Fiction exerpt: Margaret Emond’s Letters

People call me to fix leaks. I’m a plumber. I have to cut into walls sometimes to replace old pipes. What I find there, you may call family secrets. Yesterday, in an old stone house, behind some crumbling plaster, I found a stack of old letters in their original envelopes tied together with hemp twine. There was a note on top: “To whoever finds these letters,” and it was signed: “Margaret Emond”.
Letter no. 1 – May 21st, 1854
Dear Mystery Friend,
Ever since I was a little child, I stood still watching people. People appear warm and clever but are preoccupied with ambitions. They pretend to converse with motives unspoken. I find myself not caring for their presence. I distance myself as my suffering from people’s absence from their heart is too heavy to bear. I have come to be a quiet person.
I walked to the park to watch the swans earlier today. My spirit filled rejuvenated and blessed with hope.
I cannot suppose men and women of all races and religions will treat each other with contempt forever. I long for a friendship with someone open to a true sharing of the soul. I hope you will take my confidence to heart kindly.
Sincerely,
M. E.
I am making plans to visit my aging parents for the end of the year holidays. On the phone, my father asked me for a favor. He told me he needed nettle roots. He makes it into an herbal tea; it helps lower his PSA levels and relieves pressure from his swelling prostate. He can no longer find it at the health stores near him and wondered if the stores near me would have some.
My friend Mel called Chris, a farmer friend of hers, and we were soon driving to his farm. He told us there were different species of nettles. He’d never heard of their roots being used for medicinal purposes and thought he should look into it for his own father. He directed us to a meadow where he pointed at two patches of tall brown growths.
We did not have to dig too deep and large amounts of roots came with each shovelful of dirt without too much effort. In half an hour we had two tall buckets filled with roots. There was plenty more. We gave them a quick rinse and went home.
Letter no. 2 – May 28th, 1854
I wonder about your era, Mystery Friend. Are people still bickering over racial and gender divides? Are people celebrating life? Are people living with passion? Oh! I am elated at the idea of seeing something of your world!
M. E.
“It has to be roots from the stinging nettle,” Dad said on the phone.
“That’s what I have. Do you know what part of the root I need to dry up?”
“What do you mean?”
“I did not buy them at the health store. I dug them up at a local farm.”
“Are they organic?”
“Sure, Dad!”
“How do you know?”
“The farmer said they are. I trust him.”
“And you are going to dry them up?”
“Yes, Mel has a food dehydrator. But I need to know what part of the root has the healing properties you are looking for.”
He did not know. A day later we had the same answer; we can use the entire root.
Washing the roots and chopping them up to get them ready for the dehydration process, I thought of my relationship with Dad. Neither he nor I are herbalists. He is a historian. He seeks for and reads old documents from archives. He pieces facts together like puzzles. He does not try to say more than the documents say. If something is missing, he keeps searching until he finds answers that make sense.
I don’t live in the same world as Dad. I work hard and don’t mind getting my hands dirty. Dad and I, we do not have much in common except for fitting pieces of puzzles together; different kinds of pieces.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: Cheering Up Tom

Frank asked Tom to pick up Rita at the St Paul Street bus stop for him. He said that he would know who she was; she never let herself be unnoticed.
“Well … Is she blond? Tall? Older?” Tom asked.
“You’ll know!”
“Why am I picking her up?”
“I promised her a ride home and I can’t make it. You don’t want to break a promise ever, and especially not with Rita.”
As Tom sat in his car he feared he would regret this. The hazy fog hanging over town did not make it any easier to discern people. He turned the key in the ignition, going through the motion, and the engine remained silent. His shoulders relaxed and he smiled. His relief was brief though; he remembered to step on the clutch the next time he turned the key in the ignition.
There were several people at the bus stop. None were particularly noticeable. It wasn’t going to be as easy as Frank predicted.
There was someone who did not look like she was waiting for the bus. She was leaning toward an opened passenger side window, speaking with the driver. As Tom opened his door, he overheard the woman express slowly but distinctly that she did not realize that her walking on the street could possibly disturb anyone and that if her presence was distracting to him she was completely sorry, but that again she had not meant to cause any problems.
“Just use the sidewalk,” the man insisted, “it’s dangerous in this fog!”
He started to close the car window, but she continued talking about not meaning any harm and that she really thought the street was for everyone.
“Lady, I need to run, so would you please step away from my car?”
She looked at him very directly and said, spacing each word patiently: “Sir, I was apologizing to you, you could be a gentleman and accept my apology.”
“I accept your apology,” he said with some irritation.
“Now, what was your name again, I don’t recall hearing it?”
“Goodbye lady!”
He drove away, and sped up quite briskly once at a safe distance from her. She stood up, watched him leave. Her long dark hair still covered her chest from bending forward at the car window. She had dark features as if Mediterranean, which in Tom’s mind was in contrast to her slow and distinct southern belle speech pattern.
“There are so few gentlemen anymore,” she said out loud.
“Rita?” Tom hailed out.
“Yes!”
“Frank couldn’t make it; he asked me to pick you up!”
“I will be darned if that isn’t Frank! Would you come and open the door for me?”
Except for a large size purse, Rita had her hands free. It puzzled Tom that she asked this. He went ahead anyway and opened the door for her.
“You’ll have to give me directions,” he said, once in the driver seat.
“Frank did not tell you where I live?”
“No.”
“Did he leave you with an envelope for me?”
“No.”
“Isn’t that’s a surprise?” She said sarcastically.
“Is there a problem?”
“Not at all. He planned it all very well. Thank you!”
Tom remained quiet.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: The Last Laugh

Stitch earned his nickname as a boy because he had a knack for making people laugh. Later, after a divorce, he went bankrupt, and those who knew him expected that he would lose his zest for life. But he hasn’t, and still jokes about everything.
His current favorite theme is marriage and money. At a party thrown by his friends in honor of his father, Stitch says: “There are two kinds of people, those who marry for money and those who divorce for money! … Oh! That still makes only one kind of people!”
“I’ll marry you for money,” Kate says, “who’s got a buck?”
Kate is just back from Australia. When she introduces herself, everyone thinks her name is ‘Kite.’
Andy is Stitch’s neighbor. He asks him: “How do you do it?”
“Do what?”
“How do you do it? Laugh everything away.”
“Oh! That!”
Stitch remains silent a moment. It’s not that he is prone to introspection, or that he wants to find a profoundly funny response. It’s just that the expression Andy used ‘laugh everything away’ is the exact expression his father used sarcastically when he was a kid and his father wanted him to be serious. Stitch never really laughed that out. He pretended, when he was a kid. He poked his dad about it. He would say: “Dad, why do you have to take everything so seriously?” But there’s no more pretending. Not anymore, because his Dad just passed away. He called Stitch to his deathbed last week. The first thing he told him was: “Son, I knew you would never amount to anything. Divorced and bankrupt, you’re a disgrace to the family. I fault myself for it. I should have never let you get away with laughing everything away like you did.”
“As I recall, Dad, you pounded on me almost daily with your comments about needing to be more serious. What else could you have done?”
“I could have sent you to a boarding school. I could have sent you to the army. Living is a serious business … if you want to succeed at anything. But, obviously, you don’t.”
There was a fierce look on his face.
“You know why I made jokes of everything, Dad?” Stitch asked him rhetorically. “It’s because I never saw you laugh. When I was a kid, my greatest wish was to see you laugh. Why don’t you ever laugh, Dad?”

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: Strangers

Fields and trees go by rhythmically, infinitely, hypnotically. Richard is staring out the window, mesmerized by the view out from the morning train that left Atlanta, Georgia, for New Orleans, Louisiana. The trance he’s in reminds him of the cawing crows swirling incessantly above his head years before.
“Do you take the train much?”
“Huh?” Richard says, coming back to his senses. “No, you?”
He notices he’s been traveling over three hours already.
“No,” the lady says. “I’m Evelyn. I just got in at the Birmingham station.”
Her light brown hair has red reflections and her green eyes are bright. She wears a long dress with a peach-colored flower pattern.
“I’m Richard,” he says.
“Are you going to New Orleans?” she asks putting her luggage down.
“Mardi Gras …”
“Me, too. It’s my first time.”
“Yeah! Me, too! Do you like jazz?” he asks.
“Zydeco. It gets under my skin like nothing else does. And I like the French culture. How about you?”
“I just had a conference in Atlanta, and I thought I’d take a break before going back to work.”
“What kind of conference?”
“Biostatistics for the pharmaceutical industry. I have a reservation for lunch. Do you care to join me?”
Walking together to the dining car, she continues the conversation. “You mean, about getting FDA approval for drugs?”
“Yeah and vaccines. But there’s a whole lot of statistical stuff that comes before FDA negotiations. We work on scientific models and animal studies, before we start tests on human beings. Then we set up standards and make sure different labs perform up to those standards. It’s a huge machine and there’s lots of competition.”
“You like it?”
“You’d think … I always thought I’d follow my heart.”
“What happened?”
“It’s strange. I loved psychology. My dad encouraged me to do psychiatry, but I was not interested in medicine and meds.”
“And now you’re working for a pharmaceutical company?”
“Ironic, isn’t it?”

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

 

Fiction exerpt: Anaïs and Ray

It’s early March. Still in bed, he opens his eyes to the wonder of winter: the familiar yet always surprising beauty of the sharp contrast between the fresh snow covered branches and the darker shade of the bark of the trees. Rays of sunlight knock at his window inviting him outside. He is filled with a sense of calm, a sense that something was rest to peace.
Anaïs got up early. She had a meeting with the organic farm coop group.
Checking on the maple trees, he collects several gallons of sap.
He feels a pinch in his heart; a desire to go on a long hike.
Anaïs’s ring comes from his cell phone.
“It’s Dad,” she says.
“Do you want me to meet you somewhere?” he says.
“It’s not pretty.” She is crying. “Even though he was mad at me for loving you, even though he was grumpy and miserable, I loved him just the same. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him. I guess what I miss is what could have been, the love we could have shared.”
“He did not make our life easy.”
“You know what I want?”
“Wait. I’ll take you to some place you’ve never been before for a few days.”
“Would you do that?”

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: Marla’s Beauty

She sighs, as she wakes, thinking that she is still alive.
Last evening, Harry changed his approach. He did not like to ask his clients about their past. To him, everything is will and following small simple steps. But since she kept giving in to the temptation of eating, and nothing was changing, he also gave in and asked her about the history of her weight and about her family.
When she was 13, Marla’s parents divorced. Mark, her older brother by five years, took care of her. They kept in touch with their dad, Gregory, while their mother, Jasmine, disappeared with a South American younger man.
Marla was a model at 16. Slim, sexy, with intense big brown eyes, and slightly asymmetrical eyebrows, few men could resist her, or women. She had been on the front cover of several magazines and already made quite a fortune by the time she was 18. People were attracted to her and she enjoyed the attention. She had been on dates with more people than she could remember.
At 20, she mentored the newest girl, Cath, who was starting at 16 as she had. Marla saw in Cath her competition and her ruin, but also what she used to dream. She knew the lifestyle would soon swallow her alive and there was nothing to be done, except help her get the best possible memories and pretend that all would be wonderful, a Cinderella type experience.
At 22, she and Cath had a fling. She shared Cath and did drugs with Mark when things got tough with his wife, Sam, who was seeing Gregory secretly.
At 25, Marla was bored. Alcohol, drugs, food, sex had taken a toll on her spirit. Her eyes were dull; she looked absent. She had started to gain weight.
At 30, she weighed 250 pounds, give or take.
Mark calls her every day. Sam left him. June, his newest sweetheart, is clean. He wants to try and be clean with her. June could no longer keep Hank’s stories straight and left him. The way she puts it: “He is a successful gambler as long as he isn’t drinking, whether he lies about it or not, which he is.”
Marla felt numb as she was throwing up these memories to Harry. It was as though all of this happened to someone else.
Now, not wanting to wake up, the memories hit her by their stark darkness. She feels nauseous. Suicide is on her mind but a part of her has not completely given up. She did not want to remember the past. She liked Harry until last night. Now she feels lonelier than ever. Even in her stardom days as a model, she was lonely. She escaped it by partying, by thinking she belonged to that world. Reality had finally caught up with how she’d been feeling all along.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: A Long Way From Home

What Abby needed, she wouldn’t say. She found Josh’s brochure somewhere, liked what it said and the way it looked. She giggled as she admitted she was drawn to his photo on the brochure. She knew what she did not want. She did not want Josh to use hypnosis on her. She did not want to lose control. Someone had done that to her before and she felt manipulated. She thinks he seduced her under hypnosis. Josh assured her he would only support her on her path, he would not offer anything she did not want to do.
~ ~ ~
Josh attended a workshop on learning to use his intuition. On several occasions, they had to pair up with a partner from the group. They were to get information intuitively about a relative of the partner so that information could be confirmed or refuted by the partner.  For one exercise, they tuned in to a relative who was alive. For another, they were to tune in to a dead relative.
Janet sought to connect with Josh’s grandfather on his father’s side, Andreas. She said that Andreas told her he understood Josh now, he understood what he was doing with his life and he supported him. It certainly was a message Josh loved to hear, because he had felt so misunderstood by his family since childhood, but it was not a message that proved Janet had truly connected with his grandfather.
Josh sought information about Janet’s mother. As he closed his eyes, and took deep breaths to relax and be open to her mother, he saw a middle aged man, trying to pull a woman his age out of a fire. Her hair was dark and disheveled, long enough to reach her shoulder blades. Her dress was simple, uniformly navy blue or black. She resisted him, her face in pain, looking away from him. He had short brown hair and wore a white shirt with sleeves rolled up above his elbows. Neither one of them was on fire. The man came out alone. He could not save the woman. Janet did not know what to make of Josh’s vision. There had been no fires involving her parents. The teacher encouraged them to think metaphorically. What could the fire represent? Janet said that her mother was deeply depressed and her father had to leave her because he was getting burned out.
That experience convinced Josh he was able to tap into information one could not rationally know, information that involved people he had never met, whether dead or not. He was left with a feeling that the message from his grandfather could be real, that Grandpa Andreas really cared about him and his family more than he had known. He felt joy from this thought.
~ ~ ~
Abby had abandoned the Catholic Church as a teenager. She felt ostracized from her family. After a few sessions with Josh, she reconnected with her Christian roots. Josh was Catholic from his upbringing. He felt a kinship with any path that has love as its core. He had come to a place where he heard a common message conveyed by all religions: to love one’s neighbor, to be humble, and to be of service. He met many who preferred to commit to one religion and, within it, to a specific denomination. He respected that.
His goal was to help people love themselves and be the best human being they wanted to be. With this kind of support, the rest seemed to fall into place with time. Abby came to believe that her God and her Jesus Christ were different from Josh’s.
To Josh, she had become color blind to some of the colors that make a true Christian. To her, she was concerned about false Gods; she was not color blind, but she became convinced certain colors were less divine than others. Josh thought the best way to help her was to allow her to explore that path and he asked her if she had gotten what she wanted from their work together. She wanted to keep meeting with him.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

 

Fiction exerpt: The Never Ending Summer

Until that famous summer when banks collapsed by their own doing, pretending they needed to be rescued, Antonio Carrinian had an easy life. He actually had two lives he never mixed: one as a teacher, and one as an epicurean lover. He taught mathematics, and tutored those who needed extra help making himself available until about eight o’clock in the evening. Then, he went out for dinner and charmed his way to a date or went dancing which often ended with the same result. I am Serena Maltez, a colleague.
Antonio failed mercilessly any student who attempted to pass exams using memorization only. He warned them. He told them he did not believe people could not do math; he believed there were those who were scared of math and those who were not. He told them that if they thought they could not do math, they needed to ask for his help. He always made time for his students. Until eight o’clock that is. They would meet in his office or at a café. He never let anyone down. Those who took his challenge passed. No exceptions. And not because he was easier on them: they actually learned the material, to their own surprise.
At night, after his last student left, he went to a bistro. He was an affable and handsome man and shared his table freely with people. That is also how he met women. They noticed right away he did not wear a wedding ring. Inevitably they asked if he had ever been married. He cleared any doubts by letting them know he had no interest in a relationship. His love was for mathematics and for teaching it. Some women excused themselves then, if they were looking for a long term relationship, but first waited for a response, hoping he would change his mind. He never strayed from his principles. He never fell under the spell of seduction, which turned him off. If women were intrigued and did not ask for a long term relationship, he was more then happy to prolong the night. He did not get attached and, yet, never left a woman without a gallant goodbye kiss. If a woman asked if they could meet again, he always said: “God willing!” He smiled, and walked away without leaving his phone number or his address, and without asking for hers.
That summer, when banks collapsed, everything changed. His students were agitated and withdrawn; he could not hold their interest. It affected him. He skipped meals. He stopped listening to music. He did not seek dates. He became a recluse. He spent all his time with his students or thinking about how to get their attention so he could teach them. He had always been able to help those who wanted it. But no longer. That summer the proportion of students seeking his help was higher than normal but few showed any progress. After 20 years of successfully teaching students other math teachers had given up on, Antonio was facing failure for the first time.
He was walking aimlessly, distracted, after school one night, when he heard a familiar voice that drew him back to the outside world. It was Jenna, one of his current students.
“Mr. Carrinian?” she said.
“Yes,” Antonio answered. He stopped to look at her. She was dressed in blue jeans that were falling apart, showing holes and threads. She had a light blouse on, not ironed. She was one of the students he’d been unable to help so far. He was embarrassed. He feared he’d lost his magic. He had little confidence left. It felt like death.
“Hi!” she said, shyly.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Nowhere,” she said. “There’s nowhere to go.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No, I’m sorry …”
“It’s just that thing that’s on everybody’s mind, sir.”
“What thing?”
“There’s no money, no food to eat, my parents are either angry or depressed. We’re going to lose our house to foreclosure. We have nowhere to go. I don’t know if you know what students are saying about you?”
“Please, Jenna, tell me …”
“You’ve been the best teacher anyone has ever had. But now they say you only care about math, it never was us you cared about.”
“Oh!” Antonio said. “May I invite you to dinner?”
“It’s not just me, sir. It’s about half the students in our class.”
“Yes, you’re right, I could not feed everybody. But, can I offer you dinner this time so you can help me see how things really are for you?”
Jenna accepted her teacher’s invitation.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

 

Fiction exerpt: For Thrill’s Sake

Seagulls laugh and screech, and fish and fly. The waves are regular; the wind has dropped. And Misery talks out loud for Joy’s benefit.
“We’re not going anywhere. The wind has died.”
“Yes. There’s not much to do.”
“This is annoying. It all started so well. I was looking forward to it. And now look at us.”
“The sky is blue all the way to the horizon. What a sight!”
“And that makes you happy? You’re not going to call for rescue?”
“No.”
“It does not make you happy?”
“I’d be happy with any weather.”
“O … kay. Whatever. How about the rescue?”
“What for?”
“I don’t know, you know, so we’re not bored for hours on end.”
“You’ve never just done something to enjoy the process?”
“Well I do enjoy the process if I know I am getting to my goal.”
“What is your goal?”
“The thrill of speed … full wind in our sails.”
“Ha!”
“What do you mean ‘Ha!’?”
“Just acknowledging.”
“Well aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
“I am.”
“You’re not doing anything.”
“I am letting you vent.”
“I am just fine! What are you going to do about being stranded on this infinite ocean?”
“Nothing!”
“Why not? Didn’t you invite me on your boat? Aren’t you the master sailor?”
“Yes.”
“So …”
“There’s a master above me.”
“And who’s that?”
“Nature.”
“Well, I’m never doing this again!”
“I guess not.”
Silence.
Deeper silence.
Silence filled with tension.
Sigh.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)

Fiction exerpt: My Dad’s Murder

After 9/11, our teacher asked us to write an essay on when it is appropriate to kill someone. I guess the first thing that came into most students’ minds was: “Is it appropriate to kill Osama bin Laden?” “What are the moral and ethical implications to kill a religious or political figure that is presented in the media as an evil person?” “If it isn’t appropriate to kill Osama, would it be appropriate to kill any other political leader such as Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin Dada?” My mind went somewhere else. I wasn’t interested in the politics of it. To me, obviously, if someone rises to the top as a political threat, there are ideas or beliefs that put him there, and killing that person does not eradicate those beliefs, it only fuels them and gives them power and, therefore, reality. Then what? That can’t be conducive to peace and harmony. No, my mind went somewhere else, somewhere personal, very real, and, up to yesterday, very painful.
I was five years old when I saw my dad shoot an intruder. The blast, the face pierced and distorted, the blood, the brain pieces, all real, forever indelibly set in slow motion in the deepest fabric of my being.
It was just past three in the morning. I remember hearing the living room grandfather clock’s chime. I had just woken up from a nightmare in which a hooded man dressed in black strangled my dad.  I could not see his face, only his hands. It took minutes. Breathless, dread-filled minutes. Mom and I were hiding under the couch. She was holding my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. Her hand felt limp suddenly. I knew she had fainted. My dad’s killer had disappeared. I woke up with a strange feeling of trying to scream without being able to, as though my voice had been tampered with. That’s when I realized it wasn’t real. I heard the clock. I heard some unusual noises downstairs. I walked softly to the top of the stairs and I saw my dad shoot a man dressed in black with no hood. I was shaking and sweat was pouring out of my pores drenching my pajamas. I did not know I had so much water that could merely leak out through my skin.
I could not speak for several days after that and I did not want to be around dad. Dad and Mom knew it had to do with the events that night but they could not get a word out of me. They sent me to a counselor lady who asked me to draw pictures, anything I wanted. All that I could draw was lifeless bodies, missing parts, lying in blood, with many, many, angels hovering over them.
The essay homework came eight years later. I was still torn inside. Torn about the need for one man to die to save another’s life, and his family. I felt guilty for preferring us to live over a stranger I did not even know. I did not know how to express any of that to the lady counselor at the time. The essay was giving me a chance to talk about it and not keep it all inside; a mysterious and confusing forbidden land.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)