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 “Novel”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Moving is an exhausting exercise, no matter how little you have and boxes of books always seem to be the last things put away. Now the books were on the shelves. For Marlee, there was only one more thing that needed seeing to: her music.

Music had always been her special, personal refuge. As a child it hid the sound of her parents arguing. As a teen it allowed her to wallow in the lush angst of adolescence. Later it was a way to express her loves and losses. The fact that she had a gift for it made it a pleasure for everyone around her.

When she was a child she had first studied the piano, but it seemed rigid and dwarfed her at the bench. Then came the violin, clarinet and for a few months in Middle School, the alto saxophone. She was taken with its quality, so much like the human voice.

It wasn’t until “band camp” in the summer before 10th grade that she was introduced to the cello. The first time she embraced the honey-colored wood and inhaled the aroma of the sweat and tears left there by those who had held it before, she knew that she was in love and ready to commit.

It was during high school that the extent of her talent became apparent and the encouragement and excitement of her teacher lit the fire in her belly, Music grew from a private hideaway into a transmitter for her creative thought. Her hopes, fears, loves and hates radiated from her fingertips in a melodic frenzy.

The sophomore year flew by in a blur of overheated practice rooms, rehearsals and string quartets. Her talent had found a home and she, a faithful lover who never disappointed. She soon left the quartets behind, as her skills demanded the soloist’s chair.

It wasn’t long before magazines and newspapers discovered the pretty young demon that seemed to wrestle the music from wood and string. They ran stories calling her a “Genius” and “The next Pablo Casals.”

One piece in a Sunday supplement magazine dubbed her the “Concert Hall Barbie.” That offensive diminutive earned a letter demanding an apology. It never came.

Marlee understood the flattering hyperbole and the nonsense of publicity. With the ego-bubble bursting help of her family and her teacher, she learned to keep her perspective and her focus. At her age, that focus was on honing her skills and on selecting the right college.

Universities and colleges around the country always send out small armies of talent scouts, crisscrossing the map. They are looking for more than Quarterbacks and Power Forwards. They also try to uncover and woo young actors, computer whizzes, and promising musicians.

She was recruited by a number of large and prestigious schools, known for producing successful concert musicians. Scholarships were dangled like golden carrots in front of her eyes. The lures of bright lights and faraway places pulled at her.

In the end, she opted to stay in Cleveland, at home, and she accepted the offer of a small Methodist college in the city’s western suburbs.

The school was well respected nationally for its academic standards as well as for the vitality of the under-funded, but first-rate Conservatory of Music.

For all her abilities, drive and onstage self-assurance, she was still a seventeen year old girl who never found the time to develop adolescent crushes and who performed brilliantly at her senior prom, but went home alone when the dancing began.

She had heard an ancient Chinese proverb from her High School band teacher. He was aware that he was passing a real talent on to other teachers at the college level. He knew that there was more for her to learn than he could teach her. Marlee was sad to be leaving his tutelage, but she was feeling the hunger for the next step and was comforted by the relevance of the proverb.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Life at the small college was comfortable, yet challenging. She was thrown together with the best of the best and a scintillating mixture of people from around the country and from overseas. She learned to make friends with people so different from herself that she sometimes felt like she was spending her days on another planet. New social expectations, languages, and points of view were in her face everyday. She quickly got past the culture shock of it all and realized that her new teacher had, indeed, appeared, in the form of the college experience.

This new spice in her life made itself known in her music as well. The other students were her equals, or betters and the Instructors made no allowance for pretty blonde teenagers. She was forced to work hard to keep up. The Music had become difficult.

New techniques, new music and new demands on her time and body made her think of quitting, but the thought of leaving her cello behind ended that afternoon of self-pity.

There was a growing sense of domination in her playing. She no longer forced the music from the cello. Instead she commanded it to, “Arise and walk!” It took her took another level, where she was again moving toward center stage.

Her parents noticed the growth in their daughter. They could see her becoming more confident, daring even, in the pursuit of her goals. In High School she had led an insulated life, buffered by her music. In college, that buffer didn’t work and she had to learn about real life and people. Dead composers and musicians could no longer be her only friends.

Her mother and father also saw their only child becoming a grown woman with a delicate beauty and an effortless sensuality. It was a part of life that Marlee had yet to discover.

Marlee’s allure may have been transparent to her, but there were a lot of testosterone fueled college boys who had watched her walking across campus, moving to the music in her head. The tall, quiet blonde was high on the list of favorite topics among the junior varsity football squad, and a staple in the fantasy life of more than a few of the boys in the brass section.

During her junior year, the same year that she was named to “Who’s Who In America’s Universities And Colleges”, Marlee was attacked, just short of rape, by a boy who played the English Horn. He had seen Marlee working late in the practice rooms in the basement of the Student Union building.

The only thing that saved her from more serious harm was the intervention of several boys from the football team who were on their way to a basement screening room to watch a video of their last game. They saw what was happening and stopped the attack. In doing so they may have saved Marlee’s life. An Exacto knife was found in the horn player’s pocket.

Though traumatized and bruised, she was saved. Her attacker was brutally beaten. His hopes of a musical career were shattered, along with almost every bone in both hands and several others throughout his body.

In the aftermath, Marlee received counseling and signed up for a self-defense course. She was determined to not let this take away her dreams. The English Horn player was expelled from the school and involuntarily committed by his parents. Marlee was advised poorly by the family attorney and did not press charges. The basement practice rooms were put under video surveillance.

In the following academic quarter, one of the rescuing football players enrolled for a class in Music Appreciation in an effort to help his drooping Grade Point Average. At a mandatory recital he saw Marlee onstage and was enchanted, not only by her virtuosity.

After the recital he introduced himself and offered to escort her to her car. In the wake of Marlee’s assault, dozens of school athletes organized an informal escort program, protecting both male and female students at night.

“I appreciate this. I am still a bit nervous walking on campus after dark.”

“Well, people need to feel safe. I’m glad I can help.

“If…if you’re not in a rush or anything, would you like to stop by the Rathskeller for a Coke or something?” He blushed.

Over Coca-Cola and French fries in the campus snack bar Marlee and a young man named Phillip took the first tenuous steps toward a shared fate. He thought that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and she thought that he was big…and cute, especially when he blushed and fumbled as he asked her out on a real date.

Her parents approved of Marlee’s beau. He was polite, thoughtful, hardworking to a fault, and it was evident, from the start, that he adored their daughter. At 6’5” tall and 270 pounds, he was the gentle giant who had saved their baby’s life.

Marlee’s senior year was another defining time. The other seniors were sending out audition tapes to orchestras around the world. Marlee was not. She was conflicted.

The thought of going off to Boston, Lisbon or Sydney to play the cello was exciting, but it would mean leaving behind her home, family and the strapping young man with whom she felt safe and truly loved. That she could not do.

So, she sent out one resume and tape to a local Post Office box in reply to an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

An enthusiastic letter in response to her tape and a perfunctory audition won her the lead chair position with a new organization: The Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. There was no assurance that there would ever be a second season for the group, but while it was there, she was their Star and she was able to be with Phillip.

It was no secret that the Less than Dean’s List accounting majors didn’t enjoy the mobility and caché of a cello virtuoso.

Phillip sent out more than 300 resumes. Four drew hopeful responses. He blushed and sputtered his way through the interviews. The lone job offer came from a Cleveland company owned by an alumnus of the college and a football fan. Phillip, desperate to not look desperate accepted the offer and became the new “Junior Assistant Accounts Payable Clerk” at the Borkovic Tool And Die Company.

They had waited until after graduation to talk marriage. He tried to bring it up, but he couldn’t locate the words. Sensing his discomfort, Marlee did it for him.

It was an early autumn afternoon, while her parents were at a Harvest Festival by the Lakeshore, that Marlee discovered something else for which she possessed center stage talent.

Marlee unleashed the erotic desires that made her thank the gods for the elastic thighs of a cellist.

They both knew the importance of practice and lost no opportunity. She brought home Ravel and, on the living room floor, Phillip finally learned the true meaning of Music Appreciation.

Their wedding was small, money was an issue, and they honeymooned at a Bed and Breakfast on Catawba Island in the middle of Lake Erie. It was enough.

Things went well for the young couple. She had her music and a microscopic salary from the Orchestra. Her husband was becoming a competent number cruncher and it looked like he might have an actual future at Borkovic Tool And Die.

She took on a few students to perk up the ledger page. She actually enjoyed tutoring young musicians. It made her appreciate the precision and reliability of a great composition.

Marlee and Phillip knew that they would never be rich, but that was all right, as long as they had each other. They held each other at night and dreamed the same dreams.

Life in Cleveland was happy. They made the plans of young people in love. Their families and friends said that they were a “perfect couple.” Imperfection seeks out perfection.

It was hot and muggy on the night of August the third, but the recital would be in an air-conditioned hall. One of Marlee’s students was doing his first solo and she had to be there. Phillip always accompanied her to her musical events and she went with him to the Browns games. They each shared in what was important to the other. On the night of August the third it all ended in a gravel parking lot in a “very good neighborhood” when a young lost and bewildered addict stepped out of the darkness and tore the world apart.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

It was becoming a morning ritual for Marlee. She started off with a hot shower and dawdling through her ablutions, followed by the San Francisco Chronicle and coffee at The People’s Cafe. She was now a “regular.”

“Good morning, Marlee. Coffee?”

“Please, Luco and I think a scone this morning.”

Since that first day when Luco Reyes had flirted with her, they had developed a comfort zone. He still flirted a bit, but with more gentility and she let him. They both knew the unmarked boundaries.

If things weren’t busy in the cafe he would come and sit with her. She enjoyed his company and he found her both beautiful and interesting. Most of the women in his world were one or the other, but rarely both.

Marlee felt the same about him. Here was a man of obvious education and facility with people, yet he was spending fourteen hours a day pulling espressos in a neighborhood cafe. A cafe that he could run with his eyes shut, but where he was just another employee. There was more behind those gray eyes, a story worth telling. She was intrigued by this mysteriously secretive man. It had been a long time since she had felt anything for any man and now she found herself daydreaming about the man who made her coffee.

Marlee liked to leaf through the morning paper. She wanted to be informed and the crossword puzzle helped her get her brain in gear for the day.

On page two she saw an article that grabbed her eye.

“Serial Killer Stalks The Haight”

The story was that, over the last three months, six brutal murders had occurred in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The victims were all young male addicts living, and now dying on the streets.

She read the list of the dead young men, boys really. They were mostly 18 or 19 years old. The youngest was a 14-year-old runaway from Michigan.

“It’s a sad ending to lives unlived.”

“Yes it is.” He had her coffee and scone. “Do you have a minute, Luco?”

He sat down at the table. Let someone else make the coffee for a few minutes.

She looked very serious. This was not a time for flirtation. She waved her hand at the newspaper spread out in front of her.

“Who would do such a thing? It’s horrible. Doesn’t he know what something like this does to the families, the parents?” There were tears in the corners of her eyes.

“I don’t think the killer cares about the families of these kids. As to who would do this…?” His voice faded with a shrug of his shoulders.

Marlee took a sip of her coffee. Its steamy heat flushed her cheeks. “No matter what they do, the drugs, they don’t deserve to die like this – like animals on the street.”

“I have some friends who are cops, at the Park Station, just up the way. They’ve told me that this killer, this beast, did more than just kill these kids. He mutilated them, their faces.”

“Oh good Lord, they didn’t say anything about that in this article.”

“There is a lot that never makes it into the paper and I’m sure that some of the details from the other night won’t be made public either.”

“The other night?” She set down her cup.

“There was another one, number seven, right across the street from my place up on Stanyan, just inside the Park.”

“Can’t they catch this monster?”

“Good question. I hear that they really don’t have much to go on. He’s careful, quick and nobody can give them a description.”

“This is very scary. I guess there really is no such thing as a safe place.” She picked at the scone, but her appetite had been shoved aside.

“By and large, The Haight is pretty safe. The real residents don’t have too much serious trouble. Most of the bad stuff falls on the people wrapped up in the drug scene.

“Like any city, we have our share of hardcore drug users. They and the dealers seem to like this area. They tend to prey on each other and leave the bodies in the gutter. Then there are the ‘Narco-tourists’.”

“Narco-tourists?”

“That’s just my word for them – the people who come to The Haight looking for the drugs.

“The media keeps running quasi-fictional stories about the 1960’s and the ‘Summer of Love’. Some unhappy kid in Iowa watches his TV and sees a pretty girl dancing with flowers in her hair. He picks up and comes here looking for her and some adventure. It’s the kids from Iowa you see on the sidewalks looking like zombies. They’re also the people who end up surrounded by crime scene tape outside my window.”

Marlee nodded. The morning sun bounced off of her hair.

“My upstairs neighbor was saying pretty much the same thing to me. It’s so sad.”

One of the counter help, a tall girl with henna colored dreadlocks, called for Luco to pull two lattes and a Mocha Jolt. Someone needed extra caffeine this morning. She also wanted her morning whiff of Luco. She had her own needs.

He patted Marlee’s hand with an understanding affection and got up to leave her to think about what he had said and about the face behind the mask on Haight Street.

The carnage among the street kids was bringing back all of the stomach-wrenching memories of Phillip’s murder and how for two years she went through the motions of a normal life before making the move West.

The newspaper and Luco’s words made her feel that the horror had followed her from the elm tree lined streets of Cleveland all the way to the aromatic eucalyptus groves of San Francisco. She didn’t know if she could survive that again. She clutched her coffee cup with both hands and drank. The hot liquid warmed her chilled heart.

“You OK, Marlee?”

She looked up into Luco’s lovely eyes.

“No, Luco, I’m not. This whole thing has me very upset. I’m wondering if I made a mistake coming here to San Francisco.”

He sat down again and leaned forward across the table to hear her soft, sad voice.

“I’m wondering if my coming here was just running away from things you can’t outrun.” She closed her eyes and turned her face away from Luco’s eyes.

“I don’t think so. You don’t strike me as the type to run away from things.

“Marlee, You and I don’t know each other very well. You’re new here and I’m looked upon as a superficial sort of man. I know that you’ve heard the gossip.”

She looked at him, her eyes widening.

“Luco, are you hitting on me? You tell me a grisly story and then move in to comfort me?” There was a hint of anger growing in her voice. She was on the verge of slapping his face, right there in front of everyone in the cafe.

“No. No, Marlee. I’m not ‘hitting on you’, I swear.” He was alarmed at her reaction. “I’m just trying to talk with you, one person to another, but I’d like to do it for more than two minutes at a time.

“Maybe my timing does stink here, but…I’d just like to talk with you, over dinner perhaps, on neutral ground and get to know you better. That’s all.” He wiped his hand over his face. He was sweating he noticed. She noticed it too.

She listened and looked at him. He was serious. He wasn’t playing the “Coffee House Romeo.”

“Luco, I’m sorry I snapped at you. Yes, I’ve heard the gossip and it bothers me a bit.”

“The truth be told, Marlee, I start most of the gossip myself. It gives me a bit of a mystique. I’m local color for the tourists to talk about when they go home.” He paused and took a deep breath.

“Let me do this over again.” He was actually close to stammering like a schoolboy. “Marlee, what about dinner? Have you been to ‘Martin Macks’ up the street? It’s an Irish pub, but they serve good food there. It’s not fancy, but where else can you get ‘Toad In The Hole’ in San Francisco?”

“‘Toad In The Hole?’ I don’t even know what that is. It sounds disgusting.”

“Its just meat in a crusty sort of batter, English, I think. They also have other things. What do you think?”

She was smiling again. This man had that effect on her, she realized, and that couldn’t be a bad thing.

“Alright, I’ll have dinner with you Luco and if you want to have ‘Toad In The Hole’, I won’t object.”

“Wonderful, and thank you. Would Friday night be good for you? I get off at six o’clock. I could come by your place at 7:30.”

I’ll tell you what, Luco. Let’s meet at the restaurant. I’d feel more comfortable and it wouldn’t seem so much like a date. At least until I can sort out which bits of gossip about you might be just your attempts to please the tourists.” She was only half teasing him.

“Of course, whatever you need.”

Feeling proud of himself for following through, Luco went back to the counter and pulled the lever on the espresso machine with a little extra fervor. The redhead who was slicing bagels noticed the slight smile on his face and put two and two together.

Marlee sat and zipped through the crossword puzzle in ten minutes. She got a refill on her coffee from the redhead and wondered why her saucer was now filled with hot coffee as well. The redhead was usually neater.

Sitting and just musing on the day and its possibilities, Marlee looked across the street. A young, heavily tattooed man was pulling back the security gate in front of “Mom’s Body Shop”, a tattoo and piercing parlor.

He had barely gotten the front door unlocked and the “open” sign turned on when the first customer walked in.

The business day was starting on Haight Street.

Marlee finished her coffee and bussed her table. She turned to wave to Luco as she headed toward the door.

“Oh, Marlee, one more thing about Friday night.”

“What’s that, Luco?”

“Martin Macks…its casual dress.”

“I’ll leave the mink at home.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

“Luco. Hi. What a nice surprise. What’s that man doing up on that pole?”

Without taking his eyes from hers, he answered.

“I’d say he’s about to do a half-gainer into the sidewalk.”

“I don’t think I want to see that.”

“No. Let’s not watch. Let me buy you a cool drink. It’s hot out here.”

Marlee had just finished an iced tea, but she didn’t decline his offer.

As they walked they alternated between long minutes of silence and moments when they talked on top of each other.

“Marlee, have you enjoyed the street fair, so far?”

“Yes, I have. I’m not sure that I quite understand it all, but it has been… fun.”

“Good. It can be a bit daunting the first time you experience it. Actually, this year’s fair is rather calm.”

“A man hanging from a light pole, ready to fall into the street, is calm?”

“Well…he hasn’t fallen yet.”

“That’s the standard measurement? If he doesn’t fall to his death, things are calm?”

“Pretty much, but this is The Haight, so the calibration may be a bit screwed to the weird side of the scale.”

“I’m picking up on that.”

Sensing that Marlee wasn’t sharing his blasé acceptance of The Haight’s laissez-faire attitude toward life and death, Luco changed the subject.

“Tell me, Marlee. Just about everyone in San Francisco is into the Arts: Music, Acting, Painting, and so on. What is your Art?”

“I’m a musician. I play the cello.”

“Really? Professionally or just for the beauty of it?”

“Both. I was with the Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. I haven’t really played since my move here. I miss it.”

“Have you auditioned anywhere yet? There must be someplace that can use a talented cellist?”

“I need to get back in shape before I audition for anything. The cello can sound really awful if you’re not in top form. I need a place to practice.”

“Hmmm…I know that there are spaces over here on Page Street, at the old Gumption Theater space. I know that they have practice rooms. A lot of rock and rollers use them.”

I wasn’t aware of that, thank you. It would be convenient.”

“I’m a good man to know in The Haight.”

“So I gather.”

“And, I know that Pete, the owner of the People’s Café wants to put on some live music a couple nights a week. Interested?”

“Sure. Why not? It might be fun. Thanks, Luco.”

They shared a relaxed smile.

“Marlee, have you had anything to eat yet?”

“No. Any recommendations for a newcomer like me?”

Actually Yes, Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

“Dreams or heartburn nightmares?”

“He’s right over there.”

Luco lifted his hand, using the book of poetry as a pointer. Marlee recognized the cover.

“‘Sonnets From The Portuguese?’ I would never have guessed you to be a fan of Browning.”

“What? Oh, this? I bought this for a friend. It’s not really my style.”

“A friend? I’m sure she is.”

“Actually…,” started Luco, but a sharply accented voice cut him off.

“Luco, my old friend!”

Through a thick pall of white smoke arising from the collection of barbeque grills, Marlee could make out the portly figure of a man, red-faced and sweating.

“Luco, come here,” called out the smoky-eyed chef.

Cutting through the frenetic crowd, Luco, taking Marlee by the hand, guided them over to the busy food stand. They went around to the side, close to where Mike Koberski was keeping tabs on dozens of spicy sausages as they popped and hissed in the flames. Mike waved a large stainless steel barbecue fork in greeting.

“Hiya, Mike. How’s business?”

“Today will be a great day, nice and warm.” He eyed Marlee through the smoke. “How’s your day, Luco?”

“Just fine. Mike, This is Marlee Owens, a newcomer to the street and to the Fair.”

Mike smiled and nodded. A large drop of sweat fell from his chin and sizzled on the grill.

“Welcome, Marlee. I see you’ve already met the most eligible bachelor in The Haight.”

Marlee smiled back and shot a quick glance at Luco, who looked a bit embarrassed, even though he was laughing.

“Nice to meet you, Mike and I don’t think that Luco is all that eligible. I hear he’s going steady with himself.”

Mike roared.

“You’re OK, girl. Have a ‘basa, on me.”

One bite of Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ and Marlee felt homesick for Cleveland. Both Mike and Luco were taken aback watching Marlee down the sausage without blinking an eye. Most people had a cold beer on the side to douse the fiery spices.

“Mike,” said Marlee, wiping her mouth daintily, enjoying the astonished looks on the men’s faces. “That was great, but Luco said you had a ‘Flaming’ kielbasa that is supposed to be really hot.”

“That was it,” stammered Mike.

“Oh? Well…it was very nice. I’m from Cleveland and we’d call that a ‘mild’ kielbasa. Very nice. I’m sure the little kids love them.”

Mike and Luco looked at each other, not quite knowing what to say. Marlee stood there, smiling sweetly at them, enjoying their confusion.

“One more thing, Mike. Give me a beer. My mouth is on fire.”

He handed her a cup of Bud Light and she poured it down her throat, not stopping to breathe. Both men started to laugh. After finishing the beer Marlee coughed and wiped her eyes.

“I had you two guys going there for a minute, didn’t I? Jesus H., Mike. What do you put in those things, napalm?”

“Yep,” said Mike. “Not far from it. Old family recipe. A fine mix of spices that will make the kielbasa nice and hot or take the rust off of any chrome surface.”

Marlee took a paper napkin from the counter and wiped at her eyes.

“Well, Mike, if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll know who to blame.”

“No matter how chilly it gets tonight when the fog comes in, you’ll be warm and comfortable,” added Luco.

Mike reached out and grabbed Luco’s arm.

“Christ, I almost forgot. Luco, I was hoping I’d see you today. I need your help.”

“You got it. What can I do, Mike?”

Mike turned to Marlee who was beginning to lose the flush from her cheeks as the fiery spices subsided.

“Marlee, you like sports? Baseball?”

“Sure. Baseball is life. The rest is details.”

“Great. Luco, I got two tickets to the Giants game next Saturday. I can’t go. Some family thing my wife forgot to tell me about until last night, but maybe you and Marlee might like to go?”

He looked at Luco and then at Marlee, and back again at Luco. Feeling a bit cornered, Luco finally spoke.

“Well…it sounds good to me. What about it, Marlee? Care to see our beautiful ballpark?”

Her initial reaction was negative. She didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole afternoon with a man she perceived as a depressed lothario, but it was a public place and it had been quite a while since she had been to a big league game.

“Who are they playing?”

“The Cardinals. It’ll be a great game,” said Mike, reaching into his shirt pocket for the tickets.

Marlee let a smile out for some fresh air.

“All right, Luco. If you promise to be a gentleman, I’ll go with you to the game.”

Luco bowed to Marlee. “I will be such a gentleman that you won’t even recognize me.”

Mike handed a slim white envelope to Luco as he winked flirtatiously at Marlee.

“Here you go. Enjoy the game for me. I’ll be sitting in a lawn chair in San Jose, sweating like a pig and eating birthday cake.”

“Thank you, Mike,” said Luco, “And I promise to behave myself, Marlee. I won’t climb any light poles while we’re together.”

“You better not, Bucko, because I won’t catch you if you fall.”

“’Bucko?’” Luco looked at Mike who was trying to not laugh as he turned a grill full of sausages.

Despite all of her misgivings and alarm bells, Marlee had to admit that she was attracted to the dark-haired barista. There was something about him. Several somethings, in fact, that had her emotions caught in a small tug-of-war between her mind and her heart. She was drawn to him on a very basic, physical level, while at the same time there were things about him that told her to walk the other way.

That book of sonnets in his hand was obviously for some other woman. His glibness with female customers and their intimations of breathless, passionate liaisons bothered her.
But, she thought, nothing could be safer and noncommittal than a few hours inside a stadium filled with 40,000 screaming baseball fans. Any smooth moves there would be easily deflected amid the chaos and Cracker Jack.

After a Day to Remember, one filled with music, colors and new friends Marlee walked with the flow of people heading home. Her trek was thankfully only one block. The sensory indulgence was exhausting and she was grateful that her apartment was so close.

She checked her mailbox and slowly climbed the stairs up to her door…which was standing wide open. Her heart skipped a beat as she hurried up from the landing. There was no sound coming from inside the apartment. She moved slowly through the open door straining to hear anything or anyone. She had her keys bristling in her clenched fist. There was no one in her bathroom. A quick glance said the same for the kitchen. She could see that the living room was empty. That left just her bedroom and its closed door. The only sound she could hear were those rising up from the street just outside her windows. She rested her hand on the doorknob. On Haight Street a Diesel bus roared away from the bus stop as Marlee turned the knob and pushed open the door.

The bedroom was empty. There was nobody in her apartment, but she was cringing with the sensation that someone had been there. Nothing seemed to be missing. Everything was as she had left it just a few hours ago. It was all the same, but there was a difference. It wasn’t until two days later that she noticed that her copy of “Leaves of Grass,” the one she thought was missing, was in its place on her bookshelf.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fifteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fifteen

There was a lot of Fair yet to see and if the first few minutes were any indicator, Marlee thought, it was going to be a day she would never forget.

Falafel, enchiladas, kielbasa, satay, crepes, sauerbraten, they all called out to her senses, begging her to stop and sample the exotic flavors – sharp, subtle, sweet and biting. Aromas blossomed and vied for her attention as the street filled to overflowing with smiling people. Banners and flags lolled in the quiet air.

Marlee made a point to stop and peruse the goods at each booth, not wanting to miss anything as she worked her way up Haight Street.

Out in front of Mom’s Body Shop she got a washable tattoo to adorn her neck: a small black swan. For today, at least, Marlee could feel like a rebel.

At the mythical intersection of Haight and Ashbury a neighborhood garage band had set up their speakers, amps and mike stand. They didn’t have any permits and weren’t an official part of the Fair, but nobody really cared. They kicked that part of the street into high gear. The charismatic lead singer quickly gathered a gaggle of new young fans moving to the beat.

Just beyond this unofficial concert was a large flag adorned with a painting of a flying baby. It caught Marlee’s eye. The baby had wings and blue hair. She worked slowly across the intersection, trying to get close enough to see what the booth could possibly be selling.

While she was still “Pardon me”-ing and “Excuse me”-ing her way, she heard a loud female voice from up ahead.

“Yo! Marlee, Babe!”

Marlee was a bit taken aback at the familiarity of the greeting. She didn’t think she knew anyone that well yet, here in San Francisco.

“Marlee! Straight ahead, Sweetheart!”

Marlee plowed on, her pace a bit faster. She was uncomfortable hearing her name being yelled in the street by an unknown voice. Finally, she broke through the moving river of humanity and stood in front of the woman who was yelling for her.

“Marlee, Honey!”

It was Scar, the tattooed and pierced Madonna from Spider’s party. Perched high on Scar’s back, peeking out at Marlee was little Lucifer, smiling and drooling. His baby fine hair was worked into a bright blue Mohawk.

“Hi, Scar. How are you and how is this cutie pie?”

She wiggled her fingers at Lucifer. He grinned and two teeth were almost visible. He was teething on a piece of fabric.

“How ya likin’ the Fair, Toots? Havin’ fun?”

“Oh, it’s marvelous, Scar. What are you selling here?”

Scar leaned forward and pointed to the sign right above Marlee’s head.

“Robin’s Nest Baby Carriers. That’s what Lucifer is riding in. Cool, huh? I designed it myself. My real name is Robin.”

The baby carrier was more of a sling. A swath of fabric, at least nine feet long by Marlee’s estimation, draped and looped around Scar’s short frame. At the junction of three passes of cloth sat Lucifer, snug, secure and blowing saliva bubbles.

“They come in various lengths depending on the size of the Mother and of the little pisser.”

Marlee reached out and tickled Lucifer’s chin. He gurgled.

“Hello, Lucifer. How’s my little friend today?”

Scar looked back at her baby, her sky blue lips arched in a big smile.

“He is a cute one, ain’t he? I don’t know where he gets it. I’m really kind of plain under this rig and his father fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

“Well, Scar, I think you and Lucifer are just darling.”

“Yeah, real Norman Rockwell, ain’t we? So, tell me, girl – you havin’ a good time here in S.F.?”

Marlee’s eyes widened.

“Oh, wow, yes. I just danced in the street with a perfect stranger and it was….” She groped for the right word.

“The word is ‘Fun’, Marlee, and you need more of it. Kick your heels up and your knickers off a little more often, if you catch my drift.”

Marlee reddened.

Marlee never thought of herself as a prude. Not even close, but by the standards of some of the people she’d met recently, she was feeling like a cloistered nun.

She was a product of the Midwest. She had standards and a strong sense of right and wrong. Maybe it was acceptable for Scar to “kick off her knickers”, but it was still something special, sacred even, in Marlee’s heart.

It was close to two years since Marlee had buried her husband. Two years since she had felt a man in her arms and tasted a man’s skin.

She was still mourning her loss and still felt a “loyalty” to his memory. It was how she was raised, but it didn’t mean that there weren’t the yearnings. She had the primal desires to touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to possess and be completely possessed.

She missed the look in a lover’s eyes, urgent and intent. She ached for the feel of hands holding her in the dark, pulling her close. She lusted after the sound of a deep voice whispering in her ear, “I love you, Marlee.”

That was all missing from her life, but she knew that “kicking off her knickers” wouldn’t supply it.

Marlee was aware of her senses calling out for the raw ecstasy of uninhibited sexual love, but she also knew that what she really needed to fill was the hollowness in her heart.

This time, however, Marlee wanted a different kind of love than she had experienced with Phillip. Her mind had generated a checklist of what she needed and required of any man who would be considered for admission into her heart. She was a different woman than the one who had said ‘Yes” to a blushing and stammering Phillip years earlier and a continent away. She had loved Phillip, but it was an immature love – the love of a pair of 20 year-olds.

Now, after all she had been through and almost a decade, the first thing on her list for a new love was Maturity. When she was a girl, a boy had been right for her, but she was a Woman now and she needed – no, insisted, upon a Man.

Marlee had not come to San Francisco looking for that Man, or any Man, but, once there, her mind opened to the possibility and The List was born.

Creating “The List” was the kind of thing that Marlee did on Sunday mornings while lying in bed, half awake and her mind randomly flipping through the file drawer of her brain. It started as a romantic musing, but as time passed and her hopes and needs for the future crystallized; The List became a practical, no-nonsense set of criteria. Any man who wanted to reside in her heart and soul would have to withstand serious scrutiny and measurement against The List.

Marlee sipped at her tea and walked off to the side of the intersection at Haight Street and Cole. Ad hoc entertainment was everywhere. An old man sat in a folding chair playing a banjo. The Mother-Of-Pearl inlay on the neck sparkled in the light.

Setting her plastic cup on top of a newspaper vending machine, Marlee let her eyes focus on the smiling musician as his fingers flew and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” caromed off the brick walls nearby. She looked at him, but her heart retrieved The List from its file in her mind.

#1 on The List of qualifications for any future Love was “He must understand my passion for my music.”

Phillip never really did. He was impressed by her skill, but never understood how and why it fulfilled something in her.

At #2 on The List Marlee had placed “A great sense of humor.”

She wanted to laugh. There had been too many tears.

#3 – “Romantic.” Flowers, dancing, old movies and whispers in the dark.

#4 – “Not younger than me.” She had married a Boy. Now she wanted a Man.

#5 – “Dark hair. Maybe with a beard” Marlee found the physical contrast exciting.

#6 – “Intelligent,” which folded neatly into numbers 7, 8 and 9.

#7 – “Creative”.

#8 – “Enjoys the Arts.”

#9 – “Curiosity about…everything.

These four were very closely tied together. Possessing one almost presupposed the existence of the others. Marlee wanted a Man she could look at and regard as her equal and as a fascinating human being.

#10 – “Someone who likes to dance, but doesn’t have to ‘go dancing.’ A Man who will take me for a spin around the kitchen while singing a love song from the 1940s.”

One early morning, while listening to the parrots squawking outside her bedroom window, Marlee added several items to The List that were important to her and, maybe, to no one else on earth.

#14 – “Likes liver and onions.”

#15 – “Likes peach pie above all others.”

#16 – “Doesn’t mind if I eat snacks in bed and will even fetch me the salt shaker if I ask sweetly.”

Some things on The List reflected her growing power as a self-reliant individual.

#23 – “A Man who accepts me exactly as I am.”

#24 – “A Man who will not expect me to subjugate myself in any way for the sake of his ego.”

Her recognition of a basic human need was put forth as conjoined triplets in # 11, #12 and #13, then again as #17, #18 and #19 – “He must be GREAT in the sack.”

#20 followed up quickly on this thought with – “He will hug and kiss at any time, not just when in the mood for sex. Love does not always mean sex.”

Marlee was concerned that she may have gone too far with The List when she noticed that #57 was, “He knows how to use a vacuum cleaner” and she still had more items in mind.

“Jeez, I’m getting awful picky…but why shouldn’t I? After all, I’ll have to stand up against his List too.”

She ended her musing on the make-up of her “Perfect Man” and the likelihood of ever meeting him with, “Well, not in this world.”

“The rent is coming due on the planet. Do you have your share ready?

Shaken from her introspection by a softly insistent voice by her shoulder, Marlee looked down into the dark and fiery eyes of a Haight Street institution: The Kozmic Lady.”

“The planets are all aligned with the signs of water and fire. It means that steamy times are ahead and we may all be in hot water if we’re not careful. I hope you’ve got a fresh teabag.”

“Excuse me?” asked Marlee. “What are you talking about? Planets and teabags?” Marlee was totally confused. Who was this gnomish woman with gray hair and the sparkling eyes of a zealot?

Standing barely five feet tall in her worn sandals, The Kozmic Lady had been spreading her warnings of impending galactic cataclysms for more than three decades. The fact that she had never been right didn’t deter her from continuing her alarms.

“I’ve not been proven wrong yet either, have I?”

Marlee felt that she was looking at someone’s grandmother, who had slipped off course years ago and now traveled a different, yet comfortable, road through life. Everyone in The Haight knew The Kozmic Lady and protected her from serious earthly harm.

“We’ve all been here a very long time, even you, Blondie, and it won’t be much longer until you and I will have to pack up and be ready to run for our many lives.”

“Are you all right, Ma’am? Do you need help?”

“We all need help! I need new sandals. You need a new lover and we all need a new planet!”

Marlee was amused, concerned and a bit unnerved by this tiny apostle for an unknown prophet.

“I need a new what? A new lover? I don’t know who you are ma’am, but MYOB, as Ann Landers would say.”

“MYOB? Sweetie, you are my business and I’m yours. MYOB? No, girl, MYEB! Mind everybody’s business! It’s the only way we can all get off the planet with our socks intact.”

“Our socks?”

The Kozmic Lady reached into her canvas satchel and pulled out a sheet of paper. She thrust it into Marlee’s hand.

“Look, I gotta scoot. Read this paper and you’ll get all the latest news on all the latest news. Carpe Diem and hold the mayo! Andale!”

With that confusing homily The Kozmic Lady darted off into the crowd and left Marlee dazed and holding a paper covered with tiny printing and complex diagrams. Across the bottom was a handwritten message.

“The future is just ahead of you. Keep your peepers open!”

Stuffing the paper in her pocket, Marlee discarded her empty drink cup in a dumpster and wandered away from the corner and headed up Haight Street. The Fair had several more blocks of surprising temptations to offer to visitors and residents alike.

“People! Please give us a little room here so nobody gets hurt. Oh, hi, Luco. How’s it goin’?”

“Not bad, Mike.” Luco’s eyes went back up to the man in the sky.

“Every year some fool does the same dumb thing, don’t they?”

“Yeah. Well, whatcha gonna do, ‘eh, Luco? People! Everybody move back. Now!”

Luco, along with the still growing crowd on the corner, inched back, complying, but not really. New people were coming over to gawk and the crowd control efforts were becoming futile.

Not wanting to see what looked to be the inevitable outcome, Luco tried to extricate himself from the crush of people. He wanted to see the rest of the Fair.

He turned to leave, stepping around two women with toddlers on their shoulders. He got past them and stopped short as he found himself, nose to nose, looking into a pair of green eyes the color of the ocean at the Big Sur coastline.

“Marlee! Good to see you.”

The crowd pushed them closer together.

Marlee was startled to see Luco’s gray eyes this close up. She gasped and said to herself that there was fire in his eyes, a very controlled fire. For just a split second, her mind wondered what it would take to unleash it.

Fiction Saturday “Haight Street” Continued – Part Thirteen

Fiction Saturday “Haight Street” Continued – Part Thirteen

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

The icy wind coming through the streets whistled, shaking the Eucalyptus trees to their shallow roots. The parrots found snug sanctuaries under the eaves of the Painted Ladies. The lonely young and homeless drug tourists huddled in doorways along Haight Street shivering and regretting leaving their warm homes back in Iowa or wherever. The night held no adventure for them.

There weren’t many people walking on the street. Whenever someone did pass by a shaking voice would call out from the doorway, “Spare Change?” Most people ignored the plea. It would be better for one young man if everyone had. But not tonight.

A little after midnight and the fog filled the streets. Visibility was measured in yards not miles and sounds were muffled by the thickness of the air. A lone figure walked down Haight Street toward the Park. He wore a warm coat and gloves. A woolen scarf obscured his face. He walked slowly. He was in no hurry. There was no need.

The sound of footsteps thudded through the fog and as they approached the doorway the words, “Spare change?” reached out to the man with the scarf.

“Spare change? I think I might have something for you.” He reached into his pocket. “Yes, can you come a little closer? I can’t quite reach you”

The teen from the Midwest moved out of his sheltering doorway, reaching out.

“I don’t have much change, but I do have this,” He pressed a five dollar bill into the outstretched hand. “I hope it helps.”

“Thank you, Mister. Thanks a lot. I really mean it.”

The man put his hand back in his pocket.

“You must be cold out here tonight. Where are you staying?

“Yeah it’s cold, but I don’t have a place for tonight. I couldn’t connect with anybody to let me crash. I’ll be OK.” His teeth were chattering.

The man moved closer. “Nonsense. Let me help you. I live in the neighborhood and I can let you crash there tonight.”

“No, Mister. I’m OK, and I’m not into that. I don’t swing that way.”

The man took another step closer. “No, no, you don’t have to worry. I’m serious. I’m just trying to help. No funny business. I promise. A place to sleep and a hot meal.”

The freezing young addict had heard the stories about men who offered “help” to Street Kids. He’d also heard about the other Street Kids who ended up dead, butchered in Golden Gate Park. He was so cold and hungry. “No funny business, Mister?”

“No funny business. I promise you.”

Five minutes later, as the two figures walked through the swirling fog down the side street toward the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, the younger man said just two words, “Hey, what’s….” That was all he could say as a black ceramic knife plunged into his throat. He was pushed into the space between two houses, a space where the trash cans were stored. The man with the scarf worked rapidly as a dog in one of the houses began to bark. Cuts, slashes, and incisions left the face of the soon to be dead young addict unrecognizable. It was quick, savage, and merciless. His eyes were wide with terror, while he still had them. One final rip across the throat ended his fright. The dog continued to bark as the camera emitted a single flash of light

“Just like I promised – no funny business.”

***

Marlee woke up with a rip-roaring headache and her throat felt like she had been eating broken glass. Even through the lingering fog she could tell that the sun was high in the sky. A bleary-eyed peek at the clock told her it was 11:18.

She crawled out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. One look in the mirror told her that last night’s party at Spider’s must have been fun.

“Why do I feel so hung over? I had a couple of beers, but…Christ on a crutch.”

Two Tylenol would help the headache, but nothing else would get better until she ate something. It had been almost 24 hours since her last real meal. She couldn’t count the bagel she’d split with Scar while they watched Dawn and John slow dance to Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. Marlee had opted for a nap before the party, assuming that there would be food at the party. If there was she’d never found it, at least nothing beyond peach pie and bagels on a wire.

She moved slowly to the kitchen and checked to see what she could fix quickly and easily. Cold cereal…puffed rice would be good. No milk. Oatmeal…no oatmeal. Marlee made a mental note to get to the supermarket before she starved to death.

Eggs. She had eggs, but the thought of breaking the shells and watching them ooze yellow and runny made her stomach gurgle in protest. Food was out for the moment.

A long hot shower and the Tylenol helped Marlee pull herself into human form. It also made the idea of the eggs more palatable, but she had no bread for toast.

“Welcome to Marlee Hubbard’s empty cupboard.”

Slipping into her sneakers and wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and sunglasses, Marlee trudged up the block toward The People’s Cafe.

“Let somebody else do the cooking this morning.”

Marlee could see that getting a table was going to be difficult. It was lunchtime and tourist season was here. She considered going across the street to the “Squat and Gobble” or up the block to “The Pork Store.” They made a decent plate of eggs and she could see that there were some empty tables.

A rap on the window pulled her attention back to the cafe. Grinning through the glass was a familiar face. John, the bearded novelist and peach pie philosopher was waving at Marlee, inviting her in.

She pulled open the heavy green door and saw at once that John was not alone. Across the table sat Dawn. Marlee noticed that Dawn was wearing the same clothes she’d had on at the party the night before.

“Marlee, we saw you out there, your nose pressed up against the glass like a lost puppy. Please join us, Darlin’.”

John scooped up an empty chair from a neighboring party of three.

Marlee looked around the cafe.

“I don’t see Luco here this morning.”

“Nobody expected to,” John said. “He’s good at starting parties, but he’s lousy at finishing them. He was being poured into a cab when we left about an hour ago.”

Marlee shook her head sadly.

“He has a drinking problem, doesn’t he? I had to hold his head last night. He was just plastered.”

Dawn set down her fork.

“He has a problem, but it isn’t his drinking. He uses the booze to try to solve his problem. The poor sweetie doesn’t realize that the alcohol won’t do it.”

“He does seem to be so unhappy beneath the surface. His eyes were so sad.”

“His eyes? I know, Honey. I’ve looked at those gorgeous grays and it’s like staring at a closed door.”

John put down his own fork and laid his hand over Dawn’s.

“I’ve known him for a few years and we’ve gotten drunk together a few times. He never talks about himself or his past and after a few too many he starts muttering in Spanish. At that point he becomes no fun to be with.”

“You aren’t a lot of laughs either when you’re drunk, Darlin’.” Dawn leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Marlee was trying to decide if she should get up and order something to eat. Her head was starting to pound again.

“Darlin’,” said Dawn. “You look like you been rode hard and put away wet.”

“I feel like it, Dawn. I don’t get it. You two look fresh as a daisy.”

“You went home and slept, didn’t you, Marlee? Big mistake,” John said as he got up to go fetch Marlee a cup of coffee. “Don’t go to bed until you are prepared to stay there until Spring. Those short sleeps will kill you.”

Dawn and John were finishing up their own plates of eggs and potatoes and the sight of the greasy plates made Marlee cancel her lunch plans. The coffee was enough for now.

Letting the heat of the inky brew warm her, Marlee started to feel more alert and the warmth was helping her headache a bit. She looked out of the window at the busy people rushing by along Haight Street, all intent on their own personal missions. Her eyes were drawn to the red neon shining from “Mom’s Body Shop” across the street.

A young woman with a tattoo of a green and blue snake coiling around her neck was standing in front of the open door, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She looked relaxed, almost bored…until she looked down the block.

Her body tensed, she swore out loud and threw her cigarette into the gutter. Still muttering, she stormed back into the shop. Ten seconds later a customer scurried through the front door of the tattoo parlor. It was Dennis Thayer.

John saw him as well, and saw Marlee watching Dennis.

“You know him,” John asked?

“He lives in my building, in the apartment right above me. He’s a real strange duck for sure, but I just didn’t take him for the tattoo type.”

John’s eyed widened.

“He’s your neighbor? Move.”

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.

“Houston, Let’s Not Have Any Problems.”

I’VE STARTED THE PROCESS OVER AGAIN. Planning what is needed and what is not. We are heading off to Texas once again after a short hiatus of one month. Somehow we skipped February. I think that may be because it was a short month and we just got lazy. Ever since last July we have spent part of each month remembering the Alamo. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. It is just tiring and I guess that I tire more easily these days.

Getting ready to go there requires a surprising amount of preparation. The Pre-flight Checklist for the Apollo 11 Moon shot was shorter than ours. The Astronauts didn’t have to pick out what clothes to pack and somebody else took care of their mail delivery and feeding the cat. Of course, we don’t have to worry about wayward meteors.

Read more…

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 – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

“Oh, my dear, Sweet Marlee, you see, drugs again? It’s a plague. My deepest sympathies. San Francisco will be good for what ails you. It’s a place for new beginnings.”

“Is that what it’s been for you, Dennis?”

“It really has. I was born and raised near Boston, West Peabody, actually. Mother, Father, 2.3 children and a dog named Tippy. Eventually I got a degree in chemistry from Harvard and joined the corporate army.”

“You’re a Harvard grad and you’re working as a ‘Manly Maid’?”

“Well, yes. I was never very good in a lab coat with a logo on it. When I saw something wrong, I tried to fix it and the bosses, the empty suits in the corner offices, didn’t like that. They said that I wasn’t a ‘Team Player’ and that I didn’t see the ‘Big Picture’.  After a few years of that the American Dream and I parted ways. I came west and they can go to hell. Is there any more champagne?”

“No, I’m sorry. That’s it.”

“What about the rest of the wine I brought with the Tuna Noodle?”

“I drank it.”

“Well, damn it, Marlee. When you have guests over you have to have enough wine.”

“I’m sorry, Dennis. I thought the one bottle would be enough.”

“But it’s not enough, is it?” He turned his empty glass upside down.

Marlee felt the beginnings of a knot in her stomach.

“How am I supposed to get through this damned Sunday, Girl? You have no more champagne. I just have some cooking saki and I don’t get paid until Wednesday.” He pointed his index finger at her. “This is all your fault, Marlee.” She was beginning to be afraid that he was going to – she didn’t know what.

“Dennis, I want you to leave.”

“Leave? you want me to leave? Leave?” He swung his arm across the table and sweeping his plate and empty glass off the table. They hit the floor and smashed. He looked at her, unblinking.

She jumped when the dishes shattered, but she looked him straight in the eye and after a second saw his anger crumble, replaced with a trembling, childlike remorse. Tears began to well to overflowing in his eyes.

“Oh, Miss Marlee. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Don’t throw me out.” His hands reached out across the table to her in pleading. “I’m so sorry.”

She looked at him – this puzzling mix of Man and Boy.

“Dennis, did you take anything – medication – before you came down here this morning?”

His eyes flashed with anger again.

“Drugs? You think I’m on drugs? I hate drugs.”

“No, not drugs, Dennis, but medicine, maybe, from your doctor?” The fire in his eyes banked.

“Medicine? Of course I take medicine. It’s for my back. I stoop and bend a lot doing the housecleaning. That’s hard on the back.”

“Did you take any medicine this morning?”

“Yes, I took my pain medication, like every morning and every night. My back is so bad I can’t sleep at night without it. It hurts all the time.”

“OK, Dennis, I understand. It’s the pain medication and the champagne. They don’t mix very well and it’s making you…nervous.”

“Do you still want me to go home?” He was like a boy again.

“It’s not that. I just think that you need to get some rest until the champagne wears off.”

“I said I was sorry. I’ll get you another plate. Just don’t be mad at me. Don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you. I like you, Dennis, but right now I need you to be somewhere else. Won’t you help me by doing that?”

“For you, anything.”

Marlee helped Dennis to his feet and, with his arm draped over her shoulder they started slowly toward the door.

“I love you, Marlee.” His speech was a bit slurred.

“C’mon. Let’s get you upstairs.”

One step at a time they got up to the third floor and to Dennis’ front door. He carried his keys on a retractable chain clipped on his belt. Marlee opened his door and they stumbled inside. It was dark, even though the sun was bright outside.

Both of their apartments shared the same floor plan. Marlee reached out for the light switch.

When the two 100-watt bulbs in the hallway fixture lit up, she could see that the heavy shades were drawn on all of the windows and that there was very little in the way of furniture in the apartment.

The living room was empty except for a loveseat that looked like two bright red lips – A masterpiece of 1980’s kitsch. Several large plants, a large hibiscus and a pair of philodendron sat in the bay window straining for any bit of sunlight. The dining room held only three aluminum pipe garment racks filled with clothes and dozens of empty hangers.

The walls were bare, no pictures, photos or artwork of any kind.

“OK, Dennis. I’m going to put you on your bed and then I’m going home. You need to sleep this off. You’ll be fine.”
”Yes, Sir, Ma’am. I am putty in your hands.”

Marlee pushed open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. They illuminated a large, bare mattress on the floor against the wall. No pillows, sheets or blankets covered the blue flower-print fabric.

Unlike the rest of the apartment, the walls in the bedroom were decorated with hundreds of pictures. There were reprints of old Rock and Roll concert posters, a picture of Einstein sticking out his tongue at the world and hundreds of photographs of Haight Street.

Some of the photos were taken at the annual Haight St. Street Fair showing thousands of people filling the street, all of them intent on music, beer and revelry.

There were snapshots of both groups and individuals. Storefronts on Haight Street were shown in 8 x 10 glossy prints.

Marlee noticed that mixed in with the pastiche of photographs were several pictures showing Luco Reyes. She also saw one showing Luco sitting at a table inside the People’s Cafe…talking with her.

Rather than question him now about the pictures and maybe get him antagonized again, Marlee just wanted to get him onto his mattress and then get out of there.

They moved across the room, the glossy paper sending flares of light across the ceiling. Marlee staggered under her load and they both fell against the closet door.

“I love you, Marlee.”

“I know. I know. Let’s get you to sleep.” She tried to push him toward the mattress, but he pushed back, pinning her to the door.

“I love you, Marlee,” he said again, only this time there was an insistent edge to it as he pressed his body against hers and clamped his hand tightly on her breast.

“No! Dennis, stop!”

He squeezed harder. A mixture of pain and panic washed over her. He lowered his head, trying to kiss her lips.

Over the years since she had reached puberty, Marlee had had to contend with the unwanted attention and the crude gropings of both men and boys. In college she had taken a self-defense class sponsored by the local Rape Crisis Center. She knew how to stop an attacker.

Dennis didn’t react to her first knee to his groin. Credit that to the painkillers. The second attempt was a direct connection between kneecap and testicles.

A half-swallowed scream came from Dennis as his grip loosened and he stumbled back, tripped on the corner of the mattress and fell on his side. He immediately curled into a fetal position and vomited.

Marlee was surprised by the reaction to her defensive move. This was the first time she had ever had to use it. She watched him writhe in pain. She also saw her Eggs Benedict and champagne brunch staining his shirt and the blue mattress cover.

She knew that he was no immediate danger and that when he finally realized what he had done, he would be mortified. But right now she didn’t care about that. He was in agony and on the floor, she had put him there and that was alright with her. He earned it.

She took a quick look around the room. There were a half a dozen single-use cameras on the floor in the corner. She picked one up and took picture after picture of Dennis puking his brains out. When the film ran out she tossed the camera on the mattress, walked over to the wall and tore down the photo of her and Luco.

With one last look at Dennis, she walked out of his apartment, leaving his front door wide open.

“Better check your locks, Dennis.”

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

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She loved to shop and it didn’t matter for what. However, this shopping excursion was joyful in a special way. It was all to bring pleasure to a new friend.

Marlee had promised Dennis Thayer a Sunday breakfast, but she decided that a brunch would be better, more civilized. So, here she was, going up and down the aisles at Cala Foods, the only true supermarket on Haight Street.

The menu she had settled on would be: a fruit cup, orange juice, Eggs Benedict, asparagus and affordable champagne. “Hey, if you’re going to do it, do it right” she mumbled to herself as she perused the wine aisle.

It had taken three days of Mall crawling to get the comfortable furniture and accessories that gave her an apartment that would let her prepare and serve her brunch. It would be hard to make a decent hollandaise when you didn’t have so much as a wooden spoon to your name. Now her kitchen, while still short on counter space, sported a clean, hi-tech look.

“God bless Sears and in Kitchen-Aid we trust.”

Her credit cards were melted around the edges from creating her new home, but, at least, money was not an issue. Phillip and MetLife had done a lot of business. She was far from rich, but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese would be on the menu only by choice.

A full refrigerator always made Marlee feel secure and safe from just about anything.

“If you have a roof over your head and food in the ice-box nothing can hurt you” – So said her Nana Antonia, a child of the Great Depression. One look at her shopping cart and Marlee knew that she was safe for at least a week.

The next morning she was up early, dusting, rearranging and even primping a bit, anxious to play hostess.

She hadn’t cooked for anyone in a long time. After Phillip’s death Marlee moved back in with her parents where she and her mother slipped back into their earlier roles. Marlee was no longer an independent woman. She was a daughter in her parent’s home.

But now, here in San Francisco, a continent away, in her own apartment, she was herself again. She was again – period.

Finally, everything was ready to go. She wouldn’t finish the cooking until Dennis arrived.

“Oh, my God. When is he coming? We never set a specific time.” She looked at her watch. It was almost 10:45. She couldn’t wait any longer. She nervously tapped her toe on the new area rug from Pier 1, and then she remembered what Dennis had said. She grabbed the sponge mop from the closet, went into the parlor and gave three sharp raps on the ceiling with the mop handle. The glass lighting fixture rattled. She tried three more taps, but with a little less vigor. Sweeping up fallen plaster was not the way to kick off a Sunday brunch. From up above she heard a muffled voice yelling something and three quick taps on the floor.

Hearing his acknowledgment of her signal Marlee returned to the kitchen to pour the orange juice and get the champagne glasses from the dish rack. She held one up to the light to check for spots.

“Miss Marlee, you have really got to check your door locks.” Dennis was peeking around the corner of the kitchen doorway.

Marlee jumped in surprise and a champagne glass went flying toward the ceiling. She grabbed at it and only managed to knock it higher still. Her guest moved into the room and deftly plucked it from the air.

“He makes the catch and the crowd goes wild!”

“Jesus H. Christ, Dennis, you scared me half to death. How did you…?”

“Your door was open. I knocked and it just swung open.”

Marlee leaned back against the sink still trying to get her heart back into her chest.

“Everything’s OK, girl.” He held up the champagne glass. “Why don’t you fill this with something for me while I show you what I brought?” He stepped back into her hallway while Marlee wrestled the cork out of the chilled bottle with barely a whisper of protest from the champagne. As she started to pour the Napa Valley bubbly, he reappeared holding a small bouquet of red and white tulips.

“Ta-Da! I brought flowers. I figured that you’d already have some, but you can never have enough beauty in your life, I always say.” She took the tulips with her left hand as she held out a glass, filled to overflowing. He moved closer and sipped at the champagne while she still had it in her hand. He put his hand on hers to steady the glass. “Mmm, very nice. Thanks. Every day should start with champagne and tulips.”

Marlee smiled even though she felt a bit awkward about his touch. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. He took the glass from her hand.

“I’m glad you brought the flowers. I totally forgot. I’ve been so busy this week.”

Dennis retreated a couple of steps and set his empty glass on the stove.

“Well then, it’s a good thing I picked them up. And…I’ve got something else for you, a little housewarming gift.”

“Oh, Dennis, you shouldn’t have. What is it?” His enthusiasm was contagious.

He turned his back to her, reached into his shirt and spun back around holding up a small hardcover edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass.”

I just thought you might like it. It’s one of my favorites, always has been.” He held it out to her and gave her a small, but courtly bow.

“Thank you, Dennis. It’s a favorite of mine too. I had a copy, but I guess I lost it in the move.”

“Movers – they’ll steal you blind. Refill?” He held up his empty glass and in a very bad English accent asked, “Could I have some more, please?”

While Marlee began assembling the food, Dennis put the flowers into a glass wine carafe that Marlee had picked up for just that purpose. He set them in the middle of her round, butcher-block dining room table. The red cloth napkins matched well with the tulips. He squinted at the table and picked up one of the knives, giving it a quick heft as he examined the design. “K Mart or Target? Oh, Miss Marlee, you need lessons.”

“What’s that?” Marlee was behind him holding two steaming plates. He took the plates and set them by the napkins. “I was just saying how lovely your table setting looks. Really quite elegant. Your flatware is to die for.”

It was a pleasant little brunch, as brunches go. The food was tasty. The champagne bubbles tickled the palate just right and the conversation wandered from topic to topic. Eventually it took on a more personal tone. Dennis drank steadily as they exchanged bits and pieces of their histories.

Marlee gave him the basic facts about what brought her to San Francisco.

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

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Marlee chose the opposite side of the street for her return trip down Haight Street. She saw chilly tourists renting inline skates and bicycles for a high-speed zip through the Park. She resisted the barker’s pitch, from a chubby girl dressed in black, to step into “Cold Steel” for a piercing of the soft tissue of her choice. The list of possible sites made Marlee feel very “Ohio.”

“It must be a California thing,” she thought.

Seeing the bounteous display of produce at the Haight Street Grocer for the second time, she couldn’t resist the huge Navel oranges or the pencil thin fresh asparagus. It would be perfect with her Eggs Benedict for Sunday’s meal with Dennis Thayer. After all, she did promise him a brunch.

Even though she was just a block from home, she decided to stop for a cool drink. She didn’t

want this excursion to end.

“The People’s Cafe”, near the corner at Masonic Street, was large and airy, with tall sliding windows that made it an inviting oasis and a prime location for idle time people watching.

Marlee looked over the large menu board mounted high on the wall behind the sparkling display case that teemed with decadent pastries.

The cafe was only half full this time of day. The tables were populated mainly with locals, sipping coffee and chatting. Off in the far corner sat one bearded neighborhood denizen, madly scribbling another novel that no one would ever read. It was almost the cliché of a San Francisco Coffee House.

“And what can I get for you today?”

Marlee lowered her gaze from the menu and into a pair of gentle gray eyes that sparkled like dusty diamonds.

“What would you like?”

“Oh, something cool and refreshing, I think.”

He smiled and his words came to her ears with an almost lyric quality wrapped in a warm baritone.

“Ah, there’s nothing better after a morning in the cosmic heat of The Haight.”

Small lines formed at the corners of his eyes. His lashes made her think of a dozing cat. She noticed a small cleft in his chin and wondered if it made it hard for him to shave in the morning.

“I’ll tell you what, you have a seat and I’ll bring you something that will cool the fire on your brow and fuel the passion in your heart.”

She found a table by the window, but instead of watching the passing parade she found herself staring at the barista with the beautiful eyes.

“He is delicious, isn’t he?”

“Excuse me?” said Marlee. The interrupting voice broke her trance. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

Sitting at a nearby table was a woman who had been pretty ten years ago.

“Luco – He’s gorgeous, isn’t he? But put your tongue back in your mouth, Dearie. He may flirt with you and whisper slivers of his poetry in your ear, but he’s not a man for the long haul. Trust me. I know.”

“I’m sorry, but what are you talking about?” People in Cleveland didn’t just talk to strangers like this.

“She’s saying that she’s upset because I never asked her to spend a month making love on the beach in Baja. Am I right, Marjorie?” The barista wiggled a finger in reprimand as he smiled tenderly at the woman. She deflated under his gaze. Obviously, she still carried around a long-term, and unextinguished, torch.

Marlee looked up into the smooth face of the man with the gigawatt smile. He had a large pastel blue cup and saucer in his hand.

“May I join you for a moment? I made this for you. It’s my personal favorite – espresso, steamed milk with a shot of amaretto, and a single clove, for luck.”

He didn’t wait for her answer as he slid into the empty chair across the table from Marlee.

This warm spot of male light was Luco Reyes, a 15th generation Californian. His family had come to the New World with the first wave of Spanish explorers. He reflected the lineage of the Grandees along with the gifts of other visitors to the Pacific coast, including the Imperial Russian Dynasty.

Just shy of six feet tall, he wore his jet-black hair cut short for convenience. He was not a man who fussed over his looks. He was the man who was there in the mirror the first thing in the morning.

His face was lightly tanned; a healthy glow laid on a complexion the color of tea with just a touch or two of cream.

Luco Reyes kept himself physically fit, but not like a 7-day-a-week gym jockey. Underneath his chambray shirt he had the spring-loaded muscularity of a Middleweight boxer. His body answered with the fast reflexes and easy confidence that didn’t require “muscle shirts” to advertise their presence.

He had the quick wit and romantic heart of the poet that he was. He wrote at night in his flat on Stanyan Street above the bicycle shop. From his windows he had a view of the entrance to Golden Gate Park and the playground and carousel beyond. His poems were long and dynamic, with sensuous imagery and a desperate sadness.

At the cafe he flirted shamelessly and fell in lust hourly, but rarely let it go further than a wink, a smile and the occasional nibble on a very willing earlobe.

As Marlee had just discovered and the woman in the corner could not let loose of: one simple flex of his shoulders or a smiling moment in his focus and you knew that this was a man who could make your eyes roll back in your head and let you forget to go home and feed the cat.

“I hope you like it.”

“Oh, I’m sure that I will. It smells wonderful. Thank you.”

“Please, call me Luco and welcome to the neighborhood. I hope you stay here a long time.”

“How did you know that I’m new here? Does Cleveland show that readily?”

“Not really, but tourists don’t buy asparagus for souvenirs and I’ve never seen you in here before. I would remember you.”

Marlee took a sip of the coffee. It was delicious with an exotic overtone that invigorated her and yet relaxed the tight muscles in her neck. It was her new favorite thing in San Francisco.

Luco looked back at the counter area. Customers were beginning to get impatient.

“I have to get back to work, but stay and enjoy the coffee, my treat.” He started to get up. He smelled of cinnamon.

“Thank you very much…Luco.”

“For you…always, my pale beauty.” He slipped away from the table leaving Marlee to wonder if the warm glow she was feeling was from the shot of amaretto or from the new man who had obviously just entered her life.

“I warned you, Dearie. He’s inside you now. You’re hooked. You didn’t notice that he never asked you for your name, did you? He never will.”

Marlee tuned out the hopelessly desperate woman in the corner. She sipped her coffee and forced herself to look at the strangers passing by outside the open window.

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

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She slept through the rest of the night deeply and motionless. When she awoke, the morning sun was coming over the treetops in Buena Vista Park across the street from 1298 Haight Street. Apartment Number 6 was warm and this newcomer to the California Dream knew that there were things to do, memories to be created.

The floors in San Francisco are as hard as anywhere else. One night sleeping on the whiskey colored wood was enough to establish the purchase of a bed as priority number one.

The next night she would sleep on crisp white sheets with soft new pillows and warm blankets to enhance her peaceful dreams.

Her alarm clock on her second morning on Haight Street was a chorus of sharp cries and squawks from outside the bay window. She opened her eyes and slowly focused on the world just in time to see streaks of red, green and blue flash across her field of vision.

She learned later that, years ago, no one remembers exactly when, a number of parrots kept as pets either escaped their cages or were abandoned by shortsighted owners. These parrots soared into the palm and eucalyptus trees of San Francisco and sired new flocks throughout the city. In the mornings and at sunset they spread pallets of color in the air as they soared and glided across the urban landscape. St. Francis would be pleased.

With the morning sun washing through her windows, Marlee drifted lazily in that creamy pool between asleep and awake. Dreaming still, but becoming aware of the world around her. Sounds and motions incorporated into those last minute dreams and cozy never felt so good. The transition from the one world to the other became a luxurious slide of absolute sensory perfection where everything was as it should be and there was no need to hurry.

1298 Haight Street was an old building by San Francisco standards. Built just before the 1906 earthquake and fire that redrew the city map, the pale pink stucco and terra cotta tiled roof made an imposing presence on the corner of Haight and Central. Four stories tall it dominated the corner of Haight and Central. It marked the start of the commercial section of the Upper Haight neighborhood. For the next seven blocks there were shops and galleries that catered to the tourists who were looking for traces of The Summer of Love to take back home to where that Summer was only 1967.

Inside apartment #6, standing in front of the long mirror hung over the bathroom door, Marlee combed out her hair. She had let it grow out to shoulder length, straight and pale blonde, almost white. When taken with her translucent skin it made people think that she was Swedish, but her ancestry was Welsh. Welsh, with some Viking invader blood 1000 years old in the mix. Her eyes were green, almost the shade of the ocean just before it drops off into the deep.

5’8” tall and slim, “boyish” her 10th grade Phys. Ed. teacher had called her. It was never a figure that made men turn their heads as she walked by. Her fine blonde hair and the music in her hips did that.

Her wardrobe was distinctly Midwest Rust Belt plain. It was excessively Earth-toned for a young attractive blonde in California, but she perked up her look with a vibrant scarf and some jewelry. It would do, she thought, as she opened the front gate, set to meet her new neighborhood.

Taking her time, not wanting to miss anything, Marlee window-shopped and ambled into the eclectic commerce of Haight Street.

She considered the latest Rave fashions on the rack at “Housewares”, all to the driving techno-beat from the in-house disc jockey. The iguanas sunning themselves in the window didn’t seem to mind.

She laughed out loud as she looked through the Anarchist Collective Bookstore. Their display of pamphlets and political screeds loudly denounced the capitalism at which they were so dismally failing. Signs trumpeting a “Half-Price Sale” and “Clearance” were everywhere, alerting the three lost-looking teenage browsers that they too could join the Revolution at a discount.

Showing that The Haight sold more than recycled bad ideas and hipster fads, there was “Kids Only.” A sunlight filled shop that catered to the families in the neighborhood with plush toys and dolls sweet enough to melt the heart of any six year-old and probably Mommy and Daddy too.

Marlee also saw the casualties of The Haight’s decades long war with the mythology of drugs. Young men and women, some of them really children yet, stumbled up and down the sidewalks with tombstones in their eyes.

“Spare change” was their mantra. Most were runaways or throwaways living on the street or in nearby Golden Gate Park. Their daily objective being to get the cash to buy a slice of pizza and a sufficient dose of heroin or crack or crystal meth to get them through another fearful day and night. If the money was tight the pizza would wait until tomorrow.

This part of her new neighborhood bothered her, but she knew that her spare change would only end up, eventually, in a zippered body bag.

She quickly adopted the long-time resident’s defensive stare that set her apart from the more vulnerable tourists. “See the young druggies, but do so with disdain.” Today was to be a day for happy exploration. She decided to not be drawn into anything that would ruin that idea.

At the “Haight Street Grocers” a sidewalk display of fruits and vegetables fanned out with colors as vivid as any tie-dye in the window of the nearby T-shirt shop.

Passing on her many opportunities to buy shiny black leather and metal studded clothing; she ended up at Stanyan Street. Here the urban gave way to the bucolic wonder of Golden Gate Park, a horticultural masterpiece of nature-defying greenery that extended all the way to the ocean.

Marlee crossed from the world of the hip, the hopeless and the California Dreamers and entered a more gentle land where manicured lawns, rhododendron groves, and lawn bowlers dressed in white, lowered the adrenaline level of life.

She was enjoying the feel of the sun on her face. She knew that she would be pink in minutes. Sunscreen was added to her mental shopping list.

In a city of surprises she was getting used to the unexpected. Just a two minute walk from one of the busiest streets in the city she found herself sitting on a wooden park bench listening to children squeal with delight as they swooped down a corkscrew sliding board and scaled a three-dimensional plastic maze.

The centerpiece of the playground was a carousel with hand carved and painted fantastic animals going around and around to the tinny music that comes from only the best carousels. It was a glorious piece of 19th century America still enchanting the children of the 21st. Marlee hugged the slender neck of the grinning giraffe as she whirled inside an eddy of flashing lights and laughing babies. This was starting out to be a very good day.

 

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

“I think it’s white wine with tuna noodle, isn’t it.”

Marlee took the plates and utensils from his hands and headed into the kitchen. They filled their plates and adjourned to the still sunny space by the Bay window.

In the early evening, with the sun dropping off the edge into the Pacific Ocean, a golden light washed over The Haight. It gave everyone out on the street a healthy “only in California” patina. It looked like Shangri-la.

The warmth and the unreal light made Marlee feel – awake and alive. It was her first addictive taste of California.

“These are the best seats in the house. You must know somebody,” her guest teased.

“I know the chef.”

“I hear that he’s wonderful – and cute too.”

They bantered back and forth as they ate and enjoyed the Napa Valley ‘Table White’ wine.

Dennis Thayer sipped at his glass, nursing it for almost an hour. Over the casserole Marlee learned a little more about this genial stranger who lived up the stairs.

“I work for a housecleaning service – ‘Manly Maids.’ It’s a job, hardly a career. What about you?” he asked.

“I’m a classical musician. I play the cello. I’m in between jobs right now, but I do have an audition coming up soon – I hope.”

“Aren’t we all between jobs, really? I fancy myself a Photographer. More wine, Marlee? May I call you Marlee?”

“Of course, Dennis. We are neighbors. You know, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome. My first full day in my own place in San Francisco and I get a home cooked meal. Is everyone so friendly here?”

“Not by a long shot, sister. Under the icing on this cake is a dirty spoon. So, pick your way carefully. This is a tough and dangerous city and The Haight can be one of its toughest neighborhoods.”

“Really? What about all that, ‘Peace, Love and Patchouli’?”

“Honey, that’s all flummery. Always has been. The tourists come here looking for ‘The Summer of Love’ and end up with some junkie poking a knife in their bellies.”

This was the first dark cloud on Marlee’s sunny view of her new hometown.

“The whole ‘hippie’ thing is really just a kind of nostalgia for things that never were.”

He saw that the smile had disappeared from her face and that her eyes were lazily focused on the last rays of light still hiding on the Pacific horizon.

“Oh, now look what I’ve done. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bum you out. It’s not as bad as I paint it, really. I’m just a cynic. You’ll love it here.

“Tomorrow you get out of this apartment and explore the neighborhood. Waste some money on trinkets and beads. Get a tattoo. Just remember, not all the people in The Haight are as nice as me. If they were you’d be up to your hips in tuna noodle casserole.”

 As the sun set Marlee flipped on the overhead lights. With no curtains or blinds on the windows yet she felt like they were on display, exposed.

“Dennis, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome here. It’s been fun, but I have had a long day and I think that I need to just collapse and get some sleep.”

“Of course. I’ve talked your ears off and fed you like a fatted calf.” He started gathering up the dishes. She moved to help him, but he protested.

“I’m the ‘Manly Maid’ here. Let me do this. I’m a professional. You want to help? Here – go put the wine away in your fridge for another day. Go, play wine stewardess while I bus this station.”

“Dennis, you are a real gem. As soon as I get set up I’ll have you down for brunch. I insist.”

“Fabulous, Miss Marlee! You just rap on the ceiling when the eggs are ready.”

“It may be a couple of weeks or so. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to make this place a home.”

“Whenever.”

Marlee took the wine into the kitchen. She had had a thoroughly delightful time with her new neighbor. The wine bottle would be the first thing in her new, ancient, fridge.

In the other room, Dennis scooped up everything in his tablecloth, one big bundle to be sorted out later. As he headed toward the door he walked past the cardboard boxes filled with books waiting to be unpacked. He smiled as he picked up her slim paperback copy of “Leaves of Grass” and slipped it silently into his shirt.

Fiction Saturday — “Haight Street” – Part One

 

 

 

Fiction Saturday —

“Haight Street” – Part One

 

 

Today is the beginning of an experiment for me and, by proxy, for you as well as I start posting a new/unfinished novel as it is being written. This is a First Draft of

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

It couldn’t have been more different for Marlee Owens. There had always been someone to turn to. There had always been Phillip. He was the kind of man who could hold her hand and go for a quiet walk on a busy street. Now she had to rely on herself.

Now that Phillip was dead.

Aside from her music, her world had revolved around him. Until one night, walking back to their car after a Wednesday “date night” movie,  a sixteen year-old addict stepped out of the shadows, decided that Phillip had “looked at me funny” and put four inches of tempered steel into Phillip’s left ventricle. He might as well have put the knife into Marlee’s heart as well.

Her parents and friends tried to comfort and help her, but they had no real idea of what to do. If it had been a divorce they could have managed something, but how do you comfort a woman who has had her husband butchered before her eyes? What do you say to a young widow who had so much blood on her that night that the paramedics thought that she had also been stabbed?

Marlee was drowning in Cleveland.

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Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… THE CONCLUSION

Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… THE CONCLUSION

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine

 

The sunset over Lake Pend’Oreille was a soft orange color, going to red. It promised calm waters and good sailing come morning. A few lights were beginning to switch on in the houses near the waterline. The smells of wood smoke and family suppers being cooked mixed and drifted over the lakeshore.

There were few tourists left with the holiday season approaching. Only those people who were planning to winter over remained. For them, this part of Idaho was home. It was a place where your thoughts, your opinions and your past were your own business and nobody else’s.

On a quiet, tree-lined street, a few blocks up from the small business district, a young boy on a bicycle pedaled along the leaf-strewn sidewalk. He passed the white frame house with the steeply pitched roof and lobbed a rolled-up newspaper onto the front porch.

The screen door opened and a woman wearing khakis and a wool shirt stepped out. The air was cool, yet inviting. The first hard frost was still a week or two away in this part of the state. She sat down on the top step and unfolded the Sandpoint Mountain Tribune.

In the remaining light of the autumn day, she took her time reading the front page and then turned to the national news section. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked at the photograph in the center of the page. She had seen that picture before. Tears began to flow down her cheeks as she read the accompanying story.

“U.S. Calls Off Womanhunt”

 

“Department of Justice and DEA officials announced today that they were calling off their nationwide search for Beverly Deltino, the fugitive wife of New York crime figure, Dominic Deltino. FBI Regional Director Morris Bland said that Mrs. Deltino, who was wanted in connection with the death of an undercover DEA operative, was herself, deceased. ‘We are satisfied that she was killed while attempting to flee the country, in a shootout at the U.S. – Mexican border, near Tijuana. We are no longer looking for Mrs. Deltino and we consider her case closed.’

“It was also announced that Mrs. Deltino’s husband, a suspect in a number of underworld enterprises himself, was also deceased, apparently, by his own hand.”

The woman stood up and crossed the porch toward the door. She opened it and walked into the rented house, wiping a tear from her eye. She cleared her throat before calling out.

“Davis, let’s eat out tonight.”

 

Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 38 Continued

Fiction Saturday

“Dominic, killing us won’t solve anything,” said Laura. “What’s done is done. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that Graciella was the law. I ran away from you because I wasn’t going to take you beating up on me anymore. If I’d wanted you dead all I had to do was ask my father and you’d have disappeared.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about hitting you, Beverly. You know something, Bette? Beverly here has a mean one-two punch. She knocked out a tooth of mine once. See, back here.” Dominic opened his mouth and pointed to a gap in his teeth with the barrel of his gun.

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