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.
I am seeking readers for my unreleased novel Tragic Heroes. Below is the first chapter. The book is modern fantasy and asks its characters what they will do with godlike power. I hope you enjoy it, but I want to get as honest of a review as I can. What characters did you like and why? What characters didn’t you like? Would you have liked to see more or less of a particular subplot or character? Did you not understand a particular segment? Feel free to comment on anything that you notice. You might find it best to keep notes of particular passages to which you are referring. While I’m not concerned about typos and other such errors, if you notice something and want to comment please be specific so I can address such issues.
Your comments are all helpful and will help create a better final product. I don’t need you to write a deep analysis of the work, just note what you notice. I hope this will be a fun process.
Please contact me if you’re willing to read and review the 300 page novel. It is available as a Word doc and reads great on a Kindle.
Volume 1- Sparks
Tragic Hero- Noun- a great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat: Oedipus, the classic tragic hero.
Chapter One: The Soothsayer
Hannah’s nightmare began with the slash of a whip across her bare back. Wielding the cruel weapon that bit hungrily into her soft flesh was a mechanized woman, part machine part human, entirely without emotion. Before her, a man stood next to an antique television set. Again the whip cut into her already opened skin. She screamed, a shrieking wail. The man, dressed in a formal suit with a white goatee, described what appeared on the t.v.—invasions, worldwide financial collapse, and nuclear war. She begged the woman, al Shiva was her name, for mercy. CRACK! Another lash tore open her already scoured back. The television revealed images—fantastical people acting out violent scenes. A man glowed with white hot energy, so hot that it melted everything around him, his energy pouring into a young black man. A beautiful winged woman soared from the clouds carrying a sword of pure flame. Emanating from the angel, Hannah felt the presence of God .
She tensed in anticipation of another slash of the whip, but it never came. There was no mechanical woman, no television bombarding her with chaos and violence. She was awake, but she could still feel the lingering painful twinge of the whip.
Twisting to look at her back in the full-length mirror on her bedroom door, the eleven-year-old girl hoisted her night dress to see there was no wound. It had felt so real. She could still feel the pain, the terror. Her head swam in a thick stew of painful memories. In the dream, she knew the names of the powerful figures, some she felt she knew personally, but the details were fading upon waking, leaving only their strange appearances. Confusion and fatigue were anchors weighing down her body and mind. Never in her short life had she had such a vivid dream.
She moved down the wooden staircase, her hand sliding along the worn banister. Still in a dream state, she saw the stairs change, transforming into a massive sweeping marble staircase before her eyes. She blinked and the monumental stairs narrowed becoming wood again.
Still in a daze, she shuffled through her family’s small stone house. The combined snores of her aunt and uncle rumbled through their bedroom door. As she tiptoed down the stairs, they creaked, but not louder than the grumbling and rumbling coming from her aunt and uncle’s room.
Though it was only two stories and had no moat, she had always thought of the house as a castle. It was located close to a group of Scottish lakes known as the Fairy Lochs. She enjoyed exploring the lake shores and adjacent woods alone. Born in Greece to an English mother, the red-haired lass thought of herself as Scottish. The modest house had been her family home for almost her entire life. In stressful moments like these, she liked to imagine she was an elf in a mystical realm.
Stepping out the back door, she breathed in the fresh early-morning air. It was cool and damp with a slight breeze. A few fluffy white clouds sailed slowly on a sea of blue, as the sun ascended, moving slowly on its own schedule. She could smell the musty lake less than a mile away.
She felt the need to clear her mind of the terrible dream. Still in her nightgown, she set out for the lake —the fresh air and clear cold water might cleanse her mental wounds.
Though the morning was perfect, the forecast called for increasing heat throughout the day and storms as evening progressed.
On the aged stone wall, her left hand rested a half a centimeter from his right; close but not touching. Never touching. A tiny line extended out from the crease where her thumb ended and her hand began. The line broke into two. Each smaller line ended not far from the branch.
He noticed one of her red nails had a slight chip near the tip. Her ring finger. “My husband got a promotion,” she said, her voice struggling to sound happy. “We’re moving to California.”
His hand recoiled into itself like a dying spider. Dragging his fingers across the stone wall until it formed a fist. Soon swelled red with blood. “That’s great. Really great. Congrats to Jim.” His hand relaxed. The blood drained away. “When do you leave?”
“We fly out tomorrow,” she said, as her hand strayed to her ear, pulling a stray piece of hair back into place. “Movers will bring our things, later.”
“I’ll miss you.” He rubbed the heel of his hand against his itchy eye.
She turned to accuse him. “Will you?”
“Of course.” His hand finished rubbing to return to resting next to hers. “Are you happy?”
“California is great.”
“So they say. Do you have to go?”
She scoffed. “And do what, stay here? What would I do?”
“You have family. A brother. Your mum.”
“I can’t stay.” She placed her hand on top of his. “Take care of yourself.” She held it there for a moment. Seconds turned to a minute that turned into a million years, before she pressed firmly down on his hand with her own, stood, and walked away without another word.
He sat there for another million years watching the space where her hand used to lay.
“ABC news is predicting, with 38% of the polls reporting, that Ronald D. Crampton of the Control Alt Delete party is the winner of the 2020 election.”
That was the last thing that Jim remembered. He had been in a coma since that fateful evening. He didn’t remember drinking all night in the campus’s media room with a hundred other Boonie supporters, hoping against hope that, like the 2000 elections, the news had called the results too early.
Stan Boonie was as close as a messiah to him and the majority of students attending the Vermont liberal arts college—emphasis on the liberal—that Stan Boonie had attended. He had promised to tax the rich, make healthcare and college education free for everyone who made less than six figures. He even promised to refund money previously spent on healthcare and college. Companies would have to provide six weeks paid vacation for starting employees, a twenty-five-hour work week, thirty paid sick days, and six months paid maternity and paternity, and grand paternity leave. The man was scandal free: he had been married to his wife for sixty-two years and he no longer had sex with his own wife, let alone anyone else’s. Creating a democratic-socialist utopia was the eighty-year-old career politician’s only desire.
Jim wouldn’t remember drunkenly staggering back to his dorm, climbing to the roof and jumping four stories to the paved part of the quad below. Sixteen other Boonieites would also commit suicide that night rather than live in a Crampton-led nation.
Jim was the only one who survived.
Years later, he stirred in his hospital bed, letting out a little moan. The nurse at the foot of his bed, checking off items on her clipboard did not look up. She was accustomed to his little mewlings and movements.
“What year is it?”
The nurse dropped the clipboard. Jim was sitting up in his bed, monitors and food intake tubes attached to his arm and stomach respectively. She struggled with the desire to shout for a doctor or to run from the room to summon an expert, but there she stood. He repeated the question.
She said, “It is November 7, 2036.” He fell back on the bed. The nurse looked to the door but made no movement for fear of breaking the moment like a soap bubble. “Who is President?” he asked staring at the ceiling.
She swallowed hard. She rubbed her itchy eye and took a deep breath.
“Who is the President?”
She exhaled. “President Crampton.” She watched his pale face turn whiter. “He is about to be elected for his sixth consecutive term. Pollsters expect he will be re-elected with 99% of the vote.”
The electric hum of the overhead lights had once induced headaches, but after a year, the steady drone had a hypnotic effect on the nineteen-year-old High School dropout. The bright lights illuminated everything in the convenience store; so bright that the recently expired Oreos no longer cast shadows.
Xander was beyond bored. His wasn’t sure when his boredom had achieved epic level, but he was sure it was around the tenth hour of his twelve-hour shift at the Gulp-N-Pump. The convenience store /slash/ gas station was open twenty-four hours, but Xander had yet to understand why. He could count the number of customers he had after midnight on his dick. The counter was the only thing keeping his fatigued legs from giving out. He struggled with the urge to close his eyes for a little nap. The moment he closed his eyes would be the exact second that Old Man Ferguson would walk in and fire his lazy ass.
There was plenty that he could be doing to keep busy. The milk case needed purging of out of date gallons, many of the tight aisles of snack cakes required dusting, and as much as he wanted to unplug the video game Klingons from Beyond Uranus—Ferguson wouldn’t let him. It ate every fourth quarter, but the boss didn’t care. “If someone get really pissed, refund their quarter,” he instructed Xander. Despite all the things he should be doing, he couldn’t find the motivation to do anything.
As his heavy lids drooped, a flash of light demanded his attention. The glass wall that gave a perfect view of the twelve gas pumps lit up with white light. The sudden illumination was so bright that everything disappeared. Thinking that the pumps had exploded, Xander ducked behind the wooden counter. When his vision returned, he popped up to inspect the damage, but to his disappointment there was none. The pumps were unexploded, as was the glass of the window wall.
He walked over and pressed his hands against the window. He peered into the darkness beyond the electric lights of the gas station hoping to spot the cause of the brief display.The forest beyond the road was dark, but Xander thought he saw a faint pink glow emanating from the woods, but his eyes might have been playing tricks on him. He looked from the forest to the stars hoping, praying, for something to save him from the mind-numbing boredom of the Gulp-N-Pump.
The chime above the door rang announcing a customer had arrived. Xander woke from his prayers, turning to get a look at the late-night customer. Whoever it was, they didn’t have a car.
What he saw caused his dry lips and throat to begin to salivate, his palms to begin to sweat, and his sudden throbbing erection to threaten to explode from his Wranglers. She was sex forced into a plastic costume that was two sizes too small. She was a tube of toothpaste squeezed at the middle, threatening to burst at the top and bottom. Long black boots stretched to the mid point of her thighs, at which point her furry flesh took over for a few inches before reverting to the pleather shorts that barely covered her legs. All that ended in a perfect upside-down V. And if her body wasn’t hot enough to turn on the sprinkler system, her face was positively divine. Her round eyes had no lashes and instead of white eyes with blue, green or brown circles around black pupils, she had yellowish green eyes surrounding oblong pupils of pure black. Her nose was pert and came to a delicate point. Her mouth had no lips, but it was beautiful nonetheless. To complete the catlike features, she had four white whiskers extending from the sides of her mouth. “Out of this world,” he mumbled.
She spun to face him, her body in mid crouch caught between fight and flight. Her fingers spread out, he could see each of her delicate digits ended in razor sharp claws. “Hey, pretty mama. I ain’t gonna hurt you,” he said in calming tones with his palms extended.
She said something to him; it was harsh and sudden and like no language he had ever heard. She said is again, and began to back out of the door. “No, wait!” he said, louder than he intended. “Please don’t go.”
She waited there in the open doorway, her whiskers quivering, her body tense. Her pointed ears changed position and she tilted her head listening. Half turning away from him, she sniffed the air. Xander took the opportunity to gaze adoringly at her plump, yet firm, haunches. Her taut legs went from slender ankles and calves to powerful thighs to rounded buttocks that reminded him of two perfect Snowballs with tight cellophane wrapping.
Without warning the cat lady spun and ran straight at him! She put one hand on his shoulder and put her face close to his. She said something that sounded like a question. He jumped back when he saw she was holding a small gun. “Hey lady, I don’t want no trouble,” he said with his palms out in surrender. “No trouble. Me Xander,” he said touching himself deliberately. “Xander.”
She held the gun out to him, trying to put it in his hands. He tried to refuse, but she pleaded with enough desperation to rekindle his pulsing boner. When he took the weapon from her she pointed to the counter, saying what sounded like, “Dib shew! Dib shew!”
Crouching behind the point of sale display, Xander looked at the tiny pistol. It was made of black plastic and the trigger had no guard. He waited there, holding it in two hands, afraid to accidentally touch it and set it off. At this point, a slight breeze might cause it to explode.
The cat lady said, “Bee shin fooz.” Without moving, he said, “I’m ready.”
The door chime rang and several sets of heavy boots clomped into the store. He could hear the intruders breathing, the sound was loud and mechanical like a scuba tank or a generator. An electronic voice said, “Bezhaw neew enz, Spece Pziey!”
“Zander, felt!” she shouted. Without contemplating what he was doing, he sprung to his feet and began firing at the figures in black armor. Three blasts of green energy slammed into them, in turn, dropping them where they stood.
The cat woman shrieked with joy, jumping into the air and clapping. “Gud nirf, Zander!”
Aghast, Xander walked around the counter and examined his handy work. Each of the black-garbed aliens had red insignias on their shoulders that looked, to Xander, like military markings. “Shit, did I just shoot some space cops?”
His doubts faded and his manhood enlarged as the cat lady pressed herself against his side in a warm embrace. He turned and said, “What do I call you?” She grabbed his hand and began to urge him toward the door. “Xander,” he said pointing at himself with the still-hot laser pistol. “Xander…” he pointed the gun at her. “And you are?”
She put her other hand on her breast as she pulled him through the door. “Me neyet, Spece Pziey!”
“Space Pussy?” he said, as she pulled him toward the forest. She nodded enthusiastically. “That’s perfect.”
Based on the song Space Pussy performed by the Amazing Cherubs
She was a little cat from another place/ She had a fine feelin’ and a feline face/ I never felt so out of place/ Since she came down from outer space/ Space Pussy! Space Pussy!/ Puss in boots- space girl- in cahoots with another world/ I was so knocked on my face/ When she came down from outer space/ From the other side of the sun/ Brought up to get down/ In orbit from dusk ’til dawn/ Space pussy- you’re the one!/ Space Pussy! Space Pussy!
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
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.
Warning-You already know what I’m about to say, but I feel like saying it anyway.
Have you ever believed something but suddenly you could put it together in a sentence or paragraph? Stay with me, please. Politicians don’t necessarily have beliefs (aside from Bernie) but reflect a group of people’s beliefs in order to get elected. It’s backward, but it’s the truth. Trump is popular mostly among white men without a college degree who live in southern states (the states you’d expect to be full of white guys who are angry about immigrants or affirmative action). If Trump appeals to you because he “Says it like it is”, you are saying “He is hateful in a way that society doesn’t allow me to be”. The more outrageous he is the more he fits the narrative of the angry white guy.
(This is where the obligatory connection to Hitler would go, but you’re a smart reader, you already know that)
That’s not to say there aren’t uneducated white women who feel the same, or white people with college degrees who think Trump is the future of America. In both colleges I went to there is a side focus on diversity education. Regardless of what you study, it’s part of the college experience. I didn’t need that exposure to be a well-rounded person with diverse opinions, but it helped as I’m sure the education helps students without such exposure.
What am I saying? Just because you didn’t go to college doesn’t mean you’re a dummy. Don’t vote for hate.
He determined he was a Spark, one of the dozens of super-powered individuals who had appeared all over the globe in the past month, but his power was pheromones. He noticed a peculiar odor his skin gave off. It wasn’t offensive or pleasant. It was sweet but also it reminded him of patchouli–from his hippy college days. The scent triggered some sort of primal mating instinct of anyone who could smell it–everyone within fifty feet–unless it was a windy day. He remembered having to run ten blocks to avoid a horny mob on a particularly breezy afternoon.
This power, this dream of every man who had ever seen a pornographic movie and wished women would want to fuck them the moment she laid eyes on him, had ruined his life. Terry had taken to the woods on northern Canada. He had found a currently unused hunting lodge and was waiting for death. The AIDS (and the dozen other STDS he had) were certainly going to kill him, especially since he couldn’t afford or see a doctor to get the life-saving medicines he needed. At least he would live his final days alone and in peace. The cabin had no electricity or wi-fi, so he had only a stack of books to read and a typewriter to write the great American novel he always wanted to write.
He was at peace.
Then he saw it. A bear walked by the window. It just strolled by, but it was looking at him. It paced back still eyeing him. He ran to the back of the one-room cabin and grabbed the shotgun that came with the unused cabin. Out the back window, he saw another bear. Two. A third.
Scratch, scratch. The sound of claws on the door. Then the door and the front of the house creaked and buckled a bit. He imagined the big black bear testing the portal. It was only a matter of time before it yielded.
“This is how it ends,” Terry thought. “Fucked to death by bears.”
It started with a cat–an orange boy with a girl’s name–Holly.
“We’re ready to go,” my mother said, calling an end to my break. Leaning against our U-Haul I had been slurping soda from a can while watching the semi-animation of the Heffner’s gas station sign. It had two positions–that of a glowing red mule standing and that of the mule with its legs thrust out behind it with the slogan “Heffner’s It kicks!” lit up below. I dropped the soda can in a trash barrel and looked around for Holly, who I hoped had finished his pee break.
We were on our way to move in with my brother Danny in Lowell though he and my oldest brother Domenic weren’t with us. Danny had a big apartment that we could all share–everyone except our oldest sister Darlene who was already married with several kids. Her husband Ricky was a mountain of a man–he would have been a great help with the move.
I spotted Holly sniffing an island of grass ignoring the cars that moved around the island. The island had a small tree, and Holly stared at a grey squirrel perched at the top. As an outdoor cat, Holly would play with squirrels. My mother would scold him. “Holly, you’re going to get hurt chasing those squirrels.” Sure enough, he came home one day with a chunk taken out of his tail. We should have taken him to the vet, but vet bills were not in the budget for my mother–she was raising me alone with her salary from working in Leighton’s, a small bakery in Newburyport. We kept Holly’s tail as clean as possible, and eventually it healed. He wasn’t neutered, nor did he wear a flea collar or name tag. Every day my mother would walk me to daycare before going to work at the bakery. Holly would follow us, and when I went inside, he was off on whatever adventures a handsome unfixed tomcat would get himself into. One morning a particularly blustery storm was unleashing its force on the seaside town. The gusts blew our umbrella inside out several times, and the rain streaked from the sky stinging us with sharp drops. We looked behind us, and Holly had disappeared–a victim of the storm. Days went by, and Holly did not return. We feared the worst, but he had always returned in the past, so we had hope. At daycare a few days later, one of the teachers called out to the class of five and six-year-olds if anyone knew whose cat had appeared at the door. “That’s my cat! That’s Holly,” I shouted with joy. My mother worked the dayshift at the bakery, so Holly spent the day with the class. I asked, but he wouldn’t tell me about his exciting adventure following his kidnapping by the storm.
(One might think my mother had a penchant for giving boys girls names–since my name is Jan–but Holly was named by my brother Danny. In fact, I broke the string of D names. First was Darlene, and then Domenic, Danny, Dean, and the twins Diana and Demetri. I have a different father–possibly James–so the streak ended with the twins.)
A laid-back cat, Holly enjoyed lounging in the bathtub when it was empty. One night, as I took my nightly bath, Holly decided to join me without realizing the tub was filled with water. He leapt in and screeched as soon as his paws touched the water! With legs flailing, somehow he was able to reverse direction without touching the bottom. With wet legs and tummy, he ran from the bathroom as if the water were chasing him.
I tossed my can into the overflowing barrel. Dean’s friend Manuel dashed past me in an attempt to snatch up the cat and return him to his 1975 Pinto. Holly was always alert and much faster than the Puerto Rican; he dashed across the busy two-laned street.
We gathered beneath a tree on a residential lawn trying to coax Holly down with gentle words and promises of treats. He clung to the branch unmoving and unconvinced.
“Hey, get off my lawn!” cried the bathrobe-clad homeowner from behind his screen door. My mother tried to convince him to let us climb the tree–Manuel was already bolstering Dean into a low branch–but the property owner threatened to call the police thus ending the rescue attempt.
At age fifteen, Dean didn’t have the confidence of our older brothers Domenic or Danny. No doubt either one of them would have defied the property owners and climbed that tree to get my cat. Dommy would have rescued Holly and left before the police arrived, and Danny would have used his good looks and charisma to convince them to let him go with a warning. Knowing Danny, the police would have given him and Holly a ride home.
“But Holly won’t know we’re coming back for him. He doesn’t know where we live now.” I protested; I used my six-year-old logic and wisdom, but my mother didn’t have a better solution. “We will just wait here until he comes down,” I said. Like Holly, she was stubborn and intent on finishing our move.
I left him in that tree with a family that didn’t know him. We would come back a week later to call for him, but he likely made his way back to Newburyport, the only place he knew. Adult Jan would have insisted, but Child Jan did not know how to use his will to usurp authority. I don’t know that I was sad for his loss. He was simply gone, and the excitement and stress of relocating occupied my thoughts. I would think about him fondly over the years since then, regaling various girlfriends over the years with stories of my amazing cat Holly–the tub incident, his adventure in the storm, and his lost battle with the squirrel. It wasn’t until recently, as I write the story of Domenic, did I feel the loss of my cat. The boy cat I have now–Proton–is almost seventeen, and I have heard some cats live into their twenties. Assuming Holly found a new family and lived to be a senior cat, he may have lived fifteen more years without me and under a different name. He was still alive somewhere during everything that happened in my life as a young man. He might have been with us when Dommy was murdered. If I had known where to go, I could have driven to see him in my first car–a ‘79 Mustang–when I was seventeen, or when I graduated High School. He might have been at home after I was nearly killed in a car accident. He might have lived long enough to have been a ring bearer at my wedding a year later.
But he wasn’t there. I hope some other family enjoyed the scrappy orange cat for years. It isn’t until thirty-seven years later that I felt his loss as sadness instead of a fondness. It is the realization that he likely lived without me has brought on the feeling of heartache associated with deep loss.
The feelings of missing his long life are deep, but not so deep as if I knew he had died–been hit by a car, killed by a dog, or some medical ailment. The thought of him living without me is easier than the idea that he died before he could enjoy his life.
I would give anything for a picture of him. No one ever thought to take one.
An Open Letter from Cecil the Lion to Walter Palmer D.D.S.
You imagine yourself as a killer, a real predator. But you are a thin, pink, hairless, primate with too much brain and not enough muscle. Without any real challenges, you took time away from your job fixing the teeth of other humans to fly to my home of Zimbabwe. There you hired some locals to lure me away from the safety of my home, and you shot me with an arrow. I didn’t have a chance. You covered yourself in oils that masked your scent and ambushed me from upwind. Your arrow blasted through muscle and bone, but it didn’t kill me. It would have–eventually. An arrow in the side might kill me later, but if it didn’t the blood loss and infection would set in–if my slowly-dripping blood didn’t attract another predator. You did the noble thing. As I rested in the darkness licking my wounds, you tracked me. As I was suffering the pain of your arrow, you finished the kill with a rifle–not because you wanted to end my suffering, but because you wanted my head and skin.
I understand the need to kill. It’s how I survive. Sometimes I must kill my own kind, be it a rival male or even a lion cub that might grow up to kill or force me away from my pride. I don’t understand killing when it isn’t necessary for survival. You don’t kill because you have to, but because you want to. Maybe it’s fun for you–striking down a creature with a weapon that another man crafted. Perhaps you get a sick thrill from killing. Or, more likely, you do it to look fearless in front of other primates. You pose for photos with the carcass so they may see you and imagine how virile and masculine you are. No doubt you will take a female who is impressed by such things and mate with her on the rug that was once my skin and head.
You might wonder why other humans hate you. Surely there are other killers of animals who should be equally hated, such as those who poach rhinos, elephants, bears, lions, even other primates such as apes and monkeys. All are killed and captured for the desires and enjoyment of humans. Make no mistake, Mr. Palmer, others of your kind hate them too. It’s just that they know your name and face with it’s perfect teeth and a self-satisfied smile. They know your stench.
I wish I had the chance at a fair fight. If you won, imagine the story you could have told others of your kind after winning a battle with a mighty lion! You could have told them how you survived a swipe from my massive paw only to finish me with a thrust of your weapon! But you and I know that’s not how the battle would have ended. One slash would have emptied your entrails and I would have torn the flesh from your bones for hours.
You will never know true strength, but you got to pretend for a while. in the end we all meet the same fate.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see it coming.