nothing.  I stood there with my eyes glazed over like the donuts the county boys were surely eating right now.  Suddenly I felt something gripping my leg, the Mike creature.  “Holp!”  Mike screamed.  “Holp!”  I tried to twist my leg out its grip, but Mike’s grip held like a vice.  I had no choice but to grab the hand-like aperture and try to wrestle myself free, but I stopped when Mike called my name.  “Kip,” I could only stare down in pity.  “Kip, holp…moonstar in fife mill.”  His grip loosened as he gasped.  Mike lay dead and I ran to the cashier’s counter and grabbed the phone.  Donuts or not I called the sheriff’s office.

 

***

 

“Holy Love of Mary what the hell is it?”  Deputy Brett Morrison, a large man with a girth that would definitely give Santa Claus pause to consider a diet program.  Morrison’s head appeared to be shaved and his blue eyes the only remaining characteristic suggesting at one time he might have been handsome.  He stood at least six inches taller than me.  What’s with these cops?  Is it a requirement to be no smaller than a rhinoceros to wear a badge?  “It, I mean the deceased sure looks like Mike, but just his face.  The rest of him looks like some kind of digested penguin.”  I would have laughed but the deputy’s face showed no humor.  “What did he say to you again?”

 

“Kip, help there’s a monster in Five Mile.”  Those weren’t the exact words, but more a translation of the creature’s last garbling attempt at speech.

 

“Shit, the only monster I know in Five Mile is Clarence Otter and he’s just an asshole.  Do assholes count as monsters?”  I tried to read the deputy’s face.  Surely this was some kind of nervous humor.  I’m sure Morrison didn’t possess a metaphysical bone in his skull so it had to be humor.

 

“I don’t think so,” I said as flatly as I could, humor didn’t find me at this moment.  “Do you think you should kind of make the rounds to see if anyone has seen a…a monster?”

 

The deputy stared at me not with a look of anger, but more of a state of perplexity.  He searched for words.  “Okay, let’s start over at Saunders.  I mean if anyone has witnessed something strange that would be the best place to start.”

 

His reference to “we” did not go unnoticed.  I wanted nothing to do with this strange incident.  I told him as much.  “Deputy, shouldn’t you call for back-up?  I would love nothing better to help you, but I have to get home.”

 

He smiled, “Kip you’re the only witness I have and I must insist.”  I followed dutifully and reluctantly.

 

***

 

The possibility of alien life forms has always been an interest to sky watchers and apocalyptic believers.  The number of believers of other-worldly visitors has increased over the past fifty years.  There was nothing like a heavy dose of fear to draw more sinners to Jesus.  They multiplied like flies on a corpse.  But, this is real and reality is something religionists like to deny.  Stuff like global warming and the truth of the earth’s real age were not real to them.  They were products of over stimulated scientists.  Of course the over stimulated sex drives of their ministers were simply the results of being human and God forgives all that kind of nastiness.

 

What I saw today could not be assigned a religious paradigm or maybe not even a scientific paradigm.  All I know is that I saw what I saw, a terribly mutated store owner who tried his damndest even in what had to be unspeakable pain to tell me what happened and he used the word monster.  I am not the kind of guy that goes out to look for dragons and things which go bump in the night, but today I ran into the unknown howbeit serendipitously.  What is the definition of a monster?  I say a monster is a chameleon.  Its color changes to fit the mind of readers, watchers, and fear mongers.  In other words it is a subjective entity for monster hunters.

 

***

 

What we saw at Saunders’ Bar and Grill drew a gasp of shock and complete horror from us both.  Though its usual dark and dreary ambience lay undisturbed the bar reeked of body fluids and the sweet smell of raw flesh.  Morrison bent over one of the bar stools and began vomiting as I scurried back through the front door.  What the hell did I just see?  Not much, it was too dark to see much of anything.  I held my head like it would burst with too much stimuli being fed to it.  Did I see old Roy Saunders hanging onto the cash register with his head lobbed off?  Did I see a half dozen maybe more customers with their entrails ripped away from their chests like the kill floor in a meat butchering plant?  I’m not certain.

 

Morrison scuffled right behind me wiping his mouth with a napkin he must have lifted from the bar.  “Jesus fucking Christ, Kip, what the hell is happening?  I’ve got to get help.”  Although I sympathized with the situation the deputy faced, I personally wanted to get the hell out of Five Mile as fast as my little Honda could move.  Unfortunately the small part of my brain that still contains a trace of morality told me I needed to remain with the deputy.

 

“Deputy, I’ll stay with you but you have to promise me that you’re going to yank that pistol out of its scabbard and hold it in your hand at all times, that is, after you make the call.”

 

“Okay, I can do that.”  Morrison sounded like a little obedient child even though we were nearly the same age.  “I think we need to check some other places.  Whatever we’re dealing with must be hiding somewhere.”

 

“Shouldn’t we wait?”

 

Morrison nodded somberly.  We sat down on wooden bench in front of Saunders’ Bar.  He spoke into his walkie-talkie or whatever they’re called.  “Chief, this is Morrison we need help at Five Mile.  We got at least seven or eight down.”

 

The voice on the other end choppily replied, “Copy that deputy, two cars on the way…chief’s guiding the show.”

 

“Copy that.”  Morrison said without emotion, “We’ll stay put until they get here, shouldn’t be more than five minutes or so.”  With his pistol in his hand he sat in a prayer position.  He held his head as exasperation obviously ruled his mind.  I felt the exasperation.  In fact, if I had a pair of scissors I could probably cut it like a piece of heavy cardboard.  Morrison chose to stand instead of sit on the bench.  I couldn’t help noticing, even in the midst of this surreal soiree, the physical differences between the deputy and me.  Here I was dressed in my usual sweatshirt, an old military hat covering my salt and pepper hair which was way too long and often crept over my beady brown eyes.  The deputy’s appearance of course more than antithetical to mine, a Marine wannabe and a waif who wants to be no one in particular?

 

***

 

Back up came rolling in like the cavalry riding into a massive genocide of Native Americans.  Things were deadly quiet except for the sound of brown and tan cruisers making their way to Saunders.  Behind them came three ambulances obviously borrowed from the county seat of Lordes Crossing.

 

The big man getting out of the lead cruiser wore a brown wide-brimmed hat with gold beading encircling it like Caesar’s crown, must have been Sheriff Montclair.  “Who’s that twerp standing next to you Morrison?

 

“Name’s Kip,” I said with more than just a little indignation.

 

“I know who you are.  I’ve read a couple of your books.  The question is what the hell is going on here?”

 

“I’m honored you’ve read my books,” I said snidely, “but I’m afraid what we have here is not from one of my books.”

 

“Well sheriff,” Morrison began, “It appears we have a murderer running the streets of Five Mile.  You might want to check out Saunders.”  He gave his thumb a ride to the bar and grill.  “And over at Gobles is an even stranger sight.”

 

***

 

Jay Devon stood in front of the mirror checking out his new look.  He assumed the dead woman lying on the couch was named Sawyer since the little swinging sign on the light post outside proclaimed “The Sawyers.”  The cute white ducklings waddling around the name Sawyers disgusted him making the killing and eviscerating much easier, not that either task posed an inconvenience.

 

Jay cared little about the nasty little boys wearing badges.  He would wait them out until dark.  He figured Mrs. Sawyer would have no visitors today.  By the looks of all the flowers and the small urn on the fireplace mantle the lady’s husband was dead.  Jay saw no pictures of kids or grandkids so everything was going smoothly.  As soon as night made its way into this little burg he would slip into the darkness and disappear.

 

No one in Five Mile remembers him but he remembered them.  Just a red headed kid with a face full of freckles, kids only knew him as a punching bag for their bullies.  His only purpose for coming here was to exact revenge, to kill the people that laughed him into insanity.  His killing complete he needed now only to wait.

 

Mike Goble, his first kill today, drove the school bus in which Jay would sit and have his school mates spit on him and pinch him at every stop.  He used acid on old man Goble, slow and painful just the way he liked it. The rest of the bastard he shot in the head and gutted them, not quite as much fun as hydrochloric acid.

 

Jay worked as a graphic designer for digital films and commercials.  His company Rainbow Productions stood on the north side of Indianapolis in the Carmel area a rich man’s haven.  However he could not afford the exuberant cost of living so rented a small apartment on the inner city.  Currently two bodies were buried beneath his house, one a homeless man and the other a player, gang banger.

 

So far, Jay Devon remained a stranger everywhere he went.  In the city he could easily get lost in the crowds, but this was a risk.  How many red headed killers roamed Cross County?  His SUV was well hidden in a small copse of woods just north of the small town.

 

Before Jay’s parents died of mysterious gunshot wounds on the south side of Indy, they tried to have him admitted to a mental health center but were told that Jay would simply outgrow his reclusive and oft time violent behavior.  His high school years in Indy were tumultuous to say the least.  After nearly chewing off the arm of his prom date for not providing a blow job, the judicial system sent him away for a brief stay at a detention center.  No one bothered him at the center, too many stories were told of his violent and deluded behavior.

 

He attended a nearby technical institute and learned how to create digital designs.  Jay loved the job and for three or four years his appetite for violence subsided, but eventually his hunger overwhelmed his love of job.  Thus, the world welcomed Jay Devon another psychopath with a need to kill and laugh about it.

 

***

 

I insisted that I needed to go home to feed Chase who probably by now prepared himself to break the Cardinal rule of no peeing in the house.  I can’t say that I blame him.  If left to myself with no accessible bathroom facilities I no doubt would pee wherever possible.  Sheriff Montclair had other plans for me.  “You stay put Kip.  I don’t really give a rat’s ass about your dog’s urinary tract or his bowel movements.  We need you for a statement.  After Morrison takes your statement you can leave, but as cliché, cliché can be, don’t go too far from your home.”

 

Morrison decided to take my statement on the bench in front of Saunders’ Bar.  I didn’t care for the questions being asked.  They implicitly gave me the jitters.  “Where were you before you decided to get fuel from Goble’s and if you were somewhere else in town, just where might that be?  Did anyone see you arrive?  Do you know of anyone that might not like you in Five Mile?”

 

The questions were necessary I guess but nevertheless I felt like a person of interest.  I said as much.  “Deputy Morrison could you be thinking I might have had something to do with this crazy massacre?”

 

“No, no,” He assured me, “Just standard questions we must ask.  Besides if you did all of this why call the police?”

 

“Exactly,” I replied yet I was still uneasy about it.

 

I’m not paranoid but I do care about what’s left of my reputation.  I squeezed myself in the Honda and decided to head home.  All traffic through the little town had been averted and travelers were now trying to figure out how in hell to get home on the secondary routes.  If you know anything about Indiana one wrong turn onto a gravel road could lead you to Siberia or worse.  Out of habit I glanced up and down the empty street.  That’s when I saw something or someone.

 

Three houses down the street from Saunders I saw a curtain move.  Not unusual right?  I normally would have thought nothing of it, but these weren’t exactly normal times.  It was the hands, hands that were red.  I argued with myself.  They could have been red gloves.  Perhaps they were the hands of…what?  People seldom wear gloves around the house, but someone who decided to use the entire business district of Five Mile as a butcher shop might have red hands.

 

As my id and ego wrestled with one another over the idea of mentioning it to the sheriff I heard a thump on my side window.

 

***

 

I startled when I saw the expressionless eyes of a sparrow staring at me obviously dazed by its unexpected impact with my window.  I’m not superstitious.  I want that known up front, but I have to say that the eerie red hands and the sparrow’s misguided landing had me spooked.  Morrison’s smile indicated to me he saw the sparrow’s accident.  The sparrow fluttered off in a rather erratic flight pattern.  “That was the only funny thing that’s happened so far today,” He said.

 

I laughed nervously but didn’t feel amused.  “I just saw something deputy.”

 

“The bird?”

 

“No, something weird or worse, someone moved the curtains in the third house down from Saunders.”

 

“Nothing unusual, there are nosey neighbors in this flea bag town.”

 

“With bloody hands?”

 

Morrison stared at me and said nothing.  He swiftly grabbed the microphone strapped across his shoulder.  I heard him forward the information to the sheriff.  Suddenly I saw men running towards the house with weapons in hand.  That’s when the house exploded.  The ground shuddered with earthquake-like tremors.  Two officers were blown back by the impact.  One of them hit a parked car the other was thrown mercilessly on the cold asphalt of the street.  I couldn’t see the third guy, but felt certain I saw at least three men running towards the house.

 

Morrison responded lightning fast.  He ran towards the officers down and was speaking into his mike while running.  Paramedics rushed towards the downed officers.  I was frozen in place.  It was like watching an episode of some true-to-life television program except no cameras were rolling.

 

Almost immediately the house became engulfed in flames.  A siren began whining and within minutes Five Mile’s only fire truck pulled up to the scene.  Three men cloaked in their rubber raincoats jumped off the back of the truck.  I felt certain some of their team mates were lying in an eviscerated heap at Saunders.  Their chance of putting out the fire would be similar to my chance of going home and not finding dog pee on the carpet.

 

***

 

As I watched the insanity I heard another thud, and then thud thud thud.  Soon there were at least a ten birds lying on the car’s hood.  Unlike the first bird these sparrows were dead on arrival.  What was happening?  Is there a sign on my car that says traveling mortuary for birds?  I didn’t think so.  I slipped out of the car and stared at the instant cemetery on my car’s hood.  I reached down to examine one of the birds but instantly pulled my hand back when I saw some kind of orange colored residue on it.  My first thought was pesticides, farmers use them but this was October and generally spraying was a spring thing.

 

Staring into the sky for more of my feathered Kamikaze friends my throat tightened when I saw the orange cloud hanging over the town.  My heart sank.  If these birds died from exposure to the ingredients in that cloud my worry about Chase peeing on the floor could very well be a futile concern.

 

I noticed a couple of the volunteer firemen staring up at the sky.  They too spotted it, its size too huge to measure.  From my vantage the orange haze appeared to span miles, maybe the entire county.  I left the birds and my car and ran to the nearest cover which happened to be Goble’s of course.  There were two paramedics moving Mike’s corpse onto a stretcher.  Neither of them looked over twenty-four or twenty-five years old.  I felt obligated to warn them not to go outside.  “Have you guys noticed the cloud hanging over our heads?”

 

One of them with buzzed blonde hair and a nametag declaring him to be Paul Smith shook his head and said nothing.

 

“There’s an orange low hanging cloud over us.  If I were you guys I wouldn’t go out there.”

 

Smith glanced out the store’s large windows and gasped.  “Holy shit what is it?”

 

“Don’t know, doesn’t look good though.”  I scanned the street and it was empty.  The troopers and firemen must have finally decided on a plan, take cover.

 

Just as I turned back towards the two paramedics the door swung open and Morrison bounded in.  The look of fear burned in his eyes, “Fuck, do you see that out there?”

 

I nodded my head but my mind wandered elsewhere.  The thought of dying kept zoning in on my principles.  I have been an atheist all of my life so dying didn’t have eternal consequences in my world, but leaving the world alone did bother me.  To leave my dog, my best friend, without a goodbye or a scruffy bark seemed unconscionable.  I also thought to myself that the last place on earth I wanted to die was this ghost town called Five Mile.

 

***

 

Jay lit the match just as he opened the backdoor.  He waited until the last possible moment.  No one saw him slip away from the carnage.  Running through a cornfield he headed for his vehicle.  He could see the copse of woods just at the end of the field.  His car was parked near the field and out of sight to onlookers.   Jay didn’t have a clue what floated above him.  There was no time to look up.

 

Once in the copse of woods Jay realized something dreadfully hung from the trees, a fog.  No, it couldn’t be fog.  The color wasn’t right, orange.  Fog is not orange and the smell, the putrid smell cut like a knife through his sinuses.  His eyes felt like they were bulging out of their sockets.  Frantic now he tried to make his way to the car, but fog can play tricks on the geography of things.

 

Just a faint shadow darker than its surroundings stood at a short distance.  Jay was certain the shadow was his car but the closer he hiked towards the more it looked nothing like it.  Instead of a car he walked straight into a large bramble bush.  “Son-of-a-bitch!”  He screeched from the pain of several needles sticking into his chest.  His mind began rambling.  The fog was affecting his judgment.  He laughed insanely at the thought, “My judgment,” He said to no one.  His fucking judgment just blew up in Five Mile.

 

Another image showed itself.  This time he felt certain the shadow belonged to his car.  He ambled towards the image.  There in the midst of the poisonous fog stood the car.  Fumbling for his remote opener he gulped another mouthful of the ethereal gas.  Jay became dizzy like vertigo dizzy and fell to the ground.  The trees spun around him as he lay flat on his back breathing more of the deadly air.  Sooner than he expected he felt a drowning sensation as if he were beneath thirty feet of water and out of air.  The last thing he saw was a sparrow falling from the sky, the orange smoky sky.

 

After degutting half the population of a small Midwestern town it was an irony of sorts.  A man who somewhere in his twisted and demonic mind thought himself invincible lay in a soup of orange indignity with a flock of dead sparrows posed to be his pallbearers into the world of death.

 

***

 

Sitting in the quiet gas station I heard the furnace kick on and felt air coming out of the duct work a thought struck like lightening.  “The ducts, we’ve got to block them!”  I yelled with an urgency I didn’t recognize.

 

“Shit!”  Morrison chimed in.  “You’re right, that fucking air will get in here and kill us all.  It’s death.”  With that the deputy sprung to his feet and swiftly made his way through a door in the hallway that accommodated the restrooms.  Shit, I thought, the bathrooms, they’re vented.  I ran to them and found them locked.  The cashier’s counter, that’s where people picked up the key for the restrooms so I turned and this time I ran at full trot to the front of the store.  The keys were hanging on a hook next to the cigarette shelves.  I grabbed them and headed back to the bathrooms.

 

Each bathroom had its own plastic vent pipe.  I needed something to break the vents open so I could stuff something in them.  Again I trotted out of the restrooms and found the janitor’s closet.  I found an old hammer, duct tape, and a bunch of carpenter towels.  I managed to break both pipes with the hammer and stuffed a bunch of towels into the vents and then I used some duct tape to keep the rags from retreating from their new found perches.

 

Morrison left the furnace room at the same time I left the restrooms.  “I cut the intake pipe on the furnace and water heater and stuffed them.  We should be good to go.”

 

“God, I hope so.”

 

***

 

The two paramedics zipped what was left of Mike Goble’s corpse into a vinyl black bag.  They packed ice on top of it with the hopes that keeping the body cool would slow decomposition.  Paul Smith the paramedic with the nametag introduced his partner as Tony Smith his brother.  So we were the honored guests of the tag team Smith and Smith in a weakly sealed gas station.  All of us wanted to be just about anywhere on earth than where we were at this moment, a two-bit town enshrouded with some kind of poisonous gas and a butchering murderer somewhere in our midst.

 

Night began its slow crawl through the main street of Five Mile.  At least that’s what my watch told me.  It was difficult to tell day from night with our new atmospheric phenomena seating itself on our little section of the world.  We took a vote and Smith, Smith, and I won.  Opening one of Mike Goble’s cases of beer, the three of us decided to get shit faced drunk.  Morrison acted as our keeper.  He had lost contact with anyone beyond the gas station.  His transmitter picked up only static.  I’m sure it had something to do with atmospheric conditions.

 

I must say I was drinking beyond my normal intake of alcohol.  Usually I was a seven beers a week kind of guy, scotch and gin were more fitting to me, but tonight being possibly the last night on earth or anywhere else for that matter I chose to make an exception.  Smith and Smith became Smith One and Smith Two.  The more I drank the more of a blur they became and soon I couldn’t distinguish one from the other.  Not only did I drink to numb my brain from the chance of being dead when the sun came up, if it came up, but also I thought about my canine friend at home frantic that his master had not returned for a nighttime romp in the yard.

 

Smith One grabbed a chicken salad sandwich out of refrigerated section of the store.  Electricity left us several hours ago, not sure why.  My guess would be of course the apocalyptic situation in which we found ourselves.  Munching on the sandwich he muttered between bites.  “Not too bad, still a little cool.”  That encouraged Smith Two to search their newly found forest of food.  I was way too wasted to eat anything.  Instead, I scuffled to the back of the building and searched for some empty boxes.  I found two cardboard cartons each one inked with the words Toilet Paper.  I took the boxes into the storefront and piled them on the floor.  I proceeded to flatten them, hence my bed for the night.

 

“Shuckin’ in a little early aren’t you Kip?”  Morrison smiled pleasantly, more pleasantly than my previous encounters with him.  Perhaps he too realizes that tomorrow at best is tentative.

 

“Yep, I’ve drank too much and I want to forget everything for a couple of hours.”

 

***

 

I slept a drunk’s sleep restless and unsatisfying.  Morrison woke me up with a nudge.  “Kip, can you hear that?”

 

Groggily I sat up from my cardboard bed and listened.  “Wind?”  Wind was a good thing.  I stared out the window but saw nothing, nothing orange.  “That’s a good thing.”

 

“Damn right it is.”

 

I did see a few leaves passing the main window.  They appeared to be blowing from the north and east, unusual but not rare.  “Nor’eastern.”

 

“Kind of strange this time of year, but it can happen.  By the sound of it that orange shit could be near the Mississippi River by now.”

 

“Let’s wait and see.  I wouldn’t trust going out there right now.”

 

“Well and let’s not forget there’s a monster loose somewhere in Five Mile.”

 

I didn’t want to burst Morrison’s bubble but the monster is probably halfway to Iowa by now.  My head pounded like a hammer on an anvil.  I searched the sales counter in the darkness and found a lighter.  I needed to locate some over the counter pain pills.  My throat felt like someone camped out in my mouth with a bad case of gas.  Maybe a few breath mints would be good right now.  It took me several minutes but I managed to find the items I needed to feel human again.

 

Crazy as it sounds I grabbed a pack of cigarettes and decided to smoke one.  I haven’t smoked in fifteen years, but I think the occasion warranted a relapse.  Now just why in the hell would I do it?  I coughed after the first couple of drags, but my lungs adapted well to the new experience, funny how old habits never really disappear.

 

The Smiths woke up when the wind hit full force.  I heard one of them reacting to the wind.  “What the hell’s going on?”

 

“Wind,” Morrison said.

 

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Smith spat.  “Sounds like a fucking tornado.”

 

He did have a point.  The wind was bearing down on Five Mile like a tornado.  The building rattled with the force.  Before I could get words out the roof launched off the foundation.  Above us the sky pitched and rolled like a black ocean in an upside down world.  I noticed something wrong immediately.  In this pitched night there was no thunder, no lightening, or rain.  If this was a typical storm there would be light works happening around us, nothing.  Besides, October was not a month which produced tornadoes, snow maybe but not tornadoes.  I’m not the only one who noticed.

 

“You see that Kip?”  Morrison asked.  “There’s no rain or anything.  Can’t remember ever having a storm this time of year that would rip the fucking roof off,” He was yelling by now.  The wind in itself was thunderous making it difficult to stand, see, or hear.  I heard a crack and the next thing were the windows.  Instead of blowing in they exploded outwardly.  “We better drop!”  Morrison screamed.  “Drop!”

 

No one argued.  I sure in hell didn’t.  I fell like a rock to the floor of what was left of Goble’s gas station.  Smith and Smith followed suit.  I couldn’t see Morrison but my guess he heeded his own warning.  The ferocious wind never stopped.  Like something out of one of those news feeds that show big buildings being imploded and all the people watching are applauding with joy, the entire building snapped like a dry twig.  I felt myself being lifted off the concrete floor so I grabbed the nearest thing still standing, the pipes leading to the pop machine.  I hung on with every bit of strength left in me.

***

 

The sun came up but the entire sky changed to gray instead of the sickening bird killing orange.  The sun hung like a silver coin above the grayness.  The wind continued to preternaturally blow at sixty or seventy miles an hour.  To stand would be immediate death.  Right now I wasn’t sure if we were safe in our current positions.  I say “we,” but I could see no one else.  Smith and Smith, and Morrison were not in sight.

 

As I scanned the carnage around me the wind slowed down and soon became only a breeze.  The sun peeked out of the grayness and almost immediately the sky started to blush with blue.  I let go of the pipes my hands coldly hung to for the past few hours.  I stood up cautiously and found that not only were my hands weak but so were my legs.  They buckled beneath me and I managed to fall on my shoulder against the cold concrete beneath.  It hurt like hell but that was proof that I was still alive, but where were the others?

 

I managed to rise from the concrete like Lazarus only without the dead thing.  I stepped slowly trying to get my legs working better, a little wobbly but they soon gained some feeling back.  I stepped out to the street and scanned up and down the main drag.  I saw a few of the sheriff’s men gathering around the fire truck, the only vehicle not driven or flown away by the wind.  “Hey,” I managed.

 

“Hey back to you.”  I didn’t think I would ever be happy to see Sheriff Montclair, but there’s always a proverbial first time for everything.  “How in hell did you survive?  That place was flattened.”

 

“Luck, pure luck, and some sturdy water pipes.”

 

“I’ve managed to contact the state boys and they should be here soon.  Soon as that weird fog lifted and the wind died I was able to get back into the conversation.”  He motioned for me so I drifted John Wayne style across the street.  “Listen, I think we lost your team and Mike’s body so we’re going to join up with the state guys and do a search.  We’ve lost a couple of other guys too.”  Montclair’s face showed serious concern.  “Would you mind joining us?”

 

“No, of course I will, any word on the bastard that started this holocaust?”

 

“None but we’ll find him,” He said with resolve, “Hopefully dead.”

 

“Does anyone know what caused all of this?”

 

“Well I’ll tell you this, it wasn’t our murderer.  He is simply a footnote compared to what really happened.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“Let me say this, we no longer have a city called Cleveland.”  With that the sheriff ambled away and went back to his group of deputies.

 

***

 

I sat on the street curb chewing over in my head what the sheriff just told me, no more Cleveland.  If my read is right, we just experienced the aftermath of an act of war.  The poisonous gas in the air was orange.  If my memory is correct we used a poisonous gas during the Vietnam War called Agent Orange to kill jungle foliage so the enemies couldn’t hide behind banana trees or whatever.  The wind, a blast of wind generally accompanies an atomic explosion.  It makes sense but what are the consequences?  Have we declared a war?  Was there a nuclear accident?  I have so many questions.  Perhaps the biggest question my home, did it still exist?  Or did it and my dog explode like Goble’s Gas and Go?

 

The sounds of rolling police cruises interrupted my reverie.

 

***

 

The search lasted all day.  The town scattered with rubble and debris from the storm made it difficult to find the dead souls who once lived and cared about life in the small town of Five Mile.  Needless to say, evening once again began its crawl to impair our search.  Instead of continuing the sheriff and his comrade with the state police called off the task.  Most of us, including the sheriff and deputy had no way of getting to our homes.

 

The state troopers were charged with getting us home that is if any of us had homes left.

 

I did.

 

***

 

The mega windstorm cut a swathe three miles wide the length of which has yet to be determined.  The swathe missed my home by half a mile which places the home just yards away from the quarantined area, quarantined by reason of nuclear hotness.  Prior to going home local hazmat officials measured with sensing devices to find the edge of the contaminated land, not because they knew I wanted to go home but because they wanted to draw a line of safety for the populous of Cross County.

 

Chase ran in circles when I stepped through the doorway, yelping and jumping for joy.  That’s why I loved him.  Yes, I found three piles of pooh and several puddles of urine in the kitchen.  I was grateful he picked a room that could easily be cleaned without throwing out carpets and furniture.  My clean up only took an hour, a cheap price to pay for having my home and my dog back.  Chase drank at least a gallon of water and more food than I could scoop.  This entire incident gave me a renewed belief on the relationship between a man and his pet.  It’s not completely symbiotic.  Animals rely on people to be responsible and when a master fails in being responsible the effect can be disastrous.

 

Being a cross between a Weimaraner and Doberman Chase requires little more physical care than an occasional bath and flea prevention, but his essential need is love and that is an easy chore for me.  I cared and trusted him more than I do humans.  Chase never lies, cheats, or steals…just love, that’s his specialty.

 

Fortunately any home south of the storm path retained electrical power.  I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went a couple of days without it. After two hot showers and a hot meal I decided that I needed to know the current events.  I turned the television and turned on CNN and there before me was Wolf Blitzer discussing the sequence of events that led to this disaster.  According to Wolf the CIA managed to divert similar disasters in LA and New York.  Six known terrorists were caught in both cities, all planning to commandeer airplanes to carry their deadly payload.

 

The three terrorists, now deceased, slipped by Homeland Security and managed to detonate a nuclear weapon over the city of Cleveland, Ohio.  A single terrorist managed to steal a one engine plane to spray as much of the metropolitan area of South Bend, Indiana as possible.  These incidents were meant to be synchronized, but thankfully two out of the four events were blocked before beginning.  It could have been worse.  The death poll has mounted to more than a million and the far reaching effects of the attack are not currently known.

 

“Damn Chase we could have been in a world of shit.”  Chase stared at me with a puzzled look.  He knew only that his master is home and all is well in his limited world.  I shouldn’t say that.  Chase’s world is actually less limited than mine.  He is free, free to do as he chooses and I on the other hand have decided that the free world is not as free as people think.  We are all birds in this social cage and our cage has been breached.

 

Now that my little old Honda is missing in action I must revert to my old Ford truck.  The only thing holding it together is rust.  If I lose the rust Chase and I will be driving in the cold October air with a bad case of hypothermia.  Besides the engine the only thing which works is the heater, but the blower motor has only two speeds, low and high.  Needless to say, having the truck as a backup was a blessing but not a thrilling experience.

 

Instead of going anywhere I stayed home.  After the Five Mile experience I developed a new respect for seclusion and the art of meditation not to mention a renewed respect for what I owned no matter how minute it might be. Two days ago I clung to life and had no time to think about its value.  I did not have a family but I did have life, a precious commodity that others were capable of snuffing out at a whim.  There was a dissonance, incongruence in the thought, one I never ponder much, but ponder now.  Who should have such power?  Who dares to play superman in this comic book world?

 

My thoughts angered me.  Chase sensed them and stared at me occasionally whimpering.  Something changed, something wrong, no longer did the breath of freedom fill my lungs completely.  No longer did I smile at the thought that I possessed freedom by the simple act of moving somewhere no one could touch me.  What I felt was universal.  For surely no man or woman could live completely free, it was folly to think such, but preconceived beliefs that once chained me to the possibility have been shattered and I have fallen into a soup of depression and discontent that hovers above me as sure as the cloud of orange which once enveloped the town of Five Mile.  I and all those who share this earth as their home are simply actors living in a cage, a cage built by someone else and easily destroyed by our masterful puppeteers.

 

***

 

After a few days of self-examination and grappling with things I couldn’t change.  I made a half-hearted attempt to return to the Kip Caller who existed prior to the Five Mile tragedy.  That’s how it was billed in the Lordes Crossing Daily, a tragedy.  Sometimes the English language doesn’t give us the right words to describe things.  Either that or we are stuck on certain words to use for specific events, but that’s an argument in which I choose not to participate.

 

Chase and I drove passed warning barriers and were told by the signs to detour here and detour there.  Eventually we made it to Lordes Crossing without being scanned with a Geiger counter.

We immediately drove to a fast food joint and ordered the biggest cholesterol-filled hamburger on the menu.  I ordered one for Chase and one for me.  So what if it clogged our arteries.  We would die satiated.

 

Our next stop, Johnson’s IGA, this stop the most important, we needed supplies for the winter including plenty of food for Chase and plenty of can goods.  I seldom chose frozen foods.  They were more expensive and if electricity failed which it sometimes does the food would perish too easily.  I liked to take my time in the store and follow my list of needed items religiously.  The checkout clerks generally gasped with disgust when they saw me approaching their lane with two carts in tow, but the five hundred dollar receipt would make their bosses happy.  It was that trickle down fiscal thing Republicans always revered.

 

Once out to the truck Chase barked in appreciation of my return and I’m sure the checkout clerks were howling just as loud at my exit of their store.  I loaded up the bed of the truck with my bounty and we headed next to my auto insurance agent, Larry Casper.

 

“Kip, God it’s good to see you alive.   Man, we heard Five Mile was destroyed and we knew you weren’t far from there and then we heard you were there when the shit hit.”

 

“Thanks Larry, things got just a little strange.”

 

“Good news on your car.  Well, it’s sort of good news.  The car was demolished and in a tree.  As far as I know it may stay there for awhile, but you’re covered and a check will be sent to you soon.  In fact, I have some papers for you to sign and the check will be in the mail.”  He led me to the back of the office and showed me a chair where said paper work was signed.

 

After that we went to Tom John’s hardware store on the south side of the small city.  I bought some large fuel containers for more emergency kerosene and more gas for my generators.  Of course from there we went to Martin’s Mobile a block down from the hardware store.

 

***

 

Our last stop which is always my last stop, Catnip’s Bar and Grill.  I wrapped Chase in a wool blanket to keep him warm while I went in for beer or two.  Catnip’s is the real news organization of Lordes Crossing.  Anything or anybody you need to know can be found sitting at a booth or at the bar in Catnip’s.

 

“Kip Caller, you’ve arisen from the dead surely the Lazarus of Cross County,” Rip Bean yelled as I tromped through the ringing doorway.  The patrons laughed, some applauded, and others simply held their glasses up to me like I just crossed the Rubicon or something.  “First drink’s on me.”

 

“Sounds great, Beaner.”

 

“You got that dog out there in the truck?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Remind me to send a soup bone home with you.  He’s a good ol’ boy.”

 

“He sure is.”

 

Scanning the dark barroom I recognized most of the faces, patrons for years.  I did notice a couple of new waitresses, cute…damn cute.  As I took my place in a booth closest to the front window the youngest waitress slipped a cardboard coaster on the table with a brew of dark beer sitting on top.  “Can I get you anything else Kip?”  She knew my name…of course she did Beaner felt the need to announce my presence.

 

“Maybe some cigarettes, do you sell cigarettes here?”

 

“Just the strong ones.”

 

“I’ll take a pack.”  She left with just a hint of mysterious perfume floating behind her, intriguing.  I always tried to get this booth when I came to Catnip’s.  I could better see my truck and Chase.  I felt more secure.

 

The dark haired girl briskly walked to my booth with a pack of cigarettes.  I of course broke all my cigarette smoking rules.  I have been trying to quit the real ones now for about two years, but this seemed to be a new occasion and new reason not to quit.  The girl did something very surprising.  She sat down across from me.  “I’m Kara and I’ve never known a writer before.”

 

“I’m Kip and I’ve never known anyone named Kara.”

 

“We have something in common then.  Is Kip your real name?”

 

“Actually my name is Steve, Steve Simpson.”

 

“I like Kip better.”

 

“Me too.”  I think she was flirting with me but if I had children they would probably be her age. “So Kara how much do I owe you for the smokes?”

 

“On the house,” From a fan who has never read one of your books.”

 

“Please, you needn’t do that, but thank you Kara.”  Her dark hair was cut short and she was very thin, almost anemic.  If I were a doctor I’d order chicken soup for her, but her deep blue eyes gave way to my thoughts of being a care giver and led me to more intimate ideas.  “Have a smoke with me?”

 

“Sure, I’m on a much needed break.”  She politely fingered a cigarette out the pack and said, “Besides, Beaner told me I could gain some wisdom from you.”

 

“I’m shattered.”  I exaggerated my pain by slapping my hand over my chest.  “Here I thought you were here for unmentionable reasons.”

 

“Those come later.”  She smiled, definitely flirtatious.

 

“I have no wisdom,” I whispered.

 

“You survived the impossible and that had to give you a new look at things.  You know like maybe live seems different now.”

 

“Aye, it has done that.  I no longer think that walking across the street is a sure thing any longer.  I no longer believe that what goes up must come down.  I don’t believe every story written must have an ending.”

 

Another beer magically appeared where the empty glass once stood.  “That’s a lot,” The girl said with a hushed tone.  “You have learned a great deal and now I know why you’re a writer.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you see beyond the next tractor pulling contest, the next WWE wrestling championship, or the next Colts football game.”

 

“I think I like you even though your thirty years younger than me.”

 

“The feelings are mutual,” She smiled.  With that she stood up and scurried away.  Left alone to my thoughts I decided then and there that I needed to write.  I was meant to write and this entire life changing experience inspired me.  Here I am watching Chase watching passersby.  They are no one to him, but that’s the line drawn between animal and man.  I see a story in everyone and in everything.  Human life is much more interesting and is full of irony.  Humans are full of irony and being a writer I love the incongruence of existence, the paradox, and the dissonance of living with the human weakness.  Yes, humans are weak and make mistakes with one another and with the world around them.  I must write.

 

Soon the bar began filling with the usual crowd and I started seeing even more familiar faces, the mayor, the county council boys, and several of their serfs.  Even in local political prides the lions are always the kings of the nighttime jungles.  The social order of things doesn’t change no matter the size or location.

 

Kara returned with a fresh beer and I reached for my billfold but she waved me off.  Again like the wind she scampered off into the bowels of the nightclub.  I gulped the beer and left a large tip for Kara.  With few people noticing I padded out of Catnip’s.  To stay would have been to heed the carnal desires of an old man and old men should not relinquish common sense to the curiosity of young beautiful girls.

 

***

 

 

Chase and I spent the next several days cutting old trees down in the woods strung along the river and gathering twigs and driftwood, anything that could start a fire and maintain it if for some reason our emergency systems failed.  I know it sounds obsessive but I guess it’s one of my many shortcomings.  Besides, Chase enjoyed the romps along the river and barking at an occasional flock of ducks swimming on the river’s surface.

 

I thought about the girl Kara on occasions.  Perhaps they could be better described as fantasies, but at my age I consider all fantasies as fair game and of course harmless.  Her intelligent eyes, her boldness, and a naked beauty broke my heart.  As old age goes I am old but the thoughts of having never experienced the hunger, the closeness afforded by mutual trust and love will haunt me until my last breath is released into this world.  I congratulate you Kara for making me feel once again and you, you don’t even know.

 

As time passed the American government finally came clean with the events which happened at Cleveland and other cities, and small towns like Five Mile.  There in fact was a terrorist attack by Iranian forces that came to the U.S. years ago and assimilated the ways of our life. They managed to obtain the poisonous pesticide known as Agent Orange, but they fucked up royally.  Instead of firing our atomic missiles at various strategic targets they discovered they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.  For fail safe reasons our military command changed launch commands for our complex missile system.  It was a standard of procedure apparently. Thus, the intruders were able only to fire one missile and it never left the ground.  Subsequently, the dumbasses blew themselves up and of course much of Cleveland and a few other places.

 

***

 

Snow came.  Mid December brought one of the worst snowstorms in memory.  With the use of my snowplow attached to the ATV I managed to clear my driveway and Chase as usual chased me from a distance.  He didn’t like the sound of the roaring engine, but he did like rolling in the path left behind.  The sky was as blue as any I’ve ever seen.  It has always amazed me that the earth constantly attempts to heal itself no matter how much man tries to blacken it with his desire to rule.  My guess is that it will never stop man’s constant hacking away and tearing apart.  It’s an innate quality that makes us of no more value than the plastic cups we throw out of our cars on the concrete highways leading us to somewhere else.  After all, we must be somewhere else, anywhere but where we are at the moment.

 

I pulled the ATV into its resting place next to the garage.  My stomach was gnawing away and I needed lunch.  I laughed as I watched Chase running towards me.  He has always been a joy to watch especially when he runs.  He’s as graceful as a deer.  Suddenly he fell.  At first I thought he must have slipped on the snowy path, but he didn’t move.  God, he didn’t move.  I stopped my climb to the front door and ran towards him.  He was no more than fifty yards away and I ran full tilt to him and fell to my knees beside him.

 

Chase was dead, my companion and my friend.  My chest heaved from the sudden exertion so I lie down beside my friend and felt a loss that can find no words only tears.  I sobbed like a child uncontrollably.  It mattered not who saw or who heard…tears know no social morays.  They were ripped from my heart like bullets, each one bringing a new death until the final death.  I rolled onto my back staring at a hawk making its way north towards Five Mile.  Grabbing my chest I felt my heart pounding and then nothing.

 

The End

 

Epilogue

 

Kip Caller died on a frigid day in December next to the dog he loved.  Sure it could be said that it simply was a coincident.  The man died over exerting himself and the same could be said about his dog, but the thought fleeting perhaps as it is must seek recognition.  Can a man die broken heartedly over the dog he cherished?  I say yes and will never think otherwise.

 

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.

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

Orange Haired Fibs

I’d like a little poon

with Kim Jung Un

If I could beat Trump

to the jump.

Maybe I could be his buddy,

skin’s a little too ruddy

for me. I could volunteer

to handle Ivanka’s rear

but I think daddy’s called dibs

either that or my orange haired buddy

has a bad case of the fibs.

Thrashers

Heading for Alberta, music blasting,

ol’ Neil ridin’ shotgun into an Aurora green night.

How could I turn down such a night,

my fifty-five chevy giving out the only light.

I think ol’ Neil didn’t need the Thrashers,

they needed him.

Concrete Well

The gutter boss throws a stiff command,

“Gimme a smoke tramps,

watch your eyes or cops will yank your neck.”

He laughed without humor, “Ever have your neck yanked?”

Hector and Homer plunged into a silent place.

A place they knew gutter boss couldn’t go,

His mind quite incapable of logic, he continued,

“I wanna smoke.”

“No smoke today Frankie boy,”

the man in blue jingled metal handcuff,

his eyes bored holes into Frankie’s.

“Wanna go down to the concrete well?”

Frankie slid down the greasy brick wall,

fighting the urge to scream.

The handcuffs whispered, “We’ll yank your neck.

Let’s go to the concrete well and yank your neck.”

 

Edit

The story is told, the work is done, but life continues on busy breezes and you must catch one and ride it to the end of your own story.  Desolation and doom are inevitable but our ability to change the story is possible.  We are the editors of our life.  Our scribbling can change the end of the story.  It’s not an American story, an African story, a European, Middle Eastern, or an Asian Story.  It is your story and your pencil, edit at will.

Black Boots

Black Boots

Black crow flying circles

staring down at me

mocking cynic.

Crowned king of evil by some

to others a circus act.

Black crow outside my window

cawing for his lover.

“Come make eggs with me,”

He says as he sits

on a limestone clinic

“Come shoot the butcher of Baghdad,

Have abortions will travel,

Shoot him eye for an eye.”

The black crow’s chest is pumped

ready to laugh at the man with a gun

sipping tea with sisters wearing

Swastikas and sickles.

Rodeo clowns with broomsticks up their ass

Where’s my old friend Martin?

Fly to Selma black crow

and don’t let the black man rise

keep him down

anvil crown.

Crunch his head like a soft melon

with black boots shined with spit

wading in the Mississippi mud

waiting for a flower’s bud,

his orange hair feathered like a bird

ready to kill.