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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

Lili


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.

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.