The Admiral

December 24, 1492

Enrique Navarro Lovato shared a tiny cabin below the bow with Juan Carlos Gutierrez Romero. Each boy slept on a three-plank bunk, Enrique’s closer to the floor because he was the younger of the two, and because, according to Juan Carlos, Juan Carlos was part Basque, who were superior sailors, which is why the Admiral wanted him on the higher bunk. This was pure nonsense and Enrique taunted Juan Carlos relentlessly that he could never prove he was Basque, and why would he want to claim that heritage anyway, those arrogant heathens. Juan Carlos did little on board anyway and was a complainer, and so Enrique knew it would catch up to the other boy one day, therefore Enrique kept quiet and worked hard. He was a deck swab from Galicia, and Enrique knew this made the Admiral happy, and also the ship was sometimes called La Gallega.

The night sky was brilliant. After a dinner of salted pork and a new fruit they had collected from the natives of the island—some yellow hooked tube that you had to peel to eat the white flesh—the Admiral let everyone have some wine, even the boys. It was Christmas Eve, after all. The plan was to continue sailing the north coast into the morning to peruse for any more signs of gold or spice.

Enrique had seen a few of the first pieces brought on board. The Admiral himself held his palm open to show the crew. It shimmered on all of its rounded and angular sides, dull in some places, sparkling in others. The Admiral laughed a bit, saying how the Cipangos had taken the beads so willingly and with a childlike wonder. If they only knew it was just glass, the Admiral laughed. And how they just gave over their gold!

Enrique had heard one of the friars who could interpret their strange language say that the Cipangos considered gold to be the waste of their gods. Their excrement. How amazing, Enrique thought, that their gods might shit gold. What could their gods look like? This thought was silly. There was only one true god and everyone knew it. It would only take time for these people to learn that.

This was what Enrique was thinking—in between praying to Santa Maria herself and dozing off—when the steersman wrapped on the cabin door.

“Wake up,” he said, although he was saying it to Juan Carlos. “Wake up, you brat.”

Enrique sprang up.

“What is it, Captain? Is anything the matter?”

“Wake him up.”

“What is it? I can help.”

“I don’t care, one of you wake up, get on deck.”

“Yes, sir.”

Enrique quickly changed out of his dressing gown and into his trousers and tunic. He debated putting on his doublet because it was a warm night but he did it anyway because who knew what he was about to do? What if the Admiral awoke and happened to see him hard at work so late at night? He might be promoted for such good behavior.

The steersman led the boy to the helm and said, “Take it. I need to rest.”

He handed over the ship with ease to Enrique, much like the Cipangos had given their gold, like it was nothing. A trifle. But then the steersman turned back to Enrique and sneered at the boy: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Enrique wrapped his hands around the handles and felt the gentle tilting of the ship grow into his forearms. It excited him in the way the sight of a woman did, how it was strange and foreign and forbidden. He’d held the wheel before. He’d certainly cleaned it. All the cabin boys had. He simply had never steered the ship, and absolutely not the Santa Maria.

At first it seemed to be a mistake the steersman would hand it over to him, but then it made sense with it being late and Christmas Eve and everyone relaxed, the Admiral awake for almost two days. Plus, would the steersman truly hand over command if the seas were treacherous?  With that Enrique inhaled the night air and held the wheel steady, his line of sight being just over the bow. The island was a safe distance and only its silhouette signaled that it was there at all against the backdrop of starry sky.

Once they returned to Spain, they would be famous. Enrique would get asked to venture back to the Spice Islands and bring back more of everything. He could even become like the Admiral himself. Enrique loved this idea, he loved everything about what was happening in his life, how his voice had just changed and how he was growing hair all over his body, his favorite place the line just above his lip. One day he would have a beard like the men on the ship.

Enrique felt a little sorry for the Cipangos, how bare their skin was, how they had no shame to walk around almost in the nude like they did. It would be such a gift when they knew Christ, when they could understand what this blessed holiday was. Enrique drove his hand into the pocket of his doublet where he had one of the glass beads the men had given to the Cipangos. Enrique rubbed it with his thumb and forefinger and he considered asking it the way the natives might, to bless him with prosperity forever.

All of this fantasizing ended the moment the ship jerked forward as though skipping on the water. Enrique hadn’t made any adjustment at the wheel. He’d held it tight the whole time except when he dropped his hand into his pocket. But then again, how long had he been out there? The ship heaved forward, but it was gently, nothing like some of the waves they had endured crossing Mar Atlantico, when it rocked side to side, careening down walls of black crashing waters.

With another heave forward, the ship came to a hard stop, and Enrique’s blood ran cold. The island appeared to be where he last saw it, but then the shadows of the mass loomed closer and he swore he heard wind rustling through trees.

With this a stir below deck made Enrique shiver. The Admiral was awake. The voices of other men rose in both anger and disbelief. Feet banged up stairs toward the deck. Enrique tried to turn the wheel. It was locked. A set of waves came from behind and shoved the boat forward into the tidepools, ripping into the starboard hull. The Admiral rose to the deck eyes sunken and furious. He approached Enrique heavy footed and rose his hand up to strike him.

Enrique did the only thing he knew how: he prayed to the Blessed Mother asking for forgiveness, saying to the Admiral he would never do this—WHACK! The Admiral gave one blow with the back of his hand sending the boy backward onto the deck. A priest held the Admiral back from lunging again at the boy. Enrique turned himself over onto the deck and began kissing the very wood he mopped every day.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,” he said, “Pray for me—a sinner—now and at the hour of my death.”

The Race to Find Presidential DNA

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While Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards unwittingly cast her as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, she quickly responded to InStyle magazine by saying, “I don’t have the DNA for it.”

So what have the leaders in home genetic testing done? Begun a frenzied search for presidential DNA. Geneticists at companies like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and the National Geographic Genographic Project are racing to identify the specific genetic markers for what it takes to president of the United States of America.

For a high-dollar fee, plus a vial of spit, these companies can deliver a person’s genetic makeup, including racial and ethnic ancestry, whether someone carries the genes for certain diseases, or if they will express such traits as asparagus odor detection, back hair, or unibrow. All of these organizations rely on a robust gene pool to produce a more complete genetic picture for consumers. In short, the more donors, the better the results for all.

To determine whether someone has presidential DNA, the companies have fought tooth and nail for the DNA of former U.S. presidents. Some of these companies are considering exhuming dead presidents to obtain DNA samples and thus enrich the data set.

So far, the National Geographic Genographic Project has successfully collected Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush’s DNA, while AncestryDNA has obtained DNA from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 23andMe, often considered the most popular home DNA service, has confirmed receipt of Barack Obama’s DNA, and is planning to acquire a sample from Donald Trump. The White House, however, hasn’t responded to requests.

“Our preliminary tests are revealing a few common denominators,” said Janet Glover, spokeswoman for AncestryDNA. “Presidential DNA is more than likely male, and of northern European decent, either Irish or English. We’re also seeing potential variant markers for addictive behavior.”

National Geographic has announced similar ethnic and racial findings with Bush I and Carter, in addition to sweet taste preference and male hair loss.

While 23andMe has collected Obama’s DNA, they haven’t revealed what it holds, but a person familiar with the sample says, “it’s some pretty gnarly shit.” The company says the control, of course, is our current president. They believe his sample could show unprecedented findings, some that may debunk Oprah’s claim that she doesn’t have the DNA to be president. 23andMe recently said that if the current president ends up not providing a tube of spit, the company will seek samples from the Trump children, citing their willingness to sell any part of themselves.

False Starts

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We’ve all been there: staring at a blank canvas, that perfect first line taunting you. Sometimes the entire story spills into your head. You see it all play out before you. It’s going to be marvelous.

Then the words come. And this is what you get. False starts. Doomed beginnings.

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Traces of fat around his cheeks and jawbone had layered outward in the past few years, swallowing the distinct features of his once angular face. When Samantha didn’t recognize him, he said, “Hey, I’ve been hungry, okay?”

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There was a huge difference between “Could you sweep out the crematorium?” and “Please sweep out the crematorium.” The former suggested Ricky might be physically unable to do so, yet that wasn’t what bothered him; he preferred to be told what to do.

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Greg flung his paddle into the mosquito-infested stream. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m done with this shit.” Liza gripped her paddle until her knuckles turned white. She knew, after all these years, fundamental differences with things like religion and politics wouldn’t break them. Setting up a tent. Parallel parking. Folding laundry. Kayaking, however, would.

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On January 1, 2000, I woke up in the cargo area of an SUV, hands bound behind me, duct tape over my mouth. I was still wearing all my clothes: khaki pants, white T-shirt under a green wool vest, and boots, all of which reeked of booze and spit up. The night before came back to me in flashes: waiting in lines at dive bars on Galveston Island’s strand, whiskey shots, cameras flashing, standing on the beach around a bonfire, then nothing.

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And while we men with big brains might desire those women that love men with muscles and money, we tend to be satisfied with the women—those few women—that go for men with intelligence.

Adventures / Failures in Pop Fiction ~or~ It’s all been done before

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-witch / wizard school

-vampire romance

-vampire school

– witch / wizard romance

– zombie apocalypse

-nuclear apocalypse

-asteroid apocalypse

-star-crossed lovers

-feuding family

-alien invasion

-elf kingdom

-mythical animals

-time travel

-lonely cowboy

-traveling girl

-cowboys vs. aliens

-unlikely romance

-talking animals

-talking fruit and vegetables

-freak weather

-weather involving food

-toys come to life

-insect adventures

-dead or dying planet Earth

 

 

Stage Dive

 

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Through a sliver of unshielded window, the midnight sun seared a line on Rebecca’s face that she had tried to avoid the minute she, her boyfriend Gil, and the fifteen-member marathon team tucked themselves into that corner of Chilkoot Charlie’s. They were still buzzing from the 26.2 miles they ran eight hours ago and they squawked about various portions of the course and the wonderful air and bonking. With bellies full of river fish and microbrew beer, and under the darkness of the bar, protected from the sun that wouldn’t dip again until fall, there was no way they were leaving anytime soon.

Rebecca was one of two people in the party that wasn’t a runner. Others had brought their spouses and partners, but all of them ran, or did some form of extreme endurance sport. Skye, Lorenzo’s girlfriend, was the other, and though she teased Lorenzo about lubing up his nipples and scrotum, she too was addicted to endorphins and spent her Saturdays, undercarriage lubed too, on the seat of a road bike. Skye had had one beer and was laughing hysterically. She paused and turned to Rebecca.

“Meg Ryan,” Skye said. “That’s who you look like! Like a young Meg Ryan.”

Rebecca faced Skye but got her face caught again in the sliver of sun. Damn it. Stop looking that way.

“I’m serious, girl, you’re such a cutie.” Skye reached over Gil and slapped the table in front of Rebecca. Rebecca caught the twinkle of Skye’s engagement ring. Lorenzo had proposed to Skye the day before when the group took a tram up to Mount Alyeska. Lorenzo got on his knee in the snow and looked up at her, in front of everyone, and Skye said yes. He called her his angel and he stood up and kissed her. Everyone took pictures with their IPhones.

“Thank you.” Rebecca tugged on Gil’s shirt. He looked at her, cut off in midsentence with Lorenzo.

“What’s up?” Gil looked into Rebecca’s face. She saw his bothered look again: forehead cranked up so the three lines came to a gathering point, his eyes flat, not as bright as they were when she saw him at Mile 8—he was on fire then, his arms and legs moving like windmills, his mouth open and inhaling and exhaling gulps of air—or at Mile 24 (the last Rebecca saw him before the finish line), where his eyes glowed wild. It reminded her of her cat Shadow back in Reno, how his pupils, when about to pounce even the toy mouse, flared out, almost cancelling the field of green behind them. Its only focus to kill.

“I’m tired,” Rebecca whispered into his ear. “Can we go back to the room?”

“One more drink, okay. Are you having fun?”

“Yeah. I’m having fun.” Rebecca patted his leg. She was so proud of him all day, loved to see him in his moments of glory. It was his sixth in two years. He’d been really making a go for this racing thing. Every day was something about running, or shoes, or what to eat, or who he was going to run with, or how far they were going to go that day, or how far they went the other day. He talked about creams and special socks and split times and shaving off seconds. Do you want to come? he always asked, and then after a while, he stopped asking.

“I need to use the bathroom.” Rebecca wiggled out the table and her eyes hit the light again pouring in from the outside. She squinted at her watch: 12:50 a.m.

The bathroom, like the floors of the bar, were covered in sawdust. A girl was in the stall on her knees throwing up. Rebecca recognized the skinny ankles in ankle boots as one of the girls on Gil’s team. Rebecca knocked.

“Give me a minute. Please.”

“It’s Becca. Gil’s girlfriend. Is that Katarina?”

The girl heaved followed by a terrific splash into the toilet bowl. “Can you get me a paper towel?”

Rebecca returned to the stall and pushed the door inward. The girl stood up. She was in a tight white skirt and a sweater that hung off her shoulder. Her hair was wet on one side.

“Thanks.” She wiped her face.

“Too much to drink?” Rebecca said.

“I guess.” The girl belched. “Kathrina.”

“I’m sorry?” Rebecca stood at the mirror with her.

“It’s Kathrina. Everybody gets it wrong.”

“Oh, sorry,” Rebecca said. Their clothes were from two different stores, perhaps two different eras. Rebecca was in a fleece and her comfy jeans and had her hair combed back. Kathrina looked like she was shaken out of a Pointer Sisters concert. Kathrina ran the water and collected a drink with her palm. She swished and spit.

“You’re with Gil?”

Rebecca noticed Kathrina’s collarbones­—so angular and even with nothing on them, no extra skin or fat. Her skirt hugged her hips in a way that made them look like an upside down triangle. Rebecca’s arm itched under her long sleeve. She scratched and nodded in the mirror. “He’s my boyfriend.”

“Lucky girl.” Kathrina grabbed a towel and wiped her face and the corners of her mouth. “All better. See you out there?”

Rebecca smiled and went into a stall. On the toilet she laughed about all those runners. They can just pick up and go like that. Like animals on the hunt.

She needed some air. The Chilkoot’s bouncer asked did she want a hand stamp to come back inside. She shook her head and walked out. The sun, low on the horizon, faced her head on. At least it looked like dusk now and not the middle of the day. She didn’t like the idea of drinking in the middle of the day. She hated, in fact, going to Gil’s hash runs on Sunday’s where they would all run around and chase someone and chug beers, and then when they got back to the park where Rebecca and all the runners’ mates waited, they would drink more beer, like a big party. They called themselves drinkers with a running problem.

She looked down Spencer Road and then down at her shoes. She wore Adidas, like Gil, and could just get running up the street if she wanted to. She could be one of them if she was so inclined. She wasn’t as fit as they all were, but she could get there. She knew it.

Gil stepped out of the bar. He shielded his eyes. “It’s so fucked up that it’s bright right now, right?” he said. “What time is it?”

“One,” Rebecca said.

“What’s wrong?” Gil held her shoulders.

“I don’t belong here.” Rebecca hugged herself. It wasn’t at all cold, but she shivered.

“You mean here at the bar?”

“I mean here. With you and all your friends.”

“We’ve talked about this a million times. You have your stuff, I have mine.”

“Why did you stop asking me to join you? To run with you.”

“What? When?”

“You just stopped all of a sudden. Like one day. You asked me all the time to come running with you. Then you stopped.”

“I don’t know. I guess I thought why keep trying. You don’t like to run anyway.”

Rebecca turned back toward the sun. It wasn’t as bright outside as it was in the bar. In the bar everything was dim, and so your eyes had adjusted. You could see everything for what it was, but outside was this other illuminated world, if only a slice of it. She did hate running and the whole group and all their endorphin snorting bullshit. She went along, maybe, because she liked Gil’s legs and his stamina. He could go on and on in bed. But that wouldn’t mean anything if they stayed together and kept raising Shadow the cat, or maybe got married and had children. It would get old, and she would have to either convert, or do something even more extreme. Something more disciplined than running. Nature walks were her thing. She loved to wander into the outdoors at a nice slow pace. Maybe she would just stay in Alaska and be a mountain guide, or move to Nepal and become a Sherpa. Who needs to keep running all the time?

“You’re right. I don’t like running,” she said.

“Well, there you go,” he said.

“Yep. There you go.” The sun dipped further on the horizon. It looked like it would go down for good, or at least for the night, but it just hovered there.

The bouncer called over to them. “You two coming back in? It’s last call.”

“Be right there.” Gil turned to the man, then back to Rebecca. “So what do you mean? There you go?”

“Go. Go back in. I’m going to watch the sun rise up again.”

“You’re not coming back in?” Half his body was turned to the entrance.

She looked at his tall frame. He never wore flannel in Nevada, and that three-day stubble was for show, too. The guy hardly went a day without a shave and a month without a haircut. She pictured the mirror where she saw Kathrina standing fixing herself up and put Gil next to her. They looked right together, like rock stars after the show, needing their fans to validate them, or move them along face up, being pushed by hands on arms raised high, after they staged dived backward—a snow angel plunge—into the throngs of worshippers below them.

“Are you going to go back to the room?” he said.

She breathed in deep and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll be fine.

Gil shrugged and turned back to go into Chilkoot Charlie’s. “Okay, well I’ll see you there.”

“Yep. See you there.” Rebecca waved at him and turned away from the sun toward Delaney Park. The beams that held the Finish Line sign were still up. She picked up her pace and walked toward it. She breathed in the fresh air, pulled off her fleece, and tossed it to the ground. There had been piles of clothes earlier when they all took off and stripped down.

She walked on and hated the shoes she wore. You can’t fit in just by wearing the same shoes they wear. Those would be the first to come off when she got back to the room. She’d probably leave them, too. And the 40th Mayor’s Marathon hoodie she had bought. She’d leave it all right there next to Gil’s gear bag. Full of his extra shorts and socks and that silly heart rate monitor. She might tuck them in next to the Band-Aids and Vaseline. Parting gifts.

 

 

 

 

Christmas, 1949

Mother joined Daddy’s Santa act this Christmas, one: to keep him under control, and, two: to get in on the fun. She first made herself an elf costume, kind of a short one, but Daddy had a fit and made her make a Mrs. Claus suit so they both had to stuff pillows and in their shirts and bottoms.

            Mother came out of their bedroom and we laughed. “I don’t think Mrs. Claus is this fat,” she said.

            “There’s no such thing as Mrs. Claus.” Daddy smiled at her. He stood ready by the door to go out, already dressed in his suit, the big red sack empty next to him.

            “John.” She grit her teeth and tilted her head at Teddy, Leslie, and Georgie. All younger than me and still believers in Santa. Georgie ran around the room shouting “Santa’s here! Santa’s here! Santa’s here!”

            “It’s me, honey.” Daddy had pulled down his beard and rubbed at his black stubble to show her. “Only me. Real Santa will be here later. After you go to bed.”

            Mother rested a pair of old glasses on her nose and pulled down a red round cap to her head. She’d tucked up her hair into the bonnet.

            “This okay?” she said.

            “Fine. Fine. Let’s go.” Daddy pushed her along outside.

            “You’re okay to watch your brother and sisters, son?” he said.

            “I’m okay,” I said.

            And so they went, out into the cold, to walk down Adams Street and take cheer and fruit and candy to the other families. This is what Daddy did by himself until Mother figured it out.  I think it’s pretty kind of them to play Santa since most people on Adams are mostly poor, but not so poor so as not to afford alcohol. We’re not poor. We had the first television set, and we can afford our own alcohol. Daddy just likes going out to get a few free ones for all he does for the town.  

            At each stop, Daddy goes inside ho-ho-ho-ing and lets the little ones sit on his laps and maybe hands out what presents they have under their own trees, and then the mothers and daddys of those other houses give him a little Christmas cheer. I guess as Mrs. Claus, Mother helps him or gives the children kisses. Last year, Artie across the street told me Daddy had so much egg nog, his daddy had to walk my Daddy back across the street afterward. That’s when my Mother said, “No more, John. No more of this shit.”

            One year when I was younger and before we had Georgie, Daddy stomped around as he got ready to go out ho-ho-ho-ing. He came out of the bedroom in his red suit and laid his thin leather work belt, the one he wore to the cleaners, on the coffee table. He sat us down and told us to watch that belt. If we made our mother cry once more he would have to use it, and there would be no Christmas later that night when he got back home. He got back home later that night and still used the belt on us, for nothing really, except that he was still just mad. Mother had went to bed a long time before that and told us we would have Christmas in the morning if our drunk of a father finally came home.

            Me, Teddy, Leslie, and Georgie: we didn’t know what to do after they left tonight. The first half hour we sat around with the television on watcing the Christmas specials. Once that got boring, around 9:30, we tried a round of Tiddlywinks and then Georgie got cranky because she could never make them in the pot. She’s too little for that game anyway and I’m too old for it. I told Leslie to take Georgie to the bedroom and read her a story, but Leslie stuck her tongue at me and so I slapped her a good one. Leslie slapped me back and then Teddy broke us up to tell us Georgie was in the Frigidaire eating the rolled up balls of sugar cookie dough Mother made.

            Georgie got sick from them right away and so Leslie helped her throw up and then stupid Teddy went to the cupboard and brought back one of Daddy’s bottles. “Here,” he said. “Give her some of Daddy’s medicine.”

            “No, Teddy,” I said. “No. That’s bad.”

            “Well you try it if it’s so bad,” he said.

            And so I did. And it wasn’t so bad at the first, but then it burned. It burned like hell. Daddy had screamed that in the bathroom one time: It burns, it burns!

            “Take another one,” Teddy said.

            “No, Johnnie.” Leslie cried. She’d stopped holding Georgie’s head and Georgie looked like she was about to fall asleep with her curly locks on the edge of the commode.

            “It isn’t so bad,” I said. “Maybe she does need some of Daddy’s medicine.”

            Georgie woke up and held her little hand up. “Give me the bottle,” she said.

            “No, no, no.” Leslie yanked the bottle from my hand. She brought it into the kitchen and poured it down the drain. On the television played a parade and singers singing the Twelve Days of Christmas. They were on Eleven Lords a’ Leaping.

            “Daddy’s going to be so mad, Leslie. Bad. Bad, bad, bad,” Georgie said.

            “Oh, shut up,” Leslie dropped the bottle into the sink and it went clank-clank-clank.

            “Oooh,” Teddy said. “You broke it.”

            “Oooh,” Georgie said.

            Leslie’s face went white. She stepped back, still looking at the window above the sink, then down at her arm.

            “Leslie, you’re bleeding!” Teddy pointed at her arm.

            “Here, let me see,” I said, and then I saw what Leslie saw. In the window peeking in on us were Santa and Mrs. Claus. Their faces had melted down on their heads and they smiled horrible smiles. “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa said. He pressed his hands up against the glass and a tree branch blew behind him. Mrs. Claus tapped at the window and said: “Have you been good little children?”

            Georgie went into a panic attack. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere. They usually mean the person has to sit down and breathe or close their eyes or drink some cold water or take a pill. Mother’s panic attacks: she pats her chest and makes little puffing sounds. She turns red and sometimes we have to get her paper bag to blow into. The worst one was after one of our customers came to the front door—Betty Stoltz—and had some words with Mother. Mother screamed at her, said never to talk to her husband again. Betty was a lot younger than Mother and this made Mother so mad. She slammed the door on Betty and then Mother fell down right there in the doorway. We had to get the paper bag.

            Georgie’s attack wasn’t like that, but she did fall down. She fell down on her back and pushed herself by her legs, sliding like a snail on the kitchen floor. She made heavy breathing sounds like she might need a paper bag. She didn’t though and Leslie ran over to her and yelled at her to stop. Leslie’s arm bleed onto Georgie’s pink night dress and this made Georgie howl. Teddy pulled her up of the floor and shook her. “Stop it,” he said. “Stop this shit.”

            Then the back door knob started to turn. This door from the kitchen to the outside was our escape door when we played the Empty Doom. This door was also the door most people came to visit us. Same door Mr. Tucker, the paper delivery man, came to visit Mother sometimes. She called him her backdoor friend and she always laughed when she said it, and we did, too.

            The door opened and Teddy screamed and dropped Georgie. Teddy was pretty tough but he had this scream on him like a little girl, worse than Georgie. He screamed at Claus and Mrs. Claus walking in the door. They looked bigger, like they had real fat on their bodies, and meaner. “Ho, ho, ho,” they said and they had their hands up like they were going to grab us.

            “Stop it now,” I said.

            “Have you been a good little boy?” Mrs. Claus said. She moved closer and now Leslie screamed. Georgie backed up behind Leslie and cried.

            Claus and Mrs. Claus laughed. They laughed and tried to grab us and stuff us in their big red sack. Claus pulled at my ankle but I kicked him and got the back door open. “Come on,” I shouted. My head throbbed. “Let’s go!”

            “But we don’t have any shoes on!” Leslie cried.

            “Come on. Let’s go.” I grabbed at my hair, almost pulled it out my head hurt so bad.

            Claus and Mrs. Claus laughed and let us out the kitchen door.

            “It’s cold out,” Mrs. Claus said.

            Claus stood over the sink. “Goddamn it!” he said. “Damn you kids.”

            I shut the door behind me and Georgie heaved and cried. Teddy bit his lip, whimpered. Leslie tried to slap me again.           

            “Bad,” Georgie said. “Bad.”

The Keys To Jessica’s Audi

     At the bottom of the stairs, Shandy invoked the prayer to St. Anthony. Jessica, Shandy’s Jewish boss said the incantation worked every time. Shandy held the prayer printed out on a small card so she could read it in a hurry. On the other side was an image of St. Anthony in his friar’s cloak, head shaved down to a crown of  cropped brown hair. She read the prayer, in her thick Indian accent at least twice, sometimes three times a day.

            Saint Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find the keys to Jessica’s Audi which have been lost.

            Jessica screamed from upstairs. “I can’t fucking hear you, Shandini.” Books fell from shelves, drawers slid open then closed, closet doors slammed. Jessica was the only person on earth, besides Shandini’s mother, who called her by her full name.

            Shandy recited the prayer louder and shook her head. She wanted to cry. She liked Jessica during the interview two months before and thought she might learn to be strong from a powerful white woman. They’re industrious, she had thought, and she admired Jessica because she wasn’t that much older than her. Shandy was desperate for the position and she took the internship without pay for the first month. Today was her one hundred and fiftieth recitation of the prayer. She kept a tally of hatch marks on the back of the card, in the white border above Anthony’s downturned eyes.

            Jessica descended the hardwood stairs, her heels pounding with hammer force, BAM-BAM-BAM. Shandy started over again.

            “Did you check the coat pockets?” Jessica said.

            “I’ve been praying.”

            “Goddamn it, you’re supposed to pray and look.”

            Shandy went for the coat rack, a tall dark wooden post in the entry way to Jessica’s home office in Georgetown. She plunged her hands into every open pocket.

            “You’re not praying,” Jessica said.

            Shandy started from the top. Saint Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find the keys to Jessica’s Audi which have been lost.

            “What time is it?” Jessica said. “Oh my God, I’m late.”   

            Jessica was due at the afternoon White House press gaggle in 45 minutes. All day she went on about getting in the front row so that “pencil dick” of a press secretary finally calls on her. Jessica Mitchell’s status as a Betlway darling was crumbling. She was notoriously late to gaggles and getting lippy on camera.

            Shandy produced three sets of keys from the pockets. Jessica inspected each and threw them on the floor when she identified them as not the ones to her Audi. “No, no and no,” she said. “Fuck, fuck, and fuck!”

            “Jessica, you can use my Metro pass,” Shandy said.

            “I will not take the fucking Metro,” Jessica said. “And why did you stop praying.”

            “Have you tried retracing your steps?” Shandy said.

            “Retracing my steps? Are fucking kidding me?”

            Shandy started the prayer again and went to the intern desk. She moved papers and phones and computer mice and found nothing.

            “What’s his face? What time did he leave?” Jessica said.

            “William? He left at 3:30?”

            “Where was he today?” Jessica said.

            “Here all morning. Then you asked him to run an errand. In your car. He came back and then went home for the day.”   

“Stop right there,” Jessica said. “Call him. Now.”

            Shandy dialed. “Voice mail,” she said. “He must be on the train by now.”

            Shandy imagined William going deeper into the clean subterranean world of D.C. on his way back to his apartment in Alexandria, his shoulders back and his chin up. Above the square cleft, a smile with clean bright teeth, teeth she loved and wished to one day feel with her own tongue.

“I’ll have his balls on a plate,” Jessica said.

“Maybe he will come back,” Shandy said. “If he took the keys, he will feel them in his pocket and come back.”

“Is he your boyfriend or something?” Jessica said.

“No, he is not,” Shandy said.

“Well then keep fucking praying. And call his ass again.”

Shandy looked outside the small narrow window next to the front door. She prayed in silence to Ganesha: Please, William. Please come back.

Jessica pulled up the cushions on the sofas in the lounge area, the very loveseat where Shandy felt something for the fair faced boy from Connecticut. Would her parents ever approve? How would they get married? William had touched her thigh one afternoon, first on accident, but then he left it there and she let him keep his hand there.

Shandy turned the card over and studied Anthony’s face. She never realized how much he looked like William. Or was it the other way around? Did William look like the saint? Jessica screamed from the kitchen.

Shandy whispered now, eyes still fixed on the glass, waiting. As least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss.   

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