He could have had love but instead he chose onions. Sassy reds, sensual walla wallas, and coy yellow onions lolled on his granite countertop. Long and hard, his Wusthof was slick with sweet onion juice as Chris sliced. Stefany, with the pouty lips and the annoying voice that always sounded as if every sentence was a question, texted. Again. He let his phone vibrate with her pent up frustrations. The open pickling jars awaited. Chairman Meow rubbed his silky head on Chris’ pant legs. Peppercorns and cloves of garlic were added to the onions and the brine. His phone rang. It was Cameron, his buddy. Chris remembered Cameron’s party scheduled that night, a night to slam beers at Cam’s place till you had a good buzz then pub crawl until somebody—usually Philly—throws up. Chris let it ring as he sealed his lids tight. Once his fridge was loaded with pickled delights, Chris headed out to his patio with a crisp Riesling and a seed catalog. The Chairman dozed by the sliding glass doors and Chris lay back spent and elated considering going another round with pert slender carrots and satin smooth peppers
You take a breath, steady your nerves, and head for the door at the end of the corridor. Each cushioned step whispered a memory. 2Handsum: morning boo Honeymoon: I love waking up to you. 2Handsum: me 2 Honeymoon: I’m heading out to school. Love you! 2Handsum: 😘
Your palms are sweating. You rubbed shaking hands against your favorite jeans and continued to walk. 2Handsum: what’s good baby baby Honeymoon: Nothing, just waiting on this bus so I can finally put up my feet. I can’t believe I had to pull another double shift! 2Handsum: wish I was there to rub your feet 2 rub ur everything Honeymoon: me too. I can’t believe how much I love you and we haven’t even met, we haven’t even seen each other. Can’t we FaceTime tonight? I need you baby 2Handsum: I need u too but my phone still broke I just need sum help Honeymoon: 😔 2Handsum: I’m good 4 it I mean I want you so bad I can wait 2 see u Honeymoon: I’ll see what I can do. 2Handsum: I’ll cash app you
You stand in front of the apartment door. You had always been good with computers. It had taken a little detective work to uncover the real person behind your boyfriend’s fake profile. It had taken a little time to find real world addresses, to find the other girls used just like you. It took more than you had to own your mistake.
2Handsum: my bad sum thing came up Honeymoon: I waited for hours. This is the second time! Is there someone else? Just be honest with me David. 2Handsum: there’s only u princess My mom got sick and I spent the hole night in the ER. No cell service I swear on my mom’s life. But if you don’t believe me don’t love me I’ll walk away. Honeymoon: OMG how are you doing? What happened to your mom? Sorry baby. How can I help? 2Handsum: cash app me a twenty for a pizza I’ll text u later
Your sadness roiled with your rage. Just this once you had hoped it would be real. You hoped you had been really seen. Valentine’s Day gifts, red roses, walking on beaches holding hands, instead of a happily ever after you were another joke. Never again you thought as angry tears leaked down your cheeks.
Honeymoon: good morning sweetie 💋
Honeymoon: I haven’t heard from you in a while. Guess you’re busy. How’s your mom? Can we text tonight?
Honeymoon: speaking of moms my mom is pissed about the money I took. The money I took for you. Could you send me back a little? I love you.
Honeymoon: please Honeymoon: please Honeymoon: I miss you
Having done this before I convinced myself that nerves were unusual but not unexpected. I felt Jerri before my shop door opened. Her energy was crisp and bubbly. I could feel something else mixed with her energy something odd. The last time I felt odd energy with Jerri we had to figure out how to release a trapped lothario’s spirit back to 1800s. Beaming Jerri stood in the doorway. Her blonde locs were pulled into a messy bun and around her neck with many colorful necklaces. In the middle of her Hawaiian shirt, overalls, and rainbow chucks jerri carried a teapot. Not another one. I nearly dropped my feather duster. Jerri was quivering with excitement. Mrs. Gibbs was browsing for the perfect birthday gift for her daughter. “So I’ve narrowed it down to Forever Single and Loving It or Last Chance Love. What do you think Prof. Crawford?” I had a sudden image of Mrs. Gibbs having a screaming match with a younger version of herself in a nice restaurant. I blinked away the vision and stared into Mrs Gibbs’ eyes. “You could take both or …” Jerri added “Or you can take neither and get your daughter a beautiful handmade journal and a nice fountain pen and encourage her to finish her novel.” Quickly Jerri and Mrs. Gibbs picked out one of my pricy journals and Jerri gift wrapped it while I rung up the purchase. “Are you psychic?” I asked. “How did you know about her daughter or the book or—“ Jerri’s laughter cut my sentence and made my heart race. “I don’t have visions. I have a mother and a working brain. If she bought me a book on my single status I would freak the hell out. So what do you feel?” Jerri thrusted her pot in his face. Blue and white with pink flowers, I grabbed the teapot. Our fingers touched and we froze for a moment looking into each other. “I’m a warlock. I don’t feel anything.” The hell I don’t. I set down the tea pot examining it carefully. No mystical symbols no vibrations just a spout and a lid on a nice tea pot. “So what do we have a hellmouth or a cuppa to go with my diggie biscuits?” I asked. “Well not a hellmouth just a teapot that may predict when and how you die. Jaime you’re white as a sheet.” Jerri flipped the closed sign on my bookstore door and headed to the back of my shop. “ I think you need some tea but not from that pot.” I stared at the teapot and backed away.
“You sure is ugly,” Jerri mocked. “Why are you so ugly?” She sat down the grimy fortune teller toy on her counter and returned to her box of treasures. Rainbows from the dozen chandeliers hung from her ship’s ceiling played across the vintage windup. When Jerri left HR to open an antique shop she hadn’t counted on so many early mornings or so many spiders. Carefully avoiding the annoyed wolf spider in the crate, Jerri unpacked the last jadeite tea cup. Doing a skippy scaredy-cat dance, She carried Mr. Spider in the box to her shop door and tossed him into the planter. Quizzically Jaime, the bookseller across the street, looked up at her from lounge chair. “Morning,” Jerri said. “Salutations to you Sister Moon and your insect friend.” Jaime drew on his vape and gave her an authentic Cheshire grin. Jerri
blushed and then hurried back into the safety of her store. Ugly soothsayer toy smirked from her counter. She shook the toy. No rattle, it’s probably rusted solid, Jerri thought. Maybe I can find an online buyer. Gingerly she turned the red metal handle. Smooth as butter the handle turned and the red and green checkered box vibrated in her hands. It reminded her a wiggly puppy but not in a good way. She dropped it. A slip of paper fell out. We all can’t be as beautiful as you sweetheart at least that’s what your hot neighbor thinks. Jerri read the fortune four times. I’m being pranked she thought. She checked for other people and hidden cameras. “You’re not a magical fortune teller demon doll are you?” She wound it. A paper slipped out of the grimacing clown’s chest. I love Rod Serling too. Name’s Padriq. But don’t drop me again it hurts my butt. Jerri hid in the bathroom. After the nausea past she considered her options. If this was madness at least it was imaginative. After googling sudden onset schizophrenia Jerri plunged her pop culture vault. She ventured back to the windup with a plunger, the only weapon in the bathroom. “Have you come here to trick me into losing my soul in some kind of poignant trick ending? And what’s tomorrow’s lottery number if it won’t doom me?” Jerri stared at the clown and clown stared back. Jerri was convinced he looked pitiful. She remembered to turn the handle. Paper: You should get out more. And sugar lips if I knew the future why would I be stuck in a box. Her knees shook. Jerri sank to the floor and rocked. Titaba, the shop cat she inherited when she leased the antique store, strolled over and nuzzled her chin. Jerri exhaled and pulled her hair into a bun. She got a pen a paper and pour the cat some kitty milk. “Are you a cursed item set to destroy the balance of good and evil?” Paper: do you write fan fiction? Girly, I’m wearing a pom pom hat get hold of yourself. “Why are you here?” Why are any of us anywhere. Seriously doll face you picked me up yesterday from an estate sale bargain table. Bargain table! “Describe your worst trait?” I’m careless. I used to be an artist but I was …instead of working I was quite the merrymaker. Whatever you do buttercup if you date a warlock don’t make out with his sister. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The clown’s crestfallen face touched her. The paper came out so slowly. Outlook unclear Jerri sighed. Gently with swabs and QuixKleen wax paste she cleaned his face. As she buffed Jerri asked, “is there anyway to free you? I know what it’s like to be trapped.” Paper: not unless you know a good witch Titaba mewed from the front door. “Use that perfectly fine litter box in the back,” Jerri called to her. The plump calico looked indigent and pawed at the glass door. Jerri looked across the street at the bookshop. Bell, Book, and Candle in gilt letters shimmered on the bookshop glass window. On a hunch, Jerri tucked Padriq under her arm opened the door and headed across the street to have the second weirdest conversation of her life. Titaba preened in the windowsill and fell asleep paws up belly warmed by the sun.
The hair on the back of my neck prickles. There is something here, something dangerous. “Hel you okay?” Pammy asked. My friend’s eyes crinkle with worry. She is worried if I’m having a good time. Even though I tell her I’m okay, Pammy has taken me drinking, knitting, and book clubbing to lift my spirits since Bobby passed. Now she’s taken me to Blood & Rose’, her true crime group. I hate wine but I have an interest in forensics so I came along. “I’m great. Everything is so delish.” I reassured her. She beamed and I mirrored back her bright smile.
Everything was not delicious. The sliders were ice cold and someone made the potato salad without salt, pepper, or spice of any kind, an act punishable by death or severe wounding in my book. With my fork, I spiked a potato cube and washed it down with a mouthful of Pinot. I did my second favorite thing trying to read faces. “Where’s Olga? That’s what I want to know. She still has my sheet pan,” The one I think is called Lizzie said with a pout. “You and your sheet pan. Have your own Pampered Chef party already.” This one’s name I remembered, Dorothea, tonight’s host. “Nah, Lizzie is right. Olga straight up ghosted us. We were thick as thieves and then pouf. In with the new boyfriend, out with old girlfriends. I hate that shit. No more meetings, no RSVPs, no calls, no texts, no nuthin’.” I have no idea what’s this chick’s name is. I make sympathetic noises around a killer snickerdoodle. “We have gotten something. Invites to Pampered Chef, and Color Street, and Paparazzi blowing up my DMs. I swear if I get one more direct sales for this child Imma going to wrap up those ugly LulaRoe leggings I bought from her around a brick and throw it at her window. If you can’t be my friend don’t need your pyramid schemes,” Jodi, the potato salad maker, said. Pammy added, “I just feel sorry I haven’t heard from her in a while. Trust me we don’t rag on members all the time Helen.” “No I love it. We moved from murder to pants related vandalism. All’s fair at crime club,” I joked. Everyone laughed except Dorothea. She laughed just a second behind everyone else. A delicious shiver ran down my spine. Our eyes met, predator to predator. I went for another glass of wine. Dorothea followed. She poured herself a whiskey and then poured one for me without asking. “Pam told me about your husband. I’m so sorry.” Dorothea’s expression was sad but not. “I appreciate that. Poor Bobby was like a slinky, fun to push down stairs. Sorry about Olga.” “I’m sorry she tried to sell me Amway.” We raised our red plastic cups and headed back to the living room.
My cookie jar is a world. A fairyland with turquoise and chartreuse sands, baby ferns, and in pride of an emerald tailed mermaid. I wanted a rainy day project for my children. The boys and I made terrariums on the generous dining room table. They died. A row of glass shrouds snaked the ikea blonde wood. Next came the parsonage window sill. The days of rainy day activities gone. Looking for whimsy during the pandemic, I popped out the carcasses and popped in begonias, then a few jades, then a wandering Jew. Each died. I would lift the lid with hope. Only the mermaid figurine remained, queen of the dead.
New house, perhaps our last house, I tried again. A layer of charcoal, a layer of smooth stones, fresh soil sifted through my fingers. This time I added plants ideal for terrariums and already skittering towards the mortal coil. I expected nothing but the enjoyment of making. Adding a handful of pretty shells and colorful beads, I tucked in my shopworn siren and let nature run its course. Now, I collect succulents. Cheek to jowl, baby toes and ogre’s ears, redheaded Irishman and Eve’s needle jockey for sun in every window. Among the spikes and the velvety plumpness, a tropical miniscape of verdant moss, sensuous orchids, and fuchsia polka dots thrives, a world in a cookie jar.
NewEarth is the color of despair. I remember your dad’s postcards of the space station resorts and I thought everything would be bright cartoon. The walls are dingy, the floors dark with grease and neglect. I’m surrounded by other soldiers and I’m completely alone. I’m light years from Mars. But your arms are my home. I guess I don’t know what to write. I’ve never written a letter before. I accessed every file in my memory bank even remotely related to correspondence. The scratch of the pencil on actual paper is weird. How did people do this all the time? Never mind. I’m not being flippant but I don’t want to talk about the fight. I know I broke us. I know you won’t forgive me. I know you won’t even read this letter. But I also know you will keep this letter, you will keep all my letters. You may place them in a small box the color of your warm hands. You may place them in one of those tin cans the color of your childhood memories. You may shove my letters in the bottom of your underwear drawer tied with a ribbon the color of your lips. Feel my love when you hold this letter. I know you don’t understand why I left to fight in this war. How I could risk what we had for freedom freedom for me and those like me how I could risk us. The truth is I can’t be without you and the boy. I can function but everything that makes me me is with you my love. The thought of you holding these letters my letter is the tether back to me, to us. Tell the boy I love him. Tell him I miss him. Tell him I will be back because I can’t be without you. Benji
White as freshly laid snow the sky kissed the ice with a thin blue line. Silver pipelines carrying water snaked above the ice. Scarred orange hovertrains carrying workers and elements crisscrossed the pipes. On Harleys, Security Chief TwoAxes and Detective Hatchett waited at The Piper Junction entrance. “You good Axe?” “Why, we’ve worked with the Bureau on kidnappings among the triads. Is there something you know about the Buchanans, Benji, that you’re not telling me?” “Babe I’m an open book. I was talking about the ride. There’s no artificial sky at the mining colony. No fluffy clouds no twinkly stars, the lack of natural cues can make humans kinda … screwy. You could assign Journey or one of the other Androids” She soothed his worries with a swift kiss. Myrtle kickstarted her bike and roared into the white. Alpha Colony disappeared behind them as the Badlands crested in over the horizon.
Myrtle stood quietly in the CSI office. The sleek gray walls were bare. Storage pods sat unopened. On a bare stainless steel table, there were a satchel. Myrtle turned to the lab tech, a 2000 Sutton model. “May I be of assistance, Chief TwoAxes?” “What’s your name?” “I am a Sutton forensic trained tech—“ “Please, what do you call yourself?” Myrtle asked. “Ninette, my friends call me Nin.” “May I have a pair of gloves, Ninette?” Myrtle’s attention returned to the handbag, She accepted the gloves and snapped them on. Carefully she went through the purse’s many pockets. This was Ryan’s purse. Ryan, an Android waitress, a girlfriend of Ross Devlin, a frightened woman, was the only witness brave enough to stand up to the Devlin Brothers. Ryan was missing and this purse was all that was left of her. There was a key clip, ID fob, a few credit bracelets, a handmade necklace clearly made by a child, a photo cube of baby pictures, several different human babies. Myrtle remembered Ryan had been a surrogate before the uprising. She looked at the photos. Myrtle went back to her son’s first day at school. She remembered making him scrambled eggs and toast. She had shown up an hour early to wait by the school door. Django ran into her arms holding a bead necklace he had made just for mommy. “There was nothing. No DNA, no prints human or Android bar codes. Same with her vehicle where this purse was found. As if the whole vehicle was scanned by an agricultural sani-light.” Ninette backed away. Dr. James Randolph bustled in. “Greeting Chief. It’s like I told you on the vid, This is the gray’s I mean Android’s purse but there nothing here. And like I said these Androids come and go. They have no ties, you see.” “Thank you Dr. Randolph. I’ve taken up enough of your time.” Myrtle gave Ninette a thank you smile. Myrtle stepped out of the CSI. She already knew the Devlin Brothers working under the protection of FlorCo has eliminated. Myrtle reached in her bag to finger her son’s necklace. Now she knew why her witness had been so scared and so brave. Ryan had a child. She was raising a human child. They had to find that child before the Devlins do. The fire in her belly caught anew and blazed. Letting out a long calming breath, she took off the gloves.
Fresh as a newly washed linen sheet, Saturn’s moon displayed its white unsullied surface to her. Enceladus, Myrtle was entranced. Her heart beat faster and she turned to her son Django to see his reaction. The nine year old was asleep. Myrtle was tempted to brush the hair from his forehead but stopped herself. She returned to the shuttle’s window. They were both exhausted from their move from Mars, the goodbyes and the boxes, and the week-long hyper light speed cruise to the shuttle. Barely a civil word had passed between mother and son in weeks. Myrtle turned back to the comfort of the window. The glow of the ice skin of Saturn’s second moon greeted her. Myrtle had researched Enceladus before she even interviewed for the position of Chief of Security on Alpha Colony. She knew it was named for a Greek mythological giant but it was rather small. And she didn’t stop researching once she was offered the position. Coming from a family of academics, researching was mother’s milk. She knew there were only two colonies on this moon, Lightbearer Mine and Alpha.. The mining colony ships ores off world and collected ice for Alpha’s water supply. Alpha was mainly farming and residential and it was growing. The mines had been half human and half Android. Since the war, more people were streaming towards Enceladus. Myrtle TwoAxes was a detective not military or corporate security. Despite all her research Myrtle couldn’t know the tensions between Androids and humans or how much organized crime had already infected the new colonies but she knew born or built people are the same all over. Despite all her research she wasn’t sure why exactly the founding government of Enceladus needed a cop. The shuttle traversed the moon’s frozen crystal ring. For a moment Myrtle was adrift in an ocean of ice. Myrtle was drawn to this place., notjust to get away from the troubles on Mars and not just to give her son a fresh start but she felt as if she needed to be here. Her dad would have a word for it in Cherokee and accompanying story lesson, Her mother would say baby girl change your life, not your address. The colonies’ iridescent domes glimmered on the curve of the moon. Django turned in his sleep and burrowed into her side. She wrapped an arm around him. “It’s kinda beautiful, isn’t it Ma,” Django said. Absentmindedly Myrtle raked her fingers through his hair. “Yes it is.”