Central Park

“Let’s see. That’s one pastrami on rye and one steak on white. Two fries and two cokes.”

“That’s right,” Marilyn says.

Harvey finishes writing up our order. “Be right out.”

Marilyn does a thanks, then turns to me.

“So where do you want to go for the honeymoon?” She’s the planner. I am just happy to tag along. This marriage is going to be great. I can’t wait.

“I don’t know where,” I answer. I don’t.

“You always say that,” she says. “But c’mon, where do you want to go.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to see the Rockies.”

“Me too. So there’s where we’ll go. Yellowstone?” she asks, suggesting a place. With that smile of hers, I’d go anywhere with her. How lucky can a guy be to have a smile like that for every day of the rest of our lives. Man, that is heaven.

Harvey brings our food and sets it before us like we are royalty. I don’t care who you are Harvey makes the customer feel like royalty. Even a homeless guy. Harvey is the best, I’m telling you.

I look up at Harvey and ask my question, “What do you think of Yellowstone?”

“Never been there. Never want to leave the City. Ain’t this City grand? Just grand.”

“We love the City too,” Marilyn says. “But it’s our honeymoon.”

“In that case, I’d spend my honeymoon one night in one of those fancy Fifth Avenue hotels overlooking Central Park. Take a picnic to the Park. That’s what me and Louise did forty years ago. Louise is the wife. That was some honeymoon. That lady is the best. I am a lucky man.” Then Harvey leaves Marilyn and me to our food and our plans. He has a customer to greet.

Marilyn says to me, “I like that.” Her eyes are shining and her face is all lit up. You know how it is when you’re happy. “I really like that.”

“That’s what I was thinking too,” I say. The City is our home and we’re not going anywhere. Why would we want to?

We eat our food, discussing thises and thats between bites the way couples do. We’re two peas in a pod. Can there be a better life than this one?

We finish our meal, get up, pay the tab, drop a nice tip on the table for Harvey. Then we’re out the door of Harvey’s Deli. We kiss like the lovers we are, then Marilyn turns left. I go right. I head in toward Lehman’s where I work. I meet people coming out of the building. Lots and lots of people. They are crying.

There’s Frank. “Hey, Frank,” I stop him. “What’s going on?”

There are tears in Frank’s eyes. “I been here thirty years. It’s the end of the world. We’ve all been let go. I can’t believe it. Just like that.”

“Just like that?” I ask.

“Just like that. The company’s bankrupt.”

I run into the building and up to my office and my desk. There’s the pink slip. I knew things were bad but I never thought that they were this bad. I sit down at my desk, tears in my eyes.

My cell phone rings. It’s Marilyn. “I heard,” she says. There is concern in her voice. “Are you alright?”

Am I alright? At this moment, I am not alright. It’s like I am drowning, trying to catch my breath. I finally get the words out. The honest words that I couldn’t tell anyone but Marilyn. “No. I don’t think so. I can’t believe it. And I had to take the morning off.”

“It’s okay,” Marilyn says. “We’re going to be okay. I’m leaving work now and I will be over in a few.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs. In front of the building.”

“One moment you’re on top of the world, the next you’re under the rubble.” That’s what Uncle Gabe used to tell me. “You don’t get those top-of-the-worlds if a lot of rubble don’t fall on you.” Then he gave me the kicker. “As long as you’ve got family and friends, there ain’t no amount of rubble that can bury you.”

I pick up my pink slip, look at it, get up from my desk. I slowly head for the elevator. It hits me. I never really wanted to be a banker in the first place. Maybe Harvey will give me a job.

I walk out onto the street and into the big, wide world before me. Marilyn runs toward me. I grab her and she gives me the biggest hug in the world. “I love you,” she says.

“I love her,” I say, kissing my girl.

“I took the rest of the day off,” Marilyn says.

I laugh. You know it’s one of those laughs you have when the weight of the world is taken off your shoulders. Marilyn laughs with me. “Then let’s get married,” I say to this woman who is the love of my life.

“In Central Park?” she asks.

“In Central Park.”

A Marriage

“Why do you always run off to the shower after we make love?” This could be the man or the woman asking. On this particular night, it is the woman.

The man, her husband, slides back into bed beside his wife’s naked body, reaches over, kisses her lightly on the lips. She resists his kiss.

He withdraws to a few inches from her face. “You know you can join me in the shower. It’s not like there’s not enough room.” The best defense is a good offense.

He’s not ready to give up on that kiss. He tries again for her lips.

She is having none of his attempts at getting on her good side. “All I want is to be close,” she says, moving her lips away from his.

“I’m trying to be close now.” He catches her cheek with his kiss.

She pushes him away. “It isn’t the same. After we have sex, all you do is run away.” Slipping over to her edge of the bed, she gives him her back, then pulls the sheet tight around her, making it into a cocoon.

He drops off to his side of the bed. “But … Lenore,” he protests.

“Why do you choose to call me that?” she tosses over her shoulder at him. “You know I don’t like it, Sam.”

“What do you mean? Call you what?” he speaks to her back.

“Lenore,” she says the name as if it is a curse.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Of course it’s her name.

“It’s what my mother calls me. But I’m Nora and you most definitely know that.” Of course he knows it. He has called her Nora a thousand times and more. Her back is now a wall and she’s not allowing any climbing over it. Not for this night anyway.

”I like Lenore. It has such a romance to it. Just like you.”

Silence. Not a sound coming from behind that wall.

After several minutes of waiting for a truce and a goodnight kiss, he reaches over and switches off the bedside light, sighs and slides deeper into the bed. He lies on his back and studies the shadows spreading out across the room as the night grows deeper.

A sob escapes through a crack in that impenetrable wall lying next to him. His wife is crying, pouring herself into her pillow. He reaches over to offer her a tender, comforting touch.

She moves away from his hand and rolls over and faces him. “My name is Nora. And just why do you always feel the need to wash me off after we have sex? Guess you can’t stand the smell of me, the taste of me, the touch of me on your skin. Bet you can’t even stand the sound of me.”

He starts to protest but holds it in.

“Next thing I know you won’t even be able to stand the sight of me.” Shoving the covers off, she jumps out of bed, grabs her robe, heads for the door. Takes one last look at the man in her bed. “Ever since Candace went away to college,” she says, changing the subject but not really. She throws the robe on and heads off down the hall.

He calls after her. “Candace doesn’t like Candace for a name, you know.” Their daughter likes to be called Dash.

“That’s her name, Sam-u-el,” she cries out into the night. She’s Candace’s mother and she can call her daughter any damned name she wants. Why doesn’t he understand that?

“And Lenore is yours,” he wants to yell back but doesn’t. She is the woman he loves, has always loved, and he knows that this is not a good time to call out “Lenore”.

He moves over onto his side and faces the wall, pulls the sheet closer around his body. He hates these dark, restless nights when nothing seems to go right. When everything he tries is wrong.

He waits in the dark and hopes. What is he hoping for? That she’ll come back to bed? That he can somehow show her that he didn’t mean for the night to turn out the way it has? Maybe that, after twenty years of marriage, things can change? That he can change? He keeps hoping but he knows. This will not be the night.

It’s one thirty and he has to get up in the morning for work. But he’s not going to get any sleep. Not till Lenore comes back to bed, and they make up.

Why does he keep calling her Lenore? he wonders in his sleeplessness. He knows how much she hates it. It’s only at times like these when he drops his guard that she she is no longer an average, everyday Nora. She is the Lenore of his best dreams and he is recalling their honeymoon in that long-ago before twenty years wore down their marriage.

He glances over at the clock on his nightstand once again. It’s two and she’s not coming back. He slips out of bed, pulls on this pajama bottoms and a robe.

Downstairs and out on the patio, she hears him slide the glass door open behind her. “I’m not mad,” she says to nobody in particular. “It’s just that, well I’m not mad.” This time she’s speaking to her husband.

There she goes. Making peace. Why does she always do that? he wonders. “I was a jerk,” he says, looking at the back of her neck. The moon throws its light across the room, and he can’t ever remember seeing anything so beautiful.

“No, you were just being you.” Her voice is soft and lonely. Then she thinks, “There I go again, making peace. Why do I always do that?”

He doesn’t know what else to say or do so he waits.

She looks over her shoulder and up into his face. His eyes gaze at her the way he did that first night oh-so-many-years-before on the the beach where they first fell in love. Her hand reaches out for his, takes it, draws him to her side on the bench. “I love this house,” she says.

“It has been a good house.” He sits down next to her.

“I wasn’t sure it was the one for us.” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know that.” He squeezes her hand with all the affection that comes from years of loving and arguing and making up and arguing and making up some more. “I wasn’t that positive myself.”

She squeezes back. Her head feels the strength of the shoulder she has always known that she can lean on no matter what. No matter what. She then takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at the sky. “That sure is a pretty moon.”

“We didn’t think we’d we be here that long.”

“And, my god, the mortgage.” She laughs.

“We’d never owed that much money to anybody. But Dash loved it.”

“We thought we were buying the moon. Five years old and Candace knew it was for us.”

“Why do you keep on calling her Candace?” he whispers. “You know how much she hates it.”

“Why do you insist on calling me Lenore?” she whispers back. “It spoils everything.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, unsure how to tell her all that her name means to him.

“I can see we got what we paid for.” She is back thinking about the house.

“It was a good price.”

She points toward the sky. “We got that moon too, and it is much better than the one we thought we were buying.” She looks at it for several minutes. “You think that Brett and Dash will last as long as we have?”

“I hope so. He seems to love her but not as much as I loved you then, Nora.” He kisses Lenore, not a soft easy kiss, not a deep passionate kiss, but a kiss that makes up for everything. And she kisses him. Then he whispers, “And still love you.”

She stands, reaches for his hand, and they go inside.

On the way up the stairs, he says, ”If you let me call you Lenore every-once-in-a-while, I promise not to run off to the shower after we make love.”

“Only when we’re alone,” she says from the stair above him.

He nods yes, and they are back in bed and soon asleep.

Forgiveness fills the house as it has so many times before and they continue their married life together. At least for one more day.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

The Debutante’s Ball

Miss Luella Sue Pepper was in need of a husband. She had just turned eighteen and she was ripe for marrying. Her Daddy, William Kean Pepper, said so. Her Mama, Eustasha Alice Pepper, said so. So did her Aunt Michaela Marie. Seemed it was apple picking time for their young darling, her being the fairest maiden in the Valley. Only problem was Miss Louella Sue was not in a marrying mood. She liked her solitude. She considered herself wearing the likes of that Emily Dickinson down in Mississippi.

The night of the debutante’s ball Miss Louella Sue locked herself in her room. There was not anyway she’s going to that fancy dress shindig. No way atall. She’d heard stories.

Her Mama, Eustasha Alice, did her best to get her one-and-only darling to come on out of her room and go to the ball. She knocked on Miss Louella Sue’s door with a knock that sounded real urgent like. “Y’all come out of there, y’hear. It’s time you put on your best shoes and get on down to the American Legion Hall with me and your Daddy. I’m sure you’re gonna meet a right nice boy tonight.”

“I am not going,” Miss Louella Sue called out, and she meant it.

“You know Mary Eloise Gaine’s boy, Henry, will be there, Darling.”

“I ain’t interested in no Henry Bradford Gaines. You ought know that.” Miss Louella Sue meant these words even more.

Her Mama said softly, persuasive-like, “Darling, I know you want to be one of them poets. And you can. Going to this here cotillion will give you something to write about. You can write poems about how all the boys tripped over themselves just to get to dance with you.”

“I don’t care what you say. I am not going to no ball. And that’s final.” As far as Miss Louella Sue was concerned, it was final.

“Your dear friend, Pearl Eugenia Willingham, will be there. She’ll be downright disappointed if you don’t share this night with her.”

“How do you know that?” She was asking ’cause she really wanted to know. How could anybody know anything about what Pearl Eugenia wanted? Pearl Eugenia shared her wants with not a single soul.

“She told me so. She did last Sunday at church.”

‘Bout this time, her Daddy showed up at Miss Louella Sue’s door. He walked right hard past her Mama and knocked on the door. It was one of them I’m-meaning-business knocks too. “Girl, you get your skinny butt dressed and get downstairs. If you ain’t down there in a half hour, I am gonna personally knock this door down and tan your hide. You’re going to this do whether you like it or not. So you want to be able to sit and sip punch and let them boys admire you? Or do you want to have to stand all night ’cause your butt will hurt something bad?”

From behind the door came a whimper of a voice, “Yes, Daddy.” She knew that there’d be no going against her Daddy no matter what. Miss Louella Sue may have been spoiled all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, but she wasn’t so spoiled she didn’t know trouble when it came her way. There wouldn’t be any sweet talkin’ her Daddy tonight. ‘Sides maybe she’d get a poem or two out of this night just like her Mama promised.

So she swallowed her pride and got dressed. In two shakes, she was downstairs, wearing the red and white evening gown her Mama bought over in Memphis for the occasion. Her Daddy looked her up and down and smiled like he’d smiled when he got that new hunting rifle last Christmas. Indeed he was proud. He leaned over and pinned a white orchid corsage on her. Then he gave a sigh.

“Darling Daughter, you gonna make some fella one beautiful bride,” he said, beaming proud as he could be.

Mama and Daddy Pepper loaded their one-and-only in his brand new red Ford pickup. Before you know it, they were at the Hall. They weren’t the first ones to arrive and they weren’t the last ones. Mama led her daughter to the staging area for the debutantes. Soon she’d be walking out into the ballroom, getting herself presented like she was one of them New York City debutantes.

As Miss Louella Sue Pepper walked backstage, all the other girls stared at her. They knew she would have the pick of the litter tonight. She was one fine looking girl and they knew it. But all Miss Louella Sue Pepper could think of was how tight her shoes were. She was also thinking getting dressed up like this was downright unnatural. She’d rather be out of these clothes and in some jeans and a t-shirt than standing in a line looking like a fool for all to stare at.

Then it hit her right side up against the head. She didn’t have to play favorites with any of them boys. She would give a dance to each and every one of them. At the end of the night, she’d go home with a smile on her face, knowing she had outwitted her Mama and her Daddy.

She and the other girls made the walk out into ballroom, all eyes fixed on the five girls, folks ooo-ing and ah-ing at the girls. Those young ladies were something that night. All dressed up and presented to the town and ready for marrying.

Miss Louella Sue danced first with the hotshot of all the boys, Henry Bradford Gaines. His flaming red hair was something to behold. But she was not impressed. If he thought he had a claim on her, he could guess again. She went on to dance with the Breckinridge boys, all three of them. But not at the same time.

Once she’d made it through those fellas, she took herself a break. She sat herself down to give her footsies a break. She sent Peter Charles Breckinridge, the youngest of the brothers, off to get herself some punch. “And don’t come back without it,” she commanded in that Southern Belle voice of hers.

She was joined by Pearl Eugenia Willingham. She said to Pearl, “What you thinkin’.”

Pearl said to her, “Don’t know why everybody makes such a fuss.”

“Me neither. It’s almost like we’re lambs being led to the slaughterhouse.”

When she wore that dress

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow and purple flowers, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the future but we knew that was impossible.  Our fathers intensely disliked each other.

“Juliet?” I squeezed her hand.

“Yes, Romeo,” she answered, her eyes large and round staring at me as if I had all the answers in the world.

“Let’s get married anyway.”

“It would try our families greatly.”

“They’ll get over it.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of white cotton, we stood before the priest and we committed our lives to one another.  We had not told our families yet.  That day would come soon.  We spoke our I dos with hope and faith and a lot of love that day.

“I pledge thee my troth,” she looked into my eyes and said.

“I pledge thee my troth,” I said, happy as I’d ever been.

When she wore that dress, that dress of bright orange with the brown belt, we went to her father’s house.

“Wait in the car,” she said to me, then kissed me.  She opened the passenger door and slammed it behind her.  She crossed in front of the car and came to my window.  “Say a prayer.”

She entered the house.  A few minutes later I heard yelling and screaming from the house.  I reached for the door handle to open it. I saw her run out of the house, her father behind her.

“You married that bastard!” her father screamed.

She opened the passenger door and got in.

“Let’s get out of here.  He’s crazy.”

I started the engine, backed out of the driveway, turned and headed down the street.  In the rearview mirror, I saw her father coming towards us with a rifle.  He aimed at us but we were three blocks away and already out of range.

When she wore that dress, that dress of light blue, we drove to my parents.  I softly entered the house as she followed me, her hand in mine.  Dad sat at the kitchen table, his back to me.

“Dad?” I said.

He turned to me and smiled.

“This is Juliet, John Hazlewood’s daughter.  We’re married.”

A stunned look came over his face.

“Married?”

“Yes, sir,” Juliet said, her soft voice filled with hope.

My father looked at me, then her, then me, then he went back to his beer.

He said to me, “Go upstairs and get your mother.”

Afraid, I hesitated.

“Go ahead,” he said.  “It’ll be alright.  Nothing’s going to happen to your Juliet here, Romeo.  After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of navy blue, we drove to the funeral home.  Turning onto the drive where the funeral home stood, I drove silently.  My father was dead.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said, sitting there in the passenger seat with tears in her brown eyes.  “I liked him a lot.  And he loved you so much.”

She turned and looked into the backseat at our five-year old towheaded boy.

“And he loved his grandson too,” she said.  “Right, Horatio?”

“Yes, Mommy,” Horatio said.

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow daisies, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the past.  Ten years of marriage and never a fight.  The fights always seemed to come from elsewhere.  Her father, my job, our son’s illness.  But we never spoke a harsh word to each other.

Tears in her eyes, she squeezed my hand, then said, “I miss Horatio.”

“It’s been a year now,” I said, “and I miss him as much as I did the day we got the news.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of gray and green, we met in the doctor’s office.  She came out to see me in the waiting room.

“The doctor wants to do some tests.  I have to go in the hospital.”

“Is it going to be okay?” I asked, fear in my eyes.

When she wore that dress, her dress of maroon and yellow, she lay in the open coffin.  I looked into her dead eyes and thought about what we had together.  But now she was with Horatio, and I felt comforted.

“Goodbye, Juliet,” I said and turned to face her father, no anger on his face, no bad will in his eyes, just pain and desperation.  He took my hand and, with a tight grip, he shook it.

“If I can do anything,” he said.

“Just love your other kids.”

I passed this hard man who had fathered the gentle spirit I knew as Juliet.  I turned back to him and took his shoulder and turned him gently around toward me.

“And thank you, sir,” I said.  “For your daughter.”

SomeThing

A tale of horror

Something moves. Or does it? Del isn’t sure. He looks and listens hard. For an instant, the thin, wiry man sees a motion, a movement among the trees at the edge of his back yard. Holding his shotgun with both hands, he readies himself to aim and fire. His eyes again search the trees and the marsh beyond the trees.

All is quiet. Nothing stirs, only the troubled whimper of a wind. Strange. Usually the marsh is alive with chirps and buzzes and all kinds of splashes. But now, not a sound. He listens harder, more carefully. Slowly he begins to hear the normal, marshy voices that grow louder as the afternoon light fades and evening approaches.

“Nothing here,” he decides. “Must be her imagination. She’s always thinking up things.”

He turns and steps easily across the wet grass, drenched from a sudden afternoon downpour that ended only moments ago. Returning to the house, he enters the back door and walks into the kitchen. Ginny stands waiting by the sink. She clenches a large butcher knife.

“Well, d’you see anything?” she asks, her eyes filled with terror.

“Nary a thing.” He sets his gun in a corner by the stove.

“You think I’m making it all up. Well, I’m not. I did too see something sneaking outside the bedroom window. Heard its growls too.”

“Now, now.” He takes his wife into his arms, then eases the knife from her hand and lays it in the sink. He holds her close to him.

“You must’ve heard the noises yourself. They were loud enough.” She settles into the sanctuary of his broad shoulders for a long, lingering embrace. Her whole body is shivering. He runs his hands gently through her hair and whispers soothing words into her ear until she is calm. After a few minutes of silence pass between them, he lightly kisses her lips.

Releasing her from his arms, he asks his usual, “D’you fix my supper for work?”

“You still going to work after what I seen?” She holds onto his arm.

“Course I am. How could I not?”

“Please stay home tonight. Just this once.” Her hand squeezes tighter and tighter.

“Shush.” He wrenches her hand from his arm.

“Sure wish you would stay home with me tonight.” She reaches again for his arm.

He forces her hand away. “Finish my supper while I get dressed,” he says, ignoring the supplication in her voice.

She chokes out the words, “It’s ready. ‘Cept for wrapping up a piece of that chocolate cake I made special this morning.”

“Look, if you get scared again, have George come on by,” he says, referring to their only son. “You can go stay at his house tonight. I’ll pick you up in the morning.” These are his last words on the subject. It is time to ready for work.

Del goes off into the bedroom and changes into his security guard uniform and is back in the kitchen just as Ginny is placing the cake into his gray lunch box.

Her eyes plea with him to stay with her and not run off to work. But he takes his supper from her hands and pulls his Atlanta Braves cap off the hat stand by the outside kitchen door.

Flipping the cap onto his head, he kisses her cheek a goodnight kiss. Then he is through the door and gone.

Ginny walks into the living room at the front of the house and watches Del through the large picture window as he drives away in his Ford Explorer. Then she drops into the large comfortable chair, Del’s chair, and trembles. Soon her entire body shakes. Tears well up into her eyes. Her face, wrinkled and sagging, appears to be much older than her fifty-seven years. The room darkens as the night fills it with its blackness. Ginny sits alone, afraid to fall asleep because of the nightmares she’s been having. She fights off the sleep. It is too much for her. She’s so tired from her lack of sleep over the last few days that she’s soon dozing off.

Asleep, she starts drifting in and out of her subconscious. It is then that a something eases its way out of the shadows of her sleep and into her dreams, those worlds of gray and fog and unhappiness that inhabit her slumber. Through these lands of mist and uneasiness, of phantoms, specters and dark, ugly things, this SomeThing walks, consuming everything in its path.

Thunder shakes her awake. Her clothes are drenched with sweat, the kind of sweat that only comes from fear. Out the window, a storm rages with a hard, driving rain pelting the grass. Again, the thunder grumbles and a tree crashes in the distance. Lightning streaks the sky and brightens the room.

Just for a moment, she sees it. A shadow, or at least what she, at first, believes to be a shadow. It isn’t. It is the SomeThing that had haunted her nightmares for days, the SomeThing that had made those awful growling noises, the SomeThing that had escaped into nothing earlier that afternoon, the SomeThing that had come from some hell of an evil place.

And a wicked looking SomeThing it is, its eyes cold and cruel with a hate that can only come from another world, its mouth dripping a mixture of white, rabid fear and dark, red blood, its huge body a black silhouette outlined against the lightning flashing in the distance.

Ginny cowers into her chair, struggling to breathe. She wants to scream, tries to scream, but the scream does not come out of her mouth. The Thing, the SomeThing reaches for her, its long talons grasping to tear open her neck.

*****

The house is unusually quiet when Del gets home. It is four o’clock in the morning of a cold, clear February night. The storm earlier has passed, leaving everything drenched and a full moon to fill the sky. Guided by the light of the moon, he hurries through the living room and into the dark bedroom. He leaves the light off so as not to wake Ginny and quickly undresses for bed. He crawls under the clean sheets, then turns to give his wife of thirty-seven years a goodnight kiss.

Ginny is not there. She is gone from her side of the bed where she always sleeps.

He starts to get out of the bed, but then decides, “Must be at George’s.”

He is relieved. Within minutes, he is snoring. His dreams delve deep, deeper and deeper and deeper into that subterranean underground that is his inner consciousness until he is struggling through a swamp, legs hip-deep in water. Cypress trees everywhere, and a heavy, red fog closes in around him.

Alone. No other life in the swamp, but the flies. Those damnable flies circling his head, making no noise. An eerie silence breathes on him as he forces his way through the muck and the mire. Feeling eyes following him, stalking him, he turns and sees…nothing. He looks back to where he is going. A necklace, his wife’s necklace, drops into his hand and opens. His photograph smiles back at him. He looks up. There she is, Ginny pinned to a tree.

This startles him awake. His body is unable to move, frozen with fear. Rain beats against the rooftop. Thunder groans nearby. Lightning lights the room while the shadow of a SomeThing covers Del’s face.