Francois Repents

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An excerpt:

Odd ducks sometimes find safe waters when all the swans get their tails shot off. Francois landed in Information Technology just as it was becoming a demand, while manufacturing and labor opportunities were becoming scarce. With the extra money he had, even as a young man, he bought a nice house outside North Tonawanda, in quiet Pendleton, where he and Jenny started having babies, and he started a stamp collection. To Jenny he was adamant: he was not a stamp collector; he was a philatelist. He studied stamps as a hobby, over against collecting them for trade. She hitched the baby on her hip and rolled her eyes: he had a whole room in the house dedicated to stamps. He subscribed to two stamp magazines: Philatelism Today and Modern Stamper. Rare and valuable stamps were specially mounted and displayed. He bought special lights and specially-coated glass to preserve the stamps from harmful ultra-violet rays. Yes, he was an odd duck.

The odd duck became obsessed with his hobby, speaking endlessly of new finds and old curiosities. “Did you know the oldest stamp was first issued by Great Britain in 1840? It’s called the ‘penny black’ because it was black, and it only cost a penny. But it is not so valuable as the rare Swedish Three Skilling Banco, which sold for over $2 million. Did you know that?” Day in and day out, Francois obsessed, coming to dinner late, wolfing his food to rush back to his stamp room. Jenny didn’t think Francois was doing anything wrong, per se, but she was concerned about the obsession. She noticed that to have any conversation with Francois was to gaze into his blank stare while his mind rallied around something to do with stamps, stamp collecting, and the study of stamps. She sighed, hoping the obsession was a passing fancy.

Francois Repents

Sergeant Jinx Lucks Out

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An Excerpt:

“Let’s move out,” said Reynolds. “If we walk straight east, we’re bound to hit the Tigris, and from there we can get our bearings.”

“If we can find some shoal water, we can cross over to some higher ground and get out of this infernal swamp,” said Jenkins.

“Shoal water?” asked Reynolds. “What in the hell is shoal water?”

“Ain’t you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama?” demanded Jenkins. “Shoal water is shallow water where you can cross over to the good fishing hole.”

Reynolds stared at Jenkins. “And you know how to find shoal water.”

“Sure I do,” said Jenkins. “I grew up on the bluffs.”

“Bluffs? Do you see any bluffs around here? And what do bluffs have to do with shoal water?”

Jenkins spat. “Down in Alabama, growing up on the bluffs meant you growed up on a river that had lots of holes in it for fishing, but you had to find the shoal water to get to it. Don’t you know any of this stuff? But you can’t just cross at any shallow spot; the current might be too strong. It’s got to be shoal water, where the river is whoa’d up a little, you understand.”

In this way they walked eastward in the swamps of southern Iraq, talking about Alabama shoal water, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Confederacy, completely lost somewhere between Basra and Baghdad and somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. At last they found themselves on the banks of a river, and presuming it was the mighty Tigris River, they turned left. Reynolds kept an eye open for what he thought might be shoal water, to prove to the hick that he could spot shoal water without the experience of being raised apart from civilization.

Sergeant Jinx Lucks Out

Spinosis Ventrem

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An excerpt:

Carla sniffed the spray as the breeze brought it from gentle breakers, tickling her nose with a curl of her own hair, which, on occasion, she caught in her teeth, playing with her hair even as the toddler played with the sea. The sand beneath the towel was firm, but it gave when she ground in her heels. Seagulls were competing somewhere in the distance, becoming as thin pencil sketchings against a brilliant blue sky. One seagull dove nearer, and its call mingled with the squealing of the toddler. Carla smiled again as she saw him bounding away from the tickling fingers of the sea, chasing her son as a father might do, thundering with great primal power, but relenting for the sake of mirth. He expended so much motion in his legs and arms, she thought, in a perfect caricature of a running toddler, yet moving only so slowly.

It wasn’t a gun shot, but her mind had to go to that possibility first because of all the news. Nevertheless, a startling cracking sound had come to her senses, perhaps through her feet and not through her ears. Was it an earthquake? Yet the earth did not move. She was sure something critical had sounded out, perhaps beneath the waves, a tremendous unleashing in an eyeblink of time. She pondered.

A shriek awakened her from her meanderings, that shriek which every mother perceives before she hears it, the change from play-acted fear to genuine terror. She was on her feet, running to him, his eyes filled with pain, his mouth in a howl for Mommy. She was to him in one, two, three leaps.

“What’s wrong?” she cried out to him. “Tell Mommy what hurts.” Between sobs, he babbled sensibly enough that she learned he had a boo-boo on his foot. She looked. His foot was indeed bleeding from the sole. What did he step on? She searched quickly, watching a wave recede. Yes, there it was: “You stepped on a sea urchin,” she said, kissing his foot, picking him up to carry him to her spot, where she thought she might have a paper towel to stop the bleeding, “a nasty little sea urchin.”

Spinosis Ventrem

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 2

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An Excerpt

There, in the lamplight of his narrow above-ground hole, air-conditioned cool, but still damp, like the earth itself, without any television or radio, he sipped at his vodka, reminiscing, watching a water bug and a silverfish route themselves amicably to a common goal found somewhere behind the wall. Once the vodka glass was empty, he rose from his seat, went to a closet near his bedroom, pulled out a lock box, unlocked it, and wrapped his hand around his .45. He gave its muzzle a kiss, loaded a magazine into its grip, then went outside and around to the back of his trailer, where he shot at some shredded targets, practicing his grouping.

“Guess I’ve got to call some time,” he said, after the magazine was empty.

He went back inside, and after returning his pistol to its safe, he sat back down and poured another double-shot. He stared into the dark TV screen, contemplating while he sipped on his vodka. About halfway into that glass, he picked up the phone and dialed the number. The line did not ring; it went straight to voice mail, which confused Ernest. When the beep came, he stammered, “Yeah, uh, listen, Terrell, this is your father; I know: long time, no see. Or hear. You know. Yeah, uh, listen, Terrell, your Grandma Maude is dead. You can call me back. If you want. Yeah. Okay, bye. Love you.” He searched for the button on the number pad which ended the call. “I wish you could just hang these things up.” Vodka had made him forget that he could simply fold the phone closed.

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 2

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 1

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An excerpt

“Odd,” she said to herself aloud. “It’s February. Why is Willie outside riding his bicycle?” She looked out the window again. “Oh no,” she said. Her heart had corrected her mistake before her mind had allowed. “Oh dear God, no.” She dropped her potato into the sink and jerked her head toward the living room, where, above the mantlepiece hung her crucifix, given to her at her Confirmation when she was thirteen years old. Seven years later she had given birth to Willie, delivering him to a proud William who had only eleven months earlier promised before God and man to care for her, to give himself up for her, and provide everything she needed to make him a house and a home till death did them part, and she delivered. He sang a doxology while he cried, holding up the boy, even as Zechariah sang when his tongue was loosed at the birth of John. “Ah, praise God,” William sang. “He has remembered us, Maude. Even us, a poor farm family doing the best we can to tear something up out of Adam’s cursed earth, he has remembered.”

Maude fell happily asleep with her baby in arms. “William, Jr.” she whispered as she forgot the pain.

Dust was not rising, but snow. It was not Willie riding his bicycle on the road, but a United States Army sedan, riding through drifts of snow, which rose up into the wind, whence they were whipped along the surface of the plains until the wind grew tired and rose up to regather its strength, releasing its present quarry to form another drift somewhere else along the road. The sun, hanging low in the southern horizon, never blinked, guiding the sedan without remorse.

“Ernest!” she cried. “Ernest, come here!” William was in one of the out buildings tending the animals. She slumped to the floor beneath the mantlepiece, clutching the ottoman, and she remembered the day the draft notice arrived. She held it in her hand, shaking with rage. “Why not class II-C?” she demanded of her husband. “Why not class II-C?”

“Our farm isn’t big enough, I suppose,” said William. “I suppose. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What is it, Mama?” Ernest said to his mother. “Why are you on the floor crying? What happened? Are you hurt?”

“Bless your heart, yes,” said Maude. “Run outside and fetch your father. It is terrible. Terrible!”

Ernest heard the wrath in her heart pouring into her voice, so he ran, pulling on his boots in mid-stride, and without pulling on an overcoat, to fetch his father. By the time William and Ernest returned, Maude had composed herself and was listening.


The Demolition of a Mother, Part 1

The Primal Flower, Chapter 8

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An excerpt:

I waited for Lily’s father to return home. “Rescue must die soon,” I blurted out, “but I do not know how to put him to his end.”

“Mercy will dictate,” said Lily’s father. “Mercy always dictates. How do you know your dog is sick to death?”

“Your brother says so,” I accused.

Lily’s father went over to Rescue. Rescue was suspicious of Lily’s father, but was not afraid of him. He did not wag his tail, but he did allow him to pet him, lifting up his head to receive a fine scratch on the chin.

“Yes,” said Lily’s father. “It is so.”

Pain came into my body at his word. “Is it because we let him outside in the rain?” I asked.

“No. Probably not.”

“Then why?” I was fighting tears, but these tears were not for my damn dog; they were for a host of spirits and immaterial effects and clouds and fogs that floated in me according to an unseen will, a will that was intent on pressing against my will, with an ability to touch nerves deep in my insides so that my mouth opened with nonsense, nonsense that was perfectly sensible when my dog was now dying and would die for a long time. I wanted my dog to come with me, to chase after butterflies and squirrels, to alert me to comers and goers, to be beside me at night, and to be a general companion, even if Shur-qa-hil was the guide. The trip north was for me and my dog. Me and my dog! My dog and me, who had no home, together, homeless, free, and far away.

Who loved Shur-qa-hil? That horrible, fat, corrupt, know-it-all, pompous, hairy monster!

“Rescue has lived his life a happy dog,” said Lily’s father. “As we all live our lives happy dogs.”

“Happy dogs!” I shouted.

“Our Father in heaven teaches us mercy by giving us dogs to care for. Did you ever make a slave of your dog?” he asked, being patient with me.


“Did you let him do what dogs do?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Did you clean him, feed him, tend to his hurts, pet him, tell him he was good, and otherwise take care of him?” he asked.

“Yes. For the most part,” I said. “I liked to just let him run around.”

“What more are you hoping for your own life?” asked Arret. “Do you desire mercy when the end of your time comes?”

More pain came into my body. Couldn’t the end of my time come very soon? Lily came into the room. She had been napping. Her face was flush with the awakening of recent sleep. I did not answer.

“Show mercy to your dog,” said Lily’s father, “and your Father in heaven will show mercy to you.”

The Primal Flower, Chapter 8

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)

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Cornered in the Office

“You’re frightening me,” the Android Assistant 2100 said. “Put that thing away!”

“Ha,” said Robert. “You should have seen the look on that hick’s face when I shot a glass jar sitting on a fence behind him. Oh, don’t be frightened: I rested my arm on his shoulder; the muzzle was on the other side of his head. There was no way I could have hurt him.”

“What kind of pistol is that?” she asked.

“Nothing special, just an old officer’s sidearm from WWII, an M1911.”

“Why did you buy it?” she asked, calming herself.

“That’s better, dear,” he said. “Do you know the manufacturer?”

“Show it to me again.”

“No,” he said. “You saw enough of it.”

She sighed, batting her eyelashes at him. This isn’t in my profile, he thought. She’s looking for the right algorithm. She cocked her head, saying, “It’s a true M1911, a Colt. You have the pre-WWII model, the one with the prettier screw doohickeys on the grip.” She giggled. “Doohickeys. What do you call them?”

Robert scratched his temple with the muzzle of the pistol. “Gee, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m impressed you know that much about handguns. Did you know that before I asked you?”

She scolded him gently with her eyes. “Of course not,” she said. “You know that. And you’re not being very polite. Why don’t you put it away?”

“Yes,” he said. “I think I will.”

Continue reading “The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)”

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)