Friday, April 30, 2010

The Way of It

Little Joey looked down at the gun held out to him.

“C'mon, take it. I ain't got all night,” Dix said, and poked him in the ribs.

“I can't.” Little Joey kept his hands by his side. “Need more time to figure things.”

Dix laughed. “If you want this, there ain't more time.”

The boys were standing in the shadows of a dilapidated apartment building where Little Joey lived, in a space crowded with siblings and disorder. When his family first moved here from a homeless shelter, he celebrated the positive change to their circumstances. He was able to go to school regularly, and he even earned a little money helping the elderly neighbors in the building carry packages home from the convenience store. Once, after putting beer down on Old Pete's kitchen table, he took out some of his drawings from his backpack to show him, and grinned when Old Pete complimented his talent.

“Yep,” Little Joey said, “I wanna be an artist.”

It was not long, however, before his parents surrendered without a struggle to the familiar ways of drugs and inattentiveness, and his older brother joined a neighborhood gang.

Little Joey stopped going to school, preferring the company of the boys who congregated on the block for most of the day with not much on their schedules except for smoking and killing time until the evening.

“Boy, don't hang out with them losers,” Old Pete had warned. “I know it be hard, but you can get out. Go to school. Learn. Be somethin'.”

But two days ago his brother died in a drive by shooting, and the word on the street implicated a new member of a rival gang fulfilling a rite of initiation. Little Joey spoke about revenge, and the neighborhood boys sent Dix to recruit him to their ranks.

Now, confronted with the stark sight of the weapon in Dix's hand, Little Joey hesitated. He understood he was at a crossroad. One way led to an unknown place where he saw the details imperfectly, the other to a plot in a drama out of his control.

“What's keeping you? Dix asked. “You in or what, man?” .

Little Joey looked up at the windows of his building. His parents had not been home for several days. He saw the lights go out in Old Pete's apartment, then looked at Dix, who smiled and held out the gun again.

There really is no one, he thought.

“We take care of our own kind, yeah?” Dix said.

Little Joey nodded in reply.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The gentleman sitting across the room has not ordered anything since he arrived at the coffee shop. He is at the table nearest to the window, with the morning newspaper splayed across the table. However, he is not reading, just turning the pages one by one, each time touching his right index finger to his tongue as if he were taste testing the words. What intrigues me is that his head is turned to the ceiling as he flicks the pages.

 I watch for a few moments, then think, “Maybe he is blind.” But he becomes aware of my gaze and slowly lowers his head and turns to look at me, hand still at his lips. Though embarrassed at being caught, I nod and smile. He does not acknowledge my greeting, however, just lowers his eyes and dampens the tip of his finger with his saliva.

As is my usual routine whenever visiting a new city, I prefer to go out for coffee first thing in the morning, finding places not far from my hotel. I like to watch the locals go about their day and hear the cadence of their speech. On this day at this place, I sit at a small table with a red formica top, drinking black coffee in a white mug. The group I travel with is probably gathered in the hotel's ornate dining room, enjoying a breakfast buffet with all the food and unlimited cups of coffee they can swallow in the hour before the meeting.

The job keeps us traveling for many months of the year. The early allure of spending nights away from my hometown lost its fizzle, not unlike a bottle of champagne forgotten overnight and uncorked on the table. While in the morning it may resemble the drink of celebration, the good taste is gone. The job is as flat and warm.

As I finish my coffee, I see the manager of the shop come up to the man. I am not close enough to hear the conversation but can guess he asked him to leave. The man nods and puts on the shabby jacket  folded on the floor beside his chair. He stands, picks up a bag from under the table, and anchors it to his left shoulder by its strap. At the exit he hesitates as if summoning some resolve to go out into the city, then leaves without looking back. There is no tip on the table, of course. Just the opened newspaper, edges marked with the DNA of a nameless person whose story I will never know. Through the window I see him walk away with unhurried gait.

It is time for me to return to my work and colleagues at the hotel.

Later that night, after many hours of trying to fall asleep in one more unfamiliar bed, I think of the man in the coffee shop and decide that while he may be lonely and homeless in one city, I am the same in many.

Friday, April 16, 2010

One Hundred Twenty Minutes

He is naked, immobile, and in searing pain, but refuses to use his safe word. He loves it when she treats him with contempt, when she is willing to push the limits – this is what he pays for, after all.

Right now his body is trussed with hemp rope and pierced with metal clamps. He hears the sounds approaching that always excite him – the click of heels, the crackle of leather, the strike of the bullwhip on the stone floor.

“You want this, Swine?” the woman asks as she places the end of the leather whip under his chin and lifts his face to her gaze.

He shudders and closes his eyes. “Yes, Mistress, he whispers, “Please,” and waits for her to walk around him and deliver the first of many burns of the lash on his back.

At the end of the session, after he dons his dark suit and kneels before her, she permits him to lick her boots in goodbye.

“Enough! You may leave, Pet.” she waves him away after a few moments. He rises, walks to the door, and turns to look at her. Despite the weekly promises to himself to stay away, he always returns, for he craves the lack of control and the need to be subservient in the hands of a capable sadist.

For him, she is his dominatrix and he is her slave.

For her, he is Friday's noon appointment.

As he closes the door behind him, her phone rings and she answers it before the second brrring. It is her husband.

“Hey, handsome” she says, “If you're calling to remind me about picking up the dry cleaning on my way home, don't worry. I won't forget.”

The light at the side door flashes its one-minute warning.

“Have to get back to work, honey. Kiss the kids for me.”

She hangs up and looks in the full-length mirror. She adjusts the crotch-high leather stiletto boots and checks her face. There's no need to touch up her makeup; she never sweats on the job, though she does wipe off the crimson lipstick. This next one prefers nude lips.

She smoothes her hair and turns to greet the two o'clock submissive who is crawling on his hands and knees into her dungeon.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Dear Jesus Box

Cherie Polite never expected to open her email and find a message from a deity. But here on her computer, was an email from Jesus with the subject heading: “More sex. More often. More exciting.”

She deleted it. After all, she was not one to bother saints or gods with prayers for succor, so she felt it unnecessary to be spammed, especially by a Jesus with a surname of 'Sanchez'.

Her singular connection to religiosity involved a rustic hanging cupboard of solid pine covered with green paint and artfully distressed to show the mustard-colored grain. From one important occasion to another, Cherie placed keepsakes on its shelves,  memorabilia of her life. With them she enclosed chatty notes.

Dear Jesus: Sister Regina told me to stand in front of the class because I couldn't answer a question. She had the students say all together, ‘Cherie is a dimwitted girl.’ When I got the courage to say it wasn’t a nice thing to do, Sister told me to mind my manners. ‘Cherie Polite, be polite!’  The class laughed.

*  *  *

When the boy next door asked her to marry him, both sets of parents – blatantly eavesdropping – took turns walking past the room where the young man perched on his knee and held out a velvet box. Cherie looked down at the ring.

Dear Jesus: I'm happy I’m getting married, though I'm really not sure he's the answer to my prayers―if I did pray anymore―but then, what do I know?

*  *  *

Three months after the marriage, Cherie placed the annulment papers in the box.

Dear Jesus: Found out the answer to my question.

*  *  *

After moving to a new town, Cherie accepted a neighbor's invitation to join a Bible study group. She told herself it was just a way to meet the locals. During the coffee break, one woman gave her a slice of cake.

“You're gonna be happy here,” she said. “Prayer is power. Why, one morning I went to the building supply store and before I turned into the driveway I said, 'Oh Lord, please let me find a parking space by the door.' Guess what?”

Dear Jesus: Coffee was good, though.

*  *  *

One incandescently cloud-free Sunday morning on her last day in town before she moved back home, Cherie's friend telephoned. “Hey, wanna go hear the Dalai Lama speak?” Louie asked.

By the time they reached the event, it was too late.  As far as Cherie could see, after enlightenment came celebration. There were many hundreds of people singing, dancing, and playing frisbee in the open field.

“Wow, look over there,” Louie said, directing her attention to a woman wearing Tibetan garb. She was rubbing the head of a young boy seated near her on a straw mat as she talked to similarly attired women, all clutching beads and laughing. The boy, oblivious, played with a hand-held game.

“That kid has the latest model. Now that's a religious experience,” Louie said. 

Dear Jesus: Much belief . . . and joy . . . for people today. Even Louie!

Early the next morning, Cherie hitched a ride with Louie's cousin back to her hometown. For most of the trip, Franny talked in a scurry of words. “Just think,” she said at one point, “I actually heard the Dalai Lama.” She smiled. “I just love that inner peace.”

Franny saw a large sign on the right. “Food! There’s a rest stop in two miles. How about it?”

Cherie was writing in her notebook.


Cherie looked at Franny, who pointed to the exit. “Want to get some food?”

Dear Jesus: Yes. I'm hungry for that too.

Friday, April 02, 2010


Her work colleagues summoned the courage to confront her at an Intervention Breakfast one Friday morning after the exasperated company president ordered the division to solve the problem once and for all. Margaret Bepler, who now sat at the long conference table drinking coffee and eating half a bagel was the problem, and the solution was simple, really.

Margaret had to stop dressing like a woodland fairy.

At the beginning of the week, when she arrived at the office wearing a kelly green dress with hemp leaf and tulle trim, her colleagues smiled and asked about the joke. “Joke?” She frowned. “I don't know a single one.” She turned to make the morning's phone calls, leaving the others quite perplexed, though none felt they wanted to be the one to remind her of the company's dress code.

The second day, all conversation ceased when Margaret stepped off the elevator wearing an olive colored skirt overlaid with multiple layers of brown netting as well as a stretchy bustier laced with neon green ribbon in the back. When her boss took her aside for a private discussion, the others could hear Margaret respond with, “It's not as if I wear wings or a headpiece or even carry a wand.”

The rest of the week brought similar fantasy-inspired fashion to the stodgy office d├ęcor. Company officials were reluctant to take the definitive step of firing her. After all, she had accrued a little more than ten years of employment with them, and the excellent reviews collected in her personnel file were a testament to her diligence and performance. They also surmised that the recent death of Margaret's husband after many years of illness accounted for her unhinged good sense of propriety.

But on this last day of the work week, the vice president of the company hoped this intervention would bring a satisfactory resolution. Although Margaret declined his offer of extra vacation days with pay, she did apologize for any distress her wardrobe choices engendered, and thanked all for their concern. He sat in the conference room with the rest of the staff watching as Margaret chewed the last bite of bagel and finished a second cup of freshly brewed coffee. She stood and brushed crumbs from the butterfly applique patch on the apple green velour bodice of her dress.

“I did love all the compliments I received at the company costume party several weeks ago. It's not like I think I'm a real fairy,” she said by way of rational explanation. “I guess it was hard to give up that good feeling.”

As part of the agreement to put this episode to rest, Margaret promised to don the extra set of clothing she kept in the hall closet, and went to her private office to change. A few minutes later, she stepped out wearing a navy pinstriped suit and white blouse that ineluctably personified corporate life in the forest of finance, and nodded at her relieved office mates.

“Back to work, shall we?” Margaret said and turned to reenter her office, giving them all a good look at the inky blue and viridian wired wings that spanned the width of her back.