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Friday, October 16, 2015

The Boyhood Trilogy - Part 3: Up on a Tree

Illustration "Boy Sitting on Branch" by SchoolSpirit

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
~Joyce Kilmer

Spring 1969
At the far side of the playground, a trail wormed its way down to the treeline. From there, the forest blanketed the mountainside, save for some houses on the beach shimmering like wiggling toes. Wary of my scraped elbows and knees, I faltered on the scree bracing myself against the leaning trunks. Forty feet off the trail, I sat on my ass and slid down to my tree. I heaved my body up onto the first branch and grabbed the second. Within a minute, I reached my perch on a sturdy bough. I came here whenever being in a crowd made me lonely and I needed time alone.

Summer 1989
The horizon arched like a picture taken from the edge of space. A dozen vessels, anchored in the bay, pivoted as one with the shifting currents. At the golden hour, a single ship gingerly broke from the pack. Once in the clear, she slow-steamed at first, and then sailed at full speed on a westerly course. I jumped from my tree and swam in her wake, her stern shrinking, the smoke from her chimney waning before she disappeared beyond the end of the world. In her hold, she carried my hopes and dreams in crates and bales.

Fall 2009
In a world I conjured of fantasy, I soared with the birds over the far north until, close to exhaustion, I landed on a tree. The bitter wind swirled the leafs in a frenzy of autumn colors. I fluffed my feathers against the onslaught of the foreign cold and held on to the swaying branch. Out of nowhere, a swallow darted straight at me, almost knocking me off. She pulled out and tweeted to follow. I took a deep breath and joined her on an updraft. We spiraled skyward until, short on air, we clamped claws together and came to a full stall. With our wings entwined, and bills locked in a manic kiss, we fell back to earth in a dizzying spin. When I opened my eyes, she was gone but my irises had turned blue. A skein passed overhead, heading south to warmer grounds. I took off again, and flew the other way.

Winter 20?9
I was woken by the storm. The treehouse creaked with the repercussion of thunder. I folded the futon, fed wood into the stove then I grabbed my chair and danced while the coffee warmed. The rope-ladder, lapping violently against the trunk, brought me out of my solo waltz. As I opened the trapdoor to retrieve it, I heard the fence gate squeal. Transients of all types called on me over the years but none came this deep into winter. I couldn't see the face but I recognized the turquoise scarf. My heart leapt out of its cage and laughed above the fury. I climbed down and ran toward the fence, the snow sizzling under my bare feet.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Boyhood Trilogy - Part 2: Indian Summer

"If All Saints' brings out winter, St. Martin's brings out Indian summer."
Old Farmer's Almanac

All Saints', 1970

The double-door opened to a wide corridor flanked on the left by the showers, and by the lavatories on the right. Straight ahead, the custodian's room split the dormitory in mirrored halves of thirty-six beds each. Monsieur Bruno, in charge of maintaining peace, also enforced the Wednesday-and-Sunday-only bathing rule, and made sure no one sneaked into the lavatories at night. For the Marist Brothers, bladder and bowel control was of utmost importance and made us, les petits garçons, better persons, even if we ended up wetting our beds or shitting our pajamas. Tonight, all but seven boys were away for the weekend. The remaining castaways had to wait for Christmas before they could go home.

Without any source of heating until St. Eligius', the nights were getting cold. By then, the nuts of many a boy would have either shriveled or fallen off. Perhaps this was the Brothers' way of propagating and sustaining their ranks. Monsieur Bruno went about his rounds, pointing his flashlight on each of the seven occupied beds across the hall. I closed my eyes shut and stopped breathing until the sloshing of his slippers faded out. Where was I? Yes, Mademoiselle Mireille was teaching me how to kiss. In this exile of boys, perverts and eunuchs, only a rampant imagination kept me going. And a huge crush on my French teacher.

St. Martin's, 1970

The classroom windows were open to a hazy sky of liquid lead. Inside, the acrid odor of twenty-five pubescent boys was nauseating. A pine tree sighed with an intangibly light breeze, lifting Mademoiselle Mireille's scent above the noisome air. From my front seat, I heard a boy in the back reciting a passage in French. After her usual back and forth pacing, Mademoiselle Mireille stopped and sat on the edge of her desk. I sunk into the chair and rested my cheek on my textbook. Oh, Dear, Sweet Lord! I was rewarded with a clear, unobstructed view or her white panties. In that eternal instant, I crossed the line and became a man three years ahead of puberty. At some point, never measured in real time, she dismounted and grabbed my ear. When she pulled me up, it was too late.

-"Hé, toi,petit méchant. Qu'est-ce que tu regardes?"
-"Moi! Rien! Je te jure…"

Caught red-faced, I summoned my hands to quickly cover the front of my pants, but she already knew too much.

St. John's, 1970

“Don't grow up too fast,” Mademoiselle Mireille said on the final day of boarding school as she pinched my ear for the very last time. Occasionally, over the last eight months, when she couldn't resist my defiant eyes, she'd grant me a fleeting glimpse at a new pair of panties. She had a look especially reserved for me, a half-smile-half-frown sort of expression, that gave me a head-start on understanding women.

St. Agatha's, 2009

Or so I thought!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Boyhood Trilogy - Part 1: The Threshing Floor

… Behold! Your great numbers elated you, but they availed you naught: the land, for all that it is wide, did constrain you, and ye turned back in retreat.
The Quran, Al-Taubah 9:25

Al-Mina St. Tartous, Syria (circa 1958)
The Threshing Floor is visible in the background, off to the left (behind the single white building)

June 11th, 1967 (the day after)

Men with stooped shoulders walked the streets on their way to make a living. Women ventured out on balconies to dry their laundry on flaccid clotheslines. On the Threshing Floor, kids, out of school for the summer, regrouped and played football again.

Around midday, an army ZIL truck dissected the improvised football pitch and stopped at the center spot. The driver, a brawny sergeant with a walrus mustache, emerged from the cabin and was soon followed by a sad-looking officer with sunken eyes. A whole platoon disembarked from the back with shovels and picks and started digging.

I watched from behind the painted windowpanes deep into the night,  as the silhouettes, illuminated by the truck's headlights, burrowed and disappeared into the ground. They were gone the next morning, leaving behind a long scar on the face of the Threshing Floor, dividing it in two, reducing the pitch to a quarter of its original size. The kids abandoned football and rode their bicycles, bridging the six-foot-wide trench with planks of discarded lumber.

August 2nd , 1969 (783 days after)

I locked the rear wheel and came to a sweeping stop. Eight or nine boys, squatting or leaning on their bikes, squinted in the glare and waited for me to reappear from behind a cloud of dust. Jumping the trench was the redemption sought after the Threshing Floor was defiled. Except for the buzz of flies and the loud weight of the heat, the space was silent. On the other side of the trench, the shimmering reflections of a million suns danced on the surface of the sea.

Beads of perspiration broke through my eyebrows and coursed around my nose, washing the gound at the corners of my eyes and burning my cracked lips. I wiped my face with the back of my hand before I kicked the pedal on a down-stroke. The bicycle swaggered left and right until it gathered enough momentum to shoot straight. It hit the makeshift setup mound at the exact right spot. As metal and flesh became airborne, I pulled back on the handlebars but the angle of attack was a tad shallow. The front wheel touched down on the other bank a couple of inches too short. The bicycle bucked underneath me like a horse shot dead and catapulted me clear. I landed hard, face first, on a protruding rock on the western side. Blood gushed from a nasty cut in the chin, as painful as the trench.

January 4th, 1978 (3,860 days after)

I took one last, fleeting look out of the taxi's rear window but couldn't see a thing. The Threshing Floor was encased by a high wall. Inside, the trench was filled and the entire ground resurfaced with concrete. Only my scar remained.

Friday, July 31, 2015


I stand waiting past midnight in the parking lot of a downtown hotel. An ambulance wails in the distance and from somewhere near, a dog howls in return, as if mourning the already dead. The gray mist, precariously balanced on the roof of the tallest building, jumps, blotting out the neon signs and the speckled, lit windows. I take one last drag and flick the cigarette butt. The ember arcs and crashes in a flurry of sparks. I exhale and listen, reconstructing the last one hundred days of my life.

Lili and I met on a dating site and fell in love in no time. On coffee breaks, in between meetings, at red lights and whenever possible, we seized the moment and spent it together. We called and texted, and as we became intricately more involved, we advanced to sexting and Skype sex. When I finally had a chance, I broke my chains and came running to her.

The click-clack of heels hammers the pavement. A slim shadow emerges into the cone of light. Lili walks to within an inch of me and stops, impregnating the air with her basic scent. I take a deep breath, almost snorting the freckles off her skin. With the taste of tobacco lingering on my breath, we lock in a feverish first kiss. Once we peel our lips apart, she whispers for me to take her. Now! I grab her arm and dash through the hotel back door. The elevator car is on the sixth floor. The room on the second. We find the staircase and start climbing.

Lili’s wearing black. Silk top, pencil skirt, seamed stockings, stiletto shoes and all. A slit slashes the rear of her skirt, denuding a lavish stretch of legs. The adrenaline rush puts us both on the first landing. A flood of endorphins propels us the rest of the way, leaving a trail of pungent pheromones in our wake. In my mind, I can taste flesh and nylon as I gnaw the garters, sliding them past her knees and calves.

Panting already, I slide the card through the lock. The door swings open and we lurch in. A lamp on the night table bathes the room in a warm glow. The bed’s too far, too decorous. I pick Lili up and lower her onto the desk. Standing between her legs, I pull at her shirt, stretching the fabric, popping the buttons off. I grab one of her breasts and squeeze. Her swollen nipples strain the lucent lace. My other hand drives to higher ground along her thigh. I kiss her earlobe, nibble at her neck. I bite her throat. She moans and bites back, shuddering. Unexpectedly, she clamps my wrist with a grip of steel. My heart pumps faster to divert blood to my brain. I look down and I see it. The knife, concealed in her stocking, is fully unsheathed. It catches a flicker of light in her raised hand before the night turns dark and silent.

Originally posted on the 500 Words Blog, where a small group of talented writers post their short stories. 

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.