Reading is Hard. Pity the Reader.

I’m not talking about literacy, I’m talking about finding the time to read. Sure, you might be one of those people who always has a few books going at any given time, while putting even more books in your ‘to be read’ pile, and you probably don’t even own a television. No, I’m talking about the other people who have infinite forms of entertainment competing for their attention. Putting aside the hours spent sleeping, cooking, eating, cleaning et. al. we have more ways to spend the remaining minutes of our mortal existence than ever before. I don’t know about you, but I could just watch Disney + until the sun burns out.

As a writer, you need to get eyeballs on your words and keep them there. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Give the reader as much information as soon as possible. To hell with suspense!” While I don’t completely agree with him here, I know that a confused reader is one who closes the book and does not open it again. That’s the opposite of what you want.

We also have more ways to read than ever before, but the fact that anyone reads at all is amazing. But, the increase in the number formats means there are more books competing for your attention. As a self-published writer, the hardest thing you will do is to find readers. The late Mitch Hedburg had a joke about being a stand-up comedian and being asked to write a script, something related to comedy that isn’t comedy. I paraphrase, “It’s like being a great chef and being asked, ‘Well, do you farm?'” You wrote a book, which is an incredible accomplishment, but now you have to become an expert in marketing on an ever-shifting retail landscape. The three most difficult things you will do as a writer in reverse order are as follows and I quote- 

3) Write a book  2) Write your blurb. 1) Get people to read your book

I’m sometimes excited to check my daily page reads on Amazon. Often, no one read a single page or bought any hard copies. But some days when I see someone had read 500 pages of my books (or 500 people read one page each) I am excited. Something about the book kept them turning the digital pages and that’s a great thing. It means my newest marketing plan is reaching some eyeballs. Or it’s a fluke. I hope it’s not a fluke.

Back when I used to have a job, I told a coworker about this great movie. I offered to let her borrow my dvd. Every day, I would ask if she watched it. She hadn’t. Weeks went by. She said, “Are you sure I’m going to like it?” I wanted to say, “It’s a fucking movie. It’s two hours of your life! Watch it. Don’t watch it. Just give it back. I want to watch it again.” She returned it to me unwatched.

In case you’re wondering, the movie was Garden State. Her loss.

Making the decision to read a book, and then reading that book is a monumental accomplishment. I asked a friend to proofread a “finished” book and help me with plot points. While he was a book-a-day reader, he said he couldn’t get into my book. The first chapter was confusing (and thus, boring). I assured him that it picks up after that, but he never read any more of the book. He was right. The first chapter was not an attention-getter, so I changed it, but I couldn’t even force a good friend to waste any time.

That said, I plan to spend some time talking about the frustration that comes from friends and family not reading my books. I acknowledge to the universe that reading is difficult and tip my cap to anyone who spends hours alone with my words. It’s all I ever wanted.    

There’s a lot of stuff out there demanding our attention. Pity the reader and be thankful for them.

Typos- The ugly little mistakes and how to live with them

I make mistakes. Typos especially. I hate them. I feel like readers judge me on a misused or misspelled word or misplaced comma, and they do. Well, some do. But that’s okay. I just hope that when someone finds one, they don’t stop reading

I’ve found them in edited works. I hear them on the news. I see a misspelled word and I laugh, but I’m guilty too. I haven’t published a product without a typo. I had an editor for my first comic book, but somehow a misspelled word ended up in the finished product. Maybe the editor missed it. Maybe the letterer did. But it’s most likely my fault. I do so many last-minute changes to a script and I don’t sit with it long enough before I put it out into the world. I’m so anxious, and quite frankly sick of reading and rereading my words that I’m ready to be done. I click SEND and it’s off into the ether. Typos and all.

I had a job interview and I brought the first issue of my comic with me. I don’t know why. Bragging rights? Pride? It had nothing to do with the job for which I was interviewing. The boss skimmed it and said, “You spelled a word wrong.” Sure enough, I had misspelled “Losers” as “Loosers.” But I got the job despite my perceived lack of attention to detail. Maybe the boss saw the amount of work and skill that went into the production of a new work of art, but more than likely they were desperate.

I just released an audiobook and my voice actor found a couple. I was so embarrassed. I hate them because I feel like it makes me look dumb, but I still want to know so I can fix them before anyone else sees them and judges me. I’m worried they won’t read my story and be engaged by the characters and the plot, they’ll just be thinking, “Typo. Typo. Typo.”

One of my favorite words is sprezzatura- basically defined as controlled chaos as a fashion accessory. Bedhead. Untied laces. A necktie not tightened are all examples. It’s the imperfection that makes something perfect. However, sprezzatura isn’t by accident, it just looks that way.

What’s my point? I’ll try harder to avoid typos in the future, but I won’t loose my mind when I miss one.

Confessions: Good Meows/Bad Meows

Confessions: Good Meows/Bad Meows

11/2/2021

After a month of work, Jake Hunsbusher and I (mostly him) finished recording the audiobook. What an experience! You would think it’s as simple as reading the words and recording, but for an emotional project with different characters of varying ages, accents, and sexes it felt like a little movie with me as the director.  I would have him rerecord a few sections with the inflections and emotions that I imagined while writing. The audio read by a true voice actor adds a layer to the story for the reader/listener, just like an artist for a comic book adds dimension the writer could never have imagined.  

That’s the good news. The negative news is that I had some difficulty with a promotional aspect of modern-day publishing. Many indie writers swear by a service called Pubby which promises to get your book reviewed for a monthly fee. The monthly fee (a year’s worth all at once is not a monthly fee, btw) is charged at the end of the ten-day trial. I put a note in my calendar to assess and cancel if needed, and off I went!

The way Pubby works (in a nutshell) is you get stars for reading and reviewing books. You can use those stars, as well as your introductory stars and stars you purchase, to get your book reviewed. As you look for ways to get stars you are offered a limited selection of books to read. I chose a few that might be of interest and went to work. I had a hard time because the books were not interesting enough to complete so I stopped until I could find books that I could read and like. Here’s comes the problem. A day or two into my trial, I had one review for each of my books I had made available. They were positive in a generic sort of way that indicated the person may or may not have read the book all the way through. They read like, “If you like science fiction with lots of action, this is the book for you.”

That’s just it. The people on this service are writers looking for reviews. They want to get their stars and move on. If you don’t read the book, at least you can should a positive review like you hope other readers will do. I went at it all wrong; I wanted to READ the books!

It reminded me of Meow Meow Beans on the show Community. If you haven’t seen it, one episode features a social media ap that allows you to rate your fellow students for arbitrary reasons and the people with the highest rankings are worth the most Beans and thus rise to become the ones with the highest social values. 

I don’t want to get reviewed that way. I want people to love or hate my work on its own merits, but I at least want them to read it. Just like I don’t like when someone gives a bad review based on the first two chapters, I don’t want a positive review if all they read was the blurb on the back of the book.

So, I cancelled. Here comes issue 2. They gave me a partial refund. I asked and they said that was all the charges they saw. I checked with my bank and they said I had been charged the whole year. I went back and forth with Pubby and they couldn’t find my charge because I had spelled my email wrong the first time I signed up. The customer service person was super snarky, saying things like, “Again, did you sign up under a different email address?” And “Does this email ring a bell…? I had spelled my email wrong on the initial signup but I was still getting correspondence and further charges, so they could have easily looked it up another way. After a frustrating experience and terrible customer service, I give Pubby ZERO Meow Meow Beans.

Side Note: While talking with my credit card company representative, I felt the need to explain that Pubby is not a porn site. She laughed and told me she doesn’t judge. Which makes me think that she thought it was indeed a porn site, Pubby. Yeah. 

Confessions 9/23

On the theme of reviews: It’s easy to get energy from positive reviews but it’s just as easy, if not easier, to let the bad reviews get you down. Last night, I was looking at my Goodreads author’s page and trying to utilize its resources as best as possible, it is important to make sure your info and publications are up-to-date. Goodreads is a part of Amazon so they list all my books, available and not available. For some reason, it lists my trade paperback The League of Super Groovy Crimefighters twice and both listings have a few reviews. 

Scanning. 

Scanning. 

Two one-star ratings?! No followup on what they liked and didn’t like. Just fart and get off the elevator. I’m very proud of the work I did creating, writing, and publishing a limited series. To me, one star denotes the worst of the worst which would include terrible art and god-awful writing. Say what you want about the idea and execution, the art is great. I didn’t draw it, but the artists who contributed to the cover and interior work did a fantastic job. Maybe the humor was sophomoric. Maybe he didn’t like black-and-white. Maybe he didn’t think poking fun at the themes and oddities of the 70s was very funny. Either way, one star is harsh, in my humble opinion.

I’m being sensitive, of course. The comic series never really took off the way some other Indies like TMNT or the Tick did, so I understand some just didn’t get it. That’s okay. You never know. You have to try.

I did a promotion on Bookbub for a free book giveaway for my novel Twenty-One Octobers. 100 people were selected from thousands of entrants to receive a free digital copy. I netted about ten ratings and one written review, which was nice but perhaps not “worth it” for the money I spent. It’s hard to know if the other 90 winners have read or will read the book, but as an indie writer you can only try and hope something works. Some people will read what you write and love it. Some people will read it and hate it. Some will tell you, and fewer will tell you why. That’s okay, because most people won’t read it. 

I have a friend who showed her support by buying a copy of my science fantasy book Champions of the Maelstrom. Her mother picked it up off the table and read it without knowing anything about the book. She enjoyed it despite not being a fan of the genre or even knowing me. 

You never know. 

Confessions…9/22

A continuation of my previous Confession- my reviewer gave the final book in my series, Avatars of the Maelstrom 4/5 stars! I’ve been checking every day like a I was waiting for a grade from my professor.

“Great story, keeping you guessing every page I read. Unexpected ending…I’m sure you all will enjoy reading.”

Here’s hoping all my reviews are that positive.

I haven’t written anything in a few days; I’m working on new formats for my previous publications. Large Print and Hardcovers require redoing the original covers, a task for my freelance artists. I changed computers last year and lost the writing of Twenty-One Octobers, so I had to salvage my original Word by downloading the book on Amazon and splitting it up into chapters and recreating the book using Vellum. But after a couple of day’s work, I have my digital manuscript back.

I’m also waiting on the cover for the Trilogy edition of Tragic Heroes as well as the prototype cover for sVck, the first from friend and long-time artistic go-to-guy, Michael Kelleher, the second is coming from art house 100 Covers.

Okay, back to work. Blessings on all your houses.  

Confessions of a Failed Writer-6

9/21/2021

I had a minor success yesterday. I try not to check too often, but any writer is going to look at his or her reviews. The trilogy I released a month ago is fairly long, so even if someone bought them, they might not have finished. Anyway, I noticed my first two books in the series had one five-star review each. I was cautiously optimistic.

My previous release, Twenty-One Octobers has almost ten reviews. The people who have reviewed are friends or friends of friends, and while I think they genuinely enjoyed the books, the true critic is someone who doesn’t care about your feelings. The internet can be an unforgiving hellscape and god have mercy on your should if someone paid money for something and did not enjoy it. 

“I got this book with zero expectations but good reviews. I began reading and I couldn’t put the darn book down until I finished reading cover to cover. Yes that how good it was. Looking forward to book 2.”

That feels good. For someone to have spent their money and enjoyed something I worked for years to complete, well that’s the dream. And to write a review…-sniff-

“With ups and downs like in every story is a rollercoaster of actions and twist of emotions not foreseen by far. Again is book you cannot put down. Different from the first in a good way.”

-If you’re a friend and you wrote the above review, let me know only if it was honest. Otherwise, keep the secret to yourself.

And thank you. Whoever you are.

Confessions of a Failed Writer-rebirth edition

To paraphrase Ursula Le Guin: 

“When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” 

I’d respond, “I’ve always been a writer.”

I wish I had started writing with the intention of publishing earlier in life. In the computer lab in High School (class of 1990) I would write stories of my Dungeons and Dragons characters. My friend gave me my first criticism, she said, “You need more than fight scenes.” She was right.

I always had ideas but rarely got them down on paper. I wrote a poem on my love’s lament that was published in a school journal. I submitted an idea for a role-playing game adventure. But it wasn’t until I was in a near-fatal car crash twenty-four years ago that I decided to quit my job and become a comic-book writer. But I was wrong. I should have been writing while I had that full-time job. It’s all about time management and making choices on what’s important.

Make progress every day. Pick a goal (in this case-writing) and work on it every day. Ten minutes before work. After dinner before putting in a movie, write for half an hour. After putting the kids to bed. It adds up because on the day when you have more time, you already have a foundation. Even if you don’t use what you wrote, you got it out of the way and it will lead to better things. Write in the morning. Write at night. Write when you can’t sleep. Write when all you want to do is sleep.

I have a friend (actually a couple, but I’ll merge them into one for this) who is jealous of the time I have to write. This person would love to be a writer, but just doesn’t have the time. I disagree.  Sometimes, thinking I have unlimited time can be a detriment to the process of completing a project. When I have a job, I do a lot of “writing” while I work, looking forward to the time when I can jot down my ideas. The point is, we choose how we spend our time. There’s a quote, “I always wanted to be a boxer, until I fought someone who WANTED to be a boxer.” The point is,  if you want to do something, do it. 

Don’t wait until you “have the time.” Get a grain of sand and place it where you want it. Tomorrow, add another. Someday you’ll have your castle.

Confessions of a Failed Writer-4

On a whim, I bought a new cover for a book I haven’t finished yet. I’m writing this book with my partner (relationship, not business) and an opportunity to start work on the cover came around (sale) from an art house specializing in custom covers, and I jumped on it. I have a guy I work with for a variety of projects, and I used someone different for Twenty-One Octobers, but this new novel requires a different look. The story is a paranormal romance (vampire erotica) and maybe vampire’s are played out but I think they are due for a comeback. The work in progress is a tongue-in-cheek, saucy bit of romantic X-rated stuff. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer with sex. So, Buffy the Vampire Layer, which is a thing. 

We’re working on pen names. I decided on Seaward Dracula. She’s still thinking of hers, which is funny because her maiden name is Coffin, but she doesn’t want to use that. Layna Coffin or something would be great, but also it sounds fake, even though it isn’t.

I continue to plug away at my goal of 2000 words a day, but yesterday got away from me. It was a Saturday and I didn’t feel up to writing. Which is okay, as long as I don’t let it happen two days in a row. I don’t know about you, but that’s my flaw when it comes to working out. Skip a day turns into three turns into a treadmill as a 500 dollar clothes hanger.

Anyway, back to work. Happy Sunday.

Name

 

1978

I am six-years-old. It is midnight. I am debating if I can survive jumping from the backseat of a car traveling at sixty-miles an hour onto the highway. I’m not even tall enough to see out the window. I will have to hope I get lucky.

As I contemplate the leap, I decide to question my captors hoping they will set me free or turn the car around and bring me home. “What did I do?” I ask the blonde. I try to be cold and emotionless when I say, “Where are you taking me?”

She responds with a smile so wide it shows her back teeth. Her smile is that of a wolf. “Jan-Ives, you didn’t do anything,” she says, emphasizing the word “you.” She drags it out like laundry from a washing machine. Her words are heavy, cold and wet. “Your mom just needs some time to get back on her feet. You are going to what is called a foster home.” She uses my full first name, proving that she doesn’t know me.

“My name is Jan,” I say through clenched teeth. Her smile fades and as she turns away.

I have never hated anyone before. I am six. I hate this woman.

I don’t know the man and woman in the front seat. I was never introduced, but I silently select the names Dick and Jane for them. I do not respect them, so I do not ask them their real names. I don’t care. My mother held back the tears when she told me I had to go with these people. She said I would be all right–that she would get me as soon as she could.

Alone in the backseat of the speeding car, I stare intently at the lock. It is a silver piece of metal that looks like a skinny bullet the Lone Ranger might load into his six-shooter. With no plunger to press against, the bullet hurts when it is pushed to lock the door. I am deciding if I will pull it. I am contemplating pulling it to unlock the door, open it, and jump onto Route 495.

Jane tells Dick–the driver–that the next exit is the one they should take. I know my chance of escape is growing smaller by the second. I don’t know why my mother told me to go with these people in dark suits in the middle of the night. I have school–1st grade– in the morning. She must have forgotten. I don’t understand why she would let me go. If I can get out of the car, I can get back to her. She will apologize for the mistake. Everything will be okay.

When I leap out of the car, I tuck and roll along the pavement to the grassy median strip. I execute a perfect somersault and rise agilely to my feet and begin pumping my legs for the other side of the highway. I hear the screech of brakes and the blaring of horns behind me and the inevitable crash of several vehicles. I dare not look back as I run onto the opposite highway that leads home. Cars and trucks slam on their brakes, and another pileup ensues. As my feet touch the grass that precedes the safety of the woods I hear shots ring out, and I see several bullets explode into the wood of the trees ahead.

I open my eyes as my fantasy and my journey come to an end. I decide that even if I survived the escape, I wouldn’t know where to go to get back to my mother. The car slows down and pulls into a driveway. I look out the window and see a gold Cadillac though it is too dark to see the color and I am too young to recognize the make. The only car I am capable of correctly identifying is a Pinto. I received the Matchbox version for my sixth birthday. It was my only present.

The engine turns off, and Jane turns toward me. The headrest obscures the right side of her face, and with the warmest smile she can muster she says, “Jan-Ives, we’re here. This nice family is going to take care of you.” She keeps smiling her wolf smile.

Dick opens the door. I step out and take a good look at him. He is wearing a dark suit like Jane’s, and an offensive amount of after-shave. I hold my breath as Dick puts his hand on the back of my neck. It is a loose grip, but if I decided to bolt, it could become tighter. He gently pushes me toward the front door of the largest house I have ever seen. There is an attached garage, but it is empty.–or perhaps it is too small to fit the monstrous luxury vehicle in the driveway.

Dick releases his grip on my neck, steps forward and rings the doorbell. Soon, I am welcomed by the Coutu’s. A father, a mother, two boys, and two girls, all of whom are older than me, greet me from inside what seems like a mansion. Compared to the one-room motel I was living in an hour before, it is.

The kids show me around while the parents discuss ransom with my captors. In the kitchen, Marky, the youngest boy, introduces me to the canine member of the family. I look down to see Sparky a short-haired Dachshund. I have never seen a dog of this breed before. “Go ahead, pet him,” urges Marky with a sly smile.

Butchy, the oldest boy–big and meaty like Thurgood–attempts to assuage my fears, “Don’t be afraid. Sparky won’t bite.” He is an enormous seventeen-year-old with muscles that give shape to his t-shirt, and a buzzed haircut. I doubt he knows the meaning of the word “afraid.”

I crouch down and pet Sparky’s soft fur. The little red dog turns around and chomps me on the wrist! I am shocked, but I do not pull away because he is not biting me hard. I look up at Marky with questioning eyes. All four kids are laughing with joy as Sparky begins to pull me toward a cabinet below the sink.

“Go ahead,” Marky urges. I open the cabinet to find a box of Alpo dog biscuits. I take out a small treat, and he politely takes it from my fingers. I smile and pet Sparky again. I like this dog.

“He can give paw, too,” says the oldest girl, Suzanne (though I have no doubt they call her Suzy).

The four adults have entered the kitchen. “You are going to like it here. The Coutu’s are very nice people,” says Jane. I stare at her. My hate wells up behind my eyes and is released in salty streams of despair. The men shake hands, and my two abductors leave me with my new family.

Mr. Coutu looks at me and extends his hand. I can only stare at it. He is wearing a dark green polyester suit, and I wonder if everyone got dressed up for my capture and delivery.

He is still holding out his hand as I look dumbly at it. I have never shaken anyone’s hand, let alone an adult’s. He takes his hand back and puts it in his pocket when I don’t give him paw.

Mrs. Coutu crouches down to my level and puts her hand on my head. She is wearing a green skirt and white blouse and has wavy, shoulder-length hair. She looks like the stereotypical housewife character on any number of 70s sitcoms and dramas. She strokes my long brown hair, and I suddenly feel like Sparky. I wonder where my biscuit is. “How do you say your name?” she asks me with a genuine smile. Speak! A new command.

“Jan D’Alesio,” I reply with practiced ease. I am new to the first grade, so I am used to annunciating my strange name. I drop the “Ives” purposely.

Mr. Coutu shakes his head. “Jan is a girl’s name,” he says as he runs his fingers along his thick mustache. “Let’s call you…” he ponders for a moment before finishing his thought, almost as if he were indeed thinking, “J.D.”

Now, I hate two people.

As an adult, I continue to use my name as a mental litmus test. The speed at which someone grasps it is the amount of mental lucidity to which I give them credit. All of my adopted animals retain the name they know. To change their names would be to cause them the same subtle trauma I suffered in the foster home. I wouldn’t change my name now. To me, my name is a badge of honor. It is like a tattoo or scar. Names are important. To take a name away from a person is to take away his or her power. This is true when it is done to an animal, or a six-year-old boy who has just been taken from his mother.

Just Can’t Seem to Win

What follows are excerpts from my senior thesis that I read before a small group of colleagues, friends, and family at Goddard College in Plainfield VT. The words in bold are intended to inform the audience of some of the back story and connect the dots between scenes, because I only had 45 minutes therefore I couldn’t read everything. For the record, the following story is an amalgam of truth and fiction. Some of it happened, but not in the way I’m telling it. Some of it happened exactly the way I tell it, and some of it is entirely fictionalized.

 

In 1981, my oldest brother, Domenic, was murdered by our sister’s husband. I was only nine and didn’t really know him, but I was fascinated by the way he was revered by his friends and family. This is a story that I have wanted to write since I learned such a thing was possible.

I took the personal stories of my brother (Dean in the story), my sister (Diana) and my mother (Lynn), mixed in court records, newspaper clippings and personal reflections. I stirred the mixture by connecting the dots, an imagining here, a bit of psychology there until I had the beginnings of a complete story. There were people who didn’t want this story to be told. The research, they believed, would be like disturbing a grave after thirty years. Others had their own recollections of the young man who was idolized by so many. The three family members who read the final draft of my senior thesis said I had gotten it wrong. My mother said it didn’t ring true. My brother said I was sensationalizing a family tragedy and that he wanted no part of this project.

Chapter 3-Diana

August 1975

Domenic had done his best to look parental when he got ready that morning. He pulled his long wavy hair into a ponytail, tucked his flannel shirt into his paint-spackled jeans; Even his work boots were laced and tied. He had employment and a place to live. He felt as if he were doing everything right.

Billerica Elementary looked the same as he remembered it when he went there. The small building was covered in fake red bricks, a stick-on facade that gave the illusion of craftsmanship. Diana rushed forward and pushed on the door’s silver bar, but the doors held fast. Only with her brother’s help did they yield. The hall beyond was quiet. Their footsteps echoed despite their attempt to be silent.

Soon they had reached the principal’s office. “How can I help you?” asked the secretary, a thin woman who wore a brown scarf and a heavy scowl. A metal sign on the desk proclaimed her name was Ms. Tibble.

“I’m here to register my sister for school. Fourth grade,” Domenic said with a smile that showed just a hint of his crooked teeth. He gripped Diana’s hand a little tighter.

“I see,” said Ms. Tibble. “Do you have an appointment?”

“No. Sorry. I didn’t think I needed one.”

“Wait here, please,” she said motioning to a row of metal chairs with plastic cushions. She went into the office marked “Principal”. The two sat down; the plastic cushions made matching fart sounds. They both snickered into their hands.

Dommy crossed his legs as they waited. Diana had seen her mother and her older sister Darlene sit like that, but never a man. How funny it was that a man as rough and tumble as Dommy could sit so ladylike! His hand went to the cigarette behind his ear. He removed it from its perch and hid it in his shirt pocket.

The secretary returned and escorted them to meet the principal. The plaque on the door read Mrs. Regina Sibayan. In the wood-panelled office, a well-fed woman in a purple blazer sat behind a large desk. Her glance up from the appointment blotter ended in a smile that was even bigger than the desk. After some introductions, Mrs. Sibayan said, “Tell me, Mr. D’Alesio, where are your parents? Why are you here registering Diana instead of them?” The questions were like the preparatory punches from a boxer–they sized up and primed the defender for a beating. Her eyes moved from the little girl to her brother and back again as she waited for his reply.

Domenic’s patience was wearing thin. He had no experience with bureaucracy and rarely in his life had smiling and making nice been encouraged. He wasn’t foolish, however. He did his best to be diplomatic. He said, “I have temporary custody.”

“Indeed,” she scoffed. “How old are you? You look barely old enough to be out of school, or have custody of anyone–much less a ten-year-old girl. Do you have any paperwork–from a judge?”

He patted himself down hoping that somehow he did have the necessary paperwork. He shrugged after his search yielded no documents.

“Do you have any identification? A driver’s license, perhaps?”

His reply was a glare and a clenched jaw.

The purple-clad Principal leaned over her desk, her breasts forced against it so hard they seemed like they might burst from the sides of her suit jacket. Diana bit her tongue to contain her laughter as she watched the blazer do its best to contain the lady’s breasts. The Principal said, “Young man, who told you that you had custody?”

Domenic looked at his sister with a questioning blank expression. “Mrs. Reynolds, the caseworker,” she said.

The Principal sat up straight and shook her head with a frown, “I’m sorry. Without the court-ordered paperwork indicating custody, you can’t register her for school. If you can locate it before the first week has ended, I can allow her to start classes. Or call Mrs. Reynolds and have her call me. Otherwise, one of her legal parents will have to call or come in.”

Domenic leaned his head back in frustration looking directly at the white drop-ceiling filled with tiny holes. As his eyes unfocused the hundreds of dots merged into a single black pool that dominated his vision. Why had Reynolds said he could take Diana and not given him the paperwork? He didn’t know why they were making this so difficult. All he wanted was to take care of her until–well–until he figured something else out. Forever, if he had to. He could do it. He had a job and a place to live. How hard could it be? The welfare check helped. What the hell was he going to do with her every day? She needed to be in school. He and Danny had a job with Fasciano painting; Fasciano even rented a place to them and took the rent directly out of their paychecks.

His eyes begged the woman as he said, “There’s nothing I can do?’

“Not without legal documents. What is your address and phone number?” She held a pen against a pad of notepaper ready to transcribe his response. Her smile faded as she waited.

He stood up. Without a word, he hustled Diana from the office.

“Fuck!” Domenic shouted when the double doors at the entrance of the school closed behind them. Outside, there was no one to hear his curse.

“Fuck,” Diana mumbled as she kicked a small rock. No one heard her swear as it skittered across the parking lot. She liked hearing people curse, but she never did it. ‘Fuck’ was an all-purpose word used to strengthen a sentence, and she felt powerful when she said it–just like her brother. But his strength was gone. Defeated, the walk back was slower–more of a death march than the triumphant walk home they had anticipated. There was no hurry to be anywhere at any time. The two shuffled along.

The rail vibrated warning them of oncoming danger. They stepped off the track. The train rumbled along back from its destination. This time it was full of coal; the mounds poked out of the tops of the cars slowing its return. The train too, laden with its heavy burden, seemed less anxious to reach its place of origin. Black smoke came out of a stack in short bursts.

Domenic stopped to pull out a joint–a curly little deformed thing. He lit it and inhaled before offering it to her. She looked at the marijuana cigarette and at him without comprehension. “Want a hit?” he said. She shook her head. He shrugged and let out a blast of smoke. They resumed their silent walk. Diana was angry at herself. She wanted to be like her brother, but she was too frightened to try the drug. She was afraid it would burn her mouth and throat the way she had seen others choke and sputter after taking a hit. She didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the greatest man she knew. On their solemn return, she decided she would learn to swear properly–loudly and with conviction.

She make an oath that she wouldn’t let anyone hear her swear or see her smoke until she had some practice.

 

My family was upset about what I had written. I wondered how my perception of the events could be so different from theirs. After all, I recorded the interview so there could be no confusion on my part. I didn’t ask them to elaborate, I felt if they had more to say they would. They never did.

I worked hard to make everyone shades of grey rather than strictly good and evil. Even the man who murdered our brother in a fit of revenge was once a trusted member of our family. Their father, not mine, a man who they hated for his strict, often cruel, behavior is shown as a man who loved his oldest son. I changed most of the names, but anyone who lived it knew who is whom. I characterize Dean as a young man who felt guilt for his inability to save his brother. Though the reader, and no one who knew first hand what happened, would blame him, maybe he felt I was blaming him. Lynn, the mother character, could be judged harshly. Her children live as adults, separate from her, from their father. Their reflections on that time are clouded, they no doubt feel that they were no longer kids. I see them as children living the lives of adults and attempt to show that cloudy distinction.

 

In this next story, Diana has just arrived after hitchhiking thirty miles from where she lives with her mother to her brother’s place in Billerica. She did this often. She was fourteen.

 

From behind the heavy wooden door, she could hear the notes of an acoustic guitar as it searched for a song. She smiled as she imagined her brother strumming away, with his long wavy brown hair and his intense look as he concentrated on the music. Before knocking, she paused to listen. The strings played the slow, sad notes of a song on which Domenic had been working the last time she had been there, two weeks before. Along with the music came the pungent, tangy scent of stale pot that lingered in the wood of the door. The smell permeated her nose until she could taste it.

Without knocking, she turned the knob. A single candle lit the kitchen. A large window behind the table allowed in some illumination from the single pole of the parking lot, but the kitchen was mostly dark. The lights silhouetted her brother as he sat looking ghostly at him with an acoustic guitar cradled in his hands. He looked up, and a scowl replaced his look of concentration. He shouted without raising his voice: “Diana, what the fuck!?”

She flicked the switch next to the door, and the room came alive with light. The door offered a click as she closed it. She gave her older brother a sheepish half-smile while batting her eyes. “Hey, Dommy,” she said. Her attempt at looking cute was an obvious tactic, but more often than not it worked.

He squinted against the light from above. “I told you not to come here alone,” he said as he placed his guitar against the table. “I don’t want you hangin’ around here anymore,” he said with all the sternness he could muster to his baby sister, which was far less than she had seen him aim at others. He crossed the small kitchen with a few steps, his untied boots making hollow clumping sounds that seemed angry to Diana. He enveloped her in a hug that lifted her from the puke-green linoleum. “It’s not safe,” he whispered into her ear through her long brown hair. “I should call Ma to pick you up,” he said, placing her down.

“Can’t. She’s workin’. Plus, she doesn’t have a phone.”

Dommy took the cigarette from behind his ear as he sat down at the table. Diana sat opposite him and watched him light his Marlboro. He took a deep drag and let out a wisp of smoke through his lips.

Placing the cigarette in the ashtray, he picked up the guitar. “Do you know why she took Jan to live in New Hampshire?” He asked about their kid brother, barely eight years old.

She shook her head, even though she knew all too well.

He looked unblinking into her brown eyes and said, “Because she didn’t want him to turn out like us.”

“I love it here,” she said sweeping loose ashes off the table with one hand and into the other.  She dumped the contents into the ashtray. She stood and looked around for a trash bucket. Finding none, she brought the tray into the bathroom, flushing it down the toilet.

When she returned, he said, “I love it too. But it fuckin’ sucks. Don’t you get it? Every night there’s police cars. They don’t even come half the time when they’re called. When they do, they take their sweet-ass time. Something’s always happening. People are always yelling and screaming. They buy and sell drugs in the parking lot next to where I live. I’m not just talkin’ pot; I mean real shit. Heroin. Coke.” He took another drag. After letting the smoke out of the side of his mouth, aiming it away from her, he said, “Not that anyone here can afford to do drugs. There’re no jobs. People hang out all fuckin’ day. This place is a shit hole. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”

Diana’s face was blank. She said, “What if Jenny got pregnant? Would you leave The North?”

“Don’t call it that. And yeah. I wouldn’t want to raise my kid here. There ain’t nothin’ for anyone in Billerica.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know yet, but I gotta get out of here.”

“Would you want a boy?” she said smiling.

“Why are you on me about this?” he said. “I don’t know how to raise a girl. I already proved that when I took care of you.” They shared a smile. “I don’t know how to raise a boy, either. I guess I’d just do everything the opposite of what our father did.”

Her lips snapped down covering her teeth. She looked at the table searching for more ashes. “Are you and Jenny gonna get married?”

A cough struck Dommy’s throat, and it was a few moments before he could speak again. When he caught his breath, he said, “I don’t have a way to bring you home, and I shouldn’t let you stay here…but I have to. Maybe in the morning Ricky can bring you home.”

She felt as if everything was changing. Her few friends were getting older. Some were having children of their own. Even her boyfriend lived in Billerica. She wanted to absorb every moment before they were gone forever. Most of all she wanted to be with her brother. Just being around him made her feel important. He was the center of their friends and family, of the whole town. She felt like the little sister of a rock star. She was Dommy’s little sister which made people smile and said “hi.” Sometimes they asked if she needed anything. People treated her better–with respect.

Dommy began to play his guitar. He played the same song he was playing when she arrived, but this time he added lyrics.

 

Shoulda known better

And it took me all day to figure out a reason why

Why my pretty little baby girl had to say goodbye

My precious little baby girl had to go away

Shoulda known better

Than to ever let her get away

Than to ever ever ever ever ever ever

Let her get away

Oh Lord, I just can’t seem to win

In this next scene we see the difficult life that Lynn lives. A single mother living with her two youngest, she is forced to take in a border. This scene shows the flexible nature of the family friend Ricky, a man whose size and violence has benefits if he was on you side.

Chapter 5-Lynn

July 1974

“Jeep, you have to go.”

Lynn stood tall as she commanded the man who rented a room in her house. Renting to him was likely a violation of her lease–if she had one. He was short but lean and muscular with blonde hair. Manual labor and hard drinking had given him a firm, yet aged, physique.

“Now,” she said.

Jeep scoffed, “I’m not going anywhere, Lynn. I’m paid up through the end of the week,” he said before opening the refrigerator.

“Diana told me what happened,” she said.

Diana was only eight, with long brown hair like her mother. She shared a room with her one-year-old brother, but he was not a reliable witness.

Jeep took a long swig of beer. He wiped the foam from his lips with the back of his hand. Smirking, he said, “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of, but I’m not going anywhere.” He chugged the remaining liquid and placed the empty beer can on the table.

Lynn ran her fingers through the thin brown wires that extended from her scalp. She had just turned forty and right on schedule her hair had started to dry and gray. In frustration, she grabbed a thick handful and pulled. It wasn’t hard or sudden enough to rip any out, but the pain gave her some sense of satisfaction. It helped her focus.

“I don’t want you getting any ideas. I have a reputation…” Jeep said.

Diana appeared in the kitchen. Like a specter, the little girl did not move. Faced with the confrontation before her, she was frozen in time. Her mother and the tenant faced each other in silence while Diana lingered.

The front door swung open, slicing the room in half with the sudden force. The crash of it hitting the wall caused Diana to jump. Barely squeezing through the doorway was a lumbering behemoth. Ricky stomped into the room. The menace of the man did not come from his height, but his girth. Ricky wasn’t fat, but he was big–enormous! When he moved, he did so with the unstoppable force of a Mack truck. His arms had mass and strength from lifting weights often. His neck was thick, so thick one could barely see where it ended and his cement block of a head began. No one in their right mind would look sideways at the brute, let alone challenge him.

“Diana, go upstairs and see Jan,” said Lynn. The girl didn’t move. Her eyes were frozen open. Though she was scared, her face flirted with a smile. The violence had an electric effect on her. It hurt, but the sensation was exciting.

Behind Ricky, looking insignificant, was Domenic wearing a Paddy cap and blue coveralls. The door remained open. The empty beer can fell to the floor. No one noticed the can. All eyes were drawn to Ricky.

“Ma, you okay?” said Domenic. She nodded and mumbled, “I want Jeep to leave. He…Diana…”

Domenic licked his lips and clenched his fists.

“I didn’t do anything.” Jeep had a surge of strength spawned by a panic that gave his words false courage. “And I’m paid through the end of the week.”

His bravado couldn’t equal Ricky’s gravity. Diana smiled in anticipation of the confrontation. Surging forward, Ricky’s meaty hand latched onto Jeep’s scalp. Lynn gasped as his gargantuan paw wrapped around the man’s skull. He hoisted him out of his seat, banging him into the hanging light above the table. He pushed his beefy red face close enough that the younger man could smell his breath. It stank of cigarettes. The lamp swung back and forth casting shadows that ran wild through the kitchen. “Ten minutes. Pack your shit. You’re gone. Call the cops and you’re dead.”

Dommy was smiling as Ricky let his victim go. Jeep passed Diana, who wore her smirk like armor. Lynn poured tea. They sat down and drank, the hot beverage burning their mouths. They listened to her former tenant bang items and stomp around upstairs as he packed up his life.

“Thanks for coming so quickly.” She hugged Dommy as Ricky sunk into Jeep’s chair. It groaned in protest of his bulk, but it held. Ricky looked at his watch and said with a smile, “Hey, Lynn. Ya got anything to eat?”

Ricky gave Jeep ten minutes. He was gone in five.

Dommy and Ricky did construction. This story takes place during a job in Maine.

 

Chapter 9-Domenic

September 1981                                                 

I spent all day doing nothing–riding in a truck–and somehow they got dirty again, Domenic thought as he glared at his fingertips. The intermittent lights of the city shone through the windows, flashing on his dirty hands.

He rode in the front seat while Ricky drove; Dommy didn’t have a license, but that didn’t stop him from sometimes sharing the responsibility of driving. In the back of the van, hunched in the cargo area were Domenic’s brother Danny, Danny’s friend Dave, and little RJ. The five were returning to their motel after having dinner at Captain Jack’s Lobster Shack, one of the many seafood restaurants in Saco, Maine.

Danny squatted on his haunches, balancing himself as Ricky made sharp turns and rapid stops and starts. “Good meal, huh Dommy? I love fish-n-chips, but they never give you enough tartar sauce,” he said.

Domenic stopped looking at his hands and nodded. “I thought the waitress was hot,” he said smiling at Danny. “RJ, did you get enough to eat?” he asked the boy who had his back to the wall of the van. Ricky Junior mumbled his response. “Yeah, it was good.”

“He fuckin’ better have! The kid’s plate cost me ten bucks,” Ricky said without a smile. Domenic looked at Ricky and thought, Yeah, he eats like his old man. He remembered his own father and what a struggle it had been to get quality food. Years and years of plain spaghetti and PB&J, while his father, and a woman who wasn’t his mother, ate Chinese food and other take-out meals. He and the other kids didn’t starve, but they were second-class compared to the two adults–or her fuckin’ kids. He didn’t care. He ate their leftovers. Fuck them.

“Hey, pass me a joint,” said Ricky with a nod of his head in the direction of the glove compartment.

Within the glove box, a zip-lock baggie contained a half-dozen rolled joints and some loose seeds and stems. He gave a joint to Ricky and returned the bag. As Ricky lit the marijuana cigarette with the in-dash lighter, Domenic said, “Hey, maybe you should wait ‘til we get back to the motel.” Domenic knew that Ricky already had four beers at the restaurant; he was a big guy, but why risk it?

Ricky stopped at a red light by jamming his foot on the brake. Domenic heard someone tumble to the floor of the cargo area. With the joint sticking out of his mouth, Ricky turned to Domenic and said, “Shut up Dommy. When you drive, you can not smoke a joint.” His face was red like a peeled tomato, and Domenic knew better than to push him when he was like this.

A horn blared behind them. Both men looked up to see a green light. The car honked again. Domenic watched Ricky’s anger change targets from him to the driver of the car behind them. Shit, Domenic thought as Ricky looked furiously into the side mirror. Ricky’s hand went to the door handle. Domenic knew what was about to happen. He had heard from Dean of the incident in which Ricky had savagely beaten an old man who had cut him off. He also knew the brute had ripped Diana’s boyfriend from his car by the kid’s hair. Dommy wasn’t afraid of him, but he was afraid of what the man could do.

“Go!”

Domenic’s shout brought the big man out of his rage long enough for him to forget the car and jump on the gas. The van roared through the intersection. Ricky took a hit off his joint, turned to Domenic and said, “Don’t fuckin’ yell at me.”

Domenic said, “You were about to go after that guy.”

Ricky glanced into the rear view mirror. “Fuck,” he said.

The blue and white lights halted their conversation. Ricky kept driving. He leaned over Dommy, reaching into the glove box. He withdrew the transparent bag of marijuana, turned to the cargo area and put it in Dave’s hand. “Hide this,” he said. Without objection, Dave stuffed the bag into his pants.

“Pull over,” Domenic said.

“I am. Fuck you!” Ricky steered the van off the road. He extinguished the lit join on his tongue before swallowing it.

The blue lights kept flashing. The five waited. A slim officer walked around the vehicle. Domenic could see him in the side mirror looking for anything out of the ordinary, a reason he could write a ticket. The cop took his time checking the windows; he scrutinized the bumper, the license plates, and the inspection sticker before coming to a stop slightly behind the driver’s side window. “License and registration,” he said. Ricky had them ready. He handed them off and started to roll up the window, but the cop put out his gloved hand. Ricky stopped turning the handle. The cop sniffed the air. “Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?”

“Nope.”

“You took some time at the green light back there. Have you been drinking?”

“I had one at the restaurant.”

Dumbass! You always lie and say you haven’t had a drop, Dommy thought.

“Please step out of the vehicle.”

Another cruiser pulled in behind them. A second officer joined them. They put Ricky through a standard DWI investigation–walk a straight line, hands on your nose. Four beers and a joint barely registered with the giant. “Stand over here,” the second cop directed Ricky to the side.

A third squad car arrived. The pigs were ready for trouble.

“I detected the scent of marijuana. We will need to search the vehicle,” said the first cop to Ricky. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me before we look? Will I find any weapons or illegal paraphernalia? Best to tell me now. I don’t like surprises.”

“No,” said Ricky with a glance at Dave.

The cops searched the van and questioned the men, but not the minors–Dave and RJ. Domenic had experience talking to cops; he looked them in the eye and answered their questions with confidence. No, he hadn’t been drinking (he didn’t drink). No, he hadn’t smoked any weed this evening (he hadn’t). No, he had not seen anyone smoke pot in the van tonight.

“Please lift your shirt,” the second cop said to Dave. The sixteen-year-old did as he was told. In his waistband was the baggie full of joints. The cop slammed him against the van and cuffed him. Domenic glared at Ricky with sharp eyes. He pulled the man aside and said through clenched teeth, “You’re gonna let him take the rap for you?!”

Ricky put his paw on Domenic’s shoulder and pulled him close, “Keep your fuckin’ mouth shut, Dommy,” he said in a whisper. “You were gonna smoke some, too. He’s a minor. They won’t do anything to him.”

Domenic knocked Ricky’s hand away and pushed him halfway into the road. Both men began to shove one another. Despite Ricky’s size, Domenic’s passion and agility allowed him to hold his own against the larger man.

“You better break that up, or they’re both going to jail,” the third cop said to Danny. Only a year younger than Domenic, Danny was no less brave. He inserted himself between the two. “Knock it off!” he shouted.  The two fighters were still huffing and puffing when they turned away from each other.

Minutes later, the blue lights faded into the night as the cop cars brought Dave back to the station. “What happened?” said little RJ to his father. Ricky stomped his way back to the van. The remaining three were barely inside before he stomped on the gas and roared into the night.  

Domenic beats Ricky. Badly. In front of the big man’s son. This does not sit well with him. He gets his brother Ron and a shotgun and go to Domenic’s apartment to get the power back.                                                        

October 17, 1981

Every night for two weeks before he fell asleep, Dean lay in his bed dreading this moment. The roar of a shotgun blast preceded screams and shouts. He remained in his bed, denying what he knew was happening. He wished he were wrong. He wished Dommy had listened to him. He wished he had done something else to help, but he didn’t know what.

He wished he were dreaming.

Time leaped forward. Dean was outside Dommy’s adjacent apartment without any concept of having traversed the distance. He watched a man with a shotgun, a man he knew, but could not place, entering his brother’s home. Glass from the window lie in pieces on the green linoleum of the kitchen floor. The splintered wooden window frame now wrapped around an empty hole. The spot where he had days earlier warned his brother was shattered. There would be no way to bring back the place where he and his big brother had smoked pot, played cards, sung songs, and strummed guitar. It was gone forever.

Through the hole, he saw Domenic barreling down the stairs. His brother was not fleeing the danger–he was racing straight into it!

Around the corner, at the doorway, Dean watched Domenic attack the man with unmatched ferocity. He now recognized the man as Ron, Ricky’s younger brother. He was built like a tank! Domenic beat Ron with a baseball bat that he wielded like a samurai sword, knocking aside the shotgun and smashing his opponent in the shoulder and head with broad swipes. After the assault, his victim was still conscious, but dazed. Blood was splashed over his head and body. It ran in rivers of red.

Dean was struck by the scene of violence before him. He had seen fights before–on tv, from his father, between his brothers, and on the streets. Those battles were just skirmishes compared to the ferocity of the hostility before him. He knew his brother could get angry, but he had never seen him fight for his life.  

Time, which had raced earlier, now slowed to a crawl. The sheer savagery of his brother overtook him and froze him in place. Ron slipped on his blood as he tried to backpedal out the door. The shotgun, still steaming from its blast, lay on the ground next to Ron. “Dean! Get the gun!” Dommy’s frantic command hit the teenage boy like a flamethrower and unfroze him. As he lunged for the weapon, he was knocked into the air, propelled across the kitchen by the errant arm of Ricky charging into the room. Dean flew through the air. before he crashed through the kitchen table, Ricky picked up the gun and aimed it at Domenic. Time caught up to Dean; in an instant, he was groaning and struggling to get out of the ruins of the wooden table.

Domenic stopped. “Get on your knees,” said Ricky. Without objection, he dropped down  placing his knuckles flat against the linoleum. Air rushed into his nose and came out his mouth in angry blasts. Ricky smiled a crooked toothy grin. He raised the gun so that it pointed at the plastic crucifix above the stove. The shotgun erupted spraying fragments in a controlled stream; Domenic did not flinch as the blast sprayed over his head. Jesus and the crucifix disintegrated against the destructive force of the gun’s pellets.

“Ricky, c’mon, man,” Dean said as he stood up from the wreckage of the table. Still dazed from the impact, he found the strength to say, “You guys can talk it out. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

Ricky pulled the gun away from Domenic and aimed it at the teenager. He said, “Mind your own fuckin’ business, Dean.”

In the instant Ricky changed targets Domenic attacked. He covered a half-dozen steps in a single leap. The gun clattered to the floor as he unleashed an onslaught of punches against Ricky. The big man didn’t have an instant to mount a counterattack. All he could do was try to fend off the hail of strikes. Desperate to get some distance from the relentless assault, he stumbled from the kitchen into the hallway and out into the parking lot. Domenic did not allow him a moment of reprieve. He pursued the fleeing man into the night.

Alone in the kitchen, Dean and Ron stared dumbly at each other. Both were dizzy and confused. Ron said, “I just…I just want to go home.” He wasn’t crying, but tears threatened to mix with the blood on his face. Dean picked up the shotgun from the blood-stained lime-green linoleum. He looked into the battered eyes of the man who came to his brother’s home with a deadly weapon. Dean stared at the gun. It seemed like an alien item in his hands. He aimed it at Ron’s head and rested his finger on the still-warm trigger. His eyes burrowed deep into Ron’s. He saw only a frightened man, his face twisted in fear and confusion, perhaps one who would follow his brother anywhere. “I just wanna go home,” the man said again. Dean saw himself in those eyes. He understood him.

He made a mistake he would regret the rest of his life.  

He handed the gun back.

Ricky gets the gun from his brother and kills Domenic, but for purposes of the presentation I skip over the details of the murder. The men are caught and the next scene is the end of a short trial.

July 1, 1982   

“Dean, you’ll never guess what happened!” Diana said, running from the courthouse. Dean sat on the steps smoking a cigarette. Diana was a young mother, but she was still a kid. Even after the judge had just told her that she was not to repeat what happened in court, she immediately opened her big mouth.

“Diana, shut up,” Dean said, as he looked around for witnesses to her contempt.  

They were called back. The jury had reached a verdict.                     

After they shuffled inside, the judge asked if the jury had reached a decision. This was it! Dean squeezed his little sister’s hands. Finally, there would be justice. They could move on with their lives.

“On the charge of manslaughter the jury finds Richard Sullivan guilty .”

There was a noticeable gasp from the crowd that prompted a gavel banging from the judge. He could hear a woman sobbing. He knew it was Darlene. He has heard her cry before, but never with so much sorrow. He doubted she cried this much when she found out her brother was dead.

“We the jury find Ronald Sullivan not guilty.”

‘Not guilty?’

The crowd murmured their thoughts to one another. The judge ordered Ron to be immediately released, following some paperwork. He ordered Ricky remanded to custody.

Dean stared at nothing, his face aghast, drained of color. Diana’s eyes opened wide. Her face thrust toward Dean’s. She said, “Manslaugter and innocent? That’s it? They killed Dommy. It’s over?” She squeezed his hand with all the might she could muster. “We can have a retrial or something, right?” Her eyes made demands of his. They burrowed into him.

Dean placed his other hand across hers. He didn’t look at her as he said, “Nope. That’s it. Ron goes home. Ricky will get sentenced later. Probably spend a few years in jail.” He started to stand, but she held. She said, “Ricky gets a few years in jail and Ron gets to go home? Fuck!” The familiar, yet unpracticed, word came out before she could stop herself, a swear Domenic would never hear.