Tag Archives: love

What I Think About When I’m on Quarantine Part Four

My mind wanders back to Texas in the early fifties while on quarantine, and this story keeps rising to the surface. It’s been so long ago I don’t know how much of it is true, how much made up and how much true only in my heart. You’ll have to decide for me.

Holding a dozen red roses, I stepped inside the flapping, torn screen door and I saw that the roof was half gone, long vines growing through it. I hesitated a moment as I remembered the last time I stood there, sixty-five or more years ago.
This house sat at the bottom of a sloped pasture from our home. My little legs only took moments to scramble through the tall grasses and to mount the creaking wooden steps. I heard her voice.
“Baby boy! Git on in this house right now! I got some ice cold wallermelon for ya!”
Mary’s voice made me feel happy. Ma and pa were pleasant, but they were miserable like the weight of the world was about to weaken their knees, forcing them to the ground. Ma tried to find a smile and a gentle caress from time to time, but Pa never rose above a scowl and a menacing leer. I kinda felt sorry for Ma. She carried her sorrow around like a rough old wool blanket, but Pa scared me to death, like he was gonna pull back his fist and knock me from here to kingdom come. My brothers were on Pa’s side. They told me the only reason Mary liked me was because she just wanted to touch my white skin. Those mixed emotions made going to Mary’s little cabin across the way so exciting: her comforting manner and my fear that Pa would find out. For the longest spell I never understood why Pa and my brothers hated Mary.
“Now you come over here and sit on Mary’s lap so she can give you a big hug.”
When I walked across the room she noticed the dandelions I had picked along the way through the pasture.
“Why, is those for me, Baby Boy? Mary’s gonna have to give you a extra big slice of melon for those purty flowers.” She put her big brown arms around me and hugged. Mary smelled like fresh-baked cornbread.
Just then the screen door flew open. My father’s hulking frame blocked the sunlight trying to flood into the tiny dark room.
“JerDan! Didn’t I tell you never to come to Mary’s place again?”
Actually, he used another word in front of her name, but ever since that day I never felt right about using it. He grabbed me up under my armpit and jerked me toward the door. The dandelions fell from my hand. As he dragged me out the screen door and across the porch, I heard Mary calling.
“Baby Boy, ain’t ya gonna say good-bye to Mary? Baby Boy?”
And for the first time I heard her cry.
The next morning Ma told me Mary died over night and the ambulance had come for her body. I looked through our back door and across the pasture to see the men carry Mary’s body out on a stretcher. A bunch of black folks stood in the yard crying. I supposed they were her family.
All these years I thought Mary died because I had broken her heart, and the memories caused hot tears to run down my pale wrinkled cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I just walked over to the spot where I had dropped the dandelions and placed a dozen red roses, putting on top of them a card that said:
“I’m sorry, Mary.”

Why Are You Late?

(Author’s Note: I’m a day late with my Mother’s Day tribute, and it wouldn’t surprise her in the least bit.)
“Why are you late?
My mother said that almost every time I walked in the door. Sometimes I was down the street at a friend’s house. His family had the first television on the block. Mickey Mouse Club came on at 4 p.m., and was an hour long. The first half was singing, dancing and acting silly. It was all right. I was too young to appreciate fully Annette Funicello at that time. When I was older she became Annette Full of Jello and much more fascinating. The second half was a serial. My favorite was Spin and Marty, two boys at a summer camp. Spin was a city street kid, and Marty was a naïve rich kid. At first they didn’t like each other, but by the third season they were buddies. As soon as the final song–“MIC, see you real soon, KEY, Why? Because we love you”—finished I was supposed to be out the door and headed home. In the winter the sky was getting dark at that time of time. Everyone knew if you were caught outside after dark, something terrible was going to happen.
The only situation worse was to be out of the house in the dark and dark clouds rumbled with thunder and lightning. My brother was bringing me home from the movies one time. He always resented having to pick me up places. It cut into his cruising time up and down the main drag of downtown. On the average I’d have to wait about thirty minutes on the street outside the theater. When I decided to start walking home, he became even madder I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
“Why are you late? Didn’t you see the clouds in the sky? Didn’t you realize it was about to rain?” my mother said with a particularly angry exasperation.
Yes, I knew it was about to rain. I knew she was going to be hysterical, but there wasn’t much I could do about it since my brother continued to scour Main Street for a girl desperate enough to go out with him. Of course, I would never get away with saying that so I instead went into my sniveling little coward role and whined, “I’m sorry.” I suspected she gave up her tirade because she didn’t want to listen to me whimper. On the other hand, my brother jutted his chin up and out as he walked right past Mother without acknowledging her.
As a child I seriously debated with myself whether I wished to bother to try to date when I was a teen-ager. The appeal of the young ladies hardly seemed worth the inquisition. If my brother came in after ten o’clock, she would greet him at the front door with her hands on her hips. She knew the movie downtown never let out after nine o’clock. You could drive a young lady home anywhere in town and still be home by ten.
“Why are you late?”
He tried to ignore as was his custom, but she blocked his path. Squinting she pushed her nose into his face.
“Let me smell your breath.”
“Aww, Mom.” He took a quick step to the left and escaped into the next room.
“Are you having sex with that girl? You better not get her pregnant!”
That imperative statement contained two major ironies. One, my brother did start coming in staggering from too many beers, and when he did Mother just stood there giggling, finding the way he lost his balance and fell on the sofa to be quaintly enchanting.
However, Father was not amused at all. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re scaring the hell out of your little brother!”
The other irony was that by the time he finally got a woman pregnant I was married and had impregnated my wife, and I was six years younger than he was.
The fear of being on the receiving end of the withering question “Why are you late?” tended to make any situation worse. One year for Halloween my mother took me downtown to a five and dime so I could buy a mask for the school festival. She sat out in the car while I was supposed to rush in to pick out the mask. I stood in front of the table and froze. Not only did it infuriate Mother for me to be late, she also blew up if I spent too much money on foolish things such as Halloween masks. I saw ones I liked but they were too expensive. Dithering for too long a moment, I finally decided on the cheapest thing I could find. By the time I paid for it and ran out to the car, it was too late—Mother’s face was crimson.
“Why are you late? How hard was it to pick out a simple mask? Now I have a splitting headache!”
Well, that took the thrill out of Halloween, and it was the last one before entering junior high school. Once you’re in junior high you’re too big to wear silly Halloween masks.
I soon found out the reason Mother had such a short fuse. She had cancer and died before I entered high school. All dread of the scoldings went out the window. After a while I kind of missed them. It wasn’t any fun staying out after midnight on a date because Father went to bed at 9 o’clock every night and didn’t know when I came in or even that I had gone out in the first place. In fact, I was usually home by ten o’clock anyway. After all, the movie was over by 9:30. We could make the drag a couple of times to see who else was out that night, drop by the local drive-in for a quick soda and still be home in time to make Mother happy, if Mother had been there.
I am now older than my mother was when she died. I’m still home by ten o’clock. I never had to stand by the front door demanding why my children were late coming home. My son hardly ever went to movies unless it was Star Wars, and my daughter always dated guys who had earlier curfews than she did.
With luck I have a few more years. Boring people like me usually live a long time. It’s too strenuous to do anything exciting. But I do know that when my life is up and I finally am reunited with my loved ones in heaven, my mother will be standing at the Pearly Gates with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her lips.
“Why are you late?”

Songs of My Life

I’ve had a never-ending love for my wife Janet ever since I saw her face and I was a believer. She stood on a bridge over troubled waters in Fort Worth, Texas. (I don’t know if there are troubled waters Fort Worth. Go with it. Love doesn’t make sense.)
Actually, we’d already been married several years. When I looked through the viewfinder of my camera at Janet holding our baby daughter I realized how deeply I loved her and it would be for ten thousand years. The tiny girl helped bring about that epiphany.
We named her Grace, but I always called her Amazing. The first time she cried I thought how sweet a sound it was. By the time she entered kindergarten we shortened it to Mazie. After all, we were from Texas and we could not wrap our lips around any word more than two syllables.
Mazie was a remarkable child–smart, beautiful and adventurous. Janet handled the escapades better than I did. She knew how to pat my hand and say let it be. Like the time Mazie climbed out her bedroom window at midnight to walk down the street to see her boyfriend. She was only thirteen years old. Luckily the police brought her home after they picked her up with her boyfriend walking down the street holding hands. Janet waited a few weeks before telling me about that. I supposed she was trying to think of the right words to make it sound not so bad. Mazie taught my heart to fear.
Then there was the time I was cleaning the living room and found a note from the private Christian school in which we had enrolled Mazie. She and her boyfriend were given an in-school suspension for saying dirty words between classes. Those Christian school kids can be such tattle tales. Mazie explained they watched too much MTV, and it was a bad influence on them.
Eventually Mazie bored of her first boyfriend and went on to another boy who was the epitome of moral rectitude. Mazie quit cussing for him, just as Janet said she would. Shortly thereafter, she dumped the student saint because he thought he had the right to choose what career she should pursue. From then on, Mazie only cussed just a little and was very responsible about everything else she did. And Mazie my fears relieved.
The years went by fast after Mazie grew up, went to work, got married and had a baby of her own. Janet held my hand, and, ooh, our lives were filled with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. We hardly noticed the wrinkles and gray hairs that were popping up all over us.
And then Janet went away, as I knew she would. I appreciated how precious Grace appeared. She held my hand and promised to comfort me until the day when I would join her mother. It will be as if we had only just begun. Because I had a never-ending song of love for her.

The Chihuahua That Saved Noel Coward

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 what?
“Why did you choose me?”
PeePee sniffed him.
You have the scent of a slight incontinence problem. I like that in a man.

Nap Nightmare

His dream started out innocently enough. He was flying. Above the clouds. Not a care in the world. Then the world went black. As he gasped for air, he realized that what he gulped down into his lungs was tepid and stale. Was he still flying? He could not see anything. No clouds, no sun, nothing. He tried to scream for help, but the words stayed in his throat.
Tom Wagoner realized he was dreaming. If only he could make himself wake up everything would be fine. A nagging voice in the back of his brain told him to continue sleeping. Tom would just have to put up with the inconvenience of a nightmare until his brain’s caboose felt rested.
To hell with that, the frontal lobe shouted and forced Tom to open his eyes.
Yelling, Tom jumped as he returned to consciousness and found himself in darkness. He squinted to adjust his eyes. He was still on the airplane. His memory came forward to remind him he was returning home to Houston from a business trip to New York.
“Hello? Anybody there?”
His muffled echo informed him that no one was still on the airplane. Tom did not know for sure if he were in Houston or still at the layover airport in Atlanta. No, he remembered the plane landing and taking off at Atlanta. He had to be in Houston. Tom pulled out his cell phone and called his girlfriend Debbie.
“Where the hell are you?” she demanded. “You were supposed to take me out to dinner tonight!”
“Honey, I’m still on the plane.”
Debbie paused before asking, “Did you get stuck in Atlanta?”
“No, I’m in Houston, I think. It’s dark, and nobody else is here.”
“Are you shacking up with that blonde broad in New York again?” Debbie said in a challenging voice. “If you’re pulling that trick again, we’re through. I warned you the last time!”
“No, no, I’m telling the truth. I guess the flight attendants didn’t see me,” he explained, his words tumbling over each other. “I was really tired and I fell asleep right after the layover in Atlanta—“
“Atlanta!” Debbie screamed into the phone, “You promised me you’d never have a layover in Atlanta after that incident last spring!”
“It was the only flight I could get. Listen, please call United Airlines. I’m on ExpressJet flight 641.”
“Maybe you’ve finally flipped out. I told you not to watch those Twilight Zone reruns.”
“Debbie, I’m locked on the plane. I’m telling you the truth. You better go somewhere and get me off this plane!”
“Oh yeah, sure, make me be the one to call the airport. I’m the one that’s going to look nuts,” she replied in exasperation.
“Just call the damn airline, okay?”
Debbie sighed. “Okay, but you better be in that plane or else just don’t bother to come home!”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter One Hundred Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales, and socialite Wallis Spencer. David abdicates the throne to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney turns mercenary. David hires him as his valet. The years pass and the organization wants all three of them and the Royal family dead, but Sidney makes sure that doesn’t happen.
The next morning David awoke, disappointed to discover he was still alive. His doctor told him he’d die in a matter of days. He wished he had breathed his last after the visit from Queen Elizabeth. Past differences dissolved as they talked in his sitting room. He chose to ignore the tussling going on behind the curtain. And the sharp pain when the IV line wrenched about. A lifetime of believing nothing had meaning seemed like a life wasted. But even regarding life as a waste was not true. His life was what it was—filled with disappointment, heart break, romance, thrills and, in the end, the satisfaction of love based on mutual trust and affection.
A knock at the back hall door caused David to look over to see Sidney enter carrying a tray with a teapot and cup. He smiled at the bud vase holding a single white rose, a daily gift from Wallis.
A white rose. I know Joachim Von Ribbentrop sent Wallis a white carnation each time they made love. Now she gives me a white rose just to show she cares, and everyone knows roses are more precious than carnations.
“Did you sleep well last night, Your Highness?” his valet asked.
David grunted. His throat cancer made conversation painful.
“I brought you mint tea. It seems to ease your pain.” Sidney poured tea into the white china cup and handed it to David. “The cook picked the mint leaves herself from the bush in the garden. She said the morning is wonderful. The air is crisp and clean.”
The old man took a long sip. “Hmm. Good.” After drinking more of it, he motioned to Sidney to lean into him.
I now realize Sidney was more than my valet. The man from the Bahamas was most likely a mercenary hired by the organization, but at some point he changed his allegiance to us. How can I let him know my gratitude without creating discomfiture for him?
David whispered in a raspy voice. “I had a nightmare.”
“Oh dear. Whatever could have caused that?”
“A man came into my room and rolled a—“he paused to sip his mint tea—“corpse from under the bed and rolled it out the door.”
“Hmm.” Sidney lifted the pot and looked at David. “How odd. Perhaps it was from all the excitement from the Queen’s visit yesterday. Would you care for a second cup? It seems to help you speak.”
David nodded.
Sidney took the cup, poured in the tea and handed it back to the Duke.
“Thank you.” Before Sidney could pull away, David clutched his sleeve. “Truly, thank you.” David watched his valet’s face flush.
“You’re welcome.”
The old man waved him closer again. “You look like a man I used to know.”
Sidney returned the pot to the tray. David studied his valet.
I wonder if Sidney might admit to the truth? It would make this moment less awkward. It could be their last chance to acknowledge their friendship, equal to equal.
David grunted to make Sidney come close again.
“You never talk of your father.”
Sidney averted his eyes. “He died when I was young.”
“He would have been proud of you.”
Before the valet could respond Wallis made a grand entrance from the sitting room door. Swooping to her husband’s bedside, she kissed his brow.
“How are you, darling?”
“Well, I am simply exhausted.” She fluffed his pillows. “I haven’t entertained that many people in years. Lillibet doesn’t look a thing like her mother. Thank God. Phillip is still a gorgeous man. Poor Charles. He never grew out of that awful horsey face.”
David smiled. Wallis always amused him. Today he tried not to laugh. It hurt too much.
“Oh, I see Sidney brought you mint tea. How clever of him.” She went to Sidney and smoothed out the collar of his uniform. “I enjoyed my bath this morning. It was sparkling clean.”
“I scrubbed it myself,” the valet replied.
So an assassin tried to kill Wallis too, and somehow Sidney intervened. If someone wanted us dead they must have tried to kill the Queen, her husband and her son. When else would all of us be together in virtual seclusion? I would ask him about it but I don’t have the strength to speak, and he has too much honor to answer.
“What will we do without you?” Wallis smiled in her wicked way.
“You need not worry about that, Madam.”
Her smile melted, and she stepped closer to Sidney. David could hardly hear what she said.
“Honestly, after David—I mean, when I am alone, I will have enough staff to care for me. I want you to go home to the Bahamas. You have family there, don’t you?”
David watched his valet hesitate. “A family I chose for myself. Yes, I have family there.”
“Go to them,” Wallis ordered. She stepped closer. “I know I’m losing my mind, just like Aunt Bessie did. I’m not scared of it like I used to be. My only regret is that I will forget you.” She patted his shoulder. “Why, you’re almost like a son to me. Family. What is it I have heard you say so often? Oh yes, we must fill the bellies of our family. You’ve always taken care of us. Now you must let them take care of you.”
That’s right. Sidney’s father had saved their lives many times also. Even then he considered us a part of his family, and we had to be fed. If there is any justice in the world, I hope Sidney’s family in the Bahamas fills his belly well.
(Author’s Note: This is the final chapter. This story is much longer than I anticipated. I thank two good friends, Anne Buckingham and Linda Welker, for their editing and critiques. I couldn’t have finished it without their help. I will now start running two chapters of Booth’s Revenge a week. I have other stories in the planning stages. I thank the kind readers who have left gracious notes about the novel. If you liked it please drop a dollar or two in my donation basket. I’m 72 and need all the help I can get.)


Bob and Madge sat in the Mexican restaurant, sharing a large plate of nachos, and each sipped on their margaritas.
“Remember the time Susie smeared the queso in her hair?” Madge laughed as she crunched on a tortilla chip.
“Yeah, when the waitress came up, we asked what we should do,” Bob replied, “She replied, ‘I don’t know. If I had a camera I’d take a picture of it.”
They both laughed and took another big slurp of the margaritas.
“That’s one thing we did wrong with Joey.” Madge scooped up some guacamole. “We always bought him a hamburger, no matter where we ate. Remember when we got in late at the beach and went to the restaurant where the waitress walked up with the wrong order and Joey started screaming when she walked away.”
“We shouldn’t have let him go hungry like that.”
“And then the next night we went to the hamburger joint late and he toddled down the aisle as fast as his two little legs would carry him. And the line was backed up.”
“They should have taken that little boy away from us, the way we starved him.” Bob stuffed another nacho in his mouth.
“No wonder he ate all the chocolate doughnuts in the back seat.” After Madge took another swig of her margarita she twisted her face. “But that was another trip, wasn’t it?” She shook her head and pushed her salt-rimmed glass over to Bob. “You better have the rest of my margarita. I’m not making any sense.”
Bob was about to take her glass when he pointed to the last nacho on the platter. “Do you want that?”
“No, you can have it.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Then why did you ask if I wanted it?”
“I was just making conversation.”
“I don’t think you need the rest of the margarita.” She pulled the glass back across the table.
“If that’s the way you feel about it….” Bob reached for the last nacho and ate it.
Madge started laughing, her face turned red and she coughed.
“Okay, that settles it,” Bob resolved. “We must never leave each other. No one else could ever understand us.”

The Beach

“I can’t believe I spent fifteen years on the subway looking at a picture of that damn palm tree thinking it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in the world.”
“George, did you bring the sunblock? You know I get splotchy if I don’t have my sunblock.”
“Freezing my ass on that subway going home every night, staring at that damn palm tree. Spring Hill, Florida, the poster said. Go retire to Spring Hill, Florida, and be happy, the poster said.”
“If you didn’t bring the sun block I’m going back to the car. I’m not going to get all splotchy just because you forgot the sunblock.”
“Fifteen years of thinking if I survive another New York winter and save my money, I can go live under that damn palm tree.”
“Oh. Never mind. It was at the bottom of my bag.”
“They didn’t tell me the houses were halfway across the county from the damn palm tree.”
“Do you want a Coke? I got diet and regular in the thingy here.”
“You drive an hour and when you get here, and it ain’t all that big, either.”
“Your belly’s getting too big. I’m giving you a diet.”
“Look at that beach. It’s nothing. Atlantic City has a bigger beach than that.”
“If we were in Atlantic City right now you’d be freezing your ass off. Now drink your Coke, for crying out loud.”
“Somebody ought to sue those bastards for false advertising. Making Spring Hill look like some damn South Beach or something.”
“We couldn’t afford an outhouse in South Beach. Drink your Coke.”
“I have to walk out a mile before I get my ass wet, the beach is so shallow.”
“If you want your ass wet, I’ll pour the Coke down your pants.”
“I mean, fifteen years of saving our money to move to Spring Hill, and the damn palm tree isn’t even pretty.”
“George, where the hell else do you want to go?”
“Aww, Louise, don’t start in on me.”
“You want to go back to New York, George? It’s snowing in New York, George. Do you want to spend another winter shoveling snow? You want to shovel snow until you drop dead of a heart attack?”
“Give me the damn Coke, Louise.”
“You want to live in South Beach, George? Why? You want to stare at all the young girls in bikinis? They wouldn’t give you a second look. You know why? Because you’re an old man, George.”
“Now you’re just getting nasty, Louise.”
“I know I’m just a wrinkled up old broad from New York, George, but you know what? I think you’re the best looking thing on this beach.”
“I know I’m the best looking thing on this beach. I’m the only thing on this beach except for that damn palm tree.”
“Look, George. The sun is setting. Not a cloud in the sky.”
“Well, maybe not the best looking thing on the beach. For a wrinkled up old broad from New York, you’re okay, Louise.”
“Drink your Coke, George.”

Christmas Spider

On Christmas Eve Mother Spider paused a moment after delivering her babies, looked through the branches of the small fir tree to watch the sun set over the Austrian snow drifts and sensed she would not live to see Christmas morning. She did not mind so much—for spiders only had a brief span on this earth—but she wanted to leave her darling little children a special memory of their mother before she went away.
A heavy thud interrupted her thoughts. Running to the tip of the branch she saw a woman, wrapped in rags, chopping away. Mother Spider had heard legends of humans putting evergreen trees in their houses on Christmas Eve, hoping that an angel—one of those who heralded the birth of the Christ Child centuries ago—would visit every home. The tree, which symbolized best of love and peace, merited the granting of the family’s wish for the New Year, whatever that wish might be.
Mother Spider consoled her children who became frightened by the jostling and thumping as the woman dragged the tree from the forest into her small cottage. Two little girls and a boy ran to the door and with giggles galore helped their mama set the tree in the corner by the fireplace.
“My dears,” the woman told them, “we will not be decorating the tree this year because I did not have time to gather nuts and holly and we have no fruit to adorn the branches.”
“Don’t worry, Mother,” the older girl replied soothingly as she patted her mother’s shoulders. “We remember how pretty the tree looked before father died. That is enough.”
“We’ll decorate the tree with our Christmas memories,” the boy joined in. “It shall be the prettiest tree we have ever seen.”
The woman put her face in her hands and cried.
“Don’t cry, Mother,” the other girl cooed. “It’s Christmas. We are together. What more shall we want?”
“You don’t understand, children.” She wiped her face with a cloth. “If we cannot pay the landlord at the first of the month, we will be cast out in the snow.”
“We always have the Christmas angel.” The boy hugged her. “Surely she will see this is the best tree in all the kingdom and grant our wish.”
After kissing and hugging each of her children, the woman gave each of them a bowl of porridge for their supper. Then the family settled on an old feather mattress, snuggling under worn quilts, and fell asleep.
Even as she felt the life slowly slip from her body, Mother Spider decided she would decorate the family’s tree with the last of her web. She told her little spiders what she was doing and that they should stay nestled among the branches for they had had a long, busy day and needed their rest. When she was sure they were all in a deep slumber, Mother Spider began her task, beginning at the bottom of the tree and working her way to the top, spreading her silvery fragile tinsel.
At first she did not think she had the strength to finish her job, but she paused to consider the poor woman and her three loving children who needed the angel to grant their Christmas wish. When she finally reached the top of the fir tree, Mother Spider turned because she thought she heard the flapping of gossamer wings.
There before her was the Christmas Angel, emanating her soft heavenly light. The spider breathed deeply, trying to stay alive for a few moments more. The angel glided to the tree.
“My dear little spider,” the angel whispered in a loving lilt. “What have you done?” She smiled. “You don’t have to speak. I can read your heart. Rest, tender spider, for your labor has won your wish for this desperate family. Behold, your web is now silver spangles and when your spirit departs, I shall make your body into a brooch of rubies and diamonds.”
Mother Spider looked down to see her baby spiders scampering across the branches.
“Your children are here to say their farewell. Go now. What a gift you have given them.”
The next morning the woman and her daughters and son awoke to the sun coming through the window, making the silver tinsel shine. They danced and sang around the tree. Then the mother noticed the ornament at the top and screamed for joy when she saw the rubies and diamonds. The family never wanted for anything again, and shared its good fortune with the destitute of the village.
In the years to come, the spiders who witnessed their mother’s transformation into the grandest Christmas gift ever, told their children who in turn told their children of the miracle they witnessed. Each one wished that one wintry night they would be fortunate enough to live in a fir tree chosen to be blessed by the Christmas Angel.
(Author’note: This is a new interpretation of the Christmas spider legend.)

The Old Dress in the Trunk

(Author’s Note: I always think of November as the time to remember family, with Thanksgiving and all. So every Monday in November I’m going to share memories about my family.)
Grady and Florida had been married so many years they had forgotten why.
Florida liked to tell how they met. She was on a joy ride with a boy who was showing off his new car. The car was more interesting than the boy. She lived in Era, a farming community in North Texas during the Great Depression. Girls had to do something for thrills. They were chugging along at a breathtaking thirty-five miles per hour down a dusty road, when Florida saw this young man walking in the same direction they were going. He was tall, had thick black hair, and his shoulders were as broad as a barn.
“Oh, there’s a good-looking man,” she chirped. “Let’s stop.”
Well, the durned fool stopped. She thought it was mean of him to put her in an awkward position just because she asked for it. Florida jumped from the car and walked up to the man who was still walking down the lane.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said in her best damsel in distress voice.
He kept on walking. Now was that rude of him. She ran to catch up and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said peevishly. “I called to you. Didn’t you hear me?”
When he turned to look at her, she blinked. He looked like a cowboy movie star. Florida could not quite decide which one. Next she noticed he had only one good eye. The other one was oddly white.
Great, she thought. He’s half blind and deaf. He smiled and deep dimples appeared in his cheeks. The one eye, which was a dark brown, was gorgeous. Then there were those broad shoulders and the hair she wanted to run her fingers through.
“I said do you know if the high school football schedule has been announced yet?” she asked in a loud voice.
“Sorry to have bothered you.” She smiled sweetly.
She extended her hand. “I’m Florida Flowers. We have a farm on the other side of town.”
He looked at her hand a moment like he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Finally he shook it, gently, because it was so small.
“Now, remember. Florida Flowers. Like, Florida is the land of flowers.”
“And what is your name, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Grady what?” She glanced behind to make sure the boy was still waiting for her. Much to her displeasure, he was laughing.
“Grady Cowling.”
“It was certainly a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Grady Cowling.”
“You do remember my name, don’t you?”
“Sure. Florida.”
“Florida what?” She didn’t know if she were getting annoyed or romantically aroused.
“Miss Florida Flowers.”
“I hope to see you at one of the football games this season, Mr. Cowling.”
In September she attended the first game between Era Hornets and Valley View Panthers. Looking around the stands she saw Grady sitting by himself. She plopped herself next to him and began to talk. She talked and he listened for the next six months. When she stopped to take a breath sometime in April, Grady asked her to marry him. He had saved enough money to rent a farm down the road from her family so it was convenient if she wanted to visit her mama from time to time. That made sense to her so they went to the preacher’s house the next week and said their vows. She had sewn herself a new dress, and Grady took a bath.
“How much do I owe you?” Grady asked the preacher, with his wallet in his hand.
“Pay me what you think she’s worth.”
“Oh, I couldn’t pay you that much.”
Florida did not remember what bill he took from his wallet, but she thought at the time he could have afforded to give the preacher a bit more.
She did not mind much. Florida knew he was a hard worker and saved every penny he could. After a few years they could afford to buy the farm they were renting. The house was small. She had to store memorabilia in a trunk stored in the barn. Maybe they could add a room as the family grew. And it did grow. They had two boys right off, but one of them died. Doctor bills took the money set aside to buy the farm. Then another boy came along. Florida was excited the year Grady had a bumper crop of cotton. This would be the year they would buy the farm. But the government ordered half of all cotton plants be plowed under to boost prices. She cried when she watched Grady tilled over them. Grady did not say anything. It was just another day of work.
As the boys grew, the possibility of buying the land diminished until one day the dream died as they sat around the kitchen table and decided they had best pack up and move to the nearest town, Gainesville. With ten thousand people, it was almost considered a city. Grady had already found a job driving a Royal Crown Cola truck. Eventually, hopefully, they could buy a house with a big enough lot to plant some corn, potatoes and beans. And a flower garden. Florida always liked her flowers.
The day came when Grady borrowed his brother’s big truck to load the furniture. They were in the barn gathering the last of their possessions. It was a slow job, because Florida had to stop and cry. Each item that went into the truck reinforced the reality they would never have their own farm. Grady just kept on working. Besides, he did not know what to say to her.
Last to be loaded on the truck was an old trunk. It had been there as long as they had been married, and they had forgotten what was in it. Florida wanted to take a moment to look inside. Grady opened it, and lifted out an old dress, dirty, stained and gnawed around the edges by rats that inhabited the barn’s dark corners.
“I bet you don’t even remember what that is,” she said. Her voice—which she always raised so he could hear her–was tinged with bitterness. It had just crept in over the years of hope, despair and the monotonous chore of surviving.
Grady held the dress tenderly, like he had held her hand the first day they met on the dirt road.
“It’s the dress you got married in.”
Without another word, he put it back in the trunk which he lifted into the truck. The boys clambered into the back. Grady and Florida sat silently in the cab as the truck headed to Gainesville for the next phase of their lives. They didn’t expect much, just more of the same.
They had the wedding dress though. Like their marriage, it was dirty, stained, had holes in it, but it was still there.