After the Girl Grows Up by Courtney E. Webb - HTML preview

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AFTER THE GIRL GROWS UP

 

 

Courtney webb

 

 

 

 

 

CONNIE GOES ONLINE

 

“Hey Cutie! Let’s have some fun!”

Connie read the online message with a frown. “Now why would somebody his age be interested in somebody my age? I don’t get it.” She stared at the picture. A buff, tan, smiling 38 year old guy stared fetchingly out at her. “Hum,” she thought, “he is cute.” She pulled the mouse down and clicked on “Profiles”. “Let’s see” she murmured to herself, “age, height, weight, job, interests, salary, ah…marital status.” She paused to look harder at the screen; did it say ‘married’? Wasn’t this a singles dating site? What was a married guy doing on here?

Connie read ‘Gary’s’ message again and could see that he was asking her if she wanted to chat. “No,” she said out loud to the computer screen. “I do not want to chat with you Gary,” she said with an angry click to her mouse.

Connie’s life had taken a turn when, as life tends to do, kids grow up and go away to school. This had happened to her when her only daughter, her baby Scooter, left four years ago to attend a big name university. With her heart breaking, she had said her goodbyes as they packed up a bunch of her daughter’s things. Also, as life has a tendency to do, the baby was going to be living much closer to the Dad now. Connie had gotten a chilly feeling that Scooter was going to be spending a lot more time with him now, making up for lost time away from him after the divorce. As Connie had predicted, that is exactly what did happen. Countless nights and weekends spent together watching TV movies, eating home-delivered pizza and baking seemed to be a thing of the past.

So these days, if it wasn’t Scooters Dad, it was the boyfriend and if it wasn’t him it was her school or her work and Connie-mom really didn’t get to see much of the girl anymore. She got weepy over this from time to time as countless friends tried to cheer her up and talked about the ‘growing up process.’ She didn’t know if they meant hers or the kid’s.

“Growing up and growing old,” Connie said to the room with a gloomy tone. Turning fifty had hurt her ego more than anything else. As far as dating; the pool of men seemed to get smaller every year and statistics about these things indicated that wasn’t just in her mind.

Connie clicked on a message from “Greatguy.” “Oh God, nineteen years old! Gak!” That one actually made her feel a little sick. “Why in the world….” She shook her head, at fifty-five, she knew she did look ‘good for her age’, but still, nineteen? Good God.

“Hey, let’s hook up!” She read the message from Steve from California who was also married and apparently looking for a ‘Friend with Benefits’ and ‘NSA’. Connie studied his profile, cute she thought, too bad about the married part. NSA? She looked at it again; NRA? No, NSA. What the heck? “Oh!” she got a sudden flash, “NSA – no strings attached. Of course.”

“Oh well,” she clicked off the computer, time to get to the gym.

She positioned herself with the hand weights and started to do the back lifts the gym instructor told her about. She lifted up to the back and and repeated 15-20 times. She did front side and back for several minutes and put the weights down and glancing around to see if anyone was watching she lifted her arms up and giggled the arm flab in front of the full length mirror. “Actually,” she thought to herself, “it wasn’t looking so bad,” It really did look like that ugly upper arm flab was receding. She thought about lipo-suction. “Nah,”she thought, “If I am going to spend $4,500, I’ll spend it on my face.”

She saw the guy coming over who at age 55 dressed like he was a 30 year-old mountain hiker and always trying to get her attention. “I might be interested,” she thought to herself, “if he just wouldn’t spend so much time looking at himself in the mirror.” True to form, the guy came over to pick up some of the heavier weights and made sure to adjust his baseball cap to a jaunty level above his eyes, and gave his cotton neckerchief a little yank. “I wonder if that is just a sporting look” thought Connie, “or to hide the wrinkles?” She moved away, no point in letting him think she was looking at him. She was looking at him, she reminded herself, but she wasn’t looking at him.

She moved over to the exercycles and got on one. There was a housewife type next to her who gave her a cheery hello! “She seems to be having a great time!” Connie thought grudgingly as she pulled out her book to read. She checked the clock, should make this twenty minutes for the correct amount of cardio and all that jazz. She adjusted the dial down to the lowest point and started cycling. Exercise could be a pain.

Later on in the locker, she was amazed as always, in the number of women who sported what one of her friends called ‘the apron.’ The apron happened when the belly fat was so large and stuck out so much that it eventually sagged down in a large fold over the bottom of the abdomen, sometimes hanging as low as the pubic area. Connie always tried to not stare at women with this. “I am sure they feel just as bad about it,” she thought to herself. “Wow!” as one woman walked by. “Plastic surgery? Something, yikes!”

Connie was contentious about the gym, but certainly did not feel like she was compulsive about it like some women. She was fairly sure one of her ‘gym-mates’ was there every day and possibly twice a day. “Too much!” she thought as she saw the women yet again, “nobody needs that much exercise. Geese!”

Back at home that evening; she compulsively went to her online dating site. “I do not have to check my mail, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t…”

‘Looking for Love’, she read, ‘Really Nice Guy.’ “Hum, nice picture,” she told Bubbles the cat who seemed only mildly interested. She read on, “widowed, two boys….they are my life….and my dogs, good doggies…” Connie jerked at this one but continued to read paragraph after paragraph about their lives. He seemed like a good father at least; the paragraph went on and she then came to “but I might get violent if I found you watching a chick flick…” What! She read it again and then once again to be sure if she read it right. Was he trying to be funny? “God, no wonder his wife died!” Connie told an uninterested Bubbles who was licking his fur. She decided to give ‘Looking’ a pass and did send a message to Kiwi from Australia; too young of course, but cute on that bicycle.

Connie had to stop all this frivolity to get ready for bed; tomorrow was definitely another day and this was finals week and she needed her energy.

Mr. James was waiting in line for the bus as usual and she moved behind him and attempted to pull out her book to start reading quickly. No luck, he had to talk to her. Mr. James was an employee at her school who had started there about six months earlier. He immediately fastened on to her and kept giving her invitations to lunch, dinner, coffee, hiking, etc, etc, etc. Connie countered with being busy, having no business cards, forgetting her phone number, not calling him, having a friend call him after he just insisted on going with her hiking group. Connie had told her friend Lilly “If this guy is not married, my name is Mickey Mouse! ”

Today the subject was movies and they managed to squeeze out 5-10 minutes of conversation on the latest movies before the bus mercifully showed up and she could get on. She dashed to a seat next to a girl student quickly before he could figure out where she was and sat down. “Boy, do I need to shake this guy,” Connie mused to herself, shaking her head.

Connie got through the day of sweaty, semi-hysterical students with their final exams, and fortunately, almost to her surprise, most of the students did really well. “Guess that open-book idea worked,” she told Bob her co-worker.

“Ah, you’re going too easy on them,” was his response.

“Maybe so, “she told him. “But, it is either that or a bunch of them flunk the test and then I am called on the carpet to explain why students ‘can’t’ pass the class.” Bob shrugged his shoulders with a ‘what-do-you-do’ kind of attitude.

Connie told him about the ‘chick-flick’ guy. Bob laughed “Oh no, caught red-handed watching ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ the second time and it is my favorite movie!” They both laughed.

Back home that evening, Connie decided to skip the gym, she was too tired. She told Bubbles she wasn’t going and Bubbles stared at her blankly. “I know, I know,” she said. “First it’s one day, then the next, and the next, and the next.” Bubbles lost interest at this point and started to lick his fur. “Yeah, yeah,” she said to him.

Back on-line, “Hello, how are you?” came the polite question. Rudolf was 45 years old, blue eyes, 6’ tall and educated. He was here in this country to do some engineering work. He wanted to know if she would like to send him an email. “Hum,” Connie though, “so polite.” She scanned his profile. “Married” was blank. That didn’t look so good. She did send him an email “Nice to meet you Rudolf, you look very interesting, Are you married?”

The answer came the next day and Rudolf indicated that he was ‘separated.’ Experience told Connie that could mean a really lot of things. She began fantasizing about why he was separated. His wife has had an affair with a new boyfriend, a new girlfriend, she drinks too much, she takes pills, she works too much, she won’t work at all, she sits on the sofa all day, she goes to the gym all day long. Between these fantasies they were emailing each other back and forth and finally decided to meet.

Rudolf lived in the Big City which was two hours away by train. She was ok with that; allowed her to collect herself before meeting him. Connie had to grind over and over again about going back to Dr. Lee to have Botox on her forehead. $400 she groaned to herself. “Jesus that’s a lot of money!”

But, she had to admit, every time she went past a mirror, especially in bright light, the deep furrows between her eyes were doing nothing for her looks. She finally decided to bite the bullet and go in and do it. Two hours later and lighter in the pocketbook, she emerged with only a little ice pack on her forehead.

“You’re an artist Dr. Lee,” she told him. She wasn’t kidding. He had just gone after her face hammer and thongs with two laser guns for heavy sun spots and done a beautiful job. The spots above her mouth were fading away nicely.

Dr. Lee looked very pleased with himself. “He should,” she thought, “making that kind of money. “

Connie got her hair colored and bought a new pair of wooly stockings to go with her latest English dress that was very ‘trendy.’ The dress covered the remaining stomach and butt bulges without clinging. The hairdresser curled her hair with the curling iron, something she could never do herself, and she brushed it out the next day and was ready to get on the train.

By the time she got there and got checked in; she was starting to feel tired. Connie decided to lie down a little before she got dressed and met her date. No point in looking droopy. After 45 minutes she got up; reapplied her makeup careful to hide the bruises from the Botox, brushed and sprayed her hair. The dress was on, the stockings up; the shoes matched everything and the jewelry too. She was ready to go.

She met Rudolf by the subway and her first impression was that he was shorter than she thought he would be. “He has got to be the shortest 6’ man I have met in awhile.” Regardless, they were soon chatting together like old buddies.

They tried to find a restaurant but most weren’t open yet so they ended up at Starbucks and he ordered them coffee; Connie got a sandwich. They both talked about themselves and he seemed to like talking about himself. She had to admit, he had the deepest blue eyes she had seen in quite some time. She could fall right into those…

“And I have been to 27 different of the United States” he told her. “And I bet you have never been to Lynchburg, Tennessee where they make Jack Daniels whiskey.” She had to admit she never had and he told her all about it and how the place was just like the commercials. Rudolf proceeded to tell her about all the cities in California he had visited too and then started in on the Asian countries he had been too and all the weird food they had. Connie felt like they were in some kind of race.

After about two hours of this marathon ‘where have you been, what have you done,’ Connie had to tell her date that she was meeting some other people there in town but made plans for lunch with him the next day.

Rudolf seemed a little surprised by the request but agreed and they shook hands parting. Connie knew she could be in trouble with this one; she met her other friends for dinner and she felt herself calming down. Later that night she knew she would have to confront Rudolf about his situation with his wife. She realized reluctantly that there could be all kinds of reasons for it; and maybe none of them to have anything to do with the wife at all; the company offered him a bunch of money to come here, he was bored and restless, having a mid-life crisis, he wanted an opportunity to get away from the family and fool around, so on.

Connie got up bright and early the next day; looking forward to lunch. An hour later she got a text from Rudolf that he could not make it because of illness and that he was going to have to cancel all his plans for the day. She wrote him back and thanked him for the info indicating they could talk later.

Later that week; she got off the bus with Mr. James and he demanded to know what she was doing for the next holiday weekend. She was ready; she informed him she was off to the City with her boyfriend and was it going to be fun! Mr. James got really quiet and then advised her he would be spending time with his three daughters and then finally squeezed the words out, “and his wife”. “Wasn’t that hard,” Connie thought.

Connie wasn’t sure she was going to hear from Rudolf again. “It’s okay,” she said to Bubbles as they sat watching television, “I gave up all that trying to impress people kind of stuff in high school. I guess that guy is still back there. Weird. I just might not be nearly exciting enough for him. Hum. Maybe I should send him the phone number of that Pink Escort Service I saw advertised. Now I bet those girls are really exciting!”

Bubbles yawned, clearly unimpressed by all this drama. He laid his head on her lap and she gave him a pet. “Sherlock, Bubbles?” He didn’t disagree so she changed the channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PERFECT

 

Sally admired her handiwork, she turned the pink skirt right and left, “Looking good,” she thought.

She smiled to herself and put it down, “Won’t mother be pleased when she got back from her trip! To think, I did the whole thing myself without any help.” She felt very proud of herself.

Sally was sixteen years old and her mother had gone home to visit her parents over the Christmas holiday like she did every year. Sally had decided to make the pink skirt and matching vest while her mother was gone. She had gotten her Dad to take her to the fabric store, she had picked out the pattern, found the fabric to include the liner and had the clerk cut the right amount. Then she picked out thread and a zipper and charted the whole pile home to the sewing room.

Sally’s mother, Lilith, was in probably the ‘master’ seamstress category. She was very proud of her abilities as she could sew anything and everything and frequently did. Lilith showed off her outfits to neighbors, friends and relatives alike even entering little Sally into a mother-daughter look alike dress contest when she was two. Many a time Sally sat, literally at her mother’s knee, learning this and that about sewing and actually knew quite a lot for a girl her age.

Sally had read the instructions over and over again for the zipper and had put one in before with her mother’s help. This was the first time she did it by herself. She had laid the fabric out on the kitchen table and carefully placed the pattern pieces on top and cut them out with the pinking shears . She matched the sides together and then sewed the lining together and put it into the outer shell. But, it was the zipper, the hardest part she was the most pleased with. She couldn’t wait for her Mom to get home and show her.

Lilith got home a few days later in a flurry of coats and jackets, and packages and luggage. The grandparents always sent home gifts from the farm. Usually, it was large bags of shelled pecans that would end up in delicious pecan pies later on. Sally’s dad and brother had gone to the airport to pick her up and she landed with great flourish. She would be hitting the bridge circuit with all her buddies soon to chit-chat, have cocktails and swap gossip.

Sally waited until Lilith was settled before taking her into the sewing room to show her what she had done. At first Lilith’s face was quizzical, she certainly wasn’t expecting this. Sally sat her down in the sewing chair next to the machine and produced her masterpiece, vest and completed skirt.

Lilith turned the skirt over and over in her hands. Then without looking up or looking at Sally, she grabbed the thread ripper and started ripping out the zipper. “This is wrong, all wrong! You don’t do it this way, this is a mess. I‘ll fix it,” Lilith finished triumphantly.

Sally’s mouth hung open. Her beautiful skirt, now in her mother’s hands, was disintegrating. Not one work of praise for anything. She turned and left the room in a daze.

Later, Lilith, true to her word did ‘fix’ the skirt and Sally was able to wear the entire outfit to school and she was still felt good about that; but the rounds of eternal picking and picking started all over when her Mom had gotten home.

“Sally, you shouldn’t eat that. It’s bad for your skin, you know that chocolate makes your skin break out. How many times do I have to tell you. And stop picking at those zits! My Lord! Use some of the makeup I got you to cover those up.” Lilith was always on Sally about her weight. At medium to tall height, Sally’s weight fluxgate from 125 to 130 lbs. That never seemed good enough for Lilith. She would nag constantly about her ‘getting fat.”

“ Sally,” she would say. “If you don’t stop getting those ice-cream bars, you are going to start to look like your cousin Grace and God knows, she can’t get a man!”

Then her grades. She brought home some B’s and two C’s on one card, the rest A’s.

“You know Sally, you come from a pretty smart family. I thought you could have done better than this,” her mother said with a frown.

 

One night, after the latest report-card, chocolate-ice cream rant, Sally went to her room and locked the door and threw herself on the bed, sobbing. She felt completely defeated. She lay there a long time until the light faded and it was almost twilight. Her mom had gone out to bridge and the rest of the family had high-tailed it to safety too, so they weren’t around.

Sally was puzzled then, when the twinkling of lights started in her room. She thought she had left the light off. Maybe there was a short in the wire. She started to become alarmed when the soft twinkling started to turn into the equivalent of strobe lights. “What the hell?”

She almost shrieked when a form started to appear close to her bed. She pulled herself up and grabbed her teddy and hugging it. The form began to take shape and with a ‘popping’ sound a woman appeared in her room. She reminded Sally a little bit of the good fairy in Cinderella; but, like she had gone on a diet and cut her hair.

This woman was full figured but stuffed into a tight leather jumpsuit complete with silver studs and belt and gelled up purple hair. Wow! And then, biker boots? Sally’s mouth hung completely open.

The woman reached over and with a surprisingly kind voice said “Now, now dear. Got to close that or the flies will get in.” And with a quick motion, she closed Sally’s mouth for her.

“But, but, you, you…” Sally stammered.

“I know, I know,” the woman nodded. She looked down and gave the leather suit a little stroke. “What do you think? This year’s model.” She turned and looked at herself in the mirror and tilted a bit back and forth.

“The first 50 pounds weren’t so hard. But the last ten. What a bitch!”

Sally’s mouth fell open again. “You’re, you’re…”

“Right as rain dear, “ the woman said with what sounded like just a bit of an English accent. “I’m your Fairy Godmother.”

Sally thought she was going to fall over. She felt faint. Was she still hearing those popping sounds? She shook her head.

“No dear, it’s really true. I am. Sent here just for you.”

“But why….” Sally’s voice trailed off.

“I thought you called for some help. Didn’t you?” The Fairy Godmother looked quizzical at Sally.

“Well, yes, I did. But…..”

“Well, right then, this is what you got! We have to get to work, there is a lot to do and I have a hair appointment that I don’t want to miss. And, let me tell you, that guy’s a real wizard!”

Sally felt her mouth sagging open again and she closed it with a snap.

“You’re,” she was trying to master control of herself now, “you’re here to help me?”

“Yes, dear, that’s what I said. So let’s get up out of that bed and get to work.” Sally put the bear down, staggered up off the twin and stood up. She was taller than the fairy but definitely not nearly as cool.

The Godmother pulled her into the middle of the room and began to walk around her. “Hum,” she kept saying. ‘Hum…” She was tapping her chin reflectively.

“Let’s see.” She snapped her fingers decisively and a glittery wand appeared in her hand.

“How”… Sally started.

“Tut, tut…” replied the fairy shaking the wand at Sally. “Now for the hair.” With a little whip of the hand she breezed the wand over Sally’s hair. Sally could feel something like wind stirring up her hair and pulling on it. The fairy pulled her to the mirror.

“Now, straight or curly?” she asked.

“I always sort of liked curly,” Sally replied timidly.

“Ok, with regular brown or streaks?” Sally couldn’t believe she was getting these choices. Usually with the prices at the salon, she could never afford this.

“Blond streaks, please.” It was like ordering a latte.

The wind intensified on her hair and it magically began to fall into beautiful ringlet curls to her shoulders and then like a layer of frosting on a cake, the blond streaks started to appear, subtly, here and there with a little twinkling sound.

Sally stared at herself in the mirror. “Wow!” was all she could say.

“Ok,” the Fairy Godmother was pushing up her sleeves. “Now for this pesky acne,” a wave of the wand and Sally could feel her face start to tingle and glow. “A bit off the ass.” There were a weird contractions going on in Sally’s rear and thighs, always her very worst spots.

She looked in the mirror, her face looked curiously rosy and she looked closer, clear! For once, clear skin! She turned and, was her butt smaller?

“Now for these clothes…good God!” the Godmother stood staring at Sally’s unbelievable messy closet. She waved the wane and to Sally’s amazement, the clothes, hangers, shoes, boxes, everything started to dance around and rearrange themselves.

“Okay then, while we are waiting on that to happen, let’s look at you again.” The Godmother turned Sally right and left. “Yes, better, better.” She didn’t seem completely satisfied. “There is something else…..What was it?” She seemed to think to herself.

“Ah! She almost shouted. “Didn’t you say something in some prayer about school, some class or other. What was it?” Her very, very blue eyes looked deep into Sally’s.

“Ah, ah….” Sally stammered again. The Godmother tapped her toe impatiently. “It was algebra and French, yes that’s right. I just can’t seem to get the hang……”

Sally felt the pointed edge of the wand hitting her on top of the head. “Ow!” She put her hand up to stop it, but it appeared the old lady was done before she started.

“What….”

“Alright Sally dear,” the Godmother sat her down on the bed again. “What I have done is to put a temporary spell on you.” Sally’s mouth was doing the open thing again and Godmother closed it with her hand. “As of today, you will be able to remember everything in French perfectly.”

“Perfectly?” Sally stared in disbelief.

“Perfectly,” replied the Godmother. “Also, in Algebra, you will be able to remember everything perfectly and will be able to do all the problems just right.”

“Well, great, great,” she said with disbelief. “It’s just so hard to believe…” Sally jerked back when a little puff of smoke came out of the wand. There was something like a brief flash in the fairy’s eyes.

“You don’t believe me?”

“I do, it’s just, I am so bad at math! “ Sally was trying to get out.

“Not to worry, “the fairy patted her hand. “It’s going to be okay now.”

“However; as I told you, this is a temporary spell. It will last exactly six months. Then on the stroke of midnight, everything will go back as it was. Do you understand Sally?”

Sally stared and then slowly nodded her head up and down. The fairy godmother pointed her wand at the calendar which mysteriously changed pages by six months. A bright silver star appeared on the 6th page with a pop!

Fairy Godmother patted Sally’s hand again. “You are going to be alright dear, just heed what I said. You’ll be fine. In fact,” her voice was trailing off at this point, “you’ll be just perfect!”

With that and a popping sound, she disappeared.

Sally sat stunned for a minute. Then she could hear her mother’s voice “Sally, is there someone in there with you?”

“No, Mom, just the radio,” Sally lied. She got up from the bed slowly and went over to her closet. In amazement she saw that every single thing in her closet was reorganized and color coded for matching outfits. She went back to the mirror. Wow, that hair looked great. Slowly, she started to feel a new bit of confidence steal over her.

“Guess it’s time for bed,” she said to herself. “Tomorrow is definitely another day!” With that she went to bed.

 

The next morning, Sally trapsed down to breakfast with the new hair and an outfit she hadn’t been able to find in three months lost in the back of her closet. She sat down.

Her brother Dan looked up from his bowl of cereal and gaped at her. “What did you do to your hair?” his eyes went wide. Sally fluffed her new curls with one hand as she sat.

“New home perm,” was all Sally said briskly reaching for the cereal box.

Her mother turned from the stove with the bacon pan in her hand and almost dropped it.

“Oh, my God!” Lilith managed to put the pan down before spilling the grease on the floor. “Sally, your hair?” It was as though she couldn’t figure out whether to ask a question or make a statement. She came over to examine the new do.

“Is this what you were doing squirreled away all last evening?” She was peering at the hair trying to find something, mercifully, to criticize.

Sally was feeling a little hot now but remained composed. “Yep, just me and my box of home perm.” She was casually shaking cereal, or what was left of it, into her bowl. Dan was such a pig.

“Well, dear me,” her mother exclaimed, “it’s really, ah, ah, nice,” she finally said. “I didn’t know you knew how to do home perms?” Now that was a definitely a question.

“Ah, internet, you know. You can learn anything on the net.” She shoveled a few spoonfuls of the cereal into her mouth and gulped it down. “Well, gotta go, bus!” With that she grabbed her backpack and sped out of the room. Dan was calling out after her, “It looks good, even on you!”

Sally got lots of compliments that day from her friends at school about the new do and she was getting about worn-out with saying ‘thank you’ by 6th period. Amazingly enough, she had sailed through 4th period Algebra II. Just like Godmother had said, although this was usually one of her worst classes because the teacher was old and boring and it was right before lunch; today she seemed fresh and able to concentrate. Better still, she seems to not only remember what Mr. McGruder showed them on the board, it was like she had taken a smart pill, everything made sense for once. Zoowie!

McGruder always gave the class twenty minutes at the end of class to get their homework started and to ask questions. Sally got out her paper, numbered the problems down both sides of the sheet and went to work. Two minutes till the hour she walked up to the teacher’s desk and handed him the paper.

He looked up surprised, like he didn’t expect to see her there. “What’s this Sally?” he asked taking the paper.

“It’s our homework, Sir,” she replied politely.

McGruder looked at her sharply and then looked at the paper. He looked at the answers and made little red checks against each one.

“Looks like you didn’t quite get this last one, Sally.” He was looking at her strangely. “Did one of the guys help you out on this?” he wanted to know.

“No sir,” Sally shook her curls a little, “I just seemed to understand it better today for some reason.”

McGruder looked away from her a moment and then shouted “Ryan, did you help Sally with her paper?”

Ryan, one of the kids in the class, looked up mystified and shook his head no. Reluctantly, McGruder handed the paper back to Sally and told her to redo the last problem and turn it in again the next day.

Sally did exactly that and got a 100% on that paper and then every single paper she did for the rest of the term.

In French class, Madam always managed to call on Sally and make her squirm when she couldn’t come up with the correct answer. Today, when she was called Sally replied “Je voudrais la poisson pour diner, s’il vous plait.” Madam stopped her slow march around the room long enough to shoot Sally a slightly confused glance. But she looked away and Sally breathed a sigh of relief.

Sally had always done well in her other classes; English, Language Arts, Art, PE, etc. but now she began to do even better in those classes too. While Mr. McGruder kept trying desperately to figure out which of the boys in class was slipping Sally the answers on everything, her other teachers were much more pleased.

“Oh Sally,” Mrs. Kirkwood, her English teacher just gushed one day, “I just knew you had more in you, just a little locked away.”

“Thanks Mrs. Kirkwood,” Sally replied, actually a little embarrassed. But things were picking up for Sally all over the place, with the new hair, the minus five pounds, clear skin and a something different attitude, Sally was starting to attract a lot more attention from both the boys and the ‘more popular’ girls at school. She had to laugh up her sleeve when Amanda, one of the snottiest girls on campus asked Sally to come to her birthday party.

“Gosh, I am so sorry,” Sally had to say. “I would love to come but I already made other plans.” She wrinkled her face into the ‘so disappointed’ look a lot of the girls at her high school used. Amanda was the one who looked disappointed.

She turned away and sort of mumbled a “Next time then,” something and Sally shook her head vigorously up and down. Sally did have a movie date with Karl, one of the school soccer players which she could have broken. But, Amanda, why bother?

At home, her brother Dan was still calling her names like Bozo-head and Dweeb but, it seemed with less enthusiasm all the time. When Sally started to date Karl and knew that Dan idolized Karl as the best kicker the team had ever had, there was an ever so slight shift in their relationship.

“Hey, Sal,” she heard him call out when she got home one day. “So when you seeing Karl again?” he shuffled his feet around a little and was looking down.

“I donno, why?” she said casually.

“Well, I just wanted to talk to him about, about some…soccer stuff, you know,” he finished up and looked out the window. Sally knew for a fact that Karl was probably going to be next team captain and Dan was trying to get on his good side.

“Well, I’ll just tell him you want to talk about some…..stuff,” she told her brother. He looked up suddenly and beamed at her; maybe the first time since they were both in bunny foot pajamas.

“Great, great! Thanks, Sally, you’re a pal.” He was going to hit her on the back in thanks and she managed to dodge him just in time.

Sally’s Dad kept insisting to her mother that, other than the hair, Sally really wasn’t that much different than before. “She’s just growing up and coming into her own,” he would say. From time to time, Sally would catch him giving her quizzical little looks and if she caught him, he would look away quickly like he was inspecting the wall paper. She smiled to herself, her dad had always been on her side, she knew that.

Lilith was an entirely different matter altogether. While at first, she told herself she liked the hair and the newly organized closet and the improved grades; the entire thing was disconcerting. She would try to give her daughter advice and constructive-criticism like she had always done to help her and show her love.

“Sally about your hair,” she’d start.

“What about it Mom,” was the tart reply.

“Well, it’s cute and all, but, gee, all that perming and color is so hard on your hair. Wouldn’t you like to go back to the way it was before to give it a rest?” Lilith looked to her husband for support and he hid behind his newspaper.

“Mom, everyone at school loves my hair, Karl loves my hair, hell; even Dan loves my hair! It’s perfect just the way it is and I’m not changing it,” she said with finality.

Lilith looked and looked for something to land on; Sally had mysteriously, almost overnight, lost all excess fat and was now, well, what was the word, perfectly proportioned. Plus, there didn’t appear to be even one zit in sight. She just couldn’t understand it. She took to checking Sally’s closet and medicine cabinet to see if there was some weird chemical lurking there that was responsible for all this; and, nothing. She was stumped.

Then, the grades. Sally’s grades started to improve bit by bit but when she came home with a straight A report card, Lilith’s mouth fell open. No one in their family had ever made grades like this. “Sally, this is so unusual, how, how…” she stammered. She just couldn’t think of what to say without accusing her daughter of outright cheating, but with who, how?

Sensing the dilemma, Sally responded to the unasked question. “I have just gotten more focused Mom and decided to quit screwing around at school. Easier on everyone this way.”

Lilith signed the report card with an almost shaking hand and gave it back to her daughter. “Oh, by the way, Mom, I think you said something a long time ago about me getting clothes if I could ‘only ever bring home the grades.’ So, now, I have done. Can I have some cash please?”

Lilith was astonished by her daughter’s new found directness. “I don’t, that is, I don’t think I have any money,” she said in a very low voice.

“That’s okay,” Sally was quick, “I’ll take Dad’s credit card. He won’t mind.” She held out her hand to her mother who stared at her. “Hey, Karl is coming over in a few minutes, could you get it for me please?”

Glazed and stunned, Lilith moved to her bedroom slowly and then came out in a couple of minutes with a plastic card. Sally whipped it out of her hand. “How about $200, say? Since, it was all A’s.” Lilith nodded and then slowly settled down to the sofa.

Sally grabbed her purse and stuffed the signed report card and the credit card inside. She pulled out a lipstick and looked at herself in the hall mirror as the sound of a car horn beeped outside. She put on lipstick and with a final flourish turned to smile at her mother. “Just what you always wanted, Mom, picture perfect everything.” With that she turned and waltzed out the front door.

The light was fading from the day and Lilith didn’t bother to turn on any of the lamps. She just sat and stared, mouthing something.

Later, her husband found her there in the same spot, crying. “Lilith, Lilith dear. What is it? Is something wrong?” He grabbed her and pulled her up.

Lilith was still crying and then sobbing. Finally, the words that had been trying to come out all day, got out. “My little girl,” she sobbed, “my little girl. Whatever happened to my little girl?” Her husband rocked her back and forth.

It was June and warm and Sally was out in the garden. The six months had passed and she knew it was time for her to receive her visitor again. The biggest problem that she had had was trying to find a hair shop to do her hair the same way at a reasonable price. She had found one place and was still dickering with the owner to get the price down. “You have to realize girlfriend,” the owner had said condescendingly, “it’s streaking over a perm. It has to be done very carefully or the hair will burn.” She had quoted Sally $100 a pop to do the hair once every 6-8 weeks. Sally could afford it out of her babysitting money; but it was still a lot.

She was still dating Karl and had a number of really good conversations with him. Instead of being a completely hopeless jock, like some of the guys on the team, Karl had proven to be one amongst many with a real brain. “I always liked you Sally,” he told her one evening over ice-cream. “I used to watch you when you came to your brother’s games.”

“So, why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she wanted to know.

“I don’t know exactly how to describe it;” he looked a little embraced. “It’s just, well….”

“What?” she wacked him playfully on the head.

“You just didn’t seem to have any confidence in yourself. I mean, just not any,” he finally spit out. “I just thought maybe you were still too young and maybe had to grow up some, or something.” He stopped talking with a sort of pleading look on his face.

“It’s okay,” she told him, “you were right, I didn’t have any confidence and I did need to grow up.” She leaned over and gave him a little kiss on the nose. He smiled at her.

 

Sally waited in the garden at almost twilight. She had awaited this day, this meeting with apprehension and some dread. However; a part of her was glad to have the thing over with. The horrid Algebra II class was over and finished with. She didn’t have to take any more math or French either, for that matter, to get into college.

Mr. McGruder, after nearly driving himself mad trying to figure out how “Sally was doing it,” finally accepted her explanation that he was a really good teacher and made the most complicated problems simple. Madam also seemed, reluctantly, to accept that she was just a really good teacher and let it go at that. She didn’t seem to want any more explanations than that.

Dan had gotten in tight with Karl and had made his coveted position as goalie for the team.”Whatever,” Sally thought, “it’s his life.”

Sally was still basically friends with the same girls as before ‘the change.’ The ‘cool girls’ had made a little effort to land her on their turf and when she didn’t respond; they moved on to other fresh kill.

Tonight Dan was out with his new girlfriend, Silvie, and at her insistence, her parents had gone out to dinner. There had been a shift there too. Sally’s dad seemed to be taking a more assertive role in running the family. After Lilith had stopped starting and staring each time Sally came into the room, her entire tone and attitude towards her daughter had seemed to change. “Respect would be the right word,” thought Sally to herself.

Sally saw the now familiar twinkling of little lights that grew and grew until a shape appeared and pop! out came her Fairy Godmother.

“Sally, dear, how wonderful to see you. Oh, you look marvelous, really!” She gave Sally a big hug. “Tell me everything, I’m dying to hear.” Godmother fluffed a new do; she was wearing acid green today with the hair, nails and the low sheen on the new leather pantsuit all matching.

Sally was so relieved to be able to tell someone what had really been going on. It was like a weight off her shoulders. She talked and talked and talked. It seemed like for hours. Godmother listened and nodded.

Finally, Sally ran out of breath. Godmother looked up and said “And, your mother dear, what about her?”

“You know,” Sally smiled, “I don’t think I will be having much more problem with her.” She laughed a little thinking about her dad shuffling her mother along to the car; giving her a little wink as they went out the door.

Godmother smiled at Sally and said, “No, I don’t think that you shall,” and she placed a shiny acid-green finger tip on the end of Sally’s nose. Sally thought she smelled vaguely of green apple today.

“Tell me dear, now that it’s basically all over, is there anything, well anything you would want to change forever if you could?” She looked thoughtfully at Sally.

“Ah,” Sally replied. “Hum.” She thought for a minute. “You know, I always really, really did want curly hair.”

Godmother smiled and pulled out her wand.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

            

                  JI HAN GOES TO CHINA

 

He was adorable. Really.

Jihan looked at himself in the gym’s full length mirror; first over the shoulder at his back side and then to the side. He flexed the pectorals and was satisfied to see them pop out a bit. Looking good, no doubt about it. At twenty-five, Jihan was 5’10” and 185 pounds of pure muscle and bone and not an ounce of fat to be seen.

He pulled his baseball cap low over his shiny black eyes. Yah, good. He smiled at himself and his incredibly white teeth all sparkled back at him. Ah well; time to get back to exercise class. Got to get those middle aged ladies into some kind of shape. He chuckled to himself; those women just loved him. Kind of a shame wasn’t it; only so much of him to go around.

Jihan (Ji to his friends) went into the big exercise class and the women came streaming in, grabbing their mats as they came. Soon the class was filled to capacity and Ji started his slow yoga routine at the front of the class. Thirty sets of eyes glued to his every movement, they started their stretching routine.

Later, after this class, ladies would line up to gush all over him and tell him how much they ‘loved’ his class and how ‘good’ it was for them. Ji was appropriately humble and smiled and laughed. In turn, he was sure to tell all of them how well they were doing and how much it improved their appearance! A few of the ladies would giggle and steal glances at themselves in the wall to wall mirrors and everyone left happy.

At the front desk, Ji was surrounded by fitness magazines of happy models in scanty outfits all bulging with unbelievable excesses of muscle. That’s where he sold the protein powders to the young wantabes who were trying their best to ‘buff up.’ Yes, Ji was a popular guy. Unlike most Korean men, he neither drank nor smoked, pretty unusual really. He took his fitness seriously.

Ji had graduated the year before from a local college in ‘maintenance engineering’ a degree that had to do with running factories efficiently. His minor, of course, was his first love; physical fitness training. Ji was not from a wealthy family and had put himself through college mostly by working at the gym and getting school loans. His wife, Yumi, had helped out with her job as a hair dresser.

Fortunately, or unfortunately (his feelings changed depending on the day,) they had been blessed with a brand new baby boy. Having a boy was very important in this culture and Ji proudly showed the baby off. If he had needed one more thing to prove his manhood, here it was. So, Ji and Yumi had just about everything a young couple could ask for, they loved each other and now they had little Min.

However, when the gym was quiet and the gaggle of chatty women had cleared out for the day; Ji had time to sit with his thoughts which weren’t so good.

Ji absolutely loved what he was doing at the gym; in fact, he would have done it for free if asked. But the job of a fitness instructor did not pay that well. Maybe if he were in one of the big fitness clubs in Seoul with personal clients; but not in this more domestic, smaller town. He had thought about moving but both his and Yumi’s families were here and the grandparents helped out a lot with Min. So when Ji was not busy, he was a bit preoccupied.

They were living in a tiny matchbox of an apartment now and could only afford it because Yumi’s parents helped them out. What with the baby’s equipment, they were practically falling over each other now; what if Yumi got pregnant again? What would they do about the hospital bills? Ji and Yumi were still paying off the last one.

Ji had been trying to get jobs in this area but the economy in Korea had gone into something of a slump. Being young with absolutely no factory experience, Ji was competing with even younger guys who just graduated from big name universities. Things weren’t looking so great. Ever the optimist and positive thinker, Ji would pack up Min at the end of his shift and jump on his little motorcycle to zoom on home for dinner.

There was a middle-aged man that started to come into the gym in the evenings who wanted help with his weight training. Ji was happy to oblige and got the man on a fitness schedule and created a file for him. Mr. Jack, as he called himself was happy with the results and with Ji and started asking him questions about himself.

“So, when did you graduate?”

“Well, it has been a year and a half now, Mr. Jack.” Ji replied.

“Ah, the degree is getting a little stale,” Mr. Jack shot back helpfully.

Ji looked down, embarrassed. What could he say? He had been trying.

“Not to worry,” Mr. Jack slapped Ji’s massive shoulder. “I might have something just for you.”

Ji looked up expectantly.

“I do sales work in China and have a bunch of contacts with the factories over there. How do you feel about moving to China?”

Ji’s mouth fell open. He was really just a small town Korean guy; the thought of going to China had never entered his mind.

“Think about it Jihun,” Mr. Jack winked at him, “you’re not getting any younger and that baby is going to need money for school and supplies. I’ll leave you my card and you call me if you want, okay?” Jack gave Ji another friendly pat as he got off the stationary bike.

True to his word, Jack left his business card at Ji’s desk as he was leaving the gym.

“Talk to you later partner.” Jack did a little hand salute and left.

Mr. Jack had a disconcerting way of interjecting little Americanisms into his speech on a regular basis that had Ji scrabbling for his ‘American Phrases’ dictionary. Today Ji just waved back and glumly stared at the little business card clutched in his muscular hand. He felt the cold wind of change dancing on the back of his neck.

Ji thought and thought and thought. Then he looked at little Min, then he thought about the stack of bills at home. Yumi’s parents were so good at helping them; still, he just hated taking money from them, it made him feel like a little kid and he didn’t like it. Plus, the more they helped out, the more Yumi’s mother felt like it was her job to tell Ji how to raise the baby and run the rest of his life. Although this was an entirely Korean thing; something about it just rubbed Ji wrong and he was rapidly getting sick of her ‘help.’

Ji stared at the business card a solid week and then seemed to come to a decision. He took the card home to talk to Yumi.

The next week Ji made the phone call to Mr. Jack and received a hearty congratulations about making the big decision. Ji wasn’t feeling that hearty, more like a little sick, but told Mr. Jack in a positive manner that he happily awaited to hear more from him.

Three months to the day, Ji, Yumi and little Min were in a brand spanking new apartment with all the modern conveniences. There was a microwave, an oven, washer with racks to dry the clothes. Also, it had a brand new frig, internet cable, an elevator that worked and a tiny little children’s play yard outside where they could take Min out to play and get fresh air. Ji could hardly believe his luck.

Of course, the transition had not been easy. Yumi, when she got over the initial shock of just what Jihan was suggesting to her, cried and screamed for at least three days. They couldn’t leave Korea, they couldn’t, they couldn’t. Jihan had to put on his very calmest voice to talk her down. The baby cried with all this and they talked and talked for hours. Jihan pulled out the bills from the hospital, the bills on the school loans; he pulled out their bank book and showed Yumi his pay. He added everything on paper for her. She cried harder knowing what he was saying was true. They were never going to get ahead like this. Finally, head hanging, defeated, Yumi silently nodded and agreed with Ji. They would take the job offer and go to China.

If Jihan had thought Yumi was bad, she was nothing in comparison to the grandmother. Oh My God! He thought the old woman was going to have a stroke, really, he worried about her. Finally, Ji gathered his little family up and left the grandmother to her husband who just looked at Ji with sad eyes and said nothing.

“I think that hurt worst than all the screaming,” Ji thought to himself as he was putting on his new cotton shirt for work. The company had given Ji a week of transition time to get settled into the new apartment before he was to report to work as a production assistant.

Ji was extremely proud to show his own parents the acceptance letter from Big Dog manufacturing concern in Wuxi, China. A ‘Joint Conglomerate of both American and Chinese Technologies,’ the letterhead read importantly. The letter was in English so of course Ji’s parent’s couldn’t read it. They too looked at Ji with sad eyes, but as the first son in their family to ever graduate from college, they had long since taken a back seat in his life. They didn’t have nearly the kind of money that Yumi’s family had, so they were in no position to argue and took in the news with gloomy acceptance.

Ji and Yumi had used the public transportation system that was so conveniently located next to their apartment to go shopping for clothes for Ji. The company had very generously given Ji a relocation allowance too (unbelievable!) and they had run out with the money to shop for business clothes for his first day on the job.

Brushed and groomed to within an inch of his life; Yumi picked some imaginary lint off Ji’s new navy blue sweater and took another swipe at his shoes which already were so shiny she could see her own face. She handed him his lunch, anxiety written on her face.

“It will be okay,” he reassured her. “I will be fine.” Giving her a little peck he hurried outside to catch his ride to work. Big Jim from Texas was picking him up for his very first day.

“Howdy, partner!” Jim almost shouted at Ji. “Glad to have you aboard!” And slapping Ji on the back pushed him into the van with the rest of the crew, a bunch of chattering Americans and Chinese all off to work at Big Dog.

Big Jim showed Ji around the plant which was an impressive sight; all steel and chrome and concrete everything. Ji was fairly goggling when they were done with the tour. Finally, they came to a little bay of cubicles clustered on one side of the floor and Big Jim (“All these Americans seemed to have nicknames, Ji thought to himself,”) showed him one with his name on a tag.

“This one be yours partner,” he boomed. “What do you think?”

Ji was astounded. His own name, at a desk, that was all his? He felt like crying.

“It is very wonderful Mr. Jim,” he managed to squeak out.

“Fine, fine,” boomed Jim. “Ok, now Shin here,” Jim waved at another little Asian guy. “He’s from your country too, and since you speak the same lingo, he’ll be showing you what to do. Comprende, Kimosabe?” Jim looked at Ji who had no idea what he had just said.

Shin whispered something in his ear. “Oh, yes, Mr. Jim. I understand, thank you so much!” and Ji made a bow to Jim. Jim looked at him and then finally did a teeny little bow back. “All righty then, you be seeing the big dog, Curtis himself after lunch,” he indicated over his shoulder as he was walking away. “Shin there’ll show you the office.”

Ji had to have Shin translate again as the ‘lingo’ was getting ahead of him. Shin handed Ji a notebook. “Take notes on everything you don’t understand and then we will go over it later.” Ji nodded his head up and down. These Americans, they talk very fast and are hard to understand and the Chinese are worse!”

Ji felt a little wave of panic sweep over him. Shin, patted his muscled shoulder a bit, “Don’t worry, they are really very nice once you get to know them.” Ji clutched the blue notebook in his fist.

Shin showed Ji around the plant some more and started to tell him about his duties as quality control manager; the place seemed to have endless lists posted everywhere with dates, times and signatures in little boxes. However, Ji felt a renewed sense of confidence realizing that all his schooling was coming back to him and he had a sense of what they were doing here.

“And you , big guy,” Shin smiled at Ji with a little pat on the shoulder, “I think we are going to assign you to working with the ladies on the line, seeing that everything gets done on time. I think they are going to like you.”

In the cafeteria, Ji found that he could pick from either the Chinese side or the American side. He and Shin ended up on the Chinese side because it was the most familiar. They got their trays and sat down on one of the brightly colored, Plexiglass benches.

“Okay,” Shin seemed to take a breath. “You’ll be seeing Mr. Curtis, plant manager, after lunch. He can be a little intimidating.” He looked pointedly at Ji.

Ji nodded his head like he understood.

“Just try to act like you are not scared of him, even if you are.” Ji nodded.

“He really doesn’t like babies,” Shin looked meaningfully at Ji. Ji swallowed and gulped but managed a weak smile.

“Ah sure, no problem,” he replied without meaning a word.

 

Promptly after lunch and wash-up, Shin delivered Ji to the second floor. It was a large expansive place with huge glass windows which looked over the factory floor. He knocked timidly on the frosted glass door marked in gold letters ‘Curtis Crawford, General Manager.’

“Come in,” they heard loudly from the other side of the door. Shin gave Ji one last look like he was a dying man and pushed him inside, escaping rapidly down the stairs.

“Come in son; don’t stand there by the door.” Curtis Crawford boomed at Ji.

Ji walked in the room and was first overwhelmed by the huge red, white and blue Lone Star state flag hanging from one corner of the room. His mouth fell open at the cowboy brick-a-brack which lined the shelves. His eyes stopped at the long horns that were mounted above Curtis’s desk and his mouth really dropped open.

“Over here, over here,” Curtis gestured and got up from his chair and came over and put his hand out for Ji to shake. Ji had to think a minute then took the hand and shook it; maybe a little too hard.

“Did Curtis wince?” he thought desperately.

Curtis went and perched on the corner of his desk. “Now, Jihun,” he said with a heavy Texas accent, “you are here on a three month probationary period. Do you know what that means?” Ji looked blank. “That means we check you out the first three months and you check us out the first three months and either of us don’t like what we see; you go on home back to Korea and everybody parts friends.”

Ji wasn’t exactly sure what all this meant but would talk to Shin later, meanwhile he just nodded his head.

“However, we got good reports on you from our man Jack in Korea already and we think you gonna fit in just fine.”

The man was talking so fast and with the accent, Ji was having a hard time keeping up, but he just smiled and nodded again.

Curtis paused, and then stared at Ji. Ji was getting nervous and started to sweat. “What?” he worried.

“Jihun,” Curtis spoke so suddenly, Ji almost jumped. “Yes, sir,” he replied, like he was back in the Army.

“Jihun,” Curtis came forward and flecked a finger at his shirt. “Is that pink I see on your shirt?” Ji and Yumi had been very proud of their find of short sleeved shirts for Ji that nicely showed off his bulging arm muscles. These were the latest in fashion.

Ji looked down nervously like he had never seen the shirt before and had to nod in the affirmative.

“Jihun,” Curtis was saying with his Texas drawl, “ain’t nobody at Big Dog what wears pink to work excepting the women and that ain’t necessarily encouraged. Also, do I see a rhinestone on that collar?” Jihun was speechless.

“Nobody at Big Dog ever wears them any rhinestones ever, excepting the women and that would be at parties after 5pm. Do you get my drift son?”

Ji cast about wildly in his mind for what “Get my drift” meant and could come up with absolutely nothing. So he just nodded his head intensely up and down.

“Now I want you and that little wife of yours to get into town and get you some regular, long sleeve shirts like everybody else here wears. You can get two colors; white for regular days and blue for causal days.”

“But the heat sir,” Ji unfortunately heard himself say.

“When it is hot, we roll our sleeves up and put on the air conditioner. Right son?”

Ji could have bitten his tongue off for speaking so he just nodded more.

“Ok then, get yourself on out of here and get those shirts and come on back tomorrow dressed appropriately for the job.” Curtis moved back behind his desk and sat down. Ji stood there. “We are done son, you may go.” Curtis picked up some paperwork and started reading it.

After a momentary pause to process, Ji turned and nearly ran out the door and down the stairs. If he hadn’t been moving like a rabbit, he might have heard the soft chuckling sound coming from behind the frosted glass door.

At the bottom of the steps he had to stop and hold his hand to his chest, his heart was pounding. “Damn shirt!” He was furious with Yumi, this had been her idea. He wanted to rip the shirt off and tear it to shreds.

On the way home, his usually good-natured self came back. It had been both their decisions to buy these stupid shirts, he was just glad they still had money in their account to get some more.

 

The next day, Shin and Mr. Jim conspired together and got Ji on the assembly line supervising the women who were doing parts components.

“You’re just their type,” Shin said to Ji knowingly.

Truer words were never spoken; Ji with his massive build and soft-spoken manner was an instant hit with the ladies. They didn’t speak Korean and he didn’t speak more than a few words of Chinese, but their cheeks glowed as Ji walked by with his clip board and gave them words of encouragement.

As predicted, Ji did fit right in. As a likable guy, he was already well versed in the art of hail fellow well-met which was a lot of what went on on the factory floor. The woman needed to be fussed over a bit and to feel appreciated by their bosses and in return; they worked their little fingers to the bone.

Ji made sure that little niceties like cups for water at the cooler were always there. Also at break, he got them little free packet’s of tea and mixed flavored coffees that they all loved. He made a point to bring in Chinese pastries once a week for a special reward. He found that his customer service training was paying off.

The three months went by in a flash and he was a little nervous when Big Jim called him to his cubicle.

“Nice job Ji,” Jim slapped his back (he was always doing that.) You have made it past probation and your numbers on your lines are looking very good. “Is there anything we can do for you?”

There was one thing. Big Jim showed Ji into the company sports training room. Ji looked around. It was a tiny, cement room with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There was one stationary bicycle, one tread master and a few odds weights, no mirrors. Ji looked at the ensemble dejectedly.

“This is it?” popped out of his mouth.

“Fraid so son,” Jim boomed. “Company talking about upgrading, but haven’t seen it yet.”

Ji nodded and thanked Jim.

Later, he started to come into the weight room by himself to work out every day. It wasn’t much but it was something and he was really starting to feel out of shape. That feeling made him get cranky with Yumi and Min and he didn’t like that feeling. So, tiny room or not, he got downstairs daily.

Pretty soon, he was hitting up Shin and they were both getting down there together to do some ‘training.’ Ji got his mother to send him some of the old magazines from the gym and he got a little plastic table and put it by the door and two plastic chairs so he and Shin could sit and relax a bit before going home. Ji showed Shin how to buy the right kind of shoes for jogging and they found an area at the outside of the factory where they could do a couple of laps.

Big Jim saw them doing this one day and called them over.

“What’s up with you two? We not working you hard enough, you got to come out here and run around too?”

Shin explained to Big Jim that Ji had been a fitness instructor in Korea before coming here for this job and the big man nodded his head and looked thoughtful.

It was Korean Thanksgiving time and Ji was due for his first vacation time off from Big Dog. Big Jim was happy with Ji’s production numbers, that probably meant Curtis was too, (nobody asked) and things were running smoothly at the plant. Ji was studying Chinese on his off time with Yumi and was able to cover the niceties and communicate a few words to his line-girls.

The ‘girls” (some were in their 50’s) still ogled Ji and several were marvelously disappointed to see his wife come to their company picnic but they still managed to adore Ji anyway. He was pretty cute.

Ji and Yumi were off for a week to see their parents back home and Shin took them to the airport.

“There might be a couple of changes when you get back,” Shin whispered in Ji’s ear. Ji looked a little alarmed. “Nothing to worry about,” Shin put his hands up defensively. They gave each other a hug and bow and said goodbye.

When Ji got back to work, Big Jim walked up to him at break and said that Curtis wanted to see him. Ji got an immediate sinking feeling in his stomach. He started to walk up the stairs when Jim said “No this way,” and led the way downstairs. Shin appeared from nowhere with a little smirk on his face.

Big Jim led the way downstairs to where the tiny gym had been. Ji was upset to see that his blue plastic table and chairs were gone. “Darn it!” Shin got in front and opened the door and Ji stepped in and his mouth dropped open.

In place of the little tiny room that had been there, the walls had been knocked out and a large, well-lit and fully equipped gymnasium had appeared. Ji walked forward in a trance and began to touch the new tread masters and stationary cycles lovingly. He couldn’t believe it. He started to wander down the room and stopped to turn for a second; the entire back wall was all covered with huge floor to ceiling mirrors. He saw himself reflected back to himself and almost cried.

“Well what do you think partner?” Curtis had come up and had a grin on his face. “Up to your Korean standards?”

“It’s beautiful,” Ji managed to choke out.

“Well, we took your example to heart and thought that maybe you could help out here a few hours a week. Get some of these flabbies in shape.” Ji’s heart began to sing.

Just at that very moment, two Chinese staffers came in and got on the stationary cycles. They were both smoking. Ji stiffened and was about to walk over to them when Big Jim laid a hand on his arm.

“Steady partner, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Shin, Big Jim and Curtis all laughed. Finally, Ji was laughing too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACID RAIN

 

 

Your love is like acid rain,

and me with no umbrella.

It pours down and rips the

flesh from my bones.

It seeps inside my marrow

and destroys me.

I am on my knees

before it.

Did I say?

I love the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      THE SHOES

 

 

 

 

 

She stared and stared at my shoes.

I looked down at my feet; leather
sandals with blue, rhinestone straps.

My fresh pedicure winked back at me with
the gold sparkle polish.

I looked back at her. Now her head was hanging
way down like she was thinking.

"If I could just have the shoes, it would all be okay."

I looked away; she made me uncomfortable with her
shabby clothes and dirty hands, holding the handle of the old
metal shopping cart.

It was filled to the brim with stuff; flotsam and jetsam, boxes and bags
in all mis-matched colors and styles. They matched her clothes.

Her head hung down so you couldn't see her eyes.

I glanced at my Seiko watch to check the time; didn't want to be
late for that hair appointment.

She had on an old visor, stuck in her hair that mostly hid her face.
I readjusted the ear buds on my Apple I-phone four.

I didn't want to look at her and share her shame; irresistibly my
eyes were pulled back to her riding on this crowded subway.

Why so many bags and boxes? Ah, this is her house that she carries with her.
Of course.

She blends in here, with all the other people, all going somewhere.
She looks like anybody else.

It's when she leaves here and goes up to the street;
that's when she has to become someone who has
somewhere to go, someone to meet.

But there is no one and nowhere. Just the street.

I check my lipstick in the mirror in my handbag,
the train is slowing down.

Time to get back to my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NUMBER TWO GIRL

 

Looking down,
I noticed the shoes.
Very sparkly with lots
of rhinestones,
four inch leather heels.
"Little early in the day isn't
it?" I think.
My eyes travel up, nice legs,
good outfit.
Pretty face? Not exactly, just nice.
About thirty-five years old;
she's going up in the hotel elevator
with a man twice her age.
She's not his wife,
she has settled in life.
She's the number two girl.
He pays the bills, she gets nice things.
He gets to feel younger for a while,
'til he goes home to his wife.
She'll go back to her apartment,
and wait, until the next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALL HALLOWS’EVE

 

Aye, all ye ghosts and goulies,
the time be nigh, and
by the pricking of me thumbs,
something wicked this way comes.

Dancing, chants and songs abound,
in the dales and glens and towns.
We'll rattle the chains and screech and scream,
in their faces and in their dreams.

We'll steal under beds and closets tight.
We'll scare them humans all this night!

It's our turn to have some fun;
let's take back what was ours once.

We'll dance away that big full moon
and anon,
aye too soon, the dawn will come
and by its light,

we go back to our rest and then,
another year til it's time again!


 

 

 

 

 

 

MURDER IN ASIA

 

I had seen better times and worse times.

 

However; I had a little money in the bank, my bills were paid and no one was screaming the house down for money. My needs were taken care of and it had been some time since I could say that. Surprisingly, this overseas teaching bit seemed to be working out.

 

I had gotten a breather from the high cost of living in the US and a rest from the funeral dirge that we call news telling me how everything, everything was going into the shitter.

 

Anyway, it was nice being away from the States, the economic slump and endless finger pointing. I had settled into my life with a tiny studio apartment, bathroom and tinsee kitchenette. I started to feel like I could live here forever.

 

Problems began to emerge from the American teachers. To say we had a real assortment of soup to nuts with this group was an understatement. The Americans bitched and complained and moaned and groaned about how it wasn’t like ‘home’ and they ‘don’t do it like this in the States,’ etc. etc. etc. The complaining was only topped by the endless rounds of drinking, hangovers, colds, illnesses and trips to the hospital. In some ways the teachers were fragile, out of their comfort zone.

 

Rising up from this rather formidable group of misfits, was a tight little cluster of besty friends who huddled and clutched together in gossipy, whispering bunches. From this mire emerged three very besty friends; two gals and a guy that were nothing less than scary.

 

 

What to say? Amber (Blondie) the leader of the group was fat and fuzzy. Regarding her clothing; she specialized in knee high leather boots, sweaters and short skirts that emphasized her really voluminous rear. She reminded me of a vixen from ‘Cabaret’. Being of German extraction with real blonde hair, I could picture her, dominatrix style, with a little whip, leather cap and one booted foot resting on a chair, waiting for customers.

 

The other two I called Pinkie and the Brain after the cartoon of the same name. In the cartoon, Brain was the genius and Pinkie was the idiot and every week they came up with a new plan to ‘take over the world.’ Right, just like here.

 

Pinkie was a fluffy concoction of bleached blond hair, cheap, uncomfortable high heels, tight skirts and low cut blouses. Her best feature was her face and she specialized in radiating brilliant toothy smiles at everyone, irrespective of the circumstance.

 

However, she also had a repertoire of deep and sincere looks of apology whenever she was unable to accommodate your requests which was usually most of the time. Let it never be said that she didn’t ‘have your back’ as an administrator at the school and she wasn’t ‘working hard to take care of you.’

 

I could often hear the three of them talking and whispering in the back of the bus as we made our way to school. When the Brain let loose with some particularly noxious remark, Pinkie would giggle her little cat-like giggle. She would curl up around the Brain like an old married couple and purr. I wasn’t impressed. Blondie would bark in laughter and a happier group never was.

 

The Brain on the other hand, rarely bothered with the niceties unless the administration was visiting. He was the clown, the buffoon, the jokester, the cynic, the critic, the sarcastic one. The Brain lived for the delight he got in putting other people down and into their ‘place.’ He loved to watch others and to catch them ‘with their pants down’ and then announce these failings and gaffs to anyone listening.

 

One day I made up ‘In and Out’ signs for the stationary door because people kept walking into it. The Brain switched the signs because it was so funny and then laughed when people tried to go through the locked door. One of my best friends laughed himself sick in spite of himself; that Brain huh?

 

The Brain worked his magic with one of the Asian women administrators and got her thinking he was all that and a bag of chips. After he got promoted to trainer, a job created just for him and not requiring any of those long, laborious, tediously expensive degrees the rest of us had, the worm began to turn.

 

At the opening ceremony, Henrietta, the Asian staffer, made some announcements and the Brain listened carefully. When it was his turn to get the microphone he ran with it. “Oh, Henrietta, that was so wrong. Oh no, no, no……..Well, that won’t be the first time.”

 

His remarks became more and more vitriolic. One night we were waiting in the cold for a bus to show up and when it finally did, it was too small for us to all fit.

 

I could hear the Brain. “Oh Henrietta, you lied to us the last time about the bus too.” Ashamed, she shook her head unable to speak or respond.

 

Brain announced often that he never bothered to lock his door. “This is Asia,” he would say. “What can happen?” I guess that worked as he waltzed back and forth with a parade of ‘dates’.

 

So our lives went on for many months. I tried to avoid the gruesome threesome as much as possible. Biting my tongue was an everyday occurrence. I was busy looking for other jobs and hoping to get the hell out of there.

 

I was out one especially fierce some and wild night when the Asian sky opened up and dumped a torrent of rain on our heads. The wind was whipping the trees and trash everywhere. I was in a taxi praying the driver would get us home in one piece without killing me, him and any unwary pedestrians.

 

We finally made it to the apartment and I paid the driver and wrenched the door open into the frozen blast and ran for the elevator. I could hear banging from somewhere but it sounded like trees beating against the building outside. Inside at last, I pulled off my drippy clothes and threw myself into my warm bed.

 

The next day, the teachers all trudged dutifully to the bus tip-toeing over puddles and trying to avoid cars splashing water as they drove by.

 

We got on the shuttle and Pinkie kept looking around for Brain. I could hear her speaking to Blondie and trying to reach him by phone but - no go. They finally signaled the bus driver to leave and off we went for another happy day at work.

 

I was busy with classes all day and really didn’t think anymore about the missing Brain until much later that evening. As it happened, my apartment was directly above his. Pinkie had apparently got home too and got off the cheap heels and made her way over to Brain’s apartment.

 

I was busy taking off my makeup and reading emails when I heard the screaming. It seemed to go on forever.

 

Wiping the last cold cream off my face and pushing slippers on my feet, I ran down the stairs two at a time to where the sound was coming from. It was the Brain’s apartment. The door was open and Pinkie was inside, still hollering but the sound was muted by her hands over her mouth. The Brain was lying on his bed, eyes open, mouth gaping and a large knife sticking out of his chest. There was a long dark red trail of blood leading from his chest, down the wine colored sheets onto the carpet flooring.

 

I grabbed Pinkie and pulled her forcibly out of the apartment. Her face was a frozen in terror with big blue eyes staring wildly all around. I closed the door and grabbed her by both arms.

 

“Angela, Angela,” I said. “Stop, stop, stop,” giving her a little shake.

 

People were piling out of their apartments looking to see what was going on.

 

“Stay here,” I told her. She shook her head numbly. “Don’t go back in.”

 

She shook her head no.

 

I ran to the manager’s office on the bottom floor and waving wildly at the cigarette smoking fool who worked at the desk, I finally got him to understand he had to come with me now. He fumbled and fumbled with his slippers and locking the door. He looked at me in a dazed fashion like he couldn’t believe his presence was required anywhere.

 

I dragged him upstairs and pushed him through the door where he stood staring stupidly. I made a hand gesture to indicate telephone.

 

“Police, police, police,” I kept saying to him. He nodded his head but didn’t move. I got behind him and pushed him out the door. He kept looking back at the bed.

 

We got downstairs where he fumbled with the phone like he had never used one before and finally got the phone call made. There was a lot of conversation I couldn’t understand and hand gestures that seemed to go on for a long time. At last, he nodded and hung up the phone then waved in the air with his cigarette that they were coming.

 

I went back up to the second floor and gathered up Angela and asked her where her apartment was. Since we never socialized, I didn’t even know which one she lived in. She indicated it was on the third floor and I got her on the elevator and back into her apartment.

 

Her apartment was an assortment of all things pink and fuzzy to include kitten plates on the walls. It appeared to be the well decorated abode of any 14 or 15 year old girl.

 

“Fits,” I thought to myself.

 

“Angela, do you want some tea?” I asked her. She looked dumbly at me like she had forgotten how to speak.

 

After a minute she nodded her head and I rummaged around in the cupboards looking for teabags and a cup. Finding a pink one with little flowers on it I started the water to boil.

 

I sat close to her not knowing what to say. It wasn’t like we were really friends, ‘cause we weren’t; far from it. I managed a little tentative pat on her knee. That was about the best I could do.

 

She sucked in some air. “He’s dead isn’t he?” Now, I am no expert on these things, but the fact that the Brain was dead did seem to be pretty apparent.

 

“I think so,” I replied.

 

She sucked in some air and started making a sort of choking sound.

 

“Oh no,” I thought, “Here it comes.” Just at that moment, there was a brief knock on the door and Blondie came rushing in.

 

“Angela, Angela,” she grabbed her friend and the two of them started sobbing together, rocking back and forth.

 

I got up and started backing up toward the door. They didn’t appear to notice me. I got to the door, when through it and closed it behind me. I let out a gasp, incredibly grateful to be out of the room. I knew I should go down when the police showed up but I gave myself permission to go put on regular clothes before that happened and people started asking questions.

 

What happened the next few hours and indeed the next few days was a blur of just that; questions, questions and more questions.

 

I suppose I became the subject of so much inquiry because my apartment was above his and the police seemed convinced I must have seen or heard something. I had to repeat to them over and over that I had heard something like banging but that it seemed like wind and trees bagging on the side of the building.

 

What came out of weeks of this circular discussion was that there were no leads, no fingerprints, and no witnesses to anything. No one had a single clue as to how this had happened other than that the door was open and the murderer was able to simply walk in, stab the victim and walk out. The residents of the apartment rarely spoke or interacted with each other and the hallways were frequently empty.

 

Life started to go back to ‘normal’ at the school and we went back to our ‘usual’ lives. A detective, Lt. Chung, was assigned to the case. He was a youngish man, very sincere, who spoke very good English. I spoke to him several times; he was soft-spoken, unassuming and dressed in regular grey/black street clothes.

 

Apparently, he had some sources on the police force that allowed him to do some ‘digging’ into the Brain’s pass in the States where he came from. Some years earlier the Brain had been involved in a very serious auto accident where he was almost killed. Instead he was left with several very deep scars on his body. When asked about the accident he’d just say, “I don’t remember anything.”

 

Instinctively I knew there was something wrong with that story.

 

Lt. Chung, a personable young guy of about 40, had however, a permanently sorrowful look on his face. The Lt. looked just like he was about to say “I’m sorry to tell you this, but….” Point of fact, he probably did have to say that kind of thing to people maybe he just subconsciously arranged his face to project the message first.

 

Anyway, Lt. Chung had taken to stopping by the apartment house and hanging out in the office with the two old duffers who owned the place. They would be in there talking and laughing about whatever or outside having a smoke and I would see them on my way home from school.

 

Lt. Chung found out in his detective-type way that I was from California. He shared with me from time to time that his greatest aspiration in life was to take his wife and three year old daughter to Disneyland and Universal Studios. Apparently, they had been saving money for sometime but still were a little short. He loved to have me give him more details about Southern California and what he could expect when he got there.

 

“Well, there’s Gladstone’s for Fish in Malibu, and the beach. Oh, and you might see some movie stars; then there’s Las Vegas.” The Chung would sit there mesmerized, drinking in every word. “Yah, it’s worth it, go!” He nodded his head sagely and with a little heave of the shoulders, let out a little sigh.

 

“Man,” I thought, “this guy is killing me.”

 

Anyway, in between getting little tourist tips for his trip, the Lieutenant would divulge bits of information to me regarding his investigation. Why he felt like he should share this stuff with me I don’t know. Maybe he trusted me because I was older and had worked with the police in my prior ‘life’ as an insurance investigator.

 

One day when we were discussing the merits of Medieval Times Restaurant and the jousting show versus Knott’s Berry Farm he got a little somber.

 

“You know that accident that Mr. Clifton was in back in the States?” Clifton Webb was the Brain’s real name. Chung always called him Mr. Clifton.

 

“Yes,” I replied.

 

“Did he ever say there was someone else with him then?”

 

I sucked in air from surprise. “No, he would never talk about it.” I told him.

 

“Hum,” he replied. “There was another person, a man with him.”

 

“Oh,” I replied not knowing where this was going.

 

“Yes, younger man. Much younger, only 19 years old at the time,” said Chung shaking his head sadly.

 

This was not sounding so good. “What happened?” I was forced to ask.

 

“Young man died,” was the response.

 

My mouth formed a little ‘O’ shape.

 

“Mr. Clifton, he had been drinking, a little. He pulled in front of a very large truck, on the highway, at night. Maybe; no lights. The truck no sees the car and hit it very, very hard. Young man on passenger side, killed.” Chung finished. He cleared his throat.

 

I was shocked. Not only to find out how the accident that had left the Brain with so many scars had occurred but that someone had died too. Wow!

 

“The police, they investigate and want to charge Mr. Clifton with murder. But they finally decided he not legally drunk and called it manslaughter instead.” He shook his head again. “These Americans, they such fools,” he concluded.

 

I couldn’t much disagree with that statement.

 

“So then when Mr. Clifton get out of hospital and pay fines, he leave the United States and come here.” He looked at me seeking to find the logic in the whole thing. I couldn’t think of a thing to say.

 

“I talk to my captain. I want go to United States myself and see the records of the accident. Maybe take wife and daughter on little vacation.” He winked at me. I gaped; I had never had an Asian wink at me before. I think Lt. Chung had been watching reruns of Colombo on TV.

 

 

A few weeks went by after this conversation and I was so busy with classes and lesson plans all thoughts about what Lt. Chung was up to escaped from my head. I was therefore, a little surprised to see him hanging around in front of the apartment again, this time alone, having a smoke. It was, coincidentally, just the same time I got home off the bus from school.

 

“Ah, Mrs. McGinney!” he said as though he were actually surprised to see me. “You are here.”

 

I had to smile.

 

“I wanted to talk to you a little just,” he said. “Not here.”

 

Reluctantly I invited him up to my tiny little apartment. Thankfully, I had a tinsee little living room with a couch that he could sit on and I could close the slider to my bedroom. I knew that Lt. Chung was a very happily married man, but still, I kept getting these vibes from him. I couldn’t tell if he was just being friendly or what. I dumped my heavy bags down and made a run for the bathroom and came out and put the tea kettle on.

 

“Coffee?” I asked. Always the ceremonials.

 

“Thank you so much,” he replied and I got out two cups. He seemed brimming with good news as I handed him his cup.

 

“It is all okay,” he announced. “We go!” I was lost.

 

“United States,” he said gleefully. “My wife and I and baby girl, we go to California.”

 

The light dawned. “Ah, yes,” I replied. “your vacation!”

 

“Yes, yes vacation,” but added somberly, “a little work too.” I looked at him.

 

“I will go to Arizona to talk to the family of the young man killed in the accident with Mr. Clifton. There is, as you Americans say, something not right here.”

 

I nodded; surprised by his astuteness and also the amount of American TV this guy must be watching to be picking up on these phrases.

 

“May I write you the email if something ‘interesting’ comes up?” he asked.

 

Again, I was a little uneasy. Somehow I was feeling like a boundary was being crossed here into my personal life. I struggled with my answer. But finally, he did seem so sincere; I finally agreed to let him have my school email. I gave him a business card.

 

“Thank you, thank you,” he said so enthusiastically I felt ashamed to have distrusted him.

 

“I must go now,” he said standing up abruptly. “We be in touch.” He thanked me again for the coffee, we shook hands and he left.

 

I couldn’t but wonder about this guy and how much he was like the TV Colombo; particularly that dogged persistence.

 

Another two weeks went by and although I hurried home everyday looking for something from the Lieutenant; there was nothing.

 

Life had gone on, as they say. Pinkie had gotten over her near hysterics from the day of the murder and Blondie had finally gotten over the sniffles but was still looking very sad, like her brother had been taken. I guess the Brain was, in a sense, her brother.

 

Finally, as the spring was upon us and the never-ending Asian winter was coming to a close, I got a clipped one-line message from the Lieutenant.

 

“The young man, he had a sister. Younger, maybe 15 years,” signed “Very Goodly Yours, Lt. Chung.”

 

What the hell was that supposed to mean, I thought to myself? I racked my brain and could come up with nothing. The young man had a sister? Ok, and? I was forced to pull up my reserves of patience because there no other answers forthcoming from the Chung.

 

I wrote him back asking what he meant and he replied by telling me how great Disneyland was and maybe they move to USA. Great!

 

About ten days after that, when I was yet again making the trek back to the apartment from the bus, laden with bags, I pulled up short in front of the apartment building.

 

What I saw first was two cop cars with their wig-wag lights flashing in front of the building and the door to the manager’s office wide open. I stared and looked around and spotted the Chung auto-car off to the corner. I hit the elevator to go upstairs and as the doors opened, Lt. Chung was looking at me.

 

“Mrs. Smith,” he cried and gave me a hug. “You gave me such good advice for my trip and we have wonderful time!!” He beamed at me.

My mouth was hanging open.

 

He said “Just a minute, please,” and leaned back to talk to the beefy cop behind him. I stepped aside as the two moved into the foyer babbling to each other in Korean.

 

Finally the Chung turned to me and said “I see you in your apartment in few minutes, yes?” He immediately turned around to the cop again and they walked off together. Having been thus dismissed I got into the elevator and rode up to my floor. What else?

 

Thirty minutes later, I was sipping a diet-coke, in my jeans and slippers with my hair pulled up in a pony when there was a knock on the door. I opened to see Lt. Chung.

 

“I come in?” he asked as he started to walk in the door.

 

“Ah, sure, “I replied stumbling backwards. I went through the same coffee drill but today he didn’t seem interested.

 

“You got my email?” he asked. He knew I had, I had replied to him. He looked at me as thought that one sentence should explain everything and only a dolt would not clearly understand what was going on.

 

“Yes, I did but….” I didn’t have a chance to finish before he was waving my comments away like the unimportant nats that they were.

 

“The young man, he had a sister, yes?” he looked at me expectantly. I stared at him. He cleared his throat and continued. “She was younger, maybe 17 of your American years at the time of brother’s death. They were very close.”

 

I wasn’t getting it. I looked at him and nodded with what I hoped was an intelligent look on my face.

 

“The sister, she was very, very angry at brother’s death and the decision of police and legal system against Mr. Clifton. She not thinks it right, not fair,” he continued.

 

“Ok,” I said, “and?”

 

He gave me a condescending look.

 

“After the accident and arrest and hearing, they bury her brother. She graduated from high school and went to college there in hometown.” I was still not putting anything together.

 

He looked at me triumphantly, like he had just discovered the cure for cancer and leprosy all at the same time. “She studied to become a teacher!”

 

Dimly, the pieces were starting to shift into place.

 

“She got her teaching degree and applied to become teacher here in Asia!” I sucked in my breath in surprise

 

“She got a job at your school!”

 

“Who, who….? I started.

 

“Caroline Crisswell!” he said quietly.

 

I sat there stunned. I couldn’t believe it. Caroline Crisswell? Cute, little, blond bouncy, cheer-girl type from Arizona, Caroline?

 

“But, but...” I fumbled. “The name of the kid in the accident, you told me was different. It wasn’t the same name!”

 

Then he smiled that special smile at me. He tapped his head knowingly. Those Asians!!! “Different fathers, different names.”

 

I gaped some more. “Where, where…?”

 

“She is gone, the apartment is empty. Everything still there except for one large bag. Her mother, who I spoke to in Arizona when I was there, must have told her.” Lt Chung nodded almost as though he agreed with the mother’s decision to tell her daughter what was up.

 

“I still……” Don’t understand I was trying to say.

 

“Yes, yes.” said the Chung. “The young man, Dennis Cleary, he was having affair with Mr. Clifton and they went everywhere together. The sister she feel like the death was a murder not an accident and she never get over it. She graduated from school with the teacher’s degree and hunt down Mr. Clifton. Not too hard, they from same small town in Arizona, know many same people. Mr. Clifton not hard to find.”

 

“She find out what school he working at, apply to same school, and in Asia not much experience needed, she get the job. Mr. Clifton not really know her as young man and girl not live in same household and he never saw her except at funeral. Girls, you know, they always change the hair.” He sighed.

 

“So,” I interjected, remembering seeing the Brain and this girl together, talking and laughing over some silly thing.

 

“She gets to know him here, gets into the same apartment complex and finds out from Clifton that he never locked his door. (“It’s Asia,” he would say, brightly, “what can happen?”)

 

“Exactly, so as you say,” replied Chung. “She ready with knife she took from school kitchen. She waits for really bad weather when lots of noise outside and wind, so nobody be outside. She goes down to Mr. Clifton apartment, when she knows he is drinking, maybe she even gave it to him and when he lies down, she stabs him in heart. She goes up backstairs that nobody takes and goes to her room and acts like nothing she knows.”

 

I thought back to that wild night; as a matter of fact, many of the teachers in the building had come down to the Brain’s apartment to see what was going on, except…. Caroline. She had not been there and the next day she said she was such a heavy sleeper she hadn’t heard a thing. . .

 

“Wow!” was all I could say. “But where is she now?”

 

Lt. Chung looked a little sad. “She has left by the airplane, but no doubt, we find her and bring her back.” He seemed to feel personally bad about that. Some part of him seemed to feel that justice had been done and that the young woman had only done what was ‘right’ and shouldn’t be punished.

 

He pulled himself up a little officially and said, “We will start to look for her …first thing tomorrow. It is a little late.”

 

“Tomorrow!” I almost cried. My American sense of justice was rising up. I stopped myself and shut my mouth. He looked at me, I looked at him.

 

“Hey, you want to see the pictures from my trip?” and with delight he pulled out his brand new, bought in America camera. I went to put on the coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation With The Muse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Hey, how's it going?" she asked me.

"I'm ok," I said, "I'm a little surprised to see you here."

 

I was on the second floor balcony, away from the party. It was a large, half-moon shape and I must not have seen her come out.

"I was in the neighborhood," she replied. She had a bit of a pout on her face. "You sent me away for a long time you know."

"Yes, I know," I responded reluctantly. "I've been busy."

"You're always busy, always have an excuse!" she spat.

"I'm been trying, I have been doing much more writing this year," I pleaded.

"Yes, I will admit, that's true. That is probably why I'm here at all. I thought you were calling me back again. "

"Well, I have been," I stated with a little more confidence.

"But, oh so many years with nothing, nothing," she moaned at me.

"I had things to do!" I was pleading again. "They expect so much from me!"

"And you could have said no, you know that."

"Well," my voice trailed off. "Aren't you a little cold out here in that flimsy dress, it's New Year's Eve you know?" Her long dress was a flimsy, jade green color. Little sparks seemed to fly off it when she moved.

She stared at me. "Don't change the subject. Look at what has happened to your brother. He sent his muse away and now he can't find it anymore. He’s a mess!"

"Do you think that is what is wrong with him?" I queried.

"Hum," she replied tartly, "isn’t it obvious?

"Oh," I murmured.

"You," she pointed at me, "you are afraid," she said, "you're afraid and can't admit it. Just say you're afraid!"

"I, I, well, well..." I stammered.

"It's no shame; it's okay to be afraid. Everyone gets afraid from time to time. But, the thing is you can't let it stop you, you have to keep going." She spoke imperially with a wave. Gold sparks seemed to trail off her hand.

"You're right," I replied weakly.

She turned and walked away a little, then turned back. It was chilly out here. The cold white balcony surface was framed by the curved black wrought-iron railing. She trailed a finger over its surface; I could hear faint music from inside. Was her brown hair getting curly? It reminded me of one of those Greek statues.

"Take those criticisms and stop acting like a baby, you never were any good at grammar, you know that!"

I just nodded glumly.

"And besides, when are you going to paint again?"

"Well, this place I am living in doesn't have much room....."

"Excuses!" she yelled. "You always seem to have room for another pair of shoes!"

There really was nothing to say.

"What did Hemingway say?" she demanded.

"A writer's job is to write," I quoted.

"So, are you going to argue with the Big Guy, the Old Man in the Sea?"

"Ah, no," was my only reply.

"Well then, the job of the writer is to write, the job of the writer is to write," she repeated it like a mantra. "I hope the next time I see you there will be a better report."

"I, ah, I, ah....." I couldn't think of much to say.

"Remember," she said, "don't forget me and I won't forget you." Her voice was getting fainter.

"I won't forget," I promised, "I won't forget." I willed it to be true.

The muse faded away to a few sparks and I was left alone.

"Better get back to that party," I thought to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top of Form

Bottom of Form


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HE DOES – SHE DOES

 

She buys some shoes,
He buys a truck.

She gets a romantic album,
He gets a stereo.

She gets mad and eats chocolate ice cream,
He gets mad and pounds on the other guy's window.

She gets sad and stays in for popcorn and movies,
He gets sad and goes out for beer with the guys.

She gets happy and tells all her friends,
He gets happy and tells his dad.

She falls in love,
He is thinking about it.

She says 'I love you,'
He says, 'ah, ah, ah, ...'

He falls in love and wants to do everything for her,
She is not impressed.

He moves heaven and earth for her,
She yawns and buys a magazine.

He says 'What can I do?'
She is still thinking about it.

He knows he will love her forever,
She knows she will be able to live without him.

They separate and he gets angry,
She gets really busy.

She finds someone new,
He plays poker.

One today they’ll get together again, and talk about all the things they had in common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



To all my readers; I want to tell you I had a follow-up visit recently by the Muse and she told me I was doing a much better job. However; the race was definitely not run and to keep at it, no excuses. Alright then, that said, this is the latest. CEW

 

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