Monday, November 6, 2023

Just Released A New Novel

My novel, Once Upon A Time In Chicago, has just been
released.  The novel is available at Amazon digitally or in paperback. Give it a read. You will like it. 

A little more than four months ago, I was writing a novel. I didn’t have writer’s block but writer’s reality. The ideas for the novel were embedded in my mind. The direction of the novel was clear—reality set in. The novel I had worked so hard to develop was predictable. At least that is how it appeared to me.

At that time something kept turning over and over in my mind. It was a personal experience during the summer of 1964. I asked myself why the events of that summer repeatably rear its menacing head.  

When I was seventeen, my parents had me stay with a family in Chicago. It was 1964; innocent years by today’s standards. Once Upon A Time In Chicago is based on that week. 

The story has been told to a few friends. And again, why do I keep telling it? I don’t know. 

That became the seed for my next novel, Once Upon A Time In Chicago. It was easy to write. Bear in mind, much is fiction. Some events are exactly as remembered. 

Immediately, I feared the story would not be long enough for book-length. In my mind, that is around thirty thousand words. Things happen when you start writing. In my case, I remembered more. And I expanded on events; giving them more texture, purpose, and background. 

Now I can put that episode in my life to rest. It’s out of my mind and on the page. It’s for all the read.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Forever Rain

She knitted. I read.
Two leather Queen Ann chairs faced the window separated by an end table with two cups of coffee on it. Beyond the window, rain as far as the imagination could carry.
It was a fall rain. It sprinkled on the deck overlooking the small lake that lapped against its pilings. The gray sky did little to dull the brightness of the maples bordering the shores, red and yellow like a blazing fire. The rain fell steady as a heartbeat with little to no variation; small drops like the tears of God and angels endlessly splashing on the deck, lake, and roof. The sound was like an endless draw on a chorus of violins.
Behind us, the crackle of a low fire in a stone fireplace; just enough to chase away the chill and dampness.
“How long did the weatherman say it was going to rain?” she said.
“Forever,” I said.
“They are getting more accurate at weather forecasting these days,” she said.
“I hope so,” I said.

Friday, September 29, 2023


Todd saw dark gray clouds gather in the distance shortly after sunup. He grabbed a shovel from the garage and set it next to the house's back door. He went inside and warmed his hands over a potbellied stove in the kitchen. 
Todd tuned into the local radio station and stood with his back to the stove. The weather report forecasted a winter storm. 
Todd hustled outside, not putting on his coat. In his arms, he cradled a stack of split wood that he gathered from a lean-to shed. 
Todd cut and split two cords of wood two months earlier. He stacked it in the small lean-to shed a few yards from the back door. He did not have far to walk to retrieve firewood. He used to stack it away from the house, into the woods, fifty yards from the house. Although invigorating, when temperatures hovered around zero and below, it was brutally numbing in the dread of winter. 
He added the wood to what already was stacked beside the fireplace in the living room. He tossed two pieces in the fire and steadied them with the poker.
He heard Myra come up from the cellar stairway that was in the kitchen. 
Todd walked into the kitchen. 
“Cold enough for you?” Myra said. 
“Yeah,” Todd said. “I checked on the animals.”
“How they doing?” Myra said.
“No complaints,” Todd quipped.
“Did you hear the weather report?” Myra said.
“Yeah,” Todd said, “the clouds in the west, looks like they’re full of snow. I made sure everything was tied down. I don’t want to be repairing a barn door with the wind whistling up my pant leg.”
Within an hour the snow came and fell heavy. The wind whistled through the pines and naked oaks surrounding the house. 
Todd watched from the kitchen window. Drifted snow collected in all the familiar places; beyond the lean-to shed, near the garage, and just beyond the fence around the barn.  Myra opened a jar of canned tomatoes. She poured them into a pan on the stove.
“What are you fixing?” Todd asked.
“I thought chili would be just the thing for a cold winter night,” Myra said.
“You make the best,” Todd smiled, still watching the snow and wind.
“What’s the weather supposed to be?” Myra said. “It looks bad.”
“We don’t need to worry,” Todd said. “We made this house for days like this. I do worry about others and the animals. There’s the older couple down the road. I’ll give ‘em a call in a while to see how they’re doing.”
“Maybe take some chili down to them, if you can,” Myra said.
“You know what they’re like,” Todd smiled, “if I go down with a pot of chili, I’ll come back with a couple of pies.”
“They’re such nice folks,” Myra said stirring in a can of black beans.”
The aroma of chili filled the home. It combined later with chocolate chip cookies. 
As evening came the storm continued. It was difficult to know whether the snow remained falling or carried by the blistering wind.  
The wind died not long into the evening but its severity cut the electricity. The small house, five miles from the nearest town, sat in an emptiness of quiet and cold—as if a universe of its own. Any fears soon melted away with a fireplace full of crackling flames. The flicker of four candles spaced around the living room danced like ballerinas.
Todd and Myra sat near the fire on the floor leaning against the couch. Todd had his arm around Myra, and she snuggled close. Her head leaned against his chest.
“Your heart beats steady and slow,” Myra said.
“It is because you are near,” Todd said. 
“I feel warm when I’m near you,” Myra said.
“It’s the fire,” Todd quipped.
“I knew you would say that but you knew what I meant,” Myra said.
“Yes, I did,” Todd said, holding her with his other arm. “Holding you is like clinging to a rock during a storm at sea.”
“You’ve never been in a storm at sea,” Myra smiled.
“I’ve been in storms,” Todd said. “Not the weather but you know, just things in yourself that can make you feel like you’re drowning.”
“Is something troubling you?” Myra said.
“Like I said,” Todd said, “I have you.”
“I’m glad this is happening,” Myra said. “It gives us time to think about who we are. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” Todd said. “but sometimes things like that can be depressing.”
“Why would you say that?” Myra said slightly straightening up and looking directly into Todd’s eyes. 
“How much I wanted to become someone else,” Todd said. “Something better than what I am. It’s just that every now and then I look in the mirror. It just never changes.”
“It does,” Myra said.
“No,” Todd said. “I’m the same person I was the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. There was deceit, selfishness, scheming, and ugliness.”
“I don’t see how you could possibly feel that way about yourself,” Myra said.
“If you have been with me as long as I have been with me, you’d know,” Todd said.
“Many artists see only the flaws in their own work,” Myra said. “Yet, they see the beauty in the work and talent of others and those others see only the flaws in their own work. Could it not be the same with you?”
“I would just like to be somebody else,” Todd said exasperated. 
“Then what would I do?” Myra said. 
“What do you mean?” Todd said.
“It is you that I have grown to love,” Myra said. “Yes, when we first met you were deceitful, selfish, and you schemed, but you were never ugly.”
“Were you that desperate that you had to go for someone with so little character?” Todd said.
“I would have never loved that man,” Myra said. “I saw you make changes and when I saw a complete transformation I swooped in and snatched you away before someone else did.”
Todd patted Myra on the hand. “Thank you, dear. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” Myra said. “But when the time comes I know you’ll be there for me. Above all, Todd, that is the best of you, you are always near.”
Myra settled back into Todd’s embrace.

The Defeat of Eddie Fishbones

There was this guy from the old neighborhood named Eddie Fishbones. They called him that because he was so skinny he looked like a rack of fish bones.  

Eddie Fishbones was the best stick (pool player) ever and nobody rattled him. He had nerves of kryptonite.  Some of those big shots from downtown brought their dolls with them to distract his game, but Eddie sent them back uptown every time with their billfolds a little thinner.

To give you another example of his ability to concentrate, I'll tell you about the day Kennedy got shot. 

Eddie was all set to brake and someone announced to the entire pool hall the president was dead. Eddie remained expressionless.  He made the break, ran the table, and went to St. Anthony’s to pray for Mrs. Kennedy and the children.

One day, though, Fishbones met his match.  We were all on the corner talking about the guys who came closest to Fishbones with the least spot and some new guy says he was from the north side and there's a guy there named Joey Two Thumbs who can outshoot Fishbones. 

Right then and there the match was set and a big crowd assembled at "Louie’s Pool Hall" for the show-down.

Fishbones waited for Joey Two Thumbs.  Joey Two Thumbs walked in with some of the boys from the north side and Eddie introduces himself and then he said, "How come they call you Two Thumbs? Everybody's got two thumbs don't they?" Then Eddie chuckled, sort of a nervous laugh he had ever since grade school.

Joey held up his left hand and said, "Not on the same hand." Joey displayed another thumb where his index finger should have been.  

The sight of a man steadying a pool stick with two thumbs distracted Eddie and he quickly fell behind.

After a couple of games, Eddie began to put on a real show.  He had a run of twenty-two straight.  Then some guy from the north side yelled out, "Hey Joey Five Fingers."

Eddie looked up at Joey and said, "I thought your name was Two Thumbs."

"They call me Five Fingers too," Joey said.

"But don't everybody have four?" 

Joey held out his right hand and said, "But I got five on the same hand."

Sure enough, where his thumb was supposed to be on his other hand he had an extra finger.

This made Eddie Fishbones' knees buckle and his stomach turn. Again, he gathered his composure and started another impressive run.

Another guy from the north side walked in and yelled out, "Hey Joey Three Eyes!"

Fishbones' eyes rolled back and he collapsed like a sack of soiled laundry.  

Joey Two Thumbs, Five Fingers, or Three Eyes won because Eddie could not be revived.

I said to this guy from the north side, "How come they call him Three Eyes? I don't want no demonstration, just tell me straight up."

The guy said, "He's the only Greek guy in the neighborhood and nobody can pronounce his name, but it's got three "I’s" in it."

I said, "This guy got any other nicknames?"

"Sure," he said and called out to Joey. "Hey Joey, take your nose off for these guys."

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Lance Merriweather, Frontier Coiffeur

The swinging doors of the Lone Star saloon burst open and everyone inside turned—terrified as though they expected stampeding cattle. There he stood in a shaft of light, dressed in a pink sequined vest, tight lavender stretch jeans with silver pinstripes, white cowboy boots with golden speckles, and a mauve ten-gallon hat topped with a peacock feather.

Rattlesnake McClain's puffy eyes and fat cheeks squinted in disbelief. He stood up from the poker table tossing it aside like it was made of match sticks. He pulled a sweat-soaked range hat tight on his head and hiked his soil-stiffened jeans high on his bulging belly. He adjusted his holster parallel with his arm so as to be ready for a fast draw.

"Who or should I say what are you?" Rattlesnake said with a gravel voice and wiping drool from his chin.

"I am Lance Merriweather. I am the new hairdresser in this town."

Rattlesnake heaved a full belly laugh. Everyone joined in. Rattlesnake took a match from his pocket, struck it across his barbed face, and lit a cigar. "I wanna be enjoyin’ a good cigar when I shoot ya."

Lance placed both hands on his hips, cocked his head, sashayed over to Rattlesnake and grabbed his hand. "Not with those fingernails. You're a nibbler. I can tell by how rough and uneven they are and the cuticles are filthy. "Don't you know that most diseases are transmitted by dirty nails?"

"Huh?" Rattlesnake said.

"And your hair—when's the last time it's been washed?" Lance said removing Rattlesnake's hat and fluffing his hair.

"Huh?" Rattlesnake said. "I don't know. Hey Sagebrush," he yelled to an old cowboy at the bar, "When did it rain last?"

"The night you shot Josh Dalton or was it Wagonwheel Clangston?" Sagebrush said pawing at his whiskers.

Rattlesnake scratched his head and said, "Well, either way, it's been at least three and a half months."

"What!" exclaimed Lance. "Don't you know the damage that can be done to your roots? And that odor—smells like you slept with a canine."

"I slept with my dog," Rattlesnake said. "Are they anything alike?"

"You are such a hoot," Lance said slapping Rattlesnake on the back.

"I've had enough of this sissy talk," Rattlesnake said reaching for his gun. "I'm going to plug you."

"You just wait un momento mon ami," Lance said. "See that picture of General Custer hanging on the wall. He has terrific hair don't you agree."

"Well if I say yes, does that mean anything?" Rattlesnake said."

"The point is, how would you like to have hair like that?" Rattlesnake chortled and continued, "Why sure who wouldn't? I always wanted blonde hair."

"Tisk, tisk silly boy," Lance said. "Blonde hair would not coordinate with those eyes. Just give me two hours and all the ladies over in Dodge City will be forgetting about Bat Masterson and waiting in line for you. I will make you a legend." Lance snapped his finger at Sagebrush. "Get my bags off my horse and let me go to work."

Sagebrush brought two carpet bags full of hair-styling paraphernalia into the saloon. Lance removed his hat and his long wavy blond hair cascaded down to his shoulders like a waterfall. Lance unpacked the carpet bags, spread the contents on a table, and went to work on Rattlesnake. The entire saloon watched with amazement as Lance clipped, curled, washed, rinsed, combed, and brushed.

After two hours Lance handed a mirror to Rattlesnake and proudly asked, "Well, what do you think?"

"It looks terrific!" Rattlesnake said as he fondled his locks of glistening black hair hanging like clusters of grapes.

"Now let's do something about that terrible stubble." Lance pulled a shining straight razor from his hip pocket.

"That had better be sharp," Rattlesnake said.

"It's sharp alright," said Lance. He picked up a card from the table - an ace of diamonds. He ran the razor over the face of the card and the diamond came off the card and floated onto the table. "Sharp enough for you?"

"Be careful," Rattlesnake grumbled. "I got very sensitive skin."

Lance lathered Rattlesnake's face and asked, "What do you do for a living?"

"Oh a little this and little that," Rattlesnake said. "Bank robbing, cattle rustlin‘, blackmail, train robbing, stagecoach holdups, state representative, sheriff, undertaker, and ah, ah, oh that's right preach every other Sunday."

Lance held Rattlesnake's chin back, stretching the skin tight. He slid the razor up his neck stopping at the Adam’s apple. "Don't swallow hard Rattlesnake," Lance said. "I'm liable to slit your throat. Now what were you saying about bank robbing? Two weeks ago you robbed all the savings in the bank at Dry Gulch and that was all the people there had. I'm going to return it. Where is it?"

"It's in my, my saddle bags," Rattlesnake said cautiously. "Sagebrush, go get this guy my saddle bags."

Sagebrush retrieved the saddle bags and tossed them to Lance. Lance gathered his styling equipment and sashayed to the door with Rattlesnake's saddle bags.

"Grab him!" bellowed Rattlesnake, "and let me fill him full of lead."

Several of Rattlesnake's men grabbed hold of Lance.

"Remove those sullied hands from me you vermin," Lance said slapping them away. "You won't shoot."

"How can you be so sure?" Rattlesnake said.

"Next Thursday I have a 10:30 and if you want that curl to hold you'll let me go."

"Let him go," ordered Rattlesnake reluctantly.

Lance flicked his hand at a picture hanging over the bar. "When I return, I want that disgusting picture of that beer-bellied barroom Betsy removed and a Monet in its place."

Lance walked out of the saloon, leaped on his horse, and raced out of town with a billowing cloud of dust behind them.

Everyone in the bar stood out on the sidewalk gaping at the spectacle.

"Who was that guy?" one man said.

A stranger leaning against a hitching post said, "Why that was the Lance Merriweather, The Frontier Coiffeur."

Lance and his horse stopped at the edge of town and he called back to Rattlesnake, "Use a high protein conditioner between visits—away!"

Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Squirrel Hunter

“Didja git yer squirrel?” Maude said looking up from her cup of coffee. She crossed her legs beneath the kitchen table and waited for Tom to answer.

Tom leaned his rifle against the wall next to the kitchen door and walked over to the stove. He grabbed the coffee pot and poured a cup.

“Well?” Maude said. “Ya been gone long enough. Ya shoulduv gotten a half dozen or so.”

“Didn’t git any,” Tom said. He blew the steam from the cup and sipped.

“What were ya doin’ all that time?” Maude said.

“I tromped around for a while and didn’t see any squirrels,” Tom said.

“That woods is full of squirrels,” Maude said. “I betcha I could go out there and shoot me a few b’fore noon.”

“I ‘spose ya could,” Tom said. “Ya always was good at huntin’ squirrels.”

“But there ain’t nobody as good as you,” Maude said. “Ya losin’ you’re touch?”

“Maybe,” Tom said.

“I told ya, ya need glasses,” Maude said.

“It ain’t that,” Tom said. “I kin still read a license plate from the mailbox to the curve in the road.”

“Must be the sights,” Maude said. “I told ya they was off.”

“Sights are good,” Tom said.

“Then what is it, ya lose yer taste fer squirrel?” Maude said.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Tom said.

“When it comes ta food on the table, ya better sure want to talk about it,” Maude said.

“Ya sound like we’re livin’ during the depression or somethin’,” Tom said. “If we want meat we got a freezer full.”

“I know that but ya like huntin’ squirrel,” Maude said. “And I like fixin’ it fer ya.”

“I know,” Tom said, “but—never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“This sounds deep,” Maude said. “And I ain’t leavin’ ya alone until you fess up.”

Tom sipped the coffee again. He stood in front of the kitchen sink with his back to Maude and looked out the window. An oriole fluttered to a nearby tree and danced along a limb. Two white butterflies darted playfully just above the tall grass at the edge of the woods.

“I was walkin’ out there and I stopped a good aim from a tree full of squirrels. They was a barkin’ and chatterin’ like a hen house with a fox in it but those squirrels was havin’ fun; the time of their life. I sat against a tree and waited for a clear shot. There was so many squirrels in that tree I could have spent the whole morning there. I was watchin’ and before long my eyes go heavy. I dozed off. I don’t know what woke me; I think it was the quiet. I looked just beyond my feet and there was this curious little squirrel. Well, he wasn’t little—good eatin’ size.”

Tom turned his head halfway toward Maude. “Are you followin’ me so far?”

“Sure,” Maude said, “but I’m not so sure you know where yer headin’.”

“There’s something ‘bout the woods,” Tom said turning and gazing out the window again. “Ya kin be havin’ a bad day at work, ya come home and take a walk in the woods and it’s all gone; every bad thing, dark thoughts, every curse, every clinched fist—ya just let it go. I read where the leaves absorb CO2. I think they absorb other things—things of the mind—things only felt and not seen or measured. Do you understand me?”

“Have ya been wathin’ that public channel?” Maude said.

“That squirrel looked right into me and saw everything about me and yet he was willin’ to spend a moment to give me some joy. I slowly raised my rifle to my shoulder and took aim. He was maybe 15 feet away. I watched him through my sights. I wrapped my trigger finger around the trigger. I smiled a bit. My trigger finger trembled. I relaxed my finger. I sat the rife down. That squirrel came up to me and sort of nudged me with his nose as if to say move over.”

“Well?” Maude said.

“Well, what?” Tom said.

“Didja move over?” Maude said.

“Of course,” Tom said. “It’s his territory. He roots around a bit and digs up an acorn. He brought it over to me and dropped it in my hand.”

“That’s a crazy story,” Maude said. “I don’t believe it.”

“Maude,” Tom said. “I don’t think I can ever kill another livin’ creature.”

Sunday, August 27, 2023


A small bar sat near the beach on John Smith Island. The bar is named in honor of John Smith. It’s called Smithery’s and dubbed “Where you go to get hammered.”  This is where John Smith likes to be. 

He gazed at the ocean and no one knew for sure how many oceans John had seen or what adventure was just over the horizon. 

No one knew where his imagination took him, but if it took him anywhere his reality had already been there. There was nothing he could not relate to or speak about for he was a man who experienced only what many men dare imagine. 

A tourist sat next to John at the bar.

“What do you see, the ocean or the waves?” the tourist asked.

“Why do you ask?” John said sipping a margarita. 

“I want to see what you see,” the tourists said.

“You are at least five margaritas behind me,” John said. “When you catch up with me you will see wonderful things. Not true, but wonderful.”

John turned to the bartender. “A pitcher of margaritas for my friend and me.”

After two hours John left the man at the bar in a stupor. 

“A man who can’t hold his liquor has no place in my ocean,” John said as he paid the bartender and walked to the shore.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Three Ways To Win A Fight

Doug and Woody were burr-headed recruits far from home just walking into a noisy smoke-filled beer hall that was saturated with the stench of cheap booze.
They bought a mug of beer each at the bar and looked for a table. They spotted one and hurried to it before somebody else claimed it.  They sat and had a couple of sips of beer. They scanned the room.
“I think we’re the only guys in basic training in this place,” Woody said. “We don’t have a stripe or a medal.”
A Marine corporal in a form-fitted khaki shirt and pressed pants walked up to the table Woody and Doug sat. He had enough ribbons to name a building after him. He held a mug of beer with a hand the size of the mug. He had the face of a clean-shaven bulldog.
“You two are going to have t leave,” the marine said. “I got some buddies comin’ and I said I’d have a table for them.”
“We could all sit together,” Doug said. 
The Marine smirked, “You got to be kidding me. We ain’t sittin’ with Army recruits. That’s funny.”
“But we were here first,” Doug said. “We’re willing to share the table with you.”
“And we all become buddies,” The Marine said sarcastically. 
“What’s fair is fair,” Doug said.
“My god, boy, did you just come off the playground, ‘What’s fair is fair?’” The Marine said. “How ‘bout might makes right? Get up and find some corner to drink your beer in.”
Woody started to stand.
 “No, Woody,” Doug said, “we ain’t movin’.”
Woody was caught between a stand and a sit. His last swallow of beer was about to meet the one he held in his mouth.
“Sit,” Doug said.
“Have your way, ya grubs,” the Marine said. “I’m sitting my mug down. I’m going to take a leak. When I return the only thing at this table better be this beer. If not, I’m going to show ya what it’s like to have a real ass kickin’.”
The Marine sat the mug down and walked away.
"There are three ways I can win this fight," Doug said just above a whisper to Woody. 
The sat motionless and sipped the beer. 
“Let’s just spit in his beer and leave,” Woody said.
“He won’t start anything,” Doug said, “besides I got three ways to win this fight.”
"I don't think so." Woody said. “Did you see him making his way through the crowd as if a bulldozer? Everybody in this place is afraid of him. I don't think we could take him together." 
They sipped some more and waited.
Woody’s eyes searched for the nearest exit and nodded toward one. "Let's sneak out." Woody whispered.
"He's got his eyes on every exit," Doug said looking at the Marine standing at the doorway of the latrine. "If we make a move for one of them he'll nail me."
"Go over and say something to the MP," Woody suggested.
"What am I going to say,” Doug said and feigned wiping tears from his cheek. “’That big bad Marine is going to whip my butt?' To which he’ll reply, 'Ya mind if I watch sweetie pie?' No thanks. Let’s just go."
“Nah,” Doug said. “He’s bluffing.”
"Why didn't you just let him have it?" Woody said
"Didn't think he would take it so personal," Doug said.
Woody whispered, "What are the three ways?"
“What three ways?” Doug said.
“You said there were three ways to win this fight,” Woody said.
There was no time to answer. The Marine sat across the table from Doug. "Well let's finish our beers and take it outside. My buddies will be here before long and I want a table for them," he said coldly.
"Look man can't we just forget this," Woody said smiling anxiously trying to be reasonable. "Are you sure we just can't all sit together?" 
The Marine motioned with his head toward Woody, smiled, and said to Doug, "Do ya powder his behind before ya lay him down for beddy-bye?" He said it as if reciting a line of poetry. He tilted the mug to his lips and drank without taking his eyes off Doug.
He looked over at Woody and ordered, "Hold the table for me and my buddies while me and this recruit step outside."
While Woody affirmed the command, the final gulp of beer from Doug’s mug passed his throat. He squeezed the handle of the mug as if trying to choke the life out of a snake. With a swing, he drove the bottom of the mug squarely against the jutted jaw of the Marine. There was a loud crack like a bat hitting a baseball. The Marine fell to the floor and his chair squirted across the room. Everyone expectantly rose to their feet.
"He passed out," Doug said helplessly to the beer hall crowd.
Doug looked at Woody whose eyes bulged. "That's the first way."
“Now what?” Woody said.
They left the beer hall faster than they arrived.
A few steps from the beer hall, Woody asked, “What were the other two ways?”
“I don’t know,” Doug said.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Low Lands

 "We were robbed," Carl said slamming his fist on the kitchen table. The salt and pepper shakers and utensils rattled.

Jen jerked and squinted at him. She finished drying dishes. Slowly she walked to the table and sat across from Carl. "What do you mean?" She said calmly sensing some inner frustration.

"Look at us! We're over sixty and live in 1950 something trailer in the middle of nowhere. We have no friends, no kids, nothing."

"How were we robbed?" she said.

"We both could have gotten degrees when we were in school, taught someplace and be retired, but we listened to idiot radicals like Dylan, Baez, Lennon. We thought we would all become one. We thought we could all live as equals. We bought their music, went to their concerts, and swallowed their ideology. They were nothing more than rainmakers, frauds! They all ended up with millions and we ended up with nothing."

"That was long ago," she said. "We had plenty of time to do things differently."

"But we really believed," he said emphatically. "You made and sold bead necklaces and I sold vegetables at a roadside stand. Was that supposed to show 'the establishment?' We found a better way?"

"We thought we were doing the right thing," she said.

"We should have known when we went to San Francisco to hear Dylan," Carl said. "I saw him on the street a couple of days after the concert and I asked him what was the meaning of Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands? He looked at me like trash and said 'Whatever you want it to be,' and then said, 'Get away from me.' I idolized him so much that it didn't occur to me that I was a nuisance."

"We talked about this before," she said. "He probably thought you wanted an autograph."

"I had no pen or paper," Carl said. "He was afraid I wanted a hand-out."

"You might have scared him," Jen said. "Look what happened to Lennon."

"Yeah if Lennon would have lived how many more lives would he have ruined and how many more millions would he have made?"

"Take it easy," Jen said.

"We know the truth, Jen," he said. "We know the truth. That was the day I knew we was robbed. They took our money and my dignity."

"But we have each other," she said stretching her arm across the table and holding Carl's hand.

Carl looked into her green eyes not noticing the weather-worn wrinkles surrounding them. "You are my sad-eyed lady."

"We were young, full of hope, and idealism," she said. "Weeks became years and years decades and here we are." She sighed and admitted, "Sure, we were robbed."

Carl patted Jen's hand and smiled. He got up and walked to the door and turned. "But I still have you." She watched him walk outside and work in the garden. Jen sat at the table, smiled, and began stringing beads.

Friday, August 4, 2023

A Sunset For Claire


It was unusual that Chet Winters drove his tractor into a rut because he had plowed the field for more than half of his fifty-five years. He knew the location of every rut, rock, and fence post in the field. He tried restarting, but the engine stalled.

Flooded! Dag gone it!” He thumped the stirring wheel.

He leaned against the back of the seat and propped his foot against the fender, waiting until it could be started. The sun in his face exposed every wrinkle like a sun-baked apple. Years of hard work and anxiety were etched on his forehead. His thick callused hands with fingers like little sausage links combed through his long gray strands of hair.

Peering over the tops of the spring foliage, he squinted at the most incredible sunset he had ever seen. He seldom watched the sunsets. There was always simply too much to do. The sun hung like a glowing ember behind blazing wisps of light pink and lavender. The clouds stretched above the horizon like silk scarfs freely fluttering in the wind.

How magnificent!” he whispered. Chet jumped from the tractor and walked toward the house like a field hand late for supper. He stopped to examine the field and the work he might miss. He waved it away with his hand and continued walking. A pickup truck stopped on the road next to the field. The man inside leaned toward the passenger’s door, rolled down the window, and said, “I got a chain in the back. I can pull you out.” “That’s ok. It’s flooded. I’m just walking up to the house.” “Hop in. I’ll give you a ride.” “Sure, thanks.” Chet climbed in the truck.

I don’t believe I know you,” Chet said. “You’re trying awful hard to look like a farmer, but you got city written all over ya.”

His clothing was new and stiff.

I’m Bill Thies,” he said, extending his hand. “My uncle Drew lives down the road from you. I’m on spring break from college. Uncle Drew broke his leg and I’m plowing for him.”

Chet shook his hand. “I know Drew. Known him all my life. How’s his leg coming along?”

He’ll be back on his feet in a month or so.”

Chet Winters is the name, and thanks for the lift.”

You’re a little old for college, aren’t ya?” “I teach there.”

Bill pulled the pickup onto the road. “I see, a professor. Well, I’m farm-o-cologist,” Chet grinned.

Bill laughed and said, “Chet, glad to know you. I hope you will not hold being a professor against me. I was raised on a farm.”

Nah, just never knew a college professor before,” Chet said. “Well, that’s nice of you to help your uncle out. You ought to know if ya want to fit in, ya better dirty those jeans up a bit and get some cow shit under those fingernails. The lady cashier at the elevator don’t have nails that clean.” He scratched his cheek. “What do you profess?”

I teach a course in poetry,” Bill said. “Writing it, understanding it, and studying it.”

Claire, my wife, reads and writes poetry,” Chet said. “I got opinions about poets; they’re all perverts and misdirected liberals. Most are communists. A—Claire’s not one of them though.”

Bill chuckled and said, “Perhaps some of them are. Sure I can’t help you pull the tractor out?”

Nah, I can get it myself. Just give me a ride to the house.”

Where bouts?”

Just a half mile down the road. I want to get home before the sun sets and show it to Claire.”

It is very beautiful,” Bill said.

College professor, humph! You can do better than that,”

Chet said. “That certainly is resplendent!” Bill smiled.

Claire’s got a calendar picture from a few years back of a Pacific sunset. She hung it in the kitchen. She says it is the most beautiful sunset she has ever seen. We were supposed to go to California a few years ago, but I had a heart attack. Took nearly all we had saved to get me back on our feet. She said the Ohio sunsets are just fine with her, but she’s never taken down that calendar either.”

Chet gazed at the sunset as they rolled down the road.

Bill, ya married?”


Been married for forty-four years this June.”

You don’t see many lasting that long,” Bill said.

It’s easy with a woman like Claire. That sunset reminds me of Claire’s smile. It makes me feel warm. Her smile unfolds like a blooming flower and satisfies like a soft summer breeze that rolls and rustles across a wheat field.”

You’re a poet, Mr. Winters.”

Chet squirmed and ran his hand down his face and said, “I ain’t no poet.”

There’s nothing wrong with seeing beauty in the things around you and expressing it in words.”

You’re right, there. Claire’s as wonderful as they come. She’s the only woman I’ve ever known. Ain’t kissed nobody but her either.”

The truck pulled into a stone driveway beside the house. It was a white two-story house, typical of midwestern farms. A rusted windmill next to the house twirled madly, sounding like the rumble of a crop duster.

Come on in, Bill. I’ll introduce you to Claire. She’d like to meet you. Did I tell you she reads and writes poetry?”


Oh, that’s right. Maybe she could show you some. If it don’t embarrass her.”

I’d be happy to meet your wife and read her poetry.”

Chet walked through the back porch door, with Bill behind him. Chet turned and whispered, “Better wipe our feet.”

Then he called, “Claire, got company. Drew Thies’s nephew. He’s a poetry professor.”

Chet spotted a stack of newspapers and said, “Should have been burned this morning. I better take care of them before Claire gets on me.” He sniffed, smelling the garbage overflowing the basket next to the door. “Better take care of that too.” He sat it outside the back porch door and fanned the door open and shut a few times. “Gotta get that smell out of here.”

Claire!” Chet called, “Claire! Come on out here and take a look at this sunset! It’s as pretty as that Pacific sunset! You just got to see it.” He turned to Bill. “Any minute now she’ll say, ‘Chet, hold your horses. I can’t drop everything every time you call.’”

Claire! Claire! Claire?”

He searched the house.

The professor went only as far as the dining room.

The sun cast a dull light through rain-specked windows. Although the room was cluttered, it seemed empty, void of care or breath. Bill noticed discarded unopened mail in disarray on a mahogany table covered by a white lace tablecloth. An artificial red rose centerpiece laden with dust and entombed by cobwebs. The constant tick of an oak tabletop clock on the buffet slowly relinquished its seconds. Powder blue candles in silver holders stood like sentinels at each end of the buffet. A silver knife wrapped in a white ribbon lay in front of a picture of a woman and Chet. The woman was stunning. Bill stared at the woman. The vibrant eyes, wide smile, and graceful flowing hair with silver strands made her irresistible. In the picture, they were holding the silver knife and cutting their twenty-fifth-anniversary cake. The picture had a thin layer of dust as well.

Chet entered the room with his head down. He picked up the picture, cradled it in his hand, and wiped the dust from Claire’s image with the sleeve of his shirt. He stood idle and tranquil. “What did I tell you, that’s some smile-right?”

Yes, it is indeed an exquisite smile,” Bill said.

I’m sorry, Bill, you must think I’m crazy,” Chet said, “but she’s been dead for just over a year. Sometimes it gets like this—you just get so used to her being around. I don’t feel crazy—just lonely.”

The buffet clock loudly ticked away the seconds, but it did not drown the quiet whimper of a broken, lonely man.

Of all the poetry I have come to memorize and instruct—the very moment for which such lines were written, none come to mind and nothing seems more appropriate than. I’m so very sorry, Mr. Winters. You must miss her terribly.”

Chet cleared his throat. “Can you do me a favor?”


Claire’s grave is a mile from here. I want to be with her right now. Can you drive me to it for just a minute and then maybe you can give me a hand getting my tractor out?”

Let’s go, I’ll take you there.”

At the graveyard, Bill leaned against the front of his truck.

Chet stood next to Claire’s gravestone. His right hand stroked the top of the stone. There was a nip in the westerly breeze, but the stone still held the warmth of the setting sun.

Claire,” Chet said, “You ought to see that sunset. It ain’t the Pacific, but the Pacific ain’t Ohio either.”

Chet walked back to the truck.

Thanks, Bill,” Chet said. “Can you take me home now? Let’s forget that tractor.”

Sure and how ‘bout I read some of Claire’s poetry to you,” Bill said.

She wrote one called Sunset. I think I would like you to read that one.”

Friday, April 21, 2023

R Is For Ross

 Ross is the name of the main character in a novel I am currently writing. He is a man convicted of the murders of a family. All evidence points toward him. There is nothing to exonerate him.

Ross will escape from prison. The escape is based on a prison break where I once worked. Of course, everything else is fictional.

Thus, I’m having a hard time. I enrolled late Here’s my April priority list; (1) Family visit. (2) Yardwork had to be done. (3) Furniture had to be moved. (4) Write a novel. (5) Contribute to A to Z challenge. (6) Sleep.

Monday, April 17, 2023

She Said, He Said; Never

 “If I die before you, would you find another?” She said.

Never,” he said.

Never say never,” she said.

Does that mean I can start looking?” He said.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Mundane Mildred Mahoney

 Mildred Mahoney—what a mundane life she led. She never married. When the local elementary school first opened its doors, they hired her as the secretary. She was barely beyond her teens.

She was not what you might call attractive. Plain best described her. Hardly anyone knew she was around. One might say a picture on the wall; eventually, it goes unnoticed.

About five years after being hired, the school janitor, Fred Seymour, asked for Mildred’s hand in marriage. She thought about it for a month. And when she told him, yes. He informed her he was going to marry the third-grade teacher, Tilly Yoeman.

Mildred quietly did her job. There was not a student’s name she did not know and the same with their parents.

When in the fourth grade, I was all lined up to receive a paddling. It was to be administered by Miss Crowley, the principal. She was a brutish woman who wore a scow like men wear a mustache—permanently.

I sat in the chair next to Miss Mahoney’s desk. It was like sitting on death row—waiting, waiting, waiting. Wonder about the hurt. And promising myself, no matter how it hurts, I would not cry. Truth is, I already started to cry.

Do you want to talk about it?” Miss Mahoney said.

That was the first time I heard her voice. It was sweet and tender. I thought it was an angel.

No,” I sniffed and pouted.

It will help,” she said.

I just don’t want to talk about it,” I said.

It will take your mind off things,” she said.

No it won’t,” I said.

What happened?” She said.

I hit a kid,” I said.

Who?” She said.

Tommy Baldridge,” I said.

He’s older than you, isn’t he?” She said.

He’s in sixth grade,” I said.

Yes, I know,” she said.

You know everything, don’t you?” I said.

Not everything,” she said, “except about everything that happens in this school.”

Yeah, nothing gets by you,” I said.

Can I tell you a secret,” she said, “and you promise not to tell no one else—not ever.”

I suppose,” I said.

No, I suppose,” she said, “you got to promise and never tell anyone. If you do, I could get fired.”

I don’t want you fired,” I said. “You don’t talk much but you’re nice to everybody.”

So you promise?” She said.

Swear to God and hope to die, poke a stick in my eye.”

She looked around as if to make sure nobody was within earshot. “Miss Crowly won’t do a thing unless she clears it with me.”

You make all the decisions?” I said.

Yes,” she said.

Then you’re the boss,” I said.

Not exactly,” she said, “but she thinks she is.”

Can you help me out?” I said.

Tell me about your scrap with Tommy?” she said.

He’s been pushing me around all week,” I said. “He shoved me down and kicked me in the butt. When he walked away, I picked up a rock and clunked him on the head. He started crying. I really felt bad. I didn’t want him to cry; I just wanted him to leave me alone. And that’s the truth; swear on a stack of Bibles.”

I know,” she said. “I heard some of the other kids talking about it.”

The clop of Victorian lace two-inch heeled shoes echoed from the hallway outside the office. I swallowed. My fate was sealed.

Don’t worry,” Miss Mahoney said. “I got this. But look terrified.”

I am terrified.”

Look more terrified.”

I began to shake and whimper. It was easy to do.

Miss Crowley walked into the office. I felt as if in the presence of a corpse. She frowned at me so tight I thought her face might cramp.

Fetch my paddle from the wall,” Miss Crowley ordered.

I stood.

The boy has heaved a few times waiting on you,” Miss Mahoney said. “I’m afraid the board might cause him to go into convulsions.”

I think it should bring him out of it and bring him to his senses,” Miss Crowley said.

I walked over to the wall and removed the paddle from the nail it hung on. It was shiny and smooth with three rows of holes.

You know what the holes are for?” Miss Crowley said.

No,” I said.

Well it’s not to make the sound of a whistle during the swing,” Miss Crowley said. It’s there to sting.”

She grabbed it from my hand.

Bend over and grab your ankles,” Miss Crowley said as if she were about to enjoy something.

Miss Crowley,” Miss Mahoney said, “Did you not understand what I told you about the boy’s condition.”

Yes, and did I not tell you my position,” Miss Crowley said. “His conduct must be addressed.”

But you haven’t heard him,” Miss Mahoney said.

I saw a boy with a gash and stitches,” Miss Crowley said. “That’s all I needed to see.”

I was holding onto my ankles waiting. It seemed as if all my blood ran to my head. I thought I might faint.

Oh, by the way, Miss Crowley,” Miss Mahoney said, “your housemate, Miss Carmichael said to pick up some sherry before coming home.”

Stand up,” Miss Crowley said to me.

What!” Miss Crowley said to Miss Mahoney.

I think you heard the first time,” Miss Mahoney said.

Miss Crowley squinted cruelly at Miss Mahoney. “My personal life is no concern of anybody.”

So far, since you have been principal at this school,” Miss Mahoney said, “you have paddled twenty-one boys and no girls. One might think you favor girls over boys.”

She handed the paddle to me. “Hang it up.”

Miss Carmichael and I are friends,” Miss Crowley said.

It’s nice to have friends,” Miss Mahoney said. “And I tell folks Miss Carmichael is a cousin you have promised to see after.”

People talk?” Miss Crowley said.

Yes, they do,” Miss Mahoney said.

Miss Crowley nodded toward me. “What about him? What will he say?”

He is a good boy,” Miss Mahoney said. “He knows how to keep secrets.” She turned to me. “Isn’t that right?”

Do you mean, you want me to tell kids I got the board but I really didn’t?” I said.

No,” Miss Crowley said.

Oh,” I said, “you don’t want people to know about your cousin—she can’t make it on her own.”

Come to think of it,” Miss Mahoney said. “If anybody says something about Miss Crowley and the woman living with her, set them straight.”

Sure,” I said.

Run along,” Mrs. Crowley said.

For the next few years, I was confused about the events of that day. Everyone found out about Miss Crowley’s and Miss Carmichael's relationship. I kept my word. Everyone else just thought I was naive.

So here I am, fifty years later, walking up the sidewalk to Miss Crowley’s little house a block from the old elementary school. She sat on the porch in a wicker chair. Older now but I’d recognize her in a crowd.

Hello, Miss Mahoney,” I said walking up the steps to her porch. “Do you remember me?”

Sure I remember you,” she smiled. “Come here and have a seat and tell me what you’ve done with your life.”

I sat on a wicker chair next to her. I smiled and said, “No one in my life had greater influence on my life than you have.”

Oh come on now,” she chuckled. “What happened, did you just make parole?”

You don’t know how many times I wanted to tell Miss Crowley’s and Miss Carmichael's secret, but I never did.”

So for a boy who keeps secrets so well, what did you do, work for the CIA?” she joked.

I became a lawyer, a good one,” I said. “A good lawyer keeps secrets.”

Whatever happened to Tommy Baldridge?” She said. “You remember him, don’t you? A good lawyer has to have a good memory.”

Strange you should ask,” I said. “He came to me early in my career. He was up for manslaughter. I got him off, not guilty. I owed it to him. After all a kick in the butt is hardly equal to a gash and stitches in the head—still had the scar.”

Was he guilty or innocent?” Miss Mahoney said.

I can keep a secret.”