by Gwendolyn M Plano
Author Ron Hester hosts a challenge that anyone can participate in called Ronovan Writes Weekly Haiku Poetry Prompt Challenge. This week's prompts are Lake and Calm. You can read Ron's Haiku Prompt Challenge Guidelines for more information about submitting your work. This is my second attempt at Haiku. Thank you Ron and Davy D for the inspiration.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
We all have them - circumstances that alter our lives. Sometimes these events travel through generations and leave a wake of remorse awaiting redemption, but just as often, they interrupt our routine and open our hearts to love. John W. Howell's most recent book, Circumstances of Childhood, takes us through some of those life-changing trials and reveals their impact and possible resolution. I just finished reading his book and offer my review:
Circumstances of Childhood is a fictionalized memoir that draws the reader through the loss of loved ones, the sorrow of a broken marriage, and the devastation of financial ruin. It is a coming of age drama that is like none other I’ve read. It straddles heaven and earth as the mystical realm reaches across the divide to provide comfort and wisdom during times of great distress.
This book tugs at your heartstrings and gives you pause about life’s purpose; it also keeps you on the edge of your seat. It has traces of a thriller wrapped in a mystery, but it also reads as a different kind of love story, one that is ultimately an embrace of life.
There are messages interwoven throughout the book – of determination and strength, of fair-mindedness and kindness, of hope triumphant over despair. These themes linger even after the turn of the last page, which is a testimony to author John Howell’s writing expertise. I strongly recommend this book as it was a definite 5-star read for me.
An excerpt from Chapter 1:
I look down at my drink and wonder what will happen tomorrow. My daughter Constance wants to come and visit. She lives in New York, and before all hell broke loose, we didn’t see each other often. I missed her so much, and it seemed as if I had to beg her even to talk on the phone. Now, it’s like she wants to be here every weekend. It’s only an hour’s flight by the shuttle or three by train, so she can come when she wants. I just can’t figure out why she got so clingy. I have my troubles, but it doesn’t have anything to do with her. No use in asking her husband either. Though a nice enough guy, I always wonder if he has someplace important to go when I visit. He never sits still and stays busy on the phone or at the computer. He makes a good living, but it seems a person could take an hour to sit and talk. I’d looked forward to some kind of relationship when he and Constance got married. It’ll never happen with him.
When I take another pull at my drink, I notice the burn feels less. It happens every time. First sip initiation, I call it. It’s like the first puff of a cigarette, hits hard then, after, nothing. I decide to let Constance pretty much have the agenda tomorrow. She and I have not had a chance to talk about anything deep for a while. It could just be that she blames me for her mother running off with that guy with the house on the Hudson. He has a title, and the old gal couldn’t resist, but I think the daughter always felt I should have done something. Her mother’s sleeping with another guy and what the hell can I do about that?
I’ll just go with the flow. If she wants to go out, we will. If she wants to stay in, we can do that too. I better think about getting some food in the house. Of course, we can always order take out. I need to move on to my drink and let this go. Tomorrow will be what it is. I remember the day she was born. I looked down at her in my arms and promised I would do anything for her. I love her more than life itself, and I hope we can somehow get to the root of whatever’s wrong. She sounded strange on the phone this morning, and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I hope she opens up when she gets here.
For some reason, I feel tired. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and finish my drink. Maybe I’ll just go home and forget the burger. First, though, I’ll just shut my eyes for a minute. My hands feel good when I put my head down.
“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. I barely hear him. “What’s the matter? You taking a nap? Greg?” I can feel him shake me, but I have no interest in waking up. His voice gets further away, and I think he says, “Oh, my God, Sophie, call 911, quick.” Now the room goes silent.
A bit about author John W. Howell:
John began writing full-time after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but he also writes poetry and short stories. Circumstances of Childhood is his first venture into the Family Life genre.
John lives in Port Aransas, Texas with his wife and their rescue pets. Their paradise was one of the many areas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. He and his family were evacuated and only recently returned to their home. Without internet, he writes via his cell phone.
ON THE AIR
By Joni Parker
Good afternoon, this is Mike Evans at iFantasy talk radio in Tucson, Arizona where we love to talk about science fiction and fantasy. Thanks for joining me today. We have a very special guest lined up for you, an iFantasy talk radio exclusive. World-famous journalist, Olivia Richards, is expected to join us via satellite telephone. As you may know, Olivia and her husband, John, were reported missing at sea several years ago, but she’s made contact and will be here in a few minutes. But first, we must hear from our sponsors at Cactus Thumb Nurseries. (run commercial)
Mike: Welcome back. We’ve just made contact with world-famous journalist, Olivia Richards. Hello, Olivia, this is Mike Evans. Can you hear me? (static) Olivia, are you there? (static)
Olivia: Yes, I can hear you, but just barely, please speak up.
Mike: I will. Thank you for joining me on iFantasy talk radio. I’m Mike Evans in Tucson, Arizona. Let me begin by asking, how are you and where are you?
Olivia: My husband and I are fine, but for the last few years, we’ve been stranded on this island called Seaward Isle. In 2011, we rented a sailboat in southern France and were sailing to Italy when we were caught in a ferocious storm. It came out of nowhere. We hid in the cabin below deck for hours until our boat crashed on the shores of this island. We survived the crash just fine, but we haven’t been able to find a way off. We’ve met hundreds of people here just like us. That’s how I met Takura. He’s a friend of yours, I understand. He talked me into coming on this program because he was concerned people wouldn’t understand his English.
Mike: Yes, I’ve met him and I thought his English was fine. He went to Harvard for his doctorate.
Olivia: Yes, I know, but he feels very self-conscious.
Mike: How is he?
Olivia: He’s doing well. As you know, he’s a geologist and has gathered a group of Japanese scientists to figure out our situation. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough computers or the right equipment to do the job, but at least, he’s discovered that we’re not on Earth and he’s discussed this problem with the Elves.
Mike: Say what? You’re not on Earth? Did you say something about Elves? Are you kidding? Say, have you met Legolas by any chance? (Laughs)
Olivia: No, but yes, I’m serious. They’re real Elves. This island belongs to them and even they can’t figure out how we got here.
Mike: So where are you, if you’re not on Earth?
Olivia: We believe that this island is at the end of a wormhole somewhere in space. We don’t know how or where, but here we are. Takura believes the opening is located about six hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface somewhere near the moon. We ask all astronomers to use their equipment to locate the opening and ask NASA for a rescue mission. That seems to be our only hope.
Mike: Attention all astronomers and scientists at NASA! Olivia needs your help. Contact this station immediately if you can provide any assistance. (chuckles) How are you able to talk to us?
Olivia: My friend, Ebony Shorter, had a satellite telephone when she crashed on the island. She was in a yacht race that went around the world, but she was caught in a storm and ended up here. Takura and his friends repaired an old generator to make electricity to recharge the phone. He’s also set up a computer network with bits and pieces he’s found.
Mike: What do you use for fuel?
Olivia: The scientists use alcohol made of old potato skins and grain.
Mike: You mean moonshine. Right. Anything else we can help you with today, Olivia?
Olivia: No, just please get the word out. We’d really like to get home and see our families. Thank you so much for your help. (static) Our connection is fading…(static)...only a few (static)…Please help…(static)
Mike: Apparently, we’ve just lost our connection to Olivia. Once again, let me reiterate her desperate situation. She’s located on an island called Seaward Isle, somewhere at the end of a wormhole and needs the help of astronomers and NASA scientists to locate this opening and rescue them. Hey, maybe we can bring the Shuttle program back to life. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for joining me on iFantasy talk radio and join me tomorrow for another adventure into science fiction and fantasy. And don’t forget to send your comments and ideas to our Facebook page. Many thanks to our sponsor, Cactus Thumb Nurseries.
* * *
Mike leaned back in his chair and listened to the program again. Then he pulled out his cell phone. This had to be a joke. But he shook his head when he recalled that his old buddy, Takura, could never tell a joke. He was so serious. They’d met in college nearly twenty years ago when they were freshmen at the University of Arizona with majors in geology. Tak, as he wanted to be called, was a foreign student from Japan and understood more English than he spoke. He also loved the geological formations in the local area, but knew nothing about hiking in the desert. Mike was an experienced hiker and took him under his wing.
They’d remained good friends, but lost contact when Tak transferred to Harvard to finish his doctorate in geology and later returned to join the faculty at the university. Mike speed-dialed the geology department and it rang and rang. Finally, a young woman answered the phone.
“Geology Department, University of Arizona. Bear down, Wildcats!”
“I’d like to speak to Professor Takura, please.”
“I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name.”
“What? Where is he?” Mike furrowed his brow.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know.”
“Is Professor Lopez there?”
“Professor Lopez. Who’s calling?”
“Julio, this is Mike Evans.”
“Mike! What’s up, man?”
“Hey, I was trying to get in touch with Tak, but I understand he’s not there anymore. Where’d he go?”
“Don’t know, man. A few years ago, he went on a sabbatical and never came back. His parents told us the ship he was on disappeared in a bad storm.”
“You mean it sank.”
“No, man. It vanished. No debris, no oil slick, no survivors. Nothing.”
“Weird. I got an email from him at the radio station last week asking for an interview so I agreed. He sent Olivia Richards to speak to me. She’s a famous journalist who went missing a few years ago. She was on a ship in a storm, too. Anyway, she told me that they were stranded on an island called Seaward Isle, somewhere in space at the end of a wormhole with Elves. I didn’t believe her.”
“Elves? Was she high?” Lopez paused. “You don’t think it’s real, do you?”
“I don’t know, man. They were both lost at sea.” Mike sighed, leaning back. “Thanks, man or should I say Professor?” He laughed and disconnected the call. After a few moments, he scrolled through his list of contacts and called one of them.
The receptionist said, “You have reached the National Aeronautical and Space Administration. How may I direct your call?”
“Doctor Rachel Goodwin, geology division.”
“Hold on while I connect you.”
“Doctor Goodwin speaking.”
“Hey, Rachel. It’s me, Mike Evans from Tucson.”
“Seriously? After all these years?”
“Hey, I come in peace. I apologize for whatever I did.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Not exactly. Hey, have you been in contact with Tak from college? The Japanese guy?”
“You mean the nice guy who asked me for a date and you told him he was nuts?”
“Um, yeah, him. I think he’s in trouble and needs help. Julio told me that he was on a ship that disappeared in a storm, a few years ago, but he just emailed me for an interview on my radio program. He sent a friend, Olivia Richards, the famous journalist. She was lost at sea, too.”
“So you don’t have a regular job yet?”
“Not fair. I want you to listen to it, okay? Just listen and tell me what you think.”
“Okay.” She sighed.
Mike played the program. “Well, what do you think?”
“Rachel? Are you there?”
“Yes. Is this a joke?”
“That’s what I thought, too, but Tak couldn’t tell a joke if his life depended on it.”
She paused. “You’re right. Send me a link to your program.”
“Thanks, Rachel.” Mike sighed deeply when Rachel hung up. She hadn’t changed much and still resented that prank, but he’d always found her attractive. Maybe he should try again, someday. Mike shivered when the air conditioning kicked on; he’d been sweating heavily. He emailed her the link and leaned back. What if it’s real? Nah! Can’t be, can it?
Guilt, Shame & Fear
By Stephanie Collins
“I can’t stand the feeling of being out of control, so I’ve never had any interest in trying drugs or alcohol,” I mused.
“You sure seemed to have an interest when you were younger,” Dad informed me. He responded to my perplexed look before I had a chance to deny his claim. “What? You don’t remember trying pot? Let’s see. It was about 1975. That would have made you five, right? I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a summer afternoon. I walked into the living room and found you with a bong in one hand and a beer in the other. You just looked up at me, glassy-eyed, with a smile on your face and said, ‘Hi, Dad.’ You don’t remember that?”
“Ha! Do you remember the massive headache you had the next day? You hated life that day! I told you not ever to do it again...and you never did,” he reminisced in a tone laced with humor and pride.
It was after that conversation when I really began to question my apparent lack of childhood memories. I have next to no memory of life before the divorce of my parents (when I was eight) and precious few afterward.
My parental split also marks the onset of memories of the “secret playtime” I shared with Dad. I remember realizing that what was happening to me was wrong (to a certain extent, anyway), but Dad really missed Mom. I felt proud to be there for him in his time of grief and loneliness. I had many roles as the oldest daughter. I got my toddler sister to bed on time, scolded her when I found her drinking a beer (that one I do have a vague memory of), and I cleaned the house. Those “more intimate interactions” with Dad were just another in my list of responsibilities as I saw it.
But if Dad remembered the timeline correctly, Mom and Dad were still together when I was five. Where was Mom when her Kindergartener daughter was experimenting with drugs? Could this mean I should add neglect as a descriptor of my “chaotic” upbringing? Could it mean the molestation began earlier than I have any memory of? Does it even matter at this point?
For a time, I was skeptical if someone told me s/he didn’t have sexual abuse in their background. It seemed it was everywhere. I ran a support group in a junior high school when getting my psychology degree. It was for eighth-grade girls, and the only qualifier for an invitation to the group was poor school attendance. After a few weeks of meetings, I opened a session with - innocently enough - “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” One girl immediately began to cry. She explained she had confronted her parents over the weekend with the news that her brother had sexually abused her for years. She had come forward out of fear for the niece her brother’s girlfriend had just given birth to. That student’s admission led to the revelation that six of the seven of us in our circle that day had a history of sexual abuse.
My best friend in college was gang-raped in high school. My college boyfriend was [brutally] raped by a neighbor as a child. Maybe the most disturbing situation I heard about was when I was a senior in high school. I had befriended a freshman. She came to me one day, inconsolable. She was petrified, as she was positive she was pregnant. I tried to calm her with reassuring words, then asked, “Have you told [your boyfriend] yet?” She burst into a fresh bout of tears. When she was finally able to speak again, she confessed in an agonized whisper, “I can’t! It’s not his. It’s…it’s my uncle’s, or my father’s.”
I don’t know how I thought sexual abuse was rampant all around me but had somehow left the rest of my family untouched. Soon after my first daughter was born, I learned that Dad had attempted to molest my younger sister when I was about 12 (my sister would have been 7 or 8 then). As it turns out, I disrupted the attempt when I went to inform them I had just finished making breakfast. I learned of that incident because our [even younger] step sister had just pressed charges against Dad for her sexual abuse from years earlier. He served four years.
Incidentally, that family drama enlightened me to the fact that my grandmother had been abused by a neighbor. My aunt had been abused by her uncle. I wonder if Dad had been sexually abused, too (in addition to the daily, brutal physical abuse I know he suffered at the hands of my grandfather).
As with most survivors of abuse from a family member, I am full of ambiguity and conflict. I am glad Dad was educated to the error of his ways. I’m satisfied he paid for his crimes. I’m relieved the truth came out. I hate that the truth came out. I mourn for the shell of a man who returned from prison. I weep for a family that was blown apart by the scandal. I am heartbroken for my grandmother, who was devastated by the whole ordeal. I am thankful I live 3000 miles away from my family, so I don’t have to face the daily small-town shame they all do, now that Dad is a registered sex offender. I am proud of my step sister for speaking up. I am woefully ashamed for not having the courage to do it myself, which possibly would have prevented the abuse of others after me. I love my father. I am thankful for the [many] great things he has done for me over the years. I hate the effect his molestation had on me, including the role it likely played in my high school rape by another student, and my first [abusive, dysfunctional] marriage.
As I’ve clearly demonstrated, my story is far from unique. Heck, it’s not even remotely severe or traumatic when compared to what others have survived. Still, here I am - 40 years after my first memories of molestation – and I’m still suffering the consequences. Along with my disgrace for allowing others to be abused after me, I carry incredible shame for my involvement in the acts (regardless of the decades of therapy that advise me I had no real power or choice in the matter). I carry unbelievable guilt for the strain my history places on my relationship with my husband. He’s an amazing, wonderful, loving man, who deserves nothing less than a robust, vigorous, fulfilling sex life, but gets – to the best of my ability – a [hopefully] somewhat satisfying one. I carry secret embarrassment over the only real sexual fantasy I have – that of reliving my rape and [this time] taking great pleasure in castrating the bastard in the slowest, most brutally savage way imaginable.
Heaviest of all, I carry fear. There’s nothing I can do to change my past. All I can do is work toward preventing the continued cycle of abuse. I may have a warped view of personal boundaries, I may struggle with my sexuality, and I may be somewhat unfamiliar with healthy family dynamics, but I can do all in my power to ensure my kids fare far better than me. I fear failure.
My eldest daughter has mild to moderate developmental delay. While statistics for sexual abuse in the general population is scary enough, the likelihood of abuse when a cognitive disability is involved is all but a certainty. My second daughter is non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and severely mentally delayed. She’s a prime candidate for abuse. What if my efforts to protect them fall short?
My teenage son and my youngest “tween” daughter both have ADHD. Impulse control is a constant struggle for them both. What if the education, counseling, advice, and coaching I offer them about healthy relationships, sexuality, safety and personal responsibility aren’t enough?
I try to counteract these lingering after effects of abuse by remaining ever thankful for the love, good fortune, and beautiful life I share with my husband and children today, but my guilt, shame, and fear cling to me with tenacious persistence.
I am just finishing "It Begins And Ends With Family" by Jo Ann Wentzel. I highly recommend the read. The subject is foster care, but no conversation about foster children is complete without a discussion of child abuse and neglect. While we can debate the best course of action in helping abused children, the top priority must be to work toward a goal of prevention; to break the cycle of abuse. I am hopeful that – as a society – we can work together to empathize, educate, support, counsel, and care enough to stop the cycle of all abuse. If sharing my truth will help toward that goal, well…Here I am. This is my truth.
A Gift of Silence
By Joan C. Curtis
The man stood outside the store window, shifting from foot to foot. I’d have probably gone right by him, but as I passed, he looked me straight in the face, sending a chill up my back. Mystified, I found a place in the shadows and watched.
He wore a black golf shirt with a Nike swoosh. His black slacks were neatly pressed, but scuffs covered the toes of his dark shoes. As he paced in front of the store, as if waiting for something or someone, his left foot dragged. Maybe that was where the scuffs came from. A girl passed by him without so much as a glance. She wore flip-flops and short shorts. He turned away from her. Why look me in the face and ignore this young girl with long flowing blond hair?
After an interminable twelve minutes, he entered the store. I crept to the side window to get a closer view. A saleslady approached with a big hopeful smile. He jerked away as if he might flee, but she persisted. Probably learned that in Sales 101.
Peering inside, I could make out the blurry image of the saleslady as she crouched down to retrieve a box. While she bent, the man grabbed an item off the counter. He pocketed it so fast if I’d blinked, I’d have missed it. Gasping in surprise, I nearly collapsed into the window. So neat. So fast.
While I recovered from the shock of having witnessed a theft, the man exited the store. He hurried in the direction of downtown. Hands tucked in his pockets and his head lowered, he wove along the sidewalk, avoiding moms with kids, students with backpacks, and cyclists. I followed. What did he plan to do with his ill-gotten gains?
My friend, Rose, would give me a lecture. Why didn’t you go inside the store and raise the alarm? What were you thinking, watching, witnessing, and doing nothing? No wonder we pay so much money for our trinkets. Thieves get away with it, and it’s all because of people like you. But, I never intended to tell Rose about this. Not if I could help it.
Instead, I hastened to follow the man, avoiding other shoppers and site-seers. My sole purpose was to find out what this strange person was up to. My watch read two-fifteen. I had missed the coffee date with my cousin. She’d forgive me. I’d have to make up an excuse about traffic or something equally lame, but I couldn’t think about her now. I had to see where this man led me. My curious nature would never let me rest otherwise.
Moments later he entered the parking deck. He was going to his car. Darn! Once he got in a car, I’d lose him for sure. My Honda was parked here as well, but on the top level. With my luck, his was probably on the first level. It was impossible to imagine we’d be parked close enough for me to follow him.
He entered the elevator. The light flashed up to level 4. I raced up the stairs like a madwoman. Huffing and puffing, I reached the fourth level just as the elevator doors opened. I caught a glimpse of his black form walking to a red Kia. I made a quick turn and hightailed it up to the fifth floor to retrieve my car. Then I plowed down toward the exit, round and round, hoping, praying. Eureka! The red Kia was just in front of me, waiting to pay. The Universe was on my side.
Mr. Thief drove with caution, obeying all the traffic rules, making it easy for me to keep him in sight. Nonetheless, I stayed one car back, not wanting to risk him seeing me. Maybe he’d remember me from the street! A shiver ran through me. What would he do, this thief? Stop his car, jump out, and murder me? Absurd.
The light changed. We moved down the road. A strange thought filled my head. Had the Universe wanted me to witness this thievery? Everything seemed to be falling into place. "Don’t be stupid." Rose would say and would add I was being melodramatic.
We turned into the parking lot for the Hermitage Nursing Home. This made no sense. Why not a pawn shop? Didn’t thieves go to shady establishments on busy street corners with flashing neon signs to hock their merchandise? Not to a nursing home. Maybe he worked here? Maybe he was some sort of klepto and couldn’t help himself? Maybe he had no intention of hocking the stolen article? He pulled into a parking place a few steps from the entrance. I chose one farther away. From my rearview mirror, I spied him getting out of the car and entering the building.
Once he disappeared, I made my way inside and approached the information desk where a girl of about twenty had her head buried in a People magazine. When she finally looked my way, her eyes filled with wonder, as if I’d dropped from the sky, “Can I help you?” she said.
“The man who just came in. He dropped a five-dollar bill in the parking lot. I ran after him, but I missed him. Do you know where he might be?”
“Oh, that’s Jerome. He’s visiting his mom. Comes every day at least once. Want me to give it to him?”
I hesitated. She blinked. “Well… I guess it won’t hurt for you to go down to room 212. It’s the last room on the right, down that corridor.” She pointed the direction.
I moseyed away as if I had all the time in the world. Once out of her view, I picked up my pace. Conversation came from room 212. Mr. Thief was talking very loudly. Apparently his mom had hearing issues.
At the door, I peered inside where Mr. Thief perched on the edge of the bed near an attractive woman with cottony white hair.
“You shouldn’t have, Jerome. I know how much this place is costing you,” the woman said.
“But, Mom, it’s your birthday. I wanted to give you a little something.”
“Just having you here is enough. But, I do like bracelets. You know how I like bracelets. Remember when your dad gave me a diamond bracelet—of course, I didn’t know it wasn’t diamonds then. It wasn’t till later. Remember? After he died and left nothing but bills and debts, I tried to sell the bracelet and found out it was worthless. I flushed it down the commode.”
“I remember, Mom. You told me that story. I wanted you to have a real diamond bracelet before… well, you know.”
She hugged him. “This is the best gift ever.”
I backed away from the room, my heart racing.
Back in my car I didn’t wait for Mr. Thief, a.k.a. Mr. Nice Son, to come out of the building. I started the engine and drove home.
One Nice Fall Day
by Bruce A. Borders
Not having a good Monday at work, I decided to cut my day short and head home. Home, my sanctuary. As a single guy, I often retreat to my sanctuary when things become intolerable, such as today.
Pulling into the drive, I noticed the yard and house really needed attention. I kept the lawn mowed, but the knee-high weeds were another matter. The house too had long been neglected. The loose siding and trim boards couldn’t be ignored much longer.
“Maybe next weekend,” I mused.
But then, I’d said that last week too. I’d only gotten as far as hauling out a garden rake and a tree trimmer before reconsidering and putting them back. Or, maybe I hadn’t put them away, I thought, seeing my rake in the yard.
Taking a minute to replace the rake in the tool shed, I wandered inside, intent on taking it easy for the rest of the afternoon. And I did. The next couple of hours were spent napping. Then, feeling slightly more energetic, I thought I’d give the yard work another try. And that’s when I found the body.
A male, early twenties, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, lay face down in the weeds, not ten feet from where I’d walked earlier. Good citizen that I am, I immediately called 911. Within minutes, my yard was swarming with cops and other emergency personnel.
After examining the body, one of the detectives walked over. “You discovered the body?”
I nodded, as another officer joined us.
“Tell me what led to your discovery.”
I related the gist of my activities of the day, such as they were.
Then began a series of inane questions. “You live alone here? Why’d you leave work early? What took you so long to call 911?”
“You’re acting like this guy was murdered or something.”
“We’re just trying to figure out the timeline and what happened,” one said.
“And to what extent you were involved,” his partner added.
I guess I’ve seen too many TV dramas because the first thing I said was, “So, do I need a lawyer?”
The cop shrugged. “Depends. Is there a reason you may need a lawyer?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “Don’t think so. Just don’t want to be blamed for this murder.”
“No one’s blaming you—yet.” The officer paused, whether for dramatic effect or to weigh his words, I wasn’t sure. “Should we be looking at you as a suspect?”
“Of course not.”
The detectives eyed me a moment. “We’ll be in touch,” one said as they turned away.
They’ll be in touch? What’s that supposed to mean? They’d said I wasn’t a suspect; was that just to keep me off-guard until they’d had time to gather enough evidence to build a case?
I shook my head. I must be crazy. There was no evidence. There was no case. I hadn’t done anything except find the body. I certainly hadn’t killed him.
But, they didn’t know that. And here I was acting all weird. Even I had to admit my strange behavior and ramblings appeared suspicious. The police likely thought so too.
And that’s how I ended up seeing a criminal defense attorney for a crime I hadn’t committed.
“Sounds like you’re a bit paranoid,” said the attorney after I’d filled him in.
“Paranoid, huh?” I said, somewhat sheepishly.
He smiled. “A little.”
I couldn’t think of an intelligent response, so I just sat there.
“Tell you what,” he said, breaking my uncomfortable abeyance. “I’ll keep my notes and if you’re arrested, call me.”
“Thanks. Hope I don’t need to.”
“If you didn’t commit the murder, they can’t exactly find any evidence. Although...”
I frowned. “Although what?”
They could always charge you with manslaughter if anything you’ve done, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to the man’s death.”
“Right. I didn’t even know he was there until I found the body.”
“It’s most likely nothing to worry about. But you never know.”
As I stood to leave, he added, “If you are arrested, don’t say anything until I’m present. You’ve already given your statement. That’s all you’re obligated to do.”
Nodding, I left.
Just talking to the lawyer had helped. The anxiety I’d felt earlier was gone. Feeling better about my prospects, I drove home and was utterly shocked to find two police cars in my driveway, the officers knocking at my door.
As I parked, they came toward me. “Mr. Powell?”
“Can we come in and talk?”
I hesitated. The attorney had said to say nothing if I were arrested. He hadn’t mentioned anything about not being arrested. “Depends,” I finally managed. “Am I under arrest?”
“No,” the officer said. “We just want to clarify a few things with you.”
I repeated what the lawyer had told me. “I’ve already given my statement. That’s all I’m obligated to do.”
“You’re not interested in helping solve this murder?”
I certainly was interested in solving the murder, but something told me that “helping” might have an entirely different meaning to them. “I’ve already given my statement,” I said again.
The officers looked perturbed. “Well,” one said, reaching for his handcuffs. “You leave us no choice then. Mr. Powell, you are under arrest in connection with the murder of Vincent Dalhart.”
As the cop handcuffed me, I focused on what he’d said. I wasn’t being arrested for the murder but in connection with the murder. I wasn’t sure what that meant if anything. I hoped it meant they didn’t actually think I’d killed the man.
The next two days were a blur of numerous meetings with the detectives and my attorney. Through these conversations, I finally learned what had happened.
Vincent Dalhart had been stabbed to death. There were four puncture wounds, evenly spaced. Two had pierced a vital organ. The time of death was uncertain although, the medical examiner estimated it to be five hours before I, the only suspect, had stumbled onto the body.
Meanwhile, the police had executed a search warrant for my property, finding my rake, which they believed to be the murder weapon. Lab testing confirmed that blood present on the tines was that of the victim. Murder in the first degree was the charge.
To his credit, my lawyer seemed undaunted by the discovery. I told him about seeing the rake and putting it away. He seemed satisfied. “But the police will want to know how you didn’t notice any blood on the rake.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Not sure how I missed that.”
He shrugged. “Easy enough explanation. The blood was only on the tines—probably not a large amount. By the time you picked it up, the blood had likely dried. It would’ve been very difficult to see unless you were specifically looking for it.”
Unfortunately, the police were specifically looking for it, having determined a garden rake to be the likely murder weapon. And as my lawyer had predicted they weren’t exactly sold on my account of the events. Instead, they believed I’d used the rake to murder the man breaking into my house.
With no other options, we prepared to go to trial. My attorney seemed to like my chances. I wasn’t so confident. Here I was, a guy who’d never even been in a fight, charged with murder. It all felt so overwhelming.
Then, the next day, things took a surprising turn.
The guard came to escort me to the briefing room where my attorney waited.
“Good news,” he greeted me. “All charges have been dropped. You’ll be released within the hour.”
I was stunned. “That’s great, but... why? How?” With the direction things had been going, I found it hard to imagine the police had suddenly decided I was innocent.
“Turns out your neighbor saw the whole thing from across the street. Mr. Dalhart arrived at your house on foot, poked around; checking doors and windows, then went to the shed and retrieved the rake. Standing on your porch railing, he attempted to use the rake to pull himself up to an open second-story window. The window ledge gave way, and Mr. Dalhart fell to the ground, impaling himself on the rake.”
“But the rake was a good ten feet from the body.”
The attorney nodded. “Apparently, the would-be thief lived long enough to remove the rake and fling it away.”
I was frowning. “My neighbor watched all this and didn’t even try to help? Or, report it? Not that I care, really. The thief got what he deserved. But how does someone just watch all that and not do anything?”
The lawyer shrugged. “People are strange. Maybe he didn’t want to be involved. Who knows? He’s been arrested and faces legal troubles over his lack of humanity.”
“I would hope so.”
“Just be glad he eventually came forward.”
“I am.” I fell silent then.
The attorney noticed my gaze. “What is it?”
I smiled wryly. “Was just thinking... That window ledge has been loose for quite a while, banging in the wind. Been meaning to fix it for months, just hadn’t gotten around to it.”
Eyeing me a moment, the lawyer said, “You might want to keep that information to yourself.”
DETOUR à CUBA
by Michael Hicks Thompson
Once the port-of-call jewel for Magnus Wealthy, Cuba has been a country lost in time for the last half century, plus some.
Never been to Cuba? I recommend it. But do it before it returns to the playground of the filthy rich and the Hemingway admirers.
Yes, I’ve been there twice. But not as Magnus Wealthy. Think short-term mission trip. Door-to-door evangelism. Knock, knock. “May we come in.” (Of course, my interpreter said it the proper way: “¿Podemos entrar?”)
An interpreter is essential if you can’t speak the language.
But here’s the beautiful thing. Most Cubans are the friendliest people you’ll meet. They love to meet and greet Americans. We’re a mystery to them. It’s amazing. And understandable. Most have never tasted freedom.
Castro usurped the country in the biggest land swindle ever. Now, the elderly Cubans alive today are happy with a single, pathetic gift from Papa Castro’s government.
“He give me this cooking pot,” the appreciative, sun-wrinkled, Spanish speaking octogenarian said.
Never mind that his midget refrigerator will take him a lifetime to pay off.
We flew into Havana, via Mexico, spent the night and flew on to Holguin (hole-Keen) early the next morning. It’s a four-hour flight. Cuba is the size of California.
The ‘hotel’ in Holguin was once a grand one—now, dilapidated. Papa not only didn’t let the government keep hotels up to standard, he took the toilet seats away. From personal experience, I can assure you he did it to humiliate the eleven-and-a-half-million souls into submission.
Ask any American what Cubans look like and they’ll include “dark-skinned” as an answer. However, you’d be surprised to see nearly as many red-headed and blue-eyed Cubans as dark-skinned islanders. The Spanish influence is apparent. Fifty-one percent of Cubans are Mulatto, thirty-seven percent, White, and eleven percent, Black.
All Cubans are proud. And friendly. Why shouldn’t they be? They’ve not had the outside world of communications and world events for three generations. They’ve simply missed the rise in socio-economic gain around the world. They’ve been isolated. They don’t know any other life. They’ve lived on Cuban baseball and communism since 1959.
And they’ve avoided all the gun-shot TV news and television episodes of Law & Order. God blessed them.
Or, did He?
When I think of Cuba, I think of Maria. She’s the Lady who led our group through Cuba. Maria was born and raised in Havana, in a prominent family.
Shortly after Castro took over, her father gathered his wife and children and fled to America.
Maria has such a huge heart for her native land. She’ll always love her people and her land.
Many wealthy families left their homes and their businesses behind; to start over. But the ones not able to afford travel remained behind. They faced the dark days of seclusion.
Catholicism gradually faded away. To be replaced by many false religions—Santería being the most prominent. It’s a singing religion based on the old songs of slavery. So, most Santeríans are descendants of African slaves.
Every morning ten of us would have breakfast, pray, and pile into vans with our interpreters for an hour or two ride to a small village, usually to the south, near Guantanamo. A different village each morning. That way, we could avoid the immigration officials who’d heard we were proselytizing in their country. Only once did we hear our leader yell out, “Everybody in the vans. We have to leave. Now!”
We would meet at a local house church and greet the pastor. Some would have no more than ten church members; some as many as thirty. We snuck in bibles, clothes, hygiene products, and boatloads of gum.
Each church provided a local member to escort us, individually with our interpreter, to un-churched homes in the village. The patriarch or matriarch always welcomed us. Some even asked us to hold off any discussion so they could gather their family. Even neighbors. All ages would gather around in a small living room, many sitting on the floor, while we introduced them to original sin, Jesus, the Gospel, and a merciful God.
The interpreter kept track of those who repeated the prayer of salvation (asking Jesus to come into their hearts and save them from eternal damnation). More than a few grown men cried on my shoulder after accepting Jesus into their hearts.
Naturally, there were plenty who preferred to worship their idols. Ceramic statues, sometimes made of wood or plastic.
If the idol worshiper wasn’t getting what they wanted from their man-made God, they’d place them face down in their underwear drawer, to punish them. Strange stuff. And sad.
At the end of the week, our leader would give us the number. “Four-hundred-fifty-two made a profession of faith this week. You’ve not only sowed the seeds of the Gospel, you’ve been a part of the harvest.”
That made me feel pretty good, but we all knew Holy Spirit had been working in those hearts long before we arrived. Only God can change the heart of man. But, what really made me warm and fuzzy, was the sight of my sons who’d been able to join us on the mission field. They had been part of the harvest. And it would have a lasting, lifetime effect on their lives. They talk about it to this day.
And so do I.
Michael Hicks Thompson RWISA Author Page
by Robert Fear
Es Cana, Ibiza, Spain - August 1977
Jose took an immediate dislike to me.
He worked as a waiter at the Panorama hotel near the seafront. I had been there to see Diane, an English girl I met while at work in Grannies Bar. Petite and with short blond hair, she had a delightful personality. She was also a real head-turner.
Diane came to Ibiza on a two-week holiday with her friend, Elaine. It felt fantastic she wanted to spend time with me, but Jose thought his role was to be her protector. He glared at me every time he saw us together.
Towards the end of her holiday, Diane spent a night with me and I didn’t get her back to the hotel until breakfast time. Jose was on duty and spotted us outside as we kissed. That just made things worse.
After Diane left for home, things deteriorated. The next Friday evening, as I walked to work, Jose headed towards me with a group of Spanish lads. Their intentions were obvious as they stared, raised their fists and shouted at me across the street.
Before they could catch me I escaped down the steps and into Grannies Bar. Their taunts still rang in my ears as I headed for safety.
Friday nights were always manic. Eager drinkers packed the outside terrace after a day in the sun. A queue of customers had already formed as I dived behind the bar to help serve them.
Four of us; Mick, Pat, Graham and myself, worked that evening shift. Pat was half cut and spent most of the evening with her friends. Mick’s mood was not good as a result, but the three of us got stuck in and served the eager punters.
After six weeks at Grannies, I knew the routine. We served drinks and collected pesetas in quick succession. Spirits were easier to serve than at home. Two ice cubes got thrown into a glass and the vodka, gin or brandy poured until the ice floated. Then the mixer was added.
We could drink behind the bar, provided we remained sober enough to serve. Pat loved her gin and tonics and often wasn’t! Mick, Graham and I had regular supplies of vodka and orange but remained level headed as we rushed around serving eager customers.
Willing female hands often helped out. They collected glasses and washed them up in the sink at the end of the bar. As a reward, they had drinks bought for them and got the chance to pull Graham, myself or even Mick on occasions.
Work finished at 3 am. We headed to El Cortijo for another drink and a dance. A group of Spanish lads hung around near the entrance, but I thought nothing of it. Only later did I found out they were Jose’s friends.
The disco pulsed and the dance floor heaved. Lights from the ‘disco ball’ flashed around scantily clad bodies as they cavorted to the sounds of Abba, Rod Stewart and Status Quo. We caught John’s attention, and he passed us a bottle of San Miguel each.
Graham and Mick met up with two girls they had chatted up in Grannies earlier. Pat had gone back to their villa with her friends so Mick was free for the night. Propped at the bar I sipped my beer and relaxed after a hard night’s work.
By instinct, I spun round to find Jose stood behind me. He glared at me and mouthed something. The music drowned out his words. Jose beckoned for me to come with him. Even though it was obvious he wanted a fight, I went. By the time I got outside it was too late.
My fighting skills were minimal. I had been the object of bullying at school. One lad taunted me with the repeated chant, ‘Freddy’s got a rudimentary organ’, while in the showers. This hurt me and screwed with my teenage sensibilities. I tried to avoid the shower room when he was there.
Two other lads pushed me around and sometimes thumped me. They wanted money, but I had none to give them. One time I gave in to their pressure and stole books for them from a sales exhibition held in the school hall. I never thought of fighting back. I did not know how!
Now I stood on the dusty wasteland twenty yards away from the front entrance of El Cortijo. Jose faced me, surrounded by his group of friends. The atmosphere was menacing and none of my friends were even aware what had happened.
‘So, you silly man, what you say?’ screamed Jose in broken English as he edged towards me.
‘What did I do wrong?’ I retorted.
I sweated in the heat of the August night and he must have sensed my fear.
‘You took girlfriend, English scum.’
‘No I didn’t. Diane wanted to be with me you arrogant pig.’
I amazed myself with that response. The drink from earlier in the evening gave me a false sense of courage. Things were dire and soon became worse.
Jose swung his right fist toward my head. I ducked and there was a whoosh of air as he missed.
He turned round and aimed another punch at me. This time he connected and his fist crunched into my jaw. I reeled backwards. Maybe I should have just gone to ground and admitted defeat. This time I fought back.
Well, fought might be too strong a word for it! I stumbled forward and made a dive for his midriff. Jose grabbed me by my shoulders and flung me to the ground.
I spat out a mouthful of dust before I tried to get back up. Then I saw the flying feet of Jose and his mates. It became obvious they wanted to give me a severe beating.
In defence I rolled into as tight a ball as possible with my hands wrapped around my head. The kicks and punches continued and my senses faded as protection against the pain.
Then it stopped. Shouts came from the front door of the disco and the Spanish lads scattered. John, Alan and two others screamed at the top of their voices to get them away from me. A German girl on her way to the disco had seen the scuffle and dived into El Cortijo to get help.
Worried faces peered at me as I uncurled myself. Although bruised and battered there were no broken bones. I hauled myself to my feet. With support from my rescuers, I struggled back to the disco for another drink.
An uneasy truce existed between Jose and me for the rest of the summer.
Your Wildest Dreams
by Marcha Fox
I inhaled sharply when I recognized the introductory riff wafting from my favorite 80s station as Your Wildest Dreams by the Moody Blues. Even though I had the original 45 RPM record, the album on cassette tape, and more recently, the CD, I kept them safely locked away so I wouldn't binge on it. Nonetheless, when KPLV, 93.1 FM in Vegas, got around to playing it every few weeks or so, I'd indulge in a break, a delicious reminder of why I was here.
Consumed by ethereal and intimately familiar soundwaves, I got up, closed the blinds, and even though it was unlikely the song's strains would penetrate my office's cinder block walls, plugged in my headset so I could crank it up—I mean really up. I melted back into my chair, eyes closed, with what was probably an idiotic smile on my face, savoring each note as the song segued into its lively, 142 BPM tempo. The next three minutes and forty-one seconds, I'd be in heaven.
Even though this song came out eight years after she left, the first time I heard it, back when I was still in college in '86, I knew two things: One, it would always be "our song"; and Two, I had to find her.
My heart leapt with visions of galaxies beyond, of what might be out there, where she might be. I plunged headlong through space and time, besieged by memories burned into my heart as permanently and painfully as branding was to a newborn calf. Did she remember? Feel the same thing I did? Sense the enchantment of fate-entangled lives?
I memorize pretty easily, which comes in handy, especially with things like the Periodic Table or Maxwell's equations. And of course, favorite songs. These particular lyrics struck me, hard and personal, from day one, certain it'd been written exclusively for me.
As my eyes teared up, logic intervened and yanked me back to planet Earth.
Grow up, Benson! What are you, a total schmaltz or what?
We were kids, for heaven sakes. A teenage crush. I should've gotten over it, but never did. No wonder. Girls like her are rare. One of a kind. She'd already experienced things I never would. Things that were part of my wildest dreams.
The admonition failed, pushed aside by that part of me that felt alive again, jammin' like a total jerk, mouthing the words as I sang along in my head. It's not like I'm a teenager anymore, though at the moment I felt like one. No, memories of the heart never die—can't die, ever--even if you try to kill them.
I'd give anything to talk to her. Which of course I have, numerous times over the years, if only in my head. Okay, aloud more often than I care to admit. I could swear it even felt as if she answered a time or two. I suppose that's how it is with your first love. Or your first kiss, even if it was only a peck on the cheek. It penetrates your soul and stays there forever.
That mid-summer day in '78 hauling hay was as vivid as yesterday in my mind's eye. The cloudless sky, sun hot on my neck, the aroma of first-crop alfalfa sweetening the mountain air. I scratched my shoulder, a reflex memory of itchy, stray leaves sticking through my T-shirt. My chest ached as I remembered tear tracks streaking her dust-covered face at something I'd said. Then, days later, that withering look when we lied about her ship.
The one we still have. What's left of it quietly abandoned beneath a tarp in Building 15, here at Area 51.
How she knew we weren't telling the truth, I'll never know. Pretty funny it's still sitting there. And I'm sure she'd think so, too. I can just hear her saying, "Stupid snurks, I knew they'd never figure it out." Though actually they did, just didn't find technology worth pursuing. Even contractors didn't want it.
I had to admit it was pretty crazy, but she was my motivation to get where I was today: just short of a decade of college linked with serendipity that put me in the right place at the right time, hoping someday I'd find her. My life had changed a lot since then. How much had hers changed? Did she make it home? Was she still alive? With the effects of relativistic travel, which I understood only too well, she could still be a teenager, while I was easing into the infamous dirty thirties.
Not good. If I ever did find her, she'd probably think I was some lecherous old fart. Either that, or, with my luck, she'd be married with a bunch of kids. I winced with the thought.
My sentimental reverie vanished when my office door slammed open and Hector Buckhorn rolled in. Literally. Hec's been stuck in a wheelchair ever since he crashed his hang glider into a New Mexico mountainside during spring break his last semester of college. He ridge soared a lot, particularly around Dulce, over restricted areas where he wasn't supposed to be. Got caught a couple times, but being Native American, never got in trouble, even though it wasn't his home reservation. He's amazingly good at playing dumb, in spite of—or possibly because of—his 150ish IQ. He never talked about his accident, said he couldn't remember. Makes sense, actually, given he suffered a massive concussion. The only time I ever saw him pissed him off was when he woke up in the hospital and discovered they'd shaved off his hair, since grown back beyond shoulder length.
I dropped the headset around my neck and faked a frown. "Don't you ever knock, butthead?"
"Hey, man, wazzup?" he said, giving me a funny look. "You okay?"
I laughed. "Of course. Just thinking. Remembering. You know."
"Ahhh. They played that song again, didn't they?"
"Can't hide anything from you, can I, Chief?"
"Nope. I figured you were up to somethin' with your blinds closed."
He wheeled over to the grey metal, government-issue table on the other side of the room and helped himself to a handful of peanut M&Ms. Once I'd realized during my PhD days at Cal Tech that, in a pinch, they made a pretty decent meal, I'd kept that old, wide-mouth canning jar full. He dumped them in his mouth, perusing me with knowing, dark eyes.
"You were sure enjoyin' that song of yours," he said, not even trying to stifle his crooked grin as he munched away.
"Yeah," I replied, uncomfortable with the conversation's direction.
"We've known each other a long time, Allen," he said. "Don't you think it's time you told me about her?"
"Not much to tell."
He let fly with a popular expletive related to bovine excrement. "C'mon! What's her name?" he persisted.
I blew out my cheeks and sighed, knowing resistance was futile. "Creena," I answered, surprising myself when, again, I got a little choked up. I avoided his eyes by likewise heading for the M&Ms.
"So find her," he said.
"It's not that simple," I replied, pouring myself a handful. "I don't know where she is." A statement that was truer than he could possibly imagine.
"I have some resources who could help," he offered with a conspiratorial wink.
I shook my head, then stalled by popping a few colorful orbs in my mouth.
"Why not? If she's anywhere on this planet, these guys'll find her."
I swallowed hard and paused; met his gaze. "She's not."
He scowled, making him look a lot like those old pictures of Cochise. "Say again?"
"Oh! I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "I assumed she's dead. She must've been quite a girl."
"She was. Is. She's not dead. At least as far as I know."
His jaw dropped, shocked expression broadcasting the fact he'd caught the implications. "You're not kidding, are you?"
"Abductee?" he whispered.
"Nope," I answered, raiding the candy jar again. "Immigrant."
His eyes widened as he spewed an expletive that elevated excrement to sanctified status. "Don't tell me she's an EBE!"
I nearly spewed partially chewed M&Ms across the room. Extraterrestrial biological entity, indeed! Yet by definition, actually, she was.
I chuckled at his expression and shook my head. "No. Quite human. At least as far as I know."
"Are you?" he added, chocolate-colored irises rimmed with white. His reaction surprised me—UFOs, even aliens, were no big deal in his culture, just business as usual with the Star People.
"C'mon, Chief! You've known me since tenth grade, running high school track!"
He leaned back, searching my face with more solemnity than I'd seen since I told him how Dad died. "You've got a lot of explaining to do, bro," he said finally, shaking his head.
"You have no idea," I said, throat constricting as scratchy lyrics from the headset, audible only to me, issued another reminder of why I was here.
DIM LIGHT BREAKS
by Jeff Haws
Jolting upright, I squeeze the Jack Daniels bottle between my thighs just before it tips over to the floor. I look down and see the black label staring at me; the little bit of whiskey that's left is tilting toward the lip, ready to fill my shoes if my legs can't hold onto it. I briefly wonder if this is why they give these bottles flat sides, for better drunken, convulsive thigh catches. It's saved me on more than one occasion from having shoes full of whiskey. Well, that and my ability to leave the bottle mostly empty.
I grab the top of the bottle and pull it back up, then try to raise my head; the room rotates quickly, lights blur and walls smudge while my head bounces on a neck that refuses to carry the weight. Enough of these nights will teach you the chair is always your better bet than the bed. I'd have already puked into my own lap if I'd been in bed, but keeping your feet on the floor helps ground you against the worst of the drunken spinning head. When I know I'm spending the night with Jack, I'll always stay downstairs in the recliner with my feet firmly planted on the linoleum.
My head bobs left and settles on my shoulder; in front of me, the window reveals a purple sky with a sliver of dim light peeking over the ground, between the neighbors' houses across the street. What does that make it? 6:30, maybe? I can't remember if I ever fell asleep. I'm not confident I'll ever fall asleep again.
The people across the street, though—I'm sure they're asleep. Spencer and Mary are in bed right now, dead to the world. Her head's probably resting on his fucking shoulder. He snores a little bit, but she's used to it by now. Probably even comforts her, just being reminded he's there. I fucking hate those people. I really do. Their whole lives are based around creating these perfect little characters so the rest of us feel even shittier about our own lives. But you can't even get mad at them, or you look like the jackass who's jealous and screwed up in the head. Not the people who pretend they're something they're not. No, it's the guy who minds his own business and is genuine about who he is who's the fucked-up one. That's the way the world works.
I spin the bottle around in my hand, looking at the liquid slosh around in waves. Bubbles cling desperately to the glass walls but can't hold on, splashing back down into the molasses-colored pool below. I raise the bottle and tilt it toward me; the whiskey burns just a bit as it hits the back of my throat, the sting helping to delay the inevitable throbbing head that'll come next. I lift the bottle and splash the last few drops into my mouth, shaking it to make sure there's nothing left, then drape my arm over the side of the chair and let the bottle fall to the floor with a heavy clink.
I have no idea what day it is. Am I supposed to be at work in a couple of hours? When every day's the same, it's hard to say. Time is just change, in the end. If the sun didn't come up and go down, the Earth didn't rotate, the world never changed, there'd be no way to measure it. Essentially, there'd be no such thing as time. People's lives can get like that too. When the days start blending together, how do you measure time? And, even more so, what's the point?
That sun that's gradually getting closer to showing itself isn't going to bring anything good with it. The dark is better. You can hide when everybody else is sleeping. You don't have to look at how your neighbors' lives reflect your own inadequacies. You don't have to face yourself. The dark lets you be alone, lets you wallow and embrace whatever misery is there to be embraced. The morning just exposes it all to those smiling faces with white teeth all lined up in a row.
I know they don't approve of me. I see them at church and they say hi, but you can see it's forced. There's no small talk. No more invitations to their lake house. Just hollow greetings if they can't avoid me. When Adrian would show up with fresh cuts and bruises on her arms, I know they suspected something. I think she purposefully tried to make them just a little visible. A small cry for help, maybe. She's been gone awhile, though.
Now, God wouldn't approve of what I've become. This withering mass that passes the hours of insomnia with liquor straight from the bottle. He can smell the whiskey on my breath just like the neighbors can. I don't even know why I go to church anymore, when I can remember it's Sunday. He can see my heart's not there, that I wish I could have a handle of some devil's water with me when I'm kneeling in front of a pew. It's not that I don't have faith that there's someone in control; it's that whoever that someone is has delivered me into this reality, this life. Whatever this is. Becoming an atheist almost seems redundant. When your belief is this tainted, is it even worth the bother of leaving behind?
I figure I've been strapped to this chair long enough, so maybe I'll wander upstairs. I have blackout curtains in the bedroom; I can shut the world out up there. Pretend I'm somewhere else, somewhere better. Somewhere new. There's no way I'm stepping foot outside today.
Standing up, I get a feel for just how much I really drank; my legs nearly buckle, and I fall back toward the chair. My hand catches on the chair's arm and stabilizes me while I try to forget about the merry-go-round in my head. Ten seconds pass, then twenty. Finally, I lift my hand off the chair arm and pause to see if I can stand up. My legs wobble but hold; slowly, I bring my hand further up from the chair and straighten from my hunch. My arms are spread to my sides like I'm on a balance beam, trying to keep my center of gravity above my feet. I take one careful step forward, then another, deliberate, slow, momentum building as I reach the banister for the stairs and grab ahold hard.
Each step is becoming a little easier, now getting help from my left hand, pulling my body up the stairs one foot at a time, finally reaching the hall. I'll need an aspirin or four before I lie down. If I'm lucky, I'll sleep. If not, I'll stare at the ceiling in the dark for awhile.
I open the door to the room and step through; the bed is just a few steps in front of me. I walk quietly to it and stop, bending carefully over the mattress. I pull back the quilt a little bit and bend further, kissing her forehead gently. She's only six, and she deserves me to be better than this. It's kind of amazing we've made it this far; she believes her mom is someplace better, and I do nothing to dissuade her from that. Hell, I hope she's right. But if so, I can't join her there now. There's more for me to do. If there is a god, this is the one lifeline he's thrown me, and I'm clutching to it with everything I have. She'll get me to the other side of this. She'll be the light breaking through the dark. It's dim now, but it'll shine brighter if I can rise with it.
I pull the quilt back up under her chin and fold it back across her shoulder. Then I back out the way I came and shut the door behind me, careful not to let the latch click. My bedroom's down the hall, and more darkness still awaits.
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