In the Pleasant Summer morning

Warmed by the early sun yet still damp from the dew, the earth sigher with every step the boy took. Muncie had been walking for hours and he knew the scouts would be looking for him soon. The woods were new to him but he walked with ease. Arm stretch outwards phone in hand Muncie swiveled left and right hoping for a signal. No bars, no WiFi, all his phone gave him was the spinning pinwheel of death.
Muncie had studied the sun-faded regional map at Camp Obiwaja. He knew the camp’s road met the highway. H e remembered a bus top and a tiny gas station. Camping had been Mom’s idea. She had cajoled him and promised he would make friends. Muncie refused. She had argued and insisted he try new things. Muncie turned silent. Finally Mom had gotten teary and said “Billy, please” in that voice and Muncie got on the green school bus with bright blue lettering.
The drive to the church parking lot felt like forever. A balloon had swelled in his chest. Driving away with the busload of boys the balloon had grown and grown. Halfway to Camp Obiwaja, the balloon popped and his morning’s brown sugar maple oatmeal spewed over the bus’s backseat. The camp counselors quelled the teasing but Muncie knew that night when lights were out the boys would show the wolves behind their smiling faces. And they did.
At eleven years old, Muncie had skipped a few grades and missed learning how to fit in. No biggie, he accepted it. What he couldn’t accept was camp sing songs hellfire. Muncie couldn’t take endless stories around the fire. He couldn’t take the forced marches called hikes. And he couldn’t take team building exercises with mini marshmallows and dried spaghetti. A half-finished dreamcatcher of shame was stuffed into his backpack. Muncie picked up speed. The ocean sound of the highway greeted him.
The spinning pinwheel stopped and his phone sprang to life. First he sent his location to his mom with a carefully considered text designed to get her racing to pick him up. Sweat dripped off his forehead and smarted his eyes. That is when Muncie saw it. Two feet tall, covered in silky greenish tan hair, a doggish snout and large protruding ears, it blinked out at Muncie from beneath a feathery bush. That balloon rose in his chest. Muncie swallowed it down. The air was sweet and reminded him of rain.
Muncie lived by research. He had studied the terrain, survival skills, escape plans, and local legends. This was a pukwudja, a North American troll thing, dangerous and tricky. He knew where there was one there were more. His brain ramped up as his steps grew deliberate. His mom was blowing up his phone with texts. Muncie Googled and scrolled.
“By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning”
Tilting its head in time to Longfellow’s verse, the creature seemed lulled. With the weight of a dozen hidden eyes on him, Muncie walked out of the woods towards home.

The Thin Place

“Alexa, TV off,” Xander said to the set.
The blue trance of light blinked out. Cracking his neck, Xander smothered a yawn. Mimi yawned loudly, stretched like a cat, and rolled into the warmth of her husband’s side. He stretched out his right arm to gather her closer. They were both too tired to get up and go to bed. Xander laid his cheek on the top of her messy bun of hair. She smelled of coconut conditioner and tonight’s pork chops. He inhaled deeply ready to be lost in the comfort of their old sofa and her softness.
“Somebody has to pick up all these toys,” Mimi said, waving a sleep-heavy arm at the collection of board books and pink bracelets, of stuffed animals and baby dolls scattered across the living room rug.
Without opening his eyes, Xander replied, “Somebody better get his ass in gear ‘cause I ain’t doing it.”
Mimi play-slapped his chest. Xander rolled himself over onto Mimi flattening his wife into the cushions. She raised an eyebrow. Pressing her hands against Xander’s chest, Mimi surrendered to his weight. Xander dipped his head to her lips. Suddenly a thunder of children’s footsteps ran overhead. The couple groaned.
“That girl is going to crack the plaster and lathe,” Mimi said.
Another volley of the sounds of small running feet from one end of the upstairs hallways to the end.
“Bedtime, pumpkin.” Lifting up, Xander turned to look towards the ceiling beneath Flora’s bedroom on the second floor.
“I know Daddy,” Flora called back from upstairs.
Xander wiggled between Mimi’s legs finding their position where her small body tucked perfectly into his larger frame. They shared a smile. The running began again this time from Flora’s bedroom to the upstairs bathroom. The creaking sound of the bathroom door opening and closing tripped down their old Victorian’s spiral staircase.
“Somebody better put that kid to bed,” Xander said before nipping at Mimi’s chin.
“Somebody better snap to it ‘cause I’m dead dog tired.” Mimi kissed him lightly and sucking at his lower lip.
The old five panel bathroom door creaked open and shut again. Back and forth the playful patter of a small child’s bare feet splashed over them..
“Don’t make me come up there.” Xander used his best angry daddy voice. The running stopped.
“Madam could please explain why your child cannot, will not, and has never ever slept. How is that possible? Government conspiracy? Witchcraft? It shows some shoddy workmanship if I must say.”
Xander took on a posh Austrian psychiatrist accent. Overhead the footsteps ran back to the bathroom. Xander sagged on to her in defeat.
Mimi tickled him.
“Oh so when Florrie won’t sleep she’s mine and when she’s an angel she’s yours.” The footsteps ran back to Florrie’s bedroom.
Xander fended off the ticklish attack. “Natch, now answer the inquiry.” He pinned her hands over her head.
“Well, maybe it’s genetics. When I was Florrie’s age my mom said I had a hard time sleeping. I don’t remember but I guess I used to wake everyone up at three in the morning. I would sing funny made-up songs in the middle of the night to my imaginary friend. She lived in my mirror, I think. My brothers still tease me about my late night serenades,”Mimi said.
“Granted your singing is terrible. It’s no wonder your—“ Xander stopped as their wrestling intensified. He let her hold his hands behind his back. Mimi scrunched her face diving deeper into memory.
“I do remember Nonna burning herbs, something about the thin place where worlds touch or something. My grandma, you know, was kind of Old World.” Mimi inhaled sharply as Xander kissed up the side of her throat.
“Does Old World mean terrifying battle axe?” Xander said in the sweet hollow of her neck.
“Mommy could you burn Herb because my mirror friend won’t let me sleep,” Flora said.
Xander and Mimi jumped. Standing in front of the sofa in a unicorn onesie with her favorite blanket stood Flora. Another thunder of running footfalls sounded over head. With wide eyes, all three stared up at the ceiling. A girlish laugh floated down the stairs over the sound of the pitter-pat of a small child’s bare feet against the hallway hardwood floor.

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Soft Words

What’s the word
Lepeop no lepeop suddenly there is a room full of lepeop
between Mandy and me
Where at the what’s the word
the sick people place
yes I remember the headache not a headache
my arms, my legs heavy why so heavy
I remember the red flashing lights on the bambulance
I remember joking with the paramedics
I knew one of the paramedic from my kid’s Little League
it’s the flu, just a really bad flu, man
cold bed thing and a thin blanket
I hear my wife’s voice that’s my wife but I can’t see her
her voice is high and scared
no her voice is calm telling me she is here asking me how I’m doing
then suddenly there are people, tocters and nurses and bright lights
that hurts too bright I say too hurts
woman I love says something
so many questions my arm flings out
my words fall to the seafoam tiled floor
What is happening tell me what is going on
my love is shouting no
soft words come to me her
her hand on my what’s the word
telling me it is going to be okay

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Everybody Said So

Carla combed her hair. Thick, warm blonde, and naturally wavy, it was her best feature. Everybody said so. Carla liked the feel of of the wide paddle brush raking through her hair. The stiff boar bristles scratched her scalp. Smooth, the bristles slide down until her ends. Then the brush would always tug. Carla would give the slightest pull as her hair swished around her fingers.

Sandy always loved Carla’s hair. One of Carla’s favorite photos was Sandy and her, Carla was holding up a young bobcat and Sandy was wearing Carla’s long hair as a hat. They loved animals. Growing up in the pine barrens, Carla always had cats, dogs, and tanks of critters. She still had her blue 4-H ribbon for her Flemish Giant bunny, Twinkie. Forgetting Carla reached for it and knocked over something.

“You okay, darling,” her mom said.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, everything is fine.” Carla answered. Hating the tinge of panic in her mom’s voice, Carla made her voice bright and cheerful. She returned to brushing, petting herself like a cat. She used to love animals, the warmth of soft fur. A shiver ran through her and the brush slipped and fell. There was a loud clatter as the wooden brush hit the dresser and bounced to the oak floor.

“Carla, honey.”

“Mom, I’m fine. Isaid I’m fine.”

Carla leaned over patting the floor. Her bedroom door opened. Carla turned away. Carla and Sandy had been inseparable working at the ASPCA. After Sandy’s parents passed they turned her folks’ old farm into a makeshift animal refuge taking in the exotics the shelters couldn’t handle. They worked night and day but it never felt like work. They had staff and volunteers and they had the animals. Big cats, pygmy pigs, sugar gliders, and all kinds of reptiles, the animals kept coming and they were stretched thin.

“Baby let me help you honey. Are you brushing your pretty hair? Let me.” Her mother’s voice was effervescent.

Carla swallowed her resentment. Carla could tell she trying not to cry, she could tell her mom was being brave and supportive and she hated it. One moment changed everything. Carla was cleaning one of the primate’s cages. Mistake No 1 she was working alone. Mistake No 2 she turned her back on a wild animal. Born in a circus, TeeTee had seen more like a big baby than a wild chimp. In an instant TeeTee was on Carla’s head biting and ripping. Bile rose in her throat even two years later. She was afraid of animals now and Sandy blamed herself and disappeared. Her mother began brushing her beautiful hair but Carla couldn’t lose herself in the strokes. Carla knew her face, her real face, was gone leaving behind smooth eyeless scars. Carla’s mom cried soundlessly. She was told the eye prosthetics were lovely. The face transplant had been a success. Hours of surgery and scores of medical technicians had created a miracle. With her new sightless face Carla smiled for her mother. She was a miracle. Everybody said so.

Without Onions

“So ma’am did the vehicle in question come with or without onions,” Ofc. Joseph Lupo asked.

He rubbed his chin to hide his smile.
Andie Shepherd tossed her oily rag at Joey and turned to walk away.

“Ma’am was sauerkraut involved because we may have to bring in interpol.”

His serious tone simmered before boil over into laughter. Joey gave into the ridiculousness of the situation. Holding his sides, he bent over guffawing.

Suddenly Andie was back in high school middle of the year but her first day. Seven schools in three years Andie was always the new kid with thrift store clothes and rundown sneakers. Standing in a crowded cafeteria with a tray of tater tots and Salisbury steak, Andie was alone in a sea of faces. Then Joe was there, all smiles and jokes.

“You scored vintage Chuck Taylors and the last of tots. What’s are you smart or lucky?” Joseph asked.
Andie remembered putting one hand on her hip and countering with, “You’ll just have to find out.”

Thus began their odd couple friendship popular jock and geeky loner. Throughout high school and beyond Andie and Joey were each other’s home base. He was her stability and she, his resilience.
Watching Joey laugh was her favorite thing in the universe. Andie felt her face heat. She headed to the sink to rinse the nonexistent grease from her hands.

“This is serious Joey that Oscar Meyer Wiener mobile has to been in Phoenix by ten am,” Andie said. The bitter citrus of the garage’s pumice soap cleared her head. “I bet they ripped off the catalytic converter and those are a bitch to replace. I’m having the company ship down a replacement tonight just in case but you have to retrieve it.”

“Hey Chucks I promise you I will not miss a 27 foot hot dog shaped vehicle. What do I look like someone who can’t see the biggest thing right in front of them?”

Hands on hips, Andie looked at him and said, “I’ll just have to find out.”

A Bag of Goldfish

It started with a goldfish. Well not one goldfish but a bag of goldfish, feeder fish. Ginny had saved five whole dollars to buy her own pet, something just for her. That day in Polly’s Crackers Pet Shop Ginny learned five dollars doesn’t go very far and some pets were raised to be eaten by other pets. She went home with a bag of fish and a globe tank the owner threw in for free. Al, the pet store clerk, taught her how to care for them but also told her not to be too sad if they die because things just die on you.

As she was cleaning one of the big tropical fish tanks in her and Vin’s family room, she thought about Al’s words and her first five fish. Her bright purple net dipped in and out in delicate loops. A school of black ruby barbs flitted past her net while a lemon striped angelfish waited to rub her fingertips. Their family room, their living room, and one wall of their dining room all featured large aquariums. Someday she would own her own pet store.

Upstairs heavy bass rumbled from behind Bethany’s closed bedroom door. Vin, Jr. wouldn’t be home till late if he came home at all. Ginny continued cleaning her tanks, from freshwater to saltwater. Flashing silver, loaches wiggled their bellies for her. The side door slammed as Ginny was feeding the red cap orandas. Ginny was careful to feed only a few granules at a time so the fish wouldn’t gorge themselves or damage their fins gobbling greedily.

“So I guess there is nothing for dinner again,” Vin called out from the kitchen. The last three nights she had made dinner and eaten it alone.
“There are some nice leftovers,” Ginny called back. She listened to Vin open the milk and down it in front of the open fridge door. She waited with a tin of fish food in her hand.
“I can scramble some eggs,” Ginny said. Her voice was a little too high. She slowed her breathing. Vin didn’t like it when she got too emotional. He didn’t like Ginny angry or sarcastic or sad. He called her tears manipulation.

“Why would I expect a hot dinner after working all day?” Vin said into the refrigerator.

“Well I work the same hours as you,” Ginny said to her lion head who was pushing the other fancy goldfish around look for food. To Vin, she said, “I could go out and pick up your fav—“

“Forget it, hon, sorry to bite your head off. Just have a wicked headache. I’m taking some Tylenol and heading straight to bed.” Vin was in the doorway to the family room. Pain pinched his face and his large hand rubbed the back of his neck. Leaning against the doorway, Ginny remembered how he looked in high school. How they looked together, before babies and marriage and bills and house payments, Vin was her person, her one and only. They were Vincent + Virginia in curlicue letters surrounded by hearts and daisies. Without realizing it she stepped towards him. Vin shied away from her. Then she remembered Vin didn’t like it when she got too emotional or too close. Ginny turned back to one of her tanks, the cloudy one with the Siamese flying fox fish. Vin headed the stairs.

“If you came straight home you would feel better,” she said to the tank.
“What?” Vin called from the second floor.
“Feel better, sweetheart.”

Kissing up and down the furry glass, the emerald striped fish were doing a good job of clearing this aquarium of algae. Ginny put down the goldfish food and picked up an old tin of chemical algae cleaner labeled poison. Vin’s heavy unsteady footsteps walked overhead. She tossed the nearly empty can of Algae Destroyer into the kitchen trash. Ginny tried not to be too emotional as she tied the bag shut and set it on the back steps for Vin, Jr. to take to the driveway’s end.


The Deal

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Chamois in hand, the shopgirl dusted absentmindedly with her right hand while balancing a massive book with left. Instead of being behind the register she had stationed herself close to the fading sunlight of Tartini’s curved window front. The shop, geared to look like an exotic bazaar, was curated to ensnare hipsters and boho soccer moms with pricey reproductions and the occasional antique. It was packed to the gills with gravy boats, temple bells, African masks, and stoic buddhas. Cello Suite no. 1 in G Major swam in and out of the crystal chandeliers and mismatched china cups. Dust shimmered in a halo over her head as she read and dusted.

Perched on a dodgy red stool she curled deeper into her book. Sweet and smoky, a familiar scent snaked under the shop door. She sniffed. The door opened and closed. The shopgirl turned a page. Bagatelle No. 25 danced up and down the glass display cases. Warm air chuffed against her back as the visitor walked around her and deeper into the store. He was humming Beethoven.

Beneath the sweep of her heavy hair she watched the visitor pretend to shop. A hatbox, a baroque fan, a pair of oil lamps, he touched things at random but with great interest. In the reflection of the vintage medicine cabinet she could see the stranger moved like a dancer, deliberate and graceful. Over and over, he turned an ornate gold-plated punchbowl maybe looking for a price tag. He caught her looking and smiled. Bowl in hand, the customer approached the shopgirl. She returned to her book as Vivaldi’s Summer in G Minor gamboled up and down the aisles.

The customer’s heat lay a firm hand on her shoulder. Brimstone thick as ganache enveloped her. Waving away the grey wisps, the shopgirl pulled an ebony hair pin from her bun and used it as a bookmark.

“How much?” the customer asked. His tone was casual as he appraised the graceful curl of her back, the sliver of skin peeking out rom her fallen cascade of hair, and the grimoire she had been reading.
“More than you’re willing to pay,” the shopgirl answered turning to finally face him.
The Devil’s Trill Sonata flared up. They both chuckled as nighttime approached. Negotiations began.

A Very Nice Office

It was a very nice office, respectable, Carlo thought, shuffling envelopes in his hands. The new office in Boston was a little small but neat as a pin. His desk was sturdy and well-polished with only a few scars in the corners. Carlo leaned back in his chair the green leather welcoming his push. His thoughts ran home. His mother had been a diamond of the first water, still a fine lady even when the family fell on hard times. When Carlo went to university his top drawer tastes matches his wealthy school friends and left him with no money and no degree. But in American he knew things would be different.
Smiling up at the sunny ceiling, Carlo leaned back further and balanced his slicked head on his folded arms. He remembered how the cobblestone streets felt strange when he landed in Boston. Sure Carlo had gambled away the last of his family’s money onboard ship but he still had his quick mind and rock steady drive. He learnt good English bent over a hot restaurant sink. Adventure was around every corner.
Settling his tidy dress shoes on his shiny desk, Carlo stretched back to his chair’s limit. After a few misunderstanding over tips at the restaurant Carlo left the adventurous corners of Boston for Quebec. A jaunty tune he used to sing as a boy came to his mind and Carlo began to whistle. The problem was Carlo has too many ideas to be a waiter but his life as a banker fit his imagination. Sure there had been a forged check or two and a few years away, but Carlo had found himself in Canada. In the quiet of his jail cell Carlo realized he was the unsquashable dream of the new world.
In Italian, French, and his new good English Carlo could share his dream of big and better and never beaten with his fellow immigrants. Ventures rose and fell, but Carlo glittered under pressure. He was a good guy. The kind of man who would give the shirt off his back. Spinning in his office chair, he broke off into song. He heard a soft step of his Rose Maria at his office door.
“Carlo Pietro Giovanni Gugliemo Tebaldo Ponzi are you up here daydreaming?”
Whirling around to greet his beloved, Carlo waved an envelope at her. Pale pink with deep blue and green lines the international response coupon fluttered to the ground. He picked on the slip of paper for return postage. It was worth pennies in the US but in Italy so many liras especially now. A sketch of a thought, a money making idea, maybe not a hundred percent legal but definitely promising money making idea, sparked. As the office door opened, Carlo was fanning his face with the slip of arbitrage. He knew this time everything would be different.
Carlo beamed at his wife and motioned her to come to his lap. Attempting an attitude of stern reproach, Rose Maria scowled. Carlo threw open his arms.
“Sweetheart I’m not daydreaming I’m empire building,” Charles Ponzi said.

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Gilt-edged, inspired by Maria Dorsey 1885

Born in a fine red brick house in the right part of town
her father’s hands still rough from hard labor
Behind the lace curtains of his bow front windows
her father’s hands folded in a well tailored suit
She learned to be a good daughter

a leading light in all of the colored ladies clubs
his smooth hand grazed hers at the restaurant
Swept away by feckless glances
shopworn cliches brand new in her own hands
She learned to be a good wife

Encased in stiff linen and whalebone
her hands rested on her growing belly
pressed against her father’s pride, bound tight to her husband’s IOUs
She covered her eyes
two gun shots and one of the kitchen chairs tumbled backwards

their fine house full of people and accusations
her little sister’s scream hang like smoke
a gilt edged diary torn wide open
she took her hands down, lifting up her head
that was the only lesson she ever needed to learn

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