How it was, how it is – #poetry – 2/15/2013

She remembers four roses
He gave her, shyly
Four months after they said “I do”
and how they always took turns at movies —

For her – Ghost, by him
She sat through “Under Siege”
And they giggled over jokes
No one else would get.

Yesterday, he came home
Slammed the door and
Swore at her for fifteen minutes.

When he watched Steven Segal
She sat crying in the bedroom
Singing “Unchained Melody” between sobs.

Regret – #FridayFlash

[Author’s note:  You can read this as a war story standalone. Or, if you’re a Combat! fan, this is my take on what happened to Doc #1]


“Un autre verre du vin rouge, Mademoiselle. S’il vous plait.”

The young woman looked down the bar at the ragged GI sitting there, bearded and scowling, but who’d spoken to her in good French and with decent manners. Ignoring the two sergeants and a corporal who’d charged up to her, waving scrip, she poured the red wine and set it down in front of the soldier.

Merci beaucoup.” Their eyes met, and he considered trying to engage her for later, after the bar closed, and decided against it.

She saw the idea come and go and shrugged to herself. There were other Amis there.De rien, M’sieu’,” she tossed back casually as she picked up the money in front of him and moved back to wait on the non-coms.

I should have gone back – marrrde, I should have. Why didn’t I? In his heart, he knew why. I’m a soldier. I follow my leader. I obey orders. But I should have gone back.

“If you don’t let go of that glass, it’s going to shatter.”

The quiet voice broke through his reverie. Caje looked over his shoulder to find Saunders there, and released the glass, which wobbled uncertainly until he steadied it. “Sarge.” The Cajun turned back to face the bar, body rigid, face set.

“Still angry?”

“What do you think?” The scout hissed at him, avoiding looking at the man who led his unit, the man he thought of as a friend, or as much of one as he’d let himself have, after Theo.

“I think you’re still angry.” There was a tiny bit of wry humor in Saunders’ voice, but it faded completely with his next words. “How many times have I told you that you can’t carry this stuff around with you? Haven’t you learned yet?”

“I obeyed the order. I’m here.” He slammed the wine back and nearly choked.

“We couldn’t have gotten him out of there. I’m no doctor –“

“No, you aren’t.  And now, neither is he!” His voice rose to a shout, and he stopped suddenly as he realized he was attracting attention, and not in a good way.

Saunders pressed on, disregarding Caje’s anger. “One, he wouldn’t have made it, not at the pace we had to travel. And two, the Germans had moved around us.  Even if he’d had a chance, sending someone back would have been suicide.”

“I could have made it. I’d have found a way. Maudit, Sarge! It was Doc! He wasn’t like us, he wasn’t…” Caje’s voice trailed off, pain evident. He thought of the gentle medic. Of all the people to leave alone, dying –

“We pull out of here tomorrow. Should I tell Hanley you’re staying behind? You want a transfer?”

For a long moment, the scout focused hard on the empty glass. To have to start over again. Leave the others behind, maybe never knowing what happened to them. Slowly, he began shaking his head. “No. No, I’ll be ready.”

“Good.” Saunders knew better than to push the Cajun scout. He waved off the waitress and turned to leave. “You’re on watch tonight.”

“I’ll be there.”

The non-com exited into the twilight while Caje glanced at his watch and then signaled for another glass of wine.

Waste Not, Want Not – Threewordwednesday

[Author’s note:  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a Friday Flash called “When the Sky Was Blue“.  Some of the commenters said it felt like part of a longer story and after a lot of thought, I came to agree.  This is a first pass as to how that universe and some of its customs might have had their beginning.  I think I might feel a novel coming on… :)]

John Proctor cupped his hands around the tiny plant in a futile attempt to nurture and support it. But first one leaf dropped, then another and the forlorn stem sagged.

He sighed and sat back on his lab stool.  Well, that’s that. He’d been diligent in collecting and filtering water samples and had done his best to refine the outdoor soil samples he’d collected, but no matter how remote his travels were, he couldn’t get away from the toxins which had spread, like tumors, from hundreds of years of industrialization and all that went with it.

A child’s amateur interest in green and growing things had become the man’s profession. For most of his work life, he’d gone from radio show to talk show to television interview to newspaper interview, preaching about the damage humans were doing, not only to their world but to themselves. As a rule, he was dismissed as alarmist and a “crackpot”.  Most people liked their lives as they were and weren’t willing to make the major sacrifices needed to fix the damage. Now they were dying by the thousands, born and unborn — quick and painful deaths, untreatable and for which there seemed to be no anodyne.  His scientist’s mind calculated that at the present rate, Earth’s population could become non-sustainable in less than five years.

Proctor held face up to the weak sun. That was another issue.  He sighed again.  There were so many – but it was time to stop weeping over what was done and uncorrectable and salvage as much as possible.  He spun his laptop around, and in a few decisive keystrokes, he started a new email.



Subject: Project Ark

Per our discussion last week, my last experiment just died.  There is no time left, and you must begin the procedures I outlined when I was in Washington DC in February.  What good resources we have need to be collected and rationed. Use must be rationed.  It’s time to revive that good old Yankee saying our great grandparents lived by: “Waste not, want not”…

Definitions – #FridayFlash 3/16/2012

Emily waited quietly in the lobby, sitting stiffly on the dark green sofa that had seen better days.  The receptionist’s desk was unmanned, with only a phone and a sign that said to ‘call “222” to be admitted’.  She sighed. Even the sign on the wall opposite her was 80s retro – she knew that David had liked to keep up with new styles, and equally well that he couldn’t afford it.

His story was a common one – a small company or chain run under by competitors on the Internet or in the big box malls.  Emily knew it had to be weighing on him, that service and quality didn’t matter as much as cost.

David, his black hair almost completely gone grey, opened the door and leaned out. “Emily? Did you want to see me?”

The lines on his face had deepened so she almost didn’t recognize him – he didn’t look anything like the dapper man whose commercials used to be common fare on local TV. He looked like a man on the verge of giving up.  Giving Up.  Maybe even the ultimate “giving up”. Her jaw firmed.  She could help him and she was determined to do it, determined not to lose her friend.

“Well,” she started, uncertain. “Actually, it’s – can we go somewhere private?”

“Let’s go to my office.”


“You can’t be serious!”

“Yes, David, I am.  I can’t bear to see how things are with you and I want to help.” Her voice, which had started off strong, faded, as she pleaded with him in a near-whisper. “Please let me help.”

David stared at his hands as though he’d never seen them before.  “Emily, you’d only be throwing bad money after good.  The stores are going to close – we’ve lost our market and all but a few customers. GoodFit is going to go away and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“Yes, but – you must have debts that have to be paid – that you’ll sleep easier when you know you don’t have to worry about.”

“I do. And they’re my responsibility, not yours.”

“Can you pay them?”

“I’ll figure something out.”

“Let me help you and you won’t have to. Besides,” she said, suddenly shy, “I seem to remember you helping us…”

David turned to look out the window. “Emily.” He stopped, uncertain as to what he wanted to say.

She began again and he raised his hand for silence. The clock on the wall was loud in the stillness.

Finally, he turned back to her. “Yes, I accept.  It will make things easier for me, no question about that.”

“I remember, how good friends we’ve been, you and Linda and Mark and I, and the children…”

David managed a smile. “And now you’re being a good friend again.” He cupped her face, gently. “Everyone should have such good people in their lives.”

“Oh, David…” Emily’s eyes filled with tears.

“Now, now.” He hugged her gently and patted her on the back, almost as a child.

She pulled herself together and stepped away, fumbling in her purse. She slid the checkbook and pen out, took one of the chairs in front of the desk and wrote firmly.

David was reluctant to take the check, so she sat it on the desk and stood. On the way out the door, Emily turned suddenly.  “David, this will make things right for you, yes? You won’t… you’ll be all right?”

He smiled and nodded.  “Yes, my dear. This makes everything all right.”

She relaxed, nodded and turned to go.

After David heard the door close, he picked up the check and looked at it for a long time. He walked around his desk and took an envelope from a drawer and put the check in it.

“I couldn’t have done it otherwise, couldn’t have left Linda and Evvie with the debts,  but now…”

He laid the envelope on the corner of his desk and opened another drawer.


Emily waited in the lobby for the elevator. Dear David. I was so afraid he’d … take another way out. Now, it should be all right. The elevator doors opened.

As the elevator closed and began to move, she heard the gunshot and began to cry.

Survival Instinct

The couple burst out of the woods, panting.  After a moment to recover, the man reached up and took a leaf from the woman’s hair and brushed her thin face. She smiled wanly and pulled her coat, beaten up and now far too large, around her.

“Emily? You ok?”

“For now. They’ll be back on our trail soon.”

“Except for Bill,” he said grimly.

“Yes. Luke?”


“Hold me, will you?”

The wind rustled in the late Autumn trees and ruffled the moonglade on the lake. Emily trembled in the chill night air, despite Luke’s arms around her. The two of them jumped at every blown leaf, every sound in the underbrush.

Luke stepped back from her and took the gun from his pocket.  He snapped out the cylinder and looked at the single bullet.

“Emily, you know what we talked about…”

“Yes. We don’t have any other choice, do we?” She wiped a weary hand across her face.

“Not if we want a clean death, no.” One by one, the companions they’d escaped from the city with had been prey, and after a brief time, predator. A Walker had bitten each of the changed ones and the little group did their best to free their friends, one by one, until at last only Emily and Luke were left.

“No food,” Luke snapped the cylinder shut, “one bullet and no one to run with.  No safe place to be.” He turned her around and held her closer. “We’ve seen too many people go over  – and I don’t want to spend the rest of however long chasing down – others – and eating them.” He paused. “And I don’t want to leave you alone. Or be left alone, come to that.”

“Me either. Zombies used to be a funny idea for commercials.  Too bad the ad guys didn’t realize what the real thing was going to be like.”

“I imagine they know now.” Luke’s laugh was completely humorless. He stepped back and gave her a worried look.  “I wish you’d reconsider.”

“No. Guns – I couldn’t do it and I won’t let you do it to me.  Drowning doesn’t seem so bad; I can even stay afloat if I have to. As cold as the water is… well, after a little while, I won’t care so much.”

“I should never have let you watch Titanic.”  He held the gun aloft with one hand and sank the other into her hair, pulling her toward him for a deep kiss.  “I love you.”

Emily stepped back and traced his features, brushed her fingertips over his lips. “And I, you.”

They both started in terror at a sudden sound behind them. A raccoon scuttled into view and they chuckled nervously.

“Thank goodness the animals didn’t become Walkers after they were eaten.  We’d have never made it this far.”

Abruptly, Luke walked away from her and toward a spot on the shore of the lake where a strong current rippled the surface.  “Don’t watch, Emily.”

Emily turned her back. She heard splashing as he walked deep into the water. After a long pause, the gun roared.  The full moon reflected off the tears that poured down her face as she imagined the damage to his beloved face. Stiffly, she turned and saw his body being carried out on the current, out to the middle of the lake.

I can do this, I can do this… But somehow her feet refused to move.

Behind her, there were noises too loud to be made by an animal. Over her shoulder, she saw moonlight reflected from waving arms and torn bodies.  The Walkers had arrived.

Stumbling away, she made for the shore and stepped gingerly into the icy water. A clean death, a clean death.  I can’t let them catch me. She dove for deeper water, heedless of the horrible cold and of the blood that lapped against her.  Shaking, she forced herself to swim out to the center and treaded water clumsily. On the shore, figures lurched back and forth, but didn’t come into the water.  In the moonlight, she saw Walkers on other shores. Well, I’m committed now. Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.

Moments passed and she realized that dying was going to be harder than she thought. How do you make yourself drown? Every instinct told her to stay afloat; whenever she started to sink, she struggled back up.

A few feet away, a shadow rose from the water.  Emily flailed to get away and came to the horrified realization that it was Luke’s body.

“Oh, love… “ She touched his shoulder, his hair – His hair? She pressed down and realized that his skull was intact. Rolling him over, she could see his face hadn’t been damaged.  The moon came out from behind a cloud and showed her the bullet wound in his chest.

“Luke – Oh, my g—why didn’t you shoot yourself through the head?”

Briefly, she tried to hope.  He hadn’t been bitten, after all. Then, the body shuddered. It doesn’t matter… Emily was paralyzed with cold and with terror as Luke’s eyes opened, glazed white and filled with a kind of manic glee. She exhaled and fought to sink, tried to breathe in water, tried to die by her own choice.

Luke – or what had been Luke – dropped past her, to her bewilderment.  She struggled past where he’d been and forced herself down, down, gagging on the lake water, her survival instinct keeping her holding her breath.

Suddenly, her scalp protested. Luke had sunk his pallid fingers into her hair in a macabre perversion of his final caress on shore, and was pulling her back to the surface.  Her lungs screamed for air as they breached the surface.

No, Luke – a clean death was her final thought, as he brought up his hand, clenched around the gun he’d  retrieved. He smashed her skull and began to feast.

Three Word Wednesday, 1/4/2011

Naughty, Tactic, Zenith

Xeri focused briefly on the terrain in front of her and then strode briskly on a course three degrees to the left.  I’m sure this is where it is — it’s the kind of tactic he’d use.

Nearly half a wake period later, she stopped in front of three rocks, sculpted together by the wind. For years, they had met here, played, grown and bonded, to the despair of their parents. Naughty girl, she could remember her mother crying, and after we’ve worked so hard to establish the contract with Caetor Brandis. Do you know what you’re doing?

Xeri had shrugged her shoulders and nonchalantly accepted her punishment. I can’t help it if Ixle Brandis thinks he wants me. It will be Falai or no one. She repeated the words to her father, who visibly sagged and returned the mate-price to the Caetor. The following winters had been very difficult — and would have been worse had Falai not done what he could to help her.

What’s past is past. She climbed the rocks, finding the familiar hand and footholds, until she reached the zenith. Her vision blurred with tears, but she brushed them away angrily. Falai would laugh at me.  He had been gentle and practical — even-tempered, not given to much emotion; a stark contrast to her volatile nature.

You give me fire and I –“

You gentle me. Yes.”

It had been their balance.  Now she had to find a new balance, alone.

Xeri reached out with her mind — here, there — trying to sense what he’d left behind. There?  No, there! She let her sense brush it gently, bring it to life. Slowly, before her eyes, a spark glimmered and grew. It was all that was Farai, all that was left of him. She cupped her hands in front of her, and the light floated to them, settling in.


“Yes, kerame?” The light glittered on her face in the wake of a single tear.

“Always with you. Always.”

“I know. And I with you.”

“Let me go now.” When she hesitated, his face shimmered briefly in front of her. “You must, mekera.”

“Yes.” She spoke the word of release under her breath, and the light rose, and thinned and vanished on the wind.


Three Word Wednesday, 9/14/2011

Backward, Ease, Omission

Testing, testing… That sound you hear in the background is rain. If anyone actually finds this recording, you probably didn’t need to be told that. Chances are good that you know it backward and forward, along with thunder and the sizzle of dissolving – . Strike that.

Right now, I can still ease against the window and relax. Sort of. There’s a drip outside the window that’s really annoying, but it’s not like I can do anything about it. So far, window glass seems to be proof against the corrosive effects of the weather – more than you can say for living tissue and things like wood and shingles and even the grass. Mowing the lawn is a thing of the past, as you also probably know. I’m looking out at what used to be finest Kentucky bluegrass. Now it’s a barren pitted mess, mostly down to bedrock. Of course, I won’t be raking the leaves, listening to birdcall in the morning or being awakened by the dogs who had lived in my neighbor’s back yard any time soon, either. I’m just glad I live in a stone house with a slate roof. At least I think I am.

Of course, I have other problems. I’m down to the last 12 of the five-gallon bottles of water I’d managed to bring into the house when we – I — … sorry. [silence] Didn’t mean to break down. When my late spouse and I realized what was happening, we did what we could to try to get past what we were sure was a temporary situation. Our local water guy brought these out, when it was still possible to be outside. First, we tried a charcoal filter, but whatever it was in the water couldn’t be filtered out. So if you haven’t tried that, don’t bother. I spilled some of the water on my hand and – oh, well. I didn’t really need my left little finger anyway. (Did I mention how much that drip outside is really bugging me?)

Pat’s not here anymore. I think maybe the almost-constant rain caused a breakdown. All I know was I awoke to the mutter of “why are we bothering?” and the sound of footsteps, a closing door – and screams. I still hear the screams. By the time my brain responded, it was too late. I felt so guilty; I still do. I think that maybe I didn’t do enough or should have done more. I don’t know. I didn’t push my beloved out the door, but maybe I was guilty of a sin of omission. Maybe it was that drip outside. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Hey. Had to stop there for a moment.

And another moment. Or two. There. So I’ve had lots of time to do all kinds of things I wanted to, even if there’s not much use in it. Believe it or not, the Internet still works, although the electricity is almost ready to quit, but most of the people I knew online are gone, and the ones who aren’t gone physically are pretty gone mentally. You can only watch so many people and animals die, you know. You do know, don’ t you?

Which makes writing pointless, kind of. When the aliens finally show up, or whoever, they’re not going to be reading flash fiction. And it’s not like I have anyone else to write for – Pat never really was interested in reading my stuff anyway. Back in a minute.

Ok. Back. Made dinner. Didn’t eat it. Opened the window real quick and tossed the plate into the backyard. All the food dissolved right away. Just like yesterday and the day before. And the day before that. I’m going to run out of plates before long, but if anything of civilization survives this mess, we need to save some of the water. Beats all the fancy detergents, and I’ll bet those plates are squeaky clean. Hang on.

Well, that was more than a minute. I needed to sleep. Guess I did for a while, but I got woken up by thunder and a crash. The Lemons’ flagpole just fell on their car. Too bad. And the rain, that woke me up, too. I wish it would stop. It’s not relaxing any more. Wish it would stop. Wish it would stop. Wonder what silence sounds like. I remember that. Kind of.

And there’s that damn drip again. You know what? I think I’m going to go fix it. Right now.

Don’t wait for me. I won’t be back.

The Locket

“Where do you want this, Grandpa?”

Bill turned around and rubbed one work-roughened hand over his forehead, wiping away the sweat. “Put it over there, Jeremy.” He waved generally over to a blank spot on the far side of the small apartment. “Just anywhere.”

“Ok.” The teenager dodged around the stacks of boxes with the innate grace of the young and stood by Bill, concerned. “You okay?”

Bill mustered a smile. “Sure, Jeremy. Fine.  Just tired.” He dropped onto the sofa and closed his eyes for a moment, then sighed and looked around the room.  Whoever thought that 35 years could be packed up into a dozen or so boxes?

“Dad? Jeremy?” He heard his son on the stairs, puffing as he brought the last box up and dumped it on the stack.

“Over here, David.” His son joined them, hands on hips. My son, the desk jockey. Dave worked out and played tennis, and was in pretty good shape, but somehow he seemed soft to his father. Bill couldn’t help it – he loved his son, but he had a former factory worker’s innate distrust of people who earned money by sitting behind a desk using their brains instead of their hands.

Dave looked around at all the boxes, and said again, “Dad, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Sure you don’t want some help?”

Bill laughed. “Son, I’ve got nothing but time. And now I’ve got something to do.” I would have driven your mother crazy, if… There was a tiny tremor around Bill’s mouth, just a little one that neither of the others noticed. “So don’t worry about me.”

For the next week, the apartment resembled a badly-run thrift store. Bill had meant to have a system about unpacking the boxes; after all, he and Jeremy had labeled them so they’d go in certain rooms and even done a brief list of the contents. Though he started out with the best of intentions, it hadn’t quite worked out the way he intended.

Eventually he managed to get almost everything put away and was down to the last couple of boxes. They held things he’d cleared out of his wife Evelyn’s desk, barely even looking at the items as he packed them away.

Most of what was in there was office supplies, and notes on things she’d been working on but never finished. He put the stapler, tape and other things aside, thinking he could donate them somewhere. He sifted slowly through the notes. Bill overruled the part of him that was ridiculing his impulse to keep the notes as an early sign of turning into a packrat and stored them away.

At the bottom of the box, there was a small brown envelop.  He didn’t recognize it until he turned it over and saw the mailing label. For several moments, he simply stared at it. Slowly, he reached back in and took it out, opening it and shaking the contents into one shaking hand.

He lifted the locket into the light by the delicate chain and watched the engraving sparkle as it swung softly back and forth. Eventually, he opened it and looked at the pictures inside.

For their 25th anniversary, he’d found the photos her dad had taken of them as they got ready to go to their prom, had them reproduced and put into the locket. Evelyn had loved it and wore it all the time, right up until she’d had to go into the hospital. Then there were so many other things to think about – treatments and paperwork and being able to stay with her as much as he could – and he didn’t know what she’d done with it.  When he finally had time to ask, it was too late, and she’d slipped away from him without another word. I wanted to put it in your hand in the casket, Bill thought. I wanted …

He shuddered for a moment, then picked up the envelope, put the locket back inside and replaced the envelope on the desk.

Bill caught an unfamiliar odor and sniffed the air. What is that? Is something burning? He realized he’d left the soup he was heating up for lunch on the stove. He hurried into the little kitchen and grabbed at the pan without thinking.

The handle was hot and it seared his hand. He jerked back and knocked the pan on the floor and soup went everywhere.

Suddenly, all the pain that he’d buried behind his stoic façade, behind the rule his father had pressed on him from the time he was old enough to understand – “Men don’t cry” – broke free. He lowered his head, hot tears streaking his  face, dripping onto the worn work clothes that he’d put on that morning without thinking, as if it were just another work day and he could come home, and she would be there.

“Ah, hell, Evelyn. Why? Why did you leave me? Oh, honey, what am I supposed to do without you? What am I supposed to do?”

Friday Flash,6/3/2011 – The End of the Rope

[A/N: Warning … strong language and domestic violence (physical and emotional)]

The woman stopped typing briefly, and hastily wiped the tears from her face so she could see. It didn’t help – through blurred eyes, she fumbled for the home keys on the keyboard and kept going.

 “ – So you see, Doctor, at this point, I don’t know what to do. I can’t stay; I can’t go. I’m caught and I really need to find a solution. You won’t be able to call me. Jim answers every phone call and opens all my mail. Fortunately he doesn’t understand email, so please, if you can help me, email me back. I can check it while –

 A bellow from upstairs interrupted her.

“Jenny, get up here!”

With a sigh, she hit the Send button and turned off the screen. Slowly, she climbed the stairs. “Yes,” she said quietly. “What did you want?”

“Make me some hot cocoa. And bring me a peanut butter sandwich.” She turned to leave, and just as she reached the door, he said, “Where are my jeans?”

“I don’t know.  Where did you take them off?” Her tone was quiet and deliberately non-confrontational. It was a bad idea to let him hear her irritation; she had a pair of broken eyeglasses downstairs as mute testimony to that.

“I don’t know either.  Never mind.”

She started back down the stairs, but when she was half-way down, he called again. “Bring me that new Custer book that came today!”

“Okay,” she called back. Two steps later, he yelled again, shrilly: “Where’s my hot cocoa?”

“I’ll be up in a minute, okay?” She tried to speak up loudly without yelling or emotion. His hearing was going but his vanity wouldn’t let him admit it, and if she spoke up too loudly, he’d accuse her of being bitchy. Can’t win, either way.

In the kitchen, she mixed the cocoa and put it in the microwave. While she waited for it to heat, she made the sandwiches. He only said one sandwich, but she knew if she only took one sandwich up, he’d want two. If he complained about the second one, she could eat it herself. Although likely enough if she said so, he’d say that he really wanted them both, and if she wanted one she should have made one for herself instead of eating his. “Selfish bitch” and “backstabbing whore” were two of his favorite names for her and she was so used to hearing them that she didn’t really hear them any more.

When the microwave beeped, she took the cocoa out and poured it in a cup. She put the sandwiches on a plate and went into the living room for the book. Balancing the plate on the book, she started up the stairs again.

“Took you long enough,” he muttered, with no words of thanks – not that she expected any. He sipped the cocoa, and scowled. “This isn’t hot enough!” He sat up enough to throw the contents of the cup in her face. “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right?” He slammed the cup to the floor, careless of the mess he made on the carpet.

She tried hard to be stoic, but the tears restarted, fat drops that rolled down her face and dripped off her chin, making tracks in the hot cocoa.

“Oh, oh. Niagara Falls again. You’re such a big baby. Why did I ever marry you?”

She turned and left.

“I suppose you’re going to go downstairs and sit on your fat ass in front of the computer for the rest of the day,” he called after her. “Lazy bitch.”

Later, she stood in the living room, face pink from the cocoa, and stared blankly for a long time, unmoving. Finally, she looked at the bottles of medicine on the small table – he wanted his pills by his chair so he could take them on some obscure schedule that only he understood. Lithium. Metformin. Melatonin. She put those aside and picked up the last bottle. Seroquel. Take 4 at bedtime.  Even though it hadn’t been prescribed for her, she’d once shaken one of the large caplets out of the bottle during a particularly bad day, broken it and taken a very small bit. She’d been out for half a day afterwards. She considered it thoughtfully for a moment, and then put it down when he yelled again.

“Get me some more fucking hot cocoa! And this time, do it right.”

On her way back up the stairs, she stopped by the Seroquel again.

“I guess it’s okay. Sorry I threw it at you before, but if you’d just do what you’re supposed to, I wouldn’t have to get mad.” He drank some more and put the cup on the nightstand.

She stood back and watched him as his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, then turned and made yet another trip down the stairs.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, her hands moved carefully over the keyboard again.

I’m sorry to have bothered you, Dr. Riordan. I think I’ve found a solution – the only one I could, really. Please understand; I’m at the end of my rope and there was just nothing else to do.”

She moved the mouse, clicked on the “Send” button, and then sat back. Soon she would never deal with insults and yelling and insufficiently hot cups of cocoa again.  Forgive me, she thought, to Whoever was out there, as she closed her eyes and waited.


Frank dashed between two guys who were leaving their places and cut off another one approaching the same space. “Sorry, pal.” He pulled his zipper down and sighed in relief.

“Don’t do it.”

“What?” The interruption came from the man on his right. Between the splashing and the crowd around him, he wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly.

“Don’t do it.” His new acquaintance was his height, maybe a little shorter, hair completely grey, cut in a way that felt oddly familiar to Frank.

“I think it’s a little late now,” he replied sarcastically, covering for his reaction. My god, he looks like me – say, oh, 20 years from now. If I had a really hard life.

“Oh, not that,” the other replied with the same sardonic smile. “I mean,” he looked around to see if anyone was paying attention. Intermission was nearly over and the others using the restroom were hurrying to get back to seats, to sons, wives or buddies. “I mean Angie.”

Frank twitched. “Sorry.” He zipped up and started to the sink. His companion came after him. “What about her?”

“I know what you’re planning for tonight.” Their eyes met in the mirror as Frank washed his hands. “Don’t do it.”

“Why not?” Frank focused on his hands, on the soap, on everything but the older man. He was angry. Who set this guy up? Charlie? Susan? Damn it!“Hell, why is it any of your business anyway? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“Oh, but I’ve seen you.  Everyday. Ever since about 1964 or so, when we were at the age when they say babies start developing self-awareness.  Remember the little mirror Mom strung over our crib?”

The question felt like a sucker punch to Frank.  He struggled to catch his breath and concentrated hard on the reality around him, trying to bring his world back into focus. Rich!It had to be his older brother who did this.  Hadn’t he just looked at Frank the night before, with a comment about how he’d been in a long dry spell with women and he hoped things were better with Frank.

“Tell Rich it didn’t work, whatever it was –“

“Rich had nothing to do with me being here. I’m YOU, Frank.”

“I don’t believe it.”

The older man rocked back on his heels, smiling. Frank thought his “older self” smiled like a shark on the prowl. “I know something only we know, something Rich and Susie and Steve have no idea about. Sister Therese, when we were 11 years old, remember? Remember looking through the dortoirwindows? How…”

“Stop!” Frank looked around. Not that anyone was that close, but it was not one of his more cherished memories and he didn’t particularly want to share it with anyone.  Of course, if this man in front of him was telling the truth – “Just be quiet.”

“Then listen to what I’m telling you. Yoube quiet for a minute.”

Frank paused, and then shoved his hands in his pockets. “Go ahead. You got two minutes.”

“Tonight you want to take her home, right? Take her home and stay.” Frank’s older self closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.  “Believe me, you’d have enjoyed it.  A lot.  She’s amazing.” He opened his cold brown eyes and locked them with Frank’s. “But … even though she ought to be too old, you get her pregnant. She doesn’t tell you because when you decide it’s over, you tell her never to call you again.”

Frank shook his head to clear it. “I do what? Why?”

“Sandy puts the screws to you about Jenny. You can’t bear the thought of losing Jenny and you break both your heart and Angie’s and move on.” He continued, “Only one day you’re at the market where she shops and you see her and she’s big as a fucking house. Eight months along, easy. It takes you more than six months to find her – she moves. And when you do, she tells you to go away, that you made your choice and she doesn’t want you around her and your son.”

Frank gasped. My son? He turned away from the other. No one knew how badly he wanted a son. He loved Jenny, had from the moment she was born, but he’d wanted a son more than he could express. And Sandy had said “no”; no more children. A son!

There was something that was almost sympathy in the older man’s eyes. “I know what you’re thinking. But it doesn’t work out that way. When she shuts you out, you lose it. And when the smoke clears, she’s dead and the little guy is howling. You grab him and run for it. But they catch up with you and they take him and you’ll never see him again.”

Frank rocked back and forth.

“You get an all-expense paid vacation at the pen in Holloway. Not exactly fun-filled.” He grabbed Frank by the arm and shook him to get his attention. “We’re not that big, you and I.  Oh, we’re in good shape and all that, but we’re not very tall or nearly strong enough and I guarantee you that no one who has sex with you over the next 15 years will look anything like Angie.”

The younger man jerked his arm away, revolted.

“So here it is.  This is my last chance to change our lives. I tried this once before, but it turns out if you don’t take her home and she goes on the Subway, she’ll be killed. Some mugger or attempted rape. You know how she is – she fights back, only she winds up dead.”

“What kind of choice is that?”

“Not much of one, I grant you. Either way she winds up dead. There’s a third choice.”


“Take her home. Leave her there. Don’t touch her.”

Frank trembled. He thought of what they’d shared so far – it wasn’t enough, hadn’t been nearly enough. He wanted her. He wanted it all. Her long, soft hair, like flame, the tall, slender body … “I can’t – please don’t make me choose! Now that I know; now that I understand … I can change things. It doesn’t have to turn out …”

“Who are you talking to, bud?”

Frank spun around. An arena security guard was there, hands on hips.

“I was … where did he go?” He looked around, but the second period had begun and the concourse was empty, except for a few stragglers.


“Nobody. I mean, he must have taken off.” Frank brushed by the security guard and headed back to his seat.

After the game, Frank and Angie walked down the sidewalk. “Listen –“ They turned to each other almost simultaneously, and laughed. “I know you want to come home with me, but we both know you have to get back,” she said. “I’m just going to take the subway. There’s lots of people heading home, too. I’ll be fine.”

“I –”

“No, Frank, I insist. You get going. We’ll have time another day.”  She kissed him and walked briskly away, dodging through the crowd with the agility of a much younger woman.

He watched her go, torn. Looking down at his hands, he seemed to feel blood on them.

He could see her in the group ahead of him, auburn hair shining in the lights she passed, and he rocked back and forth in indecision.

He began to walk, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until at last he was running.