Short stories

The Owl at Twilight

Aubrey was laying uncomfortably in his normal position on the bed. His breathing labored, his chest ached from the constant struggle to get his breath. The hospice nurse set up a morphine drip, which would soon relieve the discomfort. He asked to have the oxygen cannula removed, it dried out his nose.

He was aware of those around him, especially Dana, whose every motion and word was imprinted on his mind through all the years of their marriage. He was also trying to recall all the wonderful experiences of the last fifty-five years they were together. A thickening fog enveloped his mind; a frustrating resistance to what he termed 'end of life wool-gathering.'

The sun rose, moving the room slowly from dark night to a comfortable lightness, there was no need to break the spell by having someone turn on the lights. The pain gave way to the power of morphine, he drifted off to sleep.

Dana sat comfortably in a chair next to his bed. Sunlight streamed through the three large windows. The trees bordering the west and north of the property were in bud, glowing purple-red in the intense sunlight.

Eventually, Aubrey heard Dana’s voice reading to him.   

When they were younger she read to him as they drove many miles on trips to faraway places. He loved the sound of her voice as she read; the longer driving days passed by quickly. She read anything they had brought along including newspaper articles, magazine stories, even catalogs. Most of all, he loved hearing her books and stories; having an 'author-wife' as he called her, had intrigued him from the beginning of their romance. 

Now, in a soft voice, Dana read him his favorite children's story, the one about Hardback Hawk and Maurice the Mouse, the one he had encouraged her to write. He felt her hand touch his.

The house was quiet; the cats had taken up permanent residence on the bed. The sun made its disappearance behind the tree line, and the color in the room changed to a yellow pink, then mauve to purple. The room became cooler, the baseboard heaters ticked as the heat came on. Dana felt a slight pressure as his fingers curled tighter around her hand; she smiled.

Dana glanced outside. Starlings made their nightly flight in a huge swarm of changing colors, geese flew in a loose pattern overhead, deer grazed in the upper meadow, chickens began to roost and a lonely owl sang a forlorn song to the coming night. Aubrey gave a shudder, fighting one last time to resist mother nature's irresistible intentions. His gentle grip fell from her hand; he was gone.

The end.

Sitting at her makeshift desk, a small rickety round table, Carolyn was exhausted, drained of any feeling. The end of all her previous novels had been greeted with a sense of thrill and elation; this one left her uncomfortable, the story was not complete.

Carolyn moved the mouse and highlighted the save icon. The dialogue box displayed: Save (Ctrl+S). The icon taunted her to make the decision. She pushed the operator key, a little circle appeared over the icon, the arrow went around and around, echoing her feeling of ambivalence about this story. In a blink the page disappeared, the empty desktop displayed an empty screen.

She decided to delay emailing her last chapter to the publisher. They had all the chapters up to now. If it wasn’t going to fly they would have told her, instead there were a steady stream of emails encouraging her to keep going.

Carolyn nudged a one inch square of cardboard underneath the table leg. The Lakehouse Inn allowed her a private nook in the back and after 25 years of annual visits, she knew how to gerry rig every weather-beaten piece of furniture. Now the Inn was quiet, the rhythmic ticking of an ancient grandfather clock the only noise. A painful feeling of the past welled up. The fact that she was alone moved her to the edge of tears. Within her manuscript, she had fallen irrevocably in love with Aubrey, and now he too was gone.

Her friend and vacation roommate Judy nudged her, elbow to elbow. Setting down a thermos of hot tea, 2 mugs and spoons, a tiny pot of honey and a wicked looking slice of pecan pie, Judy said, "Self-imposed solitude deserves an equally self-imposed indulgence."

Carolyn laughed and pointed to her laptop. "Almost finished," she said, her tone turning serious. "My character and I are disagreeing about who lives, who dies and who just lives in limbo."

Judy was a friend familiar with Carolyn's uncomfortable divorce from the man she had loved so intensely. Pausing a moment to allow each other to take deep, cleansing breaths, Judy half-smiled and asked, "A talk, a walk or a secret diversion?"

Carolyn laughed again. At first she was tempted to say no to all three but that would be giving in to the pity party she was holding for herself. Judy was right, months of concentrating on her story had made an old woman out of her. A change of pace might offer a new perspective. "Alright, I pick 'door number 3' but only if allowed full disclosure."

"I know, I know. Your characters are the only one's allowed to surprise you." Judy filled her in on the party later at the community center. "And, it's a Full-Moon party, the perfect diversion."

Taking a last sip of tea to hide her expression, Judy wasn't the only character to sneak in a hidden agenda. An hour ago, she recognized another annual Lakehouse Inn visitor who was a recent widower. Judy lost no time inviting him to the party. Clearing the table, she left with only a maybe from Carolyn.

Remembering the deleted last page of her story, Carolyn thought about the song of the lonely owl and how her character Aubrey would have felt, dying, and alone.

Opening a new document on her laptop, she typed, 'To hell with the future - never, ever worked out as I expected anyway.' Save. Power off.

Carolyn decided to throw out her inhibitions and go with the moment, a pleasant change from her normal reaction. Suddenly life seemed too short to be cautious; a thought that ignited a tiny spark of desire within her heart.

Alcohol

Alcohol is my problem, more specifically art, women and alcohol. Somehow the themes exist together. I can’t remember a day going by when one or the other hasn’t asserted itself. I can’t tell which one came first. Perhaps I started drinking because of the women.

I am afraid of giving up alcohol for fear it will kill off my creativity. Creativity nurtured by women and sex, alcohol to drown the whole sorry mess.

It amazes me that I can get anything done, my mind is in such turmoil. I am empowered to work hard, drown my negative thoughts in alcohol, divert my attention from my ruinous lifestyle with women.

Deep down I know that I can never find happiness until break the cycle of my deadly conduct. It is the fear, the fear of losing my creativity which prevents me from making a change.   

A short Love story

It is eight pm; I lie on my bed and hike up my nightgown. I look at my knees. I am not prepared for what I see, knees swollen, the left one more so, flushed and warm to the touch, the scar discolored, obvious. I stretch out my legs and stare down at them, the legs that have carried me so far, covered many miles, running, jumping, climbing, and supporting my lovers, now distorted and throbbing painfully.

I had a wonderful thought of you as I do when I am in pain. Your gentle and caring touch as you changed the dressing on my knee, your slender fingers realigning the gauze and applying the ointment, chasing away the pain. You put lotion on my bottom and remark that I have nice legs. I wonder how it will be, will you see my legs in the future, will you still think they will look okay.

It is twilight, my most difficult time of day. A pink glow begins to paint the sky, I know I cannot lie here and miss the world as it turns descending into the lavender of the gentle evening.

I have been a mess since returning from the trip, on the verge of tears most of the time. How could you know how painful my past was? I know you try, you gave me guidance not to go there anymore. I can’t avoid everything, it is better to feel the past and move on.

I get up; make my way outside, camera in hand, determined not to allow my discomfort to hold me back. I don’t want to lose the opportunity of capturing a beautiful photograph for you.      

This trip brought an end to an era, alcohol, indiscriminate sex, violence, confusion, secrets, the lack of love. It all ended as I sped away from the memories of my past; back to the possibility of you and a new life.

Blood

 

 

The steaming shower flowed over me. It was a relief to feel the dirt being washed away. Closing my eyes, I soaped up; I know every inch of my body by heart.

A sudden weakness came over me, as if I was in the presence of the demons. To preserve my balance, I opened my eyes. Blood was dripping from me to the shower floor. To find the source, I reached behind me. Blood was pouring out of me, between my legs, down the side of my thighs, turning around the soft underbelly of my knees, winding around my calves, over and under my feet, erupting in crimson spurts between my toes. The twin rivulets, bright red and purple, converged at the shower drain.

Fighting to catch my breath I opened my mouth only to disgorge a great spray of congealed blood onto the shower walls. Blood flowed from my nose, my eyes, my ears and my penis; I was bleeding out.

If I fell, I knew the noise would startle her, she would find me before I died. I wanted to go, I couldn’t go on living, the demons are too much for me anymore.

Angel appeared next to me, holding me up.

“This is not your time, you are not going now, close your eyes to this, I will save you.”

Her loving words restored my sanity. I stood quietly listening to the running water and the rhythmic tempo of the exhaust fan.

The feeling passed, I opened my eyes; there was no blood, just the same stream of shower water washing away the dirt.

It is like this many times when I shower. I turn off the water and stand there looking out through the translucent shower curtain trying to determine if demons are on the other side. Gathering my resolve, I fling open the curtain. The bathroom is empty as it has been for the last sixty-five years.

The after effects of unwanted sexual experiences have stayed with me all my life.

Slowly they are dissipating. I am getting better now.  

The Shooting      March 2016

Aubrey held the revolver in both hands. It was much heavier than he anticipated, he had difficulty holding the weapon away from his body. Placing both thumbs on the hammer spur, he cocked the revolver with all the strength he could muster. A fresh round latched firmly into the place where the hammer would eventually fall. He held his aim in the middle of the Preacher's chest.

Aubrey cried out, "don’t come any closer, put the ax down or I will shoot you." Tears were welling up in Aubrey’s eyes blurring his vision. It was no longer possible for him to align the sights; the barrel weaved around circumscribing a larger and larger circle.

The preacher saw that Aubrey was losing his resolve. He made the tragic mistake of assuming Aubrey wouldn’t shoot. Holding the ax high over his head he made a lunge at Aubrey screaming; “You little bastard, I am going kill you and your whore of a mother."

A strange calm came over Aubrey. Relieved of making a choice he squeezed the trigger. The discharge was far more violent than Aubrey expected, his adrenalin-fueled-grip kept the gun from flying out of his hands. The barrel flipped up to the left. Aubrey realigned the gun back to his intended target, but before he could cock the hammer he saw a change come over the man he had just shot.

The preacher’s expression went from wild rage, to disbelief, to acceptance. The rage and violence he had inflicted on others was turned on him by the boy he never could have been. Slowly the preacher lowered the ax. He released his grip on the handle. The ax fell onto the blade and stuck in the floor. The preacher’s knees buckled, he squatted down and fell over. With an inaudible moan he was dead.      

The Tight Wire

There was less than a thousand feet to go. The wire was heating up, the grease working itself out between the fine strands. During all the years he had spent learning, he found the wire had a life of its own, telling him everything, telegraphing it's feelings through the buffalo hide soles of his slippers. But now, the wire was telling him it was dying.

Over the last several years, he had made other daring walks; this was the most ambitious. He told very few about his plans until the last months. He visited the site often, studying the weather and practicing the walk over and over in his mind. He studied the tables calculating the strain on the wire; it was exposed, he was vulnerable, but the walk was possible.

Prepared in France, the wire was the finest of its kind, very strong, attention had been paid when it was woven. As always, he had supervised the rigging for this walk, spending hours going from side to side checking the tension and the security of the anchors. This change in temperature was unexpected. He had waited for three days for overcast, cool weather, with no wind. Halfway through, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the wire. Had the gods parted the clouds to peer down at his walk? The tightwire began to slacken from the heat; a fresh breeze made balance difficult. He must have offended the gods, one cannot walk wire without the consent of the gods.

He knew what he told them during the interviews - concentration, training, balance, and an athletes grace was the secret of walking tight - yet in his heart he knew the real secret. Walking was the province of the gods. You must always be in grace with the gods because only they prevented your fall.

Wallenda fell in South America, they said he didn't supervise the rigging. He had offended the gods by calling it "The Last Great Walk."

Concentrate. The wire was steeper than it should have been, quivering, unraveling beneath his toes. He could tell the direction where it was failing. With his pole he signaled the riggers on the approach side. He could see them frantically checking the rigging, never mind, the wire would fail someplace they would never reach.

He had been afraid before. At first he felt paralyzed, his legs turned to lead, he stopped and balanced. The braided wire dropped one inch, the ends of his pole deflected up one inch. He began to walk and then run across the tightwire, the weight of 38 years of life left his body. He was light; he flew across a wire that was no longer pressed against the callused, godless soles of his feet.                 

                                                                                          ALONE

She drives home from town. The car has rust everywhere, around the fenders and the bottom of the doors. The steps up to the apartment shake as they have for the last seven years. What was she to expect from an outside staircase? At least the landlord painted it two years ago, but now the red stain was fading and becoming powdery. Damp patches show on the steps shaded by the trees.

After showering, she checks the drain for hair and being satisfied of it's cleanliness, she goes through the ritual of preparing herself for her date.

He's new, she met him at work. she supposes he will be like all the rest. The endless stream of men; all of them wanting, all of them lacking. She takes them to bed and uses their bodies to satisfy a hungry that she can't identify. Now she checks the room, it is freshly made up and everything is in order.

The car door closes outside, and she is filled with fear. Weakly she greets him at the door. It's off to a bad start. They drive, it is a new car, clean, like him. They talk about who they both know and other small things.

In the morning she tries to duplicate the position they were in the night before. She draws her knees up to her breasts and spreads her legs to the empty room. She touches herself and then the empty bed; dissatisfied, she covers herself and rolls towards the wall and sleeps until mid-afternoon.

She returns from Joan's wedding to an empty apartment. What a scene it was, people pretending to be happy and to be "OH SO GLAD" for Joan. Rob! where did she find that jerk anyway. Gary calls and she tells him she feels ill, he says he will call back.

                                                                                                    ***

"Who found her?"

"One of her boyfriends went over when she didn't show up for work." "She was dead in the bath, she must have done it Sunday night." "How do they get that many pills?"

"This one's pretty."

"Yeah, Lois upstairs said she fucked every man she met." "Must have been real lonely."

 

The Gift of Happiness

Once upon a time there was a little boy who was very unhappy. He asked his mom how to be happy again. She told him the Angel of Happiness will visit him in his sleep and give him the Gift of Happiness.

"What does the Angel of Happiness look like?" the little boy asked.

"No one has ever seen the Angel of Happiness, the Angel is so beautiful there are no words to describe her." his mother replied.

"How does the gift work?"

"You must think of someone who wants to be happy. Then when the Angel gives you the Gift of Happiness, you must give it away to that person."

That night when the little boy was fast asleep, the Angel of Happiness came to him and placed the Gift of Happiness in his arms. When the little boy awoke, he was holding a small box wrapped in beautiful paper.

The boy told his mother about the gift. She told him to take the gift to school with him and when he finds the friend who is in need of happiness, he must give that friend the gift.

One of the little boy's friends was very unhappy, his mother was very ill. The little boy took the finely wrapped Gift of Happiness and gave it to his friend. "Give this gift to your mother and the happiness will make your mother well."

The next day at school his friend told him he had given the Gift of Happiness to his mom and that she became very happy and healthy.

That night when the little boy fell asleep, the Angel of Happiness appeared and placed another Gift of Happiness in his arms.

Now the young boy understood that in order to be happy, you must give happiness away. Once you do, you will never be unhappy again.

Angel

December 8, 2014

 

My First Attempts at Flying

You should not be worried about my abilities as a pilot. My first attempts at flying did not involve a real airplane. They came about because I spent hours day-dreaming about becoming a pilot. Yes, when I was a little kid, day-dreaming occupied most of my waking hours; and yes, I did crash during one of those flights, which explains my current unusual state of mind.

You see, as a five-year-old I was able to fly, as a matter of fact, I was a very accomplished pilot. My admission that I crashed may have caught your attention, and since many of you have flown with me, this begs an explanation. Had there been headlines in the Philly papers, they would have read, "Five-year-old's flight ends in crash."

Five-year-old boys fly in the following manner. Extend arms out from body, palms facing down, make jet plane engine starting sound. Lower head and sweep back arms into a streamlined confiquration for flight. Increase jet engine sounds until they reach afterburner intensity; and run like hell.

During the time I was involved in these flights, I was also attending elementry school.The school was a one story brick building in the shape of a long rectangle. The brick patterns on the outside walls made a convenient way to heighten my visual sensation of speed. I would run as close to the wall, as fast as I could, the patterns in the bricks would fly by. This simulated what pilots must see when they fly close to the ground. In military terms, flying; "map-of-the earth." The brick patterns flying by became hypnotic and I became deeply engrossed in my quest for speed.

I was unaware at the time I was flying, that a hose bib was inconveniently installed higher up on one of the schools' outside walls. "The devil is in the details," and I had skipped one of the important steps in flight planning; be familiar with the route you would attempt to fly.

I was en-route at high speed down one of the walls, head down, arms swept back, jet engine sounds in full afterburner, lunch pail and school project carefully secured under my right wing; BLAM, the cockpit went black and everything became very quiet.

I was the first person to arrive at the scene of my accident. It was a horrible mess, arms and legs akimbo, my marmalade sandwich half out of the wax paper laying there next to the open lunch pail. My highly polished apple was still spinning around on the ground next to the open ten-pack of Crayola crayons. Interested bystanders were rushing to the scene of the tragedy.

"What happened?" someone exclaimed! "I crashed," I answered feebly.

If you have ever wondered how I got this way, now you have the answer.

My Angel Uses Lipstick

Sometimes I worry over my Angel; she must be into some kinky stuff with the others in her life, because when we spend time together, she makes unusual `requests.`

The other afternoon I was minding my own business working at my easel, drawing, when poof, she appears. My Angel is so beautiful that she never needs clothes or makeup - nothing can improve on her heavenly looks - her beauty is such that non-believers would turn dumb if they could cast their vision on her.

Just because she doesn't wear makeup and clothes, doesn't mean she isn't interested in makeup and clothes. She gets her fashion kicks by taking them out on me.

Our last encounter transpired as follows:

Angel: "Take off your clothes."

Me: "Why?"

Angel: "Because I want to play dress up."

Me: "Can't you dress up yourself?"

Angel: "You know that's not possible, so get undressed. Here I'll help!"

No point in arguing with my Angel, so I complied with her request. "Stop helping, that tickles." No matter, she continued to rudely remove my jeans and tidy whities as I removed my shirt.

There I was nude, standing next to my easel, the opposite, of course, on how art is usually done.

"Come with me." We proceeded to the bedroom where she made me sit at her dressing table. My Angel began to apply the foundation to my face with her makeup brush, occasionally deftly using the brush on my other parts to see if she could get a rise; she was very successful in that endeavor. Then she skillfully applied the blush, eyeliner, highlights and lipstick. I entered a calming trance as she attended to me, plus I could see the satisfying results appear in the mirror.

"Go get one of your favorite shirts from the closet and put it on me," she commanded. I dutifully did as instructed placing my favorite black dress shirt on her. I buttoned the shirt, leaving the top two buttons, and the last lower button, undone. There she was, standing in front of me in a shirt too large for her, which just the same, barely managed to cover her modesty.

"Now kiss me, over my face and body as slowly and softly as you dare; don't stop even if I protest."

We were standing by the mirror; I could see her outline in my shirt, wonderfully curvaceous with a bump out the back where my shirt enclosed her wings. I began to kiss her gently, first on each cheek, then on across her forehead and behind her ear. My Angel is invisible to all except to me. I could see the lipstick on her, but in the mirror all that was seen was a black shirt with lipstick kisses and an invisible form swaying in front of me.

I continued as directed, stopping only so she could silently refresh the lipstick on my lips. Unbuttoning the black shirt, I applied the lipstick kisses on her breasts, navel, hips, and the wondrous bush between her thighs. All the while she sang me a wondrous, hauntingly beautiful, song that only Angels can sing.

Things where moving very quickly for me, I was getting in my own way, and her song was becoming more audible and increasing in tempo. Just at the very moment that things were getting out of hand, so to speak, the doorbell rang.

"Oh crackers!" she exclaimed. "Were you expecting anyone?"

"Just an art supply delivery," I said. "I'll go and settle this, then get the mood back."

"Right behind you Lich-tenstein."

We went to the front door together and upon opening, confronted the UPS man. He didn't seem surprised at the spectacle before him: a nude man sporting full make-up with smeared lipstick on his chin, cheeks and neck, and behind him a floating black shirt with lipstick kisses hovering above, throughout and below.

I signed for the package, and as he turned to leave, the UPS guy said. "Have a nice day ma'am."

My Angel Comes to Me Only When I am Able to Accept Her

Occasionally I lose contact with my Angel. I know she's there, how can this be? My Angel is always ready to give me comfort when I need it. Why does she abandon me?

I must be in the correct frame of mind to be able to receive my Angels comfort. If I am closed off, and have selfish thoughts, if my mind is full of envy, if I am angry and resentful, these thoughts block my Angel's ability to arrive and comfort me.

If I am open to her possibility, if I am capable of understanding that there are many things I do not know, if my mind is empty of corrosive thoughts, if I am ready to enter her world of unlimited possibilities, and endless creativity; then my Angel will surround me with her love, and infuse me with her strength.

My Angel Shops at Giant

"I need to go to Giant."

"What for?"

"Cat food."

"Can I come?"

"I really wish you wouldn't."

"Why can't I come?"

"Because you constantly whisper remarks that are full of sexual innuendo."

"No one can hear them; they're all in your mind."

"It throws me off, I can't concentrate on what I am shopping for, and that's how I forgot the cat food in the first place."

"I'll be good, I promise, besides my job is to be there for you, and heaven knows you really need that, it is why I am here in the first place."

"Okay, only if you keep to your promise and let me do this on my own."

"My it's hot; it must be 95F out here."

"Yeah; and it's crowded. I shouldn't have waited until 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon to do this."

"Look at those women, they hardly have anything on!"

"See, there you go again, already making sexy remarks."

"I'm only stating the obvious. There goes the amazon you saw last week, that body doesn't quit."

"Maybe she'll burst out of that top!"

"I'll get a small cart in case we need some other stuff."

"Okay we'll start here in produce."

"I think you should get some cucumbers, bananas, cumquats; whoa, look at those melons!"

"Get some oysters, you need them."

"See, I told you this would degenerate into sexual innunendo."

"I want some cherries and whipped cream so we can do it on the floor in the kitchen, just like last week."

"Stop, for Pete's sake you're distracting me."

"Hey wait, there is that fox you bumped into in the cereal aisle last week; what a show stopper."

"I'm kind of partial to the redhead over by the yogurt."

"Let's go, I'm getting horny."

"It's about time."

"What do you mean; we just did it in the shower before coming here."

"That was then, this is now."

"Get in this line, its moving pretty fast."

"It's got too many women."

"What's up with that?"

"I'll get an erection and get embarrassed."

"Yeah, you only wish."

"They'll see the bulge and it'll throw me off and I won't be able to count change."

"Deal with it and let's get going, I want to go to CVS and look for condoms."

"You don't need condoms; angels don't get preggers; do they?"

"I like the kind with the little warts all over them; it makes for a special feel."

"Get in the car and let's go home."

"I can't wait to do it in the kitchen again, besides whipped cream and cherries are one of the major food groups."

"Whew, finally in the safety of our own home." "Uh, oh!"

"What's the matter now?"

"I forgot the cat food!"

Behind the Hay Bales

"Remember that evening last summer behind the hay bales?"

"Oh wow, how could I forget?"

"It was so special, with the full moon coming up just at dusk." "It was warm and dry, so inviting, we were having such a good time fooling around out in that field."

"You were awesome!"

"Yes, I know; many have told me that!"

"You were so patient, and gentle, taking your time, getting everything just right."

"I enjoy taking my time with something that important."

"Most of the others I know go at it too quickly." "You know how to touch in all the right places; you know how to get my motor running!"

"How did you get that special touch, and your tool; so big and you use it so creatively?"

"I got the touch from working on my motorcycle, and the tool came from Tractor Supply."

"Sure glad we got the car running, otherwise we would have been out there all night without anything to do."

"We would have thought of something."

The Corn Field

"My; winter is sure holding us back from doing it outdoors, and I miss that."

"Me too; remember last August when we did it in the corn field."

"How could I forget?"

"What is so good about doing it outdoors anyway?"

"It makes me feel naughty, it's exciting, and I like the adventure of it; all that adds to its pleasure."

"What's the matter; isn't it as much fun for you?"

"You're an Angel, I'm a human; there's a difference you know."

"What difference?"

"No one can see you, they only can see me. If others saw me they may find that strange. Then of course there's the fact that we are not really alone in the corn field."

"What! who else is out there?"

"There was that flock of turkeys we scared up. Then the herd of deer, the snake, geese, mice, the guy from the Agriculture Department, and the 4H club, for starters."

"I think someone saw us."

"Why is that?"

"Well, remember that article in the Intell, "Albino Water Buffalo, sighted in Upper Bucks cornfield."

"You have to admit maybe there is a shade of truth in that. Why don't you get one of those Chuck Norris workout benches and shave a few pounds off?"

"There are some other issues."

"Yeah, like what?"

"When you get it on, you start flapping your wings real hard and that stirs up all the pollen; and I end up with an Asthma attack."

"Use your inhaler!"

"Then there was that swarm of mosquitos."

"That had an upside."

"What was that?"

"They got you in that place and it made it bigger!"

"Well, I'm still scratching."

"I've noticed."

"Then I stepped in the deer poop and it got between my toes."

"Stop complaining, it cured your athletes foot."

"Lastly I haven't been able to get the mud stains out of my undershorts."

"Oh; is that what that's from."

"Anyway; was it as good for you as it was for me?"

 

Lovers

He opened the patio door. The smell of the early summer arrived with the heat of the afternoon. A wind stirred along the tree line, bending the golden grass in the adjacent field; a hot wind, dryer than the day before. He had little clothing on. He lingered in the open doorway letting the air wash the moisture from his body. It was this way more than a year ago when they spent the summer together.

The same hot dry air rode into the room and washed over her body as she lay naked on his bed. He could see the soft curls of her hair move with the breeze, she stirred gently; he stared at her intently, trying to absorb the completeness that was her body. He was so much in love with her. She had been crying; the stain of her tears still on her cheeks, the wetness of their love on her thighs.

He sighed, moved from the doorway and finished dressing, the warm wind washed across the empty bed.

 

The Convertible

When they first met, she thought he was stuck up. As the winter passed, she realized, it was only his reserved manner.

Now, with the top down, they drove the low road, the cool dampness of the night, a change from the dry heat of the day. The slight chill made her press against him. She held his arm with both hands, small red nails lightly touching the crispness of his shirt.

He drove at a comfortable speed, making smooth turns and accelerating slightly on the long straight-a-ways. The engine made a satisfying whine; low vibrations from the powerful exhaust beat the misty air. He put a lot of care into keeping the convertible just right. The warm glow of the instrument panel complemented the sweet smell of tender blossoms spilling over the windshield. From the mud along the river bank, frogs sang a night song.

He slowed and turned off to a dirt road under the maple trees, tires crunching the cinders from a long ago abandoned railroad line along the canal.

She removed her shorts and bikini briefs, lying back and twisting around to meet him.  He leaned across the seat and gently pushed his hand between her legs and with the other, cupped the small of her neck and pulled her warm face, with her scented fine hair, to his cheek.

The smell of her hair had been with him for the last few weeks; it was more than a year since she left him.

Swimming Lessons

I have always wondered what possessed my mother to sign me up for swimming lessons. She had her reasons: perhaps in her day, more than sixty years ago, being well-rounded meant a child should be able to swim. Perhaps she wanted me to be able to keep up with my Canadian cousins, all of them very able swimmers. Perhaps it was the “thing” to do. Or, perhaps she just wanted to do her best for her only son.

My mother was fifty-one-years-old and I was just eight. I had come along very late in her life, a great surprise and inconvenience to her I am sure. Unpredictable events always arose at our house. We had recently moved and I was enrolled into a new elementary school, which offered outside activities for the students including lessons. This was also the third elementary school in three years.

The first two elementary schools were in Philadelphia, I was never comfortable in school, but those two schools were friendly places and I knew some of the kids. We all walked to school, the classrooms had a place in the back for our yellow slickers and rain boots. There were no lockers, the facilities were old and warm, in a homey sort of way.  Adults looked out for us on our way walking back and forth to school. The walk itself was fun, I had a purpose, something to do each day, and when I was alone, I got to fly my make believe jet plane along the endless brick walls.

The new school in Pottstown was different, it was structured. I took a bus each way, it was miles from home. Taking a bus was a disappointment to me for I enjoyed walking to school. I stoically waited for everything, for all the coming and going and the lines to the hallways and classrooms. The school had individual lockers; everything was regulated by the ringing of a bell. I had to have a pass to be in the hall. The bathroom was called a lavatory, which I initially misconstrued as laboratory. Because of my confusion over that name, it took me half of my first day at that school to ask to go to the bathroom.

You see, at that stage in my life I was painfully shy - not just shy - abnormally shy. My daily plan was to take the bus to school, attract as little attention as possible, then go home and play with my trains. In class, I sat in the back, seat assignments were alphabetical by last name. Once home, I was free for a while before the pain started all over the next morning. My mother, with her good intentions, had thrown a wrench into the works with these swimming lessons.

I had very little to say in the process of setting up the lessons. In those days, children at school acted as couriers, important documents between the parents and the school were delivered by hand by the child and signed off on and executed without evidence, complaint or knowledge by the child. In this way, my mother was able to set up and execute her plan.             

For me, the plan was fatally flawed. One of the flaws was I would have to change my carefully crafted daily plan. Once a week, I was to wait after school for a special bus, which would take us to swimming lessons, and after the lessons, drop us off at our regular bus stop. The second flaw was that the swimming lessons were to be at the YMCA, a place I had never heard of and didn’t want to find out about. By far the biggest flaw in the plan was I didn’t have a bathing suit. Bathing suits were optional for little boys, whatever that meant. Many families, including mine, didn’t have the money to buy unnecessary clothing which would be worn infrequently. Did it mean I would be nude? Was I to wear my ratty underwear? What were GYM shorts anyway? What was GYM? What was an athletic supporter, how did you put them on, were they uncomfortable, could they do double duty as a slingshot? I spent hours trying to understand how this might go down. The plan was in place and I wasn’t going to do anything about it.

A month before the plan was to be executed, I began to worry. We had driven by the YMCA to check out the route and satisfy my mother’s curiosity. It was an imposing gray stone building which occupied the lion’s share of a city block. Probably it was built in the thirties; it was old, ornate, and uninviting. The town was an industrial town in decline. The general decay of the town put me in a down mood. As time moved closer to the first lesson I became anxious, the days were painted gray like those gray stone walls on the YMCA.

On the appointed day, I got up in an anxious mood after a fitful sleep. Worn out before the day had begun, I went through the motions of the accustomed routine to get ready for school. I had my bowl of Cheerios, and dressed in the clothes I had worn the day before, only to take the special precaution of making sure yesterday’s underwear was in acceptable condition.

Mom had my lunch pail in hand at the door, and to my relief, a brown paper shopping bag with a brand new pair of blue bathing trunks, and a well-worn but familiar gray bath towel, which matched the color of my present mood.

I trudged out the door and waited reluctantly for the school bus to deliver me to school and perhaps my last day on earth.

I began to worry, I was good at worrying, I could blow up the smallest thing into a catastrophe. If there was nothing to worry about my creative mind would think something up. As I look back at my school years, it was a wonder I received an education, I would lurch from one worry to the next completely preoccupied by their circumstances. This worry was a big one. Things went through my mind: what would happen if I couldn’t find the right bus, what would happen if I missed the bus? Would I drown? Did the YMCA have windows open to the street? Would strangers be able to see me, or worse, would they see I was naked! Yes, I was building a powerful case.     

Then all of a sudden the days had gone by and it was the day I was to take the first lesson. On that day my legs turned to jelly, I had loose bowels, the pint of milk I had at lunch was piled up on the baloney sandwich half way down to my stomach. I was losing control of my thought process; I went on auto pilot, moving through the school day as if in a dream.

When the three-thirty bell sounded, I gathered my stuff and like the prisoners in the movie “The Green Mile,” I walked slowly out to the curb and to the bus.

The sight of the bus gave me fresh hope that the day was not going to end badly. You see it was not a regular yellow school bus; no this was a real bus, a bus people went places in. It was streamlined with fluted stainless steel accents on the sides. The rear windows were inverted, the back end was rounded and those windows gave the back a face like that of the mask of Batman. The front was slightly rounded and a visor came out from the roof to shade the windshield from the sun. The bus was running, it had a powerful low throb which belied the power of the engine tucked away from sight in the back. The front door was open, the clean steps invited entry. A thick nickel steel bar connected the driver to the door so it could be secured from the inside. Teachers and pleasant looking adults stood outside guiding us into the bus. I had my empty lunch pail, my pencils, sharpener, notebook and a shopping bag with my bathing suit and towel in it. This might work out okay if I could stay out of view and not call any attention to myself.

Had I known the bus driver today, I would tell you he was a nice man. He probably had a wife and children, perhaps grandchildren. He had a happy demeanor; he stood up in front of us and gave us instructions. Stay in our seats, do not stand on the seats, do not place our shoes against the back of the seat in front of us, and if we caused trouble he would pull over and put us off. This was his bus and those were his rules. After charging us with his remarks, he swung into the driver’s seat, deftly pulled on the nickel steel rod, the door went satisfyingly closed and we were off.

I had never been in a bus like this; up until that moment, bus travels had been restricted to the yellow school bus. The school did not have enough yellow buses to complete a regular school day and still have buses for extracurricular activities. Whatever the reason, I was enjoying my ride, which helped to ease the burden of the thoughts of the impending swimming lessons.

After a short comfortable ride, we swung up to the curb at the YMCA and one of the adults got out to guide us into the building and block traffic while we unloaded. I went into the main doors with the others and up a short wide flight of steps, a left turn put us at more doors and then into the room that contained the pool and locker rooms. I could smell the chlorine from outside the first set of doors. The large pool room was well-lighted, every sound echoed, a low hum of the pumps that circulated the pool water was hardly audible over the sounds of the boys from the first class making loud noises in order to hear their echoes.

The pool was very large; the surface was still in motion from the last occupants who had just finished their lessons, the tile floor wet from the exit of the last swimmers. I didn’t see any bodies floating in the pool so I imagined everyone had made it out with their lives. However, this may not be my luck.       

The thought of having to undress in front of other people in a locker room was weighing heavily on my mind. The thought of others being able to see my skinny body, with my private parts being covered only by a blue pair of swim trunks that may fall to my knees unexpectedly at any time was dominating my entire thought process.

We were directed to an open doorway leading to the locker room, only a painted block wall barricaded the view of those inside from prying eyes, I felt very uncomfortable as if all in the world were able to see me. I made a beeline to a locker at the very end of the room and well out of the line of sight of the open doorway. The locker was unlocked, I put the paper bag containing my bathing suit and towel on the long wooden seat, which lined the wall of lockers and swung the locker door open.

Carefully hiding as much of my body that I could, I began to undress and hang my clothing on the hooks inside the locker. Others stood blatantly out from the lockers and removed all their clothing and revealed themselves stick, stark naked to everyone who cared to look. Occasionally, I stole a glance at the other nude boys in order to determine if somehow my body was different. Being satisfied that we were all mostly the same, I removed all my clothing except my underpants. At that point, I was tempted to pull my bathing suit on over my underpants, but I reasoned out that I would then have to put my clothes on over a wet pair of under drawers after the lesson. I had procrastinated for so long that most all the boys had slipped into their bathing suits and left the locker room. I heard one of the adult men call “is anyone still in here,” and with that I made a lunge out of my underpants and in one well-rehearsed slick move donned my swimming trunks and yelled back, “I’m ready, will be right out.”  

Walking from the locker room I saw that the other boys had lined up at the edge of the pool. I found a place at the edge and lined up with them. A serious looking adult man proceeded to give us instructions about the first lesson. We were to stand at the edge of the pool and hold our arms outstretched over our heads, and with one hand hold the wrist of the other arm. When commanded, we were to take a deep breath and simply lean forward and fall face forward in an arc into the water, arms first.

I did as instructed and on the command fell into the pool, not arms first, but more completely flat onto my belly. When I hit the water, I took the deep breath and inhaled an entire boatload of pool water into my lungs.

I was going down. I heard the words from the submarine movies, “Take her down, dive, dive!" As I descended, I knew I was drowning and made the decision not to resist my inglorious fate and just go with the program my god had laid out for me.

Resting on the bottom of the pool in a bathing suit two sizes too big for me, I took a moment to assess my plight. All of a sudden, nature's plan for my survival took hold of me, and rejected any thoughts I had of resting on the bottom; in one powerful move my little legs sprang my body upward to the surface. I paddled as hard as I could and when I was almost to the surface, a powerful arm plunged down through the water and grabbed me and pulled me forcefully from the pool. I lay at the pools edge coughing out the water and struggling to get air into my lungs.

I lay coughing and crying in a puddle of pool water, when the owner of the arm sat me upright next to her warm chlorine and suntan lotion smelling body and with her life-saving arm, wrapped a towel around my shivering little body and held me close. She became my Mother Goose, and I was the ugly duckling cowering beneath her wing. 

Time, as they say, heals all wounds and when I stopped shivering and crying, my guardian angel-savior asked me if I thought I may want to try diving into the pool again. Since I was still living, and the other boys seemed to be having such a good time, the fear left me and I stood beside her and with arms stretched high above my head, I took a big breath in, folded over and in a graceful arc, entered the water perfectly.

And that my friend, is how I completed my first swimming lesson.