New Year’s at the Blue Coyote

Dan drove by the Bull & Bunyan Brewing Company. The micro-brewery was closing and its customers were gathered on the sidewalk or making their way to vehicles. Through the big window, he could see the large mural of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox, toasting each other with gargantuan mugs of frothy beer.

Dan thought to himself, “Welcome to Hipsterville…” He had a small financial interest in the micro-brewery, more for a hobby than as an income mainstay. It was nice to see it thriving though. And, he was happy those in charge didn’t appear to need his assistance tonight.

A police car idled half a block away. Plumes of exhaust from its tail pipe hung in the air.

Dan parked his truck and walked to the entrance of the Blue Coyote Burgers. Reminiscent of the dancing Kokopelli god, a trickster coyote, in blue neon, frolicked overhead while holding a gigantic hamburger. A cluster of smokers puffed or vaped their own cloud, outside the doorway. The crowd was growing by the minute. Quarter after midnight, light snow was falling.

Dressed in sweats and an old parka, Dan stood out amidst the party goers, gathered for their first meal of the New Year and to extend the revelry as long as possible. He was obviously there only for the food.

Several people greeted him with nods or raised flasks. Dan was well known in town.

He got in the order line behind a man, also out of place. He was obviously not a local. In this weather, the stranger’s tailored jacket and loafers made as much sense as a Ferrari in a demolition derby.

The stranger looked about, seeing things fresh. His gaze lighted on Dan and his face became a big smile.

“Dan? Excuse me. Are you Dan Jensen?”

The man looked familiar but Dan couldn’t place him. “Yes, I’m Dan. And you…?”

“You don’t remember me?”

“Oh, my God! Eddie Arntsen! What’s it been? Ten, twenty years?”

“At least. I’m in town for the holidays.” Eddie extended his arms. “Lots of changes!”

“Yeah. Some locals took over a failed franchise and juiced it up. The town was dying and then some new blood came in. Did you check out the Bunyan and Bull?”

“A micro-brewery in place of the old Astro Theater? I’m glad they kept the naked goddesses flying around the ceiling.”

“Sexy constellations. Gotta respect our classical heritage, after all.”

They laughed. The line moved forward and Dan clapped Eddie on the back.

“What’re you up for? I’m buying.”

“Let’s see… what’s a California burger?”

“You know. Burger, lettuce, tomato…”

“That makes it a California?”

“It is the traditional recipe in lieu of a salad. Gotta get your veggies.”

“But no avocado?”

“You crazy left-coasters will stop at nothing. Where will it end?”

“But they have avocado toast.”

“Does anyone really eat that stuff?”

“Gotta get with the times, my friend.” They stepped up to the cashier. “Oh… I’ll ring in the new year with a double California. And a large coke.”

Dan ordered the same with a large fries. He paid and they found a table. When the food arrived, Eddie pulled his ‘sneaky drinker’ flask out and fortified their cokes with rum.

Biting into his burger, Eddie groaned with pleasure. “You’re right. Nothing like a California burger. This is great!”

Having grown up together, they caught up on the essentials in the verbal short hand common to old friends. Long ago, Eddie escaped the old home town to hit the big time in Los Angeles.

“What’s a line producer? In brief, we babysit the production, eyes on the ground, so the investors actually get a movie delivered to them. Keep all the money from flying up someone’s nose.”

Eddie waxed eloquent about his tax deductible travels to twenty-three countries sandwiched between his two divorces. A life of never-look-back adventure. And, being a recognized expert in his niche, Eddie was proud of his ‘small contribution to the nation’s cultural well-being’. He’s writing off this trip, doing some location scouting for a project up, outside of Duluth.

Dan never left town. Not even the house he grew up in. In high school, he helped in his Dad’s hardware store and took the helm when Dan Sr. wanted a permanent fishing holiday.

“We tried expanding. But when the economy shrank, we cut our losses. The home store has never done better, though. And we added self-storage units in the lot next to us.”

A moment’s lapse in the conversation betrayed Eddie’s distraction. Dan raised his coke in a toast. “Listen to us old math whizzes, talking shop. Here’s to a prosperous new year, for us both.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Eddie looked around, eyes darting.

“College kids,” Dan observed. “The college is a magnet for them, from all over. The town’s actually grown. I’m not cramping your style, am I?”

“No. Sorry. You ever see any of the old crowd?”

“They’re around. Mostly home tonight, with family and all, I expect. The serious drinkers were at Shorty’s tonight.”

“You’re kidding. Shorty’s is still open? Was that place decrepit when we were kids? Or was it just the drunks who hung out there?”

“It hasn’t changed. Only our esteemed peers are its denizens nowadays. I think some of them have grown roots. Booley inherited his Dad’s stool. Remember Booley?”

“That doofus… You remember exploring down at the train yard? What a hoot.”

“The derelict refrigerators?”

“There must have been thirty of them. We were lucky those monsters didn’t roll down on top of us.”

“Post war construction. They weighed a ton. Probably only ten of them, but…”

“Yeah. We let what’s his name out. He got locked in one of them?”

“Jimmy.”

“Yeah, Jimmy! What ever happened to him?”

“You were around… He died.”

“Ohhh, right. That was terrible.”

“No surprise, when you think about it.”

“You’re right. If it wasn’t one thing…”

“He was a walking heart attack, my Dad used to say.”

“What happened to his sister?”

“Janey?”

“My first love. She was sweet.”

“Still is. We’ve been married now, what, twenty-three years.”

“You married Janey? You gotta be kidding! You?”

Dan raised his coke. “Me and Janey.”

“You stole her away from me.”

“I think she’d say she chose me.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Maybe if you hadn’t left town, my friend…” Dan smiled at Eddie’s drifting attention. “Where do you live in L.A?”

Eddie focused, “Got a small place in Malibu. Nice view. Pool.”

“Must be hot and cold, running bikinis?”

“Yeah, well… I’m hardly there. You’ll have to come out and party.”

“We’ve been talking about taking a trip. Maybe visit our daughter near Chicago.”

“How many kids?”

“Two. A grandkid is due in March.”

Eddie offered to freshen Dan’s drink but Dan waved him off.

“Come on, Dan. You bought dinner.”

“Just a splash, then.” Dan watched Eddie do the honors and then raised his hand. “That’s good. No point in a dry toast.”

They raised their drinks once more, and drank.

The crowd was winding down. Eddie wiped his mouth with finality and crushed all the greasy papers into a ball. “It looks like you’ve done alright for yourself, Dan. You did the whole Norman Rockwell thing, to a tee.”

Dan chuckled at Eddie’s summing of his life. “I don’t remember it being all cute caricatures. But if I had to live inside a cartoon, Rockwell was one of the best. I’d pick that over Plato’s cave…”

“Plato’s cave?”

“You know, staring at a wall?”

“Oh, right! I thought you were talking about a club, in Frisco, I went to once.”

“Since you’re in town, you’ll have to come to dinner. Janey would love to see you.”

“Actually, sorry, I’m outta here tomorrow. Business.”

“No problem. Where are you staying?”

“My sister’s. She gave me her couch for the week. I think she’ll be happy when I clear out.”

“Say hello. Pam right? She comes into the store once in a while.”

“I will.” Eddie fumbled with his wallet. “Here’s my card. Let me know when you come out to the coast.”

Dan looked at the card and slipped it into his shirt pocket. “I will.”

“Be sure to give me some notice, though. I never know when I’m on a plane somewhere.”

“Of course. You never get tired, living out of a suitcase?”

Eddie shrugged indifference.

They looked at each other. It was time to go. Dan followed Eddie out. It was snowing hard now. Dan’s truck was white with it.

“You walking? Can I drop you?”

“No. I’m just around the corner. Haven’t seen snow in a while. Not the real stuff.”

They shook hands. Eddie initiated a fist bump. “Happy New Year, bro.” Eddie turned and walked into the swirling night.

Dan watched his old friend for a few moments, until a blast of wind hit his face. He pulled his coat close and turned to open his truck.

Looking into the sky, Dan caught a snowflake and touched his tongue to it. He smiled. “Still tastes the same.”

‘Relationships’ – a review

To read an in depth and compassionate examination of the state of the full spectrum of human relationships in the 21st century, which is also accessible, is a welcome surprise.

To read how the Christian/Jewish testaments reflect God’s purpose and intentions for those relationships, is unprecedented in my experience.

Pastor Joshua Hershey’s multi-faceted study, spanning marriage, sexual relationships, divorce and remarriage, singleness and friendship, exceeded my expectations in its depth and scope. And also for its warm tone and readability.

Pastor Hershey makes his case by drawing not only from scripture, but from classic world literature and current events and up to date scientific research. His sound scholarship unlocks many secrets. But the book is written from the heart.

Writing with an eye to our present circumstances, Pastor Hershey delves into how, so called, ‘social media’ actually isolates us. And he exposes the popular, contemporary ‘hookup’ culture of shallow intimacy as a mirage in the face of scientific research on human biology, which supports the Biblical standard.

‘Relationships’ explores the many facets of human relationship. But it also reveals God’s integral participation in each of those human interactions. It was quite a revelation, to be reminded that God, not only approves of divorce under certain circumstances, but He, at one time, divorced Himself from the nation of Israel for their unfaithfulness to Him.

Throughout the book ‘Relationships,’ Joshua Hershey makes a case that anyone rejecting divine love does so out of self-loathing. Who, after all, would reject nurturing, sustaining love, but one feeling unworthy? Self-delusion keeps them from realizing worthiness is not a requirement for participation in this divine relationship.

I didn’t want it to end – this love letter to God. The book does end, but not before pointing to a truly unending love.

Whatever the state of your human relationships, this book will cast a spiritual light on them. It will also provide a context for deeper understanding of them via our relationship with God. And of how God influences our relationships with each other.

‘Relationships’ by Joshua Hershey is available on Amazon.

Not Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Dark of Mood

a fiction by John K. Adams

Jeff pulled the mail truck into the deserted lot at the park and sighed. He looked out the windshield at the snow covered playground. The pond was frozen now, but probably not yet solid enough to skate on. A stone bridge arched over the little stream. He remembered catching tadpoles there, as a kid.

He unwrapped his lunch and started to eat. His co-worker, Billy, pulled into the space next to him. Billy got out of his vehicle and joined Jeff.

“You’re late,” said Jeff with mock authority.

“Yeah, I know. This job is driving me crazy.”

“So, it’s the job? I thought…”

“Yeah, I know. You think I’m just crazy.”

“Not really. Just kidding. But, you know…”

Billy rummaged through his sack and pulled out a fry. “God, that’s good.”

“Nothing like a french fry to put a little sunshine into one’s life.”

“If only it were that easy.”

They ate in silence. Jeff watched as some ducks landed on the icy pond. “Look at those ducks. They’re wondering what happened to all the water.”

Billy grunted. The ducks marched around a bit and then took off.

Jeff wiped his mouth and crushed his lunch bag into a tight ball. “You ever notice the stream over by the bridge?”

“Sure.”

“Do you know why it doesn’t freeze over?”

“It doesn’t? I guess running water doesn’t freeze.”

“But isn’t it just as cold as the pond, which does freeze?”

“What did I just tell you?”

“But it runs all winter. Even when the pond is frozen solid.”

“Jeff, I’m trying to eat my lunch, here.”

“It’s a spring.”

“How does a spring work, again?”

“The water comes from underground so it’s warmer.”

“I get it. So the earth sprung a leak.”

“Something like that.”

“Someone needs to jam a cork into it. Stop it up. We’re taking on water, Captain! We’re sinking fast!”

“I lay awake nights, worrying about it.”

“Can I finish my lunch now? I have to get back to this stupid job in a minute.”

“Sure.”

Billy polished off the fries and started in on his double burger. He ate methodically and mechanically. He didn’t seem to chew, but took bite after bite, ‘til it was gone. For some reason, an image of Pacman popped into Jeff’s head. He hoped he never had to compete with Billy in a pie eating contest.

Billy stuffed the greasy papers back into the sack.

Jeff asked, “Did Smitty talk to you about the overtime?”

“Yeah. Another reason for Christmas cheer. I cannot believe they want us to work extra hours for straight time.”

“He said the union was cool with it.”

“How can that be? That goes against everything.”

“They claimed it was the budget. Said if they didn’t play ball, there’d be lay-offs.”

“It’s criminal…”

“It’ll work out. They’ll call it a bonus.”

“All my overtime goes to taxes anyway.”

“So, you get a refund.”

“No. I want it all up front. No loans to Uncle Sam. He just wastes it. Let him try and get it from me.”

“You owe money at tax time?”

“I claim twenty-five deductions. Max it out.”

“I like to get a refund.”

“You’re just lending the government money, interest free. I want what’s coming to me.”

“I’m sure someone will be happy to give that to you.”

Billy gave Jeff a look and then shook his head and laughed.

“You ever read the mail?”

Jeff was incredulous. “You mean my route mail?”

“I figured you read your own.”

“I barely have time to read my own. I’m too busy to read others’. Do you?”

“Well, post cards. They’re pretty public.”

“If you’re a mailman, I guess.”

“They’re pretty boring. ‘Wish you were here.’ ‘Miss you.’ Stupid stuff.”

“You’ll have to tell them to punch up their personal communications for your reading pleasure.”

“Sometimes I just want to take the whole load of trash and dump it in a ditch.”

“The mail?”

“Don’t you ever get sick of stuffing the same junk and circulars into mailboxes, day in, day out?”

“Well…”

“It’s such a useless occupation.”

“I wouldn’t go that far…”

“It’s all junk. Nobody writes letters anymore.”

“But now it’s Christmas and everyone is getting in touch with their old friends…”

“Yeah, by email.”

“Hallmark has fallen on hard times…”

“I mean, who even buys stamps anymore? I’m going to get a chip implanted right here.” Billy pointed to his head, just behind his ear. “… And communicate directly with my friends. Stamps are so primitive… You know they used to lick them?”

“Just stay away from power lines. You don’t want your chip to start transmitting your innermost thoughts to Martians.”

“Or the NSA. I don’t want them listening in.”

“They probably have bigger concerns than what goes on in your little brain.”

“That’s cause they don’t know about me… Yet.”

“You’re not planning on going ‘postal’ on me, are you?”

“Not on you, Jeff. You’re cool.”

Jeff looked at him. Billy returned the look and then made a bug-eyed face.

“Boo! Not on anyone, Jeff. You the only one who can kid?”

“Just checking.”

“I know, ‘See something, freak the hell out.’”

“I’m hardly freaking out.”

“Makes me feel better. I’d hate to have to taze you.”

Jeff looked at the pond again. He wondered how far he could get before he fell through. Maybe that wouldn’t be the best escape route.

“Christmas gets on my nerves. People decorate their mailboxes and all. Who cares?”

“It’s not really a big deal.”

“Are you kidding? The job is hard enough without having to get past all the ‘cute’ décor. I can deal with a few elves and such. But this one house… the mail box was monstrous.”

“You mean for Halloween?”

“I’m talking Christmas, Jeff. Focus.”

“Christmas monsters? Never saw that.”

“It was a Bambizilla or a reindeer or something. With the mailbox for a mouth. I thought it was going to bite me.”

“I can live without the dogs.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on dogs. And it’s always some pit bull or equivalent.”

“Vicious.”

“Has no one informed them these things are killers? Wolves run from them.”

“Imagine trying to sleep in the house with one of those.”

“That reminds me. Does the Postal Service have a policy about concealed carry?”

“My guess is they frown on it.”

“Even for self-protection?”

“You thinkin’ of quitting, Billy?”

Billy looked at Jeff with a look that could have been read ten different ways.

Jeff pressed on, “You quit, how you going to pay for your next tattoo?”

Billy laughed. “I’m taking a break from tats. Saving up for my chip.”

Jeff thought for a minute. It was time to get back to his route.

“You don’t really dump your mail, do you?”

“You mean it never crossed your mind? Get serious.”

“I took the job. People count on getting their mail, Billy. They need their mail. It’s hard work but it doesn’t take a genius to accomplish it. If I can’t do it, I’ll quit.”

Billy echoed Jeff, “’People count on getting their mail, Billy…’ I’ll try to remember that, Pastor Jeff. Thanks. I needed that.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. “You done with your lunch? I’ve gotta get back.”

“Ride on… Ride on.” Billy jumped down and waved Jeff back.

It was starting to snow. As Jeff pulled out of the lot, he saw steam rising from the stream.

 

 

2018 Essay Retrospective

Time again, for my annual retrospective highlighting of previous posts that may have fallen through the cyber-cracks. As stated on my WordPress site, I explore the intersection where memory and language wrestle with reality.

I published several essays in the last year. If you have discovered my work recently, you may be interested in some of my favorites from earlier in 2018. These can be found on either my blog on WordPress called lifestoryography (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/ ). Or on the Medium site under the name, John K. Adams (https://medium.com/ ).

Some of my favorites are listed below.

‘You’re Nothing but a Whatchamacallit’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/you-are-nothing-but-a-whatchamacallit/ ) explores the nature of language and different group’s attempts to funnel it to their own ends.

‘Women are Powerful’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/women-are-powerful/ ) examines the divergence of hype and reality over so called women’s oppression and the very real power they possess, if they choose to wield it.

‘Sing the Body Electric’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/sing-the-body-electric/ ) compares our perceptions of reality with the truth of our physical world as revealed by scientific exploration.

‘On Carl Sagan’s – Pale Blue Dot’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/on-carl-sagans-pale-blue-dot/ ) is a critique of Dr. Sagan’s moving essay on mankind’s place in the cosmos.

‘I’m not a Talking Bomb, but I Played One on Television’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/im-not-a-talking-bomb-but-i-played-one-on-tv/ ) is a memoir piece about some of my experiences working in the motion picture business.

‘Eulogy’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/eulogy/ ) is a brief summary of my mother’s relationship with me, her third son.

‘Anger is the Handmaiden to Fear’: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/anger-is-the-handmaiden-to-fear/ ) examines the sources of the anger which seems to permeate our public discourse.

On Miracles – Christmas and Others: (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/on-miracles-christmas-and-others/ ) my look at how science ignores the miraculous because it lacks the tools with which to look at these everyday occurrences.

I hope you enjoy these and any others you may find. Feel free to comment or criticize. I am happy to get feedback.

In any case, I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

 

2018 Fiction Retrospective

Time again, for my annual retrospective highlighting of previous posts that may have fallen through the cyber-cracks.

I published several short fiction pieces in the last year. If you have discovered my work recently, you may be interested in some of my favorites from earlier in 2018. These can be found on either my blog on WordPress called lifestoryography (https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/). Or on the Medium site under the name, John K. Adams (https://medium.com/ ).

‘A Way With Words,’ an early inspiration, is still one of my favorites. It examines obsession, in this case, of a writer dealing with the ultimate writer’s block: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/a-way-with-words-9df31e07e194

‘Not a Creature Was…’ is my first children’s story. And a Christmas story at that. Enjoy: https://wordpress.com/post/lifestoryography.wordpress.com/1239

‘Pay Day’ is a look at day laborers and what makes a fair wage for a full day’s work: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/payday-c3c268074d78

‘Lord of the Manor’ is a bit of Magical Realism about being open to the magical in our lives: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/lord-of-the-manor-c8be237833c1

‘The Mother of All Monsters’ is my Halloween story. It gave me the creeps to write it: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/the-mother-of-all-monsters-dd036b644dcf

‘Fool Me Twice?’ explores the nature of forgiveness in our lives and whether there is ever too much, or ever enough: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/fool-me-twice-660a40610f60

‘Marina’s Dream Killer’ was an experiment that turned out pretty well: https://medium.com/@johnthewarlord/marinas-dream-killer-46e95ec14f27

Thank you for taking the time to look at these and any others which attract you. I am always interested in feedback if you wish to weigh in on your impressions.

In any case, have a happy and prosperous 2019.

Not a Creature Was…

Mouse was busy.

There was so much to do and that clock kept doing its thing.

She thought to herself, “If time passes, if time waits for no one, why doesn’t it just go away?” It seemed to her that time was more of a nudge than a traveler. It refused to leave her alone. She accepted that she didn’t understand it at all. But then, she was a mouse.

Right now, Mouse was baking cookies. It was night and everyone was asleep. She could work in peace. She always got more done working alone. Crowds were a distraction. It never occurred to her that she did everything. Everyone just left it to her.

Of course, she was good at what she did. And she enjoyed it. But there really was no end to it.

Part of her expertise was in her efficiency. There were no missed steps. No wasted motions. She acted swiftly and surely. Every action accomplished the task with the regularity and rhythm of… well, that darned clock!

Sifting. Measuring. Pouring. Blending. Stirring. Heating. Doling. Placing. Cooling… Oh, she could go on!

Now she was stirring. But baking, even the simplest thing, like a cookie, takes so many steps. She couldn’t list them all if she tried. But she never missed a step.

In the morning, her guests would come with high expectations. She never let them down. She loved them all. And they loved her.

 

Snake was also on the move. However, he was not at all concerned about time. He had all the time in the world. Snake knew that all things take time and the time passing, was all, to good effect. Everything came to Snake, in time. Snake was very patient.

Snake did not think about the steps needed to accomplish a task. Steps were meaningless to him. He saw the world as a continuous stream, flowing steadily and sinuously towards its destiny.

For instance, Snake would see Mouse tonight. There was no rush. No urgency. It would happen when it happened. They would meet. And it would be good.

The way Snake saw things, because things were inevitable, there was no suspense and no anticipation. It was all complete, all of the time. To Snake, because the pieces all fit, the world was a unity.

If you look at a painting, you see the subject’s folded hands, the distant, misty landscape, her enigmatic smile. But it is all the same painting. Complete.

Time doesn’t factor into it.

Snake paused. He stopped his progress to sense his surroundings. To take in the ever present vibrations which told him all he needed to know.

It was dark and cool. He liked it like this. Quiet. Snake could hear everything through the silence. A floorboard’s creak. A cup sliding on a counter. Snow settling gently on the roof.

Though far away, the ticking clock gave him a loci. He knew where Mouse was. She worked quietly and efficiently, as always. But with movement comes vibration. And with vibration, location is revealed. And with location…

Snake moved forward again. His path was not obvious, but destiny could not be denied.

 

Look at the time! Mouse scurried about. There was so much to do! Guests were coming and everything must be ready. Just so.

Mouse paused to look about. The smell of freshly baked cookies filled the room. To the uninformed, it would look like chaos. What a mess! But Mouse knew where everything was and what it was for. She never lost a moment searching for a lost spatula, or anything else. Her keen memory allowed her to keep it all under control. She could reach without looking and always grasp what she sought.

This moment of pause gave her a start. She was actually, almost ready. Just a few more things and then clean up.

‘Rest’ was not one of her words. Mouse was never done. ‘Details, details, details’ was her motto.

In fact, she scolded herself for pausing. “Not a moment to lose,” she thought. She felt more herself, resuming her incessant activity.

“What was I thinking?” she asked herself. “Well, you obviously weren’t thinking at all. Were you?” she answered. “Or you wouldn’t be standing around like a lamp, when there is so much to do.”

Mouse set about her next task. The end was in sight. She couldn’t stop until all was in place.

Of course, for Mouse, ‘all’ was never in place. There was always something. Even the steps had steps.

 

From the shadows, Snake coolly observed Mouse scurrying about. Making everything, “Just so.” Pulling her last cookies from the oven, Mouse set them to cool. Snake flicked his tongue. The word that came to his mind was, “Scrumptious.”

Mouse began to clean. She might even have time to freshen up before her friends arrived to celebrate.

Mouse saw Snake and froze.

Snake smiled, “Hello stranger.”

Mouse let out a little shriek and ran, reaching out to Snake. She hugged him, overwhelming him with kisses.

Chuckling, Snake recoiled from her attention, “You’re tickling me, Mouse.”

“Sneaky! How long have you been watching me? I’m almost ready.”

“I didn’t want to distract you.”

“Make yourself comfortable. The tea is on. The cookies are cooling.”

“Did you get…?”

“Oh! The gift basket you sent was wonderful! Where do you find those beautiful, juicy apples?”

“I have my sources. I’m glad you like them.”

“I may have one or two left. Want to share one?”

“Maybe later.”

“Give me a minute and we’ll talk before everyone else arrives. What can I get you?”

“No rush. I’m fine.”

Mouse swept through the kitchen. She doused the oven, stowed the flour, shook out the towels, hung up her apron and put the dishes to soak. She glanced in a mirror and brushed a smudge of flour from her fur. She smoothed herself and flicked her tail.

 

Snake lay coiled by the fire when Mouse came into the parlor with a tray of tea and cookies. She poured two cups.

“We can share a cup before everyone else arrives. You don’t take sugar do you?”

“Not any more. It goes straight to my tail. But I will take a splash of cream.”

Mouse stirred Snake’s tea and placed it before him. He tasted it and smiled.

“Perfect.”

“The cookies are fresh.”

“Have you heard? I have to tell you…”

“About Lion and Lamb?”

“Oh rats! Uhm, sorry. Who told you?”

Mouse smiled demurely, “I have my sources.”

“I never thought they’d get together.”

“I knew they would. I’ve been predicting it for years.”

“You have. I didn’t see it. But now it’s obvious. They are the perfect couple.”

“They are. It was bound to happen. But then, who expected us to be friends?”

“Mouse, you know I’ve always had my eye on you.”

Mouse laughed shyly.

“Want a cookie?”

“That big one, on top.”

Mouse served Snake the cookie he asked for, and took a small one for herself. Finally content, Mouse sighed.

Their eyes met and they smiled broadly. In one voice they said, “Merry Christmas!”

Payday

a fiction

Sammy leaned against the truck wheel in the shade. He watched the men on break from working in the fields. Emil joined him on the warm earth and took a swig from a water bottle. They nodded without speaking.

Another flatbed pulled in trailing a cloud of dry dust. Workers poured off the back of the truck and moved as one to the tub filled with iced water bottles. They milled about and joked among themselves.

Sammy and Emil pulled their kerchiefs up against the dust. They looked like movie bandits. Emil mopped his forehead with a grimy cloth. He tipped his bottle back and emptied it.

A van pulled into the yard and six fresh faces piled out. Rodriguez, shepherded them into a circle and assigned them duties for the rest of the day. The owner, Gene Thompson, sat in the shade, behind a folding table. He watched from under a broad brimmed hat and sun glasses. He only spoke to Rodriguez.

Sammy shook his head and looked at his watch. Emil asked, “How much time?”

“Two more hours.”

“Boss wants it done.”

“Does he really think these guys’ll make a dent? Hardly time to work up a sweat.”

Rodriguez blew his whistle and everyone groaned. Sammy emptied his bottle and spit. He crushed the thin plastic bottle and tossed it under the truck. They hoisted themselves onto the flatbed with their team and waited for Charlie. The tarp suspended over them billowed. It offered little shade, but it was a nice gesture.

Charlie mounted the cab and gunned the engine. The crew hung on as the truck lurched into the vast field. It idled slowly down the rows while the men lay on their stomachs, reaching out and tasseling the corn. It was simple work, taxing, and hot.

Two hours later, they were all back. It all looked the same but the shadows were longer. The same dust hung in the air and empty water bottles littered the yard. The workers stood restlessly awaiting their payout.

Rodriguez called for the morning hires to line up, followed by the noon hires and then those hired at three.

Then Rodriguez handed each, in turn, an envelope containing their allotment of cash.

Sammy and Emil huddled together, counting their pay. “It just never seems enough.”

Emil chuckled, “And yet, it’s better than nothing.”

“I just can’t get ahead.”

A commotion drew their attention. Charlie gestured at Rodriguez. They argued over the newbies’ pay. Sammy and Emil moved closer.

Rodriguez looked at Charlie impassively. “What is the problem?”

Charlie could barely contain himself. “My team put in a full day.”

“So? They were paid for a full day.”

“But these jerk offs came in for two hours and got the same pay. I want more for my men.”

“They received what they agreed to, right?”

“It isn’t fair.”

“They agreed to a fair price for the day. Is that what they got?” Charlie didn’t answer. “Why should you care how Mr. Thompson spends his money?” Rodriguez walked away.

Sammy started to speak in support of Charlie but Emil took his elbow.

“Would you have been happy with what you got if this didn’t come up?”

Sammy hesitated and then nodded, “As happy as could be. I need this.”

“Let’s go. I’ll buy you a beer. We’ll make more tomorrow.”

Emil ushered Sammy into the tavern. Sammy had never been there. He stood in the quiet, dark room letting his eyes adjust. The air was stale but cool. Emil led the way to a table.

“What’ll you have?”

“Your call.”

Emil held two fingers up and the bartender nodded. Emil flopped a five onto the bar and retrieved the freshly poured glasses from the bar. Sitting, Emil raised his glass.

“Here you are, my friend.”

Sammy took his beer and drank deeply. “Man, it was hot out there.”

“You get used to it.”

“Some things, you don’t want to get used to.”

They sat in the gloom without speaking. Sammy slid his glass back and forth. A popular song played on the jukebox. Emil tapped his fingers on the table, off time.

The room brightened as three men stormed into the tavern. They laughed at some joke and jostled up to the bar. The one they called Ed ordered drinks, too loudly. His friends laughed when he stumbled on his words.

Sammy and Emil shared a look. These were in the bunch who came to the field late in the day. Sammy downed his beer. He appeared ready to leave.

The men sat noisily. They all talked at once and were quiet only when drinking. Ed put down his glass loudly and smiled at Sammy and Emil.

“My friends! I didn’t see you come in. You were in the field with us.”

Emil nodded to him.

Ed continued, “Won’t you join us?” He signaled to the bar keep. “Billy! Serve our friends!”

Emil retrieved the beers and tried to pay but the bartender shook his head and pointed at Ed. Raising his glass, Emil nodded.

“The more the merrier, my friends. Drink up!”

Emil drank. Sammy stared at the table, not touching his glass.

Ed cocked his head. “What’s wrong with your friend? Hey, kid! You’re not thirsty? Have a drink with us!”

Emil touched Sammy’s arm. Sammy turned to Ed. The others quieted.

“Who shows up at three, for a day’s work?”

Ed grinned. “That is a good question, my friend. And it isn’t a habit for me, I assure you.” He flexed his biceps and turned to his friends, who agreed.

Sammy kept staring.

Ed did not want his mood to dampen. Then it dawned on him. He said something to his friends, who chuckled. Ed flipped his pay envelope onto the table and pushed it toward Sammy. He smiled.

“Is this the problem? Here. I’ll swap.”

Sammy wasn’t impressed. “It’s the same.”

“So, what’s your problem, then? I didn’t steal it.”

“You didn’t earn it.”

“Call it a gift. The man is generous. I bought you a beer.”

Sammy was silent.

Ed scoffed. “Are you in the habit of refusing gifts? Let’s celebrate. Cheers!”

Ed and his friends raised their glasses. Emil followed suit. Sammy looked at them and then down at his glass. He picked it up. The others cheered and drank.

Ed laughed and said, “And if I know Rodriguez, I’ll be working twice as hard tomorrow, no?”

That brought on more laughter. Sammy laughed in spite of himself. Even the bartender laughed.

Ed called to the barkeep, “You got food, Billy? Crackers, or something? Whaddya got?”

And so the party began.

Marina’s Dream Killer

There, in the rose garden, they took Marina’s money. Seven dollars. And her jewelry, including the aquamarine ring her grandmother gave to her.

The thug with the straight razor kept swiping it through the air, calling her names and threatening to cut her face.

“The ring isn’t worth anything,” she said. “Except to me.” She glanced at the guy with the pistol, hoping for mercy.

The gunman pressed the business end of the pistol against the nape of her neck, forcing her head forward.

“Why are you looking at me? Get on your knees. Now!”

Marina complied and stared at the ground. Rose petals lay everywhere. At her knees, a patch of clover had pushed through the asphalt. Would clover be the last thing she saw?

Pistolman told Razorman, “Pick up her trash. She ain’t got nothin’.” They booked, leaving her to stare at the ground. They didn’t hurt her but they sure left an impression. Marina didn’t cry.

The flowers were gone.

Marina awoke with a start. That same damn dream. It’s been years.

She wished she could forget that day. It keeps coming back when her guard is down.

Marina read once about a culture that taught its children to defeat whatever dream demon was pursuing them. Marina wished she knew how to defeat someone holding a pistol to her head.

She rolled out of bed and prepared for the wedding. She showered as hot as she could stand. Soon the dark fog receded and only dark outlines remained on the clouds of steam. By the time Marina put on her make-up, she felt almost herself again.

The phone rang. It was Marina’s best friend from work, Annabelle.

“Where are you, Blondie? I need you here.” Annabelle was Marina’s supervisor at work. But today was a Saturday. And it was Annabelle’s wedding day.

“I’ll be there. It doesn’t start ’til eleven.”

“But you need to be my Maid of Honor. Carla canceled about five minutes ago. Can you believe her?”

Marina sat. “No, Bellie, I told you. I can’t do that. I’m just a guest. I don’t do all the parading around.”

“You just have to stand up there and look pretty, Blondie. Would it kill you to do that for once in your life?”

“Bellie, don’t be a dog of a manager. I’ll only do it because it’s your wedding. But I don’t have a dress!”

“Don’t worry about that. Just try to look pretty.”

“I always look pretty, Bellie. That’s not the problem.”

Marina hung up the phone and put her hands up to her face. “No…no. Not today… Why today?”

There was an apology text from Jack. Marina wasn’t in the mood and deleted it without reading it. She got dressed and grabbed her gift bag, checked the apartment and left. The black fog followed at a distance.

Marina and Annabelle headed a team of nurses at a hospital ER. They all hung out together on weekends. It was a good team.

Everyone had a nickname and hazed each other mercilessly, establishing camaraderie in the high stress environment. Everyone had each other’s back. No one knew what would come through those ER doors.

Marina could take the joking. And hand it out too. She felt accepted. It felt like home. Not everyone made the cut.

She was known for her nonsensical sayings, which somehow, also seemed to make sense. Her philosophical, “It’s a doggie-dog world” was everyone’s favorite quote.

As Marina drove to the church, she thought about her last conversation with Carla.

Carla didn’t “Bird around the bushes,” as Marina would say. How could she let Annabelle down? She must be quitting.

“You should transfer, Blondie. ER is too crazy for you. Go to someplace calm, like Oncology.”

“It all happened so long ago,” Marina said. “It’s just a dream. I know it’s a dream when it’s happening. It was like a dream when it first happened. I just push through it.”

“Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want you to leave. But that dream can’t be good. Over and over?”

“It doesn’t really happen that often. Not like before.”

The ER couldn’t refuse service so it seemed some people lived there with no place else to go. And when flu season hit, every chair was occupied.

The hours were long. They couldn’t always save the worst cases. But they sure tried.

She half expected Razorman or Pistolman to ride into the ER on a gurney. But they never showed. Though not traditionally religious, Marina sometimes included them in her prayers. Sometimes not. Then it would get so busy, Marina would forget about those two. For a while.

Every day at the ER was different. Shootings and car accidents were the main events and thankfully, rare. But they were real.

Marina was good at handling real. She was efficient and compassionate. She could tend to business while stitching some kid up. Her funny little songs always helped the children calm down and laugh, even when things were scary.

Marina wondered how to get someone to sing for her when it got scary. Like now.

Marina didn’t want to do this wedding thing. Why couldn’t she just be a guest? She was happy just sitting at the back of the church and observing. She enjoyed watching the pomp and ritual of joining two people in matrimony.

She discovered people act differently at weddings than in ‘real life.’ It was entertaining to see past the bells and whistles to track all the pinballs.

Annabelle was ‘Nurse Central’ as far as who made the inner circle, or not. It seemed everything revolved around her.

Except for Marina, Annabelle was the last nurse on the floor to get married. Someone joked Marina was the Susan Lucci of the nurses.

Marina countered that “Susan Lucci isn’t blonde, or a nurse.” She added when she did get married, she “will repent in Leisure. I understand they have a spa there.”

Others said Marina couldn’t get a date for the wedding. But Marina always had a date. Except for the wedding.

Her latest boyfriend, Jack, said he didn’t want to go, “because women at weddings always get ideas.”

Marina simply said, “There’s no fool like a stupid fool.”

Marina sat idling at a long light. Normally she would be impatient but this felt like a reprieve.

At Annabelle’s wedding shower, in the theme of Beauty and the Beast, they had a great time. There was lots of catered food and everyone brought presents. It was a big deal.

Annabelle always called her fiancé ‘my Beast.’ She was crazy about him.

Carla came late and brought an inflatable sex doll as her ‘date’. They played a bunch of risqué games and took turns dancing with the inflatable doll. It was hilarious.

Marina pulled into the parking lot at the church and texted Annabelle. She couldn’t believe she had no date and now was suddenly part of the wedding!

She hadn’t gone to the rehearsal. She felt bleak. Luckily, all she needed was to look pretty. That was easy. She could do that in her sleep.

This church was new to her. Everything had a halo around it. She thought, “Is this what a migraine feels like?”

Annabelle met Marina at the Rectory door, took her by the hand and dragged her down a hallway.

“I’ll give you to Kat, the Pastor’s wife. She’s great. She’ll fill you in. I can’t believe how much there still is to do!”

Annabelle suddenly turned to Marina and hugged her. Then she took her by the shoulders. “I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m going to kill Carla.”

Marina just said, “Happy to help. But wait ’til you get back from your honeymoon”

Annabelle shook her head. “Right!” Annabelle pulled her into the church office and introduced her to Kat.

“Nice meeting you Marina. Have you done this before?”

“I’ve seen about a thousand weddings, but never been in one.”

“I tell you what, just watch me. I’ll sit in the front. I’ll signal you if you need it.”

“Thanks, Kat. I’ll get through it. At least I don’t have to kiss the Beast.”

Everyone laughed.

Marina paused. She pointed at Kat’s flowered headpiece. “I love your tiara. I’ve never seen one of clover.”

Kat laughed, “These aren’t clover, honey. These are baby roses.”

Kat reflexively touched her tiara and Marina saw a flash of blue on her hand. Marina took Kat’s hand and looked at her ring. It was her Grandmother’s aquamarine ring.

“What a beautiful ring.”

“Well, thank you, Marina. Sam gave it to me.”

Kat looked up and Marina followed her gaze to see Pastor Sam smiling at them. He offered his hand as Kat introduced him. Marina knew him and he knew her.

Time and space evaporated and Marina stood again in that long past rose garden, face to face with the gunman.

Marina took his hand and beheld him. She couldn’t breathe. He hesitated and stopped smiling. Marina teared up.

“You are forgiven,” she said hoarsely.

The tension was broken. Sam smiled gently and gave Marina’s hand a slight squeeze. Then he let go.

Kat broke the spell. “Forgiven? What for? Do you know each other?”

Marina shook her head. “He was in a dream.”

Kat laughed. “That must have been some dream.” Everyone laughed but Marina and Sam.

They continued looking at each other. The room went silent. Marina turned to Kat.

“Your ring was there too.”

Kat shook her head. “You dreamed of my ring? What are you talking about?”

Then Sam spoke, very quietly, “Forgiveness is the only door through which we can find true, and divine love.”

Kat laughed. “Amen! Baby! You’re on fire today!” She started clapping and everyone joined in.

Sam continued smiling and spread his arms to include everyone in the room. “Aren’t we all forgiven? It seems impossible, such a miracle.”

Marina laughed and nodded and burst into tears. “Yes! It’s true.”

Marina always said Annabelle’s was the most beautiful wedding she ever saw. It was there she defeated her dreams.

No Photos, Please – Interview with a Paparazzi

If I score a decent shot today, my month may work out alright. By ‘alright’ I mean I won’t have to move home to the folk’s garage sofa again. Of course, Hawk is right about money. Anyone would be a fool to do this without some expectation of compensation. Expectations don’t pay the bills though.

I’m sitting at Dr. Hogly Wogly’s, in the Valley no less, trying to collect my thoughts and grab a bite after a disastrous morning.  I got the call to door-step Britney, too late. She was long gone by the time I got there. Then, en route to Shiloh’s birthday party, at Casa Vega, I got caught in traffic and construction on Lankershim. One lane in rush hour with a stop light about every twenty feet. It was insane! I could have walked there faster. No wonder no one lives in the Valley.  So, I missed that too.

So here I am, thinking I found a quiet place to finally get breakfast at what, one o’clock? And this cockatoo behind me won’t let anyone in the place get any peace. No one will look at her, afraid to become a target.

Even when there is lead time to the shoot, you never know. Nowadays, it’s like a ravening pack of dogs, into it for the love of the chase. Fools think just because they have a smart phone, they’re capable of being pappies. No way.

Of course, if they weasel their way onto a team and get sent out… they may do alright. But ‘til then, you jostle with all the other free lancers, scratching at the pecking order periphery, praying for a flat fee. Then you’ve got your expenses…

Hold it. “Hawk. What you got?… No way! By the airport? LAX? I’m in the Valley. That’s like two hours away, if I’m lucky… What? Van Nuys has an airport? Since when?… Well maybe. Get me something back over the hill can’t you?… Speak up, will you? The woman in the booth behind me is having a baby… Long overdue. Why is JLaw flying out of Van Nuys?… You’re kidding! That was a long time ago. And anyway, that was Paris. She wouldn’t remember that. She loves me… Private jet? Where is the airport?… Oh, right, Van Nuys. Got it… If you say so. Thanks!”

Good. I can finish up here and try to find the Van Nuys Airport in plenty of time. Make my nut for the month.

Some celebs get lonely, or have a show coming out and want people to remember the hot ticket. Not yesterday’s news. They use us to promote their product – them.

Some pappies try to get the goods on them. Make them look bad. Figure someday the animal pix will be worth something. I made that mistake when I first started. Hawk was giving me the business about JLaw. But they need you. And if you can make friends with them, make them look good, they’ll work with you. Make them look like animals, they’ll respond in kind.

There was one time, some starlet of the month… no, not Miley… maybe… Cameron! Well, anyway, she gave one of the cheeky paps a roundhouse with her purse. She must have had a gold brick in it. He went down like a raw oyster. For the count. It took three of us to get him back to his feet again. But not before we got our shots in. Three papers published my pix. Cha-ching! Plus overseas!

I don’t know what he said to her but she let him have it. Her eyes were like pin points. You know, like a cornered animal about to attack? Well she did. Pow!

I wish I had a camera with an f-stop as small as her pupils. Tiny! Talk about depth of field. Everything’s in focus. Here to the moon! She looked psychotic.

Speaking of psychotic, this gal behind me is going to ruin her voice. What is her problem? Am I the only one who hears this?

Technically, it’s so much easier now, with digital and send. Back in the prehistoric film days, some real money could be made with the seller’s market. Now, competition’s stiff and prices are down. It helps to have Hawk watching my back. Couldn’t do it without him.

Hawk is very old school. Ancient history. Remember film? Hawk said, in his day, he had an army of runners taking film to his private lab at any time, day or night. No one could beat him. He’d be there at the clubs all night. What a life. He claims he was there when that Lady Di got it. I doubt it though. Maybe in spirit.

He never made the transition to the whole digital thing. He was there from the beginning though. Now he rides herd on all the baby pappies who think they’re hot salsa. He gets his cut from everyone.

Can someone shut this woman up? What’s the number to 911? How is the guy with her still sitting there? Is he on a leash? Enough!

Of course now, the photo-shop jockey is king.  The primitive stuff had genius to it, and wit. But what they can do today makes the old collage style look like cave paintings. They put stuff out now, that never happened and you’d swear it was real. No wonder the courts threw out photo evidence.

Once Hawk told a bunch of us he doesn’t take half the shots he sees. Prefers to keep them in his head. Pure… Something about the moment, the big ‘now’ being lost between the past and the future. I didn’t really follow too much, but I think he was saying something like, you worry about where the shot will end up, in the future. But by the time you get it, it’s all in the past. And the key moment, the ‘now’, he says, gets lost for all the distractions. Really. What do you have if you lose the now?

Hawk says you don’t need graven images to be damned. That’s what he calls film, ‘graven images’. He says some people still worry the camera steals their soul. How ignorant is that?

Wait. The mouth and her hipster lap dog are leaving. She’s still upset. Over what? She’s just walking out. Leaving him to handle all the business.  Oh, there’s a limo waiting. Chauffer… Wait. It’s her! You mean JLaw’s been the one revving the chainsaw up my back for the last hour? I could’ve gotten a gazillion shots!

Where’d she get a bouquet from? Then she hits him over the head with it – again! Like what Hawk says. The best shots never make it into the camera. They’re only in your head. But they live on, forever.

Catch ya later. I gotta get to the airport.

What They Found, Thought Abandoned

Jenna looked into the den from the doorway. Chelsea was sitting cross legged on the floor, surrounded with papers and books. She was looking at a photo album. Jenna tried to mask her impatience. “What’s up, Chelz?”
Chelsea looked up and read judgement on Jenna’s face. They knew each other so well. Even their masks were revealing. “I know. I’m supposed to be sorting and disposing of Mom’s stuff. But this insisted.”

“I finished all of Mom’s closet and dresser. Basically divided everything into giveaway and throwaway. There’s a few things I could wear, but won’t.”

“Anything I’d want?”

“Ask me again when you gain a hundred pounds. Maybe some of her jewelry. You just playing there?”

“No.”

“Sure. Need help?”

“No.”

“Mrs. Johnson brought a casserole by. I’m going to have some. You hungry?”

“Maybe later. This is really cool. You should look at this.”

“It’s tuna casserole. Fresh.”

“Okay. I’ll be right in.”

“We have about twenty casseroles, you know.”

Chelsea laughed, “I know. How much comfort food can two people eat?”

“It’s warm, if you want some.” Jenna turned to go. “Oh, and I get dibs on the goulash Mrs. Schwarz brought over.”

“Wait, Jen. You should look at this.”

Jenna stopped short and allowed herself to be drawn into the den against her better instincts.

Why should Chelsea get all the fun?

She made her way to the desk chair, dancing past the stacks of ancient magazines and the old bills and newspaper clippings strewn on the floor.

“Look at all this. What on earth was it all for?”

“She thought she might need it. She was going to get to it all. When she had time.”

“Time? She had nothing but time.”

The chair protested loudly as Jenna sat and reached for the picture album.

“What am I looking at?”

“There’s a lot,” said Chelsea, pointing at the top picture. “But I wanted you to see this. At Dad’s company picnic.” It was an old black and white Polaroid, with the serrated edges, faded to white where the fixing gel missed.

“Hey, Geeky. Meet Gawky.”

Chelsea laughed.

That’s us?” Jenna stated with a hint of doubt.

“Who else?”

“Who else, indeed. Who else but I could look that dorky, in a swim suit? Thanks Chelsea. You just made my day.”

“I thought you’d get a kick out of it.”

“What am I, ten? And you, looking already, like an Olympic champion.”

“You have to be kidding. I was always amazed at how you maintained your dignity. I mean, we were at the beach! Your hair is perfect!”

“I didn’t like getting it wet.”

“How did you always get that perfect flip? And then I always looked like a half drowned feral puppy.”

“But in a good way.”

“Yeah, right.”

“And twice as skinny.”

Jenna relaxed into the book. She turned the page. “Oh my God!”

“What?”

Jenna began to pull the picture out of the book. “No! It’s too horrible. Who would take a picture of that?”

“Jenna don’t! You’re gonna ruin it. What is it?” Chelsea struggled with Jenna for control of the album. Finally, Jenna just slammed the book shut. Chelsea pulled it free and riffled through the pages to find the offending picture.

“I can never un-see that.”

“Which? Come on! You have to show me, Jenn. I’m your sister.”

“That one.”

“This one?”

Jenna looked away in shame. “Yes.”

“What’s wrong with that? You’re cute!”

“I’m ridiculous. I’m grotesque. I’m a clown.”

“Well, you’re the cutest clown I ever saw. And anyway. You’re not really a clown. You’re a ventriloquist’s dummy.”

“Worse! Some costumes should be outlawed.”

“What about the year Mom made me be Pinocchio?”

“What about it?”

“Why not just hang a sign on me that reads, ‘Liar’?”

“Your long nose kept falling off.”

“Talk about embarrassing.”

“Mom always came up with themes.”

“Where do you think Disney got all his ideas?”

“The worst was when she made me Snow White.”

“Well, I had to be the witch.”

“Witches are cool, though. Princesses are boring.”

“Are you kidding? Princesses get all the perks! They get the Prince!”

“Yeah! And the poisoned apple!”

“Well, yeah. But witches get water thrown on them and they melt. Or they get burned at the stake. Oh, boy! Mom, can I get burned at the stake this year? Jenna always gets to be burned at the stake.”

“You remember that kid Jeremy? He came dressed as a Prince, and for the rest of the year, everyone called him ‘the kid formerly known…’”

“That was so cruel.”

“He was a dork.” Jenna thought for a moment. “I think Mom felt sorry for me.”

“What are you talking about?” Chelsea laid the album on the floor by the desk.

“She made me the Princess because I was ugly. She tried to…”

“I was a witch!”

“You were the most beautiful witch ever!”

“Yes, warts were all the rage that year. I was on the cover of Vogue!”

“Your beauty showed through, though. Even a little wart couldn’t stop you.”

“Three! I thought I was a wart. Mom had to explain that I was a witch and the warts were just part of the total effect.”

“Well, I was envious. I couldn’t believe how the boys were looking at you.”

“Lookie-loos at a car wreck.”

“That wasn’t what I saw.”

“You should have said something. I would have traded with you in a snap.”

“I wish I had. I felt stupid in all those frills. Like lipstick on a…”

“Don’t you dare! I wished so much I could be like you.”

“Get out.”

“I was crying because you were so beautiful. And Mom kept telling me to stop it because my green make up was smearing.”

“She spent so much time with you. With me, it was, ‘Here. Put this on.’”

“You are so wrong. You’re such a natural beauty. You would have glowed in anything.”

“Chelsea…”

“It’s true.”

“You are the one with the great body. You are an athlete. You have a bookcase full of trophies. You…”

“I over compensated trying to get some attention. You were their star. And I was over there, calling out, ‘Look! Look over here! Here I am! What about me?’ Little Miss Afterthought.”

“They felt sorry for me. The frump. They thought the only way I would get a man was if I knew how to cook and sew.”

“That was what Mom loved. She taught you everything! If I went into the kitchen it was because I felt the need to get hit with a wooden spoon.”

“She only did that once. And it was a joke. You are such a drama queen. I’ll never forget the look on your face when she did that.”

“In any case, I was ‘under foot.’ She shared all her secrets with you.”

“You were more of a Daddy’s girl.”

“Except Dad wasn’t home. Or if he was, he was watching football.”

“Or baseball.”

“Or golf.”

“You were independent.”

“That’s spelled, f-e-r-a-l. I think he was looking for me on TV.”

“You could’ve gone pro.”

“Maybe… Shoulda, woulda, coulda…”

“Well…”

The sisters looked at each other in silence.

Chelsea pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. “I love you Jenn.”

“I love you too. I have to. You’re all I have left.”

Chelsea burst into sobs and laughter and they embraced for a long time.

One of them said “I miss them,” and they tightened their embrace.

Then Jenna broke the clinch and gently punched Chelsea’s chin. “I’m hungry, Chelz. You want to join me? I’ve got hot. I’ve got cold. Cheese. Tomato… Whatever you want, as long as it’s a casserole.”

“As long as there’s starch, count me in.” Chelsea said, looking about herself. “I don’t think this is going to get done tonight.”

“No rush. Let me help you put some meat on those bones.” Jenna helped Chelsea to stand and they walked to the kitchen with their arms over each other’s shoulders.