” . . . much like an old, dust-covered book, waiting patiently to be rescued, its words to be touched.” ¹
WordVet.net (formerly WordsYouCanTouch.com)
Clicking on “The Intellection Collection” category at the top of this page will open up “preview boxes” and URL links for each title listed below.
The offerings are diverse and eclectic in nature. There is no central theme, viewpoint or commonality of purpose. There is a mix of poetry (many of the poems are of a storytelling nature), stories that are fact-based fiction, and others that were created completely out of whole cloth. There is sincere, heartfelt emotion and there is humor that ranges from light to dark. There is an abundance of witty, whimsical, unbridled wordplay and even an occasional slice of wisdom.
(Be forewarned that some entries include material that may be described as suggestive, indelicate, titillating, bawdy, ribald, or risqué – but without crossing the proverbial line and always presented with humor and literary purpose, hopefully while inducing knowing nods, giggles, grins, groans, or guttural guffaws.)
What won’t be found here is a political or polemic agenda in any form.
Note: All links may be shared freely via social media sites, e-mail or any other electronic medium. All content may be published, printed, distributed, or quoted, in whole or in part, without specific consent or permission. Said authorizations require only acknowledgment that Wayne MichaelDeHart is the author and WordVet.net is the true and original reference source. (Including the website name facilitates simple and straightforward verification of the original documents in their entirety, should any content be subsequently presented out of context by any person at any time for any reason.)
*** 34)“Mae King, Out at The Kabb Inn” – January 29, 2022(Fiction) https://www.us.mensa.org/read/bulletin/features/mae-king-out-at-the-kabb-inn/ This is a direct url link to the story in Mensa Bulletin magazine, January, 2022. It is a shorter version of “Mae King . . .”, edited down to meet publication requirements. The longer, unedited version will appear on this website separately, at a later date.
“The Intellection Collection” This is the same list of titles listed above, but in descending chronological order, so that the reader can start with the latest post and work backward to the point where they last left off. It is a quick way for regular readers to determine if there are any new posts to read. Content Previews for each entry are now included to guide visitors to topics of interest. https://wordvet.net/the-intellection-collection/
“About Writer’s Notes” These are comments, insights, observations and clarifications offered by the writer at the end of a post. (On one post, they came at the beginning out of necessity.) https://wordvet.net/about-writers-notes/
Unlike the picturesque SnowSleeves of Winter, the poetic pieces constituting WordSleeves did not arrive, nor will take their leave, with the whim of the weather. They are for all seasons; responses to a series of unrelated creative writing “prompts” in 2020 and 2021.
Like the SnowSleeves of Winter, the selections appeared and accumulated at their own pace – irregular in size, sequence, substance and significance. Each passage, like each snowflake, is distinct and different than the next – in the form of sporadic, disparate observations, thoughts and musings. Random and casual in presentation, the Sleeves meander and wander aimlessly in search of a friendly fit.
(All prompt poems below were written by Wayne Michael DeHart, thus the writer’s name will not appear on the individual “Sleeves” that make up this post. The fifteen sub-posts appear in chronological order. Selections were chosen without rhyme or reason, time or season, blending form and format into the literary version of a potluck gumbo and jambalaya combo. Sample each, consume what looks good, pass on what doesn’t. Bon appetit!)
In Response to a YouTube Viewing of Captain and Tennille’s “Muskrat Love”:
The Dragon said “Toni, my dear.
What crawls yonder – a rodent I fear.”
But she didn’t respond – his wife didn’t hear.
So he inquired again, drawing her near,
and whispering his ask into her ear.
She simply smiled, and said with good cheer;
“Worry not, dear husband, it’s perfectly clear.
It’s a sign from above,
it’s what songs are born of,
it’s a diamond, a dove,
it’s a …
muskrat, love.” ¹*
February 2, 2020
In response to this long-ago page:
Favonius, humming a hymn,
took to the sea, for a midnight swim.
But in the dark, became entwined,
in eight-ish threads, and lost his mind.
Struggle he did, for the rest of his days,
erratic in thought, engulfed in a haze.
Blinded in blackness, turned Brutish in view,
took his last breath . . . in ’42.
April 30, 2020
In Response to a Poetry Challenge Re: the following photo:
Mike DUKAKIS, on a whim, went to France
one day in search of him.
“DUKAS?” they said, “you’re late my friend,
he’s gone, finis, he’s dead.”
Traveling on, you see, to find what’s lost,
he ended up in Germany.
He wined, he dined, at a DUISBURG pub,
fell into the river, sadly, Rhine-d.
Then he had an idea, after being rescued
by a friendly chap – from Tanzania.
“Let me, dear fellow, come home with you
to chill out, calm down – to mellow.”
And so, they flew, to Dar es Salaam
for him to make a memory or two.
They drove south, tout suite, toward Malawi,
then stopped at a cafe for something to eat.
They ordered, then talked, till the food arrived,
and Mike chewed on the meat but suddenly balked.
“Ugh”, said the Yankee, “what is this stuff?
“It’s DUIKER stew, my man, it’s what we eat,
when famine pervades this beautiful land.”
“Duiker, what’s that, sounds nasty to me”
“Well” said his friend, “it’s better than rat.”
The man from Mass. just sighed, and ate on
but that night his gut really hurt inside.
“Enough for me!, I’m leaving, I’m gone”,
he told his companion, then started heaving.
No Dukas, alas, and Duisburg was damp,
and the Duiker filled him with gas.
Then he came home, to his tank, and knew there
was someone he really should thank.
So he called me, today, and said “My friend,
I read what you wrote, and it was as you say!”
June 10, 2020
In Response to a Modernist Poetry Challenge Re: the following photo:
Eliot and cummings woke me this morning
to tell me that nothing I will see today is real.
I listened well then told them both to go to hell
and step away from my view of the clouds and the sun that Camus
told me the day before weren’t really there anyway so
I now embrace the decorations of the sky
knowing that it’s not what The Greats of times past
promised me it would be in my youth, but only a
visual perception before my eyes only and not yours.
It is what I say it is, it is what I see it as, it is
my one and only reality as I drink my mourning tea.
June 15, 2020
In Response to a MENSA Poetry Group Challenge – Re: the photo
A wordsman of wisdom, born into the book,
he grew to know just what it took
to examine and study, to describe and define,
uses and meanings by intent and design.
A sculptor of sentences, a litterateur,
he Rambled for readers in his forty-first year.
Growing older and wiser, his standing unmarred,
he took the bold step of critiquing The Bard.
Now certain of purpose, aware of the path,
he chose to expose the poets of Bath.
From Milton to Dryden, from Swift to Hope,
he gave us the scoop, he gave us the dope.
When Boswell penned his story, with maxims galore,
his friend, his companion, added much to Sam’s lore.
But alas, as is written, in this history,
It was Walter not Samuel, who always struck three.
August 29, 2020
In Response to a Mensa SIG Haiku Challenge on “Colors”:
Tints and tones rained on
shades of hue and me in days
before darkness came.
August 29, 2020
In Response to a Mensa SIG Haiku challenge on “Silence”:
First thing I could hear
were birthing screams whispering
aloud the sounds of …
August 29, 2020
In Response to Mensa Poetry Group Challenge from Bruce Miller- re: the photo
Small of feature
is this creature
who poses for the camera lens
and artists bearing pens
to show the world – mankind,
that if ye seek, ye shall find
a woman that sits and rests
with pointed eyes and perky breasts
that beckon and stare, here and there
at we who look and take the dare
of one Bruce Miller’s daily fare.
September 25, 2020, response to Poetry Group Haiku prompt “Red”:
Burns the game he play’d and luved
like a Red, Red Rose.
– Pete Rose, 1974
– Robert Burns, 1794
– for “burning” the game
January 24, 2021, response to Mensa Poetry SIG photo prompt:
Lady dear, I neighed so long,
but no one came, to hear my song.
So I peeked inside, to see who’s here,
but saw no one, not a soul was near.
I’m hungry you see, with no hay to be found
so I poked my head through, and looked around.
But just as I readied to resume my plea,
A squirrel or chipmunk goosed me, you see.
So forward I pushed, to escape the attack,
but I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back.
Stuck and confused, I twisted and turned,
my head spun around, and I was really concerned.
The attack had subsided, so my direction was clear,
and with one final burst, I fell back, on my rear.
Undamaged I am, but not so your door,
it’s not as stable as it was heretofore.
I’ll make it good, yes I’ll find a way,
then resume my song, my endearing neigh,
if you’ll do one thing, without further delay,
get off your ass, and bring me some HAY !
January 29, 2021, response to Mensa Poetry SIG photo prompt:
Picket fence of white, lawn of green,
flowers of gold, and a girl in between.
She sits so still, this maiden fair,
secured in place by the knot in her hair.
But what is the reason, what is the cause,
the story behind whatever this was?
A cynic might venture a guess it’s a pose,
a plot for a shot, that she herself chose.
But what if by chance it just fell into place,
as she took her seat in that serene little space?
If she lowered herself with style and grace,
and the post extended a simple embrace?
That would be charming to the nth degree
but what would happen if a bee stung her knee?
I fear she would rise, with uncommon haste,
her hair and the fence still interlaced.
Something would give, something would take,
and then we would know if it’s real or it’s fake.
But while we wait, we can imagine the scene,
fenceposts and ground, and a girl in between.
(If those last words sound familiar to you,
just look up above, to the end of line two.)
February 16, 2021, response to Mensa poetry SIG prompt (based on original “Deer, Boy”):
A Polish child, often reviled,
uniquely bred, with antlered head,
he counts the deer, as they appear,
across his dreams, and fields and streams.
His mother cries, his father tries,
in foot pursuit, to make him shoot,
to no avail, he won’t prevail,
the boy stays one, rejects the gun.
He runs in stride, eyes open wide,
sounds the alarm, miles from their farm,
for them to run, this hunter’s son,
true to his breed, so they won’t bleed,
from bullets fired, his call inspired,
they hear his plea, the deer run free,
buck with a rack, doe in the back,
one thing is clear, he holds them dear.
His father’s glare, and endless stare,
offset by wise, motherly eyes,
leave him alone, though barely grown,
to breathe relief, feel disbelief,
the day has passed, dusk comes at last,
he touches his head, prone on the bed,
one of a kind, mood undefined,
his tale is rare, his tail unfair.
March 20, 2021, response to Mensa Poetry SIG Haiku Challenge for “BEES”:
“Excuse me, Honey, but Hive wanted to Mate you,” he Droned to the Queen.
March 26, 2021, response to Mensa Poetry SIG Haiku Challenge for “BLUEBELL”:
The beast from Bordeaux,
on the flowered forest floor,
asked, “Feeling blue, Belle?”
September 24, 2021, response to Mensa Poetry SIG Haiku Challenge for “SHADOWS”:
Non judgmental, fair.
Unlike mirrors and photos,
they conceal our scars.
(This was written in August of 2022 as an entry into the 2022 National Veterans Creative Arts writing competition for a category described as “Military Experience – Not Poetry” with an 850-word limit. I have since made a few small edits that slightly increased that stringent number, and very recently added a series of significant Writer’s Notes, with photos. (The competition was text-only.) The Notes complete and complement the narrative. I tried to lighten the mood at the end of the notes, for both myself and the reader. But the hourglass is running low, and this one time I’ll “go there.” This is not a war-story website; never was and never will be. They’re a dime a dozen and enough is enough. My next post is also Vietnam-based, but it is light-hearted and hopefully witty and that’s the direction I’d rather go on this topic. The only thing they have in common is that neither are fiction. This one touches the fringes of events which led to my poem, “Incoming” – https://wordvet.net/2022/02/22/incoming/ . It describes in just 174 words the fear, the “crap,” that permeates my mind in the darkness and the depth of most of my nights and which has ruled my life for so many years. And will to the end. I recognize that the relentless river of severe panic that consumes and threatens to drown me can be disconcerting and misunderstood, and thus I generally live in self-isolation to avoid creating uneasiness for myself and others. “Incoming” was written in an attempt to convey the callous, controlling complexity of the poem’s Beast as succinctly as I could. The success or failure of that endeavor can only be determined by you, the reader. WMD 12/27/22)
In the early evening of December 26th, 1970, at a small Army camp across the road from the Marine helicopter facility at Marble Mountain, just south of DaNang, five of us were kicking back with Cokes and beers and stale cookies someone had received from home. The conversation was rambling and the topics random, with multiple voices speaking at once. It was like we were all talking aloud to ourselves, unable to focus on the messages or the messengers in the plywood-partitioned, double-racked quarters.
An intermittent, light rain pattered across the Quonset hut’s tin roof, calling to mind the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Rain on the Roof” and The Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain” – two well-worn 45’s of mine left behind in a New Hampshire closet, boxed into silence – amid fleeting flashes of familiar faces back in “the world.”
“Dee, whatcha smiling about over there?”, came the thundering voice of “Baby-San,” still just 19 almost a year into his tour – a brawny, fearless Texan with boyish (hence the good-natured nickname) features and a confident swagger. He was physically intimidating and sometimes volatile, but was generally an affable and likable kid. “Sure ain’t that burnt beak of his,” jabbed Steve from Wisconsin. I had been one of two guys from our advance platoon whose names were drawn to catch the Bob Hope Show at Freedom Hill on Christmas Eve. I lingered so long under a scorching sun that it sautéed two layers off the ridge of my schnoz. I countered with, “Hey, no skin off YOUR nose, Sailor.” Pretty decent comeback, I thought, knowing Steve was still irked about being rejected by the Navy in the summer of ’69. He swigged some Pabst and tipped his boonie toward me in a touche’-like acknowledgment of shared, requisite rapport.
After a prolonged pause, Baby-San and I (the Coke guys) remained in the makeshift room as our beer-drinking compatriots adjourned to a sandbag bunker with the rest of the cookies. He and I exchanged thoughts on who we were and where we might be in ten years. He wanted to be a forest ranger somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. “Exchange this uniform for that one. Exchange this reality for that dream.” “Sounds good, man.” “Yeah, you got that right.” But he looked somber while adding that it was just as likely he’d be hauling trash for a living. “Ain’t no lie, there’s always bugs in the butter.” His tour was almost over and this outwardly-confident short-timer had revealed an unexpected uncertainty about following the path back home, and once there, finding himself. I could only nod and say the obligatory, “Don’t mean nothin’, man.” It was the go-to generic response when one didn’t know what to say, at that time, in that place.
“How about you, Dee. You’re always writin’ letters and stuff. Must have a pack of girls back home, you dog.” I tempted fate, feigning umbrage and giving him a poor man’s stink eye before good-naturedly shaking my head. “I wish.” I joked that this mutt had been kicked to the curb long before being sworn in, then described that “stuff” as what we called “prose and poetry” back in high school. “Would kinda like to be a writer sometime down the road, have lots of thoughts and ideas running through my head. But the truth is I’ll probably be working that garbage truck alongside you, clanging can covers to a Creedence Clearwater song.” He wasn’t buying it. “Seriously, you should write a book about THIS crap. Give ’em the dirty details – the reckless, anything-goes, no-holds-barred shit. Keep it real. No John Wayne jive.” I told him I was thinking more along the line of conventional “word fare,” as opposed to unconventional warfare. “Not looking to make waves, just rhetorically ride them.” He stood and flexed, striking an exaggerated bodybuilder pose. He grunted, “Mention the strong and righteous ‘BS’, as in Baby-San, and we’re good.” (Rest in peace, Al, and I just did.)
“Gotta come up with a good title, title’s everything, Dee.” I pulled out my wallet and handed him a folded index card with a proposed book title from two years earlier – “Three Times Sadness.” “Jeez, man, sounds depressing. Ain’t gonna sell no books that way. What’s it about? What’s your sadness?” I shrugged, telling him I didn’t know yet, that I always write titles before I write stories or poems, then write the latter to fit the former. (His expression read, “Say again?”) I told him I might have a shipload of sadness to write about by then, but he seemed to have checked out. “Dee?” “Yeah?” “Sometimes I wonder: do the guys treat me good because they like me, or are they just afraid I’ll beat their ass?” For a few brief moments, he appeared weary, fatigued, vulnerable – and old beyond his years. “Both, I think.” He let the words sink in for a minute, then his eyes came alive and he nodded approvingly. “Hey, nuthin wrong with that, works for me, brother man.” It was his turn to smile. “Twelve and a wakeup, GI. See ya on the other side.” And then he was gone.
Hours passed and then came the sirens. Showtime. The skies lit up. The images blurred. The night roared.
Christmas was over; the crap was not.
Today, more than five decades and seven seas of sadness later, the book remains an elusive pipe dream.
But I think I know where I can use that title.
******************** RIP “Baby-San” – Alfred “Al” John Kappus, 1951-2014
Thanks, “brother man,” for the ever-present banter and repartee, and specifically for that oft-remembered conversation. Yours was the classic “larger than life” presence, energy in overdrive. Though our paths crossed for only a brief period of time, your encouragement and your inspiration left its mark in a way that you would have wanted, and that I welcomed and understood. And, yes, I will “see ya on the other side” – and it will be my honor.
(Artwork: Charlie Thibodeau / 2022 / painting in his own vivid colors, back here “in the world”)
Charlie is a Marine who came of age just down the road from me in a nearby NH town. We never met in our youth, despite the proximity of our age and location. Soon after first meeting at the VA about six years ago, we stumbled into an awareness that we had dated the same shy, brown-eyed girl way back when Hector was a pup. Bonnie’s smile made you instinctively smile right back, whatever your mood. And when he and I talked about her, of course we smiled too, remembering her fondly, respectfully, as older gentlemen remember a young lady from days gone by. She very recently left this world behind, but had she known that an unlikely pair of long-ago beaux still reminisced about her warmly, half a century later, I suspect she would have flashed that contagious smile one last time before departing, expressing the sentiment and substance of Baby-San’s words: “Hey . . . works for me.”
Turns out Charlie was serving just up the road a bit from me there in I Corps on that December night described above. Now, despite 3,000 miles of America stretching out between us, we stay in touch, share some late-night laughs and catch each other up on news both mundane and meaningful, while mutually keeping “the crap” out of the chatter, though we both know it lurks like a cancer just below the surface – and always will.
Darkness be damned as we two remain thankful to be among the fortunate ones still blessed to breathe the air, catch the wind, hear the rain on the roof, and behold a sea of stars in the clear night sky. We fight against, and survive, the dangers of the night. Then we embrace the sweet, saving grace of daybreak’s first light. And in those inevitable, recurring moments when the world is too heavy and our resilience is too light, he eats ice cream and turns to his canvas and I eat dark chocolate and turn to this keyboard – both of us coping and fighting the good fight, a day at a time, as best we can, each in our own way. **********************************
These first four photos were taken by me, using a Kodak Instamatic camera, from a Camp Baxter guard tower fronting the Marble Mountain Air Facility (then home to Marines MAG-16, supplemented by an Army helicopter company & 5th Special Forces), with the South China Sea in the background. There are actually five fabled Marble Mountains, the northernmost of them standing strong in the distance in the first pic, which was taken facing south along the coastal road. (Seventeen Green Berets were killed at Marble Mountain on August 23rd, 1968 – the largest loss of life in a single attack in Special Forces history.) Several choppers can be seen “forming up” above the facility in the second photo. The two bottom pics show fortified, armor-plated, 10-wheel “deuce-and-a-half” gun trucks traveling north toward DaNang. These trucks were rigged out – uniquely modified and equipped, each with a catchy name emblazoned boldly on the side. They primarily protected transportation units, serving as escorts for convoys, and were not to be messed with due to the trucks’ maneuverability and formidable weaponry, matched by the aggressive, “bring it on” mentality of its crew.
The last photo was taken by me from one of two towers that faced northwest into a tiny civilian/drug sales area next to a seemingly out-of-place and unattended temple. The camp’s “cursed tower,” visible just to the right in the pic and further away than it appears at that angle, was the site of several personnel losses during my time there, one of them highly personal and particularly distressing to me. Roger arrived in-country just days before his 19th birthday and took his last breath in that tower just two months later – on my own birthday, nine days before my tour ended. Though Baxter served as my “home base” for most of my 365 days in-country, my classified courier designation had me in unrestricted movement status, traveling alone around RVN for 5-10 days each month, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was simply time spent away from the camp, which gained a lot of notoriety for a series of reprehensible events and situations that coincided with my time there. The curse was feeling disconnected and isolated out on the road by myself, engaging in fleeting interactions with nameless faces in unfamiliar places, with too much time to think but not enough time to understand. The saving grace was that I did my job and I did it well. Then I came home.
Thirteen years later, the Beast burst into my life, and I realized I had never left, and now I know I never will. So be it. *********************************************************************************************
Hitting some lighter notes . . .
That night it was Coke, but sometimes it was Pepsi, sometimes a Fanta flavor. A-V-A-I-L-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y ! ( I have no clue what was going on with that center-forehead clump of hair. Looks like a burnt chicken leg.)
The occasional silver linings about being in RVN: avoiding haircuts, wearing weathered and worn boots, saluting maybe two times per month, with half of those being of the one-finger variety. Nobody cared, except on those one or two days a month when I was in Saigon. Some of those junior officers down there just couldn’t resist enforcing the saluting part of being a soldier. I humored them to avoid barriers because the warm, welcoming ladies of Tu Do Street were waiting and offered a far better evening ambience than the usually-empty transient barracks. Silver linings, indeed.
“These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” (Here I am pondering my existence while in a horizontal position. I got no answers.)
And of course I still have those original, referenced “two well-worn 45’s of mine” – only now in a different NH closet. Bought both new from Greenlaw’s Music Store in Laconia, NH. “Rain on the Roof” in 1966 and “Rhythm of the Rain” in 1963.
Are you still there? Are you okay?
Do you rue the day? Have you gone astray?
Do you have someone to light your way?
Is it a he or a she, or maybe a they?
What can I do? What can I say?
Are your skies blue? Or shades of gray?
If I deal the right cards, will you play?
If I say the right words, will you stay?
And the clock ticks fast, taking time away.
Why don’t you answer? It just isn’t fair.
I’m here for you. All’s forgiven, I swear.
I’ll do anything. I’ll go anywhere.
If you won’t come here, I’ll go there.
I’ll travel by train. I’ll get there by air.
We can find a bench in the city square.
Sit close and hug, get take-out to share.
Whatever it takes, to show you I care.
And the clock ticks on, no time to spare.
Why won’t you call, why don’t you write?
Tell me, please, what you’re doing tonight.
Are you sick? Do you hurt? Are you alright?
Can you see my face when I’m out of sight?
My nights are dark, the stars aren’t bright.
My colors surrender to black and to white.
Don’t want to quarrel, don’t want to fight.
You left. You’re gone. Turned off the light.
And the clock ticks forward, while I sit tight.
You primped like a Queen, spurning her King.
You took what I had without giving a thing.
Do you heed what I say? Hear when I sing?
Cruel words cut deep, and yours still sting.
Was I shelter in your storm, a passing fling?
You sold me a story, so I bought you a ring.
You promised we’d marry in the early Spring
Then flew away fast, like a bird on the wing.
And the clock ticks wane, play out the string.
You flaunted the role of a runaway bride.
Shunned the sun for the moon’s dark side.
Said you’d come back, but again you lied.
Took me for granted, took me for a ride.
Yet I always pursued, swallowed my pride.
Searched every hole, where you might hide.
Now I’m turning the tables, turning the tide.
I’ve opened my eyes, I’ve opened them wide.
And the clock ticks not. Our time has died.
“Are you still there? Are you okay?
What can I do? What can I say? Can I come play, Billy Ray?
I’ll stay, won’t run away.
Say ‘Yea,’ I pray.”
Hey, no way, you’ve become passé.
Just too risqué and bound to stray.
Nope to “Yea.” I’ll go with “Nay.”
A happy yay and a hip hooray.
Time’s up, Mae. Adiós. Olé!
“But Billy, I’m lost. I’ll do anything. My only dream is to be Mae King.”
Awww, Mae, my love, yes, come back.
I miss your smile and I miss your rack.
“Hold on Billy, I’m coming anew.”
Gotta say, angel Mae. I am too!
The End (of the poem, yes, but wait . . .)
Writer’s Note: Thirteen years after their 1976 wedding, and ten years after she divorced him for messing around with Molly, a female waitperson in Baton Rouge, Billy Ray King disappeared while aimlessly roaming the salt flats of Utah, in deep despair. Never did get his mojo back and Miss Molly had already moved on to a bigger and better tipper. The increasingly magnificent Mae remained a King because it carried a more refined and less cringey vibe than her maiden name, “McSnottery.” Lady got her head straight, earned a business degree from Florida State, and settled in Lake Delford, Florida, where she made a name for herself and got quite a bang out of it. When time allows and if your curiosity is piqued, you can catch up with her improbable goings-on here:
On the 40th anniversary of a fatal fire at his parents’ house, Patrick Simon knelt at gravesite #39 in a small cemetery that slumbers in silence on a lightly-traveled country lane skirting Lisbon, Maine. He made the 130-mile drive to his hometown annually from his unadorned basement apartment in Canterbury, New Hampshire.
His only keepsake of them was a wind up alarm clock they gave him when he left, a sound safeguard against being late for work. Its raucous ring had reliably announced each new day, including this one, for 46 years – with one notable exception.
On this October 7th, his 65th birthday, he struggled to remember their faces, their voices. He muttered aloud in cold, callous and cynical tones. He hadn’t seen a living soul there for years, thus disregarded discretion. He closed with a detached shrug, rather than fond words of farewell.
A robin whirled overhead, then darted downward. It brought boyhood memories of Teresa Tunney, an uppity, condescending classmate who relentlessly ridiculed him, chirping “Simple Simon, one for the birds.” Folks in Lisbon were devastated when she was found floating facedown at age fifteen in the Androscoggin River. How? Why? The questions remain unanswered. He wanted to smile, but he couldn’t.
He stood and turned, flinching at the sight of a statuesque young woman watching him. Her arrival had been silent. He looked past her, toward the small gravel parking area where his truck sat solo. Patrick wondered who she was, where she came from, and how she got there.
He walked directly toward her, out of both necessity and curiosity. She never moved as he approached. Her intense green eyes locked on his. As he drew closer, he became anxious, nervous, apprehensive. Should he say something? Do something? Nod in acknowledgment without breaking stride?
She remained motionless, holding her position in the narrow pathway, blocking his departure. She stared him into utter unrest as he stopped two steps in front of her. He searched for words that didn’t come. He felt a sense of inexplicable, undefinable familiarity. He also felt a heaviness in his chest. He panicked.
“Patrick, you look troubled. Please, come sit with me.” “Sit? Sit where? And you called me Patrick. Do I know you?”
“There’s a large prayer rock just beyond that maple. And of course you know me. It’s Jane. Jane Baker. I kissed you once in the fifth grade and you ran away like your fanny was on fire. Everyone laughed at ME, made fun of ME. It was the second worst day of my life.” She moved toward the rock. A befuddled and shaky Patrick Simon followed her, his mind racing as fast as his heart.
He did indeed remember Jane Baker and that klutzy kiss and running away because he didn’t think he “did it right.” He heard the taunts and jeers and assumed they were aimed at HIM.
No way this twenty-something, copper-haired beauty was Jane Baker from, what, 55 years ago? His legs weakened. His breathing faltered. “Are you Jane’s daughter or something, here to harass me all these years later? What’s your game? How did you know I’d be here today? Have you been following me? I don’t feel right at all, something’s wrong. I think I should go now.”
“Why didn’t you ever get married, Patrick? Was my kiss so distasteful that you chose a life of abstinence? You told people I was unhinged and unbalanced and that you were leaving after graduation to escape from me. Plain Jane Baker, insane trouble maker. Sound familiar?”
A delusional Patrick was trying to convince himself that he was okay, just having a bad anxiety attack. It was this woman’s fault. What was she trying to prove by confronting and taunting him here, of all places? “Why didn’t Jane just come herself, why did she send you?” He looked in every direction. “She’s here – leering, gloating, smirking – isn’t she?”
She finger-poked his forehead, restoring his focus. “You know it’s me, I know you do. After you left, your parents, in despair, said I stained your soul, darkened your heart, maimed your mind. Over one stupid kid kiss gone bad, you went rogue, abandoning and ignoring them while dishonoring yourself, hiding and wasting away, a no-excuse recluse. Over time, they gained perspective and accepted me, befriended me. I’d go to their house for dinner. We’d talk, play cards, watch television. Then that night . . .”
At this point, Patrick was reeling – physically, mentally, emotionally.
The robin reappeared, hovering briefly before him. The woman had vanished. Her voice had not.
“I knew you would be here today because you’re here every October 7th. Was it fate that the fire raged on your 25th birthday, the day you got fired for being late because you forgot to wind the clock? I think not. Welcome to my world, Patrick, where every day is October 7th!”
He dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. He shook, shivered, and lurched forward, face-first, fittingly and forcefully kissing the rock with a bone-crushing thud. He had met his Maker in the Fall.
Close by, observing from the weed-covered, flat footstone marker of the long-forgotten Teresa Tunney, the robin finally rested.
A handwritten note, discovered in his Canterbury apartment, told the tale.
Patrick Simon had drowned the noise and, ten years later, set the fire.
A guest, Jane Baker, had heroically pushed his folks to safety, only to trip, fall and perish in the flames. The townsfolk paid for her beautiful granite headstone – the one on gravesite #39. The one Patrick visited every year.
His parents cried at her funeral, then moved to Sacramento and never came back. Patrick was dead to them forty years before his face broke and his heart stopped under the maple.
Absent the revelation of that new and noteworthy Canterbury tale, only a mentalist, a lurking Lisbon robin, or a nearby northern King carving mystifying, yet mainstream, novel and needful things from his fabled castle rock, could have deciphered the hints, described the horror, and taken the stand to swear to the events described herein.
(Photo taken upon seeing Patrick Simon’s fractured face at the cemetery.)
Starring . . .
SimonBaker as PatrickJane / Patrick Simon & Jane Baker
Co-starring . . .
RobinTunney as TeresaLisbon / TeresaTunney & the Robin in Lisbon
Saw someone who wasn’t there. Heard a bird in the Autumn air. Dazed, disturbed, and in despair, learned too late that life IS fair.
“Kissed a girl, made him cry. Kissed a rock, made him die.” – Stephen King? A graduate of the now defunct Lisbon Falls High School – in Lisbon, Maine. Of course! A Needful Thing to know if one takes The Stand to describe the horror of October 7th.
Discovered in a New Hampshire basement apartment: The 25th Canterbury Tale (Note: G. Chaucer unable to comment at this time.)
(Note: Wrote this at the last minute as a back-up piece in August specifically for a VA-sponsored “Short, Short Story” Competition with a strict 1,000 word limit, which adds context to the closing line. Only allowed to enter one of them, so I stayed with the more unique original one that I spent a lot of time on. And yes, suddenly free of the confinement of a word limit, I tossed in a few proverbial shits ‘n’ giggles after the fact on this one 🙂
The Sneaker Inn is a tranquil 44-room resort on the eastern shore of Waite Lake in Marshfrost, Vermont. Nestled on the lake’s western shore is the Just Waite Bar & Grill. And between the beds and the brewskies lay 237 feet of shallow, clear water. On Friday and Saturday nights in the summer of 2007, with their guests tucked in for the night, five Inn staffers would shed their uniform shirts, shorts and sandals and swim those 79 yards to a grassy area out behind the bistro. They adhered to the axiom that if you drink, you sink, thus they would get some cash from the Buried Chest and buy ice cream and other desserts and sit and shoot the sugar with Willie Waite, the offspring of the eatery’s owner.
In late July, the Inn’s security guard upped and quit without notice. He worked four nights a week at the quiet refuge that catered mostly to artsy New Yorkers and struggling entrepreneurs. The job encompassed mostly walking the property’s perimeter every hour, being alert for the smell of non-recreational smoke, and scooping up stray litter, as in trash, not cat. Easy minimum wage work, sure, but replacing him on short notice was no easy task. Boss Bill called around but found no takers for the gig. (He figured calling it a “gig” might appeal to younger applicants. Who knew?) Driving into town Thursday morning, he ran across (not over) a 40-ish, long-haired, robust stranger. “Hey, wanna job? An easy one?” “Maybe, where at?” “Sneaker Inn, down the road a piece.” A moment of silence ensued.
“Sneak her in, down the road? I don’t know man, sounds shady.” Boss Bill bit his tongue, ’cause he really needed a warm body to show up that night. “No, ‘Sneaker Inn’ is the name of my waterfront motel. I need security Thursday through Sunday nights, ten hour shift. No experience required. No drinking, no smoking, no drugs and no sex with the customers. Clean clothes and comb that hair. Are you in?” “Pay good?’ “No.” Do I get a uniform or somethin’?” “Just a baseball cap with the word “SECURITY” on it.” “Cool, I’m in.” “Okay , you start tonight at 8 sharp. Name?” “Willy, with a ‘y.’ Willy Gillette from up Burlington way.”
When he showed up for work and was introduced to the staff, they guffawed like goobers. That name. What were the odds? Willy with a “y” could have taken umbrage but remained undeterred as they quickly dismissed their spontaneous rudeness, saying it was an inside joke, no harm, no foul. He was certain he could easily and uneventfully complete his assigned duties and sign out promptly at 6 AM. New hat in hand, he humbly, but confidently, began his routine.
At 10 o’clock, the five staffers bade him goodnight and merged into the shadowed shrubbery along the property line. Off came their shirts, shorts, and sandals. Then they waited . . . for Willie to make the 237-foot swim to the eastern shore. That’s Willie, with an “ie.”
Wilhelmina “Willie” Waite.
The five staff members? Cindy, Susie, Amber, Amy and Winnie. Winnie, as in Winnifred Waite, Willie’s twin sister.
The women, all single college students, greeted Willie, who arrived similarly-clad (un-clad?), with sacks of snacks. Nothing unseemly nor untoward happened at these get-togethers, mind you. Jiggles and giggles galore, to be sure, but nothing more. They told tall tales and talked about males – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Willy Gillette finished litter duty and headed out to the perimeter. As he passed through the parking lot on the road side of the Inn, he saw a couple of seedy-looking guys sitting on the hood of the 2006 Inferno Red Dodge Charger that Boss Bill picked him up in earlier that day. Willy was a laid-back dude who shied away from confrontation, so he walked right past them, pretending he didn’t see them due to the darkness. (There were lights in the lot and they were clearly visible, but what the hey, it was a minimum wage deal, right?) He was several steps past them, almost in the clear, when one of them nailed him in the back of the head with something soft and squishy. When he touched his neck, he could feel a sticky substance with a sweet odor. Alas, he had been doughnut-holed, honey-dipped style, by a duo of dirtbags. I shit you not. He lost his cool and went all Billy Jack on both of them, pulling them off the car and stomping the stupid out of those deux nuts in 37 seconds, maybe 38. Then he casually pointed to the front of his cap and mouthed the word “SECURITY” with a squared jaw and glazed eyes. The scofflaws whimpered off into the night, thankful they weren’t de-nutted for disorderly donutting.
Willy took several deep breaths (he WAS 40-ish for cripes sake) before resuming his rounds.
Hearing voices in the bushes en route to the water’s edge, he walked smack dab into the Circle of Six, and was stunned at the sight he beheld there in the night in the stream of his light. He stammered and yammered like McCartney’s fool on a hill. A whimsical Winnie stood, greeted him, and introduced him to her sister. “Willy, this is MY Willie.” The barenaked ladies immediately emitted another round of spontaneous guffaws at the suggestive sound of that introduction, while showing no signs of self-consciousness. Willy was flabbergasted, confused, and uneasy. First night on the job and there he was in a compromising position, scared stiff, wondering. He wondered how Limburger cheese was made. He wondered what the minimum wage was. He wondered who wrote the book of love.
Well-mannered gentleman that he was, he kept his eyes up, trying to focus on their faces, which unfortunately blended into the surrounding bushes. He turned his flashlight toward the bold letters on his hat, just as he had done with the hood ornaments out front.
“Inn Security, ladies. All appears well. Enjoy the rest of your evening.” He tipped his cap, then sauntered slowly away, suppressing a grateful grin and thinking, “Hell of a gig, Boss Bill. Hell of a gig indeed.”
So goes the short, short story of a Friday night case of the willies, outside the Sneaker Inn, on Lake Waite, in scenic Marshfrost, Vermont.
Abraham Lincoln Laine III was born in a tony Boston suburb in November, 1948. Early in his senior year at Wellesley High, where he paired knockout SAT scores with National Honor Society status, his very pragmatic, disturbingly snooty, parents nudged him toward accepting a full-ride scholarship from Boston University come the Fall of 1966.
His father, George, was a humorless corporate accountant who seldom expressed emotion of any kind. His mother, Louise, a liquor-loving, stay-at-home Boston Brahmin wannabe, displayed zero affection toward the boy and his older sister, Deidre Victoria Laine, whose bevy of offbeat friends knew her as “Dee-Dee.” Unlike her brother, she struggled with schoolwork from first grade through high school. After graduation she moved out of the house, landing a job in a clothing store and sharing a large apartment in Revere with a trio of fledgling folksingers. Her parents wrote her off and focused on pushing/dragging their smart and sensible son toward a life of financial success and social prominence.
While George and Louise always addressed him as Abraham, home and away, he disliked his name from the time he could pronounce it, instead self-identifying as “just Abe.” The name on his birth certificate appeared pompous and pretentious, particularly the “III” suffix, when one considers that there was not even one Abraham Lincoln Laine among his ancestors. When he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, he covered up the “III” with his thumb when showing it to friends. He vowed to drop both ends of his name when he turned 18, and become simply “Lincoln Laine.” He thought that had a good ring to it and was sure it would piss off his old man.
After his first week on the BU campus that September, he knew his enrollment would be short-lived. Neither his heart nor his mind yearned for the college experience, at least not yet. He wanted to get away and experience new surroundings. He sought adventure and independence and dusty dirt roads. Still two months shy of his 18th birthday, he gave himself the remainder of the semester to settle on a smooth way out. He went through the motions – going to class, reading the assignments, becoming part of a small study group.
In that group was Liz Murphy, a vivacious and free-spirited Irish lass from Queens, whose parents shipped her up to Boston to “find her true self.” ¹ She wasn’t keen on the whole college thing either and it wasn’t long before she and Abe became constant companions and confidantes who shared a common goal. “One semester,” he would whisper to her, and she would tug on his sleeve and wag a long, slender index finger back and forth high in the air. “One semester.”
It turned out that Liz had an older sister too, but unlike DeeDee, Kate bought into higher education and had just begun her senior year at the University of Maine in Orono. She had followed her high-school boyfriend there but the guy went rogue, screwed around, then dropped out and got drafted. Last Kate heard, he had shipped out to Vietnam as an Army infantryman, a grunt. Kate stayed grounded and had graduate school on her agenda.
Abe had bone spurs in both heels and moderate asthma and was confident that losing his upcoming student deferment posed no risk to him. Liz had visited Kate in Maine several times and liked the clean air and slow pace of Penobscot County. Abe met Kate on his 18th birthday when she drove down to Boston to check in on Liz a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. She shared an apartment with a girlfriend in Bangor, but the roommate was going to be interning in DC for several months after the holidays. When Kate left, Liz carped the diem. “We could both break the dropout news to our folks over Christmas and then haul ass to Bangor, whatcha think?” Abe rubbed his chin and smiled at the opportunity just handed to him. “Bangor? I hardly know her.”
(That was a familiar joke to many New England guys but, then again, Liz wasn’t a New England guy.)
His words hung heavily in the air as her dancing green eyes flashed fire in a manner he had never seen. Abe and Liz were platonic pals who moved at different speeds, she the hare and he the tortoise. The “her” here was, after all, her beloved and very cool sister, not some skanky hussy. His comeback had been out of character and he was oozing “oh, crap” regrets. He opened his mouth to say sorry but she swiftly buried her tongue deep inside, withdrew, and then did it again. An off-the-wall 1960’s double tap. Then she tittered at the dumbfounded look on his face. Up went her finger. “One semester, Abey!”
Six weeks later, back home in Maspeth for the extended break before finals, Liz sat next to Kate at the Murphy Christmas Day dinner table. Nothing Kate said or did was ever wrong in the eyes of their parents, thus she took the lead. “Mum, Dad, I have some exciting news.” Mum and Dad dropped their forks in anticipation. A boyfriend? A great job offer? A grad school scholarship? “Liz is going to be coming to live with me for a few months after her exams are over. She needs some time to kind of decompress and reassess her priorities. With Beth gone, I’d feel lost in that big apartment all by myself. I’m so happy I was able to convince her that getting away from the books and the Boston bustle and bunking down with me would do her a world of good. It’s gonna be great!”
Mum and Dad sat with mouths agape. But the grandparents and a family friend, also at the table, enthusiastically voiced approval. Liz and Kate hugged. Talk about a plan coming together – the grands and the guest had been tipped off and nailed their roles. Dad asked Liz if they could talk about it later but Kate put that to bed with a stern stare and the words, “It’s a done deal, Dad. Be happy for her. And for me. It’s Christmas. Don’t scrooge things up. Okay?” He acquiesced. Mum asked Liz how long she would be away from college.
She speared a crescent roll with the pointed nail of her index finger and waved it triumphantly in the air.
Two hundred miles northeast, in Wellesley, at about that same time, Abe and Dee Dee were sitting down to dinner with the esteemed George and Louise Lincoln. Just the four of them. DeeDee had not come home for Christmas the previous two years, choosing to hang with her friends. She had surprised her folks when she called to ask if she could join them and, truth be told, though they agreed, they were not particularly ecstatic about it. Neither was DeeDee, but she made the call after being recruited by Abe to play the “Kate role” in reverse. It went as follows:
DeeDee: “So Abe, you’re dropping out after finals and moving to Maine? That’s SO stupid.”
George: “What? Dropping out of BU? Pshaw. No way.”
Abe: “Just taking a semester off to clear my head. Have friends in Bangor. No big deal.”
DeeDee: “No big deal? You just turned 18, you have no clue what’s out there. Bad move. Forget it.”
Louise: “Oh, listen to Miss Lost-in-Space. You can’t tell your brother what to do. He’s a smart kid.”
DeeDee: “You said it – ‘kid.’ Book-smart, not life-smart. I say you can’t let him go, he HAS to stay in school. Period.”
George: “Deidre Victoria, that’s enough out of you. Not your call. It’s mine. He can go. Eat your dinner.”
DeeDee: “I’m outta here. Shouldn’t have come. Merry freakin’ Christmas to both of you. Abe, see me out.”
Abe got her coat and walked her to the front door. Out of sight, he hugged her and handed her six $20 bills. “Half for a hand well played, and half for groceries. I’ll call you when I get settled in. Stay safe.” She had led their parents to the ledge and it took all of sixty seconds for them to jump off, just to spite her, as Abe figured they would. He went back to the table and ate Boston cream pie as he suppressed a smile midst the silence. Back in his room, he wet the tip of his index finger and chalked one up with a smirk. “One semester.”
Despite BU’s proximity to Wellesley, George and Louise had no knowledge of the Liz/Abe connection. Thus, they had no “It’s that girl’s fault” argument to make. The uninhibited fireball had a tendency to toss around emphatic F-bombs and flaunt her no-bra brashness with kind of an over-the-top, in-your-face exuberance that would surely have irked Lady Louise. George might cast a requisite frown, but likely would have enjoyed the show.
Ten days later, Liz arrived back in Boston via Greyhound Express and she and Abe buckled down to do their best on exams – “just in case.” He breezed through. She focused and performed surprisingly well. They closed the semester and boxed it up.
The pair loaded their stuff into the voluminous trunk of his ’59 Chevy Impala (a gift from George on his 17th birthday for being “a better man than your sister”) at dawn on January 27th, 1967, and headed northeast to Penobscot County, some 250 miles away, at a leisurely pace under a clear winter sky.
Abe pulled the car over minutes after they crossed the Maine state line and did an upper-body happy dance right there in the driver’s seat. He told Liz, “that kid Abe” had just passed on to the Great Beyond, and Lincoln Laine sat before her a newly minted, full-grown man. Liz bowed her head and uttered a somber “RIP, Abey baby.” Then she chirped and clapped, tugged on his sleeve, and vigorously shook her unbridled breasts in his direction with reckless abandon. He liked that she was a hot shit. She pointed to the road and said, “Now crank up this Hot Rod, Lincoln.” ²
They were greeted by Kate in mid-afternoon with a smile and two 8-inch Table Talk ³ pies, one for each of them. Beth was fine with Liz staying in her room while she was away, but both she and Kate had made clear that Abe, er, Lincoln, needed to get a place of his own, posthaste. Which was fine, because though they were best buds, he and Liz were not lovers (unless you count that surprise November double tap) and were clearly not headed down that path. She was tutti-frutti, he was vanilla, and never the twain shall meet.
Despite his disappointment with his son’s decision to leave BU, George made sure that he had enough cash to last him six months. The Lincolns had no personality, but plenty of green. “Just promise me you won’t blow it on that marijuana stuff or whores, if they have whores in Maine.” “No whores, I promise,” thus leaving the other door open.
Kate told him that she had a friend who had a friend who knew a wealthy couple that lived up in, “you’ll like this, Lincoln”, the town of Lincoln, about 50 miles up-county. They winter in Sarasota and need a caretaker for their home on Mattanawcook Pond. (Kate pronounced that with ease while her guests’ eyes glazed over.) They aren’t due back until May and he could live there rent-free until then if he behaved responsibly and did some minor maintenance; clean the yard, the garage, the cellar, etc. Kate called the friend with news that a very bright young man was looking for a quiet place up that way for a spell. “Gotta be at least 21. How old is he, Kate?” “Um, not sure, but I know he was born back in the ’40’s.” The friend apparently only heard the “40” part. “Hmm, 67 minus 40, must be 26, 27, right?” A good Irish-Catholic, Kate knew she’d be Hades-bound if she said yes, so she just mumbled incoherent gibberish into the phone. “Okay, send him up right soon. He can look the place over and I’ll sit with him a spell and let the Lamberts know what I think.” On just his third day in Maine, Lincoln drove to Lincoln, with firm instructions from Kate to act mature, be polite and don’t lie.
Liz had given him a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek “for luck” before he left. Both knew they would likely drift apart soon, whether he got the Lambert place or not. Liz was already talking about maybe enrolling at the University of Maine in the Fall. He sincerely hoped things worked out for her and had bought her a “May the road rise to meet you” card back in Boston, a befitting selection for the strong-willed, fiery, Irish extrovert. He was going to sign it with some poetic words of his own and give it to her on St. Patrick’s Day. Still might. He kept it stashed under his driver’s seat.
He met the Lamberts’ rep at a diner in downtown Lincoln. The plan was to chat a little and then ride out to the house. He approached her just as she devoured half of a jumbo jelly doughnut in one gluttonous bite. Introducing oneself to someone whose mouth is full creates an immediate tactical advantage, so Lincoln closed in quickly. The woman, Susan something, awkwardly tried to speak and, failing that, extended her hand to shake but quickly withdrew it when she saw there was sticky crap on her fingers. She appeared embarrassed. He knew he had this.
Except he didn’t. After choking down the load and wiping her hand on a napkin, she promptly kicked his butt. Not literally, of course, though that might have been an easier ride for him. Her perceived humiliation turned to vitriol. “YOU’RE Lincoln Laine?” “Yes’m” “How old are you, boy? Show me your driver’s license.” “18, Ma’am.” “Well, you tell Kate I’ve got a bone to pick with her. We’re done here.” She seized the remaining half of the messy critter for the road and left with a grunt. (A grumble, not Kate’s former boyfriend.) Lincoln contemplated what had just happened. He ordered a coffee to go, pulled his collar up tight against the wind, and set out to get a feel for the town, walking and gawking like a tourist in Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”
Liz would have ripped that lady a new one, but Lincoln stayed calm, set Susan’s rudeness aside, and reminded himself that there were 4,646 more folks in town. He went into every store, greeted every passing stranger, smiled and politely asked questions from here to there and back. By the end of the day, he had secured a part-time job at the hardware store and successfully rented a garage apartment from a lonely old widower who talked his ear off and took a liking to him. A rejuvenated Lincoln Laine already felt right at home in Lincoln, Maine.
He drove back to Bangor to pick up the few things he had left there and delighted in embellishing just a tad by telling Kate that what’s-her-name in Lincoln said she could kiss her ass. “I simply could not tell a lie, Kate.” “That was Washington, not Lincoln, ain’t you got no schoolin’?” She liked him, but felt relief knowing he would be settling in some distance away, leaving her sister free to meet new people and get a fresh start. Liz had gone to a UM hockey game with a couple of Kate’s friends and when she got back, Lincoln filled her in. They sat up and talked most of the night. When he fell asleep on the couch, she tucked a blanket around him, watched him for a few minutes, tapped her heart with two fingers, twice, then went to Beth’s room and sacked out.
When he awoke, he went out to the car and brought the greeting card inside. No sounds at all came from either sister’s room. He had a feeling that both hoped he would be gone before they got up. Easier that way. No awkward goodbyes. He picked up a pen from the desk by the phone. He thought and wrote. He pondered whether he should leave it there for Liz to find, or drop it off at the post office on the way out of town. (In 1967, finding a surprise card or a letter in your mailbox was “wicked pissah” in Bostonese.)
He opted for the latter. He licked the stamp and thumbed it into place, then hesitated before dropping it into the box. He closed his eyes and tapped on her name. He thought back to that special November day and doubled down, tapping it again for good measure. Then he drove up Route 2 to his new life in Lincoln.
When Liz got the card in the mail a few days later, it had no return address, but she recognized his distinctive handwriting. She felt uncertain, so set the card aside, unopened. “Maybe another day.”
By March 17th, he had not called or written, and she knew he had moved on. She and Kate sat around the apartment, told Dad’s Irish jokes, got smashed, and playfully kissed whatever they could find that resembled the Blarney Stone. She felt a wave of melancholy and pulled the card from a dresser drawer. It was time.
“May the wind be always at your back.” She knew whatever he had written inside, if anything, might be his last words to her. She opened it slowly and there was a note, not just a signature. “Silly girl,” she chastised herself. “Read it and toss it.” She read it:
“Liz, me lassie. The poets write of unrequited love and lost souls and broken hearts. Their efforts always rang hollow to me. Then you came into my life, if only for a short time, and gave meaning to their words. You ran, I walked, but we both made it out of the maze. I hope you follow through and begin classes at UM in September. “One semester” was a fleeting rainbow we chased together and rejoiced in catching. Almost as quickly as it appeared, its colors have faded, but not before setting us free. And there is no better ending than that. – Me”
On Labor Day weekend, 1967, a confident young man checked into a 9th floor room in Building 1 at BU’s West Campus dorms. Name placards sat on the desks on opposite sides of the room. A bespectacled, long-haired, skinny kid turned away from the window, nodded, and said “Hey, I’m Tommy O’Shea, from Fall River. You must be, um … ” then paused to look over at the placard. “Abraham.” Where ya from, Abraham?”
“Abraham checked out after one semester. In his car. Won’t be back.”
“Oh, geez, man, that’s not good. So that makes you . . . ?”
With so many good answers to choose from, he hesitated.
He felt a familiar tug on his sleeve, turned around, and smiled.
“That makes him my friend and study buddy – Lincoln Laine, from Lincoln, Maine.”
“Catch ya later, Tommy boy. Liz here and I have to swing by her dorm next door and then we have a rainbow to chase.” Lincoln butt-bumped her out the door and down the hall to the elevators. Perhaps the twain had met after all.
A pensive Tom O’Shea turned back to the window, took note of the clear blue sky, and told himself they’re gonna be a while waiting on that rainbow. He sensed that she was not just his study buddy but also his bosom buddy. He wondered what their story was, and if they’d share it sometime down the road.
Suddenly, a wayward crow crashed violently into the window right in front of him. Tom watched helplessly as the bird flailed about in clear distress. Instinctively, he put his hand up against the glass before the dazed creature plummeted out of sight in a downward spiral. He gave the glass a forceful, frustrated, five-fingered tap.
Roger Kabb acquired 51% ownership of the Duck Inn & Cabins in Lake Delford, FL, in the summer of 1989, afterincessant urging from his live-in companion and business advisor, Madelyn “Mae” King, who took ownership of the remaining 49%, despite the fact that the transaction was fully funded by Roger. The large main building was the former home to a struggling family-style restaurant flanked by a couple of private dining/meeting rooms sometimes used for weddings and private parties. The rear half of the structure housed the kitchen area and a spacious bar. (Roger once asked a neighbor what the difference was between a beer joint and an elephant’s fart, and when the guy shrugged his shoulders, Roger said one’s a bar room and the other’s a BAROOOOM! Getting no response, Roger slapped him on the back, saying, “It’s a joke, man, dontcha get it?”) The main dining room provided a wide entryway into the bar, which also had a separate back entrance.
A dozen small kitchenette cabins stood quietly aloof in a semi-circle at the rear of the property.
The brick main structure and the wood cabins had sat vacant for almost seven years at the time Mae laid Roger’s money down, but the property had been maintained surprisingly well by Ted & Fred’s Handyman Services, an often unreliable operation run by the unpredictable and unmotivated Myers Brothers. The two slack-offs, monikered by Lake Delfordites as “Shifty” & “Shady “, were somehow able to secure a loan to purchase it on the cheap at auction after Hank Hatter Jr., the former owner and noted kibitzer and gadfly, died mysteriously and inexplicably from a brutal blend of toxins traced to his butter bowl. The brothers, who had frequented the bar and gone to Vegas twice with Hank shortly before his demise, jumped at the opportunity to cash in on his misfortune with dreams of making a killing on the resale.
A saucy, sassy, stylish Florida State grad, Mae King, 36 at the time and topped with strikingly-scarlet tresses, was intelligent, shrewd, and manipulative in financial and personal affairs. She had discreetly engaged in off-the-wall, off-and-on dalliances with both Ted and Fred Myers, mindless but muscular men of similar age, before Mae met the much older, semi-sophisticated, plain-featured, physically stout and financially stouter Roger Kabb. She soon became intrigued by his submissive acquiescence, his passive yet pleasant demeanor, his genuine sincerity and his casual generosity. In the end, he was just a goofy old good guy who made her laugh, frequently and with ease, an accomplishment that other men rarely were able to achieve. (Make no mistake – she had laughed AT many men, but silently and with spite.) Her wish was his command, and the go-along-to-get-along guy, flattered to the max by her attentiveness, responded to her every suggestion, request, and demand with “Roger that”.
It was reported that Fred Myers got off-the-charts drunk on New Year’s Eve, 1988, and drove his ‘84 Dodge Daytona Turbo into an overpass bridge support on I-4 at 84 MPH, just outside of Daytona Beach. A fiery explosion followed and after the flames were extinguished, the charred car and driver were both declared deceased. The remains of the badly-burned body were cremated (Ted negotiated a 50% discount because Fred was already half-baked upon delivery) and his ashes strewn unceremoniously into the sea by his sibling from the end of the Daytona Beach Pier. No services, no eulogy, no tears. When Mae heard about Fred’s inescapable but flashy departure from Handyman Services, she told Ted that Fred would have appreciated the irony of totaling his Daytona after totaling himself IN Daytona. “Too soon for jokes, Mae, too soon. But I sure could use some consoling later tonight, if you can get away from Roger Rabbit.”
Roger Kabb had delighted in purchasing a hard-to-find, low-mileage 1984 VW Alpine white Rabbit Convertible from a barmaid named Binky after seeing a Disney movie not longbefore Fred’s demise. He thought buying the thing as a weekend getaway car was a hip move for a guy his age (“Just call me Roger Rabbit!”), but Mae considered it a frivolous waste of money and scolded Roger, telling him that such folly was indefensible and beneath his dignity. Later, during one of the occasional aforementioned dalliances Mae indulged in whenever Roger rubbed her the wrong way, she almost split a gut after hearing herself tell Ted that the tacky little car was beneath Roger at the very moment she herself was beneath Ted. Unable to rise to the occasion, his mood shatteredby her spontaneous fit of laughter, Ted was confused, clueless and downright offended. Figurative imagery was not his strong suit. “Mae” oui.
Though she had declined Ted’s invitation the night after Fred’s passing (at 84 mph, he likely passed plenty of others before he passed himself), Mae very much wanted to indulge him after enticing Roger into a promise to make a white knight offer for the former Duck Inn. She was cleverly using her leverage, her visage, and her cleavage to negotiate a favorable deal with Ted on Roger’s behalf, and with Roger on Ted’s behalf. The note on the property was coming due July 1, and Ted minus Fred had sunk deep into debt. With foreclosure inevitable, and nary an offer in sight, Ted was desperate to sell to avoid bankruptcy.Mae badly wanted to reopen the place with the distinctive aura of her own flair and taste, thus she cooed and wooed Ted into Roger-like submission.The two men disliked each other, so Mae kept them apart and, with the bank’s approval, put the deal together herself, stimulating both men to sign off on it just in time, on June 30, 1989, each in large part to gain further favor with the somewhat mae-gnificent Madelyn King.
As they prepared the property for a new beginning, Roger and Mae briefly sparred over a new name. Roger wanted “The Jolly Roger” or “Kabb Inn’s Kabins”. Apparently, judging by Mae’s eyeball-rolling, head-shaking reaction, both were off the table before even getting on. She axed the former with “It’s not a pirate’s life for me, matey”, but even while gently dismissing the latter option as “a tad too cute”, she did like the play on his name and literally patted him on the belly, which was always a winning play for her. She proposed the simple and concise, “The Kabb Inn,” thus subtly and subconsciously incorporating the presence of the rustic cabins into the name. He dutifully consented after a few minutes of brooding in the bathroom, his go-to place for working things out. Crestfallen after still another surrender to Mae, he abruptly left and absentmindedly hopped around the driveway, Rabbit hunting. She reminded him that it was in the garage, then quickly took charge of preparing the newly-named inn for its Grand Opening on Labor Day weekend. One of the side rooms was being converted into a dance floor with a small stage on the far end for special events, no small task in such a short window of time. The calendar turned as Mae worked her butt to the bone, while Roger reluctantly retreated into the shadows.
Meanwhile, back at Ted’s double-wide at Tara ‘n Tino’s MH Park, the amorous action was absent. The added favor with Mae that he expected to gain by accepting Roger’s lowball offer was lost in time, suspended in space. The truth was she had always preferred her dalliances with younger sibling Fred over those with Ted, and now with the property deal done (and Fred more than well done), she had neither the time nor the inclination to return his calls, much less come calling. Ted started drinking heavily like Fred used to do, and as a result, both he and his struggling business continued to hurl. He often stared into the mirror, which in his case was much like staring into the void, and cursed his lot in life. “Freakin’ Roger Rabbit. Freakin’ Mae King. Freakin’ Kabb Inn.” And then he’d drink some more.
The Grand Opening was a huge success with the locals, and the tourists soon showed up as well. It became Lake Delford’s mae-n gathering place, where townsfolk enjoyed sittin’ and bullshittin’, i.e., gabbin’ at the Kabb Inn – “goin’ gabbin’ tonight, Luther, there’s TV dinners and pistachio puddin’ in the fridge. Don’t wait up.” Ms. King worked tirelessly and hired excellent staff while Roger drove aimlessly around town with his top down, honking his horn and waving at old couples and single ladies. As planned, Ms. Mae soon became the ever-present face of the establishment. While sometimes guilty of getting carried away with all the attention she mustered hot-dogging for the guys in the bar, she relished her role and regaled in it. There were frequent vacancies at the small, nondescript cabins during the relentless Florida summers but her marketing skills always resulted in them being sold out for the entire Winter season at very profitable rates. Screened porches, gas grills, clean linens and proximity to the Interstate sat just fine with the snowbirds migrating down from D.C. and points north.
The place turned a profit by the end of the second year, and Mae King cashed in. The former princess of persuasion vaingloriously promoted and immersed herself in the dual sobriquets of Red Queen of the Inn and Blue Belle of the Bar. Roger begrudgingly faded more and more into the background, a minimized and emasculated man, while Ted drank, spouted jabberwocky, and cussed his neighbors, theirkids and their kittens, leading to aggressive admonishments from testy Tara and shaky threats of eviction from timid Tino. Ted missed misbehaving with his brother, felt cheated with the sale price and subsequent success of the Inn, and often fantasized that if Roger was out of the picture, he and Mae could somehow pair up again and he might even become co-owner, and change the name to MaeTed (“Mated”) Manor. Ted thus had a vision, he just needed a plan … and maybe one more beer. –
Upon reaching the age of 70 on March 15th, 1992, Roger Kabb decided to officially retire from doing nothing and pursue the aspirations included in what he called his “free man’s bucket list”. “Free man” was a jab at the controlling Keeper of his Inn, Head of his Household, and Ruler of his Realm, though he wisely excluded that part when explaining the rationale behind his game plan. When he carried on about it, the guys in the back bar razzed him and rode him. He persisted, and insisted it might catch on someday. Mae patted him, on the head this time, and said, “Really, sweetie, that stuff’s out of your comfort zone. You don’t know jack nickels about chasing rabbits, much less chasing dreams. Stay home and write stories about going to the places and doing the things on that campy, lowbrow , kitschy list of yours, because your porch light is fading and your headlights are flickering. You’re incapable of traveling alone these days. I might give it a bit of a go in a few years (she choked on those words) because you’ve been good to me, but I’m engaged to the inn right now, so no can do.”
Belittled, patronized, and long since tired of gathering dust on Her Mae-jesty’s Machiavellian mantelpiece, Roger sold his share of The Kabb Inn to her at a conciliatory price with the one condition that the name remain unchanged. She had no problem with that because the locals all referred to it as “Mae’s Place” anyway. She gave him a cashier’s check for both the Inn and the house, then casually but callously wished him well. Her last words to him were fatefully flippant, telling him to “shoot me a postcard now and then”. He saw her flippancy by flipping her off and raised her one, smugly bidding her an overdue adieu and a silent Eff You. The forsaken Mr. Kabbthen loaded up the Rabbit and hit the highway, never to be seen again. A barmaid not named Binky once asked if anyone at the Inn had heard from “the bucket guy” but everyone just figured that he kicked it before reaching Kentucky. They named a triple-shot after him – the “Roger That” – at the lady’s tongue in cheek request. Sold well for several years out there at Mae King’s place.
Ted Myers probably should have buried the hatchet with Roger and rode shotgun with him on the latter’s way out of town, doubling as his wingman and bucket list buddy. After numerous unsuccessful and downright humiliating attempts to lure Mae back in, he had abandoned the smoldering embers of his business, sold his double-wide and left for parts unknown. Tara and Tino and the kids and kittens at the Park could finally rest in peace, thankfully while still above ground.
As for Mae, was it mentioned that she was intelligent, shrewd, and manipulative in financial and personal affairs? Her assets continued to grow, and were now impressive by any measure. She was sole owner of the Inn, owned her own home, had beaucoup bucks and a bountiful bustline that lasciviously lured in a wide array of unsuspecting, upscale gentleman callers. They bought her this and that and some of those, but it was never enough. Next man up! She was the pearl in her own oyster and she filleted her own fish. When she walked into the restaurant, or entered the bar, or strolled past the cabins, she did so to cheers of “Maaaae”. She felt like Norm in that TV show. Life had dealt her a great set of . . . cards, and she played them well. Subliminal Poker was indeed the name of her game. Rephrasing Kenny Rogers, she knew when to hold men and knew when to fold men. She never walked away from the game, but she always cashed in her chips, this lady in red.
1998 had reached its expiration date and 1999 was biddingto burst in with a bang. The Queen of the Inn had the final festive touches in place for a high-spiritedNew Year’s Eve celebration. All of the cabins were booked, the pantry and bar were well stocked and Roger That’s would go for half price all night. Still fabulous at 45, an energetic and enterprising Mae looked as good as ever. The cards kept coming, and after a Royal Flush, the lady was prepped to party, psyched to the max with Aces and Jacks. And those six-inch blue stilettos paired with that dazzling red dress laid out on her bed, well, ding, dong, the Belle would gong tonight.
But somewhere in the back of her mind, an unsettling tingling arose. What the hell was that? It was like there was an incoherent intrusion trying to find a nesting place. She shook it off, but it kept coming back as the dinner hour drew near.
In town to find some noisemakers, i.e., a half-dozen guys from the Elks Club, she ran into the soft-spoken but sulky and sullen Carrie Butler, who quickly reminded Mae that it was the tenth anniversary of the day her fiancé, ne’er-do-well Harry Howe, a drifter who was fresh out of the lower ranks of the Navy and a relative newcomer to Lake Delford, had vanished on the night of his bachelor party over in Daytona Beach. Carrie never got to marry Harry, and never got over it. She was convinced he got cold feet or hooked up with a “hookah” or some such thing and had gone back home to Jersey. Mae had forgotten the story, probably because it was overshadowed in town by the violent death of Fred Myers and the quirky death of a beloved old lady on that very same night. Mae made the mistake of recalling Fred’s demise out loud, and Carrie exploded in resounding rage. “Fred Myers? That rat turd pig went to the strip joint with the guys. Knowing what a Lothario he was, he’s probably the one that talked my man into running for the hills. Fred effin’ Myers. Glad he fried. Bet he cried. Hope he suffered before he died. Well, gotta get home before the drunks come out. Have a nice New Year’s, Mae.” Whoaaaa, reckoned Ms. King ( stunned that Carrie knew what a Lothario was, and now second-guessing her own past dalliances with a rat turd pig), didn’t see that one coming, but she’d make a good offset to the Elks Club guys tonight. Hope she shows up and we can get someone to yell “Fred Myers” at the stroke of midnight. She’d blow a fuse and do the Wham Bam Slam right into 1999!
Surprisingly though, Mae immediately regretted those thoughts, rued her rudeness, repented, and at least pretended to ask the universe for forgiveness. Just minutes later, however, she was bored already with the reverence thing and regretted feeling regret in the first place. Freakin’ Sad Sack Carrie Butler – oh, please, woman, get a grip. Then, with her stylishly-tousled, blue-streaked hair extensions (to match her stilettos) swaggering seductively in the light December wind, the Lady headed home to put on the daring red dress that was destined to turn heads and tempt fate.
Hours later, the evening was going wonderfully well at The Kabb Inn. The food was great, the bar patrons were boisterous but well-behaved, and Mae had red velvet whoopie pies delivered to the guests in the cabins. The band played, songs were sung, the dancers swayed, bells were rung, everyone stayed, and all felt young. The Red Queen of the front & The Blue Belle of the back exuded euphoria and ecstasy. She commanded the room, a rose in full bloom. Blitzed, bombed, bawdy and ballsy, she was making out at the Kabb Inn as the countdown to midnight began. As it got louder and the big ball on the five television screens was starting to drop – “EIGHT, SEVEN,” – that tingling in the back of Mae’s mind not only returned, but did so with a vengeance in the form of a thundering flashes of crimson lightning that teed her up and drove her into the rough. Aptly, “FORE” was likely the last word she heard, as that’s where the counting stopped on a dime at that moment in time.
The sound of gunshots cut through the countdown and chaos quickly ensued. Two hooded figures were seen running brazenly out the back door, but not a soul gave immediate chase. Both wore full-face Mardi Gras style masks, which were part of the New Year’s Eve tradition at the Kabb, thus no one could describe them, a hurdle heightened with everyone at the former Duck Inn duckin’ for cover in the panic and hysteria that rippled through the rooms. Finally, as the immediate shock of the moment subsided, Tara and a few manly men stepped up and ran outside in blind pursuit, but all they saw were red taillights fading into the distance. 9-1-1 calls were placed and the pursuers clumsily piled into a car and a truck and raced into the darkness, but alas, the perps and the taillights had merged into the murky night.
Back at the Kabb Inn, shrieks and cries melded with stunned silence and sobs. Few saw the ball drop and no one cared. The scene was horrific, the patrons horrified. The boozed-up band, in the spirit of the Titanic’s musicians, ignored the clamor and continued to play “Auld Lang Syne,” but no cups o’ kindness were raised in good cheer. The organist hauled ass when he heard someone scream “call the police”. Old habits die hard too.
Word spread fast. At a little past 6:30 AM, almost an hour before sunrise, locals gathered at the Breakfast Barn downtown. An Orlando television station was going live to a news conference taking place in Marion County. Officials announced the 3:20 AM capture of two male suspects and an ongoing hunt for a third. “Police believe that each of the three men fired one shot into the back of the head of Madelyn King, 45, of Lake Delford, killing her instantly. Ms. King is the owner of The Kabb Inn down there in friendly Lake Delford, where the tragic event took place during a large gathering of some sort last night. The two captured men have been identified as brothers Theodore Myers, 48, and Frederick Myers, 44, both of Smyrna, up in Tennessee, not to be confused with New Smyrna Beach over near Daytona.
Sobs of anguish and gasps of disbelief ricocheted off the plastered dry walls of the eatery.
The Myers brothers arrest aside, it was suddenly clear to the sharper tools in the Barn why Harry Howe had never come home to marry Carrie Butler. Dang. (But on the upside, as a Navy man, Harry must have felt right at home riding the waves once again as he was scattered into the Atlantic.)
The official wasn’t done: “The suspects’ sedan popped a tire near that big dairy farm, you know the one, hopped off the roadway, and burrowed into a deep manure pit, where our officers found them knee-deep in dung, laughing like fools and jabbering like drunken idiots, which they apparently are. They offered little information about the third man, who they say approached them at a Nashville strip club and offered a big wad, which we think means a lot of money, to join him in what seemed to them a harebrained plot to kill Ms. King right in front of her cohorts, which is not a dirty word. Saying their lives sucked anyway so why not, they described that man, who goes by the dumbassaliases of Jolly Roger and Roger Rabbit, as a pasty-skinned, hairy-eared, goofy old guy from Loo-a-ville. That’s in Kentucky, ya know. The alleged assailants insist that the two handguns now in police custody were each fired only once into the victim, who was struck by three bullets. They said that the driver, the Jolly Rabbit guy, felt sick and pulled his car over on State Road 40, east yonder of Ocala, right near where the Hasty Freeze used to be before an alligator bit that little kid. He left the keys, grabbed a gun from that console thing between the seats, and made a weakened getaway into the woods near Mill Dam Lake. The public is cautioned that he is said to be off-kilter and batshit crazy, excuse my French, and is definitely armed and presumed dangerous. We have that entire area surrounded and believe his arrest is a-comin’. We’ll let y’all know
what’s what when it’s all figured out.”
And now it was also very clear why no one had received word of Roger Kabb’s assumed demise somewhere on the Road to Nowhere, a.k.a Bucket List Boulevard. (No sirree, naysayers at the Inn, the bucket guy had definitely NOT “kicked it before reaching Kentucky”.)
As the group struggled to digest and make sense of the report, an entirely different goofy old guy entered and saw the bewildered, shocked expressions, the anger and tears of people he had known for years. He heard someone murmur, “I can’t believe she was murdered like that, it’s so awful.” “What? A woman was murdered, right here in Lake Delford?”, he asked in disbelief. Silent nods confirmed the news. “Who was she?” Folks looked away. Seemed no one wanted to break the heart of the kindly old fellow. “Speak up, people, who was she? Tell me.”
Three women hemmed and one man, well, he hawed.
Finally, a well-ordered waitress gently pulled him close and tipped him off. “They all know that you knew her well, Mr. Wright. I’m sorry to tell you that “she” was … Mae King, out at the Kabb Inn.”
(Though truly saddened by the news, he fondly recalled the time that he and the late Mrs. Wright were caught making out at the cabin at Camp Hickey the summer before the war, when they were both fifteen, even though they knew in their hearts they were dancing to the beat of Satan’s drum. He forced himself to suppress a smile, not wanting to appear disrespectful seeing how Ms. King was probably being dissected in a lab right about then. The latter image brought a welcome tear to his eye, and the waitress pressed the old-timer’s head to her bosom to comfort him. “Dang, girlie”, he thought, “how am I supposed to look sad with those things in my face?” He bit his lip real hard so he wouldn’t laugh but it got impaled on his tooth and caused him to begin crying full-out sloppy tears. Perfect. But he was now certain he was going to hell when his ticker took a breather, though that thought was assuaged somewhat by the prospects of seeing the Mrs. again. Mr. Wright may have been a tad old, you see, but even though he was already projecting about his last ride on the bus, unlike poor Madelyn, he wasn’t dead yet.)
As dawn flickered through the Ocala National Forest, an exhausted Roger Kabb, after frequent stops to pee and sit a bit, heard the sounds of bullhorns and barking K-9’s getting nearer to his final resting place on a decaying pine log. Swarms of deeply disturbed fire ants had emerged from opposite ends of the log and merged into one agitated army, surreptitiously surrounding him. The agitated insects then blew their cover, incessantly invading his space, catching his eye. He stared down at the frenzied freaks and whispered “What are you bozos lookin’ at? SHOOT ME a postcard, she said. Well, I met her halfway on that one, didn’t I. Her call. Three strikes and no balls and she’s out. Game over. So you deviant miscreants can just bite me.” And they did.
Undeterred, he pulled a pen and a faded, folded paper from his shirt pocket, spread the coffee-stained sheet open, scrawled a shaky check mark into one of the last two boxes he had added only six weeks earlier, crumpled the paper into a clump, and tossed it five feet forward, where it was certain to be discovered, scrutinized, analyzed and interpreted by some arrogant young know-it-all forensics dweeb. “You can analyze the crap out of this but you still won’t know jack nickels, son, about this Free Man’s Bucket List of mine. Just you wait though, sometime soon, everyone will. People will talk about it, share it, maybe make one of their own,”he mused, amused. Despite the anguish of ants gnawing at his ankles and Johnny Law closing in on him, he inhaled a deep dose of brisk morning air, held it, savored it, then surrendered it, fittingly setting it free.
He hummed a few bars of Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit,” grimaced, then grinned like the Cheshire Cat as he recalled the two lines that summed up the last chapter of his life. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure if he could quote them to the surging, six-legged, sadistic stingers due to copyright laws, which bummed him out. Checkmated, he wished for words of his own, but none came.
After retrospectively peering through his looking glass from his vantage point, and assuming the unhinged Roger’s posthumous blessing, the writer offers the following lines to succinctly summarize the subject and substance of the story as set forth this day herein:
“Ding, Dong, the Queen’s Inn Red . . . King’s cold and dead . . . her wily head, filled with lead . . . daring dress matched the shade she bled . . . engaged to the Inn but left unwed . . . reached for the stars, but saw them instead . . . the White Knight upped and fled . . . twitched like a rabbit down the road ahead . . . his headlights dimmed and his mind just sped . . . his last list lost, overlooked, unread . . . Fred returned and was declared undead . . . he and Ted were jailed and pled, wet the bed with their watershed, overwrought and underfed . . . three dull needles hung by a thread . . . each wrapped tight in the spite she spread . . bringing up the rear while the cold Miss led . . . she did herself in with the shit she shed . . . none could remember what the dormouse said . . . Hatter 1’s too Mad to ease their dread . . . Hatter 2’s underground from laced cornbread . . . the ’84 Turbo’s cheap retread, slid in the rain like a downhill sled . . . it’s Howe he descended from a-hole to a-shred . . . all checked out with the Grace of Zed . . . and Carrie wrote a book that the whole town read.”
The jig was up, the chips were down, her hare left home, his rabbit left town. In full view of the cops and the dogs that were almost upon him, this Kabb was out of gas as he raised the gun to the rising sun with just enough breath, strength, tenacity and time to finish that final countdown from where it left off at the Inn that bore his name – “THREE, TWO, ONE . . .
He got it, alright. But it was no joke.
Maybe Mae had been right.
Maybe he should have stayed home and written stories. Like this one.
The inside scoop, filling in the blanks, the rest of the story! The light fluff first, then the heavy stuff.
The Mad Hatter (“Hatter 1”) and the Cheshire Cat remain in a time loop and are presumed to be doing well. Alice Liddell’s White Rabbit (not to be confused with Binky’s-then-Roger’s white Rabbit) lives on in lore, but has gone blind and can no longer tell time. Gary Wolf’s Roger Rabbit, divorced by the Mae-like Jessica, paired up with a fox named Mona from Arizona, and they moved to Allbunny, NY, where they had hairy human triplets. Thankfully, all resemble Mona, even the boy.
Hank Hatter Jr. (“Hatter 2”), whose bitter, baneful butter bowl set off the events chronicled here, was buried while wearing a white cowboy hat adorned with the letters “HH” in gold thread – just like his father before him. There was no Hank III or Henrietta. His fish couldn’t swim and his knock-kneed wife ran away with a damn Yankee from Vermont. And then he began to run with the two-faced Myers Brothers, lost his way, and had to pay. Poor Hank.
Grace Barnett Wing Slick, now 82, was tagged with two “Queen” titles of her own during her career. She has one child, a daughter named China, who is now age 51. The band on the dance floor stage was cranking out her “Somebody to Love” just minutes before the fatal countdown began at the Inn on 12-31-98. (You just can’t make this stuff up.)
Jack “Nickels” Nicholson and Morgan FreeMan, both 85, are reportedly still pursuing their own individual bucket list items, as time allows. Freeman is still going strong in Hollywood while Nicholson has been pretty much inactive since 2010. But we’ll always have “Here’s Johnny!”
Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead. He went out with a bang and his passing was well short of graceful, but his Harley proved to be Butch and Fabienne’s saving Grace. “Whose motorcycle is this? What happened to my Honda?” (Tara ‘N Tino’s “Pulp Fiction” has a Honey Bunny in it – rabbit fan fare.)
Mrs. Wright had passed away at the dinner hour on New Year’s Eve, 1988, alone in her bedroom, after choking on a three-layer whoopie pie with extra cream filling. Sweet to the bitter end, she was. Mr. Wright was away in Daytona Beach that evening “celebrating something” with some of the younger guys from town. (Rumor was he had been hookah-huntin’ with the boys.)
Mr. Wright missed the Mrs. but remained mischievous right up until his last ride on the porcelain bus in 2004. He and Mrs. Wright had no children or living siblings, so he curiously left an $8,000 certificate of deposit to the bald guy who owned Babe’s Bakery – the source of that whopper of a whoopie pie to which she was fatally attracted. The coroner said her blood alcohol level was off the charts and she was so badly impaired she should never have been allowed to drive that whoopie pie down her throat without supervision. On his death bed, Mr. Wright confessed to the ICU nurse that he had once touched Mae’s left breast from behind (when Mae was still alive, just to be clear) and another guy standing next to him paid the price. He asked if he might still go to heaven and the nurse told him she doubted it. He took his last breath with his middle finger extended.
Tara and Tino Quentin and their six children are alive and residing in Waco, Texas. They sold the MH park for good bucks and headed West. The kids all got married to non-family members and have children of their own. Quite a Qlan, all of them living on the same six acres. T &T occasionally toast Ted with shots of bourbon and “coke” and send him greeting cards in the slammer with smiley faces on them.
Navy vet Harry Norman Howe could have learned a valuable life lesson when he asked Fred if he could borrow his car while drunk to the nines – had he not nodded off at 84 mph. With too much beer on the brain, he really was having second thoughts about marrying stick-in-the-mud Carrie and may not have gone through with it anyway after returning home. She had a nice rack, sure, but she always wanted to stay home and watch sitcoms and play with her two black cats. So the nomadic young man got plastered, much like the walls of the Breakfast Barn, and then got behind the wheel and got plastered all over again 11 minutes later. His ashes got a brief reprieve in the cool Atlantic waters before being inhaled by the fishes in the months that followed. The crash was reported at 11:44 PM on 12-31-88. He was so intoxicated that had he just waited at the club for the midnight celebration, he might have passed out, got deposited in an alley by the bouncers, slept it off, and never got behind the wheel that night. He then may have realized that a good, albeit boring, woman with a nice rack is hard to find, returned home and married Carrie and lived a long and more-or-less contented life. Their 20th anniversary cake might have read “Carrie and Harry – N. Howe !” Damn shame, for sure.
Carrie Butler’s first and only book, “Howe: He Lost,” had sold 8,464 copies as of December, 2012. It was a 177-page paperback Peyton Place wannabe that focused more on twenty years worth of Lake Delford scandals and gossip than on her near-marriage to Mr. Howe. Because it was a fictional piece, everyone got new first and last names except her former fiance’, whose last name was preserved for her chosen title. But instead of Harry Howe, a Navy vet, he became Sammy Howe, a former Marine. Her spinster days ended on July 4th, 2003, when she married . . . (drum roll) . . . Dick Johnson, the bald guy who owned Babe’s Bakery. Her book, which “the whole town read,” didn’t make waves outside of the county. But despite it airing plenty of local dirty laundry, she became a cause célèbre of sorts and evolved into a more outgoing and less bitter woman. Dick ‘n Carrie’s “BIg Fat Whoopie Pies,” billed as being “filled with passion and pride,” became a fixture at the inn, where they sold for half price every New Year’s Eve. The book, incidentally, via it’s inside scoops, was able to rehabilitate Roger Kabb’s reputation (poor guy’s mind was blown, and that cancer thing, how awful), while demonizing Madelyn “Mae” King (her mind was blown too, of course, but all that “shit she shed!” No lady, she. Calling the inn “Mae’s Place” became lame, uncouth and very uncool, and was sure to draw a scornful glare and a much-deserved finger wag. In the end, Freakin’ Sad Sack Carrie Butler Johnson did indeed get a grip, while Mae King was the one doing the Wham Bam Slam right into 1999. For Ms. King, turned out karma really is a bitch, and then some.
Now, more than 23 years after they did the dirty deed and were incarcerated for life with no chance of parole, the Myers Brothers are separated again, after accepting plea deals to avoid Florida’s death penalty at Raiford. Fred died a bitter man in 2012 from liver cancer, leaving Ted behind for the second time. Ted, now 71, has long been a model prisoner and is actually remorseful for his role in the death of Mae King. All three shots were fired simultaneously, two by Ted who held his own gun in his right hand and Roger’s gun in his left hand. Fred fired the other shot. They couldn’t miss as they were standing side-by-side directly behind her, fully-masked, at the moment of impact. Ted still tells himself that Fred fired a split second before he did and thus rationalizes that Fred’s bullet killed her while his two were just window dressing and really didn’t matter when all was said and done. When the brothers returned to the getaway car with Roger waiting at the wheel, Ted laid Roger’s gun in the center console and the car accelerated into the night. So the original report that the guns taken from the brothers at their shit-pit arrest had only fired two of the three shots, and that Roger had exited the vehicle with the third gun in hand, was accurate. It was obvious that Kabb was too frail and slow to go in with them and do his own dirty work, so the brothers felt their best chance of getting away clean was to stick him in the getaway driver role. Things were going great until Roger unexpectedly (to them) pulled the car over saying he was sick, grabbed his gun and left them with a generous amount of cash in the car. He disappeared into the night, not knowing that Ted, in the front passenger seat, was close to shooting him in the back for running out on them. Likewise, neither brother ever knew that before he pulled over, Roger contemplated shooting both of them as soon as he picked up his gun. “Three dull needles hung by a thread.”
Fred, knowing the business was going downhill and hankering for a new start with hairdresser Hillary Horney from Haines City, gladly handed the uninsured Daytona’s keys to Harry and hitched a ride to Winter Haven from a scary-looking woman while Harry was still in the club. When he heard what happened on the news, that he himself was no longer among the living, he saw an opening, bought a junker, scooped up Hillary and the pair headed to Ohio, where her girlfriend lived, assuming the names Jeff and Joanne Jenkins. Fred bragged he was “gonna put the Sin in Cincinnati.” Turns out Hillary’s girlfriend was, well, actually her girlfriend, and Fred wandered aimlessly into Kentucky and on down to Tennessee, working odd jobs and lamenting the loss of his Turbo. He had planned to get hold of Ted at some point and tell him he still had a pulse, but didn’t get around to it for a few years. When he finally did contact Ted, the latter was persona non grata back in Lake Delford and took off to join his brother without telling anyone. The brothers formed another handyman business in Murfreesboro and had pretty well screwed that one up too when one Roger Kabb suddenly stood before them on Black Friday night, 1998, in that strip club. Kabb, slow-witted and semi-senile at 76, appeared emaciated and on his last legs as he lured them into his devious plan with his last remaining wads of cash. ( I know, you want to know how Roger found them, right? Fred had dropped the Jeff Jenkins ID and these two clowns were operating under their real names, and Roger found them by looking in Tennessee phone books after a tip from his longstanding contact person (snitch) at the Inn, a guy who also stayed in touch with Ted after he left town, and who kept Roger apprised of all of Mae’s activities. Roger told the brothers he was dying (which he was) and had just added a two-part grand finale to his free man’s bucket list. Roger had visited 68 strip clubs since leaving Lake Delford years earlier, and it was there, in #69, that he scored for the first time in years. Three miserable human beings with nothing left to lose, and all three had been screwed, in some form or another, by Madelyn “Mae” King and her red tresses. It was “go time.”
There was a time when news that “the rabbit died” was greeted with either joyous applause or gloom and despair. Here, it was left up to the reader to assess whether Roger’s Rabbit died somewhere along his yellow brick road or if it was in fact the getaway car. Word is that neither was the case. His Rabbit was found in a Louisville parking garage after his death. It was not only alive but it was well. Neither of the brothers wanted to use one of their vehicles and Roger feared that, even almost seven years since he left, driving through town and pulling into the Inn’s parking lot in that easily-recognized thing might draw someone’s attention and wreck the plan. So he bought a red 1985 Chevy Cavalier beater from a used-car dealer for $500 and told the brothers they could keep it if they got back. Neither liked that “if” part, but hey, it was as good as the crap cars they were driving, so they went with the plan, not knowing that Roger had no intention whatsoever of making the return trip, no matter how things played out. Despite his demented state, Roger had left a will, and the Rabbit, per his wishes, reverted back to its original owner, Binky. He also left Binky a huge amount of cash he had stowed away in a safe deposit box back in nearby Deltona. She used the money to buy the Inn and re-named it . . . “The Jolly Roger Inn” because, you see, it WAS a pirate’s life for her, matey. Binky and her life partner hired “Big Ruby Red,” a Mae King-like presence with the same big-as-life personality to pull in the customers but with none of Mae’s negative attributes, to run the place and restore its status as the go-to, social center of the town. Folks gathered and once again shot the shit nightly in the “Bucket List Bar Room” in the back. One might say that Mae left a mess, and Binky cleaned up. $$$$$
With the demise of Mae, Roger Kabb was able to check off that second-to-last, recently-added box on his bucket list. He left the final box – his own death – unchecked, though he knew at that moment it seemed both inevitable and imminent. Why not just check the box before tossing the paper away? Why not afford himself such closure? Because he remembered the emptiness he felt when he had checked off the last box on his original list two months earlier. He wanted to feel alive until he wasn’t. Planning his and Mae’s deaths rejuvenated him at a time he was both physically and mentally beyond sick. It gave him a raison d’être. His lowest moment had been checking off that last box and being left without a purpose. He vowed not to do it again, thus never had any intention of checking that box come hell or high water. And there was one more reason. Sitting there on that log, he knew he was a weak man in more ways than one. Despite being determined not to, he was acutely aware that he could, he might, surrender himself peacefully, belying any such checkmark. Roger aside, do you or I really want to check off everything on our own bucket list? Or would it be best to always have one or two items left to pursue, at whatever cost, to keep our edge, to keep us hungry, to keep us feeling alive?
And one last point to ponder: “In full view of the cops and the dogs that were almost upon him . . . he raised the gun to the rising sun” before resuming the countdown.
After the edited-down version appeared in the Mensa Bulletin, I received feedback from a few very perceptive readers that either questioned or assumed exactly what happened when he completed the countdown. Clearly, he had been successful in rejecting surrender. But had he simply raised the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger? Or did he raise the gun and fire just to draw fire, perhaps into the ground or at the the top of the trees, in the general direction of the approaching cops, knowing they would immediately and instinctively do for him what he didn’t have the courage to do for himself. Either way, Roger Kabb ended his own story and got the last word while controlling the onset and the origin of the closing “BAROOOOM.”He raised the gun and counted down to “One.” And then . . .
Honestly, if I knew, I would tell you.
12:02 AM, January 1, 1999 at The Kabb Inn, Lake Delford, FL:
7:08 AM, January 1, 1999, off SR 40, southeast of Silver Springs, Ocala National Forest, FL:
Grabbed bread and milk and some orange juice and asked for a six-pack of bananas for the road but Minnie snorted and said a no-use recluse should stay out of sight, not leave his abode (so I wouldn’t be subject to verbal abuse from a mean-spirited, spiteful nematode?). My response was brisk, blunt and profuse: “Milady (a title befitting this ominous ode), I’m going home to seduce chocolate mousse and then double down with pie a la mode, giving you some time to produce an excuse for the way you’ve let your manners erode; to reflect on your words, conclude and deduce, you crapped on me like a commode overflowed. She recoiled in anger, said “Get out – VAMOOSE,” calling me everything from a turd to a toad. She slammed her size 12 right up my caboose so hard and so swift I felt my innards implode. Still, I returned one night for gas and produce, but my butt once again got firmly steel-toed. Minnie Smart was combative, her lips too loose. Her anger flashed fire and her rage was a load. Then came the night she booted Mayor Bruce; he fell on his head and his heart soon slowed. They took her away, she cooked her own goose. Her weak side showed and her tears free-flowed. She played her last ace, dropped her last deuce, checked out in her cell, ducked the dues she owed. The store was sold and razed, but the land’s in use – a park for the people, that the buyer bestowed. The widow of Bruce had honored his code of living life’s truce in true giving mode. #
Though none were inclined to agree, the brash braggart boasted he’d be a man in command; leading the band, living his life so high and so grand. A weed devotee, at eighteen he was free, to chill and get stoned by the sea. He tanned, and rolled reefers by hand, as he manly-manned a lifeguard stand. Five years into a toking spree, he was busted, mistrusted, at age twenty-three. Canned, banned, he split the sand of the strand to seek and seed fertile land. Due west from Myrtle Beach he did flee, past the lea, to Big Tree, near Elloree, to try his hand (poorly planned) at planting and growing his very own brand.
This jobless jackal named Jake, a snippety snake, a claim he did stake on an expanse so divine – eight acres of pine, or perhaps it was nine. He hoped for fresh water – a pond or a lake – befitting a Walden remake, but away from the brine, his stars didn’t align, and his moon didn’t shine. Told he could neither borrow nor make the big bucks that would take, said, “okay, fine, if but one acre be mine, dinky and dry I cannot decline.” A fake, a flake, a walking mistake, hallelujah, the dreamer was finally awake. He dragged his own line, hell-bent to define, to design, a brand he’d refine.
Sharing here what I hear, he and John Deere, they launched into high gear, felling trees left and right, till sunlight took flight, giving ground to the night. He pledged to persevere, and in just one-sixth of a year, he was able to clear a feasible, functional farming site, the prize for his fight, a freewheeler’s delight. Jake toasted himself with beer and a cheer, and Ms. Mary Jane abuzz in his ear. “A joint venture bright, airtight,” mused the mock, mythical, modern-day knight. Then from his rear did appear a doe-eyed dear, a damsel top-tier, à la Guinevere, attired purely in white, to excite on sight, so slim and slight, a spellbinding sprite.
His eyes were aglow, this swaggering schmuck/schmo, as he hungrily hollered hello to the enchanting young maid who coyly displayed genteel jewelry of genuine jade. He could not know what quid pro quo this vivacious vamp/vixen would deem apropos, but the guy never frayed, stayed stoic, stayed staid, smugly sure he couldn’t be played. She sipped Bordeaux, he slurped Merlot; when they gave it a go, she snatched his dough. He strayed and got meekly Miss-laid. Dismayed, disarrayed, the fated flier felt his fire fade. The faux Thoreau became a kept beau, a weak bro, a punchless putz in her puppet show. Unforgiving, unafraid, on a crusade, “Jen” disparaged his doobie till he sadly “oy vey!”-ed.
But wait – what was his quo, and what was her quid? Jake didn’t know, but Jen sure did. From whence had she come, with her cute little bum, bearing a pear as sweet as a plum? Well, think back to your time as a kid, when your ego was battered, and twice so your id. Remember the boy who called you dumb, and tangled your hair with goo, glue and gum? Milady didn’t forget, so heaven forbid, what havoc she’d wreak, way out here off the grid. By nine Jake had become a nastily numb, callously caustic, cruelly crude, sick sack of scum. Transfigured, the now lovely, lithe lassie let loose her lid, and into her quid, his quo she slid. She gave the crumb “some,” then watched him succumb to her cunning game of zero sum.
The chump learned the tables had turned. His bread was gone but her butter got churned. That acre he bought, financed without thought, was part and parcel of her father’s woodlot. Jake hadn’t worried and wasn’t concerned, that his payments were twofold what he earned. A “man in command” he proved to be not, because lessons unheeded are lessons untaught. Once he discerned his buns had been burned, his botched bid for a brand stood adjourned. She had cached all his cash, leaving him naught, then Daddy foreclosed on poor Jake’s plot. He sat sadly spurned, his life overturned. The dope never returned for that which he yearned. Jen at last got the revenge she sought, wielding her wiles, while lampooning his lance a lot !
Almost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . forgot: Jenny hooked up hot, to trot, with King Artie “Wart”, a royal big shot. They tied a knoble knuptial knot, in a most congenial spot, where by her own hand, she bred her own brand – “Jen’s Jerky” pot, before happily-ever-aftering . . . there . . . in . . . Cam-e-lot.
A bit bizarre, sure – but Richard Harris himself says “IT’S TRUE !!!!!” . . .
Eager beaver Jake flexing for the camera in the act of “felling trees left and right” …
Three hundred youngsters, grades 2 through 8, were sizing up the 27 transfer students in their respective classes, an annual appraisal exercise that was silly and superficial on its surface, but for those being assessed, it was an inevitable rite of passage that went with the territory. For pretty girls and cute boys, approval was a breeze, a piece of cake, a walk in the park. For the less-blessed-rest, for the enigmatic and the divergent, the process was at best uncertain and unsettling, and at worst hurtful and occasionally humiliating. It took no more than three school days for the seven juvenile juries to come in with their first 12 up-or-down, in-or-out, verdicts (the obvious ones, of course), with the remainder to be evaluated, classified and labeled in the following week or two.
The nine nuns and six lay assistants at Mercy Academy pretended to be unaware of this misguided and unsavory ritual, but in truth most were fine with it. “Builds character, ”said one sister to another. “What does?” “You know, that thing they do.” “Which thing?” “The building character thing.” “I’m not aware of that.” Then they both laughed and started whacking each other’s knuckles with wooden rulers, getting their snap back after a sleepy, stagnant summer. No malice intended, just a harmless, heavenly habit. It was great fun to be a nun in 1958.
By the end of the following week, 14 more newbies had been categorized by a makeshift panel of their peers. (Peer was a snicker word back then to pre-adolescent boys. “That Ernie Beck’s quite the peer. He ate a whole Snickers bar while taking a whizz. Saw it myself. Scout’s honor.”)
And that left but one – an undersized, bespectacled fifth-grader whose family migrated north to New Hampshire from down Marblehead way, an area where witchy women were flying high almost three centuries before the Eagles sang about them. Buoyant and spunky, he walked fast and talked faster. Sported Weejun penny loafers while the other guys at Mercy dragged the hallways in clunky Buster Browns and Poll-Parrots. Carried a conductor’s pocket watch while they wore Davy Crockett wristwatches. (Some would eventually discover he wore Keds and a Crockett coonskin cap on the weekends.) Seemed studious, smiled easily, blended in pretty well. One of the pretty girls said she saw him take his glasses off and his eyes were so sparkly blue they “looked like cat’s eye marbles!”
Classmate “None Meana” Regina snidely snorted and sneered, then tossed her catty two cents in, as always. “By George, you just wait, Bad Billy’s gonna marbleize that fancy-faced marble-head from Marblehead till he loses his marbles.” (Mean girls, much like Linda Ronstadt’s love, have been around for a long, long time.) The boy heard about the triple zinger and fluffed it off, graciously calling it cute and clever, thereby balming the burn from the toxic-tongued terror. Flabbergasted and speechless (for once), as well as curious, she subtly gazed into those eyes and found herself mesmerized, just like the pretty girl. Her fire doused and her sting neutralized, she metamorphosized and normalized, sympathized and empathized, socialized and harmonized – emerging as one more Mercy miracle. The road (rather than a bus) rose up to meet her, and a reformed Regina soon was mean-a no more-a.
After Billy and a couple of other sixth-graders tested the tenderfoot’s manhood by repeatedly punching him in both arms, expecting him to snivel or run or both, he won cheers and respect from onlookers by thumping the three of ‘em right back. Hard, quick, relentless. Spunky. The new kid from Massachusetts was deemed to be utterly unflappable and strikingly savvy.
He had also gained an air of mystery for two quirky reasons, the first being his given name was Michel, pronounced just like the female Michelle. (The tale of a boy named Sue was at that time still just a floating lyric in the back of Shel Silverstein’s head, so it’s life lesson was still somewhere over the rainbow.) His last name was the quite proper, very English, James – a surname that was an ocean apart from the miserable Valjean, Gervais and Gavroche factory families living in poverty and darkness up on Gorbeau Hill, in the Lakeport section of town.
The boy later explained that before he was born, his mother assumed she’d have a girl named Michelle while his father anticipated a boy named Michael. When he popped out on a very cold November night, to the fleeting delight of the guy who sired him, his quick-witted mother led said sire, aka her husband, into accepting the male spelling of Michelle by extolling upon the virtue of compromise and pointing out that Michel was in fact the French version of his favored Michael. “Michel will set him apart,” she asserted. You got that right, he thought to himself. Still, he begrudgingly acquiesced because he loved the lady and had long since learned that compromise was often a winning play for him, in a myriad of ways that revealed themselves at unexpected but opportune times.
In the years that followed, however, he would often wink and call his son Michael or Mike when his wife wasn’t around. The kid played along and took it in stride, always winking back to assure timely delivery of his weekly allowance. Now and then, however, hubby would defiantly “Michael him” right in front of his wife and she would simply say “Comme ci, comme ça. N’est-ce pas, Henri?” And then gleefully wink at both of them. Whenever the Mrs. threw French phrases at Henry James, he lamented losing his high-school crush, Daisy Miller, to his cousin Jesse. In response to her good-naturedly blinking away his bait, he would shrug, snatch a package of Hostess SnoBalls from the pantry, seize his Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and plop down on the living room couch. “Henri, my ass,” he’d mutter under his breath, before attacking the pair of pink, marshmallow-frosted, cream-filled beauties. Minutes later, sweetened up, Henry James was smiling again, abandoning the couch to chase the Mrs. around the kitchen table to work off the calories. At least that’s what he told Michel, who enjoyed watching that sort of good-natured parental give-and-take, though he was far too young to grasp the thrill of their chase and the usually-inevitable, always-opportune rewards that ensued for them. Despite all their shenanigans, at the end of the day they just knew they liked being his parents – and he just knew he liked being their son.
The youngster’s second unique characteristic was an obsessive affinity for classic, unadorned marshmallows. He ate them at morning recess, at lunch, at afternoon recess, and after school. Run-of-the-mill white, soft, fluffy, squishy, sweetmeat treats. They were in his pockets, his jacket, his school bag, and when not in class, in his hands. Two fistfuls at a time. The James boy was one focused and folksy fifth-grader who knew a good thing when he ate it.
By the end of that first month at Mercy, he became known to the upper half of the student body as “The Marshmallow Kid.” He proved to be real smart, right neighborly, kept up with the boys, was embraced by the girls, and won accolades from his teachers. The nuns admired his attitude and the lay assistants applauded his acumen. Whenever he took his glasses off and flashed them blues, the girls would coo and the boys would boo, all playful and in good fun, while Michel pretended not to notice, remaining casually cool. “TMK” was indeed a dude that quietly wooed.
It should be noted here that his first name proved to be a complete non-issue to the female students and to the teachers and staff there at the school, as it had been no big deal with anyone back in Marblehead. The NH boys were a bit of a different breed, however, but after the early exchange of punches with Bad Billy and his sidekicks, there was no more needling about being a Michel, at least not to his “fancy face.” A few of the guys playfully called him “Mitch,” but then a few became several, several became many, and many became most. He didn’t care. He was just glad his last name wasn’t Miller.
By the time the holidays arrived, dang near half the kids in school had become marshmallow-addicted wackadoodles, while parents and teachers whistled past the graveyard, a most ill-fated colloquialism. Those munchkins were simply mimicking Michel, an inspiring kid valued by all. He was everything they aspired to be. Granted, he never once shared his marshmallows, not even with the pretty girls, but hey, as Aristotle once noted, and Henry James repeatedly demonstrated, you don’t turn your back on chocolate cake just because the frosting is pink.
Michel James should be celebrating his 73rd birthday in a couple of months.
But he won’t. ___________________________
In the Spring of his seventh-grade year, he was literally running late for the morning bell and took a shortcut across the railroad tracks just behind the schoolyard. He called out triumphantly that he was coming fast and many students turned to urge him onward as he carefully negotiated the embankment that led down to the tracks. Ever judicious, he looked both ways, saw it was clear, but then uncharacteristically raced recklessly forward. Halfway across, he tripped, his head violently striking the last steel rail, killing him instantly in full view of traumatized youngsters that called him their friend.
To divert their attention quickly away from the sight and get them into the school, a stunned Sister Ambrose clutched her rosary in one hand and, with the other, frantically rang what proved to be the mourning bell. In the blink of an eye, under dark gray clouds, they had lost him forever.
His funeral was held in the adjacent church. The students attended en masse, amen.
Every May 10th, for sixty years, two brilliantly-blue cat’s eye marbles appear at his grave, taped to his headstone. As mourning doves coo, his seventh-grade girlfriend toasts Michel James with a “sweetmeat treat”, then turns away – to sigh, to cry, to whisper goodbye – once again.
Alone in remembrance, Regina rests in his peace.
The Marshmallow Kid . . . flashed them blues . . . November 12, 1948 – May 10, 1961.
(Written July 4th, 2021, in anticipation of the observance of the 20th anniversary of 9/11)
One they were, unbroken. Dark-dazed, dismayed, enshrouded in haze, these lionhearts emerged as shadows from the rubble. Fueled by fate, faith and fury, they breathed in fumes from the maelstrom, then pulled from the ashes – America’s soul.
Safe in our homes we watched our countrymen unite on the ground. Citizens of the world paused their own woes, felt our pain, as borderless empathy reigned. The ache and the hurt never lessened – ever – but the path to healing began.
Rise from the deep anguish to the challenge was the call we heard. Unwavering, nameless, faceless first responders mourned their silenced brothers and sisters present on the roll call of lives lost. We stood with them as they had stood for us.
Some signed on, took up arms, in those first years after the planes came. Wars ensued, burdens were borne. Though worry weighed heavily on loved ones back home, undaunted men and women nobly gave back to their country, their allies, as one, as all.
Time has taught us – you, me – to remember the day the earth moved as more than a datemark for flags that gallantly streamed. Those who served then, those who serve now, and those who served in-between hold fast and firm, fervent among compatriots.
We honor The Fallen. Lament their loss, each in our own way. The deceased from that day, and the uniformed thousands who followed, await our salute. Though the dust now be settled, the light back in our days, still, the memory stays.
On that day of chaos that blocked the sun, the peerless, the fearless, second to none, raised themselves up, said “there’s work to be done.” September eleventh, two-thousand one.
Wayne Michael DeHart (July, 1997, with July, 2021 edits)
What did Dickens really know about the best of times?
He wasn’t there when I shared Rolos and raindrops, lemonade and laughter, with high-spirited Lisa of auburn hair and evergreen eyes and silken skin, of winsome winks and guilty grins and “love you too”s.
He wasn’t there through ice cream days on Boston Common and campfire nights in New Hampshire forests of pine and balsam and birch, where lurking hugs and lightning bugs danced around the Muse.
And he was never there when fireworks shows, birthday candles and Christmas lights brightened her wondrous world, when county fairs and teddy bears spread her smile from here to there, or in tender times when magic tricks and pick-up sticks chased away her blues.
And what did he know about the worst of times?
He wasn’t there when they told me the reason for her blinding headaches and her dizzy spells and of the eroding effects we would come to know too soon and too well from a miserable, merciless disease.
He wasn’t there that misty Easter morning when a fading Lisa smiled weakly at the pink and yellow marshmallow peeps surrounding her on the colorful down comforter, waved a quiet farewell to the new giant plush rabbit watching over her from a bedside chair, and mouthed an unprompted “love you too” to me one last time before closing her eyes to find what no one sees.
And he was never there those seven weeks when that sad blue bunny and I came to her each day at mourning time to nurse and nurture the withering flowers that fought for life above her, back home in the indifferent shadows of two Bucks County weeping willow trees.
“You need to get on with your own life”, you told me. “The sun will still come up tomorrow”, he told me. “She’s gone to a better place, to be with her mom”, she told me. “She’s looking over your shoulder this very minute”, they told me.
The only person looking over my shoulder is me, and when I do all I see is darkness and disarray and a maze of paths that I’ve too often taken – paths that lead everywhere and nowhere, but never somewhere.
Not long after I wrote the opening lines, I gave the neglected bunny to the neighbor’s kid in Doylestown. Those flowers at her grave are themselves now buried by nature’s hand. I regret that I don’t get there as often as I did at first. “As often?” How about hardly at all. What does that say about me? Seems like there’s a cold rain almost every day, even when there isn’t. Perception rules reality when the world has you on your back.
I am reminded of the song “A Little Fall of Rain” from the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Misérables, offered by a dying Éponine to the one she unrequitedly loves:
“Don’t you fret, M’sieur, I don’t feel any pain, A little fall of rain Can hardly hurt me now. You’re here, that’s all I really need to know. And you will keep me safe. And you will keep me close. And rain will make the flowers grow.”
I don’t hear Éponine singing to Marius; I hear a sad, sweet Lisa singing on-key to the guy who was there for her, guided her, embraced the enchantment of the earth with her, through those last four roller coaster years. Somehow she knows he now wistfully wanders through the raindrops he once welcomed, not really seeing them or feeling their energy, as he had when he centered they and them, two spunky inseparables through the best and worst of times. This prolonged state of melancholy has to stop. Must stop. Because the rain does in fact nourish the resilient blooms, the ones that she talked to when no one was looking.
The insight of the innocent often slides past the purview of the myopic, seasoned skeptic. The slings and arrows miss their target, until they don’t. Through it all, the kindhearted kid held the keys, and I just held the door.
The storied sandman who visited the girl at just the right time every evening departed with her. I wrestle the darkness as I await the promise of dawn. Tonight, I’m trying to read myself to sleep with the voluminous book of poetry a knowing friend gave to me when Lisa passed. A wide variety of poets, among the most eminent in verse, and their most notable works can be found between its covers. I really do need to sleep, yet turn to the entries of Robert Frost, an earnest laureate for the masses, a champion of the commoner in each of us. Born in California, he thrived in his new surroundings after his remaining family moved to Massachusetts when he was only eleven, upon the death of his dad from a different merciless disease. Though his breakthrough as a poet came in his London years, he spent most of his adult life residing, farming the fields, roaming the woods, writing prolifically, and teaching in rural areas of New Hampshire and Vermont. Surely he too once experienced walking through Boston Common and the Granite State forests of pine and balsam and birch – just as Lisa did, with me, before the doctor broke the news that broke my heart.
“When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.”
Boy? The poet knew not the likes of one lively Lisa girl.
I fell asleep to the familiar, oft-quoted closing line, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” I’ve always liked that. It reminds me of . . . something.
Seven months have passed since Lisa journeyed off and left me behind. The holidays are nigh and I know you will miss her entrance, though not nearly as much as I will. I mean, she was a part of your life too, wasn’t she? She was real to you, she touched your cheek, your hands, your heart, your very being.
You probably knew her by another name. Or too soon will.
I should have felt your hurt back then. But I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. After all, you were just somebody else.
If it’s not too late . . . I’m sorry for your loss.
I have long since set Dickens aside and taken comfort in the inspirational offerings of his countryman William Wordsworth, a true wordsmith with an ever-so-fitting name, who had a Frost-like appreciation of nature and a firm grasp of the depth and fragility of the human spirit. That same book of poetry I mentioned earlier contained a Wordsworth poem I was already familiar with and had been since my very early teens: “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”. I’d like to say it was my academic nature and intellectual curiosity that familiarized me with the following lines, but it was actually a movie that wandered into town – “Splendor in the Grass”.
“What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now forever, taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower: We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind:”
There are exactly 200 additional lines in the Lake District Romanticist’s classic poem, but these were the words heard whole or in part on three different occasions in that Natalie Wood-Warren Beatty movie. They were emphasized each time, luring a 13/14-year old boy in New Hampshire into searching the back shelves of Gale Memorial Library for the words that came before and the words that came after those I had heard at the Colonial Theater. I’ve since read them many times over. I recited the lines quoted here from memory to maybe 25 girls in my youth, to maybe 25 people I met in my traveling twenties, and dozens more in a variety of circumstances in the decades that followed. But I failed to recite them to the enthralling Miss Lisa, the young girl who really mattered, whether she would have understood them or not.
However, I can tell you that I did in fact read her a different Wordsworth poem one crisp nightfall as she curled up under the covers in her last Springtime. She delighted in hearing “Daffodils” (“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”) because this dear girl loved the sight and smell of flowers of every kind. I wish I had memorized that one and recited it, so I could have watched those evergreen eyes grow wider still as each word and image lingered lazily over her pillows, rather than lifting my own eyes from the page to hers as often as I could without fumbling the flow the poet laid down. I missed so many chances. I missed making so many memories. I missed them because my time with her was destined to be infinite and endless. I convinced myself that, long after my own gravestone had gone green with mold and mildew, she would think of me and come by on my birthday with her grandchildren, bringing untrimmed purple lilacs, unspoken pep talks and maybe an unopened roll of Rolos to toast my memory. I took that liberty because I perceived that nine-year-old kids, both real and imagined, were indestructible and unbreakable small humans who would become all-knowing, remain ever-present, and prove to be everlasting. The untimely loss of Lisa girl brought reality to my doorstep.
A very wise woman who witnessed my decline told me that I would reclaim and retain my intended place in the universe if I just kept watching the mirror. “When the eyes finally meet yours, you’ll know you’re ready.” She was right, of course. They did, and I was. Ready, that is.
(Though you, the reader, have committed no crime here, a long sentence awaits you. Please indulge me in my egregious affront to good grammar, but since it was written in real time as a single, uninterrupted thought in 1997, to do otherwise would be to betray the freewheeling spirit of the girl with the auburn hair.)
Ready to rewind, refocus and rededicate myself to preserving the vivid memory of Lisa’s vivacious visage, attached to the hidden treasure back there under the willows in Bucks County, but personified here, now, in the fresh, clean air that I breathe in deeply as I linger on the resurgent verdant growth of my front lawn in serene silence awaiting the soft afterglow of the sudden hard summer rain and search the sky for the last wave of prismatic droplets which will dance the shower’s celestial finale with a rousing two-step of refraction and revelry that spins below gilded clouds and the glistening glint of an emerging sun as the water vessels paint the horizon in the seven colors of the visible spectrum that band together and tug harmoniously at the delicate strings of doubt and despair that still knot my mind and stomach but which fray and unravel in the humbling presence of the fleeting but rapturous arch that always leads to the storybook gold as it shimmers and glimmers, gleams and glitters, into a brilliant shining reflection in the sparkling green eyes of a laughing Lisa who fills my lungs and surges through my veins each time I inhale her memory and savor the sweetness of moments past and behold a vibrant vision of the refreshing rascal reaching for a ride on a leaning white-barked sapling in the mossy woods of New Hampshire as she gives me one of those whimsical, winsome winks, then smiles, reminding me that one could do worse than be a swinger of birches – or one who dances with the daffodils – in this world, or in the next.
Love you, my lighthearted, high-spirited Lisa.
Soon, I’ll close my own eyes, listen for your “love you too”, and find, as you have, what no one sees.
2 thoughts on “WordSleeves”
This is fun. Just imagining having these assignments myself. You were so clever in the use of other information on the pages. You were busy and productive during lockdown, Wayne.
Every time I go to your site I find something new…well, new 2020 & 2021. I enjoyed these. Anticipated which would be the biggest pain with the give and take: pony tail or fence.