On Grafton Lake

“What’s her name?” Matt asked, smiling his practiced interested smile, yet dreading the answer.

“Does it really matter?” Andi said, her eyes losing focus on his as she gazed through her ever-rosy haze her new lover’s perfection in her mind’s eye.

“No, not really,” escaped around Matt’s smiling shield, the one he had built and buttressed since Andi and he were twelve. That was the day they walked into the woods above his parent’s place on Grafton Lake—Andi and her parents were visiting for the weekend from home in Albany—and Andi kissed him full on the mouth.

“I think I’m in love with you, Matthew,” young Andrea Mezaluna said after pulling her lips away from Matt Harkin’s beet-red face. And then she stuck them right back as if he was a powerful magnet and she a piece of hot steel.

Matt’s hazy pre-teen confusion over Andi’s surprise and surprisingly abrupt pronouncement of her heart’s desire eventually burned off, like morning fog of the lake’s surface, by Sunday afternoon. Their hand-holding and long walks had not gone unnoticed by both sets of parents, who thought it was borderline inevitable, since the two had been playmates, fast friends and classmates since kindergarten.

Before the Mezaluna’s said goodbye to the Harkins for the remaining two weeks of their summer vacation, Matt and Andi walked to the spot where they first kissed. Sitting close, her head on his shoulder, they one last time took in this view of the lake, boats sailing or motoring by on its surface, framed by the pines, maples and birches, and the azure sky flocked with clouds that would gather into a thunderstorm later that evening.

No longer confused nor embarrassed, Matt took Andi’s face in his hands and kissed her as clumsily passionate as a twelve-year-old boy could muster and then said, “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you…”

“Andrea! Time for us to go,” Mrs. Mezaluna called from below.

“…Andrea,” Matt finished. He wasn’t sure if she recognized the significance of the fact he never called her Andrea.

Andi gave him one more kiss, hard, hugging him so close he could feel her heart beat. Or maybe it was an echo of his, he was never sure.

When they walked hand-in-hand out of the woods, the Mezaluna’s were saying their thank you’s and goodbyes to the Harkins from within their car, waiting for their daughter before they’d head for home.

Andi turned toward Matt, hugged him close one more time, kissing him on the cheek and whispering, “Please hurry home, Matt. I don’t think I can stand waiting two whole weeks until I see you again.”

And then she was gone.

When the Harkins returned to their Albany home that Labor Day weekend Sunday, the Mezalunas popped over from next door to invite them to a barbecue in their yard. That’s where Matt saw Andi holding hands with Richie Bischoff, who was thirteen hoping on fourteen, and he got a new understanding for what Andi Mezaluna meant when she said she couldn’t stand waiting two weeks for him.

That was Matt’s first inkling that for Andi, falling in love — which he later felt was her falling into obsession — was what she loved most.

“So she’s The One?” he said in her ear over the din of bar.

“Oh, yes. And she’s crazy about me,” she said, her eyes as shiny and earnest as they always were when her heart was ablaze with a new love.

Reflexively, the corners of Matt’s mouth bowed up, as he recalled all the times she’d run to him with that same expression he fell in love with in sixth grade, flashing that same spark he saw above Grafton Lake that melted his heart, yet ever since then burning down his hopes with it.

He never thought to tell her the truth each time she’d run to him like a little girl excitedly showing a new doll to her best friend. Because he recognized that her best friend was who he was.

He couldn’t bear losing her smiling face, the intimate warmth of how she’d whisper to him, bringing to flaming life any embers of his remaining hope, even knowing they’d burn his heart to ash once more.

This was the procedure she followed throughout high school and into college, where she discovered her attraction to dolls was more than just to the American Girls that still lined her bedroom, but to real American girls, along with one Pakistani and a girl she met in Montreal. Then there’d come the hockey player from Watertown.

Matt had tossed his heart at his share of dolls, too, one even Andi had even dated for a couple of weeks. But none of them worked out in the long term. They would give him either the “It’s not you, Matt, it’s me,” speech, or just realizing they couldn’t connect with a guy who had but one carefully tooled connection.

“So, tell me about this mystery woman, Andrea,” he said, that contented smile on his face, drawing close enough to feel her warm breath against his cheek one more time, feeding more fuel to the torch he’d compulsively raise in these dark moments, just to ensure he’d be able to share the only intimacy he ever would with the love of his life.

“Oh, Mattie, I love you,” Andi said with her bubbly laugh, hugging him so close he felt her heart beat just as perhaps she could have felt his heart, breaking, one more time. And it was the moment two twelve-year olds shared above an upstate New York lake and a hope Matt would always have that would glue it back together until the next time Andi fell in love.

On Day 27 of my story-a-day in May quest, I was challenged to write a story of a non-traditional love. I’ve written about men having an intense bond with their dogs, their jobs, the land, you name it, I’ve written a story or poem about that love. But a poem I wrote during April’s Poem-a-day challenge inspired this tale of a love that probably will never come to fruition in a traditional sense, but is as intensely felt by its principals as any. Just not in the same way.

Never Forget Your First

Remember your first kiss?

“So what was it like? Your first kiss, I mean,” Liz said, figuring she might even know who first pressed her lips against mine and I reciprocated.

Where do women come up with these questions? Why she was so inquisitive about such a ancient history was lost on me. I sure as hell didn’t wish to know who she locked retainers with back in her training bra days.

“Well? Can’t you even remember, Erik?” she said, incredulous that I may have forgotten such a major milestone in my emotional, psychological and sexual education like another lost bit of high school I absent-mindedly tossed on that pile of Pythagorean theories, amo-amas-amat’s, and names of all the noble gases.

“Really, I don’t remember much about it other than it being another dance to hang out at…just softer and smelling better,” I said with a chuckle. Which I soon regretted.

“You’re either closer to a forgetful Alzheimer’s diagnosis than even I thought, or one cold son of a bitch,” Liz said like she was a helium-filled balloon shrinking and sinking to the floor right there in front of icy old me.

“Give me a minute and I promise I’ll let you know all about it,” I said, trying to buy some time to actually remember or at least come up with a plausible story.

So she went to the kitchen, busying herself with fetching me another beer. After all, I was rummaging back into my cluttered closet of a memory to bring forth the mother lode of her need to connect on some level she could tap and understand.

She came back into the room and quietly set a glass of beer on a coaster on the side table. She then curled herself up next to me on the sofa in that way girls do—legs and feet beneath their bottoms like nesting cranes—wrapped the Mexican striped throw around her shoulders and smiled a softly expectant smile at me. Its message was plain: “I’m waiting!”

“I regret that my porous old memory cannot recall every aspect, facet and emotion of that night. I’m not even sure who she was. Rosemary? Barbara? Definitely not Mary Grace. Though, boy, do I wish.”

“Ahem, stick to the knitting, Erik.”

“Okay, I see brown eyes shining up at me, sparkling like polished mahogany in the moonlight, or street light or maybe porch light.”

“That’s a good pull after that clumsy start, Romeo.”

“Yeah, well…I can still feel that cold stab of fear, tempered by hot blasts of potential embarrassment at the very real possibility of  screwing this up and setting my life on a path of remaining forever the untouched one. Obviously, I’ve gotten over that hurdle.”

“The night is young, Erik. Touching will be optional. Go on,” she said, her eyes softening a bit from their clinical observation of my amoebic squirming in the upholstered Petri dish next to her.

“Girls, yourself included, I’m sure, think about this moment, dream about it, worry about it, from an early age. Am I right?” I said, trying to absorb something of what she was feeling. You know, like I was a girl.

“Did you practice, perhaps pressing your lips to a mouth made of your thumb and index finger, there in your pink and sky blue-appointed, single-bed sanctum sanctorum?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Liz said. But the red rising from beneath the throw, up her neck and glowing like hot coals on her cheeks told me otherwise.

“A guy can’t think that far ahead, would never give that first kiss a dry-run. It isn’t like rehearsing his expression of insouciant cool in the steamed-up mirror behind that locked bathroom door. You figure one night it just happens.”

I could see her lean in now, her warm interest overcoming her cool displeasure.

“ Ya know, it’s uncharted, virgin, that first feeling of neo-carnal warmth a guy feels glowing off that girl, that woman, Her. The smell of her recharged perfume in the dark is heady stuff, sweaty, intoxicating, inviting.”

Liz pulled her legs from beneath her and hugged them to her chest, resting her chin on her knees.

“Then that feeling of her mouth drawing closer, warmer, tropical, her breath sharing mine, mine with hers. My shaking hand on the small of her back, hers rising to slide within my black hair bristling like a porcupine’s quills at the back of my neck.

“Then you simply fall into that wet, warm pool of flesh, that doorway to the pounding trip-hammer heart, the unknown, the soon-enough revealed. After that, the fall becomes a climb and dive from the high board. Then another. Then…”

“You’re not playing me, are you, Erik?” Liz said. “I mean, is this really how you felt?”

“Oh, yeah. I can still feel it. Walking away, whistling my quiet, night-time whistle through the ivied posh, the ever-freshly painted not-so and my own not-very neighborhoods home, my left hand touching my flushed cheek, my lips that tasted of strawberry lip gloss, the smell of her perfume still on my fingers, Charlie I think it was,” I said, looking deeply into Liz’s brown eyes.

“Wow, Erik, that’s more than I ever expected,” she said, cuddling up close to me, putting her sandy-haired head on my shoulder.

“But that’s all I remember,” I said.

“You jerk,” she said. “I’ll bet it wasn’t this memorable.”

And then she gave me a warm, wet kiss full of promise, momentous and unforgettable. And I felt that spin and drop like I hadn’t felt since that first time.

Only rated NC-17.

For Day 22 of my Story-a-Day challenge, I was encouraged to make my prose as purple as I liked, in a quest to find out how much description I really need. We’ll, as a poet in the other side of my other literary life, I tend to throw the schmaltz around pretty liberally.  If you don’t think so, just take a look at the previous to poems I posted. I’m not sure I took a deep dive into it in my story, but I hope there’s enough gooey description in here to satisfy.

Waited Too Long

There was a smell of Time in the air tonight …
what does Time smell like? ~ Ray Bradbury

As I passed her on the street,
it hit me like a flash of light,
blinding me for a second like
headlights in my face on a dark night,
numbing my body and deafening me
to where all I could sense was
that aroma for the life of me I couldn’t place,
but stopped me cold like when you can’t
match a name to a face.
Then I recalled it was the perfume
you wore back then,
the one that filled my head with
the drop and the spin
a certain someone can make a boy feel
where he comes undone,
losing all sense of time and place.
Except I remembered the moment,
felt the heat of your body,
saw your face
and heard your breathing with ears
that no longer hear.
I turned and looked but, of course
you weren’t there.
Just a ghost that floated by on this
warm night’s air, like that night
where we stopped time, capturing it
like fireflies in a jar,
only to lose them all when you left
me in that bar.
One more deep breath and I moved along,
because, like Time, you waited for no man
and I waited too long.

A second poem in response to Annie Fuller’s latest Writing Outside the Lines double-header of prompts. This one is using that Ray Bradbury quote. Now onto the stories that go with these poems.

And All the Light Within

Night keeps all your heart …” ~ Claus Terhoeven

I surrendered myself to the darkness
when you turned out the lights,
a willing body and benighted soul
wishing to follow your luminescent lead.
But the heart doesn’t need light,
is a blind thing stumbling over the shadows
of other hearts that hide in still others’ shadows.
In the darkened room you offered your body
but not your heart. While mine, tenuously tethered,
I offered to you. But it shattered, its pieces
falling away, chasing echoes of all
my dreams that fell before it.
Now the darkness fills where once a heart
beat for you, lost to your honest duplicity.
You were the daylight of my life and turned
to a thief in darkest night who stole
my heart and never gave it back, for night
hates penumbral half-measures. Night rolls over
and keeps all your heart and all its light within.

A quick “welcome back” write for Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines challenge. I wanted to write a story, and probably will later, but I’m tapped out. You’ll have to put up with this fifteen-minute first draft poem until then.

The Barksdale Pigeons

It was the singing that brought Tammany Bazanac out to the porch. She was used to hearing the soldiers singing, but she never had heard a tune so odd and voices so, well, foreign as these.

As the olive drab canvas covered trucks, white five-pointed stars on their doors, rumbled past Madame Sabine’s Rest on the road from Shreveport to Barksdale, Tammany stood on the porch to see what new flyers might be visiting Madame’s house some upcoming weekend. But instead of the usual pink-cheeked farm boys or earnest college men, Tammany saw faces she’d only seen before in the laundry where her Maw-Maw would take her Paw-Paw’s shirts for washing and his collars for starching down home in Alexandria.

The talk among the locals started that same day.

The people in town were suspicious of these Asian men who arrived in Shreveport in the Spring of 1943. After all, this was a military town, hard by an important United States Army Air Force training field. And hadn’t those slant-eyes pulled a sneak attack on just such a facility at Hickham Field on December 7, just two years ago?

The fact that these young trainees were from the Nationalist Chinese Air Corps, sworn enemies of the Japanese who had invaded their land, was lost on some of the residents of Sh. To them, someone who looked like that was not to be trusted. And when the sirens would sound, the thought that a sneak attack from inside Barksdale Army Air Field was never far from their minds.

After about twenty years of it, the people of Shreveport had grown used to the various roars of the fighters and bombers that raced or thundered over town as they took off or landed from Barksdale. They never quite got used to the wail of the siren, which didn’t mean to seek cover from an air raid by enemy bombers. Rather, these sirens coincided with a column of black smoke rising above the base, the town and everyone’s consciousness, as another training aircraft crashed, carrying from one to ten young souls to violent death.

Each day, all day, the skies around the northeast portion of Louisiana would fill with flocks of olive and khaki camouflaged aircraft bearing the USAAF’s white star on the dark blue circle. On weekends, though, it was the town that would fill with white boys in olive and khaki. They were like pieces of crusty white bread cast casually around the streets for the young women of Bossier to attempt swooping up. Each was intent in getting her talons into an officer in this weekly battle before another girl bagged the same young hero for herself.

Hence, the American flyboys christened the local girls The Barksdale Pigeons.

Many a local girl had captured her piece of the white American Dream over the years, by one means or another, because white bread was the only item on the Barksdale Field menu.

That was until 1943, when the Barksdale became home to training squadrons from the Free French Army de l’Air and the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. That also marked the spark of the first civil war battle in those parts since the Rebs whipped the Yanks during the Red River Campaign in 1864.

When Sous-Lieutenant Hertienne joined his comrades in a stop by Madame Sabine’s Rest one weekend, he was stunned to hear his native tongue being murmured or moaned from behind the doors and curtains of Mademoiselle Sabine’s carnal cafe.

“Ohh, chér…” he’d heard at one end of the hall.

Ca c’est bon, lover,” Hertienne heard from the other.

The accents were strange, but that was definitely French being spoken in paid-for rapture by some of the girls who worked for the Madame.

“Did these girls learn le français just for us?” he asked Sabine in the smoky front sitting room of her establishment.

Mais, non, cher,” she said in her own odd accent. “Deez girls just speaking dare own language. Many of us here are Cajuns from downriver and we still speak some of the mother tongue from our borning up in Canada. And where in France are you from, cher?”

“I am not,” Hertienne said.

Pardonne-moi, chéri?”

“From France. My family is from Tonkin in Indochine.” Hertienne said.

“Isn’t that near Shreveport?” the Madame said and laughed her roof-rattling laugh that always brought every eye in the place on her, which was her intent.

But the Rest’s door then opened and who walked in ripped attention from the Madame like the wings off a Stearman trainer pulling out of a 200 mph dive. Standing in the doorway were three Chinese flyers who had heard that Madame Sabine’s was a place where anyone could be shown a good time, if the asking price was paid. And they’d just been paid.

“Well now, looky here,” the Madame said, cutting the silence with her entrepreneurial will as much as her brand of mercenary Southern hospitality.

“Been waitin’ to see if any you China boys would show up here someday and now here you are. Come on in, boys, come in. We serve any of our valiant boys who dare in the air, ‘cept maybe dem Tuskeegee boys. Dis house still have some standards, even in a war,” Sabine said.

Hertienne observed the arrival with a disdain born of his upbringing on his father’s rice plantation and then as a junior colonial government official in Hanoi. He’d also seen the increasing Chinese influence on the Tonkinese population, including the influx of Communists, before the war began.

“I do not like these Chinese,” he whispered to his friend Bizot. “They are seeking to set fire to an already smoking pile of yellow reeds, no better than the Japanese or Nazis.”

While two of the Chinese airmen were of average height for a European or American flyer, the third was smaller, wiry and Hertienne thought had an edge to him he’d seen before.

“Come in, boys. Allez, allez,“ Sabine said, movng toward the door and extending her hands wide as if to hug all three at once. The smallest of the three moved first.

In fluent French he asked if Madame Sabine had any problem serving Chinese flyers.

Non, non, cher. As I said before, we are here to show you valiant boys southern hospitality with a spicy Louisiana charm all our own.”

Hertienne heard the airman speak French and immediately had him pegged as Tonkinese, perhaps from the western reaches of the Red River Delta.

Tammany, emerging from the kitchen, heard it, as well. She was at first confused by these men, their physical features, including color, as well as the confidence with which they approached the Madame and introduced themselves and established rules of engagement for their evening entertainment.

Tammany thought, ‘Cepting for his eyes and hair, that China boy could be one of ol’ Aunt Thelma’s boys back in Alexandria. And that was true. Because Tammany came from a mixed race family purer than the gumbo of so many Louisianans. She was what was known in the South as a high yellow, classified as black according to the nefarious one-drop rule, despite having primarily white European ancestry. With her pale olive skin, black curly hair and light hazel eyes, Tammany was quite in demand by some of Madame Sabine’s regular clientele who preferred a more exotic-looking companion. That included Denis Hertienne.

Tammany walked right past Hertienne to stand with the Madame, smiling her most beguiling smile and batting her thick lashes drawing even more attention to eyes that didn’t need it.

Bonsoir. Je m’appelle Tammany. Quel est ton?” she said.

“Good evening, Mademoiselle Tammany. I am Lieutenant Dinh Hien Chien,” the young Vietnamese flyer replied in barely accented English.

“Oh, I heard your speak French before, so I thought…”

“Vietnamese, French, Chinese, Tagalog, English and a little Dutch. I went to university in California, but I also given an excellent early education by the Jesuits in Hanoi,” Dinh said with a smile.

“Oh my, oh my. And what do I call you, cher? I think we’re going to get to know one another better for the month or so you’re here in Bossier,” Tammany said.

“Lieutenant Dinh will suffice for now, Miss…? I’m sorry, I missed your name before while I was becoming entranced with your stunning eyes.”

“Tammany. I’m Tammany, Lieutenant Dan.”

“Dinh, like ‘ja-know that pretty girl?’ without the ‘oh’ on the end.”

Hertienne was suddenly at Tammany’s elbow.

“I believe we had a date set for this evening, Tammany, non?” he said, stepping between and Dinh.

“I’m no one’s private property, Denis, not even the Madame’s. I am in her employ and take on companions as I see fit. And tonight I see fit to entertain, Lieutenant Dinh.”

“You would lower yourself to sleep with a…”

“Stop right there, Denis. Of all the people in this house right now, the one maybe most like me is this gentleman. And I would prefer it if you talked to the Madame to find a new girl if you insist on insulting our other guests,” Tammany said, her eyes flashing almost amber in the yellow glare coming from the old lampshade.

“What’s da ruckus here, Tammany? I’ll not have one of my girls talking in dat tone to a customer without damn good reason,” Sabine said, her own tone serving notice who was allowed.

“I was just ‘splaining to Denis that I’m nobodies property here. That I can choose who I take back to my crib, unless you choose otherwise. An’ I hope you would accept my decision tonight, Madame Sabine,” Tammany said.

”You want to be with dis China boy,” Sabine said, nudging Hertienne from between Tammany and Dinh.

“I would, ma’am. Just to wish one of our newest neighbors a special Madame Sabine’s Rest bon temps.

“I see,” the Madame said. And she did, seeing tammany’s earnest interest in the Vietnamese pilot.

“If I may, Madame,” Dinh interrupted. “I don’t wish to get the lovely Miss Tammany into any trouble with you my first night visiting your lovely house. I will accede to your authority, of course.”

“You are a silver-tongued devil, aren’t you, honey?” Madame Sabine said.

“Marguerite? Would you please come entertain Lieutenant Hertienne this evening, ma chérie?” Madame Sabine called to a dark-eyed Creole girl lounging near the bar.

“Excusez-moi, Madame, Mademoiselle Marguerite, but I believe I shall return to the base. Bonsoir, Tammany.” Hertienne said. “Thiếu úy, tôi sẽ được nhìn thấy bạn trên cơ sở,” he added as he brushed by Dinh’s shoulder.

“Yes, Lieutenant. I look forward to our meeting again…on-base or wherever you’d prefer,” Dinh said.

Shortly after Hertienne slammed the door leaving Madame Sabine’s, Tammany Bazanac, leading Dinh Hien Chien by the hand, quietly closed the door to her room.

An hour later, lying together in Tammany’s bed, Dinh said, “Why did you come over to me as you did, especially since the dashing French officer seems to think you have a mutually exclusive relationship?”

“Do you mean why’d I take a shine to you when Denis thinks I’m his girl and his alone?”

“Yes, exactly,” Dinh said and chuckled.

“‘Cause you reminded me of someone I used to know.”

“I do? A Tonkinese engineer from the Red River Delta not only in the United Stares, but down in Louisiana? If anyone doesn’t belong someplace, it is me here. And who is this person of whom I remind you?”

“Me,” Tammany said, kissing Dinh. “You’re not from here, I’m not from here. You’re yellow, I’m yellow. Looked like your Chinese buddies didn’t quite accept you, using you for your language skills. The girls here, the they only accept me because I draw more Johns they can nab, maybe even for a husband. Even a whore can be a Barksdale Pigeon.”

“Oh, the Army officers warned us about them, like they were bloodsucking bayou bats.”

“Well, they kinda are,” Tammany said. “And now here’s another thing I only just learned. You’e from the Red River in your country and I am from the Red River of the South in mine.”

“Those are some pretty logical reasons, i would have to admit,” Dinh said with a smile and a hug.

“Oh, there’s one more thing.”

“What’s that, Tammany?”

“When I laid eyes on you I got the dribbly shivers.”

“The drib…”

“Yeah like this.” Tammany took Dinh’s hand and pulled it under the covers to touch her.

“Ohhhh… of course. Those dribbly shivers.”

Dinh slept with Tammany several times over the next few weeks, but his visits stopped abruptly, which coincided with a renewed interest in her from Denis Hertienne.

“Tammany, would you please see to Monsieur Denis’ needs tonight?” Madame Sabine said one evening.

“But…”

“I don’t think that sweet China boy’s coming back, ma chérie.”

“How can you say that, Madame? That boy, he loves me. And I…”

“Now you stop right dare, Tammany. If I taught you one ting in diss life, it’s not to get attached to any one John,” Sabine said. “Especially one who’s only here for a couple months. An’ dat boy’s not gion’ home to Kansas, chil’. He goin’ halfway roun’ da world, first to fight an’ den to live. If he survive the first part.”

Hertienne stood nearby wearing an expression more smug than his usual superior air.

“An’ what are you doin’ looking’ like the cat that swallowed the canary, Lieutenant?” Tammany said.

Hertienne said, “Oh nothing. I warned you to stay away from his type. Lazy, untrustworthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a Japanese sympathizer or a…”

“A what, Denis? A brilliant young man, passionate about ridding his country of oppression? A threat to your interests?”

“Tammany, enough. You take the Lieutenant to your room and show him a good time. We’ll talk about diss later. Now bouge ta queue, move your sweet little tail in there now,” Madame Sabine said with distinct finality.

“Yes’m, come with me, Lieutenant,” Tammany said, taking Hertienne’s arm and walking to her room, where she performed her services in a most perfunctory manner.

“What is wrong with your, girl?” Hertienne said, lying atop Tammany, who gave up her body to him, but nothing else.

“I am paying for a bit more enthusiasm, Tammny,” Hertienne said, pinching Tammany’s breast.

“Ow, that hurt, Denis. stop that or I’m calling Madame.”

“I doubt she would do anything, especially now that the FBI is watching the house,” Hertienne said.

“The FBI? What are you talking ‘bout?”

“I told you, Tammany, I wouldn’t be surprised if our good Lieutenant Dinh is not only a poor pilot, but a communist, as well.”

“How do you know this, Denis,” Tammany said, wriggling out from under the Frenchman.

“Oh, I don’t know. He just the look of one of those scum who tried collectivizing my father’s plantation and raising hell with government officials from Saigon to the Chinese border,” Hertienne said with the hint of a smile.

“Wait a minute.” Tammany said. ”The Madame mentioned something about the FBI watching the house. What’ve you done, Denis?”

Hertienne handed her a $50 bill and said, said, “Ah, Tammany, I do so enjoy your childlike nature. You remind me so much of a Vietnamese girl fresh out of the country and into the fleshpots in Haiphong.”

“What have you done to my Chien, Denis?” Tammany said, her voice rising and her eyes welling up.

“Well, I might have mentioned to the authorities that we might have a Communist sympathizer and sabotaging fifth columnist on base. Then I told them about the slant-eyed pilot who might crash his plane into something symbolic. Lives could be lost.”

“You didn’t!” Tammany said, turning her back to Hertienne at the side of her bed.

“Oh, but I did, Tammany. By now that mongrel is being placed in a cage in New Orleans where he belongs.

“I love that man. Denis how could you?” Tammany said.

“I was not going to be usurped in your heart by some little yellow mongrel.”

“Denis, you’re not in my heart. You are only in my bed and that only because Madame Sabine ordered me to do so.”

Hertienne slapped Tammany with the back of his hand and she fell onto the settee in her room, .

“This is how we deal with persistent rebelliousness by our colonial charges,” Hertienne said.

“And this is how we deal with arrogant and abusive ‘chillin,’” in Louisiana, Sous-Lieutenant Hertienne. “Dinh has more integrity and courage than you ever will.”

And tis is how we deal with

“He’s barely out of the Stone Age, Tammany.  This is how we keep such rebellious children in line,” Hertienne said.

With that, Tammany calmly said, “And this is how we deal with those who deserve rebellion, Denis.” She pulled a short, thin blade of a knife from the hidden pocket beneath her pillow. She slashed it down Hertienne’s face and pushed it into his neck. She screamed, “Madame!”

Sabine and her bouncer burst through the door and Hertienne lay choking on his own blood.

“He was choking me, Madame. I knew he was going to kill me for being with Dinh. I had no choice but to defend myself.”

“All right, all right, cher. You get yourself cleaned up and Raoul will take care of the Lieutenant. Quick get yourself down to my room.”

“Yes’m,” Tammany said and rushed out into the hall wrapped in a bloody sheet.

“Raoul, introduce the Lieutenant to the hogs, would you?,” Sabine whispered discreetly. “We want no word of this going beyond these walls or the hog pen. You do understand, eh, cher?”

A week and a half later, Dinh Hien Chien walked into Madame Sabine’s Rest after seven days incarceration and questioning by the FBI in the Crescent City.

“Dinh!” Tammany squealed, jumping into his arms when she saw him.

That same week, base authorities reported a Free French officer had disappeared from Barksdale. The FBI investigated and found a secret radio and code books hidden in a false bottom of his equipment trunk. They further determined that Sous-Lieutenant Hertienne was actually a Vichy spy sent to infiltrate and disrupt Air Corps training and communications by any means.

Three weeks later, Tammany and Chien were married by the Catholic chaplain on base. This further made her not well-accepted by the girls at Madame Sabine’s. But that didn’t bother her when she moved to San Francisco. And eventually the girls missed her faintly mulatto honey drawing military bees to their beds. She also gave them hope, proving her theory that even a whore, a high yellow one at that, could earn her wings out of Shreveport as a Barksdale Pigeon.

I’m afraid I missed Day 16 of my May story-a-day challenge. Couldn’t be helped. And I found the prompt for Day 17 to be not as inspiring as I hoped. So I reached back to an old prompt I kept from Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Salecky. It was a very simple one, though produced this gargantuan (and still quite rough) first draft story. The prompt simply said to write a story with the title The Barksdale Pigeons. My historical knowledge and imagination took it from there.

I Once Loved a Girl

I once loved a girl,
though it could’ve been three,
and she (or they) could
very well have loved me.
But we couldn’t stay close,
or too close is what I stayed.
More than likely we never became We
because one or both of us was afraid
to express the dream within ourselves
and believe we stood a chance
to be more than just friends,
maybe not lovers, but maybe a romance.
So I and this girl,
and maybe the other two, too,
parted with sorrow, though it could’ve
been more “It’s not me, it’s You.”
Now I write poem after poem
here alone in my room,
pondering the “what-if” of us together,
lyrical laminations of love never to bloom.

Misreading Between the Lines

It’s no wonder why most of us hate Mondays. Returning to the scene of that continuous crime. Your individuality and humanity lying there on your desk surrounded by its taped outline.

But by 2:30 PM Friday, I was looking forward to Monday, not because I’m some kind of 9:00 to 5:00 masochist, but because it meant I had survived the weekend.

It was after taking one of my decompression walks by the river—the one that always called to me from ninety feet beneath the pedestrian bridge, “C’mon in, the water’s fine!”—I returned to my office to find this message written in a spooky red script on the wall-hung whiteboard upon which I brainstormed plots against the ultimate plotter:

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday.

No signature, of course. I mean why would someone sign such a non sequitur to the statements I’d left on it when I left for my walk:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow’d.~ Iago

I had no idea who defiled my little nook in the office library. It was a space I’d carved out for myself because it kept me from having to listen to the masturbatory ravings and sycophantic mewling of my supervisor, Grant Godfrey.

There had been days in my time under his alleged supervision, though he was more overseer, when I would lift my depression-heavy head from its drool puddle on the desk and begin the staggering trek down to his office, where I sought to confront him, then grasp him in a strong hug of brotherhood. This embrace, preceded my throwing both of us out the fifth floor window to the pavement below. Didn’t matter which of us died. Either or both would do. I saw it as a Win-Win.

But I’d always run out of gas by the time I’d reach his office door and slink back to my quiet space by the water cooler and the collected monthly board proceedings from 1948 to present.

Who the hell left this message? You really can’t recognize whose handwriting it is on a blackboard or whiteboard. It’s larger, vertical and perhaps more legible than any note or signature they might give you.

I walked to the librarian’s desk and asked, “Janie, you see anyone slink into my sanctum sanctorum while I was out?”

“Nope, but I was down on 3 where they had cake for Annie B. She’s retiring AND getting a chin lift next week,” she said.

“Oooh, The Villages here she comes?” I said, my hands up and shaking like I was scared. If I was a guy in that Florida retirement community, I would be.

I thanked Janie and wandered across the hall to my friend Phil’s office in Legal. He was a jokester with a view of humanity and bureaucracy about three and a half levels below mine.

“You didn’t leave that message on my whiteboard, did you, Phil?”

“Joey!” he exclaimed, for he always exclaimed, never spoke, the name I let only three people outside my immediate family call me. “Nah, I was down in Human Resources checking how many weeks until I’m eligible for retirement. What’s it say?”

“You too?” I said. I’d been doing that since Grant usurped the position of my supervisor when my sainted boss, Jack Peters retired. “Retirement seems to be our biggest seller these days.”

I told Phil what the message said.

“Hmmm, cryptic. You think it might have been The Despicable One? He’s certainly not above screwing with your mind.”

“I dunno, he’d want to watch my reaction. No one was near my space when I got back,” I said.

“You could always ask him if he left this vile intimidation message,” Phil said.

“I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s just that someone came into my space, erased my quote on the whiteboard and left that message in its place. Maybe I will mosey down to Mahogany Row and kick the over-inflated tires,” I said.

When you want to deal with executives, the rule of thumb I established back in my reporter days was to develop relationships with the angelic keepers at the pearly gates——the secretaries. Yeah, I know. And Satan was an angel, too.

I decided to start at the top, the most, shall we say senior secretary in the exec wing, Donna McKenna. She’d been assistant to the previous Director, but when new leadership came in, her boss was swept out. So she took two steps down to the Assistant Director of Not Much.

“Hi, Donna. That a new picture of the grandkids there?” I asked, figuring there were not enough o’s in “smooooth” to describe my rapport with these non-coms who essentially ran this joint. And Mary was the Senior Master Sergeant, despite the fact that the new director’s hot secretary considered herself queen of the hop.

“Same picture as the last time you blew smoke up my skirt. What do you want, Joseph?” she said with her ex-smoker’s rasp.

“Was wondering if you heard if anyone,” I nodded toward The Despicable One’s office, “was down in my office trying to fuck with me.” I told her what I’d found she I returned from lunch and it was like talking to one of the guys in the locker room.

“How the hell would I know? I’m not his keeper,” she said in a combination of annoyance and relief.

“You know lots and you hear even more. You’re the Oracle of the Fifth Floor,” I said. “I trust your knowledge, instincts and counsel.”

“Excuse me while I hose the bullshit off my keyboard. I only know he was talking to his buddy Tom over there. Yucking it up about giving you some crap assignment like letting out his dog at lunch or picking up his laundry. You know, something demeaning because he’s afraid of you.”

“He has no idea,” I said, recalling my flight and drop of fancy fantasy of his demise.

“But he’s been down here kissing director asses and stomping on everyone under him, which is everyone, all day. Never even left for lunch. Princess over there picked it up for him and peerless leader.”

I was in thrall of her supreme bitterness. Olympian in her acerbity.

“Okay, thanks. I can’t see anyone else trying to mess with me like that,” I said.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Joseph. No one around here gives a shit anymore. We’re old and have snakes of x’s winding around our calendars all aiming for that last ring that circles our getting out of here before another purge or he takes over,” Donna nodded toward Grant’s office.

I decided to wander back to the office and erase the offending mystery from my wall and my memory. I figured a few beers would help.

When I arrived back in my lair, the afternoon sun was pouring through the door-to-ceiling windows like a prism and beginning to bake everything.

And there, captured in the otherworldly rainbow light, was my criminal conspirator, Tess Blake. She’d been Grant’s speed bag to my heavy in relation to his training for taking over the hearts and minds of the proletariat on floors 1 though 5. She had been lucky enough to transfer out, but stopped by a lot to talk to me and other friends so unlucky to have been left behind.

“Did you see my note?” she said she saw me coming.

“What note? You leave it on my desk or chair?”

“No. silly. The note I left to remind you to fully water the peace lily and spider plant I left in your care over on the sunny side of the building,” she said, not realizing the extent of my animus and paranoia where Grant came into play.

“Um, that note was from you?”

“Yeah, I wanted to make sure you knew what to do for Hortense and Edgar here before you take off and to wish you a happy weekend.”

“I see…” I said my face heating from the sun outside and embarrassment within.

“So will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Hydrate and have a great weekend.”

“Only if you help,” I said.

“Sure, let me get the watering…”

“Already did that before my walk, incase I didn’t come back. I meant why don’t you come help me hydrate at the Blue Bayou and help ensure I get this weekend off to a good start.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. Let me just close the blinds a little bit and run over to Legal and get my stuff,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, that’d be great.”

As she closed the door, I grabbed my green marker and drew a flower on the whiteboard. Beneath it I wrote:

There is that in the glance of a flower which may at times control the greatest of creation’s braggart lords.~ John Muir

I guess my own suspicions and fears had conspired to scare me into seeing something sinister where there was nothing but nothing. I had met the enemy and it was me.

Story-a-Day May Day 5’s fluffy bit of desperation. It’s based on the premise of finding that first statement on the whiteboard in your office. Started this late and finished before midnight. I’m done until I see you all tomorrow. Another chance to get it right.