Category Archives: short story

Leap of Faith – Some Leaps Are Faithier Than Others

Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Like it or not. Everybody knows that.

You take a lot of them really. When you choose your wife or your husband. When you pick out a house in the remote little beach town of Costa Rica, California because your company has just found a position open for you there. When you find out you’re about to be a father, twice on the same day. Or if you’re going to be a mother, perhaps, especially if you’re going to be mother. When you pick out a kitten from the pet rescue, you take a little leap of faith each time.

Perhaps most especially when you pick your church, even though it turns out to be a forty- minute drive to the other side of town. Because the pastor is a track-star from some forgotten-Olympics, blond and a touch of gray, who owns three Vita-Nutrition stores also has a dynamic personality and the voice of a seraphim, you take your leap. But wait that’s not all, of course not. He also plays guitar with the acuity of a Hendrix during hymns and choir, and your athletic wife says “he plays divinely.” What’s more, although you think she sings like a goat, she has joined the choir, and so you take the ridiculous leap of faith because forty minutes each way isn’t so long if the services are good. Happy wife, happy life. But then again, maybe it’s more like a cliff-dive. Some leaps are faithier than others.

So this then, is your real-life wife, you took the leap of faith and married her, Denise, and she loves you with her whole heart. She’s lately taking up weight lifting to lose weight. This is your real house on Smarteen Street in the City of Costa Rica, California. Your kitten is your real kitten, not just a kitten that you hope for, but you in fact can see her mewling at your ankles for her favorite treat, your lunch. You’re not crazy, she’s really there at your ankles doing figure eights and she loves you with all her little cat-heart . . . at least until someone else is eating a hamburger freshly grilled and spiced with a little season-salt. Mrs. Catsandra Clare who you imagine is the author of the Night Hunters series, book one, Bowl of Bones, book two, Bowl of Dust Bunnies and in progress, she’s working on Bowl of Lost Soles.

And this track runner and body builder with the blond hair and a little rhone, and with the four-door Porsche and the family support payments the size of my salary is the real pastor of the Real Life Forgiveness Church. Forgive me, but I could use a drink, oh, I mean, I accept You into my heart, and voila; forgiven. I do accept You into my heart but I don’t like this guy, forgive my . . . not liking my pastor. I guess I’ll get used to it, but I could tear my hair out, or his, if I wasn’t so pudgy and un-fit from many years of bringing home the bacon, eating it, and then going back to ten and twelve-hour work-days to bring home some more bacon, and eating it again and again and again.

Denise’s church calling as congregation secretary requires her to work so late counting tithing, offerings and seeing after the building and the billing to the utilities and arranging food deliveries to the poor and whatnot, that sometimes she comes home later than I do. Sweaty too, very sweaty, she’s found an all night gym so that she can make sure to work out after working late and of course she says that I should try it too. Why not? There’s a branch of that gym near my office. So I checked it out, indeed it’s open all night which makes sense because of all of the office buildings in the area.

Denise also makes sure that the orphans are fed, and the widows are clothed and Bibles and magazines are sent to the member-inmates in the local jails and prisons. Although there aren’t many, Pastor Chet likes to make sure that they are looking forward to coming back to their wives and children once released. So he also sponsors work-out programs and exercise for many of the wives so that their husbands will have someone to look forward to seeing after their time inside. Other husbands who must work late find little reason to stray, says my wife. “Don’t you think?” while modeling her new bikini for me. So I think, so I think indeed. That’s a good day, and there are good days, many of them, just fewer and fewer and sometimes it’s starting to feel like the good days are days after having a fight and we’re making up again. You have to be careful of those days or you end up in the PTA for a fat lot longer than you expect.

Denise mentions casually that an awful lot of the tithing and offerings that come in, also go right back out again to “Chet’s” ex-wife in the form of alimony and child support. Yes, the widows and orphans are clothed and fed, “but they can be helped so much more if only his ex and kids were more reasonable.”

I answer, “he should find an attorney and ask a judge to make it right.” But anyway the church lights stay on, it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter and his Porsche loan is never late. Okay sure our van was once late once last year, but whose fault was that, I was at work all day? I’m about to reply that his suits are tailored from the floor up instead of pulled down from the rack like mine but hold my tongue instead, why bother? She sees me sometimes but rarely hears me anymore.

On just a few occasions I leave work early and drive the hour to the Real Life Forgiveness Church where my wife labors away as his nearly free certified public accountant, or at least as his glorified bookkeeper. It isn’t Denise’s favorite when I show up unannounced, she prefers to work on numbers alone because noises and people distract her.

Depression gestates into coronary cancer. I miss my family, and when I get home from the gym now later than ever, the girls are always asleep and Denise is either not home yet or already fast asleep herself. How long can I wait this out? I suggest moving but am shut down harshly, “the girls change schools again, no way!” So in a round about way I convince Janie and Jilly’s pediatrician that they need a dryer climate away from the coast. It works so well that he even recommends it to Denise a few weeks later on without any prodding from me. She picks out a different pediatrician within a week instead. Goodbye, Doctor Early and hello Doctor Shumway who, turns out, is a friend of Pastor Chet with an office even closer to the beach than the church is.

Eventually my emotions fall so low, that my ex-brother-in-law would have said that I’d hit Rock-Bottom, which is why he is my ex-brother in law. Because as my Denise’s sister likes to say, “He is a all too familiar with rock-bottoms,” she finally left him. This is Aunt Jilene’s huge leap of faith, I tell my daughters, dumping him. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a plunge I ought to take myself. Without the kids and the cat, just me off on my own in a new country, perhaps with a new name, in van near a lake never seen before. I’m going to leave her to her Secretarial Calling and her track-star pastor, and apparent chiseler of all things tithing and taxes.

As the depressed fugue-state cankers in my heart, I watch that moment of surprise direction and dumb-blind-luck which takes you from the failure you are to the heights of success you always dream of reaching. Chet Richards, the rock-star Pastor, Pastor Rich to most, Pastor Chet to the few who are chosen, slips on a stair right in front of me while heading up to the altar during one of his Thursday practice sermons. Denise had been going to every one of them as part of her secretarial duties, and today, I phoned in sick to the firm, to come be with her. Rosa the receptionist thinks it sweet, she also mentioned that a couple of SEC regulators had been looking for me and I hope that I don’t know why, though maybe I do but how the hell do they know, my firm’s clients don’t, so how the hell do they? But really, it’s just another reason to take a long vacation, whatever it is. My Denise and I had bumped into each other in the parking lot and walked into the church together. I had tried to hold her hand but she pretended to scratch at her earlobe.

I had been considering taking Janie and Jilly with me but I’m not interested in going to prison for kidnapping my own children, kind of an ironic way to defeat the purpose really. No, leave, take a break, eventually come back after things blow over at work and then file divorce, like everybody else. Deal with the regulators later if it’s even still an issue which isn’t likely.

Yet, there he is, falling on his face going up to the altar. Chet, the rock-star Pastor, or Pastor Rich to me because I don’t have a calling and I’m not one of the chosen few in his inner circle of close friends. Chet Richards, the guitar playing Crooner for Christians, tripped on a stair. No one else is here, no one else has come to the practice session.

Upon entering I catch that little look his face as he glances from me to her again after he sees me walk into the chapel a few paces behind her. That crest-fallen look of a cake that deflates fresh from the oven because you bounce it too hard while setting on the stove top. I see her hair shaking in the wind in the chapel . . . where there is no wind. I must have paled because he asks me, “you’re looking a little green there Kiddo, is everything alright? Maybe you should head on home?” Maybe he has a medical license I don’t know about and has diagnosed my stomach churning under my chubby belly, or he’s projecting.

In watching his face turn sour and her hair waving back and forth in the non-wind, I wonder why I ever confessed anything to him, ever. I want to tear all his blond hair out and leave only the grays. Again, that prison-thing doesn’t appeal to me so I let it go.

At the time of choosing this church anyone could come to the practice sermons and help him choose a turn of phrase or make things clearer or more understandable and rarely but just so often, less offensive. Not many, but at least a few always participate. “Aren’t practice sermons on Wednesdays?”

“Those are pre-practice,” says Denise.

“But you’re always home one Wednesdays?” I lamely ask like a boy scout trying to sell girl scout cookies.

She only glares at me.

But here now, here today, there is no one, just us three, and as he slips in slow motion before my eyes, and his guitar flies in one direction, and his other arm protects his face, the hand and face slam the carpet together with a thud. Somehow he manages to not get a visible drop of blood on the carpet. Not that I can see. I’m wearing a red shirt which I take off and hand to him, making sure to place the front of the shirt towards his face as I do. We get him to the bathroom nearest the altar to clean him up.

“Thank you,” he half smiles, “I appreciate not having to scrub that out of the carpet, and of course, I’ll buy you a new shirt. Of course. Maybe several.”

“How about just two. That’s about what carpet cleaners would cost,” answers Denise.

“Hmmpf.” Is all I can manage. Two shirts and you lay off my wife, how about that?, I think but not out loud. Besides I’m leaving anyway, aren’t I? I mean more than ever I am leaving anyway and California being a no-fault divorce state, what difference does it make now? When he reaches the sink, he hands me the shirt back.

Shirtless, in the stairwell, alone, my Denise seeing after her Chet in the bathroom, the door hinge shuts the door automatically. All I can do is shake my head at that arrogant door, shutting me out like that. I pull my shirt on and rub the now-flowing tears on my cheek with the soft collar. I slather one hand in his blood and crack the door open a little. It’s quiet, except for a quick giggle from Denise far down the stalls, but I hear the water running through the pipes of the building and into the sink still. Still washing his face and neck apparently. I run my bloody fingers over the door handle inside. Letting the door close again, because my wedding ring is on my left hand, I smash my nose with my right. I wince, croak like a little frog and start whimpering and crying. It hurts far more than I’d expected. It certainly hurts far more than he makes it look like it hurt him. Another reason to hate him. Through bleary eyes, I rub my blood on the other hand and silently breach the door a second time. I lightly slip my fingers over the handle and the door jamb. Quietly the door fits into his frame, and then I heave all my weight against the long metal handle I’m holding in my fists as though I’m holding it against a tidal wave.

I run soft-footed up the stairs to the roof, smearing our blood as I go. At the roof door, I smeared our blood on the jamb, knob, door, and heave myself against it hard on the outside. Digging my feet into the gravel in front of the door, I run in the treadmill gravel under my feet leaving a deep skid mark. When I peer over the edge of the little flat roof five stories high, I realize I’m on top of a crenelated castle. Below two men in suits step out of a long sedan and wave to a passing police car. They point at the front of the church and the police vehicle parks up on the sidewalk far below. I kick up the gravel all over the place while screaming my heart out, “Chet no! Please! Chet! Stop! Chet No, I don’t want to die!”

I snorted black drops all over, smear his blood on the top of the little wall then slide into third base on my knees in the gravel, smash my shin and grind up my side. Taking a few steps back and I bolt for the edge.

Twisting in the cool air like Mrs. Catsandra Clare so that I’m falling with the wind at my back, my wife Denise and her precious Chet arrive at the roof’s edge. Turning my head, I watch the police storm the front door, guns drawn.

Annika

“We’ve got a live one, yes from Annika, she’s our best referrer.” Martin Springafalt looked up surprised to see me walking back in.

“Um, you have an Annika who works for you? Is that my Annika, I mean that’s a rare enough name.  You know.” I asked. I was nervous, pausing too long before adding the “you know” but my Annika, how could he know her?

“Oh no,” he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s Anita. What can I do for you?”

“Well I had just gotten to my car and noticed that the binder says there is an exclusionary period of three months.” His mouth smiled again. “What’s that about?” I asked.

“In case you’re related to a vampire or have a good friend who is a vampire and you’re both trying to buck the system . . . it prevents fraudulent collusion, that’s all it is.”

“What! What do you take me for?” I asked but he just continued to smile like nothing was amiss.

“Mr. Lyssna, it’s sort of like the suicide exclusion on page 7 of the policy and two paragraphs down on he binder’s page 2.” He said.

“But I’m high risk.” I protested.

“Exactly why you should go home and forget about the binder and in 90 days you’ll be covered. If you don’t start the policy today, then your 90 days won’t start until that later date when you do start it. You know I once bought a dental insurance policy with a 90 day exclusion and was angry that I couldn’t get in for a cleaning for 3 months, just like you. On the 95th day, do you know what happened, bam, broken molar. I was sure glad I had that policy.” Leaning back he smiled a relaxed smile and put his hands behind his head and interlaced his fingers. Was he trying t to fly away? Teeth cleaning? Really? Does that work on everyone? I guess it probably did because it was working on me. But I was starting to think that Mr. Springafalt was no more than a used vampire insurance salesman.

“Where do you work?” he asked me.

“Conway Ritter Financial Systems downtown office. I’m uh, an accountant there. Annika works the hospital across the street. She manages the cafeteria, that’s where we met, in the cafeteria at the hospital, across the street.”

“That’s nice, and if you’re truly concerned,” That’s nice I thought, if I’m truly concerned with my next dental cleaning. Nope, I’m more concerned with my next hematectomy, you know, dialysis by vampire. He continued “then spend a lot more time at work. A well lit public building downtown is not the kind of place that vampires are going to haunt, even for your blood type.”

“You seem to know an uh, an awful lot about vampires.” I said to him. I remember specifically looking him in the eyes while saying it. That he knew more than the general public and it seemed to me that he also knew more than the average vampire insurance salesman.

Smiling again but with a sense of utter peace in his eyes, he said, “well, I do take my continuing education very seriously. But I do have a new appointment arriving soon so if there’s anything else?” Mr. Springafalt stared at me hard waiting for me to leave.

“Referred by Anita?” I asked, I could feel my heart racing. I was still sure that he’d said Annika but the door was creaking shut when I was walking in, my own foot falls could have masked the sound.

“Yes, that’s right Ms Chavez, that agent is our best referrer.” He sighed and confessed that he had some errands to run before his new appointment arrived. So, I left with my binder that immediately covered property damage, and my 90 day exclusion and my high risk factors for vampire attacks.

I drove around the sleepy village of La Mesa looking for a Starbucks. Maybe if I joined the coffee achievers I’d feel revved up and calmed down. Of course if I changed my mind they do have great hot coco and they do have garlic bagels.

Finding a restaurant at the base of a hill called Dansk, it had an inviting outside dining area covered with trees near the sidewalk. On the sign read, Scandinavian Breakfast. That sounded good so I parked and went inside. Once sitting I noticed the Starbucks was located across the street. Okay so I’d sacrificed good coffee for what was clearly and even greater plate of pancakes and sausage. Somewhere in heaven surely there was a lonely angel leaning over a cloud and soaking up the aromas from this little cottage restaurant among the La Mesa woods.

I ordered a coco. I didn’t feel like achieving much except to eat breakfast for lunch and to try to sweep away the uneasy feeling that I’d just been had for $102 and 51 cents.

As I sipped the not so bad coco and waited for my meal, tall tanned and Thor-som walked up to Starbucks and flicked a cigarette into the street. I leaned back in my chair to put a tree trunk in between us.

Looking into the windows he was pulling out his iPhone and checking messages. Annika walked up to him and putting her hand on his shoulder they kissed each other cheeks French-style and walked into the Starbucks.

So there it was, Annika wearing full scrubs and a stethoscope around her neck was his star referrer. I had just thought that everyone in a hospital wore scrubs but . . . a stethoscope? Since when do you put one of those up to a dishwasher?

She’s like a really specialized ambulance chaser. Sifting the high risk blood types and sending them to the used vampire insurance salesman, I wondered how much of a commission he paid her. I wondered if he was her boyfriend, husband or cousin.

Kissing on the cheeks isn’t normal in La Mesa, not among everyone but foreigner’s do it enough. Still I didn’t guess they were French. Afterall, his name was as Scandinavian as my breakfast.

Clearly I was a mark and not a fiancé. So why was she hiring caterers and a string quartet? Maybe she did want to marry me. Perhaps she didn’t hire anyone and only said that she did.

Well I had no idea, but after spending $102.51 I couldn’t afford to miss breakfast. I thought I’d just finish my food first and then jaunt on over and just walk up and sit down with them. Say nothing and see what they did. That was my plan.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

More Later

Vampire Insurance

I entered Martin Springafalt’s Vampire Insurance Agency at about 10:00am thinking that I must be safe, it was a bright Summer day and the place was well lit. Besides the garlic bagel with garlic cream cheese should ward off even a swarm of tourists from New Jersey.

“Good Morning.” From behind the big desk the tall blond man greeted me. Square jawed and thorlike, his golden hair swung into his face as he stood up. From the desk the little sign flashed that his name was Martin Springafalt. “It’s nice to meet you.” His large right hand waved at the seat in front of me.

“Well, I’ll get right to the point . . .” but he cut me off.

“You want vampire insurance.” Martin smiled and pulled a couple off brochures off the reception desk’s display and lay them in front of me. I was aghast, this was going to be more expensive than I’d thought. Along with the usual property damage rider and undead riders there were werewolf and faerie riders as well.

“I was just looking for the standard policy really, I . . .” was cut off again by Martin.

“Look, Mr?”

“Lyssna, Johnathan Lyssna.”

“You’re in a high risk category Mr. Lyssna?”

“Yes, well, AB-” I said. My voice shook as I did. The last thing you ever want to do is shout out at midnight that you’re taking a thousand dollars from an ATM in downtown LA. Or that you’re AB- when vampires have been reported in the area.

“Then you already know how important coverage is. Let’s take a little time because even the standard policies have major differences now, new wrinkles. We’ll have to go over those before you know what you’re looking for. Are you married Mr. Lyssna, have children?”

“No children yet, but soon to be married, my fiancée, Annika, would like to be sure that we’re covered immediately. Because well . . .”

“One never knows.” Mr. Springafalt opened a brochure describing the main types of standard coverage. “Pay special attention here, of course you’re getting the property damage rider, it’s cheap and the amount of property damage from vampires is typically minimal. Sometimes you cannot even tell how they got in.” Clearing his throat he pointed at the 3rd page. “You see, up until here the policy is your standard term life insurance policy, but from here, you see three contingencies.”

I could clearly see them. “Option one, I die and the standard term life pay out goes to my beneficiaries.”

“That’s correct. But see here?” Mr. Springafalt pointed at option two with his long fingers and lightly tanned hands. “What if you live?”

“By ‘live’ you mean as an undead, is that right?” I asked.

“No, on very, let’s say extremely rare occasions, you just live, you’re not undead, you’re not dead and you just live and they don’t come back and finish the job. Perhaps the vampire in question is himself extinguished or doesn’t like the taste of your blood, who knows. In any case you’re alive at least three weeks later.” He smiled and was shaking his head at the same time. “Apparently they don’t like leftovers.” Martin paused and looked at his fingernails for a moment. “But what kind of life would that be?”

“I, I uh, I don’t, I don’t know.” I had this momentary vision of, what if Hugh Grant were a lonely chubby fat guy with a fiancée buying vampire insurance in a farflung suburb of San Diego. I had to get a grip on myself.

“Most people experience acute hemophilia for the rest of their lives including joint pains, head aches, muscle pains and difficulty maintaining your weight.”

“Really, sign me up for that one.”

Martin Springafalt smiled and quietly said, “as I said it seldom works out, my mom made that same joke but when the vampires got her she died.” He looked out the window for a moment and a single tear ran down his cheek. “Listen, it’s the least likely outcome but the most expensive, so it’s the first coverage I always recommend, it’s not going to add much to the policy because it’s so unlikely.”

I felt fidgety and darted my eyes from brochure to brochure to keep them busy. “Now if I end up joining the ranks of the undead does it still pay my fiancée?”

“Of course it can, but recent legislation which has already passed through the courts gives us two more options.”

“What? Really?”

“Yes, you can have the policy pay to you directly, to your undead self, as a secondary form of viatical contract. As a member of the newly undead, you’ll need a bit of scratch to get yourself started out. Nice quiet country estate, your own little bit of grave yard, heavy duty security systems, of course complete privacy, and 100 head of cows or if you prefer, sheep.”

“Are you serious? I think I saw a ranch like that on the way into town today. Do vampires really eat cows and sheep?”

“No, not at all, but most people don’t know that.” Mr. Springafalt rubbed his nose. “And that ranch is the old Draklesayer ranch, perfectly harmless. They have a graveyard there because that’s how old the ranch is, it predates the cemetery in town.” I must have looked incredulous because he continued, “yes, the livestock in the plan are just for show, unlike our neighbors down the road.”

“What’s option number three?” I asked.

“You’re going to like this, option three is a combination of one, where your beneficiary is paid a percentage of the pay out, plus then the rest up to 50% is used to hunt you down and stake your undead corpse to a tree where you’ll be crucified to the sun the following morning.”

“Does that hurt?”

“How should I know, but you’ll be dead anyway so what would it matter. I have heard though that they scream for hours and hours, most of the morning in fact. It takes quite a while to burn a vampire with sunlight, even longer if it’s raining.”

Explained as fast I could that I was truly shocked. I remembered that a woman two weeks earlier had accused her husband of being a vampire. Her boyfriend had him staked to a tree and burned him the next morning with gasoline. She almost got away with it because the boyfriend was the local firechief but the sheriff smelled the gas and that was that. “Did they have one of these policies?”

“Um, well yes, the Vastras, I sold them the policy. And I’m glad to say that we didn’t pay a penny on that policy to Mrs. Vastra. We paid the 50% of the policy which would have gone to Mrs. Vastra directly to her children’s guardian after she went to prison.”

“I think I’d rather have the money and the sheep.” I mused outloud.

“A wise choice,” answered Mr. Springafalt. “Now the faeries really are quite rare enough and we’re nowhere near England, and the werewolf rider is probably also something you can skip without more thought as the nearest forests are at least an hour away in the local mountains and they don’t drive when they’re changed.”

After punching numbers on an oversized calculator he said, “if you want a binder right away, as you stated earlier, then the policy downpayment is $102.51 payable in cash. You’ll be immediately protected that way. When you see your Annika next you’ll be safe in the event of any untoward encounters with vampires. What duhyah say?”

“And if I do, maybe I’ll get lucky and I won’t live through it, and I won’t die either.”

Mr. Springafalt smiled, “I hear it’s all a matter of if they take a liking to you.”

To Be Continued . . . .

Lines

© 2011 by David L Nelson, All Rights Reserved

It’s raining. There is a lot of movement in the other room. They are finally taking the Christmas tree down. I enter the bedroom and see the Christmas tree falling towards me from the corner directly opposite where I stand. It misses my feet. Suzie and Lina tell me to be more careful. Against the far wall is seated my boss on a folding chair. The card table in front of her has a semi-circle row of dominoes on it and a pile of books in the center.

“Mr F.” she says, “have you read Carlos Davis Smith’s Regt und Rent?”

“No I haven’t, not yet,” say I.

“This is your homework then, read it by Monday and hug your boss.” I lean forward to hug her, but she cringes, crossing her arms over her chest and recoils. I stop short. “And move this bed and that night stand away from the fireplace.” I turn the bed and night stand she has mentioned.

“What a stupid place for a bed,” I think to myself. Lina comes and helps me. “Move this bed towards that wall.” I say. We leave just enough room to stand on the side of the bed. I am leaned over the bed and as my butt touches the wall I see Lina drop away at the other end of the bed. Through the floor, a hole in the grate allows her to fall into the basement. Her face holds for a fantastic instant, a look of surprise. I come around the bed and glance at my boss; she is playing with her dominoes.

“Can you find Lina for me Mr. F thanks.” She asks. I turn my head to the floor; there in front of the fireplace half of the floor grating is gone. It had formerly covered a floor heater, which is also gone. In fact the metal casing underneath and around the floor heater is missing too. The cellar is exposed and a cool draft floats up to my face. The only sign of Lina is the blood spot and bit of hair stuck to the half remaining grate. I drop a lighted match, as it hits the floor it ignites a small pocket of methane, a little fireball lights up the whole cellar. The familiar eight doors, two per wall show up quite clearly as well as Lina’s clothes scattered and strewn about the floor most of which has now caught fire from the small blast. Then comes the faint smell of burning hair. I finally see a clump of smoldering blond hair all by itself in the middle of the floor. At least Lina is not attached to it. I turn to my boss and explain the situation.

“Sure okay fine,” she says, “just read your book and make sure to air out this place it stinks, thanks.”

I walk around the hole and lie on the bed. The book has a tan leather cover and on the top left of the front the words, Lines and underneath that, Regt und Rent have been burned into the soft skin. I open to Lines. In tiny hand written letters I read: “Davis Smith tore my throat out and left me to die which was just as well because my life was worthless and I would have ended it myself, but now it has taken on new meaning, I WANT REVENGE ON DAVIS SMITH!” On the inside of the front cover is written: “It was the sad story of a young man who begged his best friend to end his life, because he felt so depressed and hopeless, wanted to die and end it all for good. Such sadness. But how could he do it himself, so he had enlisted the help of his best friend. His best friend however had a mean streak and no pity for the wretched, so he picked a painful way to die for the man he had loved as friend and confidant for so many years.”

A mouse running along the baseboard stopped and voiced his tiny complaint: “I WANT REVENGE ON DAVIS SMITH!”

“Perhaps Regt und Rent is a better story,” I say, I turn to it and find only pictures. Distorted blackened bodies are nailed to a wall around a doorjamb. Bright red blood drips down the door, and one bright red hand print glistens off the door handle. On the next page is a picture of Lina, her feet and hands tied to the bed posts. He her bald head rests on a plank. A white plastic sheet covers all but her hands and feet. Tears are streaming down from her tight shut eyes. Momentarily a nun walks in, kisses the index and middle fingers of her left hand and touches the cross above the bed. She has a straight razor and a pan of water. Steam comes up from the water. Lina shudders and begins to squirm under the white plastic sheet.

“There there now,” says the nun, “you wouldn’t want to make things worse than they are, would you?” I watch in horror.
“You have to have your neck shaved dear; Davis Smith likes them that way.” Lina sees me, she screams at me to do something.

“Khoda Hafez!” I scream at the nun. The nun turns to me wide eyed, mouth open and runs out the door. I turn the book over and bang on the back cover with my hand. Lina falls out onto the bed. She is bald, tangled in the white plastic, eighteen inches tall and sobbing. I turn the page. The view is from below a table looking up from the floor. A man with a fish bowl over his head is looking down from the top. There is a gaping whole where his larynx should be. Rot and puss drip from its edges.

“I WANT REVENGE, I WANT REVENGE!” He is screaming from inside the fish bowl. Every vein in his face forehead and neck pops out. Maggots crawl out of the festering hole and fall up, out of the page. I just barely get out of the way, they stick to the ceiling. I slam the book and throw it down the grate in the floor. Left over smoldering hair catches fire to the book. Lean over the edge of the grate I see a Surgical masked face followed by a bloody butcher’s apron is crawling out of the open page. Quickly I light a match and drop it down. Methane explodes again. The man’s hair is on fire. He drops back into the book and tries to shut it, but it is too late the pages are already burning. I turn to my boss who is still sitting at the card table.

“I found Lina,” say I.

“Good” she says, “tell her to answer the phones for a while. Have you read Carlos Davis Smith’s Regt und Rent?”

“I am sort of . . . looking over it” say I, “but it’s hard to read.”

“Well read it before Monday and hug your boss.” I lean forward to hug her and she strokes my hair, kisses my cheek and puts her index finger in my ear.

“By the way Mr. F. please move that bed to in front of the fire place and shut the windows it is getting chilly in here.”

“You know,” I say, “I have to go home early today, I have an appointment.”

She looks at me angrily then smiles, “okay,” she says, “but remember to take one of these with you, and you can download it from Amazon if you lose this copy.” She hands me a tan leather book with the words Lines and Regt und Rent burned into the cover.

I leave the book and my Android on the bed and pick up Lina on the way out; “my niece’s Barbie Doll clothes might fit you now.”

“Really?” says Lina, “I think I might be too tall.”

I Die Daily

“Another day another $500” Rick whispered.

Click, and the office lights went out. By the front door to the office in reception, the timer hand wound down and that two hour block was over. Rick’s supercharged screen blazed into his eyes. Fingers still resting on the home row keys, he closed his eyes and wished the office away. Putting himself in his living room with his twin boys, they were sitting at his sides in front of Sponge Bob. He could feel the warmth of their shoulders nestled against his ribs. He could smile again for just a moment. Before he got up eyes open, he looked into the black ante room, a shadow stood there. With one elbow resting on one hand and it’s chin in the other the shadow cocked it’s head head, listening. Blinked, and again, the narrow book case with its globe on top and pirate ship on the middle shelf stared back at him. Globy was taken by Pee Wee’s globe so he decided to call his new friend Grampa Ave which gave a homey feel. Rick walked to reception and cranked the dial over for another two hours. As he turned and looked out the conference room window behind reception he saw that the sun had set.

Again in his seat he pictured how much his boys’ faces had matured in the last year. Early that morning as he poured cold white liquid over cheerios, his boys had smiled and joked that the milkman was visiting for breakfast. How did they know what a milkman was? At seven, maybe it was just that he was the man with the milk who was usually gone before they even got up. One year had passed again, their birthday was coming up and how much their faces had changed. Not quite identical twins, his mother in law had a flair for hurtful remarks especially when she wasn’t trying, that’s what she always said about them: “Almost not completely unlike twins,” then she’d add, “Maybe the postman got one and you get the other.” And Rick would smile and mentally shovel dirt onto her coffin. But now their faces looked like a dark haired light skinned Mexican and a light haired dark skinned Swede. “I die daily,” Rick typed. Backspaced it out of his client’s marital settlement agreement.

On Facebook, he’d seen them grow up, Lydia made sure to post them for every fun thing that happened. “I’m my sons’ facebook stalker,” he whispered, “and I have an imaginary friend.” Paralyzed fingers sat on the home row keys again for minutes. Mentally comparing the faces of his Joey and Zaney he could feel his throat tighten, chin crinkled. Rick’s computer screen went cloudy, and he slowly put his face in his hands and sobbed. Feeling the tears slide down, he elbowed his laptop out of the way and rotated his palms to catch them. Darkness again. Another two hours had gone by. Wondered if he slept for two hours or if he’d not cranked it all the way around. Grampa Ave stood there elbow in one hand, chin in the other and seemed to be shaking his head side to side. Time for a break, since no work was getting done. Phone in hand, he considered calling his boys but realized it would hurt too much. Clients sometimes asked if he understood what they were going through. Occasionally he’d quote to the obvious democrats, “I feel your pain.” His favorite was when they’d throw back in his face that he’d never been divorced before and therefore couldn’t possibly know what they were feeling. Rick knew. Last mother’s day had been a work day and he’d finished at about ten feeling good at how much was accomplished, satisfied that clients’ cases were moving forward and realized he’d hadn’t even called Lydia. Moments like that made him think of the wind in his hair standing at the top of the Coronado Bay bridge.

Clearly it was worse to be Rick. Rick had to sit in his office late nights and weekends doing paperwork and research so that bastards who told him that he didn’t know how they felt could get the most amount of time with their children that they wanted. Whether it was a lot or a little. Meanwhile Rick got not one moment, and he wanted them all. Again he typed “I die daily.” For a while he shut his burning eyes and remembered singing How Great Thou Art while holding one in each arm. Zane had to be bounced but Joe had to be rocked. That made it rough when they were crying at the same time. One time his mother in law came in, sat down looking like a battered wife, and crying she said, “I, I, can’t, sleep, with, two, crying, babies, in, the, house, can’t you do something about it?” Rick had looked at her and in his most intimidating voice, he whispered over the howling, “and I can’t take three!” Teeth tight together, you could see the muscles in his jaw as he spoke. She’d moved out shortly after that. Pressing print to pdf, “I should divorce you,” he whispered. Rick stood, stretched and emailed the MSA to his client and supervisor for review.

(c) 2011 by David L Nelson, All Rights Reserved

Daddy Come Back

The little boy screamed, Shane come back! Shane! Shane! Come back Shane! Not having seen most of the movie, Little Brother just found it funny. “Great lisp.” Father-son camaraderie was lost on Little Brother. Even if he had seen it on screen, he’d have missed it. From the corner of the couch, little brother pointed at the 15” black & white TV. Between his thumb and forefinger he held a popcorn glistening with real butter. Salt sparkled on its edges in the TV light. Shane, obscured by a popcorn cloud, continued riding away in spite of the pleading shouts of the boy. “You . . Stupid Idiot”, thought Little Brother. In his mind, Stupid Idiot was a proper name.

Alan Ladd could pull off that fringy suede that made him look like a hippie on a horse. Maybe Little Brother would get one of those jackets too. Hanging on the vacuum next to the wall heater, his light blue denim jacket screamed anything but horse. Not even iron horse. Just bike. All holes, Little Brother’s pants could have used some mending. While they were at least down to his ankles, they gave an economic impression close to the situation of the boy in the movie. His hair once made Terrance Hicks ask, “Is that the wet look or the dry look Little Brother?” Of course, Little Brother had the benefit of free medical services, free education, free lunches, and free food. Even the bike had been free. None of which was available to the boy character in the movie.

In the years before the divorce Little Brother had been just a toddler. During that time Big Brother had experienced a paternal relationship with Dad, ballgames, Saturday matinees, tickle attack, but also task master, mean drunk, and hostile father due to sexual remorse that no nobody knew about and finally hide away time. Weekends were dad’s time with the kids, but only ones big enough that he didn’t have to change. Between Friday and Monday in his dad’s world, there had been no wife time. Ten years after, Big Brother’s heart was aching for the boy on the TV. Big Brother was the boy. He was also the teenager with a little brother who dressed like Oliver Twist, cracked jokes that would have embarrassed Groucho Marx, and hated their dad. Ten years before, watching as his dad rode away into the sunset in his brand new Buick in search of leaner pastures he’d felt so alone. The blue Skylark with the white top disappeared down the street. Choked, he couldn’t yell out, “Come back Daddy! Daddy come back!” Couldn’t cry. Several weeks later, the neighbor, Mr Landers remarked to his mom that his knuckles had been white and he could have counted every muscle in his jaw. Standing alone, he’d patted the top of his own head. Like his dad, he felt the comb of his crew cut poke into his fingers.

Before their parents split, every time their dad would come back to Metairie from a business trip, his brief case was full of toys. On weekends when he wasn’t pretending to work he’d take Big Brother to ball games, movies. Holding the boy in his arm, he’d smile like he was enjoying White Comanche, and maybe he was. Big Brother enjoyed the scratchy worsted wool grey sleeve on his ear. For Dad, even laughing wasn’t so hard once in a while. Something Little Brother had never experienced. Dad didn’t much like babies, though he’d always loved pregnant women. “Go get em Kirk” their dad yelled at the screen. It drew a couple frowns in the crowd but he’d just chuckle and stuff his face with oily popcorn.

As Shane rode away, Big Brother had forgotten the bad times, and he’d remembered only those moments in Planet of the Apes with his dad. Dad was a racist southern bigot who’d had to move south to fit in.

More than average, dad had a particular love for Planet of the Apes and took Big Brother to it on several Saturdays in a row. Futuristic science fiction cascaded into Big Brother’s psyche.

Big Brother dreamed up stories of flying cars, space travel, bug eyed slimy aliens. Talking apes made dad smile, as did cute mute girls in torn up animal skins with the apparent maturity of a pre-adolescent.

Watching Shane with his little brother, Big Brother had wondered if the love Shane had for this boy would sink into Little Brother’s soul. It didn’t. Big Brother had become the dad after the Buick had slid away in the afternoon sun with his hopes, dreams and his baseball glove in the back seat. How he ached to have dad’s arm around his shoulder again. To be the little boy again. Now a teenager, Big Brother sat in dad’s recliner with his feet up. By right of conquest, he’d won the recliner from Little Brother and Big Sister. Leaning back he watched the TV between his Converse Allstars. Clean pant legs of new Levi’s 501s ran down to the shoes. Big Brother earned his keep by mowing all the neighbors’ lawns for $4 per hour. Maybe he should have sat on the couch with his arm around his little brother, and been the father for a day. In his left hand he held a salad bowl of popcorn covered in salt, melted butter and a bit of black pepper. Dad had always brought little pepper packets from Denny’s to the movies for the popcorn. Pepper and butter smells combined to remind him of those few hours on Saturdays when Dad wasn’t yelling at mom.

Back when he was around, one of dad’s jobs had been as the family’s source of sarcasm. And he’d done it so well. Say something mean to a person. Laugh like it’s supposed to somehow be funny. Get mad at the person you’d just made fun of when he didn’t subscribe to your brand of humor. Make fun of them for being hypersensitive babies. That was Dad. Bastard. Big Brother had had to take over that job, though his heart wasn’t always in it. Doing his best, he’d worked hard to fill those shoes. Oddly, Little Brother had learned that dad skill to the best of his ability from his big brother. On top of that he’d spiced it up and made it his own. Clearly it was important to have sarcasm in the family. Little Brother could bend a situation to the funnier side with just the cruelest hint of sarcasm. Alienating the rest of the audience at the same time, not just the target of the ironic invective had often been the result. Who knew? Probably Little Brother won’t have a lot of friends and probably he’s going to be a lot like Dad.

There they sat, one on the couch, one on the arm chair watching Shane ride away. Little Brother laughing at that lisp. Big Brother’s heart aching for the boy with the crew cut whose little brother never knew a fun Saturday with his dad. Little Brother said: “What’s your problem? It’s just a stupid movie.”

“He’s watching his best friend leave, his father leave,” Big Brother answered.

“Pffft, like that’s never happened before,” Little Brother responded.

“Cut it out Little Brother, he’s probably never going to see him again.”

“Like, that’s never happened before. He’s better off anyway. We were. Besides what’s your problem? Big baby.” Little Brother had practiced that one. Big Brother leaned back in the arm chair a little while longer and nursed his bowl of popcorn.

“Hey” Big Brother leaned forward, put his feet on the ground and said, “you want to go to a ball game?”

(c) 2011 by David Nelson, All Rights Reserved