Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “Loneliness”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.

Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.

Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.

A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.

“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”

Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.

The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.

The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.

“Can I help you? Are you all right?”

“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.

“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.

“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”

Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.

There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.

Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.

For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.

“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”

Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.

Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.

“Marlee?”

She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.

Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.

“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”

“It must have been a tank.”

“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.

Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.

It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.

While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.

Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.

Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.

The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.

She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.

Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.

Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.

Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.

“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?

When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.

Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.

Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.

He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.

“Luco?”

He knew the voice.

“Te amo.”

“I love you too, Luco.”

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.

“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.

“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.

“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.

“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”

An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.

“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”

In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.

She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.

Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

 

 

Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.

Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.

J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.

Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.

He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.

Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”

He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.

A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.

Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.

He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.

“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”

While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”

Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.

Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.

“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.

“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.

Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.

“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.

Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.

“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”

“What’s that, Batman?”

“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”

“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.

The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.

Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.

“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”

“Right. Fun.”

“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”

He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”

The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.

Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.

“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.

The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.

Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”

He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”

There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.

As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.

 His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.

“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”

Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.

It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.

Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.

It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.

Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.

His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.

Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.

Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.

It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.

Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.

The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.

One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”

Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.

Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.

Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west

It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.

Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”

After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.

The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.

The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.” 

Dennis went hunting.

After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.

When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.

Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.

That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.

Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

She spent the next hour following the kitten around the apartment. When he climbed into the litter tray he let out a high-pitched meow to let her know that a little privacy was in order. She was learning about cats.

In the kitchen she set up his food and water. She loved his matching blue plastic bowls. With the supplies that Dennis had given her, J.P. was taken care of for at least a week.

Marlee was happy to have something to take care of, to help her exercise her nurturing side.

“Luco,” she said out loud. “I’ve got to tell him about this and that Dennis and I have worked things out.”

Better than nothing at all, she took a “bird bath”: a quick washing of strategic, sweaty pits. Another shower would have been best after her cello workout and the frenzy with Dennis and the new cat, but she was anxious to see Luco.

From the moment she walked through the door of the People’s Cafe, Marlee could see that something was wrong. Luco was not behind the counter. Instead, the strawberry blonde, looking angry and exhausted was there pulling Lattes. She had worked until closing last night and here she was early the next morning.

The owner, Pete, was busy spreading cream cheese, too much of it, on a sesame bagel. He rarely came into the cafe before noon.

“Good morning, Pete. I didn’t expect to see you here this early in the day. Where’s Luco?”

Pete looked up from his chore. There were tears in his eyes. Marlee’s heart stopped.

“Pete? Where’s Luco?”

“Miss,” he said in his lightly accented English that hinted at his Middle Eastern roots. “Luco is in the hospital.”

“Oh, dear God, what happened? Is he sick? Has he been hurt?”

“He was run over by a car last night, a hit and run.”

Marlee grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself. She felt her legs turning to rubber. Her hands were ice cold. “No, not again” raced through her brain.

Pete had stopped working on the bagel. “He is like my own boy. According to the newspaper, it was very bad.”

“Where is he? I’ve got to go to him.”

In the moments following his discovery by the Paramedics, Luco was deemed the most seriously injured survivor. He was in shock and broken ribs had collapsed a lung. That much they could diagnose there on the sidewalk, in the dark, amid the crying and moaning of the other victims.

A second and then a third Emergency unit arrived. St Mary’s Hospital was notified that multiple casualties were 5 minutes out.

Luco was the first person transported to the nearby hospital on Stanyan Street, on the far side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. He had numerous cuts and abrasions, but the life-threatening injuries were internal. The broken ribvoices had done more than just puncture his lung. It had nicked the pulmonary artery and he was in danger of drowning in his own blood.

While the medical team worked to save Luco’s life, a clerical aide went through Luco’s wallet searching for identification and contact information. If things went badly, decisions would have to be made.

The bored aide looked at everything and sorted it all into small piles. There was a driver’s license, a plastic library card, an ATM card from Wells Fargo Bank and a Blue Cross card. In another neat stack he put fourteen dollars in cash. Tucked away in the center section of the wallet, he dug out two more items: a dog-eared business card for a band called “Besame” and a color photograph of a pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform.

Behind the glass doors down the hall seven people in green scrubs hovered over the unmoving form of a man with jet-black hair and the muscular body of a fighter.

The noise level in the room went down noticeably when the medical team stabilized Luco’s vital signs. They then passed him onto the OR people who would deal with the internal bleeding and broken bones.

From the moment Luco was wheeled through the ER’s automatic doors until he rolled into surgery was only seven minutes. The paper traces of his life were left behind and overlooked in the mayhem.

At the Nurse’s station, amid the usual furor of a Friday night, a man’s life sat in untidy piles. People hurried by, intent on one task or another. An intern set her coffee cup down on top of a picture of the pretty young nurse. No one noticed.

On the fourth floor the surgical team, led by a doctor from Malaysia who looked fourteen, but who had more time in an operating theater than anyone on staff, smiled and told someone to turn up the music. Tonight he wanted John Coltrane to assist.

The damage from the broken ribs was not as bad as it first looked in the initial X-rays. There was bleeding and there were tears in the lung tissue, but it would heal after some needlework from the surgeon. The dislocated hip was an orthopedic matter. The “bone people” fixed that in short order and two hours after entering St. Mary’s, Luco was in Post-Op, alive and sleeping the dark, dreamless sleep of anesthesia.

Marlee ran, not sped, not flew, not raced, but ran toward St. Mary’s Hospital. She ran, filled with fear of what she might find when she got there.

Her heart pounded as she crossed the Panhandle. It would have been pounding just as hard even if she had hailed a taxi. The few blocks to the hospital were a congested area, always filled with traffic. Tourists, local residents, hospital visitors and students from the nearby University of San Francisco combined to create a nonstop gridlock in the area. Marlee would get to the hospital quicker on foot and it let her burn off some of the undertow of emotion that was threatening to pull her down.

The morning fog was still hanging in the trees. It looked like it might be one of those San Francisco days when it never completely burned off. The red lettering on the hospital signs were blurred at the edges. The letters were almost illegible in the mixture of fog, tears and sweat that burned in Marlee’s eyes.

The automatic doors opened and Marlee, out of breath and in a near panic, paused a bare moment to collect her thoughts, then walked into the whirlwind of the Emergency Room. There were people moving in every direction. Injured men and women walked around, in too much pain to just sit and wait quietly. The staff, dressed in various colored coats and uniforms moved around in an educated frenzy.

Looking around for someone, anyone who could tell her what had happened, who could take her to Luco, Marlee walked up to the receiving desk.

She tried to ask a tired looking doctor, but he turned and walked away, not even hearing her. A rumpled young resident did the same. He had been on duty for eighteen hours. She moved down the counter to a man who was sorting through some papers. Frustrated, she reached over the counter top and put her hand on his papers.

“Sir, sir, please help me.” He looked up at her. His eyes said that it had been a difficult shift.

“What can I do for you, Miss?”

“I’m trying to locate Luco Reyes. He was brought in here last night. He was hit by a car.”

“Reyes? Are you family?”

“No. I’m a friend. Please where is he? How is he? Can I see him?”

“I’m very sorry.” Her heart froze. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re family, I can’t give out any information on patients.” He looked down again at his papers, hoping that she would just go away and bother someone else.

“Please don’t do this,” she begged. The clerk refused to look up. In her frustration and rage Marlee reached out and swept his papers off the painted veneer and onto the floor. He looked up.

“Don’t ignore me. Please, where is Luco Reyes?” He glared up at her, silently cursing her for complicating the last few minutes of his workday.

Marlee felt as if she was going to explode. Her head was throbbing. Not knowing what else to do, she stepped back from the receiving desk, looked around, closed her eyes and let loose a blood-curdling scream. Even the people who were along the far wall sleeping off last night’s drugs opened their eyes and looked at her. Security guards came running. Two doctors poked their heads out from behind drawn curtains, expecting another trauma. They got one.

“Luco Reyes,” Marlee yelled to the whole room. “Please, all I need to know is…is he alive. Someone, anyone, tell me that much or I’m going to die right here.” She believed that it was true.

A middle-aged nurse walked up to the counter and picked up a black binder that was sitting next to the clerk who had been sorting papers. She turned several pages, paused to read a moment, and then looked up into Marlee’s fearful face.

“He was admitted. Go to the Lobby desk and they can help you see him and, Honey, tell them that you’re his wife.”

“Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you for telling me. The Lobby desk? How do I get there?”

Pointing over Marlee’s quivering shoulders, the nurse said, “Take that elevator to the Main floor and follow the green stripe on the floor.” Marlee turned and rushed across the crowded room to the elevator.

The nurse bent over to pick up the papers that Marlee had knocked to the floor.

“You know,” said the clerk, “That was a violation of hospital policy. I should report this.”

The exhausted nurse looked at the small picture of the pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She dropped it on the desktop.

“Marty?” she said with the night’s weariness in her voice.

“Yes?”

“Screw you.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

It was already 65 degrees at 7 A.M. With a high-pressure system out in the Pacific and a warm wind coming down from the High Sierras, it promised that things would be heating up in San Francisco. This Sunday would be a day for shorts and a tank top.

Marlee was up and feeling invigorated by a restful night’s sleep and a hot shower. She had already started her wash in the basement laundry room and had a few minutes to kill until it was ready for the dryers. The vague memory of last night’s dreams led her into the bedroom. She got down on her knees, reached under the bed and slid out the black, hard plastic cello case protecting, at one time, the most important thing in her life.

Marlee carried it onto the sunny living room. It never seemed heavy to her. She had been toting around her cello since high school and she liked its heft. It had a substantial quality that carried over into her playing.

Over the years audiences and critics alike, upon seeing this slim young woman take the stage, had dismissed her off hand as an ornament. It was when she played, coaxed and cajoled the music from the strings and wood that they fell under her powerful spell. Many reviews commented that she handled the cello with the tenderness of a lover and the brute strength of a longshoreman.

When Marlee was onstage people believed that the music came from her and that the cello was merely an instrument of transmission. She was in total control and never wavered or hesitated.

She got one of her dining room chairs and set by the bay window so that the sun would wash over her as she played. Seated in the chair she stared at the case, sizing it up like a boxer waiting for the bell to ring.

The sun played off the varnished wood and it flared into her eyes. She slid the bow from its place and the small tuning fork as well.

She lifted the cello out of the case and adjusted the tail spike. The neck felt hard and strange in her hand. She had not played in months and both she and the cello were out of tune.

Marlee opened her thighs and welcomed home her first love. The varnished curves of the fire-blasted Maplewood felt warm and clinging against the skin on her legs and she wondered why more women didn’t take up the cello.

She tapped the tuning fork on the windowsill and checked to see how much tuning would be necessary.

“Not bad,” she said with a smile and made some adjustments to the tuning pegs and left the fine tuners alone.

She picked up the bow again, tightened the hair and began to do some simple scales and arpeggios. It felt good and sounded comfortable and “at home.”

Tonic, Dominant, Sub-dominant. Triads. Yampulsky’s Exercises: scales in four octaves, chords and harmonics. Faster. Louder. She heard the overtones as her fingers danced up and down the carved wooden neck of the 80 year-old French instrument.

She also heard a scraping sound and then a loud thump from the apartment above. Her fingers froze in mid-arpeggio. Dennis was home.

In her hunger to play again, she had forgotten that it was still only a little past 8:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. She would have to find a practice space.

Marlee waited, and hearing nothing more from up above, resumed her exercises, but softly. She fought the urge to tear into some Baroque Period piece by J.S. Bach, just to feel it in her hands. She resisted because it would have gotten raucous and also because she was out of practice and would not have done it justice. Another time. Today was a day for getting reacquainted with the instrument and for it to do the same with her.

As they age, fine musical instruments take on a patina. The highly buffed varnish on hers had an almost 3-dimensional quality and glowed as if there was a fire inside the F-holes, shining through and heating every note.

Such quality does not come cheaply. Marlee’s cello cost her over $32,000, the bow was over $3,000 and a decent set of four strings was at least $100. Someday she hoped to step up to a first-class kit. At the top there were those made by Stradivarius. The genius from Cremona made more than just violins, but those were very rare and far beyond Marlee’s credit line.

It felt so natural and right to be playing again, even if it was so muted that she could barely hear it, but the vibrations were there.

Leaning in close to the strings, embracing the cello, Marlee poured out her emotions, hopes and fears through the silver tipped bow. Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart responded to her touch across the centuries.

She had worked up a sweat, but it was the sweat of sweet accomplishment. A quick wipe with a towel and a glass of juice would get her ready for another round of exercises. She could already feel the burn in the muscles of her arms.

With the refrigerator door wide open, she stood there drinking straight from the carton. Nobody else was there to scold her. The cold air felt good on her skin. She shivered.

As she put the half empty carton back on the shelf next to some white grapes that were getting too ripe, the doorbell rang, quickly followed by several short raps on her apartment door.

“Oh, get real. It was so low I couldn’t even hear it myself.”

At the door she looked through the security peephole, but couldn’t see anyone.

“Who is it?”

“Marlee, it’s me, Dennis Thayer.”

“Go away.”

“Please, I need to talk with you. I have to apologize.”

“Apology accepted. Now, go away.”

“Marlee, please. I have behaved badly.”

“Behaved badly? You attacked me.”

“You’re right.” He had his face up against the door. “I was way out of line, but I have to explain.” Marlee stood silently, glaring at her side of the door. “I have a medical condition and I’d rather not discuss standing out here in the hallway, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know, Dennis. I’m still very angry.”

“I know and that’s why I need to talk with you face to face. Please, let me in and I can explain everything.” He lowered his voice, forcing her to move closer to the door.

“I’m really a nice guy, a pussycat even. Meow.” Unseen by Marlee, he rubbed up against the door and licked the wood. “Meow.”

Marlee smiled at his cat impression and leaned against the door, thinking. Dennis had gotten out of line, but she had been able to handle him easily. He was a strange one, but also charming and witty.

“Marlee? Are you still there?” His voice was soft and pleading. “Meow.”

“OK, Dennis, but know this: any funny business and I’ll toss you out the window in front of a bus.”

“No funny business, I swear.”

Despite the hard bits of foreboding in her stomach, she turned the deadbolt and opened the door to a smiling Dennis Thayer.

He stood there in her doorway, dressed in chinos and a bright green Polo shirt. With his blonde curls just touching his eyebrows, he looked like a Preppie leprechaun.

The man had a twinkle in his eyes that made people want to invite him into their lives. In one hand he was holding a pot of steaming coffee and in the other, a rose colored plate piled high with croissants.

He gave Marlee a nod. “I hope you have some cream and some jam.”

He walked past her, into the dining room. “I hope you like croissants. They are so melt in your mouth delicious. And these are still warm. Honey, they are to die for.”

She followed him into the room. “Dennis, I don’t want breakfast. You said you wanted to explain why you attacked me when I was trying to help you. Get on with it. What should I know about the man living above me?”

He set down the coffee and reached for the cups and saucers on the built-in buffet next to the table.

“What should you know? Well, let’s see. Oh…you should know that I usually like to sleep late on Saturday mornings.”

Marlee took a deep breath as he reprimanded her.

“I’m sorry about that, Dennis. I forgot about the thin walls and floors in this old building. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“That’s OK, but it makes a lousy alarm clock. Some of the people in this building might complain, but not me. I’m in a good mood this morning.”

She caught his non-complaining complaint about her music, but since she felt that it was deserved, she let it go. His cheerful mood relaxed her. Her agitation and anger ebbed as she went into the kitchen for some utensils, plates, butter and the half pint carton of half ‘n half she had picked up across the street the night before.

“I don’t have any jam. Do you like sugar for you coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s in the kitchen. I couldn’t carry it all. On the shelf next to the microwave.”

“I’ll get it.” He went into the kitchen as Marlee arranged the place settings. He picked up the sugar bowl and a few paper napkins from the top of the refrigerator. Marlee moved a small vase filled with Sweet Williams in from the living room.

“A centerpiece. How elegant, Miss Marlee.”

Marlee tensed a bit when she realized that he was standing behind her. He had a habit of silently entering the room. It unnerved her.

He pulled out her chair and, even though a bit uneasy, she allowed him to play the gentleman.

“Shall I pour,” he asked.

Over the clink of knives, plates, cups and saucers, Dennis carried on a nonstop monologue about how happy he was, the weather, anything, but the reason he said that he needed to be there.

“Dennis, stop it!”

“Stop what?” he said as he paused to take a big bite of his buttered croissant.

“You said you needed to talk with me. You begged to be let in. I don’t think it was to give me a weather report.”

“I’m just making sociable chitchat.”

“Dennis, you said you came here to apologize for pawing me in your apartment. Let’s hear it.”

He looked at her, unblinking. He wasn’t used to being spoken to with such directness, especially by women. From women he expected reverential doting, like from his mother, polite helpfulness, like the girls who bagged his groceries at the Safeway, or eventual, fearful surrender to his will. Marlee’s controlled quiet was unfamiliar. One side of him found her strength arousing, while another part of him thought it was too masculine and unattractive.

When he didn’t speak, she went on.

“Let me show you how it’s done. ‘I apologize for playing my cello this early and waking you up.’ There, now it’s your turn.”

“Oh, Miss Marlee, there’s no need to apologize again about the music. It was really quite lovely.”

“Get out.”

“What? Why?”

“Get out of my apartment.” She stood up and looked down at him.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. How stupid of me. Please sit down. You’re making me feel so small, like a boy being scolded by his mother. That hurts and you’re not a hurtful person. Are you, Marlee?”

She sat down.

“You have five seconds to start this apology business or I’ll throw you out of here.” She looked him in the eyes, hoping her nervousness didn’t show. It did.

“Five…four…”

“Marlee, you’re right, as always. Please allow me to sincerely and deeply apologize for my behavior. You offered me nothing but kindness and hospitality and I acted like a boorish jerk.

“I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and it can throw me for a real loop. On top of that and the pain killers, about which you already know, the night before your beautiful and delicious brunch, at which, incidentally, you served some of the best hollandaise I’ve ever had. I’d love to get the recipe from you. Do you use fresh lemon juice? I think that’s the key, don’t you.”

“Three…two…”

“Oh, sorry. The night before your brunch I couldn’t sleep from the pain and I took a couple of Vicodin. One used to do the trick, but not any more. And, when I drank that champagne, well it just hit me like a moving van.

“I needed your help getting home, obviously, and I guess that my barbaric and uncivilized nature came out and I…Oh, Marlee. I am so sorry. I am not that kind of man at all.

“From what I recall, you put me on my ass. I don’t remember the details, but I’ll always have the pictures. What did you do to me? I could barely walk for two days.

“I know that what I did was wrong and it was stupid and I swear that I will never, ever, do anything like that again. Please forgive me.  I feel like I should be doing an act of contrition. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” He tapped his heart three times as he chanted.

He looked at her, not knowing what else to say to convince her of his regret.

“Am I forgiven?”

Marlee didn’t say a word. She took a sip of coffee and stared at him over the lip of the cup.

“Marlee? I apologize. Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you, Dennis, but you have a problem with those pills that needs addressing.”

“I know. I’m going to the Free Clinic about that. They’ve assigned me a counselor.”

“There’s one more thing I need to bring up before I can feel comfortable with you again.”

“What’s that?”

“The pictures. All those photographs on the walls of your bedroom.”

“Its ‘The Haight.’ I take pictures of the neighborhood. It’s my Art.”

“You told me you were a sculptor.”

“I am. I take the photographs and mold them onto forms. ‘Photographic Sculpture’ I call it.”

“You had a picture of me on your wall. A shot of me and Luco Reyes.”

“Well, aren’t you part of The Haight now?”

He waved his hands in the air as if to say, “I thought that was self-evident.”

“I’m sorry. I never meant to offend you.”

“I took it down, Dennis, and ripped it up. I’m sorry too. I was just so shook up by what had just happened. I saw that picture and I felt…”

“Violated?”

“Yes, violated by that picture.”

He nodded. “It will never happen again. I promise you.”

Marlee refilled both their cups.

“You know, Luco warned me about you. He said that you were trouble. He called you a ‘bad egg.’”

“He and I have had our problems. It was all my fault, but I bumped into him last night and I think that my problems with him are a thing of the past.”

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I know only two men in San Francisco and I don’t want them hating each other.”

Dennis wiped his hands with his napkin and extended his hand across the wooden table. “Friends again?”

Marlee looked at him, her head tilted and her eyes, slits. Just as his smile began to fade a big grin appeared on her face. “Friends again, and I hope forever.” She took his offered hand and they made an exaggerated shake.

“Oh, this is silly,” bubbled Dennis as he got up and came around the table. “Give us a hug.” They gave each other a big bear hug and exchanged “Hollywood Kisses.”

“Miss Marlee, I am so glad we are friends again because I already got you a little gift to celebrate.”

“Dennis, no. I don’t want you spending your money on gifts for me.”

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing. Let me go get it. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the door and took the stairs two at a time. Marlee moved over to the door and listened as he quickly came back down from the third floor. He was carrying a large cardboard box. She had to move so he could get it through the door. He set it down on the living room floor.

“Dennis, you crazy nut, what in the world is it?”

He grinned like a circus clown and with a flourish, lifted off the lid.

“Ta DA!”

“Oh, my God, Dennis. What have you done?”

Dennis squatted down, reached into the box a held up a small, yellow kitten.

Marlee put her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream of delight.

“Good Lord. It’s a kitty cat.”

“I know that, girl. I brought him here, remember?”

They were both laughing. The past was seemingly forgotten.

“Miss Marlee Owens, I’d like you to meet Mr. J.P. Cat. Marlee, J.P., J.P., Marlee.” She reached out and shook the kitten’s tiny paw.

“J.P.? What does that stand for?”

“I think it stands for ‘Just Plain’. He is ‘Just Plain Cat’,” said Dennis as he put the cat down.

Marlee got down on the floor and petted the animal as he hopped around inside the box.

“He is just the cutest little thing, but I can’t accept him. I love him already, but I’ve never had a cat before. I don’t know anything about cats.”

“There’s nothing to it.”

“Is he housebroken?”

“Already done. Momma cat teaches them the proper etiquette. Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Again he bounded up the stairs. She could hear him running around his apartment.

Marlee lifted J.P. Cat high overhead as he mewed and pawed at the air. She was definitely smitten with the tiny, yellow ball of fuzz.

Inside the box was a red foam rubber ball the size of a small peach. She set J.P. on the floor and then rolled the ball toward him. He watched it roll by and scampered after the bright red toy, losing traction and sliding into the side of the steamer trunk coffee table. Marlee was fascinated by this furry little bounce of life.

“Isn’t he sweet?” Dennis was back and holding another cardboard box. “I’ve got a few of the necessities here.” He set it down and J.P. scurried over to investigate.

“All right, here are a few things that you and J.P. will need. It’s not much.”

“Dennis, I have to tell you, I am so in love with this little guy. J.P. is so precious.”

“Ain’t he though? I got him from a friend who just got transferred to Terre Haute, Indiana of all places.

“Anyway, here we have the most important item – the litter tray. I’ll set it up for you.”

For the next ten minutes Dennis and Marlee sat on the floor like two kids on Christmas morning going through their toys. They held each item out for the little kitten to sniff. He was learning about his new home.

“Dennis, I am just flabbergasted. I’ve never thought about getting a cat, but now, after just a few minutes, I can’t imagine life without him, Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I thought you two would make a ‘Love Connection’.”

“More coffee? I think it’s still hot.”

“No, thanks. I have to go. You know, places to go, people to see. Maybe later.”

Marlee walked him to the door.

“Dennis, I am so glad that we have things worked out between us.”

“Me too.”

“And J.P. will be here whenever you want to come down and play.”

She gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. Dennis smiled from ear to ear. His smile didn’t disappear until he closed the door to his apartment, leaving Marlee behind.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

“You OK, Sport?”

The voice came from beyond the light. Luco opened his eyes and put his hands up to block the painful beam.

“I said, are you OK? Oh, Hi, Luco.”

“What? Who is it?” As the light was lowered Luco dropped his hands.

“Luco, it’s Dave Mulroy, from over at the Park Station. They got a call about a crazy man on the Buena Vista steps. I was nearby, so…are you OK? The reports said you were yelling.”

“I’m sorry. I’m fine, Dave. Just not ready to sleep yet, I guess.”

“Do you want me to give you a lift?”

“No, thanks. The walk will do me good.”

“OK, Luco, but be careful.”

The police officer pressed the key on his radio and spoke into the microphone on his lapel.

“4210 here. Everything is fine on the 5150 at BV Park. Just a husband afraid to go home.” He shook Luco’s hand, walked down the steps and drove off into the night. Luco stood up and headed in the opposite direction, up Haight Street, toward home.

While he was quiet the rest of Haight Street was active and alive with the sounds of a weekend in the city. The traffic on both the sidewalks and the roadway was bumper to bumper. It was too much for Luco. He turned left at the corner of Ashbury and walked past the Gap store, up the hill to Waller Street. On Waller he left the crowds behind. His way home on Waller, a residential street, would be quiet, with flowering trees hanging low over the sidewalk. His change of route made Dennis Thayer smile, if you could call the tilted stretch of his mouth a smile.

Dennis had watched Luco sitting on the Park steps in the rear view mirror of his van. He had shadowed Marlee and Luco from the moment they left Martin Macks, watching them, and getting angrier with each touch and shared word. He couldn’t hear them, so he supplied his own obscene dubbed in dialogue. In his mind he was sure that they were exchanging the details of what they were planning to do with each other’s body.

When Marlee went inside alone and Luco moved over to the stone steps by the Park, he was certain that it was to make a drug buy to spark their greasy rutting.

“God bless the Police for ruining their plans for tonight,” he said to no one. “And now I’m going to ruin their plans for good.”

He watched Luco move wearily up Haight Street and pulled out into traffic to follow him home. When Luco turned off and went up the hill, Dennis had to make a quick change of plans. He stayed on Haight, sped up and made his left turn at Cole Street, several block further on. He backed his dark gray Dodge van into the driveway of a brightly painted Victorian house. Its vibrant colors were muted by the darkness. The van was all but invisible in the shadows, and it offered an unobstructed view down Waller Street.

The comparative silence of Waller Street was welcome as Luco walked slowly, pausing to take in the aromas of the blooming lilac bushes. This had been an amazing night and he knew that his life was never going to be the same. Dennis Thayer was forming a similar thought as he saw Luco step into the pool of light under the streetlamp at the corner of Waller and Cole.

Luco stopped and looked at the small cafe on the opposite corner. They were still open. He thought that maybe a cup of chamomile tea might help him get a restful sleep rather than spend a fitful night, exhausted but restless. It was only two minutes from home and here he wouldn’t have to wait for the water to boil. In the van, Dennis was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and talking out loud to Luco.

“Come on, come on, come on, come on, you son of a bitch. I saw her first.”

Luco stepped off the curb, set to jaywalk across the intersection. His tired eyes focused on the warmly lit interior of the small cafe. Dennis turned the key in the ignition and slipped the van into gear, headlights off.

Luco looked around and saw that there was no traffic for at least a block in any direction. His path was safe.

When Luco was halfway across the intersection, Dennis pulled out of his driveway hiding spot and pushed the accelerator toward the gray carpeted floor. He was giggling.

The next two seconds seemed to move through glue. Luco heard the roar of the van’s engine as it revved up. He turned to look and saw the van coming straight at him. He was trapped; not knowing which way would be his salvation. Dennis flipped on the headlights. He wanted to watch this.

Luco desperately moved to his right, hoping to get out of the way. Dennis matched his move. The headlights were blinding Luco. The survival instinct took over and Luco made a wild dive for the space between two parked cars. Dennis anticipated him and got there first.

The right front bumper of the speeding van hit Luco while he was in midair. His right hip took the force of the blow and lifted his body higher above the pavement. The off-center impact made his body propeller through the air. Head first; Luco hit the hood of a Ford Tempo. His shoulders peeled off the wiper blades as he bounced across the windshield.

Still airborne and spinning, he flew over the sidewalk and slammed, spine first, into the large window of the cafe. The plate glass shattered, sending jagged shards knifing into the crowded room. It was a glittering rain of shrapnel.

The van veered back into the center of the street as Dennis felt the satisfying dull thud of Luco’s body against sheet metal and chrome.

It was chaos on the corner of Waller and Cole. Inside the cafe, the flying glass had instantly killed a young man seated by the window. Several other customers were injured, cut and bleeding on the black and white checkerboard floor.

It was five minutes before the first ambulance arrived. It was ten before anyone noticed the man in black lying outside in the planter box, hidden in the flowers.

Dennis didn’t stop until he reached the parking lot at Ocean Beach at the western edge of the city. He needed to check if the impact had done any damage to his van. He carefully inspected the chrome work and painted areas for any scratches.

“Perfect. That was positively surgical.”

Driving along the ocean, up the hill past the Cliff House, perched high above the crashing waves, and then down crowded Geary Boulevard, Dennis turned on his radio and heard a deep voiced announcer reading a news story about a hit and run accident in the Haight/Ashbury District. Dennis whooped loudly and hit the horn when the radio said that one man had been killed.

Speeding through the heavy traffic, he headed back toward The Haight.

At home, as he drifted off to sleep, he smiled.

“Today has been a good day.”

Dennis Thayer slept well and dreamed of flowers and gardens.

In the apartment below, Marlee was dreaming and working out her conflict between loyalty and desire. She dreamed of Luco and Phillip. She was making peace with one and love with the other. Her brain was showing her the way to clear the path to tomorrow.

In her dreams, for the first time since Phillip’s death, she felt enthusiastic about the future, not just accepting. She had hopes that there could be, would be, should be, days, weeks and years of happiness ahead for her. She also decided that upon waking she would pull her cello out from under the bed and see what music came out. It was time.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Two

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.

Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.

“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”

He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”

Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.

She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.

The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.

Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.

He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?

Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.

She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.

When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.

“Luco, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”

“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”

“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”

She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”

“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”

This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.

Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.

It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.

Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.

Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”

“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”

“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.

There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.

Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”

They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.

“Well?”

“Hmmm…not tonight.”

They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.

“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”

“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”

“Marlee, how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“How do you go on, survive?”

“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”

“Yes.”

She looked into his pain-filled eyes.

“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”

“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?

“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”

“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.

“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.

“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”

“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”

“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”

“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”

“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”

“I know you are. Thank you.”

He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.

I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.

“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”

She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.

“Marlee….”

“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”

There were still too many ghosts.

Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.

She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.

Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?

Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?

Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.

Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.

“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I know, Luco.”

He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.

“Alicia?”

“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.

Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.

“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”

“Are you really here Alicia?”

“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”

“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”

“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”

“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”

“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”

“How can I go on without you?”

“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”

Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.

“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”

A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.

“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”

He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.

“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.

“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”

“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”

“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.

“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”

Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.

“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”

This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.

“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”

“No!”

“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.

“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”

Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.

A Man, A Plan, A T-Shirt

THEY SAY THAT IT PAYS TO ADVERTISE. If you are selling cars or pizzas I can certainly agree. However, I’m not sure that this fellow has approached this in the right way.

He is obviously looking to find a young lady to spend some time with. He is lonely. He feels that advertising is a good way to answer his needs. His choice of media might be lacking in mass appeal, but he is trying.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Twelve

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Even though it had been only a few short hours, he looked surprised to see her. The three women looked annoyed.

“Hi, Luco,” said Marlee. She nodded to the women, waiting for Luco to make the introductions. His eyes said that the idea of doing so had yet to make an appearance.

After a short, but awkward silence with nothing forthcoming from Luco, Marlee took matters into her own hands.

“Hi, my name is Marlee.” She extended her hand, but none of the women moved. Marlee got the message.

“OK. Well, I guess I’ll see you all later at the cat show.”

Feeling the chill, she started to leave.

“No, Marlee, wait,” said Luco. “I’m sorry. Where are my manners? Has anybody seen them?” He giggled at his own joke.

Luco was drunk. That much was now quite obvious to Marlee.

“Marlee…yes. Tina, Shaniqua and Millie, this is Marlee. Marlee, these three ladies are…Sheena, Monique and…Tillie.” He was groping in the dark for the names.

All of the women looked at Luco as if he had completely lost his mind. He hadn’t. He’d just mislaid it at the bottom of a tequila bottle.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

The women looked at each other.

“Hi, Marlee. I’m Mindy. She’s Tashika and this is Sylvie.”

“Oh, really?” said Luco. “I’m sorry.” He seemed embarrassed, but it was hard to tell. He had riveted his eyes on Marlee, like he had never seen her before.

Luco leaned forward toward Marlee. “Are you having a good time?

“Yes I am, Luco. I’ve met some very interesting people.”

She looked at Luco, taking inventory of this man.

His eyes, she noticed, had an undefined sadness in them. He was in isolation behind his eyes. Here he was at this party, surrounded by women, yet standing in the foggy air very apart and alone. Marlee wondered why.

She peered past his long lashes and through his soft gray eyes in an attempt to use them as those oft-quoted windows into his soul. All she saw was a dark, forbidding barrier. Nothing could get past it. Luco was a divided man. Marlee wondered what had happened to him to make him so apart from himself.

Mindy, or maybe it was Tashika, saw the intensity of Marlee’s gaze and the way she was assessing Luco and put her face right up to Marlee’s. “Jesus, honey, leave something for the rest of us.”

Inside Luco’s mind he was considering Marlee in a new light. She was no longer just the next customer in line, but a woman, a very attractive woman. In the misty, diffused light, an aura seemed to shine around her. Had he been sober he would have realized that it was just a trick of optics. He was not sober and her image reminded him of the pictures he had seen as a child, paintings of the saints floating in a beatific corona.

Seeing Marlee appear so suddenly, her hair glowing and the turquoise teardrop pendant so brightly perched by her heart, Luco was attracted and unnerved.

“Marlee, you look like Santa Maria de Merida. Your hair, your turquoise, your halo.”

“My what? My halo? Luco… you’re drunk as a skunk.”

“No. No. Listen to me. Can’t you see it, Tamisha? Doesn’t Marlee look like Santa Maria? You’re beautiful. You’re sagrada.”

“Luco, I’m not any saint and you need to stop drinking for tonight.” She looked at the other women who all had their arms crossed, not amused by Luco’s fixation. Mindy’s eyes were just slits aimed at Marlee.

“You want him sobered up, Your Holiness, you do it alone. I came here to get laid.” Tashika picked up the thought.

“Yes, Little Missy, we came here to get this man drunk, horizontal and naked. Now, you butt in and he’s talking about your ‘halo’…Damn. Girls, let’s leave these two alone so they can pray.”

They all pushed past Marlee, giving her steely looks. Sylvie stopped and spoke, not caring that Luco was standing right there.

“Girl, you bring him up to the second floor and maybe we can all get a taste of each other.”

“What?” Marlee was incredulous. The fog swirled as the girls walked away.

Marlee and Luco were alone and her mouth was open in amazement. His eyes were half closed in a stupor. He was ready to pass out.

“Luco? Are you alright? You don’t look so hot.”

“Hi, Marlee.” A silly grin stumbled its way across his face. “Marlee, I’d like you to meet three of my closest friends. Tanya, Slovakia…hey. Where’d they all go?”

He looked around at the empty air. The motion disoriented him and he started to reel. Marlee reached out and grabbed him before he fell over. She tried to get her shoulder under his for support. Luco smiled at her then turned his head toward the street and vomited.

“Oh, Luco,” said Marlee. Luco’s place in her unconscious ratings dropped several spots. She held him until his session ended.

“C’mon, Luco. Let’s get you inside.”

She put her arm around his waist and draped his arm over her shoulder and began to maneuver Luco’s bulk toward the house. All she wanted to do was get him inside and then let him sleep it off.

Climbing the steps up from the walk was a big job. Marlee half pushed Luco ahead of her. It wasn’t so much walking with him, as it was controlled falling.

When they reached the top step, Marlee was out of breath.

“Let’s stop here for a second.”

She leaned up against the wall and Luco carefully sat on the rim of a large planter box filled with geraniums. Marlee held onto his hand, just in case he started to teeter backward. Marlee took a few deep breaths.

“I need to get in shape, Luco. Luco? Are you with me?”

He looked up at her and smiled.

“Hi, Marlee.”

Marlee looked at him and laughed. She couldn’t help herself.

“Luco, I’d hate to be your head in the morning. C’mon, big fellow. Let’s go.”

She gave his arm a tug to pull him to his feet. It worked and Luco rose onto two very shaky legs. He tried to steady himself, but lurched forward, bumping into Marlee.

The force of his body in motion pinned her to the white siding by the door. His muscled chest pressed against her. Marlee gave him a shove, but he was dead weight. His face was flush against hers.

“Luco, let’s get you inside. Where is everybody now that I need some help?”

“Hi, Marlee.” He smiled and without warning he turned his head and kissed Marlee full on the lips.

The force of the kiss surprised Marlee even more than the kiss itself. After all, drunken men often do stupid things.

One summer she had to deal with the pawings and sloppy kisses of a gangly oboist. When Luco’s body crushed against her and his mouth clamped on hers, the first words that entered Marlee’s mind were, “Band Camp.”

“Luco,” she managed to mumble when he slipped off her face and shifted his amorous moves to Marlee’s neck.

“Oh, mi corazon. Te amo.” At least that’s what it sounded like to Marlee.

She wasn’t angry. She knew that it was the alcohol and gravity that had Luco acting this way. Marlee wasn’t mad, but she sure as hell wanted him off of her.

Marlee gave him another good shove and he rocked backward onto his heels. Afraid he might fall and hurt himself she grabbed his shirt to steady him. Luco’s marinated endocrine system took that gesture as a call to action and Luco, once again tried to kiss Marlee. This time his right hand found her breast.

“Damn it, Luco,” said Marlee, her patience gone. She pushed him off and pulled her hand back to hit him. The force of her shove made the slap moot. Luco staggered back. His feet tried to move fast enough to stay under him, but failed. He reeled and fell, luckily backside first, into the planter box. He landed with a thud, crushing the season’s first blossoming of the geraniums.

Marlee, her hand still ready to slap Luco if he tried again, was breathing heavily from the surprise and the exertion. She could see her breath misting as she exhaled.

She looked down at Luco, sitting on the flowers, looking dejected and mumbling to himself. A lone surviving geranium poked up from Luco’s crotch. Life goes on.

Seeing Luco in such a sorry state upset Marlee. Luco had always seemed so “in control,” so above the crass and mundane. And now, here he was, sloppy drunk, sitting in a flower box.

“Oh, Luco. I’m so… disappointed in you, and that’s my fault, not yours. I believed in the image and forgot that there was a real person behind it.”

Luco stirred and looked up at Marlee.

“Mi paloma. Te amo. Besa Regalito por mi.”

He blinked and for a moment his fog lifted.

“Hi, Marlee.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Eleven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Wandering her way back into the dining room, Marlee saw John, the bearded writer from the cafe. He was sitting on the window seat engaged in an animated conversation with a woman who wore her chestnut brown hair in a ponytail. They were both eating pie. John spotted Marlee and beckoned her to join them. He stood and offered his spot next to the woman. She accepted.

“Marlee, I’d like you to meet Dawn. Dawn, Marlee. Marlee, Dawn.” Pleasantries exchanged, John mounted his invisible soapbox.

“Marlee, Dawn and I were just discussing the finer points of pie.”

“Pie” said Marlee, one eyebrow arching? “I would have guessed that you would be debating James Joyce or Shakespeare. Pie surprises me.”

“Writers talk about other writers over coffee or whiskey,” said Dawn, a sly smile creeping across her face. “Over pie, however, the only topic for discussion can be pie.” There was a trace of Texas in her voice.

“You see, Marlee,” bubbled John, “Dawn here thinks that it is the crust that makes or breaks the pie experience.”

Dawn picked up on his thought.

“Yes. A great crust can carry even a mediocre filling to a higher plane, but, John, misguided Sweetheart that he is, thinks that it is the filling, be it fruit, custard or even chiffon, that elevates it from a mere dessert, to that of a world shaking ‘whoopee’.”

“World shaking ‘whoopee’” said Marlee?

“Dawn and I have this same argument at every party: Crust versus Filling, Filling versus Crust.

“Marlee, please play Solomon for us. What is the answer? What makes this pie so good?”

Marlee looked at the two of them with their paper plates sagging under the weight of the still warm pie.

“I’ll have to taste the pie,” said Marlee, “To be able to give you a reasoned answer.”

Dawn and John held out their plates to her.

“This might require more than one bite.”

Both plates moved closer.

Marlee used Dawn’s fork to cut a bite from the moist wedge of pie.

“First, I will taste for the quality of the crust.”

Dawn smiled.

Marlee made a great show of tasting the pie. It was peach. Warm and juicy, not long from the oven, this was very good pie and was making for a delicious midnight snack. She rolled her tongue over, around and through the crust, juice, and slices of soft fruit, as if she were assessing a fine wine.

“This is excellent pie,” said Marlee. “It’s still warm. Who made it?”

Dawn held up her hand, wiggling her fingers.

“Guilty,” said Dawn. “I made it. I live right next door and it’s as fresh as can be. Is that a great crust, or what?”

“It’s wonderful, maybe the best I’ve ever had,” said Marlee in true appreciation.

John jumped in.

“Sure it is. It’s a marvelous crust. I’ll stipulate that, but take another bite and, Marlee, this time, focus on the peaches.”

Fighting back the urge to giggle, Marlee took the fork from John’s plate and repeated the tasting ritual. Dawn and John watched every move of her jaw, every smack of her lips.

“You watch, Dawn. Marlee is going to say it’s the filling.”

“John, you just hush up now and let the woman do her job. It’s the crust, isn’t it, Darlin’?”

Marlee continued her taste test while watching these two people who obviously enjoyed each other’s company and their ongoing debate.

“Alright,” said Marlee as she licked her lips. “I’ve come to a conclusion.” She handed the plate back to John, and stood up. John sat down next to Dawn and they looked up at Marlee with excitement and anticipation in their eyes.

“In this debate about crust over filling.” Marlee paused and slowly flicked a couple of crumbs from her jacket. “I have decided that what makes this peach pie so wonderful is: the high quality of the affection of the two people sharing the pie.”

Both Dawn and John looked at Marlee quizzically and then at each other and then back at Marlee once again. Marlee dabbed at the corners of her mouth with John’s paper napkin.

“That’s my judgment, folks. I’m going to go mingle a bit. You two enjoy your pie,” Marlee said as she walked off toward the front room. As she left she heard them speaking.

“I still say it’s the filling.”

“Oh, John…”

***

Like all house parties there is always a refuge from the noise and the crowd. After the pie debate Marlee went looking for it. A place to get some fresh air and to have a moment to herself. Several hours of bone-jarring music, out-front questionable behavior and a jaw-dropping assortment from the human zoo, had put a light glaze over Marlee’s eyes. A deep breath that wouldn’t give her a contact high was her objective.

Marlee went down the back stairs. They were crowded with people on the move and on the make. As she passed the second floor she got two offers she could easily refuse. The one from the man was just crude.

On the street level were two doors, the one on the left opened into the kitchen, the one on the right was ajar. Marlee pushed it open and felt a rush of cool air.

Stepping onto the small porch, Marlee joined three partygoers who were talking and sharing a joint. As soon as she came through the door one of the men offered her a hit. She declined with a smile and walked down the five wooden steps to a red brick walk.

The backyard was large by San Francisco standards. Along the eastern edge was a tangle of white and yellow rose bushes. A large Weber kettle barbeque had been fired up and two more guests were warming their hands. The fog had sifted its way through the trees and the air was biting and crisp.

Marlee could see in the spill of light from the house that there were a few people engaged in conversation or quiet romance along the fence by the garage. She didn’t want to intrude, so she followed the brick pathway until it reached the sidewalk. The street was quiet. Just the occasional car drove past. The other houses were dark. High shrubs shielded the yard from passersby and the normal tumult of the street.

Marlee heard voices from the other side of the hedge, three women’s voices. They were talking about the party and they all seemed to be trying to talk at once. This trio of voices piqued her curiosity.

Just as Marlee turned the corner around the hedges, she heard a fourth voice. It was a quartet.

“Ladies, please. The night is still very young.”

It was Luco. “There are three of you and only one of….”

He saw Marlee appear out of the dark.

“Marlee, where have you been?”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Ten

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

The street level flat served as a reception area. People met there and decided where their tastes would lead them. It was Conversation and Drinking on the First Floor.

The second floor was holding two special interest parties. One side was devoted to getting stoned and people were doing so vigorously. The other side was dedicated to the pleasures of the flesh.

Spider’s top floor flat was by invitation only and the attraction there was the music.

People moved from floor to floor by using the back stairs. Spider led her group through each floor acting as tour guide and Protector. “Things can get a little grab-ass on the stairs,” she warned them.

Marlee situated herself in the middle of her group as it moved through the building. On the second floor, as they passed through the dining room, a naked man, covered with tattoos, walked past them. He was busily chatting on a cellular phone. Luco tapped Marlee on the shoulder. “How’s it going? You OK?”

Her eyes were wide open and there was a somewhat stunned look on her face. “I’m fine, Luco, but I think I understand how Dorothy felt on her first day in Oz.”

On the landing between the second and third floors Spider gathered her brood around her. The music pulsed through the walls. The stairs vibrated.

“Ladies and gentleman, we’re nearing the end of our guided tour. Don’t forget to visit the gift shop on the way out. Now, you’ve seen that the main floor is an open house. On two it is sex and drugs and on three it is ROCK AND ROLL!” She let out a piercing rebel yell and ran up the steps with her fist raised.

Marlee wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon entering the third floor. The first two had taken her to worlds as alien as the surface of Mars and now she was venturing into “The Center of the Web.”

Coming in off the back steps and into the kitchen, Marlee walked into…a kitchen. It was a kitchen with sparkling white appliances, a wooden island and cafe curtains on the windows. It looked normal, or it would have if it weren’t for the people filling the room. Seated at the small glass table was a woman with spiked hair and dark blue lipstick. She was holding a very young baby. The baby’s hair was also spiked. Its wispy brown hair was gelled into four short peaks. The mother waved to Marlee and motioned her over to the table.

“Hi, Honey. I could use your help.”

“Hi. My name is Marlee. Your baby is cute as a bug”

“Yeah, well, he can be a real pisser if he ain’t fed. Sit down for a second. I’m Scar.” Marlee pulled out a chair sat next to the young mother. “Here, hold him for just a minute. My arms are frozen in place from carrying him all the time.”

Marlee reached over and took the infant, cradling him close to her body. It made Marlee smile and she felt her body respond to the feel of the baby in her arms. He looked up into Marlee’s eyes and gurgled.

“He likes you. Normally he screams like a bad Heavy Metal band when anybody else touches him. Hang on, Lucifer, it’s on the way.”

Marlee looked up to see that Scar had dropped her black cotton tunic and was naked to the waist.

“Alright, I’ll take him back now. Thanks, Marlee. She reached out and Marlee laid the now squirming baby back into his mother’s arms. Marlee started to get up to give them some privacy in the middle of the chaos.

“Oh, one more minute, Marlee. Wait.” She transferred the child to her other arm. While Marlee and fifteen other people watched, the mother used her free hand to remove one of her solid gold nipple rings.

“Don’t want the little pisser to choke. Here hold this for me, will you? I set it down and one of these freaks will cop it.”

Marlee held the nipple ring and spent the next ten minutes watching Scar nurse Lucifer. It moved Marlee to her soul to witness this most personal moment between a mother and child in the middle of such noisy chaos.

                     

*** 

 

Leaving Marlee behind in the kitchen, Spider led the crew and friends from the People’s Cafe deeper into her web.

Passing through the dining room, with its crystal and brass chandelier, Luco reached up and ripped a bagel from the crisscross of wires that were strung from the ceiling across the room. Hundreds of bagels were threaded on the wires, dangling down,  offering savory treats to the crowded room.

The front room of the flat was Ground Zero of Spider’s party world. The furniture would make anyone think he had stumbled into the living room at the Cleaver household. The early American style sofa and matching loveseat and end tables seemed lost and the Laz-e-Boy recliner looked downright mystified to be there. The only thing about the room that would hint that a woman like Spider lived there was the array of speakers mounted in the four corners near the ceiling. “Ambient-Techno” music was shaking the drywall.

This party was the first time Pete, had visited Spider’s home. It was more and less than he expected. The second floor both repulsed him and made him want to pay another visit. The third floor was a confusing paradox to him.

He grabbed Spider by the arm to get her attention over the din.

“Spider, I have a question.”

“What’s that, Pete?” Her head was bobbing to the fuzzy beat coming from overhead.

“Your apartment…the furniture. It’s so…”

“Ozzie and Harriet? Yeah, I know. I used to date a guy who owned a furniture store. He loved me,” she said as she wandered off.

Pete hadn’t heard a word of her answer. When Spider walked away and left him adrift on this sea of options, he shrugged his shoulders and decided to go back to the second floor. He wanted to sample whatever he could before morning.

Marlee, still smiling from her experience in the kitchen, came into the main room and saw Zephyr standing by the window overlooking the park. The music had turned soft and electronic.

“Hi, Zephyr. Mind if I join you?”

“So, what do you think? Pretty cool, right?”

“It’s amazing, but don’t the neighbors complain about the noise when you throw one of these parties?”

“No, not at all. We make sure to invite them to the party. They’re all here. See?” Zephyr pointed to the sofa. Marlee looked over and saw an elderly Chinese couple nibbling on bagels and sipping from bottles of Tsing-tao beer. They were chatting with each other and with the young man dressed as Wonder Woman seated at their feet.

“We invite everybody within bitching distance. It eliminates a lot of trouble.”

“Well, I know that you invite the police too. I met one earlier tonight who said he would be here.”

“Was he the one you were talking with outside the cafe?”

“Yes. He seemed very nice.”

“Pretty blue eyes? Thighs like a bullfrog?”

“Ummm, yes.” Marlee was a bit embarrassed that she had noticed those details.

Zephyr indicated with her chin for Marlee to turn around. She did and there was Mike the bicycle officer standing in the doorway, his right hand on his hip.

He was dressed in a dazzlingly white tuxedo shirt, complete with studs and cuffs. He had on a pair of snug fitting black slacks that emphasized his muscular legs.

Zephyr looked him up and down. “Oh, I gotta get me some of that. See you later, Marlee,” she said as she walked across the room, her eyes more than undressing him.

Marlee watched as Zephyr reached her tattooed arm up and around Mike’s neck and gave him a kiss that could double as his semiannual dental exam. He seemed a bit surprised, but not displeased as he put his arm around her waist and lifted her off the ground without breaking the kiss.

With her body in his firm grasp and pressed against his, Zephyr finally withdrew her tongue from his throat and put her lips to his ear. Marlee couldn’t hear her words, but she could read his lips when he spoke back. “Hi. My name is Mike.”

Now it was Marlee who was standing alone. The group from the van had dispersed throughout the house. Spider was busy playing hostess to her eclectic guest list. Zephyr was fast being absorbed in Mike’s arms. Pete was down on floor number two busily breaking four commandments and Luco was…nowhere to be found.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Nine

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

After showering and putting on her makeup Marlee stood in front of her open closet door.

“What does one wear to a midnight party hosted by someone named ‘Spider’?”

The answer was obvious and she lifted the hanger holding the cream colored silk top. It had a scoop neckline that accented her slender neck. At the cuffs were silk covered buttons; each showing a small black stitched F-Clef.

Marlee picked up a short gold chain and held it up to the silk. “No, more color.” Picking through her modest jewelry box she found the perfect pieces: a turquoise teardrop pendant and matching earrings. The turquoise glowed against her skin. “That’s the look.” Black slingbacks completed the outfit.

With the creamy silk over simple black slacks and Marlee was satisfied with what she saw in the mirror.

The night was chilly and the fog was down to the ground. Marlee tossed on her turquoise blazer. It looked good and it would keep her warm enough for the short walk to the cafe.

A few minutes before midnight Marlee was making sure that the building front gate was latched.

“Miss? Excuse me.” The voice from behind startled her. She turned and saw two San Francisco Police officers straddling mountain bikes.

“Good evening. Is something wrong?”

“Not at all, but are you walking very far to your car? It is rather late and the streets can get rough at night.”

“I’m just walking up to the People’s Cafe and then on to a party.”

“At Spider’s? You’ll have a lot of fun. Still, let us walk with you.”

Together the three of them ambled through the fog past the glowing neon sign at the Head Shop and sending a pair of street predators slinking off to find some deeper shadows.

Both officers were in their 30’s and incredibly fit. Patrolling the hilly streets of The City on bicycles gave them superb cardiovascular systems, incredible stamina and muscular thighs that put power to the pedals and steamy fantasies in the minds of a large number of the women on their beat.

The officer who walked on Marlee’s left weighed his chances with the slender blonde. “Ever been to one of Spider’s parties before?” He had lively eyes.

“No, my first time tonight. Everybody seems to know about her parties. They must be something. What’s her secret?”

“She knows how to invite just the right mix of people. Interesting, outgoing and a few who are downright freaky.” Even in the fog his eyes twinkled.

“Oh, my,” said Marlee. “I wonder which quota I’m there to fill?”

“We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll bump into you there.”

“You’re coming to the party? Both of you?”

“No, just me. My partner here has to get home to the wife and kids. Right, Sherlock?”

The other officer who had been silent up to this point finally spoke. He had a slight New England tang to his voice. “That’s true, Miss. Gloria and I have six little fingerlings in the pond, so I don’t get to too many of Spider’s parties. Not off-duty anyway.”

When they approached the brightly lit exterior of the People’s Cafe Marlee turned to her guardians.

“Gentlemen, thank you for the escort. I feel very safe knowing you are around.”

“Our pleasure, Miss,” said Sherlock. The officer with the glint in his eye leaned across his handlebars and extended his hand. “My name is Mike and I’ll see you at the party.”

Marlee shook his hand. “My name is Marlee and maybe we’ll get a chance to chat. Bye now.”

The policemen silently pedaled off into the fog.

The cafe was almost empty. A young couple was leaving just as Marlee reached the door. She saw that some of the early morning regulars were engaged in an animated debate, probably over some arcane point of San Francisco history.

Behind the counter, Marlee saw Pete, the owner; Zephyr, her hair a vibrant orange tonight instead of pink, Spider was dressed all in black, as usual, and Luco. Marlee was used to seeing Luco dressed in a confidently casual black T-shirt and black denim pants. Tonight he had on a light blue chambray shirt and chinos. The light colored shirt made his complexion take on a coppery tone. The sterling silver and lapis choker on his neck emphasized this even more. Marlee thought that he looked like an ancient Aztec chief vacationing in modern day San Francisco.

“Marlee,” Luco called out. “You’re right on time.” He smiled and came out from behind the counter to welcome her.

“I just finished cleaning up and we’ll be…you look beautiful, if I may be allowed an observation.” He moved closer to her. “That turquoise is just perfect.” He reached out and lifted the blue teardrop from the pale skin just below her clavicle. Marlee felt the roughness of his fingertips, but was surprised by the gentleness of his touch.

Luco studied the pendant for a moment and, just as delicately, laid it back above Marlee’s heart. “It’s Mexican, I think. Very pretty, Marlee.” He turned toward the counter. “Hey, Zephyr, look at Marlee.”

Zephyr lifted her orange head from her accounting task at the register. Her eyes took the scenic route around Marlee’s body and then, lifting two fingers to her mouth, trilled an enthusiastic wolf whistle.

“That settles it, Marlee,” said Luco. “If Zephyr whistles, you are officially the best looking woman in the room.”

Marlee looked around and saw that she was one of only three women in the cafe. There was herself, Zephyr with her Magic Marker orange hair and Spider who looked like Darth Vader in drag. It wasn’t much, but she’d take it. “Thank you, Zephyr.”

In the kitchen the overhead lights were switched off and Pete, the owner of the People’s Cafe, turned off the neon window signs. Luco went into the office and returned in seconds, slipping into a chocolate brown soft leather coat.

Everyone was headed for the door.

Spider counted heads. “OK. Everybody who can cram into my van, get in. Leftovers: go with Pete. And just like always there is one ground rule for a party at my place: If you don’t dance, don’t take up space. Let’s go.”

They all piled into Spider’s shiny black van. The van had only one seat. The rest of the space was covered in thick, black carpeting. Zephyr scooted up next to Spider, a place of honor, while Marlee and everyone else found a bit of black space to claim.

Luckily, it was only a 15-minute drive from the cafe to Spider’s “Web” as she called it. During the ride, conversation was impossible. Spider had installed a stereo system that screamed out sound that could loosen your fillings and muss your hair. The music blasted out of 12 hidden speakers from the moment she turned the ignition key.

Marlee sat up straight against the wall, feeling the music in her spine as much as hearing it with her ears.

After a few blocks Marlee leaned over, tapping Zephyr on the shoulder. “What is this song? It sounds familiar.”

An electronic roar traveled from speaker to speaker. When it hit the one behind Marlee she laughed out loud. “That tickles!” No one heard her.

Zephyr moved over next to Marlee. “What did you say?” she asked, bouncing her head to the machine gun beat.

Marlee tried again. “I said, what in the world is this music? I feel like I’ve heard it before, but I can’t place it.”

Her head still chattering to the music, Zephyr put her mouth next to Marlee’s ear. “It’s the theme from the Flintstones. Great, ain’t it?” She gave Marlee a quick peck on the cheek before sliding back up to her spot next to Spider.

Luco crawled over next to Marlee. He was laughing. She was not. “Welcome to San Francisco” he shouted. Think nothing of it. She just thinks you’re cute.” Marlee’s head was picking up the beat. “And she’s right,” added Luco.

“What did you say? I just love this music,” she yelled to him. Luco looked at her, blinked and said, “’Cartoon Music.’ It’s called ‘Cartoon Music’.”

“Yeah, I’m catching on.” She pointed to the roof speakers as a bouncy riff made her giggle. “Speed Racer! I love it!” Luco nodded and went back to the other side of the van. He could feel a headache starting.

Spiders “Web” was a large flat in a three-plex near 25th Avenue, across from Golden Gate Park. She lived on the top floor with Zephyr and two other young women: “Bullet”, a militant vegetarian who worked in a fast food restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf and “Patrice” who was a legal secretary by day and an exotic dancer by night.

The party was already in full swing as Spider pulled her van into the driveway. This was a major event. All three floors were partying.

Spider turned to her passengers. “Listen up, especially any first-timers we have with us tonight.” She winked at Marlee. “This is my home. I live here. I have only one rule.” Her voice dropped half an octave. “Take no prisoners!”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Luco put his head down on the book, kissed it and closed his eyes. Outside his window he missed the flashes of pointed movement across the street. The growl of a turning diesel-powered bus covered the gargled scream of a 20-year-old addict from Apple Valley, New York.

***

The sound of Steve Perry’s soaring voice from the clock radio shook Marlee from a warm and dream-filled sleep.

When the lights go down in the City, and the sun shines on the Bay. I want to be there in my City.”

It was a love song to San Francisco and after only a short time in the City, Marlee understood the infatuation.

San Francisco is a small city, only 49 square miles. As a result, the people living there strive to cram everything into and get everything out of the limited space. Any piece of vacant land will turn, overnight, into a garden or neighborhood farm. Rows of vegetables and flowers appear as if by magic.

The Victorian houses that line so many shady streets look like the work of finger painters run riot. Playful color combinations make the homes leap out to meet your eyes halfway. Yellow with magenta trim. Azure blue and fire engine red. Primary colors and subtle hues that come from a tropical plant’s dreams appear around every corner.

In this shirt pocket size city everything and everyone seems to be competing for attention. The peaks rise to outdo each other to get more sunlight. Hillsides, filled with narrow houses built on slivers of land, have steps instead of sidewalks. Streets twist and turn, inviting analogies that are doomed to fall short.

San Francisco is a city where, every May, 100,000 people dress up as buildings, bridges and sea serpents and run through the streets. They race from the busy shore of San Francisco Bay across the outlandish terrain to the Pacific Ocean at the western edge of the continent.

Hundreds of people race in the nude, braving the cold winds and the critical scrutiny of half a million eyes. They run knowing that in San Francisco their exhibitionism will be viewed with mild amusement rather than reproach.

The only thing about San Francisco that avoids excess is the climate. When the weather is warm and bright with skies too blue to imagine, the residents rush outside to take it in as fast as possible. They know that after 3 or 4 days of sunshine “The Fog” will come roaring in like a runaway train and cover everything with a speeding wall of salty white. It was this fog that greeted Marlee as she peeked outside her bedroom window.

When the clock radio roused her with Journey’s theme song for “The City”, Marlee sat on the edge of the bed, getting her bearings, preparing to start another day. She felt a misplaced chill. The floor was cold. The air had a familiar iciness, but for Cleveland in late autumn, not San Francisco in the spring.

Stumbling over to the window she poked two fingers through the white slats expecting to see the flowerbeds in Buena Vista Park. Instead of salvia and Golden California Poppies her eyes were met by solid gray. She pulled up the blind and wiped her hand across the glass. The fog was in and the world had disappeared.

The sun was struggling to make its presence known by the time Marlee had pulled herself together and headed up Haight Street. The fog was low over the tops of the buildings. The spires of the church up on the hill were invisible. So was the hill. Marlee felt like she was living inside a glass ball wrapped in a gray silk curtain. The horizon was a five minute walk away. It all made her a little depressed. Not quite a case of the blues, but just a bit out of balance.

Inside the People’s Cafe, however, the mood was almost like Christmas morning. Everyone was laughing and smiling, even the usually crabby customers. The bearded writer was grinning like a fool. He was normally quite morose this early in the day. Marlee wondered if today was some kind of local holiday.

“Marlee,” called Luco when he saw her standing there looking confused. “Good morning to you.”

The waitress called “Spider,” with her red dreadlocks, and young “Zephyr,” with a short, pink Pixie haircut and pierced eyebrows and even Armando the busboy, as if on cue, all called out, “Marlee!” The cook ran out from the kitchen waving his metal grill brush. “Marlee,” he yelled, turned around and hurried back to his duties.

Now totally lost, Marlee looked behind herself to see if another Marlee had walked in after her. It was confusing, but the boisterous greetings lifted her spirits and put a smile on her face.

Luco’s warm eyes welcomed Marlee as she walked up to the counter. “Are all you people psychics?” she said. “Did you know I was feeling kind of down? But all of you shouting my name sure took care of that.”

“Marlee, you may be new to Haight Street, but you’ve quickly become a member of our family.” His smile was genuine.

“Thank you, Luco, all of you. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome.”

“We don’t let just anybody into our family, right John?”

The writer in the corner held up his bagel in salute. “Luco tells you true, Marlee. It took two years for them to even acknowledge my existence.”

“Spider” peeked over the glass pastry case. “Eat your bagel, John or I’ll withdraw my invitation to the party.”

“You need me there, Spider. Without me it’s just a party, but with me there it’s a celebration of life, a bacchanal.” Again, as if someone was giving cues, the entire crew shouted out, “Eat your bagel, John.”

The pink Pixie cut came up behind Luco, her hands on his hips. She weighed no more than ninety-five pounds. Looking around his tanned and muscular arm, Zephyr said, “Marlee, Spider is tossing a party and you have to come, as my guest.”

“Me? Why thank you.”

“I figured I better ask you because it looked like Ricky Ricardo here was too shy.” Zephyr slapped Luco on the rear and walked back into the kitchen to pick up an order.

Marlee looked at Luco and she could have sworn that he was blushing, just a little. Teasing him would have been fun, but she decided to let it pass. She was still too much a newcomer to get into that.

Luco was blushing. He didn’t like being teased in front of anyone, most of all a customer, and a pretty one at that.

“The party is this Saturday night at Spider’s place over on Fulton, near the Park.”

“Luco,” Marlee leaned close, “I’ve been meaning to ask you – “’Spider’? ‘Zephyr’? What’s with the crazy names?”

Luco leaned closer to Marlee. “Spider: her name is really Martha, but she prefers Spider. It has to do with the tattoo on her….” Marlee held up her hand, cutting him off.

“Spare me, Luco. I’m still too green for all the details of life in San Francisco.” It was her turn to blush.

“Fair enough, Marlee. We don’t want to scare you away. And Zephyr? That’s her real name. Her folks were a couple of old hippies. Go figure.

“Anyway, my dear, Spider’s bashes are the best. Not too weird, I promise. You’ll come to the party?”

“I’d love to, Luco. It’ll be good for me to get out and kick up my heels a bit.”

“That it will, Marlee. Be here at the cafe at midnight.”

Marlee wasn’t used to parties that started at midnight. Classical musicians aren’t known as party animals. Even in college, most of their parties were over by midnight. Tonight at Spider’s would be different and “different” was one reason Marlee was in San Francisco.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Luco Reyes played a central role in the vacation reveries of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women, and of not a few men. He was their fantasy fling, their Latin Lover. Only in such fantasies do clichés seem reasonable.

For them, a night of passion nestled in the taut and muscular arms of the barista from San Francisco would be enough to eliminate the need for other souvenirs. The sound of his musical voice, warm in their ear, making promises that only he could keep, would let them forget the braying of their children – at least for a moment.

Snug in their minds with the memories and rueful second thoughts of these travelers, the dark-haired man with the gray eyes was someone they could carry with them. The facade of Luco Reyes was a conveniently portable orgasm.

When Luco left the counter at the People’s Cafe, Luco the fantasy lover stayed behind. Away from the levers and the steam jets, the reality of Luco Reyes walked up Haight Street alone.

He didn’t mind living above the bicycle shop. They weren’t yet open when he left for the cafe

and he returned home long after they were closed for the day.

The apartment was typical of many in The Haight. The rooms were small and narrow. They were designed for maximum comfort in the days before universal central heating. The layout made a lot of people feel that they were living in a railroad car.

Luco was satisfied with the apartment. It was close to work and across the street were the trees, lawns and lakes of Golden Gate Park.

He had five rooms from front to back, sharing the second level of the building with an identical suite occupied by a retired Filipino shipyard worker.

The bedroom at the back was quiet and cramped, almost filled by the Japanese futon and an old dresser. A full-length mirror was glued to the closet door. For a nightstand there was a small barrel that once held roofing nails. Now a clock radio and a boudoir lamp with a peach colored shade sat on its upturned end.

The bathroom was overdue for modernization with the old, but once again in vogue, pedestal sink and claw-foot tub. A medicine cabinet had been bolted to the green painted wall. It held only a straight razor and a can of shaving foam. On the sink was a single toothbrush propped up on a half-rolled tube of Colgate gel.

When he moved in five years before, Luco painted the kitchen walls a bright, daffodil yellow. Along with the white appliances and red oven mitts and dishtowel, the room was cheerful and inviting. It was the only redecorating he had done.

While it was rather whimsical in the kitchen, the dining room was strictly utilitarian.

The large table and four mismatched chairs were Goodwill retreads in need of refinishing.

On the floor under the table were boxes, taped shut with “Dining Room” block printed on the unbroken seals.

The overall impression was that most meals were eaten while standing at the stove.

The temporary feeling of the dining room was carried into the living Room. There were similarly neglected taped cartons along one wall.

A large sofa, covered in a tightly woven brown fabric, hugged the far wall. It had the look of something from a hotel lobby. On the wooden frame, hidden beneath the durable upholstery, was stenciled the word “Sheraton.”

In front of the large picture window overlooking the busy street below, was a gray metal desk. The kind you would find in millions of offices worldwide serving as the platform for commerce large and small. The matching chair was tucked, efficiently, in its place.

The apartment was…a place to live. It had only one thing about it that made it seem more like a “home.”

On the wall above the sofa was an oil painting of Mission Dolores – the original Spanish settlement in San Francisco, a whitewashed adobe surrounded by a riot of rhododendrons. The Mission bell, glinting its pear-shaped brass in the bright sun, stood outside the wrought iron gate, ready to call the faithful to God’s table.

The placement of the picture ensured that it was the first thing that Luco would see as he came up the stairs at night.

Down in the corner, near the frame, the artist’ name was neatly printed: Alicia Reyes.

It was after two in the morning and he still couldn’t sleep. He had to be ready to open up the People’s Cafe at 7 AM. It was getting close to that time when it would be better to just stay up and avoid sleep altogether.

Sleepless nights used to be the norm, but in the last few years, things had gotten better as the memories lost their freshness. Now they were back. Once again there were nights when his brain wouldn’t slow down. The scenarios playing double-time in his head – what might happen if I do this or that? What might have happened if I had done this or that? What if…everything.

Luco knew that replaying the dark days of his life wouldn’t solve anything. Those ghosts were, more or less, at peace. Staying up all night and working to exhaustion didn’t work then and it wouldn’t work now. He knew that.

He had found comfort in writing his poetry ever since his childhood in a crowded frame home near Mission Dolores.

In 1776, Father Junipero Serra created Mission Dolores, the sixth in his chain of twenty-one missions along the California coast. On a sunny bluff overlooking the icy waters of San Francisco Bay it dominated the landscape.

Almost 195 years later, to the day, Luco Reyes was born five minutes away from that same mission.

Over time the shoreline of the bay was filled in to accommodate a growing population. The water was lost to sight and, eventually, Mission Dolores became a tourist attraction. Luco moved to the foggy streets of The Haight and left the sunny Mission District behind, a remnant of another life.

Fewer than ten people in San Francisco knew why he had left the old neighborhood.

Looking at the wall clock and seeing the hands creeping up on four o’clock, Luco resigned himself to no sleep, followed by a long day of mixed up orders, incorrect change and a quiet sadness in his heart. There would be no charming repartee with smitten tourists today.

Instead of his usual bedtime cup of relaxing chamomile tea, he brewed himself a full pot of Irish Breakfast tea. It would be a better stimulant to get him through the rest of the night until he could pull a double espresso for himself at the cafe. Some days, caffeine was enough. Some other days it wasn’t, but you do what you can with what you have.

With a steaming cup and saucer in hand, he moved over to the small desk by his front window. Sitting in his chair he could look out over Stanyan Street and the entrance to Golden Gate Park. There was always someone out there, regardless of the time or the weather.

Luco pulled his spiral notebook from the desk drawer and opened it to a fresh, blank page. He avoided looking at it and took his time selecting a pen. The stark whiteness of the empty page was always a bit terrifying. Once he got the first few words down on paper he would relax and let the juices flow. At least that was his hope.

The sun and moon are dark.

Days are black and nights are

absent of any comforting glow.

They left the sky despite my pleas.

They took all life and promise of tomorrow.

With a desert in my life. Featureless, arid. I see no horizon.

Is this my fate? To walk without a path.

A vacant here, a solitary now? Traceless.

He looked at the page and closed the blue paper cover. One more page among a hundred, filled with the same sense of isolation and marrow-eating pain.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “When Sylvie Sang” from February 2015

Fiction Saturday Encore – from February 2015

When Sylvie Sang

Microphone LargeThis story was created as a performance piece. I presented it a number of times over the years.

It is longer than my usual posts.  

I hope you enjoy it.

 

WHEN SYLVIE SANG the men at the bar would stop and turn on their stools to listen.  The bartender would dry his hands, move to the end of the bar and light up a cigarette.  The waitresses would huddle by the wall and hug their trays.  And the drunken man who cried softly to himself in the corner by the door would lift his eyes and rub his hands together underneath an invisible spigot.

When Sylvie sang, the room was locked in glass and still – as still as a new widow hearing that first long silence. 

In the spotlight the smoke was frozen.

“When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy.”

When Sylvie sang she never really heard the music or thought about the words.  She was far away in a small town by a riverbank, holding onto someone she loved.  She only heard his voice, felt his heat, and the nightclub disappeared.

When Sylvie sang she wasn’t there and the people she sang for knew that because she took them with her.

“What would they say if we up and ran away from the roaring crowd?”

But the song always has to end and when the music stopped the men at the bar would turn again and start to laugh and talk.  The waitresses would rush to cover their thirsty stations and the drunken man would close his eyes again and descend inside himself.  Sylvie would go out into the alley and smoke until the next set called her back.

Read more…

I Do Not Have Any Answers Before Coffee

FOR SOME REASON BEYOND MY COMPREHENSION the people on Facebook are in a philosophical mood this morning.

Facebook? Philosophical? Two words I never think of being in the same sentence.

I crawled down the street to St. Arbucks, turned on my phone and the first thing I saw was not another cute cat picture or a snapshot of somebody’s breakfast, but someone asking the Universe a question.

“What if it is my destiny to be alone?”

Read more…

Stop, Look, And Breathe

anger1 IT MAY BE THE HOLIDAY SEASON WITH LOADS OF HO! HO! HO! and your basic good cheer all around, but it seems to me that there are still a bunch of angry people walking around out there. Seriously angry people. Fearful people.

They are angry about a variety of things – some of which are worth being angry about, but so many of these people are worked into a lather about things that are not worth the effort. If you were to stop and ask these folks what it is that has their dander up, most of them could tell you, but a fair portion might be hard put to put their finger on it. They are angry to be sure, but it is a rather non-specific anger. It is like they’ve shot off their arrow even though they couldn’t clearly see the target.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued

Fiction Saturday – Continued

pull-roseChapter Sixteen

 

Davis wasn’t late the next morning.  He showed up on time and he was carrying one white rose.  Laura blushed.

After another leisurely breakfast they walked down by the shore of the Bay.  The fog had stayed out at sea and the Golden Gate Bridge dominated the view, it’s towers vaulting into the sky.  As they strolled beside the magnificent sailing yachts and watched skeins of pelicans skim the surface of the Bay, these two transplants from other lives held hands and knew that something was happening that they hadn’t planned on.  And they let it happen.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued

Fiction Saturday

Chapter Thirteen

 

pull-fogShe had run back to her apartment after the confrontation on the street with the drunken old man.  He knew her despite the changes in her appearance.  It sent her into a deep, dark fear that choked her.  Was there no way for her to survive?  She’d never heard of anyone outrunning the Family.  Whatever made her think that she could be the one to do it?

At first, she couldn’t sleep at all.  For three days she jumped at every sound and paced the floor for hours at a time.  Then, exhausted, she slept almost around the clock.  She hoped that it would be an escape from the fear.  It wasn’t.

Read more…

You And Me, Version 1.0

me1WHAT MUST IT BE LIKE TO BE SOMEONE ELSE – ANYONE ELSE? All of my life I have only been me. You have been you and, Thank God, They have always been them.

Despite the daily trials, tribulations, and just plain old pains in the tuchus, I would not want to be anyone else. Oh, sure, there have been those moments when becoming someone else seemed like an attractive option – like when you see flashing lights approaching in your rear view mirror.

The 7 year old me wanted to be Buck Rogers and the 10 year old me wanted to be Mickey Mantle. At 17 becoming Paul McCartney looked really cool – and it had nothing to do with music.

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Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued

Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued

Chapter Six

 Pull Golden Rose

“It’s $1500 a month or $750 every two weeks, if you want.”

“I see.  Is it month-to-month or is it on a lease?”

“Month to month, week to week, day to day if you like, but I don’t care for leases,” said the young man behind the counter.  He really hated dealing with the renters.

“Is it quiet?  I mean, it’s not a lot of noisy neighbors?”

“What’s quiet?  Look, lady, you’ve seen the apartment.  Do you want it or not?”

Read more…

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