Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Few of My Ghosts Comment on My Recent Behavior, a poem

illustration a few of my ghosts comment on my recent behavior

A Few of My Ghosts Comment on My Recent Behavior

Bravo! says Father. It’s about time! he says.  I was beginning to

            think you’d forgotten everything I shared with you.

How could you? says Grandmother.  How could you betray me that

            way?  Everything I believed in, taught you, gone!

This is just like you, says Mother.  I knew something like this

            would happen eventually.  I knew it was just a matter of


Grandfather just looks me in the eye and shakes his head.  He

            knows exactly how such a thing can happen.

I never thought you’d have the nerve, says Father.  I thought I’d

            lost you forever, missed my chance.

I never thought you’d do such a thing, says Grandmother.  I

            thought I’d taught you better manners.

I always knew you’d do something like this, says Mother.  You’re

            so damned stubborn.

I was just hoping you’d have more sense, says Grandfather.  He

            still loves me, he always will.

Live as I would have, says Father.  Live for me.

No, live as I would have, says Grandmother.  Live for me.

Nothing I say will make any difference with you, says Mother.

            You never would agree to live for me.  I only gave birth to

            you.  I’m not someone really important, God knows.

Please be careful, says Grandfather.  Long ago, he charted the

            dangerous waters, entirely alone, no one to guide him.

You must always tell the absolute truth, says Father.  It is the

            only thing that will save you.

You must never tell the truth, says Grandmother.  It is what will

            destroy you.

You always were a liar, says Mother.  You told the truth only

            when it suited you.

Tell only the necessary elements of the story, and then only to

            the necessary people, says Grandfather.  He is secretive by

            nature, and full of legal advice.

Don’t think about things too much, says Father.  Follow your

            heart.  You know, that ugly chunk of muscle in the center of

            your chest?  It keeps you going, but for what purpose?

            Don’t ever stop listening to it, the way I did.

I want you to stop and think before you do anything else crazy,

            says Grandmother.

I know you’ve already made up your mind, says Mother.  You never

            listen to a word I say.  It’s pointless for me to try.

There’s no need for haste, for immediate action, says Grandfather. 

            Is there?  He wants only to protect me, I am

            his dear flesh and blood.  In all the family, I am the most   

            like him.

You loved me more than you ever let on, says Father.  I really

            meant something to you.  Even though you’re suffering for it

            now, I’m glad of it.

You didn’t really love me at all, says Grandmother.  Perhaps you

            didn’t understand what I meant when I spoke of love.

You only love yourself, says Mother.  You’re selfish, you’ve

            always been selfish.  You’ll never change.

Love is not always the most practical idea, says Grandfather.

            Let’s think instead in terms of happiness.  He himself was

            moderately unhappy for years — though so graceful, so

            appealing, so charming in his distress, and every inch a


So, what will you do now? asks Father.  He tilts his head and

            smiles, and the knowing look in his bright blue eyes give me

            the shivers.

I don’t even want to know what you’ll do next, says Grandmother.

            Her eyes are red, and I feel myself wanting to cry with her,

            cry for her, but I can’t, and this hurts her more than


I know exactly what’s coming, says Mother.  I’ve always known.

Whatever you decide, nothing will ever make you feel any worse

            than you feel right now, says Grandfather, and then he puts

            his arms around me and kisses me with all the feelings he

            never, ever would have permitted me to see while he was



Filed under poetry

easy as pie, a short story

illustration easy as pie
Easy as Pie

Jonathan is still a virgin at twenty-eight — or so he says. From the look of his underwear, I’m tempted to believe him. His blinding white jockey shorts are far too big, hiked up to his ribcage like an old man. We’ve been friends for a long time. I’m between relationships at the moment, and on impulse, really, I’ve gotten him stripped down this far, but now he’s balking. His underwear acts as a kind of psychological barrier, I guess. We’re on my couch having an intense heart-to-heart.

Part of the problem is this woman he’s in love with. Even though she’s been living as a lesbian for two years, he keeps hoping she’ll come to her senses and marry him. It’s true, they still go to Temple together every once in a while; he even cooked her a seder last year. He and I talk about religion all the time; I’m a curious Episcopalian and I ask him everything about Judaism. I have this wild notion of converting someday — but he says it’s difficult, and I believe him.

I’m interested in having sex tonight, though I’m not going to push him too hard. With hindsight, my own virginity was surrendered far too casually. My first lover was a lot older than I was, a lot more confident, and I just let him do it because he was so persistent. It’s not that I don’t recognize the attraction, the magnetic purity of someone like Jonathan. No worries about disease, and he’ll most likely fall in love with me. A flattering situation, sure, but also a burden — one I’m not sure I want to take on. Jonathan’s an appealing but complicated case.

“It’s not that I don’t find you attractive,” he says, reaching out to take my warm hand in his clammy one. The flickering candlelight throws his cheekbones into sharp relief, hoods his eyes and makes him look exotic, mysterious. I want to see him in a yarmulke and prayer shawl, those little leather boxes strapped to his head and arm. “You’re very attractive,” he adds.

I move my hand up and down his bare thigh, feeling the few downy hairs there rustle back and forth over his smooth skin. He’s a lawyer for an environmental-protection group, and he runs eight miles every other day. Compared to him, I feel like a moral slug: a vegetarian since high school, he’s never even driven an automobile. “So are you,” I say. I play with the little opening in his shorts with one finger, teasing him like I would my cat.

He closes his eyes, leans his head back against the wall and draws his breath in. “Please don’t,” he says, his voice a little strained, his Adam’s apple bobbing. I take my hand away like something bit it.

“I just can’t do this,” he says, opening his eyes wide and staring at me. “Not tonight. Not this way.”

“Okay,” I say, getting up off the couch. Why did he think I was taking his pants off? Intellectual curiosity? Science experiment? Bending, I pick up his shirt and jeans and shoes. “Here’s your clothes. There’s the door.”

He sits there, his face frozen in a squint-eyed wince that makes him look like a chastened dog. He reaches up to touch his forehead with a forefinger. “I’ll probably regret this in the morning,” he says.

“You probably will,” I say, tilting my head and smiling.


Over time, according to his rules, I discover Jonathan isn’t only virginal, but also an old-fashioned romantic. He doesn’t like to think of himself that way, however. A reformed atheist, he talks about “significance.” “I want everything to be perfect between us,” he says to me. We’re lying in bed together at this fancy bed-and-breakfast he’s brought me to for the weekend.

“Perfect?” I ask. “Perfect?” My stomach is so taut with lust you could bounce a five-pound slab of beef off it. “What does that mean to you?” He’s been lifting weights every day for the past few months, and from what I can feel of him tonight through his thin knit shirt, he’s big and carved-looking and hairless like a god.

“A serious commitment,” he says. He turns to look at me in the moonlight. His eyes glisten, and he strokes my hair. “That’s what I’m looking for, after the fiasco with Melissa.”

Melissa’s the lesbian he’s finally given up on. I don’t say anything at first. It all used to be so easy, so effortless. Everybody’s clothes came off as easy as pie. “God,” I say, the word arcing out of my throat like a wet watermelon seed. I lie there feeling my heart pound. He reaches over, tracing the lines of my eyebrows with one finger. “Give me strength,” I sigh.

Jonathan gets up on his elbow, his brilliant pectorals bulging, the mattress squeaking under him like a baby bird. “And what is so wrong with wanting to build a relationship first?” he asks.
“Jesus, you sound just like my mother,” I say.


After all this, I’m astonished when, a few weeks later, after dinner out and a cryptic Brazilian movie, he announces he’s ready for us to “move forward.” He leans down to kiss me, and I can tell he’s nervous. I’ve decided his full, red mouth is his best feature — on him it’s almost larger than life, contrasted with the rest of his austere person. He tells me his father’s mother was Native American, though when I ask him what tribe she belonged to he can’t say — but he does give me a real flint arrowhead to commemorate the evening. “I found this in a field out back of my parent’s house a long time ago,” he says. It’s small and gray and minutely chiseled, still warm from his hand.

“It’s beautiful,” I say.

We walk back to my apartment holding hands, hearing an odd blend of reggae and big-band music through the open windows of the neighborhood. In my bedroom, he turns quieter and quieter, seriouser and seriouser, as each piece of clothing comes off. As expected, I find him enthusiastic but unschooled. His hands are like roving mice, ticklish and prickly all at once. “Help me through this,” he says at one point, gazing up over my head at the O’Keefe poster in the far corner. Afterward, he doesn’t talk at all, just lies there with his arms crossed behind his neck. “I love you,” he says, groping for his glasses on the bed beside the table.

It’s like he punched me in the stomach with something soft. I turn over and put my face into the nape of his neck; he smells bland and sweet like oyster crackers. I don’t like it when men have a strong smell, but I don’t like it when they don’t, either. Hard to please. Or, maybe I want somebody who smells like me. Back in college, I developed a theory that the reason I never had a problem getting boys to like me was I emitted some sort of secret sex pheromone, more than other girls. It wasn’t anything about my personality that attracted men, but the way I smelled to their unconscious nose.

A more plausible explanation is that I was more unprincipled than most girls: I never broke up with a guy until I had a replacement waiting in the wings. I’d keep the old one around as a decoy until that happened, even if I was irritated beyond belief, even if his touch made my flesh crawl. Because, when you don’t have a boyfriend, the other guys think there must be a good reason, and stay away. If, instead, they believe they’re stealing you away from someone, they have an incentive.

But, right now, at least with Jonathan, I’m in a stage of trying to reform, change my ways. So, instead of saying “I love you, too,” which I know I could utter in a convincing enough voice, I hug him and sort of shiver all over, as if I’m so overcome with feeling it’s made me shy.


In due course, Jonathan brings over his toothbrush, clean shirts and underwear, and his second-best running shoes. He even arranges for Sunday newspaper home delivery, something I’ve always meant to get around to; however, as the weeks pass, I come to realize my period is overdue. I try to shrug it off at first, but after another week end up saucer-eyed and sweaty, marking off the days on my calendar over and over — consulting the lot numbers and expiration dates on the box of condoms and canister of foam we’ve used, as if they’re runes.

One night, soon after I start to worry, we go to this cowboy bar. I have authentic boots, a string tie, a silver belt buckle, everything but a neon sign saying “POSSIBLY PREGNANT.” I don’t say a word about my period, but all night he keeps staring at me as though he almost knows what’s up. I would like to be able to tell him, but I have a feeling he’s not going to make any of this easier. He’s not that kind.

He dances well, for a lawyer. “Why’d you go to law school, anyway?” I ask him, yelling over the music.

“I couldn’t face medical school!” he shouts, laughing, as we squeeze our way off the dance floor.

“I wanted to go to medical school,” I say.

“What kept you from going?” he asks.

“Math, I guess. I had this trigonometry teacher in high school who smirked every time I asked a question.”

“For me it was dissecting a cat,” he says, his face solemn. “I figured if I couldn’t handle that, there was no way I’d be able to do it with people.”

“Yeah, blood,” I say, with enthusiasm. “I tried to pierce my friend’s ears once. We used ice cubes. There was this teeny little drop of blood that came out when I put the needle through. One drop about the size of this mole,” I say, pointing to my own arm. He peers down. “I was instantly nauseated. But more terrible than the blood was the way her earlobe — my friend has really fat earlobes — the way her earlobe sizzled under the ice. Like it was meat frying or something. I didn’t think I’d be able to do the second one, but I had to — I couldn’t leave her with only one ear pierced.”

He nods, that awful, fake kind of nod people give you when you know they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. “What an awful experience that must have been,” he says.


Early the following week, over at the clinic, I pee into a tiny paper cup with Bugs Bunny on it, and when the lab tech comes back into the room, she doesn’t say a word — she doesn’t have to, it’s there in her eyes, the set of her jaw. “Our first opening is next Wednesday,” she tells me, penciling something on a pink chart.

It’s probably racism or something, but on the scheduled Wednesday, as I lie there on the table trying not to shake, I’m relieved to see that the doctor who’s going to perform the abortion is black. As if somehow that makes it all okay — as if he’s a surrogate for guilt, for suffering. He seems nice, quiet and bookish, with big horn-rimmed glasses and a neat mustache. His voice is soft, vaguely Southern. I close my eyes and try to relax, but it’s impossible.


“Was it mine?” Jonathan asks a few days later, after searching my kitchen junk drawer for the 75-mile-radius map he loaned me, and finding instead the bright yellow booklet of follow-up instructions they gave out in the clinic’s recovery room.

I don’t even bother to ask why he thinks it might not have been his. “No,” I lie, and he stands there for several minutes, towering over me in the tiny kitchen, stiff and straight through his torso, his head and neck bobbing forward, nodding in place like a tired metronome.


“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” Jonathan says later, sounding rehearsed, over the phone. I don’t like to do my dirty work in person, either, so I can’t complain about his choice of medium.

“Even if it had been mine, I wouldn’t have asked you to get married or anything,” he says. “I think you’re a very confused person.”

“Oh, really,” I say, trying to keep my voice neutral.

“You’re not in love with me, anyway, and you know it,” he adds. “You never were.”

“Get off your high horse,” I say, laughing. “You’re not in love with me, either.” I’m above reminding him of what he said on our first night together — it’s gone beyond such petty one-for-one recrimination to a whole new level, a swirling gray reach that makes me feel more tired than angry.

“No, but we should have been in love,” he says. “That’s my point. If the person I’m sleeping with gets pregnant, I want to be able to consider all the options, including marriage.” He sniffles into the phone, and I’m shocked to realize he’s been crying. “Obviously, I’ve never been faced with this before, but this whole situation made me stop and think. It’s too dangerous.” He pauses, and I can hear him breathing raggedly. “I made a mistake,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

For a minute all I want to do is hang up on him, smash the phone down like I’m smashing his face. It’s as if a more flippant attitude on his part would be easier for me to deal with, because — to a certain degree — I expected that.

“The person you’re sleeping with? People don’t get pregnant,” I say. “Women do.” He clears his throat, but says nothing, and then I know he’s only staying on the line out of politeness.

“Okay,” I say, after a few more moments of silence. “I agree. We shouldn’t see each other anymore.” I exhale, feeling each slow millimeter of my lungs’ deflation — the breathing not painful, yet, as it will be later, when I will have to use pillows to muffle the grief which will blow me to and fro, grief which I can no more harness or control than I could a demon, or a hurricane. I will be rattled, I will be shaken, I will be damaged.

“Goodbye, then,” he says.

“Goodbye,” I say, surprised by my voice’s new gentleness. Taking the phone away from my ear, I listen for the click and buzz and let it go, releasing the long, springy cord that I had stretched across the living room from the kitchen wall, the curved plastic form of the receiver skittering along the length of the coffee table like a live fish. And then I notice the strong afternoon light streaming in through the living room windows; how, despite its warmth, it makes the skin of my arms and hands look bleached, pale and waxy — almost like I’m already gone from this place.


Filed under short stories

easter bunny, a short story

illustration easter bunny short story 2

Easter Bunny

Jenny’s hair was beginning to fall out from the radiation treatments.  Last night, at a restaurant over on the beach, their waitress had worn a rhinestone-studded baseball cap, and Jenny had admired it.  Ellen wanted to buy one for her.  In truth, ever since Jenny’s diagnosis, Ellen had been shopping as though her life depended on it, buying all sorts of gifts for her mother, tossing them into her lap, unwrapped.

At the mall, Ellen’s two-year-old, Sarah, was fidgety in her stroller, until she spotted the Easter Bunny — on a raised platform with green shag carpet and an arrangement of painted wooden tulips and eggs.  The bunny sat in a white wicker queen’s chair.  “Mommy, it’s the Easter Bunny!” Sarah shouted, waving her hands over her head.

“I see him.  We’ll go see the bunny after we get Granny’s hat, okay?” Ellen said as they maneuvered around the long line of squealing toddlers, toward an accessory store she hoped would have the hat.

“Okay, Mommy,” Sarah said, craning her head to get another look.

Blocking their path around the long line of small children were a couple of teenage girls.  One of the girls was smoking, and as Ellen passed, the girl glanced at her with what Ellen recognized as contempt, flinging her long hair back — the cigarette dangling from her full lips — and prancing over to the mirrored window of the jewelry store across the way to inspect herself.  Her bangs were teased to a great height, sprayed so heavily into place they looked varnished, though the rest of her hair hung in a limp curtain over her shoulders.

It was odd how the teenager kept staring at Ellen even as she primped in the mirror — the girl’s eyes were large and black, her face unlined, uncomplicated.  Ellen stared back without blinking until both mirror and girl were out of sight.

There was one rhinestone cap left at the store, in the window display.  “Do you have any more of these?” Ellen asked, pointing.

“That’s the very last one,” the clerk said.  She and Ellen traded smiles.

“I’ll take it,” Ellen said, not bothering to check the price tag.

On the way back, the teen girls were still near the Easter Bunny display, only now they had been joined by a couple of boys.  The dark-eyed girl slouched back on the bench, sharing a cigarette with a pale blonde wearing too much makeup.

Ellen watched her giggling daughter run to the giant white bunny.  She paid seven dollars to have Sarah’s picture taken with the rabbit, but in the first Polaroid, Sarah’s eyes were closed.  “Sleeping Beauties, that’s what we call those,” the photographer told her.  Ellen wanted to keep it anyway.

“I want to kiss him,” Sarah said.

“Okay, honey,” Ellen said, squeezing her small squirming body in a fierce hug.  She tried to imagine Sarah in another ten years, all pouty lips and thrust-out chin.  Cans of hair spray, and unspeakable things like peppermint flavored lip gloss.

The second picture turned out beautifully.  Sarah held the bunny’s gloved hand, smiling, eyes open, rapt to the camera.  The rabbit got up and strolled down the ramp of his platform, Sarah following, reaching out like a pilgrim to stroke the fluffy white fur.

“I want to tell him I love him,” she whispered to Ellen.  “Pick me up.”

Ellen held Sarah up so she could whisper in the bunny’s ear.  “I love you,” Sarah whispered into the tattered pink plush.  She kissed the nose, patting the wire mesh covering the open mouth, inside which Ellen could see the blurred outline of someone’s face.  Ellen turned away, remembering this morning, before she’d left for the mall.

“Give Granny a hug,” she’d told Sarah.

“I don’t want to,” Sarah had whined.

Ellen’s anger had seemed reasonable in one sense, though completely out of proportion to Sarah’s predictable toddler whimsy.  How many times were left to bestow such affection.  How many times would Ellen be able to bring her mother a daft, pathetic gift from the mall.  Just then, the teenagers laughed their little ignorant heads off for the hundredth time in ten minutes, the air ringing with their simple, donkeylike braying, and Ellen stabbed at them reflexively with her gaze.  How dare they be so happy.  How dare they be so young.

“Why does that stupid bee keep staring at me?” said the dark-haired girl, glaring back at Ellen.  The group around her laughed, nodding at their compatriot’s clever wit.  Ellen stopped, Sarah heavy on her hip.  Bee — for bitch?

“I was wondering the exact same thing,” Ellen said.

The blonde moved several steps toward Ellen then, folding her spindly arms over her chest, shaking her head.  “Hey,” she said, squinting her eyes.  “Don’t you get fresh with my friend.”  She tossed her head back, her stiff bangs remaining frozen, like armor, despite the movement.

Ellen bent to strap Sarah into her stroller.  “I understand your type,” she said to the dark girl, her eyes drifting over the entire group.  “I used to be a snot-nosed adolescent, just like you.”

“Still need to wipe your nose, if you ask me,” said the dark-haired girl, thrust forward on one thin leg, her shoulder flung back.  She looked to her friends, as if for confirmation, and the two boys gave each other sloppy high-fives.

The entire group of teenagers was laughing now, holding their sides, tilting their heads and letting their mouths hang open, their glistening, foamy tongues quivering with hilarity.  In a flash, Ellen’s heart hammered so briskly she could feel her pulse inside her mouth, her tongue; her teeth were being jarred out of their gums.  Ellen wanted to crush them under her shoes like bugs.  “Fuck you,” she said.  She noticed, too late, the horror of the other grown-ups as they clapped their hands over the ears of their small children, the parents staring at Ellen, their eyes wide.

“And just what kind of example are you trying to set?” one woman asked.  Ellen walked at great speed away from the mob, pushing the balky stroller as fast as she could.  Sarah sat in the umbrella stroller, clutching the Easter Polaroids in her tiny hand, her small frame curved into a limp macaroni shape, her perfect, smooth elbows bouncing off her knees as the wheels vibrated over the rough brick floor of the mall.  Ellen walked so fast she began panting, her calves starting to cramp as she rounded the nearest curve, heading for the door she had entered, long ago, in another lifetime.

She saw a bank of pay phones.  She stopped, looking around and behind her.  Fishing in her purse, she found a quarter, then flipped through the telephone directory, looking for the mall’s security office.

“I thought you should know there’s a group of disruptive teenagers hanging out in front of the Easter Bunny,” she said to the voice on the line.  “They’re standing around smoking and making rude comments to the customers.”

“Can you describe them?” the voice asked.

She visualized the girls, their long hair, their cheap-looking teased bangs.  “They had ugly hair,” Ellen said.

“Could I have a little more detail?” the voice asked.  “What were they wearing?”

Ellen could not see anything but the scornful face of the dark-haired girl, the pinched, sour face of the blonde.  “I don’t know,” she answered.

“Well, how many of them were there?” the exasperated voice asked.

“Four,” Ellen said.  “Two girls and two boys.  In front of the Easter Bunny.  Smoking and laughing and being nasty to people.”

“We’ll send someone over there right away, ma’am,” the voice said.  “Would you like to come in and file a formal complaint?”

Ellen visualized herself in handcuffs, being led away.  “No, thank you, that’s not necessary,” she said, hanging the phone up with a bang.

As she tried to push the stroller away from the phone, she saw Sarah was tangled up somehow, her fingers twined through the cord holding the phone book.  “Let go,” she told Sarah, light-headed with the panic jigging through her in ragged bolts.

“But I want to call somebody,” Sarah whined, clutching at the metal cord with both hands.  “I want to call the Easter Bunny.”

“We don’t have time for that right now,” Ellen said.  “We have to take Granny her hat.”  She imagined the teenagers telling their side of the story to the security guards.  Ellen uncurled Sarah’s fingers and flew toward the exit, toward the safety of the parking lot.  No one, apparently, was after her.

Her hands trembled, her arms weak from adrenaline as she unlocked the car door and strapped Sarah into her car seat.  Heaving the stroller into the trunk, she got in and power-locked the doors, hearing the dull thunk inside, pressing the button three more times for good measure.  As they exited to the main road, she looked back at Sarah in the rear-view mirror, saw her little round face composed and serene, her eyes open but vacant-looking.  “Wasn’t that fun?” Ellen said, smiling.   “Getting to see the Easter Bunny?”

“No,” Sarah said, her eyes droopy, her head turning to nest against the padded wing of the carseat.  Lulled by the car’s rhythmic movement, the child’s lids fluttered closed.  Her cheeks were smooth, rosy with health, her lips parted, her pearly teeth visible.  One wispy curl of hair clung to her damp forehead.

Ellen’s face was benumbed; she drove home from the mall to deliver her gift to her mother, tears coming to rest in the corners of her mouth — her cheeks twitching from exhaustion as she forced her lips to stay drawn back, her teeth bared in a ghastly smile, a grimace of love.  She would deceive no one with such a face, most certainly not her dying mother — but of course she couldn’t allow herself to quit trying.

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Filed under anger, apologia, cancer, daughters, death, easter, fiction, love, short stories

Beautiful Daughter, Handsome Father, a short story

rjp & ktp august 1971

Beautiful Daughter, Handsome Father

Marlene, her father’s lover, is down on the beach, sitting on the sand cross-legged, nursing the baby.  If Leah looks out the living room window she can see her there, sitting and facing the ocean.  Marlene’s thin cloak is rippling in the breeze, her head held high and tilted back, as though she is worshipping something — her own new status as a mother, perhaps?

Leah’s father met Marlene at the Venice Health Foods Supermarket, where she worked behind the purification supplements counter.  He had wandered to browse, got spellbound in front of the blue-green algae, and left carrying her phone number and a gallon of aloe pulp.  Marlene quit the supermarket a few months later, soon after they moved in together.

Her father has just shown her the videotape of that moment two weeks ago when the baby finally slid out of Marlene’s body.  It took eighteen hours to produce the head and that first shoulder, but then the rest of it — the dangling arms, the loosely curled fists, the puckered knees and feet that seemed sculpted from marzipan — swished free with one last interminable push, followed by a dribbling of translucent fluid tinted pale amber.

He cut the cord himself, took the sterile scissors in his trembling hand and, in between where they tied it off in two places with thick black surgical thread, he snipped.  On the video, he looks like he was ready for it to be difficult — preparing to hack away at it until he passed out — but it surprised him and parted smoothly, like a thick rope of licorice.

After shutting off the tape and pointing out the still figure of Marlene down on the strand, he shows Leah around his new apartment.  The entire layout is visible from the foyer, but it’s something to do to break the ice.  This is the first time she’s visited since high school, when he sold his house.  Before that, from the ages of two until twelve, she didn’t see him at all.

“This is the bedroom,” he says, gesturing to an open doorway off the square front hall.  There is a mattress lying on the floor, sheets and pillows and thick, Mexican-looking blankets tossed in an unmade rumple.  “The bathroom is through there.”  He points within, to a half-open door at the far corner of the bedroom.  “The kitchen,” he says, waving at another doorway with the other arm, his first arm still aloft at an oblique angle toward the bathroom.  For a moment he looks like a ballet dancer, muscles strung on wires.

In the kitchen are two wooden barstools and a commercial-sized juicer.  “This is where you’ll be sleeping,” he says, walking two steps in from the foyer.  “The living room.”  There is no furniture, nothing at all, merely the carpet, grubby beige shag.

Leah says nothing for a moment.  The apartment is cold and damp from the ocean.  It smells clean, though; a trace of peppermint soap drifts from the bathroom.  When she speaks, she tries to sound casual.  “Have you got something for me to sleep on?” she asks.  “A cot or something?”  He looks at her, arms folded.  She stands silently.  At his old house she had her own room and bath.

“Well,” he says, rubbing his chin.  “I thought we’d get a roll of three-inch foam-rubber for you.  A mattress.”

“Oh.”  She is embarrassed, and sorry she brought it up.  She moves to the window, touches the gauze curtains, faded Indian print with fluid girls twirling on their toes.

“I planned to get it today.  There’s an upholstery shop down the street.”

“Oh?” she says.  He has not prepared for her visit, is she that unimportant?

“I didn’t think you’d really come.  Not after the last time.”

“When is Marlene coming back up here?” Leah says.

“She’ll be down at the beach until we go to get her.  I wanted us to have some time alone first.”

“How much did the baby weigh?”

“Nine pounds,” he says.  He stands at the window, gazing at the beach.  Leah fidgets and stuffs her hands in her pockets.

“Were you going to name me Jedidiah, if I’d been a boy?”

“Who told you that?”


“Well, she didn’t like the name in the first place.  I doubt she’d have let me give it to you.”  He sighs.  Leah looks down at the rug.  “Why do you ask?” he asks.

“Just curious.”

Her father takes a step toward Leah.  He touches her cheek and shakes his head.  Then he strokes his beard with both hands, smoothing his hair back.  “Well.  I’m going to make some juice.  Do you want some?”

“What kind?”

“I’m not sure.  Let’s go see.”  He opens the refrigerator and bends down, rooting through the shelves, opening bins.  The juice machine on the table is an old appliance, dull and scratched white with rounded corners and a big shiny metal “GE” logo on the center of the motor.  It goes with the rest of the place — his usual ceremonial shabbiness.

He crouches and Leah’s view of him is blocked by the open door.  “Hello, beautiful daughter,” he says, leaning his head around to smile at her.

“Hello, handsome father,” she says, and sticks out her tongue.

He laughs.  “There are beets, carrots, celery, some apples.  I think I’ll have beet-celery.”  He leans back against the counter, and scratches his head.  “Have you ever had fresh-squeezed juice before?”

“Not this kind,” she says.  “What is it like?”  Her idea of health food is banana yogurt.

“It’s a lot stronger-tasting than the bottled stuff.  We’d better start you off with some fruit, but I don’t think you’d like plain apple.  How about apple-carrot?”

“I guess so,” she says, rubbing her damp palms against her pants.

He stands at the sink, scrubbing the beets and the carrots with a brush.  Rinsing the apples and the celery, he does not peel, core, or seed anything, just cuts it into chunks and lays it on the counter next to the enormous juicing machine.  His off-white fisherman’s sweater is thick and luxurious, a jarring contrast to his dingy ripped jeans and his skinny, emaciated wrists.  She turns away from him and looks out the window at the pale blue, slow-rolling waves.

“I’ve been doing a lot of juice fasts,” he says.  He is much thinner than last time; she is skittish about touching him, feeling the sharp edges of his bones everywhere.  He seems in good enough shape, though:  who else his age can jog twelve miles in wet sand?

Because of his shoulder-length, strawberry blond hair — just a touch of silver running through it — and the leanness of his jawbone, her acquaintances from college flirted with him, sometimes just to measure her reaction, but sometimes not.  They all thought she was lucky.

“Surely you’re not trying to lose weight?” Leah says.

“No, I drink a hell of a lot of juice.  But it’s just that and water for twenty-four hours.  It really cleanses the system.”

“Don’t you get hungry?”

“No, not at all.  See, you have all the sugar in the juice to keep you going.  So you are eating, in a sense.”

“But you’re already so thin.”

“Juice fasting isn’t to lose weight,” he says.  “I don’t lose a pound.  It’s to give your system a rest.  To eliminate toxins.”  He starts feeding the chunks into the juicer.  The beet juice is blood-red, frothy, and then the celery goes through, diluting it to a muddy pink.  “Want a taste?”

“No, thanks,” she says.  “It looks gross.”

He takes a sip of the juice, the froth clinging to his mustache.  Then he feeds some carrots and apples through the grinding machine.  After tasting it, he hands her the glass.  Leah drinks.  The juice is pungent, the earthy sharpness of the carrots drowning out the sweetness of the apples.  As she tilts the glass, a heavy layer of sediment from the skins and peels falls out and settles to the bottom.

“I can’t drink this,” she says, her tongue coated with a cloying thickness, the taste in her mouth like liquid chalk.

He watches her as he drinks from his own glass, sucking the foam from his upper lip.  “Well, it’s something you’ve got to get used to.  An acquired taste.”

Leah puts her juice down on the counter.  Unsnapping her barrette, she tosses her head once to loosen her hair, and then puts the barrette into her jacket pocket.

“I’m hungry,” she says.

“We could go over to the Meatless Mess Hall.”

“Great,” Leah says.  She picks up the glass of juice again, and then puts it down without drinking.  “I’m sure it’s good for you,” she says.  All she can think about is getting out of his apartment.  Her mind races and she can’t even label what she’s feeling.  “Why don’t we go to the beach?” she says.  Her voice is high, her face hot.


They walk downstairs.  The old hallways are dim, smelling of cooking grease, clove cigarettes, and Lysol.  The stuccoed walls are painted a glossy institutional green.  Following him down the creaking steps, she stares at his spindly buttocks — barely brushing the inside of the narrow seat of his jeans — as his legs propel him before her.  When she saw him again, after ten years, he couldn’t get enough of her sitting in his lap.  His thighs were lean, his hipbones sharp, and she herself felt too large, too awkward to be his daughter.

On the beach, Marlene’s face is stark and beautiful, the bones jutting and declining, transforming the clean ocean light of December into a solemn sculpture.

The baby is wrapped in several layers of flannel receiving blankets, striped pink and blue on white, the blanket corners fluttering in the chill breeze.  Leah peers over the edge of the blanket, seeing the baby’s cafe-au-lait forehead, his black, damp-looking corkscrew curls and his eyes, shut tight against the light and wind.

Leah and Marlene look at each other.  The wind slams into Leah’s body like a giant animal.  A few plump gulls glide over the waves.  Her father clears his throat.  “Marlene.  This is Leah.  Leah, Marlene.”  She nods to Leah, one slow, dignified sweep of her head.  Several heavy bracelets, open bangles with knobs like acorns molded at the ends, glow against her skin, the gold dulled by a dense network of minuscule scratches.  “And this is,” he says, holding his arms out and taking the wrapped bundle from Marlene’s arms, “Jedidiah.”  He snuggles the baby against his thick sweater, bending and brushing his lips against the silky fine fuzz on its head.

Leah bends and leans forward, her hair falling into her eyes so that she must twist it to one side, making a thick rope over her shoulder.  She squints up at Marlene, who nods at her like a queen again.  Marlene takes the baby back.  “I’ve got to get him inside,” she says.  “It’s getting cold.”  She turns away, her robe billowing up, punctuating the sweep of her long legs.

“Wait a minute,” her father calls, hurrying after her, leaving Leah alone.  “We were just on our way over to the Meatless.”

Marlene stares at the ground.  Leah’s father looks down, too.  “All right,” Marlene says, looking up and nodding, her face set harder around the mouth.

At the Meatless Mess Hall, they sit at a table in the back corner.  The vinyl tablecloth is stiff and slippery when Leah tries to lean on it with her elbows.  Her arms keep sliding, so she gives up, sits back on the wooden bench and hangs her arms down at her sides like a child in church.  Marlene folds her robe to one side over her shoulder and nurses the baby.  Though Leah doesn’t want to look, she manages to catch one sideways glimpse of the purplish-brown, swollen nipple.  Once the baby latches on, Marlene drapes the robe back into place, covering herself.

“I’ll have the millet casserole and a pot of herb tea,” Marlene says, when the waiter comes.  “And honey with the tea, please.”

“I want grilled tofu and a side order of steamed vegetables,” her father says.

“I’m not hungry,” Leah says.  The waiter has two tiny diamond studs in his nose, and from her seat, Leah can see up his nostrils to the backs of the earrings.

Taking her barrette out of her jacket, she puts it in her mouth and pulls her hair back with both hands.  She reaches behind her head with the barrette and hears the tiny snap of the clasp.  “Is this my half-brother?” she says, glancing over at Marlene with her arms still bent over her head.

Marlene’s forehead crinkles, and then relaxes.  “No,” she says, looking not back at Leah, but across at Leah’s father, her eyes twin chocolate stones.  “I was already pregnant when we met.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that?” Leah says, turning to face her father.  Her elbow slips off the table, accidentally jabbing the waiter.

“Excuse me,” the waiter says.  He sops up spilt tea with a dingy rag.

Marlene’s face doesn’t move at all.  It is smooth and dark, the kind of face where expressions leave no permanent mark, unlike her father’s thin Slavic skin, where a shadow of everything he’s ever done or said or thought still lurks.  He glances at Leah, then turns to look out the restaurant’s long row of windows.

“Why are you doing this, if it’s not your child?” Leah asks.

“Why not?” he says, smiling a small, thin-lipped smile.

She blinks at him.  “I see,” she says.  “Better late than never?”

Leah’s father reaches over and touches Leah’s hair, stroking the side of her head, something she is barely able to tolerate.  His hands, long and slender, feel tentative like a cat’s paws.  When he hugs her, his arms press in, then release, press in, and release — the movement comes like waves, it makes her seasick, but she can’t seem to draw away from him until he’s ready to let her go.

Her father and Marlene sit and eat.  When Marlene is finished, she stands up, drawing the baby out from under her cloak where it fell asleep after nursing.  She cradles it, murmurs to it, and readjusts its blankets.  There is something — a grain or two of millet — stuck to the corner of her mouth.  It looks like a beauty spot against her skin.  “I’m so tired,” she says.  “See you at home.”  As Marlene turns to leave, she puts her hand on Leah’s shoulder, patting her like a dog.

Her father pays the bill and he and Leah walk back to the strand.  She remembers years ago, the first time he brought her here, to see the roller-skaters and the old black man who played scratchy blues guitar.  Leah had picked up a piece of driftwood and scratched words in the sand.  “I love you, Daddy,” she had written.  The wind had been icy cold and what she mourns most of all from that time is the way he felt so big and warm and solid when he hugged her, shielding her from the wind, lifting her up off her feet.  They stood together like that for a long time.  He had smelled so clean, so pure, like the ocean, a sweet yet salty moistness that she’d found nowhere else but on the Pacific.

They turn to go back to his apartment.  “Dad,” she says.  “Would you mind if I stayed with Grandma tonight?  It’ll be easier.  You won’t have to bother with the mattress.”

He takes her wrist, his fingers encircling it like a heavy bracelet.  “You can’t stand being here?”

“No, I can’t” she says.  “I feel awkward.  A fifth wheel.”

“Well, I hope I haven’t done anything to make you feel that way,” he says.

“You haven’t,” she says.  She stares at him.  His palm against her wrist is cool and dry.  She bites the inside of her cheek.  “Didn’t you wonder how I was doing, all that time?”

“I thought about you every day,” he says, holding her wrist tighter.

They walk back to his apartment building.  Leah turns and tilts her head.  Putting his hands on her shoulders, he stands in front of her, leaning on her with most of his weight, pressing down a bit, causing her to bend at the knees, their old game.

When her father gets to the top of the steps, before entering the dark vestibule, he pauses and looks at her.  “Goodbye, beautiful daughter,” he calls.

“Goodbye, handsome father,” she answers.


Filed under short stories

Blind Man’s Bluff, a poem

illustration blind mans bluff

Blind Man’s Bluff

What is this game?  I am thirty-three,

and my eyes are covered up for play.

The world is solid black, my movements


slow & clumsy with fear.  All around

my floating head, voices chatter & laugh.

Tree roots line the ground, dangerous


protuberances, desiring my blood.

At a distance, I hear water falling,

it sounds uncommonly happy, it sounds


like someone peeing.  I could stay

this way forever, or at least

for a few minutes.  My own daughter


giggles when I stumble, and I wave

my hands to catch her hair:  sweet web,

tying my heart to my body


so it dares not take flight.

I don’t know anymore

if the grass is green here; mostly I sense


bare, flaccid soil, decaying leaves.

What chemicals created this relentless

natural discontent?  Is there a cure?


Old desires for wandering flood upward,

through jagged white bone, never coming

to fruition.  This tender moment


of blindness is welcome relief.

Certainly if I were to break an arm,

a leg, I would be taken out


of this awful inertia.  The laws of physics

are absolute, giving no small comfort

to a homeless spirit like mine.


There is nothing like the delight

of a very young child — to fracture

such a short-lived spell


would bring the greatest weariness of all.

Yet, if despair is the only real sin,

I am surely damned.  In the darkness, I reach.


As I grope her small round face, she speaks,

and I feel the soft lips move

under my fingertips:  you found me, Mommy.


Filed under short stories

probability is not certainty

illustration probability is not certainty

uh, neil degrasse tyson, i hate to burst your bubble, but probability is not certainty.  the mathematical difference between 99.99 & 100 is infinite; remember zeno’s paradox??

“In 1977, physicists E. C. G. Sudarshan and B. Misra studying quantum mechanics discovered that the dynamical evolution (motion) of a quantum system can be hindered (or even inhibited) through observation of the system.  This effect is usually called the “quantum Zeno effect” as it is strongly reminiscent of Zeno’s arrow paradox.  This effect was first theorized in 1958.”

us poets & writers call it “the butterfly effect,” don’t we?


Filed under notes, science

True Love, a short story

illustration true love

True Love

            Mythical, that’s how they looked — when she got up close, she experienced both hormonal lightning flashes and the peculiar sensation of having a trick knee.  The famous Gower brothers:  high foreheads, broad shoulders, meaty yet sculpted forearms.  Granted, for Amy, myth and heroism consisted of “Jason and the Argonauts,” and the Classic Comic Books version of “The Iliad and the Odyssey,” but she was on the right track.

“This is Amy,” said her friend Claudia.  She stood with her arm across Amy’s shoulders.  “This is my ex-husband, Burnett, and this is Carey — we call him Shorty.”

It was admirable the way Claudia and her ex hadn’t let their divorce get in the way of business.  Amy wondered if she were capable of such sophistication — perhaps it was bound up with the Bohemian temperament musicians were supposed to have.

“Nice to meet you,” Amy said.  “I’m enjoying your music.”

“Thanks, Amy,” said Shorty.  “That’s what we like to hear.”

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

“No, please,” she said.

He chewed his little red straw, stirring his drink with a finger.  The gesture was boyish, clumsy.

“How long have you been playing here?” she asked.

“Six months,” said Shorty.  “The owner is a jerk, but he’s hardly ever around.”

“Well, I’m glad the band stayed together,” said Amy.  “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

He tossed his head, and gave her an aw-shucks-ma’am grin, showing his teeth and squinting his eyes.

“Me too,” he said, touching her arm.

“You’re just as pretty as Claudia said you were,” he said.

“Oh, I bet you say that to all your groupies,” she said, laughing.  He laughed too, squeezing her arm.  She felt his large fingers against her skin, the calluses on his fingertips.

They had another job tomorrow night, he said, over at Lazy Susan’s.  Would she like to come listen?

“A friend of mine is having a party we could go to,” he added.  “It won’t get cranking until around two a.m. — you know, a bunch of musicians.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“Stay for the next set, won’t you?” he asked her, tipping his glass to drain it.  The lime wedge fell on his nose, and he laughed, then put it in his mouth and sucked the pulp.

She sipped her wine.  A bit drunk, she was relaxed even more by the sound that poured over her, brushing her skin like velvet.

When the music was finished, Shorty walked her out to her car, opening and closing the door of the little Datsun for her.  Squatting on his heels, he rested his elbows on the open window, leaning his chin on his hands.

“I don’t do this very often,” he said, his face dusky under the streetlight.  “Ask anybody, they’ll tell you.  I’m not a flirt.  I don’t operate that way.”

He took her hand and held it, shaking his bangs out of his eyes.  Staring at her, his eyes were sleepy-looking.

“Yes, ma’am, it’s been a real pleasure,” he said, drawling the words out, going corn-pone, laughing.


Shorty was sweet, honest, Claudia said, a guy who would do anything for you.  It was true, he didn’t pick up women.

“But he’s kind of involved with somebody,” she said.  “It’s a weird thing:  they’re separated right now.  I know he’ll tell you himself, so don’t say anything.”

“Separated?”  Amy said.  Gruesome visions of surgery flashed in her head, the kind used for taking apart Siamese twins.

“Well, he and Bonnie have lived together, off and on, for years,” Claudia said.  “Lately, it’s been mostly off, but neither one of them has ended it.”

“Where is she now?”  Amy asked.

“Dallas.  She manages a restaurant out there.  Some relative of hers got her the job.  Everybody thinks she’s been bad to Shorty.  He needs to get on with his life.”  Claudia shrugged.

“I don’t understand how people can live like that,” Amy said.

“I know,” Claudia said, sighing.  “So if you get close with Shorty, you better keep Bonnie in mind.  They go back a long time.”

“I’m not looking for anything serious,” Amy said, twirling her hair.  “I just want to have some fun.”

In fact, whenever she broke up with someone, she’d swear she would never get “involved” again — she would become independent, self-sufficient.  Then she’d wake up months later — as if from a trance — realizing that she had somehow ended up in another relationship.


The musicians were taking a break when she walked in, and Shorty was standing in the entryway talking on the phone.  He mimed delight, his eyebrows raised, and he beckoned.  She stood near him:  bending, he put his arm across her shoulder, drawing her to his side.  He pulled her tight against his body, curling his arm around her neck and looking down at her curiously from that skewed, clumsy angle.  She could smell him; fresh, clean sweat that carried the smell of his aftershave, and underneath that, the blunted tang of alcohol and bar smoke.

“You sure are a sight for sore eyes,” he said.  “I’ve been thinking about you all day.  I was starting to think you’d forgotten.”  His face was mobile, relaxed, expressing shy fascination.

He wanted to stop home and change before the party.  “You don’t mind, do you?” he asked.

“Of course not.”  She followed him in her car.

Waiting in his living room, she flipped through his magazines:  RollingStone, Time, and Omni.  He emerged from the bedroom with a clean shirt on, hair wet, combed down tight, the tooth-mark pattern of the comb pressed into it and a few wet curls on the back of his neck dripping on his shoulders.  His skin was fair; a dark mole next to his mouth stood out against the flush of color brought out by the shower.

“Let’s take my car over to the party,” he said.

His back seat was folded down, the space crammed full of guitar cases and scuffed black boxes.  He sat with his hands on the steering wheel as if he were trying to remember how to drive.  Then he fished a half-smashed pack of cigarettes out of the side pocket on the door.  He lit one, dented and pressed flat, inhaling with a sigh, thin lengths of smoke swirling about his face.  He offered the crumpled pack to Amy.  “No thanks,” she said.  “I don’t smoke.”

“Neither do I,” he said.  “I like the way it looks sometimes, how your hands feel lighting up.”

Shrugging, he pulled out the ashtray, tucking the smoldering butt into one of the grooves.  In one smooth motion, he leaned over the gear shift and kissed her, cradling her head in his hands.  Then he let go and took her hand, laying it in his lap, against the rough-sewn corduroy crotch of his jeans, and he whispered.

“See what you do to me?” he said.


Later that night, she discovered the shoes.  On the floor of the bathroom, tossed in front of the linen closet, she saw a pair of running shoes, women’s, size five.  She held one of them up to her bare foot.  Her own size nine looked huge next to the tiny shoe.

Carrying it back to bed with her, she lay down next to him, holding the shoe up with one arm, over her face, the laces dangling down, almost brushing her nose.

“Whose is this?” she asked.

“That’s Bonnie’s,” he said.

Amy let the shoe drop to the floor.  The room was still, quiet.  She felt a protective third eyelid go down over something vulnerable inside her.  “Is she living here?” Amy asked.

“Hell, no,” he said.  “I haven’t heard a word from her in at least six months.”

She found herself possessed by quiescent maturity, a vague memory of some letter to the editor she’d read in Playgirl.  She would handle it in that abstract way; not a whimper would come out of her.  She took the shoe and put it back in the bathroom, coming back to bed, and drawing the comforter up over her bare shoulder.  As she had known would happen — her reward for being a good girl — he reached out under the blankets, pulling her to him and curling around her, her head hooked under his chin and her feet pressed against his shins.  He was warm and soft-skinned and large and solid, all at once.  She was in a masculine sort of womb.

“You’re the only one here with me,” he said.

She could see something that looked like love, the old kiss-me-until-I-die extravaganza.  She couldn’t tell him, could she?  Her blood swelled and pounded and she imagined saying it, imagined him saying it back, falling asleep next to him at last, her mind flickering through images like the arthritic film projectors she remembered from high school:  tiny shoes, and faceless petite women wearing nothing but a mist of blue glitter as they dove into murky tropical lagoons in the dark.


For Shorty’s birthday, they were going to an expensive restaurant.  Almost ready to go pick him up, she was slipping into her shoes when the phone rang.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m not going to be able to make it tonight.  Bonnie flew in this afternoon.”  He paused; Amy said nothing.  She didn’t intend the silence to be accusatory, but that was how he seemed to take it.  “Amy, I swear,” he said.  “I had no idea she was coming.  She called from the airport and said she was here to wish me a happy birthday.”

Amy breathed in, her chest stretching until it hurt.  For a moment she didn’t know how the air would get out — some sort of one-way valve had shut down — but then her chest was empty.  She waited.

“I’m sorry,” he said, whispering now.  “She’s in the next room.  I don’t know what else to say.”

“Well, have a happy birthday,” she said.  She placed the phone in the cradle in slow motion.


Amy drove over to the bar.  Burnett was there, of course, and some other guy on bass, filling in for Shorty.  She had his birthday present — a gold chain — shoved in her purse.  When the band went on break, she and Burnett walked outside.  They sat in her car in the darkness.

“He’s with Bonnie,” she said.

She took the small velvet box out of her purse, handing it to Burnett.  He held it for a moment, and then put it on the dash.

“My brother doesn’t know what he’s doing,” he said.

“Neither do I,” she said.

He picked the box up and held it, his eyebrows raised, questioning.  Shaking her head, she closed his fingers over it.  “This is really nice,” he said, when he opened it.

She took the ends of the clasp and put the chain on him — his neck damp, but round and full and hard as a barrel under her fingers.  As she worked with the necklace, the tiny lever on the clasp stabbed underneath her thumbnail.  She sucked on her finger, tasting blood.  The strand of gold glinted against his skin, his long hair sweeping past it and over his shoulders, the pale blonde glow of the hair as pretty as any woman’s.

She drove home with Burnett after the bar closed.  In his living room, sitting on a sprung green brocade sofa, they drank beer in silence, the room lit by one enormous rainbow drip candle.  Putting his empty bottle down, Burnett stood and held out his hand; she didn’t hesitate, just rose to follow.  His bedroom was tiny; the double bed used up all the space.  She had to hitch her way around the nightstand and halfway there, she toppled, falling panicked, then sprawled on the bed.  Burnett looked down at her, pulling his shirt tail out of his pants.

The brothers were like two sides of the same coin.  When she closed her eyes, they had the same feel, the same weight; they even smelled the same; except she knew it wasn’t Shorty because of the way the long hair trailed over her skin when he bent over her.  It tickled her skin like a spider’s web, it was so silky.


When Amy phoned Shorty, a woman answered on the second ring.  She didn’t hang up the way she had planned.  She asked for him.

“Hello?” he said.  He sounded tense.

“Hi.  It’s me.  Was that Bonnie?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.  She could hear him breathing and Bonnie talking in the background.  “Who is it?”  Amy heard.  The sound got muffled; she tried but she couldn’t make out his answer.

“Listen, I’m sorry,” she said when he came back on the line, her voice low and even.  Her stomach rolled with a peculiar heaviness, making everything seem vague and faraway.  “I know you can’t talk now.  Call me when you can, okay?”

“I will,” he said.  “You take care of yourself.”  His voice was slower, his drawl back to its normal rhythm.  He sounded relieved — she was being so civilized, so unlike what he had probably expected.  Although it wasn’t Shorty’s fault — he hadn’t lied to her — somehow, she was being too nice.


Amy had a New Year’s Eve vision:  a slow-motion perfume ad, a fuzzy dream of sensual retribution.  Oh, how she’d make him regret what he’d passed by on the way to his dry banquet!  Her heart — the childish construct of it, the big red valentine — was beginning to resemble a checkerboard.  Amy loved New Year’s — for an hour at least, everything seemed limitless.

Claudia was equally superstitious, always serving a big Southern breakfast — beans, greens, ham hocks, cornbread — at midnight.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t know about eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s?”  Claudia asked.

“Honestly,” said Amy, “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Well, you need some luck then, girl,” said Claudia.

“Yeah,” said Amy.  “I guess I do.”


The very first person she saw at Claudia’s party was Shorty.  His back was to her, but she knew even that angle; no plane of his body was unfamiliar, and she realized that was about as close as she — as close as anybody — could get to a person.  Shorty was standing next to Burnett; the boundary between their bodies seemed arbitrary.

Burnett spotted her first.  Smiling and nodding, he tapped his brother and waved.  Shorty turned toward her:  both men stood, grinning in her direction.  She didn’t care; all her pretenses flamed out in one big burn.  She shocked herself and then knew — with the thigh-weakening flush of any decent sort of compulsion — it still wasn’t enough.

Shorty pressed through the crowd toward her.  When he put his arm across her shoulders, she understood; either Burnett hadn’t told him or — more likely — it didn’t matter.  Perhaps this way was better; now they were of a piece.

“I’ve missed you,” he said.  It was the truth, she knew, not just a line.  He wasn’t a flirt, he didn’t operate that way.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said.  “How’ve you been?”

“Okay,” he said.  “Bonnie went off to Mexico for the holidays.”  Shaking his head, he frowned — as if to say, isn’t that woman a mess?  “I’m just glad to see you.”  She knew he was glad; he was as honest as they came.

Claudia floated up with Burnett, her arm around him, her thumb hooked in one of his belt loops.

“Hey, you two,” she said, smiling.  “I wanted to tell you the good news–we’re getting remarried.  Isn’t that wild?  We’re going to do it at 11:59, kind of romantic, huh?”

“That’s great,” Shorty said, pleasure warming his voice, deepening his drawl.  “I always knew you two would get back together.”

I guess I did too, Amy thought.  Burnett’s not a flirt, either.

But she said, laughing, “This way you’ll never forget when your anniversary is, right?”

“That’s right,” Burnett said.  Amy cocked her head, winking at him, so small a motion that anyone watching would have seen only her eyes flicker as she bared her teeth.  She thought she saw him wink back the same way, flinging his hair out of his face and over his shoulder with a toss of his head.

A few minutes before midnight, Claudia and Burnett exchanged their vows.  The bride’s eyes glistened, her lips red, her skin pale underneath her freckles.  As the groom kissed her she put both her hands on his buttocks and squeezed them.  Everybody hooted and laughed.  “Going to be one hell of a wedding night!” somebody shouted.

Yeah, Amy thought.  One hell of a wedding night.

“Let’s go,” Shorty said, leaning down to whisper in her ear, his breath tickling and smelling of beer.  “I’d like to get out of this crowd.”  Putting his arm around her, he slid his fingers under the waistband of her jeans, rucking up her blouse and brushing the bare skin of her hips.

Her head felt swollen, too large for the rest of her.  Who was she, now?  She felt dizzy but she didn’t stop:  she couldn’t stop.  She had known all along, hadn’t she?  Shorty was — the kind of guy who would do anything for you.

“Yes,” she said.  “Let’s go.”


Filed under short stories