entangled time

“You’re back early.”

“How about a Welcome home, Darling?”

“Sorry. Welcome home, Darling.”‘

“You’re in the kitchen. That’s rare. Miss my cooking?”

“I can cook.”

“Really? How long have we been married? I don’t remember you ever cooking. Or coming into the kitchen. So you’ve been eating what while I was gone?”

“This and that. How did your lecture go? What was it about, again?”

“It went fine. Time entanglement.”

“Time entanglement. Something about physics, right?”

“I’ll give you an example. Suppose you got entangled with another person.”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“Take it easy. Let’s imagine that your wife goes away for a couple of days to give a lecture and you’re left here alone to starve.”

“Don’t be silly. Sure, you teach all day and then come home and make dinner, but I can cook.”

“So I peek under the sink in the wastebasket and… there aren’t any cans or TV dinner boxes. See?”

“I didn’t eat from cans, or any frozen stuff.”

“You cooked from scratch.”

“What does that mean?”

“You used the flour and sugar in the cabinet… Which cabinet is that, by the way?”

“Look… I… I found everything I needed, ok?”

“Uh huh. So I open the dishwasher… and look. It’s got dishes in it.”

“Sure. Because I was cooking and eating.”

“Uh huh. So being a mathematician, I count up the dishes and there seem to be twice as many as necessary.”

“I ate more often than usual.”

“So the entanglement thing, once somebody cooks for you and the food goes into your stomach and into her stomach and then some time goes by, the sheets come into play.”

“The sheets?”

“Yeah. You get entangled in them.”

One of my stories, posted on Huffington’s Fifty Featured Fiction

Seeing the World

Three 50-Word Stories

Popular Destination

They walk among us. Amos couldn’t hold his liquor and spilled the beans. I didn’t believe him until he levitated the bottle of hot sauce on our barroom table.

Here to invade, these aliens? Nope. Earth is a galactic Tijauna. Alcohol. Drugs. Violence. Littering.

It’s boring out there, in civilization.

 

Hugs and Hoes

Janie wanted hugs. She demanded them. She pestered me for them.

I hugged her but my arms began to hug her tighter. Tighter. And finally, too tight.

Mary doesn’t need hugs. She just wants a beautiful yard. She buys me shears and spades. Sharp and heavy tools.

She pesters me.

 

Crows 

Why are there more crows? Global warming? More neighborhood carrion? The crow is not a solitary bird. Crows flock.

They communicate, these birds, now more than before. Loudly. The crow is a grumpy bird, a querulous bird. Increasingly loud.

Increasingly angry.

Reports have been coming in. The crows are attacking.

(Published in FiftyWordStories)

Cindy Ella Jones

“Cindy Ella,” my stepmother said, “when I come home tonight, I want this house spotless. I’m having friends over.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

My stepmother likes a clean house  but she doesn’t like to clean it herself. She doesn’t like to waste money on maids. Instead, she asks me to clean it. I don’t mind. I like a clean and neat house, probably more than she does.

She can sound bossy. Actually, she is bossy. It’s in her nature. I don’t blame her for it. It’s probably the way she was raised. Or maybe she was just born bossy.

“Do our rooms too,” her daughters said.

They’re as bossy as their mother. You learn from your parents I guess.

My mother and father have both passed away.

“You’re lucky I let you live here,” my stepmother says, usually after asking me to do something.

I don’t mind working hard to earn my keep. My girlfriends Tiffany and Candace say that I’m a workaholic. Why even think of hiring a maid? I’m here and I’m ready.

I also work for my godfather in his shoe-repair shop after school. I’m in my senior year.

One of my stepsisters is a senior, the other is a junior. They’ll be going on to community college when they graduate. My stepmother won’t help with my tuition, so I have to save as much as I can. I work and then I go home and clean, and then I do my homework. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until really late. That’s ok. I like keeping busy.

My stepmother says she won’t ‘turn me out’ when I go off to college, as long as I keep cleaning and pay her some room-and-board. I’ll have to keep working when I’m in college to do that.

My godfather is not bossy. I work hard in his shop, but not because he pushes me. Because I like him.

I was refurbishing a worn pair of Allen-Edmonds oxford lace-ups on Monday when he spoke up.

“Are you going?” he said, out of the blue. His name is Mike. Mike Fairy.

“What?”

“Are you going to that dance I’ve been hearing about? At your school.”

I laughed.

“No way,” I said. “I have nothing to wear.”

“Mary can fix you up.”

Mary is my godmother.

“I couldn’t afford anything from her shop, Mike. You know that.”

“Come on, girl,” Mike said. “You know what I mean.”

I shook my head. I don’t like handouts, even from my godparents.

The next day, Mrs. Fairy stopped by the shop.

“How’s my favorite godchild?” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said, stepping back from the shop’s old Landis McKay.

“Cindy Ella, I want you to come by my shop when you’re done here,” Mrs. Fairy said. “I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Mrs. Fairy… Mary… I don’t…”

“I’ve heard about that dance,” she said with a smile. “I won’t take no.”

When she had gone, Mr. Fairy put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick hug.

“My friend Mr. Washington is going to send a limo for you on the night of the dance,” he said.

“Oh, no!” I said. “Really, Mike, this is too much.”

“All he asks is that you leave the dance at the time you both agree upon in advance. Can you promise me that?”

“I do promise! I’m so grateful. I’ll be standing there waiting for him.”

When I went to my godmother’s dress shop later, she let me choose from a collection of the finest dresses I had ever seen. The one I picked was a dream come true, in silk.

“On the night of the dance, come over here early,” she said. “I’ll have someone ready to do your makeup. We’ll keep the dress here. We don’t want your stepmother spotting it. She’d take it from you and give it to one of those trolls she calls her daughters. The witch.”

“She’s not so bad,” I said. I had to laugh, though.

My friends Tiffany and Candace were surprised  but delighted that I was coming to the dance. It’s all we talked about that week. I was a little mysterious about my arrangements with my godparents. I try to keep my situation at home with my stepmother as quiet as possible.

Mike presented me with a pair of Badgley Mixchke Randalls five days before the dance, fitted out with the special orthotics I use. I have unusually high arches. The shoes were a deep blue with a flower on the toe.

“Practice with these all week,” he said. “They aren’t for amateurs.”

“My lord,” I said. “Look at those heels.”

“They’re high, but you’ll get the trick of it. The shoes are broken in, so they won’t be stiff.”

I tried them on. I have narrow feet, which was good, because the Randalls were a narrow shoe.

On the night of the dance, I worked in the shop and then walked over to my godmother’s shop. She had a woman waiting to do my hair. Then I dressed and another woman did my face. The limo was waiting.

At school, I stepped out of the limo and took a moment to get my balance in the heels. I walked alone into the gym. The lights were turned down and a slow dance was playing. Couples danced with the teacher chaperones watching to ensure that hands did not wander. I looked around for my friends. The girls who had come alone were clustered here and there in groups along the sides of the dance floor.

I spotted Tiffany and Candace and joined them. There were flattering remarks about how beautiful I looked, how different, how grown-up. I was blushing in the dark and begged them to stop.

“I’ll shut up,” Candace said, “but I can’t get over it. You look like a princess. You’re the most beautiful girl here.”

I shushed her again and kept my eyes down. Kids were looking at me and I was embarrassed to death.

Once Tiffany and Candace calmed down and pretended to get over my makeover, we all had the second shock of the night. Into the gym came the dreamiest hunk any of us had ever seen. You could tell at a glance he was athletic, smart, rich, and Nobel Peace Prize material. School-dance royalty. I thought of him as a prince.

He was obviously a student at the university. High school was behind him. He looked around, as if searching for someone. Kept looking.

I saw him shrug. He turned in our direction and started toward the refreshments in the corner behind us.

As this prince strolled along, he ran his eyes over the crowd. When he got to the three of us, his eyes met mine and time stopped long enough for me to go wobbly on my heels. Then he was past.

“Did you see that?” Tiffany said.

“Get a room,” Candace said to me.

When he passed on his way back with a cup of punch in his hand, I studied the DJ.

“He did it again, Miss Modesty,” Tiffany said.

We watched him move through the crowd. Great shoulders. He moved in a casual way that somehow opened a path in front of him. Students smiled at him when he passed.

“He’ll be back,” Candace said. “Pray that somebody doesn’t beat him to you.”

“Stop it,” I said. “I’m just glad to be here.”

He did come back and before I knew it, we were on the dance floor. For a moment, I worried about the kids around us watching me dance in those heels. I felt kind of rusty and the music was fast. The prince was so casual and such a good dancer, so friendly, and held my eyes so well with his, that I quickly forgot about everything but the two of us and how we were moving together. It all made sense.

When the music slowed, he took me in his arms.

“I’m Ethan,” he said.

“Cindy Ella,” I said.

He had a quizzical look on his face.

“There is something about you, Cindy Ella. You stand out like a beacon in this crowd.”

“Not me,” I said. “You.”

He shook his head, wondering. Then he shrugged and we danced quietly. We fit together so well, I was wondering too. Could he possibly be as special as he seemed?

The evening passed in a blink. He had been supposed to meet a girl there but she hadn’t showed up. He didn’t know anyone there. Except me, now.

He told me about the university and I talked about making shoes. The way he listened, it seemed like making shoes was the most interesting subject in the world for him. The most interesting thing in the world for me at that moment was him.

When I finally checked the time, I had two minutes to get outside.

“Can you excuse me, Ethan?” I said.

I walked away from him, into the crowd. When I got to the door of the gym, I tried to run in the heels. At the steps down to the street, I pulled one off and as I did so, the other fell off. I ran down the steps with one shoe in my hand. The limo was waiting at the curb with its motor running, driver holding open the passenger door in back. I jumped in and we sped away.

It was so wonderful and then over in a heartbeat. I was too excited to think straight. I don’t know if I was happy or heartbroken, alone in the car.

At the store on Monday after school, Mike was waiting for me to come in.

“I had a visitor today,” he said.

I nodded, inviting him to go on.

“A fellow named Ethan. He’s a university student. He had your shoe in his hand.”

“My shoe?”

“How do I know it was yours?” Mike said. “Not too many Badgley Mixchke Randalls at a high-school dance, not with your orthotic in it.”

“What did he want?”

“He wanted to know who belonged to the shoe. He’s going around to every place in town that fits and sells orthotics.”

“What did you tell him?” I said.

“I didn’t know what to tell him, so I told him I’d check around and that he could come back tomorrow. What’s up?”

“I lost the shoe at the dance. I was running to the limo.”

“And?”

“I spent the night dancing with him. I never told him my last name, I guess. I left too fast to give him my number.”

“Sounds like you want to see him again.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” I said.

“He may call me back,” Mike said.

Ethan is all I had been thinking about. Kicking myself for the way the evening ended.

An hour later, the doorbell rang. My stepmother and her daughters were out. I answered the door. Ethan stood there, flowers in hand.

“You ran off and left me,” he said, “but I had to come.”

I nodded.

“I made a mess of it,” I said. “Until I left, the evening seemed like a fairy tale. Too perfect to be true.”

He smiled.

“And they lived happily ever after,” he said.

Orpheus

At seventy-eight, Elvis is content. To a degree. He enjoys the equanimity of those aged but comfortable. Nature has reinforced in him that reflexive inhibition against brooding over the final curtain that approaches.

Living in his small bungalow on Coconut Bayou, Siesta Key, outside Sarasota, he entertains close friends and enjoys his cats. The cats sleep with him at night when they aren’t out hunting in the jungle-like grounds that surround his home

A stone wall, dense Southern trees, and thickets of bamboo protect the bungalow from prying eyes, not that the neighborhood harbors many.

Elvis sings, of course. In the shower, and at an after-hours club in Sarasota. He can still enthrall an audience without effort. It’s magic.

I’ve known Elvis for years and despite his evident contentment, I’ve come to recognize a deep, still sadness and remorse within him, at the foundation of his soul. On his birthday this year, January 8th, he told me why. We were sitting alone on his patio in the dark. Night birds called. We were sharing a pitcher of caipirinhas and smoking a little grass.

In April of 1934, Elvis said, his mother, Gladys Love Presley, then twenty-two, took a trip up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Tockshish, Mississippi, to visit her grandparents, while Elvis’ father, the eighteen-year-old Vernon Elvis, built the little house in which Elvis would be born.

While Gladys Love was in country, a band of Irish Travelers stopped for a night or so while passing through. They camped in a meadow next to the Tombigbee River.

When she heard about it, Gladys rode a bike down the county road from Tockshish to the encampment. During an evening of music, dance, drink, and roast pig in the meadow, Gladys met Apollo.

Apollo was treated like a musical god by the other Travelers. None could compare to him when he took up fiddle or guitar. When he sang, the Travelers said, he could control the strength and direction of the wind and the flight of birds in the air.

The Mississippi countryside in April was swollen with spring. The verdure of the woods, ready to burst into a thousand shades of green, elicited in Gladys a restless energy that she had not experienced before. As Apollo stepped up on a temporary stage and began to sing, she felt drunk with the passion of youth. Although she was an upright, God-fearing newlywed, after a night with Apollo she found herself somehow pregnant with a child not her husband’s. She returned to Tupelo the following week.

Gladys named her child Orpheus when he was born, after her grandfather. When Vernon Elvis began hearing rumors about her behavior that night in the meadow, he insisted that she change their son’s name to his own, out of spite. This she did.

The boy Elvis obviously inherited Apollo’s gift. When he was eighteen, just before he made his historic first visit to Sun Records in Memphis, where the family had moved from Tupelo, he roved down to Tockshish like his mother before him, with a couple of friends. Growing up, he had heard the same rumors his father had heard.

His grandparents had passed on by then, but Elvis wanted to see the meadow where he had been conceived. His mother rarely spoke of it, but when she did, it was with such awe and longing that it had come to seem a magical place in his mind.

He found the meadow on the river and like his mother, he encountered the Travelers there. He and his friends were invited to spend an evening in the meadow, eating, drinking, and listening to music, as his mother had been.

Apollo wasn’t there. He was in Nashville, Elvis was told, singing under a famous name. Nevertheless, Elvis felt his presence.

A Traveler woman named Seirenes sang that night. Her voice compelled all present to come to the stage. While she sang, she fixed Elvis with her eyes. When she had finished a set, she motioned him up.

She thrust a vintage Martin guitar into his hands and left him there. The Travelers peered up at this teenager. Elvis struck up “Donal Kenny” and everyone in the crowd immediately noticed his resemblance, in visage and voice, to Apollo. A murmur spread among them. While Elvis was singing “Clasped to a Pig,” he caught the eye of a young woman in the crowd. When he finally left the stage, to loud groans and protests and demands for more, he made his way to her.

This was Eurydice Nyssa. She took the singer’s arm and they walked about the meadow together. Standing by the river with a full moon in it, they put their arms around each other. They were soul mates, if such a thing exists.

By morning, they were in love in a way so intense that one must presume magic was involved. Elvis proposed and Eurydice, who had lost her parents as a child, led him to her grandfather, to seek his permission. She counted on her grandparents for guidance in all the important matters of her life.

The Travelers were not given to marriage with outsiders and rarely condoned it, but Eurydice’s grandfather could not say no to a son of Apollo. He only wished that Apollo were there. Eurydice’s grandmother, told the news, asked Elvis to give her some time to counsel her granddaughter about marriage. With Eurydice so young, just eighteen, she hadn’t thought to do so yet.

Elvis, who was the same age as his father had been at Elvis’ birth, married Eurydice late the next day in a civil ceremony in Tockshish, in front of a justice of the peace. This was fourteen years before he married Priscilla Beaulieu.

After the ceremony, the couple returned to the Travelers’ camp. The week that followed was filled with music and food and drink. Elvis sent his two friends home early, to take the news of his marriage to his folks. He and Eurydice would follow at the end of the week.

On the morning of the seventh day, Elvis awoke with a feeling of joy he could not express, could barely withstand. He felt his soul had merged with that of Eurydice. Everything was possible now. This was the pinnacle of love.

On the afternoon of the seventh day, deeply content, he sat down in the shade of a tupelo at the fringe of the woods. Eurydice was walking with friends down a forest path. The air was full of birdsong, the buzz of insects, the murmur of the crowd, distant music. Elvis fell asleep. When he woke up two hours later, he stood up and stretched. He strolled back into the meadow, looking for his bride. He found confusion, Travelers running about. A cousin of Eurydice hurried up to him.

“Eurydice has been bitten by a snake!” she said. “The girls were just passing the pond over there. Eurydice screamed and then the other girls screamed, and Hades and Persephone came running from their bar and gathered her up and took her back to it to look after her. She’s still there.”

The Underworld Bar was owned and operated by a man named Hades and his wife Persephone. These two were Travelers who had settled in Tockshish. The Underworld was fabled along the Trace. As far as anyone could remember, it had always been there, on the edge of the woods, next to the pond. Hades and Persephone themselves had run it for years.

They were a cold, uncaring couple, reputed to put impressionable customers on a road straight to Hell when given the chance. Neither had ever been known to do a kindness for anyone. Hades was a giant of a man, with a face frozen in an expression of snide disgust. His wife surveyed the world with hate.

Elvis ran down the path from the meadow. When it twisted over behind the Underworld, he left it and crossed to the bar’s front door. He opened the door and stepped inside. Three afternoon drinkers sat at the bar at the far end of the room. The light was dim, with ruddy undertones. Cigarette smoke layered the air.

To the left stood a small bandstand. The tiny dance floor in front of it was surrounded by empty tables. Elvis crossed the room to the far end of the bar, where a short hallway led to the bathrooms and an office. The bartender and the drinkers took no interest.

The office door was ajar. The Underworld’s bouncer stood in it, a mountain of a man, a man with no more soul than a mountain. Next to him, leashed to his hand, stood a black hound with eyes red in the dim office light.

At eighteen, Elvis stood one-quarter of an inch under six feet. He was well put together.

“Where is my wife?” he said.

The bouncer and his dog backed up a step at the intensity in his voice. Apollo’s blood ran in the boy’s veins.

Elvis entered the room.

Eurydice sat on a couch. Her clothing was in disarray. Dirt smudged her cheeks. Elvis couldn’t read her expression, which had something in it of confusion, despair, and resignation.

Elvis went to her. He knelt in front of the couch and took her hands in his. They were cold.

Hades and Persephone stood by a desk in the corner.

“A cottonmouth got her,” Hades said. “Bit her on the foot. Down by the pond. She went into shock. By the time we got her here, she was gone. Her heart had stopped.”

“She’s not gone now,” Elvis said. “She’s sitting here in front of me.”

“I brought her back,” Hades said. “Me and Persephone. We used a remedy.”

“Thank you,” Elvis said.

“We brought her back,” Persephone said. “She owes us her life.”

“Thank you,” Elvis said again, looking up at the tone in her voice.

“She’s not your wife no more,” Hades said. “She’s with us now.”

Elvis stared at them, then looked at Eurydice. She nodded, just a little.

“This is Traveler business,” Hades said. “Her grandpa and grandma will know.”

“You saved her life. I’ve thanked you for that,” Elvis said. “Now we’re leaving.”

Hades stood, studying the young man. Beside him, Persephone did the same.

“I have never granted a wish,” Hades said.

“You never have,” Persephone said to him. “We never have.”

“What wish?” Elvis said. “I haven’t asked you for anything.”

“I brought her back when she was gone,” Hades said. “Now she belongs to me. This is the Traveler way. From time to time, folks will ask me for this or that favor. I never say yes.”

Elvis looked at Eurydice. She looked down.

“You can’t own her,” Elvis said. A flush rose past his neck and into his cheeks.

“I can and I do,” Hades said.

“Let me take her out of here,” Elvis said. “Grant me that favor. She is my wife.”

“I have never done it,” Hades said, “but… Apollo and I are close. Very close.”

Elvis turned toward him, expectant.

“We listened to you sing last night,” Hades said. Persephone nodded.

Hades walked out of the office, into the dimly lit bar. Elvis and Persephone followed him.

He gestured toward the stage.

Elvis stood for a moment, stood still, thinking. Then he walked to the stage and stepped up onto it. He picked up an old Gibson Sunburst he found leaning against a stool. He strummed it a time or two and then sang a rendition of “I See Her Still In My Dreams” that was clear as a mountain stream running over the rocks in winter.

When the song came to an end, Hades, who had sat down and settled back in his chair, motioned for another one. Elvis performed “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming,” even better than the previous, if possible. Tears glittered in Persephone’s eyes.

Again Hades gestured. Again Elvis sang.

“You’ve got Apollo in you, that’s for sure,” Hades said.

Elvis put down the Gibson.

“I can’t say no to you, boy,” Hades said, “but I’m not so soft I can’t attach a condition. Eurydice will follow you out, but if you doubt me, if you show me a lack of respect, if you look back to make sure she’s behind you, I’ll snatch her back for good. That’s a promise.”

Elvis turned toward the bar’s front door and stood waiting. Persephone led Eurydice out of the office and positioned her behind him.

“All right,” Hades said.

Elvis walked to the door with firm, quick steps. When he reached it, he pushed it open and kicked a wooden wedge under it with his foot, to keep it that way. Ten more strides took him to the edge of the graveled parking lot.

The sunlight was brilliant on his face. He turned and faced the bar, squinting.

Eurydice had lagged behind. She was just reaching the door’s sill. She had one foot in sunlight, over the threshold. The other foot remained inside, in shadow.

“Too soon, boy, too soon,” Hades called out. He pulled Eurydice back inside.

Elvis started for the door, shouting. It closed in his face. He was left alone in front of the bar.

A bird called. A horsefly buzzed past his nose. Somewhere far off, beyond the woods, a truck rumbled.

Elvis rattled the door, banged on it, kicked it, in vain. In his heart he knew that the best part of his life, his one true love, was lost to him now, behind him, a memory. He supposed that he would sing, would perform, perhaps would become the greatest of his generation with a guitar in his hand, but he knew that the wound in his heart would never heal.

It never did.

“You can look back over your life,” Elvis said to me that night, as we sat together on his patio. “You can spot the best day and the worst. For me, they were the same day, morning and afternoon. That day caused me my deepest joy and my deepest sorrow, and I knew then that it was so.”

Minor Lust

Junior year was my best year in high school. By then, I knew what was up but didn’t have to worry about graduation or applying to college like the seniors did.

It was the year the orchestra got to go to Prague for a competition. I had never been anywhere. The other oboe player, Guinevere Sobolanski, had travel stickers all over her oboe case.

“Prague?” she said. “I like Prague.”

Guinevere knew a lot of things I didn’t. She read a lot. She’d pull out a book in orchestra when we were sitting out a movement. She had skied, downhill and cross-country. She saw an avalanche once. I’d never been to the snow.

Of course she made her own reeds. She bought her own cane online and split it herself. She had all the equipment: a guillotine, a pre-gouger and gouger, a gauge, and a shaper. It took her four hours to make a reed that lasted seven hours on her oboe.

She wanted to teach me to make my reeds and I used to go over and keep her company while she was working, but the school bought mine for me. At least I didn’t use the plastic variety.

Junior year was also when Maria Callan joined the orchestra as principal cello. She sat at the head of the orchestra’s left wing, facing Mr. Frost. The oboes were front-row middle, so Maria was in profile to us.

Maria was beautiful. Or whatever comes after beautiful on the good-looks scale. She had a face and figure that didn’t belong in high school. She’d pull up her skirt and spread her legs and draw her instrument in between her thighs and my eyes would drift over to her from Mr. Frost and his baton, and stay there.

“Close your mouth,” Gwen would say. “You look like a panting spaniel.”

Gwen and I, unlike Maria, were normal. We both had a few zits. We both had a lot of eyebrow. Out in the hallway between classes, we were both more or less invisible.

“You’ve got to quit staring at her,” Gwen would say.

“Why?”

“You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I don’t feel embarrassed. I can’t help it.”

“What’s the point?” Gwen would say. “You’re never going to talk to her, are you?”

“I saw you talking to her. What’s she like?”

“She’s nice but she doesn’t seem too bright.”

Compared to Gwen, she probably wasn’t bright at all, but somehow that seemed like a good thing to me. I wasn’t daydreaming about talking to her.

At this time, the elders in my church were taking each teenage boy aside to discuss the facts of life. Brother Germers and I sat down on folding chairs facing each other on the gym basketball court. The gym was deserted.

“I’ve never kissed a girl,” I said. “I haven’t even held a girl’s hand except when we’re dancing at the socials.”

“I’m not tasked with discussing carnal relations with you,” Brother Germers said. “I do understand that your body is pure. That is a very good thing. I believe that all our boys are pure in body.”

I relaxed.

“I want to talk to you about your thoughts,” Brother Germers said. “Your thoughts are just as important — they’re more important — than your corporeal body. Your body is going to die and return to the dust. Your mind and soul are going to live forever. You have the choice now of spending eternity with your Heavenly Father or being thrown into Hell, to be tormented by Satan and all his minions for eternity.”

I could see where this was going. I began to sweat. Brother Germers was not going to accept any waffling.

“Boys your age are confronted every day with young women who are blossoming. Satan and your hormones want to turn your thoughts in impure directions. I’m talking about lust.”

“Lust.”

“Lust is a sin. It’s a worse sin than the actual lustful act, because it pollutes your mind, not just your fleshly shell.”

“Yes,” I said. “Sure.”

“Do you lust?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Are your eyes, and your thoughts, drawn to certain girls? Do their bodies cloud your mind? Are their firm young bodies like blazing beacons that cause impure thoughts to burn within you?”

“No!”

“You’re lying.”

“Alright. There is one girl.”

“Thank you. What are you going to do about this problem? You can’t participate in services here with a corrupted mind.”

“I won’t look at her.”

“I think that’s wise. Let’s meet again in two days to check on your progress.”

I was glad to get out of there. Fortunately, Brother Germers did not make me go into detail about those corrupted thoughts or what they led to, exactly. The thoughts mostly centered on Maria’s bosom.

“That guy is a knucklehead,” Gwen said. “Utter nonsense. Wait. You’re not going to look at her? Really?”

“My folks love that church. They’re old-school.”

“Learn to lie, buddy.”

I couldn’t help looking at Maria so I did lie. Brother Germers seemed to believe me and he left me alone after that. He’d smile and nod whenever our eyes met at church.

A month later, we left for the competition. When we landed at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport, a big bus was waiting for us and all of our instruments. We stopped at our hotel and then had a quick look at Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinium. After that, the bus took us on a tour of the city. We stopped at St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle and that evening had dinner on a cruise boat on the Vlatava River.

The whole thing was like my first visit to Disneyland as a kid. Magical. On the boat, Gwen and I sat at a little table for two by the railing. The sparkling lights along the shore and the violet evening sky were quite beautiful. I was dividing my attention between the sights, and Josh and Maria, sitting together at another little table holding hands. Josh was a big, handsome first violin.

“Really?” Gwen said.

“I can’t help myself.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Haven’t you ever been in love? Or whatever this is?”

“It ain’t love, brother. It’s not even puppy love. You don’t know her. You wouldn’t like her if you did know her.”

“Sure.”

When we got back to the hotel, I watched the happy couple enter the elevator, heading for her room or his, no doubt, with the roommate staying out of the way. The chaperones were clueless.

“Do you want a book to read?” Gwen said. “I know you didn’t bring any.”

“Not really. I’ll just sit here in the lobby and watch the world go by. What are you going to do?”

“I was going to finish a reed, but I brought some games. Scrabble? Boggle?”

“I guess so,” I said.

We went up.

“How come you have a room to yourself?” I said.

“Odd number of girls.”

There was one light on, a lamp on the end table by the bed.

Gwen got out the Boggle box. We sat on the bed. She handed me a pad and pencil. Set up the hourglass. Shook the box.

“It seems sort of mysterious, them down there doing what they’re doing while we sit here and play Boggle,” I said.

“I’m not sure ‘mysterious’ is the word,” Gwen said, “but it’s definitely something.”

She put down the tray and flipped the hourglass.

My brain seemed to be working faster than usual. The Boggle words jumped out at me. I beat Gwen easily in the first round.

“Hey,” Gwen said. “How did that happen?”

I shrugged.

Josh and Maria didn’t seem so mysterious to me now. I looked at Gwen. Her eyes in the dim light were very large and dark. Her skin glowed gold. The mystery wasn’t somewhere else. It was in the room with us.

There was something I should know, should do, that was essential, but I had no idea what it was. I couldn’t speak. The moment lasted. I didn’t want it to end because when it did, I was afraid I would have lost something forever.

“Gwen…”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Ready for the next game?” she said, when I didn’t go on.

I nodded.

This time I couldn’t find anything. Gwen clobbered me.

“Have you ever been fascinated with somebody but you don’t even know them?” I said.

“I haven’t had much luck with boys,” Gwen said. “I expect I’ll meet somebody in college or grad school or even later than that.”

“Yeah.”

“We aren’t ready yet, you and I.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I was alone in a room with a woman who knew a lot more about life than I did. I could see her chest rise and fall as she breathed.

“Take that energy and learn how to make your own reeds,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

“Yeah. Listen, Gwen…”

“Focus,” she said.

She rattled the box.

“Give me a good game this time,” she said.

Help with My Resolution

Time for my New Year’s resolution.

I’m twenty-five and I’ve been making resolutions since I was eight. So that’s… what… sixteen years? No, seventeen. Seventeen years and I’ve kept every one of them. Except for the one about not lying anymore.

This year I’m going for the big one. The one about stealing. No more stealing.

What makes this a big deal? Well, I got kicked out of kindergarten at the age of five for stealing. I would not stop taking other kids’ stuff. Toys, hats, coats, lunches. It didn’t matter. At the end of the day my cubby would be stuffed with purloined possessions.

It was all about the excitement.

When I tried this in first grade, I got pounded a time or two. That’s when I learned to be sneaky. It was OK to steal. It just wasn’t OK to leave the loot where somebody else could find it.

Despite my tricky new stratagems, I also got kicked out of first grade. I was home schooled after that, until the sixth grade. I went back to school for the sixth grade and got kicked out of it. There were additional poundings first. After that it was home schooling until high school.

During the home schooling, I was institutionalized twice. My parents had me committed because I kept stealing from them, too. They got tired of moving stuff out of my closet and back into their bedroom or the kitchen or the bathroom. Or the tool shed. Or the recycle bins.

High school was a bumpy road, but I scored some righteous sh.. stuff there. I also put in major hours at juvy.

Then it was time for college.

How did I get into college, you ask? UVM’s Second Chance program. This was probably my hundredth chance, or my thousandth, but who’s counting? In the dorm I stole mostly drugs and money, and made sure to use both as quickly as possible, so as not to get caught with the evidence. I matriculated in my freshman year directly into state prison.

Mine is a repetitious history.

In prison I experimented with controlling my desires to steal, because if caught, I would be stabbed to death. I took a few foolish chances because I didn’t think I could live without the excitement, but I graduated back to the free world while still alive. I did learn as I was leaving the Big House that if I ever came back, I would get dead before I could pilfer my first cigarette out of another inmate’s pack.

I was no longer eligible for the UVM program, so I got a job flipping burgers. I lived at home, once I convinced my parents that, since I would inherit everything from them anyway, I would no longer be stealing anything in the house. They were elderly, so time was stealing their lives, in a way. There was no excitement for me in stealing anything from them as well.

Another reason they welcomed me back was that they liked the burger meat, buns, and frozen french fries I brought home after work.

Then I met a girl, a mental-health intern assigned to my parole officer’s department. Her name was Shaunika. As part of her degree work, she acted as a sort of junior shrink in counseling sessions. For me, these consisted of conversations such as the following.

“Why do you steal?” Shaunika would say.

“Basic rule of counseling: never ask why,” I would say. “You’ll never get the truth. Your patient or client doesn’t know why himself.”

“Of course he doesn’t. The question serves other purposes.”

“To get me talking? To get me thinking? To assess the depth of my illusions? To evaluate my proximity to reality?”

“Hold your water, Sailor,” Shaunika would say. “Let me do the asking. You just answer. Please keep the bull twangas to a minimum.”

“I steal because it’s exciting. A tension builds, I resist it, it builds some more, I give in and steal, I feel a rush, and the tension dissipates for a while.”

“Have you tried medication?”

“Off and on. I haven’t found anything that helps yet. Sometimes I just pretended to be taking whatever was prescribed at the time, if I wasn’t in the mood to stop stealing.”

We dated. Against her better judgment, I’m sure. She knew better than anybody that my mind was resisting change.

She didn’t invite me home to meet her folks, although at parties I did get acquainted with some of her friends. She knew I was damaged goods, but we just fit together well in a lot of ways. It was an easy relationship. No drama, except when she’d find something missing. I always gave it back.

The excitement I felt around her was a lot stronger than the excitement I felt stealing burgers and fries for my mom and dad.

She got me connected with a psychiatrist who helped me join a test group of kleptomaniacs being treated with Naltrexone. It reduced the compulsive force of my obsessive behavior. Alcoholics and drug addicts use it.

With the help of the shrink I got back into school. Community college. Shaunika and I moved in together. From time to time I catch her searching the place for anything that doesn’t belong to either of us, but my love and desire for her, together with my shrink and my support group of klepto friends, and the pills, have kept me clean so far.

Resolving to stop stealing, by itself, would be useless. The resolution is more my salute to the coming year and my support and all that I believe the new year can hold for me.