Particles in Space

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Space always looked so beautiful from inside the spacecraft but now it had a whole different feel, he thought. He gazed out the window at the stars. There were so many millions of them to see, when one was floating miles above the earth and away from light pollution. He touched his swollen abdomen again and grimaced. They were sending a doctor up to him, but the weather was stormy at the cape and there was no knowing when it would clear enough to be able to launch. All the signs indicated that he had appendicitis, and it was growing worse by the hour.

He loved looking down at the earth from spacecraft. He never grew tired of it. There was so much clarity in space. Everything was crystal clear and close and yet far. The dichotomy intrigued him and led his mind down spirals of poetic thought. Every politician should be required to spend a month in space, he thought. It would change every single one of them for the better. How could it not? You lose your ego in space and realize just how small you are. You see how you are just a wee particle in the grand scheme of things and how all particles either repel or attract. That all particles have their role to play.

He knew he needed to drink something but he didn’t feel like it. He felt dreamy and wanted to float so he unlatched his harnesses and drifted. There was something new out the window and he languidly kicked his legs in that direction. There was a woman floating just outside the window, her long red hair like a rippling burning lake around her face. She was smiling at him. There was part of him that knew she was just a hallucination but she was beautiful and he really didn’t care. He waved to her. She pointed to something off her left side. He drifted closer to see. There was a spaceship coming towards him. She motioned towards her ear. He tapped his own ear. She motioned again. He put in his earbud that had fallen out.

“Mission control calling. Come in please. Mission control calling. Readying to dock. Ready all at your end. Please confirm.”

He knew he needed to do something. What was it again? He glanced at her. She made the motion of putting on a helmet. He put on his helmet. She motioned to push buttons.

He floated over to the docking control panel. There were so many buttons and he was tired. Maybe he could close his eyes for a bit and do it later. He looked at her. She lifted her arm in an exaggerated motion to her right and pretended to push five buttons in a row. He looked down at the panel and pushed the five right side buttons that were blinking.

He could feel a whoosh in the air pressure of the cabin. There were more noises in his ear. He was so tired.

“Mission Control, we’ve docked and are going in.”

He looked at the window. She blew him a kiss and began to drift away. He closed his eyes and what seemed like hours later he felt someone grasping him from behind.

 

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The Woman in the Lake

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She lay exhausted staring at the still wet canvas. It stretched around three walls of the room. She’d pulled all the furniture out of the home office so she’d have room to staple the canvas to the walls.  She was beyond caring about staple holes and paint on the wood floor. Anything could be fixed, repainted, holes filled in. Those things didn’t matter. What mattered was the image she’d painted. The image of the woman swimming in the lake. It had been hard to capture the essence of the forest surrounding the lake, but she was pleased with how the lake turned out and the expression on the woman’s face.

She’d thought long and hard about where to hang the canvas. The lecture hall was long and narrow, and curtains hung across the back of the stage. It would be difficult to hang the canvas from the curtains…the weight might just pull them down. And she wanted Jonathan to see the painting as he gave his talk on his latest book The Crow’s Dinner.  Would the lights be turned low in the hall, with just the spotlight on the author? She wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps part of this was just leaving it up to chance. He’d see it, either before, or after. Maybe it didn’t matter. She tried to convince herself of that.

The lecture was scheduled for late afternoon and she snuck into the hall in the early morning, using a friend’s key and carrying the large rolled up canvas slung under one arm. There was ample space on the back wall of the hall for her to hang the painting and she was able to attach it quite easily to the light fixtures that were spaced a few feet apart. It hung fairly high so she was sure that he’d see it from his spot on the stage.

She returned about an hour before the lecture was to start. People were already entering the hall and there was a quiet buzz about the mysterious painting. Several people took pictures of themselves standing in front of it, or just pictures of the painting itself.

“Do you recognize the scene?” one man asked another, standing close to her. “It’s from one of his books. A woman goes swimming and is pulled under the lake into another world.”

“Oh, that’s right,” the other man replied. “She comes back completely changed. I remember that.”

“It’s quite a wonderful metaphor,” the first man said. “I love how he takes such liberties and yet it all works and is so believable. I can’t wait to hear about his next book.”

“I wonder who painted it?”

“Perhaps it’s his,” the first man said. “Maybe he tours with it.”

She smiled to herself and found a seat towards the back of the hall.

The lights dimmed as Jonathan walked onto the stage to large applause. He read a couple of chapters from his book and talked about the book he was currently working on, and shared some stories about writing. As he looked out into the audience he’d occasionally shade his eyes and look towards the back. Finally the lights were brought up so members of the audience could ask questions.

He stood still as he clearly saw the painting across the back wall. And then a wave of delight washed across his face.

“How marvelous,” he said. “There must be a true fan here.” Several people applauded.

“More than one,” someone called out.

“I’d like to meet the painter,” Jonathan said. “Are they here?”

There were lots of murmurs and stirrings, and then she stood up. She walked down to the microphone that had been set up for audience questions.

She leaned towards the microphone. “I painted it,” she said.

Applause was immediate and she waited for it to die down, looking at Jonathan.

“That woman in the painting is me,” she said. “That’s how I feel every time I read one of your novels. I am swimming in a lovely lake and I sink into another place, another world and the immersion is exquisite. So this painting is a gift for you, a thank you. For gifting all of us with that pleasure.”

Jonathan bowed to her. “Thank you.”

“Thank YOU,” she said.

 

For JC

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The Well in the Garden

dandelion

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There was a legend about the well in the garden and he knew about it from whispers here and there but his grandmother told him that he would be told the whole legend when he was ready.

“When am I ready?” he asked, spooning another dip of cereal into his mouth.

“Well, Saraf, ” his grandmother said, looking sternly at him. “It’s not a matter of when. It’s a matter of If.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sit and eat, child. Don’t stand there and chew. Sit at the table like a proper young person.”

Saraf sat at the table and started moodily at the flowered tablecloth. It really was rather unfair. He knew he was ready.  Why didn’t she?  He was 13 and very mature for his age or at least that’s what everyone told him. His older sister already knew. She was 16 and she had known for at least a year. He wanted to know too.

He cornered his sister in the drawing room.

“Come on, tell me, sis,” he hissed urgently. “It’s not fair that I’m the only one who doesn’t know.”

She looked at him gravely. “You DO know that it’s a family secret, don’t you? That nobody outside our family has even been told? It’s a sacred secret. Perhaps that’s why you haven’t been told yet. They don’t think you can keep a secret.”

“That’s just not true,” he said hotly.

“It’s up to our Grandparents,” she said. “They are the passer of the legend. You’ll have to wait until they think you are ready.”

He fumed for a moment and then went out to the garden to look at the well. It was in the far shady corner of the large garden under a bower of blooming fruit trees. As he’d done many times before he peered down into the deep shadow and dropped a pebble in. It was a deep well so it was a few seconds before he heard the little splash below.

“Hello hello hello,” he called down into the well. “Hello hello hello” his voice echoed back up. He saw a glimpse of his sister walking down the path towards him and he skittered back behind some bushes.  She went to the well and looked into the depths. She took an object from her skirt pocket, kissed it, and tossed it into the well.

“Clear skin!” she called into the well. “Clear skin,” the well echoed back. As she rested her hands on the edge of the well the charm bracelet on her left wrist came loose, and with a clatter it fell into the well. “Dang!” she said. “That was quick!  Oh well, a small price to pay to get rid of these awful zits.”

Saraf jumped out from behind the bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.

His sister shrieked. “Why are you hiding! What did you see?”

“I saw everything. NOW you have to tell me.”

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” she said. “You have to SWEAR that you won’t tell anyone. And act surprised when Gran or Gramps finally tell you.”

“I Swear!  I do!” he said, excitedly.

“This well grants wishes,” she said. “Really, truly. You have to bring a silver dollar and kiss it and drop it in the well and your wish will be granted. But there’s a catch.  You get something and you lose something. And the size of what you lose depends on the size of what you ask for. So be really really careful. Promise me. Be super careful.”

“I’ll be very careful,” he said. “I probably won’t even wish for anything for a while.”

And true to his word, he didn’t. He had a silver dollar that his Grandpa had given him for his last birthday tucked away in his shirt drawer, and while he’d take it out occasionally and hold it in his hand, dreaming about things to wish for, he never used it, until one evening at dinner. His mother was talking excitedly about an upcoming lecture at the college where she taught when she suddenly stopped talking and began to choke, her face turning red. There was much screaming and yelling and people jumping around trying to help her and he ran to his room and grabbed his silver dollar.  He darted out of the house and down the path to the well as fast as he could. He stood at the edge and kissed the silver dollar and threw it in.

“My mother healthy for 30 years,” he called into the well. “My mother healthy for 30 years,” the well called back.

He ran back to the house and into the formal dining room. He saw his mother across the room and she was standing and breathing but she was also crying and looking down behind the dining table and there was his grandfather lying on the floor, his face quiet, his eyes open and not moving.

His sister came over to him, tears streaming down her face. “It all happened so fast,” she said. “Mom was choking on a piece of steak and Gramps got up to give her the Heimlich and he just suddenly fell over…it was awful. Where did you go? Why did you run……oh god. Oh no. Oh you didn’t.” Her eyes widened as she looked at him.

He looked at her and he looked at his grandfather and he looked at his father in a wheelchair and everything clicked into place. The bus accident which paralyzed his father but gave him a million dollar settlement. It all made sense now.

Be careful what you wish for.

 

 

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Mermaid Girl

beach coast island landscape

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Bacon sandwiches always reminded her of her very favorite vacation as a child. Her dad had borrowed his cousin’s trailer and their family had stayed two weeks at a campground at the beach. Two weeks was a lifetime for a ten year old girl and she had such happy memories of that trip. Her younger brother was going through a phase where he only wanted to eat bacon and their mother indulged him on the trip by making them bacon sandwiches every day for lunch. They’d wrap the sandwiches in wax paper and walk with them through the campground and across a little bridge that spanned a creek that ran down to the ocean bay. There was a children’s playground on one side of the sandy beach that curved around the bay and they’d sit on the swings and eat their sandwiches, watching the little birds that hopped around on the wet sand close to the mild surf.

Her younger brother Sam didn’t mind hanging around with her on these vacations although he wanted little to do with her at home. He was a rough and tumble little kid, even at eight years old and was always busy plotting nefarious adventures with his best friend who lived across the street. Oh the trouble he’d get into! But on these trips, away from his buddy he was a friendly companion.  She liked to make up little stories for him and on that trip she’d made up a series of stories about a mermaid girl who lived in the bay where they were staying. She had him half way convinced that the mermaid girl actually existed.

There were several other families staying in their campground, with kids around their age. They’d wave to each other as they passed by their campsites. Sometimes she was too shy to wave but she’d smile and duck her head a bit. There was a boy around her age that she thought was cute and she wrote entries about him in her diary. It was especially thrilling on days when he smiled back at her.

On one of the last days of the vacation she was sitting on the swings as usual with Sam and she started telling him about the castle family and the pirates that were threatening them. There was a climbing apparatus in the playground and in the center of it was a large structure that looked like a tree house tower about ten feet off the ground and she told Sam that the castle family and their loyal guard lived there. While she was telling her story she noticed that other children from the playground were drawing closer to listen and she had an idea.

“Do you want to play castle tower?” she asked all the kids. The cute boy was there and she made a point of looking at him. There was something about being on vacation far from home that made her brave in ways she usually couldn’t be at home because of usually being so shy. The ten kids or so wanted to play so she explained how they were all part of the castle family or one of the loyal guards and she gave each kid a role to play. They all climbed up to the tower and she began to issue commands.

“The pirates are coming soon,” she called. “Gather up all necessary weapons!”

“They’re coming up the beach….first guards go down and fight them!”

“More are coming……second guards join the fight!”

“They’re climbing up to the castle…everyone fight!”

The kids all jumped around, swinging imaginary swords and having sword fights up and down the beach. They yelled and whooped. She watched, laughing, and then ran across the sand and into the waves up to her waist.  She turned back to the beach and began to slowly walk out of the water, holding her left arm high, clenched around an imaginary sword.

“Here comes the Mermaid Girl,” she called loudly. “Coming to fight the Pirate King!”

With the water fizzing to and fro around her ankles, she moved her left arm dramatically in several lunging sweeps. She staggered for a moment, clutching her side and then swung her arm again. “Got you Pirate King!” she yelled triumphantly. Everyone hooted  and when she looked at the cute boy he was looking at her with such fierce admiration on his face she could still see it thirty years later.

His family left the campground the next day and she never saw him again. She thought about that look from time to time, and much later in her life realized that she was waiting to see that look again on the face of a good and fiercely loyal man, who’d then be her one and only true love.

 

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The Names on the List

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Half the names on the list had already been crossed off.  He looked at his watch and then at the list again. John had left him the names on the far side of town, which was a typical thing for John to do. Thanks John for nuthin, he muttered under his breath and stood up, patting the gun in a holster on his left hip. It was a hot humid Summer night and he had work to do.

He got into his service car and headed for Bricksten Avenue. It was a long street with two names on it. He pulled up in front of the first house. He saw a curtain flicker in one of the front windows. He walked determinedly up to the porch and to the front door and rapped on it hard. There was a sound from the other side and then a small girl opened the door.

“I’m here for Arthur Dodson,” he said, glancing down at the list on the clipboard.

She didn’t say anything and disappeared. He could hear feet scurrying.

“Who is it, honey?” he heard a woman call and then a woman opened the door wider. She stood still once she saw him.

“I’m here for Arthur Dodson,” he said.

“You can’t be,” she said. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“I’m here for Arthur Dodson,” he said for the third time, and rested his hand on his gun.

She flinched. “Why?” she said. “What ever for? He’s a  good man.” She raised her voice. “Art? Art, please come here. Come here now.”

He saw movement and a man stood next to the woman.

“Are you Arthur Dodson?” he asked the man.

“Yes,”  the man said.

“You need to come with me. I’m taking you in.”

The man turned to his wife. “I’m going to go with him. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”

The woman started crying. “No, it won’t,” she said. “They came and got Jack from two streets over last month and he never came back. No word, no nothing. His wife is frantic. Please don’t go.”

“I don’t think I have a choice,” the man said. “I have to go. Kiss Stevie and Chrissy for me.”

The woman cried harder. Arthur hugged her briefly and walked onto the front porch. They turned towards the street and there was a boy at the foot of the steps. He had a BB gun rifle and was aiming towards them.

“Don’t you take my daddy,” the boy said.

He drew his gun and pointed it at the boy. “I’ll give you one chance to put that gun down. One chance.”

Arthur reached out both his hands. “Stevie. Stevie. Put the gun down right now. Right now. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you’re making it worse. Put the gun down, son.”

“I’m going to count to five,” he said, his gun steady in his hand. “If your son doesn’t put down the gun he’s a dead little boy. Last warning.”

“Stevie!! Put down the gun! NOW!”

“One……..two……three……”

The boy put down the rifle in front of him.

He tucked the clipboard under his arm and took hold of Arthur’s shoulder, guiding him down the steps, his gun in his other hand. “We’re rolling,” he said. They stepped over the gun, and as they passed by Stevie he cuffed the boy on the head with the hand holding the gun. Hard. Stevie fell to the ground, his head bleeding.

“Little shit,” he said, and looked at Arthur as they kept walking towards the car. “Don’t think this won’t count against you.”

A couple of neighbors were out on their porches watching. He looked over at them and they went back inside their houses.

He handcuffed Arthur to the metal bar that went across the back seat of the large service car.

“One down, seven to go,” he said. “It’s going to be a long night. Might as well settle in.”

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Throwing Horseshoes

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He wanted to tell him how much he loved him but his father was gone now. Not gone meaning dead, just gone driven down the road, dust rising in the air. His father was more distant these recent days and he wasn’t sure why. He knew there were issues with his dad’s third wife, because she liked to air her dirty laundry on Facebook and was always badmouthing his dad on there. He didn’t look most days.

He’d invited his dad over for a barbecue and some horseshoes in the pit in the backyard. His dad played in less tournaments these days but he still liked to throw. They’d played together for awhile as the burgers cooked and then sat down on the patio to eat, with some store-bought potato salad and the burgers. They ate together amiably, both going back for seconds. He wanted to tell his dad about some problems he was having with a fellow employee at work but he held back. No point bringing down what was feeling like a nice day, a good Father’s day get-together. He felt he owed his dad that.

He looked across the old metal table at his dad and smiled at a bit of ketchup caught on his dad’s chin. His dad had aged well, he thought, so glad for those good genes.

“Did you see that atrocity on Gene’s lawn?” his dad said.

“You mean that fake wishing well?” he said.

“That and a whole lot more. His wife is watching too many home improvement shows, if you ask me. God knows why he puts up with it.”

He didn’t respond right away. His father certainly put up with a lot too…marrying a younger woman the third time around, who was never happy with the way things were. She nagged on his father something fierce, he thought. We seem to be most critical in others what we don’t like about ourselves he’d read somewhere. That was his father in a nutshell.

“Well at least Gene keeps his lawn mowed,” he said. “My neighbor kitty corner over there wouldn’t know a lawn mower if it reached out and bit him. And the weeds are sowing their seeds upon the rest of us…thanks to him.”

“You should sneak mow it for him,” his dad said. “Do it on a day when he’s gone for the day. You must know his schedule enough to figure it out.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you don’t know what’s going on with him,” his dad said. “Could be something’s wrong, in his family or with him. We don’t know these things. Worst case scenario, he’s gong through something. Best case, you did a good deed. And just maybe shamed him into doing it himself next time. But my guess is that there’s something off. Something wrong.”

“He’s lost some weight lately,” he said. “I never really thought about it that way. We don’t really talk.”

“He might not even tell you even if you did talk, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Just mow it. You’ll be glad that you did.”

“You’re right, dad,” he said. “I’ll mow it on Tuesday when he’s always gone all day.”

His father looked at him. “That’s my boy,” he said.

His father left soon after that. He hugged him and his dad patted him on the back. Now he wished that he had said I love you. But his father knew. He knew that he knew. Next time, he would just say it.

Happy Father’s day Dad. I love you.

 

 

(for my dad-who knows I love him)

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The Telling

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He waited until her husband was out of the room, then he threw his empty plastic cup at her head. She ducked and it clattered on the wall behind her, a few drops of beer landing on her dress.

“I thought you were going to tell him!” he hissed.

“Knock it off!” she hissed back, her face furious.

“You are making this much harder than it needs to be!” he whispered fiercely.

Her husband’s voice boomed from the hallway. “Darling, where did I put that book I was talking about? It’s not where I thought I left it.”

“It’s on the dresser in the bedroom, love,” she called to him.

She turned to her brother. “You are being an ass. Stop it. Stop it now.”

“Margo ya gotta tell him. He’s going to find out and just explode.”

She shrugged. “And if he does? Nick, just stay out of it.”

“Stay out of it?” he snarled. “It’s my life too. It’s my money too. It’s a lot of money. A lot.”

“She gave the money to both of us,” Margo said. “It’s our inheritance. And he won’t understand.”

“Understand what?” her husband said, standing in the doorway. “What are the two of you whispering about in here?”

Nick stood. “Your WIFE has something to tell you.” He opened the sliding glass door and went out to the deck.

Margo looked at her husband levelly. “He’s talking nonsense,” she said. “He’s just trying to stir things up.”

He moved into the room and sat down opposite her.

“I don’t think you are quite telling me the truth,” he said. “I know you too well, Margo.”

She threw up her hands. “FINE!”, she said. “But you need to hear me out, before responding.”

“Fair enough.”

“Nick and I have always had a dream, since we were kids. We talked and talked and talked about it. We drew it out. We made stories about it. It became part of our childhood mythology. We were quite rabid about it. Even as we got older, teens. It was always there. I have mentioned it lightly to you…but I never really  expressed what it meant to us. Always did, still does.”

Her husband was silent, his head tilted to one side, looking at her. She saw the truth settle in on his face. He began to laugh.

“Is this about the Amusement ride store? Is that what this is all about?”

Yes,” she said. “We’ve taken our inheritance and bought property to make it a reality. Nick’s finishing up the designs on it now. He’s worked out all the mechanical kinks.”

“I don’t believe this,” her husband said. “Why would you do this without talking to me?”

“Because you have always laughed. You’ve said how silly it was. You’ve mocked it.”

“Oh come on,” he said. “A store that’s half amusement ride and half shopping experience. It’s not remotely practical.”

“It’s even more practical now. Look at how much shopping has moved online. People want a fast easy experience. OR they want fun. People are spending money on all kinds of extraordinary adventures. We’d give them both. If we do this right, and we will, people will come from all over the country. Maybe even all over the world to shop with us. We can charge a bit more for the shopping end too. We’d have an amazing brand. Sell tshirts and souvenirs. It’s going to be unlike anything ever seen before.”

“I don’t know what to say,” her husband said. Nick came inside from the deck.

“Good,” he said. “She’s finally told you. I can tell from the look on your face.”

“Tell him what you designed,” Margo said.

“The design of the store will be both sleek and sophisticated,” Nick said, “But also with a shade of old-fashioned dime-store appeal. A wink from the past. I figured out how the dynamics of the shopping cars will work. They’ll

have a bumper car feel, but with storage for the purchase items, and perhaps a rocket ship feel to the front. There’s some change in gradient so it feels like a soft roller coaster. The aisles will be curved, so they’ll feel more motion. They’ll be able to choose slower or faster. I’ve figured out how they can reach everything from sitting. They can choose scary ride, if they want, or just gentle motion. I’ve built in all kinds of variables. Surprises. They’ll see new things each time. They’ll want to keep riding.”

“And what is your role in all this,” her husband asked her.

“I’m on the merchandising and marketing end. I’m designing the color palette, the theme, all the items for sale. The uniforms, the bags, the signage, the music, everything.”

Her husband sighed heavily, and ran his hand through his hair. She looked at Nick and frowned.  “I just have one thing to ask,” he finally said.

“What is it?”

“Can I at least help pick out the name?”

Nick and Margo laughed.

“What did you have in mind?” Nick said. “Because we kinda have a name picked out.”

“Tell me your name first.”

“We were leaning towards Kool Kart. Or maybe Shopping Kart. Kinda ironic feel.”

“Those are too generic,” her husband said. “You need a name that reflects how unique you are.”

“Agreed,” Margo said. She leaned forward. “Do tell, darling husband of mine.”

“I think you should focus on the riding part,” he said. “Call it THE ZIP. A take on the classic Zipper roller coaster. And your tagline can be simple. RIDE. SHOP.”

“I love it,” Nick said. Margo nodded and stuck out her hand.

“Shake,” she said. “Partners always.” The three shook hands.

 

 

 

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