Follow Abufares

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Will

By Chevsapher (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


Daren, his sister, Stella, and their cousins, Elsa, Lizbeth, Nathan, and Jonathan were in the office of Trevor Byrd, attorney at law. Their grandfather, Mr. Pierce Eason, passed away at the age of eighty-eight. He excluded his three surviving children from the will and instead named his six grandchildren as heirs. Jonathan was the designated executor.

“Why Jonathan?” Daren asked, betraying his resentment.

 “According to Mr. Eason," the lawyer replied, "Jonathan’s the only one who’s not… sorry, but I have to use his exact words, ‘… a ne'er-do-well, rich kid.’ Your grandfather started as a ranch hand at a young age. He believed that Jonathan, who actually works for a living, is better qualified to make sound judgments.”

A dejected murmur of dissent crescendoed into a collective outcry of indignation. Only Jonathan, standing by the window and looking out, remained silent.

“Spare us the crap,” Daren retorted. “Just read the will.”

The multimillion-dollar estate of the late magnate was to be divided among Doctors-Without-Borders, several environmental groups and a charity for the homeless. He left the Wyoming ranch for the heirs to dispose of as they see fit. None of them had prior knowledge of the ranch’s existence.

Jonathan insisted that he must see the property first thus vetoing the otherwise unanimous decision to sell it. His cousins didn’t trust him to go there alone. They all agreed reluctantly to travel to Powell, Wyoming the following Wednesday and meet in the Lamplighter Inn in the evening. That would give them two full days to arrange for the sale of the ranch with a local realtor, recommended by Mr. Byrd. They could fly back from Yellow Stone over the weekend and resume their separate lives.

“Damn you, Jonathan!” Elsa said to his face. That was the last he heard from any of them until they were reunited in Powell.

Daren and Jonathan rode with the realtor. The others followed in one of the rentals. Twenty miles to the northeast, they reached the ranch on the Montana border. The main house had long been deserted and the place was in shambles. The realtor’s estimate was a disappointment to everyone except Jonathan. For Lizbeth and Nathan, it wasn’t even worth the trip they took to this shit hole.

Jonathan sold everything he owned back in Jersey and bought the ranch from his cousins who were only happy to get it off their shoulders. He also bought two hundred sheep and hired a few hands, working himself to the edge of exhaustion, barely treading water. At the end of an exceptionally torrid summer, he was ready to throw in the towel, but force of habit kept him toiling until sunset every day. He was replacing a rotted beam in the barn’s roof when he found the letter. There was an abandoned mineshaft, his grandfather wrote, at the southern edge of the property. At the break of dawn, Jonathan climbed down with a lantern and a shovel and dug out the 270 lbs. pot of gold.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Boutique



A gust blew from the north carrying a whiff of the lake on its breath. The larches on the other side of the channel rustled, forcing a murder of crows to abandon the branches. The echo of ghastly cawing ricocheted against a spire, bounced on the walls, and then vanished into thin air.

Katherine reached for her disheveled bangs and combed them back. With her other hand, she furtively searched for mine and found it. I pulled her closer and buried my face in her hair. She nestled her head against my chest and breathed our entangled scents. The wind gave up when we kissed on the sidewalk, and time looked the other way.

A whitewashed, narrow building stood at the end of the street, near the footbridge. We walked to the lone storefront and peered inside. Except for the burning lights, the place looked deserted. I turned the knob and gave the door a nudge. As it opened inward, the chimes on top shushed the whining hinges, muting their groans. Racks and tables stacked with retro clothes extended all the way to the deep end. Metal hangers carried pipes and ducts across the high ceiling. Faint Spanish guitar music played in the background. The boutique was intact, exactly the way we had left it one year ago.

Hiiiiii!” A velvety voice came out of nowhere. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

A slight woman, wearing a long skirt and gypsy hair, emerged from a backroom. “Hellooo!” She sang when she saw us.

We dawdled around the boutique, Katherine picking a shirt from a rack, returning a blouse to a table, I following in the wake of her grace.

“Keep the door open,” I joked, when she went into the fitting room. “I want to see you.”

“You never get enough, do you?” She laughed.

“How could I ever?”

The woman joined us, “You’ve been here before.” She said matter-of-factly.

“Yes, we have.” Katherine answered. “We love your boutique and are always happy to see it still open for business.”

“Thank you! It’s customers like you who make it worth the effort.”

I drank Katherine with my eyes as the woman fussed around her, fixing imaginary imperfections.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” I asked.

“She’s gorgeous! And, more so because I see her through your eyes.” The woman said.

“Oh, you do?”

“I love the way you look at her.” She smiled. “How long have you two been together?”

“Seven years.” Katherine replied.

“Oh my! You look as if you’re still on your honeymoon.”

At the counter, I picked a silk scarf and wrapped it around Katherine’s neck. It matched the color of her eyes. The woman handed me the bag of shopping and bid us good-bye.

A steady wind toyed with us when we stepped out of the boutique. It blew across the channel with a desperate sense of urgency pushing us to move on. We hugged each other, dragging our steps and dallying with time, heedless of the approaching rain.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stupid Piece of Lettuce



My teeth sunk deep into the soft buns, bursting a medley of juicy flavors. A sliver of lettuce broke free, smearing my chin with mayonnaise, and fell to the floor. I tried reaching down to pick it up but I couldn’t. Michael, sitting across, chewed on his mouthful until it chuted down his esophagus. He took a swig of soda then he coughed and cleared his throat.

“You’re such an obsessive-compulsive old man. Will you just forget about the stupid piece of lettuce and enjoy the damn burger?”

Michael was right, I was frigging old. I nudged the gummy piece of lettuce with my foot, hoping it would stick to the side of my shoe but it didn’t. I stomped it flat. Crap! That only made it worse.

After the third bite, my burger crumbled.

“You’re holding it backward.” He said. “Keep your thumbs underneath the lower bun and the other fingers on top.”

My thumbs disbanded the sandwich as they bore into the bread. The patty slid askew, diced onions fell on the Formica table, and a slice of tomato threatened to follow. Crossed-eyed, I saw a smudge on the tip of my nose.

“Here, use a napkin.” Michael mumbled as he chewed and sipped, ignorant of the fix I was in, or pretending to be.

I looked under the table again then back at him, cloudy, gray eyes imploring.

“I won’t pick it up.” He said. “And neither will you even if you could. Just stop stressing about the goddamn lettuce.”

Michael scoffed what remained of his burger and slurped the last two ounces of his drink. The ice rattled in the paper cup. Gazing at some point above my left shoulder, he frowned as if deep in thought then laughed like a maniac.

Wipe that smirk off your face. I just don’t like making a mess.

“That’s why they hired that Mexican girl. Not because she has a PhD in physics like you have but to clean the floor after sloppy customers. If everyone cleaned after himself or herself, she’d be out of a job. She’s cute, isn’t she? Look at her firm, little butt and perky breasts.”

The girl was beautiful. Twenty, twenty-one. I held her in my eyes.

Only if I were younger, Pretty Thing. You should’ve seen me in my twenties. I had a full mane of dark hair and I was taller, much taller.

“You know why this joint is painted in bright orange?” He asked. "It’s to drive people nuts so they eat and take off.” He answered his own question. “Come on, let’s go.”

Michael helped me to my feet. I grabbed the cane and walked stiffly across the diner. I stole furtive looks at the girl’s butt and breasts. She caught me gawking and smiled at me. I smiled back, almost tripping. Michael held me steady.

“Hey dad, how about some ice cream before I drop you off? We can take the beach road.”

I nodded. I had nothing better to do.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ulcer


I picked up the receiver after the third or fourth ring, tipping the glass of water on the night table. “Hello!” I cleared my throat, but my voice came out hoarse. The colon in the middle of the clock display blinked, while the digits stared without a flinch.

“Hi daddy, it’s me. I’m sorry to wake you up at this hour.” Liz was crying.

“What’s wrong sweetheart? Are you two fighting again?”

“I left the house and brought the baby with me. I’m staying over with a friend.”

Before she hung up, she assured me that Brandon didn’t hit her. He never did, she swore.

He was a passive-aggressive bastard who transferred his neuroses to her, a control freak with a tongue capable of lashing out words soaked in bitter venom. A divorce was the obvious answer, but Liz’s life was a little complicated. She would lose custody of Michael, who was named after me, or more likely, after his paternal grandfather. Brandon wasn’t a bad guy, she claimed, but I never liked him. I told her that it wouldn’t work between them. Liz was in love, though, and she brushed me off with a sweet giggle.

“Oh come on, daddy. He’s a brilliant programmer, just like you. Give yourself enough time to know him better. Besides, you’re going to spend your summers in San Francisco from now on. Brandon’s dad’ll buy us a house overlooking the bay as a wedding present.” She kissed my forehead and tickled me. Her mirth was contagious. I burst out laughing.

They were married in London and left on their honeymoon the next morning. It was Liz’s dream to travel to Japan, but something important came up for Brandon. Instead of staying there for a month, they had to cut it short and fly to California a week later. I hadn’t seen my daughter since, and only knew my grandson as an apparition on a computer screen.

I switched the bedside lamp on and sat straight. A pool of water enclaved my pillbox. The ulcer scraped the lining of my stomach like an errant fingernail on a chalkboard. I winced and reached for the telephone.

“Hello Sid. It’s Michael.” I listened to his response and feigned a smile for my own benefit. “You sound good too.”

We chitchatted for a minute. He asked how I was managing alone. I sent Maggie, his wife, my regards. A pause wedged itself into the conversation before I filled the gap. “I need a favor. You have someone on the West Coast, right? Uh huh, San Francisco. Eight o’clock’s perfect. D’you still drink single malt? Good! I’ll bring you a 28 year Singleton. See you tonight.”

I shuffled my feet and found the wet slippers. Behind the curtains, the sun sneaked above the cityscape resurrecting shadows long presumed dead. I had a few loose ends to tie, I thought on my way to the kitchen, but first, I needed a glass of warm milk.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beauty and the Beast


At last, the Levant is under the spell of a conventional Mediterranean winter. Conventional in the sense that it's raining hard and snowing as it should, and that the temperatures are down to single digits at night in the coastal plains and below zero in the mountains and inland.

The earth was parched and the subterranean water reserves were all but gone. Had this winter been as benign as the previous one, Syria would’ve gone thirsty this coming summer. We were in dire need for Ghayth, rescue from the sky, to permit the lucky ones among us to live under worsening socioeconomic conditions for one more year.

But with the beautiful sight of white snow and the latent promise of a better tomorrow we shouldn’t overlook the true nature of the beast, the homeless, the orphans, the wailing mothers and grieving fathers, those who lost everything while the onslaught of war continues. We should remember our refugees, now scattered all over the world, freezing to death in the outback of neighboring countries or keeping warm in distant, Nordic lands. We need to honor the memory of those who died because they had no place to go to and those who were lost at sea trying to make it to safer shores.

Although the war in Syria has reached an unprecedented magnitude of baseness and cruelty, let us never forget how it all started so we can, or our descendants, breathe the fragrant air of the coming spring. No matter how calm it was before the storm, the cruel heat oppressed us. It’s always after the storm that beauty prevails.