If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Robert Eastwood: Diminuendo

When Rhodes arrived that Saturday I watched from inside our store. I remember, I stood beside five or six axes leaning against the wall, tall as my chestbone then––new double-bladers with blood-red heads. I’d thumbed oil off their burnished blades, imagined the deep-throated gout in bark they’d make. I rubbed a handle along the sallow taper to its lip, and envisioned the wielding, the wing of a swing, the nudge an ax must make against the palm’s heel, and how a blow must tingle up the arms. Before he came, I thought I knew how axed oaks must sound. How they must fall.
To clear red oak for firewood, hew and split it into five cords for a hundred dollar tab and close his debt to my father, that was Rhodes’ job––better than credit to an ex-con.
So Rhodes arrived early with a plosive beat, the black Chevy pounding its measure against the hills, muffler shot and the old six spinning five cylinders, fortissimo, climbing the highway’s rise where he’d cut the engine, let it free-wheel to staccato-clack its broken bearings into our graveled drive.
Three tow-headed children peered out in back, palms against the filmy windows, wan as if just let out to light. The oldest, a girl my age, looked at me standing on the porch and smiled. I raised and waved my hand, but did not go near. I saw her mouth open, say something. A man with them––of the clan who lived south, off the road, younger than Rhodes––dragged out, sulked behind Rhodes––an understudy, or a son maybe. I guessed the kids were his. He wore the same kind of ear-flapped cap, even dragged one foot as he walked, like Rhodes.
Under way at once, they left the children shut in the car, as if all had been arranged before they arrived. Maybe the car windows wouldn’t lower, for they began to fog. The girl continued to stare at me without blinking, as if I were the strangest person she’d ever seen. Maybe it was curiosity. It made me avoid her eyes, but every time I stole a look, she was peering back, daring me it seemed, in a game I didn’t like. Her pale face unsettled me, as if she had awful news. The smaller children, a boy and girl, occupied themselves in the dark interior of the car.
From the trunk Rhodes brought out two double-bladers, a sledge, several well-pummeled wedges. He ran his thumb over the edges. The ax-heads had a well-used, silver gleam. He smiled with satisfaction and glanced at me. He took a plug of tobacco from his pocket and carved a chunk with the ax, then fingered it back into his cheek, and winked. His eyes were deep, the axes sharp.
No need for preliminaries, no talk, the men strode to their places, axes on their shoulders, wedges weighting their frayed pockets.
Our oaks stood close behind the store. The trees reached tall from a mantle of dense scrub. This made ax swinging difficult. Rhodes and the young man began to cull, slice slender trunks in metronomic, low-arced chops. They tugged the scrub to rumpled piles scattered away from the trees, then began the serious tree-toppling. The two men worked opposing ends of the stand. Trees fell herringboned to one another, in a kind of duet. Neither spoke as he labored, yet each made a nasal hum that laid a lower, barely audible line. Once Rhodes gave a whistle, motioned the other man away from the vector of his oak’s fall.
The impromptu led them on––what they chose next seemed almost second sense. Trees fell in countermelody. They danced and pulled and swung to a swish and tumbled counterpoint. I still recall the riffs of cracked conclusion, the splintered finality, as oaks angled over.
It’s said somewhere, music began with the heart, the sound-blow in our chests. The beat on wood first echoed that––drew music from the body. Blood-heat resounds in the beat and its evocation rides on rhythm. We wake to it from our body-caverns, hear it in wind’s tethered-clatter, the lap of shore-water, and when beating quiets, we almost feel the muting is the soft step of death.
It seemed each man held his own metrical dream, for they worked on, caught by the motion and fall. Nothing carried under those oaks but axes’ chucking, chuck-a-puck chucking, the line taken by axes and trunks cracking to yaw then thump the air––frying with a spit-timpani of leaves, until...a clear timbrel hung an instant in the air. Then followed...a thud––a stubbed  chuck––no longer the snap-bite at wood.
Splintered, sap-spattered Rhodes stood wide-eyed, fingered a headless handle––while fifty feet across the clearing I saw the young man, arms thrust out, his amazed face screwed round and about as he staggered a spiraled diminish, arching to see his back, to touch if he could the shard of steel. Though we gathered around him––I think now how strange––no one moved to hold him as he clawed for his back. No one touched that blade, red upon red, just watched the futile effort, the flushed yawing of his face. The wail from the car, an eerie coda.

Robert Eastwood's work has appeared in numerous journals, on-line and in print, including Blue Unicorn, Carquinez Review, Ekphrasis, Talking River Review, New Zoo Poetry Review, The Oxford Magazine, The Dirty Napkin, Mobius, Raintown Review, and others.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Keith G. Laufenberg: Frankenstein

Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth.
—Apocrypha: Wisdom of Solomon, ii, 11.

His name was Franklin Stein Jr. and he was six feet tall and weighed almost 225 pounds. He lifted weights and bench-pressed 250 and did curls with a 45-pound dumbbell in each hand and he was just 12-years old this very day, September 18, 2005. His father had been training him since before he was even born, talking about how his boy was going to be the next Johnny Unitas; the next Joe Namath; the next Joe Montana,; the next Dan Marino; the next Bernie Kosar; the next Brett Favre; he was going to be the next great NFL quarterback and he was going to make Franklin Samuel Stein Sr. a millionaire and Stein Sr. was going to “get back” at all his critics—all the coaches and experts who had given up on him would now see that he was back on top and they would beg him—they would literally beg him to have a crack at getting his son on their team.

“Push it Frankie—c’mon son push it out now!” Franklin Stein Sr. barked at his son and he pushed and pushed and finally straightened his arms out and deposited the barbell—that was loaded down with 275 pounds of weights—onto the weight-bench. His father turned towards his younger brother—Samuel Dewey Stein. “Shee-it Sammy, Sammy, ‘id you see that? Huh … huh? Twelve years old and he’s benchin’ close to three bills man-oh-man—NFL hah—they’re gonna be lickin’ their chops over Frankie Junior I’ll tell you that—huh—huh Sammy?”

Sammy Stein, at 30 and two years younger than his older brother, well knew that Frankie Jr. would someday be playing in the NFL; hell, they’d been scouting him for the past three years and he was only in his fifth year of the South Florida Youth Football League. Sammy, a police officer in Miami, who also coached football part-time, was almost as rabid about his nephew as his older brother, who was so ecstatic at the very thought of his son playing NFL football that he could barely contain himself—but then he had been planning this his entire life so much so that, at this point, it had actually taken over his very life and took top priority over virtually everything else.


Friends are self-elected. Reverence is a great part of it.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). “Friendship,” Essays: First Series, 1841.

William Franklin Samuel Stein, a.k.a. Grandpa, Gramps, the old man, Willie Frank and mostly by his old ring name Willie the Ghost—or just the Ghost—had been a professional boxer for over 30 years and was known as Willie the Ghost because he was never knocked down and very seldom even hit. Boxing being what it is, his record did not reflect his defensive skills and at 44-39-9 it showed that referees and judges usually went with the one who came forward and threw the most punches. He was 50 years old and still weighed 173 pounds, give or take three or four pounds, his “walking around weight,” being able to easily make 168, which he was usually made to come in at, ever since in 1984 they had started the Super-Middleweight division. At 6’4” the Ghost was tall and rangy and carried a knockout punch in both hands. He had won his first twelve straight amateur fights, all by K.O. but then he fought Giles Jefferson in the finals of the golden gloves and everybody knew Jefferson had a glass-jaw, he couldn’t take a punch, that is until that night; that night he took punch after punch and no one knew what was keeping him up, until, finally in the third and last round the Ghost, then known as “Kayo Killer Willie,” had landed his famous left-hook to the ribs, right hand to the jaw combination and Jefferson had gone down, slowly crumpling to the canvas. He didn’t get up—they had to carry him out on a stretcher—and neither fighter was ever the same afterward: Jefferson couldn’t walk right anymore after that and his speech was so slurred and soft that you could barely understand him and Kayo Killer Willie became so cautious and defensive that he had only two stoppages in his next twenty-five amateur fights, and they were both because of the other fighter quitting in his corner. Willie Stein quickly became known as a defensive master and became Willie the Ghost one night after peppering the National Golden Gloves 156-pound light-middleweight champion so thoroughly, without getting hit once in return, that the audience began chanting that Willie wasn’t really in the ring—it was a ghost. He almost went to the Olympics in 1972, at age 17, and with an amateur record of 48-2, but lost in the box-offs by one point. Then he turned pro and things changed for the Ghost. He could still box rings around his opponents but professional boxing was totally different than amateur boxing and the judges tended to give few if any points to a boxer for his defensive skills unless, like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and many other champions, he used those defensive skills to set-up the kill, the knockout, the overwhelming offensive blows that would stop his opponent, whether that stoppage was through a knockout, or injuries severe enough that they rendered his opponent helpless, because it was the knockout that the audiences came for. It was the blood, the damage to the loser that rendered him helpless that they thirsted for—that they demanded and many of Willie the Ghost’s fights were booed roundly by the audience—the paying audience—that was little more than a mob, a mob that came to see blood and not two grown men feinting each other off balance, moving backwards or dancing with each other. They wanted them to stand still and bang on each other until one of them was knocked out and would boo anything short of a toe-to-toe slugfest.

Willie had five grandchildren; his son Sammy had three—three girls—and Franklin had Frankie Jr. and a daughter Wilma Louise Stein, who was 15 and a straight-A student. Franklin Sr., an ex-third string quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for three years before being let go, was an insurance salesman and typically worked 10 to 12 hours a day; his father lived with him, as his wife had died in an automobile accident five years ago, in 2000, and the Ghost moved in, in 2003, when, at age 48, he had finally retired from the ring. Frankie Jr. had known his Grandpa since he was born and, in fact, he saw more of him than he did any other human being and was closer to him than even his own father. The Ghost followed his grandson’s career as a future NFL quarterback with interest and love for the boy but also a great deal of disgust at any sport where they were allowed to blindside other players, jump upon the football carrier even when he was already down and were also allowed to come at the ball-carrier from the rear. He didn’t like the football helmets either, thinking that they blocked your vision to the side, also an allowed area for tacklers to take you down. He was all for his grandson taking up boxing but was outvoted by his daughter-in-law, before her untimely death, his son Franklin Sr., and his son Sammy and his wife; no one liked boxing, especially since everyone could see the damage it had caused to Muhammad Ali—so graphically, in 1996, as he stumbled and shook his way towards lighting the famed Olympic torch. Willie the Ghost was still against football but he usually kept his opinions to himself, knowing how everyone else felt about the topic. He just loved his grandson dearly and wanted only the best for him.

The Fight

And the combat ceased for want of combatants. —Corneille, Le Cid. Act iv, sc. 3.

The fight happened suddenly because no one thought that Ron Rodgers would even show up but he did. Franklin Stein Jr. had been in the 6th grade for half a semester and everybody in the Middle School he attended knew his name and who he was because of his notoriety on the football field and all the articles in the newspapers about his upcoming future and the fact that NFL scouts were scouting a 6th grade middle school student and not just because of his enormous size but also his superior talent. It was a fact that every student, including 7th and 8th graders and most teachers, were smaller than he was and they were all scared of him too. But Ron Rodgers wasn’t afraid of him. Rodgers was on the wrestling team and he was also from Overtown, a gritty, run-down, ghetto in northwest Miami. He grew up fighting in the streets and had had more street fights, many with adults, than Frankie Stein had played football games. Ron Rodgers had been belittling and disrespecting Frankie—who he called Frankenstein—for the past month when finally Frankie agreed to meet him after school, on the playground that was just adjacent to the school’s football field. Frankie had picked Rodgers up over his head and thrown him on the ground and everyone — ¾ of the school’s students were watching the fight—thought that the fight was over but then Rodgers got up and smiled at Stein. “Yeah c’mon Frankenstein you ain’t nothin’ but a big sissy,” he said and Frankie rushed towards him in a fury and that was the last thing he remembered until he woke up sitting on the ground, his nose bleeding and his jaw aching.

He went home in tears that afternoon and when the Ghost confronted him he only said one thing:

“Grampa, can you teach me how to fight … please?”

The Ghost patted his head and the boy broke down and hugged his grandfather, who smiled thinly.
“Don’t worry Frankie-boy, I’m gonna teach you everything there is to know about the great art of self-defense and—more than that—I’m gonna show you how to street-fight too.

The next Muhammad Ali or Brett Favre?

All fame is dangerous; good bringeth envy, bad shame.—Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia.
No man is responsible for his father. That is entirely his mother’s affair.
—Margaret Turnbull, Alabaster Lamps, p. 300

The scouts all knew each other and they jostled one another around like there was no tomorrow and this was their last chance to catch a glimpse of possibly the next greatest football player to ever play the game before one lucky NFL team signed him and there wasn’t an NFL team not interested in him nor an NFL team that wouldn’t pay a multi-seven figure sum just to sign a player that was the cause of all the commotion and speculation and not since another superstar giant-athlete, Shaq, had thrilled everyone on the basketball court, had so many come to see another South Florida giant-athlete also known and recognized by merely one name and also a pseudonym—Frankenstein—the perfect name for an 18-year old high school senior who was 6’8” tall, weighed 295 pounds and ran through tackles and guards like so many two-year olds on a Merry-go-Round trying to grab a ring that was just out of their reach. He was a quarterback who ran the ball almost as often as he threw it and even though the other team was well-aware of this fact, he still ran straight through the line, sometimes with tacklers dangling from his uniform but through the line he would go and many times he would go all the way—for a touchdown. Of course most high school football players were not used to playing against a team that had a quarterback a half-foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than they had ever played against and were also scared to death of.

Everyone in all of Dade County—and many counties beyond—knew who Frankenstein was and also knew the legend behind his name. It had been in the spring of 2006 and a well-known wrestler and street-fighter, Ronald Rogers, from the ghetto of Overtown had picked a fight with Frankie Stein and had called him, among other things, Frankenstein. The name had stuck even though the beating that Stein had taken from Rodgers didn’t. He went to his Grandfather and had begged to be taught how to fight. The Ghost loved his grandson and began teaching him the tricks of boxing and also, being an old street-fighter and wrestler himself the Ghost taught him how to counter anything Rodgers may try. He entered him in the local Golden Gloves and Frankie Jr. lost his first two fights but he wouldn’t quit and within six months he had won seven straight fights and his ring results began being heralded almost as much as his football exploits were. He was with some friends after school when Ron Rogers, a 15-year old 8th grader, at 5’10” and 200 pounds, confronted him and began yelling what a sissy he was and how he’d never amount to anything in football or boxing. He was with three others from his neighborhood and they tried to intimidate him but Frankie wouldn’t be intimidated and, in fact, knocked Ron Rodgers out with a two-punch combination after Rodgers had grabbed his shirt and shoved him against the school building. His friends quickly gathered Rodgers up—off the ground—and got him into their car. The name Frankenstein stuck that day but its meaning quickly went from one of derision to one of fear and respect as Frankenstein was (re)born that afternoon in the same playground where he had—six months earlier—for the first and only time in his life, been harassed, humiliated and beaten up by someone who had been tougher than he was—that day.

It was the most remarkable season any high school player had ever played at any high school, anywhere in the world. His high school football team—led by Frankenstein—went 15-0 and only one of those other teams even scored more than one touchdown against Frankenstein’s team—as it quickly came to be known. The Miami high school he played for had always had a good football team but no high school football team had ever had a quarterback who played both offense and defense and who threw 64 completed passes, rushed for 3,500 yards and averaged 234 yards per game. He was a legend in 2008 and he ended up setting an all-time record of rushing for 410 yards and throwing nineteen completions, five of them touchdown passes, that accounted for another 310 yards as he led his team to a 56-0 victory. The scouts overdid themselves that night and his father reported that his son would get a seven-figure sign-on bonus and a guaranteed figure over that for a four-year contract. His grandfather—the Ghost—was there also and, when interviewed, stated that if given the chance he would take his son all the way to knocking out Wladimir Klitschko; the reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world, his grandson had kept boxing, in the off-season, in golden gloves bouts nationwide and had won the National golden gloves three years in a row and his record this day, in 2008, stood at 48-2.

The Choice

When compelled to choose one of two evils, no one will choose the greater when he may choose the lesser.—Socrates. (Plato, Protagoras. Sec. 358 D.)

The Ghost had trained his grandson the way he knew every fighter should be trained. He showed him the left hook downstairs, the straight right to the chin, the double and triple-jab, stick and move and everything else was defense—slip, move, counter, block, counter, play the ropes, anticipate, counter and never, ever take a punch purposely to show the other guy that he couldn’t hurt you—if he can hit you and he’s a human being, he can hurt you. He still distrusted football—any sport where it was legal for more than one opponent to gang-up on you and blind-side you was not a game he was in favor of but, of course, he was voted down and almost changed his mind himself when he heard the offer from the Miami Dolphins—$100 million over four years; with a $5 million dollar sign-on bonus. It happened within minutes after the game and Frank Sr. almost had a heart attack—no, not because of the offer but because the Ghost was still against it. After a quick meeting of the entire family-tree in an anteroom adjacent to the boys locker room, the Ghost agreed, even though very reluctantly, and everyone was happy again because Frankie Jr. would not sign anything until his Grandfather okayed it too, making everyone else almost as ecstatic as Frankie Sr. that afternoon, as they envisioned what Frankie Jr. would throw their way—after all, he was—now—an 18-year old multi-millionaire.

2015-The World’s Greatest of All Time

One of the immortal infantile wishes … the wish to become great.
—Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). The Interpretation of Dreams, 7. C, 1900, tr. A.A. Brill, 1938

He was just 25-years old and he was said to be worth almost a billion dollars. Everyone wanted a piece of Frankenstein—even if it was only the tiniest of slivers of a piece. His name alone—his signature on a piece of paper—was worth five figures—one of the many reasons why he never, ever, signed autographs anymore—on the advice and counseling of his attorney—or, rather, one of the innumerable lawyers in one of his innumerable corporations. Frankenstein was the greatest quarterback the game of football had ever seen and his world-wide notoriety provided the Miami Dolphins with their fair share of loot also. Ever since signing him, the Dolphins had not yet lost even one game and Frankenstein now owned every NFL passing and rushing record in existence—in 2017—in the Super Bowl—he passed for 1,123 yards and rushed for 900. He did talk shows; he did commercials; he did movies; he did public appearances; he did interviews; he did—in short—whatever his wife —a tax attorney—told him to do.

The Ghost watched it all from a distance—from a house his grandson had bought for him six years ago, from his sign-on bonus of five-million dollars. It was on the water and it was a mansion with 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a 4 car garage. He had a boat dock and parked his 30’ cabin cruiser there. He had been his grandson’s number-one advisor up until his wedding night and then everything had changed. His wife, also a lawyer, took over all his financial dealings and Frankie Jr. had at first only tolerated it but soon enough, he just let her run everything. The Ghost never put up a fight—his fighting days were long over with.

Frankie Sr. signed a notarized statement with his son’s tax attorney wife that he would stay out of his son’s financial life for a one-time payment of ten million dollars and a 10% interest in the corporation that handled the income derived from his name: commercials, photographs, advertisements, et al.

The Night the lights went Out—in Frankenstein

Accident is something relative. It appears only at the point of intersection of inevitable processes.
—George Peekhanov (1856-1918). The Role of the Individual in History, 6, 1898

To play this game you must have fire in you, and there is nothing that stokes fire like hate.
—Vince Lombardi (1913-1970).

The Super Bowl of 2022 was being touted as the biggest event the world had ever seen—up until that time—and all due to one man, Frankenstein. And, this year, it would be the ultimate test; a match-up of two undefeated teams—both 16-0—who had yet to meet. The Miami Dolphins had won 11 straight Super Bowls with Frankenstein and had only lost five games in those eleven seasons. They were playing the California Carnivores in the Super Bowl, to take place this afternoon, Sunday, February 7, 2022. The Dolphins’ coach was firing up his players, in the dressing room: “Aw-right we’ve won a hundred-seventy games and lost only five in the past eleven seasons and we CANNOT lose today. We do have FRANKENSTEIN!” This was Frankie’s cue to stand up and growl and he didn’t disappoint.

The California Carnivores’ coach was screaming at his team, getting them ready to hit the field and they responded in kind by roaring back. Just as they were running towards the tunnel that led to the football field, Coach Byron Badback grabbed his 6’9”, 350-pound linebacker, Aaron “the Animal” Pritchard by the shoulder pads. “You going to kill Frankenstein today Animal?” he growled and Badback’s eyes narrowed to slivers. “He’s getting all your publicity Animal … I need you to KILL HIM!”

Pritchard was pumped up on adrenaline and steroids that would never show up on any drug-test. His lips parted in a sneer and he shook his head eagerly. “I’M GONNA KILL HIM TODAY COACH … I PROMISE … AWGRHHH … AWGRHH,” he growled and ran towards the tunnel. Badback smiled cruelly and hoped he hadn’t made the wrong decision by giving the 23-year-old phenom so many steroids.


Frankenstein was pumped. He wasn’t yet even 30 years old and had already broken every record that had ever been set in the NFL—not to mention his high school records—records that would never be broken. He and his team—the Miami Dolphins—had won eleven straight Super Bowls and the enormous amounts of publicity and money involved would have fed the world’s starving populations—which numbered over two-thirds of the planet’s inhabitants—estimated at over seven billion human beings. But, the other one-third of the world’s inhabitants were not so much interested in the majority of the world's starving inhabitants as they were interested on this Sunday afternoon in what the score would be when the Dolphins beat the new entry into the NFL—the California Carnivores—said to be packed with the best football players on the planet and with a budget of 250 billion dollars no one was questioning the quality of the players—after all—in 2022, everyone knew what money could buy and they knew it had bought Frankenstein and all those other star players for all these years to become the ultimate player on the ultimate team with the best players available and a quarterback that was unstoppable and would do anything to win.


It happened in the fourth quarter—the Carnivores had lived up to their publicity and undefeated record and the score was tied at 42-42. Frankenstein had scored three touchdowns on passes and had run three in himself—the last one going fifty-six yards straight through the line. There was only 2 minutes and eleven seconds left in the game and it was fourth and one yard, still plenty of time for the Carnivores to score again, especially if the Dolphins went for the easy field-goal. The ball was on the thirty-yard line but no one, including the Carnivores, knew what Frankenstein was going to do; he had run and passed before on similar situations, even though the Dolphins’ kicker had come in and Frankenstein was taking the ball squatting down about ten yards from the center; signifying he was holding the ball—as he routinely did—for his kicker—Bill “Superfoot” Bashley. He called out a few hup-hups but then suddenly jumped to a standing position and called out an audible that his line knew signified he was going to stay in the pocket to either pass or run—and signifying that he was changing the play at the last second. He took the hike and faded back even further. He saw the two offensive tackles for the Carnivores being blocked out and smiled, concentrating on both his ends for an instant and then the halfback that he had sent to the left side—his favorite sideline to pass to—and focused all his attention on him—when he saw that he was open in the end-zone on the goal-line. He had his sights lined up to fire off a bullet-pass to Jason “Glue-hands” Jones but as he zeroed in on Glue-hands, he totally didn’t see either of the two linebackers coming at him from opposite directions.

Aaron “the Animal” Pritchard had been missing his target the entire afternoon but wouldn’t miss him this time and his good friend Lawrence “Leave ‘em Layin’” Lyle, who had been bringing down Frankenstein more in this one afternoon than he had been brought down all year was charging at him from the left side, as the Animal came at him from the right side, Both linebackers were in high gear and were almost as focused in on him as he was on his receiver and just as he was about to release the pass to Glue-hands Jones—now standing alone in the end-zone—“Leave ‘em Layin”, all 6’10” and 295-pounds of him dove for Frankenstein’s chest; his head, encased in a fifteen-pound, lead-lined helmet, but he missed hitting Frankenstein completely even as, on the other side, the 6’9” 350-pound Aaron “the Animal” Pritchard was reaching out for Frankenstein. He had been missing his target too many times this day and he was steaming because he hated Frankenstein: he got all the publicity, all the fame; all the media coverage and all the money and the Animal thoroughly detested him. He leaped for the quarterback and just at the last instant grabbed his face-mask with his right hand almost at the same instant as his partner “Leave ‘em Layin’” Lyle grabbed the other side of the face-mask and—for the slightest of instants—it appeared as if the two gargantuan linebackers were fighting over Frankenstein’s helmet. The Animal’s hand slipped to the middle of the face-mask just as he reached his left hand onto the bottom rung of the mask and pulled with all his strength, even as the 295-pound bulk of “Leave ‘em Layin’” grabbed for the mask with his left hand and it slid off the face mask but grabbed a hold of the chin strap. Both the linebackers were hopped up on steroids and several other untraceable drugs and they were now in a battle over Frankenstein’s head, which appeared to be settled by another Carnivores player, the 6’7” 340-pound Michael “Monstrous Mike” Mahoney when he rammed his 15-pound, lead-lined helmet into the side of Frankensteins’ helmet and it flew off Frankenstein’s head just as a loud snapping and cracking sound was heard as the quarterback was upended and fell with a thud to the ground. The football rolled out of his hands and all three of the massive mammoths merely stared at it; even as Bill “Superfoot” Bashley was running towards the ball. He knew he could still kick a field-goal because the ball was still “lined up” pretty much in a straight line with the goal-post. He lifted his “superfoot,” which was encased in a pure-leather cleat-shoe that had a lead-lined toe but only weighed a little over one pound. He had his eyes on the ball, as he reared his right foot—his super foot—back into the kicking position. Just as he reached the ball and brought his foot forward, Monstrous Mike Mahoney dove for it which shoved Frankenstein’s now still body a foot sideways to where the football had just resided and Bashley’s “super foot,” his custom-made right cleat shoe that had cost him over a thousand smackers, smashed into Frankenstein’s now bare head. Blood was already dripping from both of his ears even before Superfoot Bashley's super foot reached the back of his head and he barely moved upon the super foot’s contact with his skull, the only sound a sickening crack—a sound akin to that of a rifle-shot or a baseball caroming off of a home-run hitter’s bat or a huge oak tree just beginning its fall after being cut down and all anyone knew for sure was that Frankenstein was lying on the ground and now his body was twitching like someone who was freezing. The thermometers read 88 degrees inside the stadium so it was a no-brainer that Frankenstein was in some sort of trouble but no one knew what to do—this had never happened before and no one had any plan or idea of what should be done—after all this was Frankenstein and he couldn’t be hurt—could he?

Worse Than Death

These have not the hope of death. —Dante, Inferno. Canto iii, sec. 31.
Yes all men are dust, but some are gold-dust.
—John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, p. 45.

Frankenstein, the name had originated as a joke, but it was no joke now—not for Franklin Stein Jr.—it was a tragedy. Frankenstein, the fictional monster-man, named for the doctor who had manufactured him, made him from body parts, getting the strongest parts from different human beings but, of course, he couldn’t get the brain to match the body; and now Franklin Stein Jr.’s brain was gone and he was paralyzed with fear because wherever he went he saw tacklers and linebackers chasing him and he couldn’t escape them—especially considering that his entire left side was paralyzed and when he walked he barely shuffled and his hands and arms moved forward and flapped against his sides, making him look more and more like the fictional Frankenstein as every day went by.

Like the fictional Frankenstein, he had been manufactured also—by his father, with help from his uncle and every other family member and friend once they realized he was made of money and they were not going to let him “die.” No, Frankenstein would live forever—if they had anything to say about it. His wife fought his father and his father’s brother and Frankenstein’s sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews and friends and acquaintances, for control of the billions of dollars involved—and people came out of the woodwork claiming to be related to him—claiming to have been promised money or property or “something,” for everyone knew the name Frankenstein and they knew that it translated into money—and they wanted their cut, their share. From ex-girlfriends and acquaintances who had barely even shook his hand the estate was bombarded daily by names of people who knew that if they could only get to see Frankenstein, he would remember them and give them what they wanted. But Frankenstein was not to be seen—not in public—ever again, for Mary Ann Miserly a.k.a. Mrs. Franklin Stein wished to keep the money rolling in—forever—and Frankenstein’s image alone brought in over a billion dollars annually. Of course it was an image of Frankenstein in his prime, in his uniform, throwing a pass, or in a suit and tie with a product he claimed to use in his hand or in the gym flexing his 23” biceps or his 62” chest. It was 2035 and it had been thirteen years since Frankenstein had become paralyzed and five years since his wife had made a deal with her husband’s father to give him a raise—from 10% to 25% of the profits from Frankenstein’s income derived from his name—with a clause written in the contract that he would take care—out of his 25%—of all claims by the family members—after all he was Frankenstein’s father. The only relative who had a legitimate cause to file with the court and didn’t was Frankenstein’s grandfather—the Ghost


The Ghost smiled at the nurses and they smiled back; they all knew who he was, he visited the paralyzed man on the fifth floor—the fifth floor—where no one else but a special team of doctors and nurses were allowed and where visitors had to be cleared through a special process, no matter how many times they had been there but, then, that soon became a very simple process because no one ever visited him anymore—no one except this old, silver-haired man, who came sometimes seven times a week. They called him the Ghost because that’s what he said his name was and he even looked, remarkably, like a ghost now, at age 80.

The Ghost pulled his chair close to his grandson’s bed—the doctors had told him that his grandson would probably not live much longer; his body had atrophied so much that his left leg had to be amputated, from the knee down and he had been exceptionally forlorn for the past several weeks, leading up to the surgery, which had been performed that morning. Seeing his image on television had never registered, in the past, with Frankenstein that it was him—at a younger age—but it had registered—for a reason the doctors couldn’t understand or answer—the previous day and he been even more agitated than usual, pointing at himself and telling all the doctors and nurses that it was the other him and that he couldn’t go back and stop the bad things that he had done and crying hysterically over how he had ignored the only person who had ever loved him; his Grandfather—the Ghost—while giving all his time and money to those who only cared about just that—his time and his money.

The Ghost stared at the huge body, the face still almost boyish even at 43-years of age. He knew the operation severing half of one of his legs must have caused him terrible pain and suffering; after all he had been one of the greatest athletes who had ever lived. He grabbed his hand and Frankenstein opened his eyes. The Ghost expected to see the usual blank stare—the lack of recognition—but something had happened—besides the operation, or maybe because of it—and he knew it was monumental because he saw it—it was his grandson again—it was the boy he loved, he saw the little boys eyes and saw that those eyes recognized him immediately. “Grampa,” he said.

“Frankie-boy,” the Ghost replied, smiling.

“Grampa, I shouldah seen ‘em; but they got me from the side and the back; I, I couldn’t see ‘em comin’ at me Grampa?”

“It’s alright Frankie-boy; it’s alright, everything’s fine.”

“I shouldah listened to you Grampa—I shouldah boxed … I couldah …”

“It’s alright Frankie; everything happens for a reason … don’t worry.”

“Yeah-yeah, I know somethin’ good’s gonna happen now Grampa,” he rasped.

“That’s great Frankie,” a resounding reply reverberated in the Ghost’s ears and he looked up to see a priest he knew as Father Joseph, who had been visiting Frankenstein for several months that the Ghost knew of. He knew the priest was preaching the gospel to him because he always brought his bible but the Ghost made no move to stop him, for, at age 80, he was attending church quite often himself and thinking about the reality of death and its consequences almost every day.

“Joe,” he said and the priest smiled.

“Willie,” the priest replied and they shook hands.

“Yeah-yeah, somethin’s good’s gonna happen to me Father Joe, Gee-zuz is on my side now; yeah, Grampa, somethin’ good’s gonna happen to us both—I know it is—I KNOW IT IS.” Frankie started to sit up in his bed and a nurse rushed over. She eased him back to a reclining position and smiled at the Ghost. “He’s going to sleep now, he’s still a little woozy from the operation,” she said and the Ghost nodded, even as the priest smiled and tilted his head towards the exit way. “Can I buy you a coffee Willie?” he queried and the Ghost nodded affirmatively.

“Yeah sure,” he said and they walked out into the hallway and to the elevator. The priest pushed the only button—which went down—and they stepped into the elevator where the priest pushed the ground floor button. They stepped out into the main floor of the hospital and both men could immediately tell that there was something wrong: the screams and yelling could be heard by anyone within a hundred yards; nurses could be seen running out of a large room with children in their arms and then both men smelled it and then saw the smoke—even as sirens reverberated in their eardrums. A nurse ran by and the Ghost grabbed her by the arm.

“What’s going on here nurse?”

“They … the … the nursery’s on fire … the … the … the children are burning up … they … the … awrghhh …”

“How many kids are in there?” Father Joseph queried, even as the Ghost ran towards the ground-floor children’s nursery, which was burning beyond belief, with dark clouds of smoke emanating from the front entrance. Just as he ran through the front door into the nursery he barely heard the nurse’s answer and the priest’s call to him.

“There are forty infants inside that nursery father.”

“Willie … Willie … wha’ …”

The Ghost came out several seconds after going in: he had five small bundles in his arms and they were screaming. He put them on the floor and began coughing horribly, trying to get his breath back. The priest grabbed his arm. “Willie, you can’t …”

But the Ghost had already stood up and inhaled deeply, then ran back through the front entrance to the nursery. The Priest smiled thinly and shook his head but quickly followed him inside the nursery. Within thirty seconds they both came out, both with bundles of screaming babies in their arms. They deposited the little ones as gently as they could on the floor and several nurses and administrative personnel from the hospital jumped on the priest and began beating his cassock, which was on fire, even as several others were bringing pitchers of water and dousing the priest and the Ghost. The Ghost grabbed a pitcher and gulped down a mouthful then poured it over his head. He inhaled, even as he coughed and spit out streams of smoky air. The smoke was so bad coming from the nursery that they began moving everyone back from the entrance, even as a fire engine pulled up to the front. The helpers were grabbing the babies and moving them back away from the smoke when the firemen came in, dragging their hoses. They ordered everyone back and everyone moved back out of range of the smoke and firemen’s pathway. The hoses blasted into the nursery, even as several firemen with oxygen masks on ran through the front entrance.

The nurse wiped the priest’s face and he sat watching the firemen battling the flames erupting from the nursery’s entrance. “Are … are you alright Father?”

“Yes, I am, I … where’s Willie?”


“Yes Willie … the Ghost … the man who was right here … he … he saved … he brought out all those babies … he … he …” They both exchanged looks and then the nurse looked towards the nursery’s entranceway, now being blasted with water from several hoses. Then they saw the two firemen coming out backwards—they both had on oxygen masks and were dragging out a body. Neither the priest nor the nurse said anything—they both knew who it was.


Father Joseph Murphy nodded at the large congregation of people: all related or attached in some way—no matter how small—to Frankenstein. He knew why they were all there: they wanted to know if he had died yet. The doctor in charge waved to the priest. “Father Joseph, come in, come in, it won’t be long now.” The priest nodded at Frankenstein’s ex-wife and his father; both standing with disgusted looks on their faces and he went over to console them. “Frankie, Missus Stein, did you want to come in and see …”
“We been here all last night and into this mornin’, I have to go home, I have business that I must attend to, you know?” Frankenstein’s ex-wife was fuming.

“But the doctor said that …”

“He’s been sayin’ the same thing for the pas’ two days,” Franklin Stein Sr. barked out.

“Well, I’m sorry then; I’ll just go in and see what …” The priest stood staring at the backsides of both Frankenstein’s ex-wife and his father, both of whom had already walked towards the elevator. But, Father Joseph had expected nothing less; he had conducted the Ghost’s funeral a week and a half ago and although the church had overflowed with friends and family, noticeably absent were his son and his grandson’s ex-wife.

Father Joseph approached Frankenstein’s bed cautiously and the doctor nodded at him and smiled as he kneeled down next to Frankenstein.

He was there for about an hour and no one else was around when the doctor came over and handed him a coffee. The priest took it and smiled at the doctor. He was sitting in a folding chair that one of the nurses had provided for him. He pushed the top up at the perforated edges and sipped the steaming liquid. He smiled at the doctor. “Thanks.”

“No problem Father. You know he probably won’t wake up again?”

“Oh? But I thought you said he might … he could … ah …”

“He could Father but it is highly unlikely. By the way, I was at the funeral and I thought you did quite an impressive job.”

The Priest smiled; he remembered the doctor had helped treat his burns from the fire of several weeks past now; the fire that the Ghost died in.

“Oh, you’re Catholic then doctor?

“No Father … I’m an … I’m an unbeliever.”

“Oh … an agnostic then …?”

The doctor smiled thinly. “No Father; I’m afraid I’m an Atheist.”

“Ah … well then.”

“Ah … awrghhh … I … I …”

The priest and the doctor quickly turned their attention to Frankenstein, who was gurgling and sputtering and then, miraculously, Frankenstein opened his eyes and stared straight at Father Joseph Murphy. “Father Joe,” he said and smiled widely.

“Frankie … Frankie-boy, how are you feeling Frankie?”

“Ah … aw Father I feel great; I feel … I feel, Father—I seen it Father—I seen it.”

“What? What did you see Frankie?”

“I saw this great lake and this great land and these bright lights and these people they were all so happy and this man he came up to me and he kissed me and he hugged me.”

“Was it Jesus who you saw?”

“No Father … it wasn’t Gee-zuz who I saw.”

The priest nodded and glanced at the doctor, who smirked at the priest. Father Murphy had been visiting Frankie Stein Jr. for almost a year and he well-knew the story and, in fact, had been quite a football fan in his day. He looked at the man whose very image he knew generated enough income to feed a good percentage of the planet’s starving people and, in 2035, that was 3 of every 4 people.

“Who was it you …” the doctor began but then caught himself in mid-sentence and then smirked again and shrugged his shoulders, wanting to hear what Frankenstein had to say; even though he wouldn’t, couldn’t, admit to that fact.

Frankenstein looked at the doctor and then at Father Joseph and his eyes turned soft. “It was the Ghost I saw,” he barely rasped.

“The Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost … you saw the Holy Ghost didn’t you Frankie-boy, God has blessed you my son,” the priest said.

But Frankie Jr. shook his head and raised his hand to lay it on the priest’s lap and Father Joseph glanced over to see the doctor’s sarcastic smile. “I saw my Grampa Father—it was my Grampa that I saw—I saw my Grampa and … and he was with all these babies Father and he was happy … he was so happy.” The priest saw the doctor’s mouth drop open—everyone knew about the Ghost’s death while trying to save more children from the nursery. “They’re waiting for me there Father,” Frankie Jr. said. “I’m going to see them now and so now I ‘m gonna be happy too Father … I am … yes they’re waiting for me … they’re waiting … and I know the Holy Spirit is there too … I’m happy now Father Joe … and you’ll be there soon too, I know you will ‘cause I see you there …” It was the last thing the man who came to be known throughout the world simply as Frankenstein would ever say—in this world.

Father Joseph suddenly stood up raised his hands in the air and all the doctors and nurses present would forever be talking about what they had seen that afternoon, as Father Joe stood to his full height of 6’4” and yelled out: “Praise the Lord—praise the Lord, Hallelujah—Hallelujah Amen.” There would be much confusion and different versions of what Frankenstein said that last day and also what Father Joseph said but one thing everyone present would agree on was the color of the priest’s face that day; the doctor who was sitting right next to him would state what everyone would agree to: “Father Joe’s face was glowing; it was literally glowing—just before he fell over and died of a heart attack.”

Keith G. Laufenberg has beenwriting for over 30 years and has had over a hundred poems and short storiespublished. His work has appeared in such magazines and journals as: AIM Magazine;Amaterasu; aaduna; The Maryland Review; Spoiled Ink; Down in the Dirt;  Pleaides; The Oracular Tree; Prole Magazine, Pulp Empire; NuVein;The Pink Chameleon; Mobius Magazine; The WashingtonPastime; Rymfire Books;  One Million Stories; Euonia Review;Short Story.Me; The Spillway Review;  AuthorTrek;  StruggleMagazine; NeonbeamMagazine; The WriteRoom; The Corner Club Press; PotLuck Magazine; OMG Magazine; An Electric Tragedy; Write from Wrong Magazine; The Fine Line; Danse Macabre Magazine; The Whortleberry Press; The Ultimate Writer; Fringe Magazine; Northern Stars Magazine;The Writing Disorder; d.ustb.in; ThePhoenix Magazine; The Legions of Light Magazine; KZine Magazine; The Earth Comes First; et al, and he has also had 2 novels published:“Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die”, both in 2007 and he now has three othernovels and five books of short stories on Amazon Kindle which can be assessedat his website: www.kglaufenberg.com

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Raw Like Sushi by Devlin De La Chapa: Chapter One

One month later. . .

Today is the beginning of a new day. It’s Wednesday. It’s August something, 2009. I’m sitting in the lobby of a family services center which is actually a front for crises center. But God forbid they should put the word ‘crises’ in their marquee sign; wouldn’t want anyone to believe America is actually suffering, and has been suffering since God knows when. I mean. . .if living in America is the foundation for living the American Dream, then why the need for crises centers? Then it dawned on me that centers like these existed for individual families such as mine who have lost all or part of that American Dream.

I was flabbergasted when a supervisor at the electric company suggested I call a financial service center when I told him that I could not pay my $900 plus electric bill. So, there I was sitting at my kitchen table in my still morning garb and unbrushed teeth on a Monday before Wednesday calling the center because (and from what I was told by the operator the Friday before when I first called to inquire for help) the appointments were very limited to a first call, first answered basis, and the operator suggested it best I call early-as in fifteen minutes early prior to the phone lines opening up-and by chance my call had been answered, and I was set up for an appointment which is now today. I'm nervous, in part because I was informed by the operator that just because one garnishes an appointment for financial help, didn't necessarily guarantee financial help; so I had my fingers tightly crossed. And I prayed my caseworker would be compassionate to mine and Julian's situation.

There are a few people sitting around the lobby littered in plush comfy chairs and free bottled water on tables beneath a dome of mirrored windows looking out into a continuous world despite the pamphlets on financial self-dependency, job placement, etiquettes in resume presentation, personal appearance, and job interview discourse screaming in the faces of those of a less fortunate meek who haven’t quite inherited the “dream” of a caseworkers mechanical call of a name. All around I hear conversations of an aimless, mindless chatter; no interest on my part. Or maybe because I chose not to engage my ears? I’m sure the conversations consisted on the lack of work, money, and food; something I’m actually tired of hearing because it’s literally the same-o, same-o between Julian and me. Just this morning as we were having our morning coffee Julian started complaining on why I had bought a 2 lb. bag of sugar instead of the usual 5 lb.?. . .My answer:

“Because the 2 lb. is almost two dollars less than the 5 lb. I was trying to save money.”

“How much was the 2 lb.?”


“So let me get this right, CoCo? A 5 lb. bag of sugar costs less than $2.20. . .and the reason why I know this is because I bought a 5 lb. bag of sugar a time or two. So two twenty minus one fifty-nine is what?. . .Sixty-one cents?”

I stiffened a nod.

“So, for sixty-one cents more you could have bought us an additional 3 lbs.. . .but instead you decided to buy us 2 lbs. at a buck fifty-nine. And if you add another buck fifty-nine for the same 2 lbs. comes to about $3.18. . .then add another pound divided by two off the $1.59 comes to about seventy-seven, seventy-eight cents, right?”

I stiffened another nod.

“So, the total for 5 lbs. at a buck fifty-nine will have cost us $3.96. . .and three ninety-six minus two twenty is what?. . .$1.76? So my question to you, CoCo, is how are you saving us money when in the long run you’re actually spending two bucks more if you continue buying 2 lbs. of sugar at a $1.59?”

Tight lipped, I threw my coffee into the sink and said, “I was referring to the name brand. . .not the store brand.”

Dark Side of the Rainbow

“CoCo Davis?” A male voice called out in the form of double-doors leading to the dark side of the rainbow.

I stood to my feet and followed the caseworker through double doors, down a corridor, into another corridor and into a 10x10 deluxe cubicle suite smothered in the usual gray, black and taupe cliché of office themed colors. I maneuvered my size 8 waist around the front of the caseworker's desk and casually slumped into a chair obviously meant for overweight people. The blue-marooned Beta fish residing in a tall sitting vase to my left actually stopped swimming for a sec to look my way. I meant to smile, but the fish gulped and continued on swimming. Suddenly I felt minute like a leftover morsel of undigested fish food because I was finding it hard to believe that this insignificant little thing actually had a home that wasn't facing Foreclosure. I shot the shit with the caseworker for a few minutes to reclaim my confidence until he got to the embarrassing-but forgotten-issue at hand: “Why are you here, Mrs. Davis?”

For a minute there I actually blanked out on why I was here? I nervously glanced down at my wedding band and twirled it in place as if I was trying to aid the use of it to help me find why I was here, needing help?. . .Then I remembered: My recollection appeared in a form of a bright flash of light which instantaneously hit me head on. I almost resembled that of an amnesiac suddenly awoken from its bizarre trance of no recollection for all that is and once was very important to me. And although the trance lasted no more than a few seconds, and by the way Julian and I have been suffering for almost a year now, it sure felt like an eternity.

Julian is originally from northern California, which explained his constant gold tan. And because he wanted to live in a place of year round sunshine, and because of his love for the great outdoors, he moved to Arizona in 1993 with his older brother; Julian was eighteen, and determined to start his own Arborist business. And because his brother had a little bit of money to spare from his entrepreneuring Get Rich Quick! businesses, he gave Julian some money to buy a used truck, trailer, and some equipment.

Eventually Julian worked his way up the Arborist ladder, and at last owned his very own Arborist business complete with a modest office building, a receptionist, a bookkeeper, two certified Arborists, a crew of twelve, a spacious yard, four boom trucks, four detachable chippers, three trailers, two company trucks, one company van, climbing gear, equipment, chemicals, general landscaping supplies, and an exclusive roster of both commercial and residential clients.

Julian’s take home pay for the last ten years had been anywhere from a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five grand-depending on his yearly business earnings-allowing us the luxury of a five bedroom, four and a half bath home complete with maids quarters, an extra-large gourmet kitchen, a den, a home office, three fireplaces, a three car and one golf cart garage, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, housekeeping, landscaping and pool services; a Hummer SUV, a Hummer SUT, a Grand Caravan, credit cards, five cell phones, a combined savings account, two unlimited checking accounts, and two to three Vacations per year.

Then. . .

The recessions hit, and Julian’s business was the first of many businesses to flounder quickly into that American cesspool I referred to as Bankruptcy. Now our combined income was just shy of a little more than a grand a month-thanks to unemployment. Our home still remains in our possession but facing Foreclosure any minute. All services have been cancelled. Both Hummers and the Caravan had been repossessed-we now commute around in a 1998 silver Toyota corolla sedan. All credit cards-except for one-have been maxed out and charged off. Both checking accounts are ridiculously overdrawn, and what is a vacation anyway?

And right then and there as I reflected upon our repossessed American Dream in front of my astound caseworker, I must’ve suffered a nervous and emotional breakdown of having despised the fact of how the mighty have fallen and then having it roll off my tongue just to explain it.

My caseworker must’ve felt sorry for me. And I’m sure pity was in there somewhere. Because in no time his fingers went to work on his computer; and not only did he pay my $900 plus electric bill. . .he paid off my entire gas bill, and a partial of my water bill.

I thanked the fish.

Family Ethics

Julian was relieved to hear for once, since the last ten months, that somebody else, other than his brother, actually took pity on us and helped. Now all we had to worry about was the mortgage, our cell phone bills, our one credit card, gas, groceries and other household supplies.

“Do you think your mother can give us some money?” Julian asked me later that evening as we were sitting in our home office, at the desk going over the rest of the monthly, yet overdue bills.

Was he kidding me?

“Maybe lend,” I cautioned after my two-second brainfart. He then stared at me quizzically. “I can give her a call and see if she can give me some money?” I suggested, hopefully.

“Is she still looking for a job?”

“She can’t find one.”

“Then what makes you think she has money to give?”

“Goddamn it, Julian!” I just about rung his neck with my tongue.

“Shhh,” he hissed. “Kids are asleep.”

“They’re not kids, Julian. . .they’re tweens, remember?” I corrected. “And this house is built like Fort Knox!”

“Tweens?” Julian snorkeled with a roll of his eyes. “Is this how you spend your time, CoCo, conjuring up post-adolescent jargon that only you and your fellow PTA alumni can comprehend?”

“And what? You think selling your services on Craigslist is helping our finances? Don’t you think you’d have better luck standing on a Home Depot corner instead?”

I cracked a smile. But before I had the chance to bask in the sunlight of my sudden invectiveness toward my husband, I realized right then and there I had been more than just completely out of line. I could clearly see Julian’s chiseled jaw literally crashing down over his perfect white teeth as he tossed the mortgage statement onto the desk. He leaned back in his chair crossly and folded his arms. His thoughts, his expression like a reflection looking thwartedly amazed on how two grown people-much less, married people-can succumb to the virtuous play of ornery children fighting for authority on a playground’s merry-go-round. I immediately began to feel insignificant like I was back in that 10 x 10 cubicle with that stuck-up little fish sitting on that caseworker’s desk staring straight at me through his own judgmental looking glass the way Julian was now staring at me only through judgmental eyes; eyes most definitely questioning: Who is this woman?

Julian eventually changed the subject to, “Why do you always got to make things so goddamn difficult?”

“First you ask if she can give us some money. I then suggest lend. Then you ask if she is looking for a job knowing good goddamn well she’s been looking for one for the last few months. And then you get pissed at me!”

“I’m not pissed at you, CoCo. . .it’s just. . .I can’t believe a woman being supported by her two employed,” and he used the term “employed” loosely, “sons cannot give you any money-”

“And what about Comi,” I intermitted, and with protest, “he has money. Why don’t you ask him?”

“I already have.”


“He paid last month’s mortgage, remember?”

“No,” I said somewhat stunned. And the look sprawled across my face caught Julian completely off guard. It was my turn to fold my arms. Only I'm not looking as cross-I'm glaring. . .with disappointment.

Julian is nervous as he clears his throat. His Adam’s apple protruded before it settled remotely back in place. “I wasn’t supposed to have said nothing,” he confessed. A hint of regret lingered in his usually soft-spoken voice.

“Why?” I pressed. “I mean, since when did we start keeping secrets from one another?”

“Look, CoCo, I’m sorry if I didn’t tell you. . .I mean. . .Comi was worried about. . .maybe you saying something to Dallas-”

“What?” I almost fell out of my seat. “Are you shittin’ me?” I laughed. “Me say something to that superficial bitch! I mean. . .that girl, that woman. . .THAT thing, or whatever it is. . .and I. . .we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye-”

“Calm down.”

“I will not calm down-”

“You know how Dallas is. . .” and his voice trailed off with his eyes that swept over this month’s mortgage statement.

“So you mean to tell me that we we’re broke when you asked Comi for the money?”

“I didn’t want to worry you-”

“Well you doing little deals like that behind my back isn’t exactly going to ease my conscience, Julian.” I retorted. “I mean. . .it’s not like you exactly asked him for fifty bucks. . .We’re talking fifty-nine hundred dollars here-”

“And you think I don’t know that?” He argued.

“Not exactly,” I mocked, “or else you wouldn’t have kept it a secret from me.”

There was a bitter silence between Julian and myself for the next few minutes. I could clearly see his nuisance flushed across his exhausted tanned face; the same face that once harbored a glow-it clearly made other white men envious. And his complementing hazel bedroom eyes didn’t help his situation none either.

And while his short, thick dark blond hair made women desperate to run their fingers through it, it made me want to pull it out, strand-by-strand with our affronted conversation!

Don’t get me wrong. . .my husband is genuinely a gorgeous man at 6’2, 248 pounds of pure vocational muscle, and he knows this. At times Julian can be conceited, but I figured his conceitedness derives from the mere fact of being self-employed and having to compete against other Arborists, so a bit of cockiness was in order.

Conceited, competitive and cocky. . .that was Julian.

But back to the pulling of his hair. . .

I never for once contemplated that Julian and I would be so tired in our mid 30’s. Many couples within this age range are either professionally successful or buying into their second home. . .not broke, bankrupt, and unemployed the way we both were.

Since Julian has been unemployed, and for the last year, he has fallen into this state of menial depression: He sleeps late. He walks around the house in t-shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops. He hardly combs his hair because it’s always hidden beneath a baseball cap. He rarely steps outside. He spends the majority of time on the computer. And he’s become a big fan of Ebay and Craigslist. And the only time he takes a break is to bitch, grab a bite to eat, and socialize with his brother, Comi, who visits once a week-Wednesday’s to be exact-which I refer to as Wednesday’s with Comi.

Comi is short for communist. His real name is Jessup Davis, Jr.. He’s a few years older than Julian, and he’s opposed to this country because like me, we don’t exactly like what’s going on in our America.

He earned the name ‘Comi’ back in high school when he first joined the debate team. He found it easier to assess the economic ethics rather than to support them. And so the name prevailed.

Comi’s wife, Dallas is truly a superficial bitch in vibrant big red hair. She’s eight years younger than Comi. And only three things concern her: Comi’s money, her fake boobs, and her porn length fingernails. At times Dallas is a greedy woman. Which is why Comi was secretive when he gave Julian the money.

That’s right. . .‘gave’ Julian the money.

You see, one thing about Comi, he doesn’t lend Julian money. . .he gives it to him whenever he needs it-no questions asked, and vice versa. And I’m told it was a golden rule bestowed onto both brothers’ by their parents since either one could remember which explains why Julian was slightly irked earlier about my mother lending me money as opposed to giving me money; my mother expects to get paid back, Comi doesn’t. And it’s something Julian has always had a hard time grasping how my family can be so greedy when it came to money and other things.

“I’m going to bed,” I mumble, rising to my feet. Julian nods and shifts his attention back to the computer.


I took a lukewarm bath. It was just after midnight. I sat in front of my vanity dresser and surveyed myself in the mirror for the umpteenth time. The spark within my blue irises were dulled, hazed, and literally invisible of any life left. My face was pale. And the crows feet around the outer of my lids seemed to stand out more and more each dreadful passing day. I surveyed my nails and noticed they were screaming manicure! The last time I had a manicure was on Valentine’s Day. Julian and I double-dated with Comi and Dallas that night. We attended a black-tie ball, and it was the last time either of us truly dressed up. I’m exactly like Julian, only I don’t sleep in late or avoid the sun like the plague because I have to drive our kids to school. My wardrobe consists of snug hugging tees, skinny jeans and tennis shoes. My hair is in a constant pony tail. And I refuse to wear make-up and jewelry.

I, too, spend hours behind a computer, my laptop, typing away romance novels and querying them off to agents who email me back requesting partials or rejections. I’m on book number five. And Julian suggests that I look for a job instead.

I have looked, and looked. . .and looked. I’ve even belted out one application after another, and still I am having difficulty finding employment.

Even the local convenient stores weren’t hiring. I even went as far as applying to pizza joints and fast food restaurants, and apparently I’m over qualified. Maybe my B. A. in English has something to do with my being ‘over qualified’?

So I opted in putting my B. A. to work and applied for several internship positions at a few literary agencies around Arizona, California and New York. One New York agency was willing to offer me internship only and if I’d move to New York within six months but that was out of the question. And so now here I was, three months later, no job, and back to writing non-sellable romance novels.

Julian walks into the bedroom and sweeps my appearance with a questioning look. I look at Julian in the same manner through the vanity mirror. “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you with your hair down,” he says.

I nodded. “I’m thinking about cutting it,” not that he would give a damn.

“What else do you plan on doing with yourself?”

I turned around in my seat. “Plan?” I stared at Julian confused.

“Other than cutting your hair. . .What else do you plan on doing?”

“You’re loosing me, Julian?” I was beginning to sound frustrated.

“It’s very simple, CoCo,” he sighed out in the same frustrating manner, “Like finding a job. Asking the State for help.”

“I just got back from that service center,” I countered.


“And give me a goddamn break!” I fumed. “Jesus!” I just about shouted, but I quickly calmed myself down. “Since we’re on the subject of job searching. . .have you found a job yet?”

Julian rolled his eyes, slipped off his t-shirt and tossed it across the bedroom. “Is that your idea of table turning?” he sassed and slipped into bed.

“Aren’t you going to bathe?”

“Is there going to be sex tonight?”


“Then what’s the point of bathing,” he grumbled.

“So, you’re not going to bathe?”


“Why not? I just washed those sheets this morning.” Julian grumbled again. He then turns on his side, ignoring me. I got up from the vanity seat and crossed to him in heated steps. “You need to snap out of this depression!”

Julian angrily tossed back the covers from his body and stared up at me harshly. For some strange reason, my heart skipped a frightened beat. And if I weren’t a woman in an already abusive relationship, I would have easily misconstrued this particular situation as nothing to worry about. But in this case, as I stand here staring down onto my husband’s unrelenting demeanor, I realized that this relationship could easily succumb to abuse. . .with me on the receiving end.

“How can you say that to me?” Julian bolted upright. His presence towered over mine. Almost instantly I felt exactly like that tiny fish back on that caseworker’s desk, encased within a binding hole of liquid fear. “Do you know how difficult it’s been for me these passed few months? Have you any idea how frustrating it is for a man to wake up one morning and find that he can no longer provide for his family?. . .To pay mortgage and bills?. . .Put food on the table?. . .Clothes on our backs? Have you any idea how embarrassing it is for me to tell people, let alone “my peers”, I’m unemployed?. . .Or having to write that shit down on an application about why I’m looking for another job?. . .Have you any idea, CoCo?” I swallowed my throat hard and choked back my reservations and shook my head.

“OF COURSE YOU DON’T!” He erupted. His tan complexion was now tinted a beet red. And his once bedroom eyes were warpath wide; hazed by a temper which not only derided me, it made me realize that not only do you not disturb a man when he’s working, you sure in the hells don’t disturb a man when he’s going through the motions. “Cause you’ve never fucking worked a day in your life! And now YOU want ME to “snap” out of my depression? FUCK THAT!”

And with those very last-and callous beating words, and what felt like gouging daggers within my fast beating heart-Julian stormed off toward the bathroom. With one angered fist, he punched a hole through the wall and slammed the bathroom door behind him.

I jerked in my stance. Suddenly there was a wave of emotions filtering over and around me, squeezing me to the very pulp of all my ill concealed uncertainties until I finally broke down and silently cried.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


As of June 25, 2015, The Bactrian Room is closed to submissions.


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