Friday, December 28, 2012

The Interview

From the moment he walked in, Jessup knew the guy was going to be a problem. Most of the applicants at least tried to look respectable, and not like one of the head cases from D Block. The kid wore black jeans paired with a pink t-shirt with an Abrams tank on the front. A man just didn't do that kind of thing if he wanted to be taken seriously. The red rooster-tail hair style and mascara didn't help much either.

Still, the kid did make it past the first two cuts in HR, so he must have had something to offer. Jessup shook hands with him, despite the kid's black nail polish, and invited him to sit. Brigham, sitting to Jessup's left didn't shake, just spit tobacco juice into a coffee cup as he looked at the kid.

“Mister Tarot,” Jessup said, “why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself.”

“Yeah, well for starts, just call me Tarot, okay? That's my name, like it says on the resume.”

“I never did trust a man with only one name,” Brigham said, scratching his beard, "it's not Christian.”

“Well I ain't no Christian, Gramps,” Tarot said, “you got a problem with that? This some kind of Christian-only job?”

Jessup put a hand on Brigham's arm, gently pushing the retiree down into his seat. “Hold on there, son, we're an equal opportunity employer here. Hell, Brigham here hasn't darkened the door of a church in over thirty years, ain't that right?”

Brigham spat into his cup.

Tarot smiled and crossed his legs. “Yeah, no problem. Sorry. But this job is right up my alley, so I'm just nervous, that's all. I mean, I may be overqualified, you know?”

“You a former governor of Texas?” Brigham said.


“Then you ain't overqualified.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Perfect Christmas

by Colleen Sutherland

(This is my last depressing Christmas story of the year.  Next year I intend to put all of them into a book.  Those who have been following along will by now realize though each story stands alone, they are interconnected as well. They are meant for those who really don't like the holiday and they are legion. CS.) 

       Joe was snoring out big beer breaths. It had been another one of those nights with the boys, but why did it have to be Christmas Eve? The kids were sleeping so Janine still had a chance to give them that perfect, memorable Christmas.

       Janine had big plans for Christmas 2012. She had lists of things to do, checklists to be checked and consulted. Her plans seldom worked out but this day would be different. There were places the family had to be, relatives to visit, church services to attend, and above all the riotous opening of presents under the tree. 
      So Janine planned, beginning with Black Friday.  She had her lists ready and was waiting at the front of the mall at 3:00 a.m. She must have broken her wrist when the door open and the crowd charged but she never broke her stride. She threw her purse over her shoulder and grabbed little Freddy by the other hand. She found Joe's gift in the electronics department, a doll for Eloise on a special display rack. She even nabbed a Shooter Scooter from under the Santa throne at the mall while Freddy was on Santa's lap. Maybe that old guy wanted that gift for somebody he thought special, but store employees shouldn't hoard the good stuff anyhow. The doctor said the cast would be off by New Year's.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Envy of the Neighborhood

Photo my Dmitry G via Wikimedia Commons

There is something almost sexual about washing a Prius. I wish I could tell you why, but every time I wash it, I feel this afterglow and the urge to roll over and take a nap. Maybe I wash it more than I should, but my reduced carbon footprint should cover a little extra water, right? So it was of course during Tuesday's washing that the salesman came to call.

He drove a late seventies Mercury, once red, now faded to a salmon color. The overall shape of the car was as if a kindergartner had designed it: a rectangle with tiny circles for wheels. Whatever the hubcaps had looked like was lost to time, only brown lug nuts showed now. The front was a wall of headlights and grille, the rest of the body bulky and slow-looking.

The salesman was no better. Somewhere in his forties, paunchy, and moving with all the energy and grace of a sick water buffalo. He hefted a small suitcase that looked like alligator skin; tufts of white poked out from holes and thin spots. His brown corduroy jacket with dark elbow patches floated over green pants as if the man were an inverted Christmas tree. He wore a homberg hat, and actual homberg, as if he were Winston Churchill or an olde tyme banker. And his shoes, his shoes! The only thing new on him, construction boots. This shambling figure approached the driveway, and I had nowhere to run.

“Hello,” he said, “do you like Christmas?”


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Loser

By Bettyann Moore

As the train pulled into the station, Porpoise McAllister knew he was in trouble. He could see them: Melissa (Look, But Don’t Touch) Stufelter and her parents, George and Stephanie, standing outside the depot. George looked stern; Stephanie like she was only vaguely conscious of where she was. Melissa resembled a toadstool with her wide-brimmed hat and her long, cylindrical body clothed in fungus brown, her arms stiffly at her sides. Porpoise imagined her dropping hermaphroditic spores here and there with each movement she made.

He ran his thick fingers through his tangled mass of red hair, leaving traces of a Snickers Bar lunch to mingle with the natural oils. As the train edged nearer to the platform, Porpoise’s mind wandered to the last time he had been with Melissa (Wash Your Hand First) Stufelter. It was just before going off on this trip to Grandmother McAllister’s Transcendental Meditation Workshop and Goose Farm, a combination which had proved near-fatal to Porpoise whose level of concentration – much heightened by Grandma’s protein-packed meals – had caused him to wander unknowingly into a gaggle of geese. The fowl had not achieved Nirvana as Grandmother had hoped and had proceeded to attack the corpulent flesh beneath Porpoise’s short meditation robe, nearly rendering him incapable of the things Melissa (You’ll Have to Marry Me First) Stufelter found hard not to like.

The night before he left, Porpoise realized, Melissa hadn’t fought at all. It had even been her idea to end their date at her father’s place of business instead of their usual spot under the third rose bush in her mother’s haphazard garden. At first he was pleased by this change of scene since it would afford his body time to heal from the thorn wounds that Melissa took such great pleasure in bestowing upon his naked flesh whenever he came too close to entering the seventh heaven he’d often reached alone, but had never entered with another.

As soon as they stepped into her father’s shadowy office, though, Porpoise wished fervently that George were something other than a mortician.

It wasn’t the thought of all those bodies surrounding them, nor was it Melissa’s wild-eyed look that made him nervous, Porpoise reasoned now. No, it was the thought of all those newly-departed, all-seeing souls that caused his skin and muscle to shrivel noticeably. And wasn’t it true that Old Man Peterson’s remains were waiting for burial in the next room? If the rumors were true, Peterson had been the most prodigious lover in town, had, in fact, succumbed to death at the age of 88 only after making three very young women very happy – at the same time. How could Porpoise compete with that? Surely Peterson was hovering over them, giggling at Porpoise’s ineptitude, giving pointers Porpoise wished he could hear and even ogling Melissa’s body – or worse, laughing at it!

With Melissa’s words echoing in his mind about this being a “test” of some gruesome sort, and half a dozen spirits dangling above them, Porpoise fumbled and fought for finesse, then froze when he realized that his Super Flavor Big Bubble Gum had gotten stuck in her hair. She had seemed disappointed, not in the sticky mass they had to finally cut a large chunk of her hair to remove, but that his attempt at ardor had been in vain. She told him, as he stuck the hairy glob in a wrapper as a souvenir of that night, that he would be sorry in a way he could never imagine when he returned from Grandma’s.

Sorry for what?” he wondered as the train screeched to a jerky halt and he saw Melissa lean over to her father and say something to him that made him scowl and her mother look more lost than ever. “Sorry for my attempts at lovemaking, or sorry for my failure?” Surely she and her parents were there for a reason. Would she accuse him of molesting her? Or maybe, he thought with an odd mix of excitement and dread, they were there to welcome him into the family.

He strode down the narrow aisle toward the door, anticipating her open-armed greeting, then stumbled as he stepped on a passenger’s attaché case, causing a sibilant hiss to escape with the air. Yes, he decided, Melissa (Come Here, Big Boy) Stufelter was there with her parents to welcome him into their fold. And what better way to conquer his hungers than within the matrimonial bed? He pictured George and Stephanie with ears cocked for the sounds of a grandchild, grateful that his grandmother’s impertinent geese had missed their mark, though somewhat narrowly.

As he fantasized, the man with the crushed attaché shot him a look and stood up. Porpoise had the fleeting notion that here was a man – rail thin and clad in black – who would probably have no trouble whatsoever making love beneath cackling, over-sexed spirits. The man pushed past Porpoise, through the open door, and straight into Melissa’s waiting arms. George stood off to one side, the scowl transformed into an eager smile. Stephanie, forgotten, tagged behind as they made their way from the platform.

Porpoise’s gaze shifted to his mother, whom he hadn’t noticed before, waiting patiently for her boy to greet her. He executed the last step down, unaware of the pile of dog shit beneath his shoe, thinking Melissa (Not Worth The Trouble) Stufelter had made her point, and shuffled off toward his mother’s car.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

by Colleen Sutherland

(Note:  I've returned to my series of depressing Christmas stories intended for those readers who really hate the holidays.  By next year, I hope to have enough for a collection.) 

“What can you do well?”

The caseworker at the Schmallen County Human Resources office wasn't all that much interested in Jackson's answer but she had a form to fill out. She had been talking to unemployed old guys for years. He had been looking for work at her office for two years. They both played the game. He had seen her before but doubted she remembered him.

“I was good at stuffing Twinkies,” Jackson said.

“You're kidding, right?”

“No. That's what I did for thirty years. Just stuffed Twinkies.”

“Not much future there. They closed the last plant this week down in Tennessee.”

“I know.”

“Maybe you should look into training for something else.”

“I've already taken two re-training courses. The feds won't let me sign up for another. Even with new skills I never get past the first interview.”

The caseworker stared at him. “Maybe if you presented yourself better.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Dress better for one thing.”

“I have one good suit that I save for interviews. I'm sure not going to wear it out when I come down here every week.”

“OK, but how about getting a haircut and shaving off that beard.”

It was a luxuriant growth, his beard. It was deep brown, full and curly, a thing of beauty. He trimmed and combed it daily. “They can't refuse to hire me because of a beard. It's unconstitutional.”

“No, they can't give that as a reason, but they'll sure as shooting hire someone clean shaven instead of you and say he's more qualified. And face it, you're not all that qualified for much of anything. So, tell me, do you anything else well?”

“I grow a great beard. That's about it.”

“If it was white, you could work as a Santa and get seasonal work. Too bad.” She finished the form, handed it to him and crossed his name off her list. “Next!”

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Day in November

Philip looked around the doctor's office, noting the seams for the flowered wallpaper were centered on the sharps disposal container, and wondering if one had to take a class or get some kind of certification to decorate such a space. It was a strange mix of modern and country, a chrome and glass container holding sterile depressors next to a calendar showing a picture of a cross-stitched rooster pillow.

“It's like those dreadful trips to your mother's house, except with the possibility of a colonoscopy,” he said to June, sitting next to him.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mistaken Identity — Part 2

 There’s something you should know,” Robert said on the phone that night.

Yes?” Uh-oh, here it comes, Margo thought.

Well, technically,” he began, “I’m married.” Before Margo could respond, he rushed on. “It’s been over for a long time. We just haven’t finalized it on paper …”

I see,” Margo said, feeling a bit mean. “What does that have to do with me?”

There was a lot of hemming and hawing on Robert’s end. Good, Margo thought.

It’s just that I thought … and maybe I’m out of line here,” he stammered, “but I thought you and I ...” He left it there. 

Margo sighed, feeling sorry for him.

So, you’re married, but you’re separated and just haven’t gotten around to ...”

No,” he interrupted, “not exactly separated ...”

Not exactly?”

I pretty much live in the top floor of the house and ...”

You live together?!”

More like coexist,” Robert said, then rushed on. “Ingrid and I can’t afford to live apart right now. She’s saving to go back to Norway and we’re working out the details of splitting property. We really have very little to do with each other. We eat dinner together, that’s all. Ingrid’s a wonderful cook.”

How nice for you, Margo thought, her stomach sinking.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mistaken Identity – Part 1

It started with an email.

SUBJECT:  Horse statue

Greetings from Seattle! I recently attended the Great West Living Trade Show where I picked up a copy of your very fine publication. It’s the issue from November, 1996. Vo. 3, Issue 101, it says. On page 33 there is a picture of a room in the featured home of Gayle and Norbert Clausen (what a great couple!). On a side table, there is a small sculpture of a horse rearing back on its hind legs. I collect equestrian arcana and this statue would suit my collection perfectly! Is there some way in which I can find out where I can purchase one like it? I know it’s a long shot, but ever since I saw it, I had to have it.

I would appreciate any help you can give toward this endeavor.

Robert C. Bowen, Administrator
Little Museum on the Hill

Margo sighed when she read it. Ever since she’d become the editor of Fancy Stuff magazine just six months before, she’d received similar requests:  Who made that rug on the front cover? You did an issue back in 1989 that had a bowl of fruit on the cover (I think it was fruit, it might have been dogs or something) and on one of the pages there was this woman wearing a red vest … 

Friday, October 26, 2012


by Colleen Sutherland

Portia. Constance. Bianca. Sydonie. At night, their images waft through my nightmares. By daylight, their scent lingers throughout this apartment. I rush through my morning rituals to leave them behind, but even on the streets of this small town, they are there, mocking me, always a presence.

It was Great Aunt Chloe who introduced me to her flower world. She took me in when my parents threw me out. I was only a teenager but was already trouble. I came to live in her old house, so old and useless that ramshackle was too good a word for it. The rusted old kitchen plumbing, the old light fixtures, the old furniture. It was too dreadful. I never brought friends home.

When I first arrived I thought the many plants growing in Aunt Chloe's windows were an attempt to hide the awfulness of the house, but soon I realized the house existed for the plants, at least in my aunt's mind. They were only there to pass the time until spring.

In mid-March it all began with the first snowdrops pushing up through the spring mud. Aunt Chloe dragged me out of the warm house and through the slush crying “Come see!”

The snowdrops were followed by crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. Each new arrival demanded my presence. I laughed silently as she bent over them, her butt the perfect model for one of those plywood lawn ornaments. I detested the gardens but tolerated her and her damned flowers because while I hated the house, it was a place to hang until I turned eighteen. With all those plants, no one noticed the marijuana I grew in my bedroom. Though Chloe recognized each leaf her garden, she didn't know what weed was.

“Ah, you're catching on,” she said. “You'll be a gardener yet.”

Friday, October 19, 2012


I will say one thing about the sidewalks of Osaka: a man can run barefoot without worry of catching a piece of broken glass, jagged rock, or rusty metal shrapnel. This is good because the only light comes from distantly-spaced streetlamps, the headlights of oncoming cars, and open doorways full of jeering faces. They gleefully shout a phrase my jumbled brain translates as “she's going to kill you.” Only the men shout. An old woman looks up as my frost-numbed feet slap past her doorway. She screws her face, summoning all her wrinkles to aid in giving me a hairy eyeball. I have never met her before, but she is certain of my guilt. That makes one of us.

Sue screams a litany of curses behind me in Japanese, which is wholly unfair. The least she could do is curse in English. Or tell me what I did wrong. Or given me enough warning to put on shoes before chasing me out of our apartment. The only thing I understand for sure is the cleaver in her hand.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Barn Burnin'

Johnny J. Potter is another of my recurring characters. He’s a whiskey-making, skirt-chasing storyteller who lives somewhere in the Appalachians. This is one of his first stories.

By Bettyann Moore

You ever been to a good ol-fashioned barn raisin? Don’t see much o that no more. I recollect one barn raisin in particular … no, now, that ain’t quite right. It weren’t the raisin of that barn I recall so much as the burnin of that barn the day after we done raised it that I recollect.

It were Clarence Peterson’s barn and it burnt down all on account of Lester Garth didn’t want to take no bath that night.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Uncool at Any Speed

Photo by Milkmandan

Squid Rosenfield drummed a tattoo on the countertop. He picked up a green mini flashlight from a bin marked “3 for $5,” clicked it on, clicked it off, and put it back. He singled out a quart of synthetic oil from a counter display and looked at the back label, wondering if it would tell him the real difference between the contents and the stuff they got from the ground.
The label kept him occupied until Jordy Halverson emerged from the shelves with a plain cardboard box cupped in a hand.  He set it on the counter and pushed it across to Squid.
"There's your PCV valve, Squid," Jordy said. "Probably the least expensive part you've had to replace on that thing."
"How much?"
"Thirty-three ninety-four."
Squid ripped open the box and shook out the valve, a black plastic contraption that looked like two plungers stuck together. There had to be more to it than this, Squid thought. He fished out a folded paper wad from the box and smoothed the sheets: a packing slip, an inspection sheet, and sixteen diagrams of the part labeled in as many languages.
"Seems like a rip-off to me," Squid said.
Jordy snorted. "Maybe you should've bought yourself another car. Hell, you could have bought a new one by now with all the cash you spent keeping it running — not that I don't mind the business, Squid. But finding parts for a '96 Suzuki X-90 is like finding a nun who gives hummers."
Squid set his jaw and stood straighter. "It'll be a classic one day, just you wait."
"It might be, but is it worth it, Squid?"
Squid held up the PCV valve. "Put it on my account, okay?"

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Funeral

by Colleen Sutherland

(Note: The Funeral began as part of a mystery novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. Unfortunately everyone that read it knew whodunnit by Chapter 3 so I put it aside. I still liked the funeral, so I changed the sex of the deceased, her back story, the past tense to the present, and added a few other touches. In other words, I recycled.)

Autumn is coming to Glen Valley. Sugar maples vie with red oaks for color along the river trail. The days are warm, the nights cold. Glen Valley is far enough north to be visited by wild creatures. Down on the trail five eagles perch on the old “eagle tree” watching for carp. The loons are still around calling and fishing as they have for thousands of years. Their calls are a ghostly wail as they get ready to get out of here and be on their way to more pleasant climes. I know exactly how they feel.

          I spent my youth trying to get out of Glen Valley and my adult years doing everything I could to stay away from it. Once I left for college, I only came back twice, for two funerals, one for my mother and one for my father. And here I am back at the cemetery on a sunny September morning being laid to rest beside them.
          Rest is not the proper word for a phantasm who hovers over the proceedings, watching because there is nothing else for anyone living or dead to do in this no horse town. Plus living or dead, I am a writer and writers observe. So I float around the empty excavation, the coffin, and in and out of the souls of the mourners. Mourners is not the right word here.Writers should always use the appropriate word. Gawkers would be more accurate.
          It is not often in this town that somebody of note dies and remains to be buried here. More accurately, within memory it never happened before. I am not terribly well known in high brow literary circles, but I cranked out romance novels for three decades and to Harlequin readers I was a star, I suppose. I was particularly good at the mandatory sex scenes two thirds through each book. Matronly readers who scoffed at porn skimmed until they found those naughty bits, read them over and over until the book fell open in the same place, then hung around the book racks at the local supermarkets until the next cheap romance came out.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Photo by David Benbennick

by Bettyann Moore 

The last time any of us saw Minnie Pennywell she was chasing after the 5:10 Greyhound, scrambling and leaping over half-frozen mud holes in her black high-button shoes, skirts hiked high above her knurly knees.

Lockjaw Summers, tipped back on his orange crate on the porch of Meyer's Store, was the last to have words with her. Imagine, Lyle “Lockjaw” Summers – who once spent three hours in the company of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and afterwards when pressed for details replied, "He's a nice enough fella.” – having the last words with Minnie Pennywell! If there was any message for me, any hint that she would be back, Lyle wasn't saying.

Minnie spent a great deal of time in Lockjaw's company in those last few weeks, hunkered down, elbows on her knees, in a cane-backed chair she'd pulled up close to his crate. Those of us who walked by ... and all of us did at one time or another, busily flitting in and out of Meyers' for this and that ... could see Minnie's lips moving with surprising speed. She paused only to take in great gulps of air as she talked to Lyle in a low and hissing voice. Her chair has been put into service propping open Meyers' door in this sweltering heat, but Lyle sits, head cocked at a curious angle as if he is still hearing her, still listening – she would say – as none of us ever did.

In all fairness, to myself and the rest of the good people of Farrell, we tried to listen to Minnie, tried to hear what she was really saying.

"If you would just listen," she bullied us, "you would hear the pain all around you. If you would listen, you would hear your own pain." Well, we were listening, I'm sure, but we heard nothing unusual.

When she said she was lonely, didn't we invite her to sing in the town choir despite her squeaky soprano?

"Anything that is too stupid to be spoken," Minnie replied to the invitation, "is sung."

Minnie spouts quotations and wears them like a fine chain around her neck. The people of Farrell would have gladly hung her up by that chain after that remark.

They didn't, of course, but if they did seem to ignore her afterwards, who could fault them? Ignoring her was a luxury I could ill afford, though. The room we shared at Clayton's Boarding House echoed with the distemper of her moods. Overflowing waste cans, great piles of soiled laundry and grey, twisted sheets littered our small domain. Minnie held forth from a cross-legged position upon her unmade bed while I sat perched on the only chair in the room, her captive audience of one.

Often, as I sat there, I tried to imagine her as a young girl. Did she always strut and preen so? What adult in her life taught her to smoke in that way, cigarette dangling from her lips, smoke tearing her right eye? Did the child that she was look into a mirror and say "This face is angry and should be framed in black"?

I made the mistake – which would have been a small one with anyone else – of asking as she paused for breath, "Why do you wear only black?"

She choked on the smoke she'd inhaled, dislodging her cigarette onto her bedspread. She sprang up, pressed her face so close to mine that I could smell her tonsils and hissed, "I'm in mourning, Charlotte. I am in mourning for all the words that have died, spoken like prayers, evaporated into the thick air of indifference."

I would have asked her what she meant by that, but behind her smoke rose from the bed and though the word "indifference" hung between us, I could not be indifferent to the reality of that.

She moved out shortly thereafter and began spending her days with Lockjaw. It was rumored that she took to peeking beneath the bonnets of babies in their carriages to see if they had ears. She was convinced, it was whispered, that people were breeding earless children, so unnecessary those appendages had become.

On the day Minnie left, people tell me that Lockjaw spoke to her. Customers in Meyer's store were struck still by the rusty, whirring sound of his voice. It was too low to hear, but it droned on and on and the people who could see Minnie's face said she sat there slack-jawed, listening. Apparently, though, he said something she didn't want to hear and when the 5:10 bus lumbered past, she jumped up from her chair, shouting, "Stop! Stop!"

The bus driver was not one of us. He heard her. He stopped the bus and it carried her away.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Love in the Fifties

by Colleen Sutherland

(This is a sort of prequel to the previous Love through the Decades stories. I wish it weren't based so much on my own life. CS)

Everyday it's a-gettin' closer
Goin' faster than a roller coaster
Love like yours will surely come my way
A-hey, a-hey-hey

Willard swung her around and headed for the back forty. He drove her across to the corner and made an abrupt left turn under the basketball hoop, shoving his dancing partner backwards as he drove full throttle around the gym floor. He was cutting hay, thinking about summer.

This is what dancing feels like in Alcenora High, Sheila thought. She read that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only in high heels and backwards. This was the same except Sheila was wearing tennis shoes and being pushed around the gym floor during seventh period physical education class by a farm boy with no sense of rhythm.

Friday, June 29, 2012

In the End, Love

by Colleen Sutherland 

My friends advised me to find some volunteer work. It would take my mind off my troubles.

“How is volunteering going to help me find a job or a new husband? How is it going to pay for my insurance or pay the bills?”

“It probably won't, but it will give you something to think about while you are looking,” Agnes said. “Look for something close to your apartment so you won't use any money on gas. And you could use the exercise. You're getting a bit plump, dear. Volunteering is better than staying home moping, watching The View and hoping things will get better.”

Instead, I walked down to the Portland shore to watch fishermen and feed the seagulls. I wouldn't be living in that neighborhood much longer. The alimony checks wouldn't be enough to pay for even the cheapest apartment. I might have to leave Portland, Oregon forever and how I loved it.

On the way home, I passed Tendercare, a high end nursing home two blocks away from my condo. Volunteer work, I thought and right over the harbor with a great view. I walked in and asked about volunteering. The next day I was working in activities, with Marsha, the director, telling me what to do.

It wasn't much. All I had to do was push residents around in their wheelchairs and help set up chairs for programs, usually some school kids singing off key, but what can you expect? Sometimes I helped with jigsaw puzzles, read newspapers or books, or just listened to the same stories over and over.

When I was pushing patients, or residents as the staff said I should call them, I noticed a tall old man with a full head of gray hair talking to an old woman, his wife, I thought. Usually they were in the foyer on a love seat, but if the weather was nice, he took her hand and led her out to the flower garden overlooking a grassy slope leading down to the ocean. He reached into the bag he always had with him and pulled out a brush. He undid her long braid and brushed her hair in long strokes. Her face wrinkled up in a smile of pure delight.

“That's my girl,” he said. “That's my sweet girl.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Love and the Colonoscopy

by Colleen Sutherland

 (This is the sixth of the Love stories.  There's one more to go before I let go of the subject.   CS) 

How do you know someone loves you?

When Sheila was young, love was the intensity of the sex act. Later on, it had to do with children, paying the mortgage, and having someone reliable to take her to parties. Saying “I love you” and presents were part of the deal. Friendship was part of it, too.

With Aaron, she was never sure. They didn't eat out very often. He preferred her cooking to anything in restaurants, he said. He seemed proud to be seen with her, holding her arm to make sure she didn't trip on sidewalks. She was tripping more these days, part of aging, but he never complained. He didn't bring her flowers, but then they had a garden. His idea of a present was a case of printer paper and some ink cartridges. He never said, “I love you.” She would have liked that.

Bill, her ex-husband, said he loved her. He told her so often. He told everyone he knew that he would die for her, that he adored her. He usually said it when he knew the woman he had just slept with would overhear him saying so, so that she could take the hint and he could get on with his life and his next affair.
That wasn't love, though maybe Bill thought so, in his perverted, twisted mind.

After rekindling their romance from the 1960's, Aaron and Sheila were living together in Portland, Oregon, growing old. Not married, of course. They had done that before and didn't want to do it again.

Aaron told their friends they were waiting until the gay and lesbian communities had the benefits of marriage in every state. It looked more and more like he was going to have to think of another excuse. When Sheila's son or grandchildren asked her when they were going to set the date, she told them when she got pregnant.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Last Meal

Whoever said that you can tell a lot about a man by what he wants for his last meal never met Jonsey Patoniak.

"Spaghetti and meatballs? You serious?" Webb said.

"Sure," Jonsey said, "the carbs give you lots of energy, and the tomatoes in the sauce are anti-oxidants."

"What about the meatball?"

Jonsey spit a pistachio shell through the car's open window.

"You don't need any more protein than what comes in a cut about the size of your hand. The number of meatballs you get is just about that."

"I thought you were on one of those low-carb diets."

"Whole-grain pasta and turkey meatballs."

"For your last meal."


"You're a piece of work, Jonsey."

"You should see me in the morning."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Love in the New Millenium

by Colleen Sutherland

Love came to Sheila Boren by way of Facebook.

Not that she looked at Facebook all that much. She had a few friends she cherished and didn't need to “friend” any others. People that sent her requests only wanted to brag about their hundreds of friends or needed names to fill in some online game they were playing. She was too busy teaching third grade to clutter up her life with people like that. Their requests were easy deletes.

She checked her Facebook account sporadically to look at photos of others people's grandchildren and her own, sent by their mother. She replied with Adorable, So Cute, Lovely, from a list of cliches she had tacked on her bulletin board. Sometimes they were really adorable children, often not. It was drivel. She hated drivel.

Everything changed when she got a friend request from an Aaron somebody. She checked his home page. His profile picture was of him as a teenager and he had no other photos she could go by. Still, he looked familiar. She read his home page and said, “Aha!”

Sheila dated Aaron in Chicago back in the 1960's, two boyfriends before she met Bill, her now ex-husband. Aaron disappeared from the scene just when she thought they were beginning to form a solid relationship. Back in those free and easy days, she and her female friends always said, “Men are like buses, miss one, catch another.” She moved on with barely a whisper of a thought about him.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Carne Fresco

Fast food isn't dangerous because it makes you fat, it's dangerous because everyone eats it. Once you walk through the door, you just gotta accept that your chance of running into someone you can't stand goes up. You hate crying kids? There'll be a busload of 'em inside. You hate lawyers? There's a conference in town. You want a nice quiet lunch? That's when a civilian decides to rob Carne Fresco, a burger joint run by vampires.

The kid, dressed in army surplus fatigues and spotless white basketball shoes, is holding a shotgun that's too big for him. His legs shake as he swings it from cashier to cashier, shouting at them.

"Faster! Just dump it, dump it!"

The wampyr behind the counter do as he says, nervous not from the weapon pointed at them, but the fear of having civilian cops poking around their little operation. If the Wampyr Primero had to step in, or heaven forbid, a full-blood vampire take charge? These guys would be lucky to get out of their coffins by the next ice age. If they stay calm and give the kid what he wants, maybe everyone can get out of here alive. Maybe I can finish my cheeseburgers.

"I say we waste him, Angus" says a voice behind me.

That would be the knife tucked into my back sheath, Balance. It's got a big mouth. I'd get rid of it, but there aren't a lot of weapons capable of taking the head off a demon or angel.

"Shut up," I mumble.

"I'm just saying. He looks like the type that would forget the safety's still on."

The barrel of the shotgun swings my way, and I stay very still.

"What'd you say? What? What?" The barrel quivers with each question. Then he looks at the six burgers stacked like a Mayan pyramid at my left, the half-eaten burger in front of me, and a mound of crumpled wrappers to my right.

"Where are your friends?" he says, glancing under the table.

"No friends," I say, "this is all mine."

He laughs like I just said the funniest thing in the world. The gun barrel sketches a quivering circle around my head.

"What, you like training for an eating contest or something?" he says.

I come to Carne Fresco because it's one of the few places I can eat without being gawked at. I contemplate burying Balance in his gullet, and ripping it open to show him what it means to be hypermetabolic. Instead, I shrug.

"Something like that," I say. I decide to leave out that I'll have to eat as much again in three hours, more if I'm hurt.

"Then who were you talking to?" He looks under the table.

"Nobody," I say, "Must have been my cell phone or something."

"Oh yeah? Hand it over."

Crap. I don't really have a cell phone. Most of the shamans, angels, and denizens of the netherworld I know have no use for them. I do have a cell, of course, but I left it at home. I just wanted a quiet dinner.

I start patting my pockets.

"Quit screwing around!" the kid says. He pumps the shotgun, which I imagine was supposed to be a bad-ass move on his part. Instead, one of the shotgun's shells ejects and clatters to the floor. He looks down at it in shock for a second then tries to cover it by rushing toward my booth. The barrel stops inches from my face.

"The phone!" he says. His eyes are almost all white.

Balance starts singing

"Da-da-do-dah, Angus, we can taaake him." It's a fair imitation of a band I heard on the radio the other day. I didn't know my weapon could do impressions.

"Answer it," the kid says.

"All right," I say, "I'm going to move my hands now, is that okay?"

"Do it, just do it! You think I won't shoot?"

If it were a professional behind the trigger I wouldn't mind, but this kid is an amateur, and you can never predict what they'll do. The gun could go off and he wouldn't even realize he had squeezed the trigger. I reach back slowly and grasp Balance by the hilt. I look over the kid's shoulder at the cashiers. One has filled a white paper sack with the money from his till. The other is gathering herself like she’s about to pounce. I shake my head at her, but she just grins as her canines elongate. She knows who I am and she should know better.

The kid glances back just as she leaps the counter. Wampyr are not as fast as full-blood vampires, but faster than your average Olympic medalist. The kid begins to swing the shotgun around though he doesn't have a chance in hell of getting a shot off in time. I pull Balance with my right hand and grab the shotgun barrel with my left. The gun and would-be robber become lever and fulcrum as I leap over the booth. The shotgun shudders and there's a wet crunch. I bring the knife up under the wampyr's throat, stopping her short.

"You know what this is?" I say to her. She shakes her head.

"I'm the thing that's going to slice your head off if you move," Balance says.

"Hold it, I got this under control," I say.

"Guess again, Angus," Balance says. "Look behind you."

The deal at Carne Fresco is like a co-op for wampyr. You work a shift, you get paid in blood. The farms are certified organic, so the prospective wampyr doesn't have to worry about hormones, antibiotics, or other additives in their food. It's safe, organic, and most of all discrete. The place pays for itself by serving the leftovers to non-bloodsuckers. It's a radical concept in the vampire world, but that's what happens when the Old World vamps move into California and meet New Age Captialism. They were even green before green was cool. Me, I just like the burgers. The hormones in McDonald's burgers don't agree with my metabolism.

So in theory, everyone working tonight should be well-fed.

The kid is trying to hold the shotgun in one hand and has the other trying to hold back the blood streaming from his nose. I glance back at the cashier, who is already staring at the kid with a new look. She's hungry.

"Didn't you eat before you came to work?" I say to her. She just licks her lips.

"You had a knife?" The kid says.

"He's a sharp one, all right," Balance says.

It's like I can hear the kid thinking while I'm holding the struggling wampyr by the neck. He's trying to process a talking knife, a woman who suddenly sprouted fangs, and a nose gushing blood.

"Holy shit," the kid says, and racks the shotgun again. I hear the shell hit the floor. The barrel appears in the corner of my eye, and I think it's aimed at my head.

"Man, kid, you are dumb," Balance says. "Who do you think is saving your life here?"

"Cut it out," I say to the knife. The wampyr tries shooting past me, and she chokes a bit as I tighten my grip. "You too," I say to her. Her name tag reads 'Isabel.'

The kid swallows. "She's a …"

"Yup," I say.

"So you're...?"

"No. Human, just like you," I say, which is mostly true.

I call out to the other wampyr. "You got someone that can take her?"

"The manager called in sick today. Isabel's the next dominant."

Meaning that there's no Alpha minding the store to reign in Isabel, and the rest of the staff are powerless against her. Isabel could be feeding from a non-dominant's mother and they wouldn't even clear their throats over it.

"I'm pretty sure that's against code," I say.

"As is not eating before your shift," Balance says.

The other wampyr shrugs. "Sorry." I notice he's sweating. I didn't know wampyr did that. Learn something new every day, I guess. The muscles in my arm start to burn. I wonder how much longer I can hold Isabel. Maybe another two minutes. I turn back to the kid with the shotgun.

"What's your name, kid?" I say.


"Okay, Elliot, listen to me. You need to get the hell out of here before you become this nice young lady's lunch." The girl snarls and I catch a whiff of garlic, proving you can't trust every legend you hear about.

"You broke my nose," says Elliot. The whine in his voice makes me want to give him a few missing teeth too, but I need all my concentration to hold down the girl.

"Elliot, that's the problem. Your face is covered with the one thing Isabel here craves. I need you to back away slowly toward the door."

"What about my money?" Elliot says.

"You should let her eat him on general principles," Balance says.

"Forget the money; you get to live. But only if you do exactly what I say."

"Who are you?"

"Your guardian angel, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the monster in your closet, all wrapped up in a second-hand jacket," Balance says. "Geez, just do as he says, kid!"

"Why don't you just kill it?" Elliot says.

For the same reason you don't shoot a diabetic having a seizure, but I doubt that'd convince him.

"Because if I have to kill her, her friends behind the counter will rip you apart."

He glances at the crew behind the counter in their visors, aprons, and elongating fangs. "Okay," Elliot says, "what do I do?"

My tricep starts cramping up. Isabel paws at my elbow, still gazing at Elliot's bloody face.

"Okay, Elliot, you need to be the Alpha Dog here. Keep eye contact. Back away slowly. Don't for any reason turn your back on her."

I hear him shuffle towards the door. The shotgun rattles in his hands. Then there's a grunt and he falls down. Isabel takes a slice from Balance as she lunges past me. I re-grip on her ankle. There's a flash; a giant explosion goes off next to my ear, and I'm covered in bits of ceiling tile. Giant purple afterimages float in front of me, and it sounds like a bell ringer convention in my ears.

"Oh god, oh god, ohgod ohgod," Elliot says, crab walking away from Isabel's outstretched arm. The blast pockmarked her face, and her lower jaw is partially unhinged. There's a shallow cut from Balance along her carotid artery. Already, the flesh begins to re-knit itself. The cut on her neck does not seal, which is the reason I put up with my damn smart-ass knife. Isabel tries leaping at Elliot, but it brought up short as I yank her back by the ankle.

Elliot racks the shotgun and I’m staring into its barrel. I lunge forward, and snap my arm down. Balance flies from my hand. It does a half-turn and hits the muzzle handle-first. I wrap my arm around Isabel's neck, and we fall to the ground. The gun slews sideways as Elliot pulls the trigger, taking out a plastic flower display and part of a garbage can. I start to reach for the shotgun when someone stabs me in the arm.

Isabel's mouth is latched just above my wrist, her throat working as she slurps away. I try to pull her off by the hair, but it just rips out in bloody clumps and wiggles her fangs in my forearm. Elliot racks the shotgun one more time and presses it to my head.

"You almost killed me," he says.

"I'm still keeping you alive. Run," I say, "before she finishes and has you for dessert."

He stands there with the gun at my head. Spots fill my vision as my blood pressure drops. Isabel's head comes up with a hollow gasp as she releases my arm. A wide stripe of blood covers her chin, neck, and chest. Elliot's eyes go wide, and he drops the shotgun. He runs out of the restaurant, into the night.

Isabel's eyes focus, and she looks around in confusion. Her face and neck have completely healed; her hair is thick and photo-perfect, though her uniform is ruined. She takes in the hole in the ceiling, then glances down at me. She recoils.

"You're a Hunter, aren't you?"

I nod. The room seems to waver.

"And I fed from you?"

"You did."

"Oh," she says, and looks down at her uniform. Her head shakes a little from side to side as if she's constantly saying 'no.' I can understand. On top of everything else, assaulting and feeding from a Hunter is a capital offense. Period. It's the vampire equivalent of blacking out and finding yourself falling from an airplane explosion sans parachute. Into a volcano. On eruption day.

"I'll be dusted, won't I?"

"You came close tonight already." I pointed at Balance. "Recognize that?"

She shuddered. "Yes."

"You could have been beheaded; you weren't. You should have bled out; you didn't. You're still here because you fed from me. Because of that, the idiot you were after got away, and the human cops aren't here right now asking awkward questions. I'd rather just forget about this whole thing."

Her eyebrows shot up. "Really?"

I sat up, and the room spun. I braced myself until it settled down.

"But first, I'm going to need a dozen double-doubles with bacon and three large shakes ­—­­ vanilla." Hypermetabolism was a bitch, but it did have its advantages. With any luck, I'd be able to walk out of here within the hour.

"Of course," Isabella said, "On the house." She scrambled back to the other wampyr. "Twelve quad bypasses with insurance and three large vanillas, guys. Martin, count out the tills, then grab a broom and clean up back there. I'm going to go change."

I crawl over and retrieve Balance.

"A second-hand jacket?" I say as I put the knife away.

"Angus, if a bum found your jacket lying on the street, the only reason he'd pick it up would be to burn it."

I brace myself against a booth and haul myself up; my table and its burger pyramid isn't that far away. With any luck, I can finish them before the next dozen come out. I decide I'll let Isabella and her crew comp me the food, even though I'm sure there's a rule against it. Man, I love bacon.

Image:  Double burger by Luke

Friday, May 18, 2012

Love in the Nineties

  I slid my hand down her back and drew her crotch to mine. Her eyes opened wide as I rubbed my cock against the black velvet skirt. Whatever she was supposed to say came out as a whispered “Uff ta.” I stroked her hair, took her head in both hands, and lowered my lips to hers, forced her lips opened and stuck my tongue in there. After a moment, she moved her tongue and soon we were twirling tongues and slobbering together for a lot longer than we should have. Then she pushed away, swayed, came to herself, put both hands to my hips, and turned our bodies so no one could see my boner. She held out her hand to mine, and pulled me away from the picnic lunch on the living room floor, away from the wine glasses and sandwiches, away from the candles in their china holders, to the open door leading to the bedroom. We moved slowly looking meaningfully into each others eyes, exactly as we were supposed to. Once through the door, she smashed it shut, nearly tipping the wall over. Then she slapped my face. Hard.
     I could hear her Aunt Agatha shrieking in the audience. “He’s only 19!” I think she was about to faint. My mother was coming up behind the scenery. Fast.
     Wait until the guys hear about this, I thought. I couldn’t wait to start sending out e-mails.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The House that Sang

The only thing worse than coffee breath was cigarette and coffee breath. Johan exhaled slowly through his nose as Mister Banks read over his shoulder. Banks still held the coffee cup in his clammy hand Johan shook at the front door. He took regular slurps as he watched Johan work, leaving only to run to the kitchen and refill. It wasn't right that he had to make house calls, Johan thought, he was a hardware guy, and this was looking like a software problem.

"Mister Banks," Johan said, "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the system."

"Fred, please," Mister Banks said.

He said it like he was a regular person, and not someone who had spent the equivalent of five Johan-years' salary on a system to outfit a mansion. Someone who could afford to make each room in the house look like it was from a magazine or catalog. Someone who had sensors built into each room's furniture, carpeting, lighting, and air registers; all feeding into a computer powerful enough to oversee a factory. Someone who had enough clout to have the VP of sales march an R&D engineer out for a personal service call. Couldn't Johan just troubleshoot the problem from the office? Absolutely not. Not for a customer like Mister Banks.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Love in the Eighties

by Colleen Sutherland

The organ ground to a halt as the six of us filed into the church, past a handful of friends, and up to the altar where Reverend Peets was waiting.

Marriage is not meant to be the final step but the beginning of a grand adventure,” Reverend Peets began, looking at a small red book in his hands. It wasn't a Bible and it wasn't the liturgy at the beginning of the hymnal. Marriage renewal vows didn't exactly fit in the theology of the church, but it was a fad that year, so we were all going through it, me with Bill, Vi with Lance, and Poppy with Frank. Reverend Peets found the book of renewal vows at a Christian book store, he said.

It was Bill's idea, of all things. It was his alternative to going to a marriage counselor with me. I threatened him with divorce if he wouldn't go. No, I take that back. I promised to get a divorce and I meant it. He begged me not to and I gave him counseling as a last resort, but he said no, let's just renew our vows.

“Does that mean you plan on behaving yourself?” I asked. “Of course,” he said, but I heard that many times before. His idea of fidelity was getting a vasectomy so Artie would have no half-siblings running around town.

Bill and Sheila, you have shared the blessings of married life for 16 years,” read Reverend Peets. He was gray and tired. His wife was still down in Florida taking care of her parents, he said. Janey had been there with her kids for six months, and the congregation was starting to doubt him, but pastors don't lie, do they?

Vi and Lance,” he went on, “Poppy and Frank, you each have endured...” he caught himself, “shared eighteen years together.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Love in the Seventies

By Colleen Sutherland

Sheila pedaled home on her bike, cursing out the bell bottom pants that flapped in the wind, threatening to get caught in the gears. That happened too often. Bicycle clips never worked because bells had too much fabric. Still, she wouldn't be one of those old ladies who wore something that was in fashion decades before, refusing to change with the times. Bell bottoms were in, so she wore them.

The trailer park was at the edge of town, far away from Sheila's job, but then trailer parks are always at the edge of civilization, accessible to the occasional Midwestern tornado. It was where the young started out, where the failed elderly spent their days before going to a nursing home. It was where rednecks drank their beer in old lawn chairs propped against the sides of their trailers so they wouldn't tip over when the beer got the best of them. It was where students lived.

Sheila worked at the insurance company downtown as a secretary/receptionist. She handled claims, too, but wasn't given the title of claims adjuster because then her boss would have to pay her more. If she complained, he would find another student's wife who wouldn't.

She put up with it because she and Bill needed the money so he could continue his studies at the university. There was their future, his education ending perhaps in a medical degree if he could get his grades up enough to get into the state's medical school. It was the cheapest school in the United States, the lowest rated, but maybe even that school might not accept him. If nothing else, he would get a good white collar job, then it would be her turn to go to college.

Meanwhile, they lived in a third rate house trailer in this dusty trailer park. Bill worked as a handyman to cover the rent. When he wasn't busy mowing lawns and repairing toilets, he was supposed to study. Sheila typed his papers for him, sometimes late at night, editing them as she went along to make them fit the guidelines the college provided. Footnotes seemed to be beyond Bill, so she did a little research on her own to pad out the papers to the required length.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Magic Ball

The ball is glass and blue and purple and pink. Ellie runs all around with it, around all the grown-ups, around all the lawn chairs, around all the bigger kids. She runs into the garden and points it at a flower.

"Brrrring! Flowers unite!" she says.

She runs to the next flower.

"Brrring! Flowers unite!"

She runs to a pot.

"Brrring! Flowers unite!"

She runs to the patio.

"All right," she says, "Lets go!"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Love in the Sixties

by Colleen Sutherland

Years later I would say to the kids, “You missed the Sixties” with pity in my eyes. Yet if it hadn't been for the 1960's, I would never have married their father.

We met in a corner bar on Clark Street. I was trying to avoid the neighborhood bag lady who wandered in and out of local establishments. She smelled of oatmeal and booze and sweat. She wore all her clothes on her back, which worked in the winter but was not so good an idea on a hot spring day.

I made the mistake of doing something socially responsible once after I'd been to a lecture at Hull House. We were supposed to care for the poor back then so I helped carry her filthy bags down the street. After that, whenever she spied me she trailed me to talk to me about my lack of morals. All that winter she showed up wherever I was. When I took my wash to the Surf Street laundromat, there she was, staying warm on frigid days. For extra warmth, she stuck her bum into a warm dryer whenever someone had just finished using it. I took to taking a bus to the next available laundromat.

She was a communist, she said. Back in the days before photo IDs were required, I would see her patiently waiting at the library polling place to vote. The poll workers tolerated her whims, because after all, what was one or two commie votes? She was crazy but they left her alone.

It was fine for them but whenever she spied me, she was after me, talking about the loose morals of women in their mini skirts and tie died shirts and lack of bras. Back then I didn't need a bra. No droop, no point to it.

That afternoon, I saw her coming down Fulton Street and ducked into the bar. I was close to my apartment and I sure didn't want her to know where I lived or she would be pressing my buzzer over and over, day and night.

“Give me a lemonade,” I told George, the barkeep. Back in those days, I wasn't a big drinker. Pot was cheap and available so why wreck my liver on booze unless some guy was paying the tab? Times change. Laws change. Highs change.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Mechanic

When Michael woke up, his Pontiac was gone. He had made sure to put the keys in his pocket last night before pulling the sleeping bag into the ditch. He checked his pockets. Yes, they still dangled from his Corona bottle opener. As the sun played a cruel joke of blinding him without warming the air, he wondered which way the car went. He couldn't remember how far ahead the next town was, but Custer was fifteen miles behind him. If he started now, he could be there before noon. He doubted the half bottle of tequila would last him past ten. He shook the bottle, surprised at a second glance that only a quarter remained. He sighed, and stumbled over to roll up his sleeping bag. It snagged on a nearby Yucca.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Phenology - A Love Story

by Colleen Sutherland

     When do we know we are in love? For some it is a smack in the center of their being, as instant and painful as a Neanderthal clubbing his true love and dragging her off to a cave. For some it is a growing thing, like the gradual greening of the earth. But for me, it was falling, falling, falling.....

     We met in a used bookstore on a half price day. He was roaming through non-fiction, I was in the romance aisle. The two intersected when we rounded the corners of our stacks heading for the check out with our piles of books. Our books crashed to the floor, meshing into a jumbled heap. We sat down on a nearby soft couch while we sorted through the mess. It was embarrassing how easy it was.
     His were scientific tomes about global warming. Mine were trashy novels. The covers with their half naked, long maned men and bosomy women gave them away.
     I babbled, “Research. I'm doing research for a book I'm writing.”
     “Same here,” he said.
     “Different topic.”
     “Not so different,” he said. I figured he was being polite.
     “No, really,” he said. “I'm a phenologist.”
     “Bumps on the head?”
     “No, that's phrenology. My specialty is phenology.”
     “What's the difference?”
     “I observe the changes in nature and journal them. That's science, not mumbo jumbo. Come out back and I'll show you.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cigarette Man Saves the Day

I often wonder how Superman would have made his way in the world if he wasn't bulletproof. What if he didn't have super strength, x-ray vision, or couldn't fly? What if all he could do is turn socks purple? Would he still fight Lex Luthor's world domination schemes, or would he seek out a smaller cause?

“Hey Vic, can I bum a cigarette?” Larry asks.

“It's my last one,” I say. “Besides, aren't you trying to quit?”

“Aw, come on man. This damn patch just ain't cutting it.”

I shrug and open my empty cigarette case, hammered bronze and worn shiny at the edges, like Humphrey Bogart's dad would carry. With a split-second's concentration, I make a cigarette appear in the case, just under the retaining clip. I could have just as easily made the cigarette appear in my hand, between my fingers, or if I were closer, Larry's shirt pocket. I sometimes pass off my pathetic super power as slight-of-hand, but there are fewer questions when I use the case.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Island Fever - Part Three

          Two days passed. Craig carried the pellet gun with him whenever he went out, looking for more gulls, he said. They seldom spoke but when they did, they sniped at each other in the bleak grayness of the day. Sometimes, she could see him staring at her. Once Craig said, “Wish Kris were here.” Well, she wasn’t, Adrienne thought, and how long before Craig started making passes at her? She read the journals long into the night, looking for clues.

          Another writer named Pat wrote about a big fight between Kris and Craig. Kris regrets ever coming to this island, Pat wrote. Craig insists they are going to get married but Kris is having doubts. Craig thinks it's all island fever. Those two were meant for each other.

          The “accident” was mentioned briefly. Kris fell on the rocks. Taken away by the Coast Guard helicopter. Someone had written that Kris was in a coma on the mainland, but that was the last mention she found. Had Kris recovered or was she buried somewhere in a Maine cemetery? Adrienne was afraid to ask. Anything could set Craig off.

          The wine bottles were emptied on the seventh day. Perhaps she had had too much to drink, but she slipped on a fog-silvered rock coming back from taking the murre decoys back to the boat house. Her hands were covered with blood from a gash in her hand. Craig was up on the lighthouse trying to count terns. She would handle this herself, she thought.

          The first aid kit was in disarray. Things were unmarked. Looking for disinfectant, she opened a bottle and sniffed. It was smelling salts. Bleeding and sneezing, she dropped the kit and everything went rolling. She began to cry.

          Craig came in, took one look, swabbed her head with a pad and placed a band-aid on her cut. “Wash up,” he said. “That'll do. And quit crying. Head wounds bleed a lot, but it looks worse than it is.”

          He gave her no sympathy. Adrienne sniffled around the cottage. She couldn't seem to help weeping any more. Her eyes were red, raw from the salt water and her emotions.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Island Fever – Part Two

          There was no need for the little alarm clock Adrienne had brought. There were no curtains on the windows and as the summer solstice approached, the light shone in as the birds shrieked their joy at the day’s beginning. She had slept snug in her heavy duty sleeping bag, and felt the same joy. The ear plugs had worked.

          Craig fairly flew out the door to chase up the steps to the lighthouse while Adrienne brewed their coffee and got the first reading from the weather radio. The automated male voice told her that though the sun was shining, the day would get progressively darker. Small craft were warned about setting out. She took down the temperature readings the voice reported, taken from various buoys in the area.

          She threw on her heavy jacket and went out to take visual readings. She stopped to use the outhouse. Through the open side she watched a row of puffins watching her. Her bodily functions were a peep show for birds.

She could barely see the nearest island, some twenty miles away. A fine mist seemed to be covering it. She shivered and went on to the boat house. A herring gull who had taken refuge there scuttled out of her way dragging a wing. She unhooked the bucket with the rope attached and picked up the long thermometer. She carried them down the boat ramp. The waves were higher today and splashed against her rubber boots as she leaned over to drop a bucket off the side for some ocean water. She stuck a thermometer in it. As she waited to do her reading, she used her binoculars to sweep the surface of the island. The birds seemed to be hunkering down, not as active as the day before.

          They decided to explore the island before the storm hit. They clambered over the rocks. There were no paths. Craig was a mountain goat, jumping easily from rock to rock, as Adrienne struggled on behind, trying to keep up. They climbed higher and higher from boulder to boulder as the wind howled around them, shouting to be heard. They visited nesting sites. Craig flattened himself on a rock and reached his hand into a burrow, but no puffins were using it yet. Later on, the researchers would go out daily and sit in blinds keeping track of the little guys, but the puffins were just arriving.

          He stopped for a moment and pointed out a piece of marble engraved with an angel.

          “Tombstone,” he said. “Keeper’s daughter.” She had died a century before. Adrienne thought they should put flowers on the grave, but there were none on the Rock. Neither were there bushes and trees, just endless boulders. Ocean storms scoured the rock of anything green except for the moss that clung to the stones.

          They climbed higher. Here the terns would nest, there the guillemots. Each were marked. They reached the farthest point. Far below the waves pounded on the shore, splashing over the rocks. Craig pointed down and shouted, “That’s where Kris fell.” His face contorted. He turned away and began loping across the rocks before Adrienne could ask how it happened.