More of my writings. I really hope you read and enjoy … If you’re so inclined.

It’s very important to tie up loose ends.  Just ask Dallas.

Fiction:

Closure

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Nope.” Dallas said to his five-year old son. “I’ve never met her or even seen her.

“Are you sad for that, Daddy.” Michael said sitting on the floor in front of Dallas, building his Lego submarine.

“Sometimes.” Dallas said, looking over at his wife. She sat in the chair opposite him watching with that expression that says, ‘walk carefully here, Dal.’ “Most times I’m just real curious to find out what she looks like and what kind of lady she is. If she’s even still alive.”

With that last sentence, Carrie stood up and walked to their son.

“Enough for now, Mike-Man.” She said to him. “Let’s pick up those Legos and head to the bathtub. You smell like..” She started.

“A PLAYDOUGH POOP FACTORY!” Michael shouted, laughing and holding up his arms, field-goal fashion.

Dallas put his hand to his mouth to hide the grin and did his best not to bust out laughing.

“Nice language.” She said to her son while looking square at her husband. “I just can’t imagine where you learned it.”

Michael began gathering up his Legos and placing them in a big plastic bin.

“Hey, Daddy, do you have another daddy like you have another mommy?” Michael said reaching under the chair for a wayward Lego brick.

Carrie cautioned Dallas with another glance.

“I sure do.” Dallas said a little too happily. “But I’ve never met him either.”

“To the tub.” Carrie said picking up the plastic bin full of Legos.

An hour later Carrie walked back into the their small living room.

“Clean, fed and in bed.” She said and plopped down onto the couch next to Dallas. “I’m pooped.”

“Like a Play-dough Poop Factory?” He said to her grinning.

“Did you teach him that?” She said, sitting forward and turning to face him.

“I am NOT guilty of that one, Kerosene” He said through a chuckle. “I thought you had.”

“I doubt your dubious sincerity, Dalrumple.” She said and laid back against him. “It’s time for some ‘I Love Lucy’. The DVD is still in the player.

“I need closure.” Dallas tentatively began, anticipating the violent storm this next conversation was going to invoke.

“Oh. Shit.” Carrie said sitting up and away from him.

“I’ve got to find her and put this to bed in my head.”

“Dallas.” She began. “Every freakin’ year this comes up. And always the day after Michael’s birthday. Do you SEE the pattern, Dallas. Do you GET the psychology behind this overwhelming desire to find your BIRTH mother?”

“I just feel like I didn’t give it a good enough try before.” Dallas said, head down, looking at his hands.

“Two years, Dal? Two years wasn’t a good enough try?” Carrie put her hand under his chin and gently raised it so they were eye to eye.

“The first two years of our marriage took a backseat to your quest. Two years, Dal. I nearly left you toward the end of those two years. I never stopped loving you, but I nearly left you. And if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I may have.” She moved her hand from under his chin and put it on his knee. “I can’t live through that again, Dal. I can’t see you banging your head against that brick wall over and over and over again. It kills me inside to see you struggling and failing over and over. Every Goddamn clue another dead end and crushing disappointment. I can’t stand seeing you hurting so deeply. Especially when I can’t do anything to help you.”

“I’m hurting now.” He said softly. “I’m hurting now and you can help me now.”

Carrie inhaled for a count of five and exhaled to a count of ten.

“Low blow.” She said, and stood up.

“Don’t go.” He said grabbing her hand.

“I’m just going to get us some coffee.” She said turning away. “Then we can finish this.”

Ten minutes later she came back into the room carrying a half -full bottle of wine and two glasses. Soft rain from an early Fall storm had begun to fall and Dallas was staring out the window at the rivulets rolling down the glass panes.

“Screw coffee.” Carrie said. “This topic requires wine. Why don’t you light us a fire?”

“Huh?” Dallas said, lost in his reverie.

“Fire. Fireplace. Fire, good.” Carrie said ala The Frankenstein Monster. “We drink wine. Smoke cigar. Talk mama searching.” She set the glasses on the coffee table and filled them to the very top with the crimson-red Cabernet. She set the empty bottle on the table. “We need to buy some bigger glasses.” She said handing a glass to Dallas.

“Thank you.” He said taking the glass. “I’m sorry to be putting this on you again.”

“For better or worse.” She said lifting the glass toward him in a ‘cheers’ and then taking a long swallow of wine. “Ahhhh. Good month. August.”

“So, you’re okay with it?” He asked putting his glass down on the table.

“With the wine?” She asked, stone faced.

“You know what I mean. Are you okay with me searching again?”

“I love you.” She said before downing her huge glass of wine. “That is why I DON’T want you to do this, at the very same time I DO want you to do this. Are you gonna drink that?” She said pointing to his untouched wine.

“Don’t even think about bogarting my wine.” He said picking up the glass. “I was letting it breathe.”

“Five dollar wine doesn’t need to breathe.” She said. “It’s already oxygen deprived and brain dead. So. How will this version of ‘the grand search for mama’ begin?”

“Jane’s brother is a detective who specializes in impossible missing person cases. She said he can find anyone on the planet who is still alive.”

“Jane?” Carrie said, involuntarily raising an eyebrow.

“Mark’s cousin.” Dallas said.

“Mark?” She asked. “Mark Dennis?!”

“Yeah.” He said and looked away.

“Oh. So. Your barber’s cousin knows a man who knows a man?”

“Something like that.” He said looking down at his hands again.

“If you give me your wine, I’ll say ‘go for it’.” She said holding out her hand.

“Here.” He said smiling and handing her his glass. “Drink up. And I love you.”

The next year the leaves began to fall from Micheal’s ‘treehouse tree’ in the backyard, signaling the fall of another Fall. Dallas sat at his makeshift desk in the den of their cozy Craftsman style house writing a check. Carrie came into the room with wine and glasses.

“Who the hell writes checks anymore, Dalrumple?”

“It’s for Jake.” Dallas said tearing the perforated check from the book. “He’s old school. I’m thinking this may be the last one. I don’t know if I can deal with this anymore.”

Carrie poured a glass of wine and brought it to Dallas.

“Here.” She said, handing him the glass. “Listen to these words because I will only say them once. And quite frankly I can’t believe I am saying them at all. You WILL NOT quit again. You will continue this quest until you have a definitive answer. You will continue to pay this ‘finder-of-lost souls’ until our account is emptied. You will NOT quit again.”

“It’s been a year, Carrie.”

“Yeah? So?” She poured herself some wine and took a gulp.

“You drink too fast. And too much.” He said to her.

“A direct result of being married to you.”

“Where’s Michael?” Dallas said and sipped his wine.

“He’s in his tree-house with Kevin and don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not changing the…” He began and his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the incoming number. “Speak of the devil.” He said to Carrie then pressed the ‘accept call’ button. “Hey Jake, what’s up…….. Yeah, I am……… You’re kidding?…… You kidding?…….. Where?…… All of them?….. Okay…… Yes…… Okay…….. I’m home…… Yes, I will…… No…… Oh, shit…..No…..Okay Jake…… yeah ….. Okay, bye Jake. And thank you.” He pressed the phone off and looked at Carrie with tears welling in his eyes.

“WHAT!?!?” She shouted at him.

“He found her.” Dallas said just above a whisper.

Carrie lept to her feet and ran to him. She dropped to her knees and pulled him into a bear hug.

“Oh my god!” She screamed. “Oh my god! I can’t believe it! Who is she?! What’s her name? Where does she live?! Does she want to meet you?!” She pulled back and looked at him. He was totally still and staring out the window. “Dal?”

“She’s dead. She died shortly after she had me.”

“Oh, shit.” Carrie sighed, taking his hand. “I’m so, so sorry, Dal.

“MOM!!!” Michael shouted opening the back door. “MOOOOOOOM!”

“Not now Michael!” Carrie shouted back.

“BUT MOM! CAN KEVIN SPEND THE NIGHT AND EAT DINNER WITH US TONIGHT?!”

“NOT NOW MICHAEL!” Carrie exploded back.

“Let him.” Dallas said picking up his wine glass and downing it all at once. “Let him.”

“But, Dal…”

“Let him.” He said quietly and then yelled “YES, MIKE-MAN. TELL KEVIN TO ASK HIS MOM AND THEN HE CAN STAY!”

“THANKS DAD! I LOVE YOU!” Michael shouted and slammed the back door shut.

“He loves me.” Dallas said smiling up at Carrie.

“I do too.” She said and kissed his cheek.

The next morning there was a loud knock at the front door. Michael ran to it and pulled it open, just as Carrie came out of the kitchen.

“DAMMIT, Michael.” She said heading to the door. “I told you not to open the door unless you know who it ….” She stopped when she saw who was standing on their porch.

“Hi, Carrie.” Jake, ‘The Finder-Of-Lost-Souls’ said smiling his ‘never-to-be-trusted’ smile. “Dallas here?” He asked stepping into the house.

“Wait here.” She said a little too strongly. “I’ll get him.”

A moment later Dallas stepped into the entry hall.

“Hey, Jake.” He said puzzled. “What’s up?”

“Can I come in for a bit?” Jake said raising his hands palm up and shrugging.

“Oh, shit. Yeah. Sorry. Come on in.” Dallas motioned toward the living room. “You want some coffee or something?” He asked sitting down and pointing at the chair across from him. “Sit, please. You want anything?”

“You got any scotch?” Jake asked, sitting down. “Doesn’t have to be top shelf or anything.”

“Sure.” Dallas said. “Hey, Kerosene!” He shouted toward the kitchen. “Could you bring us the Scotch and a couple of glasses.”

“And ice.” Jake said.

“And ice!” Dallas called out. He looked over at Jake. “She’ll be here in a… why are you here Jake?”

“Well. I think I can help you a little more with this whole mother thing.” Jake said pulling out a cigarette. “S’ok if I smoke?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t. ” Dallas said.

“Oh.” Jake said putting the cigarette carefully back into the pack. “Excuuuuuuse me.”

“Jake, why are you here? I got your email with her information. Who she was and all the other stuff.” Dallas said.

“Here’s your booze boys.” Carrie said walking into the room with a bottle, two glasses and a small bag of ice. She put the bottle and glasses on the table and tossed the bag of ice onto Dallas’s lap. “And your ice.” She said curtsying “May I get you anything from the hot menu?”

“Thank you, toots.” Jake said grinning. “How about some buffalo wings.”

“Thanks, Carrie.” Dallas said

Jake picked up a glass and held it toward Dallas.

“Fill’er up, amigo.” Jake said grinning.

Dallas poured a generous glassful of scotch, took some ice from the bag in his lap and dropped it in.

“Thank ya sir.” Jake said taking a swig. “Oh. Cheap stuff.” He said through a laugh.

“Did you want your last payment, Jake? Because I mailed the check yesterday.”

“How’d ya like to meet your birth mom’s sister and mother?” Jake said before downing his scotch and holding his glass out for a refill.

“I’d like that very much, Jake.” Dallas poured more scotch into Jake’s glass.

“Here.” Jake said pulling a pocket sized spiral notebook from his pocket. He flipped open the notebook and leafed through the pages. “Here.” He said again and tore out a page. “This is the phone number and the address.

Dallas took the page.

“How’d you find this?” He asked staring at the names and numbers.

“We got lucky with those flooded out files from the hospital basement. Two boxes partially survived and one of them had your birth file in it. What was left of it anyway.” Jake downed his second glass.

“More?” Dallas asked holding up the bottle.

“Nope. Two’s the limit before five. But after five…. well…. just stand back.” He let out a huge laugh and then belched. “’Scuse me. Anyway, I wrote down all the stuff I could get from the file and this was in it. Look’s like your mama came from money. Maybe you could work something out with the family. If you know what I mean.” Jake winked at Dallas. “Oh, hell.” He said picking up his glass. “Fill’er up. This is a celebration after all.”

Carrie and Dallas sat in bed, propped up against the padded headboard. She held a glass of wine, he the note page Jake had given him.

“What can I gain?” Dallas said.

“What can you lose?” Carrie countered and finished the last of her wine. She put the glass on the night table and scooted down in bed. She moved closer to Dallas and snuggled against him. “That closure thing, remember?”

Dallas put the note page on his night table and picked up the remote control. Carrie put her hand on top of it.

“Really?” She said grinning. “TV? Now?”

Dallas put down the remote and rolled on top of her. Then, from Michael’s room.

“MOOOOOOM!” Michael yelled. “Kevin puked!”

Dallas stood at the bottom of the long driveway. He had parked his rental on the street. He felt that driving up to the door might be perceived as pushy. He didn’t want to appear pushy. Or over-eager or rude or uncouth or….

“Jesus.” He said aloud and began the long walk to the front door.

The house was at the top of a hill, in an old San Francisco neighborhood. All the houses were Victorian style and this one, the one he was headed toward, was the biggest on the block. It could easily be qualified as a mansion. As he got closer he saw that it wasn’t aging well. The elaborate, multicolored, paint job was chipped and faded and many of the shutters hung at odd angles. The yard and gardens were neglected and overgrown. Dallas heard a line from an old movie echo in his head. ‘Ruined finery’ it said. He reached the carved front double door and grasped the lion’s head knocker. He suddenly felt like he was stepping into some kind of black and white horror movie. The thought made a little chill run up his spine and made the hairs on his neck stand up and tingle. He slammed the knocker three times and stood back from the door.

“Coming!” A very delicate and sweet voice came seconds later. “Hold on please. Coming.”

The door swung open and a beautiful, elegant woman in her fifties stood in front of Dallas. She wore a lavender sweater on top of a deep purple blouse, her skirt was diaphanous in tones of blues and purples. Dallas could smell her light orchid perfume and noted immediately that her eyes were as lavender as her sweater. She held a photo album in her hand. She looked into Dallas’s eyes and dropped the album to the ground.

“Oh my god.” She said quietly. “Oh my dear, loving god. You look EXACTLY like him. Exactly like him!” She said and moved toward Dallas.

Dallas moved in to pick up the photo album but she stopped him with her forward movement.

“I’m Dallas Alexander.” He said lifting his hand to shake hers. She moved in and embraced him in a bear hug of warmth and affection.

“I know who you are!” She said laughing and holding him tighter. “You’re my nephew. That’s who you are. You’re my precious late sister’s baby boy. I’m your Aunty Margaret and you’re my nephew and I am so happy to meet you and hug you!” She held on so long that Dallas began to feel a little uncomfortable. He had already released his half of the hug, then re-hugged because she hadn’t let go yet, then released again and she was still holding tight. He was about to re-hug again when she let him go.

“Oh. I’m sorry.” She said laughing and releasing him from her embrace. “I’ve been accused several times of being overly emotional. But I can’t help myself, here. I’m just so darned happy to meet you. Now come inside. You’ve got to meet Mama! Your Grandmama!”

Dallas bent down and picked up the photo album. He held it out to his new found Aunty but she was already leading the way into the house.

“Close the door, sweetie and follow me.” She said over her shoulder.

He obliged.

It was difficult to keep up with her as she flew through the house heading who-knows-where. She was a purple blur with silver hair. She disappeared into a doorway and Dallas followed. He entered a cozy room with walls covered in hung tapestries. The furniture and furnishings all looked antique and expensive. The room had a large bay window and the light filtering in bathed everything in the warm glow of an aging dusk.

“Come in!” Margaret said standing next to a huge wing-backed chair in the middle of the room. Seated in the chair was a movie version of the typical patrician lady. She looked to be in her seventies but was in fact well into her eighties. She wore an elegant burgundy and gold caftan with a high collar and tapered cuffs. Her feet were barely visible but Dallas could see that they were covered in golden house slippers. Her demurely coiffed, snow-white hair, and her perfect, seated posture added to the effect that one was being presented to aristocratic royalty. Dallas felt an almost irresistible urge to bow.

“Come meet your Grandmama, Dallas!” Margaret said. “Come over here so she can see you!”

Dallas stepped into the room and handed the photo album to Margaret. He stepped closer to the seated woman. He held out his hand and she recoiled.

“Bradley Tranger!” She shouted at him. “How dare you show your…”

“No Mama!” Margaret said taking her mother’s clinched fist into her hands. “This is Dallas. This is Marie’s boy. Remember. We’ve talked about Marie’s boy.”

The old woman sat statue still, her arm raised in a fisted salute. Margaret released her hand and it fell to her lap and relaxed.

“Marie’s boy.” The old woman said with a deep, age old sorrow in her voice.

“Yes, Mama. You remember. We talked about Marie’s boy finding us and coming to visit.

“Dallas.” Margaret began. “This is your Grandmama. Her name is Amanda. Mama, this is your Grandson, Dallas.”

“It’s my real pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Dallas said and held out his hand.

“Call her Grandmama, Dallas!” Margaret said.

“Grandmama.” Dallas said feeling a bit uncomfortable. But with another feeling also. A feeling of belonging. A very unfamiliar feeling of belonging.

“You look just like him.” Amanda said staring deeply into Dallas’s eyes. “So much like him.” She raised her age spotted hand and gently touched his face. “So much.”

“Who do I look like?” Dallas asked looking back and forth between his brand new relatives.

“Let me show you.” Margaret said opening the photo album. “Sit over here on the window seat. The light is still good. Sit down over here and take a looky-look at this!”

Dallas sat on the window seat and Margaret laid the book on his lap. It was open to a page of Polaroid color pictures of teenagers. Most were group pictures but three of them were close-ups of a teenage boy. Dallas stared at the face in the pictures and felt the world waver and slip away from him for a moment.

“It’s me.” He said, feeling as if he had moved up and away from the room.

“It’s your daddy.” Margaret said and touched Dallas’s shoulder.

“You look just like him.” Amanda said looking out the window. A hard rain began then. The kind of rain that can happen in San Francisco in an instant. “Rain’s started.” She said from a far away place in her mind.

Dallas turned the page of the album.

“Are there more pictures of him?” He asked. “And what about my mom? Are there pictures of my mom?”

“Lots.” Margaret said. “But let’s have some coffee and talk first, okay? Then I’ll get out all the other pictures and memorabilia and stuff.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Sorry. I’m just really excited about all this.” Dallas closed the album and set it beside him on the window seat.

“Mama?” Margaret said, moving to her mother and taking her hand. “You want some coffee? You want to have coffee with Dallas and me?”

“Just like him.” Amanda said, still far away.

“Coffee, Mama?” Margaret repeated, touching Amanda’s shoulder.

“Coffee? Oh, yes. I’d love some coffee. And don’t you dare short me on the cream and sugar. Don’t you dare do that, Maggie.” Amanda said and smiled one of the most dazzling smiles that Dallas had ever seen. “I’m old.” She said to Dallas. “Cream and sugar won’t hurt me.” She kept a frozen gaze at Dallas and her eyes lit with a starlight sparkle. They were the same astounding shade of lavender as her daughter’s and Dallas wondered if his own mother had had eyes that color. “I’m sorry, young man.” She said to him. “I get confused sometimes. It doesn’t last. But it is one of the many crosses I bear. You are my Marie’s child, and as such, you are my grandchild, and as more such, I love you and will care for you always. Would you come over and give your ancient Grandmama a hug and kiss?”

Dallas rose and walked to Amanda. He knelt by her chair and she embraced him with the same warmth and affection that Margaret had done at the door. He felt that odd feeling rise up in him again. Belonging. Home. Comfort. No more longing.

“Coffee and cake in the kitchen!” Margaret shouted from down the hall.

Amanda released Dallas from her hug and rose from the chair.

“If I may take your arm,” She said putting her arm through his. “I’ll show you to the kitchen.”

“Are you okay if I call you Amanda?” He said putting his hand on hers. “Grandmama is a little tough on the tongue right now.”

Amanda let out a guffaw.

“Thank Christ!” She said still laughing. “You’re normal! That made me a little uncomfortable too. Margaret tends toward the over emotional. Yes, please call me Amanda. Or even ‘Hey, Old Lady’. The kitchen is through here.”

Amanda led Dallas into the huge kitchen. It looked more like a restaurant kitchen than a residential one. Industrial stainless steel appliances dominated the room and an enormous stainless steel counter with four, deep sinks dominated one entire wall. Off to the corner was what best would be called a breakfast nook. A banquette upholstered in red leather surrounded a teak-wood table. A banquette and table that could easily accommodate fifteen people.

“Sit, sit, sit!” Margaret called out from the table. “Looky-look at what we’ve got for you, Dallas.”

“Calm down, Maggie.” Amanda said sitting down and sliding into the banquette. “You’ll bust a corset stay. Slide in Dallas. There’s enough room for all of us. And thirty or forty more of our nearest and dearest friends.”

“Looky-look, Dallas and Mama!” Margaret stood up and waved her arm above the table like Vanna White displaying the grand prize. “Three kinds of cake! Pastries! Two pies and cupcakes!”

“Wow!” Dallas said sliding in.

“Mother of God, Maggie!” Amanda said. “Are you feeding all of San Francisco?”

“It’s a VERY special occasion, Mother!” Margaret said and picked up a platter of cupcakes. “Take one, Dallas. Take some of everything and I’ll get the coffee.” She put the platter down in front of Dallas and moved to the over-sized stove top where an old style coffee percolator bubbled away.

“As you may have gathered.” Amanda began. “Margaret is excitable but decidedly sane. I, on the other hand, have a sandy grip on sanity but am not excitable in the least. I am also blessed with a keen ability to read people and what I read from you, dear grandson, is a need for information. A need that exceeds your need for lemon-meringue spice cake. Am I near to being correct?”

Dallas smiled. He felt so close to this amazing woman at that moment. Alien feelings. So many alien feelings in so short a time.

“Very close to being correct.” He said smiling at her.

“Maggie.” Amanda ordered. “Pour the coffee. Set it in front of us. Speak not, unless I ask you for assistance. Don’t serve cakes or pies or pastries yet. Please just sit and be quiet while I fill our dear relative here, in on the sordid and sad goings on that led him to us so late in life.”

“Fine, Mama.” Margaret pouted. “You don’t have to be so mean.”

“Life is mean, dear daughter. Life is meaner than I could ever be.” Amanda turned to Dallas. “This isn’t pretty, dear one. But it is the truth, and as the old saying goes, ‘the truth shall set you free’.”

Dallas took the coffee mug from Margaret who stood behind him.

“Cream or sugar?” She asked quietly.

“Maaaaaaaggie.” Amanda drew out her name in a warning.

“Well! Maybe he wants cream or sugar?” Margaret whined.

“I’m fine.” Dallas said. “Black. I take it black.”

“Put our coffees down and sit, Maggie.”

Margaret did as she was instructed with the coffees then slid into the banquette next to her mother.

“Your mama’s name was Marie Helena Sinclair. She was the oldest of my three children. Margaret here is my youngest.”
Margaret raised her hand and did a little wave toward Dallas. Amanda shot her a glance and she put her hand in her lap.

“My middle child, Alan, died in Vietnam.”

“Oh wow.” Dallas said. “I’m sorry. That’s awful. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s one of the many crosses I bear, dear one. One of the many. Your mother was an angel on this earth and made it her short life’s work to help anyone and everyone who crossed her sainted path. And I say ‘sainted’ without any exaggeration or ignorance. I am an angry, lapsed Catholic and I came to understand the bullshit concept the church has of what makes a saint. Christoper and Paul have nothing on Marie.”

“Mama!” Margaret yelped. “Language!”

“He’s a big boy, Maggie. Now be still.” She shifted in her seat and turned more toward Dallas. “When Marie was sixteen she met a boy from….. a boy from….” Amanda stopped and looked toward the kitchen door. “Did you call Alan?” She said. “Maggie, did you call Alan?”

“Mama.” Margaret said and turned her mother’s face to her. “Mama, it’s a wrong thought. You’re having a wrong thought.

Amanda looked deeply into her daughter’s face. Dallas saw the strong, sassy, confident woman melt away. Her face looked like a terrified child, lost in a forest filled with unspeakable demons at that moment. Dallas’s heart sank and the sense of belonging that he felt so strongly before transformed into one of fear and concern. He wanted to leave just then. Something inside of him was screaming for him to run. Leave this craziness and go home to Carrie and Michael. How much more did he need to know? How much more?

“Oh.” Amanda said after what seemed an eternity. She sipped her coffee. “You’ve cheated me on the cream and sugar again, Maggie.”

“I’ll get you some more, Mama.” Margaret said and slid out of the banquette.

“I do that sometimes, Dallas.” She said to him, looking like her old sassy self again. “I get confused sometimes. It doesn’t last. But it is one of the many crosses I bear.”

Dallas felt the new concerns float away and warmth return to his heart.

“We all have our crosses.” He said and put his hand on top of hers. She took her other hand and placed it on his.

“You are very dear. I can tell that already.” She smiled at him. “Like your mama, I’d say. Just like your mama, so very dear. But sadly you look just like him.”

“Sadly?” Dallas asked.

“Bradley Tranger was your daddy. And Bradley Tranger was a son-of-a-bitch.” She pulled her hands away from Dallas and placed them palms down on the table.

“MAMA!” Margaret chided, bringing over the cream pitcher and sugar bowl. “Language!”

“Margaret.” She chided back. “You know full well that the only way to describe Bradley Tranger is that he was a well and true, died-in-the-wool, son-of-a-bitch!” She took up the cream pitcher and poured in half a cup full of cream then spooned four spoons full of sugar in the nearly over-flowing cup. “Son of a BITCH.” She said slamming the spoon down on the silver tray.

“What’d he do?” Dallas asked, looking back and forth between the two women.

“He..” Margaret began.

“Shush!” Amanda hissed. “I’ll tell it. I’ll tell it all.” She shifted her position again and was once more facing Dallas. “When your mama was sixteen, she met Bradley Tranger. He was a transfer from another school and we didn’t find out until much later that he had been expelled from that noteworthy establishment and sent here to Andrew O’Brien High School as a last resort. He was seventeen and a senior. Well, in what would be the first of three horribly bad decisions in your mama’s young life, she allowed Mr. Tranger to take her to a movie one fateful Saturday evening and then promptly fell head-over-heels in love with him.”

“He was so handsome.” Margaret said, peeling the paper cup from a cupcake. “Like you, Dallas. So handsome.”

“Maggie.” Amanda turned and stared daggers at her daughter.

“Sorry.” Margaret said.

“Your mama allowed him to take her innocence. Horrible decision number two. And you were conceived. Which, I suppose, shows that good can come from bad. You are very dear.” She patted his hand and lifted a finger to his cheek. “So very dear. Being good Catholics, abortion was not to be considered and so we sent Marie to a Catholic shelter for unwed mother’s. You were born and whisked away. When Marie came home, the only thing she wanted was to see Bradley Tranger. But the son-of-a-bitch had moved on. He moved away after being expelled yet again. She wrote him and called his family home for days and days with no answer. Several weeks later she got a letter from him. It was mailed from San Diego. That’s way down south, San Diego. It was as beautiful, embossed envelope with a card on the inside that had a picture of the ocean and seagulls soaring above it at sunset. He had written only three words on the inside of the beautiful card. He had written, ‘fuck-off bitch’. And ‘bitch’ was misspelled. My beautiful daughter, my Marie, took one of her Daddy’s many pistols from the display case on the wall in her Daddy’s den and blew a hole into her head.” Amanda paused and looked at her hands resting in front of her on the lacquered wooden table. “Bad decision number three.” She said.

“I don’t even know….” Dallas began. “I can’t say what…”

“It’s alright, dear one. Words fail at times. Life fails at times too.” She looked to her daughter. “Margaret, will you please help me to the bathroom and while I’m gone pour me some more coffee and get Dallas whatever he may want or need?”

Dallas slid out of the banquette and helped Amanda stand up.

“Thank you, dear one.” She said and took Margaret’s arm.

“Where’s your cane, Mama?” Margaret asked as the headed to the doorway.

“In the bedroom. I’ll get after I tee-tee.” Amanda said in loud whisper.

Dallas’s cellphone began to ring as Margaret came back into the kitchen. She was precariously balancing six or seven over-sized photo albums. Dallas rushed over to help her.

“No, no, no.” She said. “I’ve got these. You answer your mobile.” She said plopping the books down on the over-sized counter. “Looky-look at all these memories we get to share.”

Dallas pressed ‘Accept’ on his phone.

“Hi Kerosene” He said with a new found, genuine happiness in his voice.

The first bullet caught him in the right rotator cuff. It blew his arm backward and his phone went flying. The phone struck Margaret in the head with so much force that she fell to her knees stunned and bleeding. The second and third bullets pierced Dallas’s throat and chest, just to the left of his heart. He fell backwards into the banquette. Amanda walked into the room from her position in the doorway and moved to the banquette. She had her wolf’s head cane in one hand and one her late husband’s pistols in the other.

“Bradley Tranger, you filthy son-of-a-bitch.” She hissed. “You killed my Marie and now I’m gonna kill you.” She pointed the gun directly at his forehead and pulled the trigger.

More of my written words. Tonight…. “Working Girl”.

Here’s a little piece about a feisty little lady.

FICTION:

WORKING GIRL

By: S. Scott Bullock

Willa Himmel stood at the opening of the pedestrian overpass with the same trepidation she felt every time she was forced to traverse it. She hated this damn bridge and she hated the fact that she had to use it every time she wanted to cross the damn freeway to get to her bus stop. The thing was really long and very narrow. It crossed, thirty feet above, eight lanes of traffic and a meridian. It was covered with a chain link canopy but Willa was still terrified of falling off the thing onto the ridiculously busy 101 freeway and getting gang-banged by car after car after truck after truck after van after van after motorcycle after motorcycle, reducing her 92 year old body to a complex colored stain on the west-bound fast lane. But she had to cross it. She was a working girl. She had work to do.

The San Fernando Valley in August is somewhat akin to the surface of the sun. The temperatures routinely climb into the high 90’s and often push, passive-aggressively, into the 100’s. The heat is mummy-dust dry and devoid of kindness. It will tear the air from your lungs when you pass into it from an air-conditioned building and leave you gasping in the parking lot while searching for your car. And this particular August the heat was a major news maker. It was only 7:00am, and the digital sign above the Bank Of America building on Ventura boulevard was already reading “97 degrees”.

Willa stood at the opening of the pedestrian overpass in 97 degree heat, wearing her pill box hat and tweed overcoat, not feeling the heat, instead feeling only the terror of her imminent crossing. She was five years younger than the current temperature but because of her status in the ‘Old Farts Of America’ club she was immune to the heat. No matter the ambient temperature, old people are always cold, and Willa was no exception.

“Get your ass across there, girl.” She said to herself aloud. “Get your sorry, scaredy-cat ass across there now.” Her voice was old. It was husky and laid raw from the millions of words she had spoken in her 92 years. It still had a hint of the German accent her first 10 years of life in the old country had impressed upon it, but it still had power, even though it was old.

“Now.” She said. “Go!”

Willa took her first step (the journey of a thousand miles she thought) and clutched her over-sized carpet-bag purse to her side. She walked, not looking down at the freeway, until she reached the half way point. There she forced herself to stop and turn toward the oncoming traffic. Hundreds of cars speed beneath her at 75 miles an hour or more. She took hold of the chain link with her gnarled, arthritic fingers, her tissue-paper skin tearing in tiny spots on the hardened metal.

“I am stronger than you.” She said aloud. “I am stronger than you will ever be.” She turned and let go of the fence. She began to walk again and that’s when the exhaust from all the internal combustion engines flying along below, hit her full force. Breathing it was like sucking oxygen through a gas pump hose. She began to swoon and once again grabbed hold of the chain link. Fresh pain from a combination of her arthritis and the sharp nubs of the fencing bit into her hand.

“I won’t do this.” She said to the polluted air swirling around her. “Wilhelmina Himmel you will not pass out and die on this God-Forsaken bridge.”

She pulled in two lungfuls of exhaust laden air and held her breath. She stared at the distant bridge exit and set off.

‘Why the hell am I STILL doing this?’ She thought. ‘Why the HELL am I still working?’

‘Because you can’t stop. You can never stop until you die, and IF you stop you WILL die’ Her inner-voice answered.

Willa’s inner-voice was as strong, perhaps even stronger, than her outer one. She had more conversations with herself in her 90 plus years than she ever had with any other people in her life. Those ‘inner conversations’ began when she was just a little girl, living in a tiny village in West Germany. Willa was an only child and her village was devoid of kids her age. For whatever cruel reason, providence had placed her in a village with the only other children at least 8 years older than her and placed her in a home with no siblings. Willa had truly been alone her first 10 years in Germany and she had manufactured in herself a friend, a confidant and an adviser. And that adviser was just about screaming at her now.

‘Just GET across!’ It shouted. ‘Just get over this damn bridge and do your job.’

“I will.” She said aloud to her self-friend. “Stop shouting.” Willa sucked in another fume filled breath and stepped up her pace. ‘A damn cleaning woman.’ she thought. ‘A damn cleaning woman and you’re 92 damn years old.’

But Willa had not always been 92 years old. At one time in the long-distant past she had been 18. Looking like a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, she had been a gorgeous, 18 year old, unemployed German immigrant looking for work in her new home country. And she had found it fast. Or rather it had found her.

Willa met her first true love, Vincenzo Sicario, in the summer of 1941. And that summer became her very own personal “Summer Of Love”. World War II would begin for the U.S. in December of that year and would rage for another four years, but that had little to no effect on Willa and her ‘Vinnie’. A German girl and an Italian young man had nothing to fear in America then. After Pearl Harbor, only Japanese Americans were targeted. Even though all three countries were actively at war with the U.S., only the Japanese were forced into internment camps, their lives all but destroyed by that tyranny. But German Willa and Italian Vinnie were free to roam around New York, unencumbered. Free to discover the city, themselves and the depth of their love.

Vinnie, at 20 years old, had been determined 4F by the local draft board because of a bad limp. He had broken his leg, not once, but three different times as a kid and the bones mended so badly that he walked with a pronounced gimp. He had also suffered two broken arms as a little boy which caused him to switch his dominant hand and utilize his left more than his right. This caused a slight mis-coordination to his hand movements. Nothing severe, but noticeable if one looked closely. Willa never questioned him as to how his young bones were broken so many times, but suspected it had to do with a drunken, abusive father and a long set of hardwood basement stairs. None of this was confirmed nor denied and none of it seemed to challenge Vinnie’s love for his father. And none of it diminished Willa’s passion for her somewhat physically challenged amour either. To Willa, Vincenzo Sicario was perfection personified and she adored him with a passion that she never had believed possible. And Vinnie’s love for his father and his father’s business is what gifted Willa with a profession that lasted 74 years. A profession she was STILL employed in.

Vinnie’s dad, Giancarlo Sicario, was in charge of a family owned cleaning business and was always looking for new cleaners. When Vinnie suggested Willa as a possible candidate, Gio, as he was called, initially balked.

“A German teenager girl?” He had said through this thick Italian accent. “What kind of a cleaner could she be?”

“A great one, papa.” Vinnie had replied. “She is smart and fast and beautiful.”

“Beautiful, she is.” Gio had said grinning.

So, with a little more convincing from Vinnie, Gio hired Willa. Gio trained her personally in all things cleaning.

“It’s not a pretty job.” Gio had said to her. “Cleaning up other people’s messes is not a pretty thing. But you gonna do it. And you gonna do it the best ever anyone ever did it.” He had smiled at her then and Willa saw where her Vinnie had gotten his smile from.

Gio, in a matter of a few short weeks, had created one of the best cleaning women that New York had ever seen. She became part of the family business. An integral part. And after a short time, the other family members even forgot that she wasn’t Italian. She was Willa, the cleaner. Part of the family. La Famiglia.

In 1943, when Willa was 20, Vinnie proposed marriage. Willa accepted without a moments hesitation. Her joy was unbounded. She had a great job. A loving Italian family. And now, she was to have a husband. They set the date for Saturday, June 12th and on Friday, June 11th Vinnie was killed while crossing the street on his way to the Italian deli. The driver of the car never stopped but instead sped away, fleeing the scene and the consequences. Vinnie died, broken and bleeding in the street, and still clutching a list of the groceries he was to pick up for dinner.

Willa woke from her reverie and found herself still on the damn bridge. How many more feet did she have to go? Twenty feet? Thirty? She sucked in another polluted breath and forged on. The deeply inhaled exhaust had now given her a full-on migraine. Her head pounded with it and she once again, for the four hundredth time that morning, cursed the overpass bridge. Her mind drifted between images of her laying dead on the freeway and Vinnie laying dead in the middle of Canal Street in front of Tomaggio’s Italian Deli. A tear welled and fell from her eye. ‘Seventy-two years’ she thought, ‘Seventy-two years and it still hurts so much.’

Willa never married. And after Vinnie, she rarely even dated. She was always too busy with work or with the family. When Gio told her that some of the extended family was moving west and taking some of the family business to California, including a cleaning service, Willa jumped at the chance to go.

“They’re going to need cleaning women out west too, right Gio?” She had said. “Maybe I could run it? Maybe I could even train new cleaners?”

Gio had thought long and hard on the idea and eventually conceded that Willa’s idea was a good one. The business needed a strong starter and Willa was the best they had. So with Gio’s blessing, Willa was off to Los Angeles. Her life’s journey taking her right up to this moment, walking on a pedestrian overpass above the Ventura freeway, headed to yet another cleaning job.

“You’re honoring Vinnie and Gio and the family by continuing” She spoke aloud to herself. “You may be ninety-two, but you are still strong, you are still smart and you can still clean up other people’s messes better the best of them!” She lifted her hand and rubbed at her throbbing temple and then with a small gasp, realized that she had come to the end of the overpass. She stepped with joy onto the platform that led down to Ventura boulevard, and held tight to the railing as she descended the steps no longer feeling her headache.

Willa pulled out the piece of paper that held the address of her next job. She always used paper. Always had, always would. She was NOT going to become one of those phone-zombies, addicted to technology and never raising a glance above their chest-level hands. Nope. Paper and pencil served her well and would continue to do so till she died.

The address was a house ‘South Of The Boulevard’. That was San Fernando Valley speak for ‘upper class’ neighborhood. She hopped on the #8 bus heading west and got off six stops later on Canoga Avenue. It would only be a three block walk up to the house and even though the temperature had climbed to 102, Willa still didn’t feel the heat. Her headache was forgotten and her step was lively as she anticipated another job well done in a career of jobs well done. The satisfaction that her work brought her had never waned in all the years she had been doing it and cleaning up other people’s messes was not a lowly contemptible job, but a high calling for Willa.

She walked up the last cul-du-sac and found the address. It was the second house on the right. A huge gray beast of a thing. Two stories of nondescript, late 20th Century boredom. She approached the front door and saw, off to her left, a rope swing tied to an old growth oak. The woman who hired her for this job said nothing of children, and if she found that a child or children lived there she would turn on her heels and leave. She didn’t clean up with children about. She walked to the door and rang the bell. She smelled a strong odor of chlorine and figured that there was probably an obscenely large sized swimming pool in the back yard.

The door creaked open and a balding man of about 50 stuck his head out the partially opened door.

“You better not be selling something or asking if I’ve found Jesus.” He said.

“I’m here to clean.” Willa said. “Are you Mr. Walker? Mr. Brendan Walker?”

“Yeah. Who are you?”

“I’m your cleaning lady. Willa.”

“You got the wrong house.” He said closing the door.

“Annabelle hired me.” Willa said to the business side of the closing door.

The door stopped closing, opened a bit and Mr. Walker stuck his head back out the opening.

“Annabelle?” he asked.

“She hired me to clean for the month that she’s away.” Willa said. “Once a week, four times total.”

“I don’t need you.” He said and began to close the door again.

“You’ll lose your deposit, Mr. Walker.” Willa said.

The door opened a little again.

“What deposit?” He asked.

“The two hundred dollars your wife gave me as a deposit for the four hundred it will cost for four visits.”

“Jesus ever loving Christ.” He said and opened the door. “Can I talk you into giving me the deposit back? I’ll give you fifty bucks.”

“I’ll be going now.” Willa said turning away.

“No. Wait. Come in. Do your thing. Just don’t bother me, okay?”

“I was hired to clean, Mr. Walker, not to bother.” Willa said coming into the foyer.

“What are you, like a hundred and five? How the hell are you going to clean this big house?”

“I was ninety-two last May, Mr. Walker and I’ve been cleaning up other people’s messes for seventy-four of those ninety-two years. Your house will not pose any unique problem.”

“Whatever.” He said. “The kitchen is through the dining room there. You should probably start in there. I tried to make French toast for myself this morning and it didn’t end well. I’ll be watching the game so don’t bug me.”

“I don’t bug, Mr. Walker. I clean.” Willa said as she moved toward the dining room.

Brendan Walker sat down hard on his lazy boy recliner and pulled the lever that raised the footrest. He took the remote from the side table and powered on the Sanyo big screen TV.

“Do you bring beers to people too?” He shouted toward the dining room.

“NO!” Willa shouted back, placing her over-sized carpet-bag on the dining room table. “I only clean. I only clean up other people’s messes.”

“Great.” He muttered to himself and found the ESPN channel showing his baseball game. The announcer was going on about some pre-game, uniform nonsense and Walker soon fell into the sport induced coma so familiar to the American wives of sports obsessed American husbands.

Willa opened her bag and removed her favorite and most effective cleaning tool. She quietly walked back towards the living room and stealthily crept up behind the Lazy Boy recliner. She put the barrel of the silenced Luger one inch from the back of Walker’s head and pulled the trigger twice. Walker slump forward and died. Willa rubbed her arthritic trigger finger and chuckled. She always found the sound of a silenced shot funny. Probably because of the spy movies on TV and the big screen. The ‘pechew pechew’ of a silenced shot in the movies was so phony and stupid. The real silenced gunshot sounded more like a fire cracker wrapped in a pillow. A quieted bang. But none of that really mattered now. Now she just needed to wipe up her prints and leave. Mrs. Annabelle Walker was now free to go about her business, unencumbered by her controlling, abusive and potentially blackmailing husband. She was free now. For twenty-five thousand dollars Willa had seen to that. Willa had cleaned up Annabelle’s mess for her.

Tomorrow was to bring yet another cleaning job. And Willa was so tired. But, as Gio had always said to her, ‘there is no rest for the wicked’. So tomorrow it was off to San Diego to take care of Paul Deamotta. At least the family would supply a limo to get her there. No more of this damn bus riding.

But in the end, none of this really mattered at all. Thoughts of Vinnie, Gio, work. NONE of it mattered as much as this fact. This fact. The fact that in order to get home, she was going to have to cross that damn bridge again. She was going to have to cross that damn bridge over the Ventura freeway.

You’re SO particular.

I wrote this after yet ANOTHER evening with our most precious friends Terry (T.Wiggles) and Tommy (Digger) when Tommy ordered a burger with no ketchup, no mustard, no pickle, no mushrooms, just a big slice of onion and cheese.  I love you, my friend.  This one is for you.

You’re SO particular.

By: S. Scott Bullock

He HATED it about himself. It had caused him nothing but pain, sorrow and embarrassment his entire life. For as long as he could remember his particular peculiarity had made his life a miserable lot.

When he was a baby, as he was later told by his overburdened mother, he sat in his highchair and kept his mouth clamped shut. Jar after jar after jar of every kind of baby food on the market was spooned toward his mouth but he would have none of it. His mother became so distraught that she begged his pediatrician to intervene.

“He won’t eat.” She had cried to the doctor. “No matter what I try he just won’t eat. He only wants the bottle.”

Then the doctor had said to her.

“Just keep giving him the formula. It’ll give him what nutrition he needs right now. And I guarantee you, he’ll eat other things when he’s ready and gets hungry enough.”

His mother had given up then. She just kept giving him the bottle until he was so old that he no longer drank from it using the nipple. He would just twist off the cap and drink from it like it was a bottle of beer.

Then, when he was in grade school and his palate had accepted a couple new food items, he would sit in the cafeteria while all his classmates were eating bologna sandwiches from home, or hamburgers and mashed potatoes from the hot lunch line, and he would drink his warm apple juice, eat his carrot sticks and lower his head as they all laughed at him and made fun of what he was eating. They called him Bugs Bunny and Juicy Apple Jerk. He felt ridiculed and isolated and he also felt completely responsible for it. Those grade school days planted seeds of self-loathing deeply into his psyche and each passing year of ridicule and rebuke watered and fertilized those seeds until the clutching, clinging vines that grew from them chocked his every thought.

High School lunchtime was hell. College lunch time was hell. Dinners with family, dinners with friends, breakfasts, lunches or dinners with anyone, anywhere, were hell.

‘You don’t eat thus and such?!?’ They’d say. Sometimes through a laugh. ‘My God. EVERYBODY eats thus and such! How could ANYONE not like thus and such? You’re SO particular.’

And on and on it would go. The never ending astonishment, befuddlement and bemusement from his friends, family and acquaintances. The litany of one-liners and long-form jokes made at his expense. And he knew he was solely to blame. His list of ‘thus and suches’, the list of foods he didn’t eat, or couldn’t eat, or hated to eat, was longer than the Nile. He hated damn near every form of nutrition known to man.

The things that he loved to eat, could be counted on one finger and the things that he liked to eat only took up the other four at most.

Seafood was the most appalling to him. He couldn’t imagine eating something that swam in its own filth. Something that breathed its own excrement. The very smell of frying fish would send him to the nearest toilet where he would vomit until he was empty and then stare at the swirling mess until he regained control of his thoughts. The idea of eating animal flesh sent him into a world of horrifying imaginings. Slaughter houses with blood soaked floors. Bovine carcases being skinned, dismembered and run through grinders. Sheep and pigs and goats being eviscerated and hung on meat hooks. He CHERISHED animals and thoughts of ‘processing’ them (as the euphemism goes) was all too much for him.

Every time someone sat next to him chomping on a cheeseburger, those thoughts rose up and stabbed at his mind. The burger eater would inevitably say something like ‘You’re staring at my burger. You wanna bite?’ and behind his eyes he’d see the piston gun punching a lethal hole into a steer’s head. ‘You’re only eating carrots!??!’ the burger eater would follow up with. And then, ‘You’re SO particular dude… you need help.’

All of this made it nearly impossible for him to dine with anyone. And because of that, he began to create a life of sectional solitude. In all other venues, other than eating ones that is, he became gregarious and fun-loving. He was the life of the party (never eating and staying well away from any buffet table.) He’d join his friends for plays and concerts. He went to movies and sucked it up if one of his friends was eating popcorn. Popcorn was vile. It smelled like motor oil and dead house plants. He always kept a cologne scented, cloth handkerchief with him and when a smell overwhelmed him he’d put it up to his nose, telling his companions that his allergies were acting up and his nose was running. If one of his companions at the movies bought a hot dog, however, all bets were off and he’d have to make some excuse to leave before the movie started. Thankfully that had only happened a couple of times in the past several years.

He had managed, by his late thirties, to completely compartmentalize his socializing. And the dining compartment was always securely closed. That was his alone. He ate alone. He never wanted to have to explain his peculiarity again and he needed to avoid those damn odors at all cost.

The thing he ate the most of was carrots. In all forms, raw, cooked, mashed, shredded and chipped. He kept bags and bags of frozen ones in his oversized basement freezer. He ate so many carrots in fact that his skin had a slight orange tinge to it. That skin tint was the object of many jokes from his family and friends. They started calling him Ginger and that pissed him off royally. But he was NOT about to stop eating carrots. He needed his carrots like a rock-star needs his heroine. So he bit the bullet and smiled or chuckled when one of his family or friends called him Ginger.

Ginger, otherwise know as Leonard Collins, sat at his kitchen table reading the morning news on his laptop. The microwave dinged and he got up to retrieve his apple juice. It was in an over-sized mug that was shaped like an erupting volcano. A souvenir present from his first (and only) girlfriend. The mug held at least three cups and Leonard had only nuked it for forty seconds. He liked his apple juice warm. Not cold. Not hot. Warm. And he reveled in the idea that he didn’t have to explain that fact to anyone. Just as he ate alone, he drank alone. Like a good alcoholic does.

He sat back down and read further. Robberies, murders, violence, missing persons, political unrest, bombs, beatings and mass shootings. How ugly the world had gotten. How very sad that the news was filled with such horror and that all of us started our day reading about it and taking it into our thoughts. Leonard felt that news like this infected us with sorrow and hopelessness. Did we really NEED to hear about it all. Did it aid us in living our lives to hear of murders, states away or countries away? He figured it WAS important to know of local goings-on. If something was amiss or awry in your own town, you needed to be aware. In the local section of his cyber-newspaper he saw that there was one armed robbery at a local ATM, two home burglaries a few blocks away from his home, and a local missing woman. His stomach rolled over at the prospect of crime coming into his quiet, bucolic town, but he knew it was inevitable. Evil was crafty and persistent. You had to be ever vigilant or it would slither into your home and suffocate you in your sleep. So much evil in the world, he thought, so much evil. His cell phone rang and he jumped out of his reverie. He looked at the phone screen. It was his brother David. Leonard pressed the accept key.

“Hello ugly.” Leonard said smiling. He loved his brother dearly but he loved teasing him even more. “People still running away from you in terror on the street?”

“At least I’m a normal color, Ginger.” David said parrying.

“Oh, ha ha. That one just never gets old, does it?”

“Lenny.” David said seriously.

It was a tone Leonard knew well. It was David’s ‘dead mother’ tone. When their mother had died in a car accident while Leonard was away at college, David had called him. Leonard had run down two flights of stairs to get to the communal pay phone in the lobby of his dorm. He had picked up the phone, out of breath, and said, ‘Hey ugly, what’s up?’. ‘Lenny.’ David had said back then. ‘Mom died’. David used this tone whenever conveying bad news, so Lenny girded his spiritual loins.

“Shit.” Leonard said. “What’s wrong, David.”

“We’re not going to the concert tonight, Lenny. Cathy is messed up over her cousin’s wife.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You read the local don’t you?” David asked.

“Yeah.” Leonard said shifting in his seat. He felt like he was about to be quizzed and he didn’t like being quizzed. “What about the local?”

“Did you read about the missing woman. Daneetra Hutton?” David was beginning to sound annoyed as well as troubled.

“Yes I did. It’s very sad. But what has that got to do… oh…wait… is that Cathy’s cousin’s wife?”

“You MET her, Leonard. Don’t you freakin’ remember anything?” David’s vocal demeanor was no longer troubled, just annoyed. Leonard was not only a ridiculously picky eater, he also had the memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient. A fact that pissed David off royally.

“I did?” Leonard managed. His mind was doing the cartwheels it always did whenever he was trying to figure out if he had forgotten something important.

“At Cathy’s brother’s wedding? The pretty black woman?” David said pissed.

“At Cath…but I didn’t go to that wedding. I was sick. I had the flu. And my back was out.” Leonard’s voice sounded like a little child’s responding to an accusing parent.

“Oh. Shit.” Daniel said, only slightly contrite. “That’s right. There was food involved. You weren’t there.”

“No. Danny. Really. It wasn’t the food. I was sick and my back was out.” Leonard was almost whining.

“Whatever.” Daniel dismissed him. “Anyway, Cathy won’t stop crying and she won’t get out of bed so we’re not going tonight. And tomorrow’s car show is out too because everyone is meeting at Cathy’s aunt’s house to make flyers or some such shit.”

“Please tell Cathy how sorry…” Leonard began, but was abruptly cut off.

“Yeah. Take care Leonard. I’ll talk to you later.” There was a beep and then David was gone from Leonard’s phone.

Mark Daygen opened his eyes and felt sudden, excruciating, pain. It shot through his head like a well aimed arrow. He sat up in spite of it. His bed was soaked in sweat and smelled of snubbed out cigarettes and spilled booze. He reached over to his bedside table and felt around for his smokes. He had closed his eyes after the first bolt of pain and was keeping them tightly closed now. It helped. But only a little. He lit a cigarette, swung his legs over, and sat on the edge of the bed. He knew he’d have to make his way to the bathroom eventually. He had to piss like a champion thoroughbred and he needed aspirin bad. But not right now. Right now he would sit here with his eyes closed and smoke.

After ten minutes, he took the last drag off his cigarette and cautiously opened his eyes. A fresh bolt of pain shot through his head. Goddamn hangovers. What the hell had he drunk last night? Tequila? Vodka? Gin? All of the above? He had no recollection. Last night, like so many nights in his life, was hiding behind a black curtain. A curtain stitched and sewn with each drink he drank and each bottle he finished off.

He needed a drink now. That would cure him. He needed the hair of the dog. Shit. He needed the whole damn dog.

He snubbed out his cigarette in the overflowing bedside ashtray, pulled his body upright and stood. The pain in his head erupted and his stomach turned over. He barely made it to the toilet before his gut let loose of the remains of last night’s drinks and dinner. When he had emptied his stomach he dry-heaved three or four more times. His hands slipped on the scum that covered the filthy toilet rim as he pushed himself away from the bowl. He stood up and moved to the sink. He turned on both taps, rinsed his muck covered hands and hand-fed himself mouthfuls of water. First spitting them out to clear his mouth, then drinking them in to rehydrate his desiccated body. He looked up after the last swallow and caught his reflected image in the medicine cabinet mirror. He looked at the beast staring back at him and actually flinched. His eyes were two green olives floating in buckets of blood and his skin was sickly gray. He stuck his tongue out and saw that it was covered and coated in a thick white paste made up of vomit and neglect. His teeth were yellow and pitted. He hated to brush his teeth. A quirk. One of his many. He hated to brush them so he seldom did. He compensated for the smell by swishing copious amounts of mouthwash several times a day.

He rinsed his face and turned off the taps. He opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the bottle of aspirin. The damn thing was empty. How the fuck did THAT happen. He threw the empty bottle into the ring-encrusted bathtub and left the room. It was at that moment that he remembered the events of the past night. Last night he had gotten rid of the bitch. Disposed of her as it were. Last night he had done her one last time, one really good last time, and then disposed of her. Then he had gone out to celebrate. That was it. He had taken his well earned pay and spent half of it on booze and lap dances.

He looked around at that moment as a new panic gripped him. His money. Where was the rest of his money? He saw his sloughed off 501’s laying in a heap at the foot of the bed and went to them. He bent over and another bolt of pain shot through his hung-over head. He didn’t notice. He was too focused on his money. He stabbed a hand into the front right pocket and pulled it inside out. Nothing. He stabbed into the other front pocket and felt, with great relief, metal and paper. He pulled it out. It was cash folded in his silver money clip. He ripped the bills from the clip, a clip engraved with a naked woman holding a dagger to her privates, and began to count it. He got to a thousand and stopped.

“Two-thousand left?” he said aloud. “I fucking spent five-hundred last night?! Shit.” He shoved the money clip back into the pocket of his jeans and pulled them on. He needed a drink and he was going to get one.

It was time to eat and Leonard was starving. It was also time for the walk of fear. He HATED going down to the damn basement. It was dank and moldy and smelled like soiled underwear left overnight in a bucket of fetid water. But it was the only place he could keep his huge freezer. And the freezer was where he kept the majority of his food, and he would be goddamned if he was going to make anything ELSE about his food, ANY more of a problem. So he went to the basement.

Leonard opened the basement door with a creak worthy of a Hammer horror film and felt around the wall for the light switch. The fluorescents sputtered and crackled and eventually lit with their characteristic green glow as he stepped onto the top stair. Leonard Collins grabbed the handrail as Mark Daygen grabbed the shot glass off the counter at his neighborhood bar. Mark downed his fifth tequila shot as Leonard downed the basement stairs.

The tequila was starting to take the edge off his headache. He figured that shots number six and seven would get rid of it completely. He motioned for the bartender to come over and pointed to his empty glass.

“Fill it.” He said pulling another bill out of his money clip. It was a twenty. “And keep them coming till this is used up.

Leonard reached the bottom stair, and as he stepped onto the basement floor he recited his ‘basement mantra’ aloud.

“There is nothing to fear here. There is nothing to fear here. Nothing is here to fear. Nothing is here to fear.” His stomach clawed at him, growling with hunger as he walked toward his freezer.

Mark lifted the shot glass to his crusted, cracked lips and downed the shot in one swallow. He slammed the glass down on the bar imagining himself a gunfighter in a way-out-west saloon. The bartender turned toward him startled by the sound.

“You don’t have to bang the glass.” The bespectacled, diminutive, bartender started tentatively. “You just have to say ‘hey’ or ‘bartender’ and I’ll come right over. You’re the only one in here.”

Daygen suppressed the nearly impossible-to-ignore urge to leap over the bar, grab this faggoty cum-bag by the throat and squeeze the life out of him. Slowly. While grinning. With joy. Instead he spoke calmly and with the slightest of smiles.

“Okay then.” He said barring his yellowed teeth in a grin. “Hey, Bartender. May I have another of your delicious tequila shots?”

The bartender picked up the tequila bottle and walked over.

“This is the last of your twenty dollars.” He said pouring.

“That’s fine.” Daygen said still smiling the phony, frightful grin. “I won’t need anymore.” Daygen downed the shot and rose from the barstool.

“It’s been swell, Pookie.” He said wiping the wet from his mouth. “Maybe next time I’ll buy you a drink and then bend you over the bar for a good one.”

The bartender stepped away from Daygen and reflexively reached toward the under-bar. Two metal baseball bats were under there just in case a patron got out of line. And it looked to the bartender that this patron was about to get out of line.

“Don’t bother with the bat, Sis.” Daygen hissed. “I’m outta here.”

Then, as he was half in and half out of the exit door, he turned back toward the frightened bartender.

“And be sure to tell Marco that he really scrapped the bottom of the fucking barrel when he hired your faggoty ass.” With that he was gone and the bartender was alone in the dark, dank cave that was “Marco’s Bar On Forth”.

Daygen reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. He looked around cautiously before pulling the money out and counting it. He had managed to spend another hundred this morning. He was now down to Nineteen-Hundred and change.

“I’m burning through this too damn fast.” He told the gum-stuck sidewalk. “Too damn fast when I only get it once ever three months. I’m askin’ for more next time. Shit. I’m askin’ now. I’m goin’ over there and tell him I want more NOW.”

Leonard took another deep breath, gaining more control over his fear. He stepped closer to his freezer. He was going all out today. More than just carrots. He was going to prepare the very best part of his frozen stash. One of his ‘secret’ meals. With nobody staring at him. Nobody saying to him, ‘you really gonna eat that?!?! Eww yuck. You won’t eat a burger, but you’ll eat that?!? Ewwwwww. You’re gross.’ His meal was going to be a long time defrosting so he needed to get it out of the freezer and onto his kitchen counter ASAP.

Daygen stood on the back porch and began to pound on the door. This is where he always met the little weasel. This is where he delivered the package and picked up the money. But it was weird being there during the day. Too much light. Too much fucking light. He calmed his nerves with a swig from the small mouthwash bottle he always carried. He spit out the spent wash on the porch boards and banged on the door again. He realized that it really didn’t matter that he was standing here in broad daylight. He wasn’t carrying a package, so he wasn’t doing anything illegal. He was just standing here and knocking on a certain weasel’s back door. He caught site of something foreign in the puddle of mouthwash he had spit out. It looked like a kernel of corn. Or maybe… Oh shit. Was that a tooth? Had he spit out a tooth? He bent down to get a closer look as the door swung open. It was the weasel.

“OH MY GOD!” The weasel yelled putting his hand to his mouth and looking around terrified. “What are you doing here. Get inside. Hurry. Get inside.” He grabbed Daygen’s arm and pulled him through the door and into the kitchen. Daygen yanked his arm away.

“You touch me again.” Daygen said picking up a butcher knife off the kitchen counter. “And I’ll cut off your dick and feed it to you.”

The weasel put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers.

“Why are you here? What do you want?” He was whispering and tears were collecting in the corners of his eyes. “I don’t need a package now. Not for another three months.”

Daygen put the knife down on the counter and moved to the fridge. He opened it and looked inside.

“Jesus, Dude.” He said with an ugly chuckle. “Your freakin’ cupboard is bare. You need to take a little trip to the ‘Stop & Shop’. Don’t you have a beer or nothin’?” He turned toward the man.

“I’m serious weasel. Do you got any booze?”

“I told you not to call me that.” The man said backing away.

“Oh. I’m so sorry. I meant MR. Weasel.”

“Why are you here?” The man asked.

“Why is there air?” Daygen said grinning his yellow toothed grin.

“What?” The the man said wiping a tear from his cheek.

“I want more money.” Daygen said poking a finger deep into his left nostril. “I want more money for what I just brought you and I want more money for any more I bring you.” He pulled something out of his nose and began rolling it between his finger and his thumb.

“This was NOT our agreement.” The man said, pouting.

Daygen took a step toward the man and flicked whatever he was rolling between his thumb and finger at the man’s chest. The man lept backwards slamming into a cupboard. He grabbed the back of his head and began to quietly weep.

“This wasn’t our agreement.” He said through childlike tears. “Not at all our agreement.”

Daygen stepped even closer. His face was now inches from the man’s.

“I want another thousand now.” Daygen began. “And then thirty-five hundred for all future packages. This is non-negotiable.” He leaned in and kissed the man’s forehead.

“Your breath is horrible.” The man said quietly. “The money is downstairs. In the basement.”

“Go get it.” Daygen said grinning.

“Please come with me.” The man said. “I don’t like it down there.”

“You’re shittin’ me, right?” Daygen’s grin widened into a rotten toothed smile.

“Down here, through here.” The man said moving toward the basement door.

As Daygen moved toward the door he knocked into a butcher-paper wrapped parcel on the counter. It was frozen solid. It did three spins on the tiled counter then careened to the floor.

“Shit.” Daygen said. “What the fuck is this?” He picked up the package and put it back on the counter.

“Dinner.” The man said holding the basement door open. “It’s defrosting. The money’s down here.”

Daygen walked toward the man and followed him down the stairs. The florescents sputtered on and Daygen saw the dreary room in full light. The man walked over to a metal, mechanics case and opened the large bottom right drawer. It was full to the top with money. Daygen could see fifties and twenties and even hundreds neatly stacked and still in their bank wrappers.

“Holy shit.” Daygen whispered, staring at the cash.

“Here is your thousand.” The man said holding the cash bundle of twenties out to Daygen. “And you’ll get thirty-five hundred for the next package. But one thing.” The man’s face changed from slightly frightened to deadly serious.

“And what’s that?” Daygen asked reaching for the money.

The man handed the cash over and took a deep, dramatic breath.

“You were foolish and lazy with the last package.” He said exhaling slowly. “She was a local. AND a distant member of my family for heaven’s sake.”

“You said you wanted a nigger this time.” Daygen said turning away. “You said you wanted a nigger woman and you wanted her fast.”

“Firstly.” The man said frowning. “I do NOT use that ugly word. And secondly, I said I wanted her in a weeks time at the latest.”

“What’s this table for?” Daygen said pointing to the large metal table at the back of the basement.

“Did you hear what I said?” The man asked.

“Yeah, weasel. I heard you.” Daygen said still facing the table.

“MY NAME IS NOT WEASEL! IT’S LEONARD!” Leonard said shoving a taser into Daygen’s side and pulling the trigger. “LEONARD! YOU BAG OF SHIT!”

Daygen collapsed to the floor flailing, the bundle of cash sliding across the room. Leonard dropped to his knees shoved the taser, with all his might, into Daygen’s crotch and pulled the trigger again. Daygen screamed out, his body stiffening in a rigor of pain. Leonard pulled the trigger over and over again, until Daygen fell silent. Unconscious.

“The table is one normally used by mortuaries. For burial preparation.” Leonard said to the unconscious Daygen. He stood up and walked over to the metal cabinet again. He pulled open a large drawer and took out a coil of yellow nylon rope. He returned to Daygen, tasered him one more time in the chest, then began to tie him up with practiced perfection.

“I don’t use mine for that, however.” He said finishing the last knot. “I use mine for…. well… you’ll see soon enough. Up close and personal.”

Leonard climbed the basement stairs and closed the door behind him. He walked over to the counter and began to unwrap the butcher-paper covered package. Under the paper were thick layers of plastic wrap and beneath those was a severed head. A black woman’s head.

“I still don’t recognize you.” Leonard said pinching the severed head’s nose. My brother is not only ugly he’s silly too. I never met you.”

Leonard put the head into one of his double sinks and began filling it up with warm water.

“This’ll defrost you faster.” He said smiling. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a breast or a thigh, but tonight you’re going to give me my most favorite meal in the whole wide world. Brains. Brains in black butter. And on the side…lots and lots of carrots.”

The Written Word Is Back!

I am no longer doing a podcast… BUT (as in hole) … I still have things to say.  So….

Ladies and Gentlemen…. THE WRITTEN WORD.

Fiction:

There’s Always A Crow

By: S. Scott Bullock

As I sit here, the sun so warm on the top of my bald head, a crow is having its way with my ears. Apparently she is angry about something because her caws are loud and repetitive. All other sounds in this beautiful, wooded park are mere background orchestration for her angry aria. I made the dreadful error of looking up at the tree she was perched in and that seemed to infuriate her even more. Her caws tripled in frequency and she began a fanatic back and forth dance on the limb she perched herself on. I suppose that she is not particularly angry at me, personally, but that she is unhappy to share the park with anyone or anything else at all. But it certainly seems that she is taking her angst out on me. Me, this skinny, bald, old/young man sitting alone on a splintering park bench, in a stunning creek side country park.

There’s always a crow, isn’t there?

Twenty-three years ago, when I was ten-years old, I got my first bicycle. It was my birthday and I got the Huffy dirt bike, with knobby tires and flame red/yellow handle grips that I had always wanted. Well, not exactly the one that I always wanted. This one, the one my parents got me, was the wrong color. I wanted iridescent green, but I got plain old, regular green instead. Everything else about the bike was perfect and my dad even did a little extra and got me a headlights and generator package. The bike was almost perfect. Except for the dumb color. And every time I looked at my bike, all through the five years I rode it, I didn’t see the cool knobby tires or the way-cool flame red/yellow handle grips. I didn’t see the headlights and bitchin’ generator. I only saw the color. The wrong color.

The crow just stopped for a minute and the sound of the running creek has taken over. I hear a child shouting at a dog and a dog barking back at a child. And now. Now, just the creek. An amazingly peaceful sound. A breeze just caressed my face and on it I can smell cut grass, lavender and pine. I think the crow might be done. Oh, wait. Nope. She isn’t. There she goes again. Madder this time. Well, maybe not madder, but certainly louder. Actually, I should really use the word angrier, not madder. Madder, as Sandy always used to tell me, meant more insane, not more angry.

I met Sandy when I was twenty-five. I was the new night manager at Dagel’s Grocery Mart, and she was starting her first night shift. When she walked into my tiny office my heart stopped and then took off running at highway speed. Even the ugly florescent lighting couldn’t ugly her. She was a ginger-haired angel with tucked wings and hidden halo. I asked her to marry me after knowing her for only two months. She said yes.

The wedding was small but elaborate. All planned by Sandy and her mother, Jackie. Sandy gave me a say-so in all the planning, but I really didn’t have too much to say. That is until the event was over. Then I told Sandy about all the things that I felt didn’t go quite right. The things that disappointed me. The band didn’t play all the songs we requested. I mean the band was good and all that, but they skipped several songs. My favorite Uncle, Uncle Tommy, came and surprised me. But he left early. Before the reception was over. There were only two bartenders instead of the three that were suggested, and the tiny white lights which covered all the trees and foliage in the backyard, thousands of them, while stunning, didn’t twinkle. They just burned steady. There was more, and Sandy heard all of it.

The crow, I just named her Morticia, has paused again. I want to take a sneak peak to see what she’s up to, but I don’t want to piss her off again. The breeze has picked up a bit but it is still gentle and so filled with incredible smells. Every inhale is laced with new magic and wonder. The sun is warm on me, but I chill easily of late, so I’ve pulled on my coat. I love this old coat, frayed sleeves, missing button and all.

A little toe-headed boy, maybe six or seven, came up to me about an hour ago. He had a melting red-white-and-blue ‘Bomb-Pop’ Popsicle in his dirty-finger-nailed hand. He stood in front of me for a minute without speaking, holding the ‘Bomb-Pop’ over my knee and dripping it all over my khaki pants. I think he may have been wondering about my shiny bald head. When he finally spoke, he asked me if I’d seen his goose. His GOOSE of all things! I told him no, but that I’d keep an eye out. He took off running then, heading for his mom. Made me chuckle though. Poor thing lost his goose. Now, looking at the Popsicle juice on the leg of my pants, I just have to smile. I sure hope he finds his goose.

Oops! There goes Morticia again. I wonder if she knows where the wayward goose is. Maybe that’s what she’s been shouting about. She’s trying to tell the poor little boy were his goose is.

As I shift my weight on this old bench, (my boney left butt-cheek has fallen totally asleep), I can feel the texture of my coat brushing against the back of my hand. I do love this ancient coat. It was an anniversary present. Sandy gave it to me on our second anniversary.

Two years into our marriage we had settled into a life of medium-low-income happiness. Well, truth be told, Sandy was the happy one. I was… what? Disgruntled. I was disgruntled. I really loved our apartment. Except where it was located. Too far from work and in a ‘not upscale enough’ neighborhood. Our car was a gift from Sandy’s father. I liked it alright. It was brand new. But you know… it wasn’t what I would have bought for myself.

I first saw the full length camel hair coat in a GQ magazine at my hair cutter’s salon and noted that, while I really liked it, it was WAY too expensive for me. I mentioned it to Sandy and she agreed. Way too pricey.

Our anniversary night came and as we were getting ready to go to dinner, (at the restaurant where we had our first date), Sandy asked me for her present. She was laughing, but deadly serious. I couldn’t figure out HOW she figured it out. She knew that I had bought her those damn makeup brushes that she was lusting after. She knew it and she wanted them now so she could use them to put on her makeup for the special night.

I told her that I didn’t get her anything. She laughed and said, ‘bullshit’. And then, ‘hand it over’. So I did. And she smiled that smile that melted my heart and tingled my special part.

We had one of what we called our ‘very quick sessions’ then. Sex with Sandy was something that simple words can’t describe. So I won’t even try. But even in all its carnal majesty I still found fault. Not long enough doing this, too much of doing that.

I gave her the makeup brushes after that and she hugged me and kissed the side of my face. I always got goose bumps when she did that and that time was no exception.

Then I asked her where MY present was and she said I’d have to wait.

It was October and cold for California, so I went to the closet to get my coat before we left the apartment. I pulled on the old pea coat that my father had handed me down when I was in high school and Sandy yelled ‘oh my god stop’ at the top of her lungs.

I dropped the pea-coat and looked at Sandy, stunned at her shout. I asked her what the hell was wrong and she smiled and began guffawing. Sandy’s guffaw sounded like a wounded horse and always started me into laughing too. I asked her, still laughing, why she’d shouted like that, and she pointed to the the hall closet. She told me, through more guffaws, that my present was on the top shelf. I pulled down the large beautifully wrapped box, went to the couch, sat down and opened it. It was the coat. The coat I had yearned for in the magazine. She had somehow managed to scrimp and save and put enough aside to buy it for me. I actually wept a little then. Wept at the love I felt for her. Wept at the thought of her giving up some of the things she needed in order to save the money to buy me this ridiculously frivolous and expensive present. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I realized it wasn’t the EXACT same coat. I was back at my hair cutters again and looking through the old GQ magazine where I had first seen the wonderful coat. That’s when I saw that the buttons were different on this one. This one, the one I had first seen and lusted after, had bigger buttons. And the buttons were darker and gold rimmed. These buttons were different from mine. So, even though the coat was from the same maker and equally expensive, from that moment on I only saw the buttons. I kept my disappointment from Sandy, but she sensed something was up.

Morticia has quieted again, and I’m just sitting here looking at the space left by the missing button on my wonderful coat. The missing ‘wrong’ button. A beautiful butterfly just fluttered by. It lighted for a second on the arm of my bench. It wings were iridescent. Iridescent green. That makes me smile. The universe poking fun at me. The sun is lowering slightly and the long shadows it is creating are like charcoal sketches of trees on a green grass canvas. The light is magical right now. Pre-Gloaming I’d call it. It is bathing everything in a golden-yellow wash. The lake, off in the distance, has bright-yellow diamonds dancing atop each tiny ripple and the creek next to me is covered in gold doubloons of light. The quiet has started begging for relief, and Morticia has just obliged. CAW CAW CAW! she keeps telling me. CAW CAW CAW! I think I know what it means. I’ll tell you in a minute or two. Right now I just want to sit here and take in the unbounded beauty of this moment. The cool, scent-ladened air. The shadows. The light. And Morticia. The crow.

Sandy and I divorced five years ago. It was amicable. Or as amicable as a divorce can be. There is something very un-amicable about hurting another person, and that’s what divorce does. It hurts people. In the settlement I gave her everything but my clothes and my vinyl collection. She gave me a kiss on the side of my face when I left our apartment for the last time. And that last kiss, just as the very first, gave me goosebumps. That simple kiss on the side of my face.

I had worn her out, she had told me. I was so negative. Nothing ever good enough or right enough. I had worn her out and her love for me could no longer recharge her. So we divorced. And I took my clothes and my two-hundred and six LP record collection and moved away. I landed here. In Bonny Doon, California. It was a nice place to land. Or so I thought five years ago. Today, and for the past two years, I have realized that it was not only a nice place, but a land of magic and majesty the likes of which many have never seen.

I got a job at a local health food market in nearby Boulder Creek. I started as produce manager and worked my way up to manager of the northwest sector. That sounds much more impressive than it really was. The “northwest sector” consisted of three stores. But it payed really well and allowed me to find a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood. I didn’t know it then, but I was only two blocks away from this very park. The first three years I lived here I never saw it or even knew it existed. I discovered it two years ago. I was wandering the streets of town after hearing some particularly bad news, and just as if providence had planned it, I came across ‘Mariu Park’. I have no idea what Mariu means, but I think I heard that it’s from a New Zealand aboriginal language. But whatever it means or meant, I found it that dark, sad Tuesday and since then have spent more time in Mariu Park than I have in my own apartment.

Three years ago, a full year before the real poop hit the propeller, I was fully settled into my job. I was okay with it. It just wasn’t perfect. I’d wished for easier hours and better pay and I hated my boss. Well, more precisely, I hated my bosses wife. The woman behind the man was a royal pain in the general behind. She kept making suggestions on how I could improve our stores. Where to put the carts. How to rearrange the fruit and produce. The colors for the store aprons and outdoor awnings. I only had one suggestion for her. I wanted her to keep her big mouth shut. When I made that suggestion, I was shown the door. I walked through it, but much to my astonishment, got a call from my boss two weeks later asking me to come back. I did so with the caveat that Mrs. Boss would have little to no interaction with me. My boss told me that Mrs. Boss would longer be a problem for me OR for him. They were divorcing.

That year was amazing for me, though I didn’t see it that way. I got a large raise, still just a little too little in my opinion, and an assistant that took a lot of the grunt work away from me. In a small twist of fate, my assistant, hired by my boss, was a ginger-haired young lady named Sandy of all names. So once again I had a ruby-roofed Sandy in my life. This one, however, was ten years younger and about a hundred pounds heavier. She was fine though and worked twice as hard as everyone else in the room.

I worked on curating my vinyl collection during that year. Filling in the missing albums of a particular genre, selling off superfluous ones in another. I dated a little, but found the women to be either vacuous beyond description or dull to the point of suicide-inducing. If they weren’t over beautified Kardashian-Wanna-Be’s, they were farmer-tanned hippies that spoke of hemp cultivation and the myriad uses for cow dung.

I was just ‘okay’ with everything in my life. Just ‘okay’. Never ‘happy’. There was always something wrong. Always something less-than. Nothing was ever ‘just right’, and that fact gnawed at my psyche and drove me mad with dis-ease. I walked through life, clutching a half-empty glass in a death grip.

January of the next year brought a special gift. And I’m being REALLY sarcastic here. Yet, maybe not, when I come to think of it. Maybe it was a gift.

It was time for my yearly job physical. Normally I sailed through these with flying, healthy colors, so I was not in the least bit concerned. Of course I complained about the inconvenience of the appointment and the distance to the GP’s office. Typically, the results of all the tests are sent to the head office and filed away in one’s personnel file. But not this time. This time the doctor’s office called my office and a nurse told me that I needed to come back in and speak with the doctor. I asked her why, but she said that that was all she knew and she was just following the doctor’s orders. So, still not really concerned, I made an appointment for the next morning and went about my day.

I am going to spare you the ugly details here. Life is too short for ugly details. But I will tell you this. Cancer had come to live inside me. It was a bad cancer, but it was still at a treatable stage. So treat it we did. Aggressively. Months of radiation followed by months of chemotherapy. I lost every hair on my body from that combination. And none of it every grew back. Anywhere. I’m embarrassed to say.

When Sandy, my ex-wife not my assistant, heard of my battle, she came to stay with me on weekends. She hadn’t had any serious relationships since we split up so she had her weekends free to help her embattled ex-husband. During the week I had nursing care provided by my company and my incredible boss, who, by the way, was seriously dating the sister of the bitch that he was originally married to. The one that drove us both crazy. Go figure.

Again, sparing you the very gory details, the chemotherapy and radiation worked and after a year long battle I was pronounced ‘cancer-free’. Completely hairless, but cancer-free. It seems that 99% of chemo patients grow their hair back. I was one of the unlucky one percent. But I truly didn’t care. I was pronounced CANCER-FREE! I was also pronounced something else, probably for the first time in my whole life. I was pronounced grateful. I was grateful. I was grateful to the doctors who treated me. I was grateful to the nurses who cared for me. I was grateful to the chemists and scientists who created my therapies. And I was grateful to Sandy, my precious ex-wife, who sacrificed so much to make my suffering less and my joy for life more. I was grateful to be alive and able to enjoy eating good food and listening to great music and going to bathroom like a regular person. I was grateful and dare I say this? I was HAPPY. Happy to be alive.

CAW CAW CAW! Morticia is saying to me again. CAW! I know what it means. And I’m going to tell you now. But first I have to tell you this, with the biggest smile on my face I have had in weeks. I am, at this very moment, looking across the park and seeing a woman walking toward the park exit. She is being followed by a little toe-headed boy. And the boy is being followed, I kid you not, by a large Canadian Goose! I’m not kidding you! A GOOSE! The little boy found his goose.

CAW CAW CAW!!!!! Yes Morticia. Yes, I know.

I saw my oncologist last week. Just a check up. I talked to him on the phone this morning. It’s back. And we both knew that if it came back, it would not go away again. But I’m really okay with that. I really am. I have learned a joy for living that I never thought possible in these past two years. Because of ‘IT’ not in spite of ‘IT’. I have lived an entire lifetime of amazing gratitude and joy in these past seven-hundred-thirty or so days. I have learned to see the beauty in the mundane and the sublime in the silly. I have learned to appreciate every inhale and exhale and I have learned to look past the dirty window to the pristine flower-filled meadow beyond. I have learned that there is always going to be a something ‘not quite perfect’. There is always a noise that you can let obliterate the music, IF you allow it to. I have learned that in every circumstance YOU have the choice of what you focus on. You can wait for the quiet moments and listen to the creek next to you or you can focus on the loud caw of the angry bird in the branches above you. You can raise your fist in anger and rail against the bird, or you can embrace her as part of the beautiful package that is life. The loud, the quiet, the hard, the soft, the terrible, the tremendous. Because no matter how you look at it, no matter how you think about it, no matter what you do about it, in every single circumstance… there’s always a crow.