Missy, Sissy and Stokes at the Iditarod

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for five winters, hence my familiarity with the Iditarod. The ‘rules’ discussed here are purely imaginary–I don’t know what the rules are, but these seem like good ones.

“Missy, Sissy and Stokes.”

Andy said this with such fervor it seemed his heart was about bursting through his puny chest, thought Gardner “Hutch” Hutchins as he made a record of the lead dogs for this team.

“We don’t usually record more than two lead dogs per team, but there ain’t a rule against it.”

“Missy is their mom, so they all get along. And anyway they take turns of course. One of ‘em is always on the sled to rest while the other two work.”

“OK, Andy, another unusuality, but no rule against it. Where ya’ from?”

“We’re from Stokes, Montana, right where the Mississippi River starts. That’s how the lead dogs got their names.”

Hutch could now understand the source of Andy’s passion and pride. “What’s your full name and age?”

“Well, I prefer Andy but my given name is Anders. Anders Andersson, with two esses, and don’t start makin’ wisecracks about Swedes and squareheads. I’ve got as much Irish in me as Scandihoovian and my Irish is a little touchy. My middle name is Aloysius. My mom has a sense of humor. I’m 23. This is my first time in Alaska. We’ve trained for two years, summer and Winter, all in Itasca County, where Stokes is.”

“All right Andy. Your secret’s safe with me. Have you filled out the release and insurance forms and all that? Yeah, give ‘em here. How many dogs ya’ got, and what’s their names? I’ve already recorded Missy, Sissy and Stokes.”

“They’re all named after some place in Itasca County: Effie, Jessie and Swannee. Swannee’s named after the Swan River. Spang, Bovey and Nash. Nash is from Nashwauk, but that’s too hard to say when I’m yellin’at ‘em. Inger, Birch and Bear, after Bearville. The rest are Morse, Kelly, Whiskey, Beaver, Mak, and Coon. The last six are the newest and youngest, but they’ve got great heart.”

“I don’t doubt it, Andy. They all do, don’t they? Let’s see, I count eighteen. One lead dog, sixteen behind her, or him—I guess Stokes is a male?—and two spare leads resting on the sled. Is that your plan?”

“You’ve got it.”

What’s your local address?”

“Itasca’s Sons of the Pioneers put me up at the Captain Cook Hotel, and it is so grand I feel guilty. My God, what luxury. How can people stay hard and fit with all that?”

“They don’t, Andy. OK, that’s it. Thanks for the info. Oh, I almost forgot—who’s your contact back home?”

Hutch now saw Andy’s mood change swiftly. He seemed to be holding back tears.

“It’s my brother, Casey—he’s in Grand Rapids, the main city in Itasca County. It would’ve been Lorie, but she kicked me out of the house saying it was either the dogs or her. What a helluva choice to give a man just as he’s about to run the greatest race in world. And for the first time. But I ain’t gonna let that affect me, except maybe to prove somethin’ to her.

“Women in the Lower 48 just don’t understand,” said Hutch with some anger in his voice. “Andy, I hope you don’t mind hearing some advice from me.”

“Go ahead Hutch, you’re old enough to be my Pop and I always listen to him.”

“Just get out there on the trail to Nome and don’t think about anybody or anything but your dogs and how much you’re enjoying yourself. Like you said, it’s the greatest race in the world, and there’s very few who run it.”

“I’m enjoying myself already, and your advice has solved a problem for me.”

“How’s that?”

“I’ve pretty much used up all the names around Stokes for my dogs, and now I know what I’m gonna name the next pup.”

“Okay, I’ll bite, what’s the name, Andy.”

“Hutch.”

 

Shred After Reading

Intra-office Memorandum, Level Alpha
To: Alpha 02
From: Alpha 03

2014-12-12, 1343 hours

Shred after reading.

Body of message:

Beta-05 has completed his assignment. H.L.’s domicile contained only one thing of value: draft of a story on his personal server, recreated below.

Unknowns:

  1. Are there other copies in H.L.’s possession, digital or hardcopy?
  2. Did he send one or more copies of this draft to others?
  3. Is he currently in contact with Subject J?
  4. Does he know the location of Subject A? If so, is she open to communicating with him, despite her instructions?
  5. Current location of Subject J.

Actions taken:

  1. Corruption of the aforementioned draft of story. It resides on H.L.’s server only as a title. It cannot be successfully read on H.L.’s screen, nor can it be transmitted or recreated, unless he recreates it from memory—or from a hard or digital copy of which we are unaware.
  2. Made one digital copy of story for reproduction here; have destroyed it; you have the only known copy in this transmission, which you will destroy after reading.
  3. Left his domicile with no traces of entry.

Questions:

  1. Are there further instructions for me?
  2. When will you tell Alpha 01?

    H.L.’s story appended.

 — 

The Man Who Couldn’t Hear Women

By H. Latham

 Introduction

The truth of it is that John could hear some women, but he didn’t realize this until junior high school. He said they sounded like birds chirping.  By the time he was an adult, he could hear some women most of the time and could understand some of their words, but just wasn’t interested in what he heard.

But this is to quibble because, as far as John was concerned, his default position (he thinks in these terms) was: he couldn’t hear women.  He could always hear his mom, however, but she died just as he entered college at 17.

John’s peculiarity hadn’t been a significant problem to him until he turned forty around two years ago. He and I are life-long friends, so he looked me up to unburden himself to me, in his usual measured manner and well-thought-out expositional style (I’m kind of a journalist and like to use these terms).

How John managed to get by, until now, without having important problems in life is the main idea behind this narrative, and I’m hopeful that if he agrees I can sell the story and make some money.  I know this sounds pretty cheeky and crass, but it really is an unusual story and John has all the money he needs.

If you would be interested in publishing this story, please let me know and I will send the full story to you.

CHAPTER ONE

Both our families lived in a suburb of the state’s capital city, within easy driving distance of the international airport, which was important to John’s parents. We lived there because it was cheaper than the city, and my parents had a small business in town.

John’s parents were sort of unusual.  I mean, they were both very successful professional people when it was unusual for both parents to work at high-level jobs that were at about the same status.  He was a banker (international) and she was an engineer (electronics), in the research division of a big company that had a campus on the edge of town.

John’s parents were old when he was born, so they seemed more like grandparents to me. He was their only child, so he had all the privileges of wealth, relative to the rest of the guys. But he wasn’t stuck up and didn’t act as if felt superior or better off.  He was just a regular guy, even if he wasn’t interested in sports.  He was good at cards, though, and he was a regular wizard at the pinball machines (this was before computer games came on the scene).

Starting when we were in junior high, I often went to John’s home to listen to music on his hi-fi rig and play on the three pinball machines his parents had bought him. He even taught himself to repair them. He had built the hi-fi rig from scratch, using Heathkits. When we got into high school he built a computer from a Heathkit, but I didn’t pay much attention to this because I just didn’t understand what he was doing with it.

Mainly it was the great modern jazz and old blues I could listen to that kept me eager to be at home with John. He also had some really interesting girly magazines, right out where anybody could see them. His parents gave him a subscription to Playboy, and he got some other, not so polite ones from somewhere I don’t know. He was in love with Bettie Page. I was too.

His folks were hardly ever home, but he never got into trouble, especially with girls. Like I said, he couldn’t hear them, so they were pretty much invisible to him and, of course, he just didn’t exist for the girls in school. He was a geek, for sure.

He didn’t drink, either—I mean beer and whiskey—like most of the other guys. John said it took his edge off. I didn’t know exactly what he meant then, but I now know that he treated his brain like a precious instrument, which it possibly still is.

There was one girl in junior high school he could hear. She dressed like a boy and if she had tits, she hid them under a loose shirt.  He heard her talking back to group of snotty stuck-ups who were ragging on her, and it kind of surprised him. He never said anything to her, he said to me then, because he didn’t know what to say to a girl. But this was important information for him to store away for future possible use, as he told me at the time—he could hear some women, or at least this one girl.

I suppose you wonder how he got along in classes where there was a female teacher. His (female) teacher thought he had a learning disability when got into first grade. His folks sent him to a (male) specialist who said there was nothing wrong with him.  They figured he needed something, and could see he had trouble understanding females, so they put him in a nearby Catholic school run by monks and priests until it was time for junior high.

This is where I came in, at least in junior high. We purposefully took the same classes. I was a good note-taker and John could read and remember a textbook almost at a glance.  He helped me with the math and science stuff that he was a whiz at. Man, he really was a brain, but he looked geeky and stupid when female teachers called on him, so they stopped doing it. He always got an A in any class where the teacher didn’t mark him down for being asocial—“fails to engage with the instructor and other students,” or some crap like that. These were the non-math and non-science classes.

When it was time to start thinking about high school, John told his parents he wanted to go to a special technical school over in the capital, around 80 miles away on the other side of the airport. They were super okay about it, and they set him up with his own apartment next to the campus and made arrangements for an official guardian to be appointed—one of his dad’s business associates who lived in the city.  John even was allowed to have his own car so he could drive home on the weekends, if he wanted to.

When he did drive home we hung out together, as usual, but by this time we had given up the pinballs and would play the latest games on the two computers his folks had got him. He gave them all the specifications.

Even though the games were a challenge for me, John got bored with them after taking them to their limits a couple of times. He decided he was going to write his own games and, since he was taking classes in computer programming at his high school, he knew where to start. Even his school wasn’t advanced enough for his ambitions, so he learned all the other programming languages he could, on his own. He ended up creating a language that was specific to the kinds of games he wanted to play. His dad helped him get a few copyrights, and he was set for life.

But John was no business man, and he knew it. He just wanted to make new games, improve them to their limit and move on to other games and other software challenges. So, after he completed his high school early, at age 16, his mom and dad helped him enter a technical college where business was also taught so he could get in contact with business geeks.

CHAPTER TWO

Like I said, I come into his story again when we were both forty years old.

We hadn’t been in direct touch since he went to college at seventeen. John could easily find me on the Internet, of course, but I was surprised to hear from him. I had been working at a publishing house, mainly as a gofer with a fancy title, hoping to climb the ladder into something more interesting and remunerative.

Meanwhile John became financially successful as a geek whose talents were appreciated and used by a small team of entrepreneurs who knew how to capitalize on his technical genius. They treated him like the precious commodity he is. He lived in an artificial world they created for him, his every need catered to. But he had few needs, certainly few social needs. What he needed mostly is his own laboratory with endless and immediate access to the most advanced tools in geekdom.

But, at age forty he met a woman he could hear and fell completely, almost fatally, in love. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him but he didn’t care. He was in a new world and he explored it completely, endlessly fascinated with new feelings and sensuous experiences which had eluded him until now. He saw the world as beautiful, a concept new to him.

She, on the other hand I later learned, was not new to the game and had spotted a good target for herself. She was thirty-five, twice-before married, and very intelligent. They met at a Mensa function, something one of his colleagues urged him to do. She could match and even surpass him on an intellectual basis due to her greater life experience. She wanted simply to mate with John so she could give birth to at least one child who would have a greater than average chance to be, by her way of thinking, superior, which superiority will redound to her status. She also liked that John had personal wealth beyond his needs.

Because of this new state John could now hear most women, but he didn’t pay much attention to this new condition until the luster of the relationship with Athena began to fade. He started noticing other women before she found the opening to get him to marry her, so she settled for getting pregnant and getting a pay-off from him. He, at this point, was spending money like a sailor and getting in bed with all the women he could. But his business partners were hovering, trying to protect him and their investment in him.

After several months of bedding every woman he could entice, he started losing his ability to hear them. At first, the sounds of their voices simple grated on his nervous system. Then he began not to understand the words they were saying to him.

This just lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

Please consider this a formal inquiry to your publishing firm.

Sincerely,

H. Latham

End of Alpha Level transmission, 2014-12-12, 1343 hours

  

 

Bad Guy, Dead

“Whadda we have here, Frank?”

“Hi Lieutenant. Hit and run. Guy got in front of a vehicle, possibly a big car or small truck by the look of him. The M.E. was passing on his way to another job and swung by to pronounce. Massive trauma to head and thorax.”

“Got a name?”

“Well. That’s the thing, Lieut; he’s got several IDs on him, and on the tag of his briefcase”

“Let’s go over ‘em in the office after we get the basics done here.”

“Ok, Frank, I’ll go through the effects and you tag, bag and record, as usual.”

“Why don’t I ever get the fun jobs, huh?”

“RHIP. Be a good boy and you’ll have the fun jobs someday.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“C’mon, let’s go. First the briefcase.

Dimensions: 19” wide, 15” tall, 5-1/2” deep.

(Frank: check)

Combination lock, four digits, located at the center, with two flip latches at either end.

(Check)

“Now I’m breaking the lock with a metal wedge. It gives after a few twists and now it’s open. I am looking in the main compartment. Lotsa stuff. Dirty white shirt. Striped tie with stains on it. Could be wine.

(Check)

Several pens, felt tip, different colors—6 pens.

(Check)

“Pint bottle of Seagram’s 7, around half full.

(Check)

“God, what a lotta stuff. All kinds of correspondence, some hand-written, some on business and government stationery. I’ll sort these out after I get through the rest of it. I am putting aside all the papers on the exam counter here.

(Check)

“Rubber ball, looks like to exercise the hands.

(Check)

“Hypodermic syringe, no needle. Looks used. Bagging it. Here.

“Toothbrush. Pack of three disposable razors, Gillette. Dirty wash rag. Looks like the guy lived out of his briefcase.

(Check)

“Just about done with the main compartment. One man’s sock, black, not clean. Huh! A female undergarment inside the sock, sort of a pink color, what there is of it. Why do women bother wearing such flimsy stuff? Smells.

(Check)

“Lots of dust, and scraps of paper and cardboard and plastic. I’ll shovel it all into an evidence bag. Here.

(Check)

“OK, now the fold-out side pockets. First pocket. Photographs, naked women, some very young. Some could be under 18. Bad photography (don’t record that). Let’s see … I count 23 photos, varying sizes, from wallet size to looks like regular 8 by 10s. All apparently different, but who wants to look so hard at all of these, anyway? (Don’t record that).

(Yeah, yeah, check)

“Three passports, different names. Four Motor Vehicle Drivers Licenses, different states, different names. Let’s record the info later.

“Next pocket. Hmmm. Small bags of white powder. Four. Special handling on these, Frank.

(Yeah, yeah, check)

“Last pocket. Women’s stuff. Cosmetic cases, cheap jewelry, link chains—small links, tampon (not used, thank God), three condoms, Fourex Ready-Wets.”

“Wait up, Lieut—you’re going too fast. (check)

“I’m now turning the case upside down and shaking it over the evidence exam table to get all the little loose stuff out: more trash and junk. Bagging it. Let the lab guys deal with it. (Don’t record that last)

(Yeah, check)

“The case seems heavy still, but I don’t see anything in it. Lemme see the inside dimensions. Hmm. It’s shorter inside than outside by quite a bit. Prolly a false bottom. I’m digging around the edges. Hoohah! Weapons. One small Webley pistol; one very sharp fish-scaling knife. One all-purpose tool: pliers, screwdrivers, knife and so forth. A garrot!? When’s the last time you saw a garrot, Frank?

(What’s a garrot? How do you spell that? Check, check, check, slow down already)

“God, Frank, if this guy wasn’t deliberately offed, he shoulda been. He really needed killing.”

“Look, a school picture of a little girl. Whatta bastard.”

“Lemme see. On the back, in handwriting …

Check this, Frank: “To daddy. I love you. Heather.”

Careful

This story emerged from a workshop with the Stockholm Writers Group. It was published in their second anthology, Raft of Leaves.

Leonard Thistlethwaite had carefully dressed in his dark suit, white shirt, dark blue tie, and dark gray wool overcoat for his regular Saturday morning walk. He opened the door of his ground floor apartment and extruded his head and shoulders slowly so as not to shock too much of his skin at once from the cool, early spring air. He swiveled his head right and left a few times to be certain there were no dangers lurking, although he had never yet encountered one in the 32 years he had lived in this quiet suburban neighborhood.

“Can’t be too careful,” he ritually thought to himself.

After this exercise was accomplished to his satisfaction, Leonard allowed the rest of his body to emerge from the doorway, slowly and deliberately. He always felt graceful doing this, as if in a slow ballet. Leonard loved the ballet, but it was getting so expensive to travel to the city, not to speak of the horrendous rise in the price of tickets, that he had long ago contented himself with childhood memories of attending the ballet with his family, and by viewing old video cassettes.

One worry here for Leonard was that VHS cassettes were obsolescent; he foresaw a terrifying decision: whether to buy a DVD player. He almost froze with fear when he considered this. Leonard was an intelligent man and followed the progress of technology in the periodical room of the public library. He was aware of the rapid advances in all technologies. He hesitated to put out a considerable amount of money in a machine that might not last long enough for the investment to pay off which, in Leonard’s mind, certainly approached the length of a human generation. But viewing the ballet was an integral part of his life and there were many performances on DVD he had not yet seen.

“Well,” he said to himself, “it’s a beautiful day and I don’t have to decide for a while, I hope.”

Making this welcome observation, for the weather was not always as predicted by the TV weather reporter, he widened his view of the day to note that the tall trees guarding his street were beginning to renew their leaves. This encouraged him to add, “it is such a beautiful morning, I might even allow myself an extra treat,” although he couldn’t think of what this might be—and it certainly wouldn’t cost any money.

Saturday was Leonard’s sacred day for self-indulgence and he did not want to spoil it with worries about the future. “Today is the first day of the rest of my life,” he remarked to himself as he did every Saturday upon his three-block journey to “Aunt Jerry’s Splendid Home-style Cooking and Café.”

This was the only day he did not cook his own breakfast; it was the only meal in any week he did not prepare for himself.

After locking and bolting his front door, Leonard began walking at a moderate pace and began the usual process of evaluating the state of the neighborhood. He often had nightmares that his neighbors would start neglecting their houses and apartments, or that they would sell out to lower-class people who would let things slide. “A man’s home is his greatest asset,” as he inevitably reminded himself on these weekly walks, “and it would be sinful if my property’s value was to diminish because of the carelessness of my neighbors.”

This thought had come and gone before, but there was nothing he could see today to exacerbate this nagging worry.

As he now approached Aunt Jerry’s, situated on the corner of the next block, he began the final ritual of his weekly jaunt before crossing this last street. He removed a coin purse from his front pocket to count his money. He certainly didn’t want to be embarrassed by inadvertently ordering more food than he had money for, including a modest tip. Leonard had gone through this process many times and had never had any unexpected results. He always knew exactly how much money he had on his person. He saved his coins from change during prior week’s transactions just for this Saturday breakfast, and he never carried an amount of money greater than he intended to spend for that day, or for this occasion.

He stood on the corner opposite the café and slowly counted the coins in his large coin purse, holding it high and close to his chest and eyes. He  counted automatically, without much conscious thought. He could count accurately in his dreams, and often did. But as he got the bottom of the purse, he suddenly became alert. The count was five cents off!

Leonard’s heart began to flutter a bit, but he told himself to calm down and count again with more attention. He did, and there was no mistaking it—there was nickel missing.

Leonard’s mind began to reel. He was becoming overdue to arrive at his regular time, and punctuality was something he prided himself on, but he needed to resolve the problem of the missing nickel before he sat at his regular table in the café.

After making uncoordinated movements both toward the various pockets and spaces in his clothing and toward the street he was about to cross, Leonard made an executive decision to cross the street now, feeling reasonably certain the missing nickel would appear somewhere on his person before he ordered his meal.

Leonard replaced the coin purse into his pants pocket and, with his head slightly askew in contemplation over the possible location of the missing nickel, he stepped off the curb. He was struck immediately dead by a white Honda SUV driven by Wendell “Stubby” Rinderknecht, a red-faced real estate agent who, at the moment of impact, was shouting at a cell phone he held outside the open driver’s window, at arm’s length in his left hand.

The officials at the accident scene were meticulous in collecting evidence for the coroner’s inquest. As he examined the deceased, Vern Reynolds did not see any significance in finding a nickel in the deep left cuff of the victim’s old-fashion suit pants, but he dutifully recorded this fact

“Too bad this old fellow wasn’t more careful,” thought Vern.

The Cross

Melvin Rasp did a double-take as he sat at the dinette, looking over his newspaper when Helen entered the kitchen.

“When did you start getting religious?”

“What do you mean Mel?

“I don’t recall you wearing that cross on your chain before.”

“Oh, it’s something I found as I was going through mom’s stuff—you know the box of junk that we found in her attic after the funeral. Does it bother you?”

“I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like you, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I guess I mean, well, did you wear a cross when you were young? Did you go to church and all that?”

“What do you mean, ’all that?’ “

“Don’t get defensive, OK? It’s just I haven’t thought of you being religious before. It’s not like you were a churchgoer when we met.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, we weren’t together every minute, but you never mentioned church, or Christ or anything religious. Are you Catholic, or what?”

“That sounds like an accusation. What if I were Catholic, what would that mean to you?”

“Well, are you?”

“Are you yelling at me about whether I might be religious or have a religion? What is it to you?”

“It’s a pretty important thing for people to discuss before they get married, don’t you think? Why have you kept this from me?”

“Look, Mel, calm down. I just saw the cross in Mom’s box and I wanted to wear it. Mom wore it for a long time until after Dad died. Maybe she did it for him, I don’t know. It just feels good to have it and I felt like wearing it today, that’s all. Don’t make a federal case out of it.”

“It just feels odd, almost creepy to see you wearing it. Do you secretly pray to God and mumble all that stuff?”

“Where did you get all this from? What haven’t you told me about your past regarding religion? Did some priest get fresh with you when you were young?”

“Wow! Where did you get that from? What kind of mind do you have?

“I’m just the nice girl you wanted to marry, remember? I didn’t ask you about your religion or your lack of religion, or anything about religion or God or anything like that. I guess I should have. You’re the one who sounds creepy!”

“It’s like you’ve kept a big secret from me, Helen. It hurts. How come you didn’t insist we get married in a church? Why did you go along with the city hall idea?”

“It just wasn’t important to me, Mel.”

“But a cross is?”

“What’s the cross to you? What does it mean to you? Why are you so worked up about it? When are we going to stop talking about it?

“Not until you tell me why you really are wearing that cross.”

“Apparently, Mel, it’s to drive the devil away.”

Before the Honeymoon

When watching The Honeymooners many years ago (now repeating on Youtube) I often wondered how the fictional couple met. Perhaps it was shown but I never saw it. A few years ago I was dwelling on this vital question when the following occurred to me…

“Driver, aren’t you going to stop those children from making all that noise in the back? They are destroying the bus!”

Alice couldn’t contain herself any more. This was happening more frequently on her daily ride to and from work. Not only was it wrong for these children to behave so poorly in public, it was getting almost frightening.

Ralph had often seen this plain, thirtyish woman on his bus, and had a nodding acquaintance with her. “It’s not my business, lady. I ain’t an airline captain and this ain’t an airplane. ”

Ralph had been driving bus for 16 years, and he silently agreed with her it was getting worse. He used to try to act the role of responsible captain of his ship, but the rules governing actions toward passengers were getting stricter, especially toward “children.” “Hell,” he said to himself, “these aren’t children, they’re wild animals and God knows how management would react if I went back there and spoke harshly to those delicate little souls. Shit! And if I did, the company would just give me crap and nothing good would happen, anywhere.”

“Well, somebody needs to do something,” said Alice furiously, feeling herself on the edge and fearful of losing her temper. “If someone doesn’t stop these children, someone could get hurt. And they’re destroying public property!”

“Lady, if I go back there, which I dearly would love to do,” Ralph said while carefully maneuvering the bus in the driving rain around a double-parked car, forcing oncoming traffic to skid and halt abruptly, “I would bark at them and they would snarl at me and things would get worse and I could get fired. I ain’t Captain America, you know. I’m just a tired, overweight bus driver.”

“Well there aren’t any rules any more, not in the schools, not in public places, not in the homes. What’s to become of us?”  Alice was shaking, her fury increasing, her sense of right and wrong taking another brutal assault by these uncontrolled, uncontrollable young louts.

Without conscious intention, Alice abruptly rose from her seat near the driver, grasping her umbrella from under her arm, and ran to the rear of the bus, a demonic light in her eyes.

“Stop it, stop it, do you hear?” She raised her umbrella and inexpertly smashed it on the seat next to one of the gum-chewing girls who were giggling at the antics of the boys. Alice’s words were contained in a shriek, not unlike the tone and vibrancy of a police whistle.

“Yeow,” cried the girl, and the several boys near her leaped back, startled and astonished at this display. The other few passengers swiveled their heads to the rear of the bus in response to the noise, having already begun their rotation as Alice sped up the aisle.

“You have no consideration for the other passengers, you are destroying the bus so it must be repaired with the tax money your parents pay, and you are disgracing yourselves by your public behavior. You should be ashamed of yourselves, and if your parents could see you they would be ashamed of you too!”

Alice, of course, suspected that their parents didn’t pay taxes and wouldn’t care, but she had in mind her own parents and her own family’s values.

The bus, at this point, had reached a regular stop. Ralph, despite his bulk, rose swiftly from his seat to defend Alice from the attack he was sure would happen upon her from the “wild animals.” Now looming behind her, as she raised her umbrella for another smash on something or someone, Ralph barked,” get off now, all you kids, or I’ll call the cops.”

Stunned, unable to comprehend what they were facing in these two odd-looking people, they stumbled off the open rear exit in a rush, some muttering epithets over their shoulders.

Ralph and Alice, and all the passengers, felt as if a great breath had sucked all the sound from the bus. They were now able to hear the rain on the roof. A few long seconds passed while the sound of the rain, the unusual peacefulness of the bus and the memory of Alice’s passion settled pleasantly into their bones.

Slowly, Alice turned to Ralph and, despite her still remaining and righteous anger, managed a slight smile and said “well done, captain.”

They married two months later.

Together Again

I wrote the basis for this story at age 21, while in my cups in a bar in San Francisco. I  had to write something for my English class at San Francisco City College. I lost the original draft but the story stayed with me and I finally reconstructed it after many decades.

“I can’t help but still feel guilty, you know,” she said.

“It’s all right,” he said.

“He seemed okay, you know, like he was reconciled to the situation.”

“Yes,” he said, “here comes the wine.”

He nodded his acceptance to the waiter. They looked at the waiter’s hands, saying nothing, as he poured the Pouilly-Fuissé.  He left, and they looked tentatively at each other before raising their glasses.

“To us,” he said.

“Yes, to us,” she said, but didn’t offer to touch his glass with hers.

The Golden Gate Strait has a span of one mile. With six feet of tide height at a velocity of around 5 miles per hour, up to 2.5 billion cubic meters of water races through the Golden Gate every six hours.

“You’ve changed, you know,” she said.

He smiled, waiting.

“You’re thinner, you seem taller, more distinguished.”

“It’s the gray hair at my temples, obligatory plumage for a full professor.”

“I suppose I’ve changed too?”

“You’ve never looked more alluring.”

“I guess you must really love me to say that after all these months. Please say it.”

“I love you,” he said.

She looked down, fiddled with her fork while as he looked intently at her.  Finally she said, “you were so kind to let me sort myself out, so patient.”

“There was nothing else to do.”

She brought her eyes back to his. “Remember the last time we were here?  It was wonderful and exciting, but so dangerous for me and Dan. For us to be seen together in public, I mean.”

“Dan was out of town and we three are, were, friends. It seemed innocent enough at the time.”

“I sure didn’t feel innocent, and everything changed. I felt you really saw me, knew me. Dan lived on a higher plane.”

Fishermen from San Francisco often lay pots for the Dungeness Crab near the Farallon Islands, which are within the City’s political jurisdiction. The Farallons sit 18 miles west of the Golden Gate Strait. They are home to a variety marine life, nourished by many converging influences including especially the outflow from San Francisco Bay. The Dungeness crab eats a wide variety of marine forms, preferring clams, other crustaceans, and small fish, but is also an effective scavenger.

“You remembered my favorite wine,” she said after her first sip.

“Of course,” he said.

“You know, I didn’t used to go to many of those social events, the hospital auxiliary I mean. Dan and I really didn’t like them, but we had to, really, to support the Cardiology Department. But I guess I really did have friends there and I began to miss them.”

“You were ready to come out of your shell.”

“Yes, but I didn’t know if I would be welcome without Dan. Margaret finally convinced me. Margaret Peterson, you know, the wife of the new department chief, Harry Peterson.”

“I’m glad you listened to her, or I wouldn’t have seen your picture in the paper. I knew then that you were ready to hear from me.”

“Yes,” she said, “and I was so happy you called me. My heart made a little flip when I heard your voice.”

Since it was opened to traffic in 1937, more people have died by suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge than at any other site in the world. The deck is about 245 feet above the water. After a fall of four seconds, jumpers hit the water at around 75 mph. Most jumpers die from impact trauma. The few who survive the initial impact generally drown or die of hypothermia in the cold water. Currents beneath the bridge are strong and some jumpers have been washed out to sea. By 2005 the suicide count exceeded 1,200 and, since then, new suicides have been occurring about once every two weeks on average.

“Did you see anyone the time I was, you know, out of sight”?

“Of course not, you know that.”

“I know it now.” She relaxed in her chair and smiled at him.

“You finally smiled,” he said.

“You’ve been smiling like a leprechaun the whole time we’ve sat here. It must be catching.”

“Leprechauns are mischievous creatures. I don’t intend any mischief.”

“Too bad.” She batted her eyelashes dramatically.

“It seems like old times again,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “But I can’t help remembering Dan and the way he went. Because of us.”

She paused, a tear forming at the corner of one eye. He continued watching her, and waited. She bent her head to discretely remove the tear with a finger, then looked up at him again, her voice wobbling.

“He was such a good man, a saint. Everyone thought him a saint. I felt I could never live up to where he stood. Not that you aren’t wonderful, but one needs to feel connected to one’s mate. You know all this, anyway.”

“We’ll find a way to accept his absence, and our loss, in a way that honors him. He was my best friend.”

“Yes,” she said. “I should try to remember it’s been hard for you too.”

She took a few deep breaths.

“We’ll support each other.” he said. “We can allow him to be with us for as long as we need to. While we get on with our lives. Together?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, and raised her glass again, this time to touch his raised glass. “Together. Again.”

“Here’s dinner now,” he said, “your favorite, and it’s the height of the season.”

She brought her hands together. “Crab Cakes! Let’s have the last of the wine and order another. We’ll have to drink to Dan. He made this evening possible.”

“Yes, to us, and to Dan. May he now rest in peace.”

Dr. Harold S. Peterson, Chief of Cardiology at St. Rose Hospital in San Francisco presided over a gala dinner to commemorate the opening of the hospital’s new cardiology wing, named the “Daniel M. D’Amato Pavilion.” Dr. D’Amato was the driving force in getting approval and funding for the new pavilion but died, tragically, before he was able to see his efforts bear fruit. His widow, Edith D’Amato, was present to represent him.