TAKE MY HAND
By Gail Gentry
“Oh! Please, you can have a seat right here beside me. Plenty of room. It tends to get a little crowded in here on Friday nights.”
“I’m Roger, by the way.”
“Tabrina. That’s a very pretty name.”
“Thank you. This seems like a nice place. You come here a lot?”
“I practically live here.”
“Whoa. These benches could use some cushions. They’re a little worn, don’t you think?”
“Ha! I’ve heard that before. Maybe I’ll say something to the manager.”
“Oh. You know him, or, her?”
“Him. And, yes, you could say that.”
“Well, tell him I said that even though there’s near splinters in these seats, I do like the music – I don’t like to put no negative without a positive. Why there’s this place back home where we go hang out on Saturday nights – you can’t hear what someone’s saying even if they’re right next to you! Gotta yell in their ear just to get heard.”
“We like to keep the music at a comfortable level. We enjoy talking – and, being heard.”
“Yea, I can tell the way everybody’s huddled together.”
“Tell me about yourself, Tabrina. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
“Hmm, actually, I just got to town a few days ago. I’m from Liberty, West Virginia.”
“Quite a ways from home.”
“Yea but I wanted to see the ocean. Hopin’ to find a place somewhere close to live. You from Miami?”
“Not originally, no. My home is pretty much wherever I’m at.”
“You know that woman?”
“No. But she keeps looking at me and smiling. Anyway, never been anywhere outside Liberty until a couple a weeks ago.”
“What do you think about the world outside Liberty so far?”
“I love it that you can see just as far as you want. Where I come from there’s always some mountain ahead of you, behind you, or beside you. We’ve seen some real pretty sights too. Stopped at this one farm in North Carolina. They grow cotton. Did you know that grew on plants? I thought it was made.”
“Did you know that before that cotton bursts out of it’s pod, the flowers that make that seed, bloom in all different colors?”
“But the cotton we saw was all white.”
“Well, ain’t that something. We rode across a river on a ferry last weekend! Drove the car right onto this boat and rode across the river. That was awesome. The boat captain, he even let me steer the boat a little bit. Folks been friendly – like you.”
“Thanks. Got to be careful, though. Not all folks are friendly.”
“Oh, I know. Plenty of those kind where I come from. My mama, she calls ’em Buzzards.”
“Buzzards?! Ha. Why is that?”
“She says it’s cuz they feed off other people’s pain.”
“Hmm. Never heard it put that way before. That’s a good analogy. Your mother sounds like a wise woman.”
“I went to Six Flags, too. You been there?”
“Yes. I have. It’s a fun place.”
“You ride the roller coasters?”
“Nooo. I’m not big on those.”
“Oh wow. They are SO MUCH FUN! Eric and I, that was one of the places we knew we had to go. I mean they’ve got amusement rides and stuff that come to fairs in our county. The most they got is a ferris wheel, though. It’s NOTHING like Six Flags. The roller coasters? Wow! They’re taller than any building I’ve ever seen. They looped, turned us upside down, went round and round.”
“Sounds like you had a good time.”
“I did! I threw up. But I did!”
“So, who’s Eric?”
“Oh, he’s my boyfriend. Listen! I know this song. It’s one of my favorites. My Mom use to sing it. No I won’t be afraid, oh, I won’t be afraid; Just as long as you stand, stand by me; So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, Oh stand ….
“You alright, Tabrina?”
“Yea. I miss her – my Mom. My Dad. Even my little brother who is the biggest pest ever. I didn’t think I’d ever miss him but I do. — Whew. Sorry. Don’t mean to go all pity-pot on you. You got a girlfriend?”
“Not right now. It’s been a while.”
“You got a nice smile; nice eyes. I’m sure you’ll find one soon.”
“Have you and Eric known each other for a while?”
“Since 3rd grade.”
“That’s a long time.”
“Yea. After we met we just seemed to click and ever since then, we’ve just always been there and taken care of each other. It’s funny, we use to always go back and forth on who noticed who first. It was me – I noticed him first. I never told him, but I’d been watching him. You see he’d stopped bringing his lunch to school but I’d hear his stomach growling up a storm in class. So, one day during lunch period I went looking for him and found him outside on the bleachers. Course, I pretended not to notice him right away, give him a chance to say hi first. And, then when he did I sat down beside him and shared my lunch. We met every day on the bleachers after that. I’d have my mama pack an extra sandwich. Come to find out Eric’s mom had left his Dad, and his Dad – well, he worked in the coal mines and the union would go on strike every once in a while. It was for their own good, better pay and all, or to make it safer to work but still, when that happened he wouldn’t get paid and it made it kinda hard to buy groceries and pay for lights too.”
“How’d Eric end up taking care of you?”
“Well, I have asthma. It’s not too bad now but it was real bad when I was a kid. Anytime I’d run too hard or somebody had on perfume or smoking, I’d have an asthma attack and I’d panic which made it even worse. I’d always be forgetting my inhaler but he never did. He’d always carry a spare in his pocket so when it happened, he’d give me a good dose and rub my back till it was over. He’s my best friend. We’re gonna get married when I turn 18 next March.”
“Oh….And what do your parents think about that, getting married so young?”
“Tsk. They’re not crazy about the idea. They want to send me off to the state college next year which, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Eric’s Dad doesn’t have the money to send him to college. I’ve been fighting with my mom and dad a lot about it and they just don’t care what I want. Me and Eric don’t want to be separated. But, they keep saying I need to get away and meet other people before I make up my mind. We had a big fight a couple of weeks ago. After that, I told Eric we just needed to run away. Live our own life. I’m thinking now, though, it was a stupid idea.”
“Are you looking for something?”
“You know, I’m just noticing the people in here – I keep seeing more come in but I’m not seeing anybody leave. Like that lady smiling at me earlier? I don’t see her anywhere. Hmm. Want to hear something else strange?”
“Sure, tell me.”
“I don’t remember how I got here. I just remember coming through that door.”
“That does seem odd. Tell me. What have you been doing since you and Eric got to Miami?”
“Oh, well we just got here day before yesterday. First thing we did was find a cheap hotel. Took us forever but we finally found one off of Biscayne Boulevard. Then yesterday Eric and me went around looking for a job.”
“Did you find one?”
“Eric did. I didn’t. Everywhere I went they wanted my social security number and I worried if I gave it to them, my parents, or Eric’s Dad, they’ll find me. Eric took a construction job starting Monday. They’re gonna pay him in cash each day.”
“It must make Eric feel very proud that he’s providing for the two of you.”
“Oh, it does! We stayed up talking about what we’re going to do with the money. We want to save up and get an apartment. Before we knew it we’d talked all night and the sun was coming up, so we drove to the beach and watched the sunrise. It was beautiful. Just like you see in the movies.”
“I know. That’s my favorite time of the day. Every new day a do-over.”
“That’s exactly how I’ve always thought of it.”
“I thought this morning’s sunrise was particularly spectacular. The oranges mixing in with the blues.”
“I love the colors. Sunsets are even better! I can draw pretty good. Eric says I should be an artist. That’s something I think I got from my mom. She would make the coolest posters for our pep rallies at school.”
“What do you want to become?”
“I really don’t know. Now my parents on the other hand, they want me to go in the medical field. The thing is, though, nothing’s hit me yet. It might be the medical field but I want to choose.”
“Yes! I might even want to be a lifeguard. Who knows? They were already out on the beach this morning when Eric and I got there. That would be a cool job to have, seeing the sunrise every morning and then they were going down the beach putting these cute little red flags on all the signs.”
“What were the signs?”
“Eric said all he saw was something about a RIP current. We didn’t read them. We wanted to hurry up before the sun got up.”
“Do you know what that is, a RIP current?”
“No. We figured it meant something like ‘resting in peace’. And it was peaceful. After the sun came up, while Eric went looking for shells, I took my shoes off and got in the water. It was so warm. Just as warm as any shower. I didn’t go too far past my knees. I didn’t want to get my clothes wet. Plus, I can’t swim anyway.”
“Tabrina. A RIP Current means that there’s a strong current in the water. It can pull you out to sea if you’re not careful. Those red flags were warning you, not beckoning you.”
“Ain’t that pretty over there – the sun coming through those colored windows. It’s making little rainbows in peoples’ hair. Betcha it looks just like those cotton flowers you were telling me about. ——-”
“Tabrina? Why so quiet?”
“He left me.”
“Who left you?”
“Eric! When I woke up, Eric was leaning over me, stroking my back and crying. His hair was dripping wet and he was yelling for help. I, I..couldn’t move. All I could do was stare at him.”
“You’re okay – Go on.”
“One of those lifeguards came up and started pushing on my chest. Eric – I could tell he was scared – his voice was shaking. The lifeguard kept yelling at him, asking him questions and then some policeman ran up. While everybody was looking at me, he ran. He ran so hard. He never even looked back.”
“Next thing I know, I’m here. ———————– Oh, geez. Shooot. That’s it, isn’t it? I’m dead. Right? That right!?”
“Aww, man. Aren’t people supposed to see white lights or something?”
“Some do, yes. Others, they come here. The ones that carry a heavy burden on their heart – they can’t cross over until it’s lifted.”
“I remember you now, before here. When I was under the water, I was so scared and…then you were there and I wasn’t scared anymore.”
“That’s right. I’ve always been by your side. Even when you weren’t looking for me, I’ve always been there.”
“Is Eric okay?”
“He will be. In time. He’s going to make a few mistakes but once he forgives himself he’ll be able to move forward and become the man he’s meant to be. You deserve a lot of credit for that. You were a big influence on him and gave him a good start.”
“This wasn’t Eric’s fault. He told me not to get in the water and then this huge wave came up and I lost my balance and panicked. Then my asthma…I couldn’t catch my breath. Water was everywhere.”
“I know. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t Eric’s fault. Eric knows it too but it’s going to be some time before he accepts it.”
“This is gonna break my parents’ heart. There was a girl back when I was in middle school; I didn’t know her but something happened. One day she didn’t come home from school. I see her mom and dad every now and then and they look so old. I don’t want that to happen to my mom and dad. You gotta help me.”
“TABRINA! Oh my God, honey. Where are you?”
“I’m in Florida, by the ocean.”
“Baby, please come home. It doesn’t matter, nothing matters, we’re not mad. We just want you home, honey, please.”
“Daddy? Daddy, I miss you so much. You and mama.”
“Tabrina, did Eric make you do this?”
“No. That’s why I needed to talk to you; to let you know I’m okay and that Eric didn’t .. he hasn’t hurt me or made me do anything I didn’t want to do. He’s a good person and I love him. All this was my idea and my doing.”
“Tabby, Tabrina – sorry, I know you hate it when I call you that. Is Eric ….”
“Daddy, you can call me Tabby all you want. I’ve always liked that name. I just thought it made me sound like a baby sometimes.”
“I know you’re getting so grown up. I don’t always see that. I use to call you Kitten, my little Tabby kitten, remember?”
“Yea, I do.”
“Oh, honey. Tell us where you are and me and Daddy will hop in the car or take a plane right this minute. It doesn’t matter. We’d go to the ends of the earth to bring you back home.”
“No. I’m okay. I’m not ready to come home. I don’t know if I ever will but I don’t want you to worry. Mama, don’t cry.”
“I can’t help it. I miss my daughter. Whatever we did to make you leave – just come back. We’ll talk it all out and fix it.”
“Listen. It’s important for you to know that you haven’t done anything wrong and you didn’t do anything that made me want to leave. I left because I wasn’t thinking and I was being immature. No matter what happens, you have to know you’re great parents and I love you with all my heart.”
“Tabby, let us talk to Eric. Is he there?”
“No. He’s not here right now. I’ve got to go, though.”
“No, don’t, honey.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to talk to you again. I love you guys forever and ever. Give Bobby a kiss for me and tell him – well, first, tell him to stay out of my room, and then .. tell him not to grow up like his sister, okay?”
“Thank you for letting me use your phone, Roger.”
“You’re welcome. Do you feel better?”
“Yea, I do. I don’t know if I made them feel better, though. I never heard my Dad cry before.”
“In time they’ll come to cherish that conversation.”
“Is Roger your real name?”
“I go by whatever name makes you feel comfortable.”
“Well, Roger, I feel like I need to go somewhere but I’m not sure how to get there.”
“I’m here to ease your way and bring you home.”
“My parents. They going to be okay now?”
“Yes, they will. They’re talking to me right now, as we speak, and I’m there with them, holding them close.”
“Will I see them again? And, Eric?”
“One day, my child, you’ll all be together again. My house is home to all my children. — Here, take my hand.”
By Gail Gentry
Erin slid the leather belt through the loops, tucked her white blouse into her khaki colored pants and slipped on her leather jacket. She finished with the Air and Space Museum yesterday which had been, truth be known, a little boring. Once you’ve seen one Apollo spacecraft and one spacesuit, you’ve seen them all.
She couldn’t wait to hit this museum today. Erin had put it on her list as one of the main tourist attractions she wanted to see when she got to D.C. earlier this week. She grabbed her Broncos baseball cap, pulled her ponytail through it’s open back, and closed the hotel door.
No time for breakfast, she wanted to be first in line when they opened. Her heartbeat thumped louder the closer she got, her footsteps keeping in time. Finally, maybe the dreams would stop.
She could still remember in vivid detail the one from this morning. Erin was perched on a boulder away from the riverbed, her legs tucked under her deerskin dress. Children were gathered round at the base watching her make a necklace out of beads hewn from pebbles. She listened to the children whispering to each other that the necklace they made would be prettier than the other’s. Taking her time, admiring her work, she was not prepared for the scream that pierced the morning air.
The warriors grabbed their bows and knives and ran towards the Chief’s asi. The screams from the Chief’s wife turned into wails as she stumbled out of the asi holding her face covered in third degree burns. The children and women, first frozen with fear, bolted and ran in the opposite direction. Erin, the Chief’s daughter, was not afraid. She had often been punished by her father for following the warriors into a hunt, acting more warrior than girl. She reached her mother first and glanced inside beyond the open door. Erin stared in disbelief as an ethereal green light slowly dissipated.
That was where the dream ended. For the last two years, no matter how hard she tried to go back to sleep and pick up in the same place, it was useless. It would begin again and end the same.
Erin looked up at the building. “The American Indian Museum.” The guard dressed in the crisp navy blue and white uniform unlocked the doors precisely at 9:00 a.m. and held them open for Erin. All was quiet as Erin was the only visitor so far. The squeak from her rubber soled Nikes hitting the tiled floor echoed throughout the lobby as she passed the souvenir shop and made her way to the information booth that lay ahead of her. Picking up a guide to the exhibits, she began her tour.
There wasn’t much to see on the first floor. The common exhibits you attribute to native American history – the wax figure of Pocahontas standing over John Smith pleading for his life; Sacagawea riding an Appaloosa horse in her expedition with Lewis and Clark; maps showing the different Native American Tribes of North America; and, of course, with all the Twilight mania an exhibit about the real Quileute tribe and wolves.
Erin climbed the stairs to the second floor. Now, Erin worked out. Swimming, treadmill, so there was no reason for her to be tense climbing a mere flight of stairs but with each step, her muscles tightened, her breath quickened. At the top of the staircase, every hair on the back of her neck stood out in anticipation. As if by some force, she was drawn to the hall to her left.
The frontier exhibit at the end opened up into a scene from a typical Cherokee camp. The dome-shaped asi stood in the corner. The figures outfitted in Cherokee attire appeared to be standing there, ready for the day. Built into the floor lay a shallow pool of water simulating a lake, beside it a young woman squatted picking up pebbles. Children hovered near her, giggling, their hands covering their mouth, holding in their excitement and laughter. They look so life-like, she thought.
Erin walked tentatively over to the young man. Her hand touched the side of his face. For a moment she saw not a wax figure but a strong warrior her age, his brown eyes bore into her, his head came down and touched forehead-to-forehead with her’s. A tear welled up in Erin’s eye.
Erin stepped away, the warrior remained frozen in time. She walked over to the asi. Erin shook her head. This was all wrong. This structure was built with plastic tubing and raffia instead of the limbs and thick grass used by the real Cherokees. She opened the door to peer inside. A green mist glowed from within and enveloped her.
Minutes later a security guard passed the entrance to the frontier exhibit. Empty, save for the wax statues.
Erin, dazed, lay on a bed of pine needles and leaves. She turned her head at the crackling sound and saw a small fire within a circle of stones. The warmth from the flames felt good on her skin warding off the cold air.
“Daughter, you waken.”
Erin tried to focus on where the voice was coming from. A man’s torso leaned across her. The weathered face came in to view.
“Daughter?” Erin mumbled.
A comforting smile spread across his lips.
Strange, but Erin recognized him. “You are Chief Brown Bear.”
A deep laugh rumbled up from his chest. “Yes, my Dayita, I am. But am I not also called ‘Father’ by you?”
Erin lifted up on her elbow, “What am I doing here?”
“You were thrown from your horse and been asleep for almost two days. I have been very worried and sent Mahesh back to camp to bring medicine.”
Erin didn’t understand. The last thing she remembered was stepping into the asi at the Smithsonian exhibit. Yet here she lay. The clothes she wore this morning gone and replaced with a cloak and buckskin skirt. She no longer wore her Nikes but a pair of mukmuks.
“Can you walk?”
“I believe so, yes.”
The Chief held out his callused hand and Erin reached for it.
“Good, then we ride to camp.”
When Erin rode into the village she felt as if she were living in her dream. Sounds of children playing and laughing, young warriors talking and shouting, and the women sitting in a circle shucking corn and preparing the food for the evening meal.
One woman stood up and ran toward them. Vaguely familiar, Erin watched as she came closer. Of course, she thought to herself, the woman with the burns. The Chief’s wife, her mother.
By then, the rest of the tribe saw the Chief with Erin and came over hugging and welcoming her back. All of them seemingly talking at once, touching her, assuring themselves she was okay. Erin smiled, nodding her head, when she felt a presence behind her. She turned around and there was the young warrior she had seen in the exhibit. Mahesh.
He took his hand and placed it on her cheek. Touching his forehead to hers. No words were necessary. The love for this man bloomed in her chest. She remembered it all – growing up with him, sharing their first kiss. He was going to ask her father for his permission to marry her.
Very quickly two months had passed. Erin delighted in learning all the intricacies and duties expected of a young female member of the tribe. But while Erin had fallen into an outwardly happy existence in the village, she was underneath it all homesick. She missed her real family – her own mother and father, two brothers and a little sister. She tried not to dwell on how worried they must be.
The dreams had started again too, except this time they ended differently. After the Chief’s wife had come out of the asi screaming, Erin had gone in after the warriors. There in the center, the Chief laid with his eyes open, his mouth frozen in surprise. His face, arms, chest, all visible skin was burned. The blisters so severe water seeped out of them making the skin sag and peel. Next to him sat a neon green rock. The Chief’s wife talked rapidly recounting how the stone’s glow had started to burn brighter with a green light inside of it. The Chief wanted to see what made it so bright so he took his tomahawk and split it open. When it separated, a green light burst from within burning her and killing the Chief. The warriors all looked at Mahesh for he had given the stone to the Chief as an offering for Erin’s hand in marriage. The Chief’s wife screamed at Mahesh, pointing her finger that he had brought this curse into their home. The warriors dragged him out of the asi and tied him up. That night after the Elders met, Mahesh was put to death as punishment. The tribe was thereafter thrown into chaos. The Elders fought amongst themselves as to who would become Chief. During a freak blizzard at what should have been the onset of spring, the tribe was ill-prepared. The warriors had left the village days before on a hunt and hadn’t returned. Erin’s dream ended watching the young children huddled with their mothers in the large asi used for ceremonies; the fire having died out earlier in the day and with no firewood left in camp to replace it, one by one they all succumbed to hypothermia.
To break up the monotony of her routine, Mahesh would take Erin out of the camp every few days and they would go in to the forest to hunt together. Erin had become quite the expert with the bow and arrow, able to shoot fast rabbits or running deer. When they would tire they would find a nice spot to lay a blanket and eat the best corn bread Erin had ever tasted and smoked venison.
Erin loved listening to the deep timbre voice of Mahesh as he retold her stories of hunts with the other warriors.
One afternoon as they sat talking, Erin said, “Tell me again the story of how you became friends with the little black bear.”
Mahesh flashed a grin, “How many times have you asked for this story?”
“Once more, please. It is a nice story.”
“Late one afternoon after my cousin, Nayu, and I had been hunting all we had caught were a few rabbits and squirrels. We came over a hill and there in our path right in front of us was a big black bear.” Mahesh threw his arms out wide, “He was two times the size of both of us together. The black bear smelled the blood from our hunt and stood up. His roar filled the whole mountainside. Nayu and I jumped off our horses grabbing our bows and arrows and started shooting. My aim was true and hit the bear right in the eye. The bear was easy to kill after that. Nayu’s horse had run off and I helped him go look for it. When we came back to get the bear there were two cubs sitting beside their mother. Nayu was going to kill them. I said ‘No! They cannot provide food.’ He laughed and said they would make good mukmuks. He lifted his bow and arrow and I leapt from my horse and pulled him off of his. We landed on the ground. Nayu is strong but not as strong as I. He took his bow and hit me across my forehead but I pushed him off of me. I held him down and said to him that I would tell the other warriors how he left me to kill the bear while he went after the defenseless cubs. Nayu knew I would do this. He does not speak to me to this day. I took the cubs and put them in a cave close to the village. I brought food to them and played with them each day until they were able to take care of themselves. Then I set them free. The next winter when I was out hunting alone, a cougar took me by surprise. My horse threw me off and I lay there as the cougar advanced on me. Suddenly from out of nowhere a black bear appeared and stood between me and the cougar. The cougar ran off in fear. The black bear turned and looked at me and then walked away. I knew in my heart it was one of the cubs returning the good deed I had done them.”
Erin sat up on her knees and leaned over to Mahesh, brushing his hair off his forehead.
“Is this where Nayu hit you?”
“Yes, there is a scar there to remind me.”
Erin kissed his forehead. She looked into his eyes and softly kissed his cheek. She moved lower and covered his lips with hers.
“What are you doing?” he said, pushing her away from him.
“Kissing you. We’ve kissed before, haven’t we?”
“Yes. But never like that. Why did you open your mouth?”
Erin giggled, realizing this was something a little more modern than what he was use to. “I thought I’d try something different.”
Mahesh stared at her, a seductive smile creeping across his face, “I liked it. You are different now, Dayita. Ever since you were thrown from the horse you have been a different person. I sense this.”
“Oh, really,” Erin said teasingly. She pushed Mahesh to the ground and laid on top of him. “You like the new me?”
“Yes, I do,” he said as he shifted underneath her.
Erin kissed him again. Opening his mouth wide beneath her lips to receive her tongue, Mahesh wrapped his arms tightly around her hugging her against his frame. Erin could feel him grow against her, his leggings not much of a barrier. Erin moved over top of him.
Breathless, Mahesh said, “We must stop. I am not your husband yet.”
Erin started to protest but Mahesh stood up.
“Come. We need to go back to camp. I will ask for your hand soon.”
Erin, her cheeks flushed went to her horse. Mahesh followed behind her and offered his hand for her to step in.
“I can do it myself, thank you.”
Mahesh cocked his head to the side trying to comprehend what just happened as he watched Erin grab the horse’s mane and steer it into a gallop towards camp.
Erin found even with all her chores and playtimes with the children, she had too much time on her hands to think. If she were back home, she’d be working during the day at her dental hygienist job and going to class at night taking art classes. Friday nights would find her at the local clubs dancing the night away. Saturday would be date night with one of her friends or if she got lucky, someone she met Friday night and then Sundays would be spent at her parent’s home.
This change had certainly been an adjustment for her. Wake up at sunrise, join the women and help prepare breakfast and get lunch started, then she would go tend the winter crops for a few hours. Since she was the Chief’s daughter she was given certain leeway’s. She had shown those who would listen how to take better care of their teeth and she had made the children busy making necklaces and bracelets. Her art classes came in handy too and she had stitched beautiful designs onto some of the skirts for the women. Warm weather would soon be approaching and many from the tribe would travel closer to the coast and barter with other villages for provisions. She and Mahesh still kept to their weekly outages into the forest to hunt but ever since the time when she had tried to be close to him, he became aloof when away from the camp.
The dreams were becoming more intense and more detailed. She would wake up either crying or not being able to sleep at all, afraid of what her dreams would hold in store for her that night. It was at the point where it was disturbing the sleep of the other two young women she shared the asi with. They finally asked Erin if she would mind if they went elsewhere to live. Erin was embarrassed it had come to that but actually it was a relief to finally be on her own again.
Erin felt more herself than the whole time she had been there. It was almost as if she were back living on her own in her apartment again. This new independence reflected in how she carried herself and Mahesh became concerned. He felt she was drifting away from him. One afternoon while in the forest hunting, he asked her if she still loved him.
Erin lowered her head, “Yes, I do,” but with renewed confidence she took a deep breath and added, “I’m just not the same girl you once knew.”
“Have I done something wrong?”
“No! Not at all.”
“Is there someone else you have eyes for?”
“Then I have waited too long to ask for your hand?”
“I don’t know what I want any more. I’m not sure I can be the wife you want me to be. I’m not like the other women.”
Mahesh took her face in his hands. “I don’t want you to be like the other women. I want you to be like my woman.” He wanted his Dayita back and leaned down and kissed her. Mahesh touched his forehead to hers, placed his hand on her cheek, “You will be a good wife.”
Erin wondered how could she marry a man who doesn’t know who she really is? What if she were to find a way home, could she leave him? That night, the dream returned. She saw Mahesh being dragged away from her father’s home. After the Elders’ decision, the young warriors, with Nayu first in line, beat Mahesh and then slit his throat with the Chief’s tomahawk. She awoke shaking. The dreams were becoming so real. Not able to go back to sleep, Erin went to Mahesh’s asi. He slept there with three other young warriors. She quietly opened the door, just wanting to see him to reassure herself he was safe. Mahesh was not asleep and saw her. Getting up, he took her elbow and led her outside.
Erin lay her forehead against his chest, “I need to talk to you.”
“Now? It is late, the moon has passed us and it will be morning soon.”
“Please,” she begged, “I want to tell you about me and if I don’t do it now I might not have the courage to do it tomorrow.”
Erin led him back to her asi and told him of her world. Mahesh listened intently, asking her questions, particularly about airplanes and big cities made of concrete. When she was done, he just sat there, cross-legged looking her.
“Dayita, do you truly believe what you have told me?”
“Yes. I must admit in the last few months I have wondered if I dreamed it while I was unconscious but I know what I have told you to be the truth.”
“Have you told your father?”
“No, you are the only one I’ve wanted to tell.”
Mahesh took a stray lock of hair and placed it behind her ear. “Are all the women in your world like you?”
Erin put her face in her hands and wept, her shoulders convulsing, releasing all the tension she’d felt all these many months.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“You spoke to me like you believed what I told you.”
“I do believe you. You say it, therefore I believe it.”
Erin went and sat on his lap. “Hold me, please. I need to feel your arms around me.”
Mahesh embraced her. Erin lifted her face to his and they kissed, their tongues dancing. Erin leaned into Mahesh and they laid on the blanketed ground. She kissed his neck, his chest. Mahesh began to say something but Erin kissed him quickly and whispered, “Tonight I need you.”
Mahesh gave himself to her. He held and stroked her while she kissed and tasted with her tongue every sinewy muscle. Erin lifted up and straddled him, pushing aside his loincloth. He groaned as she plunged down on him. She moved over him, gyrating slowly then as their breathing quickened, so did her thrusts onto him. When they came as one she leaned onto him and kissed him smothering their cries of ecstasy.
Mahesh whispered in her ear, “Woman, I will begin tomorrow to find a gift for your father. We will be married in a fortnight.”
Erin nodded her head. “You better go, it will be light soon.” They walked in a lover’s silence to the door, each not wanting to let go of the other. As they stepped outside for one last kiss, Erin looked up. “Oh look, a shooting star.” Her eyes grew wide in alarm. “That’s going to be close!” It crossed over their heads and they could hear the thud coming from the forest as it landed. Mahesh looked at her. “That will be the name of our first born, Shooting Star.”
The next day Erin stayed at camp with the women while a group of the young warriors went scouting for food. Erin was in a wonderful mood, humming a tune she remembered from her iPod.
Later that afternoon the men returned. Their hunt had not been as successful as they hoped. Mahesh passed Erin not stopping to say hello and headed straight for the Chief. “I wish to speak with you,” he said.
The Chief motioned him into his asi. When they came out the Chief spoke loudly, “My daughter and Mahesh are to be married.” Erin jumped up and ran to her father. “Your future husband brought me a wonderful gift, daughter. Unlike anything I have ever seen.”
“What is it?”
“I will show you later. For now you must help the women prepare a feast to celebrate!”
Erin sat down next to Mahesh as they ate. “So, are you going to tell me what you gave my father?”
“Do you remember that shooting star we saw this morning? I found it. It is beautiful.”
Erin looked around for the Chief and saw he was talking to the elders. “I want to go see it.”
“You are too curious. Your father wants to show the tribe tonight. The rock glows.”
Erin grimaced, “It glows?”
She got up and snuck over to her father’s asi. When she went inside, the meteoroid was in the center. As she got closer to it, the hair on her arms stood and she could feel herself being pulled towards it. Erin stopped. She remembered now the green light that surrounded her as she stepped into the exhibit back in the Smithsonian. She was looking at her way back home.
Her breath hitched in her chest knowing she had fallen in love for Mahesh. She wasn’t sure of course, but the woman in her told her he had planted his seed in her last night. She looked at the door wanting to run outside and into his arms one last time but heard the revelry grow louder. Soon the Chief would be coming in to show off the gift. Erin looked back at the meteoroid and saw her dream and the death this would bring to Mahesh and the tribe if she let it stay. Sweat ran down her temple to join the tears running down her cheek. Erin moved forward and picked up the meteoroid.
Chief Brown Bear stepped inside his home but did not see the stone. He searched and called his wife asking her if she had taken it. It was only moments before they realized Dayita was nowhere to be found either.
Erin sat in the window box in her apartment looking out at the street. She had no idea whether the tribe had survived or not. When she returned, the stone was not with her. She used the explanation that she had run away with a man she met in D.C. but it hadn’t worked out. Erin didn’t know if her parents bought it or not. The dreams had stopped. She got her old job back but gave up the art classes. Her time at home was more needed. The baby she held in her arms smiled sweetly up at her, pulling at her hair while he sucked on a bottle. She cooed, “One day, Shooting Star, you will understand all the stories I tell you about your father.” Erin took the empty bottle from the baby’s mouth and laid it on the bench beside her. Lifting Shooting Star against her shoulder, “My favorite,” she continued, “is the one where he became friends with the black bear…” Softly she pat Shooting Star’s back in rhythm to a long ago silenced tribal drum. With his mother’s comforting voice lulling him to sleep, Shooting Star fought against heavy eyelids. Unlike his father’s and mother’s brown eyes, Shooting Star was born with beautiful hazel eyes. And if you looked deep enough and long enough into them, you could make out a green ember sparking to life.
By Gail Gentry
Marilyn slowed the white patrol car to a stop and waited for the doe and her fawn to cross the highway. The squirrels were active this morning too. She spied two digging in her big clay flowerpots by the front door, while others dashed across her lawn as she sprinted to the car. The North Cascades was kissed by the first snow of the season last night and the animals seemed to sense time running out to gather provisions for the winter. The doe met Marilyn’s eyes and sniffed the air, gauging whether she was friend or foe.
Normally Marilyn would have savored this commune with nature but she was in a hurry. She overslept this morning and didn’t get a chance to fix a pot of coffee. Whenever the Walmart circular showed one of those automatic coffee makers on sale, she wondered if she shouldn’t break down and buy one but so far she just couldn’t bring herself to forego her morning routine of stumbling half asleep into the kitchen, dumping coffee beans into the grinder and sniffing the aroma of that bean getting cracked open for the first time. The sweet hazelnut smell woke her up just as much as the caffeine did.
The doe waited patiently as her baby grazed on the grass pushing through the snow. Worried they were still too close to the road; Marilyn flipped the switch on the dashboard, turning the siren on to nudge the mother and baby deeper in the brush.
Marilyn always enjoyed the dips and hills on the ride into town. It reminded her of the roller coaster ride that came with the carnival every summer to Kotori. The forest of tall evergreens thinned as you got closer and when the tree line broke, you were met by rolling blue-green pastures leading you down to the town nestled in the valley. According to Chinook Legend, one of the nearby mountains, known locally as Sharp Top Mountain, use to be an active volcano. In the deep of winter one year it had begun to billow smoke and ash. The mighty Chief Kotori, fearing for his tribe, built a tipi in honor of the Sun Goddess Unilanuki. He burned elements from mother earth: brush, limbs and rocks while he fasted and prayed beseeching Unilanuki to remove the fire within the mountain. After the tenth day, the Sun Goddess, finding Chief Kotori’s faithfulness pleasing sealed the dome.
The modern Town of Kotori had never seen anything remotely as exciting. The biggest event was the annual trout tournament where fishermen from all across the state and nearby Canada came to throw their lines in the Ottawa River. After Marilyn in her official capacity of Sheriff read the rules of competition, she would stay and answer any questions for the newcomers while those anglers who made it to the tournament year after year would leave the check-in point immediately and, using stealth even a Navy SEAL would be proud of, launch their boats and be down the river before they could be followed.
Outside of the tournament and the occasional teenager speeding down Main Street, Kotori was a sleepy community dotted with Bed and Breakfast Inns for those wanting to get away from city life. Until….today.
Marilyn thought she was seeing shadows play on the face of the utility terminal but when she drove up next to it, it wasn’t shadows at all. There in bold black letters someone had painted the word “MOB!” Marilyn pulled off the road and walked over to the big green box. The painted letters were not here yesterday. Touching the paint, it was still damp. She could see in the snow-covered ground a fresh set of footprints leading up to and circling the utility box. Judging from the ridges within the indentation they appeared to have been made by what looked to be a rather large pair of sneakers.
She swung her head in both directions of the highway but this time of morning, there was never much traffic. After digging the digital camera out of the glove box, she took pictures of the graffiti and footprints and headed to her office.
“Good morning Mari,” Dorothy said, not even looking up from the travel brochure. Dorothy had to be in her late 70’s. She had worked for Marilyn’s father and grandfather, both of whom had been Sheriff of Kotori as well. Dorothy had never been outside the State of Washington. Whenever asked why she didn’t travel to see the beautiful vistas she so loved to look at, she would reply, “First thing anyone ever says when they get back from a vacation is how tired they are. Why spend all that money to vacation somewhere and get worn out? No sir, everything I need to see I can see right here from my desk and still have plenty of energy to play with the Silver Queens,” the all-woman band that played every Saturday night at the Elk Lodge. There were some that said the only reason bear was never spotted in town was because of the altissimo notes Dorothy could reach on the saxophone.
When Sheriff O’Shay passed away suddenly two years ago of heart failure, the Mayor and City Council urged his daughter, a recent graduate from college with a Forensic Degree, to stay and run for office, continuing the O’Shay tradition. Devlin Mayne, the town doomsayer and ex-Marine who thought of himself another Rambo, had put up a fierce campaign running against Marilyn and didn’t hide his contempt when she won by a landslide. He refused to give a concession speech; instead telling Marilyn in front of the crowd at her victory party that they would be sorry they elected her as sheriff and not him. One day, he vowed, she and the rest of the residents would come begging for him to rescue them from the lawlessness and destruction that was sure to follow.
Dorothy closed the magazine and looked up with a wide smile, “Nippy this morning don’t you think? Not much snow last night but it’s coming. My knees are telling me it’s going to be a deep snow too.”
Marilyn nodded her head. She had no doubt Dorothy was right. As long as Marilyn had known Dorothy, she had a knack for predicting the weather. Marilyn always told her she should have been a weathergirl. Then again, she wouldn’t know what she would do without her if she did leave. Dorothy was as much a fixture to this office as the well-worn oak desk and squeaky jail cell door. It was as dated as that old show, Mayberry R.F.D. with Andy Griffith, but she loved it. Sometimes she felt more at home here than at her own place. The City Council offered to refurbish the interior after she took office by laying new vinyl flooring and buying new furniture but she didn’t want to part with any of it, save one. The only piece she did want replaced was her father’s chair. It was hard enough to fill his shoes, let alone his chair. Tucked in a corner of the Sheriff’s Office at a T.V. stand-turned makeshift desk, young Mari would quietly do homework after school. She would listen to her father deliver stern lectures to mischievous teens and wayward spouses, and watch as he leaned intimately into a conversation with those people, particularly the older residents, that just needed an understanding confidant.
Marilyn walked over to the metal coffee stand and poured the steaming coffee into her mug; she counted five spoonful’s of sugar and closed her eyes feeling the warmth from that first sip spiral downward.
Dorothy said, “Child, you should cut down on all that sugar. It’s bad for the teeth.”
“It’s the only thing that makes me sweet,” Marilyn said, as she sat down on the corner of Dorothy’s desk.
Dorothy grinned up at her, “I’m not so sure Tom would agree with you. That man’s smitten and I think it’s about time he made an honest woman out of you” waging her finger.
Tom had been Marilyn’s boyfriend for a little over a year. He had moved into town and bought the Bait and Tackle Shop after becoming disenchanted with the hauling and trucking company in Gladstone, the next town over from Kotori.
The two had met when Marilyn went to introduce herself to the new owner of the Bait and Tackle Shop and welcome him to town. After finding the shop’s door locked and with no lights on inside, she decided to take advantage of the warm fall day and solitude not often found there during the early morning hours. She walked out to the end of the pier, stripped down to her underwear and cannonballed into the cool water. Marilyn popped up out of the water giggling and turned to face the shore. That’s when she saw him standing near the boulder at the curve of the river. She knew he had seen her, catching him as he whipped his head around pretending to look the opposite way. He just stood there now swinging his line back and forth over the water ignoring her. Taking advantage of his gallantry, Marilyn reached up and grabbed her clothes from the pier pulling them into the water with her. Concerned more with modesty, she tread water until she got shirt and slacks back on and then swam to the bank.
As if this happened to her all the time, Marilyn walked up to him, rivulets of water from her hair and clothes cascading into her now squishy shoes. With a steady voice she said, “How’s the fishing?”
The tall man turned and with eyes as blue as the water she just came out of, pointed over to his bucket half-filled with trout. He looked at her with a lopsided grin, “Take a look for yourself!”
“Wow, they’re beautiful,” was all Marilyn could muster, hoping he would think she was referring to the fish. If only that Bait and Tackle Shop were open, she would run inside and borrow a pole just to set a line next to his and get to know him. Instead, she looked down at her blue, state-issued pants and, realizing she was still in uniform, albeit a wet uniform, did the only thing she could do. Squaring her shoulders, she stated with as much dignity as she could gather, “Can I see your fishing license?”
His eyes opened wide and mouth hung down, the dimples in his cheeks disappearing. Hesitating, he said, “I, uh, haven’t bought one yet.”
Marilyn’s heart sank. She knew it was her duty now to issue him a ticket and that was probably going to kill any chance she had of learning more about him.
“Is this your first visit to Ottawa River?”
“Well, yes and no,” he said, reeling his line in and laying the pole down.
“I’ve been here before but never to fish.”
“Then I’ll just give you a warning this time, but if I see you here fishing again without a license I’ll have to write you a ticket.” She turned to walk up the bank.
“I think you should write me a ticket.”
He walked up to her, “I said, I think you should write me a ticket.” With that, he held out his hand, “My name is Tom, Tom Ridgefield, the new owner of the Bait and Tackle.” Notwithstanding her curvy figure sans clothes, Tom thought Marilyn the most breathtaking girl he had ever seen and when she turned to walk away, he blurted out the first thing he could think of to keep her there a little bit longer.
Marilyn’s lips turned up, snorting, she said, “You bought the bait and tackle shop and forgot to issue yourself a license?”
Tom later said he fell in love with her right then. Her peal of laughter was melodious. He couldn’t help but join in when, as she turned to shake his hand, her wet foot squeaked against the inside sole of her shoe and made what sounded to be a very unlady-like noise. He invited her to dinner that evening and fixed her the illegal trout. Tom chided her as they washed dishes together that since the evidence no longer existed her ticket would never hold up in court. The ticket was never issued and their attachment to each other grew more each day.
Marilyn looked over her coffee cup, “Dorothy I can tell you’ve been hitting those romance books again. Men don’t get smitten anymore. They take their time. Tom and I enjoy each other’s company, that’s all.”
Dorothy raised her eyebrows and muttered, “Um hmm.”
Marilyn went to her desk and took the camera out of her jacket. “What time does Buster’s Hardware open?”
“Should be any minute now. Why are you asking?” Dorothy stood up to peer out the blinds of the window towards Buster’s to see if his pick-up truck was parked in front.
“On my way to work, someone painted some graffiti on that big telephone box outside of town. I want to see if he’s sold spray-paint to anyone lately.”
“Oh,” was all Dorothy said, dropping the venetian slat and sitting back down. She pulled the brochure back over to read.
Marilyn continued, “At least I get to do some investigating for a change.”
The Town of Kotori had seen little criminal activity in the last five years. Marilyn didn’t have much to do in the way of official business except write the occasional speeding ticket and break up the bar fights that usually spiked on the first Friday of each month when the truckers came over from Gladstone after cashing their paychecks. It seemed they didn’t want to carry on and get drunk in their own town and risk their bosses finding out. The mundane tasks made Tom happy since it kept him from worrying about her safety but all it did was make her restless.
Marilyn got up from the desk and put on her jacket. Before leaving she asked Dorothy, “Do you have any ideas on why anyone would just paint the word ‘MOB’ on something?”
Dorothy, her nose back in the brochure, absently said, “Nope, sure don’t.”
Marilyn turned and walked down the sidewalk. Each morning she took a leisurely stroll down both sides of Main Street saying hi to the merchants and early shoppers. The routine gave them a sense of security and it gave Marilyn a chance to hear any pertinent gossip. She would sometimes run into Mayor Branson as he was exiting the Café and Grill. The Mayor and her father had been best friends and after her father passed away, Mayor Branson did his best to portray a fatherly role in her life. Often when seeing her on duty, he would put his fingers in his belt, lean back on his heels, and point out the fact that she wasn’t wearing her gun belt. Marilyn was an expert shot but she had been trained in tai kwon do. Her father had made sure that she knew how to defend herself “against those college boys”. The Mayor became so insistent, that she finally relented and bought a Taser.
Marilyn walked in to the only hardware store in town. You opened the door, the bell hanging from the top jingled, and you were instantly hit with the smell of fresh-cut lumber which Buster kept on hand in the back of the store for Do-It-Yourself projects. Any job bigger than that would require a special delivery from the sawmill fifty miles away. When Marilyn brought Tom in here the first time he couldn’t get over the diversity in inventory. If you needed to build or fix something in your house or in your yard, Buster had it. After the Bait and Tackle Shop, this was the next big hang-out for the men in town. After the greetings and small talk, Marilyn got down to business. She handed Buster a picture that she printed off her camera and asked him, “Have you sold any black spray-paint recently?”
Buster glanced at the picture and quickly handed it back to Marilyn. “Not that I recall, no.”
Marilyn looked down at the photo. “You know why anyone would paint ‘MOB!’ on something?”
Buster picked up a dust cloth and started wiping the counter, “Have no idea why people do things sometimes.”
Marilyn walked out of the store slightly disappointed. So far, she seemed to be the only one who was really interested in getting to the bottom of this. It was probably silly to be so excited over such a little misdemeanor but she had waited so long to sink her teeth into an investigation and follow in her father’s footsteps. The story was legendary. Sheriff O’Shay in his early days of office spotted a drifter coming out of the bank. Suspicious, he approached him to find out what his business was here. At that precise moment, one of the bank teller’s ran out of the bank yelling they’d just been robbed. Oh, how she would love to catch a real criminal.
Marilyn got in the patrol car and headed back to the utility box to see if she could find any other clues. She pulled up on the other side of the road and walked around the green terminal. She halted and could only stare in disbelief. Nothing was there. Marilyn looked up and down the road, knowing this was the only terminal on the highway but she was truly dumbstruck. Why would anyone paint it and then clean it off?
Somewhat dejected that her case literally vanished, she went back to the office and filled out the reports.
The next day Marilyn was back in her routine. After drinking her coffee at her desk and commenting on the book Dorothy was now reading, Marilyn stepped on to the sidewalk to take her morning jaunt down Main Street. At the end was the hair salon. Edna tapped on the window with a brush and waved at Marilyn while she styled her customer’s hair. Marilyn smiled, lifted her hand and turned to cross the street. Looking right, you saw the Sheriff’s Office and the rest of “downtown Kotori”. Going left you were heading back out of town towards Ottawa River and the Bait and Tackle Shop. Marilyn gasped. There on the side of the gas station building in big black letters was written “MOB COMING!”
Marilyn sprinted over to the gas station and ran inside of the garage where Hank was working underneath an old chevy. “Hank,” Marilyn shouted.
Startled, Hank cursed as he dropped the wrench he was holding. He slid out and looked at her, his mouth turned down. “What’s going on, Marilyn?”
“Why haven’t you called the office to let us know someone spray-painted the side of your building?”
Hank got up slowly, wiping his hands on his oily coveralls. “The devil you say,” and walked outside with Marilyn.
Marilyn pointed, “You didn’t notice it when you came in this morning?”
“Nope, I come from the other way. Got no reason to walk over here.” Hank stopped and looked up. “Well I’ll be. Wonder who did that?”
Marilyn’s green eyes danced. Her case was back on and more interesting than ever. She turned and yelled over her shoulder as she hurried back to the office, “Don’t you worry Hank, I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
After she printed out the pictures taken from Hank’s Garage, Marilyn decided to drive over to the high school and wait for classes to end so she could ask some of the kids if they knew anything. They were more curious than she was and even thought it was “cool” as they expressed an admiration for anyone bold enough to spray-paint the side of a building. She didn’t miss the fact that Dan and Bobby, two of the roughest kids in school, fist-bumped each other.
Marilyn hurried to get home and shower before her date with Tom that evening. They hadn’t seen each other all week and she couldn’t wait to fill him in on the details of her case.
Tom listened intently, one eyebrow hooking up when she hit on the fact of when she went back to the utility box, the letters were gone. “Why would anybody just write one word and then erase it?” he muttered.
Mari waited for an answer while Tom rubbed the cleft in his chin with his index finger, something he always did when deep in thought.
Tom snapped his fingers, “Maybe it’s one of those, oh shoot, what are they called – Flash Mobs. You know where everyone gets together and has a dance routine or something. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s in a couple of those commercials on T.V.”
Marilyn laughed and got up to go home, “Then someone better come see me for a crowd permit.”
The next morning before going in to the office, she decided to pay a visit to Bobby’s parents. If Bobby was involved in any misconduct it was a given Dan would be too. After talking to Bobby’s mother however, when the boys brought home bad report cards last week they were grounded with no after-school activities allowed until their grades were brought back up.
In a hurry, Marilyn pushed open the door to the Sheriff’s Office. Dorothy slammed the phone receiver down without even a “Goodbye”.
Marilyn cocked her head and asked “What was that all about?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. Just a wrong number. Where are you in a rush to?”
“I want to go over to Buster’s to see what I can use to take a sample of that paint. Then I’m going to ride over to Gladstone and leave it at the police lab. They’ll be able to analyze it and tell me who makes the paint and where it’s being sold.”
Dorothy straightened up, “Oh, Hank called this morning. He said someone cleaned off the side of the building last night.”
Marilyn stomped her foot. Dorothy stifled a chuckle, remembering the temper tantrums Mari use to throw as a little girl whenever she got frustrated. Those blonde curls would bounce clean off her shoulders each time she brought her foot down.
Marilyn grabbed the car keys and, without saying a word, turned to go. Before she could reach for the door handle, Mayor Branson burst in. One look told her he was in a snit. The spider veins on his cheeks spread across his nose and reached up to his ears. “Sheriff, I just came from the Café. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise this morning because everyone there is talking about the graffiti popping up all over the place. What is going on in this town?”
Marilyn’s shoulders sagged. “I’m on top of it Mayor. It’s hard to get a handle on it though when the graffiti keeps disappearing.”
Mayor Branson gave her a stern eye, leaned back on his heels, and said “Maybe it’s time you took that electric toy out of your pocket and belted up with some real firepower.”
Marilyn tried to soothe him, “Mayor, there’s been no destruction of property. My guess is someone is trying to have some fun.”
Marilyn stayed long enough to fill the Mayor in on what steps were being taken to find the culprit. “Could this day get any worse,” she thought as she got into her car. She needed to go see Tom and let off some steam. Marilyn only gave a quick glance at the clean garage as she passed it.
After Tom bought the Bait and Tackle Shop, he only made a few minor aesthetic changes. Where the previous sign was fabricated from a scrap piece of lumber, Tom ordered a professional sign custom-made. Emblazoned with Tom’s Bait & Tackle in big red letters, the background was carved with blue waves and a fresh water fisherman in waders casting a fly over the stream. Marilyn described it as “very artsy” while she admired him mount it overtop the porch sheltering a half dozen well-worn rockers. In the summer, the anglers would relax there after a long day of fly-fishing. Tom would have a wood barrel sitting out filled to the top with ice and beer. As the ice melted and bottles of beer consumed, the tales of catching a glimpse and almost snaring Merlin, the oldest and biggest trout ever to swim the waters of Ottawa River, would get more grandiose.
The lane to the Bait and Tackle Shop was right up ahead designated by a sign with an arrow pointing in the direction to turn. “Oh no,” Marilyn moaned.
Tom was standing next to the sign. With his brow furrowed and arms crossed over his chest, he turned as Marilyn got out of the car. “I was just getting ready to call you,” he said in a somber voice.
The sign, now defaced with the word “MOB!” scrawled next to the arrow, taunted her as she walked up to it.
“Oh Tom, I’m so sorry. And with the tournament right around the corner,” her breath hitched.
Tom lay his arm around her shoulder, “It’s okay honey. Hey, I’ve got a good reason now to replace this old thing and match it up to the one at the shop.”
“That’s not the point.” She backed out of his embrace, “And when I’m on duty like this, don’t call me honey. It’s….unprofessional.”
Tom sighed, “I just don’t want you to get all worked up.”
Marilyn, offended at his condescending attitude, placed her hands on her hips, “Worked up? It’s my job to get worked up as you call it. This is vandalism.”
Tom smiled his lopsided grin, “I think you’re enjoying this.”
Marilyn gasped, “How can you say such a thing? I don’t enjoy seeing other people’s property ruined.”
“You’ve been saying for as long as I’ve known you that you would give anything to have a real mystery going on in this town for you to solve,” Tom said.
The next morning Marilyn phoned Tom at the shop. “Don’t tell me. The letters are gone.”
“They’re still here and I must say I’m hurt no one thought enough of me to clean them off,” Tom replied with a chuckle.
Marilyn felt guilty for feeling so elated that the sign remained tarnished, “Since tomorrow’s Saturday, I’ll come over early and we’ll take care of it, okay?”
“No can do. The tournament’s next week and I can’t waste time. I’ve already called Buster to get the sign fixed and he’s sending someone out later.”
Marilyn paused and, disappointed, poked her bottom lip out. She’d been so busy this week with work, she missed him. “Well I can come and help you set up.”
“Sweetie, I’m going to be swamped most of the day tomorrow and you know when you’re around me I get totally distracted. Besides, I’ve got some of the guys coming out tomorrow to help me stock the shelves and get set up. Why don’t you come out here around 8:00. I’d like to see what you think about the changes I’m making this year and I should be done by then so we can go grab something to eat.”
The next day Marilyn pulled her hair back in a ponytail and slid into her oldest pair of jeans. If any preparations were left to be done, she wanted to be dressed for a long night to help Tom finish. She stopped by Roman’s Pizzeria and picked up a chicken and pineapple pizza, Tom’s favorite, on her way. She figured if he’d been working all day, he’d probably be too tired to go out to eat and, by having a quiet meal together, it would give Marilyn the chance she needed to talk to Tom about the case.
With no distractions from work today, her thoughts were able to flow freely mulling over every detail of why the word “MOB.” They kept bringing her back to one person. Devlin Mayne. She dropped by his place yesterday on the way home just to take a look see, maybe stop in and chat, get a feel for things. What she found surprised her. Devlin’s home was in a terrible state of disrepair. One shutter dangled, holding on by just a nail. Through the open barn door, she spotted a dilapidated John Deere tractor; the tall brown grass outside, at least a foot tall, evidencing the fact that it was inoperable. After she didn’t get an answer at the door, she walked back to her car but not before she thought she saw one of the curtains from an upstairs’ window move aside and drop back down.
It was pitch dark as she rode down the lane to the Bait and Tackle Shop. Normally, Tom left lights on in the gravel parking lot, even when they were closed. She pulled up and instantly the hairs on the back of her neck turned up. Not a light shown from the area. Although several cars were in the parking lot, there was no sign of Tom or anyone else. The only sound she heard was the slapping of the water against the bank. Since Marilyn was off duty she drove her 1990 Volkswagen. Not really the type of car that growled “don’t mess with me.”
She picked the pizza up from the seat and opened the squeaky car door. “Tom?” she called out. “Anyone here?”
Silly girl, she thought. All this business of mystery solving was playing with her imagination. Tom probably went to get some needed supplies or maybe off to pick up some dinner, great minds thinking alike and all.
Marilyn pulled her cell phone out of her jeans and flipped it open to call him.
At that moment the lights in the parking lot and store flashed on illuminating the entire area.
“SURPRISE!” yelled 75 people.
Everything dropped out from Marilyn’s hands as she went into the tai kwon do Command stance.
Tom strode out of the doorway of the shop, his thumb pointing to the sign above the porch. Painted in bold black letters was “MOB!”
Marilyn, wide-eyed, covered her mouth with both hands, horrified at the graffiti-covered sign.
Tom walked up to her and folded her into his arms. Marilyn paid no attention to the crowd clapping, Dorothy standing in the front with the Mayor waving and laughing; or Hank and Buster slapping each other on the back. She could not focus on anything beyond the destruction of the sign. Marilyn looked up at Tom as tears began to pool in her eyes, “What are all these people doing here?”
Tom kissed her forehead and wiped the lone tear racing down her cheek. “You really forgot what today is?”
Marilyn confused, drew a blank. Tom snickered as he saw her mimic his habit of placing her hand on her chin.
“Honey, it’s your birthday.”
“Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed, “I’ve just been so busy with…” Then like the lights coming on in the parking lot, it dawned on her. “This is a surprise birthday party? For me?”
Tom smiled and pointed up at each letter, “I’ve been inviting people all week to Marilyn O’Shay’s Birthday – M O B.”
The crowd took it’s cue and yelled in unison, “Happy Birthday, Mari.”
Later that night, Tom and Marilyn sat on one of the boulders overlooking the river. Snuggled against each other Marilyn said, “Why the graffiti? You could have just sent out invitations.”
Tom squeezed her closer, “I wanted to give you your mystery to solve.” He leaned over, pressed his lips against her neck and whispered, “I hope this birthday will be one you never want to forget.”
He reached into his shirt pocket and brought out a ring box.
Marilyn couldn’t hide her joy as Tom slid off the rock and proposed.
They walked hand in hand to leave when Marilyn said, “You know, I’m going to have to write you a ticket for vandalism of public property.”
Tom walked over to the outside spigot on the front of the store and grabbed the hose. Aiming at the letters, he turned the handle and washed off the watercolor paint. With a smug look, he said “Just destroyed the evidence Sheriff.”
Marilyn sauntered up to him and threw her arms around his neck, “You’re becoming a habitual offender. What am I going to do with you? ”
Tom placed both his hands on her face and said with a husky voice, “Give me a life sentence … with you.”
The next spring, Marilyn signed off on her last Thank You note. The town was still reminiscing how beautiful their wedding was, now almost eight weeks ago. It was held in the spot where they met, along the bank of the Ottawa River behind the shop.
The birthday gift turned out better than even Tom envisioned. In his promise to give her a mystery to solve for her birthday, he inadvertently set her off on her first case. The week after the party, Buster’s Hardware was broken into and the theft included, among other small items, six pieces of two by four lumber and two cases of fire starters. What was even more disturbing was the note left behind declaring that soon the town would pay for the mistake they made. From a search of the records at the County Registrar’s Office, Marilyn was able to match the handwriting to that of Devlin Mayne. Later, Devlin’s abandoned Hummer was discovered atop Sharp Top Mountain not far from a sweat lodge he built using the stolen materials from Buster’s. Marilyn found him inside chanting, sitting cross-legged on the ground, bare-chested and dangerously close to dehydration. When he saw Marilyn he thought she was the Sun Goddess Unilanuki coming to grant him his prayer to re-open the mountain and destroy the Town of Kotori. He is still at the VA Hospital down in Spokane and the doctors aren’t sure whether he’ll ever come back home.
Tom walked into the kitchen where Mari sat at the table. Folding the card, she told him, “That’s the last one. I never realized we knew so many people.”
Tom handed Marilyn a glass of water. “Here you go, Mrs. Ridgefield. I’m surprised your lips aren’t glued together from licking all those envelopes.”
Marilyn winked, “I don’t think you’d like that very much and, by the way, it’s O’Shay hyphen Ridgefield.”
Tom, smiling, said, “You’re right, I wouldn’t like that very much at all,” leaning down to kiss her sticky lips.
Tom picked up the card before she sealed it, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you with these. Starting up a spring tournament in addition to the fall one is more work than I thought it would be.” He starred at the note, his dimples burrowing deep into his cheeks, “Is this how you signed all the cards?”
Marilyn, beaming, laid a hand across her stomach where their baby grew inside, “It seemed appropriate.”
Tom and I wish to thank you for the very thoughtful gift you gave at our wedding. We’ll get so much use out of it.
Hugs and Kisses,
I thought it fitting that my first short story post be the first short story I ever wrote. It was for a creative writing class I took in college. Looking back, given the nature of the story I can only imagine what kind of impression I made on that Professor. Whatever it was, he gave me an “A”.
WARNING: This is RATED MA – Sexual Content & Adult Language
TONIGHT’S YOUR LUCKY NIGHT
By Gail Gentry
Lucky pushed the wooden door and walked in to Papa Joe’s. Friday night – time to relax and enjoy his favorite watering hole.
Strutting over to the jukebox, Lucky fed it a dollar bill. “Nothing like some good rock ‘n roll to get you started,” he thought. He turned, clicking his fingers to the beat of the music.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark environment, Lucky surveyed the all-too familiar faces surrounding the light flickering out of the glass lanterns on the round tables. The bar hoppers hadn’t filtered in yet. Squeezing between the chairs he proceeded to the bar. “Hi, how ya doing,” he would say, nodding his head to acknowledge those fortunate females he chose to.
Lucky slid onto the bar stool.
“How are you tonight, Lucky?” Buddy said, standing behind the bar, “The usual gin and tonic?”
“Right, gin and tonic,” Lucky said, “Anybody been asking for me?”
Buddy smiled. “There was a girl in here Wednesday night. Lisa, I think her name was.”
“Shit, she was a disappointment,” Lucky said as he reached in the vest pocket of his blue Italian-made suit. “I tell ya, you spend one night with a woman and they think you’re committed to ‘em for the rest of your life.” Lucky laid his Marlboro’s on the countertop. “If she comes in again, tell her I died.”
Buddy laughed. “Excuse me a minute,” he said, and walked down to the end of the bar.
Lucky lit his cigarette and glanced over to see who Buddy was talking to. He did a double-take, not believing his eyes. “What a knockout”, he thought. Waist-length red hair, icy green eyes and the complexion of a porcelain doll. “Buddy!” Lucky said, trying to control his lust.
Buddy came back and leaned over the bar to Lucky.
“Who is that?” Lucky whispered.
“I don’t know – I don’t think she’s been in here before,” Buddy said.
“Whatever she’s drinking, the next is on me,” Lucky said.
Buddy winked at him. Murmuring something to the girl, Buddy handed her the drink.
She glanced at Lucky and mouthed “Thank-you.”
Lucky took a deep breath and made his move towards her. “Is this seat taken?” Lucky asked. “It is now,” she said smiling.
He reached out his hand, “My name is Lucky.”
“Mine is Celia.”
Presenting her hand, Lucky took it, pressing it to his lips.
“Obsession, isn’t it?” Lucky asked.
“Your perfume – isn’t it Obsession?”
Celia, impressed, never having heard this pick-up line, said “Yes. You really know your perfumes. Are you in that business?”
“No,” Lucky said, still holding her hand and caressing it. He shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “It’s my mother’s favorite.” Lucky reminded himself that he needed to give the old battleax a call and wish her a belated birthday or he’d never hear the end of it.
“That’s nice, they always say you can tell how a guy will treat his girlfriend by the way he treats his mother,” Celia said.
Lucky bowed his head, trying to go for a look of embarrassment, “My mom’s my best girl.”
Celia, curious now, said “Why Lucky? Is that your given name or did you earn it somehow?”
Lucky so use to this question, delivered the line with his puppy dog look of innocence, “It’s just a nickname I got stuck with in college. Good grades came easy for me.” He held his breath wondering if it worked.
Celia laid her free hand over top of Lucky’s and started to stroke it, thinking he was just the easy mark she had been looking for.
Lucky peered down at her hand, mentally praising himself.
“Do you have a nickname?” Lucky asked, while he reached for his drink.
“My male friends call me DG,” she said.
Lucky took a sip of his gin and asked, “And what does that stand for?”
“Damn Good,” Celia said.
Lucky swallowed hard. “Really!” he said, clearing his throat, “What are you damn good at?”
“Anything you want me to be,” she whispered as her tongue slid across her painted red lips.
Lucky figured she was as easy as it got so he decided to cut to the chase, “Your place or mine,” he said, brushing his hand over her knee.
“Mine is close by,” Celia said, getting off her stool.
Lucky placed his arm around her waist and turned, giving the thumbs up to Buddy behind Celia’s back.
“Did you bring a coat?” Lucky asked as they walked out of the bar.
“No, my car is parked right across the street so I didn’t have far to walk.”
Walking to her car, Lucky was not able to keep his eyes off Celia’s breasts bobbing up and down through the red silk dress. He showed her the gentleman he was by quickly assisting Celia in jumping over a few puddles of melted snow hoping her full breasts would break loose from the low cut top.
Celia parked her black Camaro in the underground parking lot. They got out of the car and she placed her hand on Lucky’s behind squeezing it. They took the elevator, groping their way up to the 3rd floor.
Celia unlocked the door to her apartment. “Can I get you a drink before I slip into something more comfortable?” she asked.
Lucky said, putting his arms around Celia’s waist and pulling her close, “Why waste time – I can get you slipped onto something more comfortable right now.
Celia gently pushed his arms away. “No baby, let me go to the bathroom and take care of business first,” she said and walked over to the wet bar. But before I go let me get you a drink. “What’s your poison?” Celia asked.
“Why don’t you surprise me since this night has been full of surprises so far,” Lucky said.
While Celia mixed the drink, Lucky stared at himself in the mirror hung over the fireplace, loosened his tie and brushed his wavy brown hair back with his fingers.
Celia handed Lucky the drink. “Vodka and orange juice, otherwise known as a Screwdriver,” she smiled wide as he took the glass and watched him finish off half of it.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, disappearing down the hallway.
Lucky felt the white couch, “Real leather,” he said to himself and raised his eyebrows. He focused back on the mirror. Underneath it a vase sat on the mantelpiece. He picked it up and started to look underneath to read what was printed on the bottom when he heard Celia coming back down the hall.
He strode to meet Celia, dressed now in a black robe.
“Come to me, lover,” Celia said, backing up into her bedroom.
Lucky followed smiling with glee. “The boys at the office are never going to believe this one,” he thought. Lucky stepped into her bedroom and eyed the king-size bed. Celia closed the door behind him.
Lucky turned to embrace her. “What are you doing?!” Lucky asked.
Celia finished sliding the chain and bolted the door. Her lips tightened into a straight line. She let her robe slide to the floor revealing a leather black widow and a spiked dog collar around her neck.
“Tonight’s your lucky night,” Celia said.
Lucky’s mouth opened. “You do this often?” he said.
“Not often enough,” Celia said.
She grasped both of Lucky’s hands and led him to the bed. Over Celia’s shoulders, Lucky noticed handcuffs attached to the headboard. He pulled his hands away.
“Wait a minute, Celia, I want to know what you’ve got in mind.”
“What’s the matter, you don’t like aggressive women, Lucky?” Celia asked as she walked over to the nightstand and picked up a whip.
“No, I don’t. I, uh, think I better leave,” Lucky said and headed to the door.
Celia jumped ahead of him. “You’re not going anywhere,” she hissed, “A coward, that’s all you are – just like all the rest.”
Lucky started to feel dizzy. “Get out of my way,” he shouted.
Lucky teetered. “I don’t feel well, I need to go.”
“You’ll be fine. I’ve just taken a little extra precaution this time,” she said grabbing Lucky’s arm.
“What do you mean?” Lucky said rubbing his temples.
“I slipped a that little surprise you asked for in your drink – you’ll be feeling fine in a minute or so and will be begging for me.”
Lucky stumbled away from her and fell, knocking the nightstand over, it’s contents spilling.
Lucky’s vision was blurred but he could still make out the silver pistol lying on the floor. Lucky grabbed it and aimed it at Celia through squinted eyes.
“I’ll shoot, I swear I will,” Lucky cried, “Get away from me. Don’t come any closer!”
Celia burst out laughing, “Go ahead,” and cracked the whip.
Lucky closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. He didn’t hear any shot.
He opened his watery eyes and saw the flame coming out of the pistol’s barrel.
Celia advanced towards Lucky. He threw the pistol at her. “No!” he screamed. Lucky grabbed at the bedspread pulling himself up off the floor.
Celia pushed him onto the bed, the whip coming down hard across his back.
Lucky could feel himself start to tumble into darkness.
“Dear God, let me get through this,” he thought “and I will never pick up another woman as long as I live.”
Lucky couldn’t lift his eyelids.
He felt Celia’s hot breath on his neck.
Lucky heard something – it sounded like a radio not tuned in to any one frequency. “Maybe someone can hear me,” Lucky thought, and tried to scream for help but he was too weak.
Celia straddled him. “Relax, lover, don’t fight it. I’ll be done with you soon.”
Lucky heard the noise grow louder and louder. He thought, “If I could just get to the window, I’d risk jumping 3 floors” but he felt paralyzed.
In the distance a phone started ringing. Celia must have moved off the bed, gone to get who knows what else. It was now or never. Lucky mustered all the strength he had left and bolted upright.
The TV station had signed off for the evening, leaving nothing but static for the listener.
Lucky looked around the room. “Where’d she go?” Lucky said, confused. A guttural sound came from behind him. He spun around. There was Chuckles, his cat, sleeping on his pillow. The cat lifted its head, yawned, and fell back to sleep. Lucky pushed the cat down from the bed. Every time Chuckles slept on his pillow it breathed right on Lucky’s neck.
The phone continued to ring.
Lucky picked up the receiver and unbuttoned his sweaty shirt.
“Yea,” Lucky said.
“Lucky, my man, this is Buddy at Papa Joe’s.”
“Hey, I know it’s late but you gotta get down here. There’s this gorgeous redhead sitting all alone at the bar. I’ve been telling her all about you and she’s dying to meet ya.” Lucky’s eyes grew wide and his heart skipped a beat.
“I’m going to pass,” Lucky said, his voice shaking. “I’m, uh, not looking for anyone right now.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing, she’s a knock-out man,” Buddy cheerfully said.
“I think I do,” Lucky said, “Good-night Buddy.”
Lucky turned to go get a shower and peeled off his shirt, the welt on his back barely noticeable.