Remember Chapter Three

Previously: retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon.
“Can I sit down now?” Vernon’s voice was a bit whiny.

“What?”

“It’s time for class. Can I sit down now?”

In her mind’s eye, she had returned to her classroom, to which she resigned herself with a sigh. “If you wish.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Vernon plopped into the desk chair, again spilling his books. He bent over to gather them together as efficiently as possible.

“Don’t you remember what happened?” Lucinda reluctantly referred to an incident which had haunted her thoughts for ten years.

“No. I’m a memory. You remember me. I don’t remember.” Vernon laughed. “I guess you could say I’m transitive — or is that intransitive? Or somethin’ like that.”

“I think you mean an intransitive verb, but that’s not a very good metaphor.”

“Oh well, I never was any good at grammar anyhow.” He pulled a paper out and extended it to her. “Do you want to look at this now?”

“I wish there were some way I could make myself forget all this,” she muttered.

“Why, Miz Cambridge? Don’t you like me?” His hand dropped.

“I liked you very much, Vernon.” She allowed herself to smile. You were one of my favorite students. It’s just that—“

“Wow! You mean I was one of your best students?”

“No, you were one of my worst students. But you were one — no, my all-time favorite. You were so fresh, open and sweet.” Her eyes strayed to the window. It was such a pretty day.

“But dumb,” he added glumly.

“Don’t dwell upon the negative, Vernon.”

“Gosh, I’d think you’d enjoy rememberin’ somebody as nice as me.” From anyone else, that would have sounded boastful, but not from Vernon.

Lucinda gazed with tenderness at the gangly boy, reaching to stroke his hair, but pulled away at the last moment. “Yes, it would be a pleasure to recall the good times like these.”

“Good. Here, look at my homework. I tried real hard on it.” He extended his hand again.
Lucinda took it and began reading it. She focused on each word. “Hmm, English composition. So this is your freshman class at the junior college.” She looked up. “How far are we into the semester?”

“This is the first week. You spent the first class talkin’ about what it means to be a writer. About some folks got it and some folks don’t. Like Mr. Hemingway there, he had it when he was young and then he blew his brains out when he didn’t have it no more.”

“Anymore,” she corrected him. “And I hope I didn’t use such a vulgar expression as blow his brains out.”

“But you jest said blow his brains out. I heard you.”

“In the privacy of my own room. In the classroom—“

“Oh, in the classroom you said he died of shotgun wounds to the head,” he interjected.

“That’s better.” She looked at the paper again. “So this is your first assignment.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It’s atrocious.” Lucinda was never good in editing her comments. “Now where did you say you went to high school?”

“Forestburg High School. Home of the fightin’ Tigers,” he replied with the fierce pride of a recent graduate.

“If you’d done more learning and less fighting you’d know more.” An eyebrow arched.

“Heck, what’s so bad is that I didn’t even do that much fightin’. The coaches all said they didn’t want me on none of the teams because I was too uncordinated. But that wasn’t it. I was clumsy.”

“The word is uncoordinated, and that’s what it means — clumsy.” Lucinda slipped back into her classroom style, and it felt very comforting.

“See, I was right. I’m dumb.”

“No, Vernon, you’re not dumb at all.” Her lips pursed. “It’s just when you pick your college major, don’t choose physical education or English.”

“Hey, well, it’s not like I’m not strong. I’m strong as a bull.” He held up his arm and flexed his biceps. “I help daddy on the farm every day and liftin’ them bales of hay made me strong as a bull.”

“I’m sure you’re very strong.” Her eyes glanced away.

“I could beat the –“ he stopped remembering his manners ”– tar — out of them durn football players if we went out back and went at it, but those stupid footballs or basketballs or baseballs don’t fit right in my hands.” He held them up, and they were big and gnarly. “Know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. I was never good at sports when I was a girl.”

“Aw heck, Miz Cambridge, girls ain’t supposed to be good at sports.” Vernon laughed.

“Vernon, if you expect us to be friends you must change your attitudes about women.” She arched that eyebrow again. “Women — at least some women — can be very good athletes.” She paused and then added, “And don’t say ain’t.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” He hung his head like a whupped puppy.

“That’s another reason I liked you so very much. You were contrite so easily,” she whispered.

“That’s because my mama wanted me to be a good Baptist boy.” His boyish grin returned.

The Chihuahua Who Saved Noel Coward

Author’s note: This story uses stronger language than I usually use. However, it is in memory of my 18-year-old Chihuahua who crossed the rainbow bridge last week. It’s vulgar and sweet all at the same time.
He strolled through the Plaza Hotel lobby looking quite natty in his brown tweed suit, bowler cocked slightly on his balding head and swinging his cane. With a flourish he signed the register.
Nov. 17, 1958. Noel Coward. London, England. Penthouse Suite.
His plans were to spend the rest of the afternoon in his suite, attend the world premiere of Mrs. Stone!, his musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. He would then host a cast party in the penthouse. The guests would beat a hasty retreat after reading dreadful reviews from all the major newspapers of New York. Noel Coward, one of the most successful writers of British comedy, then would go to the balcony, finish drinking the last of the champagne and step into the void of midnight.
“PeePee! PeePee! Come back here!”
Coward winced as he recognized the inimitable screech of his leading lady, Ethel Merman. He turned to see a Chihuahua scurrying across the marble floor followed by Ethel, her bosom flouncing and her bracelets clanging. Before he knew it, he felt scratching at his trousers.
Save me from that bitch! Please! Please! Please!
Coward was convinced; his extreme depression over the audacious failure of his play had pushed him over the brink. Why else would he consider suicide or think he heard a Chihuahua talking to him?
Pick me up, you idiot!
Resigning himself to madness, Coward picked up the dog which immediately starting licking him in the face.
Thank you! Thank you! I always knew you were a nice man!
“Noel! You caught that naughty little dog!” Ethel said as she walked up, her arms outstretched.
“Of course, Ethel, darling,” Coward said with a purr. “Anything for my star.”
Don’t hand me over to that bitch!
Ignoring the dog’s pleas he gently placed the Chihuahua into Ethel’s arms and bowed with grace.
Damn you! I hate you! No! No! I love you! Take me back! You’re the one I want! I hate you! I love you! I could love you if you give me a chance! Is any of this working on you?
Coward imagined everyone else in the lobby thought the dog’s pleading sounded like the typical yipping of a Chihuahua. It probably was, he told himself as he turned to the clerk and finished signing in.
I’ll get you for this, bitch! Yeah! I talking to you, bitch! No! No! I don’t mean it. You’re a wonderful humanitarian! Kind to old women, children, beggars and little dogs!
Soon Ethel and her Chihuahua were in the elevator, and Coward sighed in relief. A few moments later he took the same elevator to the penthouse suite and settled himself at the baby grand piano with the score of Mrs. Stone! in front of him. Most of the music was all right, passable, but the final song was no damn good. Mrs. Stone throws her room key down to the street where a shadowy young man picks it up and comes up to the apartment to do who knows what to her. Ethel, in a terrible blonde wig, blasted away every rehearsal trying to sell it. He knew she realized even she could not give that song away with free tea and crumpets.
He played the melody over and over again, trying to figure out what was wrong. It had to be sad but not maudlin. It had to express the emotions of an over-the-hill movie star who was never going to be loved again. And the lyrics. They were impossible. They were dripping with self-pity. Who wanted to listen to that?
A soft scratching at the door interrupted his thoughts. When he opened it, Coward saw Ethel Merman’s dog, staring up at him with his enormous Chihuahua eyes.
I forgive you. With that he pranced into the room. Nice digs.
“So pleased you approve,” Coward replied acidly as he shut the door and walked back to the piano. He sat down and returned to playing his music, hoping an idea would spring into his mind.
You know that song is really crappy?
He stopped abruptly and picked the dog up and stared him in the face. “Now see here,” he paused. “What the deuce is your name?”
PeePee. That’s because I’m the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard.
“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Ethel named you Pepe, a common Spanish name. In her infinite stupidity she mispronounces it.”
No way! Oh. Hmph. That sounds like something that stupid bitch would do. Damn. I feel like a fool.
Coward could not stand to see the little dog so disappointed. He hugged him close to his cheek and placed him on the piano bench. “But, it could mean the other thing. Actually, you do have rather impressive equipment for a dog of your breed.”
Thank you. PeePee licked his hand. You’re a very nice man.
“I really don’t understand why you don’t like Ethel,” Coward said. “She’s quite sweet. And she truly adores you, don’t you know.”
I know. She’s all right. But look at these honking ears I got on me. The way she jangles those bracelets. And that damn voice of hers! It’s enough to split my eardrums!
“Well, I have to give you that.” Coward returned to playing the piano. “So you think my song is crappy?”
You bet. It’s supposed to be about this old broad who ain’t getting laid, right?
“How perceptive.”
Okay, this old broad wants it bad enough to throw the key down to any guy on the street. The last thing she’s going to sing about is love. Poor me, nobody loves me.
“And your point is?”
She don’t want love. She wants to get laid. Sex, that’s what she wants!
“And what, pray tell, would you know about sex?”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. What do I not know about sex? When the old broad takes me to Central Park and puts me on the ground, I have my choice of the bitches.
“Not all, I’m sure.”
Yeah, I mean all. Those Great Dane bitches can’t get enough of PeePee.
“Great Danes, oh, come now.”
Listen, you get a running start, jump, grab hold of the tail with both legs and, humpity, humpity, humpity, it’s showtime.
“Very well, since you’re the expert, what would you recommend?”
First off, get real with the words, man. She don’t want love. She wants sex. Hot sex. Sweaty body to body action.
“Very well.” Coward took a pen and started scribbling some new lyrics. He stopped and looked at them. “You know, this isn’t half bad.”
What do you expect? Hey, I’m PeePee. Now the music. Start out easy and soft, you know, like foreplay, then it gets faster and harder. Maybe ease off a little then. Make ‘em want it. Then slam bam thank ya ma’am. That’ll get butts out of the seats clapping.
Coward wrinkled his brow as his hands furiously pounded the keys. “I think you’re right.” After a few moments of passionate inspiration, Coward notated his new song on composition paper. Only a loud rapping at the door interrupted him.
“Noel! Is PeePee in there?”
Oh God, it’s the bitch.
“Just a minute, Ethel,” he called out as he finished his scribbling. “Come in, darling.
“PeePee! You bad little boy!” She marched to the piano and picked up the dog.
“Ethel, my dear, you must look at your new final number.”
“New song? On opening night? You must be crazy!”
He played it through a couple of times as she read the lyrics. Coward knew he had won her over when he saw tears forming in her eyes and she clutched the dog.
Watch it, bitch! You’re squeezing too tight!
“Oh Noel,” she gasped. “It’s a miracle. I haven’t sung anything this good since, I don’t know, when I was first on Broadway.”
“Don’t ruin the moment by comparing me to Cole Porter, darling.”
She put the dog down. “Go run and play, PeePee. Mommy and Daddy have got to practice this song.”
They rehearsed the rest of the afternoon until she was comfortable with every nuance and key change. Ethel gave Coward a big hug, picked up PeePee and left. He walked to the penthouse balcony and smiled. He might not have to jump after all.
That night, Coward watched from the wings. No one left at intermission. That was a good sign. The audience loved the choreography. They even laughed at the jokes. And the songs were, as he anticipated, bearable. The finale was upon them. Ethel, in her blonde wig, went to the window, threw down the key and turned to the audience. Then the music began. For once in her career, Ethel did not belt out a song. She barely croaked. Coward watched the audience members sit up and lean forward.
“Nobody loves me, so what?
Nobody wants a movie star that’s old, that’s what.
So I don’t care, I don’t want love.
I want sex!
I want to feel hot flesh next to mine!
I want sex!
I don’t want love!
I want to feel his sweat!
I want to feel his body pressing against me!
From now on this is the way it’s going to be!
Forget about love!
I want sex!”
For a moment the theater was quiet, and then it erupted in applause. Everyone was screaming and jumping up and down. The stage hand was about to bring down the curtain when Coward grabbed his arm.
“Don’t you dare.”
Ethel Merman, the queen of dramatic curtain calls, did not smile broadly and extend her arms to accept the audience’s adulation. She just stood there and cried. And cried. And cried for fifteen minutes. The crowd loved it. It loved her. Finally, someone screamed out, “Author! Author!”
Ethel rushed to the wings and dragged out Coward and planted a big kiss on his lips. Then she smiled and gestured to the old man of British comedy theater. Okay, he thought to himself, jumping from the balcony at midnight definitely was no longer on his schedule. Suddenly PeePee ran onto the stage barking. The audience even applauded him. Ethel bent down to pick him up, kissed him and handed him to Coward.
“He’s yours now,” she whispered. “After all, you gave me my career back. The least I can do is give you my dog.”
PeePee licked Coward’s face as he took him from Ethel.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to her. Then he looked at PeePee. “And thank you.”
Don’t thank me, man. I had this planned all along.
“No, really. Thank you for saving my life.”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. That’s what I do.
Coward held PeePee up with both hands toward the audience which screamed even louder. He then held the dog close to his cheek.
“Why?”
Why what?
“Why did you choose me?”
PeePee sniffed him.
You have the scent of a slight incontinence problem. I like that in a man.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Duff confesses to Alethia that he is married.
Lamon raced up the Executive Mansion steps, past the drunken guard, and up the grand staircase, eager to confront the man who pretended to be Lincoln. Less than an hour earlier, a deputy marshal had burst into his office with the news that Lee had surrendered to Grant, and Lamon wanted to find out the truth that Stanton had kept from him for more than two years. Opening the president’s bedroom door, he saw the man stretched out on the bed, a gangling arm across his face.
“Sir?” Lamon said. “I just heard the war’s over.”
The man sat up, revealing red, moist eyes, and replied, “Yes, everything’s over.”
“No, sir. Everything won’t be over until I see Mr. Lincoln again.”
“Everything’s over for me.”
“You have to help me.”
“What do you mean?”
Lamon shut the door and sat on the bed next to him and whispered, “You can tell me the truth. Mr. Stanton can’t hurt you now.”
“The truth.” He bowed his head. “The truth doesn’t solve anything.”
“The truth will solve everything. Look. I know you were lying about all this business being Mr. Lincoln’s idea.” Lamon waited for a response. “Are you still scared?”
“No, not really.”
“Then why not tell me where Mr. Lincoln is?”
“You don’t know?” The man looked up.
“No. If I can rescue Mr. Lincoln, we can stop Mr. Stanton before he does anything else,” Lamon said. “You want to help us, don’t you?”
“We’re beyond help.” He sighed.
“All right.” Lamon paused to control his emotions. He wanted to throttle the man, but knew that would do no good. “I know after two years it seems like everything’s hopeless. That’s what Mr. Stanton wanted you to think, but we can still help each other.” He searched the man’s face. “Mr. Lincoln could die if you don’t help.”
“What? How do you know this?”
“Know? I don’t know anything. But my gut tells me if Stanton was crazy enough to do all this he’s crazy enough to kill Mr. Lincoln.”
“Then Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” He put his head in his hands for a moment and then looked up, his hands cupped in front of his mouth. “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right.” Lamon’s eyes widened as he leaned forward. “Nobody has to die.”
“Baltimore.”
“Mr. Lincoln is in Baltimore?”
“And Mrs. Lincoln,” the man added.
“Where in Baltimore?’
The man blinked several times.
“Where in Baltimore?” Lamon repeated.
“Fort McHenry.”
“They’ve known all along?”
“I don’t know.” The man turned to smile. “I’m only the double.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
Lamon stood, but the man grabbed his arm.
“Take the woman with you.”
“What woman?”
“Her.” He nodded toward the other bedroom. “I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.”
“Very well.” Lamon said. “Do you want to go too?”
“No.” He let Lamon’s arm go and looked down. “I have meetings to attend. There’s a candlelight parade tomorrow night. The people still need to see the president.”
“Good man.” Lamon patted the man’s back. “I’ll make sure she’s safe.”
“Thank you.”
Lamon left and went next door and knocked. The woman softly told him to enter, and he did. He found her sitting in a rocking chair, staring out the window.
“Mrs. Lincoln?”
“Yes?”
“May we speak?”
“Of course, Mr. Lamon.”
Her voice sounded lifeless. Lamon walked over to her and went down on his haunches. Her face was expressionless.
“You can leave, miss,” he said in a whisper.
“What?” She continued to look out the window.
“I know you’re not Mrs. Lincoln,” he said as kindly as he could, sensing she was emotionally fragile. “I know Mr. Stanton put you here.”
She looked at Lamon.
“How long have you known?”
“Since the beginning. Mr. Stanton told me it was Mr. Lincoln’s idea, but I didn’t believe him.” Lamon paused for her response. She was as forlorn as the man. “Miss, I know this has been very stressful for you.”
“Not all of it.” She smiled slightly. “Tad is a delightful child.”
“I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight.” He leaned toward her. “I can take you with me. There’s no reason for you to stay any longer.”
“I can leave now?” She straightened her back. “Mr. Stanton said I could leave tonight?”
“No, the man—Mr. Lincoln’s double—suggested it. He’s worried for your safety. Mr. Stanton knows nothing of this.”
She fell back in the rocker, the air seemingly leaving her body, and looked back out the window.
“Miss?”
“I don’t care what he wants,” she said in a rueful whisper.
“I don’t care what Mr. Stanton wants either,” said Lamon. “He’s had what he wanted for the last two years. Now it’s what we want.”
“No, I mean…” Her voice trailed off as her hand went to her cheek. Her eyes seemed to focus on a distant object. “I don’t want Tad to be left alone.”
“His parents will be back soon,” Lamon said, “and the man is still here.”
“The man is still here,” she repeated blankly. “No, I don’t want him to be left alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
Sighing, Lamon stood and put his hand on the rocking chair.
“As you wish.” He smiled. “I must say, miss, I’ve been wrong about you and the man.”
“Wrong?” She looked up.
“I didn’t think much of you for replacing the Lincolns,” he explained. “But now I see both of you are fine people.”
“Both of us?” She smiled queerly. “Fine people?” Her eyes returned to stare unseeingly out the window. “Thank you.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Three

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. Leon has become an expert assassin.
The Windsors spent the winter holidays in Paris cultivating a group of friends who held positions where they would be privy to sensitive government information. No one was better at pulling bits of gossip out of people than Wallis. David always leaned back in a comfy leather tufted chair puffing on a cigarette while smiling like he would rather be someplace else.
Winter slowly melted into spring which made house hunting much more entertaining. Wallis found spring in Paris enchanting, summer sweltering, autumn just shy of enchanting and winter pure hell. David usually accompanied her when inspecting houses to rent. He wanted every house to look like Fort Belvedere, which Wallis knew would be impossible to find in France. Mostly he wanted a garden to till. Gardening always relaxed him. And Wallis found herself enjoying watching him flex his muscles as he pulled weeds, hoed the soil and sawed away dead limbs.
The realty agency contacted the Windsors in late May with a place in Versailles that sounded promising. Chateau de la Maye belonged to the widow of French politician Paul Dupuy. They had met Dupuy and his wife at a New Year’s Eve celebration. Their long conversation about the coming war with Germany on the balcony of the Hotel Meurice must have exposed him to the pneumonia that killed him. David and Wallis were invited to the funeral but declined because during their conversations they discovered he was a Nazi sympathizer. They didn’t want to waste fake tears for him.
The house on the other hand, was intriguing. It featured a large garden, swimming pool, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course, all of David’s favorite things. On the afternoon they were to tour the house, David received a phone call from the British Embassy requesting his immediate presence.
“Odd,” he told Wallis as he put on his overcoat, “I could swear the person on the phone had a slight German accent.”
“Darling, most well-bred Englishmen do.” And then she did something she rarely did—she kissed him on the lips.
She didn’t dwell on it during her limousine ride to Chateau de la Maye where the agent awaited her. Wallis knocked on the door. When it opened she stepped back. It was Joachim von Ribbentrop.
“What the hell are you doing here? Won’t Herr Hitler miss you?”
Ribbentrop flashed a smile which deepened the dimple in his chin. “He sent me personally to apologize to you for his lapse of judgment in the choo choo room when you and the duke visited.”
“Unnecessary.” Wallis brushed passed Ribbentrop.
“Herr Fuhrer hasn’t even been in the choo choo room since you left.”
“I’m here to see the house. How many bedrooms does it have?”
“Who cares?” Ribbentrop replied in breathless anticipation. “I can’t remember the last time I gave you a carnation.”
“Neither can I. By the way, when you called David saying he was needed at the embassy, you let your German accent slip in. He noticed.”
“I was excited about our rendezvous.”
“There is no rendezvous. I’m looking to rent the house.”
“I think of no one but you.”
She happened to be wearing one of her suits with a fur collar. Wallis turned her head so her eyes fluttered through the fur.
“Do you love me and adore me?”
“More than life itself.”
She smiled. “I may hold you to that someday.” Wallis looked around the room. “Lovely foyer. When will the authentic realty representative be here?”
“One hour from now.”
“In that case, we might as well go upstairs to inspect the bedrooms. What do you think?”
Ribbentrop left forty-five minutes later, which gave Wallis time to put herself back together before the real estate agent arrived.
The chateau came as furnished, which irritated Wallis. She didn’t like Madame Dupuy’s taste and was peeved she could not decorate it to her own style. Another negative was that it was in Versailles, some distance from the heart of Paris, where all the best gossip existed. She signed only a six-month lease.
Two weeks later, Wallis and David took the Blue Train to an estate near Antibes on the Mediterranean coast. It was a twelve-acre estate with a large landscaped park. Driving through the gate, visitors could not see the house, gardens and sea view until after turning a corner. The name of the villa was La Croe, and they loved the estate. It was a three-story building just waiting for Wallis to redecorate it into their own royal palace. They signed a ten-year lease, and to celebrate their good fortune, they dined at on the terrace of an Antibes cliffside restaurant. The maître‘d lead them to a table where they could enjoy the full view. On the table was a vase holding a single carnation.
They had not quite taken their first sip of champagne when Ribbentrop arrived, wearing his vanilla ice cream colored suit.
“You don’t mind if I join you?” He slid into a chair at their table before they could voice any objections. “What a pleasant surprise.”
David stared at the white carnation. “Well, at least a surprise.”
“Herr Fuhrer read you were looking for a home on the Riviera, and personally sent me on a mission to find you and apologize for the awkwardness of his farewells upon your departure.”
“Tell him to think nothing of it.” David leaned back and puffed on his cigarette.
Ribbentrop wrinkled his brow. “He also wanted to convey his apologies if you were in any way offended by the way he had—shall we say—decorated the choo choo room.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t quite remember the details of what you quaintly call the choo choo room.” David puffed on his cigarette and blew smoke through his nose.
“Herr Hitler has a whimsical sense of humor and he placed figures of you and the duchess on the balcony of Buckingham Palace dressed in the regalia of king and queen. He hoped you did not take away any untoward implications.”
David took the white carnation from the vase and sniffed it. “No scent.” He nonchalantly handed it to Wallis. “What is it you always say about white carnations, my dear?”
“Tacky. Any man worthy of romantic consideration would send a white rose.” She tossed the carnation over the balcony.

The Ides of March

Author’s note: Beware, the language used is a little rougher than usual.
Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Jeff awoke from a deep sleep and looked around his dark bedroom. He squinted, prying into every corner and the folds of each curtain.
All the live long day.
Shaking his head, Jeff realized the voice was actually singing in deep, sonorous tones. He turned to his wife to find her breathing peacefully, hardly making any sound at all.
You cannot get away.
Now Jeff shook to his inner core. What could this voice be? Its implication was ominous.
Oh don’t you hearing the whistle blowing?
Whistle, what whistle? Jeff didn’t hear any whistle. Leaning closer to his wife he put his ear next to her mouth. Nothing but soft breathing. The faint aroma of roasted peanuts. She hadn’t brushed her teeth again before coming to bed, that that still didn’t account for the foreboding tune.
Dinah, blow your horn.
He didn’t know a Dinah. His wife’s name was Susie, and she didn’t know how to blow a horn.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.
There better not be anyone in the kitchen with Susie or else somebody was going to get shot. Jeff had serious jealousy and anger management. That was why nobody ever came over for dinner anymore. No one wanted to be found dead in the kitchen with Susie.
Someone’s in the kitchen I know I know.
I wish Dinah would get out of my kitchen, Jeff muttered, and take her friend with her.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on the old banjo.
Okay, dammit, Jeff fumed, I want these people to get the hell out of my house right now! He jumped from the bed and stormed into the kitchen. No one was there. The soft light of morning filtered through the slightly grungy windows. Susie hadn’t cleaned the windows in two months now. Maybe he would be better off with Dinah. There’s a good chance she’d keep a cleaner house than Susie did, but Jeff decided he couldn’t put up with that horn blowing through the night. Jeff jumped when he heard footsteps behind him.
“What are you doing up so early?” Susie asked while trying to stifle a yawn.
Jeff pointed to the kitchen windows. “I thought you were going to clean those damn windows.”
“Not in the damn middle of the night. Do you want some coffee?”
“Not if the pot is as dirty as the windows.”
“Have it your own way. I’m going back to bed.” Susie turned back to the bedroom. “And clean the damn windows yourself. Hell, you’re worse than an old woman.”
Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Shit, there goes that voice again.
All the live long day.
The noise pushed Jeff to the brink. “Stop that damn singing!”
“Nobody’s singing, Jeff! Nobody’s making a sound except for you, and you’re a certified lunatic!” Susie screamed from the bedroom.
You cannot get away.
“Like hell, I can’t get away!” Jeff stomped to the hall closet, took out his shotgun, loaded it, and marched to the bedroom. Taking careful aim he unloaded both chambers into Susie’s back. The next thing Jeff noticed was someone on a bullhorn just outside the kitchen door.
“Put your weapon down, place your hands on your head and slowly come out!”
Jeff frowned. It was a woman’s voice.
“Neighbors called about a gunshot blast. Come out with your hands on your head. This is Officer Dinah Smith. Come out now.”
Jeff carefully put the rifle on the floor and walked back to the kitchen. He stopped at the kitchen door. “I can’t come out. I’m naked.”
“Put your hands on the kitchen table,” Officer Smith instructed him.
The door creaked open, and Jeff heard the footsteps of a woman wearing boots. There was another noise, like a paw scratching on the wooden floor. Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, Jeff thought. He wondered who it was.
“Okay, Banjo. Go see what you can find,” Dinah said.
Jeff lifted his head to see a large German Shepherd loping toward the bedroom. He could tell when the dog stopped, sniffed and scratch at the rifle on the floor. Banjo whined.
“What’s going on here, sir?” Dinah asked.
“I shot my wife for singing,” Jeff muttered, “but she wasn’t really singing. It was all in my head.” He felt Dinah’s rough hands grab his wrists and pull them behind him.
You cannot get away.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Dinah began reading him his rights in a monotone voice.
Jeff heard the kitchen door open and another pair of footsteps.
“Damn, Dinah. Why don’t you let the man have a little dignity and let him put some trousers on?”
“He just killed his wife,” Dinah snapped. “I don’t care if he freeze his skinny ass off.”
“You don’t mind if get him some clothes, do you?” the other officer asked.
“I’m busy with this report. You can do anything you want. The bedroom’s through that door.”
The other officer took a few steps, then Dinah called out, “By the way, what is today’s date?”
The officer replied, “March fifteenth.”
I told you, beware the ides of March.

Remember Chapter Two

Previously: retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon.
“Why, it’s time for your composition class, Miz Cambridge.”

“I haven’t taught since last December,” she replied in a bare whisper.

“Heck no. It was jest two days ago.” Vernon giggled in a non-malicious way.

“Are you real?” Her hand went to her boney chest where it made vague circles.

“Of course I’m real.” He took a step toward her, looking seriously at her face. “Miz Cambridge, you all right? You don’t look good.”

“I’ve had problems with my heart lately.” She valiantly tried to dismiss her unease and the feeling—not that an elephant was sitting on her chest—but that an elephant was in her chest trying to get out.

“Hope you’re goin’ to the doctor.” His eyes crinkled in concern.

“Yes, I have.”

“Well, that’s good.” Vernon tried to sit at one of the school desks but dropped all his books in the process. He slid out of the seat, went to the floor and started pulling the books toward him.

Lucinda always considered herself an intelligent person but could not figure out what was going on. Was she having a hallucination? She also considered herself too sophisticated to take spiritualism seriously, but now she doubted her previously held beliefs. “Are you a ghost?”

Vernon, with books securely tucked into his gangly arms, sat back in the desk chair and looked at Lucinda quizzically. “I don’t think so. I think I’m what they call a memory.”

“I’m sorry, Vernon.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I’ve tried very hard to forget you for the last ten years — quite successfully until today. So please, be a nice young gentleman and leave.”

“Why, that’s silly, Miz Cambridge. I’m your memory. I wouldn’t be here unless you wanted me here. I always did what you wanted me to.”

“Then if it’s up to me, you must leave now.” She pointed to the door which her logical self knew wasn’t really there. “The way you came.”

Looking slightly hurt, Vernon stood and rather clumsily gathered his books. “Anything you say, Miz Cambridge.” He walked to the door but he stopped, as though something were confining him.

“Vernon, I said go. Now!”

“Somethin’s holdin’ me back.” He stopped trying to go through the door and turned. “I think it’s you.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I think there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to think about me but another — more powerful — part that does. So I guess I’m stuck here for a while. He paused. “Can I sit down now?”

Lucinda forced herself to see the room as it actually was—a boarding house bedroom and not a classroom—and stood to go to the real door.

“Cassie! Cassie!”

“What are you doin’?” Vernon’s voice sounded hollow, as though an echo through a long tunnel.

“If I talk to someone, I won’t have to think about you,” she muttered. Then she yelled as loud as a woman of her age and health could. “Cassie! Cassie!”

“Cassie? You mean ol’ Cassie Lawrence?”

“Yeah, Miz Cambridge?” a voice emanated from down the real hall.

“Yep, that’s ol’ Cassie.” Vernon was sounding fainter and fainter, though a light-hearted condescension was still evident.

“Be kind, Vernon,” Lucinda lectured.

“Whattaya want?” the voice from down the hall grew stronger.

“Please come to my room.”

“You mean you live in her mama’s boardin’ house?

“Yes, Vernon.” Lucinda became impatient. “Hurry, Cassie!”

“Hey! Nancy lives here!” His voice lightened. “I wonder which room?”

Cassie, a plain woman in her late thirties and with a club foot, finally appeared in the hall. “Whattaya want, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda put her arm around Cassie, guided her into the bedroom and walked right past Vernon. “Yes, Cassie. Thank you for coming.”

“I hope it don’t take long. Mama’s jest about got lunch ready.” Her dull blue eyes lit. “I think we’re havin’ chicken with stars soup!”

“I told you Cassie was a little funny,” Vernon said.

Lucinda looked distracted because Vernon’s voice was becoming strong again.

“Miz Cambridge?” Cassie asked.

“Um, yes.” Lucinda did her best to focus on Cassie. “What did you want?”

“You wanted me.” She shook her head in confusion.

“Am I makin’ you act funny?” Vernon frowned in concern.

Lucinda looked back and forth between Vernon and Cassie, who, of course, could not see Vernon.

“Miz Cambridge, You’re actin’ discombobulated.” Cassie’s tone went up an octave.

“Um, I suppose I am a bit distracted this morning.” She smiled nervously.

“No, you’re actin’ discombobulated.” Now her eyes were so wide they seemed ready to pop out of their sockets.

Lucinda needed a logical sounding excuse fast. “I need some more boxes for my books.”

“You gonna give them away?” Cassie asked. “Mama really hopes you give those books away.”

“They make bookcases.” She smiled with phony confidence

“Okay.” Cassie sounded disappointed.

“Thank you.”

“Okay,” Cassie repeated in the same disappointed tone.

“Good bye.” Lucinda decided to capitulate to her demanding memory of Vernon.

“Okay.” Cassie walked to the door, looked back, shook her head and disappeared down the hall.

It Was The World Back Then

Recently I was going through some old files and found this nostalgia piece I wrote in the early 1970s, about 50 years:

It was the world back then. A garden to be tilled, a home for rabbits and chickens and dogs. Oh yes, cats too.
That backyard was long and wider than I had the breath to run past. But, of course, I was always a puny kid.
Half of it for many years was a garden—corn in the back, then okra, many rows of potatoes and tomatoes, then radishes, cabbage and onions. Sometimes a few petunias if my mother was in the mood. They made adequate trumpets, I recall.
To keep the garden alive during those scorching, drought-tinged Texas summers of the mid-fifties, my father and mother put the garden house at the end of a row and let it run.
Much to their chagrin, I often decided to dam up the works and create a lake, with branches seeping from one row to another. This also provided plenty of mud for various products like mud pies. It also substituted for blood for my re-enactment of the Saturday war movie.
Then the hose was turned on me before I was allowed in the house.
But the garden isn’t there anymore. Not since my mother died.
The other half of the yard was for play—with my dogs. I always had a couple; then when one was run over and killed—which seemed altogether too common an occurrence—I still had one.
They would chase me, nipping at my heels, until I would fall down and cover my head. They would lick at my neck and I would squeal with delight.
I learned the facts of life from the cats. Kittens were as common as the rain wasn’t in those days. I can think of no better education than the excitement of gingerly crawling under the house, softly calling out the mother cat’s name and have her return with a pleasant meow. As I crawled closer, she would proudly roll over to show me her babies, their eyes still closed. If I dared pick them up too much they would not be there the next day. The mother would move them.
My father built a hutch in the back and tried raising rabbits once. But that was a futile venture because he wanted to eat them, and I wanted them as pets. Bantam chickens were safer, we both agreed only to eat the eggs. One day, however, I came home to find dead chickens over all the yard. One of the dogs acted sheepishly. I cried and then decided to grant amnesty. The law of the backyard was based on mercy.
And the playhouse. I could never forget that. It began as one small room with tin Royal Crown Cola signs for sides and roof. That didn’t seem large enough so I added another room and a wooden roof and a second floor.
To celebrate the expansion I invited a friend over to spend the night in the house with my brother and me. We watched “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and drank a concoction of mine made of Nehi orange, grape and strawberry and Upper Teen.
Then we ventured out for the night. The sky was clear and the moon full. It was joyous. We danced and frolicked in our underwear at midnight. My friend’s shorts had monkeys on them. I teased him, but secretly I was envious.
Somehow two rooms and a second floor didn’t seem enough. I doubled the bottom, had more lumber for roofing and even had a perch on top of the second floor.
A few years later my interest waned, and my father wanted me to tear it down, but I didn’t have the heart. He relented and tore it down himself. At one point he pushed apart two main posts and bore a strange resemblance to Sampson, I thought.
Now I come home occasionally and the yard has changed. As I said, there is no garden. It is now an expanse of grass. I only vaguely spot where the rabbit hutch and the wonderful playhouse sat.
The only things that are the same are the honeysuckle vines and mimosa trees I planted for my mother many years ago. The trees are quite stout now.
It makes me feel old.
The smell of the honeysuckle is still sweet and brings back the memories, though. I have honeysuckle growing outside the door of the home I share with my wife and son. It makes me feel good.
I want a large yard for my son to have adventures in, to learn responsibility in, a nice place to grow up.
But this yard, for all the world events that transpired within its reaches, seems so small now.

Fifty years later, I have to admit the yard was not always that wonderful. In fact, some memories are best kept where they belong—in the past. And as for the yard seeming so small, to this old man the world has grown much too large.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Six months later Richmond falls to the Union. Everyone in the White House learns the war is over.
After Stanton left, Alethia went to Duff, putting her arms around his neck. She chose to ignore the slight stiffening in his back.
“Isn’t he a queer little man?”
“Yes, he is odd.”
“The war’s over.” She plopped into the chair next to Duff, leaning toward him. “The war’s finally over. I can hardly believe it. Can you?”
“No.” Duff stared at his food.
“Eat, eat,” she encouraged him. “You don’t have to worry about being as bony as Mr. Lincoln anymore.” Her giggles erupted. “I can’t wait to see you at your full, glorious size.”
He did not respond to her joke.
“You’re still worried about your past?”
Duff nodded.
“Then you don’t have to eat. Let’s go upstairs.” They stood and went to the door. “Your week has been so hectic. The long trip to Richmond, capped tonight with news of the end of the war—why, no wonder you’re let down.” She paused for a reply from him, but when none was forthcoming, Alethia continued, “You’re tired, that’s all. Why, after a good night’s sleep, you’ll be all rested and able to concentrate on our new life together.”
Duff climbed the service stairs quickly, Alethia noticed. Maybe he was eager to return to their bedrooms where they could be alone, the thought of which made her heart beat faster. Once they entered Duff’s bedroom, he went to the bed and slowly sat, his head sagging. Something was weighing on his mind, and Alethia did not know what it was. She joined him on the bed, her arm around his waist.
“I know I’ve said it before,” Alethia said in a whisper, putting her head on his chest, “but now that we have all the uncertainties of the war behind us, I want to say it again…I love you.”
Duff’s sad eyes stared into Alethia’s open face. She could feel his emotional intensity and leaned in to kiss him. He kissed back passionately for a second, then pulled away.
“No, I can’t do this to you,” he mumbled.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not worthy, Alethia.”
“Don’t judge yourself too harshly.” She shook her head. “You told me what you did. Yes, it was terrible, but war’s devastating, forcing good men to do unspeakable things. I forgive you.”
“You don’t know everything.”
“I know everything I want to know. We’re all flawed human beings. You may have killed innocent men, but you saved my soul. All that kept me going was the promise of living with you in Michigan.”
“You can’t go to Michigan.” Standing, he walked to the window and looked out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Small groups of people were already gathering.
Alethia held her breath when he turned to speak.
“I’ve a wife and three children.”
“You’re married?” Alethia blinked in disbelief. “Oh.” She felt her heart collapse. “Mr. Stanton knew about your family?”
“Yes.”
How foolish she must have looked to Stanton, who had watched as she caressed Duff’s hands and looked fondly at him as he spoke. Stanton must have been laughing at her. Alethia loathed him even more than before. Her eyes turned hard as she focused on Duff.
“Will you tell your wife you deserted, you killed men for food, and you had relations with a woman who thought you loved her?”
Duff remained silent.
“Does she know you’re a coward?”
“Leave tonight,” he said softly. “Don’t wait until Friday.”
Alethia stood, straightening her back in an attempt to keep from crying.
Duff stood also. “I’m very fond of you, Alethia.”
“You seduced me.”
“I think we seduced each other.”
“You’re a coward.” She slapped him hard across the face.
Walking through the bedroom door, she slammed it and sat on her bed. She swore she would never cry again. Perhaps returning to Bladensburg was best. She would never be a fool again. Tad bounded in, rousing Alethia from her thoughts.
“Everybody knows now!” he announced. “Old Tom Pen, Mr. Brooks, Tom Cross, Charles Forbes, Alexander Williamson, Phebe, and Cleotis.” He came close to whisper, “I even talked to Mama through the billiards room door. She said she already knew. Ain’t it wonderful?” He paused long enough to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Oh. I didn’t think about how sad you’d be. I’m really going to miss you, Mrs. Mama. I’ll miss Mr. Papa too, but not as much as you.”
“I’ll miss you too, my love.” Alethia hugged him around the neck. “You see, I never had a son of my own. So you’re the only little boy I’ll ever have.” She pulled out a lace handkerchief to daub her eyes, then smiled and ran her fingers through Tad’s tousled hair. “I’ll keep up with you through the newspapers. I’m sure they’ll report where you go to college, when you graduate, and whom you marry.”
“That’s right.” His eyes widened. “We won’t ever get to talk to each other again. Even if we saw each other on the street we couldn’t even wave. You’ll know about me from newspapers, but I won’t know about you, unless you do something to get in the papers. Like marry somebody important.”
“I don’t think that’ll happen.”
“Do something big. What’s your name, so I’ll know it’s you?”
“Alethia Haliday.”
“That’s a pretty name.” He kissed her cheek. “I love you, Alethia Haliday.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Two

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler.
“I’m scared.” The young black busboy shivered in the alley behind a Los Angeles café a little after midnight Oct. 25, 1937. He wore a suit coat over his white service jacket. “I ain’t never killed a man before.”
“I promise you won’t ever do it again.” Leon put a fedora on the boy’s head, a size too large to hide his face. Leon did the same with his own hat. Then, he handed the boy a revolver. “It has seven shots. Empty them into the man eating the lasagna. Call out his name to make him look up. That way you’ll be sure it’s him. Then run out the front door. Throw away the hat, gun and jacket, go around the building and in the back door. Don’t come out of the kitchen until the cops come for you. After they let you go, head straight to the Hot Kitty Club and I’ll give you your cut.”
“I’m scared.”
“Don’t be. I’ll be shooting too. I’ll run out and keep running.”
“But—but why are we doin’ this?”
“Don’t ask so many damn questions. The mob, they don’t like him.”
“Won’t the cops catch us? Don’t they say they always get their man?”
“They will. It just won’t be us.”
“But why me—“
“Go!” Leon pushed him into the dining room. He stood behind the boy and nudged him to say the mobster’s name. Leon didn’t want anyone to hear him speak. The boy emptied his revolver into the man. Leon shot also, but he left one bullet in the chamber. He pushed the boy toward the door, but Leon led the way out the door. When they were both on the street, Leon turned and shot him between the eyes.
With the efficiency of a professional killer, Leon stripped the boy of his jacket, gun and hat. He took off his own hat and jacket, rolled his gun and everything else together and tossed them into the shadows around the garbage cans in the alley. As he fell to his knees by the body, he put a notepad and pencil in the dead boy’s palm. Then he began howling in hysteria. People from the café and other buildings crept out. In the background police sirens wailed.
“Oh Lordy! They just killed this boy! He chased two men in coats and hats out the door. And they had guns. And they shot this poor boy! I guess they didn’t see me or else they would have shot me too! Oh Lordy! I’d be dead too!”
A couple of people from the neighborhood tried to comfort him as a police car pulled up and a sergeant got out. Several customers from the café surrounded him and started telling the story. They pointed to Leon as an eyewitness to the shooting on the street. By the time the cop got to him, Leon was spouting gibberish.
“Thank you, sir! Thank you! I gotta get home to my mama!”
Leon ran into the dark alley but stopped a few yards away, waiting for the crowds to disperse, an ambulance to take the body away and the police to leave. He grabbed his bundle and went back down the alley, crossing a couple of streets, until he found a large garbage can in which he dumped the wad. He ambled over to his hotel, the nicest in the black part of town, went to his room, bathed, changed into his white linen suit and arrived at the Hot Kitty Club.
He sat in the back of the strip club, nursing a Cuba libre, when one of the strippers, still wearing her G-string and pasties, sat on his lap.
“Les dead?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And the busboy?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She took a key from her G-string and handed it to Leon. “This goes to a security box at the train station. Pick up your money and get the hell out of town tonight.”
Leon did exactly as he was told. With the heft reward he got himself a private compartment. During the three-day journey, he slept, meditated, exercised and read newspapers all the way from Los Angeles to Miami. He noticed that Los Angeles gangster Les Bruneman was shot about fourteen times about 1 a.m. by two gunman. A busboy was killed trying to get the license number of the getaway car. Underground rumors indicated he wasn’t splitting his gambling money, and the mob had him bumped. Leon smiled to himself. It wasn’t the mob. It was the organization. A job well done, he thought. By the afternoon of the third day he arrived in Miami. Leon took a small boat to Freeport where his favorite fisherman was waiting for him. He was pleased with himself. With payoffs from Biarritz and now Los Angeles he could afford to relax a while and spend time with his son. Sidney was ten-years-old but he was far more advanced than Leon was at that age. As the dock at Eleuthera appeared, he saw a crowd waiting for him.
To one side was Jessamine with her arms around Sidney. Spearheading the rest of the throng was a broad-shouldered woman who held her son in front of her as though he was evidence in an assault trial. Leon gracefully alit from the boat and headed to his family but the angry woman accosted him.
“Leon Johnson, with your fine clothes and big house, you have to face the wrath of God for raising your son to be a ruffian, leaving months at a time so he can terrorize the community!”
First Leon kissed his wife and hugged his son. Then he turned to consider what the woman had said.
“How can a ten-year-old boy terrorize a community?”
“He broke my son’s nose!”
Leon looked at Sidney and then the woman’s son who was several inches taller. “He must have been standing on a box at the time. Now why would my little boy want to hit your bigger boy?”
“That’s what I want to know!”
“Have you asked your son?”
“He’s too upset to talk about it!”
Leon turned to Sidney. “Did you hit this boy?”
Sidney wriggled free of his mother. “Yes, I hit Bobby.”
Leon smiled, “Oh, this is the Bobby I’ve heard about?” He leaned into the boy’s face. “You like to bully children, eh, Bobby?” He looked at the mother. “By the way, the nose is not broken. It’s just a little bloody.” He stared at her. “Tell me, did you raise your son to be a bully?”
“He is not a bully!” The mother huffed. “Some children get what’s coming to them, that’s all!”
“So what did Sidney have coming to him, Bobby?”
The bigger boy stuck his lower lip out. “He sounds like a girl.”
Leon stepped so close to Bobby’s mother that she took a step back. “I agree with you, madam. Some children get what’s coming to them. Now if you will step aside I want to go home with my family.”

Remember Chapter One

Author’s note: My novella Remember is a reflection on how we treat our young people going to war and especially the ones who will never come back. They are human beings like the rest of us with hopes, loves and fears. It deals with a retired college English teacher remembering her favorite student, how she loved him and eventually let him down. I particularly like the student Vernon Singleberry whose dreams come true only in the memories of others.

It was a spring morning in 1980. Lucinda Cambridge, a terribly thin and brittle woman in her early seventies, sat in a rocking chair in her sparsely appointed bedroom in a boarding house in a small Texas community, reading from two books at a small table. One was Homer’s Odyssey, and the other was Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. She did not know that by nightfall she would be dead.

“For two nights and two days he was lost in the heavy seas. Time and again he saw his end at hand,” she whispered in the same monotone voice she used as she recited selections of literature to her bored junior college students.

A 10-year-old blonde with large eyes crawled through the window by Lucinda’s bed. The retired teacher jumped slightly at the noise and turned to see the little girl plop her feet on the old wooden floor.

“Shirley Meyers!” Lucinda did not know whether to startled or terribly pleased by the impromptu visit.

“Shh! The old women will hear you!” She wandered over to the bed and hopped up on it, dangling her legs in carefree abandon.

“Oh no! You haven’t skipped school again!” Lucinda decided upon the imperious, judgmental tone to defend the honorable institution of education to which she had dedicated her life.

“Today’s Good Friday. They let us out early. Before lunch. So they didn’t have to feed us.” Shirley’s eyes wandered around the room.

“Does your mother know you’re here?”

“No.” Shirley jumped from the bed and walked to the far wall which had stacks and stacks of books against it. “You sure do have a lot of books. If somebody read all of them they’d be the smartest person in the world.”

“Why didn’t you tell your mother?” Lucinda would not be diverted from her well-intentioned meddling.

Shirley went back to the window and leaned out, inhaling deeply. “You’re so lucky to have honeysuckle growing right outside your window. Doesn’t it smell sweet?”

“Shirley?” Lucinda risked sounding school-marmish, which, indeed, she was.

“Because I’d have to sit at the beauty parlor and listen to mama talk about Warren Beatty and hear the women giggle about how silly it all sounds,” she replied, her eyes moving from the honeysuckle to the sky. “The clouds look so fluffy.”

“So the boarding house has become your sanctuary?” Her tone melted into sympathy. Lucinda could not help herself.

“No. Only your room.” Shirley pulled in her head, turned and smiled.

“Why, thank you, Shirley.”

“Those old biddies at the beauty parlor– they look at me funny and murmur, “Love child, love child.”

“That’s why you visit me so often.” She felt like her heart was about to burst with happiness.

“You don’t make me feel different.”

Lucinda extended her arms, and Shirley came over to give her a hug.

“Ah, but you are different.” She closed her eyes to keep from crying. “You’re so fresh and open and sweet.”

“And that name, love child.” Shirley asked, “What does it mean?”

“Well, it means . . . .”

“I know what it means. My mama and daddy weren’t married.” She pulled away and sat on the bed again. “But what does it really means? If my daddy loved me why isn’t he here? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call me a sex child instead of a love child? I don’t feel loved.”

“I love you.”

“I know.” Shirley smiled. “That’s why I like talking to you.” She walked back over to the stacks of books. “And I like your books.”

Lucinda joined Shirley and picked up a college yearbook. “There’s one I want you to see.”

“What is it?”

“The Lion. The junior college yearbook from 1970. I want to show you someone in it.”

The bedroom door opened with an angry bang. Nancy, Shirley’s mother, stalked into the room. She was pretty, but in her short thirty years on earth had given her a hard-edge. Shirley nervously hid the yearbook behind her back.

“I thought I’d find you in here.” Nancy put her hands on her hips.

“Shirley’s not bothering anything, Mrs. Meyers.” Lucinda tried to use her best tutorial voice.

“You know very well it’s Miss Meyers.” She glared at her daughter. “What’s that?”

“A yearbook.” Shirley slowly brought it from behind her back.

Nancy grabbed it from her, looked at the yearbook and threw it on the floor next to the stacks of other books. “You don’t need to look at trash. Git out of here.”

“Yes, mama. Bye, Mrs. Cambridge.” Shirley went through the door, closed it but put her ear to it.

“I know what you’re up to, old woman.” Nancy pointed at Lucinda.

“Shirley deserves to know about Vernon Singleberry.”

“It’s none of your business.” She clinched her jaw tightly as though to end the conversation.

“But—“

“I don’t want to hear it,” Nancy cut her off.

“Please—“

Nancy opened the door, and Shirley jumped back as her mother stormed into the hall and gripped her daughter’s arm. “What are you doing?”

Lucinda cocked her head to hear the rest of the conversation, but Nancy dragged Shirley down the stairs, muttering the entire time. The old woman stared at the door a moment, sighed deeply and returned to her reading. “But in the morning of the third day, which Dawn opened in all her beauty, the wind dropped, a breathless calm set in and Odysseus keeping a sharp lookout ahead as he was lifted by a mighty wave, could see the land close by.” She tapped the book with conviction, then opened her volume of Hemingway. “Now where is that passage? Ah, here it is. She read moving her lips. Similarities, similarities. Man against the sea. Man as one with the sea. Did Hemingway know what he was doing? Was he inspired by Homer? Oh, we shall never know! Why oh why did such a gifted writer have to blow his brains out?”

She unconsciously rubbed her right arm, then momentarily she felt dizzy. Shaking her head Lucinda looked up to see that she was mysteriously in her old classroom at the junior college, and saw Vernon Singleberry—a tall, blond young man, about nineteen, with large, soulful eyes— lope in just as the bell rang. He was dressed in blue jeans and a crisp plaid short-sleeved shirt and carrying too many books.

“He couldn’t write no more — I mean, anymore. Isn’t that what you told us, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda’s mouth flew open in shock. It was as though the last ten years were as a moment in time. She took a moment to recover. “Vernon Singleberry! What — what are you doing here!?”