Finding Her Husband

a short story by Joan Horrigan
([email]joanhorrigan [at] msn [dot] com[/email])

Every time I pull into the guest parking at Benson’s Tooling Company and walk around to the shipping entrance, I know that Tim is going to have a story about one of the employees that he just can’t wait to tell.

“Well, if it’s not old Mike from Mills Metalworks! Howya doin’, Mike? Makin’ a load of sales and a lotta money?”

“Fine, sure, and you, Tim?” Tim, who had been in Shipping for twenty years, always said he knew what really went on at Benson’s because of his vantage point here at the shipping entrance, close to the corner from the main lobby. He knew which people and what products came in and went out of the company, each and every person here involved with getting the product out the door and what each one did to get it out. He knew all their stories and all their troubles because, for some reason, everyone confided in him, probably since he’s the oldest guy here.

Tim was a keen observer of people and was highly intuitive for a guy. When he told a story, it was usually about what had happened, rather than what was happening, with a fellow employee. He did keep a confidence, but afterwards, he had a new story. He certainly didn’t mind sharing them either, even with outsiders like me, just trying to make a buck and get a free lunch off the snacks and goodies these companies always have setting out, especially now that the Christmas season has begun. And they say women gossip. Today it was Janie’s turn under Tim’s microscope.

Tim knew Janie better than anyone, even if Janie hated him, which she did, he said. He told me about Janie finding her husband. Tim knew her like a book, at least that was what he would have me believe, claiming he was a firsthand witness to it all, from the first spark to the wedding vows. Now he thinks she’s pregnant, just by looking at her, even before Janie does. He might stretch a point, but he was fairly objective and could tell a story, so I listened.

“Sweet lonesome Janie was watching all the activity going on at the L. A. Convention Center last March when she and I had to man the company booth,” Tim started out saying, “then she spied this tall muscular dude working across the aisle from us. He was one of them manager types, pointing, telling and showing the six flunkies working for him how to hang the drapes for the backdrop, set up the tables and display all the tools on them. It must have been his air of authority that swept her up in the moment as she watched him in action, and I guess he was kinda good looking, at least to Janie, but she didn’t realize then that it meant finding her husband,” Tim informed me.

“Westec was growing in frenzied activity for the colorful week-long showing,” Tim explained. “Giant manufacturing machinery, some equipment as big as semi-trucks, and I ain’t exaggerating,” he claimed, “clear on down to bolts and drill bits, were being hauled into that giant cavernous convention building. All the companies were setting up their industry booths, like we were. The products would be on display to manufacturers from all over the country. The annual event was one of Janie’s favorites, she said, as it got her out of the office and away from that batch of rowdy wise-cracking biddies, the sales girls she oversees.

“‘[i]Janie, quit staring and come back to the real world![/i]’ was all I yelled at her, but she jumped back at me so fast, saying, [i]’Damn! I hate you Tim. I hope that guy didn’t hear you say that.'[/i] Then she cringed, and I knew she was already interested in that dude across the aisle, so all I said was, [i]’Put the stuff in that case over there, then set the case on the table and put the tools back in it.'[/i]

“I could almost hear her thinking, [i]who the hell does he think he is ordering me around like that. He is one pain in the butt![/i] However, she did as she was told, as is her custom and for the sake of her job, even if it was only [i]’stupid bald Tim from shipping who had no authority over her.'[/i] She knew I was watching her and she wanted to keep her job as it was all she had in the world. Her job was her life, her identity even. She had worked from inputting data to sales to lead position in less than four years and planned to keep it that way. Being head of sales was a lot different that just selling on the phone and taking orders, as she found out. Janie had more authority and mostly answered the girls in sales’ questions and kept track of all the tooling orders coming in and out of Benson’s manufacturing plant. It was a tough job, but she could handle it and got respect by doing it and doing it well.

“One of the girls in sales said she hadn’t been on a date in almost a year. She just goes home to an empty apartment. Who knows what she does then, probably talks to herself or to an imaginary boyfriend or watches movies till two in the morning or gets on some game-playing binge on the computer. What else could she do? She’s too shy to even admit to herself that she’s lonely, but you can see it on her face.

“Anyway, about that time, this dude from across the aisle walks over and asks to borrow her pen. Janie gets all flustered looking for one, and he starts up this conversation, saying something about her beautiful red hair. Well, Janie brightened up and before you know it, they are getting acquainted and taking off to the concession for lunch, just leaving me standing there. Said his name was Ken something. So I decide it’s time for my lunch break too. I follow them and I sit at a table near Janie where she doesn’t even see me. I was curious as to what that dude was gonna lay on her.”

“Are you sure you weren’t just a little jealous, Tim?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Jealous? Well, maybe a little, but she’s too young for me, Mike. You know,” he admitted?to my surprise. Then he continued.

“Janie’s cute freckled face gets all animated when he brings the sandwiches back to their table, and they are talking up a storm. I only caught parts of it, something about him owning his own company in Houston and even having an airplane and going all over the country on business or some such thing. Anyway, he is pouring it on and impressing the hell out of Janie and seemed to have a thing about her red hair. I heard him mention that twice, saying his mother and sister both had red hair and his wife, if he ever found one, would definitely have to have red hair. Then sure enough that evening he comes over and asks to take her to dinner [i]’at a much nicer place,'[/i] he says, and she goes off with him. So I have to drive back alone.

“The next day at work, she was telling the girls in sales about meeting him and was all excited that he could even be interested in her. He continued taking her out every evening after Westec, leaving me stranded every damn day of the show. By the end of the week, Janie was acting like she was definitely in love. She was getting better looking every day too. She got her hair styled differently and was wearing nail polish. She announced he was coming back on the 25th for three days and wanted to see her again then. All the girls were cheering her on because they knew how much this meant to her.

“On Monday after Ken had been back, she reported that he wined her and dined her in the finest restaurants at the beach, downtown and in Beverly Hills. He was coming back in two more weeks too.

“After his next trip to see Janie, she tells the girls that they had shopped together on Rodeo Drive, where he picked out a beautiful diamond bracelet for her. Janie loved it, but there was something wrong with the clasp, so it would have to be repaired before she could take it. He promised to send it to her at her company by Fed Ex as soon as it got repaired, as he didn’t want the package left on her front porch. Janie even missed Friday that week before he took off again for Houston.

“A couple of weeks later, she started looking a little sad because she said she hadn’t heard from him. The girls were telling her he had to be super busy if he owned a company and not to worry. Another week went by and Ken still hadn’t contacted Janie. He didn’t email or anything, just seemingly disappeared, but every day she asked Curtis, the tall lanky Fed Ex delivery guy, about the package she was expecting.

[i]”‘No package today, Janie. Maybe it will arrive tomorrow'[/i], Curtis had answered.

“The next day Janie was hanging around talking to me three or four times, but I knew she was waiting at the shipping entrance with the same question, getting more and more anxious about her package from Ken.

[i]”‘Could it have gotten lost? It’s a small package and could have fallen somewhere,'[/i] she had inquired of the Fed Ex guy with a more agitated and anxious tone to her voice.

“[i]’Sorry, Janie, no package again today,'[/i] Curtis told her. He had been repeating this message everyday now for over a month. Janie was developing a new forlornness in her face, he noticed, the same as I did. He himself even put traces on it every week, ever since she told him about it. However, she never told him what was in the package, just that it was expensive and she didn’t want it getting lost.

“It was going on three months, and Janie came out to meet the Fed Ex truck with faint hope in her heart now, but she still inquired about the package in her sad monotone voice. Curtis saw the devastation in her face and decided to ask her out to cheer her up, instead of having to give her the same negative answer. She accepted in a resigned way, and they went to a movie. Janie was mostly silent, Curtis told me. The movie helped because she didn’t have to engage in much conversation. She seemed a little better, I thought, on Monday when his truck pulled up, since she came out to meet him without asking about the package. Curtis knew she wanted to know, though, but was as impressed as I was that she didn’t ask, for the very first time.

“[i]’Hi, Janie,'[/i] he said gently to her and did not himself mention the package. They talked for a few minutes on casual topics while he was unloading the Fed Ex truck. Curtis waved goodbye to Janie when he drove off from the shipping entrance.

“That package was never mentioned again, but it led Janie to finding her husband, as she and Curtis married five months later in November,” Tim concluded. A big grin started spreading, overtaking his whole face.

“Tim, you ole son of a gun! You are one helluva story teller!” I said to him and had to add, “Why didn’t you tell me about Janie sooner? I’ve been coming to Benson’s once a week and hanging around here, feeling just as lost and lonesome as Janie. I would have asked her out, myself, if I had known that. So who’s this Curtis guy?”

“A guy strong enough to lift those heavy packages and Janie’s spirits! He’s a caring sort. I always thought of him as a wimp, really, until he showed his true colors with Janie. You know what he said to me one day? He said he wanted to get Janie a gift, a teddy bear he saw, and maybe that would make her feel better. He even asked me if I thought it’d be a good idea. Now, I knew he wasn’t a wimp, but a sympathetic sort when he asked me that. I told him it was a great idea and she’d even have someone to sleep with since he probably wasn’t up to it.” Tim laughed out loud remembering his own wisecrack and added, “No, right from the start, they seemed to have some kind of feeling connection…whaddaya call it, simpatico, yeah. It was kinda tender even, watching their love develop. One day Janie made cookies for Curtis. Another day he brought her flowers. They had a way of looking at each other liked they shared a secret, but they couldn’t keep it from me. They make a great couple.

“Curtis is still in night school but will get his teaching degree in June, he said. Then Curtis says they will be able to buy a house. He says he learned more working for FedEx, though, than he ever did in school, just by getting to know Janie. He says she is a lifetime study, whatever that means. You know how them educated guys talk.

“You’ll never guess how he proposed,” Tim continued. “I even saw that too, but I walked away so they could have some privacy because Curtis asked me to, but you know me, I watched. He had something private to tell Janie after he finished unloading the truck, he said. Anyway, I heard him say, [i]’Janie, here’s the package I think you’ve been looking for,'[/i] and handed her a FedEx box. When she opened it and saw a diamond ring and heard what Curtis said, you shoulda seen her jump into his arms. I could not believe it. She was all over him! I didn’t know that gal had that much passion. She kissed him a hundred times and never stopped smiling and saying [i]’Yes! Yes!'[/i] and hugging him.”

“That’s a great story, Tim. I get sick of those depressing ones. And you say Janie is pregnant now but doesn’t know it? That’s weird, Tim. How do you know that?” I asked. He was telling me when I had to interrupt him with, “…oops, here she comes now.”

“Hi, guys, what’s going on today?” Janie had the brightest happiest look on her cute freckled face. You could tell she was in love by her big shiny brown eyes. And yes, she did have that rosy radiance and blossoming that pregnancy gives to girls. At least that was how Tim described it, and he seemed to know more about those things than me.

“Nothing much. Tim was just telling me another of his fantastic stories,” I hedged.

“Guess what, Tim? I’m pregnant!” Janie enthused excitedly.

“Yeah, we know. That’s what we were talking about.” Tim said in his all-knowing way.

“How the hell could you know that? I just found out yesterday.” Janie looked surprised and taken aback, but we just smiled.

Doctor’s Report: Patient A

a fiction short by Kimberly Townsend Palmer
([email]KimberlyTP [at] aol [dot] com[/email])

Patient A is a living museum of femininity, and serves as transitory evidence of extensive neo-geo-psycho-socio-eco-political movement. Designed and built in the second half of the twentieth century, she first gained philanthropic prominence with a cynical, witty, overeducated man eight years her senior, Charles F. She stayed faithful to Charles F. for six months, but the intriguing tales of his former sexual partners, then numbering in the several hundreds, irretrievably seized her imagination. She left, and never looked back. She shops for new men the way other women shop for new shoes.

She invariably rejects both the too-easy conquest and the too-stubborn resistance. Every season countless men flock near to witness her fleeting, hormonally-induced states of passion, and observe for themselves her classic “XX” architecture.

If it seems that everything has already been said about Patient A, then it is up to the curious investigator to discover her for himself, for she offers infinite variety. She is a woman for night-owls, early-birds, strollers, culture-vultures, devotees of high fashion, low-lifers, luxury-seekers, ascetics, flower-givers, wine-drinkers, the avant-garde, the old guard, fans of high times, fans of art, or just plain fans. Spend your time walking with her through parks, along leaf-lined boulevards, window-shopping, drinking coffee in sidewalk cafes, or overdosing on her sweet, flowery smell. Patient A is the sum of all the men who have loved her, described her, and taught her. She combines the unique with the humdrum — note her fine, trembling sensitivity, her bullheaded obstinacy, her spurts of unbounded energy, her fits of restlessness, irrational generosity, contemptible stinginess, as well as her innate proclivity for sleeping all day on the couch, unwashed dishes piled high in the sink.

In her twenties, following several remarkably disastrous affairs with high-strung youths, she gradually assumed supremacy over William B., an older, stolid man with a government job. Beautiful buildings sprang up around her person, the arts flourished within her living room, and she gained renown as the sexual capital of the household.

She was kind and good and true to William B. for longer than she had ever been with any man. She wanted to settle down with her mate and raise a herd of children. Justice was what she had in mind. As you sow, so shall you reap. She had a set of rules in her head, and she did not break them until she had no choice left but to live or die. Everything unkind her husband said was made even heavier by something kind he left unsaid, and the weight of his personality dragged on her like a universe. Omissions are not accidents — in this belief she is said by many to be unreasonable. It’s so unrefined to object to an adulterous wife. He could have tried to even things out. She held the cosmos on her inadequate neck, and how it ached at night!

For a long time after she finally left him, she was afraid of love and all things human. There was no one left to speak to, and the fact that she never made anyone other than herself smile didn’t help. She realizes now every woman fights her own private war, and what seemed like losing was really winning. Every good thing is for such a very short time — bring forth roses in haste from the rocky ground, the growing season will not come again. She longs to drink honey from the honey-flower. She is free of barbed wire, yet cannot erase the blood of the sacrificed. How can she love again, ever?

She must do the best she can. Her last romantic partner told her to find a good husband. He, himself, was too much of an adventurer and would not fit the bill he imposed. Patient A believes everything will be all right, if only she can find the right man. He must be rich, not in money but in spirit. He must allow her to travel the world in safety. He must be like the father and mother she never had. He must both take care of her and let himself be taken care of — the balance herein is extremely delicate and can sometimes even be spoiled merely by improper breathing. This is an order impossible to fill.

Patient A has developed self-induced amnesia as an art form. Patient A hardly remembers her Mother and Father’s arms, their hearts and minds — where are they, why did they leave, what did they expect of her, anyway? Even so, she prays to their memory, which resembles nothing more than a pair of white herons dressed up as guardian angels — she prays — please deliver to me wisdom, please deliver strength, on your snowy wings bring me goodness and bravery. She sleeps, and in her dreams never speaks. Footsteps must be paced to meet an obstacle at every stride. Stillness is hard, so much harder than words.

Beached whales keep on breathing, trembling as their skin dries and cracks. Unaffected people gather pine cones for adornment. It is human nature to stand in the center of a thing. The most faithful feeling always shows itself by restraint. A match, not a marriage, was made between Patient A and her husband, William B. It was an unfortunate incident, fortunately ended. To define grace with any degree of eloquence requires an inquisitive hand. The only stronghold powerful enough to trust to is love. In the end, Patient A will be as ordinary and egotistical and hard-hearted as anybody else. If you nevertheless choose to pursue her, she will not be gracious, she will not absolve you.

Vengeance On The Danube

a short story by Alan C. Baird

The modern city formed by the ancient towns of Buda, Obuda and Pest basks in a riot of color – many leaves are flaunting their autumn tints in the warm afternoon sunshine. The majestic Danube flows through the midst of this glittering metropolis, with its historic bridges linking together millions of souls into a sophisticated city known as “The Paris Of The East.”

A sleek cigarette boat drifts offshore, through the sparsely-inhabited outlying precincts of Budapest. It’s a lovely day to be on the river… for some people.

Resting on a narrow ledge at the end of this streamlined craft lies an anchor, partly hanging over the water. A four-meter chain attaches the anchor to a human ankle, encased in a bright orange hazmat isolation suit. From behind the suit’s protective Plexiglas mask, a terrified face peers out, eyes desperately straining to look downward.

Below, the hand of a burly man is poised on the plunger of a syringe, leading into the suit’s oxygen supply line.

Istv�n lounges negligently on his deck chair, a short distance away. His friends might give him the nickname Pista, but he has no friends. Therefore, he encourages his ‘business associates’ to use that moniker. Zolt�n, one of these unlucky few, stands beside him, nervously pointing an automatic weapon at the hazmat suit, and awkwardly clearing his throat. “Pista, isn’t this a little harsh?”

“He betrayed the cause.”

“I suppose it’s not connected to his flirtation with Zsuzsi?”

Pista allows himself a nasty chuckle. “Perhaps just a tiny bit.”

“But he’s been a good friend to us. I’m sure he’s very sorry.” The face behind the Plexiglas nods vigorously.

“He’s been a good friend to you, Zolt�n. Are you offering to take his place?”

“N… no.”

“Then do it.” Pista signals to the burly man, who eagerly pushes the plunger. A muted wail emanates from the suit, and the face behind the mask looks down, incredulous. Pista checks his watch, muttering wearily, “Besides, we needed to test this sample, to see if it’s worth the money. They said to expect a few nerve spasms.”

The hazmat suit begins to twitch uncontrollably. In a few moments, the suit is jerking ghoulishly across the small ledge. Delighted, Pista claps his hands, as if keeping time with a gypsy dance. “Ho-pa! Clap with me!”

The burly man starts to clap, but Zolt�n turns away, disgusted. The hazmat suit tumbles off the ledge and splashes into the river. Pista promptly loses interest. “His waltzing days are finished. Let’s go.”

The speedboat’s driver pushes the throttle forward. As the launch streaks away, the floating, twitching hazmat suit drags the anchor off the back ledge, submerging the suit almost instantly.

[b]Author’s Note:[/b] Alan is a Harvard Book Prize recipient who recently coauthored [url=][/url] – a hardback/softcover screenwriting volume. He lives just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood… which is fine and dandy, until the stones are thrown back.

The House on Bretton Heights

a short story by Tom Sheehan
([email]tomsheehan [at] attbi [dot] com[/email])

For nearly a month, from a cliff shoulder on Pressburn Hill, August rain and sun taking turns at him, birds accepting him, Brisque Validarn watched the house on Bretton Heights, watched every movement, change of light, visit and departure. From his post the house, on the very summit of Bretton Heights, was about half a mile distant, sitting there the crown jewel of targets, its parapets breaching the skyline. One precious stone, slipped with dark ease from that crown, would last him for a year; Nice, Bordeaux in the old country, any beach without reservation in the New World. He watched, he clocked, he measured, he posted entries in a burgeoning logbook. When a light went on or off, he bent over his logbook and marked the time, the quadrant of the big house, calculated routines. When a FedEx truck crawled up the long driveway, Brisque swore he could hear the gears at work, both coming and going, as the drive back down the hill could prove challenging.

There was no easy way in. Or out. And heavy rain would make it adventurous. But all these details, one by one, would be noted, calculated, put in place. Nothing took the place of care, and care took care of confidence.

Marie had come to him, contrite, diffident, her hat twisting in her hands, as if she were trying to make up for being a woman the last time around. [i]You don’t play games with Brisque Validarn[/i], he had pointed out to her, initially laughing at a bit of thigh, her hand lingering at the Mound of Venus pushing against a blue silk, finally a breast cupped in that hand.

“I swear, Brisque, she had rocks on her hand would knock your eyes out, the wifey. Eight, ten carats, I’m telling you. This thing on her neck could choke a horse, too. Dazzling, and it not yet noon. She must wear stuff like that in a shower probably big as city hall. Not bad either, come to think of it. I’d give her a go myself. She’s got a butt she should be proud of.” She rolled her you-know-me eyes.

“What about him? All this sudden revelation is as subtle as a broken leg, Marie Lavoren. You’d do anything to get what you want. Prostrate, vertical, you name an angle, and you’d find it and fit it. What’s his age? Condition? Athletic looking? What do his eyes look like? How deep inside you did they go?” He gauged her again. “When Marie the clerk becomes Marie the opportunist you can be devastatingly clear and concise in your observations, in your intuition, but you have great trouble leaving sex out of your judgment.”

Her gray-green eyes lit up, and then narrowed, blonde tresses falling over one eye as she nodded, and another button of her blouse was slyly opened. “Sitting on top of the world, he is, Brisque. In shape, lean at the waist, wide-eyed, jaw like a movie star with that intriguing cleft in the chin. Can undress you in a second, he can, explore you a bit, he can, but lets you know he’s putting your clothes back on. A little class with his act, I’ll tell you. He’s looked at me a few times in the store.” Leaning forward, using her body as punctuation, loading it up with exclamation, she added, “He’s about fifty, though he looks younger. It’s his physical training adds something special. Has great color, oh my, yes. Must lift, but not too much I’d bet. Moves like Gene Kelly or Freddie what’s-his-name doing a waltz in one of those old movies. Blue eyes like a lagoon must look, like they’re a second away from inviting you in for a shower or a swim or even a tussle.” She punctuated her description with another, ” Oh my, yes.”

“How would I immediately recognize him?” There was something in Marie’s eyes that said she had a piece of information put away, held in reserve. He’d counted on that from the beginning. It was her [i]modus operandi[/i]. She wouldn’t let him down.

Marie the opportunist smiled. “Two fingers missing off his right hand. And he is right-handed. The index finger and the sex finger, both gone almost to the knuckles, but not messy. Not like they were smashed off but a surgeon took them off. Clean. Neat. Not ugly or bulgy or toady looking.” The smile continued. She had come loaded for bear. “Harry’s sold him stones out of the store he says for eight or nine years now, since he cut the big crust. Says it came overnight. Figures it’s clean crooked, if you know what he means.” She could not have twisted the offer of her body any more than it was at that moment. “He’d be a great hit.” Her eyes rolled again, trespassing on the ultimate potential.

“Anything else Harry offer?”

She leaned forward again, never letting a chance slip away, her mouth slightly open, her eyes slightly closed. Brisque thought there should be odors in the offing too. [i]She’s a piece of work[/i], he said to himself, [i]a magnificent piece of work[/i].

“Lots of stuff kicking around, the kind Harry picks up in the trade. Stuff that follows big spenders, high rollers, the quick rich. He’s got a sweetheart stashed away in a condo down in Revere, right on the beach. His fingers came off via a machete, they also say, in the hands of a Cuban brought up from Miami to fix a wrong. If he soured somebody bigger, welshed, got in the sack with the wrong broad, he paid for it. But he come out of it clean. Well, kind of clean.” She smiled and broadcast her desire again, the blouse almost open the way barn doors swing wide, her blonde tresses falling over part of her face like cover playing games, her eyes finding at last a glimpse of libido down in the well of the master thief. “‘Cept the index finger and his sex finger, of course.”

“You got something special in the bag, haven’t you?” Brisque Validarn slid a hand against the texture of her blouse, grazed the risen nail head, watched her eyes close.

She held his hand against her breast. “I don’t do this just for money, Brisque. I have dreams too.” The risen nail head struck back. “In his cellar, someplace in the house, in against that whole cliff, he’s got treasure your dreams couldn’t find. They say he brought something up out of the Caribbean would stand Fort Knox on its ear. I mean treasure treasure, Captain Kidd or Bluebeard himself, bigtime baddies’ treasure, like he found it or stole it from someone who found it and was hiding it from the whole world. [i]Treasure[/i] treasure!”

She cupped the back of his head, his lips at her breast. “We could be famous, Brisque. No more talk about Jimmy Valentine or Second-story Jack Finnegan. It’d be us, Validarn and his chick. Wouldn’t that make ’em sit up and take notice?” Her mouth was open as wide as his.


Two more weeks, Marie at the listening post in the jewelry store, pumping her boss for information, bringing tid-bits to Brisque Validarn, him still collecting data, charting, and the heist of the century was at hand. Invaluable Marie came with the final tid-bit. “He’s going to Switzerland next week, Brisque. That hunk is going skiing. Imagine him maybe breaking a leg, or worse!” She rolled her eyes, played with a button. “His wife’s already in Paris with her sister. Been there two days. Two nights now he’s been down to Revere to the condo and the girlfriend. Would I like to be a fly on that condo wall.” She rolled her eyes, hung her tongue out, let a gurgle of a laugh rise and fall in her throat. Took his hand in her hand, brought it to the nail head.

“Marie, you are something else!” He cupped her, the inanimate nail head now alive. “I suppose you know when his flight leaves the airport?”

Back she leaned against the couch, shifted a bit for comfort, moved her buttocks into prime time, pursed her lips. “Flight Six-oh-two, Magellan Air, 9:30 P.M. next Wednesday evening. Harry Donnelley’s Limo is picking him up at 6:00 O’clock.” Her simple touch of him was not an idle touch. Results were quickly evident.

“What did you have to give up to get all this info?”

“There’s plenty left for you, Brisque. Here, have a look.”


By eleven O’clock on Wednesday night, under brittle darkness, heavy overcast but no rain promised until late morning, Brisque Validarn, master thief, was deep in the cellar of the house on Bretton Heights. He had by-passed the alarm system that tied into the Masco Security Company in nearby Wakefield, and studied the walls. It was a piece of cake to spot the false wall, find the keyway that moved it out of the way. In frozen awe he studied the contents of a small room, ten feet deep into the cliff, five feet wide, the sides all natural rock. Michelangelo himself must have done the sculpting, the chipping, set shelves of marble in place holding astounding treasures. As his flashlight beam found each piece the sparkle of immense stones leaped back at him, then a ray of near golden shine like a sunbeam loose of the sky, and footings so elaborate on pieces of large and ornate emblazonry that he was frozen in place. It was the mother lode of mother lodes. The thieves of the world, from London, Paris, Budapest, Raffles himself, would stand in awe.

[i]All I planned on was one good stone[/i], he said to himself. [i]My god, look at all this treasure. Marie was right. I’ll need a truck to carry it. I can’t carry it all and I can’t leave it. Not by a long shot can I leave it. I’ll take one piece now and come back tomorrow night[/i]. His mind leaped at ways of carting the stuff off the hill, and then he thought of a FedEx truck or a UPS truck. [i]Another piece of cake[/i], he muttered as he reached for small chalice set with dozens of stones. It was like the sun being refracted through a special lens, prisms scattering against his eyeballs. A deep breath was hauled down into his lungs.

A short while later Brisque Validarn came out of the darkness at the foot of Bretton Heights into the sudden glare of lights and beams and screaming and authoritative voices for him to stand in place or be shot to death. Deftly he placed the stolen chalice on the ground and raised his hands. A dozen policeman surrounded him. Headlights on a dozen cars also chipped in with their own pieces of daylight.

The very first thing Brisque noticed was a hand, with two fingers missing, resting comfortably on one hip of Marie Lavoren standing off to the side. Brisque suddenly realized Marie probably had her own condo down in Revere, right there on the beach.

The Seer

a fiction short by Claire Dandridge Selleck
[email]claires [at] burningword [dot] com[/email]

There was nothing extraordinary about the way the day began. The alarm clock rang at the usual hour and, however reluctantly, I rolled at once from my bed vaguely aware that a dream had been interrupted. Scraping the hair back from my forehead, I stumbled to the kitchen and eyed the sink full of dishes still submerged in soapy water from last night’s false start. As I paused to watch the mist rising from the river that flowed some one hundred feet from my kitchen window, I was reminded why waking to dirty dishes no longer bothered me. At night I had only the four window panes to reflect on as I washed up; unless the moon is full, the darkness here is impenetrable. In the morning I had this dancing river to entertain me, the swirls of steam flowing upward like a lavishly choreographed ballet. I could linger as long as I pleased, the dishes a guilt-effacing alibi.

This morning, even the river could not pull me from the dream that tugged at my consciousness. It consisted mostly of faces and I recalled them one by one. I had names for them all, those ghosts from my past that I had loved and left behind. Simmy the Sweet, the most successfully helpless woman I knew. Simmy achieved her lifelong dream simply by being kind and loving and completely dependent on her circle of friends and family. As much as I enjoyed Simmy’s company, it was just too draining and the friendship faded as slowly and sweetly as it had begun.

Paul the Mauler was Simmy’s accomplishment. She had not only managed to reel him in from a freewheeling bachelorhood that had earned him his dubious moniker, but they had actually been happy all these twenty-odd years. Their kids, the first being the bait, had grown into pleasant, competent adults. There was nothing not to like about the family and I felt a brief sadness that I had not stayed around to be a part of their lives.

And then there was Linda. Lucky Linda, who fell into success effortlessly. I felt uncharacteristic jealousy despite my genuine affection for her. It took me a few years to realize that there is no such thing as luck. By the time I had learned to give Linda credit where credit was due, our friendship had been reduced to hugs and promises at chance encounters in Walmart.

Linda was Paul’s sister. She dated my brother Mikey for awhile, but it was no great love affair. Linda’s eventual marriage was one of the first indications that I had certain…well…powers is what most people call them, but they leave me feeling more helpless than powerful, no matter how innocuous the revelation.

I remembered standing in my hallway on a clear Spring day. I was late for an appointment and looking for my keys when the sudden thought of Linda was pleasant, but mildly annoying. I remembered exactly what I thought, too. Word for word. ‘Gosh, it’s been ages since I’ve heard from Linda. I won’t be a bit surprised to hear she’s found herself a man and is planning to marry.’ I remembered dragging my thoughts back to my keys and the attorney I had to see. I eyed the stack of mail on the hall table. As I lifted the letters from atop my missing keys, a card fell from the center of the stack. It was a wedding invitation from Linda. I tried to tell myself it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. And it wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes it would be a fleeting thought of an old friend who would call within hours. Once I agonized over forgetting to tell my daughter not to speed through Georgia, later to realize it was the precise time a State Trooper was writing her ticket. Cool, but spooky.

Jeff was Paul’s best friend. Jeffy-cakes. Such an unlikely nickname for me to conceive, let alone speak aloud. Our romance had lasted a year, but the friendship remained intact as various events pulled us back together. The death of Linda’s mother. The christening of each of Simmy and Paul’s children. My own brother’s wedding. Jeff and Mikey remained golfing buddies, much to my second husband’s chagrin.

Jeff was the bright spot in the center of some miserable years
and I used to wonder if I had made a mistake in letting him slip
away. He was wildly adventurous in bed and equally comfortable
in the kitchen. But, I think my intensity frightened him and we
never spoke of love. The memory made me shiver.

He eventually married a sullen and neurotic woman whose chronic illness was enough to make him stay. He?s a nice guy, my
Jeffy-cakes. What else would a nice guy do?

So, that was the circle of friends who crept into my dream. Friends well loved, but recalled fleetingly, casually, individually. Now here they all were, together again, their faces hanging in my head like contrived B-movie apparitions.

I wiped my hands on the towel, barely aware that I had finished the dishes during my reverie. I wondered why a dream where nothing bad had happened would bother me so much; why it would cause this dull ache to rise in my chest and urge me to take action of some kind. It was only another moment before I knew what was missing. Jeff was not among the faces in my dream. The chill moved slowly from my shoulders downward.

I dialed Mikey’s number and felt a surge of love when my brother’s warm southern drawl filled the earpiece.

“Mikey, it’s Fran. I need you to do something for me.” The words tumbled out and I didn’t wait for his reply. “I had a dream and I need you to check on Jeff for me.”

“I was just about to call you.” Mikey’s voice cracked slightly, his emotions only barely in check. “Jeffy’s dead, hon. I’m sorry.”

The receiver clattered to the floor as I stared out at the ceaseless river, its dance now mocking and unkind.

“I knew that.” I said, as if my brother could still hear me. “I knew.”

Surface Tension

To skim across
the aortic arch
on surface tension,
no more than vibration,
a referred tremor,
a memory of a dream
glimmering across the milieu,
a half-sensed insect on a wheat corn,
Its sway
Brimming the unconscious.

To crawl across
rusted rivet handholds on
the exterior of skyscrapers,
to take a breather on
the back of the left thumb
of the Statue of Liberty,
inverted, a tree
toad licking his eyes
for a half-hour, then
departing, flicking,
imbuing a metal tang in
the back of the throat,
a repudiate bouquet.

The quantum refraction of
A thousand year-old
Ripple across
The back of the eyes,
residue of the indelicate
Hand tremor of creation,
Is not a distraction
But is nevertheless present.

To rest at the precise center
of the universe, to insert
a single, infinitely slender
periscope into the stream
of existence to view
conveying a confluent
At the point of insertion, one
Trailing into the infinite past,
The other racing toward
the inestimable future.

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