Cake

He lay a small plate on the table, presenting me with a piece of cake and stepped back from the table. The cake was decadent in appearance, all frivolous in adornment and pomp. The colors were richly contrasting with one another and against the monochromatic backdrop of the plate. Into my field of vision slid a small fork, silvered and filigreed. I looked up at my host across from me and he waved his hand in the air. “Your choice is simple,” he said. “You will choose either this cake, and join my men…or you will die.” His pause was filled by a feminine brush at his mouth with the corner of his napkin.

I looked back down at the cake and weighed my choices. The fork, too small to be used offensively, the absence of a knife on the table, the guard behind my host…all the possible options for attack flew through my mind. Also on my mind was the very real hunger I was feeling right now, having been in the cell for close to a week, by my calculations, with only water. He wanted me alive, but weak, the bastard. I picked up the fork and clenched it in my fist. I lay my other fist on the table on the opposite side of the cake-filled entrapment.

So hungry, so very hungry.

I could feel his smile. That reptilian smile of his. With a yell, I raised my hand in the air and drove the tines of the fork down into my leg, piercing my clothing and skin but missing any major arteries. The sudden fiery pain in my leg drove all hunger from my mind. The guard began to react when I raised my arm but stopped in shock when the fork came down on my own leg. I began laughing through the pain, laughing that he hadn’t beaten me…not yet. He ordered the guards to drag me back to my cell. I screamed at him with madness, fury, and pain, and in truth, he looked startled at the lengths he was now realizing I might go to. I had bought myself time. How long, was anybody’s guess but the choice was now off the table once again.

So…I win this round.

The old man at the gate

The old man approached the gate, still confused at his presence there. Not sure how he got there or where he was he raised his hand to knock on the gatehouse door when it opened. A bearded man in long robes and carrying an iPad stepped out and greeted the old man.

“Well, hello! We’ve been expecting you.” As he began sliding his finger around the iPad, he chuckled, “Check-in procedure is much faster now that Steve arrived.” The old man looked around and was still confused. “Where am I,” he asked the bearded man. The bearded man raised his glance from the tablet, “Well, you’re here, of course.”

The old man, through furrowed brow, asked, “Where is here?” The bearded man laughed and closed the case to his tablet. “Ha, well, that’s been a source of controversy for a while now. Let’s just say, it’s whatever you make of it. Now follow me, you’re all checked in.”

The gates opened and the old man saw people, young people, walking around with smiles. Everyone was smiling. When he passed through the gate, he felt better than he’d felt ever in his life. He looked down and his stomach was flat, his legs strong. He saw his reflection in a store-front window and he recognized the young man standing there. But it’d been a long time since he’d last seen him.

He started to turn and say something but another familiar face was in the reflection, standing across the street, just over his shoulder. He turned and looked at her, then the bearded old man. The old man placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and spoke quietly, “No more pain, no more sickness, no more suffering. She’s been asking about you since she arrived.” Tears filled the man’s eyes. “I had to make sure the kids were alright first,” he said.

The bearded man smiled. “Well, don’t you think you’ve kept her waiting long enough?” He watched as they met each other in the middle of the street. They touched each other’s faces then embraced before walking away, hand in hand. Suddenly, they broke into a run, still holding hands. The bearded man smiled and turned back towards the gate.

On these walls

She bought the house so the kids would have a central residence, a safe place for them and their friends. Things were harder now but they were hers and hers alone. That both scared and emboldened her because there were days when she wished he was around to do some of the things she didn’t want. Like mowing. She hated yardwork except for tending to her little garden. That, she enjoyed thoroughly, the making things grow tall and strong. Those activities were her forte, keeping the little things around her safe and empowering them to grow.

Right now, the house was a mess, what she called a “holy mess” because of the epic nature of the disarray. But this was to be expected when you are remaking someone else’s home into your own. Right now, the project was what she was going to turn into a library. Her kids were already readers, just as she was and is, and they will remain so if she has anything to do with it. She physically winced when she toured the house with the real estate agent, she just knew that hideous wallpaper was going to be gone.

As she scraped off layer after layer she realized this may be one of those tasks she wished he had been here for. She counted 5 layers of paper so far and finally, she saw paint. She worked her way across the bottom of the wall, pulling paper off in an upward direction. As the paper came off in shreds, she noticed that the wall wasn’t just painted a single color. In fact, it looked almost like a mural was hiding behind all that damned paper.

The scraping became easier in the middle of the wall so she changed tactics and began concentrating there. She pulled the last layer away and underneath was revealed a face painted with long red hair. She pulled away paper from the center and there she saw more of the red-haired woman under the paper. Her arms were outstretched and she appeared to be sitting. The paper resisted but she was able to scrape enough away to see the woman’s arm was around a blonde child, a girl.

She began scraping on the other side of the woman on the wall to reveal a second child, another girl, this one with flame-red hair like the woman. She stepped back from wall and stared at the mural, then turned her head to a picture of she and her two daughters on the wall in the foyer. She had her arm around the shoulders of her blonde daughter and her red-headed younger daughter was sitting in her lap. She looked back at the wall.

She remembered the real estate agent telling her the house was built in 1920. She also remembered the last things the agent told her as they locked the front door after their tour.

“I think you’ll love it here. This house was made for you and your girls.”

The other side

What do you fear most? What keeps you up at night, chest pounding, head throbbing? I heard a phrase today from actor/musician Will Smith that has set me to pondering.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

So simple, but so true, as truth usually is. Truth, when we’re open to it, usually strikes us between the eyes because once we’ve heard it, we wonder how we missed it before. Pretty much the same goes for fear. It is more covert in its impact, however, as fear usually wheedles into the cracks in our edifice rather than the direct bolt to the cranium. Once fear insinuates itself into those cracks, it begins expanding, forcing the cracks to be filled with more and more fear. The truth about fear is that it is viral in nature and once it takes hold, it requires very strong medicine, indeed.

I’ve felt and succumbed to that fear for many years. Even though I felt imprisoned by my circumstances, became increasingly depressed over it, I just couldn’t muster the courage to actually do something about it. Until the moment came when I realized that everything I wanted was on the other side of that fear. Now, it should be noted, facing your fear is not easy, it hurts like hell, and it can be the most emotionally traumatic thing you can do in life. But after trauma, there is healing. Like the trauma to a bone or an internal organ, almost immediately the healing begins.

Face your fear.

Find your truth.

What you want is waiting…just on the other side.

The magic camera

It had been a long week since his mother passed. He was about finished at the house, he had pulled out what was going to auction and what was to be kept in the family. Only a few boxes remained, all the photographs of a lifetime, gathered in dusty cardboard containers. During his last visit, just last month, he had found his mother going through these boxes. He sat beside her at the dining room table, albums scattered all across in front of her. She was flipping through the pages slowly, and every so often, a hand would slide across a page containing pictures of deceased relatives.

She was always the sentimental one in the family. She would tell stories about her childhood to he and his brother to “keep these memories alive”, she’d say. She grew up dirt poor and they didn’t have a camera in the family when she was a little girl growing up in the Depression. Only one photo of her as a child exists, then no more until the 1950s and she and her sisters posed before going “into town” dressed up with the latest hairstyles. The red lipstick looking unnaturally dark in the black-and-white photo. To the best of his knowledge, that was the only picture of her and her sisters together all at the same time.

In the 1970s, all the rage was the Polaroid camera. Instant photos from the “magic” camera, as she used to call it to him. He was in grade school at this time so it seemed completely reasonable to him that the camera was, indeed, magic. Because of the magic camera, there were literally hundreds of pictures, suddenly, in the albums. The scarcity of photos from earlier days gave way to the candid shots that now filled album after album. And being the 70s, all the bad fashion and hairstyles were readily available to ponder and laugh at.

The Polaroid being the high tech precursor to today’s digital devices, it allowed his family to record and review all the moments they shared, with good or bad fashion choices. And it was his mother who kept them. When he visited last month, she would tell stories about some of them or stories that had been triggered by the image of the person in them. Many of those stories concerned his dead brother. She wondered aloud if she had been a good mother to him. Maybe if she had been better, his brother wouldn’t have killed himself.

He could hate his brother at these moments. But he never let on to his mother, only thing he could do was assure her that his brother had loved her but some people are broken in ways that can’t be fixed. She would turn the page of the album, not responding to his assurances. She commented on the quality of the photos now. “They’ve faded out so much, you can’t tell what some of them are anymore. I always told your father I wished we had never gotten one of those Polaroid things. Look at this one,” she said, pointing to a faded picture of him as a baby on a swing with his brother holding him. For some reason, they both had Indian headdresses on.

He did notice that the pictures were very faded, even though they had been kept in an album for decades, out of sunlight, safely tucked away in a closet. “These things are just about gone,” she lamented, “Just like my mind is lately. I’m getting to where I can’t remember people’s names anymore.” He tried to comfort her but she was lost in the album again. He just sat with her, quietly listening as she reminisced and recounted tales of relatives he no longer remembered.

And now he sat on the floor of the big, empty house, boxes in front of him. For some reason, he wanted to go through those same albums she’d gone through last month. He thought about picking out some good pictures that hadn’t faded too badly and having them put on a DVD for posterity. He pulled the flaps of the box open and pulled out the top album. He was confused, however, as page after page were filled with completely white photos, neatly organized behind the sticky plastic film meant to hold them in place.

He threw that one aside and pulled out another…and another…all filled with empty white photos. Any hint of images were completely gone. The other boxes contained the same result. It was as if… Then it hit him, the truth of it. There was no “magic camera”. All these albums had been her memories.

She was the magic.

What a shame

The bar became smokier the longer he sat alone at his table. He had hours to kill before his flight left and his boredom exceeded his desire to stay sober. He watched from his perch as people came and went. Some looked happy, most looked stressed, all looked tired as hell. He almost didn’t notice the couple that came in, they were so nondescript. They sat on the opposite side of the bar, facing him.

The first thing he noticed about the woman was her flaming hair. How it hung around her face, across her shoulders, almost hiding her face. He wondered if it was intentional, the hiding. She seemed uncomfortable in her own skin if he was honest. He looked at the man with her and could see that she was hiding. From him. The way the man had his arm around her shoulder was not in a protective manner, or a loving one, but as one of ownership. She kept her head down submissively, both hands on the bar around her drink that he had ordered for her.

There was nothing loving or affectionate in the man’s nature towards the woman. She dared not look around the bar and he could only imagine why. He had a very unnerving suspicion that the hair was covering more than just her timidity. He felt his blood begin to boil at the thought of this lovely creature exposed to a man of such low character. As he sipped his drink, he watched the man lean in and say something to her and she nodded “no”. Good for you, honey.

The man she was with grabbed her by the arm and a wince of pain flashed across her face. She looked up to see if anyone was watching. She locked eyes on him across the bar and she flushed red, turning her head back down. No! Don’t look away! Ask for help! But she simply looked down at her drink while her companion hissed at her, gripping her arm tighter.

The man let go of her arm and stood. The man pointed to the restroom and began to walk in that direction. He saw an opportunity and scribbled a message on a clean cocktail napkin. He hurried over to where she was sitting and pushed the napkin in front of her. She looked up at him, complete shock on her face. He motioned toward the napkin.

Quelle honte pour quelqu’un comme vous d’être enchaîné

She looked up at him, confusion obvious on her face. “What does it-”

“What a shame for someone like you to be chained.”

She pushed the napkin back across the table. “I think you have the wrong impression. I’m not chained.” He pushed the napkin back once more, saying “Of course, you are. You’re chained by your fear, by your insecurity. You’re chained by the low expectation you have of yourself that he is the best you can do. That you don’t deserve to be treated like the treasure you are, enslaves you. Come to gate B1. I’ll be here for a few more hours and I can help you. Either way, please take care of yourself, and realize you’re worth more than he deserves.”

Quickly, he walked away.

He left cash for his drink and walked to gate B1. He had not meant to be so bold but he couldn’t watch it anymore. He remembered his mother and the hell she went through. He couldn’t sit and watch it. It wasn’t until he sat down at the gate that he realized his hands were shaking. He sat staring out the window at the planes, wondering if he’d done the right thing, wondering if she was safe.

He looked at his watch and he still had 2 hours left of his layover. Someone sat in the seat next to him and he looked over. It was her. She had tear-stained makeup but she wasn’t crying now. She held up the cocktail napkin and quietly said, “Help me.” He took his cell phone out of his coat pocket. He had some calls to make, favors to call in, but he would.

It was no problem.

The valentine

He crafted the valentine for her with trembling hands. He wanted it to be perfect for her, because she was perfect for him. He agonized over every detail, crafted the glass, smoothed it. When he had finished, he found the softest cloth he had and polished it for her. He placed it in a velvet bag and placed that in a lined box. He locked the box so no one else would see the valentine or be able to get to it.

The next day, he smiled and gave her the box with the valentine. She remarked on the lock. He told her that it was to protect the valentine from others. He carefully unlocked the box and held it while she reached in and took out the velvet bag. She loosened the top and carefully reached in to pull out the valentine.

The glass was polished so brightly, the sun reflecting on its surface made her jump slightly and the glass valentine fell from her hands to the ground. They both watched as the valentine shattered. They both stared at the pieces on the ground, each one reflecting light back to them. She cried at what she had done and helped him gather the pieces up into the velvet bag.

She tried to apologize to him, she knew what effort he must have put into the valentine. She saw in his eyes the pain that she had caused. Her words didn’t seem enough though and she watched him walk slowly away with the bag and the box and the broken valentine. She couldn’t follow him, he looked too sad. So she went home and tried to forget.

The next day, he walked up to her again with the same box and the same lock, and the same smile. He opened the box for her and she saw the same velvet bag. She pulled the bag out of the box and loosened the top. Reaching in, she pulled out the valentine. He had pieced everything back together, glued everything back the way it was. It didn’t shine this time but it was all there, just like before.

She asked him why he put it back together and he told her that the valentine could only belong to her and he thought she should still have it. He apologized for it not being as shiny as before. She said it didn’t need to be as she placed it carefully back in the velvet bag and back in the box.

One moment

He sat in the cryogenic compartment waiting for the doctor. He had been wired up, had all the IVs inserted, and was ready mentally for whatever came next. The doctors told him he was terminal and this may be his only shot for a cure. Basically, it works like this: We freeze your body until a cure is found. Your mind will be conscious and aware, so we insert a scenario or memory for you as a way to keep it from recognizing the passage of time. If you choose a memory, you need to make sure it’s a pleasant one as you could be under for quite some time.

The doctor and his team entered the lab discussing things among themselves and he acknowledged his patient. “Are we ready?” the doctor asked as he took the pulse of his patient. The man nodded nervously that he was. The doctor smiled. “Have you decided on a scenario?” The man’s face lit up through his pain. “A memory, actually.” “Mhmm, well, that certainly is your choice.” he said as he shone a light in the man’s eyes. “So, when we give the word, you’ll need to have that memory in your mind and nothing else, because once you’re under, that is what will be your reality until you are awakened. And that could be a very long time, indeed.” The doctor heavily emphasized the “very”.

The doctor put his pen light in his lab coat pocket and then his hands. “So, what is this memory that you want to relive?” The man looked around the faces in the room, then quietly spoke. “There was this girl. I wasn’t looking to fall in love, but it still happened. We had…been together, and afterwards we were in the bath together. We were laying in the hot water, she was leaning back against my chest. I sang to her. I splashed hot water on her to keep her warm. Laying there, not speaking, not needing to, was the most intimate moment I’ve ever had. I fell in love with her in that moment. I want that moment again.”

The doctor didn’t say anything for a time, he just looked at his patient. Finally, he spoke. “Well, sir, it’s time.” The nurses positioned themselves around the compartment and lifted the blanket over the man’s chest. One final check of his IVs and EKG connections and they stepped back. The compartment began to close, the whirring of the machinery temporarily covering the sounds of the monitoring equipment in the room. The man heard the slight hiss of cryogenic gases begin flowing and he immediately felt sleepy.

He heard the doctor tell him “Now.” He closed his eyes and thought back. He felt the water rising around him and he opened his eyes to see her climbing into the tub. Her perfect body sliding into position. He wrapped his arms around her and felt the heat between them as he began to sing…

It felt good

As I sped along the highway in the rented car, I felt the pressure of the Ruger 9mm pushing into my left side. Holstered for a cross-hand draw, it’s reassuring presence was insinuated into my ribs. The road came at me in the glare of my headlights cutting through the deepening darkness of the setting sun. The dashed lines blurred as I raced along the black ribbon of road.

I didn’t have a plan. I had an idea of a plan, however. He was going to regret laying a hand on her again after he’d been warned twice already. The three strike policy had been invoked, and he was about to be ejected from the game. I gripped the wheel with both hands, knuckles pained and straining. The sound of her crying still in my ears was the soundtrack of the road as I made my way to his house.

I pulled up in front and saw he was standing on the porch, beer in hand. I put my car in park and thought hard about my purpose there. I heard him yelling crudeness from his porch. I opened the door so I could hear him better. His violence filled me. I thought of her, her cries, her pleas to not do the very thing I am doing.

I’m sorry, baby. I’m going to have to not listen to you this time. This time he went too far.

He was still yelling as I got out of my car and walked around it into his front yard. All 250 square feet of it. A tiny home for a tiny man. I walked to a point directly in front of him and stood quietly with my arms at my side. He drunkenly threw a half-filled beer bottle at me but missed by a mile. He pointed and swore, sputtered and coughed. He impotently threatened me, the coward that he was, from the cover of his porch.

I took stock of the man before me. I never understood her attraction for him, then again, I never understood what she saw in me, either. But I never abused her. If anything, I loved her too well. I made it impossible for her to live up to the ideal I had set. I don’t blame her for anything. Except for finding herself in this a-hole’s arms.

He finally shut the hell up when I drew my gun out and dropped my arm to my side with it. My thumb clicked the safety off, my index finger lay along the slide above the trigger guard. Now, there was only the sound of the distant traffic, insects, and the occasional barking dog. He looked confused. I stood there, gun at my side, not speaking or moving. He raised his arms and began to speak but I raised my arm to cut him off by sliding the barrel back, then aimed at him.

The black barrel of the Ruger pointed directly at his head, he drew in a gasp right before he pissed himself. I let him finish pissing, then swung my arm 45 degrees to my right and emptied my clip into his classic Corvette. He screamed as I took out the windows and the tires on the side facing me, then put a couple in the body for good measure. He stepped off the porch and started to come at me but jerked to a halt when he saw me eject the expended clip and retrieve a fresh one from my belt, slamming it home and sliding the barrel once again.

I pointed the barrel at his slack jaw.

“What’s my name?”

He looked at me very confused and stammered out a “Whu-what?” as I stepped toward him.

“I said…what the hell is my name?”

He looked around then back at me.

“I don’t have a damn clue!”

I clicked the safety back in position and holstered my weapon. Walking away, I said quietly, “Exactly.”

As I drove away, I felt the warmth of the gun against my side. It felt good.

Advice

As I sat at the bar, relishing the cool burn of the whiskey, she sat next to me. She smelled of cigarettes and bad decisions. When our eyes met, I’m sure I felt a click in my stomach of the trigger being pulled back.

“I know you,” I said with the confidence of the inebriated. She smiled knowingly and brought a smoke out of her tiny clutch bag, the kind of purse a girl carries either condoms or small arms in. This one could be carrying both. Afraid she might not speak the native tongue local to this area, I repeated myself slower and louder than before. “I said, I know you.” She blew smoke out the right corner of her pursed, glossed lips and said, “I heard you the first time. I was just trying to remember if I’ve dated you.” She tilted her head away from me, took a drag from the cigarette then nodded. “No, I haven’t dated you. So how do you know me?”

I took a swig of the liquid courage in front of me and leaned over enough so I could smell her hair, “You’re my next broken heart.” She laughed loudly, too loudly, then drew more fire from her cancer stick, “Now I know why I haven’t dated you.” She reached into her small arms bag and laid a $10 bill on the bar. She stamped out her smoke in the ashtray and got up from the stool. Before she left, she leaned over to me and put her hand on my arm. “Let me give you some advice, sweetie. Never bring your heart to a bar.”

She walked away, grinning. I felt badly for a second then looked down at the watch in my hand. “Let me give YOU some advice sweetie. Never bring your good jewelry to a bar. ” I threw a $20 bill on the bar and hightailed to the exit opposite from the one she left by.