CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Diner” by Mark Sumioka

There on the coffee table was the colorful stack of lottery Scratcher tickets.  I leaned forward at the edge of the couch, the adrenaline from the gamble swirling through me.  I had coin-scraped their surfaces in jagged angles, though some Scratchers, the ones at the beginning of the session, had been scored in perfect shapes – ovals, circles, or rectangles.

That was when the fever had just begun.

Now I saw the pile of lottery tickets and their frayed bits of grey-black residue and was aching for more.  It filled me with memories and sadness.  It went beyond money and entertainment. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Moments That Matter” by James Gardner

It was just after seven.  Dianna Reynolds sat in the front seat of a faded green Mercury Sable with half a bottle of vodka held tightly between her legs.  She lit a cigarette with a pack of matches off the dashboard and blew smoke out the open window.  Randy Whitehead leaned against the hood of the car eating spaghetti and meatballs out of a can with a plastic fork.  The gentle sound of the river and a smell of fish filled the evening air.  Randy Whitehead finished the spaghetti and threw the empty can into the trees.  He licked off the plastic fork and put it in his shirt pocket.  Then he walked to the side of the car and stuck his head inside.

“Give me a beer, Dianna,” he said holding out his hand.  She reached into a red ice chest and handed him a can.

“Here,” she said indifferently.

Randy Whitehead glanced at the bottle of vodka.  “You better slow down on that shit if you want it to last you.” Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Anti-” by Shae Krispinsky

Strength of will got me to Brooklyn on a drizzling Saturday afternoon. Dreadlocked kids in torn, paint-spattered jeans lugged crates of art supplies, rolls of butcher paper and large blank canvases  through the oilslicked puddles on the sidewalks between their dorm buildings and their parents’ SUVs. Dutifully following behind, parents carried more practical items: lamps, bundles of shiny plastic hangers, extra long sheet sets and grocery sacks full of enough snack crackers and cereal to last several weeks. Traveling light, I had only a large duffel bursting with clothes, some books, my journal and my laptop. Anything to get away from home as quickly as possible.

When my mom called the following Monday, I told her I had found my people, my place, which wasn’t entirely a lie. I felt more at home amongst these tattooed, tortured artists than I ever did in the cultural wasteland of cow-country western Pennsylvania where I grew up, but still, I knew I didn’t belong here. As a writer at an art school, just like at home, I was an outcast. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Nut Case” by Samuel Vargo

Nut Case. That’s what we call him.

It fits. He’s crazy. And dangerous.

Don’t get too close to Nut Case, you can hear him ticking – clicking down to another big explosion. And you certainly don’t want to be near him when it occurs.

Nut Case carries a handgun, some small-caliber thingamajig that he keeps in his pocket. It’s a concealed weapon; I guess that’s the “legal” name for it, but actually, its only function is to put holes through people. And even though it’s a small caliber, don’t think it can’t kill someone. It’s ready made for fatalities, alright. Yep, that gun is very well concealed on his person. I don’t know if I actually consider Nut Case a person, though, since I see him more as a monster – but that’s the legal name for the way he carries that gun – `on his person’. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Different Day” by Mike Bates

 Mi madre says they have expression back in Mexico, Otro día, la misma mierda.  I laugh and tell her they have the same expression here in América, “different day, same shit.”

Mi madre says it sounds better in español.  With that I have to agree.  There is something bland about the translation en inglés, as mi madre calls it, not just with the pronunciation, but in the way it reflects so well the way the Americanos live, like they have lost the ability to perceive the poignancy of their lives.

It is mi-madre’s way of telling me it has been a difficult journey, coming to this country.  I wouldn’t know.  I was just a baby.  Hiding and staying one step ahead of the authorities is all I’ve ever known.  It doesn’t seem all that difficult to me, not when living in the shadows has become a way of life. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Waver” by David Osmundsen

“ERES UNA PUTA!” Alejandro Judaz waved the gun like a child waving a flag at a parade. Marela would’ve laughed at the melodramatics on the TV screen if Miguel hadn’t been shrieking so loudly. Why did his grandmother have to be at jury duty today?

“SHUT UP BRAGUILLAS!”

Marela slammed the front door of the two-family house behind her and marched into the frigid February air. She fastened her pink scarf around her head and across her lips. She heaved a five second breath into the cloth, which caught her warm breath and kept her lower face from freezing. Her fingers clenched in and out, in and out, keeping her blood flowing through her hands.

Marela didn’t mind cold weather. She made sure to mention this when she applied to be a waver at the Freedom Tax office three weeks before. Sharon, the woman who ran the office, responded with “It’s a good thing you don’t mind the cold, especially with this cold snap they’re saying is coming on the Weather Channel.”

When Sharon finished looking over the application, she glanced Marela up and down. “OK, so if you’ll just come over here, so you can see the screen…” Marela walked to the other side of the desk. “I’m just going to show you a little video of what a waver does.” When Sharon pressed the “Play” button, she unleashed a blaring beat proclaiming “I’m sexy and I know it” and spectacular sights of hyper people in turquoise cloths and foam Lady Liberty Crowns spinning “Get $50 Now!” signs and doing cartwheels, backflips, kick-lines, and… was that waver twerking? Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Other Side of Things” by Mark Sumioka

I’d hit it fairly hard the previous night.  My eyes were pinched, and the damn headache was piercing a tiny hole at the back of my skull.  The pain toyed with me, back and forth, disappearing a few minutes but then returning sharply.  I was exhausted.  Normally, I wouldn’t leave the apartment before noon.  At most I would sit on my front deck behind thick sunglasses, a drink in hand, watching passersby down at street level.

But today was my birthday, and my brother Teddy’s too.

My mother and brother had goaded me until I agreed to meet them for breakfast.  They were first to arrive at the diner.  They were tight as mother and son. And I was the outcast, though I didn’t mind.  They were always talking deeply to one another, prodding and interrogating, and then listening and empathizing.  They loved their white wine.  They loved emotional baggage. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “A Vision of Venus” by Iftekhar Sayeed

“Grave the vision Venus sends” – W.H.Auden

 

It was a fateful decision we took on that morning to make love. I slumped in ecstasy on her body, her chiffon magenta saree raised above for my convenience. But something wasn’t right.

“You didn’t come?”

She opened her shaded lids and smiled. “It’s all right. I’ll be late, Zafar.”

“Give me a minute.” I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Shanta unsatisfied. I slid down her gleaming white thighs, and buried my tongue deep inside. It began to fork up and down. And soon she was bucking under me and moaning. The final moment arrived. Her breasts were heaving through her brocade blouse and her mascara was tinged with tears. She smiled, contented.

Shanta looked at her watch and her eyes widened with horror.

“O my God, I’ll be late! Get off me!”

She pulled on her undies, and rearranged her chiffon saree, her black and brown hair, her smoky eyes. She blew me a kiss through her magenta lipstick, and left the flat, clattering on her heels.

I loved lying naked on the bed after making love. I loved the sunlight on my body through the damask curtains; the chatter of magpies outside the window; the odour of her perfume pervading the bedroom; the taste of her lips or vagina….

It had been a perilous quickie. Obviously, she had been tense. She was on her way to a civil service viva voce. She wanted to be a public servant and give up her job as a journalist. She wanted to make a difference to the lawlessness in her country. I had remonstrated with her at first, but then decided to let her find out for herself. I chuckled…and must have fallen asleep. Continue reading

S&R Fiction: “Genuflection” by A.J. Huffman

The obedient dancer enters, on pointe.  A sacrifice of white, she does not realize she is already a ghost of the star she should have become.

Her veil flies behind her, wing to fuel her leaps.  Her eyes, already lost to the clouds, do not notice the pews are empty as she clears them, tiny hurdles easily managed.  The altar is her final goal.

She arrives, still spinning, a human blur, a top.  She turns and turns, skirts flaring, but respectfully never rising higher than lone bent knee.  Dizzy with belief that she belongs only to the graceful embrace of heaven, she stops, holds position a moment longer.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “Henry’s Suicide” by Jennifer Ryan

8:20pm London

All four of them got the summons at the same time. Annabel was working an art event in Chelsea, waiting for Sebastian to whisk her away. Elliot claimed to be at work, but no one believed him. And Izzy? She was in Sebastian’s bed.

A flurry of messages swept around London and before long a freshly-showered Sebastian picked up Annabel and made the Wickham-Holbury train. Izzy went home, changed into jeans, and canceled the date she had lined up. She missed the train, as intended—she wasn’t in the mood for Annabel’s self-satisfied wisdom. Instead she caught a fast train to Oxford, taking a cab through the drenching rain to the manor. She met Elliot on the train, who proceeded to talk manically for the whole journey about trades, his job in the city, and, inevitably, drugs.

The storm was in full pelt as she reached Henry’s manor. He’d inherited it four years ago, in his mid-twenties, when his parents were killed in a private jet crash off the Bahamas. It remained unchanged, the decaying grandeur of his forebears, Henry animating it with parties and dogs and hunts and hedonism. Tonight it looked familiar yet shadowy and distant in the churn of the wind, an owl screeching from an outhouse, the shutters battering with intent. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Return to Me,” by Mark Sumioka

There is a capability within.  Knowing how to stop.  I know how to stop.  In fact, it’s very few and far between when I need to, because I know how to gauge my line.  I can drink a glass of water instead, and then another.  There is a span of time that wavers before it passes.  It is self-loathing.  But pride stops it in its tracks, and before it has a chance to progress it is wiped from the mind.

There.

It has disappeared, that thing, and it’s neither wonderful nor painful because it is numbness.  It is gone.  Yet while I toil thinking about trivialities like food and warmth and where I am and for how long, it silently creeps back, staying just out of sight, waiting in the closet where the door is ajar and I can feel the desperate eyes on me like those of a starving child.

I am glad it is under control.  It isn’t a matter.  It is fine. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Shirt,” by Patty Somlo

Ji-li stood in the small dark room, studying her reflection in the cloudy mirror. Barely blinking, she watched herself fold a worn shirt and slip it into her large, right pants pocket. Then she pulled the shirt out and practiced sliding it in again.

Moments later, she stepped outside and walked her bike to the front of the house. Fog blended with soot, causing flat gray clouds to swallow the sky.

A crowd of bike riders passed Ji-li, headed for the factory. Ji-li steered her bicycle onto the street and joined the throng. Unlike mornings when she passed the ride imagining the day her son Liu would make his fortune in America, she kept her thoughts focused on the steps needed to pull the plan off.

Anxious one moment, brimming with hope the next, Ji-li arrived at the factory, without realizing she had ridden that far. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “That Little Kick Boxer Within,” by Samuel Vargo

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction“Anything to make a buck.” That’s what Mom always says about Dad.

And there’s a lot of wisdom in her words. Mamma knows best and Mamma knows her man. That’s “man” as in my old man or more appropriately, her old man.

Anyhow, the old man — what an entrepreneur!

First, it was having us all pick strawberries on weekends. Then it was potato picking and later, baling hay. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues fiction: Slick by Alan Swyer

The first time Slick Taylor told me I’d been sent to him by God, I should have known enough to bolt.  But instead, seated with a musician who was legendary for all the wrong reasons, plus his abrasive manager, in an only-in-LA-setting, a Westside Mexican restaurant helmed by a French chef and catering to an upscale, almost entirely gringo crowd, I continued to speak — or should I say pontificate — about what could, or should, be done to rehabilitate a shattered image and thereby increase the ability to bring in revenue. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “That Night,” by Mark Sumioka

It had been a torrential night.  The drinking had gotten out of hand to where our buzzes were delightful and we talked over nonsensical matters with luster and humor.  But there was that chemistry of ours, the one that changed when we drank together.  And it spun out of control that night.

Gale found a button to push, and exploited it.  I argued over it with flaring pride.  She egged me on, needling me – even physically with her fingernail – until we burst and our fight was intense, though never loud.  And she persisted like no other woman I’d ever known; she knew how to lead me to the gaping trap where I would fall into the hole in the ground and sting with assaulted pride.  She knew me well.  Then I grabbed her forearm and held it tightly.  I could feel my fingers pressing so that the bruises would come in a days.  She grabbed my hair but it was too short, so then my ear.  Suddenly I released her, realizing my foolishness.  But she kept her hold on me until I raised my forearm like a karate block and moved away with headiness that said you are a man and dangerous now. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “The Space Between,” By David Landrum

Martin Rollins thought he had performed well as the opening act for Nickel Creek, but a local journalist cut him to shreds in a review the next day. He called his music notable for technical proficiency but for nothing else. “No tone, no dynamic, no melodic qualities,” he had written, “just a lot of speedy runs and dexterous strumming, which grows dull after five minutes. Thank God Rollins was only opening the show and was not the feature performer”—that despite the fact that the audience had liked him, Nickel Creek had lavishly praised him afterwards and wanted to check their concert itinerary to see if he could open for them again. But when he got an email from Talia Metzger, it erased all the consternation from his mind. He read it over and over, unable to believe what he saw on the small screen of his iPhone.

“Martin, this in Talia. Remember me? Just kidding. I wonder if we can see each other. I’m in town for a friend’s wedding. Repost. I’d love to see you.”

Sitting at an outdoor table at Starbucks, feeling the cool breezes blow on him, he quickly replied.

“Talia! How could I forget you? Let me know where we can get together. Martin.”

The reply came instantaneously.

“How about Wealthy Bakery at 3:00? By the way, I thought that guy who did the review in The Press was a real asshole.”

He texted a reply:  “So did I. 3:00 at WB is good. I’ll see you there.”

She wrote back:  “OK.”

He sat back in the wrought iron chair. Noticing his coffee, he took a sip. He had not seen Talia Metzger in ten years. They had dated and been lovers in high school. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever known. Their physical relationship was at once the oddest and the sweetest he had ever experienced. Talia was deaf.

His thoughts went back. They had sat next to each other in chemistry class and were lab partners. Despite her disability, her parents had mainstreamed her in regular school. She did well as a student. She was beautiful and accomplished. And she had taken a fancy to him.

Her mother was Israeli, her father American. Martin had been on the tennis team with her brother. She had a grown sister who lived in Tel Aviv and worked for the Israeli government.

He finished his coffee. He had a performance scheduled tonight and had to practice. He went back to his motel room, got out his guitar, and began to play. He had a lot of trouble concentrating on the pieces he needed to work on as memories of the two years they had been together flooded his mind.

At first their communications were smiles and looks. He was uncomfortable around because he did not know how to relate to her because she could not hear him. He did not want to be condescending, wanted to treat her as he would treat anyone else, but she was not like anyone else he had met. She could speak, but her speech was imperfect because she could not hear what she was saying. She did not talk a lot to him, he noticed, even when they were working on an experiment in class as lab partners. Gesture and facial expressions conveyed what she wanted to say to him (though he noticed she talked quite a bit to the instructor and the other students). The two of them developed a whole vocabulary of non-verbal markers. Occasionally she scribbled notes, but mostly they used their bodies to talk rather than using their voices.

Sometimes he reflected on a quote he had heard—he thought it might have been Isaac Stern who said it. “It’s not the black notes on the page that are the most important thing. It’s the white space in between them.” This was usually interpreted to mean timing is everything in music performance, and this was probably what the author of the statement meant. But for Martin, the quote underscored the recognition of silence as important—in music and communication, and particularly in the way he spoke with Talia. They spoke with silence, at least with silence of words. Their sharing, like the white spaces in music, created a beauty more than the precision of sound could ever manufacture.

Her parents were not enthused about their friendship. Martin came from a religiously mixed home. His father was a non-practicing Jew. His mother was a communicant of the Orthodox Church. To eliminate the chance of religious conflict, they had kept a religiously neutral home. He smiled to remember how they celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah—his family would be festive for a whole month. He went to his mother’s church on Orthodox Easter (a week later than Protestant and Catholics celebrated it) and occasionally went to synagogue on Holy Days. Religion did not become an issue in their home until his older brother and younger sister opted for Judaism and became regular worshippers and Sabbath-keepers.

This bothered his mother, who said she did not want him going to synagogue anymore and exerted low-level pressure on him to be baptized Orthodox. He responded by refusing to attend services at either house of worship. Word of his lack of faith got back to Talia’s parents through his brother and sister, who attended their synagogue.

The first time she invited him over he sensed her parents’ iciness. He watched Talia as she and her mother and father spoke in sign language and realized they were in a heated argument over him. Her folks realized after a while that he could read their daughter’s expressions, backed off, and were cordial. At school the next day her face told him she was mortified and afraid he might close up to her. He assured her—non-verbally—that this would not be. She passed him a note. “Come to my place tonight. OK?” He nodded to tell her he would.

That was the night he first made love to her.

He turned his concentration to his guitar and used all his self-discipline to think only of his music. After a fruitful practice, he checked the time, showered, and changed clothes. He got in his car and headed for Wealthy Bakery, a bakery and coffee bar. It had not been open when the two of them were in high school.

He had come to her house that night so many years ago with a bouquet of flowers for her—and partially as a peace offering to her parents, whom he thought might apologize to him for their behavior yesterday. They were not there. She met him at the door. She had on a white long-sleeved blouse and shorts. Her eyes widened with pleasure when he gave her the flowers. She laid them on the table and threw her arms around him. He felt her strength, warmth, and softness and hazarded a kiss. She did not push him away but responded. She led him over to the sofa. They sat down and made out.

Talia Metzger won the prize of the most beautiful woman he had ever known. Tall and lithe, she combined the strength of an athlete (she ran track) and the gentle shape of a beautiful seventeen year-old. He had seen her run and had marveled at her body—the very way her body was put together and moved suggested grace. She could not hear the starting gun but could feel its vibration. Martin would marvel as she sprinted off the starting line with the grace of a gazelle and the ferocity of a jaguar. She excelled as one of the school’s top women runners. When she wore miniskirts or shorts to class he had trouble keeping his eyes off her legs. As they kissed, she touched him gently. It was then that he first realized the dynamic of silence in their relationship.

He turned into the Wealthy Bakery parking lot. He had realized back then she was not merely touching him but expressing herself—her touch told him her passion, her emotion, the outpouring of love she felt him. He also realized how much sound and speech went into passion. Talia gasped as they kissed, but no words, no sound, no groans or languid noises that expressed arousal, came from her throat. Her expressions of these things came from her fingers, her lips, her tongue, and her cheeks as she rubbed them against his.

His hands went to her breasts—too quickly, he thought. He took them away but she took his wrists and guided them back. He unbuttoned two buttons on her blouse then stopped, again thinking he was going too quickly. She reached down, unbuttoned the rest of them, and pulled her tucked-in shirt out of her shorts. He reached back and unhooked her bra. She had the loveliest breasts he had ever looked on or touched. Pear-shaped, not large but not small, delicate but full (like the rest of her body), sweet, exquisite melons with small, pale nipples, they compelled his touch. He caressed and squeezed them. The feel of her hands on him grew more intense. She did not nod but he could read her large brown eyes. They stood. She cocked her head toward the stairs.

Martin had started early with women. Sometimes he wondered if he really had got laid by a randy older cousin at age fifteen (she was eighteen). He had never lacked since then. Talia was a virgin. He remembered her shedding the shorts, dark blue panties, unbuttoning the long sleeves of her cotton blouse and throwing that and her unhooked orange bra to the floor. He marveled at how her slender thighs joined her upper body and her pubic mound rose from her opening and curved through a light tuft of hair to her flat stomach. She told him by her gaze that she was a virgin and he made sure he was gentle with her. She gasped when he pushed into her and bled a little, but he felt her quickly leave her pain and respond to him. The peculiar beauty of loving her was birthed.

As with kissing—much more than with kissing—sex was verbal. He had not thought about this much before his first time with Talia. You talked in the lead-up. The woman said yes. You commented all the way through. How many discourses had he heard in bed (or elsewhere) locked together with the different women he had loved? O my God, O that feels good, Slowly, slowly, Let it go—and the groans, squeals, the articulations of pleasure? When his lovers got their joy, they shouted and moaned. When an orgasm came, God and Jesus were frequently evoked. One girl he slept with would yell, Sweetness! A Muslim girl from India had shouted, Name of the Prophet! And women cooed, murmured and spoke softly in the afterglow.

Talia, of course, could not speak. This in itself would make loving her unique enough. What pierced him to the core, however, was the way she did the same things other women did but did it without voice.

She touched him. She rubbed her face against him and licked his neck and chin. She raised and lowered her body, not just in the way women did to maximize pleasure, but to speak, to respond, to communicate her ecstasy. It startled him that he could understand what she said without words, with the word of her body and the vocabulary of her movements.

Her orgasm came silently—at least as far as words went. She stiffened, of course, arched and shook as the spasm ran through her. No shout or declaration came, but her expression vividly enunciated the joy that tore through her. She seized two handfuls of flesh on his back and held them, then sank down when the surge of pleasure had passed through her and ended.

When this happened, it startled Martin so much he stopped for a moment but then went on, holding her tightly, thrusting deep and hard, finally coming to his own pleasure. She would not hear him shout, he thought, though she might feel the vibration of his voice. But she would feel his body. She would read and understand all that his physical frame said in a way no one else could—the language of the body, the language she primarily knew.

He locked his car and went inside. He saw her at the table, reading a book, looking lovelier in her maturity than she had looked at seventeen and eighteen, the years the two of them had dated.

She stood when she saw him. He gazed just a moment. Talia had lost the youthful, girlish lines but retained the graceful strength he remembered. Her eyes shone with love, her face radiating not just emotion but the silence that spoke to him and that he realized, with a surge of poignancy, he could still understand.

He put his arms around her. Recollection flooded his heart as he felt her strength, her softness, the communicating energy flowing out of her. Since they were in a public place neither wanted to make a show of affection. They pulled apart. She leaned forward and gave him a sisterly kiss on the lips. He sat down and took her hands. She pushed a yellow pad of paper toward him. In her even handwriting he saw, “So happy” and a heart drawn next to it.

The natural thing would be to talk, but Martin did not return her written greeting. He squeezed her hands. At least for a while, he thought, it would be like it was before. They would speak with silences and with their surfaces and motions of their bodies.

Talia understood. They went over and ordered drinks. She did talk to the barista. Martin noted how much her speech had improved since they were together. She spoke as articulately as anyone who could hear. A tiny bit of slurring punctuated a word now and then, but he doubted the clerk suspected Talia might be deaf. When the barista asked her if she wanted room for cream in her coffee, she could read his lips enough to tell him no. Back at their table, they drank and shared, though neither of them spoke.

Through his travels as a musician, he had occasionally heard about Talia. Magazines ran articles on her. She had a webpage and was on Facebook. She went to Brandeis and then earned a business degree at the London School of Economics. While there she began dating a Brit she married two years after graduating. They had two children. Talia ran a small investment firm and managed a chain of charter schools in Indiana and Ohio. She was active in organizations that provided support and education for deaf children and their families in the United States, Canada, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. More than once he had seen profiles in magazines by journalists presenting her in the incessantly attractive role of a woman who had overcome a handicap and succeeded admirably. Besides that, she was pretty (he noted how good she looked in the short blue dress she had on). He rejoiced at how well she had done. Such journalistic affirmations annoyed him because they focused on what she lacked and how she had not allowed this to hinder her. He had known what she did have—on how her lack of hearing had birthed in her an ability that, when he entered it, seemed nothing short of miraculous. It was the ability to communicate and to express herself without words. No one knew of it because they did not assume it even existed. Now he was entering it once again.

As they drank, the melding of their spirits took place once more. In high school he had tried to explain to a buddy of his how they communicated. “Oh, the Vulcan mind meld, like Mr. Spock does on Star Trek,” his friend had quipped. Martin dropped him as a friend. When he and Talia had been dating a year, her father had said one evening at their home when Talia went inside to change to a bathing suit (they had a pool), “Do you enjoying fucking my youngest child, Mr. Rollins?” Martin reacted with appropriate shock. Talia’s father laughed. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to beat you up or cut off your balls. In fact, I’m glad she started out with someone who is considerate and seems to be a gentleman. I do wish, though, you were a little bit more like David or like Leah.”

David and Leah were his brother and sister. Martin felt she should answer.

“If we’re being frank,” he said, “yes, sir, I do like fucking her. I like it a lot. I am a blessed man. I may become more like my sister, but David seems to be transforming to a fanatic.”

“Can I tell him you said that?”

“I’ve told him as much myself.”

“I admire him for his zeal.”

That was the only time they discussed the matter. Talia returned with her mother at that moment, both of them decked out in next-to-nothing bikinis, her mother looking very good even with her forty-eight years and three children. Martin, Talia and her father and mother swam, ate by the poolside, and talked cordially until past midnight.

As Martin sat in Wealthy Bakery, he sensed the difference in her now that she was a married woman and had children. The energy she exuded felt different. It was not singular. He experienced it now as a mixture, more complex and mysterious, like blended wine, with nuances he had not known in her before. He knew, too, as they sat close and held hands, she was pleased at the progress of his career as a musician. For an hour, as people came and went, as the baristas prepared drinks and people bought coffee and talked, the two of them remembered. They understood. Finally, she stroked his wrist in a way that said she had to go. He nodded and kissed her. She pressed a small envelope in his hand. When she had gone out the door he opened the letter that looked like a thank you card you get from giving a gift at a wedding or graduation.

“I’m staying at City Flats Hotel. If you come at eleven tonight after your concert, it will be okay. We can be together again. Love, Talia.”

Martin folded the note and placed it in his pocket.

Their senior year, their relationship began to waver. It was not family pressure and not the question of Martin’s religious commitments. It was something he had never imagined, when they first met, would cause trouble and ultimately split them apart. A simple condition undid them:  Talia could not hear his music.

The realization that this was a problem came gradually. It came silently as well, as all their understandings of one another did. Martin had begun to play guitar at age eleven. He never particularly enjoyed classical style but continued taking lessons until he was in high school. His sophomore year, he discovered fingerstyle guitar:  guitar playing that used classical technique on a steel-string folk guitar. He listened to John Fahey, Chris Proctor, Pat Donahue, and a host of other artists who played that style. He began to learn it himself. In a year he had mastered open tunings and the fast techniques of the artists he admired. Martin found himself in demand at receptions and outdoor weddings. He played supper clubs and coffee bars that wanted ambiance music. He did blues and played venues that promoted music in that style. As he played and practiced, as his skill developed to a high level, he entertained thoughts of trying to make it as a professional musician.

Talia, of course, could not hear what he played.

She was puzzled at what to do about this. He knew there were ways the deaf enjoyed music—people stood and signed the lyrics to songs while colored lights represented the cadence and harmonies of a composition. Talia did not seem interested in this. Genuine to herself, she simply excluded music from her life and found beauty in areas of art she could see or touch. As the conviction that he would pursue a career as a guitarist grew stronger, he felt the strain of it on their relationship. It was, simply, an area they could not share. That they could not share it raised debate and the necessity of Talia talking to him or typing out messages as they attempted to reconcile the issue. They failed to reconcile and ended up splitting. One day they both simply understood it would not work. They agreed on this, their silent mode of understanding one another coming into play again. They made love one last time in her room when her family had gone away. She nodded good-bye to him. He kissed her on the forehead and drove away into the night.

A few days later he was sitting in the Kava House in East Town when Talia’s father burst in. Martin thought for a moment he meant to start a fight because he had seduced and then dumped his daughter, but he sat down, a worried look on his face, and said he wanted to talk. His manner and tone of voice were conciliatory. He said Talia had told them they had split. She was heartbroken.

“I hope,” he said, brushing his hair back with one hand, “it was not something I said or Tzipora said. I know I might have been a little hard on you at times, but we both like you, Martin, and we were very disappointed that you and Talia broke up.”

For the sake of their parents, he and Talia had dinner at her home with them. Martin remembered how difficult it was and how being with Talia again only confirmed it was over. She went to Brandeis; he went on the road to establish himself as a musician. He reflected upon it as one of those things in life that wrench your soul but you have to endure. Now she wanted to see him again.

He felt waves of deep emotion but had a show that night. He again summoned his discipline to get ready. Starting out as a musician had been tough and lean. Now he had a reputation as one of the top guitarists in fingerstyle, attracted good crowds for concerts, and had solid sales of his CDs and teaching tapes.

And the performance went well. The auditorium sold out. He did his standard numbers, some vocals, and some new compositions. It was hard to get Talia off his mind, but he drew on the ability he had developed over the years to blot out distractions and let the music take him. He felt the adulation of the audience and felt the creative flow that must be released for a successful performance. At the end, he did two encores, talked with fans, signed CDs, and then drove downtown to City Flats. He found a parking place on Ionia Street and walked to the hotel. She had left word for the people at the front desk to admit him. He rode the elevator up to the fourth floor and knocked. The door opened immediately. He knew she had not heard his knocking but knew the time and knew his habit of punctuality (“Musicians are always on time,” he had often quipped to her). He came inside. She closed the door and threw her arms around him. She had on a light blue robe.

He had not kissed her with a lover’s kiss in ten years. The innocent eagerness of her lips took him back. Nothing had changed—their bodies, yes, were older, but that was not a limiting factor. She kissed him with hunger and abandon. The silence (he did her faint gasping) made him exclaim his—exclaim it with speech that did not use verbal utterance.

Talia pulled him into a luxurious bedroom filled with a plush bed, the curtains closed tight. He undid the rope of her kimono-style robe, pulled it off her shoulders, and let it fall to the floor. Once more he saw her beauty of her body, still trim from athletics (he had read that she still ran and played sports). Once more he marveled at how she was put together—how her body fit, how graceful and complimentary were the proportions of her physical frame. He saw her beautiful breasts, the strong shoulders and flat stomach, powerful thighs and graceful intimate parts, the long legs. Apportioned like a statue of Artemis or Daphne, her physical frame communicated strength, elegance, and femininity. He felt her arms, her breasts against him, her hands quick and adroit to remove his clothing.

No words—like where the Bible said heaven heavens declared the glory of God but without speech or language. Once again, he heard the utterances of her body, the elocution of her touch, her nakedness the tone of what she said, her touch the sentences and phrases. After so many years, he knew the magic, the miracle of it once again.

They sank into the bed. Their lovemaking was quiet and full, enveloping them in its rapture, in the work of grace only the two of them knew. He gripped her and felt the writhing, smelled the scents, knew the little movements, the touch of fingers and of her face that spoke.

She was a married now. He was violating the seventh commandment. He knew, though—she told him—her husband loved her but did not understand her. She loved him but he could not reach one spot in her heart. It sat like an empty room, sending tiny impulses of discord into her soul. Only he could fill that empty space. Only the love he offered to her could complete and make her spirit whole. She told him this. She told him with her body.

When they were finished they lay side by side—silence, but no silence as their selves interchanged, as the sorcery of their relationship worked its spell.

Martin realized something else. She understood his music now. Though she could not hear, she knew it. Before she had not known it, and this was the thing that had split them up.

She ran her left hand over his shoulders to say “Yes” to the thought that had just passed through his mind. In their high school days, when they became lovers, when they fell in love and established their bond, he had just begun his endeavor to make it as a musician. He had only played as a performer for a year or so. The passion for music had not yet taken full root in him and he had not at that point fully committed himself to becoming an artist who lived by his music. She could feel and sense it now. It possessed him to the degree that she could know it. The thing that had pulled them apart no longer existed. They could be together again. No barriers interdicted their love.

All the same, he knew it would be a liaison, an affair. He would see her now and then. She would be able to get his performance schedule from his website. She would notify him when they could rendezvous. She could not sacrifice her marriage, her career, or her reputation for him. He could not interrupt his career for the emotional turmoil that marrying her would bring. It would be a different sort of beauty, and all the more so for its secrecy.

They lay in bed together, arms around each other, speaking with silence, their words more sure than any he had known before.

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “The Trouble With Kids,” by Mark Sumioka

In this heat little was possible.  I sat on my couch with all the windows and doors open so that the houseflies could do as they pleased.  They wandered here and there.  My skin was sticky, even after I went and rinsed off at the sink.  Here at the beach this heat was unfathomable, though every year in August or September it returned, that humidity, the stale hovering oven heat that told us by the beach that we weren’t special like we assumed.  It would come from God knows where, then crawl all the way to the coast, hardly a breeze, with me on the couch breathing like I’d just walked up a steep hill.

It would be better at dusk.  I looked out my screen door again to check on the level of the sun.  It worked its way down in an arrogant fashion, like a guy who had what you wanted and made you wait on purpose.  It was like that – the heat – and I wanted so badly for it to be over.  But evening would bring us happiness.  We would fill it with a good meal, with drinks, with relaxation through light conversation and laughter.  It would be a fine night.

Footsteps stomped up the stairs, and suddenly as if she’d leaped the last three steps Gale was at the warped screen door, pulling it open in a huff.

“Hank!  You’ve got to come help.”

“For what?” I said.

“A boy.  He’s passed out.”

“Where?”

“In the alley.  Over by the trash cans,” she said and thumped down the stairs.

I knew it was serious because Gale hadn’t waited for a response.  I slipped barefoot into my tennis shoes and instantly was regretful.  I could already feel the hot moistness between my toes.  I stumbled down the stairs, holding the dirty railing as I went, and it made me think of the gook on a car’s engine.  The low sun was directly in my eyes, blocking my way.  I managed down the steps without bothering my knees, and hurried to the alley.

“Hank!” she called after me.

When I got to them there was a boy, maybe twelve, lying on his side near a row of trashcans.  His face was wet with sweat, his mid-length hair stuck to his face.

“Is he breathing?” I said.

“Yes, I checked.”  Gale was kneeling at his side.  She looked up at me for guidance.  I shrugged for response.  Then she got frenzied.  “Well, c’mon Hank!  What do we do?”

She stood up and we switched positions, me kneeling so that my joints popped and it was a mixture of relief and fear of the unknown.  There were Gale’s eyes, searching, waiting.  Then I realized.  It was up to me.  Gale was a sharp person, better than most I knew, but she looked to me in times of danger.  I wasn’t sure why.  Maybe it was because I was a man.  Maybe it was because we were a team.  I’d never thought to ask.

“Give us some space,” I said warily, touching the boy’s shoulder and turning him to me.

“Careful, his neck might be injured,” she said.

I gave her an annoyed look because she shouldn’t have thrown me in the driver’s seat if she still wanted to drive.  It frazzled me and I lost my place.

“I’m being careful,” I said sternly.  I let go of the boy’s shoulder and leaned in closer.  “He’s breathing.”

“I know, I already checked.”

My hand felt his forehead.  He was hot as hell.  That was when I turned and looked up to the sky, as though in question.  We were all sweating.  My shirt was a peel on my torso, and when I turned it caught, so I twisted my body until it gave with a slither.

“Get on the phone.  Call 9-1-1,” I said instinctively.  “Wait.  His eyes are open.”

“I’ll go,” Gale said as she went.

The boy moaned.  Then from far down the alley there was the sound of youthful voices.  I looked up and there were four boys running toward us shouting, “Dane!  Dane!”

“Son, are you okay?” I said to the boy.

“Me?” he said curiously.

Now the noise of the boys’ shouting was booming, low and high voices shrieking.  Suddenly, they were upon us, the boys panting and huffing with their hands on their knees.

“Is he okay?” one boy said to me.

“Is he?” another said.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  They looked at me curiously, as though I were a fraud.  Then I put some gusto into my voice, “He needs a doctor.  My gal is on the phone calling 9-1-1.  Is this your friend?”

“That’s Dane,” a third boy said.

“This happened to him once after a soccer game,” the final boy said, and his tone seemed to imply that he was desperate to be heard, not so much by me, but the other boys.  “I saw it happen.  But he was okay.  He just got exhausted because he was so hot.”  He looked at the other boys with growing confidence.  “He was overheated.”

“Makes sense,” I said.  Then I looked upstairs, listening for the sound of Gale.  I heard nothing so I shouted, “Gale!  Bring some water for the kid to drink!”

“Okay!” she answered.

Dane turned on his back and stared up at us, his eyeballs moving, though his head stayed still.  And then, strangely, as if a switch had flipped, his face changed with the slightest narrowing of his eyes.  His cheekbones rose so that his mouth became a smile.  The boys exhaled as though Dane had pulled one over on them.  They guffawed, “Dang, Dane!” and shuffled around the perimeter, returning to conversation about the game they had been playing.

“What were you kids doing outside in the heat anyhow?” I asked.

“We were playing a game.  We were chasing him,” the kid who liked to talk said.  “Dane’s out of bounds.”  And then accusingly to Dane, “You lose.”

“Forget your damn game!” I shouted, and they snickered and looked at each other.

Gale came with the water and I sat Dane up to let him drink.  He sipped tentatively at first, and then realizing it was fine, began gulping the water.  When he was finished I took the glass and handed it back to Gale.  The talkative boy stepped forward to inspect his friend’s condition.  Dane cocked his head back and scowled at the intrusion so that the boy flinched and backed away.

“You call 9-1-1?” I said to Gale.

“They should be on their way,” she said, and then with familiarity, “You know how they are.”

I nodded then looked Dane over again.

“How do you feel?” I said.

“Okay,” Dane said.

“He’s okay,” a boy said.

I jerked my face to the four of them.  I said, “This isn’t normal when a person passes out. You get that?”

They nodded silently, some shrugging.

“I wasn’t passed out,” Dane said.

“What do you mean?” I said, and then to Gale, “I thought you said he was passed out!”  And then back to Dane, “You were awake the whole time?”

“I had to stop and rest.”

“How come?”

“Because I was tired.”

I looked at the boys and they were quiet, awaiting my response.  I exhaled a heavy puff of air.

“Mister, he don’t need to go to the hospital,” a kid said.  “If you want, we can take him home.”

“C’mon, Dane,” another said, “Let’s go to your house.”

“There’s Gatorade at my house,” a third boy said, and the fourth’s eyes widened with temptation.

I looked to Gale just as she had looked to me before.  There was that silent exchange.  I thought she might cry.  What the hell was eating her?

“Stupid cops.  They’ve got no business taking their candy ass time,” I said and the boys snickered again.

I got Dane to his feet and he seemed fine.  Kids were a miracle.  I was envious at their youthfulness.  I was envious of many things that they wouldn’t understand until much later.

“Brush it off,” a kid said like they were in a baseball game.

“Yeah, Dane.  You’re all right.”

“Enough with the cheerleader crap,” I said to the lot of them.  “Give Dane room to walk.  Now you get him on one side and you get him on the other, and you boys make sure he can walk.  If he gets shaky you grab his arms and hold him up.”

I gave a last look up the alley.  Then Gale walked to the street.  We all waited for her to get there.  She looked up and down then shook her head at me.

“Okay, now be careful.  You’re sure you weren’t unconscious at all?”

“No.  I was just catching my breath,” Dane said with assurance.  He brushed himself off and led his pals toward the street.  As they walked he said suddenly, “And I’m not out of bounds!” bursting to a sprint.

They chased after him, cackling, and were gone in an instant.  Gale looked at me and shrugged.  I put up my hands and did the same.  She walked sideways with her eyes still hovering where they had turned and gone.  So I moved toward her until we met halfway.

“I thought he’d passed out,” Gale said somewhat apologetically, walking to the spot near the trashcans where she had found Dane.  She inspected it thoroughly, as though there might be some explanation waiting to be found.

“It’s kids messing around,” I said to her.  “I’m sure we were the same way.”

Gale lingered there for a spell, the worry on her face eventually calming to neutrality.  She came back to me and we stood face to face in the alley.  A long silence passed, that mute conversation flowing through us like a short wave.  And then she said, “Maybe the police are busy with the heat.”

“Hell, I’d damn near forgotten about the heat,” I said and chuckled, feeling the texture of my wilted collar.

“Such a scorcher,” Gale said and her eyes rose to the sky where an orange flame was now burning and beautiful.

I looked to the place where the kids had turned and gone out of sight.  Gale followed suit, then gave a distinct sigh.  We were quiet again, and this time the muted communication between us was awkward.  I knew she was thinking about children.

“You think it’ll be as hot tomorrow?” I said, at a loss.  Whenever we got on the subject of kids, and the fact that she couldn’t have them, I got awkward with nothing to say.

“That’s a dumb question,” she said dismissively.

When she turned to me, her eyes were listless, and I could feel her mind light years away from mine.  There would be no meshing this time, so I nodded and put my hands in my pockets.

Gale made her way toward the stairs like time was of no importance.  I stayed put, watching as she made her way up them.

I looked again to where the kids had disappeared, and then to the place in the alley where Dane had lain in exhaustion.  I was irritated.  Those kids had derailed my night.

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “Out in the Far Hills,” by Thomas Healy

One at a time the server at the Hookah Lounge placed three smoldering charcoals on top of the perforated foil that covered the bowl of the water pipe which was filled with mint-flavored tobacco.  Carefully, then, he took several long draws on the pipe to get it started then put on a clean mouthpiece.

“Enjoy, gentlemen,” he said, with a slight bow, after setting the mouthpiece in a glass bowl in the middle of the small brass table occupied by the three tire salesmen.

“Who wants to go first?” Arnett asked, leaning forward in his cushioned chair.

Norville winked at Gartland, knowing Arnett liked to go first in just about everything.

“After you, Robb.”

“You sure?”

He nodded along with Gartland.

After taking a sip of water, Arnett set the mouthpiece between his soup-cooler lips and inhaled slowly, savoring every bit of the tangy smoke.  Then, aware from his previous visit to the lounge that it was considered impolite to pass the pipe to another person, he set it back in the bowl when he was through and leaned back and crossed his arms.  As he did before, listening to the seductive Arabic music playing through the speaker above the front door, he imagined he was in Beirut or Damascus, somewhere far removed from the familiar shopping mall that was only a few blocks from the store where he and his friends worked.

“Oh, look,” Norville said, staring at the television attached to the wall behind the espresso bar, “there’s been another sighting of that coyote.”

Gartland groaned audibly as he reached for the water pipe.  “There seems to be a sighting reported every few hours.”

Arnett looked up at the television whose sound was off so it didn’t interfere with the music.  “I bet there’s more than one of them.”

“Not according to the sheriff,” Norville said quickly.

He disagreed.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple at least.”

“If that’s so, no wonder they are having so much trouble getting this thing taken care of.”

“The folks they hire these days in the sheriff’s office are lucky to find their way home at night, let alone some wild animal on the loose,” Gartland cracked.

“Oh, I don’t believe that’s why they haven’t killed the coyote yet,” Norville remarked after returning the pipe to the glass bowl.

“You don’t?”

“It’s just not a priority for the sheriff,” he contended.  “I have no doubt if the coyote was loose in the Emerald District, say, it would have been killed by now.  But he really isn’t that much concerned about what goes on in the east corridor of town.”

Gartland smiled, aware that the Emerald District was one of the areas where the sheriff garnered a great deal of support in the last election.

“So what you’re implying is that it’s up to us to kill the coyote,” Arnett said, sitting up in his chair.  “Is that right?”

“I suppose we can wait for the sheriff to get around to it but by then a lot of damage probably will have occurred.”

“I understand a number of cats and dogs already have been attacked.”

“Lord knows, this critter has to be killed before it goes after some person because, if I’m not mistaken, coyotes sometimes carry rabies.”

Gartland exhaled a faint ribbon of smoke.  “Remember last year, just before Thanksgiving, when that drug dealer released those pitbulls in the Emerald?  The sheriff rounded them up in a couple of days.”

“More like a couple of hours, if memory serves,” Norville remarked.

“That’s not going to happen here.  That’s for sure.  He’ll take his own sweet time just as he always does when it involves something at this end of town.”

“We all have a rifle or two in our closets,” Arnett interjected.  “I suppose we could go after it ourselves.”

“I wasn’t suggesting we do it,” Norville said hastily.  “I just pointed out that it’s more likely someone in this end of town is going to kill it before the sheriff does.”

“Then why not us?”

Norville, frowning, glared at Arnett.  “Because the only thing we’ve ever shot are jack rabbits and birds.  That’s why.”

“We could do it, though,” he insisted.

“Maybe you could, Robb, but not me.”

“Or me,” Gartland added before he inhaled another mouthful of smoke.

*

“About ten o’clock last night a man walking in Cedar Hills claimed he saw the coyote race across a footbridge,” the reporter on the radio announced.  “Deputies were dispatched at once but the animal was not found.”

Arnett, relieved, leaned back from the kitchen table, smiling to himself.  It’s still out there, he thought, still waiting for him to come and kill it.

After the weather report, which called for rain all weekend, he turned down the volume on the radio and resumed cleaning his father’s hunting rifle.  Scattered across the table were a roll of paper towels, some cotton patches, a bore brush, a cleaning rod, and a can of Remington oil.  A stub of a cigar burned in the ashtray on a corner of the table.

As expected, his friends didn’t waver from what they said the other night at the lounge so he would have to go after the coyote on his own.  He didn’t mind, though, almost preferred it because he wouldn’t have to share any of the accolades that were bound to come after he killed the animal.  Maybe, for once in his life, he would be seen as someone who could accomplish something significant instead of one of those people who only wished he could do such a thing.

Seemingly, ever since his younger sister died six years ago, he had lost the trust of many members of his family, particularly his father, who no longer acted as if he could rely on him.  As her only brother, it was his responsibility to look after Jenny, and he believed he always did the three summers they worked together as grooms at a riding stable across the river where a friend of their father’s was a longtime trainer.  But then early one morning that third summer, shortly after they arrived at the stable, a stallion broke out of its stall, and as it charged through the barn, Jenny tried to stop it and got kicked in the face.  She died in a matter of minutes from the severe trauma she suffered to her head.  He was only a step or two from her when the accident occurred so some in their family felt he should have protected her.  He didn’t know what he could have done, really, the horse stormed by so quickly, but that sentiment was shared by a lot of people who believed he had let her down.  That was preposterous, he knew, absolutely preposterous.  No one at the stable that morning thought he was in anyway responsible for her death.

At times, he almost wished he had been the one kicked by the horse but he wasn’t and would just have to accept that some people never would think he did enough for his sister.  They were wrong, dead wrong, but he doubted if he could ever change their minds.  But maybe, just maybe, if he shot the coyote, they would have a better opinion of him.

*

It was so early it was pitch dark out but Arnett wanted to get started as soon as possible so he was surprised to see Ignatius, who lived in the apartment below his, already in the parking lot.

“You’re up bright and early this morning,” he said as he unlocked the back door of his panel truck.

“A little too early,” he admitted.  “I’m still half asleep.”

“Quail season hasn’t opened yet, has it?” he asked, noticing the rifle tucked under his arm.

“Not that I know of.”

“You going to a shooting range then?”

He shook his head.  “I thought I’d see if I could find that coyote that’s causing all the ruckus around here.”

“You and plenty of others, I gather, from a report I heard on the news last night.”

Arnett opened his trunk.  “I reckon one of us ought to get it this weekend then.”

“Where are you going?”

“Cedar Hills.”

“Yeah, that’s the last place where I heard it was seen,” he said.  “Well, I wish you luck.”

“Thanks.  I’ll need it.”

Because of the earliness of the hour he scarcely encountered any traffic on the drive out to the large stretch of wilderness in the east corridor of town that was owned by the county.  For as long as he could remember, people in and out of government had discussed developing Cedar Hills into an eighteen hole golf course, maybe even a football stadium, but nothing ever came of the discussions so a couple of years ago it was designated by the county as a migratory bird sanctuary.  He parked near the footbridge at the north end of the refuge because that was where the person was walking who spotted the coyote the other evening.  A few other vehicles also were parked there so he assumed he would not be the only one looking for the creature this morning.

Occasionally in the summer, when the temperature rose into the nineties, his family would seek refuge in the shade of all the trees in the sanctuary and have a picnic beside one of the ponds.  He and his sister would often skip rocks across the linoleum smooth water, always competing to see whose rock went the farthest before sinking, but most of all he remembered the games of hide and seek they played with friends their parents let them bring along on the outings.  She always found the best hiding places, managing to blend in wherever she was, and seldom lost a game.  The few times he beat her, he suspected she let him win because she didn’t want him to get too dejected.  Since her death, he had visited the sanctuary only a few times, and whenever he did, he imagined she was still hiding there somewhere, refusing to show herself until he spotted her.

The day was every bit as dreary as forecast.  It rained steadily throughout the drive to the sanctuary but, almost as soon as he got out of his car, it intensified, the drops noisily pelting him like pellets of ice.  He had on an orange felt hunting hat so he would not be mistaken for the coyote but quickly realized that the hat would not keep its shape very long in the heavy downpour so he took it off and put on a dark blue baseball cap that was waterproof.

Not really having any idea where the coyote might be, if it was even still here, he decided to follow the narrow creek that passed under the footbridge and headed west, the rifle cradled in the crook of his left elbow.  He moved cautiously, not wanting to step on anything that might alert the animal of his presence.  “Walk as if you’re in a house full of people sound asleep and you don’t want to wake them,” his father told him the first time he took him quail hunting.  The ground was flat for nearly a mile then began to rise, and soon he could feel the strain in the back of his legs but he trudged on, knowing it was too soon to take a break.  He passed through a field of Scotch broom, through prickly hedges that were needle sharp.  He passed a boulder the size of his car and another the size of a tractor.  Above him herons circled, even a falcon appeared briefly between the limbs of a towering tree.

He proceeded at such a deliberate pace that he almost felt as if he were half asleep.  So, before he started up another rise, he removed his cap and lifted his face to the rain.  It stung like a dozen slaps but it jolted him awake and he continued on, one step at a time through the muddy ground.

*

Suddenly, off to his right somewhere, he heard what sounded like a rifle shot.

“Oh, Lord,” he sighed, halting at once.

Intently he listened for another shot, a voice, but all he heard was the pelting rain.  Perhaps what he heard before wasn’t a shot at all but only a branch snapped by the wind.  Lord, he hoped so, because he didn’t want anyone else to kill the coyote.  It was his prey, he believed, and his alone.

*

“Jesus, man,” a voice above Arnett snarled as he approached a blackberry vine, “I almost plugged you.”

Startled, he looked up and saw a grizzled figure in a camouflage jacket and hat perched in the neck of an oak tree.  A rifle rested on the top of his left shoulder.  “Thank God you didn’t.”

“Don’t thank Him,” he snorted.  “Thank me.  I might have more yesterdays in my life than tomorrows but my vision is still good.”

“I didn’t even see you.”

The hunter grinned, revealing a badly chipped front tooth.  “That’s the point, isn’t it?  Otherwise why would I have my bony butt up in this tree?”

“You here for the coyote?”

He nodded.  “There’s nothing else worth shooting in this goddamn swamp.”

“Have you seen any sign of it?”

“Nah, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s even still around here.  I figure I’ll stay up in this tree another hour or two then call it a day.”

“I’d wish you luck but I want to shoot it myself.”

“Believe me, if it comes by here, I have no doubt I’ll kill it.  As I said, my eyes are sharp as ever.  Otherwise it’s all yours, friend.”

*

Breathing hard, Arnett slumped against the side of a tree and looked at his wrist watch.  It was nearly ten o’clock, and still he had not come across the coyote.  He wondered if it wasn’t here any longer, as the guy in the tree speculated, if maybe it was never here at all and the person who claimed to have seen it was mistaken.

“Damn,” he groaned to himself, as he fished a cigarette out of his pocket.

He started to reach for a match when he saw the pair of pale yellow eyes staring at him from behind a manzanita shrub.  Immediately his pulse quickened, and the cigarette dropped out of his mouth.

There it is, he realized, not more than fifteen feet away from him.

His heart was in his throat.  And for nearly a minute he didn’t budge a muscle, afraid if he did he might spook the animal.  But he knew he had to retrieve his rifle, which he had set across a stump beside his left foot, if he hoped to get off a decent shot.  He almost wished the coyote would start to move away but it remained as still as he was, its eyes as lifeless as tacks.  Ever so slowly, while still staring at the lemon-colored eyes, he reached for his rifle and, just as he was about to pick it up, the animal darted out from behind the shrub and raced past him and disappeared in some fireweed.

“Goddamn!” he shrieked.

To his amazement, it wasn’t the coyote but a reddish brown fox and, in frustration, he fired a shot at it and missed.

*

Minutes later, maneuvering down a narrow slope, he stumbled on a tree root and fell to his knees.  His pants were caked in mud, his hands too, and as he got up he suspected he must have looked like someone who had fallen through a chimney and was covered in soot.  He smiled.  Certainly he didn’t look like a person others were likely to embrace in celebration.  Not at all, he thought, continuing down the slope.  But he knew his appearance really didn’t matter if he killed the coyote.  He could look like a scarecrow and people would still want to shake his hand and have their pictures taken with him.  And maybe his perceived failure to protect his sister would finally be forgiven by those who still held him partly responsible for her death, if not forgotten.

He truly hoped so, mindful of the convicted arsonist last spring who rescued an elderly man and woman from an overturned car.  Many in the neighborhood who remembered that, as a youngster, Metheny set an abandoned warehouse on fire congratulated him for saving the couple, including Arnett who had gone to high school with one of his younger brothers.

“You must feel as if you’re back,” he remembered asking him one evening.

“Back?”

“In the good graces of the community?”

He shrugged.  “Some folks will never forgive me for what I did but a few might after they see I am really not such an awful person.  I don’t know.  I wish I could say I don’t care but I do very much.”

So did he, Arnett thought, climbing over a cracked tree.

*

Around half past one, when Arnett returned to his car, his hands were shaking he was so cold and he had to steady one hand with another in order to insert the key into the lock to open the door.  Immediately he turned on the heater, full blast, and toweled off his face and hair.  He was soaked down to his socks and decided to warm up a little before he headed back to his apartment.

He had not found the coyote, hadn’t come across any trace of it, and was terribly discouraged.  He wasn’t really sure if it was in the sanctuary, but if it was, he realized he wasn’t going to find it.  Not today, anyway, because it was just too miserable out so he decided to stop looking before he caught pneumonia.  Tomorrow, though, he would be back, maybe with some cold cuts from the butcher shop to use as bait.  He didn’t intend to sit up in some tree but he might set up a blind near the creek and wait for the animal to come after the meat.

“Seduction is every bit as important as marksmanship,” his father told him time and again when they hunted.

He had never killed anything larger than a jack rabbit but was confident he wouldn’t have a problem killing the coyote after all the trouble it had caused.  Briefly he looked at his drenched face in the rearview mirror, remembering when one of the trainers at the stable asked if he wanted to shoot the horse that killed his sister.  He did, certainly, but he knew Jenny wouldn’t have wanted him to because she hated to see any harm come to the horses at the riding stable.  She was the sort of considerate person who would stop whenever she saw a dead squirrel in the road and bury it.  So he declined and asked that the horse not be killed.  It was a decision that disappointed the trainer who he was sure thought less of him because of it, probably considered him weak and irresponsible.  And it was a decision that he came to regret five months later when the horse kicked another groom, severely fracturing her hip, and was put down at once.  The trainer didn’t ask for his approval then, didn’t say anything, just looked at him with what almost seemed contempt.  His attitude would be much different, Arnett believed, after he took down the coyote, much, much different.  He would see he wasn’t the weakling he thought he was but someone capable of doing something important and necessary.

His hands still shivering a little, he turned on the ignition, put the car in gear, and got back on the road.

*

Ignatius, removing a small crate from the back of his panel truck, smiled when Arnett pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex.  “You get it?” he asked as soon as Arnett climbed out of his car.

Wearily he shook his head.  “Didn’t even see it.”

“Well, someone did, and I thought it might be you.”

“The coyote’s dead?”

“That’s what was reported on the radio not more than half an hour ago.”

His shoulders slumped in disappointment.  “I’ll be damned.  I thought for sure I was going to be the one to get it.”

“It’s too bad you weren’t.”

“Where was it shot?”

“Somewhere at this end of town.”

“Out in Cedar Hills?” he pressed him.

“I don’t recall but I don’t believe so.”

“There must be more than one loose because I’m sure one’s in the hills.”

“I thought you didn’t see any sign of it.”

“I didn’t but I just have a feeling it’s there somewhere.”

His eyes narrowed.  “You do?”

“I do.  I definitely do.”

Despite the skepticism of his neighbor, he went to the butcher shop that evening and purchased three pounds of ground beef.  Still convinced the coyote he was after remained at large, he returned to Cedar Hills early the next morning and hiked deep into the sanctuary.  The rain wasn’t as intense as it was yesterday but it was just as cold and blustery.  After he found a place that provided some cover, he set out the meat and waited for the elusive coyote to appear.  It didn’t, though, but he wasn’t discouraged and planned to return to the hills next weekend, and, if necessary, the following weekend and however many after that until he found the animal.  He was so confident he would kill it he could almost see the smiles on the faces of the people in his part of town and hear the compliments they surely would extend to him for his accomplishment.

CATEGORY: SRLitJournal

S&R Fiction: “House With a Black Door,” by Nicholas Wisseman

At first, I thought Dan’s death would blow through the house like a storm: a day’s worth of rage and tears—two at most—and then the grief would be gone. Lots of things rolled off my tough old bunch; why not this?

But I sold them short. You’d think I’d know not to by now.

Stacy was mad for weeks. She’d shake her small white head and say, “I guess that’s it,” screw her face up in a pout, and look at big Paula, who—on cue—would say the same thing. Paula would pout then too.

Julia wept all the time. “I mith Dan tho much,” she told me most days, her blurred face red and wet.  “I loved him.”

“I know,” I’d say, shocked that she still knew who he was…and who he’d been. “He loved you too.”

Carter said much the same thing each night. “Dan—was—a—dear…Dan—was—a—dear—friend—to—us—all,” he’d start and stop at least twice. “And—he—liked—us—a—whole—lot…I—liked…I—liked—him—a—whole—lot—too.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” I’d note as I passed Carter his meds. “I’m sure he knows that.”

Keith just sat and stared, more out of it than I’d seen him since he came. No jumps; no fits. Just blank eyes and a fierce need to sit in the same spot on the couch.

Lisa made the most noise, but I’d planned for that: I taught her to hug Julia when the sobs came, so that they both had a friend’s touch to turn to. Of course, Lisa would have liked my touch, but Julia seemed pleased to stand in for me.

And Kate…Kate lost her spark. It was hard to watch. She still bossed us—up and down and left and right and back and forth—but there was no grit in it. Dan—when his head was clear—had been her Dan. “Old Dan,” she’d called him, “old Dan, my old Dan. He’s my Dan, Charles. Where’s my Dan?” She’d wait for him to come home, just like she had when we could still trust him to leave the house. “I knew you’d be back!” she’d yell when you came through the door, hope etched across her face…and then she’d see who it was, fall back into her hunch, and give you a task. “The trash stinks, Charles. Take it out, why don’t ya?”

I did my best to help them through it. When Stacy’s face set in a pout, or Julia broke down, or Kate had her hopes dashed once more, I donned my mask and found the right words: “He’s with his dad, now; he’ll like that,” or, “You’re a good friend. He’ll miss you too.” Most times it worked for them.

But not for me.

It hit me worst at night, when the house was still and my shift was close to done. The job was…calm now. No one called me Fuck (in place of Chuck); no one talked up the Cubs; no one threw their pills in my face; no one asked me to watch John Wayne films with them; no one told the cops I was a “Jap spy up to no good;” no one asked me if I liked birds; no one told me they would “do for me” if they got the chance.

So yeah…I missed him too. We all did. Our door—the door to the street, the door whose hue marked us as “that house”—was still blue…but for months it felt black.

And that was our gift to him.

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “A Rough Translation,” by Norman Waksler

CATEGORY: LitJournalFictionMr. Massicot was not pleased when they tore down the old woodshop next door, even though it had been unoccupied the last four years. The woodshop stood, had stood, on a double sized lot of which it occupied about a third, the rest covered by low shrubs, tall grasses and the occasional slender tree, not exactly an English ornamental garden, but green and peaceful to the eyes.

A retired private school history teacher – American to the Civil war, Ancient to the fall of Rome, European to the fall of Napoleon – Mr. Massicot believed that what had gone before inevitably presaged what was to come, and every time a large lot was cleared in Carbury townhouses followed. And as he said to his wife, Illona, not only did this mean months of construction dust and disturbance, a minimum of four sets of neighbors where previously there had been none plus a minimum of four additional cars, but, “You never know what kind of people are going to move in.”

Tall, slump shouldered, liver spots on his bald head, Mr. Massicot had been a second string first baseman in college and still carried an athlete’s bulk, though not his athlete’s grace of movement. Illona Massicot, on the other hand, once willowy, had thinned out with age so that in her short sleeved top and summer shorts she seemed all elbows, knees and shins. They had married rather late for children, and she had continued over the years as a university librarian, which was just as well with Mr. Massicot given what teachers’ salaries were. She said, “People who can afford to buy townhouses in Carbury these days are likely to meet your standards of respectability, Alexander.”

Mr. Massicot thought Illona had been a little tart with him lately and he didn’t like it one bit. “Money is no guarantee of respectability, Illona. Look at your drunken, adulterous cousin Claudia.”

“Well,” she said. “Poor Claudia.”

Since Carbury, a comfortable college town, was a desirable alternative to its even more expensive neighbor Cambridge, Mr. Massicot had the sour satisfaction of being right about the fate of the double lot. Soon after the debris of the woodshop was carted off bulldozers cleared the shrubbery and trees, foundation digging commenced, and the irritation of  noisy construction got under way. By summer this resulted in a pair of paired townhouses with noxious green siding, senseless gables, random porches and decks – the two sets separated by a wide blacktopped driveway to garages and front doors. From their living room and his study upstairs Mr. Massicot could look straight along the drive and into the small yards behind each townhouse, so that when they all sold out and the new people moved in, he had a perfect perch from which to assess them.

Four couples, all in their late twenties to early thirties, all white, middle class, nothing wrong with that of course, yet they all annoyed Mr. Massicot to one degree or another. “What do you think of the new people?” he asked his wife.

“They seem nice enough. They mind their own business, certainly.”

“They’re completely self-involved. No sense of neighborhood at all. They don’t even talk to one another.”

“They don’t seem to be doing any harm.”

“They don’t do any good.”

“That’s —-.”

“That’s what?”

“I guess that’s true of any number of people.”

Mr. Massicot didn’t know the names of the new neighbors so after a few weeks, he named them himself:

The Lawn People, a thin, mousey pair with a baby in arms and a toddler that squawked like a hungry grackle. They seemed to spend all their time watering the lawn, mowing the lawn, edging the lawn, planting flowers, pulling up weeds, rolling balls on the lawn for the toddler, and otherwise frolicking as if they thought they were fauns and nymphs

The Boozers, a chunky woman and a big bellied man who were always on their little porch in wicker chairs drinking alone or with friends so that their white wicker table ended the night loaded with empty bottles and the porch looked like a cheap barroom.

The TV People. Mr. Massicot didn’t in fact know what these individuals looked like because all he could ever see was their shadowy forms and beyond them the continually shifting colors and shapes on their gigantic TV which, ridiculously, was on at all hours of the night and day.

But the ones who annoyed Mr. Massicot the most were The Shoppers. Another pair around thirty, he was thick legged in those multi-pocket shorts that came down below his knees, square headed with a buzz cut; she was athletically built with short cut hair and muscular calves and they always seemed to be indulging in one sort of sport or another, the two of  them on bicycles, or attaching their bikes to their SUV or tying two kayaks to the top of it, or loading it with coolers and duffle bags and driving off and disappearing for days on end.

“Don’t they work? How can they afford their mortgage?”

“Maybe they work from home, Alexander. Or even from wherever they go off to. Not everyone has to go into an office these days. It’s called computer commuting.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of it. The perfect method to promote irresponsibility and laziness.”

Yet what really disgusted Mr. Massicot  was that every day – every day they were home, that is – he saw them carrying cartons or handle bags with the logos of pricey stores from their SUV to the house, or a large delivery truck stopped at the sidewalk and men wheeled obviously heavy cartons down the driveway on a dolly, or the UPS or Fed Ex driver, or even the mailman, left a box on their front stoop.

“Look at them,” he’d say seeing the couple coming home. “Three bags and two boxes this time. How extravagant can you get?”

“Well,” Illona would say, “They’re in a new home. There are things they must need.”

“Need. Nobody needs so much stuff that they get deliveries every day. They’re just indulging themselves. They must be up to their eyeballs in debt and their credit cards must be full up.”

“We’ve always bought what we needed.”

“Yes, but wisely and with moderation. That’s why we’re enjoying a comfortable retirement.”

Mr. Massicot didn’t spend all his time disapproving of the neighbors. If Illona in retirement had her gardening, her daily walk with a woman friend, her gourmet cooking and her 18th century English novels, Mr. Massicot had his project. He greatly admired the Roman historian Sallust and the way he used his two great works – War With Catiline (a conspiracy to take over Rome), and Jugurthan War (Romans against Numidians) –  to deplore the moral and political decline of  Rome (even though Sallust himself had accumulated his wealth by oppression and extortion as  governor of a Roman province). However, Mr. Massicot had never found what he considered a satisfactory translation of  the historian, and despite his rusty Latin had set out to do one that truly captured the compressed, pithy style that made him so effective.

The project had sputtered through his last years of teaching, an unhappy and disappointing period for Mr. Massicot who knew that he failed to reach his students, all of them totally uninterested in history, disrespectful, always playing with their phones, writing nearly illiterate papers, giving incoherent oral reports, simply not caring if they flunked. It was with relief that he finally retired, taking his silver goodbye bowl and his pension and settling in to a regular schedule of translation, which he entered on a computer connected to a printer, but not to the internet.

For ideas he could have used the Loeb Library edition of Sallust with its translation on the facing page, but then it wouldn’t really be his own work, a form of cheating actually. Instead he stayed strictly with the Latin text, a classic grammar, and a giant dictionary, methodically conning definitions, conjugations, declensions, idiomatic expressions. At times he’d read over finished sections and polish a phrase or a sentence. He found himself tiring more easily than he liked, age threatening his ability to finish, but despite slow progress, these were the most satisfying hours of his present life.

When he was having difficulty with a passage, struggling to find the trenchant English to match the concise Latin, he would get up from his six drawer teacher’s desk and shuffle about the office in his slippers, touching a book on the built-in bookcase, sliding a file cabinet drawer open and closed, flipping the printed pages of what he’d so far completed, stopping to look out one window and the other, then he’d shuffle back to the desk and enter what he’d finally worked out.

This particular day, Illona out shopping somewhere, Mr. Massicot was laboring over the half sentence “quin defessis et exsanguibus qui plus posset imperium atque libertatem extorqueret.”

His first rough translation read, “but when they’d been worn out and exhausted someone more powerful would take the power away from them and also their liberty.”

Of course “worn out and exhausted” was redundant as was powerful and power, and “power” was of course really more specific than just command, more like rule or dominion in this case. And “take away” was rather a weak expression of  extorqueret. Altogether unsatisfactory.

He leaned himself out of his desk chair and made his contemplative circuit of the study, ending up at the window overlooking the townhouses, where in front of the one owned by the shoppers, he saw a white van with  the side door open and three men in blue coveralls and baseball caps, rather warms outfits for late summer, one putting a computer in though the open door, one stepping to the side to let the third, coming out of the townhouse with a CD player, get by him.

At first Mr. Massicot thought the couple was moving out, but nobody used such a small truck to move a house, and besides, the shoppers had been gone all week; he’d seen them set their kayaks on top of the SUV and load their bikes inside, so wouldn’t they be there to supervise the move? No, the likelihood was that just as he’d said, they’d overspent their credit cards and couldn’t pay what they owed, and these men were repossessing everything they were in default of.  It would be a hard lesson learned.

Two of the men came out with a flat screen TV which they slid into the van, and Mr. Massicot, losing interest was about to get back to his translation, when the third man came out of the townhouse holding a dark suit on a hanger against his body as if to demonstrate that it fit him. The taller of the other two said something to him, perhaps disapproving, because the third flung the suit into the van with what Mr. Massicot saw as an angry gesture, spun around and went back into the townhouse, emerging shortly with a small speaker under each arm, and Mr. Massicot finally understood that the men were in fact stealing all the easily moved, costly contents of the townhouse, which apparently wasn’t meant to include that suit.

He’d never seen the like, though of course he’d read about it and seen television reports. The men were remarkably businesslike: both unhurried seeming and swift, much more efficient than any moving men he’d ever encountered. Mr. Massicot wondered how they’d gained entry – he supposed one of them must also have lock picking skills. It occurred to him that he should dial 911. However, he deliberately didn’t have a phone in the study, nor was there one in the bedroom. Illona had a smart phone that she put by her bedside at night, and he himself had what they called a flip phone that was very convenient when he was out, if otherwise uninteresting. But that was downstairs as was the house phone, and he almost had the phrase he was looking for. Anyway, the shoppers shouldn’t have gone away and left their precious purchases unattended so often. Obviously the thieves hadn’t been fooled by their house lights on timers. Mr. Massicot  went back to his desk to try the phase, but it had slipped away while he let himself be distracted.

The next couple of days Mr. Massicot couldn’t help glancing out the window now and then as if expecting to see the same white van and the same thieves, perhaps at another of the townhouses. What he saw was the quiet strip of blacktop in the sun, the green yards, anywhere from one to five parked cars, the woman with the baby strapped to her chest pushing the toddler filled carriage toward the sidewalk, the mailman, normality.

But on the third day he saw the couple, their SUV with the kayaks on top, and two uniformed police officers, one talking to the pair, the other taking notes. Obviously the two had returned from their outdoor adventures and found their townhouse stripped of every electrical toy, and a suit as well, though possibly they didn’t know that yet. The athletic looking wife was the one talking, upset, gesturing with her hand as if counting off each stolen object. The square headed husband was tight lipped, his balled fists by his thighs, slowly and repeatedly shaking his head. For a moment Mr. Massicot felt a kind of non-specific discomfort, the rough equivalent to almost remembering something from an uncongenial dream. Then the couple and the police went into the townhouse, and Mr. Massicot went back to his translation.

Mid-afternoon that same day, Mr. Massicot in the kitchen after his daily nap cutting a piece of chocolate cake to go with his coffee, when Illona came into the room saying, “Oh, Alexander, what an awful thing. The Kerns’ house was broken into, all their valuable things were stolen. Their TV, stereo, everything, even their microwave oven.”

“The Kerns?”

“Terry and Amber. Our new next door neighbors.”

“Oh, yes. I saw.”

“What do you mean, you saw?”

“They were like superior moving men, except the only things they were moving were electrical.”

“You mean you saw them while they were doing it?”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“Did you call the police? Wait, no, you didn’t, did you?”

“It was none of my business, and I was busy.”

“But that’s totally irresponsible. How could you do that?”

“Well, there’s no law that you have to report a crime, you know. Anyway, it serves them right.”

“Serves them right for what? My god, Alexander, that’s mean. You’re mean. You’ve always been mean.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“No. No. I mean it. What you call running a tight ship is just being mean. What you call feeling irritable is just being mean. What you call always making the hard decisions is just being mean. You’re a mean old man, Alexander, and you’ve always been mean.”

“Illona, you’re just getting hysterical over nothing.”

“I’m not hysterical, and it’s not nothing. You’ll see.”

Mr. Massicot wasn’t pleased. Illona had on occasion gotten mad at him, more lately to be sure, but that was normal, husbands and wives couldn’t always agree. But this was extreme and unpleasant. As well, he was offended by the threat in her voice, but before he could make her calm her down and explain what “you’ll see” meant, she turned her back on him and left the kitchen. He refused to pursue her.

About an hour later, Mr. Massicot was in the living room reading Our Mutual Friend. Generally he read history, rarely fiction, but he made an exception for Dickens whose oeuvre he went through chronologically from Boz to Drood. Liking them for their complicated plots, rich descriptions, Dickens’s touching affection for his strange and warped characters; and of course for the historical element, which was a kind of vivid companion to Mayhew’s London Labor and London Poor.

Illona, for her part, was presently going through Richardson’s Clarissa, 1500 pages, a million words, some infinite number of volumes. As a rule, they sat together there on matching wing chairs across the faded blue Tabirz rug, every now and then one reading a  passage aloud for the other’s enjoyment, but Mr. Massicot noted that the volume Illona had reached was absent from the little drum table beside her chair. She’d probably taken herself off in her huff and retreated with the book to the bedroom. She’d get over it, she always did, especially when she was making a mountain out of a mole hill. After all, if he was so mean why had she married him and stayed with him all these years. Surely she’d understood all along that he only wanted to see things done right.

The doorbell surprised him. He couldn’t imagine who would be stopping by unannounced at this hour; friends always called first, and the days when a paperboy rang to collect and be tipped were long gone. He hoped it wasn’t some religious fanatic; he wasn’t in the mood although at other times he never minded twitting them for a few minutes before they gave up and went away. He looked up at the ceiling in the direction of the bedroom, waited another while, but when the doorbell rang again, he bookmarked his page and set the book on the drum table beside his chair.

Through the sidelight he saw a uniformed police officer, someone obviously a veteran of the force, tall with a pot belly, grey sideburns below his cap, and glasses sitting on a pointed, investigatory nose. He had a small notebook in one hand, a pen in the other. “Blast!” said Mr. Massicot, then opened the door. “Good afternoon, officer. Though it’s nearly evening isn’t it?”

“Are you Alexander Massicot?”

“Yes. Yes I am. What can I do for you, officer?”

“It’s about the robbery next door, Mr. Massicot. Your wife called the station and said you’d seen it while it was taking place. Can you tell me exactly what you saw?” He clicked the ball point pen and raised his notebook ready to write.

For a minute Mr. Massicot could hardly breathe, as though the weight of his wife’s betrayal was crushing his lungs. He put a hand against the door jamb to steady himself, at the same time trying to look as if he was being casual. The officer was staring at him with that particular, just waiting non-expression that all policemen must have learned as part of their academy training. Finally Mr. Massicot was able to speak. “I’m afraid my wife exaggerates, officer. I might have seen someone leaving. A white van pulling out of the driveway,”

“Your wife said you saw individuals taking electronics out of the building.” Flat voiced, un-accusatory, factual, hard as a police baton to the chest.

“I don’t know where she got that idea, officer. Perhaps she confused what the neighbors said with what I said later. A white van. Leaving the driveway. That’s what I saw. I didn’t even know there was robbery.”

“I see. You didn’t happen to catch the plate number, did you?”

Mr. Massicot shook his head. “It might have been a Massachusetts plate. I think.”

“You mean to say that’s all you can tell me?”

“That’s all I know.”

The officer lowered his head a little and stared at Mr. Massicot. He frowned. “I see. Well then.” He unclicked the ball point. “I guess that’s it. Thanks for your help.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help. But I could only tell you what I saw.”

“Uh huh. Well. Have a good day now.”

“You too.”

Mr. Massicot was almost dizzy with indignation and disbelief at Illona’s disloyalty. When he turned to go upstairs and confront her, the hallway going past the living room and dining room along to the kitchen had the gray porous look of an underground tunnel he’d seen years ago in the Roman Coliseum, an illusion that passed when he started up the stairs, slowly as always given the chronic ache in his knees and ankles.

Illona was on the bed, propped up against two pillows, her rolling reading tray across her lap with the Richardson tome aslant on the ledge at the bottom. Mr. Massicot said, “How could you do that to me?”

Illona took off her reading glasses and just turned her head to look at him. “Do what, Alexander?”

“Do what, Illona! Call the police and put me on the spot like that. I just had a police officer here interrogating me. It was very unpleasant.”

“Well, you did see the robbery, didn’t you? Did you tell the officer what you saw?”

“Yes, I told him, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that wives don’t betray their husbands. They don’t make trouble for them. It’s criminal.”

Illona laughed. “Well, as Al Jolson, I think it was, used to say, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ From now on, any time you do something untoward, Alexander, I’m going to do my best to thwart you. Any time you say something gratuitously mean, I’m going to set you straight. Whatever it takes. You brought this on yourself, so just be warned and watch your step because I’ll be watching you.”

Mr. Massicot stood there immobilized and breathless. That his wife would conspire with the police was bad enough, but that she would be overtly planning to fight him at every turn was something for which he was completely unprepared. This just wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. There was simply no precedent for it.