First, he built the wall. You can’t never tell with The Don what he might do. He likes to keep his competition guessing, and he thinks everyone who ain’t The Don is competition. We saw trucks full of sand and water and stone. They must have emptied out the state of Oklahoma to find that many strong men. And they dug a moat and built a wall. It set there in the desert like the tail of a humongous alligator. That’s the first clue we had that he was serious about building it. There was the wall. Signs went up saying “ACTIVE SNIPER ZONE: DO NOT ENTER.” The shooting was fairly regular for a while. Continue reading
I was sitting on the couch trying to squeeze as much light as possible out of the darkening dusk. My eyes were straining. I knew this because of that lurking discomfort behind my eyes. But it was still far off and there was the lamp right next to me when I’d quit being such a tight ass. I wasn’t any exception to the rule; this recession was affecting us all.
The pages in the book I read weren’t even cream anymore. Continue reading
Fated to Shine
On the day of our conference match-up with rival Johnston High Wayne Laffey had one of his schoolwork flake-outs. While no one ever mistook Wayne for the studious type—he treated the subject areas like a tapas menu, devouring offerings that piqued his interest and passing over the rest—once Wayne locked in on an assignment it was impossible to wrench him away from it. I knew this from experience.
During the home half of innings Wayne kept retreating to his bat bag for the ostensible purpose of retrieving sunflower seeds, but it didn’t take long to figure out he was actually sneak-reading passages of 1984. Continue reading
While sitting at my desk correcting essays one afternoon, I became aware of an uncomfortable, slightly painful, even, twinge in my rear. I squirmed, shifted position, got up and picked at what I thought might be a wedgie, sat back down, squirmed again, got up, circled my chair several times and poked at the seat cushion, thinking perhaps a metal spring was trying to work its way through the padding. Finally I realized that the source of my discomfort was in my bottom, not in my chair.
When I got home, I queried my girlfriend, a graduate student named Lilith, about this discomfort in my derriere. Continue reading
My strangest call ever was for a zombie who was murdered. Of course, it wasn’t a real zombie, but the costuming was phenomenal. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was an actual corpse. He looked so real—dressed as dead and actually dead. We tried to stop the bleeding, but there was no more blood to stop. It had all come out onto the green carpet. Green and red make brown. Continue reading
The Jigsaw Man Explains His Work
The puzzle is almost complete. All I need to do is fit together about two hundred more pieces of this 5,000-bit monster. Here comes the tricky part, though. The last are the toughest to crack. Too much gray. It’s a beauty, no doubt. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” by Rembrandt. I was considering gluing its back, then framing it and hanging it on the wall. I hardly ever think of making one of these puzzles a wall ornament, but in this case I’m strongly considering it. Continue reading
In My Father’s House There Are Many Rooms
Ian chose a pew towards the back. His small, gnarled frame and dark yellow jacket were drenched in the midmorning rain. He could hear the storm plashing against the setts, and the sound echoed against the deep and ancient stone walls of the abbey, into the hallways and on the heavy oaken doors and back out into the storm. A sparrow, seeking shelter from the downpour, flew into the rafters high in the ceiling as the monks shuffled in from the cloister, their habits damp at the shoulders and fringe. They clutched leather bibles to their chests, protecting their hymns and sacred songs the same as they would any relic. Ian watched their shadows march across the floor, and he counted the devout: twenty-four, the same as always. Father Partridge, the abbot, offered Ian a small nod before taking his place at the head of the choir. He breathed, and they sang. Continue reading
The Last Summer I Saw Satan
When I was a teenager growing up in the 1970’s, it seemed like Satan was everywhere. It all started with that movie, I think—The Exorcist—and then there was that other movie that came out a few years later, The Omen. I wanted desperately to go see The Exorcist but my parents refused to indulge me in “that nonsense,” so I was forced to read the book version of The Exorcist on the sly, standing hidden in the stacks of the Fuquay-Varina Public Library with the novel tucked inside a copy of Animals of the Serengeti. My mother was raised a Quaker, and having met plenty of Quakers in my twelve years I assumed that if Satan ever ran into any, they’d scrupulously overlook his Satanic essence and offer him pie and earnest conversation.
Some of my friends insisted that after going to see The Exorcist they’d vomited up green slime. When I asked them how much beer they’d drunk they told me I was an unbeliever. I was intrigued at the idea of being an unbeliever but I wasn’t sure what the repercussions might be. Continue reading
My Dirty Secret
It had been a silly mishap, an accidental chain of events. Whichever the case I needed to get out of the house because my family had vacated the premises, and the isolation and guilt were looming in me like some godforsaken plague. That said I was willing to go anyplace in order to replenish some self-assurance.
I drove a few blocks until thoughts of social mischief prodded me. I parked abruptly and went into the local dive bar.
There were two men who sat next to me. We were on the end where the bar horse-shoed. That’s where all the regulars sat; at least that’s what the two next to me had mentioned.
They conversed with pensive faces, eyes forward.
“Didn’t make no difference,” Rex droned, “after a while. I still got my can of beer and got a bag and went and sat on the beach and drank it.” Continue reading
He had to be there at two, and now it was almost two and he still had to bike there. It would at least take him ten minutes to bike to the central station, then five more minutes on the train. He worried, because he knew she would be waiting for him.
She left the building. Why did he just say that to her? Why did he just wave her away like she was a little schoolgirl? Now she would feel bad all day. Quickly she crossed the street and waived her hand at a taxi. Continue reading
Lady by the Buffet
Sitting alone at the Christmas Disco, Eddy Price was ready for bed. As usual, the whole thing had been nothing but a meat market. Single people had magnetised towards each other, lips creeping closer and hands venturing where they wouldn’t usually dare. Drinks flowed, or spilled in Franny Hill’s case –tipsy since 3 o’clock – and everyone giggled away like it was the first time they’d heard Brett Watson’s stale jokes. The singletons were having a great time, destined to share a taxi home. Even Colin Marshall – with his rubbery face and milk-bottle specs – had managed to find himself a suitable match; Rubie Silk from accounts with her never ending, never-stop-jiggling bingo wings. Yes, everyone had pulled tonight. Everyone… but Eddy.
Eddy struggled with the opposite sex. Continue reading
The cheetah came from behind the shrub at last. It sauntered, it seemed to the boy, like a king entering a throne room. When it reached the hill it hopped atop, with its long tail wagging and its thin legs lunging as though without effort. It stood on the hill with the left side of its body fully displayed to the boy and with its face watching him.
Long ago, the boy could not remember when, but long ago, when his pretty mother had been fond of playing children’s games with him, he had asked her why it was that the face of the cheetah was permanently etched with black tears. His mother had not known the true answer yet she had still given one to him. It was some old tale that spoke of the majesty of the lion and the humility of the elephant. Continue reading
Magdalene introduced Jesus to her colleagues as a friend, one who shared the same concerns for the future of the planet and the fate of mankind. Here was a man sensitive to contemporary problems—a defender of the weak and oppressed, yet unafraid of the powerful. In short, here was a comrade whom they could count on in the coming green battles.
Jesus’s presence made Judas restless. “I’ve already met this guy somewhere,” Judas said. Where had it been? Not required to kiss him, Judas didn’t shake his hand either. He greeted Jesus from a distance and stood watching him. “I’ve seen his face before.” But, unable to remember where he’d met him, Judas stopped paying him any attention and wrote him off as being just some idiot. He had more important things to think about. He called to his colleagues and continued to explain the plan.
Convinced that the influence of the clergy in rural environments had changed very little since olden days, Judas proposed to make use of the priest of St. Martin to pass on the environmental message to the farmers during his sermons. It was therefore important to get to know the shepherd of this flock of snotty sheep in order to involve him in the transhumance against modified genes. The priest would be the intermediary between the environmentalists and the country folk, the bridge that would unite civilization to rusticity, and the beginning of the rural re-education program. In the end, something good would come from this evil GM business. Continue reading
Reimagining President Obama’s Press Conference Comments on Torture
A Different View of President Obama’s press conference of August 1, 2014
Even before I came into office, I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we imprisoned some Japanese folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. Continue reading
A Healing Place
Just prior to Gale’s death, I had gotten out of hand. I had gone on a bender and when Gale lay in bed that last time I couldn’t recall what she looked like or what I had said. My recollection of her final moments was not there. I had blacked out. And it disgusted me so much afterward that I quit drinking cold turkey.
“Sir, you need to wake up,” the hospice nurse said.
“I am awake.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“I’m up. Now leave us alone.”
“I think you’re drunk. If you don’t leave I’ll have to call a security guard.”
“Look at me,” I said. Then my eyes were back on Gale. She was heavily sedated. They called it palliative sedation. I called it waiting to die. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Having to watch Gale go through the chemotherapy and then radiation afterward had been overwhelming. And when it hadn’t done it, and the cancer had returned and spread like wildfire, I believe that was what had buried me. She had dwindled so fast. Continue reading
Too Long a Sacrifice
He had been to this desert too many times – this was the first time he had come voluntarily, and he did not know why.
He never understood how people could find comfort here, with the blazing, naked, ruthless sun, unfolding flat earth, infamous winds and taste of dust; Behesht-e Zahra was a desert stuffed with corpses.
He stood above the grave of one of his students, Elnaz, killed in the post-election protests. A stray bullet had found her heart and ended her, four years ago. He was here when she was buried.
He had come back since to bury his older brother – heart attack – and to visit the grave, as well as two of his students’.
Mehdi Nosrati committed suicide shortly after the murder of Elnaz, and Ali Nejatim died years ago in a car accident.
He had visited the artists’ section and knew many people there, some of them friends, some casual acquaintances, some people he used to despise when they were alive. Some were killed during the chain murders and some had died naturally.
He had visited the grave of his father; that part of the cemetery was green and offered shade, but even the green parts felt like desert. He had visited his niece, who committed suicide. Continue reading
It felt like incarceration. There was no way out. The heat filled the room like stench and it hovered there, taunting me. I lay in bed because there was nothing else to do under the circumstances. Getting out of bed would mean facing the sweltering conditions, and this was not possible.
The fan oscillated back and forth, barely piercing the hot bedroom. It creaked each time it redirected – always sounding as though it were about to break – creating slight panic. All of the stores had sold out of fans and portable air-conditioning units. It happened every year in San Diego, for the span of a week or two, so that we were all reminded of the unbearable conditions we were so fortunate to avoid most of the time.
It was still morning. I lay in bed, the stuffiness suffocating, and it felt as though the heat intensified each time I tossed or turned. Continue reading
My brother pushes me through set after grueling set of crunches. He has a six-pack; he should be an underwear model. He runs with celebrities. Me, I’m surrounded by brown recluse egg sacs, and so many mixed emotions.
I’m hungry. I’m wearing yoga pants and moving heavy things. I’m a lot stronger than I look. My back is moon-burned. I don’t want to be a vampire who lives forever. I just want this U-Haul not to break down, and a big bowl of Oreo ice cream.
* * * * *
She spoke with a beautiful Spanish accent. “You like a drink?”
As Martin Watson zipped up his jeans, he noticed his beer-belly then glanced at his temporary host. She was precisely his type. Prague, Vegas, or here in Spain, he always chose the same. Curly red hair with freckles on the skin if possible. Full, juicy lips. And when it came to the body, Martin liked big. Big ass, big breasts. He was rather specific but believed he should always get his money’s worth. And, in Martin’s experience, the big redheads always delivered.
They weren’t always easy to find though. Dublin’s never too difficult but try finding a redhead in Mumbai. Even here, in the Spanish town of San Javier, it was tricky. Spain wasn’t known for its ginger girls. Martin, however, had been here eighteen years ago and, although the place had changed, he knew where to look. He’d successfully found a ginger Spaniard before and he’d found one again tonight. Continue reading
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