Freedom

Category: Writing (page 1 of 1)

Deborah Akubudike

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Quarantine

I’m isolated. Not thinking; not screaming… just lost in my own thoughts.
Am I a thorn amongst lilies? The “precious” thread I’ve held for so long
chokes me till I vanish.
A virus I caught while holding on; unto a thread I thought would save me
it just wanted a taste of my pain.
Leaving me isolated alongside other convicts.
For I’m imprisoned in space for the choice that I made. I’m hospitalized
and as I stare at the doctors, they shake their heads slowly and sadly,
whispering gently, “There’s no cure… I’m sorry”.
Their voices sound faint, or is it my thought that’s fading?
Was it wrong that I touched one infected with love but now
I’m completely insane?
Is it fair that I hungered for passion and now I’m fed with anxiety and
pain?

For the doctors have no cure, yet my thoughts remain impure; and I
use the thread I grasped so tightly, to hang myself till I’m free; till I’m
reassured… ’till my pain is no more.

Is this me?
I know not really who is the next in line.
Who is willing to hold on to the thread… that thread – my dread.
Who is ready to be choked, till he can’t breathe, by love’s vines;
and be thrown down into hell’s busy quarantine.

I won’t consider it again… smirks.
‘Tis good to be finally free; ‘tis good to be me.
Sighs.

Photo by T on Unsplash

Let the Sleeping Dogs Lie

The whiskey eyes I drowned in, is where I died.

The feelings I masked so well resurrected, like a nightmare that felt so good; that

always kept me screaming your name till I couldn’t feel me.

There’s a shadow beside my bed and as I stare intently, passionately, I find myself

kissing pictures…. I’ve gone crazy.

And when I wipe the glass mirrors at work, I see you staring at my lips… I look away.

This is just torture.

I take my hand so I can’t let go; I’m just craving champagne – every red wine now looks

like the blood you took from me. And like a twig, you broke that connection.

That electricity that gave me life, you kissed it away.

Now I’m like a dead battery.

Walking dead.

With the memories that I fed on in my hand, I walk to the graveyard – the place I found you, and I place the memories gently beside you.

It’s time to let the sleeping dogs lie.

So I let you lie – dead in my mind.

Trevor Denny Marshall

Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash

The Market

Oh blessed totality
Oh holiest economy
Seems our branding is in symmetry
Sailing on the diamondish sea
Of empty black tranquility

Those postcards in the newspaper are always divination.
Dead end show flyer in a paperless nation.
Investors scream and shout in the ovation
Wrecked out in an ocean of meaningless stations.

There’s no you and there’s no me.
Seems our brand is in symmetry
Lowest gaze to a modern astrology
Drawing down the drowning in and on empty.

Stable ground was we guess not ours to have
Stolen from under us while you gnaw and lash
and at our treading tired ankle and calve.

Oh blessed commodity
Oh holiest economy
our magic brand slow sunk
Right into
the ever owned land

Operatic Rapture

Is this could be going on
Or could it be not
Trapped in the earthquake
No breaking out
But I Doubt I’ll get caught

Wake up
Get fucked
Go Get
your gun
and pee

I got nothing, and get then done
Cause it’s like Kum and Go, 10w40, getting slow
Whatever happens is ok in gene-real
In general.

I committed it
a person at midnight
Knife crossed throat
Squirted till they (were) blood broke
I’ve just started but they’re always out to get me
On my way to work and to hand out the D
Oh well ‘cause you were never we
Didn’t mean to make you feel
This is all too real

Running while I wipe at sweat
Tried to take a pet when we first met
On the way to the pound hands holding a big net
Our main characters not dead yet
I’ll bet

Where’d ya go?
Ooooohhhhhhhhhhh
My I tested intent
May I pass the salt
While you waltz with Walt
Woooooaaahchooooooo

Sometimes I wish nothing upon myself
Woaaaggggatthhggrrrgggghlll

I make out shadows
They’re carpentering
But can they make a deck
“No we can’t”
Can you build this deck?
“No won’t”

Natural disasters befell onto me and
Disturbed my soul greatly

Astronomy dude! Help me!
This was never my intent!
Surely I’m not rude!

I’m a person
They’re just a person
Don’t kill ‘em

Oh well, I’m leaving
You may not
I think I may
You may not
I’d like to leave now

(A scuffle ensues)
I have another place I know!

Who thinks they can do all this stuff to me? Who thinks they can screw
like this on me?
I need escape always.

You now see
A complete
“Osophy”
Gotta go

Alejandro Hilario

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

The Last Word

Hello ______,

I am writing to say how much I loved your last book, ______. It was phenomenal. I didn’t read it, not the whole thing at least, but I didn’t have to. I’m going to be bold now and say in modern times, we don’t need to read WHOLE books anymore. Who has time for that? not the under-60 and New York City crowd. Long novels are a pre-smartphone understanding of entertainment. The greatest works of literature never tell anything to an audience, they always allude to more, and now that more never has to be written. It’s commonly understood among fans of horror films and strip clubs that the most potent source of fear is our own imagination. From the very last line of your novel, ______, I was hooked, I’ve read more book endings than anyone. I like to go to the bookstore and spend sunny afternoons reading the last paragraphs of hundreds of books. That is why I’m such a fan of your work, even the last typed word of ______ is perfect – like a bullet to the heart, or a nail gun to the hand.

This brings me to the point of my email. I’d like to propose, a new type of book, a collaboration between us, of just endings to novels that never need to be written. What words do we pay attention to? Someone’s dying words of course. This book will be like the last words of a dying poet summing up their whole life into the most important things they thought. A greatest hits album without all the filler of random songs the audience skips. If you are hesitant, just think of Morse Code, or the telegram. Did sailors sit in submarines at the bottom of the ocean, to intercept and listen to the beautiful rhythmic tapping of enemy ships? Was there an art to Morse code? It doesn’t matter because art has evolved, and so must we. 

As it is, I’d like to let you know that a lot of young people are using YouTube to not watch films, but the most emotional clips from films. Oftentimes it’s a street kitten being rescued into a forever home, or a favorite song mixed with an anime. Even more convenient are top ten lists. Anything can make us have that emotional connection we crave, like the wind through the trees, a cloudless sky, or a family soup nobody remembers how to make anymore. But to do it fast, check out the top ten saddest movie scenes on YouTube. I propose the same but with literature. 

I want to create a brand-new form of writing. With your connections in publishing and my knowledge of technical innovation, I know we can.

Thank you ______.

For faster communication feel free to text ______.

Best,

______

Caitlin Hayes

Fear of Love: The Irony

Imagine if we acknowledge that we need oxygen to breathe, but carry a value proposition that advises us not to believe it is our birthright to breathe oxygen. That we are unworthy of feeling safe in the fact that as we live, we may also breathe. We see how insane this proposition is. But so too with love, through our conditioning, we can believe that love is not our core of existence. We may see in the most extreme of situations where we believe love is a luxury and not our source of existence.

When we see love, deep true love, we may balk at it. May believe it is an illusion, or a trap. I present to you the alternative perspective. Love is life force. Love is the base of our energy exchange with all things and most importantly with the way we view ourselves. This factor alone can determine a persons aptitude for experiencing happiness, and potential for experiencing peace. So when we can see or glimpse real love we may then feel fear. Fear of the conditions of that love, fear of the veracity of that love, and fear of the harmonizing with that feeling of love, and fear that love itself doesn’t exist. Because to see true love and to become true love are two different ways to experience love. The first presumes you are separate, while the latter recognizes you, at your core of existence, are one with love. Any time we bring fear into a love equation we bring to the surface our limiting abilities to sync with love in our life. The miraculous flow of love that once we connect to completely, we embrace our existence completely.

So if someone tells you they love you, appreciate the affection, but understand deeply that this is truly the most valuable gift we can receive from another – acknowledgement of source, exchanged. Sharing the recognition that love at its core is the deepest way we can relate with ourselves and with another. This is because love is our purest existence. When we shutter from love, run away from those that we share love, we are allowing fear of lack of love (the deepest fallacy in our human condition) to deny you the experience of life. Because to experience love, deep true love, is to experience life.

Nigel Moses

Letting Go

Randomly, I’m steady daydreaming
When I think of you I’m cheesy
I’d like to think I stole your heart
It’s far from a fairy tale so you might not believe it
You probably don’t

You’re saying that you need to cut me out
but you probably can’t
Because life is bliss and you want to live it happily
And you’re stuck
and that’s probably what we might believe
Because chasing you is not my cup of tea
Rather get the key, unlock the cage
and let you be free

I play my cards
I need some spades
because I’ve had enough broken hearts
When you smile it’s like fireflies
Instead I fall in love
It’d be better if you love
Life is way too short to be feeling,
feeling low
Stop signs are on your heart
so I know you’re letting go

Letting go
Letting go
Letting go
Letting go

Ashley Fitch

Hues

God warped my brain into cigarettes
I sold them to my lover
He’s made of a violet aura consumed by
A yellow devil
This side of him gnaws at me
Molding me into anything
better than myself
Perhaps a knife
He gnaws at me as I stare into the sky
Drifting away from myself

He swallows all of my voices
Burning them deep in his gut
I am hollow
I am hungry
For more dirty secrets
My secrets give him a
third eye with hints of silver
I remain silent
as he smokes alone

Dexter Toby

Lyft New York

Life is a beautiful distraction
time is so abstract
Pablo’s out of order vibrancy
with Rembrandt essence
but the substance of Basquiat

Moments are framed
camera couldn’t have been more perfectly aimed
a picture so sweet it could never be named

‘Tis a bitter sweet quality
have and have not
agony in wait
a slow frustrating untie of knots
impatiences of a horn beep
a slow drive with true love in opposite seat
falling in and losing love

Its kinda’ like that
put my headphones on in a taxi and sit back
open my minds eye and sit back
this city’s alive
this city’s every echo
in tune with a soundtrack

The Harlem Renaissance
the requiem of dream’s
midsummer night’s heat wave and subway performers glee
44 caliber spree in October
birth of Hip Hop, the bridge is over
bodies dump in cement to erect Trump’s towers
newspaper ads that steal central park visitors’ freedom and power

The Jackson 5, Pollock, Freddy, Marc, Curtis –
15 minutes of fame as hours, years
Gordon Parks eye that makes
janitors relate regally, standing
Hell’s Kitchen beauty queen keys Sinatra ballads
soul food for smoothing even the roughest pallets

Such a beautiful beat
Jay-z timbre, on a Reuben roll
Is the only way to the throne

to eat just grab a big bite of the Apple
And sink your teeth in to leave a mark

Falling in and losing love
Its kinda like that
Put my headphones on in a taxi and sit back
Open my minds eye and sit back
This city’s alive, this city’s a soundtrack

Love hate relationship
Open, visually exclusive
Juanita didn’t do it
Lies and rough rides
Plungers sodomize tarry stops
selling loosies to choke outs garnered by skin type
Song can grow cold, reviving somber blues as Sachmo blows history pain true
Lennon belts a yesterday tune
Cab and Alley dances a waltz with the beautiful Copeland
Nikki Giovanni couldn’t have wrote it alone
Black Ace’s parachute from high rises in night
Into a ribbon of red brake lights playing a saxophone

Blood flow into the heart, our homeland the towers
Ancient dusky pavement rivers
The great city is villain, hero, healer…

Falling in and losing love
Its kinda like that
Put your headphones on and sit back
Open your eyes and sit back
This city’s alive, this city
we are it’s soundtrack

In the Shadow of Your Smile

The shadow of your smile when you are gone
will color all my dreams and light the dark til dawn
look into my eyes, my love, and see the treasure I see

All the lovely things you are to me
our wistful little star was far and so high
in our perfect moment shared between you and I

Hours stretched for years in your arms and eyes
flame has turned to flicker
left floating like fireflies

So we will share our last dance as if flames of candlelight
So our love never dies
as we make love vigorous yet softly but teary eyed

Secret affair concludes – after just one more little lie
we will keep this secret but have nothing left to hide
and go on with our lives,

And when we happen to pass each other by
carefully meeting eyes
I’ll pull my lady closer while you embrace into his side
and none will be all the wiser

But behind our eyes
memories of our passionate times
your revenge and mine
more or less the perfect crime

So as you lay with yours and I lay with mine
we’ll be quietly repenting yet smitten all the while
A guilty smirk is the only evidence to be found

To give memory a kiss
the memory of a passionate night
to see you only dressed a bath moonlight
to feelings of your moisture and trembling in bliss

More could be told but as a gentleman I refrain
but Mona Lisa and I have it in common
sweetest joy and pain
to always be a stranger who smiles inside when I hear your name
Yet always a stranger I’ll remain

Whenever you taste our wine
when in your bath as water caresses your skin,
when you have that moment we’ll share our vengeance and secret sin
We will rest in that release of ecstasy divine

You can look at him and see me all the while
and if ever he neglects his treasure
I am there, in that moment
In the shadow of your smile

on The Day He Created

Have you ever had a birthday when you ain’t get nothing?
Have you ever went to sleep but have satisfied nothing?
Nothing to sip to ease pain,
Not a dollar to you name,
No one to care if you wake to relive the same old story every day?

Out of the nest, you fly, and Hawks do the same
Welcome to a glimpse of a cold world
I saw a homeless man holding a sign saying
“I have Good want Nothing”
A thirsty soul question for you
Is it in you, the spiritual strength to continue?

It should leave you hungry for something
You look deep in the abyss and see your life as a whole
Try to fill that void in your soul
Picture trying to fill that hole…

Strive for the best but you lose
Still, in your station you keep moving along
Still never elevating your head out the hole
every wake to sleep
Some dark times to think about
No time to think
hardly anyone makes it out
your great great grandfather, nor your father
repeating his life cycle thinking you’re overdue for riches

Resentment
Respect
Rest
Restraint
Resignation
Ideals
Faith –
in action leave residue
only one option
then and now
is hard work.

But still, you see yourself sitting in the crowd
and not getting the award, on stage,
giving the announcement,
Thinking to yourself, should I choose the sword?
Hell’s bell, “better call Saul”
Could you lose the passion in the night?
suffering long the slavery of crafty demonic torment and sleepless nights?

Critics without a home let me get this right
you tell me I didn’t do it right
but you aren’t at the top of my food chain
you just feed yourself on opinions
of my fruits in my legacy
How do you make a champion and never fought a fight?
Rocky may be the road of creed
When you live for what you create, you’re “good”
but people believe you need help
You live for that one day when you debut,
begging and longing to contribute by your own deed

Imposter!

Expect nothing
expect nothing, but don’t ever lose your self. Believe!
Put your faith in your creator
and let your belief convert your being,
Keep a safe distance from those
who only see your talent when you are great,
tell the world you are like god
and live as your own savior
Even when you give your inner glow
and let god live within
He will shine on you
Whether your struggle is to contribute food for thought or just eat.

A gamble
A hussle
A bottle

Never sit a hater at your table
to break bread and sharpen his teeth
Never feed them from a bowl because they will eat twice.
You prepared a table to sit them down with fast food
Make them sit in your world and fix them a plate
To see your vision raw and cooked.

All I see is pain, yanked from comfort of womb,
birthed to be apart from warmth of true love
to reside and die,
search to be whole in a cold place.

Until the end you only adapt to it becoming numb
no matter what your place is.
Death must only be a momentary release
Win or lose in life, death will give you no answers
So why fear loss in the first place?

Lock a man up for years
but you can never imprison his mind
The terminator could kill “Tookie”
Change is beautiful
Late bloomers are still beautiful blossoms
An opus has its day as the pain ironically completes
Stealing the beauty of life to learn about the beauty in it
to try to rescue others, from weed to rose bloom
we’re all rare flowers that bloom before we are planted
and we will all leave this planet
with or without NASA

So if people tell you failure is due
or even tell you your life is wasted
expect nothing
expect nothing
but the fact that we all live on Earth’s surface
expect nothing.

So continue to work your hardest
believe your hero or heroine heard that too
Put your ten toes down in the mud
and live to the essence of you
If you say “I am self made,”
I need no vow other than one I say to myself
Don’t fool yourself
No glory if death takes me
because I live like every splash of color on the canvas
I live on and off the canvas
I hop off God’s paintbrush
forcing you to truly look at the canvas
so why would you ever want to count me out?

Abstract, so as heartbeats beat and breath breathes
my life pulses onto my canvas
I will always be alive to complete my conquest.
So hater, naysayer, non-believer,
and doubter of my potential best
as long as a heart is in my chest,
I will show you my best
and like a painting I will speak.

ALIEN VIEW OF AFRICAN HUMANS

Story of a people, born in hell,
Harvested to Harvest,
Into a life of Darwin,
Tragically victims of America’s progress,

Genetic experiments,
Enslaved, given cocaine to increase daily productivity,
Then cops got bigger bullets
‘Cause twenty twos can’t stop the offspring
of Big Sara and Bernard

Doctor Frankenstein creates super workers,
Everyday he looks at his problems,
Eagerly trying to lay, or devise the solutions
to destroy his monster, playing close to chess
Prophetic he blended in his monster his own DNA,
so it’s a game of self.

Wrote the declaration and raped
and made bastard house help in the same day,
Increasingly we never learn from history,
Today we repeat, Jeffersonic, #MeToo
His hand sells the same poison to people.

Restricted to the black quarters,
And it leaked outside of borders,
Children still come from poverty,
Eager to still appease a Master to be worthy,

In the end it’s still the same story,
He is doubted, and considered less
than man in every achievement,
Subtle slight in title addressing.

Ask Obama why he’s hated
when he sought only to help the people,
Must black always be more than pigment,
Ethical resentment, black in color not in spirit?
Rage inside but spirit humble
Zulu warriors fighting cannons with spears still,
In the case of Kaepernick he light skin with good hair,
Caucasian parent and upbringing,
And still made America mad
by protesting killings of black people

But Fredrick Douglas did
and got the same but changed the think tank,
Unity’s and equality’s wheels start moving
once the country’s healed from splitting
Truth is that we lost a lot of young men

Will there have to be a Gettysburg again?
Eternally can we resolve the issues?

And brothers yet again,
Literal like when master’s son worked in the field
and master’s son went to school,
Land we in wasn’t even ours
so we walk hypocritically on stolen soil

{The Rub}

Sins still the same:
money, sex, power, drugs, theft, pride, and lust,
All while we fine Christmas.
Claim to love thy brother as thyself,
Must be irony and shame to look upon the people
that are symbolic of the story of man.
Earth, people aren’t ready for
what an advanced being would say

Probably would conduct experiments
to see why we act this way,
Endless amusement maybe,
we the pet reality TV show of the universe,
On their covert safari tours of Earth,
Problematic but palatable for me to understand,
Looking through one race in history,
Evident that my race probably did similar to every other race like this in early B.C. History,

{Here is the rub again}

EARTH

Eternally
Always
Repeating
Tragic
History

So we kill them off, shift land masses
and restart periodically,
Maybe they will look at
Skyscraper remains like Pyramids,
Coming out the cradle again,
Alien view of humanity is to be hands on but unseen,
Because we seen black skin mistreated for centuries,
Logically we know we would receive worse being seen as highly intelligent, foreign and green.

Doe Eyes

Ashley Fitch

Caught you with doe eyes and a suggesting smile that followed you for miles
silly, sarcastic, with an air of mystery
surprised you with wit
making up for lack of hips
we both tripped on each other’s heart
so, why doesn’t it make sense?

BOTH

If you just loved me there would be no animosity
I wouldn’t grit my teeth
We wouldn’t clench our fists
There’s be no need to hit,
Our flame was dead on arrival because
you weren’t weary enough to love me like a minefield

Make everything perfect and give me the answers right now because I love you
and my co-dependence is just as innocent as those doe eyes you said were beautiful
so why can’t this be accepted?
Because my love for you is unlike yours for me?
Is dynamite wrapped in good intentions?

Oh how I care so careless with a cruel mood
I’m sad about your hard days taken place by sleepless nights
but just be more quiet about it

Because your pain crumbles my world
and I’ll take the blame
and be centerfold of everything wrong that I want to make right.
You’re supposed to just smile

It’s all I wanted to see so instead I can associate myself with that light
It’s my world because eggshells aren’t too supportive to walk on
So please don’t push your luck when you’re at fault

Mistaking me for passionate not realizing I’m nothing
but the romance that lies between a rock and a hard place
forming a boulder pushing through all you saw
in those promising first days

Doe eyes aren’t innocent, they’re pain and enlarged by sadness
so please stand back since you can’t hold me as tight as I’d like,
so I’ll just break all your things so they can love me to pieces

You think you can do what you want?
Of course I have to because my id isn’t only my pilot
it’s an overbearing mother pissed to see me want more than self destruction
More than you picking up those pieces because they didn’t love me hard enough
so as you exhaust yourself I’ll break them, break down, break again
and you just can’t stop cleaning

Shhh! Go to sleep
It’s a matter of rest
you’ll be tired but OK
nothing happened because I slept it off and purged it out my system
Don’t ever say you’re scared to me again
that’s another pet peeve of mine and honestly there’s no reason

I’m the same hip chick with doe eyes you brought your way
but love makes the difference and it’s deep
so much as to let me break myself with everything that rubs me wrong
and yes, everything rubs me wrong
so don’t rub me wrong

Maybe just keep telling me I hate you everyday
it’s my only wish
my hate is distant, comforting, and safe
choose the unanimous, and walk away from the love
you can walk away but I can’t hide
and I’ll just prey on the next with doe eyes a little more wide

Mercury Noel

One Phone Call Allowed

Mary had no idea how to operate this dang thing. The Blackberry her son had bought her shrilled in her fist like a terrified parakeet. What the hell did he think she was, some Wall Street power broker? Sheesh. She peered at it from beneath her eyeglasses and decided to press the green button, which hopefully wouldn’t send activate a computer meltdown or cause a revolution in some Third World country.

“Hello and why are you calling me on this thing?” she said.

“Mom, there’s been an accident with the car,” came the voice over the receiver. Mary’s son was at his late-night shift at the pizzeria.

Across the room the grandfather clock struck 11:15 p.m. “Jesse, are you all right?”

“Mom, I’m dead.”

Mary snorted. “So you’re high on a marijuana cigarette or something?”

“The car skidded off River Road and hit a tree. Ice. I didn’t feel a thing. I’m sorry, Mom.”

She removed the Blackberry from her ear and examined it. Had she pressed the button for “The Twilight Zone?”

“All right, what kind of joke is this?” she demanded. “What are you going to say next, Jesse – if that is you? That you’re calling on ‘Ma Donna Bell?’ You just scared the shit out of me! What do you want to do – collect your inheritance? Well, you’ll get it soon enough anyway.”

“Mom,” his teenage voice cracked, “I won’t be collecting anything now. I’m not coming home tonight. Or ever.”

“Stop this now, Jesse,” she said, her face flushing. “I don’t like this talk. I’m hanging up now. Just get home at a reasonable hour.”

“What can I say to convince you?” he sighed. “I talked to Grandma. She told me about Guy – that he wasn’t my real Dad. I know all about it now, Mom, and I understand.”

She felt a chill surge through her flannel shirt. She sat down. Her own mother had been the only person she’d trusted with her secret and when she died that secret died with her. Jesse had been barely one year old when she died, so she never could have told him while alive. Tears welled up in Mary’s eyes. She sat down, faint, disoriented. Well, she thought, my son’s dead but at least he didn’t call collect.

“Mom, I just wanted to say goodbye….one last time.”

She wiped her face with one hand, for fear that if she put down the Blackberry she might lose him permanently.

“Aw, Mom, don’t cry,” he soothed. “It’s really great.”

“What –,” she sputtered, “what’s it like?”

“I’m not really supposed to say,” he said. “Nice, though. One thing I don’t understand is that I can’t find Dad up here – or I guess I mean Guy. He died five years ago and no one’s ever heard of him here.”

It figured, she thought. It was the last place Guy would be. But she’d bet her that Ed from years past was there – if his time had come, that is. Ed, 17 years her senior, with piercing brown eyes that spoke of serene, well-earned wisdom. Ed, who had always been late for their dates. Ed, who had been more cherished than he’d ever know, had been drafted into the war. She remembered kissing him at the waterfront near the black waves that would take him away. Weeks later she discovered she was pregnant with his child. Then Ed was missing in action. Everyone believed he’d been killed – even his family. Now, in that day a girl needed security. With her Ed gone, she bluffed her way into wedding Guy, which turned out to be the mistake of her life. It was her secret shame and she more than paid for it. Following one year of a miserable marriage to Guy, Ed returned to town with a purple heart pinned to his chest. She and Ed avoided each other. She’d heard Ed moved away years ago. She’d had Jesse late in life, so she was now in her late 50’s. Ed had to be approaching 70. Nowadays she couldn’t bear to scan the obituaries for his name.

“Anyway,” Jesse said into her ear, returning her to the present, “everything is OK. I really gotta go now.”

“No!” Mary screamed. She couldn’t part with him now and her fingers tightened on the phone. “Are they feeding you all right?”

“The Last Supper I just finished was out of this world – really!” he joked. “But I gotta hang up. There’s a line for the phone.”

She started playing with the knitting needle on the table. She was thinking hard.

“Listen, Jesse,” she said, “I want you to come back home.”

“I can’t, Mom.”

She sank back in her chair. “I want to switch places with you.”

“No.” The word came like a dart from the Blackberry. Why did voices sound so tinny on cell phones? Jesse continued, “It can’t be done, Mom. It’s impossible.”

“Jesse, you put me on with whoever is in charge there! I don’t care how long it takes! You tell them it’s your mother!”

She looked at the Blackberry again, scanning the alien buttons for one that could teleport Jesse back to her.

“Mom, I won’t switch places with you!” he cried. “People in line are getting annoyed. The last guy on the phone with his terminally ill wife did it, and it took forever.”

“A-ha!” she yelled. “Then it can be done!”

Silence. Then Jesse cracked: “Somehow – I don’t know how – when I was in high school and I’d been out drinking or smoking, you’d always get me to admit it the next morning. Well, you did it again.”

“I knew there was a way to get up there,” she beamed.

“Oh, Mom,” he sighed. “They allowed me one phone call. I’m just thankful for that.”

“You can’t go, Jesse. You’re just too young.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. It just…happened. And I’m sorry about the car, too. It’s kinda totaled.”

“I want to switch with you,” she intoned. She pondered whether she should tell him why.

“It’s my life. I have to take responsibility for what’s happened to it. Isn’t that what you always taught me?”

“Jesse,” she said in a low voice, squeezing the Blackberry in her hand until her fingertips were white, “right before you called, I was about to kill myself.” She cradled the Blackberry between her ear and shoulder. With a sad expression, she picked up her knitting needle and poked it into the palm of her hand. “You see, I was going to commit hare-krishna.”

“Mom?” his voice cracked. “Do you mean hara-kiri?”

“Oh…yes, that’s what I mean.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Not at all.”

Pause. She put down the needle.

“Mom – why?”

“Hon,” she said, “I haven’t told anyone about this.” She took a deep breath as she prepared what she had to say. “I went to the doctor last week. He said I have cancer of the liver.” Then she switched ears, cradling the Blackberry, and took off her wedding ring. She reached out and grabbed the knitting needle. “I’m dying.” With the needle she pushed her removed wedding ring off the table. It clicked to the tiled floor and rolled into the corner.

She held her breath.

“Mom, you never said anything,” he whispered.

“I didn’t want to worry you.” She noticed her voice sounded stronger with the wild words she saying. “You have your whole life ahead of you. Besides, I planned to take care of it quickly…by kamikaze.”

“Mom, it’s hara-kiri. And I don’t believe any of this.”

“Denial is one of the stages of grief, Sonny-boy. You’re just in it right now.”

“No…no.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “But now my death will serve a purpose: to restore your life.”

“You can’t.”

“I can and I will.”

“Listen – just don’t!” he sounded hysterical. “Mom, please….”

“You just work out a deal with whoever’s in charge up there.”

“No!”

“Jesse, if you don’t, I’ll kill you!”

“No.”

She switched hands and poked the knitting needle into her other palm.

“Jesse, don’t make your mother blackmail you. You don’t want Tammy Wyler finding out you soiled your pants when you were five, do you?”

“I just called to say goodbye and you’re still embarrassing me in my afterlife! Bad enough nothing ever happens here. You’ll never find me drinking or smoking here. And you won’t ever find me making out with a girl here.” A muffled sob. “It’s just that it’s all so new — I’m sorry. I’m hanging up now….”

“Listen, Jesse,” she said, “talk to them.” She smiled as his crying subsided. “Because I’m coming up soon – and if I see your handsome mug, you’re going to be in for it, you hear?”

“Mom –”

“Not another word.”

“You’re too much,” he sniffled. “OK, I’ll ask but I don’t know if they’ll do it. Hold on.”

She heard muffled talk on the other end. She vaguely wondered if a celestial telephone operator would cut in, or if she would hear a quarter drop.

Then he returned. “Mom, they said yes but I don’t know –”

“Jesse, don’t make me come up there and whip you butt. What is the plan?”

“I don’t believe I’m doing this,” he said. “There are three conditions for the switch.” He hesitated. “One, you must have a car crash near the scene of my death.” Mary nodded her head. “Two, you have only a half hour from right now to do this. And three, you have only one chance. The crash must be fatal. It’s the only way the switch will work. It’s a one-shot deal, Mom, and I don’t want you to –”

“You leave me the worrying to me. But I’m not afraid.”

“Mom, I love you.”

“Stop running up Heaven’s phone bill, Jesse,” she said, out of breath but stronger just the same. She was afraid to press the red button to end the call, so she just held the Blackberry – her last connection to Jesse. Her eyes welled with tears. The liver cancer had been a bluff, as had been the part about her killing herself, ridiculous as it may have sounded. It was the only way she could’ve gotten Jesse to do it. She had to save her son.

The grandfather clock struck 11:30. Well, now she’d be able to see her mother and Ed (finally!). That is, if she could pull this off.

Mary sat in her car, the down vest hugging her hardy body. With her scalp sweating, the wool cap she wore felt like a crown of thorns. The Blackberry she’d stuck inside was still on and warm against her chest. Her foot pressed unsteadily on the brake. Her hand cupped her mouth. The headlights shone upon the snow-covered field, and on Jesse’s Chevette, wrapped obscenely around an old birch tree.

She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. Should she take a closer look? No, she wanted to remember Jesse the way he was – with his gangly tallness, eagle-like nose, and vibrant chestnut eyes. Besides, there wasn’t time to be morbid. She took the Blackberry from her vest. It was still on. She looked sadly at the “Talk” button. Oh God, Jesse, I’m going to miss you. The time read 11:45 – fifteen minutes to go.

She took a deep breath and looked up the road. Beyond the wreckage lay a small wooden bridge stretching way above the black waters of the river. How could she pull this one off? She was such a careful driver – she’d never once gotten as much as a parking ticket. She said a Hail Mary. Three Hail Mary’s for luck. She couldn’t believe she was actually praying because just an hour ago she’d been an atheist.

Well, she thought, she’d better get on with it. The fuel gauge trembled on less than one-eighth. She took off her seat belt – it would defeat the purpose.

She let her foot off the brake and drove past the wreckage. Then – suddenly – her car skidded a few feet and stalled. The wheels clung to a patch of snow. She mouthed the word “No!” Her Blackberry now read 11:51.

A flashing blue light in the distance appeared in her rear view mirror. Police. An ambulance would surely follow. Some dang fool must’ve gone and called them. And here she was, stuck. She jammed her foot on the accelerator. The car inched forward with a scream, but then rocked backward into the snow’s clutches. In a matter of minutes, the medics would pronounce her baby dead and take him away to the morgue. And what would she say to the police if they caught up with her right now: “Oh, kind officer, please dig my car out of the snow so I can kill myself?”

“Come on!” she muttered to the car, staring at the bridge only 50 feet away. 11:56. Still the shrieking auto wouldn’t budge. Moreover the gas meter teetered on empty. Damn it – why hadn’t she filled up the tank before coming here? She always botched things – she had forsaken the love of her life for an unhappy marriage of convenience. And why couldn’t she have picked up Jesse after work in order to avoid all this?

“Do I really want to die now?” she whispered. “What’ll happen if the crash only leaves me a gimp? And if the plan does work, what if I go to hell instead?”

Then in one glorious, all-knowing moment she saw her whole life in front of her. She realized that – damn it! – everything was exactly the way it should be. Ed, her true love, had had to go to war and had been tragically late in returning. That sucked, but it was Fate. At least they would see each other in death finally. That fact was some consolation to her. Meanwhile the flashing blue lights grew large in the mirror and now a siren wailed.

11:57. Precious gas escaped her car in billowing clouds as she gunned the engine. I’ve got to save Jesse, she thought. Maybe she should have brought the knitting needle for good measure. But she had to pull this off right. Hers son’s life depended on it.

11:58. Again she stomped on the accelerator. The wheels squealed and suddenly the car burst from the snow, splashing slush on the police car’s windshield.

But she was going too fast. The car swerved on the ice, out of control. Winter hills and pine trees flew by. Her mind now drifted above her body, and it seemed that no task was too big for her. Her love for Jesse demanded this sacrifice. And after all, Jesse was Ed’s child. And there was no better way to repay Ed for all the misery she had caused him that by saving their son. Wasn’t love all about sacrifice anyway? The thought never would have occurred to her an hour ago but things had changed drastically. One thing was certain, though – she had to make it to the bridge in time. She kept her eyes on it.

11:59. The gas ran out with a sputter but the momentum propelled the car forward. The police car followed, its windshield wipers flailing. Wooden boards moaned as her wheels made the bridge. On the other side of the bridge twirled more blue lights. Another police car? And it was headed straight for her! She wondered why everything was going wrong today. Or maybe it was right, after all. All she knew was there was no turning back now.

When she reached the middle of the bridge – the oncoming police car only inches away – she jerked the steering wheel and crashed through the rotting railing.

She felt herself falling in the night air, falling toward the icy water, and as the black ripples reflected her headlights, she noticed the waves looked so much like the seas that had taken away Ed years ago. Falling, she opened her arms wide. She called out, “Ed, here I come! I love you!”

Ollie and Edgar sat on stools at the coffee shop. Ollie, wearing his bulky bifocals, was reading the Journal aloud, as was his habit. He fancied himself the diner’s newscaster. Edgar wrinkled his eagle-like nose and sipped his coffee. He was above reading the local rag but indulged his friend’s whims.

“Has something ‘bout some accidents in East Fulham,” Ollie croaked and pushed back his befeathered gray hat.

“Oh, yeah?” Edgar sighed. But he really wasn’t interested in some drunk driving incident across the river. Years ago he had been done with things across the river.

“Says Mary West,” Ollie tsked. “What a shame. And her son….”

Edgar’s ears pricked up at the name. The name belonged to the woman he’d intended to marry long ago before he was shipped off to war. And despite the fact that she’d married someone else, he’d had this strange notion that someday they would reunite. On some occasions throughout the years, he would catch glimpses of her and Jesse and the grocery store or at a concert at the town bandstand. But he always kept his distance. He managed to put several towns between them. The pain was too much, especially when he saw the unhappy, drawn lines on her face. When Edgar spoke to Ollie, his voice was solemn: “Mary’s gone…. And her son, too?”

As Ollie adjusted his Coke-bottle glasses and squinted at the paper, Edgar thought of the boy. The boy was tall and handsome as he’d once been. And the boy had the same eagle-like nose. Pieces of a puzzle began to assemble in his mind.

“No,” Ollie said, “Alive. ‘Jesse Edgar West, 18, suffered a concussion and minor cuts and bruises.’ ” Ollie looked up from the article. “How ‘bout that? Lucky kid!”

“Yes…lucky,” Edgar replied. He looked out the window and prepared to leave for the hospital.

“Pretty strange ‘bout those two,” Ollie quipped as he put two lumps of sugar in his coffee.

“Yes,” Edgar said, rising. “Strange.”

“It’s for you, Ed!” a waitress yelled to him from the phone booth, her hand over the receiver. “It’s a woman – a little impatient. Mary something. She says you’re late again.”

Watch What Happens

What I found in my apartment changed my life. It entered my life so naturally as if it had always been there. I never dreamed it would leave. Of course, I’d had the same thought about Mike, now my ex “life partner.” A month ago, after three years of living together, he announced he wanted out of the relationship. Since the lease was almost up, it was the “perfect time to part ways,” he’d said.  In New York, ending a relationship was like dissolving a corporation. But how could I protest? I knew the air had leaked out of our tires long ago and we’d been bumping along on flats for some time. Still, the callous way Mike had gone about it, taking our breakup as a given, awakened a fire within me. I believe it was this fire that led me to my discovery in my new apartment.

After the break up I moved into a surprisingly spacious apartment on 22nd Street in Chelsea. I didn’t have many possessions. All the furniture had belonged to Mike. The various odds and ends I’d bought – a table lamp here, a flatware set there – I didn’t want. So, I arrived at my new sixth-floor apartment with little more than three boxes of clothes, two boxes of books, and my laptop. After the Man with the Van departed, I sat on the hardwood floor, enveloped by the emptiness of the place. Then I got over myself and began unpacking. The bedroom possessed a surprisingly large walk in closet. I hung up clothes and stood on a stepladder to reach the top shelf to put away my snow boots. That was when I made the discovery.

At first, I thought it was a telescope. When I went to take it down I was struck by its weight. I stepped down and held the object in my hands. It was a sniper rifle. It was dull pewter gray and made of a hard, unyielding alloy. And it was real.

My heart racing, I set it on the floor carefully lest it go off. I took three steps back. Holy shit – a sniper rifle. What was it doing here? Where had it come from? Was the previous tenant a hit man? Did he have to leave in a hurry or face extermination by an enemy agent? All sorts of espionage thriller plots turned in my overactive mind. In reality, it was probably forgotten by a drunken white-trash vet who worked in a ROTC supply room. I reached over and touched it, as if holding hands on a first date. The metal was cold even though it was a hot summer day. I noticed the thing had a tripod, which I set up. Then I backed off again. This was too much.

Instead of unpacking the rest of my stuff, I booted up my laptop and looked up the rifle online. It didn’t take long to discover that the host of my new apartment was a USMC DMR with an adjustable cheek piece. I also found out it was loaded with a 12.7x108mm (Russian) cartridge, carrying the most accurate kind of bullets. Geez, these fucking things were really used in warfare. It even had night-vision lenses. I read online that the model was “a sniper rifle that tended to be employed at the greatest possible distances for difficulty in spotting and engaging the operator of the rifle.” In other words, the shooter could see you but you couldn’t see him.

As I sat there on the floor, fascinated by what I was reading, I realized a dog – or dogs – had been barking for the past hour. It was the neighbor’s dog. I say neighbor as in the guy in the building next to mine. I’d ignored the warnings from my superintendent because I’d been anxious to secure a decent apartment. I also hadn’t listened to the super’s informing me that any entreaties to the dogs’ owner would fall on deaf ears. The owner even walked his screaming dogs late at night. My thoughts were now all over the place. The rifle. The dogs. As I listened to the shrill cries of the hounds, I realized how bitter I felt against Mike. I wondered what he was doing now. Breaking up was hard to do. But breaking up was also hard on your standard of living. No more living on two incomes to pay for a great place. While my new apartment was big by New York standards, it didn’t compare at all to our former Upper East Side digs. I resented Mike for that. Since Mike made more money than me, he could’ve probably stayed in the old apartment by himself. But he traded up for a sprawling loft in Tribeca. Maybe he traded up for a better lover, too.

The thought sprouted in my head and was encouraged by the barking. Very carefully I put the rifle back into the top of the closet and pretended to live a normal life. I ordered in Chinese and ate it on the floor. My friend Nadi called.

“You doing OK, girlfriend?” she said.

“Fine,” I lied.

“You sure, hon?”

“I have a great view of 22nd Street. I can see the church from my front window.”

I lay upon my new futon, staring at the ceiling. I was talking with her but my thoughts were on the rifle the whole time. I didn’t dare tell Nadi about it. She scared easily. Plus, she had a big mouth. Eventually I said good night to her and drifted off to sleep with my clothes on and surrounded by take-out cartons.

Mike walked around the apartment. He had the rifle in his hands and was pretending to be Rambo. I was alarmed and told him to stop. I went to get up and grab the rifle from him when I woke up. The dogs’ barking had started again. It was a high, shrill sound like the squealing of a rusty gate – if the gate was maddeningly persistent and mean-spirited. I looked at the clock: 3:32 a.m. The noise wasn’t coming from the street this time.

It went to the kitchen and looked out the tiny window. There, across the alleyway, was the sole window on the side of the next building. And sure enough, two dachshunds were shrilly barking while their middle-aged, bookish-looking owner sat in a chair. He was naked and the room flickered with TV light. The scene looked surreal. And the dogs’ barking was so penetrating that it pierced a closed window and a running air conditioner — plus my kitchen window, which was painted shut. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

By the fourth night of this, I was dead on my feet. My boss used my condition to her advantage as usual. Recently the company had been part of a merger and Kelly was de facto in charge of cleaning house. Kelly was a frowning redhead with a lot of scarf action around her neck. Her job as far as I could see was to target me for dismissal. “I count four mistakes in this copy,” she yelped from her pinched little mouth, planting a paper in front of me. “Let’s kindly try to be a little more careful, hmm? Of course, I’ll need you to stay late to make the corrections.”

I got home, weary, carrying a tuna fish Subway sandwich. I dragged out the sniper rifle that Mike had played with so gingerly last night. I sat on the floor eating the sandwich, looking at it. I tossed the Subway wrapper among the take-out cartons. The noise continued – now it was 3:02 a.m. I picked up the rifle and held it in my arms carefully, as if embracing a future lover for the first time. The cold metal yielded to the warmth of my fingers and my chin. I sat there, fancying us reunited paramours. I looked through the telescopic lenses and of course saw nothing but a blur. I’d have to use it outside for a greater range. I put it down and felt my hands shaking.

Then I went to my laptop. Here was what it said about my host: it had a “variance in the bullet’s point of impact of eight inches at 800 yards, which is considered sufficient to ensure a high probability of hitting a human shape at that distance.” Very interesting. But not for me. I stood up and started to put it away. Then I remembered that I hadn’t complained once about the barking, not to my landlord, the other building’s landlord, nor to 311, the noise complaint hotline. I guess my unconscious thinking didn’t want a paper trail leading back to me.

I went to the front window facing 22nd Street and opened the window all the way. I carefully removed the screen. Slowly, as not to attract attention of any fellow insomniacs, I pulled down the blinds and taped them to the bottom of the window sill with Scotch tape. Then I got my host and set it up near the window. This was the window where the dogs were always taken for a walk at all hours of the night.

I peered through the telescopic lenses. I curled my finger around the trigger and waited. It was only a few minutes before the sound started again. With the window wide open and the gun pointing through the blinds, the dogs’ barking climbed into your ear passages and lodged into your eardrums. I aimed the rifle and shot the first dachshund. There was no sound, no rifle report, and no flash of gunfire. All I noticed through my thumping heartbeats was my neighbor was now dragging a dead dog. I withdrew from the window, replaced the screen, and closed the window very quietly. I put away the gun.

“Goodnight,” I said to it.

I was chipper at work the next morning. I made helpful suggestions at the meeting. At lunch I talked on the phone with Nadi, who always encouraged me in my career endeavors. She declared I was “on the right track.” Kelly appeared behind me and beckoned me to her office.

The second I shut the door she yelped, “If you ever do that again, I’m going to write you up.”

“What do you mean?”

“Speaking out of turn at the meeting. It is not your job to quote prices to the vendors. That is my job, understand?”

“Since when? I’ve been doing that for years now.”

“Ned, things are changing around here. You know that.”

I stood there agape. Finally, I said, “I know that all right.” I turned and left, rolling my eyes.

That night I thought about Mike again. I felt as if I’d taken the USMC DMR and shot myself in the heart. I looked at my cell phone, obsessing over his name and number, both of which were no longer part of my life. Then the light flickered out. The battery had died. That was when the noise started again. Shrill, extended, long soprano notes of a dog’s bark. It was as if the remaining dachshund was making up for his absent companion’s noise quota.

I went to the kitchen window. There, amid the kaleidoscopic glare of the TV, it was barking to its unfeeling owner. The man was playing with his limp penis, ignoring his mourning pet. But this time the air conditioner was gone and the window was wide open. Without a screen, too. I wondered why. Did the guy have a death wish? It seemed too perfect.

I stood in the dark for the longest time, drinking a glass of milk. He couldn’t see me. I started to think the dog could. And I suspected the dog somehow knew what would happen next.

With a superhuman strength I managed to pry open the painted-shut window. I sat on the floor for a good 15 minutes, exhausted by my exertions. When I had enough strength to rise, I reached for my host in the closet. I set it up, snuggled my chin to the metal. What was that old song from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? “Cold? No, I won’t believe your heart is cold / Maybe slow to warm on a long, lonely night.”

The dachshund, with its fluffy gray hair, barked and barked at the naked man in the chair. Then it wasn’t barking anymore. I removed the rifle from the window, put it on the floor, and shut the window. For extra measure, I found some Superglue in a drawer and glued the window back shut, making sure to sweep away all the paint bits and flush them down the toilet.

I climbed into my futon and slept as if I’d won the lottery. I rolled over to snuggle with Mike and he arched his back to meet my hips. “Michael, Michael!” We lay there spooning until morning. Then I woke up alone. I felt confused.

I dialed his number, intending to speak with him, but as soon as I heard his deep, nicotine-tinged voice saying hello, I hung up. I shook my head. It had all felt so real. Was the killing of the second dachshund imaginary, too?

I called Nadi while I ate a bowl of Cheerios. The sound of her banal voice soothed me. “See?” she trilled. “It sounds like you’re feeling better already. You and me and the girls are going to the Cubby Hole this Friday. You’re so going! But no pressure!”

“I gotta hang up now, Nadi,” I said, suddenly terrified. I heard it now. For the past couple of weeks, a prostitute with an operatically loud voice had been demanding drugs outside the SRO across the street. And she was doing it now. “Michael!” she yelled up to the dealer’s window. “Michael! Come down!”

Very gently I loaded my host into my gym bag and left early for work. I went to my gym and stored the rifle in my gym locker, putting two locks on it. I began to think about what I’d done. Absolute power was what the sniper rifle brought. And, as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’d already killed two dogs – what else or who else would I kill now? I couldn’t have this power in my hands any longer. It was too much for me. Yet at the same time, the experience was…no! No more!

At work Kelly made the usual demeaning remarks about my work and even went as far as to insult my pinstripe shirt as “hopelessly ‘80’s.” I felt like taking her scarf and strangling her with it. I thought about the rifle in my gym locker and hoped it would be safe for now from any investigations from the FBI/CIA/ASPCA.

But the strange thing was there was no investigation at all. If there was any fuss about the two dead dogs, I hadn’t heard about it. It was not in the papers no on radio or TV. I checked online, Googling the news for “sniper” — but nothing. I wondered if the whole thing was in my head. But the barking was gone, after all. In my mind, I heard “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” song again: “Let someone start believing in you / Let her hold out her hand / Let her touch you and watch what happens….”

Behind me came the voice: “How many times do I have to kindly tell you not to conduct personal business during working hours?” I quickly clicked off Google News. Kelly’s red hair looked more witch-like by the minute. “Ned, I’m afraid you’ve forced me to write you up.” Yeah, I thought, if I got canned, well, we would see what happened indeed.

A few days passed and I went to transport the rifle back to the apartment, thinking it was safe. After all, who cared about some dead dogs? The world was better off without them. No one seemed to notice they were even gone.

“Michael!” exploded the cry across the street from my building as I entered the foyer. “Michael! Michael!”

I was a little unsettled by what happened next. I was carrying my gym bag down the front hallway. I made the mistake of checking my mail before trudging up the stairs. A door flew open.

My landlord, a short, bald man with a sweaty face, stopped me. “You OK?”

“Uh, fine. Why do you ask?”

“You just seem…different, that’s all. I can tell these things.”

“Not different enough to pay my rent late or be a bad tenant, right? Am I right?” I smiled. I hugged the gym bag closer to me and hoped he wouldn’t notice it.

He pointed at me, smiling. “You’re a real straight shooter.” I stiffened at his choice of words. “Did ya hear about the dogs?”

“What dogs?”
“You know, the two dogs?”

I shook my head.

“Yes, you’re all right. You’re OK?”
“OK.”

The noisy prostitute was demanding drugs across the street. Geez, didn’t she ever hear of a doorbell? While in bed, I looked at my watch: 4:01 a.m. Why did she have to wake up the whole neighborhood in order to sell her body to put drain cleaner in her veins? This would go on for years, disrupting everyone’s lives. I sighed, got out the rifle, and prepared the window.

“Michael! Michael!”

She was in pain, I told myself. She needed to be put out of her misery. The sooner, the better.

The back of her head was in my crosshairs. I could see the strands of her unwashed brunette hair. I pulled the trigger and she fell face-down in the street. Silent – that was the key. I withdrew from the window and collapsed on my futon, embracing the rifle. I woke up in the sunlight cutting through the blinds. I looked around the bright room and realized what had happened. The gun’s metal chilled my chest. I pushed it away and curled into a ball in the corner.

At work at my desk, I read in the newspaper about the shooting of the prostitute. Her name had been Helene Mae Wright. She’d been 36 and unemployed. The drug dealer at the SRO, Michael Childs, was brought in for questioning. Yet no murder weapon was produced. Turned out Helene Mae’s pimp claimed he had other information. My heart was practically being chewed between my teeth now.

Kelly passed by and saddled up to my desk.

I said, “Don’t start with me. I’m gay and I will sue you and this company for harassment. So leave me alone.”

She moved away, having nothing to say for once.

That evening I took to looking out the window. The air was hot, as I hadn’t bought an air conditioner when I’d moved in. Phone in hand, I dialed the number.

“Hello?” came the voice.

“Mike, It’s Ned.”

“Oh, hi.”

I swallowed with a big gulp. “Mike, I just wanted to say ‘hi.’”

“Well, hi.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to check in, you know.”

A pause. “Oh sure, I’m glad you did.”

“OK.”

“OK.”

More silence. “Well, Ned, I’ve really gotta go. I’m kind of in the middle of something here right now.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Listen, Mike –”

“Yes?”
“Do you think I could call you again sometime? I mean, when you have more time?”

A pause. “Ned, listen, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. I mean, it hasn’t been that long since — You know how it is.” He sighed. “Maybe with time.”

“With time,” I repeated. “OK. Well…see ya.”

I snapped the phone shut. The phone rang again and my heart leapt. But it was Nadi. I let it go to voice mail.

I was trying to work out some mental problem. The evening news announced that the pimp was now shot. Curtis C. Shaw, 34. He was a victim of the same bullet that claimed the life of Ms. Helene Mae Wright. I couldn’t remember the circumstances. I counted the bullets in the cartridge and they added up to the exact number of people and dogs that were shot. This included the pimp. Trouble was I couldn’t remember shooting the pimp. But there it was, all over the TV news and tabloids. The police had declared the violence as the result of a drug war. Where was the accountability? I didn’t even recall doing it, so how could I feel responsible?

I sat in Kelly’s office. Her face was particularly pinched and her hands were folded across her desk, like sharp metallic rods. She was giving me a bad performance review, one that would surely doom me to be laid off soon. The review was unfair, I protested. She countered with written examples of what she considered a bad job on the projects I’d worked on this year. “Well, I guess there is nothing left to say here,” I said, rising. I nodded to the report. “You can file that under ‘Fiction’ and fuck yourself. I’m fighting this.”

I took the subway home during lunch. I went to the closet and used the stepladder. Suddenly my heart raced.

The rifle was gone. I searched the whole apartment, turning my spare furniture upside-down. I threw the futon across the room. I tore the blinds from the windows in a rage. The rifle had disappeared from my life as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared. I sat down on the wood floor and pondered my loss. Maybe the owner had returned for it. Maybe the landlord or superintendent had grabbed it. Maybe some guardian angel disposed of it before I could do anything more drastic than I’d already done. Or maybe I’d thrown it away and forgotten about it, like the incident with the pimp. I didn’t know. I realized I was crying. I missed the feeling of the cold metal against my check and in my hands, the cool sheen to cling to and to warm. Well, I supposed I was romanticizing it a bit. I heard “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” song again: “Let someone with a deep love to give / Give that deep love to you / And what magic you’ll see.”

I took out my cell phone and found Mike’s number. I stared at it a while. Then I exhaled deeply and deleted it.

Time to go back. I rose and walked out the door, back into a world outside where, sadly enough, we all were targets.

Jeri Dayle

The Chanukah Pumpkin

Holly D. Pumpkin was lonely. The holidays Halloween and Thanksgiving had both come and gone. Yet, here she sat, still outside on the doorstep.

It was getting rather cold out now. Holly was wet, and sad. After all the days of bringing joy to the children, she did not understand how she could have been forgotten.

Young Morris was just as sad and confused as that pumpkin. He did not understand why the Rabinowitz family had left their home in Russia, even though his mother and aunt Raya had tried to explain it to him. He so missed his old town, school, and his best friends, Aaron and Hymie.

“It’s different here, Moishe,” his mother said. Seems she always used his Hebrew name, Moishe, when things were serious. “Here we can be Jews and worship openly. We have no troubles, no fears. In America, we have real freedom.”

At eight years old, Morris understood more about friends than religious freedom. He was thinking of his friends as he kicked a soda can along the block. The can clink-clanked its way into some grass. As Morris bent to pick it up, he spotted something shiny behind the bush. He pushed aside a branch and there was Holly D. Pumpkin.

How strange, Morris thought, to find a pumpkin out now. In school, he had heard about the American customs, and that pumpkins were for Halloween and Thanksgiving. He scratched his head through the curls. Now, though, it was the second week of December. Tomorrow, it would be his holiday, Chanukah.

“I know just how you feel,” Morris said out loud, as if a piece of squash could hear and understand. “I’m out of place too. I miss my old home, and my friends.”

Morris gave the pumpkin a pat on its head and walked on home, kicking his soda can as he went. When he came in the front door, he heard his mother and aunt yelling.

“I thought you had packed the silver,” Mrs. Rabinowitz shouted to her sister-in-law. Back when they were getting ready to leave for America, Raya had divided their important things from those that would be left behind. She had packed all their silver. Yet the family’s Menorah, their treasured Chanukah candleholder, was nowhere to be found.

“We have to light the first candle tomorrow,” Mrs. Rabinowitz said. “We won’t have time to buy a new Menorah. Even if we did, there’s no extra money.” She looked down at the floor and shrugged. Living in America had its good points, but New York had turned out to be very expensive.

Morris sat on his bed and thought about Chanukah. He tried to remember all his mother had taught him about the holiday. It all started many, many years ago, when the Jews had battled the Greek King. They’d fought for their religious freedom, and the right to be what they chose. It sounded like his own family struggles before they had come to America.

Morris recalled that when the Jewish soldiers, the Maccabees, had returned from war, they found their temple a terrible mess. The walls were cracked and dirty, the altar turned over. But the special lamp of God still shone strong.

A miracle had occurred: their little bit of oil had lasted for eight whole days. That is why the Rabinowitz family lit their Menorah for eight nights each year at Chanukah. Along with the candelabra, they ate foods cooked in oil to celebrate.

The next morning, Morris was wondering how he could help his family. He did not like to see them fight. They had come here to America to be happy, and happiness was even more important on a holiday.

Morris was so deep in his thoughts that he tripped on a bump in the sidewalk. He lifted his scratched chin and was staring right at that pumpkin again. “That’s it,” Morris said, and built his plan as he walked on to school.

He skipped lunch that day, and, instead, spent his money over at Avi’s store. He bought a nice big, fat candle from the man with the black beard and kind eyes.

Morris stuffed the candle into his book-bag and ran home, giggling over his secret.

When he got back home, Morris helped his family prepare for the holiday. They wiped down counters, swept the floor and made the kitchen shine. Then they grated potatoes for their latkes. They chopped a lot of onions too, and Morris didn’t know if it was the onions or something else that made his mom cry.

When Mrs. Rabinowitz was busy over at the stove, Morris snuck out. He got the candle out and set up his surprise in the front window.

Mrs. Rabinowitz was making her way to the table, with a huge silver platter in her hands. It was piled high with chicken and latkes. A flicker of light caught her eye, and she turned. It was coming from a large pumpkin, with a face carved in it. The warm glow of candlelight shone through its crooked smile.

“Surprise,” Morris shouted. “I got us a new Menorah. Well, um, sort of…” he grinned up at his mom.

Mrs. Rabinowitz hugged her son. So sweet, so thoughtful, and he was creative too. “Our own little holiday miracle,” she observed as she kissed Morris on his forehead.

Two minutes later, their doorbell rang. “Are we expecting any more guests?” Raya asked.

Morris went to the door and found a blond haired boy there. He looked to be about his own age.

“Hi, I’m Tony.” The young man introduced himself. “I live around the corner. I saw your jack-o-lantern in the window and I thought it was cool.”

Morris did not want to correct him, and say the pumpkin was a Menorah. Instead, he told his young neighbor to come on in.

Tony was from an Italian family and had never tasted a latke before. He licked the oil from his fingers and said he liked it. He also liked to play with toy cars and trucks as Morris soon found out.

“Our own little holiday miracle,” Mrs. Rabinowitz said again, smiling as she watched her son. Morris was laughing , and having such fun with his new friend.