A Honeymoon in May

“Oh, Eddie, I’ve wanted to take this trip since I saw her at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration six years ago,” Agnes Voorhees Smithfield said as she held up one her dresses before placing it in the steamer trunk.

“Aggie, you were thirteen years old then. A girl from Albany would be thrilled with a ride on the Staten Island Ferry at that age,” her new husband Edward replied. “Now you finish packing, or should I say re-packing. My art school friend Bill Glackens is holding us a corner over at his favorite table d’hôtes in the Village for some real Italian food.”

“Oh, Eddie, a husband, a honeymoon, a bohemian night in New York City, a cruise to London. I just might be the luckiest girl in the world, or at least Pine Hills,” Agnes said. She put her dress into the trunk and walked over to kiss her husband, who had been sketching her all the while they spoke.

“You just might be, Aggie. But I’m pretty lucky, myself. I mean it’s not uncommon for an artist to fall into, shall we say, a relationship with one of his models. But to fall into not just a relationship but outright love? And now a baby, too? That’s just
unheard of,” Edward said, giving his new wife a pat on the tummy.

“Edward!” Agnes said in feigned indignation. “You’re scandalous.”

“I’m sure your father would think me more than that. Of course, coming from such a bourgeois family, I would expect nothing less. I’ll yield to unconventional, certainly where they’re concerned, suffer bohemian, definitely accept artistic. But I truly love that feeling in their world of being scandalous.”

“One of the many reasons I love you.And I guess I’m scandalous too, now. The sisters at St. Patrick’s would each and every one faint dead away if they knew I was pregnant ‘without benefit of clergy,’ as they’d say. And while I always wanted to be a June bride, circumstances ruled otherwise. But there’s just one thing though…”

“Okay, okay, I promise to take you to Paris when all this blows over,” Edward said. “We’re taking just about the biggest, fastest, safest ship in the Cunard Line. It’ll be the equivalent of the most posh version of about a hundred Hudson Day Line cruises.” He paid for this voyage, as was all the Smithfield’s new life, with money his Agnes received from her doting father, Delaware & Hudson Railroad executive Leland Voorhees.

“But, I do worry. You know me, Eddie.”

“I do, my dear Aggie. That’s why I booked us on Cunard’s finest. The Heinies tend not to bother passenger ships anyway. We’ll be slipping into Liverpool while they’re still having their morning kaffeeklatsch. Now let’s get over to The Village and spend some more of your father’s money on the best cheap meal you’ve ever had.”

“Okay, my love. I’m sure it’ll be the last Italian food we’ll eat for a long time. I’ll bet it’s hard to find good Italian in London and Cunard serves only French and English dishes on this magic carpet ride of a liner you’ve booked for us. What’s the name again, Eddie? The Lucrezia Borgia?” Agnes said with a laugh.

“Yes, dear Aggie. We’ll be sailing on the HMS Lucrezia Borgia,” Edward replied, as he tapped the tickets in his fine new wallet. The tops of the tickets peeked above the Italian leather. They read: RMS Lusitania.

“Poisonous femme fatale that she was, Darling, we’d better be careful of that tea and claret they serve us or we’ll never make it to London,” Edward said as they strolled arm in arm out into Fifth Avenue.

A lightning first-draft effort penned while my new granddaughter slept off her 7:00 AM feeding. It’s based on one of the final week’s prompts for Story a Day September 2017. the characters are supposed to discuss their honeymoon. Suffice to say, I’ve been otherwise engaged in efforts other than writing this past week or so.

Advertisements

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Albany from the Helderberg Escarpment

Lew “Ruby” Rubio hadn’t cased this place before deciding to break in. But he’d been on the run from the cops in Albany for two sleepless days and nights and figured he could hide up in this cottage in the Helderbergs for a spell while everything cooled off down in the city.

Lew figured no one had been home in at least a week from the number of newspapers that peppered the apron of the driveway. He decided to jimmy the sliding door on the side away from the road, even though trees blocked view of the most of house from County Rte. 10. With a screwdriver he discovered in the garden shed and twenty years’ practice in the Bronx and Albany, he was standing in the kitchen in thirty seconds.

Once inside, Lew found his suspicions were correct. The place had been buttoned up for some time. A check in the bathroom showed the electricity on and the water off. He found the main, gave it a good twist to the left and he figured he was set for as long as he wanted to stay there. As long, that is, as he remained vigilant for any visitors from the County Sheriff’s Department or the State Police.

But first thing’s first.

“I’m frigging starving,” Lew said as he walked to the refrigerator. Inside, he found jars of pickles, olives, condiments, three cans of Mountain Dew, two bottles of Nine Pin Cider, a large unopened bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos ale and a half-bottle of 2016 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Well, this is all very nice, but where’s the damn real food?” Lew said, shoving the refrigerator door closed and moving to the cabinets that lined the wall above the sink. In the dim moonlight, he found cans of Progresso Chicken Noodle and Minestrone soups, some boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese, envelopes of Brown Sugar and Cinnamon oatmeal, a jar of peanut butter and three tubes of Pringles barbecue potato chips.

“Jesus, maybe something’s in the freezer. Aannnnd…two scrawny frost-burgers, half a bag of Tater Tots and two bottles of vodka. What the hell is up with these drunks?” Lew said, as he closed the freezer door, casting the kitchen back into darkness..

He froze when he thought he heard the crunch of something on the gravel driveway out front. Then he dropped low when he saw the headlights.

“Shit, not already,” he said, catching his breath as a car-mounted spotlight swept the exterior of the front of the house and the woods on both sides, its beam cutting off a slice of the darkness in the kitchen. Lew crawled toward the sliding door again, ready to make a run for it if necessary. But the Sheriff’s patrol car backed out onto Rte. 10 and once again he was alone.

“I’d better eat something now, in case they come back,” Lew said to himself. So he opened two bags of oatmeal, tossed the contents into a bowl, added water from the now-functioning tap and put it in the microwave for a minute. While it cooked, Lew poured a can of Mountain Dew into one of the red Solo cups he found on the shelf, and topped it off with some of the icy vodka.

“The Dew for the caffeine and the hooch for my nerves,” he laughed. He pulled the steaming bowl from the microwave, gave it a stir and slowly ate it, washing it down with the fortified Dew. Finished with his oatmeal, he dug a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter from the jar he left open on the counter, sucked down a hard cider and decided he’d better try getting some rest.

Slowly, he climbed the stairs up to the shed dormer, where he found two bedrooms and a half-bathroom. But, since the dormer was on the side away from the road, he thought he’d better get back downstairs just in case the cops made this place a regular stop on their patrols.

“You never know who might break in on you,” Lew said with a laugh.

Lew decided to crash on the futon by the sliding door, just in case. He opened the glass slider to allow some cool air into the pace through the screen. He then propped himself up so he faced the driveway and settled in for what remained of the night.

“Maybe I can steal a day or two here before I hit the road,“ he thought. Within two minutes he was sleeping soundly.

He never saw the headlights, nor any spotlight, but the sound of someone moving around outside coming through the open slider roused him around 3:00 AM.

“Shit. Where the hell did they come from,” Lew thought as he eased himself off the futon and padded over to the wall next to the slider. He peeked out one side of doorway, saw the shadow moving toward the doorway.

“I ain’t going back for them to put in the county lockup. I either gotta make a run for it into the woods when this dude moves to the other side, or I have to take care of him, myself…right now,” Lew thought.

He looked around for something to use as a weapon, if he needed it. Once again Lew heard the rustling sound and a chill ran through him, his heart began pounding, his mouth dried so much he could barely swallow. He saw the wrought-iron poker leaning against the wood stove and knew what he had to do. If someone came through the slider, Lew was certain he could take them down and put some distance between himself and this cottage before daybreak and any more cops could come along.

But he still hadn’t seen any sign of a vehicle out front, hadn’t heard the crunching gravel. He wondered if what he heard was another breaking and entering star looking to steal whatever of value he could find. Lew suddenly felt more superior to this interloper and figured it was time to put end to his stay here one way or another.

He’d eaten the owners’ oatmeal, drank their cider and vodka, made use of their futon and now he was going to use their fireplace poker. The intruder was now moving closer along the wall to the sliding door.

“This is it,” Lew said, taking a deep breath. “He’s right there and now’s the time to confront this asshole one way or another. One, two thr…”

Lew slid open the door and jumped out of the house and turned dead right, his poker above his head. He saw the silhouette of the intruder and raised his poker high, saying, “Get out of here, asshole, if you know what’s…”

But that was it. The brown bear, leading her cubs in a raid on the bird feeders and trash cans of the neighborhood, rose on her hind legs, stepped into Lew, and with a swipe sent him reeling bloody into the forest. She then burst through the slider doorway and went straight for the open peanut butter jar on the counter while her cubs licked the unwashed oatmeal bowl.

State Police found Lew lying beside County Rte. 10 about a mile east later that morning. They transported him to the emergency room at Albany Medical Center, where doctors reattached the blond-haired flap of scalp the mama of the three-bear rural crime spree flayed off him on her way to breakfast.

During his three-year stint at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Lew picked up a few nicknames. Early on, the other inmates called him Zipperhead or Ruby. But as his hair grew back and word of how he was apprehended got around the yard, Lew Rubio was known by inmate and corrections officers alike as Goldilocks.

First draft of my first chance to try crafting a story for Week Two of Story-a-Day September. (I’m doing best I can, but  it’s been a true time crunch.) Since I may not get to all five of this week’s prompts, I decided to messily combine two:  1) Write a gender-swapped version of a previously-told story, and 2) Set a story in the opposite setting to what it was originally (in this case, contemporary vs. non-contemporary and realistic vs. fantastic). Suffice to say, it ain’t easy to draft a cohesive story while minding three-year-olds and on four hours’ sleep a night. But here’s my best-stab first draft.

On the Rocks

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon as Andi Simkins positioned the empty glasses in the dishwasher, poured the detergent into the dispenser, clicked shut the door and pressed the buttons to bring it to whirring life. Other than the one in her hand, she’d run out of clean rocks glasses.

Andi fished a handful of ice from the freezer and clinked them into her tumbler. From the liquor cabinet she withdrew a new bottle of Ketel One, gave the black top a vicious twist to break its seal and poured enough into her glass to turn the pile of crescent-shaped cubes into miniature icebergs.

She walked into the family room and settled into the sofa, took a large sip from her glass and placed it on the cocktail table next to the copy of Jami Attenberg’s “All Grown Up” she’d started three times (because her sister insisted she read it) but never got past its first thirty pages. She picked up the book for Try #4, but after six page-flips she gave a resigned sigh, picked up her glass and took another great sip.

Andi looked into her glass as the vodka rested for a second in her mouth then slid down her throat. She was surprised at how the sunlight sifting through the vertical blinds was converted into rainbows by the cut glass, the ice and the vodka. But then the glow changed to neon tangerine and Andi’s eyes grew wide at the color and quality of of the light that painted the gray room a citrus hue, but locked it and her behind the black bars of the blinds’ shadows.

Pulling aside the blinds, Andi gave a little gasp and shaded her eyes. She finished her vodka and thought she’d pour herself another. She turned and took a step toward the liquor cabinet, but stopped and faced the scene playing out beyond the patio again.

Lifting her glass to her lips, she sucked in the dilute dregs of the vodka and a couple of ice cubes, which she crunched between her teeth.

“Joel, you’ve got to hurry up here and see this,” Andi called to her husband down in what Joel Simkins called his Subterranean Lair.

“I’ll be up as soon as I finish this part of the Times crossword, hon,” Joel replied from his leather lounger. And I could hear a football game providing Joel’s background soundtrack from his 50-inch flatscreen Samsung. She often wondered why he needed a drive-in movie screen down there when he used the television primarily for ambient noise.

I guess because he can, she thought.

“Lemme see…54 Across…seven-letter word for skyline,” Joel mumbled to himself, just an Eagle player intercepted a pass directed toward a late-afternoon sun-blinded Giant receiver. That sent the Philly crowd into a high-decibel frenzy. Joel looked up at the screen and recalled his last trip to the City of Brotherly Love. Business. Always business. But Philly was where he struck up his special relationship with Patty Diana, who’d since become known as his “work wife” around the office.

Andi, still watching the sunset, transfixed and hopeful, called one more time, “Joel, please, you’ll miss this if you wait much longer….”

And when he didn’t answer, Andi sighed once again, stood by the patio window, watching the spectacular demise of another day in the overall autumn of things.

It reminded her of all those afternoons spent looking out the back window of their third-floor walkup. Bathed in their own glow, Joel would comb his fingers through the tangle of her auburn hair as she’d beam at him with her gold-flecked blue eyes. Over the expanse of apartment buildings, they watched the sun sink, a searing communion of light and heat, beyond the southwestern horizon.

The sunsets were dazzling, Andi recalled, as well as how the encroaching darkness would be spangled in sprays of stars, even with the bedroom door closed. In tonight’s gloaming, the shadowy bars had expanded into an overall darkness of nebulous freedom or solitary confinement.

Andi had to admit, though, tonight’s sundown had its own melancholy charm — like a fire decaying into glowing coals — when viewed through a fresh glass of Ketel One on the rocks.

The third of my efforts based on one of five Story-a-Day September 2017’s Week One prompts. This one called for using or being inspired by the phrase “The sunsets were dazzling.” I remembered an old Five Sentence Fiction outline I whipped off one afternoon back on the job. I rewrote it with a bit more meat on its protagonist’s bones. Photo by the author.

The Viewing

I never liked this tie.

I must admit, I’m sure I’ve looked better in my life, but my life ended three days ago. I have no say in how my family and the mortician presented me for final inspection by whoever is coming to, at best, say goodbye to me and console my family and, at worst, see if I managed to leave a decent looking corpse.

True, it’s only 6:00 PM, but I expected a bigger crowd. Maybe it’s the weather, rush hour traffic or extended happy hour prices or something. Denise and I were always early arrivers at the wakes we had to attend. Even for the schmucks who couldn’t die soon enough for my tastes.

Ooh, there’s old Fred Howser. Wow, Fred, time to put down the beer and Doritos. There’s room for only one in this box, buddy, and I have the lease until The Rapture. Take care of yourself and moderate some, pal. The world needs more happy drunks like you, not dead ones like me.

Uh oh, here comes a coven of ladies from the old job. Jesus, what the hell are Diane and Sally doing with Elaine and Joanie? I never got any warm vibe from them. Wish I could sit up just a little to hear what they’re saying. I was afraid of this. I’d hoped for some sort of omniscient point of view deal when I tripped on that rainbow. What fun is watching your own wake when you can’t hear what the all the people are saying about you? If I could breathe, I’d be sighing now.

The kids look pretty busted up. I guess the dead can feel guilt, even though your balance sheet for the afterlife is closed. But damn, seeing them cry like that makes me feel good as much as it makes me feel sad. Wish I had been a better Dad. I know I can’t go back to make it right, and that I was a good Dad for the most part. When you’re lying here, you’ve nothing but time to figure out when and how you could have done better. Maybe this is what they really mean when they talk about Purgatory. No fire, no pitchforks, just your soul and time to think about your shortcomings.

Oh no, here she comes. I guess Purgatory is a timeout to think about your sins, even the almosts, too.

Been a while, but she looks pretty good, at least to these closed eyes. But then I always had closed eyes for her, from the first time I saw her. She had all that crazy curly hair, angry victimhood, fierce intelligence in a man’s world and some spark that lit a flame in me I didn’t know I had. She was my red ink, my fall from grace, my weakness in the face of vows, honor and duty. Boy, was I stupid, but boy did I love her.

Okay, Rose, Joe, Jake, Marylou and Bobby, move it along. Nothing to see here but the husk of the entertainer. No more yuks, except for the fact Denise made the mortician put this tie on me. Oh, well. If it makes Denise happy. I owe her that.

Shit, now Teresa’s right there above me. Wow, real tears. I remember how I joked that when I died I expected her to get a gussied up for my wake and then throw herself across my body, shuddering in wracking sobs. Damn, she did wear a dress. If she throws herself atop me now that I’m dead, I’ll be so pissed. No, she’s kissing her fingers and touching my cheek. Well, I’ll be damned. Perhaps. Probably.

Well, last call, I guess. Funny how time moves when you’re not counting it anymore. Bounces around and then you can sit somewhere in the past for who knows how long. There was that bender in ’78 that was like that. I guess I’ll get used to it.

Hi, Denise. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to support you tonight. It really is all I’ve ever wanted to do. You’ve been my rock, my touchstone, my soul mate, my savior. Don’t know how you can look at me with such pride. You finally got me sober and some drunk plows into me. Sorry I never made it home with your ice cream. This time I remembered—peanut butter crunch.

Aww, man, please don’t cry like that. I don’t really hate this tie. Don’t lay your head on my chest. I don’t deserve…I’ve been a total drunken fuck up…I… Wait, what’s she saying? Damn it, why can’t I hear her? There’s that crooked grin I fell in love with 45 years ago. That’s it, honey. Straighten this cool tie.

Please don’t drop the lid, dude. Denise, I don’t know if we’ll ever be together, you know, on the other side, but if your face is the last thing I’ll ever see before…

I guess that’ll have to do for this eternity.

I wrote this piece in a rush and no doubt sparingly so it would fit within the parameters of my friend Dan Mader’s every-Friday feature 2MinutesGo over on his site, Unemployed Imagination. Since I went away for a week without access to a computer nor my iPad, my writing muscles got pretty flabby fast. So if this looks like I think it does, realize that it’s an exercise to get back in writing shape. In the my case , though, I just choose to exercise here in the equivalent of a picture window…wearing a Speedo.

Come Listen to Me, the Teller of Tales

“… come listen to me, the Teller of Tales …”  ~ Brian Jacques

The children would gather around the fire when the old man would sit and light his pipe. It was his silent way of telling them, “Come, listen to me, the Teller of Tales.”

The children were not the only ones who would grab for the words, the lines, the tales, the dreams the old man would weave into something palpable, like the log upon which he sat or the lap upon the young ones would cuddle. So too would be the tousled head that would rest upon a mother’s breast, a father’s grizzled chin. All of the warm and comforting.

Such a blessed distraction from the star that stared down upon them night and day, growing bigger with each rise and fall of the sun. One couldn’t really call them nights anymore, since the star’s light rivaled the twilight of dawn and sundown.

“Come listen to me, the Teller of Tales,” the smoke would say to their little noses.

“Come listen to me, the Weaver of Dreams,” his eyes sparkling in the campfire would say to their frightened eyes.

“Come listen to me, the bringer of sleep,” his comforting voice would say in its tone so soothing, never rushed or strident, never angry or dismayed, never giving in to the inevitable forever sleep that approached the world in a ball of ice and iron that had slipped from the belt of the great god planet and through the fingers of his red-faced minister of war. And now it was coming into the embrace of the mother of planets.

The old man would begin his stories the same each time: “In the beginning…” which gave the children a little anchor to end their days, something they could moor themselves to like the sea otters to some sea leaf before drowsing hand-in-hand with their loved ones, for no one wanted to be separated from them when the great sleep ultimately came when the ever-dawn became ever-night.

Here’s my last possible moment response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt for the week of May 28- June 4. It based on that quote from a character created by Brain Jacques in his Redwall series of novels. I’m not one given to writing fantasy, but in the half-hour it took to write this piece, that’s what appears to have happened on the page. I guess that’s what you’d call it, even though it sounds like historical fiction and reads like speculative fiction of a coming Armageddon.

Nature of the Beast

img_92760320-1

My stepfather thought he’d make a man of me by shipping me West one summer to work on his ranch in Southwest Colorado. He told me I needed to learn the way of the world, the natural order of things in which Man, or least my stepfather, sat at the top of the mountain.

And so I was sent to help Waini Muatagoci, who the other ranch hands called Luke Two Moon, which is what his Ute name translated to. Two Moon was from the Muache Band of the Southern Ute tribe who once ruled this part of the Four Corners before the whites “subdued” them and, in turn showed them the way up that mountain my stepfather talked about. Just nowhere near the top.

Yog’yuvitc, brother coyote, he’s been here since before my people arrived in the before times, young Ben. Coyotes would take deer and elk and the calves of kutc-um, the buffalo. But it wasn’t until the white ranchers came that coyote has been hunted like this, just to be rid of him on the ranches,” Two Moon said as we rode the trap line set out to take down the coyotes that had been killing calves of my stepfather’s prized Herefords during the calving season.

“I guess Hal’s barbed wire fence is only good at keeping the cattle in and not the coyotes out,” I said, half-joking. Hal was my stepfather, Harold King.

“No. Mr. King thought he could scare them off the ranch by making big noises. Coyote ran away, laughed at him and then came back for more calves. He sent us on hunts, but there are more of them than there are of us and this is a big spread. So now we set traps and kill coyote without even seeing him. It’s a dirty and cowardly thing,” Two Moon said.

Up ahead we saw a thin gray form lying on the ground. It was my first view of a coyote and later I wished it was my last.

The animal’s bloody leg was in a hole, its mouth open as if in a silent scream of protest and it’s eyes were open in defiance, fear…maybe even accusation. I couldn’t look at its face long enough to tell.

“So now you see Mr. King’s ‘enemy,’ this scrawny thing lying here in a pile of skin, fur and bones. Help me get him out of the hole so I can reset the trap, young Ben,” Two Moon said.

I put on my gloves, pulled down my hat and jumped off my buckskin and tried to put aside my disgust. I understood the problem of the coyotes coming through the wire and taking calves, but I wished there was better way to keep them under control besides killing them in such an inhumane manner.

“This is just wrong,” I said.

“As far as the ranch goes, you’re wrong, young Ben. But you’re also so very right.”

In the next hour we found four more dead coyotes, their legs caught in traps set in holes and hidden from them, save for the bait that drew them to their abrupt capture and slow, agonizing deaths.

“As long as there are so many cattle here, breeding and calving so often, there will be coyote hunting and taking the calves,” Two Moon said. “It is as it has always been. Mr King is just providing many more opportunities for coyote to prove his rightful place in our Mother Nature’s order.”

At the next trap in the line, which sat at the top of little rise near the southern boundary fence of Hal’s spread, we didn’t find a coyote carcass. No, what we found was even more grotesque than the twisted form of a now-dead animal once wild with pain and fear.

Two Moon asked me to check on the trap set and bait, so I jumped off my buckskin and carefully reached into the hole. Two Moon must have thought I got bitten or the trap snapped and my hand barely escaped its vicious jaws, but he’d be wrong on both counts.

I looked at my glove and showed the blood to Two Moon.

“You all right, boy? Trap catch you?”

“No. Come on down and take a look in here,” I said.

Two Moon’s feet hit the ground in a silent puff of dust and he walked to the hole, kneeled next to me, peered into it and withdrew the bloody trap. In its jaws was the severed leg of a coyote. Actually the lower leg that had been gnawed off by the trapped coyote. Two Moon’s face took on an expression both resigned and disgusted.

“You’ll see this happen from time to time, young Ben, when brother coyote will not wait to die on the Man’s terms. He would rather die free, no matter the cost in pain and suffering,” Two Moon said as he opened the trap and let the grotesque talisman of a perverted sense of freedom fall to the ground.

“May I have that, Two Moon?” I asked.

The old Ute shrugged and said, “Why not? It’s not doing coyote any good now and the dead ones on the pack-horse don’t need it, either.”

He reset this trap just as he had the previous ones and the seven more in which we found coyotes of both genders and all ages until we came to the end of the trap line.

“If Hal wants me to check the line tomorrow, do you think I should check the sets on the way back to the house, Two Moon? Just so’s I can remember their location and order?” I said.

“Ya know, that’s probably not a bad idea, young Ben. I’ll leave you to it while I bring these back to the big house for burning,” Two Moon said. “I think your idea’s a right good one.”

As Two Moon road back to the big house he sang, in what I assumed was Ute, a tune that swayed in the wind behind him.

I tripped every trap on the way back. I knew the calving season was still months away and I’d be back East by then. No more coyotes would die like that while I played cowboy. They’d have to find another way to control the coyotes.

My real Dad had been a conscientious objector and Draft protester back in ’67-‘68. Yet he went on to win a Silver Star in Vietnam as a life-saving medic and came back to protest the war and racism and whatever other injustice he saw in American society right up until he died in ’86.

Hal wanted me to be a man by his definition, if not in his image. I’d already decided to be the man Dad would want me to be.

As I tripped the last trap, I heard a coyote howl in the distance, saw it in silhouette against the moon as both rose over the ridge south of the big house. I yip-yip-yeowed right back at it and it echoed my call. I’m sure it had no idea what I was doing, but liked to think it understood my eastern accented message that we were in solidarity against the Man.

I hope…no, I’m sure Dad would be proud of me.

First draft of a story I wrote based on a suggested theme of “resistance.” I’m not one to write political protests or satire, and I’m pretty sure I’ve buried my take on the subject much too deeply beneath the allegory of keeping el coyote from ruining the ranch. But, I don’t have the answers when one beast wants in, while the other will do anything to keep him out.

The Siesta

the-afternoon-siesta-1889-large

The Afternoon Siesta 1889 Vincent Van Gogh

In the still oven-like shade of a stack of wheat here in this field outside Arles, Louisa and I lie in a midday siesta. Meanwhile, my Maitane is home, heavy with our first child.

When Maitane arrived from up in Donostia, I wished my love welcome to this blazing Purgatario, this stopover on our journey from Infernu to blessed Zeruko. Or perhaps to our own farm in the dreamy someday of a siesta.

“That is why I have come to be with you, Josu,” Maitane whispered as she laid her head upon my chest, disregarding the sweat-drenched shirt and all-too-quick drowsing. “If you are on such a journey, I do not wish to be separated from you another day. Such an adventure we shall share together. What God has joined together…”

“Yes, Maitane, we will chase this dream together, stopping here in this Purgatario of Provence on our way. It is much like the fable the brown-robed fathers taught us about the comforts of the Afterlife. Such tales and such an afterlife are mere myth, no more. But I suppose a myth is better than nothing. Yes?” I said.

“For me, my love, Heaven will forever be in your arms, no matter where they are, no matter what task they do,” Maitane said, smiling with drowsy eyes, herself.

I never wished to leave my family in the Basque country to the northwest, but times there had been harder than I can remember. The sheep were dying, as if being sacrificed on an altar of grassless fields.

“I shall find us a place to keep us whole if it takes moving halfway around the world to find it, Maitane,” I told her back in our town. It turned out all I needed to travel was only halfway across France, which was not Heaven, though beautiful nonetheless.

The red-haired painter from Holland who I befriended in a cafe one night offered to have his lover, the whore Sien, provide me with similar companionship.

“Vincent,” I said, “I have not yet reached that state of desperation, though I bid you thanks.” I put him off for a week, when one night I drunkenly fell from a cafe stool and somehow to a bed in a room of blue into the arms of a girl who smelled of the fields of lavender where she worked as well.

“Well, my friend, was she not an angel to warm your body and cool your buried desires?” Vincent said. Blushing, I nodded.

That night I wrote Maitane and told her to come here to be with me, because I couldn’t bear anymore her absence from my arms. My dreams of her were not enough.

Vincent laughed when I told him what I did.

“You have the soul of a cleric, though from what Louisa told Sien, the ardor of three bulls in the rut,” he said. “I believe Louisa may have fallen for you in but one night of passion, my friend. Shall I give her the news of your return to the celibacy of the marital bed from here forward?”

I chose not to admit how heavenly I felt after our time together, Louisa’s and mine. To do so would be to sink further into the abyss I see Vincent sliding into. He is a good man, though with frightening eyes that see all, but in a way only he can see it.

When I received Maitane’s reply that she would be coming to me in Arles, I was both thrilled and worried. That was because I had become almost as enamored of Louisa as she of me, even though I still left a sous behind as tribute to her sharing her precious body with this Basque farm boy.

And so I still reside in this purgatory between two angels and the hell into which I have thrown myself and don’t wish to escape, despite the pain it brings me. It is much like this shade within which I lie with Louisa. Out of the sun yet still burning with heat. And she still smells of lavender.

Meanwhile, Vincent stares with his devilish and brilliant all-seeing eyes and chronicles my sins upon his flaming canvas, hopefully not capturing them like hell, for an eternity.

Perhaps a Heaven really is just over that hill where the sun sleeps with tomorrow. For now, though, I will find it sleeping with my angels, gifts like cool rain dropped from the clouds. They comfort my dreams with their bodies as I hold them to mine.

Our couplings are prayers for the rest of my journey, where, without fear, I test the truths of Purgatario and Zeruko, because heriotza, death, my inevitable end, is just another fork in this road.